William Bliss Carman

Here you will find the Long Poem Behind the Arras of poet William Bliss Carman

Behind the Arras

I like the old house tolerably well, 
 Where I must dwell 
 Like a familiar gnome; 
 And yet I never shall feel quite at home. 
 I love to roam. 
 Day after day I loiter and explore 
 From door to door; 
 So many treasures lure 
 The curious mind. What histories obscure 
 They must immure! 

 I hardly know which room I care for best; 
 This fronting west, 
 With the strange hills in view, 
 Where the great sun goes,?where I may go too, 
 When my lease is through,? 

 Or this one for the morning and the east, 
 Where a man may feast 
 His eyes on looming sails, 
 And be the first to catch their foreign hails 
 Or spy their bales 

 Then the pale summer twilights towards the pole! 
 It thrills my soul 
 With wonder and delight, 
 When gold-green shadows walk the world at night, 
 So still, so bright. 

 There at the window many a time of year, 
 Strange faces peer, 
 Solemn though not unkind, 
 Their wits in search of something left behind 
 Time out of mind; 

 As if they once had lived here, and stole back 
 To the window crack 
 For a peep which seems to say, 
 "Good fortune, brother, in your house of clay!" 
 And then, "Good day!" 

 I hear their footsteps on the gravel walk, 
 Their scraps of talk, 
 And hurrying after, reach 
 Only the crazy sea-drone of the beach 
 In endless speech. 

 And often when the autumn noons are still, 
 By swale and hill 
 I see their gipsy signs, 
 Trespassing somewhere on my border lines; 
 With what designs? 

 I forth afoot; but when I reach the place, 
 Hardly a trace, 
 Save the soft purple haze 
 Of smouldering camp-fires, any hint betrays 
 Who went these ways. 

 Or tatters of pale aster blue, descried 
 By the roadside, 
 Reveal whither they fled; 
 Or the swamp maples, here and there a shred 
 Of Indian red. 

 But most of all, the marvellous tapestry 
 Engrosses me, 
 Where such strange things are rife, 
 Fancies of beasts and flowers, and love and strife, 
 Woven to the life; 

 Degraded shapes and splendid seraph forms, 
 And teeming swarms 
 Of creatures gauzy dim 
 That cloud the dusk, and painted fish that swim, 
 At the weaver's whim; 

 And wonderful birds that wheel and hang in the air; 
 And beings with hair, 
 And moving eyes in the face, 
 And white bone teeth and hideous grins, who race 
 From place to place; 

 They build great temples to their John-a-nod, 
 And fume and plod 
 To deck themselves with gold, 
 And paint themselves like chattels to be sold, 
 Then turn to mould. 

 Sometimes they seem almost as real as I; 
 I hear them sigh; 
 I see them bow with grief, 
 Or dance for joy like any aspen leaf; 
 But that is brief. 

 They have mad wars and phantom marriages; 
 Nor seem to guess 
 There are dimensions still, 
 Beyond thought's reach, though not beyond love's will, 
 For soul to fill. 

 And some I call my friends, and make believe 
 Their spirits grieve, 
 Brood, and rejoice with mine; 
 I talk to them in phrases quaint and fine 
 Over the wine; 

 I tell them all my secrets; touch their hands; 
 One understands 
 Perhaps. How hard he tries 
 To speak! And yet those glorious mild eyes, 
 His best replies! 

 I even have my cronies, one or two, 
 My cherished few. 
 But ah, they do not stay! 
 For the sun fades them and they pass away, 
 As I grow gray. 

 Yet while they last how actual they seem! 
 Their faces beam; 
 I give them all their names, 
 Bertram and Gilbert, Louis, Frank and James, 
 Each with his aims; 

 One thinks he is a poet, and writes verse 
 His friends rehearse; 
 Another is full of law; 
 A third sees pictures which his hand can draw 
 Without a flaw. 

 Strangest of all, they never rest. Day long 
 They shift and throng, 
 Moved by invisible will, 
 Like a great breath which puffs across my sill, 
 And then is still; 

 It shakes my lovely manikins on the wall; 
 Squall after squall, 
 Gust upon crowding gust, 
 It sweeps them willy nilly like blown dust 
 With glory or lust. 

 It is the world-ghost, the time-spirit, come 
 None knows wherefrom, 
 The viewless draughty tide 
 And wash of being. I hear it yaw and glide, 
 And then subside, 

 Along these ghostly corridors and halls 
 Like faint footfalls; 
 The hangings stir in the air; 
 And when I start and challenge, "Who goes there?" 
 It answers, "Where?" 

 The wail and sob and moan of the sea's dirge, 
 Its plangor and surge; 
 The awful biting sough 
 Of drifted snows along some arctic bluff, 
 That veer and luff, 

 And have the vacant boding human cr