Symphony of a Mexican Garden

By Grace Hazard Conkling 1878–1958
1. THE GARDEN Poco sostenuto in A major
                        The laving tide of inarticulate air.

                     Vivace in A major
                        The iris people dance.

2. THE POOL    Allegretto in A minor
                        Cool-hearted dim familiar of the dove.

3. THE BIRDS   Presto in F major
                        I keep a frequent tryst.

                     Presto meno assai
                        The blossom-powdered orangeitree.

4. TO THE MOON Allegro con brio in A major
                            Moon that shone on Babylon.




TO MOZART

What junipers are these, inlaid
   With flame of the pomegranate tree?
The god of gardens must have made
   This still unrumored place for thee
To rest from immortality,
   And dream within the splendid shade
Some more elusive symphony
   Than orchestra has ever played.


I In A major
Poco sosteniao

The laying tide of inarticulate air
Breaks here in flowers as the sea in foam,
But with no satin lisp of failing wave:
The odor-laden winds are very still.
An unimagined music here exhales
In upcurled petal, dreamy bud half-furled,
And variations of thin vivid leaf:
Symphonic beauty that some god forgot.
If form could waken into lyric sound,
This flock of irises like poising birds
Would feel song at their slender feathered throats,
And pour into a grey-winged aria
Their wrinkled silver fingermarked with pearl;
That flight of ivory roses high along
The airy azure of the larkspur spires
Would be a fugue to puzzle nightingales
With tool-evasive rapture, phrase on phrase.
Where the hibiscus flares would cymbals clash,
And the black cypress like a deep bassoon
Would hum a clouded amber melody.

But all across the trudging ragged chords
That are the tangled grasses in the heat,
The mariposa lilies fluttering
Like trills upon some archangelic flute,

The roses and carnations and divine
Small violets that voice the vanished god,
There is a lure of passion-poignant tone
Not flower-of-pomegranate—that finds the heart
As stubborn oboes do—can breathe in air,
Nor poppies, nor keen lime, nor orange-bloom.

What zone of wonder in the ardent dusk
Of trees that yearn and cannot understand,
Vibrates as to the golden shepherd horn
That stirs some great adagio with its cry
And will not let it rest?
                                       0 tender trees,
Your orchid, like a shepherdess of dreams,
Calls home her whitest dream from following
Elusive laughter of the unmindful god!

Vivace

The iris people dance
Like any nimble faun:
To rhythmic radiance
They foot it in the dawn.
They dance and have no need
Of crystal-dripping flute
Or chuckling river-reed,—
Their music hovers mute.
The dawn-lights flutter by
All noiseless, but they know!

Such children of the sky
Can hear the darkness go.
But does the morning play
Whatever they demand—
Or amber-barred bourré
Or silver saraband?


THE POOL

II. In A minor
Allegretto

Cool-hearted dim familiar of the doves,
   Thou coiled sweet water where they come to tell
Their mellow legends and rehearse their loves,
   As what in April or in June befell
of, —friend of Dryades
   Who lean to see where flower should be set
      To star the dusk of wreathed ivy braids,
         They have not left thy trees,
   Nor do tired fauns thy crystal kiss forget,
      Nor forest—nymphs astray from distant glades.

Thou feelest with delight their showery feet
   Along thy mossy margin myrtle-starred,
And thine the heart of wildness quick to beat
   At imprint of shy hoof upon thy sward:
Yet who could know thee wild who art so cool,
   So heavenly—minded, templed in thy grove
      Of plumy cedar, larch and juniper?
         O strange ecstatic Pool,
What unknown country art thou dreaming of,
   Or temple than this garden lovelier?

Who made thy sky the silver side of leaves,
   And poised its orchid like a swan—white moon
Whose disc of perfect pallor half deceives
   The mirror of thy limpid green lagoon,
He loveth well thy ripple-feathered moods,
   Thy whims at dusk, thy rainbow look at dawn!
      Dream thou no more of vales Olympian:
         Where pale Olympus broods
   There were no orchid white as moon or swan,
   No sky of leaves, no garden—haunting Pan!


THE BIRDS

Ill In F major
Presto

I keep a frequent tryst
With whirr and shower of wings:
Some inward melodist
Interpreting all things
Appoints the place, the hours.
Dazzle and sense of flowers,
Though not the least leaf stir,
May mean a tanager:
How rich the silence is until he sings!

The smoke-tree’s cloudy white
Has fire within its breast.
What winged mere delight
There hides as in a nest
And fashions of its flame
Music without a name?
So might an opal sing
If given thrilling wing,
And voice for lyric wildness unexpressed.

In grassy dimness thatched
With tangled growing things,
A troubadour rose-patched,
With velvet-shadowed wings,
Seeks a sustaining fly.
Who else unseen goes by
Quick-pattering through the hush?
Some twilight-footed thrush
Or finch intent on small adventurings?

I have no time for gloom,
For gloom what time have I?
The orange is in bloom;
Emerald parrots fly
Out of the cypress-dusk;
Morning is strange with musk.
The wild canary now
Jewels the lemon-bough,
And mocking-birds laugh in the rose’s room.


THE ORANGE TREE

In D Major
Presto meno assai

The blossom-powdered orange tree,
   For all her royal speechlessness,
Out of a heart of ecstasy
   Is singing, singing, none the less!

Light as a springing fountain, she
   Is spray above the wind-sleek turf:
Dream-daughter of the moon’s white sea
   And sister to its showered surf!


TO THE MOON

IV In A major
Allegro con brio

Moon that shone on Babylon,
Searching out the gardens there,
Could you find a fairer one
Than this garden, anywhere?
Did Damascus at her best
Hide such beauty in her breast?

When you flood with creamy light
Vines that net the sombre pine,
Turn the shadowed iris white,
Summon cactus stars to shine,
Do you free in silvered air
Wistful spirits everywhere?

Here they linger, there they pass,
And forget their native heaven:
Flit along the dewy grass
Rare Vittoria, Sappho, even!
And the hushed magnolia burns
Incense in her gleaming urns.

When the nightingale demands
Word with Keats who answers him,
Shakespeare listens—understands—
Mindful of the cherubim;
And the South Wind dreads to know
Mozart gone as seraphs go.

Moon of poets dead and gone,
Moon to gods of music dear,
Gardens they have looked upon
Let them re-discover here:
Rest—and dream a little space
Of some heart-remembered place!

Source: Poetry (October 1912).

MORE FROM THIS ISSUE

This poem originally appeared in the October 1912 issue of Poetry magazine

October 1912
 Grace Hazard Conkling

Biography

Born in New York City, poet and musician Grace Hazard earned a BL at Smith College and taught at the Graham School in New York before moving to Europe to continue her musical studies. In France, she studied the organ with Charles-Marie Widor before illness caused her to return to the United States. In 1905 she married Roscoe Platt Conkling, and the couple moved to a ranch in Mexico. After their separation in 1914, she joined the . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Music, Activities, Nature, Arts & Sciences, Trees & Flowers, Gardening, Animals

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza, Imagery, Pastoral, Couplet, Mixed

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