When, after a decree of the supreme powers,
The Poet is brought forth in this wearisome world,
His mother terrified and full of blasphemies
Raises her clenched fist to God, who pities her:
– “Ah! would that I had spawned a whole knot of vipers
Rather than to have fed this derisive object!
Accursed be the night of ephemeral joy
When my belly conceived this, my expiation!
Since of all women You have chosen me
To be repugnant to my sorry spouse,
And since I cannot cast this misshapen monster
Into the flames, like an old love letter,
I shall spew the hatred with which you crush me down
On the cursed instrument of your malevolence,
And twist so hard this wretched tree
That it cannot put forth its pestilential buds!”
Thus she gulps down the froth of her hatred,
And not understanding the eternal designs,
Herself prepares deep down in Gehenna
The pyre reserved for a mother’s crimes.
However, protected by an unseen Angel,
The outcast child is enrapt by the sun,
And in all that he eats, in everything he drinks,
He finds sweet ambrosia and rubiate nectar.
He cavorts with the wind, converses with the clouds,
And singing, transported, goes the way of the cross;
And the Angel who follows him on pilgrimage
Weeps to see him as carefree as a bird.
All those whom he would love watch him with fear,
Or, emboldened by his tranquility,
Emulously attempt to wring a groan from him
And test on him their inhumanity.
With the bread and the wine intended for his mouth
They mix ashes and foul spittle,
And, hypocrites, cast away what he touches
And feel guilty if they have trod in his footprints.
His wife goes about the market-places
Crying: “Since he finds me fair enough to adore,
I shall imitate the idols of old,
And like them I want to be regilded;
I shall get drunk with spikenard, incense, myrrh,
And with genuflections, viands and wine,
To see if laughingly I can usurp
In an admiring heart the homage due to God!
And when I tire of these impious jokes,
I shall lay upon him my strong, my dainty hand;
And my nails, like harpies’ talons,
Will cut a path straight to his heart.
That heart which flutters like a fledgling bird
I’ll tear, all bloody, from his breast,
And scornfully I’ll throw it in the dust
To sate the hunger of my favorite hound!”
To Heav’n, where his eye sees a radiant throne,
Piously, the Poet, serene, raises his arms,
And the dazzling brightness of his illumined mind
Hides from his sight the raging mob:
– “Praise be to You, O God, who send us suffering
As a divine remedy for our impurities
And as the best and the purest essence
To prepare the strong for holy ecstasies!
I know that you reserve a place for the Poet
Within the blessed ranks of the holy Legions,
And that you invite him to the eternal feast
Of the Thrones, the Virtues, and the Dominations.
I know that suffering is the sole nobility
Which earth and hell shall never mar,
And that to weave my mystic crown,
You must tax every age and every universe.
But the lost jewels of ancient Palmyra,
The unfound metals, the pearls of the sea,
Set by Your own hand, would not be adequate
For that diadem of dazzling splendor,
For that crown will be made of nothing but pure light
Drawn from the holy source of primal rays,
Whereof our mortal eyes, in their fullest brightness,
Are no more than tarnished, mournful mirrors!”
– Translated by William Aggeler
When by an edict of the powers supreme
A poet’s born into this world’s drab space,
His mother starts, in horror, to blaspheme
Clenching her fists at God, who grants her grace.
“Would that a nest of vipers I’d aborted
Rather than this absurd abomination.
Cursed be the night of pleasures vainly sported
On which my womb conceived my expiation.
Since of all women I am picked by You
To be my Mate’s aversion and his shame:
And since I cannot, like a billet-doux,
Consign this stunted monster to the flame,
I’ll turn the hatred, which You load on me,
On the curst tool through which You work your spite,
And twist and stunt this miserable tree
Until it cannot burgeon for the blight.”
She swallows down the white froth of her ire
And, knowing naught of schemes that are sublime,
Deep in Gehenna, starts to lay the pyre
That’s consecrated to maternal crime.
Yet with an unseen Angel for protector
The outcast waif grows drunken with the sun,
And finds ambrosia, too, and rosy nectar
In all he eats or drinks, suspecting none.
He sings upon his Via Crucis, plays
With winds, and with the clouds exchanges words:
The Spirit following his pilgrim-ways
Weeps to behold him gayer than the birds.
Those he would love avoid him as in fear,
Or, growing bold to see one so resigned,
Compete to draw from him a cry or tear,
And test on him the fierceness of their kind.
In food or drink that’s destined for his taste
They mix saliva foul with cinders black,
Drop what he’s touched with hypocrite distaste,
And blame themselves for walking in his track.
His wife goes crying in the public way
– “Since fair enough he finds me to adore,
The part of ancient idols I will play
And gild myself with coats of molten ore.
I will get drunk on incense, myrrh, and nard,
On genuflexions, meat, and beady wine,
Out of his crazed and wondering regard,
I’ll laugh to steal prerogatives divine.
When by such impious farces bored at length,
I’ll place my frail strong hand on him, and start,
With nails like those of harpies in their strength,
To plough myself a pathway to his heart.
Like a young bird that trembles palpitating,
I’ll wrench his heart, all crimson, from his chest,
And to my favourite beast, his hunger sating,
Will fling it in the gutter with a jest.”
Skyward, to where he sees a Throne blaze splendid,
The pious Poet lifts his arms on high,
And the vast lightnings of his soul extended
Blot out the crowds and tumults from his eye.
“Blessèd be You, O God, who give us pain,
As cure for our impurity and wrong –
Essence that primes the stalwart to sustain
Seraphic raptures that were else too strong.
I know that for the Poet You’ve a post,
Where the blest Legions take their ranks and stations,
Invited to the revels with the host
Of Virtues, Powers, and Thrones, and Dominations
That grief’s the sole nobility, I know it,
Where neither Earth nor Hell can make attacks,
And that, to deck my mystic crown of poet,
All times and universes paid their tax.
But all the gems from old Palmyra lost,
The ores unmixed, the pearls of the abyss,
Set by Your hand, could not suffice the cost
Of such a blazing diadem as this.
Because it will be only made of light,
Drawn from the hearth of the essential rays,
To which our mortal eyes, when burning bright,
Are but the tarnished mirrors that they glaze.”
– Translated by Roy Campbell
When by decree of the almighty powers,
The Poet walks the world’s wearisome sod,
His mother, blasphemous and fearful, cowers,
Clenching her fist against a pitying God:
– “Ah, would whole knots of vipers were my spawn
Rather than this woeful abomination!
Cursed be the sweet swift night and evil dawn
Wherein my womb conceived my expiation!
Since of all women Thou hast chosen me
To be my sorry husband’s shame of shames,
Since I may not toss this monstrosity
Like an old billet-doux into the flames,
Thy heavy hatred I shall vomit back
On the damned tool of your malevolence,
Twisting this wretched tree until it crack,
Never to sprout in buds of pestilence!”
Thus she gulps down the froth of her despair,
Nor knowing the eternal paradigms,
Sinks deep into Gehenna to prepare,
Herself, the pyre set for a mother’s crimes.
Yet guarded by an unseen Angel’s favors,
The outcast child is fired by radiant suns,
In all he eats and all he drinks he savors
Ambrosial gifts and nectared benisons,
He sports with winds, he talks with clouds, he keeps
Singing along the road to Calvary,
While the bright Angel in his traces weeps,
Beholding him as free as birds are free.
All those whom he would love watch him with fear,
Or else, made bold by his serenity,
Wring groans from him that float sweet on the ear
Making him touchstone of their cruelty.
With his due bread and wine, hypocrites, they,
Mix ashes and fat gobs of spittle; grim,
What he has touched, these humbugs cast away,
Deeming it guilty but to follow him.
His wife cries in the market place: “Behold
Since he adores me, I am fair, and fain,
As idols did, and images of old,
To be regilded and adored again.
I shall be drunk with spikenard, incense, myrrh,
With genuflections, viands and wine to see
If, as a glad usurper, I may stir
His heart to pay God’s homages to me!
Tired of these impious japes and of their butt,
My strong lithe hand’s caress with subtle art
And my sharp nails like harpy claws shall cut
A mortal path straight to his quivering heart.
That heart which flutters like a fledgling bird,
I shall tear, bleeding, from his breast, to pitch
It blandly in the dust without a word
To slake the hunger of my favorite bitch.”
To Heaven where he spies a splendent throne,
Serene, the Poet lifts rapt arms; and bright
Luminous thoughts that shine through him alone
Conceal the furious rabble from his sight:
– “Blessèd, O God, who send woe for a cure,
A balm divine for our impurities,
Of essences the noblest and most pure
To school the strong for holy ecstasies!
I know the Poet has his place above
Amid God’s saintly hosts and congregations,
Guest at the everlasting banquet of
The Thrones, the Virtues and the Dominations.
Sorrow alone is noble and august,
A force nor earth nor hell shall ever mar,
To weave my mystic crown I know you must
Tax every age and universe that are.
Old Tadmor’s vanished gems beyond all price,
Metals unknown, pearls from the richest sea,
Set by Thy holy hand, cannot suffice
To match this dazzling chapter’s splendency;
This diadem shall be of sheerest light,
Drawn from the sacred source of primal rays,
Whereof our mortal eyes, however bright,
Serve but as piteous mirrors dull with glaze.”
– Translated by Jacques LeClercq
When, on a certain day, into this harassed world
The Poet, by decree of the high powers, was born,
His mother, overwhelmed by shame and fury, hurled
These blasphemies at God, clenching her fists in scorn:
“Would I had whelped a knot of vipers – at the worst
‘Twere better than this runt that whines and snivels there!
Oh, cursèd be that night of pleasure, thrice accurst
My womb, that has conceived and nourished my despair!
“Since, of all mortal women, it would seem my fate
To be my saddened husband’s horror and disgust;
And since I may not toss this monster in the grate –
Like any crumpled letter, reeking of stale lust –
“Upon his helpless form, whereby Thou humblest me,
I shall divert Thy hatred in one raging flood;
And I shall twist so well this miserable tree
That it shall not put forth one pestilential bud!”
Thus did she foam with anger, railing, swallowing froth;
And, unaware of what the mighty powers had willed,
She set about to draw Gehenna on them both,
Eyeing the fire, considering how he might be killed.
Meantime, above the child an unseen angel beats
His wings, and the poor waif runs laughing in the sun;
And everything he drinks and everything he eats
Are nectar and ambrosia to this hapless one.
Companioned by the wind, conversing with the cloud,
Along the highway to the Cross his song is heard;
And the bright Spirit, following him, weeps aloud
To see him hop so gaily, like a little bird.
Those whom he longs to love observe him with constraint
And fear, as he grows up; or, seeing how calm he is,
Grow bold, and seek to draw from him some sharp complaint,
Wreaking on him all day their dull ferocities.
Cinders are in his bread, are gritty in his teeth;
Spittle is in his wine. Where his footprints are seen
They hesitate to set their shoes, mincing beneath
Hypocrisy; all things he touched, they call unclean.
His wife in public places cries, “Since after all
He loves me so, that he’s the laughingstock of men,
I’ll make a business of it, be an idol, call
For gold, to have myself regilded now and then!
“And some day, when I’m drunk with frankincense, rich food,
Flattery, genuflexions, spikenard, beady wine,
I’ll get from him (while laughing in his face, I could!)
That homage he has kept, so far, for things divine.
“And, when my pleasure in these impious farces fails,
My dainty, terrible hands shall tear his breast apart,
And these long nails of mine, so like to harpies’ nails,
Shall dig till they have dug a tunnel to his heart.
“Then, like a young bird, caught and fluttering to be freed,
(‘Twill make a tasty morsel for my favorite hound)
I’ll wrench his heart out, warm and bleeding – let it bleed! –
And drop it, with contempt and loathing, to the ground.”
Meanwhile toward Heaven, the goal of his mature desire,
The Poet, oblivious, lifts up his arms in prayer;
His lucid essence flames with lightnings – veiled by fire
Is all the furious world, all the lewd conflict there.
“Be praised, Almighty God, that givest to faulty me
This suffering, to purge my spirit of its sin,
To fortify my puny strength, to bid me see
Pure Faith, and what voluptuous blisses dwell therein.
“I know that in those ranks on ranks of happy blest
The Poet shall have some place among Thy Seraphim;
And that Thou wilt at length to the eternal feast
Of Virtues, Thrones and Dominations, summon him.
“I know, Pain is the one nobility we have
Which not the hungry ground nor hell shall ever gnaw;
I know that space and time, beyond the temporal grave,
Weave me a mystic crown, free from all earthly flaw.
“Not emeralds, not all the pearls of the deep sea,
All the rare metals, every lost and buried gem
Antique Palmyra hides, could ever seem to me
So beautiful as that clear glittering diadem.
“Of Light, of Light alone, it will be fashioned, Light
Drawn from the holy fount, rays primitive and pure,
Whereof the eyes of mortal men, so starry bright,
Are but the mirrors, mirrors cloudy and obscure.”
– Translated by Edna St. Vincent Millay
When, after a decree of the supreme powers,