Don’t tell me we’re not like plants,
sending out a shoot when we need to,
or spikes, poisonous oils, or flowers.
Come to me but only when I say,
that’s how plants announce
the rules of propagation.
Even children know this. You can
see them imitating all the moves
with their bright plastic toys.
So that, years later, at the moment
the girl’s body finally says yes
to the end of childhood,
a green pail with an orange shovel
will appear in her mind like a tropical
blossom she has never seen before.
Bid me discourse, I will enchant thine ear,
Or like a fairy trip upon the green,
Or, like a nymph, with long dishevell’d hair,
Dance on the sands, and yet no footing seen:
Love is a spirit all compact of fire,
Not gross to sink, but light, and will aspire.
Certain words now in our knowledge we will not use again, and we will never forget them. We need them. Like the back of the picture. Like our marrow, and the color in our veins. We shine the lantern of our sleep on them, to make sure, and there they are, trembling already for the day of witness. They will be buried with us, and rise with the rest.
Tis true, ‘tis day; what though it be?
O wilt thou therefore rise from me?
Why should we rise, because ‘tis light?
Did we lie down, because ‘twas night?
Love, which in spite of darkness brought us hither,
Should in despite of light keep us together.
Light hath no tongue, but is all eye;
If it could speak as well as spy,
This were the worst that it could say,
That being well, I fain would stay,
And that I loved my heart and honor so,
That I would not from him, that had them, go.
Must business thee from hence remove?
O, that’s the worst disease of love.
The poor, the foul, the false, love can
Admit, but not the busied man.
He which hath business, and makes love, doth do
Such wrong, as when a married man doth woo.
Did you fall from high heaven or surge from the abyss,
O Beauty? Your bright gaze, infernal and divine,
Confusedly pours out courage and cowardice,
Or love and crime. Therefore men liken you to wine.
Your eyes hold all the sunset and the dawn, you are
As rich in fragrances as a tempestuous night,
Your kisses are a philtre and your mouth a jar
Filling the child with valor and the man with fright.
Did the stars mould you or the pit’s obscurity?
You bring at random Paradise or Juggernaut.
Fate sniffs your skirts with a charmed dog’s servility,
You govern all and yet are answerable for naught.
Beauty, you walk on corpses of dead men you mock.
Among your store of gems, Horror is not the least;
Murder, amid the dearest trinkets of your stock,
Dances on your proud belly like a ruttish beast.
Candle, the transient moth flies dazzled to your light,
Crackles and flames and says: “Blessèd this fiery doom!”
The panting lover with his mistress in the night
Looks like a dying man caressing his own tomb.
Are you from heaven or hell, Beauty that we adore?
Who cares? A dreadful, huge, ingenuous monster, you!
So but your glance, your smile, your foot open a door
Upon an Infinite I love but never knew.
From Satan or from God? Who cares? Fierce or serene,
Who cares? Sister to sirens or to seraphim?
So but, dark fey, you shed your perfume, rhythm and sheen
To make the world less hideous and Time less grim.
(Translated by Jacques LeClercq)
If when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,-
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
“I am lonely, lonely,
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!”
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades,-
Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?
and yet we think that song outlasts us all: wrecked devotion
the wept face of desire, a kind of savage caring that reseeds itself and grows in clusters
oh, you who are young, consider how quickly the body deranges itself
how time, the cruel banker, forecloses us to snowdrifts white as god’s own ribs
what else but to linger in the slight shade of those sapling branches
yearning for that vernal beau. for don’t birds covet the seeds of the honey locust
and doesn’t the ewe have a nose for wet filaree and slender oats foraged in the meadow
kit foxes crave the blacktailed hare: how this longing grabs me by the nape
guess I figured to be done with desire, if I could write it out
dispense with any evidence, the way one burns a pile of twigs and brush
what was his name? I’d ask myself, that guy with the sideburns and charming smile
the one I hoped that, as from a sip of hemlock, I’d expire with him on my tongue
silly poet, silly man: thought I could master nature like a misguided preacher
as if banishing love is a fix. as if the stars go out when we shut our sleepy eyes
The major problem — one of the major problems, for there are several — one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.
To summarize: it is a well known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.
An artist is the magician put among men to gratify — capriciously — their urge for immortality. The temples are built and brought down around him, continuously and contiguously, from Troy to the fields of Flanders. If there is any meaning in any of it, it is in what survives as art, yes even in the celebration of tyrants, yes even in the celebration of nonentities. What now of the Trojan War if it had been passed over by the artist’s touch? Dust. A forgotten expedition prompted by Greek merchants looking for new markets. A minor redistribution of broken pots. But it is we who stand enriched, by a tale of heroes, of a golden apple, a wooden horse, a face that launched a thousand ships — and above all, of Ulysses, the wanderer, the most human, the most complete of all heroes — husband, father, son, lover, farmer, soldier, pacifist, politician, inventor and adventurer.
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,
Whiles, like a puff’d and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads.
And recks not his own rede.
Act 1, Scene 3