The Shrine

by Hilda Doolittle

Hilda Doolittle



Are your rocks shelter for ships--
have you sent galleys from your beach,
are you graded--a safe crescent--
where the tide lifts them back to port--
are you full and sweet,
tempting the quiet
to depart in their trading ships?

Nay, you are great, fierce, evil--
you are the land-blight--
you have tempted men
but they perished on your cliffs.

Your lights are but dank shoals,
slate and pebble and wet shells
and seaweed fastened to the rocks.

It was evil--evil
when they found you,
when the quiet men looked at you--
they sought a headland
shaded with ledge of cliff
from the wind-blast.

But you--you are unsheltered,
cut with the weight of wind--
you shudder when it strikes,
then lift, swelled with the blast--
you sink as the tide sinks,
you shrill under hail, and sound
thunder when thunder sounds.
You are useless--
when the tides swirl
your boulders cut and wreck
the staggering ships.


You are useless,
O grave, O beautiful,
the landsmen tell it--I have heard--
you are useless.

And the wind sounds with this
and the sea
where rollers shot with blue
cut under deeper blue.

O but stay tender, enchanted
where wave-lengths cut you
apart from all the rest--
for we have found you,
we watch the splendour of you,
we thread throat on throat of freesia
for your shelf.

You are not forgot,
O plunder of lilies,
honey is not more sweet
than the salt stretch of your beach.


but terror has caught us now,
we passed the men in ships,
we dared deeper than the fisher-folk
and you strike us with terror
O bright shaft.

Flame passes under us
and sparks that unknot the flesh,
sorrow, splitting bone from bone,
splendour athwart our eyes
and rifts in the splendour,
sparks and scattered light.

Many warned of this,
men said:
there are wrecks on the fore-beach,
wind will beat your ship,
there is no shelter in that headland,
it is useless waste, that edge,
that front of rock--
sea-gulls clang beyond the breakers,
none venture to that spot.


But hail--
as the tide slackens,
as the wind beats out,
we hail this shore--
we sing to you,
spirit between the headlands
and the further rocks.

Though oak-beams split,
though boats and sea-men flounder,
and the strait grind sand with sand
and cut boulders to sand and drift--

your eyes have pardoned our faults,
your hands have touched us--
you have leaned forward a little
and the waves can never thrust us back
from the splendour of your ragged coast.

Last updated August 29, 2017