top of page

Beatrice Ravenel

Born August 24, 1870, Beatrice Witte was the third daughter of Charles Otto and Charlotte Sophia Witte. Like her sisters, she attended the Charleston Female Seminary. As a young woman, she was accepted at the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women at Cambridge, Massachusetts, better known after 1893 as Radcliffe College.  Her early poetry is noteworthy primarily for its novel use of the picturesque Carolina Lowcountry locale. After 1920, her ornate sentimental writing style began to change. Amy Lowell inspired her to write in the sharp precision of free verse and to create the vivid and evocative imagery of the new modern Imagists. She went on to publish in the Atlantic Monthly, the Advocate, Scribner’s Magazine, Harper’s, The Saturday Evening Post, and the Harvard Monthly. In Charleston, she was awarded the Poetry Society Prize 1922 for her collection of poems entitled Yemassee Lands. Critics now argue that her book, The Arrow of Lightning, was her finest achievement.  In both of these exceptional works, one begins to see that Walt Whitman was her most influential author. In 1956, at the age of eighty-five, Beatrice Witte Ravenel died.

The Humming-Bird

The sundial makes no sign
At the point of the August noon.
The sky is of ancient tin,
And the ring of the mountains diffused and unmade
(One always remembers them).
On the twisted dark of the hemlock hedge
Rain, like a line of shivering violin-bows
Hissing together, poised on the last turgescent swell,
Batters the flowers.
Under the trumpet-vine arbor,
Clear, precise as an Audubon print,
          The air is of melted glass,
          Solid, filling interstices
Of leaves that are spaced on the spines
          Like a pattern ground into glass;
          Dead, as though dull red glass were poured into the mouth,
Choking the breath, molding itself into the creases of soft red tissues.

And a humming-bird darts head first,
Splitting the air, keen as a spurt of fire shot from the blow-pipe,
Cracking a star of rays; dives like a flash of fire,
Forked tail lancing the air, into the immobile trumpet;
Stands on the air, wings like a triple shadow
Whizzing around him.

Shadows thrown on the midnight streets by a snow-flecked arc-light,
Shadows like sword-play,
Splinters and spines from a thousand dreams
Whizz from his wings!

                                                    Beatrice Ravenel

bottom of page