Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Asphodel, That Greeny Flower

By William Carlos Williams

Of asphodel, that greeny flower, 
          like a buttercup 
                    upon its branching stem - 
 save that it’s green and wooden - 
          I come, my sweet, 
                    to sing to you.
We lived long together 
          a life filled, 
                    if you will, 
with flowers. 
          So that I was cheered 
                    when I came first to know 
that there were flowers also 
           in hell. 
I’m filled with the fading memory of those flowers 
          that we both loved, 
                    even to this poor 
colorless thing - 
          I saw it 
                    when I was a child - 
little prized among the living 
          but the dead see, 
                    asking among themselves: 
What do I remember 
          that was shaped 
                     as this thing is shaped? 
while our eyes fill 
          with tears. 
                    Of love, abiding love 
it will be telling 
          though too weak a wash of crimson 
                    colors it 
to make it wholly credible. 
          There is something 
                     something urgent 
I have to say to you 
          and you alone 
                    but it must wait 
while I drink in 
           the joy of your approach, 
                    perhaps for the last time. 
And so 
          with fear in my heart 
                    I drag it out 
and keep on talking 
          for I dare not stop. 
                    Listen while I talk on 
against time. 
          It will not be 
                     for long. 
I have forgot 
          and yet I see clearly enough 
central to the sky 
          which ranges round it. 
                    An odor 
springs from it! 
           A sweetest odor! 
                    Honeysuckle! And now 
there comes the buzzing of a bee! 
          and a whole flood 
                    of sister memories! 
Only give me time, 
          time to recall them 
                    before I shall speak out. 
Give me time, 
When I was a boy 
          I kept a book 
                    to which, from time 
to time, 
          I added pressed flowers 
                    until, after a time, 
I had a good collection. 
          The asphodel, 
among them. 
          I bring you, 
a memory of those flowers. 
          They were sweet 
                    when I pressed them 
and retained 
          something of their sweetness 
                     a long time. 
It is a curious odor, 
          a moral odor, 
                    that brings me 
near to you. 
          The color 
                    was the first to go. 
There had come to me 
          a challenge, 
                    your dear self, 
mortal as I was, 
          the lily’s throat 
                    to the hummingbird! 
Endless wealth, 
          I thought, 
                    held out its arms to me. 
A thousand tropics 
          in an apple blossom. 
                    The generous earth itself 
gave us lief. 
          The whole world 
                    became my garden! 
But the sea 
          which no one tends 
                    is also a garden 
when the sun strikes it 
          and the waves 
                    are wakened. 
I have seen it 
          and so have you 
                    when it puts all flowers 
to shame. 
          Too, there are the starfish 
                    stiffened by the sun 
and other sea wrack 
          and weeds. We knew that 
                    along with the rest of it 
for we were born by the sea, 
          knew its rose hedges 
                     to the very water’s brink. 
There the pink mallow grows 
          and in their season 
and there, later, 
          we went to gather 
                     the wild plum. 
I cannot say 
           that I have gone to hell 
                    for your love 
but often 
           found myself there 
                    in your pursuit. 
I do not like it 
          and wanted to be 
                    in heaven. Hear me out. 
Do not turn away. 
I have learned much in my life 
          from books 
                    and out of them 
about love. 
                    is not the end of it. 
There is a hierarchy 
          which can be attained, 
                    I think, 
in its service. 
          Its guerdon 
                    is a fairy flower; 
a cat of twenty lives. 
          If no one came to try it 
                    the world 
would be the loser. 
          It has been 
                    for you and me 
as one who watches a storm 
          come in over the water. 
                    We have stood 
from year to year 
          before the spectacle of our lives 
                    with joined hands. 
The storm unfolds. 
                    plays about the edges of the clouds. 
The sky to the north 
          is placid, 
                    blue in the afterglow 
as the storm piles up. 
          It is a flower 
                    that will soon reach 
the apex of its bloom. 
          We danced, 
                    in our minds, 
and read a book together. 
          You remember? 
                    It was a serious book. 
And so books 
          entered our lives. 
The sea! The sea! 
                   when I think of the sea 
 there comes to mind 
          the Iliad 
                    and Helen’s public fault 
that bred it. 
          Were it not for that 
                    there would have been 
no poem but the world 
          if we had remembered, 
                    those crimson petals 
spilled among the stones, 
          would have called it simply 
The sexual orchid that bloomed then 
          sending so many 
men to their graves 
          has left its memory 
                     to a race of fools 
or heroes 
           if silence is a virtue. 
                    The sea alone 
with its multiplicity 
           holds any hope. 
                    The storm 
has proven abortive 
           but we remain 
                    after the thoughts it roused 
          re-cement our lives. 
                    It is the mind 
the mind 
          that must be cured 
                    short of death’s 
          and the will;postID=83081912703592879 becomes again 
                    a garden. The poem
is complex and the place made 
           in our lives 
                     for the poem. 
Silence can be complex too, 
          but you do not get far 
                    with silence. 
Begin again. 
          It is like Homer’s 
                    catalogue of ships: 
it fills up the time. 
          I speak in figures, 
                    well enough, the dresses 
you wear are figures 
          also, we could not meet 
                    otherwise. When I speak 
of flowers 
          it is to recall
                     that at one time
 we were young. 
          All women are not Helen,
                     I know that, 
but have Helen in their hearts. 
          My sweet, 
                    you have it also, therefore 
I love you 
           and could not love you otherwise. 
                    Imagine you saw 
a field made up of women 
          all silver-white. 
                    What should you do 
but love them? 
          The storm bursts 
                    or fades! it is not 
the end of the world. 
           Love is something else, 
                    or so I thought it, 
a garden which expands, 
           though I knew you as a woman 
                    and never thought otherwise, 
until the whole sea 
          has been taken up 
                    and all its gardens. 
It was the love of love, 
          the love that swallows up all else, 
                    a grateful love, 
a love of nature, of people, 
          of animals, 
                    a love engendering 
gentleness and goodness 
           that moved me 
                    and that I saw in you. 
I should have known, 
          though I did not, 
                    that the lily-of-the-valley 
is a flower makes many ill 
          who whiff it. 
                    We had our children, 
rivals in the general onslaught
           put them aside 
                     though I cared for them. 
as well as any man 
          could care for his children 
                     according to my lights. 
You understand 
          I had to meet you 
                    after the event 
and have still to meet you. 
                     to which you too shall bow 
along with me - 
           a flower 
                    a weakest flower 
shall be our trust 
          and not because 
                    we are too feeble 
to do otherwise 
          but because 
                    at the height of my power 
I risked what I had to do, 
          therefore to prove
                     that we love each other 
while my very bones sweated 
           that I could not cry to you 
                     in the act. 
Of asphodel, that greeny flower, 
           I come, my sweet, 
                    to sing to you! 
My heart rouses 
          thinking to bring you news 
                    of something 
that concerns you 
          and concerns many men. Look at 
                    what passes for the new. 
You will not find it there but in 
          despised poems. 
                    It is difficult 
to get the news from poems 
          yet men die miserably every day 
                     for lack 
of what is found there. 
          Hear me out 
                    for I too am concerned 
and every man 
          who wants to die at peace in his bed 

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