The Nineteenth Century as a Song

By Robert Hass b. 1941 Robert Hass
“How like a well-kept garden is your soul.”   
   John Gray’s translation of Verlaine
& Baudelaire’s butcher in 1861
shorted him four centimes
on a pound of tripe.
He thought himself a clever man
and, wiping the calves’ blood from his beefy hands,   
gazed briefly at what Tennyson called
“the sweet blue sky.”

It was a warm day.
What clouds there were
were made of sugar tinged with blood.
They shed, faintly, amid the clatter of carriages   
new settings of the songs
Moravian virgins sang on wedding days.

   The poet is a monarch of the clouds

& Swinburne on his northern coast
“trod,” he actually wrote, “by no tropic foot,”   
composed that lovely elegy
and then found out Baudelaire was still alive   
whom he had lodged dreamily
in a “deep division of prodigious breasts.”

   Surely the poet is monarch of the clouds.   
   He hovers, like a lemon-colored kite,
   over spring afternoons in the nineteenth century

while Marx in the library gloom
studies the birth rate of the weavers of Tilsit   
and that gentle man Bakunin,
home after fingerfucking the countess,   
applies his numb hands
to the making of bombs.

Robert Hass, “The Nineteenth Century as a Song” from Field Guide. Copyright © 1973 by Robert Hass. Reprinted with the permission of Yale University Press, http://www.yale.edu/yup/.

Source: Field Guide (1973)

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Poet Robert Hass b. 1941

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

Subjects History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Poetry & Poets, Arts & Sciences

Poetic Terms Free Verse