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

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Uncollected Poems (16): Five Baroque Sonnets

[These poems from the early to middle 1950s were recovered, along with numerous others, for Retrievals, a volume of Uncollected & New Poems 1955-2005, to be published in January 2011 by Mark Weiss & Junction Press. Translated from Italian & Spanish, they represent, along with two previously unpublished imitations of Emily Dickinson, the end of my experiments with traditional closed forms & terminally rhyming verse. Fifteen previous installments from Retrievals have appeared since 2008 on Poems & Poetics. (J.R.)]


Three thousand years ago man first adored
a feathered, armed, and oh! blind Love, since when
he’s grown deaf too; and sounds of others’ pain
(now charity’s thrown off) pass by unheard.

Glutton of gold, he masquerades his once
plain, boyish nakedness in clothes of brown,
and changed into a sly old man, throws down
his golden arrows for new-fangled guns:

till coal, flint, thunder, flames and burning lead
infect men’s bodies with their hellish wounds,
robbing the greedy mind of every sense.

But still an echo strikes my trembling head:
“Yield, sightless, scarred, deaf beast” (it sounds)
“to that high love of Holy Innocence.”

after Tommaso Campanella

Alone and timorous, my peril great,
who in the wars of love had met with fear,
I fled that tempest and at last drew near
my better fortune at this surer gate.

But in my journey’s center, doubts so great
obscured the path, which sloth let enter here,
that love, who in your eyes was passenger,
pummeled my heart in its defenseless state.

Yet scarcely could I praise the sweet disease
which wore me down, when one whom envy spurned
had carried you away and left me damned,

as once the Parthian fled the Euphrates
in siege, that nimble charger overturned,
its fierce commander sprawling there, unmanned.

after Hernando de Herrera

This marble like a broken, ancient thing,
flaunting its portraiture of once high hearts;
these arches splintered into separate parts,
grim towers rising in a helpless ring;

reveal to the rude mob how blind a thing’s
old error, which the spirit’s loss imparts.
And only I, immersed in wicked arts,
must seal my eyes against light’s entering.

I think: let my ambition fabricate
a house of stronger stone; and though I see
its overthrow in time, lust binds my will.

Sad waste of sense in one so obstinate
he lets desire murder sanity,
and shown his errors, pursues that greater Hell.

after Fernando de Herrera

“Where hast thou fled, cruel murderess? Restrain,
detain those steps that mark my loss, for I
in dark despair have uttered such fierce cry
an endless stream pours from my throbbing vein.

“Oh listen to my grief’s too sad refrain
and thousand times repeating self-same sigh,
that you may prove less fierce and proud, though I
have never moved you yet through my much pain.

“Turn toward me with your eyes where lightnings break,
before my blind cloud robs me of my sight,”
I said, deranged by dreams that fed my fears:

then turned and was alone upon a peak,
my day dissolving in a sea of night,
and metamorphosed into flaming tears.

after Fernando de Herrera

I never see that day return when He
was born Who (being God) willed to descend
into poor flesh, and in that web amend
our father’s sin against His sovereignty,

without recalling the deceptive way
that Love, when he had spread his net between
two fair eyes and a smile, caught me within –
those eyes so distant now for many a day;

and without feeling that old love impale
my lusting heart on his high lance, so deep
and tender was the entry that he made,

that if pure reason, garmented in mail,
did not ward off the thrusts of sense, my grief
would grow so bitter that none could give me aid.

after Gaspara Stampa

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