Marie Bashkirtseff Said

Marie Bashkirtseff said
(From some dim place she said),
So many years I have been dead
To this dull world, and still,
Good folks are saying with a will,
“Surely, surely Marie was past praying for.”
“She was wilful, she was wild,
Half a savage, half a child.”

“In such a year,” they say,
“She threw all decency away,
So and so, thus and thus;
Credulous and mutinous,
Calamitous and amorous,
Were the things she gloried in.”
All their humour turned to gall,
One and all
On my reputation fall,
And smack their lips on storied sin.

Snobbish and selfish farrago!"
That is their name for thee,
Beloved diary!
Come, let us make enquiry,
Is that all these Philistines can know?
Then let the true and tragic tale begin,
Of that and this,
Right well I wis,
None ever heard
These say a word. 

Of this, the horror that I knew,
The serpent grief that coiled and threw
Its small, glittering eyes on me,
Green and snaky eyes that held
All my will, and me compelled
To the numbing misery
Of some fascinated bird—
Of all this,
Well I wis—
Never a word! 

Of this the hooded snake that drew
And watched me circle round and round,
Of how I fluttered, fell, and flew
Frantic spaces from the ground;
Of the singing in my ears,
Hideous clamour, mocking jeers,
Of the devastating fears,
Dear and familiar things unheard,
Of the awful hope deferred—
Oh, well I wis
Of all this—
Never a word! 

Of the hidden, dull despair,
Of the grievous lassitude,
Of the crowning horror where
Blossomed love and plenitude;
Of the odious, choking shame,
Dissimulation, anger, blame,
Embarrassment, I overcame,
Of ridicule, mistakes absurd,
Of all this,
Well I wis—
Not a word! 

Of all the anguish borne in secret,
Loss of trust in God and Man,
Of the great ambition shattered,
Budding hope and darling plan;
Of the soundless wind and rain
Beating on the window-pane;
Of the untruths told in vain;
Of the voiceless bird and beast,
Of the songless, laughless feast,
Of the mind to madness spurred,
Never a word! 

Of life’s last keen extremity,
Fear of laughter, fear of pity,
Of the death that would not smite,
Of my heart pierced—uncontrite,
Living, thrilling, mad-to-live,
Quick, ceremented, splenitive,
Broken heart!
Of my youth so over-yeared,
Of all this,
Too well I wis,
Not a word—
Ah! Never a word. 


This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 9, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“Annie Charlotte Dalton is the first poet, through her 1926 title The Silent Zone, to devote an entire book of poems to the elucidation of a disability identity. This was not the same identity that already enjoyed ample literary precedents in sign language-speaking communities. Dalton understood herself to be ‘late-deafened’ and helped to pioneer activism among hard of hearing and late-deafened groups in Canada and the United States. In order to gain a purchase on what had been, until then, an amorphous, slippery identity, she seized on any historical figures, role models, and even fictional characters she could find. A powerful source of affinity came in the form of Maria Konstantinovna Bashkirtseva (1858–1884), a Russian-born French artist who had experienced progressive deafness and whose posthumously published diaries won great acclaim. Dalton presents an embattled, misunderstood, and assaulted figure in ‘Marie Bashkirtseff Said’ and enters into the fray not only in her defense but also by joining her in the self-defense she had already initiated. It is this force of claiming an elusive kinship that propelled Dalton to do what no other disabled poet had done before, not even those with more established community ties: write a whole collection of poems as a disability manifesto.”
John Lee Clark