V: We can still part, if you think it would be better.
E: It’s not worthwhile now.
On overweight chairs, the basket-woven men
recognise me, hail me
an old man with womanly hands,
an old man with beautiful manners,
and an aged wife
to whom I must return the nights.
I mean to say no more than what I mean,
what meaning mingles in my words;–
I would not have marri’d my muse,
unless I meant to kill mine art:–
“Art come again with vain
– tantamount to death; only old men
sleep softly to dreams of suicide.
Endeavour to sleep,–
follow thy course in safety
as though the sacred laurels pave thy way…
Adulterous are my paints; mine eyes, diminish’d
by mine age, remain
yet prone to listless wand’rings
here amongst the faces that I chance to meet,–
such faces that I chance to meet…
my wife awaits me; I must away
time yet to linger, count my brushstrokes,
paltry losses, petty loves
that come with pity on their lips…
such pity when they gesture
at my paintings, these remainders
of a world no longer come.
she comes to me again;
this shy girl that I painted once,–
curtsies; bids good morning; asks my health
politest, though I were some lord of old,
some majesty return’d;–
and all at once I am once more a man!
Do I know her truly, know her
in herself; in herself all that she is…
and all things that I have seen, in themselves?
I must seem a senseless thing… but can there be
knowledge without a thing that knows?–
and should I be forgiv’n for making all things
Distancing this doubt does nothing:
like a pillar between heaven and earth
neither affirms, denies
both heaven and earth!–
tolls must be levi’d before passage is given.
Only heroes may cross the frost-veil’d bridge…
For doubtless, saints will make their rounds,
while church bells ring out choric songs:
sweet music here that softer falls,
amidst the fugues of Maestro Hugues…
but tell me: wherefore should I care, when I
am stood here at the end of all my cares?
This shy girl,– with such beautiful manners,–
listens more than speaks; she watches
as my brush returns the colours to the world:
handsome bridges o’er the river,
well-dress’d walkers on the banks,
horses, cabs and gothic lamps
illumin’d by the moon…
there is a wonder in the world,
when all is calm and all is still,
and civil, courteous, manner’d, fair;
the ladies in their hats and vair,
beyond reproach, beyond compare…
a word regains me, and I am but sham’d.
What needs be fear’d of old and feeble men,
save harsh infirmity, their sudden passing?
Would that she avert her eyes!
She looks at me as though all things
were well and should be well once more.
An old man, unseasonable; dry days and nights;
a latter-year painter
in the low’ring light of life;
beside this vestal girl a-watching;–
some days lunching on some morsel
fish’d from her bag.
that I have not holy bread to break,–
nor gold that all my fellows hoard and waste;
nor silver words to flatter; nor beauty brazen;
nor such iron sinews to hold her strong;–
nothing, save canvas, cold fingers,
hath taught men impotence;
and render’d battlements mere air;
and ancient giants into incoherent towers;
and the will of one who once was mighty
nor would I have chanc’d!
“Sullen and incontinent, Geronzio?”
All is mock and gull
in this late hour.
Age insults me…
Youth insults me, also,
and neither art nor nature
not even when the sunsets
arc their vaulted shafts above me,
countless and incarnadine,
is there liberation
from this grey circle
for this grey soul!
should man desire to live
in such a state for long?–
and why should I be held
contemptuous for craving relief
that comes by courteous hands
and manners, beautiful, shy, polite?
I have come to the sum of a life’s long history;
neuter’d by life’s long history,–
as it was when
la figura di Nembrot
first enter’d discourse with the world.
in noise, if not in meaning…
the Porte of all that is to come
is clos’d to me;
blind to that which lies beyond,–
experience hath prov’d
Painted effigies of little substance;
by a man become of little substance;
and whose truth is little and demean’d
by what he hath become:
‘I make a mock of all
that once I held was true.’
To have liv’d as nothing in a rented house;
far from a home I lov’d;
on fraudulent prophecies;
gifted from dry loins;–
but virtue is not abash’d by sin;
is not abas’d
by this house of flesh; immur’d,
is a piteous thing,
that she thus indulges.
“…sanza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.”
I am so much abus’d by such charity,
and such comfort
the many-branchéd, malé-branchéd trees.
Ask me not to suffer a peace without honour,
or compassion without love!
Unfinished shapes; shameless hands;
and eyes all-wet with want,–
betray what tongues cannot utter?
If not to one…
nor would we either mourn if one
were soon to go, my wife and I!
“Summae Deus clementiae,
mundique factor machinae…”
…and the wait consumes;
doom’d to be divided, devour’d:
this rag-meat, these bones!
Why come to me now? I am
infirm, and forgetful, and alone,–
myself, myself no more:
and will I see you when I lie awake
the sun amidst the stars?
Et, voilà! An artifice which I pray may placate the poetic palate, if I may be so bold as to hope.
The poem is separated into four quintains,– that is to say in plainer speech, stanzas of five lines,– and follow the following rhyme scheme: abbaa
Structurally, however, the stanzas prove far more arbitrary,- enjambment occurs frequently, cutting syntactic lines across stanzas and lines, and creating a profound tension between sense and meter due to the unexpected fall of the caesura or pause.
Similarly, the assonance and internal rhyme,- observe how the phrase ‘consuming me’ seems more like the end rhyme of the second line than the word ‘weal’ due to the natural desire to close the couplet opened by ‘in fee’,- also serve to cut the across the rhyme scheme to create a kind of counter-metre and scheme to what the poem seems to present.
Regarding the language, I must confess I have a preference for archaisms;- however, considering the sense of age and long-nurtured loss that pervades the poem, I would like to say that archaisms are not in-apropos, as it were. When I speak of archaisms, I would like to suggest that archaisms also include the use of words in ways or meanings that have ceased to be commonplace. The words ‘weeds’ is a prime example.
The title and theme are broadly speaking the very same: Sehnsucht, which unfortunately has no equivalent word in English. An emotional state of longing, yearning or the sense of something profoundly missing, Sehnsucht has a deeper connection with things that are desired but unattainable. Indeed, I would like to stress that the following idea is the most important thing to bear in mind when attempting to understand the poem’s theme: a sense of profound longing for the unattainable.
It is a sense,- the merest ghost of a sensation,- of a profound longing that lingers on the heart. Just as a piece by Debussy or a painting of Monet is as much an impression of the thing rather than a thing itself,- a relationship directly underline by Magritte’s famous Pipe,- the poetic artifice is merely an impression of a longing for the unattainable or the unanswerable.
I would like to suggest, however, that an impression of a thing is by no means a lesser object than the thing itself. Here, what becomes of greatest interest is the form of the impression: which elements are felt most keenly in the impression, and which are excluded or diminished?- how are these elements made prominent by the artist?- how does the emotional distance afforded by the impression of the thing affect one’s subjective experience of that same thing? The art of impression,- or the shadow play of Plato’s cave,- is as legitimate as the art of the real.