Three Poems by Amy Lowell, from ‘Imagist Poems’ edited by Richard Aldington. The book was published in 1915 by Houghton Mifflin.
These three are the final poems of the book. I assume their juxtaposition deliberate.
BULLION Amy Lowell
Chink against my ribs
And roll about like silver hail-stones.
I should like to spill them out,
And pour them, all shining,
But my heart is shut upon them
And holds them straightly.
Come, You! and open my heart;
That my thoughts torment me no longer,
But glitter in your hair.
When night drifts along the streets of the city,
And sifts down between uneven roofs,
My mind begins to peek and peer.
It plays at ball in old, blue Chinese gardens,
And shakes wrought dice-cups in Pagan temples,
Amid the broken flutings of white pillars.
It dances with purple and yellow crocuses in its hair,
And its feet shine as they flutter over drenched grasses.
How light my mind is,
When all the good folk have put out their bed-room candles,
And the city is still.
Slowly, without force, the rain drops into the city. It stops a moment on the carved head of Saint John, then slides on again, slipping and trickling over his stone cloak. It splashes from the lead conduit of a gargoyle, and falls from it in turmoil on the stones in the Cathedral square. Where are the people, and why does the fretted steeple sweep about in the sky? Boom! The sound swings against the rain. Boom, again! After it, only water rushing in the gutters, and the turmoil from the spout of the gargoyle. Silence. Ripples and mutters. Boom!
The room is damp, but warm. Little flashes swarm about from the firelight. The lustres of the chandelier are bright, and clusters of rubies leap in the bohemian glasses on the étagère. Her hands are restless, but the white masses of her hair are quite still. Boom! Will it never cease to torture, this iteration! Boom! The vibration shatters a glass on the étagère. It lies there formless and glowing, with all its crimson gleams shot out of pattern, spilled, flowing red, blood-red. A thin bell-note pricks through the silence. A door creaks. The old lady speaks: “Victor, clear away that broken glass.” “Alas! Madame, the bohemian glass!” “Yes, Victor, one hundred years ago my father brought it—” Boom! The room shakes, the servitor quakes. Another goblet shivers and breaks. Boom!
It rustles at the window-pane, the smooth, streaming rain, and he is shut within its clash and murmur. Inside is his candle, his table, his ink, his pen, and his dreams. He is thinking, and the walls are pierced with beams of sunshine, slipping through young green. A fountain tosses itself up at the blue sky, and through the spattered water in the basin he can see copper carp, lazily floating among cold leaves. A wind-harp in a cedar-tree grieves and whispers, and words blow into his brain, bubbled, iridescent, shooting up like flowers of fire, higher and higher. Boom! The flame-flowers snap on their slender stems. The fountain rears up in long broken spears of disheveled water and flattens into the earth. Boom! And there is only the room, the table, the candle, and the sliding rain. Again, Boom!—Boom!—Boom! He stuffs his fingers into his ears. He sees corpses, and cries out in fright. Boom! It is night, and they are shelling the city! Boom! Boom!
A child wakes and is afraid, and weeps in the darkness. What has made the bed shake? “Mother, where are you? I am awake.” “Hush, my Darling, I am here.” “But, Mother, something so queer happened, the room shook. ” Boom! “Oh! What is it? What is the matter?” Boom! “Where is Father? I am so afraid.” Boom! The child sobs and shrieks. The house trembles and creaks. Boom!
Retorts, globes, tubes, and phials lie shattered. All his trials oozing across the floor. The life that was his choosing, lonely, urgent, goaded by a hope, all gone. A weary man in a ruined laboratory, that was his story. Boom! Gloom and ignorance, and the jig of drunken brutes. Diseases like snakes crawling over the earth, leaving trails of slime. Wails from people burying their dead. Through the window he can see the rocking steeple. A ball of fire falls on the lead of the roof, and the sky tears apart on a spike of flame. Up the spire, behind the lacings of stone, zig-zagging in and out of the carved tracings, squirms the fire. It spouts like yellow wheat from the gargoyles, coils round the head of Saint John, and aureoles him in light. It leaps into the night and hisses against the rain. The Cathedral is a burning stain on the white, wet night.
Boom! The Cathedral is a torch, and the houses next to it begin to scorch. Boom! The bohemian glass on the étagère is no longer there. Boom! A stalk of flame sways against the red damask curtains. The old lady cannot walk. She watches the creeping stalk and counts. Boom!—Boom!—Boom!
The poet rushes into the street, and the rain wraps him in a sheet of silver. But it is threaded with gold and powdered with scarlet beads. The city burns. Quivering, spearing, thrusting, lapping, streaming, run the flames. Over roofs, and walls, and shops, and stalls. Smearing its gold on the sky the fire dances, lances itself through the doors, and lisps and chuckles along the floors.
The child wakes again and screams at the yellow petalled flower flickering at the window. The little red lips of flame creep along the ceiling beams.
The old man sits among his broken experiments and looks at the burning Cathedral. Now the streets are swarming with people. They seek shelter and crowd into the cellars. They shout and call, and over all, slowly and without force, the rain drops into the city. Boom! And the steeple crashes down among the people. Boom! Boom, again! The water rushes along the gutters. The fire roars and mutters. Boom!
(the above last two words may or may not just signify the end of the book)
On the night of 31st May 1915 the first Zeppelin bombing raid took place over London. 41 fires were caused by bombs though the report I read did not give any idea of type other than incendiary( 120). During this first raid on London the Zeppelin was not seen or heard as it was so high and late at night. Bombs fell in a southerly linefrom Stoke Newington to Stepney and then north up to Leytonstone. Quite a wide arc of damage. It is quite possible the civilian population thought it was shelling rather than bombs. (Bombing had already happened but not on London). It seems only one man (pilot) actually caught a glimpse of the airship. This may add a little setting for the above poem.
I do wonder when Solitaire was written. I assume The Bombardment was soon after, maybe during the raid if Amy Lowell was in sight of it. (Amy Lowell was visiting England from 1914, my scant knowledge/lack of research assumes she was in London at this time and saw the effects if not the actual event). The speed of the latter poem getting into this collection is impressive. I like to imagine that the quality of the writing and Amy Lowell’s contacts in the literary/publishing circle had Richard Aldington shouting ‘hold the press!’ for such an immediate response to the bombing of London. Okay, maybe it was Ezra Pound. I suppose there might be a question as to whether or not the second is a poem or descriptive report. For me, no problem, pure poetry. (Described as ‘polyphonic prose’ a (term for) style ‘invented’ by Amy Lowell. It reads beautifully and has assorted, noticeable rhymes in the text…. A big clue? But then rhyme occurs quite happily in ordinary speech, not always noticed. I am tempted to highlight rhyme and half-rhymes but not for here….)
It is really worth digging out copies of Amy Lowell’s work, much of it written ‘of the day’ but clearly it is her own voice and stepping ahead of much of the crowd. The length and carnage of the First World War precipitated huge changes in poetry, shattering many images and boundaries. But boundaries that were already being cracked and breached by the likes of Amy Lowell and her ‘Imagist’ contemporaries (see H.D., ie Hilda Doolittle)
I have wittered previously about labels like Modernist and Imagist poetry, boxing people into a style when such labels may well be too restrictive. What it does do effectively, is to enable subsequent generations to place-and-date poets. Maybe problematic when dates are similar for different styles where names are such as modernist/ imagist/ war poet, even Georgian and Dymock if you need to get more pernickety….. Currently for this century the collective may still be Contemporary though as I am not in the swim, as it were, the term may be limited to the turn of the 20th century to about 2010. Currently poets may well write in free/blank/concrete; right back to Spencerian, Chaucerean or Norse myth and saga. Hip-hop, street, mash-up (my current favourite, though I am pondering binary-poetry at the moment) are similarly valid and no doubt as current as all in the previous sentence. Said boxes do help to set the scene, the time and a degree of style that was breaking boundaries. But not all poets keep to their box. Likely the aim of a poet is to write for her/himself to their own satisfaction and maybe anticipate that someone else will read it. But then there is the search for peer-group acceptance or performance or just the careful filing away on scraps of paper like Stevie Smith or Emily Dickinson. Here of course we dip into the personality of the poet as well as their poetry….. oh! It is all so difficult…….and fascinating.
Enough of a ramble from this interested but non-specialist writer. I hope there is enough to rouse interest or hackles and to encourage a bit of personal digging. For me, it makes me aware that I am scratching the surface and really ought to follow my own advice and enthusiasm for the period by doing more research. However time and brain do not always function at the same rate and I have a lot of catching up to do in both areas………..