Prisoners

- 1886-1961

It is strange that I should want
this sight of your face—
we have had so much:
at any moment now I may pass,
stand near the gate,
do not speak—
only reach if you can, your face
half-fronting the passage
toward the light.

Fate—God sends this as a mark,
a last token that we are not forgot,
lost in this turmoil,
about to be crushed out,
burned or stamped out
at best with sudden death.

The spearsman who brings this
will ask for the gold clasp
you wear under your coat.
I gave all I had left.

Press close to the portal,
my gate will soon clang
and your fellow wretches
will crowd to the entrance—
be first at the gate.

Ah beloved, do not speak.
I write this in great haste—
do not speak,
you may yet be released.
I am glad enough to depart
though I have never tasted life
as in these last weeks.

It is a strange life,
patterned in fire and letters
on the prison pavement.
If I glance up
it is written on the walls,
it is cut on the floor,
it is patterned across
the slope of the roof.

I am weak—weak—
last night if the guard
had left the gate unlocked
I could not have ventured to escape,
but one thought serves me now
with strength.

As I pass down the corridor
past desperate faces at each cell,
your eyes and my eyes may meet.

You will be dark, unkempt,
but I pray for one glimpse of your face—
why do I want this?
I who have seen you at the banquet
each flower of your hyacinth-circlet
white against your hair.

Why do I want this,
when even last night
you startled me from sleep?
You stood against the dark rock,
you grasped an elder staff.

So many nights
you have distracted me from terror.
Once you lifted a spear-flower.
I remember how you stooped
to gather it—
and it flamed, the leaf and shoot
and the threads, yellow, yellow—
sheer till they burnt
to red-purple in the cup.

As I pass your cell-door
do not speak.
I was first on the list—
They may forget you tried to shield me
as the horsemen passed.

More by H. D.

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?