No one’s serious at seventeen.
—Nice evening out, to hell with beers and lemonade,
And rowdy cafes with glaring lights!
—Let’s go to the green lindens on the promenade.
The lindens smell good on mild June nights!
The air so soft that you close your eyes;
Wind laden with sounds,—the town is near,—
Carries the scents of vineyard and beer . . .
—And there, a patch of darkest blue,
Framed by a little branch,
Pricked by a bad star, that diffuses
In soft shivers, small and white . . .
Night in June! Seventeen!—You’re carried away.
The sap is champagne and it goes to your head . . .
You ramble; feel a kiss on your lips
That palpitates there like a minuscule beast . . .
Crazy heart Crusoes through romances galore,
—When, in the pale light of a tall streetlamp,
A young miss passes, all charm and all airs,
In the unnerving shadow of Papa’s stiff collar . . .
And, as she finds you immensely naive,
While taking her booties out for a stroll,
She spins around, so quick and alive . . .
—The cavatinas on your lips die and fall . . .
You’re in love. Held up till August.
You’re in love.—Your poems make Her laugh.
Your friends fall away, think you’re a bore.
—Then one evening Beloved bothers to write . . . !
—That evening, . . .—you go back to glaring cafes,
You order beers or else lemonade . . .
—No one’s serious at seventeen
When the lindens are green on the promenade.
A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue:
Vowels, someday I’ll relate your secret birth:
A, bristling black corset of shimmering flies
Mizzing about an unbearable stench,
Gulf of night; E, white of vapors and tents,
Proud glacier spears, ivory kings, Queen Anne’s lace;
I, shades of crimson, spat blood, comely lips
Laughing in anger, or penitent drunks;
U, cycles, divine hum of viridian seas,
Peace of scrub-ground dotted with beasts, peace of lines
That alchemy etches in studious brows;
O, great Clarion so dissonant and shrill,
Silences crisscrossed by Angels and Worlds:
—O the Omega, violet beam of Your Eyes!
Clear water; like salt from childish tears,
The sunlit assault of women’s white forms;
silk, in droves and pure lily, banners on walls
that some vestal virgin was called to defend;
frolics angelic;—No . . . the gold current rolling,
moves her arms, black and heavy, and fresh with green grass.
She sinks darkly, blue Heaven for her canopy, summons
as drapes the deep shadows of hillside and arch.
The humid pane tenders its crystalline bubbling!
With pale gold the water arrays the beds deep.
The faded green dresses of girls still budding
form willows, from which unbridled swallows leap.
Purer than doubloons, eyelid warm and yellow,
the marsh marigolds—Bride, your conjugal faith!—
at noon sharp, from her cloudy mirror, begrudges
to the sultry gray sky the Sphere rosy and dear.
Madam stands too erect in the meadow
nearby where filaments of her labor snow; parasol
between her fingers rolled; careless stroll; too proud;
offspring reading on the flowering knoll
their books bound in red leather! Alas, He, like
a thousand white angels who part on the road,
is already setting off past the hills! She,
all frigid, and black, runs! after the man is gone!
Longing for the thick young arms of pure grass! Gold of
April moons in the heart of the sacrosanct bed!
Joy of riverside worksites in dereliction, prey
to evenings in August that bred these decays!
Now she weeps under ramparts! The cool breath
of poplars above is the only breeze. Then,
it’s the surface, with no source or reflections, gray:
an old dredger, in his still rowboat, toils away.
A pawn to that watery eye, I can’t grasp,
O motionless boat! oh, short reach! either one
of these flowers: not the yellow that perturbs,
nor the blue, friend to water the color of ash.
Ah! white willow powder shaken off by a wing!
Rose of the reeds so long ago devoured!
My boat, ever still; its chain fast stuck
In the bed of this vast liquid eye,—to what muck?
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 40 Number 10, on page 27
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