Richard Wilbur: “A Baroque Wall-Fountain in the Villa Sciarra

 

            Under the bronze crown

Too big for the head of the stone cherub whose feet

            A serpent has begun to eat,

Sweet water brims a cockle and braids down

 

            Past spattered mosses, breaks

On the tipped edge of a second shell, and fills

            The massive third below.  It spills

In threads then from the scalloped rim, and makes

 

            A scrim or summery tent

For a faun-ménage and their familiar goose.

            Happy in all that ragged, loose

Collapse of water, its effortless descent

 

            And flatteries of spray,

The stocky god upholds the shell with ease,

            Watching, about his shaggy knees,

The goatish innocence of his babes at play;

 

            His fauness all the while

Leans forward, slightly, into a clambering mesh

            Of water-lights, her sparkling flesh

In a saecular ecstasy, her blinded smile

 

            Bent on the sand floor

Of the trefoil pool, where ripple-shadows come

            And go in swift reticulum,

More addling to the eye than wine, and more

 

            Interminable to thought

Than pleasure’s calculus.  Yet since this all

            Is pleasure, flash, and waterfall,

Must it no be too simple?  Are we not

 

            More intricately expressed

In the plain fountains that Maderna set

            Before St. Peter’s – the main jet

Struggling aloft until it seems at rest

 

            In the very act of rising, until

The very wish of water is reversed,

            That heaviness borne up to burst

In a clear, high, cavorting head, to fill

 

            With blaze, and then in gauze

Delays, in a gnatlike shimmering, in a fine

            Illumined version of itself, decline,

And patter on the stones its own applause?

 

            If that is what men are

Or should be, if those water-saints display

            The pattern of our arête,

What of these showered fauns in their bizarre,

 

            Spangled, and plunging house?

They are at rest in fullness of desire

            For what is given, they do not tire

Of the smart of the sun, the pleasant water-douse

 

            And riddled pool below,

Reproving our disgust and our ennui

            With humble insatiety.

Francis, perhaps, who lay in sister snow

 

            Before the wealthy gate

Freezing and praising, might have seen in this

            No trifle, but  shade of bliss –

That land of tolerable flowers, that state

 

            As near and far as grass

Where eyes becomes the sunlight, and the hand

            Is worthy of water: the dreamt land

Toward which all hungers leap, all pleasures pass.