Sit before your glass, while the green branches of evening
Crackle in their sere to the colour of copper bells:
Let your hands fall, leave the lake-blue afterlights unbroken
Or break them only with the heart-pointed candles
Whose quiver marks the beating of the breast:
Wait so: do not cry out for the lutes, the talking companions:
Be for once a white boat adrift, in debt to no lighthouse.
Men risked the judgement of stars ere there was Pharos.
Rise now, Arachne: unwind, with fingers chill as my own,
All you presumed, all so long presumed against you;
The cocoons’ shedding, arboreal and insect spoil
Known in Colchis, splashed upon Tyre, bartered in acorned Britain
By Phoenicians whose hands made the white breasts taut and whiter;
After these, tissue on tissue, the gauzes, velvets, the peasant-candid
and the vexed laces,
Refinements of winter-drubbed fleeces, silks’ narrow canals,
With these the red shoes, the gilt-wired head-dresses.
Let fall your rings, the jade ear-drops, the tinkling mock-symphonic jewel-
Aeon by aeon, discard this rustling, this soft inane whisper of clothing,
Stand, having dragged the last frail cobweb from you,
Examine long the grave glass: but not this, not this,
All you presumed, or all presumed against you.
Unwind (unseen, I lay my head against your breasts,)
For no other sake than that some be cool, so lying,
The amusing, the vain and adroit; the innocent,
Taking man’s eye as waxen anther the bee;
The half-wisdom and secret . . . little citadels builded up
Because of the longed-for enemy at the borders;
The experienced humiliation, (twisting vine’s wry bravery,)
Unwind these muffling silks: renounce the advantage
Of the lit shoulder, slanted in hall-lights of memory:
Unwind the lost voices, stumbling on ‘Never, oh never!’
Wanting the once-refused lilacs.
Woman quixotry, all the bittersweet after-pledging in cups,
The little smile of first panic, staring at age,
Unwind them. But most, the sacrifice, mother-wife-mistress sacrifice;
The compassion, that phantom gate near understanding, muffled words
whispered, cried and kissed:
Last, the pride: a steel chain slender when men ride jangling forth.
Unwind them, and be quit of them. These were the most
You have presumed, or others presumed against you.
Break the strings of your violin. It was rain renewing
Spring slanted at spearhead, wings and rainbows almost successful,
The storm among feudal chimneys;
Your smile a lullaby over the cradle,
Your marble prayer over the dead boy-warrior.
It was anything you say, but not true music.
A slave has no true music.
Turn to the mirror. Pierce, if you can, the blackness
With whiteness of breasts, or with one icy star
I set upon your forehead, before I strip you.
What do I ask? I ask you set free, go free.
Seek you the fireplace: build there, stooping in
With labour harsh and lonely as parturition,
Such panting fire as you can, flicker of being,
Fed with your heart, kindled with shavings of spirit.
Be mother and wife to the flame: crack, waste yourself,
On the slender chance of a light from rank green wood.
If ever by luck you should warm the cabin:
Go to your door, fling open. Invite the vast hair
And bristling bulk of the darkness to roar within,
After him swirling three perils – storm, scorn and death.
Say not a word. Die, or medicine these
With the saffron-tufted herb sprung up from firelight;
After may come the fawns, the unborn; children: smile,
Leave them, timid, to play in your bright-boughed fire.
After – we know not – chill beyond starlight, weary past aching, gleaming,
Like the picked bones of fallen trees in a forest,
Singing, dumb, or with ghostly eyes look at you calmly as eyes you knew,
The known eyes of the
stranger who shared your bed,
In another world, a dream-plain of crows and battles,
One who in anguish put out the first mortal fire.
Say nothing: lock your hands, ah, lock your heart.
But should there be silence, all is heard: is well.
A note on the poem
Arachne DC 655.1 untitled MS. Incomplete TS at DC 655.2. Rawlinson typed the poem (DC 655.3) from TS (2 pp) and MS (6 pp). Her editorial note assigns composition as well as typing to April 1939 on the evidence of the unusual MS paper, claiming that it is identical to a letter written to her in April 1939 (see Nadath 85-86). Information from Derek Challis indicates that the only letter sent to Rawlinson at this time (20 April 1939) is not written on the same notepaper as the ‘Arachne’ draft. However, Iris 696 notes that an identical unwatermarked bond paper was used 22 March 1939 by Hyde to write to Noreen Hutson and to Derek Challis. These letters are the only other known instance of the notepaper in DC and make likely a composition date of March 1939 for the poem.