Hilda Doolittle

Tribute to the Angels

           To Osbert Sitwell

...possibly we will reach haven,

Hermes Trismegistus
is patron of alchemists;

his province is thought, 
inventive, artful and curious;

his metal is quicksilver,
his clients, orators, thieves and poets;

steal then, O orator,
plunder, O poet,

take what the old-church
found in Mithra’s tomb,

candle and script and bell,
take what the new-church spat upon

and broke and shattered;
collect the fragments of the splintered glass

and of your fire and breath,
melt down and integrate,

re-invoke, re-create
opal, onyx, obsidian,

now scattered in the shards
men tread upon.

Your walls do not fall, he said,
because you walls are made of jasper;

but not four-square, I thought,
another shape (octahedron?)

slipped into the place
reserved by rule and rite

for the twelve foundations,
for the transparent glass,

for no need of the sun
nor moon to shine;

for the vision as we see
or have seen or imagined it

or in the past invoked
or conjured up or had conjured

by another was usurped;
I saw the shape

which might have been of jasper,
but it was not four-square.

I John saw. I testify;
if any man shall add

God shall add unto him the plagues,
but he that sat upon the throne said,

I make all things new.
I John saw. I testify,

but I make all things new,
said He of the seven stars,

he of the seventy-times-seven
passionate, bitter wrongs,

He of of the seventy-times-seven
bitter, unending wars.

Not in our time, O Lord,
the plowshare for the sword,

not in our time, the knife,
sated with life-blood and life,

to trim the barren vine;
no grape-leaf for the thorn,

no vine-flower for the crown;
not in our time, O King,

the voice to quell the re-gathering,
thundering storm.

Nay — peace be still —
lovest thou not Azrael,

the last and greatest, Death?
lovest not the sun,

the first who giveth life,
Raphael? lovest thou me?

lover of sand and shell,
know who withdraws the veil,

holds back the tide and shapes
shells to the wave-shapes? Gabriel:

Raphael, Gabriel, Azrael,
three of seven — what is War

to Birth, to Change, to Death?
yet he, red-fire is one of seven fires,

judgement and will of God,
God’s very breath — Uriel.

Never in Rome,
so many martyrs fell;

not in Jerusalem,
never in Thebes,

so many stood and watched
chariot-wheels turning.

saw with their very eyes,
the battle of the Titans,

saw Zeus’s thunderbolts in action
and how from giant hands,

the lightning shattered earth
and splintered sky, nor fled

to hide in caves,
but with unbroken will,

with unbowed head, watched
and though unaware, worshipped

and knew not that they worshipped
and that they were

that which they worshipped,
had they known the fire

of strength, endurance, anger
in their hearts,

was part of that same fire
that in a candle on a candle-stick

or in a star,
is known as one of seven,

is named among the seven angels,

To Uriel, no shrine, no temple
where the red death fell,

no image by the city-gate,
no torch to shine across the water,

no new fane in the market-place:
the lane is empty but the leveled wall

is purple as with purple spread
upon an altar,

this is the flowering of the rood,
this is the flowering of the reed,

where, Uriel, we pause to give
thanks that we rise again from death and live.

Now polish the crucible
and in the bowl distill

a word most bitter, marah,
a word bitterer still, mar,

sea, brine, breaker, seducer,
gover of life, giver of tears,

now polish the crucible
and set the jet of flame

under, till marah-mar
are melted, fuse and join

and change and alter,
mer, mere, mère, mater, Maia, Mary,

Star of the Sea,

Bitter, bitter jewel
in the heart of the bowl,

what is your colour?
what do you offer

to us who rebel?
what were we had you loved other?

what is this mother-father
to tear at our entrails?

what is this unsatisfied duality
which you can not satisfy?

In the field-furrow
the rain water

showed splintered edge
as of a broken mirror,

and in the glass
as in a polished spear,

glowed the star Hesperus,
white, far and luminous,

incandescent and near,
Venus, Aphrodite, Astarte,

star of the east,
star of the west,

Phosphorus at sun-rise,
Hesperus at sun-set.

O swiftly, re-light the flame
before the substance cool,

for suddenly we saw your name
desecrated; knaves and fools

have done you impious wrong,
Venus, for venery stands for impurity

and Venus as desire
is venereous, lascivious,

while the very root of the word shrieks
like a mandrake when foul witches pull

its stem at midnight,
and rare mandragora itself

is full, they say, of poison,
food for the witches’ den.

Swiftly re-light the flame,
Aphrodite, holy name,

Astarte, hull and spar
of wrecked ships lost your star,

forgot the light at dusk,
forgot the prayer at dawn;

return, O holiest one,
Venus whose name is kin

to venerate,

“What is the jewel colour?”
green-white, opalescent,

with under-layer of changing blue,
with rose-vein; a white agate

with a pulse uncooled that beats yet,
faint blue-violet;

it lives, it breathes,
it gives off—fragrance?

I do not know what it gives,
a vibration that we can not name

for there is no name for it;
my patron said, “name it”;

I said, I cannot name it,
there is no name;

he said,
“invent it.”

I cannot invent it,
I said it was agate,

I said it lived, it gave—
fragrance—was near enough

to explain that quality
for which there is no name;

I do not want to name it,
I want to watch its faint

heart-beat, pulse-beat
as it quivers, I do not want

to talk about it,
I want to minimize thought,

concentrate on it
till I shrink,

and am drawn into it.

Annael—this was another voice,
hardly a voice, a breath, a whisper,

and I remembered bell-notes,
Azrael, Gabriel, Raphael,

as when in Venice, one of the campanili
speaks and another answers,

until it seems the whole city (Venice-Venus)
will be covered with gold pollen shaken

from the bell-towers, lilies plundered
with the weight of massive bees…

Annael—and I remembered the sea-shell
and I remembered the empty lane

and I thought again of people,
daring the blinding rage

of the lightning, and I thought,
there is no shrine, no temple

in the city for that other, Uriel,
and I knew his companion,

companion of the fire-to-endure
was another fire, another candle,

was another of seven,
named among the seven Angels,

peace of God.

So we hail them together,
one to contrast the other,

two of the seven Spirits,
set before God

as lamps on the high-altar,
for one must inexorably

take fire from the other
as spring from winter,

and surely never, never 
was a spring more bountiful

than this; never, never 
was a season more beautiful,

richer in leaf and colour,
tell me, in what other place

will you find the may flowering
mulberry and rose-purple?

tell me, in what other city
will you find the may-tree

so delicate, green-white, opalescent
like our jewel in the crucible?

For Uriel, no temple
but everywhere,

the outer precincts and the squares
are fragrant;

the festival opens as before
with the dove’s murmuring;

for Uriel, no temple
but Love’s sacred groves,

withered in Thebes and Tyre,
flower elsewhere.

We see her visible and actual,
beauty incarnate,

as no high-priest of Astoroth
could compel her

with incense
and potent spell;

we asked for no sign
but she gave a sign unto us;

sealed with the seal of death,
we thought not to entreat her

but prepared us for burial;
then she set a charred tree before us,

burnt and stricken to the heart;
was it may-tree or apple?

Invisible, indivisible Spirit,
how is it you come so near,

how is it that we dare
approach the high-altar?

we crossed the charred portico,
passed through a frame—doorless—

entered a shrine; like a ghost,
we entered a house through a wall;

then still not knowing
whether (like the wall)

we were there or not-there,
we saw the tree flowering;

it was an ordinary tree
in an old garden-square.

This is no rune nor riddle,
it is happening everywhere;

what I mean is—it is so simple
yet no trick of the pen or brush

could capture that impression;
music could do nothing with it,

nothing whatever; what I mean is—
but you have seen for yourself

that burnt-out wood crumbling…
you have seen for yourself.

A new sensation
is not granted to everyone,

not to everyone everywhere,
but to us here, a new sensation

strikes paralyzing,
strikes dumb,

strikes the senses numb,
sets the nerves quivering;

I am sure you see
what I mean;

it was an old tree
such as we see everywhere,

anywhere here—and some barrel staves
and some bricks

and an edge of the wall
uncovered and the naked ugliness

and then…music? O, what I meant
by music when I said music, was—

music sets up ladders,
it makes us invisible,

it sets us apart,
it lets us escape;

but from the visible
there is no escape;

there is no escape from the spear
that pierces the heart.

We are part of it;
we admit the transubstantiation,

not God merely in bread
but God in the other-half of the tree

that looked dead—
did I bow my head?

did I weep? my eyes saw,
it was not a dream

yet it was vision,
it was a sign,

it was the Angel which redeemed me,
it was the Holy Ghost—

a half-burnt-out apple-tree

this is the flowering of the rood,
this is the flowering of the rood,

where Annael, we pause to give
thanks that we rise again from death and live.

Every hour, every moment
has its specific attendant Spirit;

the clock-hand, minute by minute,
ticks round its prescribed orbit;

but this curious mechanical perfection
should not separate but relate rather,our life, 

this temporary eclipse
to that other…

…of the no need
of the moon to shine in it.

for it was ticking minute by minute
(the clock at my bed-head,

with its dim, luminous disc)
when the Lady knocked;

I was talking casually
with friends in the other room,

when we saw the outer hall
grow lighter—then we saw where the door was,

there was no door
(this was a dream, of course),

and she was standing there,
actually, at the turn of the stair.

One of us said, how odd,
she is actually standing there,

I wonder what brought her?
another of us said,

have we some power between us,
we three together,

that acts as a sort of magnet,
that attracts the super-natural?

(yet it was all natural enough,
we agreed);

I do not know what I said
or if I said anything,

for before I had time to speak,
I realized I had been dreaming

that I lay awake now on my bed,
that the luminous light

was the phosphorescent face
of my little clock

and the faint knocking
was the clock ticking.

And yet in some very subtle way,
she was there more than ever,

as if she had miraculously
related herself to time here,

which is no easy trick, difficult
even for the experienced stranger,

of whom we must be not forgetful
for some have entertained angels unawares.

I had been thinking of Gabriel,
of the moon-cycle, of the moon-shell,

of the moon-crescent
and the moon at full:

I had been thinking of Gabriel,
the moon-regent, the Angel,

and I had intended to recall him
in the sequence of candle and fire

and the law of the seven;
I had not forgotten

his special attribute
of annunciator; I had thought

to address him as I had the others,
Uriel, Annael;

how could I imagine
the Lady herself would come instead?

We have seen her
the world over,

Our Lady of the Goldfinch,
Our Lady of the Candelabra,

Our Lady of the Pomegranate,
Our Lady of the chair;

we have seen her, an empress,
magnificent in pomp and grace,

and we have seen her
with a single flower

or a cluster of garden-pinks
in a glass beside her;

we have seen her snood
drawn over hair,

or her face set in profile
with the blue hood and stars;

we have seen her head bowed down
with the weight of a domed crown,

or we have seen her, a wisp of a girl
trapped in a golden halo;

we have seen her with arrow, with doves
and a heart like a valentine;

we have seen her in fines silks imported
from all over the Levant,

and hung with pearls brought
from the city of Constantine;

we have seen her sleeve
of every imaginable shade

of damask and figured brocade;
it is true,

the painters did very well by her;
it is true, they missed never a line

of the suave turn of the head
or subtle shade of lowered eye-lid

or eye-lids half-raised; you find
her everywhere (or did find),

in cathedral, museum, cloister,
at the turn of the palace stair.

We see her hand in her lap,
smoothing the apple-green

or the apple-russet silk;
we see her hand at her throat,

fingering a talisman
brought by a crusader from Jerusalem;

we see her hand unknot a Syrian veil
or lay down a Venetian shawl

on a polished table that reflects
half a miniature broken column;

we see her stare past a mirror
through an open window,

where boat follows slow boat on the lagoon;
there are white flowers on the water.

But none of these, none of these
suggest her as I saw her,

though we approach possibly
something of her cool beneficence

in the gracious friendliness
of the marble sea-maids in Venice,

who climb the altar-stair
at Santa Maria dei Miracoli,

or we acclaim her in the name
of another in Vienna,

Mari von dem Schnee,
Our Lady of the Snow.

For I can say truthfully,
her veils white as snow,

so as no fuller on earth 
can white them; I can say

she looked beautiful, she looked lovely,
she was clothed with a garment

down to the foot, but it was not
girt about with a golden girdle,

there was no gold, no color,
there was no gleam in the stuff

nor shadow of hem and seam,
as it fell to the floor; she bore

none of her usual attributes;
the Child was not with her.

Hermes took his attribute
of Leader-of-the-dead from Thoth

and the T-cross becomes caduceus;
the old-church makes its invocation

to Saint Michael and Our Lady
at the death-bed; Hermes Trismegistus

spears, with Saint Michael
the darkness of ignorance,

casts the Old Dragon
into the abyss.

So Saint Michael,
regent of the planet Mercury,

is not absent
when we summon the other Angels,

another candle appears
on the high-altar,

it burns with a potent flame
but quivers

and quickens and darkens
and quickens again;

remember to was Thoth
with a feather

who weighed the souls
of the dead.

So she must have been pleased with us,
who did not forgo our heritage

at the grave-edge;
she must have been pleased

with the straggling company of the brush and quill
who did not deny their birthright;

she must have been pleased with us,
for she looked so kindly at us

under her drift of veils,
and she carried a book.

Ah (you say), this is Holy Wisdom,
Santa Sophia, the SS of the Sanctus Spiritus,

so by facile reasoning, logically
the incarnate symbol of the Holy Ghost;

your Holy Ghost was an apple-tree
smouldering—or rather now burgeoning

with flowers; the fruit of the Tree?
this is the new Eve who comes

clearly to return, to retrieve
what she lost the race,

given over to sin, to death;
she brings back the Book of Life, obviously.

This is a symbol of beauty (you continue),
she is Our Lady universally,

I see her as you project her,
not out of place

flanked by Corinthian capitals,
or in a Coptic nave,

or frozen above the centre door
of a Gothic cathedral;

you have done very well by her
(to repeat your own phrase),

you have carved her tall and unmistakable,
a hieratic figure, the veiled Goddess,

whether of the seven delights,
whether of the seven spear-points.

O yes—you understand, I say,
this is all most satisfactory,

but she wasn’t hieratic, she wasn’t frozen,
she wasn’t very tall;

she is the Vestal
from the days of Numa,

she carries over the cult
of the Bona Dea,

she carries a book but it is not
the tome of ancient wisdom,

the pages, I imagine, are the blank pages
of the unwritten volume of the new;

all you say, is implicit,
all that and much more;

but she is not shut up in a cave
like a Sibyl; she is not

imprisoned in leaden bars
in a coloured window;

she is Psyche, the butterfly,
out of the cocoon.

But nearer than Guardian Angel
or good Daemon,

she is the counter-coin-side
of primitive terror;

she is not-fear, she is not-war,
but she is no symbolic figure

of peace, charity, chastity, goodness,
faith, hope, reward;

she is not Justice with eyes
blindfolded like Love’s;

I grant you the dove’s symbolic purity,
I grant you her face was innocent

and immaculate and her veils
like the Lamb’s Bride,

but the Lamb was not with her,
either as Bridegroom or Child;

her attention is undivided,
we are her bridegroom and lamb;

her book is our book; written
or unwritten, its pages will reveal

a tale of a Fisherman,
a tale of a jar or jars,

the same—different—the same attributes,
different yet the same as before.

This is no rune nor symbol,
what I mean is—it is so simple

yet no trick of the pen or brush
could capture that impression;

what I wanted to indicate was 
a new phase, a new distinction of colour;

I wanted to say, I did say
there was no sheen, no reflection,

no shadow; when I said white,
I did not mean sculptor’s or painter’s white,

nor porcelain; dim-white could
not suggest it, for when

is fresh-fallen snow (or snow
in the act of falling) dim?

yet even now, we stumble, we are lost—
what can we say?

she was not impalpable like a ghost,
she was not awe-inspiring like a Spirit,

she was not even over-whelming
like an Angel.

She carried a book, either to imply
she was one of us, with us,

or to suggest she was satisfied
with our purpose, a tribute to the Angels;

yet though the campanili spoke,
Gabriel, Azrael,

though the campanili answered,
Raphael, Uriel,

though a distant note over-water
chimed Annael, and Michael

was implicit from the beginning,
another, deep, un-named, resurging bell

answered, sounding through them all:
remember, where there was

no need of the moon to shine…
I saw no temple.

Some call that deep-deep bell
Zadkiel, the righteousness of God,

he is regent of Jupiter
or Zeus-pater or Theus-pater,

Theus, God; God-the-father, father-god,
or the Angel god-father,

himself, heaven yet at home in a star
whose colour is amethyst,

whose candle burns deep-violet
with the others.

And the point in the spectrum
where all lights become one,

is white and white is not no-colour,
as we were told as children,

but all-colour;
where the flames mingle

and the wings meet, when we gain
the arc of perfection,

we are satisfied, we are happy,
we begin again;

I John saw. I testify
to rainbow feathers, to the span of heaven,

and walls of colour,
the colonnades of jasper;

but when the jewel
melts in the crucible,

we find not ashes, not ash-of-rose,
not a tall vase and a staff of lilies,

not vas spirituale,
not rosa mystica even,

but a cluster of garden-pinks
or a face like a Christmas-rose.

This is the flowering of the rod,
this is the flowering of the burnt-out-wood,

where, Zadkiel, we pause to give
thanks that we rise again from death and live.

May 17-31, 1944