Asphodel, That Greeny Flower

William Carlos Williams 1883 (Rutherford) – 1963 (Rutherford)



Of asphodel, that greeny flower,
          like a buttercup
                    upon its branching stem-
save that it's green and wooden-
          I come, my sweet,
                    to sing to you.
We lived long together
          a life filled,
                    if you will,
with flowers.  So that
          I was cheered
                    when I came first to know
that there were flowers also
          in hell.
                    Today
I'm filled with the fading memory of those flowers
          that we both loved,
                    even to this poor
colorless thing-
          I saw it
                    when I was a child-
little prized among the living
          but the dead see,
                    asking among themselves:
What do I remember
          that was shaped
                    as this thing is shaped?
while our eyes fill
          with tears.
                    Of love, abiding love
it will be telling
          though too weak a wash of crimson
                    colors it
to make it wholly credible.
          There is something
                    something urgent
I have to say to you
          and you alone
                    but it must wait
while I drink in
          the joy of your approach,
                    perhaps for the last time.
And so
          with fear in my heart
                    I drag it out
and keep on talking
          for I dare not stop.
                    Listen while I talk on
against time.
          It will not be
                    for long.
I have forgot
          and yet I see clearly enough
                    something
central to the sky
          which ranges round it.
                    An odor
springs from it!
          A sweetest odor!
                    Honeysuckle!  And now
there comes the buzzing of a bee!
          and a whole flood
                    of sister memories!
Only give me time,
          time to recall them
                    before I shall speak out.
Give me time,
          time.
When I was a boy
          I kept a book
                    to which, from time
to time,
          I added pressed flowers
                    until, after a time,
I had a good collection.
          The asphodel,
                    forebodingly,
among them.
          I bring you,
                    reawakened,
a memory of those flowers.
          They were sweet
                    when I pressed them
and retained
          something of their sweetness
                    a long time.
It is a curious odor,
          a moral odor,
                    that brings me
near to you.
          The color
                    was the first to go.
There had come to me
          a challenge,
                    your dear self,
mortal as I was,
          the lily's throat
                    to the hummingbird!
Endless wealth,
          I thought,
                    held out its arms to me.
A thousand tropics
          in an apple blossom.
                    The generous earth itself
gave us lief.
          The whole world
                    became my garden!
But the sea
          which no one tends
                    is also a garden
when the sun strikes it
          and the waves
                    are wakened.
I have seen it
          and so have you
                    when it puts all flowers
to shame.
          Too, there are the starfish
                    stiffened by the sun
and other sea wrack
          and weeds.  We knew that
                    along with the rest of it
for we were born by the sea,
          knew its rose hedges
                    to the very water's brink.
There the pink mallow grows
          and in their season
                    strawberries
and there, later,
          we went to gather
                    the wild plum.
I cannot say
          that I have gone to hell
                    for your love
but often
          found myself there
                    in your pursuit.
I do not like it
          and wanted to be
                    in heaven.  Hear me out.
Do not turn away.
I have learned much in my life
          from books
                    and out of them
about love.
          Death
                    is not the end of it.
There is a hierarchy
          which can be attain
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

Modified on May 02, 2023

2:47 min read
1,852

Quick analysis:

Scheme Text too long
Closest metre Iambic dimeter
Characters 4,112
Words 554
Stanzas 1
Stanza Lengths 149

William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Williams was a Latino-American poet closely associated with modernism and imagism. more…

All William Carlos Williams poems | William Carlos Williams Books

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