Pourriture Noble

By Marie Ponsot b. 1921 Marie Ponsot

A moral tale, for Sauternes, the fungus cenaria, and the wild old

Never prophesy.
You can’t. So don’t try.
Lust, pride, and lethargy
may cause us misery
or bliss.
The meanest mistake
has a point to make.
Hear this —
what his vintner d’Eyquem said
once the lord d’Eyquem was dead:
         “The wine that year promised bad or none.
          He’d let it go too late.
          Rot had crawled through all the vines,
          greasy scum on every cluster
          dangling at the crotches of the leaves.
          Should have been long picked
          but he’d said, ‘No. Wait for me,’
          off to wait on a new woman,
          grapes on the verge of ripe
          when he left. Coupling kept him
          till rot wrapped the grapes like lace
          & by the time she’d kicked him out
          the sun had got them, they hung
          shriveled in the blast.

          Well, he rode home cocky
          & bullied the grapes into the vats
          rot & all, spoiled grapes, too old,
          too soon squeezed dry.
                                                     The wine makes.
          The wine makes thick, gold-colored,
          & pours like honey.
          We try it. Fantastic!

         not like honey, punchy,
         you’ve never drunk anything like it —
         refreshing, in a rush
         over a heat that slows your throat —
         wanting to keep that flavor
         stuck to the edge of your tongue
         where your taste is, keep it
         like the best bouquet you can remember
         of sundown summer & someone coming
         to you smiling. The taste has odor
         like a new country, so fine
         at first you can’t take it in
         it’s so strange. It’s beautiful
         & believe me you love to go slow.”


Age is not
all dry rot.
It’s never too late.
Sweet is your real estate.

From Springing: New and Selected Poems by Marie Ponsot, copyright © 2002 by Marie Ponsot. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. Any third party use of this material, outside of this publication, is prohibited. Interested parties must apply directly to Random House, Inc. for permission.

Source: Poetry (May 2013).


This poem originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Poetry magazine

May 2013
 Marie  Ponsot


Born in New York, poet and translator Marie Ponsot is the daughter of a teacher and a wine importer and was raised Catholic, a faith she still observes. She earned a BA at St. Joseph’s College for Women in Brooklyn, New York, and an MA in 17th-century literature at Columbia University. On a ship to Paris after World War II, she met poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who later published Ponsot’s debut collection through . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Growing Old, Life Choices, Time & Brevity, Love, Desire

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Mixed

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