Conrad Potter Aiken

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

Counterpoint: Two Rooms - Poem by Conrad Potter Aiken

He, in the room above, grown old and tired;
She, in the room below, his floor her ceiling,
Pursue their separate dreams. He turns his light,
And throws himself on the bed, face down, in laughter.
She, by the window, smiles at a starlight night.

His watch—the same he has heard these cycles of ages—
Wearily chimes at seconds beneath his pillow.
The clock upon her mantelpiece strikes nine.
The night wears on. She hears dull steps above her.
The world whirs on. New stars come up to shine.

His youth—far off—he sees it brightly walking
In a golden cloud .... wings flashing about it....
Walls it around with dripping enormous walls.
Old age, far off—or death—what do they matter?
Down the smooth purple night a streaked star falls.

She hears slow steps in the street; they chime like music,
They climb to her heart, they break and flower in beauty,
Along her veins they glisten and ring and burn.
He hears his own slow steps tread down to silence.
Far off they pass. He knows they will never return.

Far off, on a smooth dark road, he hears them faintly.
The road, like a sombre river, quietly flowing,
Moves among murmurous walls. A deeper breath
Swells them to sound: he hears his steps more clearly.
And death seems nearer to him; or he to death.

What's death?—she smiles. The cool stone hurts her elbow,
The last few raindrops gather and fall from elm-boughs,
She sees them glisten and break. The arc-lamp sings,
The new leaves dip in the warm wet air and fragrance,
A sparrbw whirs to the eaves and shakes its wings.

What's death—what's death ? The spring returns like music ;
The trees are like dark lovers who dream in starlight;
The soft grey clouds go over the stars like dreams.
The cool stone wounds her arms to pain, to pleasure.
Under the lamp a circle of wet street gleams.
And death seems far away—a thing of roses,
A golden portal where golden music closes,
Death seems far away;
And spring returns, the countless singing of lovers,
And spring returns to stay....

He, in the room above, grown old and tired,
Flings himself on the bed, face down, in laughter,
And clenches his hands, and remembers, and desires to die.
And she, by the window, smiles at a night of starlight....
The soft grey clouds go slowly across the sky.

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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, April 13, 2010

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