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Poem by Hilda Doolittle
He had asked for immortal life in the old days and had grown old, now he had aged apace, he asked for his youth, and I, Thetis, granted him freedom under the sea drip and welter of weeds, the drift of the fringing grass, the gift of the never-withering moss, and the flowering reed, and most, beauty of fifty nereids, sisters of nine, I one of their least, yet great and a goddess, granted Pelius, love under the sea, beauty, grace infinite: So I crept, at last, a crescent, a curve of a wave, (a man would have thought, had he watched for his nets on the beach) a dolphin, a glistening fish, that burnt and caught for its light, the light of the undercrest of the lifting tide, a fish with silver for breast, with no light but the light of the sea it reflects. Little he would have guessed, (had such a one watched by his nets,) that a goddess flung from the crest of the wave the blue of its own bright tress of hair, the blue of the painted stuff it wore for dress. No man would have known save he, whose coming I sensed as I strung my pearl and agate and pearl, to mark the beat and the stress of the lilt of my song. _Who dreams of a son, save one, childless, having no bright face to flatter its own, who dreams of a son?_ _Nereids under the sea, my sisters, fifty and one_, (_counting myself_) _they dream of a child of water and sea, with hair of the softest, to lie along the curve of fragile, tiny bones, yet more beautiful each than each, hair more bright and long, to rival its own._ _Nereids under the wave, who dreams of a son save I, Thetis, alone?_ _Each would have for a child, a stray self, furtive and wild, to dive and leap to the wind, to wheedle and coax_ _the stray birds bright and bland of foreign strands, to crawl and stretch on the sands, each would have for its own, a daughter for child._ _Who dreams, who sings of a son? I, Thetis, alone._ When I had finished my song, and dropped the last seed-pearl, and flung the necklet about my throat and found it none too bright, not bright enough nor pale enough, not like the moon that creeps beneath the sea, between the lift of crest and crest, had tried it on and found it not quite fair enough to fill the night of my blue folds of bluest dress with moon for light, I cast the beads aside and leapt, myself all blue with no bright gloss of pearls for crescent light; but one alert, all blue and wet, I flung myself, an arrow’s flight, straight upward through the blue of night that was my palace wall, and crept to where I saw the mark of feet, a rare foot-fall: Achilles’ sandal on the beach, could one mistake? perhaps a lover or a nymph, lost from the tangled fern and brake, that lines the upper shelf of land, perhaps a goddess or a nymph might so mistake Achilles’ footprint for the trace of a bright god alert to track the panther where he slinks for thirst across the sand; perhaps a goddess or a nymph, might think a god had crossed the track of weed and drift, had broken here this stem of reed, had turned this sea-shell to the light: So she must stoop, this goddess girl, or nymph, with crest of blossoming wood about her hair for cap or crown, must stoop and kneel and bending down, must kiss the print of such a one. Not I, the mother, Thetis self, I stretched and lay, a river’s slim dark length, a rivulet where it leaves the wood, and meets the sea, I lay along the burning sand, a river’s blue.
Hilda Doolittle's other poems:
English Poetry. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org