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           A Self-elegy by Harriet Westbrook

                   first wife of Percy Shelley




I look down into the moss-green pool

my own reflected face flanked by clouds

inhabiting yet the heavens cold and cruel

unloose the binding dresses destined shrouds

I speak as listening to ghosts aloud

whispering my life unto the wind

promises broken promises once avowed

overheard by ghosts ghosts will not rescind

and aweful Queen of Ghosts these promises will tend


Water swirling through my sinking skirts

washing billowing blouse and filling dresses

with muddy Serpentine swelled with rains

to rinse with ash-blonde foam my flowing tresses

Water chilling skin with cold caresses

taking our child and me down slowly dreamily

almost weightless as the tide progresses

its silty sound swallowing me and our baby 

will swallow you too My Love as Your Soul at last confesses



We haunt these waters gliding scaleless finless

naked with the naked fishes glinting

They like us adrift forever sinless

rising up from sunless sea-paths squinting

at dancing rays filtering down hinting

of warm red light above, hot-skinned creatures

gliding through air and Fate's breath unrelenting

burdened only by wind and rock-hard features

and voices mouthed all round, soundless unseen preachers



Listen to the water flowing over my grave

Listen to the current running down to sea

washing among the rounded pebbles a-lave

with muddy sediment.  This soil will, free

from stream bed and bank, resalt the mineral sea

with the salt and dust of me and our baby's bones

It will flavor the ocean floor, far Normandy

and the coast of farther Leghorn as it moans

with the Tyrrhene tidal winds squalling in blackest tones


I did not even know Ophelia, never

doubting but 'gratitude and admiration,'

I saw you write, 'demand I shall love her forever'

But what sad dreamer dreaming since time began

kept such vow being but flesh and man

unless his vow and dream might coincide

which self-encircling artist will not plan

and god, foreseeing future, matches bride

with dream unchanging, dreamers dreaming side by side


Mediterranean waves washed you ashore

you wept for by all as genius lost

while I must grovel in London mud, no more

bemoaned than fishes or frogs or flotsam wave-tossed

For Poesy I am but the cost

staring skyward glassy-eyed from Serpent's flank

Of me Faith's Child the poets never guessed

You will Muse but never Woman thank

For you my maidenhead naively led twice sank


You say you cannot love what you do not

but I am lost My God unchaste unmarried

unloved and then from pitying hands unsought

a child that unfathered must never be carried

My past my present haunts cannot be buried

Fled you think a love is right or not

if not then virtue is to be remarried

But I am no mistake to be unbought

as fish of ghostly form I cannot be uncaught



That Deep that sparkles with riddles and grinning monsters

spread out around you though morning had dawned clear cloudless

and blue, sky reflecting sanely exactly

the silvery surface.  Waveless nearly windless

the mast hardly cocked, the stockstill lazy compass

Beneath this idyll Naiades eyed their prey

above Erinyes preened and whetted careless

The Sea grave of all waters watched lidless fey

the sea floor swelled to receive the salt of one more your clay


Fate tempted She rose from her deep abode

flanked by Furies followed by millions

out from their caves of darkness Sea Ghosts flowed

in circling waves of dancing writhing cotillions

and Percy you saw before you joined the billions

my billowing blouse rippling from every crest

my eyes in the faces of Triton's minions

and seaweed that sewed each frond a lover's tress

enwrapping you Love like curling sea snakes vengeance-blest


Gulls, oyster-albine bacchantes, screamed alone

or beating wing for breast tearing through the veils

of Delphic mists as swirling maidens swore atone

Below there leapt blue dolphins, breaching whales

who slapping flukes on briny greenswell wail

a long-drawn song an ocean jeremiad

awash with centuries-old earth-circling tales

of languishment and death and bones half-hid

by silt and wavy seaweed and eddies Neptune-bid


Pipers primly skipped from threatening wave

Scuttling crabs retreated always sideways

every beast that day did itself save

from Supernature's cast in Passion Plays

as Venus made a count of all the days

crushing under dainty goddess slipper

or whitest barest foot him who pays

the uttermost farthing and then must kneel and kiss her

lips with redeemed lips that then must ever miss her



Someday when I awake when I arise

when earth and water mix in Parousia

and look my drowned poet in the eyes

as Cronus meets the eyes of mother Rhea

and Uranus the gaze of mother Gaea

remember once you loved me knew not why

marred by Adam's sin non culpa mea

son of father's dearth back to Sky

who rains on Gaea as a cloud gone floating by


That dark night unrestful I will wake

beneath the blowing cattails lulling you

to sleep, that night I will at last forsake

the quiet earth and overreaching dew


At midnight belly rounding with the moon

I will arise Astarte-like from the rushes

I will arise respirited too soon

like her whose presence all the Spirit hushes

display the perished bloom and hectic flushes 

the falsely beating heart and warming womb

the graying lips of red and mother's blushes

I will awake untimely unentomb

bones best left enearthed and flesh and feeling numb


Then when Chaos stirs the bloody Earth

remixing limbs eyes Souls hearts

and making every death a crying birth

infusing salty water into parts

confused by Change and Time and Judgment starts

my water and your storm will be the same

I, Immortal Bird, will sing the Arts

and you will mouthe my pain not in name

but kissed from storm to storm no weather-lover's blame


You who hate the seed for taking root

will also hate the cloud that whitens high

the storm that overwaters virgin shoot

bass-boom thunder and the infant cry

of washed-out life weakening to die

beneath unsheltered sky.  You will curse

the rain that fills the drowning stream and I

Skylark blithe but long deflowered and worse

unignorant of pain to innocently coerce


my strains to pure profusion—Not Purity

but Sacred Soilure, the Dirt of Ages

will bless my songbird bones—I will cloudless see

what you must miss unmuddied: the ghost-watched wages

of sin to Art and Love are not on gold-gilt pages

in Heaven but are writ in Runes upon the Earth

bloody kana venting Vulcan's rages

at Nazarene.  Magdalene knew: not worth

pap a Pure Conception or a Virgin Birth



I will learn to rain and you to rust

The mud will take us both and both the sky

Sea-silt and Cloud-froth will bed our breath and dust

and we will learn to live and so to die

For now I wait the rain drips past my eye

you dig deep beneath the seas of Rome

The seas will rise and fall in circles by the bye

and when the sea floor meets the starry dome

soaked and salty you will take our baby home

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