Nets to Catch the Wind
Elinor Wylie

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Elinor Wylie
Nets to Catch the Wind

by Elinor Wylie



      SAY not of Beauty she is good,
      Or aught but beautiful,
      Or sleek to dove's wings of the wood
      Her wild wings of a gull.

      Call her not wicked; that word's touch
      Consumes her 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.

    The Eagle and the Mole

      AVOID the reeking herd,
      Shun the polluted flock,
      Live like that stoic bird,
      The eagle of the rock.

      The huddled warmth of crowds
      Begets and fosters hate;
      He keeps above the clouds
      His cliff inviolate.

      When flocks are folded warm,
      And herds to shelter run,
      He sails above the storm,
      He stares into the sun.

      If in the eagle's track
      Your sinews cannot leap,
      Avoid the lathered pack,
      Turn from the steaming sheep.

      If you would keep your soul
      From spotted sight or sound,
      Live like the velvet mole:
      Go burrow underground.

      And there hold intercourse
      With roots of trees and stones,
      With rivers at their source,
      And disembodied bones.

    Madman's Song

      BETTER to see your cheek grown hollow,
      Better to see your temple worn,
      Than to forget to follow, follow,
      After the sound of a silver horn.

      Better to bind your brow with willow
      And follow, follow until you die,
      Than to sleep with your head on a golden pillow,
      Nor lift it up when the hunt goes by.

      Better to see your cheek grow sallow
      And your hair grown gray, so soon, so soon,
      Than to forget to hallo, hallo,
      After the milk-white hounds of the moon.

    The Prinkin' Leddie

      "THE Hielan' lassies are a' for spinnin',
      The Lowlan' lassies for prinkin' and pinnin';
      My daddie w'u'd chide me, an' so w'u'd my minnie
      If I s'u'd bring hame sic a prinkin' leddie.

      Now haud your tongue, ye haverin' coward,
      For whilst I'm young I'll go flounced an' flowered,
      In lutestring striped like the strings o' a fiddle,
      Wi' gowden* girdles aboot my middle.          [golden]

      In your Hielan' glen, where the rain pours steady,
      Ye'll be gay an' glad for a prinkin' leddie;
      Where the rocks are all bare an' the turf is all sodden,
      An' lassies gae sad in their homespun an' hodden.

      My silks are stiff wi' patterns o' siller*,          [silver]
      I've an ermine hood like the hat o' a miller,
      I've chains o' coral like rowan berries,
      An' a cramoisie mantle that cam' frae Paris.

      Ye'll be glad for the glint o' its scarlet linin'
      When the larks are up an' the sun is shinin';
      When the winds are up an' ower the heather
      Your heart'll be gay wi' my gowden feather.

      When the skies are low an' the earth is frozen,
      Ye'll be gay an' glad for the leddie ye've chosen,
      When ower the snow I go prinkin' an' prancin'
      In my wee red slippers were made for dancin'.

      It's better a leddie like Solomon's lily
      Than one that'll run like a Hielan' gillie
      A-linkin' it ower the leas, my laddie,
      In a raggedy kilt an' a belted pladdie!


      WHY should this Negro insolently stride
      Down the red noonday on such noiseless feet?
      Piled in his barrow, tawnier than wheat,
      Lie heaps of smouldering daisies, sombre-eyed,
      Their copper petals shriveled up with pride,
      Hot with a superfluity of heat,
      Like a great brazier borne along the street
      By captive leopards, black and burning pied.

      Are there no water-lilies, smooth as cream,
      With long stems dripping crystal? Are there none
      Like those white lilies, luminous and cool,
      Plucked from some hemlock-darkened northern stream
      By fair-haired swimmers, diving where the sun
      Scarce warms the surface of the deepest pool?

    The Crooked Stick

      First Traveller: WHAT'S that lying in the dust?
      Second Traveller: A crooked stick.
      First Traveller: What's it worth, if you can trust to arithmetic?
      Second Traveller: Isn't this a riddle?
      First Traveller:                               No, a trick.
      Second Traveller:It's worthless, leave it where it lies.
      First Traveller: Wait; count ten;
      Rub a little dust upon your eyes;
      Now, look again.
      Second Traveller: Well, and what the devil is it, then?
      First Traveller: It's the sort of crooked stick that shepherds know.
      Second Traveller: Someone's loss!
      First Traveller: Bend it, and you make of it a bow.
      Break it, a cross.
      Second Traveller: But it's all grown over with moss!


      I WAS always afraid of Somes's Pond:
      Not the little pond, by which the willow stands,
      Where laughing boys catch alewives in their hands
      In brown, bright shallows; but the one beyond.
      There, where the frost makes all the birches burn
      Yellow as cow-lilies, and the pale sky shines
      Like a polished shell between black spruce and pines,
      Some strange thing tracks us, turning where we turn.

      You'll say I dreamed it, being the true daughter
      Of those who in old times endured this dread.
      Look! Where the lily-stems are showing red
      A silent paddle moves below the water,
      A sliding shape has stirred them like a breath;
      Tall plumes surmount a painted mask of death.

    Wild Peaches


      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.


      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 the winter's over.
      By February you may find the skins
      Of garter snakes and water moccasins
      Dwindled and harsh, dead-white and cloudy-clear.


      When April pours the colours of a shell
      Upon the hills, when every 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 frosty river beaches
      We'll trample bright persimmons, while you kill
      Bronze partridge, speckled quail, and canvasback.


      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 milky spate
      Streaming through slanted pastures fenced with stones.

      I love those skies, thin blue or snowy gray,
      Those fields sparse-planted, rendering meagre 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.


      THIS is the bricklayer; hear the thud
      Of his heavy load dumped down on stone.
      His lustrous bricks are brighter than blood,
      His smoking mortar whiter than bone.

      Set each sharp-edged, fire-bitten brick
      Straight by the plumb-line's shivering length;
      Make my marvelous wall so thick
      Dead nor living may shake its strength.

      Full as a crystal cup with drink
      Is my cell with dreams, and quiet, and cool. . . .
      Stop, old man! You must leave a chink;
      How can I breathe? You can't, you fool!

    The Lion and the Lamb

      I SAW a Tiger's golden flank,
      I saw what food he ate,
      By a desert spring he drank;
      The Tiger's name was Hate.

      Then I saw a placid Lamb
      Lying fast asleep;
      Like a river from its dam
      Flashed the Tiger's leap.

      I saw a lion tawny-red,
      Terrible and brave;
      The Tiger's leap overhead
      Broke like a wave.

      In sand below or sun above
      He faded like a flame.
      The Lamb said, "I am Love;
      Lion, tell your name."

      The Lion's voice thundering
      Shook his vaulted breast,
      "I am Love. By this spring,
      Brother, let us rest."

    The Church-Bell

      AS I was lying in my bed
      I heard the church-bell ring;
      Before one solemn word was said
      A bird began to sing.

      I heard a dog begin to bark
      And a bold crowing cock;
      The bell, between the cold and dark,
      Tolled. It was five o'clock.

      The church-bell tolled, and the bird sang,
      A clear true voice he had;
      The cock crew, and the church-bell rang,
      I knew it had gone mad.

      A hand reached down from the dark skies,
      It took the bell-rope thong,
      The bell cried "Look! Lift up your eyes!"
      The clapper shook to song.

      The iron clapper laughed aloud,
      Like clashing wind and wave;
      The bell cried out "Be strong and proud!"
      Then, with a shout, "Be brave!"

      The rumbling of the market-carts,
      The pounding of men's feet
      Were drowned in song; "Lift up your hearts!"
      The song was loud and sweet.

      Slow and slow the great bell swung,
      It hung in the steeple mute;
      And people tore its living tongue
      Out by the very root.

    A Crowded Trolley Car

      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.

    Bells in the Rain

      SLEEP falls, with limpid drops of rain,
      Upon the steep cliffs of the town.
      Sleep falls; men are at peace again
      While the small drops fall softly down.

      The bright drops ring like bells of glass
      Thinned by the wind, and lightly blown;
      Sleep cannot fall on peaceful grass
      So softly as it falls on stone.

      Peace falls unheeded on the dead
      Asleep; they have had deep peace to drink;
      Upon a live man's bloody head
      It falls most tenderly, I think.

    Winter Sleep

      WHEN against earth a wooden heel
      Clicks as loud as stone on steel,
      When stone turns flour instead of flakes,
      And frost bakes clay as fire bakes,
      When the hard-bitten fields at last
      Crack like iron flawed in the cast,
      When the world is wicked and cross and old,
      I long to be quit of the cruel cold.

      Little birds like bubbles of glass
      Fly to other Americas,
      Birds as bright as sparkles of wine
      Fly in the nite to the Argentine,
      Birds of azure and flame-birds go
      To the tropical Gulf of Mexico:
      They chase the sun, they follow the heat,
      It is sweet in their bones, O sweet, sweet, sweet!
      It's not with them that I'd love to be,
      But under the roots of the balsam tree.

      Just as the spiniest chestnut-burr
      Is lined within with the finest fur,
      So the stoney-walled, snow-roofed house
      Of every squirrel and mole and mouse
      Is lined with thistledown, sea-gull's feather,
      Velvet mullein-leaf, heaped together
      With balsam and juniper, dry and curled,
      Sweeter than anything else in the world.

      O what a warm and darksome nest
      Where the wildest things are hidden to rest!
      It's there that I'd love to lie and sleep,
      Soft, soft, soft, and deep, deep, deep!

    Village Mystery

      THE woman in the pointed hood
      And cloak blue-gray like a pigeon's wing,
      Whose orchard climbs to the balsam-wood,
      Has done a cruel thing.

      To her back door-step came a ghost,
      A girl who had been ten years dead,
      She stood by the granite hitching-post
      And begged for a piece of bread.

      Now why should I, who walk alone,
      Who am ironical and proud,
      Turn, when a woman casts a stone
      At a beggar in a shroud?

      I saw the dead girl cringe and whine,
      And cower in the weeping air--
      But, oh, she was no kin of mine,
      And so I did not care!

    Sunset on the Spire

      ALL that I dream
         By day or night
      Lives in that stream
         Of lovely light.
      Here is the earth,
         And there is the spire;
      This is my hearth,
         And that is my fire.
      From the sun's dome
         I am shouted proof
      That this is my home,
         And that is my roof.
      Here is my food,
         And here is my drink,
      And I am wooed
         From the moon's brink.
      And the days go over,
         And the nights end;
      Here is my lover,
         Here is my friend.
      All that I
         Can ever ask
      Wears that sky
         Like a thin gold mask.


      WHEN foxes eat the last gold grape,
      And the last white antelope is killed,
      I shall stop fighting and escape
      Into a little house I'll build.

      But first I'll shrink to fairy size,
      With a whisper no one understands,
      Making blind moons of all your eyes,
      And muddy roads of all your hands.

      And you may grope for me in vain
      In hollows under the mangrove root,
      Or where, in apple-scented rain,
      The silver wasp-nests hang like fruit.

    The Fairy Goldsmith

      'HERE'S a wonderful thing,
      A humming-bird's wing
      In hammered gold,
      And store well chosen
      Of snowflakes frozen
      In crystal cold.

      Black onyx cherries
      And mistletoe berries
      Of chrysoprase,
      Jade buds, tight shut,
      All carven and cut
      In intricate ways.

      Here, if you please
      Are little gilt bees
      In amber drops
      Which look like honey,
      Translucent and sunny,
      From clover-tops.

      Here's an elfin girl
      Of mother-of-pearl
      And moonshine made,
      With tortise-shell hair
      Both dusky and fair
      In its light and shade.

      Here's lacquer laid thin,
      Like a scarlet skin
      On an ivory fruit;
      And a filigree frost
      Of frail notes lost
      From a fairy lute.

      Here's a turquoise chain
      Of sun-shower rain
      To wear if you wish;
      And glittering green
      With aquamarine,
      A silvery fish.

      Here are pearls all strung
      On a thread among
      Pretty pink shells;
      And bubbles blown
      From the opal stone
      Which ring like bells.

      Touch them and take them,
      But do not break them!
      Beneath your hand
      They will wither like foam
      If you carry them home
      Out of fairy-lannd.

      O, they never can last
      Though you hide them fast
      From moth and from rust;
      In your monstrous day
      They will crumble away
      Into quicksilver dust.

    'Fire and Sleet and Candlelight'

      For this you've striven
      Daring, to fail:
      Your sky is riven
      Like a tearing veil.

      For this, you've wasted
      Wings of your youth;
      Divined, and tasted
      Bitter springs of truth.

      From sand unslakèd
      Twisted strong cords,
      And wandering naked
      Among trysted swords.

      There's a word unspoken,
      A knot untied.
      Whatever is broken
      The earth may hide.

      The road was jagged
      Over sharp stones:
      Your body's too ragged
      To cover your bones.

      The wind scatters
      Tears upon dust;
      Your soul's in tatters
      Where the spears thrust.

    Blood Feud

      ONCE, when my husband was a child, there came
      To his father's table, one who called him kin,
      In sunbleached corduroys paler than his skin.
      His look was grave and kind; he bore the name
      Of the dead singer of Senlac, and his smile.
      Shyly and courteously he smiled and spoke;
      "I've been in the laurel since the winter broke;
      Four months, I reckon; yes, sir, quite a while."

      He'd killed a score of foemen in the past,
      In some blood feud, a dark and monstrous thing;
      To him it seemed his duty. At the last
      His enemies found him by a forest spring,
      Which, as he died, lay bright beneath his head,
      A silver shield that slowly turned to red.

    Sea Lullaby

      THE old moon is tarnished
      With smoke of the flood,
      The dead leaves are varnished
      With colour like blood,

      A treacherous smiler
      With teeth white as milk,
      A savage beguiler
      In sheathings of silk,

      The sea creeps to pillage,
      She leaps on her prey;
      A child of the village
      Was murderd today.

      She came up to meet him
      In a smooth golden cloak,
      She choked him and beat him
      To death, for a joke.

      Her bright locks were tangled,
      She shouted for joy,
      With one hand she strangled
      A strong little boy.

      Now in silence she lingers
      Beside him all night
      To wash her long fingers
      In silvery light.


      YOU are a rose, but set with sharpest spine;
      You are a pretty bird that pecks at me;
      You are a little squirrel on a tree,
      Pelting me with the prickly fruit of the pine;
      A diamond, torn from a crystal mine,
      Not like that milky treasure of the sea,
      A smooth, translucent pearl, but skilfully
      Carven to cut, and faceted to shine.

      If you are flame, it dances and burns blue;
      If you are light, it pierces like a star
      Intenser than a needlepoint of ice.
      The dextrous touch that shaped the soul of you,
      Mingled, to mix, and make you what you are,
      Magic between the sugar and the spice.

    A Proud Lady

      HATE in the world's hand
      Can carve and set its seal
      Like the strong blast of sand
      Which cuts into steel.

      I have seen how the finger of hate
      Can mar and mould
      Faces burned passionate
      And frozen cold.

      Sorrowful faces worn
      As stone with rain,
      Faces writhing with scorn
      And sullen with pain.

      But you have a proud face
      Which the world cannot harm,
      You have turned the pain to a grace
      And the scorn to a charm.

      You have taken the arrows and slings
      Which prick and bruise
      And fashioned them into wings
      For the heels of your shoes.

      From the world's hand which tries
      To tear you apart
      You have stolen the falcon's eyes
      And the lion's heart.

      What has it done, this world,
      With hard finger-tips,
      But sweetly chiseled and curled
      Your inscrutable lips?

    The Tortise in Eternity

      WITHIN my house of patterned horn
      I sleep in such a bed
      As men may keep before they're born
      And after when they're dead.

      Sticks and stones may break their bones,
      And words may make them bleed;
      There is not one of them who owns
      An armour to his need.

      Tougher than hide or lozenged bark,
      Snow-storm and thunder proof,
      And quick with sun, and thick with dark,
      Is this my darling roof.

      Men's troubled dreams of death and birth
      Puls mother-o'-pearl to black;
      I bear the rainbow bubble Earth
      Square on my scornful back.


      A WHITE well
      In a black cave;
      A bright shell
      In a dark wave.

      A white rose
      Black brambles hood;
      Smooth bright snows
      In a dark wood.

      A flung white glove
      In a dark fight;
      A white dove
      On a wild black night.

      A white door
      In a dark lane;
      A bright core
      To bitter black pain.

      A white hand
      Waved from dark walls;
      In a burnt black land
      Bright waterfalls.

      A bright spark
      Where black ashes are;
      In the smothering dark
      One white star.

    Silver Filigree

      THE icicles wreathing
      On trees in festoon
      Swing, swayed to our breathing:
      They're made of the moon.

      She's a pale, waxen taper;
      And these seem to drip
      Transparent as paper
      From the flame of her tip.

      Molten, smoking a little,
      Into crystal they pass;
      Falling, freezing, to brittle
      And delicate glass.

      Each a sharp-pointed flower,
      Each a brief stalactite
      Which hangs for an hour
      In the blue cave of night.

    The Falcon

      WHY should my sleepy heart be taught
      To whistle mocking-bird replies?
      This is another bird you've caught,
      Soft-feathered, with a falcon's eyes.

      The bird Imagination,
      That flies so far, that dies so soon;
      Her wings are coloured like the sun,
      Her breast is coloured like the moon.

      Weave her a chain of silver twist,
      And a little hood of scarlet wool,
      And let her perch upon your wrist,
      And tell her she is beautiful.

    Bronze Trumpets and Sea Water--On Turning Latin into English

      ALEMBICS turn to stranger things
      Strange things, but never while we live
      Shall magic turn this bronze that sings
      To singing water in a sieve.

      The trumpets of Cæsar's guard
      Salute his rigorous bastions
      With ordered bruit; the bronze is hard
      Though there is silver in the bronze.

      Our mutable tongue is like the sea,
      Curled wave and shattering thunder-fit;
      Dangle in strings of sand shall he
      Who smoothes the ripples out of it.

    Spring Pastoral

      LIZA, go steep your long white hands
      In the cool waters of that spring
      Which bubbles up through shiny sands
      The colour of a wild-dove's wing.

      Dabble your hands, and steep them well
      Until those nails are pearly white
      Now rosier than a laurel bell;
      Then come to me at candlelight.

      Lay your cold hands across my brows,
      And I shall sleep, and I shall dream
      Of silver-pointed willow boughs
      Dipping their fingers in a stream.

    Velvet Shoes

      LET us walk in the white snow
      In a soundless space;
      With footsteps quiet snd slow,
      At a tranquil pace,
      Under veils of white lace.

      I shall go shod in silk,
      And you in wool,
      White as white cow's milk,
      More beautiful
      Than the breast of a gull.

      We shall walk through the still town
      In a windless peace;
      We shall step upon white down,
      Upon silver fleece,
      Upon softer than these.

      We shall walk in velvet shoes:
      Wherever we go
      Silence will fall like dews
      On white silence below.
      We shall walk in the snow.


      TOO high, too high to pluck
      My heart shall swing.
      A fruit no bee shall suck,
      No wasp shall sting.

      If on some night of cold
      It falls to ground
      In apple-leaves of gold
      I'll wrap it round.

      And I shall seal it up
      With spice and salt,
      In a carven silver cup,
      In a deep vault.

      Before my eyes are blind
      And my lips mute,
      I must eat core and rind
      Of that same fruit.

      Before my heart is dust
      By the end of all,
      Eat it I must, I must
      Were it bitter gall.

      But I shall keep it sweet
      By some strange art;
      Wild honey I shall eat
      When I eat my heart.

      O honey cool and chaste
      As clover's breath!
      Sweet Heaven I shall taste
      Before my death.

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