Ode to Melancholy

David Wagoner Click to

David Wagoner’s twenty-third and most recent collection of poems is A Map of the Night (Illinois, 2008).  He is the recipient of many awards, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the NEA, and his novel The Escape Artist was made into a movie by Frencis Ford Coppola.  Wagoner served as editor of Poetry Northwest from 1966 to 2002 and now teaches in the low-residency MFA program of the Northwest Institute on Whidbey Island.

–translated from the English of John Keats

No, you won’t take those easy ways to forget
yew-berries, wolf-bane, nightshade, death-watch beetle,
or death moth.  They could lead to what you thought
was your body’s inevitable goal of darkness.
My holy self-mate, your soul isn’t an owl
and will never come to know what an owl knows,
yet why should you and I be put to sleep
without an owl’s wide-eyed and wholly secret
understanding of the night?  If you should feel
suddenly melancholy as a storm cloud,
remember the rain you shed will bend the flowers
only a moment, then turn the hillside as green
as a mock shroud.  This very morning it fed
the roses and peonies, covered the ocean
and the barren desert with unlikely rainbows,
so when your mistress (your mysterious mistress)
is bitter again, hold her hand and gaze
into her incomparable eyes
and wait with her once more till you remember
she lives in melancholy.  She doesn’t believe
she’s beautiful.  She thinks she was beautiful
once upon a time and was only happy
long ago, then felt her pleasure sting
and disappear, and feels she must die now.
Look deeply enough. Will she recall bursting
with joy on your tongue like grapes, how her body
(now Melancholy’s shrine) remains a temple
of delight where the gods have hung their grapes forever?
Now she sees nothing but their clouded bloom.


One Response to Ode to Melancholy

  1. It’s fascinating to me to compare this side-by-side with Keats’ poem and speculate about how the “translation” was conducted. The poems are very different, but the materials and even much of the plot are the same. Would anyone care to offer a thought about how, as you see it, this poem suggests the process by which it arrived from the Keats poem?

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