Amy Lowell: The Shadow

   Paul Jannes was working very late,
   For this watch must be done by eight
   To-morrow or the Cardinal
   Would certainly be vexed.  Of all
   His customers the old prelate
   Was the most important, for his state
   Descended to his watches and rings,
   And he gave his mistresses many things
   To make them forget his age and smile
   When he paid visits, and they could while
   The time away with a diamond locket
   Exceedingly well.  So they picked his pocket,
   And he paid in jewels for his slobbering kisses.
   This watch was made to buy him blisses
   From an Austrian countess on her way
   Home, and she meant to start next day.
   Paul worked by the pointed, tulip-flame
   Of a tallow candle, and became
   So absorbed, that his old clock made him wince
   Striking the hour a moment since.
   Its echo, only half apprehended,
   Lingered about the room.  He ended
   Screwing the little rubies in,
   Setting the wheels to lock and spin,
   Curling the infinitesimal springs,
   Fixing the filigree hands.  Chippings
   Of precious stones lay strewn about.
   The table before him was a rout
   Of splashes and sparks of coloured light.
   There was yellow gold in sheets, and quite
   A heap of emeralds, and steel.
   Here was a gem, there was a wheel.
   And glasses lay like limpid lakes
   Shining and still, and there were flakes
   Of silver, and shavings of pearl,
   And little wires all awhirl
   With the light of the candle.  He took the watch
   And wound its hands about to match
   The time, then glanced up to take the hour
   From the hanging clock.
                            Good, Merciful Power!
   How came that shadow on the wall,
   No woman was in the room!  His tall
   Chiffonier stood gaunt behind
   His chair.  His old cloak, rabbit-lined,
   Hung from a peg.  The door was closed.
   Just for a moment he must have dozed.
   He looked again, and saw it plain.
   The silhouette made a blue-black stain
   On the opposite wall, and it never wavered
   Even when the candle quavered
   Under his panting breath.  What made
   That beautiful, dreadful thing, that shade
   Of something so lovely, so exquisite,
   Cast from a substance which the sight
   Had not been tutored to perceive?
   Paul brushed his eyes across his sleeve.

   Clear-cut, the Shadow on the wall
   Gleamed black, and never moved at all.
   Paul's watches were like amulets,
   Wrought into patterns and rosettes;
   The cases were all set with stones,
   And wreathing lines, and shining zones.
   He knew the beauty in a curve,
   And the Shadow tortured every nerve
   With its perfect rhythm of outline
   Cutting the whitewashed wall.  So fine
   Was the neck he knew he could have spanned
   It about with the fingers of one hand.
   The chin rose to a mouth he guessed,
   But could not see, the lips were pressed
   Loosely together, the edges close,
   And the proud and delicate line of the nose
   Melted into a brow, and there
   Broke into undulant waves of hair.
   The lady was edged with the stamp of race.
   A singular vision in such a place.
   He moved the candle to the tall
   Chiffonier; the Shadow stayed on the wall.
   He threw his cloak upon a chair,
   And still the lady's face was there.
   From every corner of the room
   He saw, in the patch of light, the gloom
   That was the lady.  Her violet bloom
   Was almost brighter than that which came
   From his candle's tulip-flame.
   He set the filigree hands; he laid
   The watch in the case which he had made;
   He put on his rabbit cloak, and snuffed
   His candle out.  The room seemed stuffed
   With darkness.  Softly he crossed the floor,
   And let himself out through the door.
   The sun was flashing from every pin
   And wheel, when Paul let himself in.
   The whitewashed walls were hot with light.
   The room was the core of a chrysolite,
   Burning and shimmering with fiery might.
   The sun was so bright that no shadow could fall
   From the furniture upon the wall.
   Paul sighed as he looked at the empty space
   Where a glare usurped the lady's place.
   He settled himself to his work, but his mind
   Wandered, and he would wake to find
   His hand suspended, his eyes grown dim,
   And nothing advanced beyond the rim
   Of his dreaming.  The Cardinal sent to pay
   For his watch, which had purchased so fine a day.
   But Paul could hardly touch the gold,
   It seemed the price of his Shadow, sold.
   With the first twilight he struck a match
   And watched the little blue stars hatch
   Into an egg of perfect flame.
   He lit his candle, and almost in shame
   At his eagerness, lifted his eyes.
   The Shadow was there, and its precise
   Outline etched the cold, white wall.
   The young man swore, "By God!  You, Paul,
   There's something the matter with your brain.
   Go home now and sleep off the strain."
   The next day was a storm, the rain
   Whispered and scratched at the window-pane.
   A grey and shadowless morning filled
   The little shop.  The watches, chilled,
   Were dead and sparkless as burnt-out coals.
   The gems lay on the table like shoals
   Of stranded shells, their colours faded,
   Mere heaps of stone, dull and degraded.
   Paul's head was heavy, his hands obeyed
   No orders, for his fancy strayed.
   His work became a simple round
   Of watches repaired and watches wound.
   The slanting ribbons of the rain
   Broke themselves on the window-pane,
   But Paul saw the silver lines in vain.
   Only when the candle was lit
   And on the wall just opposite
   He watched again the coming of it,
   Could he trace a line for the joy of his soul
   And over his hands regain control.
   Paul lingered late in his shop that night
   And the designs which his delight
   Sketched on paper seemed to be
   A tribute offered wistfully
   To the beautiful shadow of her who came
   And hovered over his candle flame.
   In the morning he selected all
   His perfect jacinths.  One large opal
   Hung like a milky, rainbow moon
   In the centre, and blown in loose festoon
   The red stones quivered on silver threads
   To the outer edge, where a single, fine
   Band of mother-of-pearl the line
   Completed.  On the other side,
   The creamy porcelain of the face
   Bore diamond hours, and no lace
   Of cotton or silk could ever be
   Tossed into being more airily
   Than the filmy golden hands; the time
   Seemed to tick away in rhyme.
   When, at dusk, the Shadow grew
   Upon the wall, Paul's work was through.
   Holding the watch, he spoke to her:
   "Lady, Beautiful Shadow, stir
   Into one brief sign of being.
   Turn your eyes this way, and seeing
   This watch, made from those sweet curves
   Where your hair from your forehead swerves,
   Accept the gift which I have wrought
   With your fairness in my thought.
   Grant me this, and I shall be
   Honoured overwhelmingly."

   The Shadow rested black and still,
   And the wind sighed over the window-sill.
   Paul put the despised watch away
   And laid out before him his array
   Of stones and metals, and when the morning
   Struck the stones to their best adorning,
   He chose the brightest, and this new watch
   Was so light and thin it seemed to catch
   The sunlight's nothingness, and its gleam.
   Topazes ran in a foamy stream
   Over the cover, the hands were studded
   With garnets, and seemed red roses, budded.
   The face was of crystal, and engraved
   Upon it the figures flashed and waved
   With zircons, and beryls, and amethysts.
   It took a week to make, and his trysts
   At night with the Shadow were his alone.
   Paul swore not to speak till his task was done.
   The night that the jewel was worthy to give.
   Paul watched the long hours of daylight live
   To the faintest streak; then lit his light,
   And sharp against the wall's pure white
   The outline of the Shadow started
   Into form.  His burning-hearted
   Words so long imprisoned swelled
   To tumbling speech.  Like one compelled,
   He told the lady all his love,
   And holding out the watch above
   His head, he knelt, imploring some
   Littlest sign.
                   The Shadow was dumb.
   Weeks passed, Paul worked in fevered haste,
   And everything he made he placed
   Before his lady.  The Shadow kept
   Its perfect passiveness.  Paul wept.
   He wooed her with the work of his hands,
   He waited for those dear commands
   She never gave.  No word, no motion,
   Eased the ache of his devotion.
   His days passed in a strain of toil,
   His nights burnt up in a seething coil.
   Seasons shot by, uncognisant
   He worked.  The Shadow came to haunt
   Even his days.  Sometimes quite plain
   He saw on the wall the blackberry stain
   Of his lady's picture.  No sun was bright
   Enough to dazzle that from his sight.
   There were moments when he groaned to see
   His life spilled out so uselessly,
   Begging for boons the Shade refused,
   His finest workmanship abused,
   The iridescent bubbles he blew
   Into lovely existence, poor and few
   In the shadowed eyes.  Then he would curse
   Himself and her!  The Universe!
   And more, the beauty he could not make,
   And give her, for her comfort's sake!
   He would beat his weary, empty hands
   Upon the table, would hold up strands
   Of silver and gold, and ask her why
   She scorned the best which he could buy.
   He would pray as to some high-niched saint,
   That she would cure him of the taint
   Of failure.  He would clutch the wall
   With his bleeding fingers, if she should fall
   He could catch, and hold her, and make her live!
   With sobs he would ask her to forgive
   All he had done.  And broken, spent,
   He would call himself impertinent;
   Presumptuous; a tradesman; a nothing; driven
   To madness by the sight of Heaven.
   At other times he would take the things
   He had made, and winding them on strings,
   Hang garlands before her, and burn perfumes,
   Chanting strangely, while the fumes
   Wreathed and blotted the shadow face,
   As with a cloudy, nacreous lace.
   There were days when he wooed as a lover, sighed
   In tenderness, spoke to his bride,
   Urged her to patience, said his skill
   Should break the spell.  A man's sworn will
   Could compass life, even that, he knew.
   By Christ's Blood!  He would prove it true!

   The edge of the Shadow never blurred.
   The lips of the Shadow never stirred.
   He would climb on chairs to reach her lips,
   And pat her hair with his finger-tips.
   But instead of young, warm flesh returning
   His warmth, the wall was cold and burning
   Like stinging ice, and his passion, chilled,
   Lay in his heart like some dead thing killed
   At the moment of birth.  Then, deadly sick,
   He would lie in a swoon for hours, while thick
   Phantasmagoria crowded his brain,
   And his body shrieked in the clutch of pain.
   The crisis passed, he would wake and smile
   With a vacant joy, half-imbecile
   And quite confused, not being certain
   Why he was suffering; a curtain
   Fallen over the tortured mind beguiled
   His sorrow.  Like a little child
   He would play with his watches and gems, with glee
   Calling the Shadow to look and see
   How the spots on the ceiling danced prettily
   When he flashed his stones.  "Mother, the green
   Has slid so cunningly in between
   The blue and the yellow.  Oh, please look down!"
   Then, with a pitiful, puzzled frown,
   He would get up slowly from his play
   And walk round the room, feeling his way
   From table to chair, from chair to door,
   Stepping over the cracks in the floor,
   Till reaching the table again, her face
   Would bring recollection, and no solace
   Could balm his hurt till unconsciousness
   Stifled him and his great distress.
   One morning he threw the street door wide
   On coming in, and his vigorous stride
   Made the tools on his table rattle and jump.
   In his hands he carried a new-burst clump
   Of laurel blossoms, whose smooth-barked stalks
   Were pliant with sap.  As a husband talks
   To the wife he left an hour ago,
   Paul spoke to the Shadow.  "Dear, you know
   To-day the calendar calls it Spring,
   And I woke this morning gathering
   Asphodels, in my dreams, for you.
   So I rushed out to see what flowers blew
   Their pink-and-purple-scented souls
   Across the town-wind's dusty scrolls,
   And made the approach to the Market Square
   A garden with smells and sunny air.
   I feel so well and happy to-day,
   I think I shall take a Holiday.
   And to-night we will have a little treat.
   I am going to bring you something to eat!"
   He looked at the Shadow anxiously.
   It was quite grave and silent.  He
   Shut the outer door and came
   And leant against the window-frame.
   "Dearest," he said, "we live apart
   Although I bear you in my heart.
   We look out each from a different world.
   At any moment we may be hurled
   Asunder.  They follow their orbits, we
   Obey their laws entirely.
   Now you must come, or I go there,
   Unless we are willing to live the flare
   Of a lighted instant and have it gone."

   A bee in the laurels began to drone.
   A loosened petal fluttered prone.

   "Man grows by eating, if you eat
   You will be filled with our life, sweet
   Will be our planet in your mouth.
   If not, I must parch in death's wide drouth
   Until I gain to where you are,
   And give you myself in whatever star
   May happen.  O You Beloved of Me!
   Is it not ordered cleverly?"

   The Shadow, bloomed like a plum, and clear,
   Hung in the sunlight.  It did not hear.
   Paul slipped away as the dusk began
   To dim the little shop.  He ran
   To the nearest inn, and chose with care
   As much as his thin purse could bear.
   As rapt-souled monks watch over the baking
   Of the sacred wafer, and through the making
   Of the holy wine whisper secret prayers
   That God will bless this labour of theirs;
   So Paul, in a sober ecstasy,
   Purchased the best which he could buy.
   Returning, he brushed his tools aside,
   And laid across the table a wide
   Napkin.  He put a glass and plate
   On either side, in duplicate.
   Over the lady's, excellent
   With loveliness, the laurels bent.
   In the centre the white-flaked pastry stood,
   And beside it the wine flask.  Red as blood
   Was the wine which should bring the lustihood
   Of human life to his lady's veins.
   When all was ready, all which pertains
   To a simple meal was there, with eyes
   Lit by the joy of his great emprise,
   He reverently bade her come,
   And forsake for him her distant home.
   He put meat on her plate and filled her glass,
   And waited what should come to pass.

   The Shadow lay quietly on the wall.
   From the street outside came a watchman's call
   "A cloudy night.  Rain beginning to fall."

   And still he waited.  The clock's slow tick
   Knocked on the silence.  Paul turned sick.

   He filled his own glass full of wine;
   From his pocket he took a paper.  The twine
   Was knotted, and he searched a knife
   From his jumbled tools.  The cord of life
   Snapped as he cut the little string.
   He knew that he must do the thing
   He feared.  He shook powder into the wine,
   And holding it up so the candle's shine
   Sparked a ruby through its heart,
   He drank it.  "Dear, never apart
   Again!  You have said it was mine to do.
   It is done, and I am come to you!"
   Paul Jannes let the empty wine-glass fall,
   And held out his arms.  The insentient wall
   Stared down at him with its cold, white glare
   Unstained!  The Shadow was not there!
   Paul clutched and tore at his tightening throat.
   He felt the veins in his body bloat,
   And the hot blood run like fire and stones
   Along the sides of his cracking bones.
   But he laughed as he staggered towards the door,
   And he laughed aloud as he sank on the floor.
   The Coroner took the body away,
   And the watches were sold that Saturday.
   The Auctioneer said one could seldom buy
   Such watches, and the prices were high.


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