The Phases of the Moon

An old man cocked his car upon a bridge;
He and his friend, their faces to the South,
Had trod the uneven road. Their hoots were soiled,
Their Connemara cloth worn out of shape;
They had kept a steady pace as though their beds,
Despite a dwindling and late-risen moon,
Were distant still. An old man cocked his ear.

Aherne.  What made that sound?

Robartes.                             A rat or water-hen
   Splashed, or an otter slid into the stream.
   We are on the bridge; that shadow is the tower,
   And the light proves that he is reading still.
   He has found, after the manner of his kind,
   Mere images; chosen this place to live in
   Because, it may be, of the candle-light
   From the far tower where Milton's Platonist
   Sat late, or Shelley's visionary prince:
   The lonely light that Samuel Palmer engraved,
   An image of mysterious wisdom won by toil;
   And now he seeks in book or manuscript
   What he shall never find.

Aherne.                                  Why should not you
   Who know it all ring at his door, and speak
   Just truth enough to show that his whole life
   Will scarcely find for him a broken crust
   Of all those truths that are your daily bread;
   And when you have spoken take the roads again?

Robartes. He wrote of me in that extravagant style
   He had learned from Pater, and to round his tale
   Said I was dead; and dead I choose to be.

Aherne. Sing me the changes of the moon once more;
   True song, though speech: 'mine author sung it me.'

Robartes. Twenty-and-eight the phases of the moon,
   The full and the moon's dark and all the crescents,
   Twenty-and-eight, and yet but six-and-twenty
   The cradles that a man must needs be rocked in:
   For there's no human life at the full or the dark.
   From the first crescent to the half, the dream
   But summons to adventure and the man
   Is always happy like a bird or a beast;
   But while the moon is rounding towards the full
   He follows whatever whim's most difficult
   Among whims not impossible, and though scarred.
   As with the cat-o'-nine-tails of the mind,
   His body moulded from within his body
   Grows comelier. Eleven pass, and then
   Athena takes Achilles by the hair,
   Hector is in the dust, Nietzsche is born,
   Because the hero's crescent is the twelfth.
   And yet, twice born, twice buried, grow he must,
   Before the full moon, helpless as a worm.
   The thirteenth moon but sets the soul at war
   In its own being, and when that war's begun
   There is no muscle in the arm; and after,
   Under the frenzy of the fourteenth moon,
   The soul begins to tremble into stillness,
   To die into the labyrinth of itself!

Aherne. Sing out the song; sing to the end, and sing
   The strange reward of all that discipline.

Robartes. All thought becomes an image and the soul
   Becomes a body: that body and that soul
   Too perfect at the full to lie in a cradle,
   Too lonely for the traffic of the world:
   Body and soul cast out and cast away
   Beyond the visible world.

Aherne.                               All dreams of the soul
   End in a beautiful man's or woman's body.

Robartes, Have you not always known it?

Aherne.                                 The song will have it
   That those that we have loved got their long fingers
   From death, and wounds, or on Sinai's top,
   Or from some bloody whip in their own hands.
   They ran from cradle to cradle till at last
   Their beauty dropped out of the loneliness
   Of body and soul.

Robartes.                      The lover's heart knows that.

Aherne.  It must be that the terror in their eyes
   Is memory or foreknowledge of the hour
   When all is fed with light and heaven is bare.

Robartes.  When the moon's full those creatures of the
                full
   Are met on the waste hills by countrymen
   Who shudder and hurry by: body and soul
   Estranged amid the strangeness of themselves,
   Caught up in contemplation, the mind's eye
   Fixed upon images that once were thought;
   For separate, perfect, and immovable
   Images can break the solitude
   Of lovely, satisfied, indifferent eyes.

   And thereupon with aged, high-pitched voice
   Aherne laughed, thinking of the man within,
   His sleepless candle and laborious pen.

Robartes. And after that the crumbling of the moon.
   The soul remembering its loneliness
   Shudders in many cradles; all is changed,
   It would be the world's servant, and as it serves,
   Choosing whatever task's most difficult
   Among tasks not impossible, it takes
   Upon the body and upon the soul
   The coarseness of the drudge.

Aherne.                                         Before the full
   It sought itself and afterwards the world.

Robartes. Because you are forgotten, half out of life,
   And never wrote a book, your thought is clear.
   Reformer, merchant, statesman, learned man,
   Dutiful husband, honest wife by turn,
   Cradle upon cradle, and all in flight and all
   Deformed because there is no deformity
   But saves us from a dream.

Aherne.                                        And what of those
   That the last servile crescent has set free?

Robartes. Because all dark, like those that are all light,
   They are cast beyond the verge, and in a cloud,
   Crying to one another like the bats;
   And having no desire they cannot tell
   What's good or bad, or what it is to triumph
   At the perfection of one's own obedience;
   And yet they speak what's blown into the mind;
   Deformed beyond deformity, unformed,
   Insipid as the dough before it is baked,
   They change their bodies at a word.

Aherne.                                            And then?

Rohartes. When all the dough has been so kneaded up
   That it can take what form cook Nature fancies,
   The first thin crescent is wheeled round once more.

Aherne.  But the escape; the song's not finished yet.

Robartes.  Hunchback and Saint and Fool are the last
                crescents.
   The burning bow that once could shoot an arrow
   Out of the up and down, the wagon-wheel
   Of beauty's cruelty and wisdom's chatter -
   Out of that raving tide - is drawn betwixt
   Deformity of body and of mind.

Aherne. Were not our beds far off I'd ring the bell,
   Stand under the rough roof-timbers of the hall
   Beside the castle door, where all is stark
   Austerity, a place set out for wisdom
   That he will never find; I'd play a part;
   He would never know me after all these years
   But take me for some drunken countryman:
   I'd stand and mutter there until he caught
   'Hunchback and Saint and Fool,' and that they came
   Under the three last crescents of the moon.
   And then I'd stagger out. He'd crack his wits
   Day after day, yet never find the meaning.

   And then he laughed to think that what seemed hard
   Should be so simple - a bat rose from the hazels
   And circled round him with its squeaky cry,
   The light in the tower window was put out.