Arcadia

1
Just as there were reeds along the riverbank,
Just as there were clouds
Above my head, my lute was lying beside me on the grass.

I placed the little finger of my right hand on the soundboard,
Just below the strings.
Not the tip of the finger, the side.

I curled the palm of my right hand towards me,
Covering the strings, so that I played
The bass note with the thumb,
The next with the index,
And the top note with the third.

The sun retreated, the night turned cold.
Rain began to fall, softly at first,
Though surely rain had fallen here before, as rain falls everywhere.

With my left hand, I positioned my thumb and index finger
Opposite each other, bearing no weight,
As if the neck of the lute were not there.

2

At this they all laughed.

Then the Count began afresh: My lords, he said, I am not pleased with the young man if he is not also a musician, and if, besides his cunning upon the book, he have not skill in like manner on sundry instruments. There is no ease of labor more honest and more praiseworthy, especially at court, where many things are taken in hand to please women, whose tender breasts are soon pierced with melody.

Then the Lord Gasper: I believe music, he said, together with other vanities, is mete for women, also for them that have the likeness of men, but not for them that be men indeed, who ought not with such delicacies womanize their minds and so bring themselves to dread death.

— The First Booke of the Courtyer of Count Baldessar Castilio

3

For many years I lived apart, in happy oblivion.
In retrospect, I understand I'd been a child,
Though lacking comparisons I couldn't have said so.

I learned things, things no child, left to himself, could possibly know.
My head, which had been empty, now was full.

My head would grow larger.
How could it not?

At night, standing in the shower, I closed my eyes.
The water trickled down my forehead
To my nose, from my nose to my lips, my chin, then disappeared.

But some of what stayed in my head
Should not have been there.

4

Listen, said the reeds along the riverbank: the nymphs
Are weeping for Daphnis.
His mother embraces his body, railing against the stars.

Nobody drives his cattle to the cool stream, no one could drink;
The mountains echo with the beasts of the desert.

Daphnis, it was you who yoked them to the chariot,
Who led us in the dance, weaving
Together vine leaves with reeds.

The vine exceeds the tree on which it climbs.
The grape exceeds the vine,
The calf the herd, the corn the field.

Now, where we planted barley, thistles grow.
Where once were violets, hyacinths — nothing but weeds.

Scatter the ground with flowers, shepherds,
Set out two bowls,
One of milk and one of oil.
Then carve these lines from Virgil on his tomb:

I was Daphnis in these woods.
The stars knew my name.
Beautiful the flock, more beautiful the shepherd.

by James Longenbach

Other poems of LONGENBACH (6)

Comments (1)

I love Virgil and Arcadia brings back the atmosphere of the Eclogues. This is beautifully written and a most intriguing piece of writing' Looks like another ten on its way for you, my friend