Despair of Whiteness
In marbles, japonicas, pearls,
royal preeminence in hue,
ascriptions of dominion,
even joy – innocence of brides,
benignity of age, in higher mysteries
the white forked flame held holiest
on the altar, Jove himself a white
bull, associations sweet, sublime.
Yet lurks the innermost idea, the thought
of whiteness striking panic, not
the fierce-fanged tiger in heraldic coat
so staggers courage as bear shrouded
in fleece of innocence, white shark’s gliding
ghostliness, The albatross, a regal,
feathery thing – inexpressible, strange eyes –
cries in supernatural distress.
The quality in aspect of the dead
which most appals – lingering marble pallor,
the shroud – we throw the same mantle
round our phantoms. This thing of whiteness
exerts sorcery: Whitsuntide marshals
processions of pilgrims, down-cast,
hooded with snow, a White Nun
evokes an eyeless statue in the soul.
Tearless Lima, the saddest city, has taken
the white veil, spread over her broken ramparts
the rigid pallor that fixes its own distortions.
The mariner, called from hammock, sailing
through midnight sea, feels a superstitious
dread, shivering, half shipwrecked, views
what seems a boundless churchyard grinning
with its splintered crosses, lean ice monuments.
Behold instinct of demonism in the world:
muffled rollings of milky sea, bleak
frosts of mountains, desolate prairies
all formed in fright. Incantation of whiteness
with strange, portentous power
stabs us with thought of annihilation.
White the absence of colour, a dumb
blankness full of meaning. All other earthly hues –
sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods –
but subtle deceits laid on from without.
Nature paints like the harlot whose allurements
cover nothing but the charnel-house within.