• Edwin Muir - The Labyrinth

    Since I emerged that day from the labyrinth,

    Dazed with the tall and echoing passages,

    The swift recoils, so many I almost feared

    I’d meet myself returning at some smooth corner,

    Myself or my ghost, for all there was unreal

    After the straw ceased rustling and the bull

    Lay dead upon the straw and I remained,

    Blood-splashed, if dead or alive I could not tell

    In the twilight nothingness (I might have been

    A spirit seeking his body through the roads

    Of intricate Hades) – ever since I came out

    To the world, the still fields swift with flowers, the trees

    All bright with blossom, the little green hills, the sea,

    The sky and all in movement under it,

    Shepherds and flocks and birds and the young and old,

    (I stared in wonder at the young and the old,

    For in the maze time had not been with me;

    I had strayed, it seemed, past sun and season and change,

    Past rest and motion, for I could not tell

    At last if I moved or stayed; the maze itself

    Revolved around me on its hidden axis

    And swept me smoothly to its enemy,

    The lovely world) – since I came out that day,

    There have been times when I have heard my footsteps

    Still echoing in the maze, and all the roads

    That run through the noisy world, deceiving streets

    That meet and part and meet, and rooms that open

    Into each other – and never a final room –

    Stairways and corridors and antechambers

    That vacantly wait for some great audience,

    That smooth sea-tracks that open and close again,

    Tracks undiscoverable, undecipherable,

    Paths on the earth and tunnels underground,

    And bird-tracks in the air – all seemed apart

    Of the great labyrinth. And then I’d stumble

    In sudden blindness, hasten, almost run,

    As if the maze itself were after me.

    And soon must catch me up. But taking thought,

    I’d tell to myself, ʻYou need not hurry. This

    Is the firm good earth. All roads lie free before you’.

    But my bad spirit would sneer, ʻNo, do not hurry.

    No need to hurry. Haste and delay are equal

    In this one world, for there’s no exit, none,

    No place to come to, and you’ll end where you are,

    Deep in the centre of the endless maze’.

    I could not live if this were not illusion.

    It is a world, perhaps; but there’s another.

    For once in a dream or trance I saw the gods

    Each sitting on the top of his mountain-isle,

    While down below the little ships sailed by,

    Toy multitudes swarmed in the harbours, shepherds drove

    Their tiny flocks to the pastures, marriage feasts

    Went on below, small birthdays and holidays,

    Ploughing and harvesting and life and death,

    And all permissible, all acceptable,

    Clear and secure as in a limpid dream.

    But they, the gods, as large and bright as clouds,

    Conversed across the sounds in tranquil voices

    High in the sky above the untroubled sea,

    And their eternal dialogue was peace

    Where all these things were woven, and this our life

    Was a chord deep in that dialogue,

    As easy utterance of harmonious words,

    Spontaneous syllables bodying forth a world.

    That was the real world; I have touched it once,

    And now shall know it always. But the lie,

    The maze, the wild-wood waste of falsehood, roads

    That run and run and never reach an end,

    Embowered in error – I’d be prisoned there

    But that my soul has bird wings to fly free.

    Oh these deceits are strong almost as life.

    Last night I dreamt I was in the labyrinth,

    And woke far on. I did not know the place.

    ...I hear ya Edwin Muir.


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