Richard Wilbur

The Undead

      Even as children they were late sleepers, 
Preferring their dreams, even when quick with monsters, 
      To the world with all its breakable toys, 
           Its compacts with the dying; 

      From the stretched arms of withered trees 
They turned, fearing contagion of the mortal, 
      And even under the plums of summer 
           Drifted like winter moons. 

      Secret, unfriendly, pale, possessed 
Of the one wish, the thirst for mere survival, 
      They came, as all extremists do 
           In time, to a sort of grandeur: 

      Now, to their Balkan battlements 
Above the vulgar town of their first lives, 
      They rise at the moon's rising. Strange 
           That their utter self-concern 

      Should, in the end, have left them selfless: 
Mirrors fail to perceive them as they float 
      Through the great hall and up the staircase; 
           Nor are the cobwebs broken. 

      Into the pallid night emerging, 
Wrapped in their flapping capes, routinely maddened 
      By a wolf's cry, they stand for a moment 
           Stoking the mind's eye 

      With lewd thoughts of the pressed flowers 
And bric-a-brac of rooms with something to lose, - 
      Of love-dismembered dolls, and children 
           Buried in quilted sleep. 

      Then they are off in a negative frenzy, 
Their black shapes cropped into sudden bats 
      That swarm, burst, and are gone. Thinking 
           Of a thrush cold in the leaves 

      Who has sung his few summers truly, 
Or an old scholar resting his eyes at last, 
      We cannot be much impressed with vampires, 
           Colorful though they are; 

      Nevertheless, their pain is real, 
And requires our pity. Think how sad it must be 
      To thirst always for a scorned elixir, 
           The salt quotidian blood 

      Which, if mistrusted, has no savor; 
To prey on life forever and not possess it, 
      As rock-hollows, tide after tide, 
           Glassily strand the sea.