Halloween offering: “Colloque sentimental,” by Paul Verlaine


Today, a poem.  Those of you who are purely Anglophone can skip to the translation below, by A. S. Kline.  It’s not perfect, but it’s far better than anything I could manage on the spur of the moment, and it rhymes, and it will give you an idea of the very lovely and sad and Halloweeny original. 



(One thing in the last couplet: “avoines folles” are “wild oats,” which I am sure you know by sight at least, and which I have given you in the above image.  They are a far more atmospheric background for our two ghosts than “wild herbs,” but Kline used “herbs” to rhyme with “words,” and I understand and sympathize and am glad I can read French, and that’s why translation is a crazy bitch.)




Dans le vieux parc solitaire et glacé
Deux formes ont tout à l’heure passé.

Leurs yeux sont morts et leurs lèvres sont molles,
Et l’on entend à peine leurs paroles.

Dans le vieux parc solitaire et glacé
Deux spectres ont évoqué le passé.

–Te souvient-il de notre extase ancienne ?
–Pourquoi voulez-vous donc qu’il m’en souvienne ?

–Ton coeur bat-il toujours à mon seul nom ?
Toujours vois tu mon âme en rêve? –Non.

–Ah! les beaux jours de bonheur indicible
Où nous joignions nos bouches! –C’est possible.

Qu’il était bleu, le ciel, et grand l’espoir !
–L’espoir a fui, vaincu, vers le ciel noir.

Tels ils marchaient dans les avoines folles,
Et la nuit seule entendit leurs paroles.



In the lonely old park’s frozen glass

Two dark shadows lately passed.


Their lips were slack, eyes were blurred,

The words they spoke scarcely heard.


In the lonely old park’s frozen glass

Two spectral forms invoked the past.


‘Do you recall our former ecstasies?’

‘Why would you have me rake up memories?’


‘Does your heart still beat at my name alone?’

‘Is it always my soul you see in dream?’ – ‘Ah, no’.


‘Oh the lovely days of unspeakable mystery,

When our mouths met!’ – ‘Ah yes, maybe.’


‘How blue it was, the sky, how high our hopes!’

‘Hope fled, conquered, along the dark slopes.’


So they walked there, among the wild herbs,

And the night alone listened to their words.



My career as a poet


I was a poet, for a while.



I wrote poetry like a demon. I had notebooks full of lines, and words, and full poems, and sequences of poems, and sequences of sequences. I had a whole book planned out at one point, in five sections.



I won the Poetry Award at my college in my senior year, and I was sure it was a sign of future greatness.  You know how successful and wealthy and famous poets are! (Yes, I’m being sarcastic, just so you know. But when you’re twenty, it’s a heady feeling. It’s important to feel that way at twenty, I think.)



During the decade that followed, I wrote poetry constantly, and submitted it to the ten thousand little magazines that accept contributions. They changed all the time. A few are fixtures: Poetry, naturally, and the Kenyon Review. I never dared to approach them; I decided (sensibly) to build a reputation first. I got published! Always in little magazines. “Bardic Echoes,” I remember. I’d have to dig out the box of publications to remember the others. I’m sure they’re all long dead.



I had a last burst of poetic inspiration while I was in the Peace Corps, in my late twenties. I wrote pages and pages of doggerelish rhyming verse. Some of it was actually clever, I think.



Since then: nothing.



My friend Joanne recently sent me a copy of the college publication in which my prize-winning poem appeared in 1978. Ah Jesus!



I so badly wanted to be a real poet. More than that: I was sure that I was a poet, and would somehow suddenly erupt into notoriety as a famous poet . . .



It didn’t happen.



Ah well.



Maybe I’ll have a burst of creativity sometime between now and 2040 . . .




Thanksgiving blog: Thank you

In the spirit of Thanksgiving: the last few stanzas of Kenneth Koch’s wonderful early poem “Thank You.”




. . . Thank you for the chance to run a small hotel

In an elephant stopover in Zambezi,

But I do not know how to take care of guests, certainly they would all leave soon,

After seeing blue lights out the windows and rust on their iron beds –

I’d rather run a bird-house in Jamaica:

Those people come in, the birds, they do not care how things are kept up . . .

It’s true that Zambezi proprietorship would be exciting,

with people getting off elephants and coming into my hotel,

But as tempting as it is I cannot agree.

And thank you for this offer of the post of referee

For the Danish wrestling championship – I simply do not feel qualified . . .


But the fresh spring air has been swabbing my mental decks

Until, although prepared for fight, still I sleep on land.

Thank you for the ostriches. I have not yet had time to pluck them,

But I am sure they will be delicious, adorning my plate at sunset,

My tremendous plate, and the plate

Of the offers to all my days. But I cannot fasten my exhilaration to the sun.


And thank you for the evening of the night on which

I fell off my horse in the shadows. That was really useful.




Sunday blog: Stevie Smith’s cats

It suddenly struck me that today is Halloween, and it might be nice to do something seasonal.  So, instead of the lovely mini-anthology of Snooki quotations I’d planned, here’s one of my favorite Stevie Smith poems.  

Stevie loved reading her poetry aloud; she would sing it and act it out.  It would have been great fun to see her recite this one.


I like to toss him up and down

A heavy cat weighs half a Crown

With a hey do diddle my cat Brown.

I like to pinch him on the sly

When nobody is passing by

With a hey do diddle my cat Fry.

I like to ruffle up his pride

And watch him skip and turn aside

With a hey do diddle my cat Hyde.

Hey Brown and Fry and Hyde my cats

That sit on tombstones for your mats.


Sunday blog: Lana Turner has collapsed!


The poet Frank O’Hara died in 1966 at the age of 40, after being hit by a car on Fire Island.  He was an avid movie fan.  This is my favorite of his poems.  I misquote it frequently.




Lana Turner has collapsed!

I was trotting along and suddenly

it started raining and snowing

but you said it was hailing

but hailing hits you on the head

hard so it was really snowing and

raining and I was in such a hurry

to meet you but the traffic

was acting exactly like the sky

and suddenly I see a headline


there is no snow in Hollywood

there is no rain in California

I have been to lots of parties

and acted perfectly disgraceful

but I never actually collapsed

oh Lana Turner we love you get up




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