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


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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