Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An Eclogue for Christmas

A: I meet you in an evil time.
B.                        The evil bells
Put out of our heads, I think, the thought of everything else.
A. The jaded calendar revolves,
Its nuts need oil, carbon chokes the valves,
The excess sugar of a diabetic culture
Rotting the nerve of life and literature;
Therefore when we bring out the old tinsel and frills
To announce that Christ is born among the barbarous hills
I turn to you whom a morose routine
Saves from the mad vertigo of being what has been.
B. Analogue of me, you are wrong to turn to me,
My country will not yield you any sanctuary,
There is no pinpoint in any of the ordnance maps
To save you when your towns and town-bred thoughts collapse,
It is better to die in situ as I shall,
One place is as bad as another. Go back where your instincts call
And listen to the crying of the town-cats and the taxis again,
Or wind your gramophone and eavesdrop on great me.
A. Jazz-weary of years of drums and Hawaiian guitar,
Pivoting on the parquet I seem to have moved far
From bombs and mud and gas, have stuttered on my feet
Clinched to the streamlined and butter-smooth trulls of the elite,
The lights irritating and gyrating and rotating in gauze – 
Pomade-dazzle, a slick beauty of gewgaws –
I who was Harlequin in the childhood of the century,
Posed by Picasso beside an endless opaque sea,
Have seen myself sifted and splintered in broken facets,
Tentative pencillings, endless liabilities, no assets,
Abstractions scalpelled with a palette-knife
Without reference to this particular life,
And so it has gone on; I have not been allowed to be
Myself in flesh or face, but abstracting and dissecting me
They have made of me pure form, a symbol or a pastiche,
Stylised profile, anything but soul and flesh:
And this is why I turn this jaded music on
To forswear thought and become an automaton.
B. There are in the country also of whom I am afraid –
Men who put beer into a belly that is dead,
Women in the forties with a terrier and setter who whistle and swank
Over down and plough and Roman road and daisied bank,
Half-conscious that these barriers over which they stride
Are nothing to the barbed wire that has grown round their pride.
A. And two there are, as I drive in the city, who suddenly perturb –
The one sirening me to draw up by the kerb
The other, as I lean back, my right leg stretched creating speed,
Making me catch and stamp, the brakes shrieking, pull up dead:
She wears silk stocking taunting the winter wind,
He carries a white stick to mark that he is blind.
B. In the country they are still hunting, in the heavy shires
Greyness is on the fields and sunset like a line of pyres
Of barbarous heroes smoulders through the ancient air
Hazed with factory dust and, orange opposite, the moon’s glare,
Goggling yokel-stubborn through the iron trees,
Jeers at the end of us, our bland ancestral ease;
We shall go down like palaeolithic man
Before some new Ice Age or Genghiz Khan.
A. It is time for some new coinage, people have got so old,
Hacked and handled and shiny from pocketing they have made bold
To think that each is himself through these accidents, being blind
To the fact that they are merely the counters of an unknown Mind.
B. A Mind that does not think, if such a thing can be,
Mechanical Reason, capricious Identity.
That I could be able to face this domination nor flinch –
A. The tin toys of the hawker move on the pavement inch by inch
Not knowing that they are wound up; it is better to be so
Than to be, like us, wound up and while running down to know –
B. But everywhere the pretence of individuality recurs –
A. Old faces frosted with powder and choked in furs.
B. The jutlipped farmer gazing over the humpbacked wall.
A. The commercial traveller joking in the urinal.
B. I think things draw to an end, the soil is stale.
A. And over-elaboration will nothing now avail,
The street is up again, gas, electricity or drains,
Ever-changing conveniences, nothing comfortable remains
Un-improved, as flagging Rome improved villa and sewer
(A sound-proof library and a stable temperature).
Our street is up, red lights sullenly mark
The long trench of pipes, iron guts in the dark,
And not till the Goths again come swarming down the hill
Will cease the clangour of the electric drill.
But yet there is beauty narcotic and deciduous
In this vast organism grown out of us:
On all the traffic islands stand white globes like moons,
The city’s haze is clouded amber that purrs and croons,
And tilting by the noble curve bus after tall bus comes
With an osculation of yellow light, with a glory like chrysanthemums.
B. The country gentry cannot change, they will die in their shoes
From angry circumstance and moral self-abuse,
Dying with a paltry fizzle they will prove their lives to be
And ever-diluted drug, a spiritual tautology.
They cannot live once their idols are turned out,
None of them can endure, for how could they, possibly without
The flotsam of private property, pekingese and polyanthus,
The good things which in the end turn to poison and pus,
Without the bandy chairs and the sugar in the silver tongs
And the inter-ripple and resonance of years of dinner-gongs?
Or if they could find no more than cumulative proof
In the rain dripping off the conservatory roof?
What will happen when the only sanction the country-dweller has –
A. What will happen to us, planked and panelled with jazz?
Who go to the theatre where a black man dances like an eel,
Where pink thighs flash like the spokes of a wheel, where we feel
That we know in advance all the jogtrot and the cake-walk jokes,
All the bumfun and the gags of the comedians in boaters and toques,
All the tricks of the virtuosos who invert the usual –
B. What will happen to us when the State takes down the manor wall,
When there is no more private shooting or fishing, when the trees are all cut down,
When faces are all dials and cannot smile or frown –
A. What will happen when the sniggering machine-guns in the hands of the young men
Are trained on every flat and club and beauty parlour and Father’s den?
What will happen when our civilisation like a long pent balloon –
B. What will happen will happen; the whore and the buffoon
Will come off best; no dreamers, they cannot lose their dream
And are at least likely to be reinstated in the new regime.
But one thing is not likely –
A.                         Do not gloat over yourself
Do not be your own vulture, high on some mountain shelf
Huddle the pitiless abstractions bald about the neck
Who will descend when you crumple in the plains a wreck.
Over the randy of the theatre and cinema I hear songs
Unlike anything –
B.             The lady of the house poises the silver tongs
And picks a lump of sugar, ‘ne plus ultra’ she says
‘I cannot do otherwise, even to prolong my days’ –
A. I cannot do otherwise either, tonight I will book my seat –
B. I will walk about the farm-yard which is replete
As with the smell of dung so with memories –
A. I will gorge myself to satiety with the oddities
Of every artiste, official or amateur,
Who has pleased me in my role of hero-worshipper
Who has pleased me in my role of individual man –
B. let us lie once more, say ‘What we think, we can’
The old idealist lie –
A.                     And for me before I die
Let me go the round of the garish glare –
B.                           And on the bare and high
Place of England, the Wiltshire Downs and the Long Mynd
Let the balls of my feet bounce on the turf, my face burn in the wind
My eyelashes stinging in the wind, and the sheep like grey stones
Humble my human pretensions –
A.                 Let the saxophones and the xylophones
And the cult of every technical excellence, the miles of canvas in the galleries
And the canvas of the rich man’s yacht snapping and tacking on the seas
And the perfection of a grilled steak –
B.                  Let all these so ephemeral things
Be somehow permanent like the swallow’s tangent wings:
Goodbye to you, this day remember is Christmas, this morn
They say, interpret it your own way, Christ is born.

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