Treasure Island

Allen Tate

(19 November 1899 - 9 February 1979 / Winchester, Kentucky)

Causerie


. . . party on the stage of the Earl Carroll Theatre on
Feb. 23. At this party Joyce Hawley, a chorus-girl,
bathed in the nude in a bathtub filled with alleged
wine. New York Times.

What are the springs of sleep? What is the motion
Of dust in the lane that has an end in falling?
Heroes, heroes, you auguries of passion,
Where are the heroes with sloops and telescopes
Who got out of bed at four to vex the dawn?
Men for their last quietus scanned the earth,
Alert on the utmost foothill of the mountains;
They were the men who climbed the topmost screen
Of the world, if sleep but lay beyond it,
Sworn to the portage of our confirmed sensations,
Seeking our image in the farthest hills.
Now bearing a useless testimony of strife
Gathered in a rumor of light, we know our end
A packet of worm-seed, a garden of spent tissues.
I’ve done no rape, arson, incest, no murder,
Yet cannot sleep. The petty crimes of silence
(Wary pander to whom the truth's chief whore)
I have omitted; no fool can say my tongue
Reversed its fetish and made a cult of conscience.
This innermost disturbance is a babble,
It is a sign moved to my face as well
Where every tide of heart surges to speech
Until in that loquacity of visage
One speaks a countenance fitter for death than hell.
Always your features lean to one direction
And by that charted distance know your doom.
For death is 'morality touched with emotion,'
The syllable and full measure of affirmation;
Give life the innocent crutch of quiet fools.

Where is your house, in which room stands your bed?
What window discovers these insupportable dreams?
In a lean house spawned on baked limestone
Blood history is the murmur of grasshoppers
Eastward of the dawn. Have you a daughter,
Daughters are the seed of occupations,
Of asperities, such as wills, deeds, mortgages,
Duels, estates, statesmen, pioneers, embezzlers,
'Eminent Virginians,' reminiscences, bastards,
The bar-sinister hushed, effaced by the porcelain tub.
A daughter is the fruit of occupations;
Let her not read history lest knowledge
Of her fathers instruct her to be a petty bawd.
Vittoria was herself, the contemporary strumpet
A plain bitch.

For miracles are faint
And resurrection is our weakest clause of religion,
I have known men in my youth who foundered on
This point of doctrine: John Ransom, boasting hardy
Entelechies yet botched in the head, lacking grace;
Warren thirsty in Kentucky, his hair in the rain, asleep;
None so unbaptized as Edmund Wilson the unwearied,
That sly parody of the devil. They lacked doctrine;
They waited. I, who watched out the first crisis
With them, wait:
For the incredible image. Now
I am told that Purusha sits no more in our eyes.
Year after year the blood of Christ will sleep
In the holy tree, the branches sagged without bloom
Till the plant overflowing the stale vegetation
In May the creek swells with the anemone,
The Lord God wastes his substance towards the ocean.
In Christ we have lived, on the flood of Christ borne up,
Who now is a precipitate flood of silence,
We a drenched wreck off an imponderable shore:
A jagged cloud is our memory of shore
Whereon we figure hills below ultimate ranges.
You cannot plot the tendency of man,
Whither it leads is not mysterious
In the various grave; but whence the impulse
To lust for the apple of apples on Christ's tree,
To desire in the eye, to penetrate your sleep,
Perhaps to catch in unexpected leaves
The light incentive of your absolute suspicion?
Over the mountains, the last barrier, you'd spill
These relics of your sires in a pool of sleep,
The sun being drained.

We have learned to require
In the infirm concessions of memory
The privilege never to hear too much.
What is this conversation, now secular,
A speech not mine yet speaking for me in
The heaving jelly of my tribal air?
It rises in the throat, it climbs the tongue;
It perches there for secret tutelage
And gets it, of inscrutable instruction-
Which is a puzzle like crepuscular light
That has no visible source but fills the trees
With equal foliage, as if the upper leaf
No less than the under were only imminent shade.

Manhood like a lawyer with his formulas
Sesames his youth for innocent acquittal.

The essential wreckage of your age is different,
The accident the same; the Annabella
Of proper incest, no longer incestuous:
In an age of abstract experience, fornication
Is self-expression, adjunct to Christian euphoria,
And whores become delinquents; delinquents, patients;
Patients, wards of society. Whores, by that rule,
Are precious.

Was it for this that Lucius
Became the ass of Thessaly? For this did Kyd
Unlock the lion of passion on the stage?
To litter a race of politic pimps? To glut
The Capitol with the progeny of thieves-
Where now the antique courtesy of your myths
Goes in to sleep under a still shadow?

Submitted: Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Edited: Saturday, November 19, 2011

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