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from Asphodel That Greeny Flower

Written by: William Carlos (WCW) Williams | Biography
 | Quotes (28) |
 Of asphodel, that greeny flower,
 like a buttercup
 upon its branching stem-
save that it's green and wooden-
 I come, my sweet,
 to sing to you.
We lived long together
 a life filled,
 if you will,
with flowers. So that
 I was cheered
 when I came first to know
that there were flowers also
 in hell.
I'm filled with the fading memory of those flowers
 that we both loved,
 even to this poor
colorless thing-
 I saw it
 when I was a child-
little prized among the living
 but the dead see,
 asking among themselves:
What do I remember
 that was shaped
 as this thing is shaped?
while our eyes fill
 with tears.
 Of love, abiding love
it will be telling
 though too weak a wash of crimson
 colors it
to make it wholly credible.
 There is something
 something urgent
I have to say to you
 and you alone
 but it must wait
while I drink in
 the joy of your approach,
 perhaps for the last time.
And so
 with fear in my heart
 I drag it out
and keep on talking
 for I dare not stop.
 Listen while I talk on
against time.
 It will not be
 for long.
I have forgot
 and yet I see clearly enough
central to the sky
 which ranges round it.
 An odor
springs from it!
 A sweetest odor!
 Honeysuckle! And now
there comes the buzzing of a bee!
 and a whole flood
 of sister memories!
Only give me time,
 time to recall them
 before I shall speak out.
Give me time,
When I was a boy
 I kept a book
 to which, from time
to time,
 I added pressed flowers
 until, after a time,
I had a good collection.
 The asphodel,
among them.
 I bring you,
a memory of those flowers.
 They were sweet
 when I pressed them
and retained
 something of their sweetness
 a long time.
It is a curious odor,
 a moral odor,
 that brings me
near to you.
 The color
 was the first to go.
There had come to me
 a challenge,
 your dear self,
mortal as I was,
 the lily's throat
 to the hummingbird!
Endless wealth,
 I thought,
 held out its arms to me.
A thousand tropics
 in an apple blossom.
 The generous earth itself
gave us lief.
 The whole world
 became my garden!
But the sea
 which no one tends
 is also a garden
when the sun strikes it
 and the waves
 are wakened.
I have seen it
 and so have you
 when it puts all flowers
to shame.
 Too, there are the starfish
 stiffened by the sun
and other sea wrack
 and weeds. We knew that
 along with the rest of it
for we were born by the sea,
 knew its rose hedges
 to the very water's brink.
There the pink mallow grows
 and in their season
and there, later,
 we went to gather
 the wild plum.
I cannot say
 that I have gone to hell
 for your love
but often
 found myself there
 in your pursuit.
I do not like it
 and wanted to be
 in heaven. Hear me out.
Do not turn away.
I have learned much in my life
 from books
 and out of them
about love.
 is not the end of it.
There is a hierarchy
 which can be attained,
 I think,
in its service.
 Its guerdon
 is a fairy flower;
a cat of twenty lives.
 If no one came to try it
 the world
would be the loser.
 It has been
 for you and me
as one who watches a storm
 come in over the water.
 We have stood
from year to year
 before the spectacle of our lives
 with joined hands.
The storm unfolds.
 plays about the edges of the clouds.
The sky to the north
 is placid,
 blue in the afterglow
as the storm piles up.
 It is a flower
 that will soon reach
the apex of its bloom.
 We danced,
 in our minds,
and read a book together.
 You remember?
 It was a serious book.
And so books
 entered our lives.
The sea! The sea!
 when I think of the sea
there comes to mind
 the Iliad
 and Helen's public fault
that bred it.
 Were it not for that
 there would have been
 no poem but the world
 if we had remembered,
 those crimson petals
spilled among the stones,
 would have called it simply
The sexual orchid that bloomed then
 sending so many
men to their graves
 has left its memory
 to a race of fools
or heroes
 if silence is a virtue.
 The sea alone
with its multiplicity
 holds any hope.
 The storm
has proven abortive
 but we remain
 after the thoughts it roused
 re-cement our lives.
 It is the mind
the mind
 that must be cured
 short of death's
 and the will becomes again
 a garden. The poem
is complex and the place made
 in our lives
 for the poem.
Silence can be complex too,
 but you do not get far
 with silence.
Begin again.
 It is like Homer's
 catalogue of ships:
it fills up the time.
 I speak in figures,
 well enough, the dresses
you wear are figures also,
 we could not meet
 otherwise. When I speak
of flowers
 it is to recall
 that at one time
we were young.
 All women are not Helen,
 I know that,
but have Helen in their hearts.
 My sweet,
 you have it also, therefore
I love you
 and could not love you otherwise.
 Imagine you saw
a field made up of women
 all silver-white.
 What should you do
but love them?
 The storm bursts
 or fades! it is not
the end of the world.
 Love is something else,
 or so I thought it,
a garden which expands,
 though I knew you as a woman
 and never thought otherwise,
until the whole sea
 has been taken up
 and all its gardens.
It was the love of love,
 the love that swallows up all else,
 a grateful love,
a love of nature, of people,
 of animals,
 a love engendering
gentleness and goodness
 that moved me
 and that I saw in you.
I should have known,
 though I did not,
 that the lily-of-the-valley
is a flower makes many ill
 who whiff it.
 We had our children,
rivals in the general onslaught.
 I put them aside
 though I cared for them.
as well as any man
 could care for his children
 according to my lights.
You understand
 I had to meet you
 after the event
and have still to meet you.
 to which you too shall bow
along with me-
 a flower
 a weakest flower
shall be our trust
 and not because
 we are too feeble
to do otherwise
 but because
 at the height of my power
I risked what I had to do,
 therefore to prove
 that we love each other
while my very bones sweated
 that I could not cry to you
 in the act.
Of asphodel, that greeny flower,
 I come, my sweet,
 to sing to you!
My heart rouses
 thinking to bring you news
 of something
that concerns you
 and concerns many men. Look at
 what passes for the new.
You will not find it there but in
 despised poems.
 It is difficult
to get the news from poems
 yet men die miserably every day
 for lack
of what is found there.
 Hear me out
 for I too am concerned
and every man
 who wants to die at peace in his bed