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Title: Hymen
Author: H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), 1886-1961
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Hymen" ***

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  | Transcriber's Note                                         |
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  | Obvious typographical errors have been corrected in        |
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  | this document.                                             |



H. D.



    _They said:
    she is high and far and blind
    in her high pride,
    but now that my head is bowed
    in sorrow, I find
    she is most kind._

    _We have taken life, they said,
    blithely, not groped in a mist
    for things that are not--
    are if you will, but bloodless--
    why ask happiness of the dead?
    and my heart bled._

    _Ah, could they know
    how violets throw strange fire,
    red and purple and gold,
    how they glow
    gold and purple and red
    where her feet tread._

Acknowledgements are due to the editors of the following periodicals in
which certain of these poems have appeared: _Poetry_ (Chicago), _The
Dial_, _Contact_ and _The Bookman_ (New York), _The Nation_, _The
Sphere_, _The Anglo-French Review_ and _The Egoist_ (London).


HYMEN                                        7

DEMETER                                     15

SIMAETHA                                    19

THETIS                                      20

CIRCE                                       21

LEDA                                        23

HIPPOLYTUS TEMPORIZES                       24

CUCKOO SONG                                 25

THE ISLANDS                                 27

AT BAIA                                     30

SEA HEROES                                  31

"NOT HONEY"                                 33

EVADNE                                      34

SONG                                        35

WHY HAVE YOU SOUGHT                         36

THE WHOLE WHITE WORLD                       37

PHAEDRA                                     38


SHE REBUKES HIPPOLYTA                       42

EGYPT                                       44

HELIOS                                      45

PRAYER                                      47


_As from a temple service, tall and dignified, with slow pace, each a
queen, the sixteen matrons from the temple of Hera pass before the
curtain--a dark purple hung between Ionic columns--of the porch or open
hall of a palace. Their hair is bound as the marble hair of the temple
Hera. Each wears a crown or diadem of gold._

_They sing--the music is temple music, deep, simple, chanting notes:_

    From the closed garden
    Where our feet pace
    Back and forth each day,
    This gladiolus white,
    This red, this purple spray--
    Gladiolus tall with dignity
    As yours, lady--we lay
    Before your feet and pray:

    Of all the blessings--
    Youth, joy, ecstasy--
    May one gift last
    (As the tall gladiolus may
    Outlast the wind-flower,
    Winter-rose or rose),
    One gift above,
    Encompassing all those;

    For her, for him,
    For all within these palace walls,
    Beyond the feast,
    Beyond the cry of Hymen and the torch,
    Beyond the night and music
    Echoing through the porch till day.

_The music, with its deep chanting notes, dies away. The curtain hangs
motionless in rich, full folds. Then from this background of darkness,
dignity and solemn repose, a flute gradually detaches itself, becomes
clearer and clearer, pipes alone one shrill, simple little melody._

_From the distance, four children's voices blend with the flute, and
four very little girls pass singly before the curtain, small maids or
attendants of the sixteen matrons. Their hair is short and curls at the
back of their heads like the hair of the chryselephantine Hermes. They

    Where the first crocus buds unfold
    We found these petals near the cold
      Swift river-bed.

    Beneath the rocks where ivy-frond
    Puts forth new leaves to gleam beyond
      Those lately dead:

    The very smallest two or three
    Of gold (gold pale as ivory)
      We gatherèd.

_When the little girls have passed before the curtain, a wood-wind
weaves a richer note into the flute melody; then the two blend into one
song. But as the wood-wind grows in mellowness and richness, the flute
gradually dies away into a secondary theme and the wood-wind alone
evolves the melody of a new song._

_Two by two--like two sets of medallions with twin profiles distinct,
one head slightly higher, bent forward a little--the four figures of
four slight, rather fragile taller children, are outlined with sharp
white contour against the curtain._

_The hair is smooth against the heads, falling to the shoulders but
slightly waved against the nape of the neck. They are looking down, each
at a spray of winter-rose. The tunics fall to the knees in sharp marble
folds. They sing:_

    Never more will the wind
    Cherish you again,
    Never more will the rain.

    Never more
    Shall we find you bright
    In the snow and wind.

    The snow is melted,
    The snow is gone,
    And you are flown:

    Like a bird out of our hand,
    Like a light out of our heart,
    You are gone.

_As the wistful notes of the wood-wind gradually die away, there comes a
sudden, shrill, swift piping._

_Free and wild, like the wood-maidens of Artemis, is this last group of
four--very straight with heads tossed back. They sing in rich, free,
swift notes. They move swiftly before the curtain in contrast to the
slow, important pace of the first two groups. Their hair is loose and
rayed out like that of the sun-god. They are boyish in shape and
gesture. They carry hyacinths in baskets, strapped like quivers to their
backs. They reach to draw the flower sprays from the baskets, as the
Huntress her arrows._

_As they dart swiftly to and fro before the curtain, they are youth,
they are spring--they are the Chelidonia, their song is the swallow-song
of joy:_

    Between the hollows
    Of the little hills
    The spring spills blue--
    Turquoise, sapphire, lapis-lazuli
    On a brown cloth outspread.

    Ah see,
    How carefully we lay them now,
    Each hyacinth spray,
    Across the marble floor--
    A pattern your bent eyes
    May trace and follow
    To the shut bridal door.

    Lady, our love, our dear,
    Our bride most fair,
    They grew among the hollows
    Of the hills;
    As if the sea had spilled its blue,
    As if the sea had risen
    From its bed,
    And sinking to the level of the shore,
    Left hyacinths on the floor.

_There is a pause. Flute, pipe and wood-wind blend in a full, rich
movement. There is no definite melody but full, powerful rhythm like
soft but steady wind above forest trees. Into this, like rain, gradually
creeps the note of strings._

_As the strings grow stronger and finally dominate the whole, the
bride-chorus passes before the curtain. There may be any number in this
chorus. The figures--tall young women, clothed in long white
tunics--follow one another closely, yet are all distinct like a
procession of a temple frieze._

_The bride in the center is not at first distinguishable from her
maidens; but as they begin their song, the maidens draw apart into two
groups, leaving the veiled symbolic figure standing alone in the

_The two groups range themselves to right and left like officiating
priestesses. The veiled figure stands with her back against the curtain,
the others being in profile. Her head is swathed in folds of diaphanous
white, through which the features are visible, like the veiled Tanagra._

_When the song is finished, the group to the bride's left turns about;
also the bride, so that all face in one direction. In processional form
they pass out, the figure of the bride again merging, not
distinguishable from the maidens._


    But of her
    Who can say if she is fair?
    Bound with fillet,
    Bound with myrtle
    Underneath her flowing veil,
    Only the soft length
    (Beneath her dress)
    Of saffron shoe is bright
    As a great lily-heart
    In its white loveliness.


    But of her
    We can say that she is fair.
    We bleached the fillet,
    Brought the myrtle;
    To us the task was set
    Of knotting the fine threads of silk:
    We fastened the veil,
    And over the white foot
    Drew on the painted shoe
    Steeped in Illyrian crocus.


    But of her,
    Who can say if she is fair?
    For her head is covered over
    With her mantle
    White on white,
    Snow on whiter amaranth,
    Snow on hoar-frost,
    Snow on snow,
    Snow on whitest buds of myrrh.


    But of her,
    We can say that she is fair;
    For we know underneath
    All the wanness,
    All the heat
    (In her blanched face)
    Of desire
    Is caught in her eyes as fire
    In the dark center leaf
    Of the white Syrian iris.

_The rather hard, hieratic precision of the music--its stately pause and
beat--is broken now into irregular lilt and rhythm of strings._

_Four tall young women, very young matrons, enter in a group. They stand
clear and fair, but this little group entirely lacks the austere
precision of the procession of maidens just preceding them. They pause
in the center of the stage; turn, one three-quarter, two in profile and
the fourth full face; they stand, turned as if confiding in each other
like a Tanagra group._

_They sing lightly, their flower trays under their arms._

    Along the yellow sand
    Above the rocks
    The laurel-bushes stand.
    Against the shimmering heat
    Each separate leaf
    Is bright and cold,
    And through the bronze
    Of shining bark and wood
    Run the fine threads of gold.

    Here in our wicker-trays,
    We bring the first faint blossoming
    Of fragrant bays:

    Lady, their blushes shine
    As faint in hue
    As when through petals
    Of a laurel-rose
    The sun shines through,
    And throws a purple shadow
    On a marble vase.

    (Ah, love,
    So her fair breasts will shine
    With the faint shadow above.)

_The harp chords become again more regular in simple definite rhythm.
The music is not so intense as the bride-chorus; and quieter, more
sedate, than the notes preceding the entrance of the last group._

_Five or six slightly older serene young women enter in processional
form; each holding before her, with precise bending of arms, coverlets
and linen, carefully folded, as if for the bride couch. The garments are
purple, scarlet and deep blue, with edge of gold._

_They sing to blending of wood-wind and harp._

    From citron-bower be her bed,
    Cut from branch of tree a-flower,
    Fashioned for her maidenhead.

    From Lydian apples, sweet of hue,
    Cut the width of board and lathe.
    Carve the feet from myrtle-wood.

    Let the palings of her bed
    Be quince and box-wood overlaid
    With the scented bark of yew.

    That all the wood in blossoming,
    May calm her heart and cool her blood
    For losing of her maidenhood.

_The wood-winds become more rich and resonant. A tall youth crosses the
stage as if seeking the bride door. The music becomes very rich, full of

_The figure itself is a flame, an exaggerated symbol; the hair a flame;
the wings, deep red or purple, stand out against the curtains in a
contrasting or almost clashing shade of purple. The tunic, again a rich
purple or crimson, falls almost to the knees. The knees are bare; the
sandals elaborately strapped over and over. The curtain seems a rich
purple cloud, the figure, still brighter, like a flamboyant bird, half
emerged in the sunset._

_Love pauses just outside the bride's door with his gift, a tuft of
black-purple cyclamen. He sings to the accompaniment of wood-winds, in a
rich, resonant voice:_

    The crimson cover of her bed
    Is not so rich, nor so deeply bled
    The purple-fish that dyed it red,
    As when in a hot sheltered glen
    There flowered these stalks of cyclamen:

    (Purple with honey-points
    Of horns for petals;
    Sweet and dark and crisp,
    As fragrant as her maiden kiss.)

    There with his honey-seeking lips
    The bee clings close and warmly sips,
    And seeks with honey-thighs to sway
    And drink the very flower away.

    (Ah, stern the petals drawing back;
    Ah rare, ah virginal her breath!)

    Crimson, with honey-seeking lips,
    The sun lies hot across his back,
    The gold is decked across his wings.
    Quivering he sways and quivering clings
    (Ah, rare her shoulders drawing back!)
    One moment, then the plunderer slips
    Between the purple flower-lips.

_Love passes out with a crash of cymbals. There is a momentary pause and
the music falls into its calm, wave-like rhythm._

_A band of boys passes before the curtain. They pass from side to side,
crossing and re-crossing; but their figures never confuse one another,
the outlines are never blurred. They stand out against the curtain with
symbolic gesture, stooping as if to gather up the wreaths, or swaying
with long stiff branch as if to sweep the fallen petals from the

_There is no marked melody from the instruments, but the boys' voices,
humming lightly as they enter, gradually evolve a little dance song.
There are no words but the lilt up and down of the boys' tenor voices._

_Then, as if they had finished the task of gathering up the wreaths and
sweeping the petals, they stand in groups of two before the pillars
where the torches have been placed. They lift the torches from the
brackets. They hold them aloft between them, one torch to each two boys.
Their figures are cut against the curtain like the simple, triangular
design on the base of a vase or frieze--the boys' heads on a level, the
torches above them._

_They sing in clear, half-subdued voices._

    Where love is king,
    Ah, there is little need
    To dance and sing,
    With bridal-torch to flare
    Amber and scatter light
    Across the purple air,
    To sing and dance
    To flute-note and to reed.

    Where love is come
    (Ah, love is come indeed!)
    Our limbs are numb
    Before his fiery need;
    With all their glad
    Rapture of speech unsaid,
    Before his fiery lips
    Our lips are mute and dumb.

    Ah, sound of reed,
    Ah, flute and trumpet wail,
    Ah, joy decreed--
    The fringes of her veil
    Are seared and white;
    Across the flare of light,
    Blinded the torches fail.
    (Ah, love is come indeed!)

_At the end of the song, the torches flicker out and the figures are no
longer distinguishable in the darkness. They pass out like shadows. The
purple curtain hangs black and heavy._

_The music dies away and is finally cut short with a few deep, muted



    Men, fires, feasts,
    steps of temple, fore-stone, lintel,
    step of white altar, fire and after-fire,
    slaughter before,
    fragment of burnt meat,
    deep mystery, grapple of mind to reach
    the tense thought,
    power and wealth, purpose and prayer alike,
    (men, fires, feasts, temple steps)--useless.

    Useless to me who plant
    wide feet on a mighty plinth,
    useless to me who sit,
    wide of shoulder, great of thigh,
    heavy in gold, to press
    gold back against solid back
    of the marble seat:
    useless the dragons wrought on the arms,
    useless the poppy-buds and the gold inset
    of the spray of wheat.

    Ah they have wrought me heavy
    and great of limb--
    she is slender of waist,
    slight of breast, made of many fashions;
    they have set _her_ small feet
    on many a plinth;
    she they have known,
    she they have spoken with,
    she they have smiled upon,
    she they have caught
    and flattered with praise and gifts.

    But useless the flattery
    of the mighty power
    they have granted me:
    for I will not stay in her breast
    the great of limb,
    though perfect the shell they have
    fashioned me, these men!

    Do I sit in the market place--
    do I smile, does a noble brow
    bend like the brow of Zeus--
    am I a spouse, his or any,
    am I a woman, or goddess or queen,
    to be met by a god with a smile--and left?


    Do you ask for a scroll,
    parchment, oracle, prophecy, precedent;
    do you ask for tablets marked with thought
    or words cut deep on the marble surface,
    do you seek measured utterance or the mystic trance?

    Sleep on the stones of Delphi--
    dare the ledges of Pallas
    but keep me foremost,
    keep me before you, after you, with you,
    never forget when you start
    for the Delphic precipice,
    never forget when you seek Pallas
    and meet in thought
    yourself drawn out from yourself
    like the holy serpent,
    never forget
    in thought or mysterious trance--
    I am greatest and least.

    Soft are the hands of Love,
    soft, soft are his feet;
    you who have twined myrtle,
    have you brought crocuses,
    white as the inner
    stript bark of the osier,
    have you set
    black crocus against the black
    locks of another?


    Of whom do I speak?

    Many the children of gods
    but first I take
    Bromios, fostering prince,
    lift from the ivy brake, a king.

    Enough of the lightning,
    enough of the tales that speak
    of the death of the mother:
    strange tales of a shelter
    brought to the unborn,
    enough of tale, myth, mystery, precedent--
    a child lay on the earth asleep.

    Soft are the hands of Love,
    but what soft hands
    clutched at the thorny ground,
    scratched like a small white ferret
    or foraging whippet or hound,
    sought nourishment and found
    only the crackling of ivy,
    dead ivy leaf and the white
    berry, food for a bird,
    no food for this who sought,
    bending small head in a fever,
    whining with little breath.

    Ah, small black head,
    ah, the purple ivy bush,
    ah, berries that shook and spilt
    on the form beneath,
    who begot you and left?

    Though I begot no man child
    all my days,
    the child of my heart and spirit,
    is the child the gods desert
    alike and the mother in death--
    the unclaimed Dionysios.


    _What of her--
    mistress of Death?_

    Form of a golden wreath
    were my hands that girt her head,
    fingers that strove to meet,
    and met where the whisps escaped
    from the fillet, of tenderest gold,
    small circlet and slim
    were my fingers then.

    Now they are wrought of iron
    to wrest from earth
    secrets; strong to protect,
    strong to keep back the winter
    when winter tracks too soon
    blanch the forest:
    strong to break dead things,
    the young tree, drained of sap,
    the old tree, ready to drop,
    to lift from the rotting bed
    of leaves, the old
    crumbling pine tree stock,
    to heap bole and knot of fir
    and pine and resinous oak,
    till fire shatter the dark
    and hope of spring
    rise in the hearts of men.

    _What of her--
    mistress of Death--
    what of his kiss?_

    Ah, strong were his arms to wrest
    slight limbs from the beautiful earth,
    young hands that plucked the first
    buds of the chill narcissus,
    soft fingers that broke
    and fastened the thorny stalk
    with the flower of wild acanthus.

    Ah, strong were the arms that took
    (ah evil, the heart and graceless,)
    but the kiss was less passionate!


    Drenched with purple,
    drenched with dye, my wool,
    bind you the wheel-spokes--
    turn, turn, turn my wheel!

    Drenched with purple,
    steeped in the red pulp
    of bursting sea-sloes--
    turn, turn, turn my wheel!

    (Ah did he think
    I did not know,
    I did not feel--
    what wrack, what weal for him:
    golden one, golden one,
    turn again Aphrodite with the yellow zone,
    I am cursed, cursed, undone!
    Ah and my face, Aphrodite,
    beside your gold,
    is cut out of white stone!)

    Laurel blossom and the red seed
    of the red vervain weed,
    burn, crackle in the fire,
    burn, crackle for my need!
    Laurel leaf, O fruited
    branch of bay,
    burn, burn away
    thought, memory and hurt!

    (Ah when he comes,
    stumbling across my sill,
    will he find me still,
    fragrant as the white privet,
    or as a bone,
    polished in wet and sun,
    worried of wild beaks,
    and of the whelps' teeth--
    worried of flesh,
    left to bleach under the sun,
    white as ash bled of heat,
    white as hail blazing in sheet-lightning,
    white as forked lightning
    rending the sleet?)



    On the paved parapet
    you will step carefully
    from amber stones to onyx
    flecked with violet,
    mingled with light,
    half showing the sea-grass
    and sea-sand underneath,
    reflecting your white feet
    and the gay strap crimson
    as lily-buds of Arion,
    and the gold that binds your feet.


    You will pass
    beneath the island disk
    (and myrtle-wood,
    the carved support of it)
    and the white stretch
    of its white beach,
    curved as the moon crescent
    or ivory when some fine hand
    chisels it:
    when the sun slips
    through the far edge,
    there is rare amber
    through the sea,
    and flecks of it
    glitter on the dolphin's back
    and jewelled halter
    and harness and bit
    as he sways under it.


    It was easy enough
    to bend them to my wish,
    it was easy enough
    to alter them with a touch,
    but you
    adrift on the great sea,
    how shall I call you back?

    Cedar and white ash,
    rock-cedar and sand plants
    and tamarisk
    red cedar and white cedar
    and black cedar from the inmost forest,
    fragrance upon fragrance
    and all of my sea-magic is for nought.

    It was easy enough--
    a thought called them
    from the sharp edges of the earth;
    they prayed for a touch,
    they cried for the sight of my face,
    they entreated me
    till in pity
    I turned each to his own self.

    Panther and panther,
    then a black leopard
    follows close--
    black panther and red
    and a great hound,
    a god-like beast,
    cut the sand in a clear ring
    and shut me from the earth,
    and cover the sea-sound
    with their throats,
    and the sea-roar with their own barks
    and bellowing and snarls,
    and the sea-stars
    and the swirl of the sand,
    and the rock-tamarisk
    and the wind resonance--
    but not your voice.

    It is easy enough to call men
    from the edges of the earth.
    It is easy enough to summon them to my feet
    with a thought--
    it is beautiful to see the tall panther
    and the sleek deer-hounds
    circle in the dark.

    It is easy enough
    to make cedar and white ash fumes
    into palaces
    and to cover the sea-caves
    with ivory and onyx.

    But I would give up
    rock-fringes of coral
    and the inmost chamber
    of my island palace
    and my own gifts
    and the whole region
    of my power and magic
    for your glance.


    Where the slow river
    meets the tide,
    a red swan lifts red wings
    and darker beak,
    and underneath the purple down
    of his soft breast
    uncurls his coral feet.

    Through the deep purple
    of the dying heat
    of sun and mist,
    the level ray of sun-beam
    has caressed
    the lily with dark breast,
    and flecked with richer gold
    its golden crest.

    Where the slow lifting
    of the tide,
    floats into the river
    and slowly drifts
    among the reeds,
    and lifts the yellow flags,
    he floats
    where tide and river meet.

    Ah kingly kiss--
    no more regret
    nor old deep memories
    to mar the bliss;
    where the low sedge is thick,
    the gold day-lily
    outspreads and rests
    beneath soft fluttering
    of red swan wings
    and the warm quivering
    of the red swan's breast.


    I worship the greatest first--
    (it were sweet, the couch,
    the brighter ripple of cloth
    over the dipped fleece;
    the thought: her bones
    under the flesh are white
    as sand which along a beach
    covers but keeps the print
    of the crescent shapes beneath:
    I thought:
    between cloth and fleece,
    so her body lies.)

    I worship first, the great--
    (ah, sweet, your eyes--
    what God, invoked in Crete,
    gave them the gift to part
    as the Sidonian myrtle-flower
    suddenly, wide and swart,
    then swiftly,
    the eye-lids having provoked our hearts--
    as suddenly beat and close.)

    I worship the feet, flawless,
    that haunt the hills--
    (ah, sweet, dare I think,
    beneath fetter of golden clasp,
    of the rhythm, the fall and rise
    of yours, carven, slight
    beneath straps of gold that keep
    their slender beauty caught,
    like wings and bodies
    of trapped birds.)

    I worship the greatest first--
    (suddenly into my brain--
    the flash of sun on the snow,
    the fringe of light and the drift,
    the crest and the hill-shadow--
    ah, surely now I forget,
    ah splendour, my goddess turns:
    or was it the sudden heat,
    beneath quivering of molten flesh,
    of veins, purple as violets?)


    Ah, bird,
    our love is never spent
    with your clear note,
    nor satiate our soul;
    not song, not wail, not hurt,
    but just a call summons us
    with its simple top-note
    and soft fall;

    not to some rarer heaven
    of lilies over-tall,
    nor tuberose set against
    some sun-lit wall,
    but to a gracious
    cedar-palace hall;

    not marble set with purple
    hung with roses and tall
    sweet lilies--such
    as the nightingale
    would summon for us
    with her wail--
    (surely only unhappiness
    could thrill
    such a rich madrigal!)
    not she, the nightingale
    can fill our souls
    with such a wistful joy as this:

    nor, bird, so sweet
    was ever a swallow note--
    not hers, so perfect
    with the wing of lazuli
    and bright breast--
    nor yet the oriole
    filling with melody
    from her fiery throat
    some island-orchard
    in a purple sea.

    Ah dear, ah gentle bird,
    you spread warm length
    of crimson wool
    and tinted woven stuff
    for us to rest upon,
    nor numb with ecstasy
    nor drown with death:

    only you soothe, make still
    the throbbing of our brain:
    so through her forest trees,
    when all her hope was gone
    and all her pain,
    Calypso heard your call--
    across the gathering drift
    of burning cedar-wood,
    across the low-set bed
    of wandering parsley and violet,
    when all her hope was dead.



    What are the islands to me,
    what is Greece,
    what is Rhodes, Samos, Chios,
    what is Paros facing west,
    what is Crete?

    What is Samothrace,
    rising like a ship,
    what is Imbros rending the storm-waves
    with its breast?

    What is Naxos, Paros, Milos,
    what the circle about Lycia,
    what, the Cyclades'
    white necklace?

    What is Greece--
    Sparta, rising like a rock,
    Thebes, Athens,
    what is Corinth?

    What is Euboia
    with its island violets,
    what is Euboia, spread with grass,
    set with swift shoals,
    what is Crete?

    What are the islands to me,
    what is Greece?


    What can love of land give to me
    that you have not--
    what do the tall Spartans know,
    and gentler Attic folk?

    What has Sparta and her women
    more than this?

    What are the islands to me
    if you are lost--
    what is Naxos, Tinos, Andros,
    and Delos, the clasp
    of the white necklace?


    What can love of land give to me
    that you have not,
    what can love of strife break in me
    that you have not?

    Though Sparta enter Athens,
    Thebes wrack Sparta,
    each changes as water,
    salt, rising to wreak terror
    and fall back.


    "What has love of land given to you
    that I have not?"

    I have questioned Tyrians
    where they sat
    on the black ships,
    weighted with rich stuffs,
    I have asked the Greeks
    from the white ships,
    and Greeks from ships whose hulks
    lay on the wet sand, scarlet
    with great beaks.
    I have asked bright Tyrians
    and tall Greeks--
    "what has love of land given you?"
    And they answered--"peace."


    But beauty is set apart,
    beauty is cast by the sea,
    a barren rock,
    beauty is set about
    with wrecks of ships,
    upon our coast, death keeps
    the shallows--death waits
    clutching toward us
    from the deeps.

    Beauty is set apart;
    the winds that slash its beach,
    swirl the coarse sand
    upward toward the rocks.

    Beauty is set apart
    from the islands
    and from Greece.


    In my garden
    the winds have beaten
    the ripe lilies;
    in my garden, the salt
    has wilted the first flakes
    of young narcissus,
    and the lesser hyacinth,
    and the salt has crept
    under the leaves of the white hyacinth.

    In my garden
    even the wind-flowers lie flat,
    broken by the wind at last.


    What are the islands to me
    if you are lost,
    what is Paros to me
    if your eyes draw back,
    what is Milos
    if you take fright of beauty,
    terrible, torturous, isolated,
    a barren rock?

    What is Rhodes, Crete,
    what is Paros facing west,
    what, white Imbros?

    What are the islands to me
    if you hesitate,
    what is Greece if you draw back
    from the terror
    and cold splendour of song
    and its bleak sacrifice?


    I should have thought
    in a dream you would have brought
    some lovely, perilous thing,
    orchids piled in a great sheath,
    as who would say (in a dream)
    I send you this,
    who left the blue veins
    of your throat unkissed.

    Why was it that your hands
    (that never took mine)
    your hands that I could see
    drift over the orchid heads
    so carefully,
    your hands, so fragile, sure to lift
    so gently, the fragile flower stuff--
    ah, ah, how was it

    You never sent (in a dream)
    the very form, the very scent,
    not heavy, not sensuous,
    but perilous--perilous--
    of orchids, piled in a great sheath,
    and folded underneath on a bright scroll
    some word:

    Flower sent to flower;
    for white hands, the lesser white,
    less lovely of flower leaf,


    Lover to lover, no kiss,
    no touch, but forever and ever this.


    Crash on crash of the sea,
    straining to wreck men, sea-boards, continents,
    raging against the world, furious,
    stay at last, for against your fury
    and your mad fight,
    the line of heroes stands, god-like:

    Akroneos, Oknolos, Elatreus,
    helm-of-boat, loosener-of-helm, dweller-by-sea,
    Nauteus, sea-man,
    Prumneos, stern-of-ship,
    Agchialos, sea-girt,
    Elatreus, oar-shaft:
    lover-of-the-sea, lover-of-the-sea-ebb,
    Ponteus, Proreus, Ooos:
    Anabesneos, one caught between
    wave-shock and wave-shock:
    Eurualos, broad sea-wrack,
    like Ares, man's death,
    and Naubolides, best in shape,
    of all first in size:
    Phaekous, seas' thunderbolt--
    ah, crash on crash of great names--
    man-tamer, man's-help, perfect Laodamos:
    and last the sons of great Alkinoos,
    Laodamos, Halios and god-like Clytomeos.

    Of all nations, of all cities,
    of all continents,
    she is favoured among the rest,
    for she gives men as great as the sea,
    valorous to the fight,
    to battle against the elements and evil:
    greater even than the sea,
    they live beyond wrack and death of cities,
    and each god-like name spoken
    is as a shrine in a godless place.

    But to name you,
    we reverent are breathless,
    weak with pain and old loss,
    and exile and despair--
    our hearts break but to speak
    your name, Oknaleos--
    and may we but call you in the feverish wrack
    of our storm-strewn beach, Eretmeos,
    and our hurt is quiet and our hearts tamed,
    as the sea may yet be tamed,
    and we vow to float great ships,
    named for each hero,
    and oar-blades, cut out of mountain-trees
    as such men might have shaped:
    Eretmeos and the sea is swept,
    baffled by the lordly shape,
    Akroneos has pines for his ship's keel;
    to love, to mate the sea?
    Ah there is Ponteos,
    the very deeps roar,
    hailing you dear--
    they clamour to Ponteos,
    and to Proeos
    leap, swift to kiss, to curl, to creep,
    lover to mistress.

    What wave, what love, what foam,
    for Ooos who moves swift as the sea?
    Ah stay, my heart, the weight
    of lovers, of loneliness
    drowns me,
    alas that their very names
    so press to break my heart
    with heart-sick weariness,
    what would they be,
    the very gods,
    rearing their mighty length
    beside the unharvested sea?


    Not honey,
    not the plunder of the bee
    from meadow or sand-flower
    or mountain bush;
    from winter-flower or shoot
    born of the later heat:
    not honey, not the sweet
    stain on the lips and teeth:
    not honey, not the deep
    plunge of soft belly
    and the clinging of the gold-edged
    pollen-dusted feet.

    Not so--
    though rapture blind my eyes,
    and hunger crisp
    dark and inert my mouth,
    not honey, not the south,
    not the tall stalk
    of red twin-lilies,
    nor light branch of fruit tree
    caught in flexible light branch.

    Not honey, not the south;
    ah flower of purple iris,
    flower of white,
    or of the iris, withering the grass--
    for fleck of the sun's fire,
    gathers such heat and power,
    that shadow-print is light,
    cast through the petals
    of the yellow iris flower.

    Not iris--old desire--old passion--
    old forgetfulness--old pain--
    not this, nor any flower,
    but if you turn again,
    seek strength of arm and throat,
    touch as the god;
    neglect the lyre-note;
    knowing that you shall feel,
    about the frame,
    no trembling of the string
    but heat, more passionate
    of bone and the white shell
    and fiery tempered steel.


    I first tasted under Apollo's lips
    love and love sweetness,
    I Evadne;
    my hair is made of crisp violets
    or hyacinth which the wind combs back
    across some rock shelf;
    I Evadne
    was mate of the god of light.

    His hair was crisp to my mouth
    as the flower of the crocus,
    across my cheek,
    cool as the silver cress
    on Erotos bank;
    between my chin and throat
    his mouth slipped over and over.

    Still between my arm and shoulder,
    I feel the brush of his hair,
    and my hands keep the gold they took
    as they wandered over and over
    that great arm-full of yellow flowers.


    You are as gold
    as the half-ripe grain
    that merges to gold again,
    as white as the white rain
    that beats through
    the half-opened flowers
    of the great flower tufts
    thick on the black limbs
    of an Illyrian apple bough.

    Can honey distill such fragrance
    as your bright hair--
    for your face is as fair as rain,
    yet as rain that lies clear
    on white honey-comb,
    lends radiance to the white wax,
    so your hair on your brow
    casts light for a shadow.


    Why have you sought the Greeks, Eros,
    when such delight was yours
    in the far depth of sky:
    there you could note bright ivory
    take colour where she bent her face,
    and watch fair gold shed gold
    on radiant surface of porch and pillar:
    and ivory and bright gold,
    polished and lustrous grow faint
    beside that wondrous flesh
    and print of her foot-hold:
    Love, why do you tempt the Grecian porticoes?

    Here men are bent with thought
    and women waste fair moments
    gathering lint and pricking coloured stuffs
    to mar their breasts,
    while she, adored,
    wastes not her fingers,
    worn of fire and sword,
    wastes not her touch
    on linen and fine thread,
    wastes not her head
    in thought and pondering,
    Love, why have you sought the horde
    of spearsmen, why the tent
    Achilles pitched beside the river-ford?


    The whole white world is ours,
    and the world, purple with rose-bays,
    bays, bush on bush,
    group, thicket, hedge and tree,
    dark islands in a sea
    of grey-green olive or wild white-olive,
    cut with the sudden cypress shafts,
    in clusters, two or three,
    or with one slender, single cypress-tree.

    Slid from the hill,
    as crumbling snow-peaks slide,
    citron on citron fill
    the valley, and delight
    waits till our spirits tire
    of forest, grove and bush
    and purple flower of the laurel-tree.

    Yet not one wearies,
    joined is each to each
    in happiness complete
    with bush and flower:
    ours is the wind-breath
    at the hot noon-hour,
    ours is the bee's soft belly
    and the blush of the rose-petal,
    lifted, of the flower.


    Think, O my soul,
    of the red sand of Crete;
    think of the earth; the heat
    burnt fissures like the great
    backs of the temple serpents;
    think of the world you knew;
    as the tide crept, the land
    burned with a lizard-blue
    where the dark sea met the sand.

    Think, O my soul--
    what power has struck you blind--
    is there no desert-root, no forest-berry
    pine-pitch or knot of fir
    known that can help the soul
    caught in a force, a power,
    passionless, not its own?

    So I scatter, so implore
    Gods of Crete, summoned before
    with slighter craft;
    ah, hear my prayer:

    Grant to my soul
    the body that it wore,
    trained to your thought,
    that kept and held your power,
    as the petal of black poppy,
    the opiate of the flower.

    For art undreamt in Crete,
    strange art and dire,
    in counter-charm prevents my charm
    limits my power:
    pine-cone I heap,
    grant answer to my prayer.

    No more, my soul--
    as the black cup, sullen and dark with fire,
    burns till beside it, noon's bright heat
    is withered, filled with dust--
    and into that noon-heat
    grown drab and stale,
    suddenly wind and thunder and swift rain,
    till the scarlet flower is wrecked
    in the slash of the white hail.

    The poppy that my heart was,
    formed to blind all mortals,
    made to strike and gather hearts
    like flame upon an altar,
    fades and shrinks, a red leaf
    drenched and torn in the cold rain.


    Can flame beget white steel--
    ah no, it could not take
    within my reins its shelter;
    steel must seek steel,
    or hate make out of joy
    a whet-stone for a sword;
    sword against flint,
    Theseus sought Hippolyta;
    she yielded not nor broke,
    sword upon stone,
    from the clash leapt a spark,
    Hippolytus, born of hate.

    What did she think
    when all her strength
    was twisted for his bearing;
    did it break,
    even within her sheltered heart, a song,
    some whispered note,
    distant and faint as this:

    _Love that I bear
    within my breast
    how is my armour melted
    how my heart:
    as an oak-tree
    that keeps beneath the snow,
    the young bark fresh
    till the spring cast
    from off its shoulders
    the white snow
    so does my armour melt._

    _Love that I bear
    within my heart, O speak;
    tell how beneath the serpent-spotted shell,
    the cygnets wait,
    how the soft owl
    opens and flicks with pride,
    eye-lids of great bird-eyes,
    when underneath its breast
    the owlets shrink and turn._

    You have the power,
    (then did she say) Artemis,
    benignity to grant
    forgiveness that I gave
    no quarter to an enemy who cast
    his armour on the forest-moss,
    and took, unmatched in an uneven contest,
    Hippolyta who relented not,
    returned and sought no kiss.

    Then did she pray: Artemis,
    grant that no flower
    be grafted alien on a broken stalk,
    no dark flame-laurel on the stricken crest
    of a wild mountain-poplar;
    grant in my thought,
    I never yield but wait,
    entreating cold white river,
    mountain-pool and salt:
    let all my veins be ice,
    until they break
    (strength of white beach,
    rock of mountain land,
    forever to you, Artemis, dedicate)
    from out my reins,
    those small, cold hands.


    Was she so chaste?

    Swift and a broken rock
    clatters across the steep shelf
    of the mountain slope,
    sudden and swift
    and breaks as it clatters down
    into the hollow breach
    of the dried water-course:
    far and away
    (through fire I see it,
    and smoke of the dead, withered stalks
    of the wild cistus-brush)
    Hippolyta, frail and wild,
    galloping up the slope
    between great boulder and rock
    and group and cluster of rock.

    Was she so chaste,
    (I see it, sharp, this vision,
    and each fleck on the horse's flanks
    of foam, and bridle and bit,
    silver, and the straps,
    wrought with their perfect art,
    and the sun,
    striking athwart the silver-work,
    and the neck, strained forward, ears alert,
    and the head of a girl
    flung back and her throat.)

    Was she so chaste--
    (Ah, burn my fire, I ask
    out of the smoke-ringed darkness
    enclosing the flaming disk
    of my vision)
    I ask for a voice to answer:
    was she chaste?

    Who can say--
    the broken ridge of the hills
    was the line of a lover's shoulder,
    his arm-turn, the path to the hills,
    the sudden leap and swift thunder
    of mountain boulders, his laugh.

    She was mad--
    as no priest, no lover's cult
    could grant madness;
    the wine that entered her throat
    with the touch of the mountain rocks
    was white, intoxicant:
    she, the chaste,
    was betrayed by the glint
    of light on the hills,
    the granite splinter of rocks,
    the touch of the stone
    where heat melts
    toward the shadow-side of the rocks.


(TO E. A. POE)

    Egypt had cheated us,
    for Egypt took
    through guile and craft
    our treasure and our hope,
    Egypt had maimed us,
    offered dream for life,
    an opiate for a kiss,
    and death for both.

    White poison flower we loved
    and the black spike
    of an ungarnered bush--
    (a spice--or without taste--
    we wondered--then we asked
    others to take and sip
    and watched their death)
    Egypt we loved, though hate
    should have withheld our touch.

    Egypt had given us knowledge,
    and we took, blindly,
    through want of heart,
    what Egypt brought;
    knowing all poison,
    what was that or this,
    more or less perilous,
    than this or that.

    We pray you, Egypt,
    by what perverse fate,
    has poison brought with knowledge,
    given us this--
    not days of trance,
    shadow, fore-doom of death,
    but passionate grave thought,
    belief enhanced,
    ritual returned and magic;

    Even in the uttermost black pit
    of the forbidden knowledge,
    wisdom's glance,
    the grey eyes following
    in the mid-most desert--
    great shaft of rose,
    fire shed across our path,
    upon the face grown grey, a light,
    Hellas re-born from death.


    _Helios makes all things right:--
    night brands and chokes
    as if destruction broke
    over furze and stone and crop
    of myrtle-shoot and field-wort,
    destroyed with flakes of iron,
    the bracken-stems,
    where tender roots were sown,
    blight, chaff and waste
    of darkness to choke and drown._

    _A curious god to find,
    yet in the end faithful;
    bitter, the Kyprian's feet--
    ah flecks of whited clay,
    great hero, vaunted lord--
    ah petal, dust and wind-fall
    on the ground--queen awaiting queen._

    _Better the weight, they tell,
    the helmet's beaten shell,
    Athene's riven steel,
    caught over the white skull,
    Athene sets to heal
    the few who merit it._

    _Yet even then, what help,
    should he not turn and note
    the height of forehead and the mark of conquest,
    draw near and try the helmet;
    to left--reset the crown
    Athene weighted down,
    or break with a light touch
    mayhap the steel set to protect;
    to slay or heal._

    _A treacherous god, they say,
    yet who would wait to test
    justice or worth or right,
    when through a fetid night
    is wafted faint and nearer--
    then straight as point of steel
    to one who courts swift death,
    scent of Hesperidean orange-spray._


    White, O white face--
    from disenchanted days
    wither alike dark rose
    and fiery bays:
    no gift within our hands,
    nor strength to praise,
    only defeat and silence;
    though we lift hands, disenchanted,
    of small strength, nor raise
    branch of the laurel
    or the light of torch,
    but fold the garment
    on the riven locks,
    yet hear, all-merciful, and touch
    the fore-head, dim, unlit of pride and thought,
    Mistress--be near!
    Give back the glamour to our will,
    the thought; give back the tool,
    the chisel; once we wrought
    things not unworthy,
    sandal and steel-clasp;
    silver and steel, the coat
    with white leaf-pattern
    at the arm and throat:
    silver and metal, hammered for the ridge
    of shield and helmet-rim;
    white silver with the dark hammered in,
    belt, staff and magic spear-shaft
    with the gilt spark at the point and hilt.

_Printed in England at the Pelican Press, 2 Carmelite Street, London,

  | Transcriber's Notes                                          |
  |                                                              |
  | Page 42: though amended to through ("through fire I see      |
  | it, ...")                                                    |
  |                                                              |
  | Hyphenation has generally been standardized. However, when a |
  | word appears hyphenated and unhyphenated an equal number of  |
  | times, both versions have been retained (forehead/           |
  | fore-head).                                                  |

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