The tortoises of 1921

Tortoises, consisting of six long, unrhymed poems by D. H. Lawrence, was printed in 1921 in New York City (by Thomas Seltzer). In Baby Tortoise, Lawrence writes:

Voiceless little bird,
Resting your head half out of your wimple
In the slow dignity of your eternal pause.

The voiceless bird is the baby tortoise itself, called a “tiny shell-bird” earlier in the poem.

Fulfilled of the slow passion of pitching through immemorial ages
Your little round house in the midst of chaos.

Over to another poem, Tortoise Gallantry:

Dragged out of an eternity of silent isolation
And doomed to partiality, partial being,
Ache, and want of being…

“Your eternal pause,” “immemorial ages,” “in the midst of chaos,” “an eternity of silent isolation.” Forever alone and whole, and then deprived by desire of the wholeness and eternity.

Also in 1921, Nets to Catch the Wind, the first collection of poems by Elinor Wylie, was published in New York (by Harcourt, Brace and Company). It includes The Tortoise in Eternity, a poem too fine to be quoted in part and short enough to memorize in full.

So many tortoise poems, all concerned with time and timelessness, printed a hundred years back from now. I’ve never felt the 1920s were very far away in the past. Perhaps they will always feel like a very recent – and generally happy – time span, unlike most other decades from the 20th century.

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