Best Famous Hilda Doolittle Poems

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Written by Hilda Doolittle | Create an image from this poem

Sheltered Garden

 I have had enough.
I gasp for breath.
Every way ends, every road, every foot-path leads at last to the hill-crest -- then you retrace your steps, or find the same slope on the other side, precipitate.
I have had enough -- border-pinks, clove-pinks, wax-lilies, herbs, sweet-cress.
O for some sharp swish of a branch -- there is no scent of resin in this place, no taste of bark, of coarse weeds, aromatic, astringent -- only border on border of scented pinks.
Have you seen fruit under cover that wanted light -- pears wadded in cloth, protected from the frost, melons, almost ripe, smothered in straw? Why not let the pears cling to the empty branch? All your coaxing will only make a bitter fruit -- let them cling, ripen of themselves, test their own worth, nipped, shrivelled by the frost, to fall at last but fair with a russet coat.
Or the melon -- let it bleach yellow in the winter light, even tart to the taste -- it is better to taste of frost -- the exquisite frost -- than of wadding and of dead grass.
For this beauty, beauty without strength, chokes out life.
I want wind to break, scatter these pink-stalks, snap off their spiced heads, fling them about with dead leaves -- spread the paths with twigs, limbs broken off, trail great pine branches, hurled from some far wood right across the melon-patch, break pear and quince -- leave half-trees, torn, twisted but showing the fight was valiant.
O to blot out this garden to forget, to find a new beauty in some terrible wind-tortured place.
Written by Hilda Doolittle | Create an image from this poem


 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.
Written by Hilda Doolittle | Create an image from this poem


 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.
Written by Hilda Doolittle | Create an image from this poem


 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.
Written by Hilda Doolittle | Create an image from this poem

At Baia

 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," or "Lover to lover, no kiss, no touch, but forever and ever this.
Written by Hilda Doolittle | Create an image from this poem

Sea Poppies

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

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?
Written by Hilda Doolittle | Create an image from this poem

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.
Written by Hilda Doolittle | Create an image from this poem

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.
Written by Hilda Doolittle | Create an image from this poem


 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.
Written by Hilda Doolittle | Create an image from this poem

The Pool

 Are you alive? 
I touch you.
You quiver like a sea-fish.
I cover you with my net.
What are you - banded one?
Written by Hilda Doolittle | Create an image from this poem

Wash of Cold River

 Wash of cold river 
in a glacial land, 
Ionian water, 
chill, snow-ribbed sand, 
drift of rare flowers, 
clear, with delicate shell- 
like leaf enclosing 
frozen lily-leaf, 
camellia texture, 
colder than a rose; 

that keeps the breath 
of the north-wind -- 
these and none other; 

intimate thoughts and kind 
reach out to share 
the treasure of my mind, 
intimate hands and dear 
drawn garden-ward and sea-ward 
all the sheer rapture 
that I would take 
to mould a clear 
and frigid statue; 

rare, of pure texture, 
beautiful space and line, 
marble to grace 
your inaccessible shrine.
Written by Hilda Doolittle | Create an image from this poem

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.
Written by Hilda Doolittle | Create an image from this poem

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.
Written by Hilda Doolittle | Create an image from this poem


Each of us like you has died once, has passed through drift of wood-leaves, cracked and bent and tortured and unbent in the winter-frost, the burnt into gold points, lighted afresh, crisp amber, scales of gold-leaf, gold turned and re-welded in the sun; each of us like you has died once, each of us has crossed an old wood-path and found the winter-leaves so golden in the sun-fire that even the live wood-flowers were dark.
Not the gold on the temple-front where you stand is as gold as this, not the gold that fastens your sandals, nor thee gold reft through your chiselled locks, is as gold as this last year's leaf, not all the gold hammered and wrought and beaten on your lover's face.
brow and bare breast is as golden as this: each of us like you has died once, each of us like you stands apart, like you fit to be worshipped.
Written by Hilda Doolittle | Create an image from this poem


 All Greece hates
the still eyes in the white face,
the lustre as of olives
where she stands,
and the white hands.
All Greece reviles the wan face when she smiles, hating it deeper still when it grows wan and white, remembering past enchantments and past ills.
Greece sees, unmoved, God's daughter, born of love, the beauty of cool feet and slenderest knees, could love indeed the maid, only if she were laid, white ash amid funereal cypresses.