In ‘Now Let No Charitable Hope’ by Elinor Morton Wylie, the speaker starts by reminding herself that she is not liberated. Despite her best efforts, she is not a free-flying antelope or running eagle. She’s a unique breed, a female human born alone. This has complicated her life and made it much more difficult for her to enjoy it. Finding happiness is so hard that she equates the process to squeezing a stone. She concludes by implying that she has been wearing a severe and absurd mask throughout her days.
Wylie explores women’s lives and rights, oppression/freedom, and sorrow/joy. Wylie’s speaker, who may be Wylie herself, characterizes her life as a battle for happiness. This speaker does not appear to be gifted in any way. She works hard to build a better life for herself, but her gender hinders her as men place obstacles in her path to happiness. She longs for the freedom wild animals enjoy, but she must remind herself that this is not the life for her. At the poem’s end, it’s unclear if the speaker ever discovered a way to be joyful or if grief dominated every instant of her life.
The poem expresses impassive acceptance in the face of the world’s difficulties. Its speaker recognizes the isolation and harshness of existence, especially as a woman in a hostile environment. Nonetheless, she rejects both despair and false optimism, observing that life includes some joy, challenges, and grief.
Below, you’ll find the full poem.
Now let no charitable hope
Confuse my mind with images
Of eagle and of antelope:
I am by nature none of these.
I was, being human, born alone;
I am, being woman, hard beset;
I live by squeezing from a stone
What little nourishment I get.
In masks outrageous and austere
The years go by in single file;
But none has merited my fear,
And none has quite escaped my smile.
Elinor Morton Wylie
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