Poetry 51: An Autumn Sunset by Edith Wharton

sunset

Leaguered in fire
The wild black promontories of the coast extend
Their savage silhouettes;
The sun in universal carnage sets,
And, halting higher,
The motionless storm-clouds mass their sullen threats,
Like an advancing mob in sword-points penned,
That, balked, yet stands at bay.
Mid-zenith hangs the fascinated day
In wind-lustrated hollows crystalline,
A wan valkyrie whose wide pinions shine
Across the ensanguined ruins of the fray,
And in her hand swings high o’erhead,
Above the waste of war,
The silver torch-light of the evening star
Wherewith to search the faces of the dead.

Lagooned in gold,
Seem not those jetty promontories rather
The outposts of some ancient land forlorn,
Uncomforted of morn,
Where old oblivions gather,
The melancholy unconsoling fold
Of all things that go utterly to death
And mix no more, no more
With life’s perpetually awakening breath?
Shall Time not ferry me to such a shore,
Over such sailless seas,
To walk with hope’s slain importunities
In miserable marriage? Nay, shall not
All things be there forgot,
Save the sea’s golden barrier and the black
Close-crouching promontories?
Dead to all shames, forgotten of all glories,
Shall I not wander there, a shadow’s shade,
A spectre self-destroyed,
So purged of all remembrance and sucked back
Into the primal void,
That should we on that shore phantasmal meet
I should not know the coming of your feet?

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

About Barry Daniel

I live in the Lake District in the UK where I run a guesthouse with my partner Kate and my cat Manuel. I enjoy painting, hillwalking, reading, visiting and entertaining friends, T’ai Chi and playing the guitar. I’m engaged to a certain degree in the local community, as a volunteer with Samaritans and I’m a fairly active member of the local Green party. I’ve had a relatively intuitive sense of the Middle Way most of my adult life but it found a greater articulation and a practical direction through joining the society. It’s also been interesting and great fun engaging with other people with a similar outlook. My main contribution to the society is conducting the podcast interviews, something that gives me a lot of satisfaction and that I’ve learnt a lot from.

2 thoughts on “Poetry 51: An Autumn Sunset by Edith Wharton

  1. I like it, it’s a very well-crafted poem in a slightly overwrought literary style, but with some creative touches. It’s tinged with deep melancholy, but even the last sombre couplet fails to convince me that it is based on a personal experience of the utter desolation it conjures up.

    I understood this distance better when I read the Edith Wharton’s Wikipedia entry, which describes her marriage to a man who suffered from a serious depressive illness that ended with him taking his own life. They lived together in some isolation for several years, and I can imagine that she suffered from his depression vicariously, not at first hand; but close enough to understand what he might be experiencing himself, and to describe it artistically.

    1. Hi Barry and Peter,
      I recognise many of the emotions described in this powerful poem, the war I think is not physical but a mental battle. Edith Wharton perhaps is looking for oblivion, leaving behind all the pain she has witnessed and lived with.

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