When the world turns completely upside down
You say we’ll emigrate to the Eastern Shore
Aboard a river-boat from Baltimore;
We’ll live among wild peach trees, miles from town,
You’ll wear a coonskin cap, and I a gown
Homespun, dyed butternut’s dark gold colour.
Lost, like your lotus-eating ancestor,
We’ll swim in milk and honey till we drown.
The winter will be short, the summer long,
The autumn amber-hued, sunny and hot,
Tasting of cider and of scuppernong;
All seasons sweet, but autumn best of all.
The squirrels in their silver fur will fall
Like falling leaves, like fruit, before your shot.
The autumn frosts will lie upon the grass
Like bloom on grapes of purple-brown and gold.
The misted early mornings will be cold;
The little puddles will be roofed with glass.
The sun, which burns from copper into brass,
Melts these at noon, and makes the boys unfold
Their knitted mufflers; full as they can hold
Fat pockets dribble chestnuts as they pass.
Peaches grow wild, and pigs can live in clover;
A barrel of salted herrings lasts a year;
The spring begins before the winter’s over.
By February you may find the skins
Of garter snakes and water moccasins
Dwindled and harsh, dead-white and cloudy-clear.
When April pours the colours of a shell
Upon the hills, when every little creek
Is shot with silver from the Chesapeake
In shoals new-minted by the ocean swell,
When strawberries go begging, and the sleek
Blue plums lie open to the blackbird’s beak,
We shall live well—we shall live very well.
The months between the cherries and the peaches
Are brimming cornucopias which spill
Fruits red and purple, sombre-bloomed and black;
Then, down rich fields and frosty river beaches
We’ll trample bright persimmons, while you kill
Bronze partridge, speckled quail, and canvasback.
Down to the Puritan marrow of my bones
There’s something in this richness that I hate.
I love the look, austere, immaculate,
Of landscapes drawn in pearly monotones.
There’s something in my very blood that owns
Bare hills, cold silver on a sky of slate,
A thread of water, churned to milky spate
Streaming through slanted pastures fenced with stones.
I love those skies, thin blue or snowy gray,
Those fields sparse-planted, rendering meagre sheaves;
That spring, briefer than apple-blossom’s breath,
Summer, so much too beautiful to stay,
Swift autumn, like a bonfire of leaves,
And sleepy winter, like the sleep of death.
A Crowded Trolley Car
The rain’s cold grains are silver-gray
Sharp as golden sands,
A bell is clanging, people sway
Hanging by their hands.
Supple hands, or gnarled and stiff,
Snatch and catch and grope;
That face is yellow-pale, as if
The fellow swung from rope.
Dull like pebbles, sharp like knives,
Glances strike and glare,
Fingers tangle, Bluebeard’s wives
Dangle by the hair.
Orchard of the strangest fruits
Hanging from the skies;
Brothers, yet insensate brutes
Who fear each others’ eyes.
One man stands as free men stand
As if his soul might be
Brave, unbroken; see his hand
Nailed to an oaken tree.
Let No Charitable Hope
Now let no charitable hope
Confuse m mind with images
Of eagle and of antelope;
I am in 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.
Cold Blooded Creatures
Man, the egregious egoist,
(In mystery the twig is bent,)
Imagines, by some mental twist,
That he alone is sentient
Of the intolerable load
Which on all living creatures lies,
Nor stoops to pity in the toad
The speechless sorrow of its eyes.
He asks no questions of the snake,
Nor plumbs the phosphorescent gloom
Where lidless fishes, broad awake,
Swim staring at a night-mare doom.
For this she starred her eyes with salt
And scooped her temples thin,
Until her face shone pure of fault
From the forehead to the chin.
In coldest crucibles of pain
Her shrinking flesh was fired
And smoothed into a finer grain
To make it more desired.
Pain left her lips more clear than glass;
It colored and cooled her hand.
She lay a field of scented grass
Yielded as pasture land.
For this her loveliness was curved
And carved as silver is:
For this she was brave: but she deserved
A better grave than this.
My bands of silk and miniver
Momently grew heavier;
The black gauze was beggarly thin;
The ermine muffled mouth and chin;
I could not suck the moonlight in.
Harlequin in lozenges
Of love and hate, I walked in these
Striped and ragged rigmaroles;
Along the pavement my footsoles
Trod warily on living coals.
Shouldering the thoughts I loathed,
In their corrupt disguises clothed,
Morality I could not tear
From my ribs, to leave them bare
Ivory in silver air.
There I walked, and there I raged;
The spiritual savage caged
Within my skeleton, raged afresh
To feel, behind a carnal mesh,
The clean bones crying in the flesh.
Too high, too high to pluck
My heart shall swing.
A fruit no bee shall suck,
No wasp shall sting.
If on some night of cold
It falls to ground
In apple-leaves of gold
I’ll wrap it round.
And I shall seal it up
With spice and salt,
In a carven silver cup,
In a deep vault.
Before my eyes are blind
And my lips mute,
I must eat core and rind
Of that same fruit.
Before my heart is dust
At the end of all,
Eat it I must, I must
Were it bitter gall.
But I shall keep it sweet
By some strange art;
Wild honey I shall eat
When I eat my heart.
O honey cool and chaste
As clover’s breath!
Sweet Heaven I shall taste
Before my death.
Elinor Wylie (September 7, 1885 - December 16, 1928) is the author of five books of poems, including Nets to the Catch the Wind (1921) and Angels and Earthly Creatures (1928), and four novels, including Jennifer Lorn (1923) and The Orphan Angel (1926). Her Collected Poems (1932) and Collected Prose (1933) were published posthumously. Wylie was born into a socially prominent family and she scandalized the society world with her multiple marriages and affairs. Her first husband, Philip Simmons Hichborn, was mentally unstable and abusive. Wylie had one son with him, but she abandoned both husband and son to live with another married man, Horace Wiley, a DC lawyer. When her affair was widely reported in newspapers, she was ostracized by her family, and the couple moved to England and lived under an assumed name. Wylie's first husband committed suicide, and Horace attained a divorce, so they returned to the US and married. Wylie's third husband was William Rose Benét, but this marriage, too, was short-lived. Wylie became part of the literary community centered around Greenwich Village in New York. She worked as poetry editor for Vanity Fair (1923-1925), and a contributing editor of The New Republic (1926-1928).