"When an unprejudiced literary history of our century comes to be written, our
failure to recognize Elizabeth Daryush will be one of the most telling and
lamentable charges that can be laid at our door. The cold silence that has
prevailed about her work, through one decade after another, is so total that
there can be no question of fixing the blame here or there, finding scapegoats.
We are all at fault, in a way which points therefore to some really deep-seated
frivolity, superficiality, cynicism through several generations of readers of
English poetry."—Donald Davie
by Elizabeth Daryush
Through the open French window the warm sun
lights up the polished breakfast-table, laid
round a bowl of crimson roses, for one —
a service of Worcester porcelain, arrayed
near it a melon, peaches, figs, small hot
rolls in a napkin, fairy rack of toast,
butter in ice, high silver coffee-pot,
and, heaped on a silver salver, the morning’s post.
She comes over the lawn, the young heiress,
from her early walk in her garden-wood,
feeling that life’s a table set to bless
her delicate desires with all that’s good,
that even the unopened future lies
like a love-letter, full of sweet surprise.
Elizabeth Daryush was born Elizabeth Bridges, the daughter of British Poet
Laureate Robert Bridges. In addition to Donald Davie, she had at least one other passionate champion in Yvor
Winters. And Winters was especially a fan of the poem above, saying in an essay:
"If we regard the subject-matter of this poem, we find something rather curious:
the matter explicitly described implies, largely through the ominous and
melancholy tone, a social context which is nowhere mentioned, yet from which the
poem draws its power, a power which is not only real but great. This implication
probably reaches its most intense impression in the two lines, unforgettable in
the melancholy of their cadence, which open the sestet; but was never absent."
According to Winters, the former Elizabeth Bridges was a child of privilege who
became "increasingly conscious ... of social injustice, of the mass of human
suffering." Thus we may take her "delicate desires" and her hopes of a "sweet
surprise" to be in for a rude awakening.
Is it possible that Elizabeth Bridges Daryush emulated William Blake by
writing Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience? Is this, perhaps, a companion poem to
Children of Wealth
Children of wealth in your warm nursery,
Set in the cushioned window-seat to watch
The volleying snow, guarded invisibly
By the clear double pane through which no touch
Untimely penetrates, you cannot tell
What winter means; its cruel truths to you
Are only sound and sight; your citadel
Is safe from feeling, and from knowledge too.
Go down, go out to elemental wrong,
Waste your too round limbs, tan your skin too white;
The glass of comfort, ignorance, seems strong
To-day, and yet perhaps this very night
You’ll wake to horror’s wrecking fire — your home
Is wired within for this, in every room.
Donald Davie has suggested such a possibility, that the two poems are companion
pieces. I'm not convinced either way, but perhaps it doesn't matter. What does
seem evident is that the poet at some point recognized the insulating "double
pane" (perhaps a pun on "pain"?) for what it really was. It bears noting that
the first poem is written in rare syllabic meter, while the second poem is
written in more orthodox accentual-syllabic meter. Davie seems to find that
meaningful, but I'm not so sure. What seems more meaningful to me is the
contrast between the attitudes of the speakers in the two poems. The speaker in
the first poem sounds quite content with luxury and refinement. She's ready and
willing to believe in the illusion. The speaker in the second poem has opened
her eyes to reality. She realizes that she has been insulated from the reality of winter by her
double-paned windows. The illusion is that she is "safe" from both feeling and knowledge. But beyond
that illusion lies the "horror's wrecking fire."
It's a poem that may predict something like the French Revolution within the
"heavily insulated" palaces of Buckingham and Mar-a-Lago.
Alarming and perhaps prophetic messages aside, the meter of the first poem
raises an interesting question, as posited by Davie: "And as for the syllabics of
'Still-Life', since in most readers' ears they are indistinguishable from free
verse, the gauntlet that Yvor Winters threw down in 1937 still lies where he
cast it: 'One imagines that the medium could not be used with greater beauty
than in this poem; there is certainly nothing in the work of the American
masters of free verse to surpass it. and there is little to equal it." Once
I'm not quite convinced. If the sounds are indistinguishable, how is the beauty
of one vastly superior to the other? Does the pleasing-ness of the first poem
have more to do, perhaps, with the quality of the sounds than the quantity?
That would be my guess, and I don't intend to start counting syllables myself. I
would venture, rather, that Daryush was a master of English poetic meter. For
Along the iron rails
Plod still with panting power,
Range still the empty trails
Hour after hour;
Stare still where looms ahead
Whose jerking arms forbid
Or bid you on,
Whose grim lamps rule the glooms
With stringent red or green—
Forget your sunny home's
Primrose and violet,
Your breeze-lit fields of rye...
Your golden sheaves forget—
Forget, or die.
After Bank Holiday
Now deserted are the roads
Where awhile the lovers went;
Vacant are the field-abodes
Where a vivid hour they spent:
Broods again in lane and park.
'Tis no matter where are gone
Those warm lives—to halls, maybe,
Festive, or to lodgings lone:
Of the land their tenancy
Now is o'er;
Earth to earth belongs once more.
Gone are they as hourly goes
From the sombre fields of space
Our world, with its little glows—
Passion's ship that has no place,
Leaves no track,
On time's endless ocean black.
Anger Lay By Me
Anger lay by me all night long,
His breath was hot upon my brow,
He told me of my burning wrong,
All night he talked and would not go.
He stood by me all through the day,
Struck from my hand the book, the pen;
He said: ‘Hear first what I’ve to say,
And sing, if you’ve the heart to, then.’
And can I cast him from my couch?
And can I lock him from my room?
Ah no, his honest words are such
That he’s my true-lord, and my doom.
Above the grey down
Gather, wan, the glows;
Relieved by leaden
Gleams a star-gang goes;
In the dark valley
Here and there enters
A spark, laggardly,
For the faint watchers
That were there all night—
And hospital light ...
Tired of lamp, star, sun,
Bound to my strait bed
Uncurtained I see
Heaven itself law-led,
Earth in slavery.
You Should at Times Go Out
You should at times go out
from where the faithful kneel,
visit the slums of doubt
and feel what the lost feel;
you should at times walk on,
away from your friends' ways,
go where the scorned have gone,
pass beyond blame and praise;
and at times you should quit
(ah yes) your sunny home,
sadly awhile should sit,
even, in wrong's dark room,
or ever, suddenly,
by simple bliss betrayed,
you shall be forced to flee,
unloved, alone, afraid.
I am not convinced that the first poem exceeds all free verse in the merits
of its meter. I rather suspect that Elizabeth Bishop Daryush was extremely adept
at whatever meter she chose to employ.