A Baroque Wall-Fountain in the Villa Sciarra

By Richard Wilbur b. 1921 Richard Wilbur

for Dore and Adja

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 not 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 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 aretê,
What of these showered fauns in their bizarre,

            Spangled, and plunging house?
They are at rest in fulness 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 a shade of bliss—
That land of tolerable flowers, that state

            As near and far as grass
Where eyes become the sunlight, and the hand   
      Is worthy of water: the dreamt land
Toward which all hungers leap, all pleasures pass.

Richard Wilbur, “A Baroque Wall-Fountain in the Villa Sciarra” from Collected Poems 1943-2004. Copyright © 2004 by Richard Wilbur. Reprinted with the permission of Harcourt, Inc. This material may not be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Source: Collected Poems 1943-2004 (2004)

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Poet Richard Wilbur b. 1921

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Architecture & Design, Painting & Sculpture, Arts & Sciences

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza, Ekphrasis

 Richard  Wilbur

Biography

Richard Wilbur “is a poet for all of us, whose elegant words brim with wit and paradox,” announced Librarian of Congress Daniel J. Boorstin when the poet succeeded Robert Penn Warren to become the second poet laureate of the United States. Wilbur won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for his collection Things of This World: Poems in 1957 and a second Pulitzer for New and Collected Poems. He has won the Wallace Stevens . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Architecture & Design, Painting & Sculpture, Arts & Sciences

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza, Ekphrasis

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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