Don Juan in Amsterdam

“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)
More Poems by Daryl Hine