Let No Charitable Hope

Now let no charitable hope
Confuse my mind with images
Of eagle and of antelope:
I am by nature none of these.

I was, being human, born alone;
I am, being woman, hard beset;
I live by squeezing from a stone
The little nourishment I get.

In masks outrageous and austere
The years go by in single file;
But none has merited my fear,
And none has quite escaped my smile.


This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on October 8, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“Let No Charitable Hope” appears in Elinor Wylie’s collection Black Armour: A Book of Poems (George H. Doran Company, 1923). In A Private Madness: The Genius of Elinor Wylie (Kent State University Press, 2003), Evelyn Helmick Hively, former professor of English and director of American studies at the University of Miami, writes, “‘Let No Charitable Hope,’ often mentioned as Wylie’s best poem, brought from critics favorable comparisons with T. S. Eliot’s work, even beyond the obvious references to masks. [Malcolm] Cowley’s ‘The Owl and the Nightingale’ [in The Dial, vol. 74 (June 1923)] mentions similarities in meter, images, and vocabulary, although he stresses differences in their personality. Wylie used this angry poem to reply to a letter from [William Rose] Benét during one of their many quarrels before they were married: ‘I don’t think I am a falcon. I think I am a life with a broken wing. I know it. But read that poem—‘Let no charitable hope.’ Now you know, red lizard.’”