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The Power, Brutality and Beauty of Elinor Wylie’s Poetry

I am a firm believer in sad truth that with time a lot of great art gets forgotten. We can see that with music of the past. Different genres get reduced to one or two artists. For example, Reggae is just Bob Marley, jazz is Miles Davis, or John Coltrane. I wonder if that will happen with something as diverse as rock in the future. Will in 50, or 60 years, people see rock music just  as something Elvis did or Bob Dylan, The Beatles or the Stones?

But that is a subject for another time. I love discovering forgotten writers on Project Gutenberg. In a sense I feel indebt to everyone who had the passion for and will to, write. So, as a aspiring writer, I like to pay homage to all those who have come before me, who have elevated the craft and art of writing to what it is today. Sometimes I get lucky and find some gems along the way. But Elinor Wylie was like discovering not just a gem, but a planet made out of sapphire.

Her short poetry collection, Nets to Catch Wind, blew me away. The power of every single line. The command of language she possesses. The pictures she creates with both beauty and accuracy, but also the courage to write about and deal with theme, images and lines which were, in her day at least considered scandalous and outrageous. Her life was full of scandal, pain, suffering and she died young from a stroke, age just 42. If you want to know more about her life and work, this Wikipedia page is a decent place to start.

Now lets get to some of my favorite lines from her collection.

Avoid the reeking herd,
 Shun the polluted flock,
 Live like that stoic bird,
 The eagle of the rock

In just for lines you get a whole life philosophy. Be brave to be an individual. Avoid crowds because inside a crowd you will not be yourself. Inside a crowd you will become what they are, resemble them in every way possible, you own person forever lost. Sore above it. And with humility, look down from the highest point upon which your potential carries you.

You have taken the arrows and slings
 Which prick and bruise
 And fashioned them into wings

A beautiful testament to the power and ingenuity of the human spirit. We can, with enough courage and dedication, the belief to take a new step, turn the seeds of our destruction into the ladder which we shall climb, slowly and steadily; but surely; out of the abyss of our current life crisis. It also remended me of Radiohead’s Let Down.

And here is the complete poem The Sea Lullaby, with all its brutality

The old moon is tarnished
With smoke of the flood,
The dead leaves are varnished
With color like blood,

A treacherous smiler
With teeth white as milk,
A savage beguiler
In sheathings of silk,

The sea creeps to pillage,
She leaps on her prey;
A child of the village
Was murdered to-day.

She came up to meet him
In a smooth golden cloak,
She choked him and beat him
To death, for a joke.

Her bright locks were tangled,
She shouted for joy,
With one hand she strangled
A strong little boy.

Now in silence she lingers
Beside him all night
To wash her long fingers
In silvery light.

You can the read The Nets to Catch Wind by clicking on this Project Gutenberg link.

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