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Vita Sackville-West

English Poet



Narrated by Wanda McCaddon

Download mp3 file: Selected Poems

This file is 2.9 MB; running time is 12 minutes
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YOU laughed, and all the fountains of the East
Leapt up to Heaven with their diamond rain
To hang in light, and when your laughter ceased
Dropped shivered arrows to the ground again.

You laughed, and from the belfries of the earth
The music rippled like a shaken pool;
And listless banners at the breeze of mirth
Were stirred in harbours suddenly made cool.

You wept, and all the music of the air
As when a hand is laid upon a bell
Was stilled, and Dryads of the tossing hair
Crept back abashed within the secret dell.


Moonlight through lattice throws a chequered square;
Night! and I wake in my low-ceilinged room
To lovely silence deep with harmony;
Sweet are the flutes of night-time, sweet the spell
Lies between day and day. This wise old night,
That, unreproachful, gives the pause to strife !
The murmurous diapason of the dark
Within the house made quick and intimate
By tiny noise a bat ? a mouse ? a moth
Bruising against the ceiling ? or a bird
Nested beneath the eaves ? night, grave and huge
Outside with swell of sighing through the boughs,
Whispering far over unscythed meadows,
Dying in dim cool cloisters of the woods.
I have been absent. I have found unchanged
The oaks, the slope and order of the fields ;
I knew the wealden fragrance, and that old
Dear stubborn enemy of mine, the clay.
Nothing to mark the difference of year
But young wheat springing where I left the roots,
And last year's pasture browned to this year's plough ;
Last year the crop was niggard on the orchard,
But blossom now foretells the weighted branches,
And the great stack, that like a galleon
Rode beneath furled tarpaulins last July,
Showed its bare brushwood as I passed to-day.
Where the sun rises, that I know of old ;
Knowledge precedes me round the turn of the lane,
And I could take you where the orchids grow
Friendly with cowslips ; where the bluebell pulls
Smooth from its bulb, bleached where it grew concealed,
Hidden from light ; the tiny brook is eager,
Quick with spring rains, bright April rains, and fills
The pool where drowsy cattle slouch to drink.
Familiar ! oh, familiar ! native speech
Comes not more readily than that dear sense
Of bend and depth of country. This is Kent,
Unflaunting England, where the steaming mould,
Not plaintive, not regretful, lies content
That leaves should spring from sacrifice of leaves.
My Saxon weald ! my cool and candid weald !
Dear God ! the heart, the very heart of me
That plays and strays, a truant in strange lands,
Always returns and finds its inward peace,
Its swing of truth, its measure of restraint,
Here among meadows, orchards, lanes, and shaws.
Take me then close, O branches, take me close ;
Whisper me all the secrets of the sap,
You branches fragile, tentative, that stretch
Your moonlit blossom to my open window,
Messengers of the gentle weald, encroaching
So shyly on the shelter of the house ;
Cradle me, hammock me amongst you ; let
Night's quietude so drench my sleepy spirit
That morning shall not rob me of that calm.
Your buds against my pulses ; so I lie
Wakeful as though in tree-tops, and the sap
Creeps through my blood, up from the scented earth.
The birds are restless underneath the eaves,
Down in the byre the uneasy cattle stir,
And through the fret of branches grows the dawn.


Joy have I had of life this vigorous day
Since sunrise when I took the wealden way,
And my fair country as I rapid strode
Lay round the turn of the familiar road
In mists diaphanous as seas in foam.
And all the orchards cried me welcome home.
I drove the spade that turned the heavy loam,
Bending the winter to the needs of spring,
The soft air winnowing
The thistledown that blew along the hedge.
A little moorhen rippled in the sedge ;
A distant sheep-dog barked ; the day was still,
For summer's ghost in winter lay upon the hill.
I worked in peace ; an aeroplane above
Crooned through the heaven coloured like a dove.
Within the house I lit a fire
And coaxed the friendly kettle on to boil.
My boots were heavy with the wealden soil,
My hunger eager from the glow of toil.
Fresh bread had I ; brown eggs ; a little meat ;
Clear water, and an apple sweet.
Freedom I drank for my delirious wine,
And Shelley gave me company divine.
What more could heart desire ?
And when the orange of the sunset burned,
I laid aside my tools and townward turned,
Seeing across the uplands of the Weald
The plough teams straining on the half -brown field.
I sang aloud ; my limbs were rich with health,
As brooding winter rich with summer's wealth.


I am the swift omnipotent magician ;
All bounty's in my gift, all songs unsung,
All slumbering chords, all undiscovered crafts
Baffling their premature interpreters ;
No law's beyond my searching ; I'll condemn
No vice, despise no sorrow, scorn no joy,
Deride no virtue, throw no stone at Pilate,
But sweep my mantle round humanity
And round the pomp of nature ; naught I'll find
Too mean, too great, too little, or too spacious ;
Mine be the secrets both of hearts and stars,
(Small, measureless hearts ; great, measurable stars ;)
And love's old barbarous reiteration
I'll tolerate, and the great self-less peace
Like the deep sea's perpetual repose.
I'll not be parsimonious of my wealth.
I'll fill your heaven with many coloured moons
And hang such variable tides upon them
As strew the astonished fish along the shores.
Til bring the planets nearer : I'll attract
Saturn within his hoop of shining rings ;
I'll summon a great conclave of the comets
Which hitherto were strangers to each other,
And man, at nightfall standing on the crest
Of a familiar hill, shall marvelling stare
Into an unfamiliar firmament.
I'll show you Jupiter's rebel satellite
That on the outer fringe of measured space
Backwards revolves, striving against the law
That chains her anger to an irksome orbit.
I'll dry the seas and bring the unknown lands
To light, that on unchristened continents
Man stray dry-foot from Africa to Asia.
Oh, what new rivers then, what deep, deep lakes,
What caverns and what cliffs, what strange ravines,
What deserts, what denuded leagues of plain,
Should offer to his swarming multitude !
Peaks shall be islands, islands shall be peaks,
When I reverse the ordering and make
A mountainous Pacific continent,
A Himalayan archipelago.
And all the daily and the lovely things,
The fawn's late bed of bracken, newly warmed,
The nets of fishermen through water sinking,
Drawn up all hoar with flake of silver scales
And round clear drops that tremble from the mesh,
These little things, these nimble shy delights,
With the quick magic of significance
I'll not despise to startle into being.


From the shores of the Atlantic to the gardens of Japan,
From the darkness of the Neva to the courts of Ispahan,
There is nothing that can hold us, hold our wandering caravan.
Leisurely is our encamping ; nowhere pause in hasty flight.
Long enough to learn the secret, and the value, and the might,
Whether of the northern mountains or the southern lands of light.
And the riches of the regions will be ours from land to land,
Falling as a willing booty under our marauding hand,
Rugs from Persia, gods from China, emeralds from Samarcand!
And the old forgotten empires, which have faded turn by turn,
From the shades emerging slowly to their ancient sway return,
And to their imperial manhood rise the ashes from the urn.
We have known Byzantium's glory when the eagled flag was flown,
When the ruins were not ruins ; eagled visions have I known
Of a spectral Roman emperor seated on a spectral throne.
We have tasted space and freedom, frontiers falling as we went,
Now with narrow bonds and limits never could we be content,
For we have abolished boundaries, straitened borders have we rent,
And a house no more confines us than the roving nomad's tent.


AFTER a dream-dim voyage
We came with sails all set
Towards the city of the sea,
And it was wonderful to me
To find her reigning yet.
Oh beauty that my eyes and heart
Had feasted on before !
The evening mosques were brushed with gold,
The water lapped a lazy fold
Upon that lovely shore ;
The gardens of her terraced hills
Rose up above the port,
And little houses half concealed
The presence of a light revealed,
And here my journey's end was sealed,
And I reached the home I sought.
Those windows I had opened wide
To welcome in the sun!
Those stairs that only happy feet
Had measured with their running beat!
That well-remembered winding street!
Twelve months that were as one!
Should others with their sordid cares
And troubles enter here?


I SEE the work of others, and my heart
Sinks as my own achievement I compare.
I will not be irresolute, nor despair,
But battle strongly for my struggling art
Convinced against conviction that my part
Equally with my masters I can bear ;
Although their monuments are very fair,
Enriched with statues, and I stand apart
And gaze upon my little heap of stones
Which I was given to build with, very few
As yet laid into place, but I will lay
Blind to these marble monuments and thrones,
Building as though I confidently knew
My ultimate end, a stone in place each day.

More information about Vita Sackville-West from Wikipedia

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