Friday, August 12, 2005

Crimson Tent -- John Dos Passos

The wind blows up the tent like a balloon.
The tent plunges tugging at pegged ropes,
About to wrench loose and soar
Abov e wormwood-carpeted canyons
And flinty saw-tooth hills
Up into the driven night
And the howling clouds.
As a worm curls wickedly
Round the stamen of a fuchsia,
A man curls his hands round a candle.
The flame totters in the wind,
Flares to lick his hands,
To crimson the swaying walls.
The hands cast shadows on the crimson walls.

The candle-light srhinks and flaps wide.
The shadows are full of old tenters --
Men curious as to the fashion of cities,
Men eager to taste new-tasting bread,
Men wise to the north star and to the moon's phases,
To whom East and West
Are cloaks pulled easily tight,
Worn jaunty about the shoulders:
Herodotus, Thales, Democritus,
Heraclitus who watched rivers.

Parian-browed tan-cheeked travellers,
Who sat late in wine-shops to listen,
Rose early to sniff the wind of harbors
And see the dawn kindle the desert places,
And went peering and tasting--
Through seas and wastes and cities,
Held up to the level of their grey cool eyes
Firm in untrembling fingers--
The slippery souls of men and of gods.

The candle has guttered out in darkness and wind.
The tent holds firm against the buffeting wind,
Pegged tight, weighted with stones.
My sleep is blown up with dreams
About to wrench loose and soar
Above wormwood-carpeted canyons
And flinty saw-tooth hills,
Up into the driven night
And the howling clouds.

Perhaps hen the light clangs
Brass and scarlet cymbals in the east
With drone and jangle of great bells,
Loping white across the flint-strewn hills,
Will come the seeking tentless caravans
That Bilkis leads untired,
Nodding in her robes
On a roaring dromedary.


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