Hilda Doolittle

(10 September 1886 – 27 September 1961 / Bethlehem, Pennsylvania)

Amaranth - Poem by Hilda Doolittle

I

Am I blind alas,
am I blind,
I too have followed
her path.
I too have bent at her feet.
I too have wakened to pluck
amaranth in the straight shaft,
amaranth purple in the cup,
scorched at the edge to white.

Am I blind?
am I the less ready for her sacrifice?
am I less eager to give
what she asks,
she the shameless and radiant?

Am I quite lost,
I towering above you and her glance,
walking with swifter pace,
with clearer sight,
with intensity
beside which you two
are as spent ash?

Nay I give back to my goddess the gift
she tendered me in a moment
of great bounty.
I return it. I lay it again
on the white slab of her house,
the beauty she cast out
one moment, careless.

Nor do I cry out:
'why did I stoop?
why did I turn aside
one moment from the rocks
marking the sea-path?
Andromeda, shameless and radiant,
have pity, turn, answer us.'

Ah no - though I stumble toward
her altar-step,
though my flesh is scorched and rent,
shattered, cut apart,
and slashed open;
though my heels press my own wet life
black, dark to purple,
on the smooth rose-streaked
threshold of her pavement.

II

Am I blind, alas, deaf too,
that my ears lost all this?
Nay, O my lover, Atthis:
shameless and still radiant
I tell you this:

I was not asleep.
I did not lie asleep on those hot rocks
while you waited.
I was not unaware when I glanced
out toward sea,
watching the purple ships.

I was not blind when I turned.
I was not indifferent when I strayed aside
or loitered as we three went,
or seemed to turn a moment from the path
for the same amaranth.

I was not dull and dead when I fell
back on our couch at night.
I was not indifferent though I turned
and lay quiet.
I was not dead in my sleep.

III

Lady of all beauty,
I give you this:
say I have offered but small sacrifice,
say that I am unworthy your touch,
but say not, I turned to some cold, calm god,
that I fell back at your first glance.

Lady of all beauty,
I give you this:
say not, I have deserted your altar-steps,
that the fire on your white hearth
was too great,
that I fell back your first glance.

Lady, radiant and shameless,
I have brought small wreaths,
they were a child's gift.
I have offered you white myrrh-leaf
and sweet lentisk.
I have laid rose-petals
and white rock-rose from the beach.

But I give now
a greater,
I give life and spirit with this,
I render a grace
no one has dared to speak
at your carved altar-step,
lest men point him out,
slave, callous to your art,

I dare more than the singer
offering her lute,
the girl her stained veils,
the woman her swarthes of birth,
the older woman her pencils of chalk
and mirror and unguent box.

I offer more than the lad,
singing at your steps,
praising himself mirrored in his friend's face,
more than any girl,
I offer you this,
(grant only strength
that I withdraw not my gift)
I give you my praise for this:
the love of my lover for his mistress.

IV

Let him go forth radiant,
let life rise in his young breast,
life is radiant,
life is made for beautiful love
and strange ecstasy,
strait, searing body and limbs,
tearing limbs and body from life;
life is his if he take it,
then let him take beauty
as his right.

Take beauty, wander apart
in the tree-shadows,
wander under wind-bowed sheaths
of golden fir-boughs,
go far, far from here
in your happiness,
take beauty for that is her wish:
Her wish,
the radiant and the shameless.

V

But I,
how I hate you for this,
how I despise and hate,
was my beauty so slight a gift,
so soon, so soon forgot?

I hate you for this,
and now that your fault be less,
I would cry, turn back,
lest she the shameless and radiant
slay you for neglect.

Neglect of the finest beauty upon earth
my limbs, my body and feet,
beauty that men gasp
wondering that life
could rest in so burnt a face,
so scarred with her touch,
so fire-eaten, so intense.

Turn, for I love you yet,
though you are not worthy of my love,
though you are not equal to it.

Turn back;
true I have glanced out
toward the purple ships
with seeming indifference.
I have fallen from the high grace
of the goddess,
for long days
I have been dulled with this grief,
but turn
before the death strike,
for the goddess speaks:

She too is of the deathless,
she too will wander in my palaces
where all beauty is peace.

She too is of my host
that gather in groups or singly wait
by some altar apart;
she too is my poet.

Turn if you will
from her path,
turn if you must from her feet,
turn away, silent,
find rest if you wish:

find quiet
where the fir-trees
press, as you
swaying lightly above the earth.

Turn if you will from her path
for one moment seek
a lesser beauty
and a lesser grace,
but you will find
no peace in the end
save in her presence.


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Poem Submitted: Monday, January 11, 2016



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