Leda

- 1886-1961

Where the slow river
meets the tide,
a red swan lifts red wings
and darker beak,
and underneath the purple down
of his soft breast
uncurls his coral feet.

Through the deep purple
of the dying heat
of sun and mist,
the level ray of sun-beam
has caressed
the lily with dark breast,
and flecked with richer gold
its golden crest.

Where the slow lifting
of the tide,
floats into the river
and slowly drifts
among the reeds,
and lifts the yellow flags,
he floats
where tide and river meet.

Ah kingly kiss—
no more regret
nor old deep memories
to mar the bliss;
where the low sedge is thick,
the gold day-lily
outspreads and rests
beneath soft fluttering
of red swan wings
and the warm quivering
of the red swan’s breast.
 

Stars Wheel in Purple

Stars wheel in purple, yours is not so rare
as Hesperus, nor yet so great a star
as bright Aldeboran or Sirius,
nor yet the stained and brilliant one of War;

stars turn in purple, glorious to the sight;
yours is not gracious as the Pleiads are
nor as Orion's sapphires, luminous;

yet disenchanted, cold, imperious face,
when all the others blighted, reel and fall,
your star, steel-set, keeps lone and frigid tryst
to freighted ships, baffled in wind and blast.

At Baia

I should have thought
in a dream you would have brought
some lovely, perilous thing,
orchids piled in a great sheath,
as who would say (in a dream),
"I send you this,
who left the blue veins
of your throat unkissed."

Why was it that your hands
(that never took mine),
your hands that I could see
drift over the orchid-heads
so carefully,
your hands, so fragile, sure to lift
so gently, the fragile flower-stuff--
ah, ah, how was it

You never sent (in a dream)
the very form, the very scent,
not heavy, not sensuous,
but perilous--perilous--
of orchids, piled in a great sheath,
and folded underneath on a bright scroll,
some word:

"Flower sent to flower;
for white hands, the lesser white,
less lovely of flower-leaf,"

or

"Lover to lover, no kiss,
no touch, but forever and ever this."

Helen in Egypt, Eidolon, Book III: 4

Helen herself seems almost ready for this sacrifice--at least, for the immolation of herself before this greatest love of Achilles, his dedication to "his own ship" and the figurehead, "an idol or eidolon . . . a mermaid, Thetis upon the prow."

Did her eyes slant in the old way?
was she Greek or Egyptian?
had some Phoenician sailor wrought her?

was she oak-wood or cedar?
had she been cut from an awkward block
of ship-wood at the ship-builders,

and afterwards riveted there,
or had the prow itself been shaped
to her mermaid body,

curved to her mermaid hair?
was there a dash of paint
in the beginning, in the garment-fold,

did the blue afterwards wear away?
did they re-touch her arms, her shoulders?
did anyone touch her ever?

Had she other zealot and lover,
or did he alone worship her?
did she wear a girdle of sea-weed

or a painted crown?  how often
did her high breasts meet the spray,
how often dive down?

Related Poems

Leisure

Leisure, thou goddess of a bygone age,
   When hours were long and days sufficed to hold
    Wide-eyed delights and pleasures uncontrolled
By shortening moments, when no gaunt presage
Of undone duties, modern heritage,
    Haunted our happy minds; must thou withhold
    Thy presence from this over-busy world,
And bearing silence with thee disengage
    Our twined fortunes? Deeps of unhewn woods
    Alone can cherish thee, alone possess
Thy quiet, teeming vigor. This our crime:
    Not to have worshipped, marred by alien moods
    That sole condition of all loveliness,
The dreaming lapse of slow, unmeasured time.