"All day from smoky roofs"

by Robert Hillyer

All day from smoky roofs the snow
Has thudded to the yards below
And melted, till at evening
The warmth and wet of early spring
Hang in a haze where every sound
Comes muffled as from underground,
And every faint sensation, fraught
With the finality of thought,
Entices from their dark chambers
Other days that the mind remembers
Because they also had looked back
Where memory itself goes black.

The rift in winter brings to pass
A wilder glory than green grass,
An ampler light than ever came
On blossoms trembling into flame.
The passersby with open coats
Rise huge and sudden like the boats
Which loom portentous on the lee
Through early morning fog at sea;
And on the lawn where snow grows thin
Sparrows raise an increasing din
In crazy revelry of noise
Like congresses of yelling boys;
Yet waning in the rear, refined
By space, their clamour brings to mind
The April evening when first
On unaccustomed hearing burst
The voice of blackbirds singing plain:
We have come back! come back again!

I know it now, on every hand
Murmurs the thawing meadowland;
I smell the maple sap, I feel
The uncertain breeze advance and wheel;
Almost without persuasion see
The blue wood close in after me,
Conspiring dimly, tree by tree;
As mated over empty miles
One clear bell rings, one clear star smiles.

In the grim city I have known
The glow has melted bricks and stone,
For this is the promise never kept
By spring herself. We that slept
Wake for one moment longer than
The generations known to man;
Beyond our first syllable find speech,
Beyond our halted breathing reach
Toward the all-comprehending air,
And, fearing no denial, share
The undiminished draught which gives
Life manifold to all that lives.
Nor will the familiar dead be still;
They hasten toward me down the hill.
Though memory on living ears
Make not a sound, each phantom hears
His name, as though the thought had spun
A summons down oblivion.
They come whose spring is never past,
Langland and Chaucer, friends at last,
Shakspere and Drayton and John Donne,
Sidney and tuneful Campion.
And Herrick, with uplifted nose
Snuffing the air for wine or a rose.
Heroes put on their mail of flesh;
Istar's beloved, Gilgamesh;
Achilles, the great surly boy
Who slumbers well by windy Troy;
And he who snatched his father's crown
To bring the fire of Heaven down.
And queens, coy at a random smile,
Rise from their turquoise tombs a while,
Sweet Nefertiti of the Nile,
And those twin stars of every sky
Without whose names romance would die:
Blithe Helena who slew for love
And Cleopatra slain for love;
And virgin still to lust or death,
Incomparable Elizabeth.
So they come on without an end,
The long dead and the last year's friend,
Intangible as melody
Or the new wind rising from the sea.
They come in a thought, in a thought go by,
Because it is spring and I too shall die,
Because it is spring and they too were young,
And the songs we would hear were never sung.

O changeless city of my pain,
I know they pass and you remain;
I know that evening thaws not twice
Your thews of stone, your heart of ice,
And yet remember, though in vain,
How once you harboured Paradise.

Monadnock Valley Press > Hillyer