The Nacreous Oughts

31 July 2008

   I watched the misty
Pleiades sink, Orion
   followed them below;
it's midnight now; the blankness
is complete. I lie alone.

--Sappho (my tr.)

Tonight I've watched
the moon and then
the Pleiades
go down
the night is now
half-gone; youth
goes; I am
in bed alone

(tr Mary Barnard)

The weeping Pleiads wester
   And the moon is under seas;
From bourn to bourn of midnight
   Far sighs the rainy breeze:

It sighs from a lost country
   To a land I have not known;
The weeping Pleiads wester,
   And I lie down alone.

(tr A E Housman, as is the following:)

Th rainy Pleiads wester,
   Orion plunges prone,
And midnight strikes and hastens,
   And I lie down alone.

The rainy Pleiads wester
   And seek beyond the sea
The head that I shall dream of
   That will not dream of me.

   "After Weightlessness"

Once, the random sweep of an arm sufficed
To disperse planets like seedballs, rearrange
A galaxy. There were whole systems, then,
Bent round my clever thumb: and I could utter
Stars by the thousand, or laughingly banish light-years
Within the compass of my own spread fingers.

Since then, how many vengeful atmospheres
Have crushed my joints! Each pebble that I lift
Here on Earth, bruises the skin with blood,
Leaving its dark ring. Wherever I look,
Rivers hurtle seawards, unbalanced trees
Topple, helpless, towards the hidden centre.

Within me, now, I feel the fatal mass
Of dreams grown heavy, each imagined order
Compacted, bearing me down through clay and water:
And when, with effort, I raise my face to the mirror,
Each day, with growing terror I confront
Someone else's definition of power.

--Lawrence Sail

29 July 2008

    "Secret Parting"

Because our talk was of the cloud-control
And moon-track of the journeying face of Fate,
Her tremulous kisses faltered at love’s gate
And her eyes dreamed against a distant goal:
But soon, remembering her how brief the whole
Of joy, which its own hours annihilate,
Her set gaze gathered, thirstier than of late,
And as she kissed, her mouth became her soul.

Thence in what ways we wandered, and how strove
To build with fire-tried vows the piteous home
Which memory haunts and whither sleep may roam,—
They only know for whom the roof of Love
Is the still-seated secret of the grove,
Nor spire may rise nor bell be heard therefrom.

--Dante Gabriel Rossetti

28 July 2008


REMEMBER me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

--Christina Rossetti


27 July 2008


We go no more to Calverly's,
For there the lights are few and low;
And who are there to see by them,
Or what they see, we do not know.
Poor strangers of another tongue
May now creep in from anywhere,
And we, forgotten, be no more
Than twilight on a ruin there.

We two, the remnant. All the rest
Are cold and quiet. You nor I,
Nor fiddle now, nor flagon-lid,
May ring them back from where they lie.
No fame delays oblivion
For them, but something yet survives:
A record written fair, could we
But read the book of scattered lives.

There'll be a page for Leffingwell,
And one for Lingard, the Moon-calf;
And who knows what for Clavering,
Who died because he couldn't laugh?
Who knows or cares? No sign is here,
No face, no voice, no memory;
No Lingard with his eerie joy,
No Clavering, no Calverly.

We cannot have them here with us
To say where their light lives are gone,
Or if they be of other stuff
Than are the moons of Ilion.
So, be their place of one estate
With ashes, echoes, and old wars, --
Or ever we be of the night,
Or we be lost among the stars.

--Edwin Arlington Robinson

24 July 2008

    Sonette an Orpheus, II. 29

Quiet friend of farflung furlongs, feel
how more & more your breathing swells the room.
Among the rafters of the gloomy belfry
let yourself toll. What takes its life from you
gathers to a greatness over this repast.
Embrace the transmutation,--there & back.
What's your most excruciating practice?
Does drinking twist your face? Turn into wine.
Be, tonight, out of overplus,
wizardry at your senses' intersecting;
of their weird conjunction make the sense.
Then, when all the homely round forgets,
to the sempiternal earth declare: I run.
To the rushing waters answer: I remain.

--Rainer Maria Rilke (my tr, 1987)

17 July 2008

    "Celebration of Failure"

Through pain the land of pain,
Through tender exiguity,
Through cruel self-suspicion:
Thus came I to this inch of wholeness.

It was a promise.
After pain, I said,
An inch will be what never a boasted mile.

And haughty judgement,
That frowned upon a faultless plan,
Now smiles upon this crippled execution,
And my dashed beauty praises me.

--Laura Riding

    "The Southern Road"

There the black river, boundary to hell.
And here the iron bridge, the ancient car,
And grim conductor, who with surly yell
Forbids white soldiers where the black ones are.
And I re-live the enforced avatar
Of desperate journey to a dark abode
Made by my sires before another war;
And I set forth upon the southern road.

To a land where shadowed songs like followers swell
And where the earth is scarlet as a scar
Friezed by the bleeding lash that fell (O fell)
Upon my fathers' flesh. O far, far, far
And deep my blood has drenched it. None can bar
My birthright to the loveliness bestowed
Upon this country haughty as a star.
And I set forth upon the southern road.

This darkness and these mountains loom a spell
Of peak-roofed town where yearning steeples soar
And the holy holy chanting of a bell
Shakes human incense on the throbbing air
Where bonfires blaze and quivering bodies char.
Whose is the hair that crisped, and fiercely glowed?
I know it; and my entrails melt like tar
And I set forth upon the southern road.

O fertile hillsides where my fathers are,
From which my griefs like trouble streams have flowed,
I have to love you, though they sweep me far.
And I set forth upon the southern road.

--Dudley Randall

    "The Lie"

GO, Soul, the body's guest,
Upon a thankless arrant:
Fear not to touch the best;
The truth shall be thy warrant:
Go, since I needs must die,
And give the world the lie.

Say to the court, it glows
And shines like rotten wood;
Say to the church it shows
What's good, and doth no good:
If church and court reply,
Then give them both the lie.

Tell potentates, they live
Acting by others' action;
Not loved unless they give,
Not strong but by affection:
If potentates reply,
Give potentates the lie.

Tell men of high condition
That manage the estate,
Their purpose is ambition,
Their practice only hate:
And if they once reply,
Then give them all the lie.

Tell them that brave it most
They beg for more by spending,
Who, in their greatest cost,
Seek nothing but commending:
And if they make reply,
Then give them all the lie.

Tell zeal it wants devotion,
Tell love it is but lust;
Tell time it metes but motion,
Tell flesh it is but dust:
And wish them not reply,
For thou must give the lie.

Tell age it daily wasteth;
Tell honour how it alters;
Tell beauty how she blasteth;
Tell favour how it falters;
And as they shall reply,
Give every one the lie.

Tell wit how much it wrangles
In tickle points of niceness;
Tell wisdom she entangles
Herself in over-wiseness:
And when they do reply,
Straight give them both the lie.

Tell physic of her boldness;
Tell skill it is pretension;
Tell charity of coldness;
Tell law it is contention;
And as they all reply,
So give them still the lie.

Tell fortune of her blindness;
Tell nature of decay;
Tell friendship of unkindness;
Tell justice of delay;
And if they will reply,
Then give them all the lie.

Tell arts they have no soundness,
But vary by esteeming;
Tell schools they want profoundness,
And stand too much on seeming:
If arts and schools reply,
Give arts and schools the lie.

Tell faith it's fled the city;
Tell how the country erreth;
Tell manhood shakes off pity
And virtue least preferreth:
And if they do reply,
Spare not to give the lie.

So when thou hast, as I
Commanded thee, done blabbing
--Although to give the lie
Deserves no less than stabbing--
Stab at thee he that will,
No stab thy soul can kill.

Sir Walter Raleigh

    "The World"

It burns in the void.
Nothing upholds it.
Still it travels.

Traveling the void
Upheld by burning
Nothing is still.

Burning it travels.
The void upholds it.
Still it is nothing.

Nothing it travels
A burning void
Upheld by stillness.

--Kathleen Raine

    "Hasbrouck and the Rose"

Hasbrouck was there and so were Bill
And Smollet Smith the poet, and Ames was there.
After his thirteenth drink, the burning Smith,
Raising his fourteenth trembling in the air,
Said, "Drink with me, Bill, drink up to the Rose."
But Hasbrouck laughed like old men in a myth,
Inquiring, "Smollet, are you drunk? What rose?"
And Smollet said, "I drunk? It may be so;
Which comes from brooding on the flower, the flower
I mean toward which mad hour by hour
I travel brokenly; and I shall know,
With Hermes and the alchemists—but, hell,
What use is it talking that way to you?
Hard-boiled, unbroken egg, what can you care
For the enfolded passion of the Rose?"
Then Hasbrouck’s voice rang like an icy bell:
"Arcane romantic flower, meaning what?
Do you know what it meant? Do I?
We do not know.
Unfolding pungent Rose, the glowing bath
Of ecstasy and clear forgetfulness;
Closing and secret bud one might achieve
By long debauchery—
Except that I have eaten it, and so
There is no call for further lunacy.
In Springfield, Massachusetts, I devoured
The mystic, the improbable, the Rose.
For two nights and a day, rose and rosette
And petal after petal and the heart,
I had my banquet by the beams
Of four electric stars which shone
Weakly into my room, for there,
Drowning their light and gleaming at my side,
Was the incarnate star
Whose body bore the stigma of the Rose.
And that is all I know about the flower;
I have eaten it—it has disappeared.
There is no Rose."

Young Smollet Smith let fall his glass; he said,
"O Jesus, Hasbrouck, am I drunk or dead?"

--Phelps Putnam

    Elegy IV.8

Hear me, and learn
   what pulse of alarm
      struck through the night of the liquid Esquiline,
propelling a fearful throng through the New Field gardens
   when a foul tumult agitated the darkness,
      tumult in which I meant to be no contender,
   & in which my good name received certain injuries.
Lanuvium is from old times guarded by her tutelary snake,
      an ageless reptile; a pause there is worth your while,
      a pause for this distinguished attraction.
Sacred steps plunge down a black cleft there,
   down which his yearly sacrifice descends,
   when reptilian hunger requires propitiation
(Young woman, beware of such places)
         when his annual hisses curl from the hollow earth.
A pale virgin descends to lurid rites,
   hands held our rashly with provender
         for his honorable maw,
   canister clattering in fearful hands.
If she be chaste, she returns to her parents' arms
      & the farmers sing that it will be a prosperous year, a fertile year.
My Cynthia took herself there, with gleaming horses,
   pleading Juno's worship, intending Aphrodite's,
her chariot hurtling over the rocks,
   wheels reckless on the Appian Way.
Cynthia suspended at the pole's head, a spectacular sight,
   whipping her way through the bad spots in the road
   with somewhat more daring than the average beardless prodigal
in his carriage hung with Chinese silk
   & his necklaced poodle.
(...) Thus another of her absences from our bed,
   & I undertook a little diversion,
      & pitched camp elsewhere.
Two girls, Phyllis, who lives near the Aventine Diana;
   who lacks charm sober, although things improve when she drinks;
   & Teia, who resides near the Tarpeian wood,
      a glowing beauty, & when she is fired by wine,
         half a dozen lovers are scarcely sufficient.
I invited these two, set up a small orgy
      to soothe the long night & renew the dormant rites
      of Aphrodite
            with secret lubricity.
One couch in a hidden garden served for 3 of us,
   me between the two,
and Lygdamus manned the wine ladle,
   & our summertime equipage of chalices served for the wine,
      a Greek wine, odor of Methymna.
Flutist from the Nile, a treble flute was played that night,
   & Phyllis played the castanets, elegantly artless,
   pleased to receive roses of acclamation.
Magnus the dwarf hopped and waved his hardened hands
   to the fluted descant, song of the hollow boxwood.
The lantern was full; the flame wavered in the night,
   the table had collapsed with its burden,
      & as the dice clattered I prayed for the Venus throw,
but always the damned dog leapt into the light;
And they sang to a deaf man, & bared their bodies
            for a blind man,
for I was alone at the gates of Lanuvium.
Suddenly a hinge creak at the doorposts,
   loud and resonant, a light footfall at the Lares,
   & then Cynthia threw down the folding doors,
hair disheveled, in a fiery rage.
She smashed the cup from my fingers; my wine-stricken lips went white,
   her eyes glittered, female rage possessed her;
A city would burn less wildly than she did,
as she sank savage claws in Phyllis's face,
   & Teia's frightful wail floated into the watery environs;
      and the neighbors, aroused,
   raised torches and milled in the street,
& the paths of the night echoed with madness.
My two girls fled, hair torn & tunics loose,
   into the first tavern on the dark road.
Now Cynthia came back, victress, & took a menacing pleasure
      in the spoils she had captured, wounded my mouth
   with her nails & bloodied my neck with her teeth,
& undertook to darken my wandering eyes with her fists;
   & when her arms got tired with that she spied Lygdamus
         cowering by the sinister couch, & she dragged him into the light
      as he prayed that I protect him. How can I protect you,
Lygdamus, when she has me by the balls?
      With much supplication, she became more reasonable,
   though she would scarcely let me touch her feet.
"If you really want me to forgive this turpitude,
then you will no longer go strolling
      in the shade of Pompey's colonnade, dressed in
   your best finery; you will abstain from attending
the games in the forum; you won't loiter about eyeing the curtainless
      palanquins jog past; you will abstain also
   from craning your neck at those attractions
         in the high tiers of the theater, and finally,
   let Lygdamus, that great troublemaker, be sold;
   let his ankle chains clank as he walks."
To all this I acceded, and she smiled proud in her sovereignty,
      and she perfumed the contamination of those others,
   & washed the threshold with clear water,
      had me change my mantle, and with a fire of sulfur
      touched my head 3 times;
and then with the sheets changed
      we ascended into the covers,
   & we rolled over the whole bed,
   & thus resolved our quarrel.

--Sextus Propertius (tr J P McCulloch, 1972)

11 July 2008

   from Hugh Selwyn Mauberley


THESE fought, in any case,
and some believing, pro domo, in any case . .
Some quick to arm,
some for adventure,
some from fear of weakness,
some from fear of censure,
some for love of slaughter, in imagination,
learning later . . .

some in fear, learning love of slaughter;
Died some "pro patria, non dulce non et decor". .

walked eye-deep in hell
believing in old men's lies, then unbelieving
came home, home to a lie,
home to many deceits,
home to old lies and new infamy;

usury age-old and age-thick
and liars in public places.

Daring as never before, wastage as never before.
Young blood and high blood,
Fair cheeks, and fine bodies;

fortitude as never before

frankness as never before,
disillusions as never told in the old days,
hysterias, trench confessions,
laughter out of dead bellies.


THERE died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization,

Charm, smiling at the good mouth,
Quick eyes gone under earth's lid,

For two gross of broken statues,
For a few thousand battered books.

--Ezra Pound

   from versus anacycli

With the charms of Venus cruel Death fell deeply in love,
  he no longer allowed the usual Stygian rigors.
The usual Stygian rigors he did not allow, in love
  fell cruel Death with the charms of Venus...

--Publilius Optatianus Porfyrius

09 July 2008


THE SKIES they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crispèd and sere,
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year;
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid region of Weir:
It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

Here once, through an alley Titanic
Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul—
Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.
These were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll,
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek
In the ultimate climes of the pole,
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the boreal pole.

Our talk had been serious and sober,
But our thoughts they were palsied and sere,
Our memories were treacherous and sere,
For we knew not the month was October,
And we marked not the night of the year,
(Ah, night of all nights in the year!)
We noted not the dim lake of Auber
(Though once we had journeyed down here),
Remembered not the dank tarn of Auber
Nor the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

And now, as the night was senescent
And star-dials pointed to morn,
As the star-dials hinted of morn,
At the end of our path a liquescent
And nebulous lustre was born,
Out of which a miraculous crescent
Arose with a duplicate horn,
Astarte's bediamonded crescent
Distinct with its duplicate horn.

And I said—"She is warmer than Dian:
She rolls through an ether of sighs,
She revels in a region of sighs:
She has seen that the tears are not dry on
These cheeks, where the worm never dies,
And has come past the stars of the Lion
To point us the path to the skies,
To the Lethean peace of the skies:
Come up, in despite of the Lion,
To shine on us with her bright eyes:
Come up through the lair of the Lion,
With love in her luminous eyes."

But Psyche, uplifting her finger,
Said—"Sadly this star I mistrust,
Her pallor I strangely mistrust:
Oh, hasten!—oh, let us not linger!
Oh, fly!—let us fly! for we must."
In terror she spoke, letting sink her
Wings until they trailed in the dust,
In agony sobbed, letting sink her
Plumes till they trailed in the dust,
Till they sorrowfully trailed in the dust.

I replied—"This is nothing but dreaming:
Let us on by this tremulous light!
Let us bathe in this crystalline light!
Its sibyllic splendor is beaming
With hope and in beauty to-night:
See, it flickers up the sky through the night!
Ah, we safely may trust to its gleaming,
And be sure it will lead us aright:
We safely may trust to a gleaming
That cannot but guide us aright,
Since it flickers up to Heaven through the night."

Thus I pacified Psyche and kissed her,
And tempted her out of her gloom,
And conquered her scruples and gloom;
And we passed to the end of the vista,
But were stopped by the door of a tomb,
By the door of a legended tomb;
And I said—"What is written, sweet sister,
On the door of this legended tomb?"
She replied—"Ulalume—Ulalume—
'T is the vault of thy lost Ulalume!"

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crispèd and sere,
As the leaves that were withering and sere,
And I cried—"It was surely October
On this very night of last year
That I journeyed—I journeyed down here,
That I brought a dread burden down here:
On this night of all nights in the year,
Ah, what demon has tempted me here?
Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber,
This misty mid region of Weir:
Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber,
This ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir."

--Edgar Allan Poe

08 July 2008


It is no night to drown in:
A full moon, river lapsing
Black beneath bland mirror-sheen,

The blue water-mists dropping
Scrim after scrim like fishnets
Though fishermen are sleeping,

The massive castle turrets
Doubling themselves in a glass
All stillness. Yet these shapes float

Up toward me, troubling the face
Of quiet. From the nadir
They rise, their limbs ponderous

With richness, hair heavier
Than sculptured marble. They sing
Of a world more full and clear

Than can be. Sisters, your song
Bears a burden too weighty
For the whorled ear's listening

Here, in a well-steered country,
Under a balanced ruler.
Deranging by harmony

Beyond the mundane order,
Your voices lay siege. You lodge
On the pitched reefs of nightmare,

Promising sure harborage;
By day, descant from borders
Of hebetude, from the ledge

Also of high windows. Worse
Even than your maddening
Song, your silence. At the source

Of your ice-hearted calling --
Drunkenness of the great depths.
O river, I see drifting

Deep in your flux of silver
Those great goddesses of peace.
Stone, stone, ferry me down there.

--Sylvia Plath

07 July 2008

   from Satyricon

If you make a reckoning you will find
Everywhere shipwreck.

--Gaius Petronius Arbiter (my tr.)

   "Ah, Quanta Melancolia"

So final seems this misery,
so final this bleak solitude
that starry wastes invade my soul
and I feel frozen and without
any echo in my heart.

What an anguish stripped of hope,
what grief that only tastes the end;
if nevermore returned the ship,
if in the street a blind man fell--
give it up, there’s nothing else.

Without content, without repose
not a single hour of mine
in which a soul finds full employment;
the blind man in the street succumbs,
the ship then dwindles out of sight.

So final seems this misery,
so final this bleak solitude
that starry wastes invade my soul
and I feel frozen and without
any echo in my heart.

--Fernando Pessoa (My tr.)

The trembling piano will lick foam from its mouth:
Delirium--which makes your knees give way
Will lift you. You'll say, 'Darling,' and 'No,' I'll shout,
'While playing music?' But can we be, say,

Closer than in twilight throwing chords
Into the fireplace like a diary
Set, year on year. Oh, great awareness, nod,
Nod and you'll be astonished! -You are free.

I won't hold you. Go. Do your charity.
Go elsewhere. Werther can't be written again:
In our times even air smells death to me.
Opening a window is like opening a vein.

--Boris Pasternak (tr Markov & Sparks)

04 July 2008

Only, for the nights that were,
Soldier, and the dawns that came,
When in sleep you turn to her,
Call her by my name.

--Dorothy Parker

03 July 2008


Time tranforms itself and so do we in time.
   For what? To reach the utmost imperfection.

--John Owen (my tr.)

(The original Latin is:

tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in ille;
    quomodo? fit semper tempore peior homo.

There is a wikipedia article on "Tempora Mutantur.")


Parked in the fields
All night
So many years ago,
We saw
A lake beside us
When the moon rose.

I remember
Leaving that ancient car
Together. I remember
Standing in the white grass
Beside it. We groped
Our way together
Downhill in the bright
Incredible light
Beginning to wonder
Whether it could be lake
Or fog
We saw, our heads
Ringing under the stars we walked
To where it would have wet our feet
Had it been water

--George Oppen

    The Desperado

I am the bereaved, the widower, the shadowy,
the Cathar prince of the devastated citadel:
my guiding star is snuffed, my galactic lute
carries Melancholy's sable pentacle.

You who consoled me in the ark of the sepulcher,
give me back Posilipo & the Mediterranean,
the fragrance that enchanted my sere despair,
& that arbor where the rose & grape are intimate!

Am I Cupid or Apollo? ...Poe or Byron?
The kiss of some dread queen still stains my brow;
I have dreamed in the grotto where the siren plashes...
& twice have I crossed Acheron victorious:

practicing in turn on the lyre of Orpheus
moans of a mystic, sobs of a dying elf.

--Gérard de Nerval (my tr.)

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