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More poems by William Carlos WilliamsWilliam Carlos Williams | Print this page.Print | View and Write CommentsComments | Books by William Carlos WilliamsBooks by William Carlos Williams

from "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"

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 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.
          I 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

Added: 6 Sep 2001 | Last Read: 22 Sep 2020 7:52 PM | Viewed: 19784 times

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URL: http://plagiarist.com/poetry/1334/ | Viewed on 22 September 2020.
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