“Escape” is a three-stanza poem written by the American poet Elinor Wylie. Each stanza of this piece contains four lines and they rhyme in a consistent pattern of ABAB, CDCD, EFEF. This gives the poem, when reading aloud, a sing-song like rhythm.
Summary of Escape
The speaker begins by describing how she will leave the world behind when the “last gold grape” is gone and the “last white antelope killed.” She is referencing the beautiful fascination that rare or revered objects hold in the world and how she has no desire to live in this world without them. She will cease her battles against mundanity and “escape” to a house she is planning to build.
To do so she will need to shrink to “fairy size” and by doing so confound those that would seek to understand her. The world is so consumed by its own tedious problems, lacking in fascination, no one will be able to see or grasp what has happened to her. Their hands will be unwieldy, like mud, and their eyes blind as if obscured by cataracts.
In the third stanza, the speaker describes how after she is gone others will search for her in the roots and branches of trees, but they will not find her. The monotonous nature of their lives will have blinded them to the more beautiful aspects of the world that still exist.
Analysis of Escape
When foxes eat the last gold grape,
And the last white antelope is killed,
I shall stop fighting and escape
Into a little house I’ll build.
Wylie begins this piece by having her speaker introduce two different items of rare and mystical value, a “gold grape” and a “white antelope.” This reference to golden grapes is connected to Greek mythology and the common idea that the Gods dined on ambrosia and drank nectar. These items, the nectar, in particular, has been depicted as a type of wine, made from grapes. Fruit, such as golden apples, (another recurring motif in legends) is seen in Norse Mythology as conveying eternal youth.
When considering the reference to a “white antelope” one must consider the myths behind such a creature. It is common in world mythology for pure white animals to hold prominent places in stories. For example, the white antelope, or oryx, was the symbol of a nome (small administrative district) in Upper Egypt and white animals were, and still are, considered heralds of prophecy.
In the physical world, white or albino animals are quite simply, rare, and hold a value all their own due to their scarcity.
The speaker is referencing the end of all things of real value, when the magic, beauty, and “specialness” of the world has gone away, the speaker “shall stop fighting and escape.” She does not see the point of continuing on when the fascination of the world has been lost.
She finishes this stanza by saying that she will “escape” from this now plain and dreary world, to a “little house” of her own creation.
It is also important to note, here at the beginning of the poem, that each stanza is written in the future tense. These things are yet to come, the speaker is only predicting, or hoping, that this is what’s going to happen. All the speaker has at this point is the aspiration to escape.
But first I’ll shrink to fairy size,
With a whisper no one understands,
Making blind moons of all your eyes,
And muddy roads of all your hands.
In this little house that she has made, she will rediscover some of the magic that has been lost in the world. It is a place of her own making and therefore can contain all elements the real world has lost. Before she leaves for her new home forever, she will quietly “shrink” to the size of a fairy, “With a whisper.” This line can be taken to mean two things, that either she will make this change quietly and in secret so that no one will know, or that no one will notice because the world has changed so much that no one can see what is really going on. They are blind to the wonders of life.
Her transformation will be so incomprehensible to the rest of the world that “your eyes” will be made into “blind moons.” They will be blown wide and white, blinded by what “you” cannot see. This line calls up images of cataracts and blind animals who cannot handle the true light of the world. The speaker believes that the rest of the population, or at least the group she is addressing, are living like moles, underground in the darkness.
Additionally, when she “shrink[s] to fairy size,” no one will know what to do, their hands will be like “muddy roads.” They will be ungainly and impossible to control. So shocked will they be that no one will be able to manipulate their hands or make a move to understand what they have seen.
And you may grope for me in vain
In hollows under the mangrove root,
Or where, in apple-scented rain,
The silver wasp-nests hang like fruit.
Once the people of the world have understood what has happened to this speaker, that she has found a way out of the dreary world that “we” have created, it will be too late. They will “grope” for her “in vain” in the roots and branches of trees.
They have been caught out by their blindness and will be unable to find the speaker now that she has escaped. She describes the places that they will search for her lovingly and lyrically. She describes the “silver wasp-nests” and how they “hang like fruit” within the branches of the mangrove trees. The rain will have left its scent upon the scene, flavored by apple and permeating the leaves of the tree. It is clear from these carefully crafted and beautifully worded lines that this speaker still holds some affection for the world she is leaving.
This poem is a dream for the future, an outcome that the speaker sees as being ideal for the circumstances. If she could shrink and slip away, she would, but of course, this is just a fantasy.
About Elinor Wylie
Elinor Wylie was born in Somerville, New Jersey in 1885. Her family was prominent in society and as she grew up, she was trained for the life of a “society wife.” Wylie rebelled against this lifestyle and would marry for the first time in 1905. This marriage was brief and would end when Wylie left her husband and their son to live with Horace Wylie in London. Horace encouraged Elinor to write and she published a small book of poems, Incidental Numbers, in 1912.
The couple moved to live in the United States after the start of World War I and during this time period, Wylie miscarried several times, as well as having one stillbirth, and one premature child who only lived a few days. They officially married in 1916, but they were beginning to drift apart. Wylie met her third husband, William Rose Benet, and published her most well-known poem, “Velvet Shoes,” during this time period.
Horace and Elinor separated in 1921 and between then and 1928 Wylie published another four volumes of poetry as well as working as a literary editor, and publishing four novels. Wylie saw success and recognition from critics during her lifetime but would fall into obscurity after her death. Elinor Wylie died at the age of forty-three from a stroke brought on by her high blood pressure.