When You Are Not Surprised

When you are not surprised, not surprised,
nor leap in imagination from sunlight into shadow   
or from shadow into sunlight   
suiting the color of fright or delight   
to the bewildering circumstance   
when you are no longer surprised   
by the quiet or fury of daybreak   
the stormy uprush of the sun’s rage   
over the edges of torn trees
torrents of living and dying flung
upward and outward inward and downward to space
or else
peace peace peace peace
the wood-thrush speaking his holy holy
far hidden in the forest of the mind   
while slowly
the limbs of light unwind
and the world’s surface dreams again of night
as the center dreams of light   
when you are not surprised
by breath and breath and breath
the first unconscious morning breath
the tap of the bird’s beak on the pane
and do not cry out come again   
blest blest that you are come again   
o light o sound o voice of bird o light   
and memory too o memory blest   
and curst with the debts of yesterday   
that would not stay, or stay

when you are not surprised
by death and death and death
death of the bee in the daffodil
death of color in the child’s cheek
on the young mother’s breast
death of sense of touch of sight
death of delight
and the inward death the inward turning night
when the heart hardens itself with hate and indifference   
for hated self and beloved not-self
when you are not surprised
by wheel’s turn or turn of season
the winged and orbed chariot tilt of time   
the halcyon pause, the blue caesura of spring   
and solar rhyme
woven into the divinely remembered nest   
by the dark-eyed love in the oriole’s breast   
and the tides of space that ring the heart
while still, while still, the wave of the invisible world   
breaks into consciousness in the mind of god
then welcome death and be by death benignly welcomed   
and join again in the ceaseless know-nothing   
from which you awoke to the first surprise.

Conrad Aiken, “When You Are Not Surprised” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1953 by Conrad Aiken. Reprinted with the permission of Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents, Inc.
Source: Collected Poems (Random House Inc., 1970)
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