Elinor Morton Wylie (Sep 7, 1885 – Dec 16, 1928) was an New Jersey born poet and novelist popular in the 1920s and 1930s. A well known celebrity during her life almost as much for her ethereal beauty and personality as for her sensuous and melodic poetry.
I was always afraid of Somes's Pond: Not the little pond, by which the willow stands, Where laughing boys catch alewives in their hands In brown, bright shallows; but the one beyond. There, where the frost makes all the birches burn Yellow as cow-lilies, and the pale sky shines Like a polished shell between black spruce and pines, Some strange thing tracks us, turning where we turn. You'll say I dreamed it, being the true daughter Of those who in old times endured this dread. Look! Where the lily-stems are showing red A silent paddle moves below the water, A sliding shape has stirred them like a breath; Tall plumes surmount a painted mask of death.
Atavism means a tendency to revert to something ancient or ancestral. This poem, from her first collection, Nets to Catch the Wind, is an impressive sonnet in the old romantic style, taking the reader by surprise with its title, and following that with the calm admission of the first line I always was afraid of Somes’s Pond.
Wylie’s “polished, articulate, and soulful emotional writing shows the influence of the metaphysical poets,” such as John Donne, George Herbert, and Andrew Marvell. If her poetry is inspired by someone though, that would be particularly of Shelley and the romantic poetry movement, she admired Shelly to a degree that some critics have seen as eccentric.
In her first book, Nets to Catch the Wind, “Stanzas and lines were quite short, and the effect of her images was of a highly detailed, polished surface. Often, her poems expressed a dissatisfaction with the realities of life on the part of a speaker who aspired to a more gratifying world of art and beauty.”