Four Poems by Eithne Wilkins

Spoken Through Glass

Here the big stars roll down
like tears
all down your face;
darkness that has no walls, the empty night
that fingers grope for and are lost,
is nightfall in your face.

The big stars roll,
the glittering railway-line unwinds into the constellations.

Over and under you the dark,
in you the rocking night without a foothold,
and no walls, no ceiling,

the parallels that never meet, the pulses winding out to the
stars.

Night has no end.
Light travelling from the stars is out
before you ride along it
with the black tears falling,
falling,

all fall down.

 

Passage of an August (1938)

In solitary august, like a story
he met grief’s lassie with the quartz-bright hands;
and she became his darling,
who was young, was sorry
there among the grasses blowing over pit and brands.

She walked beside him back the way he came,
into the whitening hills, and cut his throat.
Although she called him by another name,
she was no stranger, love. And none
can drive her out.

 

barbedwire

Barbed Wire (1940)

The silence, with its ragged edge of lost communication,
silence at the latter end,
is now a spiked north wind.

Last words
toss about me in the streets, waste paper
or a cigarette butt in some gutter stream
that overflows
from crumpled darkness.
“Look, I am plunged in the midst of them, a dagger
in their midst.”

and over the edge
the nightmares peer, with their tall stories
and the day’s unheard-of cry.

 

Failure

What can forgive us for
the clothes left lying and the rocking journey,
flashing poles and pylons standing into fields of air,
in flooded fields?

Something flew out of our hands,
the cup incomplete,
air of invasions and land of defeat.
There was the tree felled in another valley,
behind the flown carpet
and nothing left to remember, all to forgive.

Nothing to remember but
the windows slammed against the cold,
the helmet crushed down on the eyes.

And who, beside the darkened station lamp,
remembering, started back.


These are stark, grim poems, very much in the spirit of their time, when there was little good news and a great deal of bad, and no one knew how far away better days might be. But there is an underlying toughness and realism that reflects the attitude of a survivor, of someone who wasn’t going to give up in the face of loss. I would have included more such poems had discretion not held me back. Sadly, Eithne Wilkins never published a collection of her poems, so one has to root through the pages of long-defunct little magazines to find them.

She attended Oxford in the early 1930s, then moved to London, where she worked as a translator and reader for various publishers. Her poems began to be published in British literary journals around 1937, and in 1949, a selection of them were included in The New British Poets, a collection edited by Kenneth Rexroth and published by James Laughlin’s just-founded New Directions Press. That same year, she married the Austrian writer and translater, Ernst Kaiser. Although she worked on English translations of a number of well-regarded books, including Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, she appears to have stopped submitting her poems for publication sometime after the New Directions collection was published, and her one book, The Rose-Garden Game (1969), was a popular history about the origins of rosary beads as an accessory to Catholic worship.

from The New British Poets, edited by Kenneth Rexroth
New London, Connecticut: New Directions Press, 1949

Available on the Internet Archive: Link.

This is one in a series of neglected poems from the Internet Archive.

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