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H. D.

American Writer

1886-1961

(Hilda Doolittle)

A selection of poems from
SEA GARDEN

Narrated by Maggi-Meg Reed

Download mp3 file: Sea Garden

This file is 2.9 MB; running time is 12 minutes
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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?

THE SHRINE
("SHE WATCHES OVER THE SEA")

I
ARE your rocks shelter for ships—
have you sent galleys from your beach,
are you graded—a safe crescent—
where the tide lifts them back to port—
are you full and sweet,
tempting the quiet
to depart in their trading ships?
Nay, you are great, fierce, evil—
you are the land-blight—
you have tempted men
but they perished on your cliffs.
Your lights are but dank shoals,
slate and pebble and wet shells
and seaweed fastened to the rocks.
It was evil—evil
when they found you,
when the quiet men looked at you—
they sought a headland
shaded with ledge of cliff
from the wind-blast.
But you—you are unsheltered,
cut with the weight of wind—
you shudder when it strikes,
then lift, swelled with the blast—
you sink as the tide sinks,
you shrill under hail, and sound
thunder when thunder sounds.
You are useless—
when the tides swirl
your boulders cut and wreck
the staggering ships.

II
You are useless,
O grave, O beautiful,
the landsmen tell it—I have heard—
you are useless.
And the wind sounds with this
and the sea
where rollers shot with blue
cut under deeper blue.
O but stay tender, enchanted
where wave-lengths cut you
apart from all the rest—
for we have found you,
we watch the splendour of you,
we thread throat on throat of freesia
for your shelf.
You are not forgot,
O plunder of lilies,
honey is not more sweet
than the salt stretch of your beach.

III
Stay—stay—
but terror has caught us now,
we passed the men in ships,
we dared deeper than the fisher-folk
and you strike us with terror
O bright shaft.
Flame passes under us
and sparks that unknot the flesh,
sorrow, splitting bone from bone,
splendour athwart our eyes
and rifts in the splendour,
sparks and scattered light.
Many warned of this,
men said:
there are wrecks on the fore-beach,
wind will beat your ship,
there is no shelter in that headland,
it is useless waste, that edge,
that front of rock—
sea-gulls clang beyond the breakers,
none venture to that spot.

IV
But hail—
as the tide slackens,
as the wind beats out,
we hail this shore—
we sing to you,
spirit between the headlands
and the further rocks.
Though oak-beams split,
though boats and sea-men flounder,
and the strait grind sand with sand
and cut boulders to sand and drift—
your eyes have pardoned our faults,
your hands have touched us—
you have leaned forward a little
and the waves can never thrust us back
from the splendour of your ragged coast.

 

PURSUIT

What do I care
that the stream is trampled,
the sand on the stream-bank
still holds the print of your foot:
the heel is cut deep.
I see another mark on the grass ridge of the bank—
it points toward the wood-path
I have lost the third in the packed earth.
But here
a wild-hyacinth stalk is snapped:
the purple buds—half ripe—
show deep purple
where your heel pressed.
A patch of flowering grass,
low, trailing—
you brushed this:
the green stems show yellow-green
where you lifted—turned the earth-side
to the light:
this and a dead leaf-spine
split across,
show where you passed.
You were swift,swift!
here the forest ledge slopes—
rain has furrowed the roots.
Your hand caught at this;
the root snapped under your weight.
I can almost follow the note
where it touched this slender tree
and the next answered—
and the next.
And you climbed yet further!
you stopped by the dwarf-cornel—
whirled on your heels,
doubled on your track.
This is clear—
you fell on the downward slope,
you dragged a bruised thigh—you limped—
you clutched this larch.
Did your head, bent back,
Search further—
clear through the green leaf-moss
of the larch branches?
Did you clutch,
stammer with short breath and gasp:
wood-daemons grant life—
give life—I am almost lost.
For some wood-daemon
has lightened your steps.
I can find no trace of you
in the larch-cones and the underbrush.

 

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 GODS

I
THEY say there is no hope—
sand—drift—rocks—rubble of the sea—
the broken hulk of a ship,
hung with shreds of rope,
pallid under the cracked pitch.
they say there is no hope
to conjure you—
no whip of the tongue to anger you—
no hate of words
you must rise to refute.
They say you are twisted by the sea,
you are cut apart
by wave-break upon wave-break,
that you are misshapen by the sharp rocks,
broken by the rasp and after-rasp.
That you are cut, torn, mangled,
torn by the stress and beat,
no stronger than the strips of sand
along your ragged beach.

II
But we bring violets,
great masses—single, sweet,
wood-violets, stream-violets,
violets from a wet marsh.
Violets in clumps from hills,
tufts with earth at the roots,
violets tugged from rocks,
blue violets, moss, cliff, river-violets.
Yellow violets' gold,
burnt with a rare tint—
violets like red ash
among tufts of grass.
We bring deep-purple
bird-foot violets.
We bring the hyacinth-violet,
sweet, bare, chill to the touch—
and violets whiter than the in-rush
of your own white surf.

III
For you will come,
you will yet haunt men in ships,
you will trail across the fringe of strait
and circle the jagged rocks.
You will trail across the rocks
and wash them with your salt,
you will curl between sand-hills—
you will thunder along the cliff;—
break—retreat—get fresh strength—
gather and pour weight upon the beach.
You will draw back,
and the ripple on the sand-shelf
will be witness of your track.
O privet-white, you will paint
the lintel of wet sand with froth.
You will bring myrrh-bark
and drift laurel-wood from hot coasts!
when you hurl high—high—
we will answer with a shout.
For you will come,
you will come,
you will answer our taut hearts,
you will break the lie of men's thoughts,
and cherish and shelter us.

More information about H. D. from Wikipedia




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