Colors of Life
Max Eastman

    American Ideals of Poetry, a Preface


  1. Coming to Port
  2. The Lonely Bather
  3. In My Room
  4. Hours
  5. Fire and Water
  6. You Make No Answer
  7. Out of a Dark Night
  8. A Morning
  9. Anniversary
  10. Autumn Light
  11. A Modern Messiah
  12. In a Red Cross Hospital
  13. A Visit
  14. To Love
  15. Car-Window
  16. Little Fishes
  17. Invocation
  18. Sometimes
  19. To Marie Sukloff an Assassin
  20. To an Actress
  21. Eyes
  22. X-Rays


    A Preface About Sonnets

  23. A Praiseful Complaint
  24. Those You Dined With
  25. The Passions of a Child
  26. As the Crag Eagle
  27. To My Father
  28. To Edward S. Martin
  29. Europe 1914
  30. Isadora Duncan
  31. The Sun
  32. The Net
  33. A Dune Sonnet


  34. Sea-Shore
  35. Rainy Song
  36. A Hymn to God
  37. Coming Spring
  38. Daisies
  39. Bobolink
  40. Diogenes

    Earlier Poems

    A Preface About Their Philosophy

  41. At the Aquarium
  42. Earth's Night
  43. The Thought of Protagoras
  44. To The Ascending Moon
  45. Leif Ericson
  46. Midnight
  47. In March
  48. The Flowers at Church
  49. To the Little Bed at Night
  50. In a Dungeon of Russia
  51. To a Tawny Thrush
  52. The Saint Gaudens Statues
  53. Summer Sunday

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Max Eastman
Colors of Life
Songs and Sonnets

Max Eastman


Edited for the Web
by Steve Spanoudis

. Coming to Port

    OUR motion on the soft still misty river
    Is like rest; and like the hours of doom
    That rise and follow one another ever,
    Ghosts of sleeping battle-cruisers loom
    And languish quickly in the liquid gloom.

    From watching them your eyes in tears are gleaming,
    And your heart is still; and like a sound
    In silence is your stillness in the streaming
    Of light-whispered laughter all around,
    Where happy passengers are homeward bound.

    Their sunny journey is in safety ending,
    But for you no journey has an end.
    The tears that to your eyes their light are lending
    Shine in softness to no waiting friend;
    Beyond the search of any eye they tend.

    There is no nest for the unresting fever
    Of your passion, yearning, hungry-veined;
    There is no rest nor blessedness forever
    That can clasp you, quivering and pained,
    Whose eyes burn ever to the Unattained.

    Like time, and like the river's fateful flowing,
    Flowing though the ship has come to rest,
    Your love is passing through the mist and going,
    Going infinitely from your breast,
    Surpassing time on its immortal quest.

    The ship draws softly to the place of waiting,
    All flush forward with a joyful aim,
    And while their hands with happy hands are mating,
    Lips are laughing out a happy name--
    You pause, and pass among them like a flame.

    Max Eastman

. The Lonely Bather

    LOOSE-VEIINED and languid as the yellow mist
    That swoons along the river in the sun,
    Your flesh of passion pale and amber-kissed
    With years of heat that through your veins have run,

    You lie with aching memories of love
    Alone and naked by the weeping tree,
    And indolent with inward longing move
    Your slim and sallow limbs despondently.

    If love came warm and burning to your dream,
    And filled you all your avid veins require,
    You would lie sadly still beside the stream,
    Sobbing in torture of that vivid fire;

    The same low sky would weave its fading blue,
    The river still exhale its misty rain,
    The willow trail its waving over you,
    Your longing only quickened into pain.

    Bed your desire among the pressing grasses;
    Lonely lie, and let your thirsting breasts
    Lie on you, lonely, till the fever passes,
    Till the undulation of your longing rests.

    Max Eastman

. In My Room

    [Wang Wei was a great Chinese painter and poet, of the 8th century --Max Eastman]

    IN THIS high room, my room of quiet space,
    Sun-yellow softened for my happiness,
    I learn of you, Wang Wei, and of your loves;
    Your rhythmic fisher sweet with solitude
    Beneath a willow by the river stream;
    Your aged plum tree bearing lonely bloom
    Beside the torrent's thunder; misty buds
    Among your saplings; delicate-leaved bamboo.
    My room is sweet because of you, Wang Wei,
    Your tranquil and creative-fingered love
    So many mounds of mournful years ago
    In that cool valley where the colors lived.
    My ceiling slopes a little like far mountains.
    Your delicate-leaved bamboo can flourish here.

    Max Eastman

. Hours

    HOURS when I love you, are like tranquil pools,
    The liquid jewels of the forest, where
    The hunted runner dips his hand, and cools
    His fevered ankles, and the ferny air
    Comes blowing softly on his heaving breast,
    Hinting the sacred mystery of rest.

    Max Eastman

. Fire and Water

    FLAME-Heart, take back your love. Swift, sure
    And poignant as the dagger to the mark,
    Your will is burning ever; it is pure.
    Mine is vague water welling through the dark,
    Holding all substances--except the spark.

    Picture the pleasure of the meadow stream
    When some clear striding naked-footed girl
    Cuts swift and straightly as a gleam
    Across its bosom ambling and aswirl
    With mooning eddies and soft lips acurl;

    Such was our meeting--fatefully so brief.
    I have no purpose and no power to clutch.
    Gleam onward, maiden, to your goal of grief;
    And I more sadly flow, remembering much,
    Yet doomed to take the form of all I touch.

    Max Eastman

. You Make No Answer

    YOU make no answer. You have stolen away
    Deliberately in that twilight sorrow
    Where the dark flame that is your being shines
    So well. Mysterious and deeply tender
    In your motion you have softly left me,
    And the little path along the house is still.
    And I, a child forsaken of its mother,
    I, a pilgrim leaning for a friend,
    Grow faint, and tell myself in terror that
    My love reborn and burning shall yet bring you--
    More than friend and slender-bodied mother--
    sweet-passioned spirit, shining home!

    Max Eastman

. Out of a Dark Night

    DEATH is more tranquil than the life of love,

    More calm, more sure, and more unanguished.
    the path among the trees is far more tranquil to the dead
    Than to these anxious hearts, uptroubled from their beds,
    Who pace in pallid darkness on the leaves,
    For no good reason--for no reason
    But because their limbs will not lie still upon the sheet.
    Their limbs will not lie still. how I pity them.
    Sad hearts--their marrow is a-quiver,
    And they can not lie them down in tranquil sadness like the dead.

    Max Eastman

. A Morning

    AGAIN this morning the bold autumn,
    Spreading through the woods her sacred fire,
    Brings the rich color of your presence
    Warmly luminous to my desire--

    Brings to my heart the dear wild worship,
    High and wayward as the windy air,
    And to my pulse the hot sweet passion
    Burning crimson like a poison there.

    Max Eastman

. Anniversary

    THE flowers we planted in the tender spring,
    And through the summer watched their blossoming,
    Died with our love in autumn's thoughtful weather,
    Died and dropped downward altogether.

    Today in April in the vivid grass
    They flash again their laughter, pink and yellow,
    They wake before the frosty sunbeams pass,
    Gay bold to leave their chilly pillow.

    But love sleeps longer in his wintry bed,
    He sleeps as though the lifting light were dead,
    And spring poured not her colors on the meadow,
    He sleeps in his cold sober shadow.

    Max Eastman

. Autumn Light

    SO BRIGHT and soft is the sweet air of morning,
    And so tenderly the light descends,
    And blesses with its gentle-falling fingers
    All the leaves unto the valley's ends--

    It brings them all to being when it touches
    With its paleness every glowing vein;
    The wild and flaming hollows of the forest
    Kindle all their crimson in its rain;

    And every curve receives its share of morning,
    Every little shadow softly grows,
    And motion finds a melody more tender
    That like a phantom through the branches goes--

    So bright and soft and tranquil-rendering,
    And quiet in its giving, as though love,
    The morning dream of life, were born of longing,
    And really poured its being from above.

    Max Eastman

. A Modern Messiah

    SCARRED with sensuality and pain
    And weary labor in a mind not hard
    Enough to think, a heart too always tender,
    Sits the Christ of failure with his lovers.
    They are wiser than his parables,
    But he more potent, for he has the gift
    Of hopelessness, and want of faith, and love.

    Max Eastman

. In a Red Cross Hospital

    TODAY I saw a face--it was a beak,
    That peered, with pale round yellow vapid eyes,
    Above the bloody muck that had been lips
    And teeth and chin. A plodding doctor poured
    Some water through a rubber down a hole
    He made in that black bag of horny blood.
    The beak revived, it smiled--as chickens smile.
    The doctor hopes he'll find the man a tongue
    To tell with, what he used to be.

    Max Eastman

. A Visit

    YOU came with your small tapering flame of passion
    Thinly burning like a nun's desire,
    Your eyes in slim and half-expectant fashion
    Faintly painting what your veins require
    With little pallid pyramids of fire.

    So very small and unfulfilled you sat,
    Building a little talk to keep you there,
    Your face and body pointed like a cat,
    Your legs not reaching down from any chair,
    Your thoughts not really reaching anywhere;

    So dumb and tiny--yet Love guessed your mood,
    And pressed his phial in its fervent bed,
    And poured his thrilling philtre in my blood,
    And all his lustre on your body shed,
    And hot enamel on the words you said;

    Your littleness became a monstrous thing,
    A rank retort, a hot and waiting vat,
    Your eyes green-copper like a snake in spring,
    And lusty-bold your laying off your hat,
    And fell your purpose like a hungry cat;

    The dark fell on us through our narrowed eyes,
    The heat lashed up around us from the floor,
    Encrimsoning the lips of our surprise
    To sway like music, and like burning pour
    Across the truth that parted us before.

    Max Eastman

. To Love

    LOVE, often your delicate fingers beckon,
    And always I follow.

    Oh, if I could stay, and possess your beauty
    Beckoning always!

    Max Eastman

. Car-Window

    A LIGHT is laughing thro' the scattered rain,
    A color quickens in the meadow;
    Drops are still, upon the window-pane--
    They cast a silver shadow.

    Max Eastman

. Little Fishes

    A MYRIAD curious fishes,
    Tiny and pink and pale,
    All swimming north together
    With rhythmical fin and tail--

    A mountain surges among them,
    They dart and startle and float,
    Mere wiggling minutes of terror,
    Into that mountain's throat.

    Max Eastman

. Invocation

    TRUTH, be more precious to me than the eyes
    Of happy love; burn hotter in my throat
    Than passion; and possess me like my pride;
    More sweet than freedom; more desired than joy;
    More sacred than the pleasing of a friend.

    Max Eastman

. Sometimes

    SOMETIMES a child's voice crying on the street
    Comes winging like an arrow through the wind
    To pierce my breast with you, my baby, and
    My pen is weak, and all my thinking dreams
    Are mist of yearning for the touch of you.

    Max Eastman

. To Marie Sukloff--An Assassin

       IN YOUR lips moving fervently,
       Your eyes hot with fire,
    Life seems immortally young with desire,
       Life seems impetuous,
       Hungrily free,
    Having no faith but its burning to be.

       You could dance laughingly,
       Draw where you move,
    Hearts, hands and voices pouring you love.
       Youth be a carnival,
       Life be the queen,
    You could go dancing and singing and seen!

       Whence came that tenderness
       Cruel and wild,
    Arming with murder the hand of a child?
       Whence came that breaking fire,
       Nursed and caressed
    With passion's white fingers for tyranny's breast?

       In your soul sacredly,
       Deeper than fear,
    Burns there a miracle dreadful to hear?
       Virgin of murder,
       Was it God's breath,
    Begetting a savior, that filled you with Death?

    Max Eastman

. To an Actress

    YOU walk as vivid as a sunny storm
    Across the drinking meadows, through the eyes
    Of stricken men, with light and fury mingled,
    Making passionate and making young.
    You drive the mists, and lift the drooping heads,
    And in the sultry place of custom raise
    The naked colors of abounding life,
    And sound the crimson windy call of liberty.

    Max Eastman

. Eyes

    MY HEART is sick because of all the eyes
    That look upon you drinkingly.
    They almost touch you with their fever look!
    keep your beauty like a mystic gem,
    Clear-surfaced--give no fibre grain of hold
    To those prehensile amorous bold eyes!
    My heart is sick!
                               O love, let not my heart
    Corrupt the flower of your liberty--
    Go spend your beauty like the summer sky
    That makes a radius of every glance,
    And with your morning color light them all!

    Max Eastman

. X-Rays

    YOUR eyes were gem-like in that dim deep chamber
    Hushed and sombre with imprisoned fire,
    With yellow ghostly globes of intense aether
    Potent as the rays of pure desire.

    Your voice was startled into vivid wonder,
    When the winged wild whining mystic wheel
    Took flight and shot the dark with frosty crashings
    Like an ice-berg splitting to the keel.

    Your flesh was never warmer to my passion
    Than when, moving in that lumor green,
    We saw with eyes our fragile bones enamoured
    Clasping sadly on the pallid screen.

    You seemed so virginal and so undreaming
    Of the burning hunger in my eyes,
    To peer more fever-deeply in your being
    Than the very death of passion lies.

    The subtle-tuned shy motions of your spirit,
    Fashioned through the ages for the sun,
    Were dumb in that green lustre-haunted cavern
    Where you walked a naked skeleton;

    Slim-hipped and fluent and of lovely motion,
    Living to the tip of every bone,
    And ah, too exquisitely vivid-moving
    Ever to lie wanly down alone--

    To lie forever down so still and slender,
    Tracing on the ancient screen of night
    That naked and pale writing of the wonder
    Of your beauty breathing in the light.

    Max Eastman

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