Friday, June 26, 2009

The Broken Bell

Like bitter sugar, falls November snow,
All night beside the dying embers' glow,
While far-off memories awake are kissed
By pealing church bells in the mist.
The happy, respectable ancient bell
Faithfully casts its elevating song:
In spite of age, it's still alert and well:
A soldier keeping watch before the dawn.
But as for me, my very soul is cracked,
And when it wants to fill the night with song
It only manages a voiceless hack---
The last gasp of one wounded and alone.
Beside the crimson lake, immobilized,
Beneath weight of humanity he dies.

Translated by Frederick Ingram (c) 2009

Here is the original by Charles Baudelaire, with some older translations. The most literal is the Aggeler. My favorite is the Millay:

The Elephant's Daughter

They hanged an elephant in Tennessee
For killing one or two unruly clots.
It happened in the year nineteen sixteen.
It must have been a gruesome thing to watch.
In South Carolina, four score years hence,
The daughter of an elephant has drowned
Her kids. It seems the animal had squashed
Her heart. That's what the coroner had found.
I don't know a lot about pachyderms.
Sometimes severely arid spells make them
Withhold all water from their young.
But do incestuous Republicans?
That might explain the water's fatal pull.
Perhaps the girl was praying to the well.

One tosses coins into a wishing well.
Like burying a seed, or priming pumps,
It always requires something valuable
Be lost, so that some better thing will come.
What could she hope to come from such a loss?
Was she searching for a better husband?
Did she truly want to marry her boss?
Or just somehow escape from this arid land?
Her counsel argued it was the latter.
The jury found her guilty anyway,
But have not yet decided the matter
Of punishment. They will do that today.
Why stop with her? Why not hang her father,
The elephant who kept her from water.

(c) 1996 Frederick Ingram

The Vampire's Humor

One night I rose from where I lay in rest;
I woke from dreams about my counterpart.
Rude thunder shook chambers inside my chest,
While lightning teased my cold and vacant heart.
Desire had seeped into my tortured mind;
Into the rain I ran in search of blood.
I knew whatever comfort I might find
Lay not in sleeping like a piece of wood.
My senses sharp, I found my human feast:
My girl, asleep in her eternal night.
I drank of her until her heartbeat ceased;
I watched her die and sadly touched the bite.
And so my skin feels warm now from her blood,
And, I confess, she tasted pretty good!

(c) 1987-1994 Frederick Ingram

The Sonnet Factory

Around the dawn of The Millennium,
The Sonnet Factory almost shut down!
They said it should be making bubble gum—
Much easier to sell than sense and sound.

Though local arty types threw up a storm,
No economic incentives were found
To justify Elizabethan form.
What could they do to turn the plant around?

A handsome poet who worked on the floor
Believed he had the answer: just-in-time.
He said, “The value’s in the metaphor.
Cut words that take up space, but keep the rhyme.”

Now that the factory is running well,
The poems often scan and always sell.

(c) 2006 Frederick Ingram