Jessie Dismorr, writings from Blast 2, 1915
Promenade [also in “Poems 1918”]
My niche in nonentity still grins—
Play knees, elbows pinioned, my sleep mutterings blunted against a wall.
Pushing my hard head through the hole of birth
I squeezed out with intact body.
I ache all over, but acrobatic, I undertake the feat of existence.
Details of equipment delight me.
I admire my arrogant spiked tresses, the disposition of my perpetually foreshortened limbs,
Also the new machinery that wields the chains of muscles fitted beneath my close coat of skin.
On a pivot of contentment my balanced body moves slowly.
Inquisitiveness, a butterfly, escapes.
It spins with drunken invitation. I poke my fingers into the middles of big succulent flowers.
My fingers are fortunately tipped with horn.
Tentacles of my senses, subtle and far-reaching, drop spoils into the vast sack of my greed.
Stretched ears projecting from my brain are gongs struck by vigorous and brutal fists of air.
Into scooped nets of nostrils glide slippery and salt scents, I swallow slowly with gasps.
In pursuit of shapes my eyes dilate and bulge. Finest instruments of touch they refuse to blink their pressure of objects.
They dismember live anatomies innocently.
They run around the polished rims of rivers.
With risk they press against the cut edges of rooks and pricking pinnacles.
Pampered appetites and curiosities become blood-drops, their hot mouths yell war.
Sick opponents dodging behind silence, echo alone shrills an equivalent threat.
Obsessions rear their heads. I hammer their faces into discs.
Striped malignities spring upon me, and tattoo with incisions of wild claws.
Speeded with whips of hurt, I hurry towards ultimate success.
I stoop to link the bright cups of pain and drop out of activity.
I lie a slack bag of skin. My nose hangs over the abyss of exhaustion, my loosened tongue laps sleep as from a bowl of milk.
IN PARK LANE.
Long necked feminine structures support almost without grimacing the elegant discomfort of restricted elbows.
Commonplace, titanic figures with a splendid motion stride across the parched plateau of grass, little London houses only a foot high huddle at their heels.
Under trees all the morning women sit sewing and knitting, their monotonous occupation accompanying the agreeable muddle of their thoughts.
In the Row. Vitality civilized to a needles-point; highly-bred men and horses pass swiftly in useless delightful motion; women walk enamoured of their own accomplished movements.
Gigantic cubes of iron rock are set in a parallelogram of orange sand.
Ranks of black columns of immense weight and immobility are threaded by a stream of angular volatile shapes. Their trunks shrink quickly in retreat towards the cavernous roof.
Innumerable pigeons fret the stone steps with delicate restlessness.
In a rectangular channel of space light drops in oblique layers upon rows of polished cubes sustaining gods and fragments.
Monstrous human heads without backs protrude lips satisfied with the taste of pride.
Seductive goddesses, cat-faced and maiden-breasted sit eternally stroking smooth knees.
This colossal globe of achievement presses upon two hundred cosmopolitan foreheads, respectfully inclined.
The embankment of brick and stone is fancifully devised and stuck with flowers and flags.
Towers of scaffolding draw their criss-cross pattern of bars upon the sky, a monstrous tartan.
Delicate fingers of cranes describe beneficent motions in space.
Glazed cases contain curious human specimens.
Nature with a brush of green pigment paints rural landscape up to the edge of the frame.
Pseudo-romantic hollows and hillocks are peopled by reality prostrate and hostile.
Precious slips of houses, packed like books on a shelf, are littered all over with signs and letters.
A dark, agitated stream straggles turbulently along the channel bottom; clouds race overhead.
Curiously exciting are so many perspective lines, withdrawing, converging; they indicate evidently something of importance beyond the limits of sight.
Roderigo calls for me at my little dark villa. I am waiting with happiness and amiability tucked up in my bosom like two darling lap-dogs. Should I never return to the place, they are safe. I am not good at finding my way back anywhere.
For Roderigo I have an ardent admiration. His pink cheeks, black beard, and look half of mannequin and half of audacious and revengeful Corsican amuse me. Ah, Roderigo! You are too conspicuous for day-light; but on a night of opera, this night of profound mutterings and meaningless summer lightning you are an indispensable adjunct of the scenery.
No 43 bus, its advertisements all lit from within, floats towards us like a luminous balloon. We cling to it and climb to the top. Towards the red glare of the illuminated city we race through interminable suburbs. These are the bare wings and corridors that give on to the stage. Swiftness at least is exquisite. But it makes me too emotional. Amazing, these gymnastic agitations of the heart! Your blindness, my friend Roderigo, is your most intelligent attribute.
The Park, to our left, glimmers through strips of iron. Its lawns of antique satin are brocaded with elaborate parterres, whose dyes are faded beyond recognition. Dark as onyx with rims of silver are the little pools that suck in the dew. The tea-kiosk of whitened stucco is as remote as a temple shuttered up against the night. My desires loiter about the silent spaces.
We stop for passengers at Regent’s Corner. Here crowds swarm under green electric globes. Now we stop every moment, the little red staircase is besieged. The bus is really too top-heavy. It must look like a great nodding bouquet, made up of absurd flowers and moths and birds with sharp beaks. I want to escape but Roderigo is lazy and will not stop warbling his infuriating lovesongs. Ribbons of silver fire start into the air, and twist themselves into enormous bows with fringes of tiny dropping stars. Everybody stands up and screams. These people are curious, but not very interesting; they lank reticence. Ah, but the woman in the purple pelisse is too beautiful! I refuse to look at her when she stares round.
It is hot for a night In June. “Che, che, la donna.” Roderigo, you have a magnificent tenor voice, but you bore me. Your crime is that I can no longer distinguish you from the rest of the world.
Surely I have had enough of romantics! Their temperature is always above 98½, and the accelerated pulse throbs in their touch. Cool normality and classicalism tempt me, and spacious streets of pale houses. At the next arret I leave you my friends, I leave you Roderigo with the rose in your ear. I escape from the unmannerly throbbing vehicle.
I take refuge in mews and by-ways. They lead to the big squares of the better neighbourhoods. Creeping through them I become temporarily disgraced, an outcast, a shadow that clings to walls. At least here I breathe my own breath. A decrescendo of sound pursues me, and a falling spangle.
Now out of reach of squalor and glitter, I wander in the precincts of stately urban houses. Moonlight carves them in purity. The presence of these great and rectangular personalities is a medicine. They are the children of colossal restraint; they are the last word of prose. (Poetics, your day is over!) In admiring them I have put myself on the side of all the severities. I seek the profoundest teachings of the inanimate. I feel the emotion of related shapes. Oh, discipline of ordered pilasters and porticoes! My volatility rests upon you as a swimmer hangs upon a rock.
Now the pool of silence reaches unplumbable depths. My dropping footsteps create widening circles of alarm. After all, I do not know why I should be here. I am a strayed Bohemian, a villa-resident, a native of conditions half-sordid, half-fantastic. I am the style of a feuilleton cherishing a hopeless passion for Latin prose. This is an interlude of high love-making. I must get back to the life of the thoroughfares to which I belong.
Roderigo, you have long disappeared, but I think of your charm without regret. I have lost my taste for your period. The homeward-going busses are now thronged. Should I see you, I shall acknowledge you with affection. But I am not returning that way.
[“Roderigo” mis-transcribed as “Rodengo” in Blast.]
With other delicate and malicious children, a horde bright-eyed with bodies easily tired, I follow Curiosity, the reticent and maidenly governess of our adoration.
I am surprised to observe, in a converging thoroughfare, Hunger the vulgar usher, whipping up his tribe of schoolboys, who, questing hither and thither on robust limbs, fill the air with loud and innocent cries.
The suspicion suddenly quickens within me that there is an understanding. It is possible that we are being led by different ways into the same prohibited and doubtful neighbourhood.
[Also in “Poems 1918” and TLR 6.4 Aug 1919, in both of which: “whose bodies easily tire” for “with bodies easily tired”, “notice” for “observe”, “We are being led” for “It is possible that we are being led”, and “doubtful and prohibited” for “prohibited and doubtful”.]
Now that money is passing between us, for that which has no equivalent in coin, I will give you a shilling for your peculiar smile, and sixpence for the silken sweep of your dress; and for your presence, the strange thing that I can neither grasp nor elude, I will give you another shilling.
Strange that a beauty so dangerously near perfection should choose life without happenings and hedged in completely
By habits and hand-labours
Set in an ordered and commonplace rightness.
It is certain that she has no sense of play at all,
Coveting neither delight nor risk, nor the uses of her supreme gift,
So that within a homespun sobriety
The dread thing passes unperceived by most comers,
And chiefly secure from self-recognition
By strait bonds of chastity and duties ardently cherished.