E. E. Cummings

Puella Mea

Harun Omar and Master Hafiz keep your dead beautiful ladies. Mine is a little lovelier than any of your ladies were. In her perfectest array my lady, moving in the day, is a little stranger thing than crisp Sheba with her king in the morning wandering. Through the young and awkward hours my lady perfectly moving, through the new world scarce astir my fragile lady wandering in whose perishable poise is the mystery of Spring (with her beauty more than snow dexterous and fugitive my very frail lady drifting distinctly, moving like a myth in the uncertain morning, with April feet like sudden flowers and all her body filled with May) -- moving in the unskilful day my lady utterly alive, to me is a more curious thing (a thing more nimble and complete) than ever to Judea's king were the shapely sharp cunning and withal delirious feet of the Princess Salom? carefully dancing in the noise of Herod's silence, long ago. If she a little turn her head I know that I am wholly dead: nor ever did on such a throat the lips of Tristram slowly dote, La beale Isoud whose leman was. And if my lady look at me (with her eyes which like two elves incredibly amuse themselves) with a look of faerie, perhaps a little suddenly (as sometimes the improbable beauty of my lady will) -- at her glance my spirit shies rearing (as in the miracle of a lady who had eyes which the king's horses might not kill.) But should my lady smile, it were a flower of so pure surprise (it were so very new a flower, a flower so frail, a flower so glad) as trembling used to yield with dew when the world was young and new (a flower such as the world had in springtime when the world was mad and Launcelot spoke to Guenever, a flower which most heavy hung with silence when the world was young and Diarmid looked in Grania's eyes.) But should my lady's beauty play at not speaking (sometimes as it will) the silence of her face doth immediately make in my heart so great a noise, as in the sharp and thirsty blood of Paris would not all the Troys of Helen's beauty: never did Lord Jason (in impossible things victorious impossibly) so wholly burn, to undertake Medea's rescuing eyes; nor he when swooned the white egyptian day who with Egypt's body lay. Lovely as those ladies were mine is a little lovelier. And if she speak in her frail way, it is wholly to bewitch my smallest thought with a most swift radiance wherein slowly drift murmurous things divinely bright; it is foolingly to smite my spirit with the lithe free twitch of scintillant space, with the cool writhe of gloom truly which syncopate some sunbeam's skilful fingerings; it is utterly to lull with foliate inscrutable sweetness my soul obedient; it is to stroke my being with numbing forests, frolicsome, fleetly mystical, aroam with keen creatures of idiom (beings alert and innocent very deftly upon which indolent miracles impinge) -- it is distinctly to confute my reason with the deep caress of every most shy thing and mute, it is to quell me with the twinge of all living intense things. Never my soul so fortunate is (past the luck of all dead men and loving) as invisibly when upon her palpable solitude a furtive occult fragrance steals, a gesture of immaculate perfume -- whereby (with fear aglow) my soul is wont wholly to know the poignant instantaneous fern whose scrupulous enchanted fronds toward all things intrinsic yearn, the immanent subliminal fern of her delicious voice (of her voice which always dwells beside the vivid magical impetuous and utter ponds of dream; and very secret food its leaves inimitable find beyond the white authentic springs, beyond the sweet instinctive wells, which make to flourish the minute spontaneous meadow of her mind) -- the vocal fern, alway which feels the keen ecstatic actual tread (and thereto perfectly responds) of all things exquisite and dead, all living things and beautiful. (Caliph and king their ladies had to love them and to make them glad, when the world was young and mad, in the city of Bagdad -- mine is a little lovelier than any of their ladies were.) Her body is most beauteous, being for all things amorous fashioned very curiously of roses and of ivory. The immaculate crisp head is such as only certain dead and careful painters love to use for their youngest angels (whose praising bodies in a row between slow glories fleetly go.) Upon a keen and lovely throat the strangeness of her face doth float, which in eyes and lips consists -- alway upon the mouth there trysts curvingly a fragile smile which like a flower lieth (while within the eyes is dimly heard a wistful and precarious bird.) Springing from fragrant shoulders small, ardent, and perfectly withal smooth to stroke and sweet to see as a supple and young tree, her slim lascivious arms alight in skilful wrists which hint at flight -- my lady's very singular and slenderest hands moreover are (which as lilies smile and quail) of all things perfect the most frail. (Whoso rideth in the tale of Chaucer knoweth many a pair of companions blithe and fair; who to walk with Master Gower in Confessio doth prefer shall not lack for beauty there, nor he that will amaying go with my lord Boccaccio -- whoso knocketh at the door of Marie and of Maleore findeth of ladies goodly store whose beauty did in nothing err. If to me there shall appear than a rose more sweetly known, more silently than a flower, my lady naked in her hair -- I for those ladies nothing care nor any lady dead and gone.) When the world was like a song heard behind a golden door, poet and sage and caliph had to love them and to make them glad ladies with lithe eyes and long (when the world was like a flower Omar Hafiz and Harun loved their ladies in the moon) -- fashioned very curiously of roses and ivory if naked she appear to me my flesh is an enchanted tree; with her lips' most frail parting my body hears the cry of Spring, and with their frailest syllable its leaves go crisp with miracle. Love! -- maker of my lady, in that alway beyond this poem or any poem she of whose body words are afraid perfectly beautiful is, forgive these words which I have made. And never boast your dead beauties, you greatest lovers in the world! never boast your beauties dead who with Grania strangely fled, who with Egypt went to bed, whom white-thighed Semiramis put up her mouth to wholly kiss -- never boast your dead beauties, mine being unto me sweeter (of whose why delicious glance things which never more shall be, perfect things of faerie, are intense inhabitants; in whose warm superlative body do distinctly live all sweet cities passed away -- in her flesh at break of day are the smells of Nineveh, in her eyes when day is gone are the cries of Babylon.) Diarmid Paris and Solomon, Omar Harun and Master Hafiz, to me your ladies are all one -- keep your dead beautiful ladies. Eater of all things lovely -- Time! upon whose watering lips the world poises a moment (futile, proud, a costly morsel of sweet tears) gesticulates, and disappears -- of all dainties which do crowd gaily upon oblivion sweeter than any there is one; to touch it is the fear of rhyme -- in life's very fragile hour (when the world was like a tale made of laughter and of dew, was a flight, a flower, a flame, was a tendril fleetly curled upon frailness) used to stroll (very slowly) one or two ladies like flowers made, softly used to wholly move slender ladies made of dream (in the lazy world and new sweetly used to laugh and love ladies with crisp eyes and frail, in the city of Bagdad.) Keep your dead beautiful ladies Harun Omar and Master Hafiz.

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