Hilda Doolittle


Can we believe -- by an effort 
comfort our hearts: 
it is not waste all this, 
not placed here in disgust, 
street after street, 
each patterned alike, 
no grace to lighten 
a single house of the hundred 
crowded into one garden-space. 

Crowded -- can we believe, 
not in utter disgust, 
in ironical play -- 
but the maker of cities grew faint 
with the beauty of temple 
and space before temple, 
arch upon perfect arch, 
of pillars and corridors that led out 
to strange court-yards and porches 
where sun-light stamped 
black on the pavement. 

That the maker of cities grew faint 
with the splendour of palaces, 
paused while the incense-flowers 
from the incense-trees 
dropped on the marble-walk, 
thought anew, fashioned this -- 
street after street alike. 

For alas, he had crowded the city so full 
that men could not grasp beauty, 
beauty was over them, 
through them, about them, 
no crevice unpacked with the honey, 
rare, measureless.

So he built a new city, 
ah can we believe, not ironically 
but for new splendour 
constructed new people 
to lift through slow growth 
to a beauty unrivalled yet -- 
and created new cells, 
hideous first, hideous now -- 
spread larve across them, 
not honey but seething life. 

And in these dark cells, 
packed street after street, 
souls live, hideous yet -- 
O disfigured, defaced, 
with no trace of the beauty 
men once held so light. 

Can we think a few old cells 
were left -- we are left -- 
grains of honey, 
old dust of stray pollen 
dull on our torn wings, 
we are left to recall the old streets? 

Is our task the less sweet 
that the larve still sleep in their cells? 
Or crawl out to attack our frail strength: 
You are useless. We live. 
We await great events. 
We are spread through this earth. 
We protect our strong race. 
You are useless. 
Your cell takes the place 
of our young future strength. 

Though they sleep or wake to torment 
and wish to displace our old cells -- 
thin rare gold -- 
that their larve grow fat -- 
is our task the less sweet? 

Though we wander about, 
find no honey of flowers in this waste, 
is our task the less sweet -- 
who recall the old splendour, 
await the new beauty of cities? 

The city is peopled 
with spirits, not ghosts, O my love: 

Though they crowded between 
and usurped the kiss of my mouth 
their breath was your gift, 
their beauty, your life.