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AN OLD MAN SEES HIMSELFBY CONRAD AIKENSolitarybefore daybreakin a gardenDark amid the unchanging snowWatching the last star fading in a fountainWhence melodies of eternal water flowFestusseeing the sky-line burn and brightenColdlyfar above the hidden sun;Seeing the golden thread of glory unravelledAlong the wall of mountains runHears in his heart a cry of bewilderment;And turningnow herenow there --Like one who pauses a moment before departure --Partakes of the grace of earth and airDrinks of the vast blue splendour of the skyThe mile on mile of dew-blanched grassThe cloud-swept treesthe stonesbare cliffs of bronze;And in the poolas in a glassRinged round with nodding astersfrosted leaf-tipsStoops to see his image; and beholdHow faded is the scarlet of his mantle!His facehow changed and old! . . .Sing now the birds; on every bough a bird sings;Slowly at firstthen fast and fasterTill the walled garden thrills and shrills with music;The cricket beneath the violet asterCries his joy to heaven as the first beam strikes him --The foxgloves bend beneath a weight of bees;Praise! Praise! Praise! the chorus risesDrowsilyhappilydumblysway the trees.---------------------------------------------------------------------------------302-Fades the star in the mountainand the sun comes.How motionless stands Festus there!A red leaffalling slowly to meet a red leafThat rises out of the infinite to the airFloatsis turned by the wind about its image . . .Ah Festusis this youThis ruin of man about whom leaves fall coldlyAnd asters nod their dew? . . .Palephantasmalswirls the forest of birchesIt is a dance of witch-girls white and slim;Delicately flash their slender hands in the sunlight!Cymbals hisstheir eyes are dimUnder the mist of hair they toss above them . . .But Festusturning neverHeeding them notnor the birdsnor the cricket shrillingStares at the pool for everSeeking in vain to find -- somewheresomewhere! --In the poolhimselfthe sky? --The slightclearbeautiful secret of these marvelsOf birchbirdscricket's cryBlue skyblue poolthe red leaf falling and floatingThe wall of mountainsthe gardenthe snowAnd one old man -- how sinister and bedraggled! --Cawing there like a crow . . .Instant the miracle is. He leans bewilderedOver the infiniteto search it through . . .Loud sing the birds! On every bough a bird sings;The cricket shrillsthe day is blue.