The House of Dust; a Symphony

Author: Conrad Potter Aiken

V. The Bitter Love-Song

No, I shall not say why it is that I love you— Why do you ask me, save for vanity? Surely you would not have me, like a mirror, Say ’yes,—your hair curls darkly back from the temples, Your mouth has a humorous, tremulous, half-shy sweetness, Your eyes are April grey. . . .with jonquils in them?’ No, if I tell at all, I shall tell in silence . . . I’ll say—my childhood broke through chords of music —Or were they chords of sun?—wherein fell shadows, Or silences; I rose through seas of sunlight; Or sometimes found a darkness stooped above me With wings of death, and a face of cold clear beauty. . I lay in the warm sweet grass on a blue May morning, My chin in a dandelion, my hands in clover, And drowsed there like a bee. . . .blue days behind me Stretched like a chain of deep blue pools of magic, Enchanted, silent, timeless. . . .days before me Murmured of blue-sea mornings, noons of gold, Green evenings streaked with lilac, bee-starred nights. Confused soft clouds of music fled above me.

Sharp shafts of music dazzled my eyes and pierced me. I ran and turned and spun and danced in the sunlight, Shrank, sometimes, from the freezing silence of beauty, Or crept once more to the warm white cave of sleep.

No, I shall not say ’this is why I praise you— Because you say such wise things, or such foolish. . .’ You would not have me say what you know better? Let me instead be silent, only saying—: My childhood lives in me—or half-lives, rather— And, if I close my eyes cool chords of music Flow up to me . . . long chords of wind and sunlight. . . . Shadows of intricate vines on sunlit walls, Deep bells beating, with aeons of blue between them, Grass blades leagues apart with worlds between them, Walls rushing up to heaven with stars upon them. . . I lay in my bed and through the tall night window Saw the green lightning plunging among the clouds, And heard the harsh rain storm at the panes and roof. . . . How should I know—how should I now remember— What half-dreamed great wings curved and sang above me? What wings like swords? What eyes with the dread night in them?

This I shall say.—I lay by the hot white sand-dunes. . Small yellow flowers, sapless and squat and spiny, Stared at the sky. And silently there above us Day after day, beyond our dreams and knowledge, Presences swept, and over us streamed their shadows, Swift and blue, or dark. . . .What did they mean? What sinister threat of power? What hint of beauty? Prelude to what gigantic music, or subtle? Only I know these things leaned over me, Brooded upon me, paused, went flowing softly, Glided and passed. I loved, I desired, I hated, I struggled, I yielded and loved, was warmed to blossom . . . You, when your eyes have evening sunlight in them, Set these dunes before me, these salt bright flowers, These presences. . . .I drowse, they stream above me, I struggle, I yield and love, I am warmed to dream.

You are the window (if I could tell I’d tell you) Through which I see a clear far world of sunlight. You are the silence (if you could hear you’d hear me) In which I remember a thin still whisper of singing. It is not you I laugh for, you I touch! My hands, that touch you, suddenly touch white cobwebs, Coldly silvered, heavily silvered with dewdrops; And clover, heavy with rain; and cold green grass. . .


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Chicago: Conrad Potter Aiken, "V. The Bitter Love-Song," The House of Dust; a Symphony in The House of Dust; a Symphony Original Sources, accessed June 6, 2023,

MLA: Aiken, Conrad Potter. "V. The Bitter Love-Song." The House of Dust; a Symphony, in The House of Dust; a Symphony, Original Sources. 6 Jun. 2023.

Harvard: Aiken, CP, 'V. The Bitter Love-Song' in The House of Dust; a Symphony. cited in , The House of Dust; a Symphony. Original Sources, retrieved 6 June 2023, from