Saturday, September 30, 2006

"Ensconced in tangles"       [ballade]


By now I know the newsprint
with its inkled smudges
I know night's darkled starglint
and Sunday's drugstore fudges
how the critique curmudges
peering through theory's hole
one thing still never budges
how I do not know my soul

I know they claim by sheer dint
of love and will one trudges
through timely victory's end-sprint
with spacious winks and nudges
in briny waves one plunges
compelled by adventure's role
one mountain never budges
I still do not know my soul

I know the Mojito's fresh mint
how snowwhite ends in sludges
I've spied the friendy-faced saint
confronted frightening cudgels
cut milk teeth in urban jungles
madly grasped at riverine shoals
tiptoed through classy bungles
strangely I don't know my soul

William there must be angels
keenly lauding source and goal
still I'm ensconced in tangles
plainly knowing not my soul




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This is my first approaching of the ballade form (following from the olden French); I had been vaguely hankering after it for some years. The poem is based fairly closely on (or, as they say, is written "after") two poems: a ballade by Fran├žois Villon (with the refrain "I know everything but myself" -- seen in Galway Kinnell's translation here, and in an earlier version here), as well as W.S. Merwin's "Search Party" (from the volume Travels (1993) -- for which poem, see here). The latter poem was itself written "after" Villon's; so in short, the above poem invokes two inter-related antecedents. Today is W.S. Merwin's birthday (born September 30, 1927). Hence this. Conventionally, the envoy (final short stanza) may be addressed to a prince (as is Villon's). I do not know what prince he addressed. This one solves it by addressing W.S.

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