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Best Famous Hilda Doolittle Poems


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by Hilda Doolittle |

Cities

 Can we believe -- by an effort 
comfort our hearts: 
it is not waste all this, 
not placed here in disgust, 
street after street, 
each patterned alike, 
no grace to lighten 
a single house of the hundred 
crowded into one garden-space. 

Crowded -- can we believe, 
not in utter disgust, 
in ironical play -- 
but the maker of cities grew faint 
with the beauty of temple 
and space before temple, 
arch upon perfect arch, 
of pillars and corridors that led out 
to strange court-yards and porches 
where sun-light stamped 
hyacinth-shadows 
black on the pavement. 

That the maker of cities grew faint 
with the splendour of palaces, 
paused while the incense-flowers 
from the incense-trees 
dropped on the marble-walk, 
thought anew, fashioned this -- 
street after street alike. 

For alas, 
he had crowded the city so full 
that men could not grasp beauty, 
beauty was over them, 
through them, about them, 
no crevice unpacked with the honey, 
rare, measureless. 

So he built a new city, 
ah can we believe, not ironically 
but for new splendour 
constructed new people 
to lift through slow growth 
to a beauty unrivalled yet -- 
and created new cells, 
hideous first, hideous now -- 
spread larve across them, 
not honey but seething life. 

And in these dark cells, 
packed street after street, 
souls live, hideous yet -- 
O disfigured, defaced, 
with no trace of the beauty 
men once held so light. 

Can we think a few old cells 
were left -- we are left -- 
grains of honey, 
old dust of stray pollen 
dull on our torn wings, 
we are left to recall the old streets? 

Is our task the less sweet 
that the larve still sleep in their cells? 
Or crawl out to attack our frail strength: 
You are useless. We live. 
We await great events. 
We are spread through this earth. 
We protect our strong race. 
You are useless. 
Your cell takes the place 
of our young future strength. 

Though they sleep or wake to torment 
and wish to displace our old cells -- 
thin rare gold -- 
that their larve grow fat -- 
is our task the less sweet? 

Though we wander about, 
find no honey of flowers in this waste, 
is our task the less sweet -- 
who recall the old splendour, 
await the new beauty of cities? 

The city is peopled 
with spirits, not ghosts, O my love: 

Though they crowded between 
and usurped the kiss of my mouth 
their breath was your gift, 
their beauty, your life.


by Hilda Doolittle |

Evadne

 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 made 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.


by Hilda Doolittle |

From Citron-Bower

 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.


by Hilda Doolittle |

Acon

 Bear me to Dictaeus,
and to the steep slopes;
to the river Erymanthus. 

I choose spray of dittany,
cyperum, frail of flower,
buds of myrrh,
all-healing herbs,
close pressed in calathes. 

For she lies panting,
drawing sharp breath,
broken with harsh sobs.
she, Hyella,
whom no god pities.


by Hilda Doolittle |

Cassandra

 O Hymen king. 

Hymen, O Hymen king, 
what bitter thing is this? 
what shaft, tearing my heart? 
what scar, what light, what fire 
searing my eye-balls and my eyes with flame? 
nameless, O spoken name, 
king, lord, speak blameless Hymen. 

Why do you blind my eyes? 
why do you dart and pulse 
till all the dark is home, 
then find my soul 
and ruthless draw it back? 
scaling the scaleless, 
opening the dark? 
speak, nameless, power and might; 
when will you leave me quite? 
when will you break my wings 
or leave them utterly free 
to scale heaven endlessly? 

A bitter, broken thing, 
my heart, O Hymen lord, 
yet neither drought nor sword 
baffles men quite, 
why must they feign to fear 
my virgin glance? 
feigned utterly or real 
why do they shrink? 
my trance frightens them, 
breaks the dance, 
empties the market-place; 
if I but pass they fall 
back, frantically; 
must always people mock? 
unless they shrink and reel 
as in the temple 
at your uttered will. 

O Hymen king, 
lord, greatest, power, might, 
look for my face is dark, 
burnt with your light, 
your fire, O Hymen lord; 
is there none left 
can equal me 
in ecstasy, desire? 
is there none left 
can bear with me 
the kiss of your white fire? 
is there not one, 
Phrygian or frenzied Greek, 
poet, song-swept, or bard, 
one meet to take from me 
this bitter power of song, 
one fit to speak, Hymen, 
your praises, lord? 

May I not wed 
as you have wed? 
may it not break, beauty, 
from out my hands, my head, my feet? 
may Love not lie beside me 
till his heat 
burn me to ash? 
may he not comfort me, then, 
spent of all that fire and heat, 
still, ashen-white and cool 
as the wet laurels, 
white, before your feet 
step on the mountain-slope, 
before your fiery hand 
lift up the mantle 
covering flower and land, 
as a man lifts, 
O Hymen, from his bride, 
(cowering with woman eyes,) the veil? 
O Hymen lord, be kind.


by Hilda Doolittle |

Pear Tree

 Silver dust 
lifted from the earth, 
higher than my arms reach, 
you have mounted. 
O silver,
higher than my arms reach 
you front us with great mass; 

no flower ever opened 
so staunch a white leaf, 
no flower ever parted silver 
from such rare silver; 

O white pear, 
your flower-tufts, 
thick on the branch, 
bring summer and ripe fruits
in their purple hearts.


by Hilda Doolittle |

Sea Poppies

 Amber husk 
fluted with gold, 
fruit on the sand 
marked with a rich grain, 

treasure 
spilled near the shrub-pines 
to bleach on the boulders: 

your stalk has caught root 
among wet pebbles 
and drift flung by the sea 
and grated shells 
and split conch-shells. 

Beautiful, wide-spread, 
fire upon leaf, 
what meadow yields 
so fragrant a leaf 
as your bright leaf?


by Hilda Doolittle |

Sea Rose

 Rose, harsh rose, 
marred and with stint of petals, 
meagre flower, thin, 
sparse of leaf, 

more precious 
than a wet rose 
single on a stem -- 
you are caught in the drift. 

Stunted, with small leaf, 
you are flung on the sand, 
you are lifted 
in the crisp sand 
that drives in the wind. 

Can the spice-rose 
drip such acrid fragrance 
hardened in a leaf?


by Hilda Doolittle |

At Ithaca

 Over and back, 
the long waves crawl 
and track the sand with foam; 
night darkens, and the sea 
takes on that desperate tone 
of dark that wives put on 
when all their love is done.

Over and back, 
the tangled thread falls slack, 
over and up and on; 
over and all is sewn; 
now while I bind the end, 
I wish some fiery friend 
would sweep impetuously 
these fingers from the loom.

My weary thoughts 
play traitor to my soul, 
just as the toil is over; 
swift while the woof is whole,
turn now, my spirit, swift, 
and tear the pattern there, 
the flowers so deftly wrought, 
the borders of sea blue, 
the sea-blue coast of home.

The web was over-fair, 
that web of pictures there, 
enchantments that I thought 
he had, that I had lost; 
weaving his happiness 
within the stitching frame, 
weaving his fire and frame, 
I thought my work was done, 
I prayed that only one 
of those that I had spurned 
might stoop and conquer this 
long waiting with a kiss.

But each time that I see 
my work so beautifully 
inwoven and would keep 
the picture and the whole, 
Athene steels my soul. 
Slanting across my brain, 
I see as shafts of rain 
his chariot and his shafts, 
I see the arrows fall, 
I see the lord who moves 
like Hector lord of love, 
I see him matched with fair 
bright rivals, and I see 
those lesser rivals flee.


by Hilda Doolittle |

The Mysteries Remain

 The mysteries remain,
I keep the same
cycle of seed-time
and of sun and rain;
Demeter in the grass,
I multiply,
renew and bless
Bacchus in the vine;
I hold the law,
I keep the mysteries true,
the first of these
to name the living, dead;
I am the wine and bread.
I keep the law,
I hold the mysteries true,
I am the vine,
the branches, you
and you.