VENICE: PART 3
Fifth Draft: Pentameters
How much that offer startled me! I stood
in awe of her, and gazing as on summer
clouds that float far over to the long horizons.
I thought of her strong body and its soaking
breath as mine to turn in drenching passion,
to ride in tumult till tempest broke
to sun-shot happiness, the brilliant swell
of water splashing on Rialto steps.
No words were needed. Fervently I took
the hand, and in the afterwards was thrown
to shipwreck tangle of loose spars. I strove
to delve as one who's lost his senses, felt
more depths of wanting that a man can fathom,
who treads the water as returning currents
thick-haul him down and under, afterwards
to thrust him upward in a rush of bubbles.
Her need was mine and with an openness
I could not think were possible in one
so calculating in her step and dress.
I kept the contract close to mind in days
or weeks, so many, that I did not see her,
and in that evanescent happiness
applied myself once more to sketch and paint.
Veronese I must tell you was a name
that brought to mind the sumptuous animation
of annual festivals, of being dressed
as daylight in the early morning breaks
as pale electrum on the Adriatic
— a film more liquid than the eye than grasp
to coasts that bring in pinewood and the grapes,
the dark-spiced cedars down from Lebanon,
Smyrna with its honeyed bales of dates
and figs, the rich sequestering of the light
that threads its circlets on the small Greek islands,
surrounds the Ionian Isles with olive groves
sequesters Cyprus where the sea-borne Venus
arose in mystery and copper ore.
Such is Venice with its trading posts
across the frozen Caucasus, where camel
bells must tinkle in the dome of silence
of summer blazing on beneath the vast
white emptinesses that absorb the hills —
all these I set down in my brush and wove
a thread of luxury through damask cloths.
Those things I painted — in the liquid strokes
that lingered in an eyelid or a streak
of greenish ochre in the golden hair
there wound in braids and touched with pearls, in bloom
of healthy skin that brought in breast and ear —
50. were what I'd sensed or run my fingers through
on long-remembered afternoons, the sun
light soaking into faded tapestries
or warming shuttering that closed the walls
and rose as battlement around that body,
which was not fully mine, as Venice knew
and smiled indulgently, as did her suitors
attending business or the Council meetings.
For me, there was much deprecating
of myself and station: necessary
in one depending on his trade and name:
an artisan, not one to talk at length
of trade or empire or the prelate's zeal.
Mine was what I saw each day about
me in the tranquil finger of a God
who guided me through what I thought and did,
and made continually the ducats ring:
Your studio would do this? So much obliged.
Your last astonished us and therefore we
will meet your fees, in total, as agreed.
I was no madman with unlicensed dreams
who stood to cauterize the public gaze
but one who followed precedence and, being
but a mason's son, made good by skill
and practiced industry, a name in short
that stretched beyond the calculations
of dull Verona or the hillside towns.
That boon was mine to celebrate,
that if there came at times more troubling sights,
as daylight surging through an inner room
bears through the sanctity an undressed thought,
what could I do who scraped the acres back
in sumptuous gossamers of damask, satin
braids, to see beneath the brimming cloth
our make believe of truthful natures, who
we are at sundown when we kneel to prayers.
I was no errant thinker, but one who sought
in meek, perpetual majesty of praise
the riches given us, to turn my face
from drink and roaring merriment in rooms,
from flagrant gesturings on balconies,
and, worse, the genders of a doubtful sex,
those drabs who not so much exposed themselves
but did all manner of disgusting acts,
the which I knew too well, and had as clients.
Not contemptuous, but I blessed
the scriptures that in safety, day by day,
to Canaan's land had brought me, sinning ever
in my thoughts at least, as all do, echoing
perpetually that first angel's fall
100. who brought perdition to us and our strife.
In youth I lived with miracles, and ever
lodged them in my mind. When dawn's grey light
rose glimmering on my father's walls, I'd rise
and sketch imagined figures as they stood,
erect and life-proud in their proper forms.
Older now, I am appalled, renounce
them utterly as puffed-up trumpery.
I would repaint the walls of summer villas,
rework my awkward-fashioned altarpieces,
but yet I marvel as I marvelled then.
God's hand was in my painting, and I found
through puppetry and heartless make believe
afresh new images that made them true,
and that hard conscience of my father gave
me grace to witness sorrow at his place.
To bless one lost in rages, more in drink,
a man turned on himself who, though he saw
the springtime fragrant in the earth, could feel
the angels passing in the wind, could hear
the chattering of leaves, the voice of rivers,
would only with his clumsy hand from stone
continually recarve his line in prophets,
one opening from another; each one worse
that kept him toiling at the wayside shrines.
Why God should let him labour on in vain,
would taunt with makeshift things, and throw them back
with limitless self-loathing I do not know,
but He no doubt had reasons and has made
the same rich dowry out of women's looks,
the most in donna Antonia, whose grace
gave passage to a patron's vaguest thoughts
in well-drawn character and firmer shape,
as all the while, most modestly, I'd set
how this could be, or that, and from my brush
would come new instances, fresh prodigies
where they could view the world around them set
to that most distant past, and what they saw
stretch out from doorway or Rialto step
return contemporary with that blessed land.
What here they hoped for had been lived before.
Across our quaysides went our Saviour's steps
and He, for all His meekness and remit
of pain, had left this gesture in the world.
For some at any rate. The rest were those
who danced at festivals and fiddled late
although the sunshine now was growing thin,
and somewhere, far away from us, but slinking
from port to watering hole to monastery
a pestilence was growing that would strike us down.
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