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H. D. (Hilda Doolittle; 1886-1961)

Cities


              1Can we believe -- by an effort
              2comfort our hearts:
              3it is not waste all this,
              4not placed here in disgust,
              5street after street,
              6each patterned alike,
              7no grace to lighten
              8a single house of the hundred
              9crowded into one garden-space.

            10Crowded -- can we believe,
            11not in utter disgust,
            12in ironical play --
            13but the maker of cities grew faint
            14with the beauty of temple
            15and space before temple,
            16arch upon perfect arch,
            17of pillars and corridors that led out
            18to strange court-yards and porches
            19where sun-light stamped
            20hyacinth-shadows
            21black on the pavement.

            22That the maker of cities grew faint
            23with the splendour of palaces,
            24paused while the incense-flowers
            25from the incense-trees
            26dropped on the marble-walk,
            27thought anew, fashioned this --
            28street after street alike.

            29For alas,
            30he had crowded the city so full
            31that men could not grasp beauty,
            32beauty was over them,
            33through them, about them,
            34no crevice unpacked with the honey,
            35rare, measureless.

            36So he built a new city,
            37ah can we believe, not ironically
            38but for new splendour
            39constructed new people
            40to lift through slow growth
            41to a beauty unrivalled yet --
            42and created new cells,
            43hideous first, hideous now --
            44spread larve across them,
            45not honey but seething life.

            46And in these dark cells,
            47packed street after street,
            48souls live, hideous yet --
            49O disfigured, defaced,
            50with no trace of the beauty
            51men once held so light.

            52Can we think a few old cells
            53were left -- we are left --
            54grains of honey,
            55old dust of stray pollen
            56dull on our torn wings,
            57we are left to recall the old streets?

            58Is our task the less sweet
            59that the larve still sleep in their cells?
            60Or crawl out to attack our frail strength:
            61You are useless. We live.
            62We await great events.
            63We are spread through this earth.
            64We protect our strong race.
            65You are useless.
            66Your cell takes the place
            67of our young future strength.

            68Though they sleep or wake to torment
            69and wish to displace our old cells --
            70thin rare gold --
            71that their larve grow fat --
            72is our task the less sweet?

            73Though we wander about,
            74find no honey of flowers in this waste,
            75is our task the less sweet --
            76who recall the old splendour,
            77await the new beauty of cities?

            78The city is peopled
            79with spirits, not ghosts, O my love:

            80Though they crowded between
            81and usurped the kiss of my mouth
            82their breath was your gift,
            83their beauty, your life.

Notes

44] larve: larvae.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Collected Poems of H.D. (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1925): 59-62. York University Library Special Collections 4928.
First publication date: 1916
Publication date note: Egoist 3 (July 1, 1916): 102-03; also Sea Garden (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1916).
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 2000.
Recent editing: 2:2002/3/21

Rhyme: unrhyming


Other poems by H. D.