We’ll live among wild peach trees, miles from town,
You’ll wear a coonskin capcoonskin cap A cap made from a raccoon pelt, and I a gown
Homespun, dyed butternutbutternut A shade of yellow similar to khaki. In the Civil War, some Confederate soldiers wore butternut-colored uniforms, leading them to be nicknamed Butternuts. Southern sympathizers in the North were also referred to as Butternuts.’s dark gold color.
Lost, like your lotus-eating ancestorlotus-eating ancestor An allusion to the Lotos (Lotus) Eaters of Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus’ men who ate the lotos lost the desire to return home. In Robert Fitzgerald’s translation: “but those who ate this honeyed plant, the Lotos / never cared to report, nor to return: / they longed to stay forever, browsing on / that native bloom, forgetful of their homeland” (Book IX, lines 101-104).,
We’ll swim in milk and honeymilk and honey Attributes of the Promised Land mentioned several times in the Bible, first at Exodus 3.8, where God promises the Israelites “a land flowing with milk and honey” (New Revised Standard Version) till we drown.
The winter will be short, the summer long,
The autumn amber-hued, sunny and hot,
Tasting of cider and of scuppernongscuppernong A type of wine made from the scuppernong grape, native to the surrounding area of the Scuppernong River in North Carolina;
All seasons sweetAll seasons sweet Echoes Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s lines, “Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee”, from his poem “Frost at Midnight”, but autumn best of all.
The squirrels in their silver fur will fall
Like falling leaves, like fruit, before your shot.
The autumn frosts will lie upon the grass
Like bloom on grapes of purple-brown and gold.
The misted early mornings will be cold;
The little puddles will be roofed with glass.
The sun, which burns from copper into brass,
Melts these at noon, and makes the boys unfold
Their knitted mufflersmufflers Heavy scarves; full as they can hold
Fat pockets dribble chestnuts as they pass.
Peaches grow wild, and pigs can live in clover;
A barrel of salted herrings lasts a year;
The spring begins before the winter’s over.
By February you may find the skins
Of garter snakes and water moccasinswater moccasins A venomous water snake, also known as cottonmouth
Dwindled and harsh, dead-white and cloudy-clear.
When April pours the colors of a shell
Upon the hills, when every little creek
Is shot with silver from the ChesapeakeChesapeake The Chesapeake Bay in Virginia and Maryland
In shoalsshoals Sandbars new-minted by the ocean swell,
When strawberries go begging, and the sleek
Blue plums lie open to the blackbird’s beak,
We shall live well — we shall live very well.
The months between the cherries and the peaches
Are brimming cornucopias which spill
Fruits red and purple, sombre-bloomed and black;
Then, down rich fields and frosty river beaches
We’ll trample bright persimmons, while you kill
Bronze partridge, speckled quail, and canvasbackcanvasback A wild duck “so called from the color of the back” (A Dictionary of Americanisms, 1951).
Down to the Puritan marrow of my bonesPuritan marrow of my bones The Puritans were a persecuted religious group of English Protestants, in the 16th and 17th centuries that wanted to reform or “purify” the Church of England from within. Some Puritans eventually came to New England in the 1630s and 40s, supporting the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. “Puritan” has been used as a pejorative term to describe strict moralists against all worldly pleasures. Marrow is a fatty substance found in the cavities of bones, where blood cells are produced. Marrow provides moisture to bones, which give them further strength. “Marrow of my bones” is a phrase common back to the Bible, referring less literally to the center or core of a thing or issue.
There’s something in this richness that I hate.
I love the look, austere, immaculate,
Of landscapes drawn in pearly monotones.
There’s something in my very blood that owns
Bare hills, cold silver on a sky of slate,
A thread of water, churned to milky spateSpate Freshet or flood
Streaming through slanted pastures fenced with stones.
I love those skies, thin blue or snowy gray,
Those fields sparse-planted, rendering meagre sheavesSheaves A bundle of cut stalks of grain tied together after reaping;
That spring, briefer than apple-blossom’s breath,
Summer, so much too beautiful to stay,
Swift autumn, like a bonfire of leaves,
And sleepy wintersleepy winter In the same volume, Nets to Catch the Wind, Wylie published the poem “Winter Sleep.”, like the sleep of death.
Try making a cut-up or collage of Wylie’s sonnet sequence, in the mode of Ted Berrigan. Print the poem out and cut up the individual lines. Do the same with other sonnet sequences, such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portugueseor George Meredith’s Modern Love. Then select and arrange individual lines to form new sonnets. Instead of thinking about narrative continuity, select and arrange lines based on sound, association, color, or other non-semantic elements. See Berrigan’s The Sonnetsfor examples of the kind of poem that might result.
Wylie’s sequence imagines what “you say” about a hypothetical move to “the Eastern Shore.” The poem’s speaker speaks for the other half of the couple. Write a response, in the voice of the poem’s “you” answering the speaker’s concerns.
What is the most arresting line of Wylie’s poem for you? Isolate that line and use it as the first line of your own poem. Try using Wylie’s vocabulary as a palate to create your new poem.
The first three sections of Wylie’s sequence are overloaded with natural images and sensory detail. Circle or otherwise mark all the ways that color, weather, flora and fauna, and sensation are figured. How does Wylie create “brimming cornucopias” in this poem? Compare it to other poems of rich sensory and natural detail, including John Keats’s “To Autumn.”
As Caitlin Kimball notes in her guide to this poem, the first three sections happen in a hypothetical mood “tinged with foreboding.” Where and how do you see foreboding happening in the poem? What is the relationship between foreboding and the final section?
Wylie’s poem contains rhymes both conventional and outlandish (long/scuppernong); often she rhymes phrases (best of all/fur will fall) or multi-syllabic words (Eastern Shore/Baltimore). Locate both end rhymes and other kinds of internal rhyme or rhyming in the poem. How do rhymes knit the poem together and (perhaps) pull it apart?
Edna St. Vincent Millay once wrote a sonnet whose first line is, “I will put chaos into fourteen lines.” In what ways is Wylie’s sonnet “chaotic”? Review different kinds of sonnets with your class, and perhaps provide examples. What kinds of arguments, complaints, ideas, and emotional states do sonnets represent? Try having the class write a collaborative sonnet. Beginning with Millay’s line, have each student add a line until there are 14 lines total. Ask students to think about the different kinds of sonnets with their varying voltas, rhyme schemes, etc.
Wylie’s lovers represent different and competing versions of, and locations in, America; her poem suggests connections between environment and temperament. Have your students trace the links between geography and speaker by visually representing each “place” the poem describes. Ask them to think about both the images the poem explicitly gives (such as squirrel hunting) as well as those it suggests (Odysseus and Circe in “lotus-eating ancestor”), and how all images get emotionally freighted. How do the places Wylie describes suggest the psychology of the couple? How might your students visually represent psychological states or attitudes? Students might choose to make a comic, collage, sketch, diagram, word cloud, or other form of visual representation of the poem’s geo-emotional landscapes.
Poet and novelist Elionor Wylie was born in Somerville, New Jersey to a socially prominent family, and grew up in Rosemont, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C. As the daughter of a lawyer who later became solicitor general of the United States, she was trained for the...