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Poem by Hilda Doolittle


Thetis


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 arrows 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 rivers slim
dark length,
a rivulet where it leaves the wood,
and meets the sea,
I lay along the burning sand,
a rivers blue.



Hilda Doolittle


Hilda Doolittle's other poems:
  1. We Two
  2. Lais
  3. Heliodora
  4. Nossis
  5. Centaur Song


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