Power in Silence, by Michael Field

Christian Schloe
Christian Schloe

I present today my last selection from Underneath the Bough, a love poem in “The Third Book of Songs” in that collection. It must be understood within the context of the lesbian relation between the two authors, Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper. The poet loves a silent girl, but “her royal, jewelled speechlessness” does not mean that she does not reciprocate: “It were not right / To reckon her the poorer lover; / She does not love me less.” The two are like birds, looking for intimacy: “what is more dear / Than a cherry-bough, bees feeding near / In the soft, proffered blooms?” The young girl “is a dove” who must liberate herself from barriers and give herself fully to the power of love: “My close-housed bird should take her flight / To magnify our love.

POWER IN SILENCE.

I.

THOUGH I sing high, and chaunt above her,
Praising my girl,
It were not right
To reckon her the poorer lover;
She does not love me less
For her royal, jewelled speechlessness,
She is the sapphire, she the light,
The music in the pearl.

II.

Not from pert birds we learn the spring-tide
From open sky.
What speaks to us
Closer than far distances that hide
In woods, what is more dear
Than a cherry-bough, bees feeding near
In the soft, proffered blooms? Lo, I
Am fed and honoured thus.

III.

She has the star’s own pulse; its throbbing
Is a quick light.
She is a dove
My soul draws to its breast; her sobbing
Is for the warm dark there!
In the heat of her wings I would not care
My close-housed bird should take her flight
To magnify our love.

Sources of the poem: Underneath the Bough, A Book of Verses by Michael Field (American edition), Thomas B. Mosher, Portland, Maine (1898). A transcription of the English edition of 1893 has been given by Dickinson College, but it was not thoroughly checked; the poem can be seen here. It has also been transcribed by the Poetry Foundation.

A similar interpretation of this poem has been given in ‘Soaring the Skies: A Closer Look at “Power in Silence”’ by Daniel Sandberg in Literary and Cultural Theory at Wabash, April 8, 2012.

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