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Nets to Catch the Wind
by Elinor Wylie
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NETS TO CATCH THE WIND



By ELINOR WYLIE



CONTENTS

BEAUTY

THE EAGLE AND THE MOLE

MADMAN'S SONG

THE PRINKIN' LEDDIE

AUGUST

THE CROOKED STICK

ATAVISM

WILD PEACHES

SANCTUARY

THE LION AND THE LAMB

THE CHURCH-BELL

A CROWDED TROLLEY CAR

BELLS IN THE RAIN

WINTER SLEEP

VILLAGE MYSTERY

SUNSET ON THE SPIRE

ESCAPE

THE FAIRY GOLDSMITH

"FIRE AND SLEET AND CANDLELIGHT"

BLOOD FEUD

SEA LULLABY

NANCY

A PROUD LADY

THE TORTOISE IN ETERNITY

INCANTATION

SILVER FILIGREE

THE FALCON

BRONZE TRUMPETS AND SEA WATER—ON TURNING LATIN INTO ENGLISH

SPRING PASTORAL

VELVET SHOES

VALENTINE



BEAUTY

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 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 grown 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.

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, 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 plaidie!



AUGUST

Why should this Negro insolently stride Down the red noonday on such noiseless feet? Piled in his barrow, tawnier than wheat, Lie heaps of smoldering daisies, somber-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 Traveler: What's that lying in the dust? Second Traveler: A crooked stick. First Traveler: What's it worth, if you can trust To arithmetic? Second Traveler: Isn't this a riddle? First Traveler: No, a trick. Second Traveler: It's worthless. Leave it where it lies. First Traveler: Wait; count ten; Rub a little dust upon your eyes; Now, look again. Second Traveler: Well, and what the devil is it, then? First Traveler: It's the sort of crooked stick that shepherds know. Second Traveler: Some one's loss! First Traveler: Bend it, and you make of it a bow. Break it, a cross. Second Traveler: But it's all grown over with moss!



ATAVISM

I always was 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, when 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 dream 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

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 color. 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 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.

3

When April pours the colors 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, somber-bloomed and black; Then, down rich fields and frosty river beaches We'll trample bright persimmons, while we kill Bronze partridge, speckled quail, and canvas-back.

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 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.



SANCTUARY

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 sound 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 others' 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 Awhile 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 and steel, When snow 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 night 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 stony-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 Could ever ask Wears that sky Like a thin gold mask.



ESCAPE

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 tortoise-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 glimmering 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-land.

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 unslaked Twisted strong cords, And wandered 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.

Your race is ended— See, it is run: Nothing is mended Under the sun.

Straight as an arrow You fall to a sleep Not too narrow And not too deep.



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 color 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 murdered to-day.

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.



NANCY

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 dexterous 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 mold 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 TORTOISE IN ETERNITY

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

Sticks and stones may break their bones, And words may make them bleed; There is not one of them who owns An armor 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 Pulse mother-o'-pearl to black; I bear the rainbow bubble Earth Square on my scornful back.



INCANTATION

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 colored like the sun, Her breast is colored 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 trumpeters of Caesar'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 be Who smooths 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 color 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 candle-light.

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 and slow, At a tranquil pace, Under veils of white lace.

I shall go shod in silk, And you in wool, White as a 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.



VALENTINE

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 At 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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