Saturday 16 December 2017

The Sunday poem: O Virtuous Light by Elinor Wylie

Anthony Cronin's personal anthology

Anthony Cronin

ELINOR Wylie is said to be have been famous during her lifetime almost as much for her ethereal beauty and personality as for her melodious, sensuous poetry . The daughter of a United States Solicitor-General, she was educated for the life of a debutant e and a society wife. But things did not work out as planned. Her three husbands included one who was what was called “emotionally unstable” and would commit suicide when she left him; and a Washington lawyer, Horace Wylie, who already had a wife and three children. Socially ostracised and roughly treated by journalists, she and Wylie eloped to England where they lived under the assumed name Waring, which may have been taken from the Browning poem What’s Become of Waring? However, when she returned to America it was as a published poet. She was poetry editor of Vanity Fair and a contributing editor of New Republic and was the author of four books of verse as well as four novels. She died in 1928 aged only 41. As will be seen from O Virtuous Light, Wylie had that strange American ability to be eloquent without being insincere and psychologically incisive without loss of feeling.

O Virtuous Light

Elinor Wylie

A private madness has prevailed

Over the pure and valiant mind;

The instrument of reason failed

And the star-gazing eyes struck blind.

Sudden excess of light has wrought

Confusion in the secret place

Where the slow miracles of thought

Take shape through patience into grace.

Mysterious as steel and flint

The birth of this destructive spark

Whose inward growth has power to print

Strange suns upon the natural dark.

O break the walls of sense in half

And make the spirit fugitive!

This light begotten of itself

Is not a light by which to live!

The fire of farthing tallow dips

Dispels the menace of the skies

So it illuminate the lips

And enter the discerning eyes.

O virtuous light, if thou be man's

Or matter of the meteor stone,

Prevail against this radiance

Which is engendered of its own!

Sunday Independent

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