The Guest Ellen at the Supper for Street People

By David Ferry b. 1924 David Ferry
The unclean spirits cry out in the body
Or mind of the guest Ellen in a loud voice
Torment me not, and in the fury of her unclean
Hands beating the air in some kind of unending torment—
Nobody witnessing could possibly know the event   
That cast upon her the spell of this enchantment.

Almost all the guests are under some kind of enchantment:   
Of being poor day after day in the same body;
Of being witness still to some obscene event;
Of listening all the time to somebody’s voice
Whispering in the ear things divine or unclean,
In the quotidian of unending torment.

One has to keep thinking there was some source of torment,   
Something that happened someplace else, unclean.   
One has to keep talking in a reasonable voice
About things done, say, by a father’s body
To or upon the body of Ellen, in enchantment
Helpless, still by the unforgotten event

Enchanted, still in the old forgotten event
A prisoner of love, filthy Ellen in her torment,   
Guest Ellen in the dining hall in her body,
Hands beating the air in her enchantment,   
Sitting alone, gabbling in her garbled voice   
The narrative of the spirits of the unclean.

She is wholly the possessed one of the unclean.
Maybe the spirits came from the river. The enchantment   
Entered her, maybe, in the Northeast Kingdom. The torment,   
A thing of the waters, gratuitous event,
Came up out of the waters and entered her body
And lived in her in torment and cried out in her voice.

It speaks itself over and over again in her voice,   
Cursing maybe or not a familiar obscene event   
Or only the pure event of original enchantment   
From the birth of the river waters, the pure unclean   
Rising from the source of things, in a figure of torment   
Seeking out Ellen, finding its home in her poor body.

Her body witness is, so also is her voice,   
Of torment coming from unknown event;
Unclean is the nature and name of the enchantment.

David Ferry, “The Guest Ellen at the Supper for Street People” from Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999). Copyright © 1999 by David Ferry. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations (The University of Chicago Press, 1999)

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Poet David Ferry b. 1924

Subjects Health & Illness, The Body, Living, Nature

Poetic Terms Sestina

 David  Ferry

Biography

David Ferry is an acclaimed American poet and translator. Ferry’s translations, which include some of the world's major works of poetry including The Odes of Horace, and both The Eclogues and Georgics of Virgil, are known for their fluency and grace. In addition to his lauded translations, Ferry is also a prize-winning poet in his own right. His poetic works include Dwelling Places (1993) and Of No Country I Know: New and . . .

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SUBJECT Health & Illness, The Body, Living, Nature

Poetic Terms Sestina

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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