Pretty Words by Elinor Wylie

Poets make pets of pretty, docile words: 
I love smooth words, like gold-enamelled fish 
Which circle slowly with a silken swish, 
And tender ones, like downy-feathered birds: 
Words shy and dappled, deep-eyed deer in herds, 
Come to my hand, and playful if I wish, 
Or purring softly at a silver dish, 
Blue Persian kittens fed on cream and curds. 

I love bright words, words up and singing early; 
Words that are luminous in the dark, and sing; 
Warm lazy words, white cattle under trees; 
I love words opalescent, cool, and pearly, 
Like midsummer moths, and honied words like bees, 
Gilded and sticky, with a little sting. 

© Elinor Wylie. All rights reserved.

In beginning this blog, I thought it could be no more fitting to start by talking about the act of writing poetry itself, and the reasons why so many are enthralled by the language used within it. I myself have managed to accumulate a true obsession with language and its limitless ambiguity in meaning and expression. I shan’t deny that recently I have found myself most disheartened by the apparent absence of the more daring lexical choices in everyday speech (being the butt of many jokes for my frequent use of such words as ‘discombobulated’ and the like). For this reason I’ve formed a real affinity with this sonnet by Elinor Wylie for the very reason that it deals with the very thing that I personally love the most about writing: the excuse it gives you to use – as she calls it – ‘pretty words.’ The opening line’s addressing of words as ‘pets’ of the poet writing them truly encapsulates the intimate relationship that we as writers can formulate with the words we weave together to produce an image of the world as we see it; loving and treasuring language in the same way one would dote on a family dog or cat. I love the use of natural imagery (particularly the simile of ‘gold-enamelled fish’), which serves to remind me of the organic nature of language and words and how it morphs over time; it decays and then is reborn in the same way in which a tree sheds it’s summer leaves through the fresh season of autumn. This, to me, seems to hint at the need for an acceptance that language changes over time and that this should be seen as a positive transition despite the comfort we in our human nature derive from our nostalgia of the ‘good old days.’  The very fact that Wylie has adopted the sonnet form, which traditionally serves to express the poet’s adoration for their lover, ultimately seems to promote the idea that her fascination with words and the beauty that language can bestow is truly an intense (and slightly unusual) love affair that freezes her in a dream-like state with words circling her and writers alike with a ‘silken swish’  of creative possibilities.


Elinor Wylie (1885-1928)