new zealand electronic poetry centre

Ursula Bethell

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I must pass you by, primroses, I must pass you by
When I boast of the fair flowers translated to please our eye, –
The sight of you here under the apple-tree has too sweet a sting
So like, so unlike the sight of you in an English orchard in spring.

You should not be here, primroses, yet must I have you here
To look up at us with your patient smile in the strange spring of the year –
The strange September spring, whereas in April we should be
In the greenwoods or ever their green veil has lost transparency.

Not current coin, primroses, but a foreign token,
The wonted word out of the past that we never hear spoken, –
Coomb, coppice, spinney, aye, and primrose-wood,
Not understood, dale and meadow, not understood.

In patria, primroses, In patria – do you hear?
La patrie – la patrie c’est le pays du désir –
And everywhere by brake and hedge primroses may be seen
In a grey veil of netted twigs or ever the thicket is green.

If you were nothing more, primroses, than yellow and sweet,
I would ask Time to turn back again that youth and I might meet,
That I might go looking for you in a winding English lane,
And your tender fragrance so fresh in the mist, in the rain –

But there are reasons, primroses, there are secret reasons,
Why we shall not resent the sure process of the seasons,
Our transitory springtime and the quick passing of the years,
But like you with the dew on you smile up through our tears!

Beyond the sprinkled nebulae of the faint starry way,
Like your own starry clusters in the dusk of a clear day,
Far beyond dim avenues of planetary space,
The clue to your sweet look is hid in a celestial place.

And who but you should trim the brink of supernal Beauty’s spring?
Whose souls but yours adorn the groves where immortal choirs sing?
The sight of you here under the apple-tree has so sweet a sting,
– And in patria, primroses, in patria?


From a Garden in the Antipodes (Sidgwick & Jackson, 1929)


Last updated 9 April, 2005