Homage to Clichés

With all this clamour for progress
This hammering out of new phases and gadgets, new trinkets and phrases
I prefer the automatic, the reflex, the cliche of velvet.
The foreseen smile, sexual, maternal, or hail-fellow-met,
The cat’s fur sparking under your hand
And the indolent delicacy of your hand
These fish coming in to the net
I can see them coming for yards
The way that you answer, the way that you dangle your foot
These fish that are rainbow and fat
One can catch in the hand and caress and return to the pool.
So five minutes spent at a bar
Watching the fish coming in, as you parry and shrug
This is on me or this is on me,
Or an old man momentously sharpens a pencil as though
He were not merely licking his fur like a cat—
The cat’s tongue curls to the back of its neck, the fish swivel round by the side of their tails, on the abbey the arrows of gold
On the pinnacles shift in the wind—
This is on me this time
Watch how your flattery logic seduction or wit
Elicit the expected response
Each tiny hammer of the abbey chime
Beating on the outer shell of the eternal bell Which hangs like a Rameses, does not deign to move
For Mahomet comes to the mountain and the fish come to the bell.
What will you have now? The same again?
A finger can pull these ropes,
A gin and lime or a double Scotch—
Watch the response, the lifting wrist the clink and smile
The fish come in, the hammered notes come out From a filigree gothic trap.
These are the moments that are anaplerotic, these are the gifts to be accepted
Remembering the qualification
That everything is not true to type like these
That the pattern and the patina of these
Are superseded in the end. Stoop your head, follow me through this door
Up the belfry stair.
What do you see in this gloom, this womb of stone?
I see eight bells hanging alone.
Eight black panthers, eight silences
On the outer shell of which our fingers via hammers
Rapping with an impertinent precision Have made believe that this was the final music.
Final as if finality were the trend of fish
That always seek the net
As if finality were the obvious gag
The audience laughing in anticipation
As if finality were the angled smile
Drawn from the dappled stream of casual meetings
(Yet oh thank God for such)
But there is this much left over There is very much left over:
The Rameses, the panther, the two-ton bell
Will never move his sceptre Never spring, never swing
No, no, he will never move .. .
What will you have, my dear? The same again?
Two more double Scotch, watch the approved response
This is the preferred mode; I have shut the little window that looks up the road
Towards the tombs of the kings
For I have heard that you meet people walking in granite
I have shut up the gates under padlock
For fear of wild beasts
And I have shut my ears to the possible peal of bells,
Every precaution—What will you have, my dear?
The same again?
Count up our fag-ends
This year next year sometime never
Next year is this year, sometime is next time, never is sometime
Never is the Bell, Never is the Panther, Never is Rameses
Oh the cold stone panic of Never—
The ringers are taking off their coats, the panther crouches
The granite sceptre is very slightly inclining
As our shoes tap against the bar and our glasses
Make two new rings of wet upon the counter
Somewhere behind us stands a man, a counter
A timekeeper with a watch and a pistol
Ready to shoot and with his shot destroy
This whole delightful world of cliché and refrain
—What will you have, my dear? The same again?

December, 1935

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