Hilda Doolittle





May 1943

I
You may say this is no poem
but I 
will remember this hour
till I die:

the clock from the old bell-tower
says two
but the sun climbing in the sky-clock
points noon,

exactly noon; May 14
says the calendar,
and the steps of William’s orangery
at Kensington,
become the Venetian doge’s water-stair:

exact perfection,
I am 56,
the may-trees blossom:

the wall-door under the chestnut-tree 
that I nor anyone else ever saw open,
opens and lets out a carpenter:

he has his chisel,
I have my pencil:

he mends the broken window-frame of the orangery,
I mend a break in time.

II
Do you remember over there,
how a sparrow got caught
in the lily-roots
(fleur-de-lis or water-lily)
of King William IVth’s water –trough,
in Dutch William’s Dutch garden?

do you remember how you leapt
the fast-locked iron-gate,
and where no profane foot was ever set
(and only the head-gardener’s 
sacrosanct under-gardener’s 
favourites might potter)
you untangled the sparrow’s foot
from the threads of the lily-root?

III
A canoe slips from under a rhododendron-bush,
or is it Danielli’s gondola,
trailing its purple stuff?

the old clock ticks,
but I hear drop-drop of an older water-clock;
the leaves whisper,
or is it a card-game in the orangery?
bright ghosts?
is it sun-light or jets of the candle-points
on the unbroken window-panes?
here is one whole,
here is one nicely set with matchbox wood,
or varnished cardboard,
so the uneven squares make patch-work;
humanity returns
to this exquisite untidy place,
and oddly with humanity the fashionable ghosts 
come back;

is it clock-tick?
is it the snip-snap of a snuff –box?
or a patch-box?
is it an older water-clock?
is it the delicate, only-just perceptible whisper
of the hour-glass?

is it a later fashionable hour-glass lady?
or merely a box-tree?
is it a lady in a hoop or is it a box-tree peacock?

this placard announces:
The damage to this room is part of the
destruction caused by German incendiary bombs
dropped on Kensington Palace, 14 October, 1940;

but enemy action has not driven away
the happy ghosts
somehow it has brought them back;

this is not a poem
only a day to remember,
I say the war is over . . .
the war is over . . .

IV
He said (last winter),
these people have the advantage over us,
and I was sorry, God knows I was sorry enough;
the burnt-red of Texas or the sun-burnt bronze
of his Arizona desert
had not had time to wear off,
and the rest of them stood in the rain,
a neat line waiting,
not saying anything,
but he barked from a young angry throat,
these people have the advantage:

so we did, so we had,
we shuffled along in the rain,
a dingy crowd
with fish-baskets, old rain-coats,
funny umbrellas, a motley host,
dim, undistinguished, water-rats
in the water,
land-rats in the gutter.

V
These people have the advantage over us,
did he speak for himself or for
the rest of the rest of the bronze giants?
I wanted to stop, slithered along,
web-footed, trying to work out in that moment,
whether it were better to stop, to speak,
but I was embarrassed by the neat row of them,
drawn up on the pavement,
and what would I say anyway?
I wanted to say I was sorry,
actually thinking of them,
not of us.

VI
I wanted to say I was sorry,
but why should I? but anyway
I did want to say I was sorry,
but how could I? who was I?
I wanted to say, yes, we’re used to it,
we have the advantage,
you’re new to it;
we’ve slithered so long in the rain,
prowled like cats in the dark,
like owls in the black-out,
look at us—anaemic, good-natured,
for a rat in the gutter’s a rat in the gutter,
consider our fellowship,
look at each one of us,
we’ve grown alike, slithering,
slipping along with fish-baskets,
grey faces, fish-faces, frog gait,
we slop, we hop,
we’re off to the bread-queue,
the meat-shop, the grocery,
an egg?—really madam—maybe to-morrow—
one here—one there—another one over there
is heroic (who’d know it?)
heroic? no bronze face—

no
      no
            no
what am I saying?

VII
It was Goldie, that was her vulgar name,
(one of these was her mother);
better move over,
the fire-man said, miss,
getting a bit hot, miss,
(look out
	          look out
	                           wall!)
better run your little bus
around the other side,
cigarette miss?
he offered her a cigarette
because . . . he thought . . . for a minute . . .
he might push her out of it . . .
it’s no use Frank, that’s Goldie—
what of it? she’s a kid,
she’s too young—shut up,
all the kids are in it.

Goldie wouldn’t move away,
she was told to stay.

VIII
Goldie had her picture
in a little exhibition,
Goldie was in the news
for half a second,
Goldie had her little job,
ambulance?
                     mobile canteen?
                                                 extra fire-girl?
I don’t know,
I only just remember
the caption,
a line and a half,
below the newspaper photograph,
which said:

known as Goldie
because of her 
fair
hair,
she was found sitting upright
at the wheel of her emergency car,
dead.

IX
Goldie was one of us,
we are one with Goldie;
Arizona desert,
Texas and Arkinsaw,
how could you know,
you did not see
what we saw:

Goldie was only one,
Goldie’s all around us,
gutter-rats,
land-rats,
look at us,
slop flop,
stop hop,
past Arkinsaw, Kansas
drawn up on the pavement:

no one will tell you;
only I, one of you,
one of them,
know the rune,
only I can play the tune,
make the song,
tell the story
of Goldie:

Goldie made the words come true,
the sun never sets on . . .
anaemic faces in the line
waiting in the bread-queue.

X
The reason is:

rats leave the sinking ship
but we . . .
	we . . .
didn’t leave,
so the ship
didn’t sink,
and that’s madness,
Lear’s song,
that’s Touchstone’s forest-jest,
that’s Swan of Avon logic:

the ship didn’t sink
because the rats knew 
the timber true:

the ship-rats hop flop
along the pavement-deck a-wash,
O Kansas, O Arkinsaw,

Goldie wouldn’t move away,
Goldie was told to stay.

XI
Frog faces,
frog lust,
frog bellies
in the dust,
till unexpected flame
gave you another name:

(there’s the siren wail again,
May 15;
by the clock,
near 6,
that’s 4
by the sun): 

frog faces,
frog lust.
frog bellies
in the dust
of the Last Judgment Day:

when winter-fog is gone,
the frogs sits in the sun,
and now you can see
strawberry-leaves
on a crown,
a lion,
a unicorn:

now you can clearly see
what frogs in the sun
become:

salamanders in the flame,
heraldic wings surround the name
English from Englisc from
Engle, Angle
from the Angles who settled
in Briton.

XII
Now you can clearly see
why I sing this mystery
of Goldie, Angel in the sun,
of Goldie up with the fire-alarm,

now this stocking,
now the other shoe on,

of Goldie who ran and chaffed
the telephone-girl because she laughed
at Goldie lazy
but up with the gong:

sea-nymphs hourly ring his kneel
(hers rather—Goldie’s--)
ding
           dong
                        bell.

XIII
Goldilocks, Goldilocks let down your hair,
for we have never seen anywhere
a thread so delicate, spun so fair:

Goldie in a tissue-paper frock
hunts for strawberries in the snow,
or was that another? anyhow

Goldie or Gretel in woollen socks
scatters bread-crumbs to show the way
through the dark forest, or did you say

a Saint with Halo beside a wheel
is set on an altar where people kneel,
to take their bread from a priest, instead

of Gretel who changed her crumbs
for pebbles? the pebbles lay like little shells
under green-boughs that swayed like water,

while over and through it swam sea-girls;
the youngest princess begged feet for fins,
Goldie, Gretel or Saint Catherine?