Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


The Gift

Instead of pearls—a wrought clasp—
a bracelet—will you accept this?
 
You know the script—
you will start, wonder:
what is left, what phrase
after last night? This:
 
The world is yet unspoiled for you,
you wait, expectant—
you are like the children
who haunt your own steps
for chance bits—a comb
that may have slipped,
a gold tassel, unravelled,
plucked from your scarf,
twirled by your slight fingers
into the street—
a flower dropped.
 
Do not think me unaware,
I who have snatched at you
as the street-child clutched
at the seed-pearls you spilt
that hot day
when your necklace snapped.
 
Do not dream that I speak
as one defrauded of delight,
sick, shaken by each heart-beat
or paralyzed, stretched at length,
who gasps:
these ripe pears
are bitter to the taste,
this spiced wine, poison, corrupt.
I cannot walk—who would walk?
Life is a scavenger's pit—I escape—
I only, rejecting it,
lying here on this couch.
 
Your garden sloped to the beach,
myrtle overran the paths,
honey and amber flecked each leaf,
the citron-lily head—
one among many—
weighed there, over-sweet.
 
The myrrh-hyacinth
spread across low slopes,
violets streaked black ridges
through the grass.
 
The house, too, was like this,
over painted, over lovely—
the world is like this.
 
Sleepless nights,
I remember the initiates,
their gesture, their calm glance.
I have heard how in rapt thought,
in vision, they speak
with another race,
more beautiful, more intense than this.
I could laugh—
more beautiful, more intense?
 
Perhaps that other life
is contrast always to this.
I reason:
I have lived as they
in their inmost rites—
they endure the tense nerves
through the moment of ritual.
I endure from moment to moment—
days pass all alike,
tortured, intense.
This I forgot last night:
you must not be blamed,
it is not your fault;
as a child, a flower—any flower
tore my breast—
meadow-chicory, a common grass-tip,
a leaf shadow, a flower tint
unexpected on a winter-branch.
 
I reason:
another life holds what this lacks,
a sea, unmoving, quiet—
not forcing our strength
to rise to it, beat on beat—
stretch of sand,
no garden beyond, strangling
with its myrrh-lilies—
a hill, not set with black violets
but stones, stones, bare rocks,
dwarf-trees, twisted, no beauty
to distract—to crowd
madness upon madness.
 
Only a still place
and perhaps some outer horror
some hideousness to stamp beauty,
a mark—no changing it now—
on our hearts.
 
I send no string of pearls,
no bracelet—accept this.

Credit


This poem is in the public domain.

Author


H. D.

Born in 1886, Hilda Doolittle was one of the leaders of the Imagist movement. She published numerous poetry collections, including Sea Garden (Constable and Company, 1916) and Helen in Egypt (Grove Press, 1961). She died in 1961.

Date Published: 2017-07-24

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/gift-4