A Liturgy of Roses

By Williams, Tennessee | Chicago Review, Summer-Fall 1996 | Go to article overview

A Liturgy of Roses


Williams, Tennessee, Chicago Review


When this poem by Tennessee Williams appeared in the Summer 1946 issue, Williams had recently found acclaim as a playwright: the 1945 production of The Glass Menagerie was his first Broadway success. But he had also achieved some notice as a poet in 1944, when he had been featured in the third edition of the New Directions series, Five Young American Poets. "A Liturgy of Roses" was also the working title for his play The Rose Tattoo, a Dionysian farce, and the poem takes up that play's investigation of links between religion and sexuality; both works no doubt also allude to Williams's sister, Rose, a figure of naivete for the writer because she had been lobotomized. The poem was revised subsequent to its publication in Chicago Review and appeared in his collection, Androgyne, Mon Amour (1977); the revisions have been incorporated into the version presented here.

I.

This is for you for whom bloom certainly roses This is for you whose reticent temper it is to renounce the want of all things more effete than rooms full of ferns without blooms, as bell-shaped conservatories, for whom a subaqueous green gloom is sufficient without those roses

And yet who have everywhere in their secretive dwellings beds which are ingeniously disguised as less suggestive pieces of furniture, such as sofas whose backs collapse into beds at the touch of a button, oh, and those suspiciously handsome and languidly moving domestics are not surreptitious enough to cover up their slow going

to rooms curved as wombs

The warmth of which hums as a transmitter of current every few hours announcing: Now, yes, now, now is the moment, yes, now, A power that draws the light back into its source, until you let go and all of those doors floating open on those who have roses going to those who have roses, in chambers which those without roses possess no license to enter.

II.

But I am not sure that I have learned how to let go

Of not particularly caring enough to sicken the heart, that comfort that should not fail to suffice until later, oh, considerably later, while moving through rooms that are lucky with sun until later, the comfort of much later,

While moving through rooms of dual purposes and concealed appurtenances to the heart of abundance from which flow eternally roses,

Roses, all roses, the immense impartiality of all God and all roses, orifice emptying, never emptied of roses. …

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