Poet's Pick April 4
H. D.: "Sea Rose"
Selected by Dan Beachy-Quick
National Poetry Month 2013

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Dan Beachy-Quick's Poetry Month Pick, April 4, 2013

"Sea Rose"
by H. D. (1886–1961)

Rose, harsh rose,
marred and with stint of petals,
meagre flower, thin,
sparse of leaf,

more precious
than a wet rose
single on a stem—
you are caught in the drift.

Stunted, with small leaf,
you are flung on the sand,
you are lifted
in the crisp sand
that drives in the wind.

Can the spice-rose
drip such acrid fragrance
hardened in a leaf?


* Dan Beachy-Quick Comments:
Some poems gain their power in almost secret ways. Beneath the quiet precision of H.D.’s “Sea Rose,” some before unspeakable realization reveals itself as inevitable. Not a poem of personal crisis, nor a poem of event, and yet, “Sea Rose” contains a power that does not exclude from its concern what it is not. Reading it, I feel as if I’m glimpsing the remnant fringe of a lived moment, the selvage of a self, and this poem occurs exactly within a very inexact moment: when what is lived alters and becomes symbolic. That transition—from history to what resists time, from experience to what shatters the limits of “my life”—accomplishes an extraordinary work to which poetry is devoted. We feel it here as in Blake—in this poem not of a “Sick Rose,” but of a “Sea Rose.” We read it and find the poem has offered itself to us as nothing less than an insight into how genuine beauty functions in the world, the difficulty of beauty in the difficulty of the world, and since feeling that discovery the first time, this poem has been one I’ve returned to incessantly.

Sometimes I find myself, as I walk around campus or the neighborhood, sometimes while running, sometimes in moments more mundane—at the grocery store, waiting at the dentist—saying over and again, “you are caught in the drift.”  It is a line in which philosophy and poetry collide together in a single fragment, shard in the mind the mind cannot forget. It speaks of the position of the thing-of-beauty in a world that is real and more than real, sea shore but a larger symbol, too. For our sea rose, “harsh” and “marred” and “stunted” as it is, gains in the poem a worth far greater than any “precious / ... wet rose / single on a stem” could manage; it gives off a scent more necessary, more true, than the “spice-rose” could ever emit. Those roses keep to their beauty as some selfish value contained within the thing itself, held away from the world, for the world is what threatens their beauty, the mere perfection of it. But the sea rose? It is “caught in the drift,” it is “flung on the sand,” and the wind-blown sand ravages it, batters it—a violence so supreme it echoes John Donne’s “Batter my heart, three person’d God.” Yet, it seems we do not need God to batter our hearts, the world is enough—the word is enough, if you’re caught in the drift.

For there it is, the sea rose, there on the strand, caught between the solidity of the land, and all the order land promises exists, and the ocean, force formless, ceaseless, infinite in its urge to tear apart the very solidity against which it crashes, as if, in any given moment, on any given shore, one can look up and see the oldest crisis is still the only one: chaos and cosmos. Where does the poem locate itself to be honest in its beauty? It puts itself on the shore. How do we know it’s beautiful? By its being so beaten, so bruised, so battered by bearing at once two opposite forms of violence, the cosmic and the chaotic, that the blossom releases its perfume. So, too, of the poem, I might say, that bears for us what we cannot bear ourselves: the terrible and true, the awful and full of awe, condition in which beauty comes to bear and do its work. It keeps us between all order and all disorder, lets us betroth ourselves to neither, but keeps us, as it keeps itself, “in the drift.”

About Dan Beachy-Quick:
Dan Beachy-Quick is the author, most recently, of Circle's Apprentice (Tupelo Press) and Wonderful Investigations (Milkweed Editions), his collection of essays, meditations, and tales. He teaches in the MFA Writing Program at Colorado State University.

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