ODE TO VENICE BEFORE THE SEA OF THEATERS
«The false cups, the poison, and the skull
Of the theaters.»
The sea has its mechanics as love has its symbols.
With what racket the red curtain rises
Or in this proscenium above an empty stage
Sounds a rumor of statues, iris fronds, cutlasses,
Doves that descend and softly alight.
A chessboard of verdure, composed of cravats.
The blight on my cheek recollects time past
And in my heart seethes a droplet of lead.
My hand was to my breast, the clock corroborates
The reason for the clouds and the stiffening of their sails.
A rising tide, roses on tightropes
Over the voltaic arc of Venice’s night
That year of my lost youth,
Marble on the Dogana, as Pound has remarked
And the table of a casket in the density of the canals.
Go on, much further, deep inside the night,
Over the ducal tapestry, shadows interwoven,
Princes or nereids laid waste by time.
What purity, a nude or an ephebe deceased
In the boundless halls of clouded reminiscence.
Was I there? Must I believe I was he,
And he the suffering impaling my flesh?
How fragile I was then, and why.
Is it true
You differ, snowflakes, in the snowcapped park,
The one that today harbors your love on its face
Or the one that died there in Venice of beauty?
The live stones speak of a memory present.
As the vein impels its conduits of blood,
It comes, leaves, returns to the planet,
And life thus expands in the silence of tenters,
The past is affirmed at this uncertain hour.
So much have I written, so much I wrote then. I don’t know
If it was worth it or is. You, for whom
My life is more certain, and you others,
Who hear in my verse a discrepant sphere, will know its signet or art.
Speak it, you, or speak it, you others, and sweetly, perchance,
Beguile my sorrow. Night, night in Venice
Five years now, how so long? I am
Who I was then, I know how to tauten, let pure beauty
Wound me as then, violin
That slices in two a night in summer
When the world has foundered beneath its impatience
For beauty. I cried, and rested my elbows on the balcony
As in a hackneyed romantic poem, and the air
Engendered disturbances of blue smoke and camphor.
It rowed in the alcoves, beneath the damp granite,
An archangel or swallow or courser of flames
That the aftermost powers dispatched to my dream.
I cried, I cried, I cried.
And how could it be so lovely and so sad?
Water, cold ruby, diabolic transparency
Burned in my flesh a tattoo of light.
Frozen night, blazing night, night of my own
As if I lived it today! It is somber and sweet
To have left behind Venice where we all
Were punished by being so young,
And to chase us today through the cavernous chambers
Surrounded by horsemen dissolved by a mirror
Negating, with their double, the truth of this poem.
English Translation by Adrian Nathan West