Elinor Wylie

Two Sonnets

Volume 16:1, January 2015
Sonnet Issue


You are the faintest freckles on the hide
Of fawn; the hoofprint stamped into the slope
Of slithering glaciers by the antelope;
The silk upon the mushroom’s under side
Constricts you, and your eyelashes are wide
In pools uptilted on the hills; you grope
For swings of water twisted to a rope
Over a ledge where amber pebbles glide.

Shelley perceived you on the Caucasus;
Blake prisoned you in glassy grains of sand
And Keats in goblin jars from Samarcand;
Poor Coleridge found you in a poppy-seed;
But you escape the clutching most of us,
Shaped like a ghost, and imminent with speed.



I was always afraid of Somes’s Pond:
Not the little pond, by which the willow stands,
Where laughing boys catch alewives in their hands
In brown, bright shallows; but the one beyond.
There, when the frost makes all the birches burn
Yellow as cow-lilies, and the pale sky shines
Like a polished shell between black spruce and pines,
Some strange thing tracks us, turning where we turn.

You’ll say I dream it, being the true daughter
Of those who in old times endured this dread.
Look! Where the lily-stems are showing red
A silent paddle moves below the water,
A sliding shape has stirred them like a breath;
Tall plumes surmount a painted mask of 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).