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Dreams In War Time

Dreamed c. 1917 by Amy Lowell

I wandered through a house of many rooms.
It grew darker and darker,
Until, at last, I could only find my way
By passing my fingers along the wall.
Suddenly my hand shot through an open window,
And the thorn of a rose I could not see
Pricked it so sharply
That I cried aloud.


I dug a grave under an oak-tree.
With infinite care, I stamped my spade
Into the heavy grass.
The sod sucked it,
And I drew it out with effort,
Watching the steel run liquid in the moonlight
As it came clear.
I stooped, and dug, and never turned,
For behind me,
On the dried leaves,
My own face lay like a white pebble,


I gambled with a silver money.
The dried seed-vessels of "honesty"
Were stacked in front of me.
Dry, white years slipping through my fingers
One by one.
One by one, gathered by the Croupier.
"Faites vos jeux, Messieurs."
I staked on the red,
And the black won.
Dry years,
Dead years;
But I had a system
I always staked on the red.


I painted the leaves of bushes red
And shouted: "Fire! Fire!"
But the neighbors only laughed.
"We cannot warm our hands at them," they said.
Then they cut down my bushes,
And made a bonfire,
And danced about it.
But I covered my face and wept,
For ashes are not beautiful
Even in the dawn.


I followed a procession of singing girls
Who danced to the glitter of tambourines
Where the street turned at a lighted corner,
I caught the purple dress of one of the dancers,
But, as I grasped, it tore,
And the purple dye ran from it
Like blood
Upon the ground.


I wished to post a letter,
But although I paid much,
Still the letter was overweight.
"What is in this package?" said the clerk,
"It is very heavy."
"Yes," I said,
"And yet it is only dried fruit."


I had made a kite,
On it I had pasted golden stars
And white torches,
And the tail was spotted scarlet like a tiger-lily,
And very long.
I flew my kite,
And my soul was contented
Watching it flash against the concave of the sky
My friends pointed at the clouds;
They begged me to take in my kite.
But I was happy
Seeing the mirror shock of it
Against the black clouds.
Then the lightning came
And struck the kite.
It puffed--blazed--fell.
But still I walked on,
In the drowning rain,
Slowly winding up the string.

--Amy Lowell


Lowell was a famous poet by 1917--a wild experimentalist clashing with Ezra Pound over poetry's next direction. World War I burst the bubble. These seven dream-poems explore the deep impact of war at home--pressures coarsening civilians, creating calluses that we (in a time when a war's always on the news) barely even notice, for we've never known peace. Even if it was the peace of ignorance.

  1. Thorn: this dream sums up the Great War more plausibly than any historian I've read. No plan, no malice, no great economic forces--no reason at all, really. Groping blind, we blundered into a thorn. And twenty million bled.
  2. Grave: Lowell digs her own in solidarity. The soldiers dug the trenches, and then obediently died in them. Looking away from the pale face like a pebble. They knew. So did those back home.
  3. Honesty: Lowell keeps placing her bets, her honesty-seeds, her poems, on red life--and black wins. And wins. And wins.
  4. Fire: Lowell warned them, or dreams she did. They have their hot war-dance anyway. And their ashes after.
  5. Dye: I hear a grim pun in this. The dancers of life, dyed; and the dye spreads. And stains.
  6. Fruit: the weakest on first read, for me. Yet it shows the war's effect on Lowell more intimately. Her creative fruit's dried up--nothing fresh to give. And its dryness gives it an unwanted weight.
  7. Kite: Lowell wants to go on writing lyric poetry on the sky. The war-storm has other ideas. The prophetic last three lines sum up the peace as tersely as one thorn did the war. Civilization's kite burned--nothing and no one's left in the sky. So through the twenties, they drank and looked away--trying to ignore that limp string that once rose to Heaven.
--Chris Wayan

LISTS AND LINKS: war - nocturnes - blindness - pain in dreams - earth and under - alter egos - bets and dares - honesty - puns - creativity - kites - grief and loss - poetry - 60 years earlier, Amy Lowell's great-uncle, also a prominent poet, dreamed of a Gold Egg

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