by: Conrad Aiken (1889-1973)
- N the pale
mauve twilight, streaked with orange,
- Exquisitely sweet,--
- She leaned upon her balcony and looked across the street;
- And across the huddled roofs of the misty city,
- Across the hills of tenements, so gray,
- She looked into the west with a young and infinite pity,
- With a young and wistful pity, as if to say
- The dark was coming, and irresistible night,
- Which man would attempt to meet
- With here and there a little flickering light. . . .
- The orange faded, the housetops all were black,
- And a strange and beautiful quiet
- Came unexpected, came exquisitely sweet,
- On market-place and street;
- And where were lately crowds and sounds and riot
- Was a gentle blowing of wind, a murmur of leaves,
- A single step, or voice, and under the eaves
- The scrambling of sparrows; and then the hush swept back.
- She leaned upon her balcony, in the darkness,
- Folding her hands beneath her chin;
- And watched the lamps begin
- Here and there to pierce like eyes the darkness,--
- From windows, luminous rooms,
- And from the damp dark street
- Between the moving branches, and the leaves with rain still
- It was strange: the leaves thus seen,
- With the lamplight's cold bright glare thrown up among them,--
- The restless maple leaves,
- Twinkling their myriad shadows beneath the eaves,--
- Were lovelier, almost, than with sunlight on them,
- So bright they were with young translucent green;
- Were lovelier, almost, than with moonlight on them. . . .
- And looking so wistfully across the city,
- With such a young, and wise, and infinite pity
- For the girl who had no lover
- To walk with her along a street like this,
- With slow steps in the rain, both aching for a kiss,--
- It seemed as if all evenings were the same,
- As if all evenings came
- With just such tragic peacefulness as this;
- With just such hint of loneliness or pain,
- The quiet after rain.
- Would her lover, then, grow old sooner than she,
- And find a night like this too damp to walk?
- Would he prefer to stay indoors and talk,
- Or read the evening paper, while she sewed, or darned a sock,
- And listened to the ticking of the clock:
- Would he prefer it to lamplight on a tree?
- Would he be old and tired,
- And, having all the comforts he desired,
- Take no interest in the twilight coming down
- So beautifully and quietly on the town?
- Would her lover, then, grow old sooner than she?
- A neighbor started singing, singing a child to sleep.
- It was strange: a song thus heard,--
- In the misty evening, after an afternoon of rain,--
- Seemed more beautiful than happiness, more beautiful than
- Seemed to escape the music and the word,
- Only, somehow, to keep
- A warmth that was lovelier than the song of any bird.
- Was it because it came up through this tree,
- Through the lucent leaves that twinkled on this tree,
- With the bright lamp there beneath them in the street?
- It was exquisitely sweet:
- So unaffected, so unconscious that it was heard.
- Or was it because she looked across the city,
- Across the hills of tenements, so black,
- And thought of all the mothers with a young and infinite
pity? . . .
- The child had fallen asleep, the hush swept back,
- The leaves hung lifeless on the tree.
- It was too bad the sky was dark.
- A cat came slinking close along the wall.
- For the moon was full just now, and in the park,
- If the sky were clear at all,
- The lovers upon the moonlight grass would sprawl,
- And whisper in the shadows, and laugh, and there
- She would be going, maybe, with a white rose in her hair
. . .
- But would youth at last grow weary of these things,
- Of the ribbons and the laces,
- And the latest way of putting up one's hair?
- Would she no longer care,
- In that undiscovered future of recurring springs,
- If, growing old and plain, she no longer turned the faces
- And saw the people stare?
- Would she hear music and not yearn
- To take her lover's arm for one more turn? . . .
- The leaves hung breathless on the dripping maple tree,
- The man across the street was going out.
- It was the evening made her think such things, no doubt.
- But would her lover grow old sooner than she? . . .
- Only the evening made her think such things, no doubt. .
- And yet, and yet,--
- Seeing the tired city, and the trees so still and wet,--
- It seemed as if all evenings were the same;
- As if all evenings came,
- Despite her smile at thinking of a kiss,
- With just such tragic peacefulness as this;
- With just such hint of loneliness or pain;
- The perfect quiet that comes after rain.
POEMS BY CONRAD AIKEN
"Evensong" is reprinted
from Anthology of Magazine Verse for 1916. Ed. William
Stanley Braithwaite. New York: Laurence J. Gomme, 1916.