by: John Gray
I was a barber; and there went
- Beneath my hand, oh! names extravagant.
- Beneath my trembling fingers, many a mask
- Of many a pleasant girl. It was my task
- To gild their hair, carefully, strand by strand;
- To paint their eyebrows with a timid hand;
- To draw a bodkin, from a vase of kohl,
- Through the closed lashes; pencils from a bowl
- Of Sepia to paint them underneath;
- To blow upon their eyes with a soft breath.
- Then lay them back and watched the leaping bands.
- The dream grew vague. I moulded with my hands
- The mobile breasts, the valley; and the waist
- I touched; and pigments reverently placed
- Upon their thighs in sapient spots and stains,
- Beryls and crysolites and diaphanes,
- And gems whose hot harsh names are never said,
- I was a masseur; and my fingers bled
- With wonder as I touched their awful limbs.
- Suddenly, in the marble trough, there seems
- O, last of my pale mistresses, Sweetness!
- A twy-lipped scarlet pansy. My caress
- Tinge thy steel-gray eyes to violet.
- Adown thy body skips the pit-a-pat
- Of treatment once heard in a hospital
- For plagues that fascinate, but half appal.
- So, at the sound, the blood of one stood cold.
- My chaste hair ripened into sudden gold.
- The throat, the shoulders, swelled and were uncouth
- The breasts rose up and offered each a mouth.
- And on the belly pallid blushes crept,
- That maddened me, until I laughed and wept.
POEMS BY JOHN GRAY
"The Barber" is reprinted
from Silverpoints. John Gray. London: Elkin Mathews and
John Lane, 1893.