Don Juan in Amsterdam

By Daryl Hine 1936–2012 Daryl Hine

“e to allor li prega
Per quell' amor the i mena, e quei verranno.”
INFERNO V

This also is a place that love is known in,   
This hollow land beneath a lifeless sea
Opposite to the place that he was born in,   
How far it is impossible to say.
         The brackish water as I crossed
         A bridge was delicately creased
And stained and stale, like love-disordered linen.

Lovers here must meet on unsure ground   
Like strangers in a circumspect hotel   
Which, although luxurious and grand,   
Trembles beneath their feet like earth in hell.
         Lifted on concentric gales
         Scraps of paper, leaves and gulls   
Fluttered dismally aloft and groaned.

Here darkness grows and light itself decays;   
Rain falls from time to time and night falls too   
Upon earth’s civil centre that decoys   
The eternal with the promise that is now.
         There were no corners, every street
         Ran on infinite and straight,
There is no gate, no warning and no keys.

I hear a step approaching and refuse   
To look aside, a while your silhouette   
Persists, the fire illuminates your face   
From under as you light a cigarette;
         All-knowing, arch-angelic eyes,
         Human features cut in ice—
The spark you struck at once attained the fuse.

I recognize the vanity and scorn,
The fear, the greed, in short the mask of love,   
Familiar and disdainful, and I turn   
About. Like children sharing what they have
         We learned in that experiment
         What the spirit’s weakness meant,   
The nature of the torment to be borne.

What shall I give you? What will be your price?   
Your body’s mine, the rich, fantastic horde   
Of your embracements—angels live on praise,   
Take it, it is all I can afford.
         Outside a centrifugal wind
         Sustained a freight of souls that whined   
And wept along the terrible canals.

And when I close my eyes I see a ship   
At anchor in the water of a bay.   
I cling to that imaginary shape   
Capable of taking me away
         To I do not know what ports.
         Perhaps tomorrow it departs,   
Anonymous, invulnerable, free.

Daryl Hine, “Don Juan in Amsterdam” from Wooden Horses (New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1965). Copyright © 1965 by Daryl Hine. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: The Wooden Horse: Poems (1965)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Daryl Hine 1936–2012

POET’S REGION Canada

Subjects Love, Relationships, Desire

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

 Daryl  Hine

Biography

Poet, editor, and translator Daryl Hine was born in 1936 in British Columbia and grew up in New Westminster. His mother’s death while he was still a teenager had a profound influence on him. He studied Classics and philosophy at McGill University, and he earned his PhD in comparative literature from the University of Chicago. The editor of Poetry from 1968-78, Hine was also a highly regarded translator of Classical writers such . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Love, Relationships, Desire

POET’S REGION Canada

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.