Poems of the Week: Lunacy

With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb'st the sky,
"How silently, and with how wan a face!"
Where art thou? Thou so often seen on high
Running among the clouds a Wood-nymph's race!
Unhappy Nuns, whose common breath's a sigh
Which they would stifle, move at such a pace!
The northern Wind, to call thee to the chase,
Must blow to-night his bugle horn. Had I
The power of Merlin, Goddess! this should be:
And all the stars, fast as the clouds were riven,
Should sally forth, to keep thee company,
Hurrying and sparkling through the clear blue heaven.
But, Cynthia! should to thee the palm be given,
Queen both for beauty and for majesty.

Philip Sidney

White in the moon the long road lies,
The moon stands blank above;
White in the moon the long road lies
That leads me from my love.
Still hangs the hedge without a gust,
Still, still the shadows stay:
My feet upon the moonlit dust
Pursue the ceaseless way.
The world is round, so travellers tell,
And straight though reach the track,
Trudge on, trudge on, 'twill all be well,
The way will guide one back.
But ere the circle homeward hies
Far, far must it remove:
White in the moon the long road lies
That leads me from my love.

A.E. Housman

[An early setting by Arthur  Somervell Sung by John McCormack: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MJTTj2AeKA]

A Stranger 

Her face was like sad things: was like the lights 

Of a great city, seen from far off fields, 

Or seen from sea ; sad things, as are the fires 

Lit in a land of furnaces by night ; 

Sad things, as are the reaches of a stream 

Flowing beneath a golden moon alone. 

And her clear voice, full of remembrances. 

Came like faint music down the distant air. 

As though she had a spirit of dead joy 

About her, looked the sorrow of her ways : 

If light there be, the dark hills are to climb 

First : and if calm, far over the long sea, 

Fallen from all the world apart she seemed, 

Into a silence and a memory. 

What had the thin hands done, that now they strained 

Together in such passion ? And those eyes, 

What saw they long ago, that now they dreamed 

Along the busy streets, blind but to dreams ? 

Her white lips mocked the world and all therein : 

She had known more than this ; she wanted not 

This, who had known the past so great a thing. 

Moving about our ways, herself she moved 

In things done, years remembered, places gone. 

Lonely, amid the living crowds, as dead, 

She walked with wonderful and sad regard. 

With us, her passing image : but herself 

Far over the dark hills and the long sea. 

Lionel Johnson


La Lune offensée

Ô Lune qu'adoraient discrétement nos pères,
Du haut des pays bleus où, radieux sérail,
Les astres vont te suivre en pimpant attirail,
Ma vieille Cynthia, lampe de nos repaires,

Vois-tu les amoureux sur leurs grabats prospères,
De leur bouche en dormant montrer le frais émail?
Le poète buter du front sur son travail?
Ou sous les gazons secs s'accoupler les vipères?

Sous ton domino jaune, et d'un pied clandestin,
Vas-tu, comme jadis, du soir jusqu'au matin,
Baiser d'Endymion les grâces surannées?

— «Je vois ta mère, enfant de ce siècle appauvri,
Qui vers son miroir penche un lourd amas d'années,
Et plâtre artistement le sein qui t'a nourri!»

Charles Baudelaire


The Moon Offended

O moon, to whom our fathers used to pray,
From your blue home, where, odalisques of light,
'The stars will follow you in spruce array,
Old Cynthia, lantern of our dens by night,

Do you see sleeping lovers on their couches
Reveal the cool enamel of their teeth:
The poet at his labours, how he crouches:
And vipers — how they couple on the heath?

In yellow domino, with stealthy paces,
Do you yet steal with clandestine embraces
To clasp Endymion's pale, millenial charm?

— "I see your mother, by her mirror, buckled
By weight of years, poor child of death and harm!
Patching with art the breast at which you suckled!"

Roy Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire





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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

6 Responses

  1. Dot says:

    Dr. Fleming,
    I am not a big fan of poetry but I recently heard someone with a strong Greek accent talk about the poetry of Constantine P. Cavafy and specifically “Ithaka”. She was difficult to understand so I looked up the poem and found it very beautiful. I am wondering if you heard of this poem. I am not sure if he actually wrote “Ithaka” or translated it from the Greek.

  2. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Cavafy/Kabaphis was a very great Greek poet of the early 20th century. In his poems, all of the Greek experience–Homeric, Classical, Alexandrian, Roman, Byzantine–finds expression. I can only compare him to the great cathedral in Monreale (near Palermo), where a Latin Romanesque church is adorned by purely Byzantine mosaics, as if there never had been a schism. I’ve toyed with t he idea of translating some of his poems, and your question is something of an omen.

  3. Dot says:

    Dr. Fleming,
    Thank you for your reply. I have never heard of Cavafy /Kabaphis and would like to learn more about this man and his poetry as you expressed in your reply. It sounds like you could do a program on him. Thanks again.

  4. Raymond Olson says:

    Dot–There are at least five good translations of Cavafy available, by Rae Dalven (The Complete Poems of Cavafy, 1961), Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard (Collected Poems, 1975, rev. ed. 1992), Theoharis C. Theoharis (Before Time Could Change Them, 2001), Aliki Barnstone (The Collected Poems of C. P. Cavafy, 2006), and Daniel Mendelsohn (Collected Poems, 2009; The Unfinished Poems, 2009). By “good” I mean that none of them seems, when compared to the others, to say something very different from the rest, and they all have the rueful dignity that is one primary characteristic of Cavafy. I’ll probably always prefer Dalven’s selection (it is not, after all, complete; further poems were discovered after she published) because it’s the one I discovered when I was only 13 and became enthralled with.

  5. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    My modern Greek is a bit shaky, but Cavafy’s dialect is not too difficult. What the translators don’t convey is either his music or the feeling I get of someone like the Wandering Jew. Let’s take a week or so, and I’ll post 1) a Greek poem in Greek, 2) a transliteration, 3) a literal translation, and 4) an English translation. If this does not bore the tears out of everyone, it might be a good way of learning to hear and read poetry. Pound recommended reading poetry in a language you did not know or did not know well as a means of training the ear. Perhaps one of our Greek subscribers could recite it….You probably did not realize it but we have one or two Greek subscribers.

  6. Raymond Olson says:

    Tom–It won’t bore me. And I’ll add my encouragement of the Greek subscribers to respond to your request. Cavafy’s music is something I want to hear.