Lawrence Durrell
'A Soliloquy of Hamlet'

(to Anne Ridler)
Here on the curve of the embalming winter,
Son of the three-legged stool and the Bible,

By the trimmed lamp I cobble this sonnet
For father, son, and the marble woman.

Sire, we have found no pardonable city
Though women harder than the kneeling nuns,

Softer than clouds upon the stones of pain,
Have breathed their blessings on a candle-end.

Some who converted the English oak-trees:
The harmless druids singing in green places.

Some who broke their claws upon islands:
The singing fathers in the boats of glory.

Some who made an atlas of their hunger:
The enchanted skulls lie under the lion's paw.

One innocent observer in a foreign cell
Died when my father lay beside his ghost.

Dumb poison in the hairy ear of kings
Can map the nerves and halt the tick of hearts.

The phoenix burning at his window-sill
Put peace around him like a great basin.

So whether the ocean curved beneath his dreams
On floors full of the sea-shell's music,

His privacy aims like a pointed finger:
Death grows like poison-ivy on a stick.

Truly his unruly going grows like a green wand
Between the broken pavements of the heart,

And all whose blood ticks fast at funerals
Must dread the tapping of the vellum drum.

Guilt can lie heavier than house of tortoise.
Winter and love, O desperate medicines,

Under the turf we bless the wishing spring,
The seed from the index-finger of the saint.

To the snow I sing out this hoarse prescription:
'Sweet love, from the enduring geometric egg,

An embryo grinning in its coloured cap,
O I walk under a house of horn, seeking a door.'

The charming groans of ladies come to me
From the nursery sills of an invented climate:

My outlawed mother patient at the loom,
Behind her, oaks, their nude machinery,

The dark ones shining on their snowy tuffets.
I take this image on a screaming nib.

Here in the hollow curvature of the world,
Now time turns through her angles on a dial,

The unspeaking surgeon cuts beneath the fur,
And pain forever green winds her pale horn.

Make in the beautiful harbours of the heart,
For scholars sitting at their fire-lit puzzles,

The three-fold climate and the anchorage.
Make in the dormitory of the self

For sleepless murders combing out the blood
A blessing and an armistice to fear.

Though bankers pile debentures to the worm,
And death like Sunday only brings the owls

Though some must founder trying for the rock,
Bless mice and women in their secret places.

To you in high heaven the unattainable,
The surnamed Virgin, I lift a small scripture,

Brushed by the quill of a black boy's madness;
Pour one sweet drop of mercy on the mind!

You three, being holy and great linguists,
The oval singers of the Cretan eikon,

Give to the ghost your charity's ghostly shirt,
Defence by pity and a green captivity.

Consider: here the thorn crawled in the heart,
Here traitors laid an axe upon the root.

Grant like a bruise his sweetest homecoming,
Find laughing Hamlet sitting in a tree,

The silken duchess frowning at her baubles,
And swart Ophelia crooning at her lauds.

Winter and love are Euclid's properties.
The charm of candles smoking on a coffin

Like nursery years upon a birthday cake,
Teach, like the soft declensions of the term,

How dust being sifted from the sheet of nuns,
Returns beneath the swollen veil once more,

So women bend like trees and utter figs,
And children from their pillows prophesy.

The unnumbered garrison still holds the womb.
O suffer the mirages of the dazed ladies,

Give love with all its tributary patience
That when the case of bones is broken open,

The heart can bless, or the sad skin of saints
Be beaten into drum-heads for the truth.

Walk upon dreams, and pass behind the book.
Hamlet is nailed between the thieves of love.

Wear the black waistcoat, boy, for death is king,
His margin is a waxen candle-dip at night:

By day a grace-note in the mid of silence,
The gambler smiling in his royal sheet.

For this I put the obol in the lips.
For this I wear my sex beneath a towel.

I take the round skull of the nunnery girl
To bless until the tears break in the brain;

As those who by the Babylonian fable
Hung up their piercing harps beside the waters,

I hang my heart, being choked, upon a noun.
I hang her name upon this frantic pothook.

I close an hinge on the memorial days.
I perch my pity on an alp of silence.

Cold water took my pretty by the beard,
Flatter than glass she blew to the tongueless zone.

I learn now from nightingale on the spit
The science of the cowl and killing-bottle.

I hum now the harsh tune of the too finite swan,
Piping behind the ambush of my guilt.

My comfort smiled on me and gave me flowers:
Freckles, as on a sparrow's egg, and quiet faces.

The water strips her humour like a bean.
Barbarian ladies with their fingernails,

Strip off her simple reason like a wedding-dress.
She turns upon the pedals of her prison.

Pain hangs more bloody than the mystic's taws.
Down corridors of pain I follow patience,

Make notes behind the nerve-ends of the brain.
Lean, lean on the iron elbow of the armoured man,

Button the nipples on his coat of mercy,
The widow walking in a rubber mask!

Your murderer's napkin hangs upon a bush,
And the king who stiffens in a shirt of blood,

Too good, too grave to number with the crumbs,
Can leave an incubus to this winter castle.

Shoot back the lips like bolts upon your grace.
Make thimble of the mouth to suck your fly.

I cool my spittle on the smoking hook.

I take these midnight thoughts between a tong.

As husband is laid down beside the lute,
Widow and minstrel in a single cerement,

So I on the plinth of passing, shall I marry
The lunatic image in the raven frock?

The curved meridian of hazard like a bow
Paints on the air the dark tree of my death

Gums without ivory for the skeletal smile:
A natal joker squeaking in his crib.

Here birth and death are knitted by a vowel.
A mariner must sail his crew of furies

Beyond the hook of hazard to the oceanic lands.
His prayers will bubble up before the throne.

I, now, go, where the soliloquy of the sad bee
O numbs the nettles and the hieroglyphic stone.

On the stone sill of the embalming winter
I tell my malady by the wheel and the berry,

The hunters making their necklace on the hills.
The escaping dead hang frozen down like flags,

A breathing frost upon the eyeball lens
Blooms like still poison in a dish of quinces.

Spawn of the soft, the unwrinkled womb of queens,
I add my number to the world's defeated,

I learn the carrion's scientific torpor
The five-day baby swollen with its gases,

The nun who fell from the ladder of Jacob

My love hangs longer than the tongue of hound.

I kneel at the keyhole of death's private room
To meet His eye, enormous in the keyhole.

This pain goes deeper than the fish's fathom.
Peel me an olive-branch and hold it shining:

You have Ophelia smiling at her chess,
The suit of love gored by the courtier's fang.

You have my mother folded like a rag,
Whiter than piano-keys the canine smile.

The marble statues bleed if she walks by,
Pacing the margins of the chequerboard

Where the soft rabbit and her man in black
Play move for move, the pawn against the prince.

O men have made cradles of their loving fingers
To rock my youth, and I have slipped between,

Led like the magi to the child's foul crib,
To hear my hands nailed up between two thieves.

Then walk where roses like disciples can
Aim at the heart their innocent attention.

Where the apostle-spring beneath the cover
Of throstle and dove, loves in his green asylum.

Time shall bestow a pupil to the nipple,
A red and popular baby born for the urn.

For him I make a book by the moving finger-bone,
A rattle, cap and comedy of queens.

Then suckle the weather if the winter will not,
Seal down a message in a dream of spring,

More than this painful meditation of feet,
The frigid autist pacing out his rope.

The candle and the lexicon have picked your bones.
The tallow spills upon my endless bible.

To you by whom the sweet spherical music
Makes in heaven a tree-stringed oracle,

I bend a sonnet like a begging-bowl,
And hang my tabor from the greenest willow-wand.

Give to the rufus sons of Pudding Island
The stainless sheet of a European justice,

That death's pure canon smiling in the trees
Can lure the fabulous lion from his walks.

My ash I dress to dance upon the void,
My mercy in a wallet like a berry bright,

And when hemp sings of murder bless your boy,
The double fellow in the labyrinth,

Whose maps were stifled with him in the maze,
Whose mother dropped him like the seedless pod.

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