The Phases of the Moon

    An old man cocked his ear upon a bridge;
    He and his friend, their faces to the South,
    Had trod the uneven road. Their boots were soiled,
    Their Connemara cloth worn out of shape;
    They had kept a steady pace as though their beds,
    Despite a dwindling and late-risen moon,
    Were distant still. An old man cocked his ear.
Aherne. What made that sound?
Robartes.                     A rat or water-hen
    Splashed, or an otter slid into the stream.
    We are on the bridge; that shadow is the tower,
    And the light proves that he is reading still.
    He has found, after the manner of his kind,
    Mere images; chosen this place to live in
    Because, it may be, of the candle-light
    From the far tower where Milton’s Platonist
    Sat late, or Shelley’s visionary prince:
    The lonely light that Samuel Palmer engraved,
    An image of mysterious wisdom won by toil;
    And now he seeks in book or manuscript
    What he shall never find.
Aherne.                     Why should not you
    Who know it all ring at his door, and speak
    Just truth enough to show that his whole life
    Will scarcely find for him a broken crust
    Of all those truths that are your daily bread;
    And when you have spoken take the roads again?
Robartes. He wrote of me in that extravagant style
    He had learnt from Pater, and to round his tale
    Said I was dead; and dead I choose to be.
Aherne. Sing me the changes of the moon once more;
    True song, though speech: ‘mine author sung it me.’
Robartes. Twenty-and-eight the phases of the moon,
    The full and the moon’s dark and all the crescents,
    Twenty-and-eight, and yet but six-and-twenty
    The cradles that a man must needs be rocked in:
    For there’s no human life at the full or the dark.
    From the first crescent to the half, the dream
    But summons to adventure and the man
    Is always happy like a bird or a beast;
    But while the moon is rounding towards the full
    He follows whatever whim’s most difficult
    Among whims not impossible, and though scarred,
    As with the cat-o’-nine-tails of the mind,
    His body moulded from within his body
    Grows comelier. Eleven pass, and then
    Athena takes Achilles by the hair,
    Hector is in the dust, Nietzsche is born,
    Because the heroes’ crescent is the twelfth.
    And yet, twice born, twice buried, grow he must,
    Before the full moon, helpless as a worm.
    The thirteenth moon but sets the soul at war
    In its own being, and when that war’s begun
    There is no muscle in the arm; and after,
    Under the frenzy of the fourteenth moon
    The soul begins to tremble into stillness,
    To die into the labyrinth of itself!
Aherne. Sing out the song; sing to the end, and sing
    The strange reward of all that discipline.
Robartes. All thought becomes an image and the soul
    Becomes a body: that body and that soul
    Too perfect at the full to lie in a cradle,
    Too lonely for the traffic of the world:
    Body and soul cast out and cast away
    Beyond the visible world.
Aherne.                     All dreams of the soul
    End in a beautiful man’s or woman’s body.
Robartes. Have you not always known it?
Aherne.                     The song will have it
    That those that we have loved got their long fingers
    From death, and wounds, or on Sinai’s top,
    Or from some bloody whip in their own hands.
    They ran from cradle to cradle till at last
    Their beauty dropped out of the loneliness
    Of body and soul.
Robartes.                     The lover’s heart knows that.
Aherne. It must be that the terror in their eyes
    Is memory or foreknowledge of the hour
    When all is fed with light and heaven is bare.
Robartes. When the moon’s full those creatures of the full
    Are met on the waste hills by country men
    Who shudder and hurry by: body and soul
    Estranged amid the strangeness of themselves,
    Caught up in contemplation, the mind’s eye
    Fixed upon images that once were thought;
    For separate, perfect, and immovable
    Images can break the solitude
    Of lovely, satisfied, indifferent eyes.
    And thereupon with aged, high-pitched voice
    Aherne laughed, thinking of the man within,
    His sleepless candle and laborious pen.
Robartes. And after that the crumbling of the moon.
    The soul remembering its loneliness
    Shudders in many cradles; all is changed,
    It would be the world’s servant, and as it serves,
    Choosing whatever task’s most difficult
    Among tasks not impossible, it takes
    Upon the body and upon the soul
    The coarseness of the drudge.
Aherne.                     Before the full
    It sought itself and afterwards the world.
Robartes. Because you are forgotten, half out of life,
    And never wrote a book, your thought is clear.
    Reformer, merchant, statesman, learned man,
    Dutiful husband, honest wife by turn,
    Cradle upon cradle, and all in flight and all
    Deformed because there is no deformity
    But saves us from a dream.
Aherne.                     And what of those
    That the last servile crescent has set free?
Robartes. Because all dark, like those that are all light,
    They are cast beyond the verge, and in a cloud,
    Crying to one another like the bats;
    And having no desire they cannot tell
    What’s good or bad, or what it is to triumph
    At the perfection of one’s own obedience;
    And yet they speak what’s blown into the mind;
    Deformed beyond deformity, unformed,
    Insipid as the dough before it is baked,
    They change their bodies at a word.
Aherne.                     And then?
Robartes. When all the dough has been so kneaded up
    That it can take what form cook Nature fancy,
    The first thin crescent is wheeled round once more.
Aherne. But the escape; the song’s not finished yet.
Robartes. Hunchback and saint and fool are the last crescents.
    The burning bow that once could shoot an arrow
    Out of the up and down, the

  By PanEris using Melati.

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