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To Charles Brasch
Part One
Part Two
Source: Oliver, W. H., Fire Without Phoenix: Poems 1946-1954. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1957
Electronic source: Fire Without Phoenix: a TEI-conformant transcription
All poems © W. H. Oliver
Ceremony of Pain
Come with sufficient reverence to write;
The act's a sacrament. Do not bring here
The folly or the fashion you can offer,
Nor yet your time's inexpert wisdom, gained
At greater cost than it can ever pay.
Bring only solitude, and stand in silence
Hands like a veined rock in a sea of silence.
Wait for the raking wave, for storms to write
In streaming white a word that will repay
That temporal sacrifice you offer here
Before the flowing sea will let you gain
A word to sanctify the gifts you offer,
A word worth more than all that you can offer,
Born in a mouth that only breeds in silence
— Angel's or demon's, ghost who will regain
Her deep sea caverns where no echo writes
A tiny phrase upon her mind. Yet here,
At this land's end she rises to repay
That homage only nakedness can pay.
Place your two hands between the two she offers
When she has risen: power can enter here.
And then your pain beneath the weight of silence
Peine forte et dure — will be the grace that writes
Indelibly: no scale of loss or gain.
Earth nor its recompense has any gain
To claim allegiance here, nor joy to pay
Your backward steps. Angel or demon writes
With acid on your mind; and all your offered
Homage and life are ventured on the silence.
Earth and the word end if you worship here.
Worship's idolatry; who requires it here
Will plug your mouth with words; your only gain
Will be a drunkard's rant, an end to silence.
Fealty you swear and reverence you pay
To the grace-full angel, for whose gift you offer
No less a sacrifice. Then you will write
The word waves write upon the rocks, and here,
In this fell time your offered voice regain
The price it paid by entertaining silence.