by Fay Picardi
As many of you already know, The Pieces of Eight has one member who is both an established poet and an aspiring artist. That member is me, Fay Picardi. I feel very honored to be a member of this group of creative, talented, and supportive women. And now the time has come that I must venture forth to do my first post.
For years I have been fascinated by the Chambered Nautilus or nautilus pompilius (I had to look that one up). My first introduction to this mollusk was in my English class when I was a Junior in high school. The poem was The Chambered Nautilus by Oliver Wendell Holmes. During my quite extensive stint as an American Literature teacher, I found and used as a prop for explaining the imagery in this poem to my students. It was a center cut pearl shell left somewhere in the world by a nautilus, beautiful in its iridescence. I would have it still, decades later, if it had not cracked and I had not thrown it away, promising myself I would buy another. As with many things we try to duplicate, I was never able to find one that was a perfect replacement. For years now I have been treasuring instead a tear-out from a magazine which looks as close to the original as I have been able to find, even though it does not have the tiny passageways by which the nautilus moved from chamber to chamber.
By Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. 1809–1894 Oliver Wendell Holmes
This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
Sails the unshadowed main,—
The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.
Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
And every chambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
Before thee lies revealed,—
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!
Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil;
Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year’s dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.
Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
Child of the wandering sea,
Cast from her lap, forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathèd horn!
While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:—
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!