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Behind the Arras_ A Book of the Unseen

Behind the Arras_ A Book of the Unseen
Category: Poetry
Author: Carman Bliss
Title: Behind the Arras_ A Book of the Unseen
Release Date: 2006-04-24
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 25 March 2019
Count views: 14
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Behind the Arras

Behind the Arras
A Book of the

By Bliss Carman
With Designs by T. B. Meteyard

publisher's logo: VT CRESCIT

Boston and New York
Lamson, Wolffe, and Company

Copyright, 1895.
by Lamson, Wolffe, & Co.
All rights reserved.


Behind the Arras1
Fancy’s Fool16
The Moondial19
The Face in the Stream23
The Cruise of the Galleon29
A Song before Sailing32
In the Wings35
The Red Wolf37
The Faithless Lover44
The Crimson House46
The Lodger49
Beyond the Gamut66
The Juggler81
Hack and Hew85
The Night Express87
The Dustman91
The Sleepers94
At the Granite Gate96
Exit Anima100

small logo

To G. H. B.
“I shut myself in with my soul,
And the shapes come eddying forth.”


Behind the Arras


Behind the Arras

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Ilike the old house tolerably well,

Where I must dwell

Like a familiar gnome;

And yet I never shall feel quite at home:

I love to roam.

Day after day I loiter and explore

From door to door;

So many treasures lure

The curious mind. What histories obscure

They must immure!

I hardly know which room I care for best;

This fronting west,

With the strange hills in view,

Where the great sun goes,—where I may go too,

When my lease is through,—

Or this one for the morning and the east,

Where a man may feast

His eyes on looming sails,

And be the first to catch their foreign hails

Or spy their bales.


Then the pale summer twilights towards the pole!

It thrills my soul

With wonder and delight,

When gold-green shadows walk the world at night,

So still, so bright.

There at the window many a time of year,

Strange faces peer,

Solemn though not unkind,

Their wits in search of something left behind

Time out of mind;

As if they once had lived here, and stole back

To the window crack

For a peep which seems to say,

“Good fortune, brother, in your house of clay!”

And then, “Good day!”

I hear their footsteps on the gravel walk,

Their scraps of talk,

And hurrying after, reach

Only the crazy sea-drone of the beach

In endless speech.


And often when the autumn noons are still,

By swale and hill

I see their gipsy signs,

Trespassing somewhere on my border lines;

With what designs?

I forth afoot; but when I reach the place,

Hardly a trace,

Save the soft purple haze

Of smouldering camp-fires, any hint betrays

Who went these ways.

Or tatters of pale aster blue, descried

By the roadside,

Reveal whither they fled;

Or the swamp maples, here and there a shred

Of Indian red.

But most of all, the marvellous tapestry

Engrosses me,

Where such strange things are rife,

Fancies of beasts and flowers, and love and strife,

Woven to the life;

Degraded shapes and splendid seraph forms,

And teeming swarms


Of creatures gauzy dim

That cloud the dusk, and painted fish that swim,

At the weaver’s whim;

And wonderful birds that wheel and hang in the air;

And beings with hair,

And moving eyes in the face,

And white bone teeth and hideous grins, who race

From place to place;

They build great temples to their John-a-nod,

And fume and plod

To deck themselves with gold,

And paint themselves like chattels to be sold,

Then turn to mould.

Sometimes they seem almost as real as I;

I hear them sigh;

I see them bow with grief,

Or dance for joy like an aspen leaf;

But that is brief.

They have mad wars and phantom marriages;


Nor seem to guess

There are dimensions still,

Beyond thought’s reach, though not beyond love’s will,

For soul to fill.

And some I call my friends, and make believe

Their spirits grieve,

Brood, and rejoice with mine;

I talk to them in phrases quaint and fine

Over the wine;

I tell them all my secrets; touch their hands;

One understands

Perhaps. How hard he tries

To speak! And yet those glorious mild eyes,

His best replies!

I even have my cronies, one or two,

My cherished few.

But ah, they do not stay!

For the sun fades them and they pass away,

As I grow gray.

Yet while they last how actual they seem!

Their faces beam;

I give them all their names,


Bertram and Gilbert, Louis, Frank and James,

Each with his aims;

One thinks he is a poet, and writes verse

His friends rehearse;

Another is full of law;

A third sees pictures which his hand can draw

Without a flaw.

Strangest of all, they never rest. Day long

They shift and throng,

Moved by invisible will,

Like a great breath which puffs across my sill,

And then is still;

It shakes my lovely manikins on the wall;

Squall after squall,

Gust upon crowding gust,

It sweeps them willy nilly like blown dust

With glory or lust.

It is the world-ghost, the time-spirit, come

None knows where from,

The viewless draughty tide


And wash of being. I hear it yaw and glide,

And then subside,

Along these ghostly corridors and halls

Like faint footfalls;

The hangings stir in the air;

And when I start and challenge, “Who goes there?”

It answers, “Where?”

The wail and sob and moan of the sea’s dirge,

Its plangor and surge;

The awful biting sough

Of drifted snows along some arctic bluff,

That veer and luff,

And have the vacant boding human cry,

As they go by;—

Is it a banished soul

Dredging the dark like a distracted mole

Under a knoll?

Like some invisible henchman old and gray,

Day after day

I hear it come and go,

With stealthy swift unmeaning to and fro,

Muttering low,


Ceaseless and daft and terrible and blind,

Like a lost mind.

I often chill with fear

When I bethink me, What if it should peer

At my shoulder here!

Perchance he drives the merry-go-round whose track

Is the zodiac;

His name is No-man’s-friend;

And his gabbling parrot-talk has neither trend,

Beginning, nor end.

A prince of madness too, I’d cry, “A rat!”

And lunge thereat,—

Let out at one swift thrust

The cunning arch-delusion of the dust

I so mistrust,

But that I fear I should disclose a face

Wearing the trace

Of my own human guise,

Piteous, unharmful, loving, sad, and wise,

With the speaking eyes.


I would the house were rid of his grim pranks,

Moaning from banks

Of pine trees in the moon,

Startling the silence like a demoniac loon

At dead of noon,

Or whispering his fool-talk to the leaves

About my eaves.

And yet how can I know

’T is not a happy Ariel masking so

In mocking woe?

Then with a little broken laugh I say,

Snatching away

The curtain where he grinned

(My feverish sight thought) like a sin unsinned,

“Only the wind!”

Yet often too he steals so softly by,

With half a sigh,

I deem he must be mild,

Fair as a woman, gentle as a child,

And forest wild.


Passing the door where an old wind-harp swings,

With its five strings,

Contrived long years ago

By my first predecessor bent to show

His handcraft so,

He lays his fingers on the æolian wire,

As a core of fire

Is laid upon the blast

To kindle and glow and fill the purple vast

Of dark at last.

Weird wise and low, piercing and keen and glad,

Or dim and sad

As a forgotten strain

Born when the broken legions of the rain

Swept through the plain—

He plays, like some dread veiled mysteriarch,

Lighting the dark,

Bidding the spring grow warm,

The gendering merge and loosing of spirit in form,

Peace out of storm.


For music is the sacrament of love;

He broods above

The virgin silence, till

She yields for rapture shuddering, yearning still

To his sweet will.

I hear him sing, “Your harp is like a mesh,

Woven of flesh