Elinor Wylie

September 25, 2006


Wrote poems distinctive for their irony, grace, elegant and subtle imagination, and crystalline lucidity
Poems arise from emotional, intellectual, and artistic contradiction: speakers’ wishes for warmth and connection gives way to chilled isolation
Poetry explores aspiration and dissapointment, love and solitude, the will to live and a despairing wish for sleep and death
Revised tradition rhythms and rhymes to communicate her sly sense of female subjectivity
Born into wealth in Philadelphia
Privately educated
Known for her beauty: seen as a cover girl
Married young and scandalously leaft her husband and son to marry Horace Wylie, whom she divorced to marry the poet William Rose Benet
Spent life in an unsuccessful quest to discover her soul mate
Suffered from repeated heart attacks: died in New York of a stroke at 43
Influenced by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Praised by William Butler Yeats and Edna St. Vincent Millay
Famous in her own day and neglected in ours


Avoid the reeking herd, / Shun the polluted flock, / Live like that stoic bird, / The eagle of the rock.
The huddled warmth of crowds / Begets and fosters hate; / He keeps, above the clouds, / His cliff inviolate.
When flocks are folded warm, / And herds to shelter run, / He sails above the storm, / He stares into the sun.
If in the eagle’s track / Your sinews cannot leap, / Avoid the lathered pack, / Turn from the streaming sheep.
If you would keep your soul / From spotted sight or sound, / Live like the velvet mole; / Go burrow underground.
And there hold intercourse / With roots of trees and stones, / With rivers at their source, / And disembodied bones.

– The Eagle and the Mole (in whole)

Judith Farr suggests that this poem ‘rejects the contamination of society in favor of secretive contact with the private world of imagination nourished by nature.”
The poem’s dichotomy of eagle and mole may echo that of Blake’s ‘The Book of Thel’: ‘Does the Eagle know what is in the pit? / Or wilt thou go ask the Mole?’
Echos Wordsworth’s ‘Lucy Poems’

Let us walk in the white snow / In a soundless space; / With footsteps quiet and slow, / At a tranquil pace, / Under veils of white lace.
I shall go shod in silk, / And you in wool, / White as a white cow’s milk, / More beautiful / Than the breast of a gull.
We shall walk through the still town / In a windless peace; / We shall step upon white down, / Upon silver fleece, / Upon softer than these.
We shall walk in velvet shoes; / Wherever we go / Wilence will fall like dews / On white silence below. / We shall walk in the show.

-Velvet Shoes (in whole)


When the world turns completely upside down /You say we’ll emigrate to the Eastern Shore /Aboard a river-boat from Baltimore; / We’ll live among wild peach trees, miles from town, / You’ll wear a coonskin cap, and I a gown / Homespun, dyed butternut’s dark gold colour. / Lost, like your lotus-eating ancestor, / We’ll swim in milk and honey till we drown.

The winter will be short, the summer long, / The autumn amber-hued, sunny and hot, / Tasting of cider and of scuppernong; / All seasons sweet, but autumn best of all. / The squirrels in their silver fur will fall / Like falling leaves, like fruit, before your shot.


The autumn frosts will lie upon the grass / Like bloom on grapes of purple-brown and gold. /The misted early mornings will be cold; / The little puddles will be roofed with glass. / The sun, which burns from copper into brass, / Melts these at noon, and makes the boys unfold / Their knitted mufflers; full as they can hold / Fat pockets dribble chestnuts as they pass.

Peaches grow wild, and pigs can live in clover; / A barrel of salted herrings lasts a year; / The spring begins before the winter’s over. / By February you may find the skins / Of garter snakes and water moccasins / Dwindled and harsh, dead-white and cloudy-clear.


When April pours the colours of a shell / Upon the hills, when every little creek / Is shot with silver from the Chesapeake / In shoals new-minted by the ocean swell, / When strawberries go begging, and the sleek / Blue plums lie open to the blackbird’s beak, / We shall live well — we shall live very well.

The months between the cherries and the peaches / Are brimming cornucopias which spill / Fruits red and purple, sombre-bloomed and black; / Then, down rich fields and frosty river beaches / We’ll trample bright persimmons, while you kill / Bronze partridge, speckled quail, and canvasback.


Down to the Puritan marrow of my bones / There’s something in this richness that I hate. / I love the look, austere, immaculate, / Of landscapes drawn in pearly monotones. / There’s something in my very blood that owns / Bare hills, cold silver on a sky of slate, / A thread of water, churned to milky spate / Streaming through slanted pastures fenced with stones.

I love those skies, thin blue or snowy gray, / Those fields sparse-planted, rendering meagre sheaves; / That spring, briefer than apple-blossom’s breath, / Summer, so much too beautiful to stay, / Swift autumn, like a bonfire of leaves, / And sleepy winter, like the sleep of death.

Wild Peaches (in whole)

Is not the woman moulded by your wish / A cockatrice of a most intricate kind?  / You have, my friend, the high fantastic mind / To clasp the cold enamel of a fish / As breasplate for a bosom tigerish;  / To make a dove a dragon; or to bind / A panther skin upon the escaping hind: / You mix ambiguous spices in your dish.

Will there remain, when this embellished I  /Sprout wings, or am by cloven heels improved,  / An atom of the lady that you loved? / Does Christ or Lucifer seal this alchemy?  / Is there not lacking from your synthesis  / Someone you may occasionally miss?

-Pastiche (in whole)


4 Responses to “Elinor Wylie”

  1. Carolina Says:

    Actually I need the poem named “Pastiche” by Elinor Wylie. I would really appreciate if you can send it to me. Thanks a lot. (From Argentina)

  2. I’m sorry Carolina.
    I can’t seem to find it. I’m going to the library in a little while. I’ll look for it while I’m there and e-mail you with my findings. Good luck in the meantime!

  3. Dear Carolina
    (if you ever read this blog again):
    I found your poem in the library. I’ve posted it here.
    I’m glad I found it. It’s a wonderful poem.

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