by Hilda Doolittle

Hilda Doolittle

As from a temple service, tall and dignified, with slow pace, each a
queen, the sixteen matrons from the temple of Hera pass before the
curtain--a dark purple hung between Ionic columns--of the porch or open
hall of a palace. Their hair is bound as the marble hair of the temple
Hera. Each wears a crown or diadem of gold.

They sing--the music is temple music, deep, simple, chanting notes:

From the closed garden
Where our feet pace
Back and forth each day,
This gladiolus white,
This red, this purple spray--
Gladiolus tall with dignity
As yours, lady--we lay
Before your feet and pray:

Of all the blessings--
Youth, joy, ecstasy--
May one gift last
(As the tall gladiolus may
Outlast the wind-flower,
Winter-rose or rose),
One gift above,
Encompassing all those;

For her, for him,
For all within these palace walls,
Beyond the feast,
Beyond the cry of Hymen and the torch,
Beyond the night and music
Echoing through the porch till day.

The music, with its deep chanting notes, dies away. The curtain hangs
motionless in rich, full folds. Then from this background of darkness,
dignity and solemn repose, a flute gradually detaches itself, becomes
clearer and clearer, pipes alone one shrill, simple little melody.

From the distance, four children's voices blend with the flute, and
four very little girls pass singly before the curtain, small maids or
attendants of the sixteen matrons. Their hair is short and curls at the
back of their heads like the hair of the chryselephantine Hermes. They

Where the first crocus buds unfold
We found these petals near the cold
Swift river-bed.

Beneath the rocks where ivy-frond
Puts forth new leaves to gleam beyond
Those lately dead:

The very smallest two or three
Of gold (gold pale as ivory)
We gatherèd.

When the little girls have passed before the curtain, a wood-wind
weaves a richer note into the flute melody; then the two blend into one
song. But as the wood-wind grows in mellowness and richness, the flute
gradually dies away into a secondary theme and the wood-wind alone
evolves the melody of a new song.

Two by two--like two sets of medallions with twin profiles distinct,
one head slightly higher, bent forward a little--the four figures of
four slight, rather fragile taller children, are outlined with sharp
white contour against the curtain.

The hair is smooth against the heads, falling to the shoulders but
slightly waved against the nape of the neck. They are looking down, each
at a spray of winter-rose. The tunics fall to the knees in sharp marble
folds. They sing:

Never more will the wind
Cherish you again,
Never more will the rain.

Never more
Shall we find you bright
In the snow and wind.

The snow is melted,
The snow is gone,
And you are flown:

Like a bird out of our hand,
Like a light out of our heart,
You are gone.

As the wistful notes of the wood-wind gradually die away, there comes a
sudden, shrill, swift piping.

Free and wild, like the wood-maidens of Artemis, is this last group of
four--very straight with heads tossed back. They sing in rich, free,
swift notes. They move swiftly before the curtain in contrast to the
slow, important pace of the first two groups. Their hair is loose and
rayed out like that of the sun-god. They are boyish in shape and
gesture. They carry hyacinths in baskets, strapped like quivers to their
backs. They reach to draw the flower sprays from the baskets, as the
Huntress her arrows.

As they dart swiftly to and fro before the curtain, they are youth,
they are spring--they are the Chelidonia, their song is the swallow-song
of joy:

Between the hollows
Of the little hills
The spring spills blue--
Turquoise, sapphire, lapis-lazuli
On a brown cloth outspread.

Ah see,
How carefully we lay them now,
Each hyacinth spray,
Across the marble floor--
A pattern your bent eyes
May trace and follow
To the shut bridal door.

Lady, our love, our dear,
Our bride most fair,
They grew among the hollows
Of the hills;
As if the sea had spilled its blue,
As if the sea had risen
From its bed,
And sinking to the level of the shore,
Left hyacinths on the floor.

There is a pause. Flute, pipe and wood-wind blend in a full, rich
movement. There is no definite melody but full, powerful rhythm like
soft but steady wind above forest trees. Into this, like rain, gradually
creeps the note of strings.

As the strings grow stronger and finally dominate the whole, the
bride-chorus passes before the curtain. There may be any number in this
chorus. The figures--tall young women, clothed in long white
tunics--follow one another closely, yet are all distinct like a
procession of a temple frieze.

The bride in the center is not at first distinguishable from her
maidens; but as they begin their song, the maidens draw apart into two
groups, leaving the veiled symbolic figure standing alone in the

The two groups range themselves to right and left like officiating
priestesses. The veiled figure stands with her back against the curtain,
the others being in profile. Her head is swathed in folds of diaphanous
white, through which the features are visible, like the veiled Tanagra.

When the song is finished, the group to the bride's left turns about;
also the bride, so that all face in one direction. In processional form
they pass out, the figure of the bride again merging, not
distinguishable from the maidens.


But of her
Who can say if she is fair?
Bound with fillet,
Bound with myrtle
Underneath her flowing veil,
Only the soft length
(Beneath her dress)
Of saffron shoe is bright
As a great lily-heart
In its white loveliness.


But of her
We can say that she is fair.
We bleached the fillet,
Brought the myrtle;
To us the task was set
Of knotting the fine threads of silk:
We fastened the veil,
And over the white foot
Drew on the painted shoe
Steeped in Illyrian crocus.


But of her,
Who can say if she is fair?
For her head is covered over
With her mantle
White on white,
Snow on whiter amaranth,
Snow on hoar-frost,
Snow on snow,
Snow on whitest buds of myrrh.


But of her,
We can say that she is fair;
For we know underneath
All the wanness,
All the heat
(In her blanched face)
Of desire
Is caught in her eyes as fire
In the dark center leaf
Of the white Syrian iris.

The rather hard, hieratic precision of the music--its stately pause and
beat--is broken now into irregular lilt and rhythm of strings.

Four tall young women, very young matrons, enter in a group. They stand
clear and fair, but this little group entirely lacks the austere
precision of the procession of maidens just preceding them. They pause
in the center of the stage; turn, one three-quarter, two in profile and
the fourth full face; they stand, turned as if confiding in each other
like a Tanagra group.

They sing lightly, their flower trays under their arms.

Along the yellow sand
Above the rocks
The laurel-bushes stand.
Against the shimmering heat
Each separate leaf
Is bright and cold,
And through the bronze
Of shining bark and wood
Run the fine threads of gold.

Here in our wicker-trays,
We bring the first faint blossoming
Of fragrant bays:

Lady, their blushes shine
As faint in hue
As when through petals
Of a laurel-rose
The sun shines through,
And throws a purple shadow
On a marble vase.

(Ah, love,
So her fair breasts will shine
With the faint shadow above.)

The harp chords become again more regular in simple definite rhythm.
The music is not so intense as the bride-chorus; and quieter, more
sedate, than the notes preceding the entrance of the last group.

Five or six slightly older serene young women enter in processional
form; each holding before her, with precise bending of arms, coverlets
and linen, carefully folded, as if for the bride couch. The garments are
purple, scarlet and deep blue, with edge of gold.

They sing to blending of wood-wind and harp.

From citron-bower be her bed,
Cut from branch of tree a-flower,
Fashioned for her maidenhead.

From Lydian apples, sweet of hue,
Cut the width of board and lathe.
Carve the feet from myrtle-wood.

Let the palings of her bed
Be quince and box-wood overlaid
With the scented bark of yew.

That all the wood in blossoming,
May calm her heart and cool her blood
For losing of her maidenhood.

The wood-winds become more rich and resonant. A tall youth crosses the
stage as if seeking the bride door. The music becomes very rich, full of

The figure itself is a flame, an exaggerated symbol; the hair a flame;
the wings, deep red or purple, stand out against the curtains in a
contrasting or almost clashing shade of purple. The tunic, again a rich
purple or crimson, falls almost to the knees. The knees are bare; the
sandals elaborately strapped over and over. The curtain seems a rich
purple cloud, the figure, still brighter, like a flamboyant bird, half
emerged in the sunset.

Love pauses just outside the bride's door with his gift, a tuft of
black-purple cyclamen. He sings to the accompaniment of wood-winds, in a
rich, resonant voice:

The crimson cover of her bed
Is not so rich, nor so deeply bled
The purple-fish that dyed it red,
As when in a hot sheltered glen
There flowered these stalks of cyclamen:

(Purple with honey-points
Of horns for petals;
Sweet and dark and crisp,
As fragrant as her maiden kiss.)

There with his honey-seeking lips
The bee clings close and warmly sips,
And seeks with honey-thighs to sway
And drink the very flower away.

(Ah, stern the petals drawing back;
Ah rare, ah virginal her breath!)

Crimson, with honey-seeking lips,
The sun lies hot across his back,
The gold is decked across his wings.
Quivering he sways and quivering clings
(Ah, rare her shoulders drawing back!)
One moment, then the plunderer slips
Between the purple flower-lips.

Love passes out with a crash of cymbals. There is a momentary pause and
the music falls into its calm, wave-like rhythm.

A band of boys passes before the curtain. They pass from side to side,
crossing and re-crossing; but their figures never confuse one another,
the outlines are never blurred. They stand out against the curtain with
symbolic gesture, stooping as if to gather up the wreaths, or swaying
with long stiff branch as if to sweep the fallen petals from the

There is no marked melody from the instruments, but the boys' voices,
humming lightly as they enter, gradually evolve a little dance song.
There are no words but the lilt up and down of the boys' tenor voices.

Then, as if they had finished the task of gathering up the wreaths and
sweeping the petals, they stand in groups of two before the pillars
where the torches have been placed. They lift the torches from the
brackets. They hold them aloft between them, one torch to each two boys.
Their figures are cut against the curtain like the simple, triangular
design on the base of a vase or frieze--the boys' heads on a level, the
torches above them.

They sing in clear, half-subdued voices.

Where love is king,
Ah, there is little need
To dance and sing,
With bridal-torch to flare
Amber and scatter light
Across the purple air,
To sing and dance
To flute-note and to reed.

Where love is come
(Ah, love is come indeed!)
Our limbs are numb
Before his fiery need;
With all their glad
Rapture of speech unsaid,
Before his fiery lips
Our lips are mute and dumb.

Ah, sound of reed,
Ah, flute and trumpet wail,
Ah, joy decreed--
The fringes of her veil
Are seared and white;
Across the flare of light,
Blinded the torches fail.
(Ah, love is come indeed!)

At the end of the song, the torches flicker out and the figures are no
longer distinguishable in the darkness. They pass out like shadows. The
purple curtain hangs black and heavy.

The music dies away and is finally cut short with a few deep, muted

Last updated August 18, 2022