Conrad Aiken

The Dance of Life

Gracious and lovable and sweet, 
She made his jaded pulses beat, 
And made the glare of streets grow dim 
And life more soft and hushed for him.... 
Over her shoulder now she smiled 
Trustfully to him, like a child, 
The while her fingers gayly moved 
Along these white keys dearly loved, 
Making them laugh a jocund measure, 
Making them show and sing her pleasure.... 
A smile that dwelt upon his eyes, 
To see what mood might therein rise,-- 
What point of soft light seen afar 
Which might dilate to moon or star.... 
A smile that for a second space 
Brooded wistfully on her face, 
Opening soft her spirit's door, 
Disclosing depths undreamed before: 
Passionate depths of half-seen flame, 
Young loveliness despising shame, 
Desire that trembled to meet desire, 
And fire that yearned to fuse with fire.... 
And lightly then she turned away, 
Ironic music rippled gay,-- 
Subtle sarcastic flippancies 
Disguising speechless ecstasies... 
"Play something else..." He rose to turn 
The pages, while the deep nocturne 
Struck slow rich chords of plangent pain, 
Beautiful, into heart and brain; 
A tortured, anguished, suffering thing 
That seemed at once to cry and sing; 
Despairing love that strove to find 
The face beloved with fingers blind. 
He saw her body's slender grace, 
This drooping shoulder, shadowed face; 
All of her body, hidden so 
In saffron satin's flush and flow,-- 
Its white and simple loveliness,-- 
Came on his heart like giddiness, 
Seductive as this music came; 
Until her body seemed like flame,-- 
Intense white flame, so swiftly moving 
That it gave scarcely time for loving; 
But rapid as the sun she seemed, 
A blinding light that flowed and streamed 
And sang and shone through roaring space.... 
The sun itself! for now her face, 
Wherein this music's whole soul dwelt, 
Drew him like helpless star, he felt 
A fierce compulsion, reckless, mad, 
A sweet compulsion, troubled, glad, 
His trembling hands went out to her, 
Her cool flesh made his senses blur; 
While, head thrown backward, sinking dim, 
She opened wide her soul to him.... 
Past his life went whirls of lights, 
Chaos of music, days and nights, 
Her wild eyes yearned to lure him in 
And close him up in dark of sin, 
To lure him in and drink him down 
And all his soul in love to drown.... 
Her nakedness he seemed to see. 
And breast to breast, and knee to knee, 
Tremulous, breathless, swaying, burning, 
Body to beautiful body yearning, 
In joy and terror, flesh to flesh, 
They flamed in passion's fine red mesh,-- 
Living in one short breath again 
The cosmic tide's whole bliss and pain, 
Darkness and ether, nebulous fire, 
Vast suns whirled forth by vast desire, 
Huge moons flung out with monstrous mirth 
And stars in glorious hells of birth, 
All jubilating, blazing, reeling, 
An orgiastic splendor wheeling, 
Moon torn from earth and star from sun 
In screaming pain, titanic fun, 
And stars whirled back to sun again 
To be consumed in flaming pain!... 
In them at last all life was met: 
They were God's self! This earth had set. 
Mad fires of life sang through their veins, 
Ruinous blisses, joyous pains, 
Life the destroyer, life the breaker, 
And death, the everlasting maker....