At summer dusk when day is done
and the Evening Star stands lonely and lovely in the sky,
the Magician walks his garden.
Foliage overhangs his path of crystal-diamond grains,
sparkling in the dying light and easing willingly beneath
his sable-slippered feet. All that grows there knows
and offers homage to his tread. The very tallest of the trees
will bow their heads to him as he goes by,
his hands firm-clenched behind his back, his brow taut-gathered,
his mind in deepest thought… and yet he is aware of all,
of all the iridescent wealth and redolence
that fills each breath and atom of the air about.
He walks by saplings with their young and still transparent trunks
shot through with upward-twisting veins of red and gold.
The rustlings of a million metal leaves, sheer-foil each one,
blue tantalum and copper, bronze, and silver-white iridium,
blend softly with the fluting of companion blooms
with tiny, pipe-shaped pistils – their quiet, wistful music fills the air.
The ancient music of the Earth; of secret streams which flow
beneath dark soils, its drifting, languid winds,
white moons of long-gone nights that swam the dark depths
of the skies. And now, when stars are kindling up above
and shadows are deeper and the spaces dim,
his white night-lilies open wide, releasing their host of captive moths
to flutter back and forth among their parent blooms.
And in the twilight gloom above the grass there rides a shimmering crowd,
a fitful cloud, of dragon fire-flies. They prance, they dart about,
and on each rides a shining fairy knight with levelled lance.
But not a martial pair contend – here is no moil and roil of battle –
they are content to muster there, and arc, and dance
and dazzle in the fading light.
I saw him once on such a darkling summer’s eve.
I stood, beside my steed, silent and still, I thought, beneath
the shadow of great elms which marked his garden’s edge.
He turned abruptly from his thoughts and looked direct at me.
‘Do you admire my roses, girl?’ he said.
‘A startling red now, are they not? Because live blood it is that courses
through their veins – and if you do not flee, I will make you a gift of one’.
I fled. I did not wish to pay the price. I did not wish to bleed.
6 thoughts on “The Magician’s Garden”
We walk with the magician through his garden, admiring the richness of the poet’s imagery and the vivid precision of his description. So languidly do we stroll, taking in the sights and sounds of the evening, that we are totally unprepared for what awaits us in the last few lines. Masterly!
Thank you for both your reply and your insight, Jacydo. Yes, the contrast here is between the external beauty with which the magician surrounds himself and his inner malevolence. It’s one for enthusiasts of the fantasy/science-fiction genre – I hope I am reaching some! – and is modelled on a sequence in Jack Vance’s 1950 novel,’The Dying Earth’.
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I’ve not read the novel but the poem certainly has the desired effect. It makes me shiver…
A good writer, Jack Vance (I have a signed 1st edition of this book). There were two passages in it which particularly struck me, where I hesitated, and thought, ‘I wonder if I can make anything of this … ‘ The second instance I failed to make a note of, and will have to search for again. Your comment is much appreciated, Jacydo.
Beautiful language in this poem- reminds me of Keats. Also calls to mind Pre-Raphaelite paintings- very evocative.
Thank you, CEKnight. The Pre-Raphaelites do have a habit of lurking there, in my mind!