This was an interesting one. Despite having a Liberal Arts degree, I have huge, gigantic, monumental gaps in my knowledge of poetry. I was perusing a list of the top 1920s poems (as one does), found a reference to Nancy Cunard’s “Parallax,” and was mighty surprised when I failed to find it online.

Somehow, some way, that excellent long poem never got reprinted after its 1925 debut (sexism?..), until it appeared in a 2016 poetry collection – but even that wasn’t available as an e-book. Well, the poem became public domain a couple of years ago, and it was time to reintroduce it to the public…

Some extensive googling led me to another amateur blog, which posted only part of the poem. Interestingly, though, there was a short comment: an academic said that they could email the scanned version of the poem to anyone who asked for it. That comment was from 2015, and it was a long shot, but I sent an email and got the precious file almost immediately. (I’m keeping my new academic friend anonymous, unless they specifically wish to get a shout-out.)

Interestingly, it was only after I googled a line from the poem that I found a later post from the same blog: after several years, that blogger managed to transcribe the entire poem, but Google wouldn’t show you the post unless you searched for a line from the poem. In other words, you had to already have it in order to find it. I love how surreal our world can be… Unfortunately, that transcribed version had a few errors, so I’m not linking to it – you can easily find it yourself if you’re so inclined.

The poem itself is… impressive. There’s a lot going on there – layers upon layers of meaning, and oh-so-many references to T.S. Eliot and, quite likely, many other contemporaries. (Cunard was a muse for many 1920s writers.) And, needless to say, this long poem is the kind of masterpiece where you’d have to look up quite a few unfamiliar words – but then again, this isn’t Twilight, eh? Even for a completely casual reader like myself, though, the poem is quite beautiful. Try reading it out loud: it flows like a river of verse.

If you’d like to learn more, this site contains some excellent analysis, as well as literary and historical perspectives on Parallax.

After doing a bit of arguing with Amazon’s overzealous and under-educated enforcement team (the other day, they demanded copyright information for a poem published in 1773…), I finally got Parallax posted on Kindle, where it will hopefully live on forever, accessible to far more readers than this blog ever will be. Here it is. A disclosure, as always: I’m not doing this as some sort of get-rich-slowly project: $0.99 is the lowest price they allow on a public-domain work. Do feel free to leave a 5-star review on that poem, though – that should get more poetry lovers’ attention!

And, finally, here is the poem itself, faithfully transcribed and digitized by yours truly. It looks like WordPress didn’t transfer over the many paragraph breaks Cunard had added for emphasis, and I’m not entirely sure how to carry them over in this simplistic interface… The original formatting still shows up in the Kindle e-book, though.

Please feel free to repost this poem wherever you wish: let’s not have it get lost again.

Parallax (1925)

by Nancy Cunard 

I desire here to pay my thanks, and state my admiration for the two drawings by Eugene McCown that form the covers of this volume.

N. C.

He would have every milestone back of him,

The seas explored, clouds, winds, and stars encompassed,

All separate moods unwrapped, made clear–

Tapping of brains, inquisitive tasting of hearts,

Provisioning of various appetite.

Midnights have heard the wine’s philosophy

Spill from glass he holds, defiant tomorrows

Pushed back.

His credo threads

Doubt with belief, questions the ultimate grace

That shall explain, atoning.

A candle drips beside the nocturnal score–

Dawns move along the city’s line reflecting,

Stare through his rented casement.

Earth, earth with consuming breast,

Across its ruined waste, its tortuous acre

Draws out his complex fires, drives on his feet

Behind imperious rain, and multiplies

The urges, questions in the wilderness.

All roads that circle back–he shall tread these

And know the mirage in the desert’s eyes

The desert’s voices wait.

This clouded fool,

This poet-fool must halt in every tavern

Observing the crusty wrecks of aftermath,

Plied by his dual mood–uneasy, still–

Devouring fever of bone transfused to brain,

In that exact alembic burned away,

Made rare, perpetual.

Come music,

In a clear vernal month

Outside the window sighing in a lane,

With trysts by appletrees–

Moths drift in the room,

Measure with running feet the book he reads.

The month is golden to all ripening seeds;

Long dawns, suspended twilight by a sea

Of slow transition, halting at full ebb;

Midnight, aurora, daytime, all in one key—

The whispering hour before a storm, the treacherous hour


So wake, wind’s fever, branches delirious

Against a riven sky.

All houses are too small now,

A thought outgrows a brain—

Open the doors, the skeleton must pass

Into the night.

In rags and dust, haunted, irresolute,

Its passion cuts new furrows athwart the years.

Sorrow, my sister—

yet who accepts

At once her tragic hand?

From pitiless explorations

Come the unwarrantable deeds,

The over-proved frustrations.

O vulgar lures of a curl!

Tricks, catches, nimble-fingered ruffian adolescence

Whose beauty pulls 

The will to fragments—

Young beauty in raffish mood,

Love to be sold,

Lily and pleasant rose,

Street lily, alley rose,

For all Love-to be-sold, who will not buy?

Rose, gold—and flush of peach

(Never by sun formed,)

Bloom-dust off gala moon

In restaurants,

Cupid of crimson lamps—

His cassolette

Streams through the coy reitererative tune


Oh come, this barbed rosette

(Or perhaps spangle

From champagne)

Drops off once out the exit-door—

Or how many thousand prodigal francs

From serious patriarchal banks

Must build the card-house for this ‘Grand Amour’?

Sour grapes of reason’s vine

Perfecting, hang on that symbolic house,

And passion is a copious mine

No matter how stripped it’s always full—carouse

Then, cytherean, with the cursory false love

That has his bed

Gold-lined, and robs you, host that are too fond—

Cold, cold,

Mind’s acid gales arouse the sated old

Fool that was gulled by love and paid his bond—

Young love is dead.

‘I that am seed, root and kernel-stone

Buried in the present, I that exact fulfillment from every hour

Now tell you:

Accept all things, accept—if only to be aware.

Understand, no choice is granted,

Nor the prudent craving, nor the ultimate romance—

But the unalterable deed, the mystic and positive

Stands, monumental against the astonished sky

Of an inquisitive world.

Now fierce, now cold,

Time beats in the hours, threatens from smoky ruins—

And yet to whom the loss

If one be made the sempiternal fool

Of chance,

Muddied with temporary growth of love’s importunate weeds?

‘In the penumbra

Of the wilderness,

On the rim of the tide along Commercial street

You meet one like you for an hour or two—

But eventual sameness creeps to repossess

All eyes, supplicant, offering unusable fidelities;

Eyes of defiance sulking into assent,

Acute with repetition, aged by a stale demand . . .

Though I did mark the turn of every hand

In the beginning, tendered my respect

To ante-rooms, while the sand ran from the hours.

‘Think now how friends grow old—

Their diverse brains, hearts, faces, modify;

Each candle wasting at both ends, the sly

Disguise of its treacherous flame . . .

Am I the same?

Or a vagrant, of other breed, gone further, lost—

I am most surely at the beginning yet.

If so, contemporaries, what have you done?

We chose a different game—

But all have touched the same desires

Receded now to oblivion—as a once-lustrous chain

Hangs in the window of the antiquary,

Dry bric-à-brac, time-dulled,

That the eventual customer must buy . .

(Tomorrow’s child)’

Sunday’s bell

Rings in the street. An old figure

Grins–(why notice the old,

The scabrous old that creep from night to night

Bringing their poor drama of blenched faces and fearful hands

That beg?)

Two old women drinking on a cellar floor

Huddled, with a beerish look at the scavenging rat—

A fur-collared decrepitude peers

From tattered eyelids

That shrivel malignant before an answering stare—

Old men in the civic chariots 

Parade with muffled protestations,

Derelicts spit on the young.

Oh symbol, symbol,

Indecorous age and cadence of christian bell.

This thin edge of December

Wears out meagrely in the 

Cold muds, rains, intolerable nauseas of the street.

Closed doors, where are your keys?

Closed hearts, does your embitteredness endure forever?


Afternoon settles on the town, 

each hour long as a street—

In the rooms

A sombre carpet broods, stagnates beneath deliberate steps:

Here drag a foot, there a foot, drop sighs, look round for nothing, shiver.

Sunday creeps in silence

Under suspended smoke,

And curdles defiant in unreal sleep.

The gas-fire puffs, consumes, ticks out its minor chords—

And at the door

I guess the arrested knuckles of the one-time friend,

One foot on the stair delaying, that turns again.


youth and heart-break

Growing from ashes.

The war’s dirges

Burning, reverberate—burning

Now far away, sea-echoed, now in the sense,

Taste, mind, uneasy quest of what I am—

London, the hideous wall, the jail of what I am,

With fear nudging and pinching

Keeping each side of me

Down one street and another, lost—

Returned to search through adolescent years

For key, for mark of what was done and said.

Do ghosts alone possess the outworn decade?

Souls fled, bones scattered—

And still the vigilant past

Crowds, climbs, insinuates its whimpering vampire-song:

(No more, oh never, never . . . )

Are the living ghosts to the dead, or do the dead disclaim

This clutch of hands, the tears cast out to them?

Must one be courteous, halve defunct regrets,

Present oneself as host to ‘Yester-year’?

By the Embankment I counted the grey gulls

Nailed to the wind above a distorted tide.

On discreet waters

In Battersea I drifted, acquiescent.

And on the frosted paths of suburbs

At Wimbledon, where the wind veers from the new ice,


In Gravesend rusty funnels rise on the winter noon

From the iron-crane forests, with the tide away from the rank mud.

Kew in chestnut-time, September in Oxford Street

Through the stale hot dust—

And up across the murk to Fitzroy Square

With a lemon blind at one end, and the halfway spire

Attesting God on the right hand of the street—



Dry bones turfed over by reiterant seasons,

Dry graves filled in, stifled, built upon with new customs.

Well, instead—

The south, and its enormous days;

Light consuming the sea, and sun-dust on the mountain,

Churn of the harbour, the toiling and loading, unloading

By tideless seas

In a classic land, timeless and hot.


Bowed to the immemorial Mistral

The evergreens, the pines,

Open their fans—

Red-barked forest,

O vast, brown, terrible,

Silent and calcinated.

Moonstruck, dewless . . . 

Or further

I know a land . . . red earth, ripe vines and plane-trees,

A gulf of mournful islands, best from afar.

The sunset’s huge surrender

Ripens the dead-sea fruit in decaying saltmarsh.

Then brain sings out to the night in muffled thirds,

Resumes the uneasy counting and the planning—

What wings beat in my ears

The old tattoo of journeys?

Why dreamer, this is the dream,

The question’s answer. And yet, and yet,

The foot’s impatient ( . . . where?) 

the eye is not convinced,

Compares, decides what’s gone was better,

Murmurs about ‘lost days’ . . . 

Sit then, look in the deep wells of the sky,

Compose the past—

Dry moss, grey stone,

Hill ruins, grass in ruins

Without water, and multitudinous

Tintinnabulation in poplar leaves;

A spendrift dust from desiccated pools,

Spider in draughty husks, snail on the leaf—

Provence, the solstice.

And the days after,

By the showman’s travelling houses, the land caravels

Under the poplar—the proud grapes and the burst grape-skins.

Arles in the plain, Miramas after sunset-time

In a ring of lights,

And a pale sky with a sickle-moon.

Thin winds undress the branch, it is October.

And in Les Baux

An old life slips out, patriarch of eleven inhabitants—

‘Fatigué’ she said, a terse beldam by the latch,

‘Il est fatigué, depuis douze ans toujours dans le même coin.’

In Aix, what’s remembered of Cézanne?

A house to let (with studio) in a garden,

(Meanwhile, ‘help yourself to these ripe figs, profitez . . .

And if it doesn’t suit, we, Agence Sextus, will find you another just as good.’)

The years are sewn together with the thread of the same story;

Beauty picked in a field, shaped, re-created,

Sold and dispatched to distant Municipality—

But in the Master’s town

Merely an old waiter, crossly,

‘Of course I knew him, he was a dull silent fellow,

Dead now.’

And Beauty walked alone here,

Unpraised, unhindered,

Defiant, of single mind,

And took no rest, and has no epitaph.

What hand shall hold the absolute,

What’s beauty?

Silent, the echo points to the ladderless mind

Tumbled with meanings, creeping in fœtus thoughts . . .

(Out, out, clear words!)

Genius is grace, is beauty—shall I be less deceived

Life-long, because of beauty’s printed word?

And yet—what’s beauty, where?

Perhaps in eyes, those paths,

Quick funnels to the complicated pool

Of the mind. But the thinking eye

Is blank—cold water-veils

Proceed above what sunken curious shells,

What stones, what weed?

The thinker’s eye a blank—with flowering words

Back of it waiting, whereas other eyes

Attend to books, bills, schemes, and how-do-you-do’s,

Entrench their independence, liberty . . .

(O liberty that must be so exactly organised!)



Of conscious passion,


Absolution, sweet abnegation

Of choice—A palm-grove’s transmigration

On soft hawaiian strings 

Softly, to languid ballrooms—

(God grant us appetite for all illusions,

God grant us ever, as now, the sweet delusions.)

Spring flushes the gardens.

In season of return bloom the forgotten days

Thinly; an empty house

Waits, that has once been mine.

Spring flushes the gardens—

Here a road, there a flowering tree,

And the lonely house

The lost house, the house bereft,

Spider-filled, with the hearth ash-laden from the last fire—

But he that delays here, now an anonymous traveller,

Stares at the evening silence, and without gesture

Passes on.

The sand is scored with print of unknown feet

Where seas are hollow, tenanted by sound;

The air is empty save where two wings beat

In timeless journeying—deep underground

Brood the eternal things, but in the street

No whisper comes of these, no word is found.

See now these berries dark along the hedge

Hard as black withered blood drawn long ago

Whose sap is frozen dry; a windy sedge

Hides field from ashen field, pale lapwings go

Whining above the heath, and floods are out

Over the meadows clasped in frigid lace

Of wintry avenues, ringed and fenced about—

His life is a place like this, just such a place.

For him no house, but only empty halls

To fill with strangers’ voices and short grace

Of passing laughter, while the shadows’ lace

Creeps from the fire along dismantled walls,

Uncertain tapestry of altering moods—

Only the sunset’s hour, the solitudes

Of sea and sky, the rain come with the spring;

Dark winds that gnarl the olive trees, and moan

Against the shuttered brain that thrills alone

Each night more racked by its adventuring.

The sirens then, beyond the ocean’s brim,

Call, and make ready on their ultimate shore,

And singing raise their arms, and wait for him,

Nepenthe rises at the prison door . . .

But in what hour, what age

Are siren voices heard across the water?


Only bread and rain

Are on the waters—

And in the flooded orient


Unwinds from the edge of a gale, 

Muffled, old-purple.

Between two hours the dawn runs very surely

Into a morning March.

Wild-fowl from the sedge, thrushes are in the dew

On distant lawns, so you remember . . .

Is it the end or the beginning,

Caesura, knot in the time-thread?

And Paris

Rolls up the monstrous carpet of its nights,

Picks back the specks and forms—

O individual, disparate,

Where now from the river bank?

From the Seine, up the Quarter, homeward at last to sleep.

—Clothes, old clothes—

early is it, or noon,

By this alarm-clock?

The rag-man turns the corner—

For him, past one; just today here in bed.

So—one begins again?

so soon preoccupied . . .

Who’s ill, tired, contumacious, sour, forswearing

After last night?

With wine alone one is allowed to think

Less cumbrously, and if one may recall

Little, there’s always tomorrow—when a something sore

Gropes in the brain—and shall one not condone

The shame, the doubt of this, the automaton?

With no particular heartache,

Only subsiding chords,

Echoes of transience.

In adolescence creep the first bitter roots


To a full rich world—

The rich bitter fulness, where the play stands

Without prompter for the love-scene or the anger-scene.

And . . . You and I,

Propelled, controlled by need only,

Forced by dark appetites;

Lovers, friends, rivals for a time,

thinking to choose,

And having chosen, losing.

. . . ‘How long shall we last each other . . .

Perhaps a year . . .

Omens I do not see . . . ‘

But now we are three together—

How is it when we three are together

No rancour comes, but only the tired

Acceptance, the heart-ache in each heart-beat?

Full acceptance, beaten out to the very end—

Life blooms against disaster,

pressing its new immortal shoots against disaster.

And one of us questions, and smiles—

And one of us, smiling, answers with a gesture only—

And one:—’Ah no—

the new cannot put out the old—

Though I clutch on the new I shall not shuffle off the old,

Wrapped, folded together

The new burns, ripens in the known,

Folded, growing together—

Yes—(even to paradox)

Have I not loved you better, loving again?’

Up, down a little world—

south, north—

Pale north, dark-hedged; two cities grow and rot there


War’s over, and with it, spring 

That opening blinds let in no more.

Only the grey 

Habit of days,

The yawning visits, the forced revisitations.

Oh very much the same, these faces and places,

These meals and conversations,

Custom of being alive, averting of the death-thought.

But in the charnel-cloister Dupuytren,

Down a side-street, there’s a full century’s matter


The death-before-life, the atom in the womb

Preparing—snarled embryos,


By once-roseate poisons.

(Frail brown

Pre-natal dust, what life is it you missed?)

The skeletons swing on a line,

Dark-waxed, patined, defective-boned—

O commemorable fusion of science with disease . . .

(That was a new contemplation, the death-museum.)

Up and down

On a little track,

With a lighthouse to end the chapter.

The sea is glass—slip briefly into France;

Brown-gold Rhône, slip with me to the other sea

Where the mimosa flowers

Ecstatically for moribunds,

Immensely, in thundering rains.

Time rings in the weakening pulse, aggressive high—



Do you remember:

A cliff had hidden the wind—

The fishes came, and the gold-eyed plaintive mongrel

To snap at cast-off scraps;

We were talking of mutability—

(Your eyes dark

As a sky when the winter sun wearies of it

Drawing into a cloud.)

‘Now at least

We are forgotten of time, this hour escapes him—

Where he sits

In the work-shops

Tying his knots, unravelling,

Spoiling the work of others—

He who dramatises the nights

Of lovers, and tears fierce words from their insurgent hearts—

He who sits

In the taverns, lusty, aloof,

Condemning, experienced, jealous . . .

Milord Eternity—’

And the seas turn mutable foam, in fear transfusing

Themselves to the watcher—

they have nor wish nor choosing,

But turn, tossing fragments, spars,

Forever—meridian calms

Fill these still classic shores with unaccountable voice,

And in the weeded stones

The carapace life creeps singly, unafraid.

“—Then I was in a train

in pale clear country—

By Genoa at night, 

Where the old palatial banks

Rise out of vanquished swamps


And in San Gimignano’s

Towers, where Dante once . . .

And in the plains, with the mountain’s veil

Before me and the waterless rivers of stones—

Siena-brown, with Christ’s head on gold,

Pinturicchio’s trees on the hill

In the nostalgic damps, when the maremma’s underworld

Creeps through at evening.

Defunct Arezzo, Pisa the forgotten—

And in Florence


With his embroidered princely cavalcades;

And Signorelli, the austere passion.

Look—Christ hangs on a sombre mound,

Magdalen dramatic

Proclaims the tortured god; the rest have gone

To a far hill. Very dark it is, soon it will thunder

From that last rim of amarinthine sky.

Life broods at the cross’s foot,

Lizard, and campion, star-weeds like Parnassus grass,

And plaited strawberry leaves; 

The lizard inspects a skull,

You can foretell the worm between the bones.

(I am alone. Read from this letter

That I have left you and do not intend to return.)

. . . Then I was walking in the mountains,

And drunk in Cortona, furiously,

With the black wine rough and sour

from a Tuscan hill;

Drunk and silent between the dwarfs and the cripples

And the military in their intricate capes

Signed with the Italian star.

Eleven shuddered in a fly-blown clock.

O frustrations, discrepancies,

I had you to myself then!

To count and examine,

Carve, trim, pare—and skewer you with words.

Words . . . like the stony rivers

Anguished and dry.

Words clouding, spoiling, getting between one and the mark,

Falsely perpetuating—’Why he was thus,

Self-painted, a very personal testimony

Of half-expression’—and oh the hypocrisy

Of the surrender in the written word . . .

(Yet taken from this

The discerning estimate of ‘what you’ve been’—)

What now can be remembered that was seen

Long ago? (always long ago.)

The empty seas, the unpeopled landscape,

and the sullen acre

Trodden out in revolt—


Called in unmerited resurrection

Of what’s accomplished, dead—

These, and the chasing of the immortal Question,

The hunted absolute.

In the shade of the bitter vine

I sit, instructed fool and phœnix-growth,

Ash-from-my-ash that made me, that I made

Myself in the folded curve of Origin—

Heredities disclaim, will not explain

All prior mischiefs in the bone, the brain—

Only a ponderous mirror holds

The eyes that look deep and see but the eyes again.

One for another

I have changed my prisons;

Held fast, as the flame stands, locked in the prism—

And at one end I see

Beauty of other times, mirage of old beauty

Down a long road, clear of the strands and patches of associations,

Keen, resurrected, very clear—

—And at one side

The symbol of the vacant crossroads,

Then the veiled figure waiting at the crossroads

Leaning against the wind,

urging, delaying . . . 

(I have come for you, Peer!)

—And behind me

The candles of thoughtful nights,

And the green months, solitary,

Across dividing seas—

And again behind me, the cities

Rising on the inexpressible meaning of their streets,

Unaltering—and the eyes lifting over a wine-glass,

Holding the inexpressible, 

playing terror against acceptance—

Eyes, and siren voices lost at dawn . . . 

Only the empty dawn

Comes, over the harbour; with the getting-back to day,

The resumed love-songs and the rhythms of illusion.

—And around me

Legend of other times on dry gold background,

Pitted with slow insinuations

Probings of now defunct animalculæ . . 

Worm, mighty and dead, established in the paint and the tapestries,

Having ended your statements.

Only the statement, the unalterable deed only

Stands, and is no more than a halt on the track—

—And at last, before me

In fierce rise and fall of impetuous seasons,

The articulate skeleton

In clothes grown one with the frame,

At the finger-post waiting,

aureoled with lamentations.

‘Hail partner, that went as I

In towns, in wastes—I, shadow,

Meet with you—I that have walked with recording eyes

Through a rich bitter world, and seen

The heart close with the brain, the brain crossed by the heart—

I that have made, seeing all,

Nothing, and nothing kept, nor understood

Of the empty hands, the hands impotent through time that lift and fall

Along a question—

Nor of passing and re-passing

By the twin affirmations of never and for-ever,

In doubt, in shame, in silence.'”