Archive for October, 2015

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Canto 1: Hell by Durante degli Alighieri (Dante)

At the mid-point of the path through life, I found
Myself lost in a wood so dark, the way
Ahead was blotted out. The keening sound
I still make shows how hard it is to say
How harsh and bitter that place felt to me—
Merely to think of it renews the fear—
So bad that death by only a degree
Could possibly be worse. As you shall hear,
It led to good things too, eventually,
But there and then I saw no sign of those,
And can’t say even now how I had come
To be there, stunned and following my nose
Away from the straight path. And then, still numb
From pressure on the heart, still in a daze,
I stumbled on the threshold of a hill
Where trees no longer grew. Lifting my gaze,
I saw its shoulders edged with overspill
From our sure guide, the sun, whose soothing rays
At least a little melted what that night
Of dread had done to harden my heart’s lake—
And like someone who crawls, half dead with fright,
Out of the sea, and breathes, and turns to take
A long look at the water, so my soul,
Still thinking of escape from the dark wood
I had escaped, looked back to see it whole,
The force field no one ever has withstood
And stayed alive. I rested for a while,
And then resumed, along the empty slope,
My journey, in the standard crofter’s style,
Weight on the lower foot. Harder to cope
When things got steeper, and a mountain cat
With parti-coloured pelt, light on its feet,
In a trice was in my face and stayed like that,
Barring my way, encouraging retreat.
Three beasts—was this the leopard, Lechery?—
Were said to block the penitential climb
For sinners and for all society,
And here was one, sticking to me like lime.
Not only did it hamper me, it made
Me think of turning back. Now was the time
Morning begins. The sun, fully displayed
At last, began its climb, but not alone.
The stars composing Aries, sign of spring,
Were with it now, nor left it on its own
When the First Love made every lovely thing
The world can boast: a thought to give me heart
That I might counter, in this gentle hour
Of a sweet season, the obstructive art,
Pretty to see but frightful in its power,
Of that cat with the coloured coat. But wait:
If fear had waned, still there was fear enough
To bring on Pride, the lion, in full spate:
Head high, hot breath to make the air look rough—
As rocks in summer seem to agitate
The atmosphere above them without cease—
So rabid was its hunger. On its heels
The wolf appeared, whose name is Avarice,
Made thin by a cupidity that steals
Insatiably out of its own increase,
Obtained from many people it made poor.
This one propelled such terror from its face
Into my mind, all thoughts I had before
Of ever rising to a state of grace
Were crushed. And so, as one who, mad for gain,
Must find one day that all he gains is lost
In a flood of tears, a conscience racked with pain,
Just so I felt my hopes came at the cost
Of being forced, by this unresting beast,
Little by little down towards that wood
Whose gloom the sun can never in the least
Irradiate. But all at once there stood
Before me one who somehow seemed struck dumb
By the weight of a long silence. “Pity me,
And try to tell me in what form you come,”
I cried. “Is it a shade or man I see?”
And he replied: “No, not a man. Not now.
I was once, though. A Lombard. Parents born
In Mantua. Both born there.” That was how
His words emerged: as if with slow care torn,
Like pages of a book soaked shut by time,
From his clogged throat. “Caesar was getting on
When I was young. That’s Julius. A crime,
His death. Then, after he was gone,
I lived in Rome. The good Augustus reigned.
The gods were cheats and liars. As for me,
I was a poet.” He grew less constrained
In speech, as if trade-talk brought fluency.
“I sang about Anchises’ son, the just
Aeneas, pious, peerless. When proud Troy
Was burned to ashes, ashes turned to dust
Which he shook off his feet, that marvellous boy.
He did what any decent hero must:
Set sail. But you, you turn back. Tell me why.
Why not press on to the delightful peak?
The root cause of all joy is in the sky.”
Almost too shocked and overawed to speak—
For now the one who fought for words was I—
I asked him, just as if I didn’t know:
“Are you Virgil? Are you the spring, the well,
The fountain and the river in full flow
Of eloquence that sings like a seashell
Remembering the sea and the rainbow?
Of all who fashion verse the leading light?
The man of honour? What am I to say?
Through learning you by heart I learned to write.
My love for your book turned my night to day.
You are my master author. Only you
Could teach me the Sweet Style that they call mine.
I could go on. But what am I to do
About this animal that shows no sign
Of letting me proceed? It scares me so,
My veins are empty, all the blood sucked back
Into the heart. There’s nothing you don’t know,
My sage, so tell me how this mad attack
Can be called off.” Then he: “You need to choose
Another route.” This while he watched me weep.
“This way there’s no way out. You’re bound to lose:
Bound by the spell of this beast pledged to keep
You crying, you or anyone who tries
To get by. In a bad mood it can kill,
And it’s never in a good mood. See those eyes?
So great a hunger nothing can fulfil.
It eats, it wants more, like the many men
Infected by its bite. Its catalogue
Of victories will be finished only when
Another dog arrives, the hunting dog:
The Veltro. As for now, it’s hard to see
Even his outline through the glowing fog
Of the future, but be assured by me—
The Veltro will make this thing die of shame
For wanting to eat wealth and real estate.
The Veltro’s diet will be bigger game:
Love, wisdom, virtue. It will operate
In humble country, eat the humble bread
Of that sad Italy where Trojans fought
Our local tribes: the Latium beachhead.
The brave Princess Camilla there was brought
To death in battle, and Prince Turnus, too—
Killed by Aeneas, of whose Trojan friends
Euryalus and Nisus died. The new
Great Dog will harry this one to the ends
Of that scorched earth and so back down to Hell,
From which, by envious Lucifer, it was
First sent forth. But by now I’ve pondered well
The path adapted best to serve your cause,
So let me be your guide. I’ll take you through
The timeless breaker’s yard where you will hear
The death cries of the damned who die anew
Each day, though dead already in the year—
No dated stones remain to give a clue—
The earliest sinners died, when time began.
And you’ll see, in the next eternal zone,
Those so content with purging fire they fan
The flames around them, thankful to atone,
Hopeful of being raised to join the blessed.
If you would join them too, we’ll reach a stage
When only someone else shows you the rest:
Someone more worthy, though of tender age
Beside me. I can’t tell you her name yet,
But what I can say is, the Emperor
Who reigns on high vows he will never let
A non-believer—though I lived before
Belief was possible—see where he sits
In judgement and in joy with the elect.”
Sad and afraid, but gathering my wits,
“Poet,” I said, “I ask you to effect,
In the name of that God you will never see,
An exit for me from this place of grief,
And then an entry to where I would be—
Beyond the purging flames of which you tell—
In sight of Peter’s Gate, though that relief
Demands for prelude that I go through Hell.”
And then he moved, and then I moved as well.


Date: c1315 (original in Italian); 2013 (translation in English)

By: Durante degli Alighieri (Dante) (c1265-1321)

Translated by: Vivian Leopold (Clive) James (1939- )

Friday, 30 October 2015

The Vampire as Narcissist by Duane Ackerson

Yes, the hair continues to grow after death—
even more so among the living dead.
Before a night out on the town,
he can’t just go into a barber shop and say,
“Shave and a haircut, two bits.”
(Even though he is old enough to remember
when those services only cost a quarter.)
So, at home, he passes on the electric razor
(besides, the power to the mansion
was shut off, past due years before);
instead, opting for the good, old-fashioned straightedge.
Trying to unearth his reflection in the mirror,
he draws blood
along with a full-throated scream.
Licking the blade clean,
drawing fresh blood from the tongue,
he drinks even deeper of the elixir of death.
No reason to go out now.
He can just stay home
and enjoy himself.


Date: 2009

By: Duane Ackerson (1942- )

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Gothic Lover by Maude Phelps McVeigh Hutchins

For Whom I Build a Tomb

It was the prettiest thing I ever saw
He stood up
And lifted out his heart
And held it high
I dreamed it
He looked like part
Of Chartres
His heart
Had wings
And he lifted it quietly
From his breast
And held it up

If I had a lover
I’d paint him white
And early small green leaves
Yellow with spring
I’d wreathe his head with
Standing back
I’d fix his locks
Curled and probably gilded
Just as I wished
Before they stayed
And then I’d wrap him nearly
In a sheath
Something like the greenery
That peas are kept in
But curling in on him a little
His whiteness
Long and narrow
Gilded at the top
Would be
Like a churchly taper
To light the candles on the altar
I would not leave him thus suspended
But diligently work
And build around him
Underneath and overhead
Long stones
Like playing cards
On edge
A small slanting block
Beneath his feet
If I were strong
I would outward build
And with many corners
Like Chartres
In another place
My lover’s tomb.


Date: 1941

By: Maude Phelps McVeigh Hutchins (1899-1991)

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The Vampyre by John Stagg

“Why looks my lord so deadly pale?
Why fades the crimson from his cheek?
What can my dearest husband ail?
Thy heartfelt cares, O Herman, speak!

“Why, at the silent hour of rest,
Dost thou in sleep so sadly mourn?
Has tho’ with heaviest grief oppress’d,
Griefs too distressful to be borne.

“Why heaves thy breast? — why throbs thy heart?
O speak! and if there be relief
Thy Gertrude solace shall impart,
If not, at least shall share thy grief.

“Wan is that cheek, which once the bloom
Of manly beauty sparkling shew’d;
Dim are those eyes, in pensive gloom,
That late with keenest lustre glow’d.

“Say why, too, at the midnight hour,
You sadly pant and tug for breath,
As if some supernat’ral pow’r
Were pulling you away to death?

“Restless, tho’ sleeping, still you groan,
And with convulsive horror start;
O Herman! to thy wife make known
That grief which preys upon thy heart.”

“O Gertrude! how shall I relate
Th’ uncommon anguish that I feel;
Strange as severe is this my fate, —
A fate I cannot long conceal.

“In spite of all my wonted strength,
Stern destiny has seal’d my doom;
The dreadful malady at length
Wil drag me to the silent tomb!”

“But say, my Herman, what’s the cause
Of this distress, and all thy care.
That, vulture-like, thy vitals gnaws,
And galls thy bosom with despair?

“Sure this can be no common grief,
Sure this can be no common pain?
Speak, if this world contain relief,
That soon thy Gertrude shall obtain.”

“O Gertrude, ‘tis a horrid cause,
O Gertrude, ‘tis unusual care,
That, vulture-like, my vitals gnaws,
And galls my bosom with despair.

“Young Sigismund, my once dear friend,
But lately he resign’d his breath;
With others I did him attend
Unto the silent house of death.

“For him I wept, for him I mourn’d,
Paid all to friendship that was due;
But sadly friendship is return’d,
Thy Herman he must follow too!

“Must follow to the gloomy grave,
In spite of human art or skill;
No pow’r on earth my life can save,
‘Tis fate’s unalterable will!

“Young Sigismund, my once dear friend,
But now my persecutor foul,
Doth his malevolence extend
E’en to the torture of my soul.

“By night, when, wrapt in soundest sleep,
All mortals share a soft repose,
My soul doth dreadful vigils keep,
More keen than which hell scarely knows.

“From the drear mansion of the tomb,
From the low regions of the dead,
The ghost of Sigismund doth roam,
And dreadful haunts me in my bed!

“There, vested in infernal guise,
(By means to me not understood,)
Close to my side the goblin lies,
And drinks away my vital blood!

“Sucks from my veins the streaming life,
And drains the fountain of my heart!
O Gertrude, Gertrude! dearest wife!
Unutterable is my smart.

“When surfeited, the goblin dire,
With banqueting by suckled gore,
Will to his sepulchre retire,
Till night invites him forth once more.

“Then will he dreadfully return,
And from my veins life’s juices drain;
Whilst, slumb’ring, I with anguish mourn,
And toss with agonizing pain!

“Already I’m exhausted, spent;
His carnival is nearly o’er,
My soul with agony is rent,
To-morrow I shall be no more!

“But, O my Gertrude! dearest wife!
The keenest pangs hath last remain’d—
When dead, I too shall seek thy life,
Thy blood by Herman shall be drain’d!

“But to avoid this horrid fate,
Soon as I’m dead and laid in earth,
Drive thro’ my corpse a jav’lin straight; —
This shall prevent my coming forth.

“O watch with me, this last sad night,
Watch in your chamber here alone,
But carefully conceal the light
Until you hear my parting groan.

“Then at what time the vesper-bell
Of yonder convent shall be toll’d,
That peal shall ring my passing knell,
And Herman’s body shall be cold!

“Then, and just then, thy lamp make bare,
The starting ray, the bursting light,
Shall from my side the goblin scare,
And shew him visible to sight!”

The live-long night poor Gertrude sate,
Watch’d by her sleeping, dying lord;
The live-long night she mourn’d his fate,
The object whom her soul ador’d.

Then at what time the vesper-bell
Of yonder convent sadly toll’d,
The, then was peal’d his passing knell,
The hapless Herman he was cold!

Just at that moment Gertrude drew
From ‘neath her cloak the hidden light;
When, dreadful! she beheld in view
The shade of Sigismund! — sad sight!

Indignant roll’d his ireful eyes,
That gleam’d with wild horrific stare;
And fix’d a moment with surprise,
Beheld aghast th’ enlight’ning glare.

His jaws cadaverous were besmear’d
With clott’d carnage o’er and o’er,
And all his horrid whole appear’d
Distent, and fill’d with human gore!

With hideous scowl the spectre fled;
She shriek’d aloud; — then swoon’d away!
The hapless Herman in his bed,
All pale, a lifeless body lay!

Next day in council ‘twas decree,
(Urg’d at the instance of the state,)
That shudd’ring nature should be freed
From pests like these ere ‘twas too late.

The choir then burst the fun’ral dome
Where Sigismund was lately laid,
And found him, tho’ within the tomb,
Still warm as life, and undecay’d.

With blood his visage was distain’d,
Ensanguin’d were his frightful eyes,
Each sign of former life remain’d,
Save that all motionless he lies.

The corpse of Herman they contrive
To the same sepulchre to take,
And thro’ both carcases they drive,
Deep in the earth, a sharpen’d stake!

By this was finish’d their career,
Thro’ this no longer they can roam;
From them their friends have nought to fear,
Both quiet keep the slumb’ring tomb.


Date: 1810

By: John Stagg (1770-1823)

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

On an Amorous Old Man by David Mallet (Malloch)

Still hovering round the Fair at sixty-four,
Unfit to love, unable to give o’er;
A flesh-fly, that just flutters on the wing,
Awake to buz, but not alive to sting;
Brisk where he cannot, backward where he can;
The teizing ghost of the departed man.

From: Mallet, David, The Works of David Mallet, Esq; in Three Volumes. A New Edition Corrected. Volume I, 1759, A. Millar and P. Vaillant: London, p. 48.

Date: 1759

By: David Mallet (Malloch) (c1705-1765)

Monday, 26 October 2015

Excerpt from “The Præexistency of the Soul” by Henry More

Like to a light fast-lock’d in lanthorn dark,
Whereby, by night our wary steps we guide
In slabby streets, and dirty channels mark,
Some weaker rayes through the black top do glide,
And flusher streams perhaps from horny side.
But when we’ve past the perill of the way
Arriv’d at home, and laid that case aside,
The naked light how clearly doth it ray
And spread its joyfull beams as bright as Summers day.

Even so the soul in this contracted state
Confin’d to these strait instruments of sense
More dull and narrowly doth operate.
At this hole hears, the sight must ray from thence,
Here tasts, there smels; But when she’s gone from hence,
Like naked lamp she is one shining sphear.
And round about has perfect cognoscence
Whatere in her Horizon doth appear:
She is one Orb of sense, all eye, all airy ear.

From: More, Henry and Grosart, Alexander (ed.), The Complete Poems of Dr. Henry More (1614-1687). For the first time collected and edited: With Memorial-Introduction, Notes and Ilustrations, Glossarial Index and Portrait, etc., 1878, Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh, p. 128.

Date: 1647

By: Henry More (1614-1687)

Sunday, 25 October 2015

The Wise by Countee Cullen

(For Alain Locke)

Dead men are wisest, for they know
How far the roots of flowers go,
How long a seed must rot to grow.

Dead men alone bear frost and rain
On throbless heart and heatless brain,
And feel no stir of joy or pain.

Dead men alone are satiate;
They sleep and dream and have no weight,
To curb their rest, of love or hate.

Strange, men should flee their company,
Or think me strange who long to be
Wrapped in their cool immunity.


Date: 1925

By: Countee Cullen (1903-1946)

Saturday, 24 October 2015

On a Good Conscience by Stephen Duck

The solid Joys of human Kind
Are those that flow from Peace of Mind;
For who the Sweets of Life can taste,
With Vice, and tim’rous Guilt, opprest?
‘Tis Virtue softens all our Toils,
With Peace our Conscience crowns;
Gives Pleasure, when our Fortune smiles,
And Courage, when it srowns;
Calms ev’ry Trouble, makes the Soul serene,
Smooths the contracted Brow, and chears the Heart within.

While guilty Minds, involv’d with Woe,
Anticipate the future Blow;
Which is (to make Damnation more complete)
The lesser Hell, in Passage to the great;
Bold and intrepid honest Men appear;
For, as they know no Evil, none they fear:
A glorious Shield of Virtue guards their Breast;
Arm’d with themselves, they always walk at Rest.

Thus, under bursting Clouds, and stormy Skies,
When Thunder roars, and Lightning flies,
Th’Imperial Eagles boldly rove,
Nor dread the firy Bolt of JOVE;
While meaner Birds in secret creep below;
And trembling fear, and often feel, the Blow.

From: Duck, Stephen, Poems on Several Occasions, 2007, University of Michigan Library: Ann Arbor, Michigan, pp. 66-67.

Date: 1736

By: Stephen Duck (1705-1756)

Friday, 23 October 2015

An Epitaph Upon E.T. by Robert Wilde (Wylde)

Reader, didst thou but know what sacred dust
Thou tread’st upon, thou’dst judge thyself unjust
Shouldst thou neglect a shower of tears to pay,
To wash the sin of thy own feet away.
That actor in the play, who looking down
When he should cry’ O heaven,’ was thought a clown
And guilty of a solecism, might have
Applause for such an action o’er this grave.
Here lies a piece of heaven, and Heaven one day
Will send the best in heaven to fetch’t away.
Truth is, this lovely virgin from her birth
Became a constant strife ‘twixt heaven and earth;
Both claimed her, pleaded for her; either cried,
‘The child is mine!’ at length they did divide:
Heaven took her soul, the earth her corpse did seize;
Yet not in fee, she only holds by lease,
With this proviso—when the Judge shall call,
Earth shall give up her share, and heaven have all.

From: Wilde, Robert and Hunt, John (ed.), Poems by Robert Wilde, D.D., One of the Ejected Ministers of 1662, with a Historical and Biographical Preface and Notes, 1870, Strahan & Co. Publishers: London, p. 38.

Date: 16??

By: Robert Wilde (Wylde) (1615-1679)

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Charity by François Villon

from Bequests, lines 233–240

Item: I bequeath to the poorhouse
my hammock, made of spider webs.
To those who flop under market stalls,
trembling there with faces clenched,
wasted, hairy, chilled deep through,
their trousers short, their smocks worn thin,
frozen, beaten, wracked with flu—
a fist in the eye for each.


Date: 1463 (original in French); 2012 (translation in English)

By: François Villon (1431-1463)

Translated by: David Georgi (19??- )