Conrad Aiken

Our Secret Selves

The snow floats down upon us, mingled with rain . . . 
It eddies around pale lilac lamps, and falls 
Down golden-windowed walls. 
We were all born of flesh, in a flare of pain, 
We do not remember the red roots whence we rose, 
But we know that we rose and walked, that after a while 
We shall lie down again. 

The snow floats down upon us, we turn, we turn, 
Through gorges filled with light we sound and flow . . . 
One is struck down and hurt, we crowd about him, 
We bear him away, gaze after his listless body; 
But whether he lives or dies we do not know. 

One of us sings in the street, and we listen to him; 
The words ring over us like vague bells of sorrow. 
He sings of a house he lived in long ago. 
It is strange; this house of dust was the house I lived in; 
The house you lived in, the house that all of us know. 
And coiling slowly about him, and laughing at him, 
And throwing him pennies, we bear away 
A mournful echo of other times and places, 
And follow a dream . . . a dream that will not stay. 

Down long broad flights of lamplit stairs we flow; 
Noisy, in scattered waves, crowding and shouting; 
In broken slow cascades. 
The gardens extend before us . . . We spread out swiftly; 
Trees are above us, and darkness. The canyon fades . . . 

And we recall, with a gleaming stab of sadness, 
Vaguely and incoherently, some dream 
Of a world we came from, a world of sun-blue hills . . . 
A black wood whispers around us, green eyes gleam; 
Someone cries in the forest, and someone kills. 

We flow to the east, to the white-lined shivering sea; 
We reach to the west, where the whirling sun went down; 
We close our eyes to music in bright cafees. 
We diverge from clamorous streets to streets that are silent. 
We loaf where the wind-spilled fountain plays. 

And, growing tired, we turn aside at last, 
Remember our secret selves, seek out our towers, 
Lay weary hands on the banisters, and climb; 
Climbing, each, to his little four-square dream 
Of love or lust or beauty or death or crime.