Asphodel, That Greeny Flower

William Carlos Williams 1883 (Rutherford) – 1963 (Rutherford)

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 attain
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Submitted on May 13, 2011


William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Williams was a Latino-American poet closely associated with modernism and imagism. more…

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