Wallace Stevens
Peter Quince at the Clavier (1915)


Just as my fingers on these keys

Make music, so the self-same sounds

On my spirit make a music, too.

Music is feeling, then, not sound;


And thus it is that what I feel,

Here in this room, desiring you,

Thinking of your blue-shadowed silk,

Is music. It is like the strain

Waked in the elders by Susanna;


Of a green evening, clear and warm,

She bathed in her still garden, while

The red-eyed elders, watching, felt

The basses of their beings throb

In witching chords, and their thin blood


Pulse pizzicati of Hosanna.


In the green water, clear and warm,

Susanna lay.

She searched

The touch of springs,


And found

Concealed imaginings.

She sighed,

For so much melody.

Upon the bank, she stood


In the cool

Of spent emotions.

She felt, among the leaves,

The dew

Of old devotions.


She walked upon the grass,

Still quavering.

The winds were like her maids,

On timid feet,

Fetching her woven scarves,


Yet wavering.

A breath upon her hand

Muted the night.

She turned--

A cymbal crashed,


Amid roaring horns.


Soon, with a noise like tambourines,

Came her attendant Byzantines.

They wondered why Susanna cried

Against the elders by her side;


And as they whispered, the refrain

Was like a willow swept by rain.

Anon, their lamps' uplifted flame

Revealed Susanna and her shame.

And then, the simpering Byzantines


Fled, with a noise like tambourines.


Beauty is momentary in the mind--

The fitful tracing of a portal;

But in the flesh it is immortal.

The body dies; the body's beauty lives.


So evenings die, in their green going,

A wave, interminably flowing.

So gardens die, their meek breath scenting

The cowl of winter, done repenting.

So maidens die, to the auroral


Celebration of a maiden's choral.

Susanna's music touched the bawdy strings

Of those white elders; but, escaping,

Left only Death's ironic scraping.

Now, in its immortality, it plays


On the clear viol of her memory,

And makes a constant sacrament of praise.


Peter Quince, one of the bumbling rustics in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream who put on a well-meant but unintentionally funny play of the tragic love of Pyramus and Thisbe for the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta.

Susanna: as told in the apocryphal book of Daniel (chapter 13), this virtuous wife of Joakim in Babylon rejected the sexual demands of two old men of the tribe, who then calumniated her in revenge. Daniel discovered they were lying and had them executed.

(notes adapted from Representative Poetry Online. Copyright © 2002, Ian Lancashire)