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Les Sylphides


Life in a day: he took his girl to the ballet;
Being shortsighted himself could hardly see it-
   The white skirts in the grey
   Glade and the swell of the music
   Lifting the white sails.
Calyx upon calyx, canterbury bells in the breeze
The flowers on the left mirror to the flowers on the right
   And the naked arms above
   The powdered faces moving
   Like seaweed in a pool.
Now he thought, we are floating-ageless, oarless-
Now there is no separation, from now on
   You will be wearing white
   Satin and a red sash
   Under the waltzing trees.
But the music stopped, the dancers took their curtain,
The river had come to a lock-a shuffle of programmes-
   And we cannot continue down
   Stream unless we are ready
   To enter the lock and drop.
So they were married-to be the more together-
And found they were never again so much together,
   Divided by the morning tea,
   By the evening paper,
   By children and tradesmen’s bills.
Walking at times in the night she found assurance
In his regular breathing but wondered whether
   It was really worth it and where
   The river had flowed away
   And where were the white flowers.

Louis MacNeice

Dance Poetry
A comprehensive anthology
Edited by Alkis Raftis
Copyright 2012