John Philip Drury – Sestina: Ben grans avoleza intra

Drury LE P&W September 2023

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing September 2023

Sestina: Ben grans avoleza intra, poems by John Philip Drury.

Sestina: Ben grans avoleza intra

after Bertran de Born, 1150?-1215

Certainly much vileness enters
Sir Ademar between his flesh and nail.
Luxury claims his heart, close to his soul,
and wretchedness batters him with its rod—
not like the honorable dean, his uncle,
in whom repute establishes its chamber.

When Ademar sneaks in a chamber,
the smell of lamp fat burning also enters
(no stink like that accompanied his uncle),
so heart and mind would claw it out with nails.
I’d like to see them measure, with a rod,
the coffin for that body that wrecks a soul.

I don’t mourn his body or soul
but rather the land where honor’s lost its chamber,
for Ademar has bashed it with a rod
and heaved it out of every place he’s entered,
so it can’t touch him even by hair or nail—
though goodness blooms and bears fruit in his uncle.

How good and noble is the uncle,
the nephew worthless, empty to his soul,
as evil as a fox from top to toenail,
usurping any nook for court and chamber.
Oh, what a miserable dupe who enters
into friendship there, wiped with a foul rod.

Crossing myself, a better prod,
I came one day to the fine dean, his uncle.
And if I could have sojourned where he enters,
I’d be rejoicing for my body and soul.
With firm resolve, he opens up his chamber
to worthiness, adhering like flesh to nail.

To my Berart, I tip my nail,
for never have I seen him grab a rod
to drive out youth or goodness from his chamber,
and fondly I remember his father and uncle.
If Ademar, though, can’t fortify his soul,
he’ll lose far more and into Hell will enter.

I make this sirventes with “uncle” and “nail,”
for Ademar, with “rod” and also “soul,”
and for the dean, with “chamber” and with “enter.”

Note: Bertran is responding to Arnaut Daniel’s sestina that begins “The firm resolve that has entered” (“Lo ferm voler q’el cor m’intra”), using the same end-words in the same order: enter, nail, soul, rod, uncle, and chamber. In the original Occitan text, those end-words (teleutons) are intra, ongla, arma, verga, oncle, and chambra. In the three-line envoi for both poems, they are arranged E B / D C / F A. The opening line of each six-line stanza is octosyllabic (indicated here by indentation), but the other five are hendecasyllabic. Some scholars, however, consider 7-10-10-10-10-10 as the pattern of syllables, not counting the extra unstressed syllable at the end of each line as part of the meter, even though the surviving musical setting has distinct notes for eight syllables in the opening line of each stanza and eleven in the other five. My translation of Arnaut’s sestina, a form he invented, appears in The Poetry Dictionary (Story Press, 1995; Writer’s Digest Books, revised second edition, 2006).

Sir Ademar: possibly Ademar II of Poitiers; Berart: possibly Berart de Mondisdier; sirventes: aTroubadour poem that imitates the form of another, usually for satire or personal vituperation.

Ghazal: Tangled Hair, a Glaze of Sweat

after Hafez, ca. 1315-1390

Tangled hair, a glaze of sweat on his brow, lips pressed
to a goblet. Then he began to sing, stripped to the waist.

With eyes winking and the faint edge of a smile, he came
last night and stayed by my pillow after midnight had passed.

He lowered his mouth to my ear and said in a low voice,
“My darling, once mine, how has sleep come so fast?”

Lovers who can’t rest through the night are infidels
if they don’t worship the gift of wine. Their love’s not blest.

All you prohibitionists, don’t pick on the connoisseurs
who love even the dregs of wine, the Creator’s finest.

Whether it’s the vintage of Paradise or the drunkard’s jug,
whatever God dispenses in our cups, we must taste.

Laughter over wine and the toss of a lover’s hair
have undermined many plans, like those Hafez has cast.

Note: My translation versifies and freely adapts the English prose version by
Lieutenant-Colonel H. Wilberforce Clarke in Volume II of The Divan, Written
in the Fourteenth Century, by Kwāja Shamsu-d-Dīn Muhammad-i-Hāfiz-i-Shīrāzī
(1891): Vol. I, Poem 44, p. 111.

Another Invisible City

after Italo Calvino

You need not venture from palace or pagoda, traveling in a caravan on
the silk road or an imperial barge towed up the Yangtze, to visit the
city of Mnemosyne, which is truly invisible. It’s here, around you, for
it comprises all the buildings rulers have destroyed or abandoned, as
well as those they never built. The pharos of Alexandria, disseminating
its light from cauldrons of burning oil refracted through faceted glass,
shines on the mile-high tower Frank Lloyd Wright designed. Six wonders
of the ancient world are here, as well as the shops and houses of New
Amsterdam, lost cities like Ecbatan and Ur, but also ghost towns rich in
saloons with swinging doors, roulette wheel spun by the wind. There are,
however, no zoning laws, so this dizzying city of sweeping balconies, villas
that are sculptural, and inner courtyards with orange trees and colonnades
cannot exclude the workhouses, hovels under bridges, crematoria. You
might not come here by choice, but you can’t escape the city limits,
which extend beyond our solar system. Even within the living quarters
of your capital, it’s an overlay that tints and discolors everything.

© John Philip Drury

John Philip Drury is the author of five books of poetry: The Disappearing Town and Burning the Aspern Papers (both from Miami University Press), The Refugee Camp (Turning Point Books), Sea Level Rising (Able Muse Press), and The Teller’s Cage, which will be published by Able Muse Press in January 2023. He has also written Creating Poetry and The Poetry Dictionary, both from Writer’s Digest Books. His awards include an Ingram Merrill Foundation fellowship, two Ohio Arts Council grants, a Pushcart Prize, and the Bernard F. Conners Prize from The Paris Review for “Burning the Aspern Papers.” He was born in Cambridge, Maryland, and grew up in Bethesda, raised by his mother and a former opera singer she called her cousin but secretly considered her wife. (His book about them, Bobby and Carolyn: A Memoir of My Two Mothers, will be published by Finishing Line Press in August 2024.)

After dropping out of college and losing his draft deferment during the Vietnam War, he enlisted in the Army to learn German and served undercover in the West German Refugee Camp near Nuremberg. He used benefits from the GI Bill to earn degrees from Stony Brook University, the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. After teaching at the University of Cincinnati for 37 years, he is now an emeritus professor and lives with his wife, fellow poet LaWanda Walters, in a hundred-year-old house on the edge of a wooded ravine.

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