Elinor Wylie, on whose early death Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote one
of her most moving sonnet sequences, received considerable acclaim for
Nets to Catch the Wind (1921). This book was followed by Black
Armour (1923) and a sonnet sequence entitled One Person (1928).
Wylie was also a gifted novelist, with four to her credit, including The
Orphan Angel (1926), a fantasy on the life of the English poet Percy
Bysshe Shelley, and Mr. Hodge and Mr. Hazard(1928). Like Millay,
Wylie was a master of metered and rhymed poetry when most male poets refused
to consider such work modern. The continued presence of work by both women,
long after their deaths, suggests otherwise.
(2/8/98) As long promised, more by Elinor Wylie...
A Crowded Trolley Car by Elinor Wylie The rain's cold grains are silver-gray Sharp as golden sands, A bell is clanging, people sway Hanging by their hands. Supple hands, or gnarled and stiff, Snatch and catch and grope; That face is yellow-pale, as if The fellow swung from rope. Dull like pebbles, sharp like knives, Glances strike and glare, Fingers tangle, Bluebeard's wives Dangle by the hair. Orchard of the strangest fruits Hanging from the skies; Brothers, yet insensate brutes Who fear each other's eyes. One man stands as free men stand, As if his soul might be Brave, unbroken; see his hand Nailed to an oaken tree. Wild Peaches a sonnet sequence by Elinor Wylie 1 When the world turns completely upside down You say we'll emigrate to the Eastern Shore Aboard a river-boat from Baltimore; We'll live among wild peach trees, miles from town, You'll wear a coonskin cap, and I a gown Homespun, dyed butternut's dark gold colour. Lost, like your lotus-eating ancestor, We'll swim in milk and honey till we drown. The winter will be short, the summer long, The autumn amber-hued, sunny and hot, Tasting of cider and of scuppernong; All seasons sweet, but autumn best of all. The squirrels in their silver fur will fall Like falling leaves, like fruit, before your shot. 2 The autumn frosts will lie upon the grass Like bloom on grapes of purple-brown and gold. The misted early mornings will be cold; The little puddles will be roofed with glass. The sun, which burns from copper into brass, Melts these at noon, and makes the boys unfold Their knitted mufflers; full as they can hold, Fat pockets dribble chestnuts as they pass. Peaches grow wild, and pigs can live in clover; A barrel of salted herrings lasts a year; The spring begins before a winter's over. By February you may find the skins Of garter snakes and water moccasins Dwindled and harsh, dead-white and cloudy-clear. 3 When April pours the colours of a shell Upon the hills, when ever little creek Is shot with silver from the Chesapeake In shoals new-minted by the ocean swell, When strawberries go begging, and the sleek Blue plums lie open to the blackbird's beak, We shall live well -- we shall live very well. The months between the cherries and the peaches Are brimming cornucopias which spill Fruits red and purple, sombre-bloomed and black; Then, down rich fields and frost river beaches We'll trample bright persimmons, while you kill Bronze partridge, speckled quail, and canvasback. 4 Down to the Puritan marrow of my bones There's something in this richness that I hate. I love the look, austere, immaculate, Of landscapes drawn in pearly monotones. There's something in my very blood that owns Bare hills, cold silver on a sky of slate, A thread of water, churned to a milky spate Streaming through slanted pastures fenced with stones. I love those skies, thin blue or snowy gray, Those fields sparse-planted, rendering meager sheaves; That spring, briefer than apple-blossom's breath, Summer, so much too beautiful to stay, Swift autumn, like a bonfire of leaves, And sleepy winter, like the sleep of death. Elinor Wylie 1927
Say not of Beauty she is good, Or aught but beautiful, Or sleek to doves' wings of the wood Her wild wings of a gull. Call her not wicked; that word's touch Consumes her life like a curse; But love her not too much, too much, For that is even worse. O, she is neither good nor bad, But innocent and wild! Enshrine her and she dies, who had The hard heart of a child.
I cannot give you the Metropolitan Tower; I cannot give you heaven; Nor the nine Visigoth crowns in the Cluny Museum; Nor happiness, even. But I can give you a very small purse Made out of field-mouse skin, With a painted picture of the universe And seven blue tears therein. I cannot give you the Island of Capri; I cannot give you beauty; Nor bake you marvellous crusty cherry pies With love and duty. But I can give you a very little locket Made out of wildcat hide: Put it in your left-hand pocket And never look inside.
My soul, be not disturbed By planetary war; Remain securely orbed In this contracted star. Fear not, pathetic flame; Your sustenance is doubt: Glassed in translucent dream They cannot stuff you out. Wear water, or a mask Of unapparent cloud; Be brave and never ask A more defunctive shroud. The universal points Are shrunk into a flower; Between in delicate joints Chaos keeps no power. The pure integral form, Austere and silver-dark, Is balanced on the storm In its predestined arc. Small as a sphere of rain It slides along the groove Whose path is furrowed plain Among the suns that move. The shapes of April buds Outlive the phantom year: Upon the void at odds The dewdrop falls severe. Five-petalled flame, be cold: Be firm, dissolving star: Accept the stricter mould That makes you singular. Elinor Wylie
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