Kenneth Slessor (27 March 1901 – 30 June 1971 / Orange, New South Wales)
Heine In Paris
LATE: a cold smear of sunlight bathes the room;
The gilt lime of winter, a sun grown melancholy old,
Streams in the glass. Outside, ten thousand chimneys fume,
Looping the weather-birds with rings of gold;
The spires of Paris, pricked in an iron spume,
Uprise like stars of water, and mail the sky.
Night comes: the wind is cold.
La Mouche has lit the candles, cleared up the mess.
She is talking, this merry little girl, of the new clown,
Mercutio in red spots, and Miss Nellie, the Equine Princess,
Who can ride three terrible horses upside-down . . . .
'Mon dieu, quelle cirque!' . . . and Madame Stephanie's dress..
'As true as I live' . . . the clear little voice trickles on,
All over the Circus, on and on, and all over the town.
Now she has creaked downstairs. Heine is left alone,
Knees hugged in bed, the drug purring in his brain,
And the windows turning blue. He can see some clouds being blown,
Scraping their big, soft bellies on the pane:
'Take me, O Clouds!'—but in a puff they've flown.
So once they fled in Eighteen Twenty-Nine
From—Hamburg, was it?—in a damp disdain . . . .
Hamburg—those roofs of tulip-red, those floating trees,
Those black masts clotting the air, and swart cigars,
And puffed old bankers panting along the quays,
And Uncle Solomon shouting amongst the spars,
And Uncle Solomon's cargoes, coffee and cheese,
And Uncle Solomon's face, like a copper moon,
And Uncle Solomon's daughter, and the stars, the stars.
O, Hamburg and Amalie—the stars and dung—
He remembered suddenly that night he stood below,
Dark in the street, with stinging heart and helpless tongue,
And her face passed in the pane, like paper to and fro.
But in a thousand songs that song was never sung.
Amalie, Amalie, who was only a foaming of thought,
A thing thought of, and forgotten, long ago.
And Louise, Diana, and Jenny, and all those bright,
Mad girls who had scrawled their names inside his mind—
All vanished, all gone; and all of them forged in a night,
Conspired of dreams, and leaving no dream behind,
Ungrateful for their dreaming—flight after flight
Of musings wrapped in satin, fancies in silk,
And a thousand thoughts of naked roses and milk,
By love and the moon designed.
But now it seemed that these were only one thought,
One stone of Venus, cut with a hundred sides,
One girl revealed ten thousand times, and caught
Ten thousand times from out those amorous tides.
Now she was gone. They were all gone, those girls that he had sought,
All gone, or paunched in marriage, or crushed in graves,
Or promised for other men's brides.
And it was only a ghost's hair that had spilt,
Fur of the night, in kissing dark and strange,
To choke his lips. And all of those worlds he'd built,
The girls he'd conjured before his dreams took mange,
The rogues he'd stamped on, harlot, trollop, and jilt,
The fools he'd blistered—all of them passed and forgotten;
But that—that did not change.
Men crumbled, man lived on. In that animal's face,
'Twas but a squirt aimed at the moon, to fling contempt.
Meyerbeer, Borne, and Klopstock vanished, but in their place
New Klopstocks, Meyerbeers blown again, and Bornes undreamt,
Sprang up like fungi, and there remained no trace
Of lashings past. Men, men he could flog for ever,
But man was still exempt.
That did not change—always the world remained,
Breathing and sleeping; loving and taking in love;
Fighting and coupling; life by the belly constrained,
Stupid in roads of flesh; eating, but never enough;
Ravening, never to cease; warring, but nothing gained;
Babbling to silent Christs; climbing to heavens of the brain
Unknown, unanswering, above.
All these remained, words passed. The paper he'd filled,
Deep to the lips in bitter salt, with fury and tears,
No man remembered; anger and fools were stilled
In dust alike—and out of those roaring years,
What now was left of all the passion he'd spilled,
The fire he'd struck? A cadence or two of love,
A song that had stroked men's ears.
All wrong, all wasted. Now, in this winter snow,
In the black winds from Russia, and the printed mane of night,
Heine looked out, and gazed at the world below,
Thick with old chemicals, breaking far out of sight
With ageless tides of man—ah, granite flow,
Eternal, changeless flux of humanity,
Undying darkness and light!
Not treading those floods could save him—not striking stone,
Not damning the world could serve—only to fly,
Careless of men and their shouting—untouched—alone—
Snatched by his own gods from a falling sky,
And singing his own way—clutching his own, his own,
Blind to the world—yes, that was the road of Heine—
Up to the sun, solitary, a speck in the ether—
'Ha, now, Christ Jesus and Jehovah, I choose to die!'
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