Selected Poems by H.D.

Table of Contents

header Cassandra Cities Helen Leda Oread The Pool Sea Poppies Sea Rose Sheltered Garden Wash of Cold River
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. Rhythmus 2.1 (June-July 1923): 48-49 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. Egoist 3 (July 1, 1916): 102-03 Helen 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. Leda 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. Chapbook 1.1 (July 1919): 10-11 Oread Whirl up, sea -- whirl your pointed pines, splash your great pines on our rocks, hurl your green over us, cover us with your pools of fir. Egoist 1 (Feb. 2, 1914): 54-55 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? Poetry 5 (March 1915) 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? Sea Garden(Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1916) 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? Sea Garden (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1916) 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. Sea Garden (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1916) 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; wind-flower 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. Heliodora and Other Poems(London: Jonathan Cape, 1924): 11.