LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE - H. D. (Hilda Doolittle) Poems


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"My heart," he said, "is the heart
of a beast." What could she do
but love him? First she must resist:
the copper bowls gleaming on the rack

in her father's kitchen, the white bloom
of the basin, the good ladle that remained in place
hadn't promised her this. There
the lamps had required her hand to light them,

the mirrors were plain and dependable
as laundry. Trading herself for a rose,
a single red gesture, she'd arrived
at this vague castle where the glass

said "I am your mirror, la belle,"
and showed her a clouded double,
almost a ghost. Where were her simple objects
of affection now? The Beast steamed

with the thrill of a slaughtered doe.
His ruined garden -- haze formed into hedge
and topiary -- smoked, the grottoes
infinite and intimate at once.

Even the statuary watched,
as if to cautiously urge her on; for them
there were no secrets,
no future to reel out its flickering patterns

of light and dark. So Beauty does
as she does: these cautious walks with the Beast,
at first tentative, her skirt scraping
like cicadas against the marble,

then her hand in his glove. His rough paws
produce for her an Oceania of pearls;
she wears them across her bodice as though
she'd keep everything of his at the surface,

somewhere above her heart.
Of course she loves him wholly, in the end,
although it does not appear wise to do so,
which transforms his wolfish muzzle

into the bland and pretty face of a prince.
But it's not him anyone remembers --
rather the heady onrush
of the transformation, the will

that eventually unfurls the body
beneath the fur. The moments,
disruptive and lush, before the breaking through --

the power to bloom

through solid walls,
not to the kingdom itself, where nothing happens,
but the approach to the kingdom:
everything, the coming to love.

Copyright 1987 Turtle, Swan: Poems by Mark Doty David R. Godine