To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Reconfiguring Romanticism (20): from Goethe's Venetian Epigrams

Urns and sarcophagi
pagans paint into life,
dancing fauns,
dancing bands of bacchantes,
bright lines of them,
goatfooted, fatcheeked,
squeeze sounds
hot & wild
through brass horns,
percussions & cymbals
blare out,
we see & hear
on the marble
birds beating wings,
sweet taste of the fruit
on your beaks,
no noise to frighten
still less to drive Eros away
who joins the bright crowds
hoisting his torch.
So bounty overcomes death
& the ashes within
in the house made of silence
still find pleasure in life.
Some day
may the tomb of the poet
be graced
with this scroll
he has richly bejewelled
with life.


Tight little alleyway – no room
to squeeze between its walls –
a young girl blocks my way,
my rambles around Venice
knocks me off my feet,
the place, the come-on
to a stranger’s eye,
a wide canal my drifting
takes me to. If you
had girls like your canals,
o Venice, cunts
like little alleyways, you’d be
the greatest city in the world.


what bothers me is this:
the way Bettina gets to be so skillful
every limb in her body
grows looser & looser
till she can stick her own little tongue
up her own little cunt
a charmer who tastes her own charms
will soon lose all interest in men.


Is it so big a mystery
what god and man and world are?
No! but nobody knows how to solve it
so the mystery hangs on.


Lots of things I can stomach. Most of what irks me
I take in my stride, as a god might command me.
But four things I hate more than poisons & vipers:
tobacco smoke, garlic, bedbugs, and Christ.


Doesn’t surprise me that Christ our Lord
preferred to live with whores
& sinners, seeing
I go in for that myself.


I could have made it just as well with boys
although my thing has always been with girls.
And once I get my satisfaction with a girl
I can turn her around & have her as a boy.


Not schwanz meaning “tail”
but some fancier word
o Priapus
me being a poet
in German
that word grinds me down.
In Greek I can call you
a phallos a marvelous
sound to my ears
and in Latin mentula
from mens meaning “mind”
another good word.
But schwanz is something
that sticks out from behind
& behind isn’t where
I find pleasure.

Translation from German by Jerome Rothenberg

[These translations will appear – in somewhat modified form – in Poems for the Millennium, volume 3: The University of California Book of Romantic & Postromantic Poetry, gathered by myself & Jeffrey Robinson & scheduled for publication in January. Our commentary on Goethe appeared in this blog on June 24.]

1 comment:

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