Hilda Morley, 1919-1998

Hilda Morley died in London on March 23, 1998 at the age of seventy-nine, having moved there this past year from Sag Harbor, Long Island, where she had lived for some years. London meant a return to old friends and an earlier time in her life. As she said, she could see out over the whole of the city from her little house at the very top of Hampstead Hill. In addition to her step-daughter, Katherina Wolpe and other London friends, Josephine Clare had traveled from this country to London to be with her in the last days as had also her publisher, Jennifer Moyer. Both say her spirit was characteristically indomitable and that her passing was without pain. Her obituary in the New York Times, March 27, 1998, will provide further information.



Preface: For Hilda
by Robert Creeley


Whatever poetry is or will ever be, these miraculous traceries of mind and heart bring you here in such vivid clarity--as though the door suddenly opened and there were a bright flash of sun and the lingering odor of fresh rain and dampened earth. One thinks of all the rules there have been, of the characteristic male proscriptions one had thought to learn and attend, as if the art of saying things, a "how to dance sitting down," were only some lesson to be mastered. You must well remember the days of the "poeme bien fait" when we marched off to that drear school of previous habits, hoping that something we found might fit although it didn't. I wonder at the way you taught yourself then to move with such lightness and particularity, touching each term and thing, each feeling, always making them actual -- like Denise saying (quoting Jung), "Everything that acts is actual." You made remarkable sense of it.

Is it, as you say, "An absence in which I have nothing/to lose/ myself, I gave it/ to myself..." -- lifting so to be here in literal words a presence which otherwise would be lost, find other occasion, be simply a memory? That makes of it all a far more complicating thought than what you are always able to say so simply:

   ...Words in my mouth are
   astonished;
                             the sky appears
   in a space I'd forgotten
   was there..
How good you are to those you love! Reading, each dear person appears in your words, through your words, "blessings." You make poetry the bond between us, the passage allowing us to come to one another, to be human. Men learn that so hardly if at all. Mallarme's poems for his dying son, Williams' difficult love in old age, Olson in the last poems of Maximus, Coleridge's "The Pains of Sleep". A day ago I was in front of people reading Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale," because that music so seemed to me all that was ever the point. I found myself crying -- as I do now also."That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,/ In some melodious plot/ of beechen green, and shadows numberless,/ Singest of summer in full-throated ease..." It is your summer, your ease, he speaks of. That, I know we agree, is the one moment ever to be prized.

One recalls that you had, when young, met H.D., who I must believe could see you, recognize then your distinction, your almost elusive brilliance. As you, she invokes another, so that there is not fact of one presence solely, but always some other there, or about to be, or just now gone, or else coming again to one's apprehension. Perhaps it is because you, as she, had an early defining relation with England, and with Europe and Israel, however long it now seems you've been back -- in Black Mountain all those years ago, then New York, now Long Island. I always thought you very patient with the male machismo of the college, which gave such small room if any to a poet as yourself. Were we threatened? Quite probably -- as we tramped about with our big ideas. You are very generous to have so persisted with that "we" so comfortably in your poems. I don't think you ever found the fashionable loneliness of the artist either productive or fun. Your attention to what's out there in the world is always ample:


                           Staring as I learned to do
   at 15 -- the window
   my outerspace, 
                        hours when the blind hillsides,
   stony in the sun,      the scoop of the bay,
                                                   a fig-tree
   pointing green candles, 
                                 a donkey
   clambering delicately on the rocks
                                             set me
   foundations for the season...
You have held to those you've cared for with great compassion, let them be actual, made them present in your love. Your poems take them from your heart into that same world you have so honored by seeing it is there, each leaf, each singing bird.

Poets are makers, they say. One's responsibility would then be, as Robert Duncan put it, "the ability to respond." Reading now, all the years passed seem an endless time that we have known one another, dear friend. Yet each poem is still that moment which can have no other "time" ever. You've given everything you have. Here it comes back a thousandfold.


Links: Information on Morley's The Turning | Funkhouser's Morley page | Robert Creeley's Home Page

© Robert Creeley
Rev. April 1998
Electronic Poetry Center