Amy Lowell: The Red Lacquer Music-Stand

The Red Lacquer Music-Stand

A music-stand of crimson lacquer, long since brought In some fast clipper-ship from China, quaintly wrought With bossed and carven flowers and fruits in blackening gold, The slender shaft all twined about and thickly scrolled With vine leaves and young twisted tendrils, whirling, curling, Flinging their new shoots over the four wings, and swirling Out on the three wide feet in golden lumps and streams; Petals and apples in high relief, and where the seams Are worn with handling, through the polished crimson sheen, Long streaks of black, the under lacquer, shine out clean. Four desks, adjustable, to suit the heights of players Sitting to viols or standing up to sing, four layers Of music to serve every instrument, are there, And on the apex a large flat-topped golden pear. It burns in red and yellow, dusty, smouldering lights, When the sun flares the old barn-chamber with its flights And skips upon the crystal knobs of dim sideboards, Legless and mouldy, and hops, glint to glint, on hoards Of scythes, and spades, and dinner-horns, so the old tools Are little candles throwing brightness round in pools. With Oriental splendour, red and gold, the dust Covering its flames like smoke and thinning as a gust Of brighter sunshine makes the colours leap and range, The strange old music-stand seems to strike out and change; To stroke and tear the darkness with sharp golden claws; To dart a forked, vermilion tongue from open jaws; To puff out bitter smoke which chokes the sun; and fade Back to a still, faint outline obliterate in shade. Creeping up the ladder into the loft, the Boy Stands watching, very still, prickly and hot with joy. He sees the dusty sun-mote slit by streaks of red, He sees it split and stream, and all about his head Spikes and spears of gold are licking, pricking, flicking, Scratching against the walls and furniture, and nicking The darkness into sparks, chipping away the gloom. The Boy's nose smarts with the pungence in the room. The wind pushes an elm branch from before the door And the sun widens out all along the floor, Filling the barn-chamber with white, straightforward light, So not one blurred outline can tease the mind to fright.
  "O All ye Works of the Lord, Bless ye the Lord; Praise Him, and Magnify Him     for ever.   O let the Earth Bless the Lord; Yea, let it Praise Him, and Magnify Him     for ever.   O ye Mountains and Hills, Bless ye the Lord; Praise Him, and Magnify Him     for ever.   O All ye Green Things upon the Earth, Bless ye the Lord; Praise Him,     and Magnify Him for ever."
The Boy will praise his God on an altar builded fair, Will heap it with the Works of the Lord.  In the morning air, Spices shall burn on it, and by their pale smoke curled, Like shoots of all the Green Things, the God of this bright World Shall see the Boy's desire to pay his debt of praise. The Boy turns round about, seeking with careful gaze An altar meet and worthy, but each table and chair Has some defect, each piece is needing some repair To perfect it; the chairs have broken legs and backs, The tables are uneven, and every highboy lacks A handle or a drawer, the desks are bruised and worn, And even a wide sofa has its cane seat torn. Only in the gloom far in the corner there The lacquer music-stand is elegant and rare, Clear and slim of line, with its four wings outspread, The sound of old quartets, a tenuous, faint thread, Hanging and floating over it, it stands supreme — Black, and gold, and crimson, in one twisted scheme!  A candle on the bookcase feels a draught and wavers, Stippling the white-washed walls with dancing shades and quavers. A bed-post, grown colossal, jigs about the ceiling, And shadows, strangely altered, stain the walls, revealing Eagles, and rabbits, and weird faces pulled awry, And hands which fetch and carry things incessantly. Under the Eastern window, where the morning sun Must touch it, stands the music-stand, and on each one Of its broad platforms is a pyramid of stones, And metals, and dried flowers, and pine and hemlock cones, An oriole's nest with the four eggs neatly blown, The rattle of a rattlesnake, and three large brown Butternuts uncracked, six butterflies impaled With a green luna moth, a snake-skin freshly scaled, Some sunflower seeds, wampum, and a bloody-tooth shell, A blue jay feather, all together piled pell-mell The stand will hold no more.  The Boy with humming head Looks once again, blows out the light, and creeps to bed.  The Boy keeps solemn vigil, while outside the wind Blows gustily and clear, and slaps against the blind. He hardly tries to sleep, so sharp his ecstasy It burns his soul to emptiness, and sets it free For adoration only, for worship.  Dedicate, His unsheathed soul is naked in its novitiate. The hours strike below from the clock on the stair. The Boy is a white flame suspiring in prayer. Morning will bring the sun, the Golden Eye of Him Whose splendour must be veiled by starry cherubim, Whose Feet shimmer like crystal in the streets of Heaven. Like an open rose the sun will stand up even, Fronting the window-sill, and when the casement glows Rose-red with the new-blown morning, then the fire which flows From the sun will fall upon the altar and ignite The spices, and his sacrifice will burn in perfumed light. Over the music-stand the ghosts of sounds will swim, `Viols d'amore' and `hautbois' accorded to a hymn. The Boy will see the faintest breath of angels' wings Fanning the smoke, and voices will flower through the strings. He dares no farther vision, and with scalding eyes Waits upon the daylight and his great emprise.
The cold, grey light of dawn was whitening the wall When the Boy, fine-drawn by sleeplessness, started his ritual. He washed, all shivering and pointed like a flame. He threw the shutters open, and in the window-frame The morning glimmered like a tarnished Venice glass. He took his Chinese pastilles and put them in a mass Upon the mantelpiece till he could seek a plate Worthy to hold them burning.  Alas!  He had been late In thinking of this need, and now he could not find Platter or saucer rare enough to ease his mind. The house was not astir, and he dared not go down Into the barn-chamber, lest some door should be blown And slam before the draught he made as he went out. The light was growing yellower, and still he looked about. A flash of almost crimson from the gilded pear Upon the music-stand, startled him waiting there. The sun would rise and he would meet it unprepared, Labelled a fool in having missed what he had dared. He ran across the room, took his pastilles and laid Them on the flat-topped pear, most carefully displayed To light with ease, then stood a little to one side, Focussed a burning-glass and painstakingly tried To hold it angled so the bunched and prismed rays Should leap upon each other and spring into a blaze. Sharp as a wheeling edge of disked, carnation flame, Gem-hard and cutting upward, slowly the round sun came. The arrowed fire caught the burning-glass and glanced, Split to a multitude of pointed spears, and lanced, A deeper, hotter flame, it took the incense pile Which welcomed it and broke into a little smile Of yellow flamelets, creeping, crackling, thrusting up, A golden, red-slashed lily in a lacquer cup.
  "O ye Fire and Heat, Bless ye the Lord; Praise Him, and Magnify Him     for ever.   O ye Winter and Summer, Bless ye the Lord; Praise Him, and Magnify Him     for ever.   O ye Nights and Days, Bless ye the Lord; Praise Him, and Magnify Him     for ever.   O ye Lightnings and Clouds, Bless ye the Lord; Praise Him, and Magnify Him     for ever."
A moment so it hung, wide-curved, bright-petalled, seeming A chalice foamed with sunrise.  The Boy woke from his dreaming. A spike of flame had caught the card of butterflies, The oriole's nest took fire, soon all four galleries Where he had spread his treasures were become one tongue Of gleaming, brutal fire.  The Boy instantly swung His pitcher off the wash-stand and turned it upside down. The flames drooped back and sizzled, and all his senses grown Acute by fear, the Boy grabbed the quilt from his bed And flung it over all, and then with aching head He watched the early sunshine glint on the remains Of his holy offering.  The lacquer stand had stains Ugly and charred all over, and where the golden pear Had been, a deep, black hole gaped miserably.  His dear Treasures were puffs of ashes; only the stones were there, Winking in the brightness.
                            The clock upon the stair Struck five, and in the kitchen someone shook a grate. The Boy began to dress, for it was getting late.