The Defeat of Youth

The Defeat of Youth

by Aldous Huxley

 

The Defeat of Youth

 

I. UNDER THE TREES.

 

HERE had been phantoms,

pale-remembered shapes

Of this and this occasion, sisterly

In their resemblances, each effigy

Crowned with the same bright hair above

the nape’s

White rounded firmness, and each body alert

With such swift loveliness, that very rest

Seemed a poised movement: … phantoms

that impressed

But a faint influence and could bless or hurt

No more than dreams. And these ghost

things were she;

For formless still, without identity,

Not one she seemed, not clear, but many

and dim.

One face among the legions of the street,

Indifferent mystery, she was for him

Something still uncreated, incomplete.

 

II.

 

Bright windy sunshine and the shadow of cloud

Quicken the heavy summer to new birth

Of life and motion on the drowsing earth;

The huge elms stir, till all the air is loud

With their awakening from the muffled sleep

Of long hot days. And on the wavering line

That marks the alternate ebb of shade and shine,

Under the trees, a little group is deep

In laughing talk. The shadow as it flows

Across them dims the lustre of a rose,

Quenches the bright clear gold of hair, the green

Of a girl’s dress, and life seems faint. The light

Swings back, and in the rose a fire is seen,

Gold hair’s aflame and green grows emerald bright.

 

III.

 

She leans, and there is laughter in the face

She turns towards him; and it seems a door

Suddenly opened on some desolate place

With a burst of light and music. What before

Was hidden shines in loveliness revealed.

Now first he sees her beautiful, and knows

That he must love her; and the doom is sealed

Of all his happiness and all the woes

That shall be born of pregnant years hereafter.

The swift poise of a head, a flutter of laughter—

And love flows in on him, its vastness pent

Within his narrow life: the pain it brings,

Boundless; for love is infinite discontent

With the poor lonely life of transient things.

 

IV.

 

Men see their god, an immanence divine,

Smile through the curve of flesh or moulded clay,

In bare ploughed lands that go sloping away

To meet the sky in one clean exquisite line.

Out of the short-seen dawns of ecstasy

They draw new beauty, whence new thoughts are born

And in their turn conceive, as grains of corn

Germ and create new life and endlessly

Shall live creating. Out of earthly seeds

Springs the aerial flower. One spirit proceeds

Through change, the same in body and in soul—

The spirit of life and love that triumphs still

In its slow struggle towards some far-off goal

Through lust and death and the bitterness of will.

 

V.

 

One spirit it is that stirs the fathomless deep

Of human minds, that shakes the elms in storm,

That sings in passionate music, or on warm

Still evenings bosoms forth the tufted sleep

Of thistle-seeds that wait a travelling wind.

One spirit shapes the subtle rhythms of thought

And the long thundering seas; the soul is wrought

Of one stuff with the body—matter and mind

Woven together in so close a mesh

That flowers may blossom into a song, that flesh

May strangely teach the loveliest holiest things

To watching spirits. Truth is brought to birth

Not in some vacant heaven: its beauty springs

From the dear bosom of material earth.

 

  1. IN THE HAY-LOFT.

 

The darkness in the loft is sweet and warm

With the stored hay … darkness intensified

By one bright shaft that enters through the wide

Tall doors from under fringes of a storm

Which makes the doomed sun brighter. On the hay,

Perched mountain-high they sit, and silently

Watch the motes dance and look at the dark sky

And mark how heartbreakingly far away

And yet how close and clear the distance seems,

While all at hand is cloud—brightness of dreams

Unrealisable, yet seen so clear,

So only just beyond the dark. They wait,

Scarce knowing what they wait for, half in fear;

Expectance draws the curtain from their fate.

 

VII.

 

The silence of the storm weighs heavily

On their strained spirits: sometimes one will say

Some trivial thing as though to ward away

Mysterious powers, that imminently lie

In wait, with the strong exorcising grace

Of everyday’s futility. Desire

Becomes upon a sudden a crystal fire,

Defined and hard:—If he could kiss her face,

Could kiss her hair! As if by chance, her hand

Brushes on his … Ah, can she understand?

Or is she pedestalled above the touch

Of his desire? He wonders: dare he seek

From her that little, that infinitely much?

And suddenly she kissed him on the cheek.

 

VIII. MOUNTAINS.

 

A stronger gust catches the cloud and twists

A spindle of rifted darkness through its heart,

A gash in the damp grey, which, thrust apart,

Reveals black depths a moment. Then the mists

Shut down again; a white uneasy sea

Heaves round the climbers and beneath their feet.

He strains on upwards through the wind and sleet,

Poised, or swift moving, or laboriously

Lifting his weight. And if he should let go,

What would he find down there, down there below

The curtain of the mist? What would he find

Beyond the dim and stifling now and here,

Beneath the unsettled turmoil of his mind?

Oh, there were nameless depths: he shrank with fear.

 

IX.

 

The hills more glorious in their coat of snow

Rise all around him, in the valleys run

Bright streams, and there are lakes that catch the sun,

And sunlit fields of emerald far below

That seem alive with inward light. In smoke

The far horizons fade; and there is peace

On everything, a sense of blessed release

From wilful strife. Like some prophetic cloak

The spirit of the mountains has descended

On all the world, and its unrest is ended.

Even the sea, glimpsed far away, seems still,

Hushed to a silver peace its storm and strife.

Mountains of vision, calm above fate and will,

You hold the promise of the freer life.

 

  1. IN THE LITTLE ROOM.

 

London unfurls its incense-coloured dusk

Before the panes, rich but a while ago

With the charred gold and the red ember-glow

Of dying sunset. Houses quit the husk

Of secrecy, which, through the day, returns

A blank to all enquiry: but at nights

The cheerfulness of fire and lamp invites

The darkness inward, curious of what burns

With such a coloured life when all is dead—

The daylight world outside, with overhead

White clouds, and where we walk, the blaze

Of wet and sunlit streets, shops and the stream

Of glittering traffic—all that the nights erase,

Colour and speed, surviving but in dream.

 

XI.

 

Outside the dusk, but in the little room

All is alive with light, which brightly glints

On curving cup or the stiff folds of chintz,

Evoking its own whiteness. Shadows loom,

Bulging and black, upon the walls, where hang

Rich coloured plates of beauties that appeal

Less to the sense of sight than to the feel,

So moistly satin are their breasts. A pang,

Almost of pain, runs through him when he sees

Hanging, a homeless marvel, next to these,

The silken breastplate of a mandarin,

Centuries dead, which he had given her.

Exquisite miracle, when men could spin

Jay’s wing and belly of the kingfisher!

 

XII.

 

In silence and as though expectantly

She crouches at his feet, while he caresses

His light-drawn fingers with the touch of tresses

Sleeked round her head, close-banded lustrously,

Save where at nape and temple the smooth brown

Sleaves out into a pale transparent mist

Of hair and tangled light. So to exist,

Poised ‘twixt the deep of thought where spirits drown

Life in a void impalpable nothingness,

And, on the other side, the pain and stress

Of clamorous action and the gnawing fire

Of will, focal upon a point of earth—even thus

To sit, eternally without desire

And yet self-known, were happiness for us.

 

XIII.

 

She turns her head and in a flash of laughter

Looks up at him: and helplessly he feels

That life has circled with returning wheels

Back to a starting-point. Before and after

Merge in this instant, momently the same:

For it was thus she leaned and laughing turned

When, manifest, the spirit of beauty burned

In her young body with an inward flame,

And first he knew and loved her. In full tide

Life halts within him, suddenly stupefied.

Sight blackness, lightning-struck; but blindly tender

He draws her up to meet him, and she lies

Close folded by his arms in glad surrender,

Smiling, and with drooped head and half closed eyes.

 

XIV.

 

“I give you all; would that I might give more.”

He sees the colour dawn across her cheeks

And die again to white; marks as she speaks

The trembling of her lips, as though she bore

Some sudden pain and hardly mastered it.

Within his arms he feels her shuddering,

Piteously trembling like some wild wood-thing

Caught unawares. Compassion infinite

Mounts up within him. Thus to hold and keep

And comfort her distressed, lull her to sleep

And gently kiss her brow and hair and eyes

Seems love perfected—templed high and white

Against the calm of golden autumn skies,

And shining quenchlessly with vestal light.

 

XV.

 

But passion ambushed by the aerial shrine

Comes forth to dance, a hoofed obscenity,

His satyr’s dance, with laughter in his eye,

And cruelty along the scarlet line

Of his bright smiling mouth. All uncontrolled,

Love’s rebel servant, he delights to beat

The maddening quick dry rhythm of goatish feet

Even in the sanctuary, and makes bold

To mime himself the godhead of the place.

He turns in terror from her trance-calmed face,

From the white-lidded languor of her eyes,

From lips that passion never shook before,

But glad in the promise of her sacrifice:

“I give you all; would that I might give more.”

 

XVI.

 

He is afraid, seeing her lie so still,

So utterly his own; afraid lest she

Should open wide her eyes and let him see

The passionate conquest of her virgin will

Shine there in triumph, starry-bright with tears.

He thrusts her from him: face and hair and breast,

Hands he had touched, lips that his lips had pressed,

Seem things deadly to be desired. He fears

Lest she should body forth in palpable shame

Those dreams and longings that his blood, aflame

Through the hot dark of summer nights, had dreamed

And longed. Must all his love, then, turn to this?

Was lust the end of what so pure had seemed?

He must escape, ah God! her touch, her kiss.

 

[Pg 13]

 

XVII. IN THE PARK.

 

Laughing, “To-night,” I said to him, “the Park

Has turned the garden of a symbolist.

Those old great trees that rise above the mist,

Gold with the light of evening, and the dark

Still water, where the dying sun evokes

An echoed glory—here I recognize

Those ancient gardens mirrored by the eyes

Of poets that hate the world of common folks,

Like you and me and that thin pious crowd,

Which yonder sings its hymns, so humbly proud

Of holiness. The garden of escape

Lies here; a small green world, and still the bride

Of quietness, although an imminent rape

Roars ceaselessly about on every side.”

 

XVIII.

 

I had forgotten what I had lightly said,

And without speech, without a thought I went,

Steeped in that golden quiet, all content

To drink the transient beauty as it sped

Out of eternal darkness into time

To light and burn and know itself a fire;

Yet doomed—ah, fate of the fulfilled desire!—

To fade, a meteor, paying for the crime

Of living glorious in the denser air

Of our material earth. A strange despair,

An agony, yet strangely, subtly sweet

And tender as an unpassionate caress,

Filled me … Oh laughter! youth’s conceit

Grown almost conscious of youth’s feebleness!

 

[Pg 14]

 

XIX.

 

He spoke abrupt across my dream: “Dear Garden,

A stranger to your magic peace, I stand

Beyond your walls, lost in a fevered land

Of stones and fire. Would that the gods would harden

My soul against its torment, or would blind

Those yearning glimpses of a life at rest

In perfect beauty—glimpses at the best

Through unpassed bars. And here, without, the wind

Of scattering passion blows: and women pass

Glitter-eyed down putrid alleys where the glass

Of some grimed window suddenly parades—

Ah, sickening heart-beat of desire!—the grace

Of bare and milk-warm flesh: the vision fades,

And at the pane shows a blind tortured face.”

 

  1. SELF-TORMENT.

 

The days pass by, empty of thought and will:

His thought grows stagnant at its very springs,

With every channel on the world of things

Dammed up, and thus, by its long standing still,

Poisons itself and sickens to decay.

All his high love for her, his fair desire,

Loses its light; and a dull rancorous fire,

Burning darkness and bitterness that prey

Upon his heart are left. His spirit burns

Sometimes with hatred, or the hatred turns

To a fierce lust for her, more cruel than hate,

Till he is weary wrestling with its force:

And evermore she haunts him, early and late,

As pitilessly as an old remorse.

 

[Pg 15]

 

XXI.

 

Streets and the solitude of country places

Were once his friends. But as a man born blind,

Opening his eyes from lovely dreams, might find

The world a desert and men’s larval faces

So hateful, he would wish to seek again

The darkness and his old chimeric sight

Of beauties inward—so, that fresh delight,

Vision of bright fields and angelic men,

That love which made him all the world, is gone.

Hating and hated now, he stands alone,

An island-point, measureless gulfs apart

From other lives, from the old happiness

Of being more than self, when heart to heart

Gave all, yet grew the greater, not the less.

 

XXII. THE QUARRY IN THE WOOD.

 

Swiftly deliberate, he seeks the place.

A small wind stirs, the copse is bright in the sun:

Like quicksilver the shine and shadow run

Across the leaves. A bramble whips his face,

The tears spring fast, and through the rainbow mist

He sees a world that wavers like the flame

Of a blown candle. Tears of pain and shame,

And lips that once had laughed and sung and kissed

Trembling in the passion of his sobbing breath!

The world a candle shuddering to its death,

And life a darkness, blind and utterly void

Of any love or goodness: all deceit,

This friendship and this God: all shams destroyed,

And truth seen now.

Earth fails beneath his feet.

 

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