Cecilia Thorpe: Forgotten American Muse

(six love poems by Edwin Arberry, introduced by Sam Buntz)

As mentioned in my first blog post on Edwin Arberry, he fell in love with a young Radcliffe woman named Cecilia Thorpe when he was at Harvard in 1909 or 1910. It didn’t work out, evidently – but there isn’t anything specific in the notebooks or the notes in the collected poems to indicate why. Poems that were to appear scattered in his later books were originally contained in a short collection that he wrote for her at this time, but apparently never sent her (according to an appendix in the collected poems). Yet, in my opinion, some of Arberry’s best poems are to be found in that collection, particularly the first one I include here. Obviously, some of these are a little too…morbidly jingle-like, I suppose—but Arberry was trying to please/depress a woman (at least, in his head) and not swing for the fences in terms of originality of style/form/subject-matter. I’m not entirely sure who influenced these poems—but I would guess Thomas Hardy and A.E. Housman.

“At Extremes”

When at extremes, I ponder the page—
In gladness or despair, I know
That blankness beyond pain and age
Shapes where my own thoughts go.

And they go towards you—
Through the emptiness of time,
The rusted gate, the withered field,
And that distant, pale, patient clime,

Where we sat one day, not speaking,
And you turned and hid your face…
Were you crying then, or was it laughter
Which would’ve filled that secret space?

“In Between”

She lives between each artifact—
The pencil, the pen, the page, and all
The jetsam of scholastic desks:
Her face hangs heavy on the empty wall.

And it rises up to meet me
As I trace the window-pane,
And condenses on the mirror,
After mid-summer rain.

“The Well”

Rude force compelled my pen—
I did not know the well that held me,
That deep reflecting pool,
Containing more than the moon,
More sun than felt at noon,
More than the strange flowers you dropped there,
More than nightmares and mania,
And more than that sweet, hopeless atmosphere
That has informed this whole affair.

I saw, in weary patience, my own
Shadow, hiding lights the water held.
And I saw you in my shadow, and I saw
Birds falling, and the wind calling
To a life more full of life, to a world
Hinged on the evening star.

“The Pearl”

The devil stole a pearl
And dropped it on the bottom of the sea.
So now all the helpless divers dive,
Searching, so they can be free.

But they break to the surface and cry,
And gasp, and bleed from their ears—
And the devil places a little black bowl
That collects all their pearly tears.

And the sailing ships flow by,
Carrying slaves and chests of gold,
But the lonely divers keep up their search,
In the waters so wild and cold.

Yet none of them ever suspected,
No, not one could ever see,
That the pearl was truly hidden
In the ocean within you and me.

“Epitaph”

We never carved our initials
In the bark of the old oak tree,
And you never clutched a handkerchief
As I sailed out to sea.

Words only passed between us,
No danger was involved,
As we lingered over breakfast,
The newspaper’s puzzle left unsolved.

Ah, it was never spoken
Much less sealed with a kiss—
But, reading all I wrote you,
You’ll realize… there’s this.

“The Blue Flower”

Plant a blue flower at my grave—
Please, a blue and not a red.
Be sure that no carnations,
Dangle their roots above my head.

For red is of desire—
And I never found its source—
That rich romantic fire,
Of warmth and light and force.

So lay me not with emblems
Of what swings the world around—
But blue flowers speaking of silence,
In the dark where waves resound.

For you know that I was looking
For a vision yet unfound—
Not just any flower growing,
From the common, earthly ground.

And to me you were that symbol,
That flower of twilight blue,
Which humbled all the rich men,
And the clowns and beggars too.

And you’ll whisper as you wonder
Leaning at the window sill:
“There was once a boy who loved me—
He is sleeping under the hill.”

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