Sonnet: A Vain Word Poem by Michael Burch

Sonnet: A Vain Word



A Vain Word
by Michael R. Burch

Oleanders at dawn preen extravagant whorls
as I read in leaves' Sanskrit brief moments remaining
till sunset implodes, till the moon strands grey pearls
under moss-stubbled oaks, full of whispers, complaining
to the minions of autumn, how swiftly life goes—
as I fled before love... Now, through leaves trodden black,
shivering, I wander as winter's first throes
of cool listless snow drench my cheeks, back and neck.

I discerned in one season all eternities of grief,
the specter of death sprawled out under the rose,
the last consequence of faith in the flight of one leaf,
the incontinence of age, as life's bright torrent slows.

O, where are you now? —I was timid, absurd.
I would find comfort again in a vain word.

Published by Chrysanthemum and Tucumcari Literary Review

NOTE: This is a poem about 'vanity' in the sense that even the loveliest things are subject to time: oleanders with their extravagant whorls, pearl-like beads of dew, etc. When we are confronted by the effects of time, we find ourselves wishing we had made more of what we had when we were younger. The 'vain word' is 'love.' Keywords/Tags: Sonnet, Love, Time, Grief, Death, Faith



First Steps
by Michael R. Burch

for Caitlin Shea Murphy

To her a year is like infinity,
each day—an adventure never-ending.
She has no concept of time,
but already has begun the climb—
from childhood to womanhood recklessly ascending.

I would caution her, 'No! Wait!
There will be time enough another day...
time to learn the Truth
and to slowly shed your youth,
but for now, sweet child, go carefully on your way! ...'

But her time is not a time for cautious words,
nor a time for measured, careful understanding.
She is just certain
that, by grabbing the curtain,
in a moment she will finally be standing!

Little does she know that her first few steps
will hurtle her on her way
through childhood to adolescence,
and then, finally, pubescence...
while, just as swiftly, I'll be going gray!



brrExit
by Michael R. Burch

what would u give
to simply not exist—
for a painless exit?
he asked himself, uncertain.

then from behind
the hospital room curtain
a patient screamed—
'my life! '



no foothold
by Michael R. Burch

there is no hope;
therefore i became invulnerable to love.
now even god cannot move me:
nothing to push or shove,
no foothold.

so let me live out my remaining days in clarity,
mine being the only nativity,
my death the final crucifixion
and apocalypse,

as far as the i can see …



Caedmon's Hymn (circa 658-680 AD)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Humbly now we honour heaven-kingdom's Guardian,
the Measurer's might and his mind-plans,
the goals of the Glory-Father. First he, the Everlasting Lord,
established earth's fearful foundations.
Then he, the First Scop, hoisted heaven as a roof
for the sons of men: Holy Creator,
mankind's great Maker! Then he, the Ever-Living Lord,
afterwards made men middle-earth: Master Almighty!



Bede's Death Song (circa 731 AD)
ancient Anglo-Saxon/Old English lyric poem
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Facing Death, that inescapable journey,
who can be wiser than he
who reflects, while breath yet remains,
on whether his life brought others happiness, or pains,
since his soul may yet win delight's or night's way
after his death-day.



briefling
by Michael R. Burch

manishatched, hopsintotheMix,
cavorts, hassex(quick! , spawnanewBrood!) :
then, likeamayfly, he'ssuddenlygone:
plantfood



The City Is a Garment
by Michael R. Burch

A rhinestone skein, a jeweled brocade of light, —
the city is a garment stretched so thin
her festive colors bleed into the night,
and everywhere bright seams, unraveling,

cascade their brilliant contents out like coins
on motorways and esplanades; bead cars
come tumbling down long highways; at her groin
a railtrack like a zipper flashes sparks;

her hills are haired with brush like cashmere wool
and from their cleavage winking lights enlarge
and travel, slender fingers... softly pull
themselves into the semblance of a barge.

When night becomes too chill, she softly dons
great overcoats of warmest-colored dawn.

Published by The Lyric, Sonnetto Poesia, The Eclectic Muse, Freshet, Better Than Starbucks, Jar of Quotes, Lone Star, Verse Weekly, Poetry Life & Times and Inspirational Stories



Duellem (The Duel)
by Charles Baudelaire
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Two combatants charged! Their fearsome swords
brightened the air with fiery sparks and blood.
Their clashing blades clinked odd serenades,
reminding us: youth's inspired by overloud love.

But now their blades lie broken, like our hearts!
Still, our savage teeth and talon-like fingernails
can do more damage than the deadliest sword
when lovers lash about with such natural flails.

In a deep ravine haunted by lynxes and panthers,
our heroes roll around in a cozy embrace,
leaving their blood to redden the colorless branches.
This abyss is pure hell; our friends occupy the place.

Come, let us roll here too, cruel Amazon;
let our hatred's ardor never be over and done!



Le Balcon (The Balcony)
by Charles Baudelaire
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Paramour of memory, ultimate mistress,
source of all pleasure, my only desire;
how can I forget your ecstatic caresses,
the warmth of your breasts by the roaring fire,
paramour of memory, ultimate mistress?

Each night illumined by the burning coals
we lay together where the rose-fragrance clings―
how soft your breasts, how tender your soul!
Ah, and we said imperishable things,
each night illumined by the burning coals.

How beautiful the sunsets these sultry days,
deep space so profound, beyond life's brief floods...
then, when I kissed you, my queen, in a daze,
I thought I breathed the bouquet of your blood
as beautiful as sunsets these sultry days.

Night thickens around us like a wall;
in the deepening darkness our irises meet.
I drink your breath, ah! poisonous yet sweet! ,
as with fraternal hands I massage your feet
while night thickens around us like a wall.

I have mastered the sweet but difficult art
of happiness here, with my head in your lap,
finding pure joy in your body, your heart;
because you're the queen of my present and past
I have mastered love's sweet but difficult art.

O vows! O perfumes! O infinite kisses!
Can these be reborn from a gulf we can't sound
as suns reappear, as if heaven misses
their light when they sink into seas dark, profound?
O vows! O perfumes! O infinite kisses!



Les Bijoux (The Jewels)
by Charles Baudelaire
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

My lover nude and knowing my heart's whims
Wore nothing more than a few bright-flashing gems;
Her art was saving men despite their sins—
She ruled like harem girls crowned with diadems!

She danced for me with a gay but mocking air,
My world of stone and metal sparking bright;
I discovered in her the rapture of everything fair—
Nay, an excess of joy where the spirit and flesh unite!

Naked she lay and offered herself to me,
Parting her legs and smiling receptively,
As gentle and yet profound as the rising sea—
Till her surging tide encountered my cliff, abruptly.

A tigress tamed, her eyes met mine, intent...
Intent on lust, content to purr and please!
Her breath, both languid and lascivious, lent
An odd charm to her metamorphoses.

Her limbs, her loins, her abdomen, her thighs,
Oiled alabaster, sinuous as a swan,
Writhed pale before my calm clairvoyant eyes;
Like clustered grapes her breasts and belly shone.

Skilled in more spells than evil imps can muster,
To break the peace which had possessed my heart,
She flashed her crystal rocks' hypnotic luster
Till my quietude was shattered, blown apart.

Her waist awrithe, her breasts enormously
Out-thrust, and yet... and yet, somehow, still coy...
As if stout haunches of Antiope
Had been grafted to a boy...

The room grew dark, the lamp had flickered out.
Mute firelight, alone, lit each glowing stud;
Each time the fire sighed, as if in doubt,
It steeped her pale, rouged flesh in pools of blood.



The Perfect Courtesan
by Michael R. Burch

after Baudelaire, for the courtesans

She received me into her cavities,
indulging my darkest depravities
with such trembling longing, I felt her need...

Such was the dalliance to which we agreed—
she, my high rider;
I, her wild steed.

She surrendered her all and revealed to me—
the willing handmaiden, delighted to please,
the Perfect Courtesan of Ecstasy.



Il pleure dans mon coeur ('It rains in my heart')
by Paul Verlaine
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

It rains in my heart
As it rains on the town;
Heavy languor and dark
Drenches my heart.

Oh, the sweet-sounding rain
Cleansing pavements and roofs!
For my listless heart's pain
The pure song of the rain!

Still it rains without reason
In my overcast heart.
Can it be there's no treason?
That this grief's without reason?

As my heart floods with pain,
Lacking hatred, or love,
I've no way to explain
Such bewildering pain!



Spleen
by Paul Verlaine
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The roses were so very red;
The ivy, impossibly black.
Dear, with a mere a turn of your head,
My despair's flooded back!

The sky was too gentle, too blue;
The sea, far too windswept and green.
Yet I always imagined―or knew―
I'd again feel your spleen.

Now I'm tired of the glossy waxed holly,
Of the shimmering boxwood too,
Of the meadowland's endless folly,
When all things, alas, lead to you!



Song from Ælla: Under the Willow Tree, or, Minstrel's Song
by Thomas Chatterton, age 17 or younger
modernization/translation by Michael R. Burch

O! sing unto my roundelay,
O! drop the briny tear with me,
Dance no more at holy-day,
Like a running river be:
My love is dead,
Gone to his death-bed
All under the willow tree.

Black his crown as the winter night,
White his skin as the summer snow,
Red his face as the morning light,
Cold he lies in the grave below:
My love is dead,
Gone to his death-bed
All under the willow tree.

Sweet his tongue as the throstle's note,
Quick in dance as thought can be,
Deft his tabor, cudgel stout;
O! he lies by the willow tree!
My love is dead,
Gone to his death-bed
All under the willow tree.

Hark! the raven flaps his wing
In the briar'd dell below;
Hark! the death-owl loudly sings
To the nightmares, as they go:
My love is dead,
Gone to his death-bed
All under the willow-tree.

See! the white moon shines on high;
Whiter is my true love's shroud:
Whiter than the morning sky,
Whiter than the evening cloud:
My love is dead,
Gone to his death-bed
All under the willow tree.

Here upon my true love's grave
Shall the barren flowers be laid;
Not one holy saint to save
All the coolness of a maid:
My love is dead,
Gone to his death-bed
All under the willow tree.

With my hands I'll frame the briars
Round his holy corpse to grow:
Elf and fairy, light your fires,
Here my body, stilled, shall go:
My love is dead,
Gone to his death-bed
All under the willow tree.

Come, with acorn-cup and thorn,
Drain my heart's red blood away;
Life and all its good I scorn,
Dance by night, or feast by day:
My love is dead,
Gone to his death-bed
All under the willow-tree.

Water witches, crowned with plaits,
Bear me to your lethal tide.
I die; I come; my true love waits.
Thus the damsel spoke, and died.

The song above is, in my opinion, competitive with Shakespeare's songs in his plays, and may be the best of Thomas Chatterton's so-called 'Rowley' poems. The fact that Chatterton wrote it in his teens is astounding.



An Excelente Balade of Charitie ('An Excellent Ballad of Charity')
by Thomas Chatterton, age 17
modernization/translation by Michael R. Burch

As wroten bie the goode Prieste
Thomas Rowley 1464

In Virgynë the swelt'ring sun grew keen,
Then hot upon the meadows cast his ray;
The apple ruddied from its pallid green
And the fat pear did extend its leafy spray;
The pied goldfinches sang the livelong day;
'Twas now the pride, the manhood of the year,
And the ground was mantled in fine green cashmere.

The sun was gleaming in the bright mid-day,
Dead-still the air, and likewise the heavens blue,
When from the sea arose, in drear array,
A heap of clouds of sullen sable hue,
Which full and fast unto the woodlands drew,
Hiding at once the sun's fair festive face,
As the black tempest swelled and gathered up apace.

Beneath a holly tree, by a pathway's side,
Which did unto Saint Godwin's convent lead,
A hapless pilgrim moaning did abide.
Poor in his sight, ungentle in his weed,
Long brimful of the miseries of need,
Where from the hailstones could the beggar fly?
He had no shelter there, nor any convent nigh.

Look in his gloomy face; his sprite there scan;
How woebegone, how withered, dried-up, dead!
Haste to thy parsonage, accursèd man!
Haste to thy crypt, thy only restful bed.
Cold, as the clay which will grow on thy head,
Is Charity and Love among high elves;
Knights and Barons live for pleasure and themselves.

The gathered storm is ripe; the huge drops fall;
The sunburnt meadows smoke and drink the rain;
The coming aghastness makes the cattle pale;
And the full flocks are driving o'er the plain;
Dashed from the clouds, the waters float again;
The heavens gape; the yellow lightning flies;
And the hot fiery steam in the wide flamepot dies.

Hark! now the thunder's rattling, clamoring sound
Heaves slowly on, and then enswollen clangs,
Shakes the high spire, and lost, dispended, drown'd,
Still on the coward ear of terror hangs;
The winds are up; the lofty elm-tree swings;
Again the lightning―then the thunder pours,
And the full clouds are burst at once in stormy showers.

Spurring his palfrey o'er the watery plain,
The Abbot of Saint Godwin's convent came;
His chapournette was drenchèd with the rain,
And his pinched girdle met with enormous shame;
He cursing backwards gave his hymns the same;
The storm increasing, and he drew aside
With the poor alms-craver, near the holly tree to bide.

His cape was all of Lincoln-cloth so fine,
With a gold button fasten'd near his chin;
His ermine robe was edged with golden twine,
And his high-heeled shoes a Baron's might have been;
Full well it proved he considered cost no sin;
The trammels of the palfrey pleased his sight
For the horse-milliner loved rosy ribbons bright.

'An alms, Sir Priest! ' the drooping pilgrim said,
'Oh, let me wait within your convent door,
Till the sun shineth high above our head,
And the loud tempest of the air is o'er;
Helpless and old am I, alas! , and poor;
No house, no friend, no money in my purse;
All that I call my own is this―my silver cross.

'Varlet, ' replied the Abbott, 'cease your din;
This is no season alms and prayers to give;
My porter never lets a beggar in;
None touch my ring who in dishonor live.'
And now the sun with the blackened clouds did strive,
And shed upon the ground his glaring ray;
The Abbot spurred his steed, and swiftly rode away.

Once more the sky grew black; the thunder rolled;
Fast running o'er the plain a priest was seen;
Not full of pride, not buttoned up in gold;
His cape and jape were gray, and also clean;
A Limitour he was, his order serene;
And from the pathway side he turned to see
Where the poor almer lay beneath the holly tree.

'An alms, Sir Priest! ' the drooping pilgrim said,
'For sweet Saint Mary and your order's sake.'
The Limitour then loosen'd his purse's thread,
And from it did a groat of silver take;
The needy pilgrim did for happiness shake.
'Here, take this silver, it may ease thy care;
'We are God's stewards all, naught of our own we bear.'

'But ah! unhappy pilgrim, learn of me,
Scarce any give a rentroll to their Lord.
Here, take my cloak, as thou are bare, I see;
'Tis thine; the Saints will give me my reward.'
He left the pilgrim, went his way abroad.
Virgin and happy Saints, in glory showered,
Let the mighty bend, or the good man be empowered!

TRANSLATOR'S NOTES: It is possible that some words used by Chatterton were his own coinages; some of them apparently cannot be found in medieval literature. In a few places I have used similar-sounding words that seem to not overly disturb the meaning of the poem. ― Michael R. Burch



MARTIAL TRANSLATIONS

You ask me why I've sent you no new verses?
There might be reverses.
―Martial, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You ask me to recite my poems to you?
I know how you'll 'recite' them, if I do.
―Martial, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

NOTE: The irascible Martial is suggesting that if he shares his poems, they will be plagiarized.

You ask me why I choose to live elsewhere?
You're not there.
―Martial, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You ask me why I love the fresh country air?
You're not befouling it there.
―Martial, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You never wrote a poem,
yet criticize mine?
Stop abusing me or write something fine
of your own!
―Martial, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

He starts everything but finishes nothing;
thus I suspect there's no end to his stuffing.
―Martial, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

NOTE: Martial concluded his epigram with a variation of the f-word; please substitute it if you prefer it.

You alone own prime land, dandy!
Gold, money, the finest porcelain―you alone!
The best wines of the most famous vintages―you alone!
Discrimination and wit―you alone!
You have it all―who can deny that you alone are set for life?
But everyone has had your wife―she is never alone!
―Martial, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

You dine in great magnificence
while offering guests a pittance.
Sextus, did you invite
friends to dinner tonight
to impress us with your enormous appetite?
―Martial, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

To you, my departed parents, dear mother and father,
I commend my little lost angel, Erotion, love's daughter.
She fell a mere six days short of outliving her sixth frigid winter.
Protect her now, I pray, should the chilling dark shades appear;
muzzle hell's three-headed hound, less her heart be dismayed!
Lead her to romp in some sunny Elysian glade,
her devoted patrons. Watch her play childish games
as she excitedly babbles and lisps my name.
Let no hard turf smother her softening bones; and do
rest lightly upon her, earth, she was surely no burden to you!
―Martial, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch



Alien Nation
by Michael R. Burch

(for a Christian poet who believes in 'hell')

On a lonely outpost on Mars
the astronaut practices 'speech'
as alien to primates below
as mute stars winking high, out of reach.

And his words fall as bright and as chill
as ice crystals on Kilimanjaro —
far colder than Jesus's words
over the 'fortunate' sparrow.

And I understand how gentle Emily
must have felt, when all comfort had flown,
gazing into those inhuman eyes,
feeling zero at the bone.

Oh, how can I grok his arctic thought?
For if he is human, I am not.



Muse/Goddess
by Michael R. Burch

'What will you conceive in me? '?
I asked her. But she
only smiled.

'Naked, I bore your child
when the wolf wind howled,
when the cold moon scowled...
naked, and gladly.'

'What will become of me? '
I asked her, as she
absently stroked my hand.

Centuries later, I understand;
she whispered, 'I Am.'



Are You the Thief
by Michael R. Burch

When I touch you now,
O sweet lover,
full of fire,
melting like ice
in my embrace,

when I part the delicate white lace,
baring pale flesh,
and your face
is so close
that I breathe your breath
and your hair surrounds me like a wreath...

tell me now,
O sweet, sweet lover,
in good faith:
are you the thief
who has stolen my heart?



After the Deluge
by Michael R. Burch

She was kinder than light
to an up-reaching flower
and sweeter than rain
to the bees in their bower
where anemones blush
at the affections they shower,
and love's shocking power.

She shocked me to life,
but soon left me to wither.
I was listless without her,
nor could I be with her.
I fell under the spell
of her absence's power.
in that calamitous hour.

Like blithe showers that fled
repealing spring's sweetness;
like suns' warming rays sped
away, with such fleetness...
she has taken my heart—
alas, our completeness!
I now wilt in pale beams
of her occult remembrance.



we did not Dye in vain!
by Michael R. Burch

from 'songs of the sea snails'

though i'm just a slimy crawler,
my lineage is proud:
my forebears gave their lives
(oh, let the trumps blare loud!)
so purple-mantled Royals
might stand out in a crowd.

i salute you, fellow loyals,
who labor without scruple
as your incomes fall
while deficits quadruple
to swaddle unjust Lords
in bright imperial purple!

Notes: In ancient times the purple dye produced from the secretions of purpura mollusks (sea snails) was known as 'Tyrian purple, ' 'royal purple' and 'imperial purple.' It was greatly prized in antiquity, and was very expensive according to the historian Theopompus: 'Purple for dyes fetched its weight in silver at Colophon.' Thus, purple-dyed fabrics became status symbols, and laws often prevented commoners from possessing them. The production of Tyrian purple was tightly controlled in Byzantium, where the imperial court restricted its use to the coloring of imperial silks. A child born to the reigning emperor was literally porphyrogenitos ('born to the purple') because the imperial birthing apartment was walled in porphyry, a purple-hued rock, and draped with purple silks. Royal babies were swaddled in purple; we know this because the iconodules, who disagreed with the emperor Constantine about the veneration of images, accused him of defecating on his imperial purple swaddling clothes!



Elemental
by Michael R. Burch

There is within her a welling forth
of love unfathomable.
She is not comfortable
with the thought of merely loving:
but she must give all.

At night, she heeds the storm's calamitous call;
nay, longs for it. Why?
O, if a man understood, he might understand her.
But that never would do!
Darling, as you embrace the storm,

so I embrace elemental you.



Dream House
by Michael R. Burch

I have come to the house of my fondest dreams,
but the shutters are boarded; the front door is locked;
the mail box leans over; and where we once walked,
the path is grown over with crabgrass and clover.

I kick the trash can; it screams, topples over.
The yard, weeded over, blooms white fluff, and green.
The elm we once swung from leans over the stream.
In the twilight I cling with both hands to the swing.

Inside, perhaps, I hear the telephone ring
or watch once again as the bleary-eyed mover
takes down your picture. Dejected, I hover,
asking over and over, 'Why didn't you love her? '


Published as the collection 'A Vain Word'

Keywords/Tags: autumn, fall, winter, flower, flowers, leaves, love, sunset, moon, vanity

Monday, January 20, 2020
Topic(s) of this poem: winter,autumn,fall,flower,flowers,leaves,love,moon,sunset,vanity
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