Conrad Potter Aiken

(5 August 1889 – 17 August 1973 / Savannah, Georgia)

Prelude - Poem by Conrad Potter Aiken

As evening falls,
And the yellow lights leap one by one
Along high walls
And along black streets that glisten as if with rain,
The muted city seems
Like one in a restless sleep who lies and dreams
Of vague desires, vague memories, and half-forgotten pain
Along dark veins like lights the quick dreams run,
Flash, are extinguished, flash again,
To mingle and glow at last in the enormous brain
And die away
As evening falls,
A dream dissolves these insubstantial walls,
A myriad secretly gliding lights lie bare.
The lover rises, the harlot combs her hair,
The dead man's face grows blue in the dizzy lamplight,
The watchman climbs the stair
The bank-defaulter leers at a chaos of figures
And runs among them and is beaten down ;
The sick man coughs, and hears the chisels ringing;
The tired clown
Sees the enormous crowd—a million faces
Motionless in their places,
Ready to laugh, and seize, and crush, and tear ....
The dancer smooths her hair,
Laces her golden slippers and runs through the door
To dance once more,
Hearing swift music like an enchantment rise,
Feeling the praise of a thousand eyes.

As darkness falls,
The walls grow luminous and warm, the walls
Tremble and glow with the lives within them moving,
Moving like music, secret and rich and warm.
How shall we live tonight, where shall we turn?
To what new light or darkness yearn ?
A thousand winding stairs lead down before us;
And one by one in myriads we descend
By lamp-lit flowered walls, long balustrades,
Through half-lit halls which reach no end.

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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, April 13, 2010

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