White Nights

  1. (After Lucretius)
  2. A snake, if a man’s spittle
  3. Falls upon it, will wriggle
  4. And writhe in frenzied contortions, and may even gnaw
  5. Itself to death; and there are certain
  6. Trees, should you ever drift off to sleep
  7. In their shade, you’d wake clutching your throbbing head as if an axe
  8. Had been buried there. The blossom, I’ve heard, of a type of rowan
  9. That flourishes in the mountains
  10. Of Helicon has overpowered and killed with the vile stench
  11. It emits. And women should be wary
  12. Of the potent musk of the beaver, which can force a busy housewife
  13. Suddenly to drop her darning, or her delicate needlework, and collapse
  14. In a dead faint — though this
  15. Occurs only if the scent is inhaled at the time when her menstrual
  16. Blood is flowing.
  17.                                         Those afflicted with jaundice see everything
  18. As yellow because their yellow bodies
  19. Send out — like a halo or aura — a constant stream
  20. Of tiny bright yellow seeds, and these seeds merge
  21. With the images careering through the air from all that exists; and then a
  22.          further
  23. Coating of yellow is added by the patient’s
  24. Yellow eyeballs, which tinge all they absorb with their own
  25. Lurid hue.
  26.                              We humans did not, in my opinion,
  27. Long ago slide from heaven
  28. To here on some golden chain; nor did we emerge
  29. From the ocean, nor were we created by the relentless pounding of waves
  30. On rocks. It was the earth
  31. Which bred us, as she feeds us still. Out of her own
  32. Sweet will she created the wheat that shimmers, laden
  33. Fruit-trees, and buttercup meadows. But now nature
  34. Seems tired; our farmers exhaust their oxen
  35. And themselves, they blunt ploughshare
  36. After ploughshare, but to little avail. The soil yields what it yields
  37. Grudgingly, and demands more and more labour.
  38. The wizened farmer sighs, and can’t help
  39. Thinking back to the days of his father, when things
  40. Were simpler, and the fields more fertile, though far less
  41. Of the world was cultivated. Likewise, the vineyard owner
  42. Broods morosely on his twisted, stunted
  43. Vines, and curses heaven, not realizing
  44. That all things decay, that all things sink
  45. Towards the grave, grow frail or weary, are worn gradually
  46. Away by the remorseless passing
  47. Of the years.