On Heaven


On Heaven (1914) was the title poem in Ford's collection inspired by World War I, On Heaven, and Poems Written on Active Service (1918).
To V., who asked for a working Heaven


THAT day the sunlight lay on the farms,	
On the morrow the bitter frost that there was!	
That night my young love lay in my arms,	
The morrow how bitter it was!	
And because she is very tall and quaint	        
And golden, like a quattrocento saint,	
I desire to write about Heaven;	
To tell you the shape and the ways of it,	
And the joys and the toil and the maze of it,	
For these there must be in Heaven,	        
Even in Heaven!	
For God is a good man, God is a kind man,	
And God’s a good brother, and God is no blind man,	
And God is our father.	
          I will tell you how this thing began:	        
How I waited in a little town near Lyons many years,	
And yet knew nothing of passing time, or of her tears,	
But, for nine slow years, lounged away at my table in the shadowy sunlit square	
Where the small cafés are.	
The Place is small and shaded by great planes,	        
Over a rather human monument	
Set up to Louis Dixhuit in the year	
Eighteen fourteen; a funny thing with dolphins	
About a pyramid of green-dripped, sordid stone.	
But the enormous, monumental planes	        
Shade it all in, and in the flecks of sun	
Sit market women. There’s a paper shop	
Painted all blue, a shipping agency,	
Three or four cafés; dank, dark colonnades	
Of an eighteen-forty Mairie. I’d no wish	        
To wait for her where it was picturesque,	
Or ancient or historic, or to love	
Over well any place in the land before she came	
And loved it too. I didn’t even go	
To Lyons for the opera; Arles for the bulls,	        
Or Avignon for glimpses of the Rhone.	
Not even to Beaucaire! I sat about	
And played long games of dominoes with the maire,	
Or passing commis-voyageurs. And so	
I sat and watched the trams come in, and read	        
The Libre Parole and sipped the thin, fresh wine	
They call Piquette, and got to know the people,	
The kind, southern people….	
Until, when the years were over, she came in her swift 
red car,	
Shooting out past a tram; and she slowed and stopped
and lighted absently down,	        
A little dazed, in the heart of the town;	
And nodded imperceptibly.	
With a sideways look at me.	
So our days here began.	
And the wrinkled old woman who keeps the café,	        
And the man	
Who sells the Libre Parole,	
And the sleepy gendarme,	
And the fat facteur who delivers letters only in the shady,	
Pleasanter kind of streets;	        
And the boy I often gave a penny,	
And the maire himself, and the little girl who loves toffee	
And me because I have given her many sweets;	
And the one-eyed, droll	
Bookseller of the rue Grand de Provence,—	        
Chancing to be going home to bed,	
Smiled with their kindly, fresh benevolence,	
Because they knew I had waited for a lady	
Who should come in a swift, red, English car,	
To the square where the little cafés are.	        
And the old, old woman touched me on the wrist	
With a wrinkled finger,	
And said: “Why do you linger?—	
Too many kisses can never be kissed!	
And comfort her—nobody here will think harm—	        
Take her instantly to your arm!	
It is a little strange, you know, to your dear,	
To be dead!”	
But one is English,	
Though one be never so much of a ghost;	        
And if most of your life have been spent in the craze to 
What you want most,	
You will go on relinquishing,	
You will go on vanquishing	
Human longings, even	        
In Heaven.	
God! You will have forgotten what the rest of the world 
is on fire for—	
The madness of desire for the long and quiet embrace,	
The coming nearer of a tear-wet face;	
Forgotten the desire to slake	        
The thirst, and the long, slow ache,	
And to interlace	
Lash with lash, lip with lip, limb with limb, and the 
fingers of the hand with the hand	
And …	
You will have forgotten….
                But they will all awake;	        
Aye, all of them shall awaken	
In this dear place.	
And all that then we took	
Of all that we might have taken,	
Was that one embracing look,	        
Coursing over features, over limbs, between eyes, a making sure, and a long sigh,	
Having the tranquillity	
Of trees unshaken,	
And the softness of sweet tears,	
And the clearness of a clear brook	        
To wash away past years.	
(For that too is the quality of Heaven,	
That you are conscious always of great pain	
Only when it is over	
And shall not come again.	        
Thank God, thank God, it shall not come again,	
Though your eyes be never so wet with the tears	
Of many years!)	
And so she stood a moment by the door	
Of the long, red car. Royally she stepped down,	        
Settling on one long foot and leaning back	
Amongst her russet furs. And she looked round …	
Of course it must be strange to come from England	
Straight into Heaven. You must take it in,	
Slowly, for a long instant, with some fear …	        
Now that affiche, in orange, on the kiosque:	
“Seven Spanish bulls will fight on Sunday next	
At Arles, in the arena” … Well, it’s strange	
Till you get used to our ways. And, on the Mairie,	
The untidy poster telling of the concours	        
De vers de soie, of silkworms. The cocoons	
Pile, yellow, all across the little Places	
Of ninety townships in the environs	
Of Lyons, the city famous for silks.	
What if she’s pale? It must be more than strange,	        
After these years, to come out here from England	
To a strange place, to the stretched-out arms of me,	
A man never fully known, only divined,	
Loved, guessed at, pledged to, in your Sussex mud,	
Amongst the frost-bound farms by the yeasty sea.	        
Oh, the long look; the long, long searching look!	
And how my heart beat!
                Well, you see, in England	
She had a husband. And four families—	
His, hers, mine, and another woman’s too—	
Would have gone crazy. And, with all the rest,	        
Eight parents, and the children, seven aunts	
And sixteen uncles and a grandmother.	
There were, besides, our names, a few real friends,	
And the decencies of life. A monstrous heap!	
They made a monstrous heap. I’ve lain awake	        
Whole aching nights to tot the figures up!	
Heap after heaps, of complications, griefs,	
Worries, tongue-clackings, nonsenses and shame	
For not making good. You see the coil there was!	
And the poor strained fibres of our tortured brains,	        
And the voice that called from depth in her to depth	
In me … my God, in the dreadful nights,	
Through the roar of the great black winds, through the sound of the sea!	
Oh agony! Agony! From out my breast	
It called whilst the dark house slept, the stairheads creaked;	        
From within my breast it screamed and made no sound;	
And wailed … And made no sound.	
And howled like the damned … No sound! No sound!	
Only the roar of the wind, the sound of the sea,	
The tick of the clock …	        
And our two voices, noiseless through the dark.	
O God! O God!	
(That night my young love lay in my arms….	
There was a bitter frost lay on the farms	
In England, by the shiver	        
And the crawling of the tide;	
By the broken silver of the English Channel,	
Beneath the aged moon that watched alone—	
Poor, dreary, lonely old moon to have to watch alone,	
Over the dreary beaches mantled with ancient foam	        
Like shrunken flannel;	
The moon, an intent, pale face, looking down	
Over the English Channel.	
But soft and warm She lay in the crook of my arm,	
And came to no harm since we had come quietly home	        
Even to Heaven;	
Which is situate in a little old town	
Not very far from the side of the Rhone,	
That mighty river	
That is, just there by the Crau, in the lower reaches,	        
Far wider than the Channel.)	
But, in the market place of the other little town,	
Where the Rhone is a narrower, greener affair,	
When she had looked at me, she beckoned with her 
long white hand,	
A little languidly, since it is a strain, if a blessed strain, 
to have just died.	        
And, going back again,	
Into the long, red, English racing car,	
Made room for me amongst the furs at her side.	
And we moved away from the kind looks of the kindly 
Into the wine of the hurrying air.	        
And very soon even the tall gray steeple	
Of Lyons cathedral behind us grew little and far	
And then was no more there….	
And, thank God, we had nothing any more to think of,	
And thank God, we had nothing any more to talk of;	        
Unless, as it chanced, the flashing silver stalk of the
Growing down to the brink of the Rhone,	
On the lawn of a little chateau, giving onto the river.	
And we were alone, alone, alone….	
At last alone….	        
The poplars on the hill-crests go marching rank on rank,	
And far away to the left, like a pyramid, marches the 
ghost of Mont Blanc.	
There are vines and vines and vines, all down to the
 river bank.	
There will be a castle here,	
And an abbey there;	        
And huge quarries and a long white farm,	
With long thatched barns and a long wine shed,	
As we ran alone, all down the Rhone.	
And that day there was no puncturing of the tires to fear;	
And no trouble at all with the engine and gear;	        
Smoothly and softly we ran between the great poplar 
All down the valley of the Rhone.	
For the dear, good God knew how we needed rest and 
to be alone.	
But, on other days, just as you must have perfect shadows 
to make perfect Rembrandts,	
He shall afflict us with little lets and hindrances of His own	        
Devising—just to let us be glad that we are dead …	
Just for remembrance.	
Hard by the castle of God in the Alpilles,	
In the eternal stone of the Alpilles,	
There’s this little old town, walled round by the old, gray 
There were never such olives as grow in the gardens of God,	
The green-gray trees, the wardens of agony	
And failure of gods.	
Of hatred and faith, of truth, of treachery	
They whisper; they whisper that none of the living prevail;	        
They whirl in the great mistral over the white, dry sods,	
Like hair blown back from white foreheads in the enormous 
Up to the castle walls of God….	
But, in the town that’s our home,	
Once you are past the wall,	        
Amongst the trunks of the planes,	
Though they roar never so mightily overhead in the day,	
All this tumult is quieted down, and all	
The windows stand open because of the heat of the night	
That shall come.	        
And, from each little window, shines in the twilight a light,	
And, beneath the eternal planes	
With the huge, gnarled trunks that were aged and gray	
At the creation of Time,	
The Chinese lanthorns, hung out at the doors of hotels,	        
Shimmering in the dusk, here on an orange tree, there 
on a sweet-scented lime,	
There on a golden inscription: “Hotel of the Three Holy Bells,”	
Or “Hotel Sublime,” or “Inn of the Real Good Will.”	
And, yes, it is very warm and still,	
And all the world is a-foot after the heat of the day,	       
In the cool of the even in Heaven….	
And it is here that I have brought my dear to pay her all 
that I owed her,	
Amidst this crowd, with the soft voices, the soft footfalls, 
the rejoicing laughter.	
And after the twilight there falls such a warm, soft darkness,	
And there will come stealing under the planes a drowsy 
Compounded all of cyclamen, of oranges, of rosemary
 and bay,	
To take the remembrance of the toil of the day away.	
So we sat at a little table, under an immense plane,	
And we remembered again	
The blisters and foments	        
And terrible harassments of the tired brain,	
The cold and the frost and the pain,	
As if we were looking at a picture and saying: 
“This is true!	
Why this is a truly painted	
Rendering of that street where—you remember?—I fainted.”	        
And we remembered again	
Tranquilly, our poor few tranquil moments,	
The falling of the sunlight through the panes,	
The flutter forever in the chimney of the quiet flame,	
The mutter of our two poor tortured voices, always a whisper	        
And the endless nights when I would cry out, running through
 all the gamut of misery, even to a lisp, her name;	
And we remembered our kisses, nine, maybe, or eleven—	
If you count two that I gave and she did not give again.	
And always the crowd drifted by in the cool of the even,	
And we saw the faces of friends,	        
And the faces of those to whom one day we must make 
Smiling in welcome.	
And I said: “On another day—	
And such a day may well come soon—	
We will play dominoes with Dick and Evelyn and Frances	        
For a whole afternoon.	
And, in the time to come, Genée	
Shall dance for us, fluttering over the ground as the sunlight
And Arlésiennes with the beautiful faces went by us,	
And gypsies and Spanish shepherds, noiseless in sandals 
of straw, sauntered nigh us,	        
Wearing slouch hats and old sheep-skins, and casting 
admiring glances	
From dark, foreign eyes at my dear….	
(And ah, it is Heaven alone, to have her alone and so near!)	
So all this world rejoices	
In the cool of the even	        
In Heaven….	
And, when the cool of the even was fully there,	
Came a great ha-ha of voices.	
Many children run together, and all laugh and rejoice 
and call,	
Hurrying with little arms flying, and little feet flying, 
and little hurrying haunches,	        
From the door of a stable,	
Where, in an olla podrida, they had been playing 
at the corrida	
With the black Spanish bull, whose nature	
Is patience with children. And so, through the 
gaps in the branches	
Of jasmine on our screen beneath the planes,	        
We saw, coming down from the road that leads to the 
olives and Alpilles,	
A man of great stature,	
In a great cloak,	
With a great stride,	
And a little joke	        
For all and sundry, coming down with a hound 
at his side.	
And he stood at the cross-roads, passing the time 
of day	
In a great, kind voice, the voice of a man-
With a great laugh, and a great clap on the back,	
For a fellow in black—a priest I should say,	        
Or may be a lover,	
Wearing black for his mistress’s mood.	
“A little toothache,” we could hear him say; “but 
that’s so good	
When it gives over.” So he passed from sight	
In the soft twilight, into the soft night,	        
In the soft riot and tumult of the crowd.	
And a magpie flew down, laughing, holding up his 
beak to us.	
And I said: “That was God! Presently, when he has 
walked through the town	
And the night has settled down,	
So that you may not be afraid,	        
In the darkness, he will come to our table and speak
 to us.”	
And past us many saints went walking in a company—	
The kindly, thoughtful saints, devising and laughing 
and talking,	
And smiling at us with their pleasant solicitude.	
And because the thick of the crowd followed to the 
one side God,	        
Or to the other the saints, we sat in solitude.	
And quietly, quietly walking, there came before us 
a woman—	
That woman that no man on earth or in Heaven	
May not divinely love and prize above	
All other women; even above love.	        
That woman, even she, came walking quietly,	
And quietly stood by the table before us,	
So near that we could almost hear her breathing.	
In the distance the saints went singing all in chorus,	
And our Lord went by on the other side of the street,	        
Holding a little boy,	
Taking him to pick the musk-roses that open at dusk,	
For wreathing the statue of Jove,	
Left on the Alpilles above	
By the Romans; since Jove,	        
Even Jove,	
Must not want for his quota of honor and love;	
But round about him there must be,	
With all its tender jollity,	
The laughter of children in Heaven,	        
Making merry with roses in Heaven.	
Yet never he looked at us, knowing that would be such 
As must be over-great for hearts that needed quiet;	
Such a riot and tumult of joy as quiet hearts are not able	
To taste to the full. And then that woman, standing by 
our table,	        
So near that we could mark her quiet breathing,	
And the tranquil rise and fall of her breast beneath the 
woolen cloak,	
And the tender, lovely and mild, dear eyes that looked 
at my dear—	
That woman spoke, in her soft, clear, certain tone:	
“It is so very good to have borne a son;	       
It is sad that you have no child!”	
There went by an old man carrying many carven 
And, as if it gave her the thought of a pilgrimage,	
“To Lourdes,”	
She said, “is not so very far; go there tomorrow,	        
And there shall come much joy and little sorrow	
With the coming of a son very slender and straight 
and upright,	
With a clear glance, and fair cheeks red and white	
With our suns of France,	
And a sweet voice, very courteous and truthful;	        
Surely, you shall rejoice!”	
And, as she went, looking back over her shoulder, with 
eyes so sweet, so clear and so ruthful,	
“Go there,” she said, “when you have quietly slept,	
And kneel you down upon the green grass sod,	
And ask then for your child; my word shall be kept.	        
For these are the dear, pretty angels of God,	
And of them there cannot be too many.”	
And so I said to my dear one: “That is our Lady!”	
And my dear one sat in the shadows; very softly she 
Such joy is in Heaven,	        
In the cool of the even,	
After the burden and toil of the days,	
After the heat and haze	
In the vine-hills; or in the shady	
Whispering groves in high passes up in the Alpilles,	        
Guarding the castle of God.	
And I went on talking towards her unseen face:	
(Ah God, the peace, to know that she was there!)	
“So it is, so it goes, in this beloved place,	
There shall be never a grief but passes; no, not any;	        
There shall be such bright light and no blindness;	
There shall be so little awe and so much loving-kindness;	
There shall be a little longing and enough care,	
There shall be a little labor and enough of toil	
To bring back the lost flavor of our human coil;	        
Not enough to taint it;	
And all that we desire shall prove as fair as we can 
paint it.”	
For, though that may be the very hardest trick of all	
God set himself, who fashioned this goodly hall,	
Thus he has made Heaven;	        
Even Heaven.	
For God is a very clever mechanician;	
And if he made this proud and goodly ship of the world,	
From the maintop to the hull,	
Do you think he could not finish it to the full,	        
With a flag and all,	
And make it sail, tall and brave,	
On the waters, beyond the grave?	
It should cost but very little rhetoric	
To explain for you that last, fine, conjuring trick;	        
Nor does God need to be a very great magician	
To give to each man after his heart,	
Who knows very well what each man has in his heart:	
To let you pass your life in a night-club where they dance,	
If that is your idea of heaven; if you will, in the South of 
If you will, on the turbulent sea; if you will, in the peace 
of the night;	
Where you will; how you will;	
Or in the long death of a kiss, that may never pall:	
He would be a very little God if he could not do all this,	
And he is still	        
The great God of all.	
For God is a good man; God is a kind man;	
In the darkness he came walking to our table beneath 
the planes,	
And spoke	
So kindly to my dear,	        
With a little joke,
Giving himself some pains	
To take away her fear	
Of his stature,	
So as not to abash her,	        
In no way at all to dash her new pleasure beneath the planes,	
In the cool of the even	
In heaven.	
That, that is God’s nature.	
For God’s a good brother, and God is no blind man,	        
And God’s a good mother and loves sons who’re rovers,	
And God is our father and loves all good lovers.	
He has a kindly smile for many a poor sinner;	
He takes note to make it up to poor wayfarers on sodden 
Such as bear heavy loads	        
He takes note of, and of all that toil on bitter seas and 
frosty lands,	
He takes care that they shall have good at his hands;	
Well he takes note of a poor old cook,	
Cooking your dinner;	
And much he loves sweet joys in such as ever took	        
Sweet joy on earth. He has a kindly smile for a kiss	
Given in a shady nook.	
And in the golden book	
Where the accounts of his estate are kept,	
All the round, golden sovereigns of bliss,	        
Known by poor lovers, married or never yet married,	
Whilst the green world waked, or the black world quietly
All joy, all sweetness, each sweet sign that’s sighed—	
Their accounts are kept,	
And carried	        
By the love of God to his own credit’s side.	
So that is why he came to our table to welcome my 
dear, dear bride,	
In the cool of the even	
In front of a café in Heaven.




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