The undead


Even as children they were late sleepers,

preferring their dreams, even when quick with monsters,

to the world with all its breakable toys,

its compacts with the dying.


From the stretched arms of whitered trees

they turned, fearing contagion of the mortal,

and even under the plums of summer

drifted like winter moons.


Secret, unfriendly, pale, possessed

of the one wish, the thirst for mere survival,

they came, as all extremists do

in time, to a sort of grandeur:

now, to they Balkans battlements

above the vulgar town of their first lives,

they rise at the moon’s rising. Strange

that their utter self-concern

should, in the end, have left them selfless:

mirrors fail to perceive them as they float

trough the great hall and up the staircase;

nor are the cobwebs broken.


Into the pallid night emerging,

wrapped in their flapping capes, routinely maddened

by a wolf’s cry, they stand for a moment

stoking the mind’s eye.


With lewd thoughts of the pressed flowers

and bric-a-brac of rooms with something to lose,

of love-dismembered dolls, and children

buried in quiet sleep.


Then they are off in a negative frenzy,

their black shapes cropped into sudden bats

that swarm, burst, and are gone. Thinking

of a thrush cold in the leaves.


Who has sung his few summers truly,

or an old scholar resting his eyes at last,

we cannot be much impressed with vampires,

colorful though they are;

nevertheless, their pain is real,

and requires our pity. Think how sad it must be

to thirst always for a scorned elixir,

the salt quotidian blood

which, if mistrusted, has no savor;

to prey on life forever and not possess it,

as rock-hollows, tide after tide,

glassily strand the sea.

Richard Wilbur. USA (1921-2017)

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