John Crowe Ransom


JANE SNEED BEGAN IT: My poor John, alas, 
Ten years ago, pretty it was in a ring 
To run as boys and girls do in the grass— 
At that time leap and hollo and skip and sing 
Came easily to pass. 

JOHN BLACK SAID: I’ll interpret what you mean.
Our infant selves played happily with our others, 
The cunning me and mine came not between 
Which like a sword is, O sweethearts and brothers 
Numberless, who have seen. 

JANE SNEED: I tell you what I used to do. 
For joy I used to run by river or wood 
To see with what speed all came trooping too; 
Those days I could not quit you if I would, 
Nor yet quit me could you. 

JOHN BLACK RETURNED: But now, Jane, it appears 
We are sly travelers, keeping good lookout 
Against the face whose ravage cries for tears; 
Old friends, ill met; and supposing I call out, 
“Draw nigh, friend of those years”— 

Before he think of any reason why, 
The features of that man resolve and burn 
For one long look—but then the flame must die. 
The cold hearts in us mortally return, 
We must not fructify. 

JANE SNEED SAID BITTERLY: Why, John, you are right. 
We were spendthrifts of joy when we were young, 
But we became usurious, and in fright 
Conceived that such a waste of days was wrong 
For marchers unto night. 

JOHN BLACK SAID: Yes, exactly, that was when 
It happened. For Time involved us: in his toils 
We learned to fear. And every day since then 
We are mortals teasing for immortal spoils, 
Desperate women and men. 

JANE SNEED CONSENTED: It was nothing but this. 
Love suffereth long, is kind—but not in fear. 
For boys run banded, and simple sweethearts kiss, 
Till in one day the dream of Death appear— 
Then metamorphosis. 

JOHN BLACK SAID: To explain mistrust and wars, 
Theogony has a black witch with hell’s broth; 
Or a preposterous marriage of fleshless stars; 
Or the Fiend’s own naked person; or God wroth 
Fingering his red scars. 

And philosophy, an art of equal worth, 
Tells of a flaw in the firmament—spots in the sun— 
A Third Day’s error when the upheaving earth 
Was young and prime—a Fate reposed upon 
The born before their birth. 

Not I, not you—about those mysteries!
Something, John Black, came flapping out of hell 
And wrought between us, and the chasm is 
Digged, and it digged it well. 

That love has suffered a most fatal eclipse; 
All brotherhoods, filialities insecure; 
Lovers compounding honey on their lips 
With deep doubts to endure. 

JANE SNEED SIGHED SLOWLY: I suppose it stands 
Just so. Yet I can picture happiness— 
Perhaps there wander lovers in some lands 
Who when Night comes, when it is fathomless, 
Consort their little hands; 

And well, John Black, the darkened lovers may, 
The hands hold much of heat in little storage, 
The eyes are almost torches good as day, 
And one flame to the other flame cries Courage, 
When heart to heart slide they; 

This is a dream. We lovers mournfully 
Exchange our bleak despairs. We are one part love 
And nine parts bitter thought. As well might be 
Beneath ground as above.