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A Baroque Wall Fountain In The Villa Sciarra

October 16, 2017

Under the bronze crown
Too big for the head of the stone cherub whose feet
A serpent has begun to eat,
Sweet water brims a cockle and braids down

Past spattered mosses, breaks
On the tipped edge of a second shell, and fills
The massive third below. It spills
In threads then from the scalloped rim, and makes

A scrim or summery tent
For a faun-ménage and their familiar goose.
Happy in all that ragged, loose
Collapse of water, its effortless descent

And flatteries of spray,
The stocky god upholds the shell with ease,
Watching, about his shaggy knees,
The goatish innocence of his babes at play;

His fauness all the while
Leans forward, slightly, into a clambering mesh
Of water-lights, her sparkling flesh
In a saecular ecstasy, her blinded smile

Bent on the sand floor
Of the trefoil pool, where ripple-shadows come
And go in swift reticulum,
More addling to the eye than wine, and more

Interminable to thought
Than pleasure’s calculus. Yet since this all
Is pleasure, flash, and waterfall,
Must it not be too simple? Are we not

More intricately expressed
In the plain fountains that Maderna set
Before St. Peter’s—the main jet
Struggling aloft until it seems at rest

In the act of rising, until
The very wish of water is reversed,
That heaviness borne up to burst
In a clear, high, cavorting head, to fill

With blaze, and then in gauze
Delays, in a gnatlike shimmering, in a fine
Illumined version of itself, decline,
And patter on the stones its own applause?

If that is what men are
Or should be, if those water-saints display
The pattern of our aretê,
What of these showered fauns in their bizarre,

Spangled, and plunging house?
They are at rest in fulness of desire
For what is given, they do not tire
Of the smart of the sun, the pleasant water-douse

And riddled pool below,
Reproving our disgust and our ennui
With humble insatiety.
Francis, perhaps, who lay in sister snow

Before the wealthy gate
Freezing and praising, might have seen in this
No trifle, but a shade of bliss—
That land of tolerable flowers, that state

As near and far as grass
Where eyes become the sunlight, and the hand
Is worthy of water: the dreamt land
Toward which all hungers leap, all pleasures pass.

–Richard Wilbur, 1967

COMMENTARY: Richard Wilbur passed away earlier this week, and so, after a long silence, I figured I should post one of my favorite poems of his to my blog. Re-reading it just now, I was newly impressed by his mastery of language and form.”Lines like “The main jet/ Struggling aloft until it seems at rest/ In the act of rising, until/ The very wish of water is reversed,/ That heaviness borne up to burst/ In a clear, high, cavorting head, to fill/ With blaze, and then in gauze/ Delays, in a gnatlike shimmering, in a fine/ Illumined version of itself, decline/ And patter on the stones its own applause?” This is stunning. What more is there to say? Except the obvious point that Wilbur was a poet who believed in stunning language–in poem as well-wrought artifact–unity in variety and variety in unity–a perfect, precise, and deliberate connection between part and whole and whole and part. To borrow an expression from Yeats, he believed in creating “golden grasshoppers and bees”–fine-tuned and delicate and intricate. In an age where contemporary poetry is practiced, by some, simply as high-amplitude rambling in slovenly lines that break off somewhere before the end of the page, well, he was a craftsman of meticulous effects in a time of rorschach-splatters.

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One Comment
  1. “rorschach-splatters,” indeed: well said.

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