April 2014

Three Pathétique Variations on Gérard de Nerval’s “Myrtho”

Gérard de Nerval’s “Myrtho”

Je pense á toi, Myrtho, divine enchanteresse,
Au Pausilippe altier, de mille feux brillant,
A ton front inondé des clartés d’Orient,
Aux raisins noirs mêlés avec l’or de ta tresse.

C’est dans ta coupe aussi que j’avais bu l’ivresse,
Et dans l’éclair furtif de ton oeil souriant,
Quand aux pieds d’Iacchus on me voyait priant,
Car la Muse m’a fait l’un des fils de la Grèce.

Je sais pourquoi lá-bas le volcan s’est rouvert. . .
C’est qu’hier tu l’avais touché d’un pied agile,
Et de cendres soudain l’horizon s’est couvert.

Depuis qu’un duc normand brisa tes dieux d’argile,
Toujours, sous les rameaux du laurier de Virgile,
Le pâle hortensia s’unit au myrte vert!

I. First Pathétique Variation

I think of you, my Myrtho, standing there—
Your eyes, by moonlight, kissed—with grace and poise
Against Posillipo’s faint lights and noise,
And bands of blossoms mingled in your hair.

I think of all the things that filled the air
That cloudless night: the scents of salty sea
And wine, the stars like diamond debris,
Greenest myrtle, and dreams of youth aglare.

I’d prolong this song of halcyon years,
And sing of grapes and love and drunkenness,
But can’t because they ceased. And thus my fears—

Like cinder-filled landscapes—of loneliness
Engulf me. Myrtho, though you evanesce
I find you in memories laced with tears.

II. Second Pathétique Variation

Here on these shores I think of how my sight
Beheld you once arrayed in fair tresses,
Blossom-crowned, and raiment of enchantresses—
Posillipo aglow in blue and white.

I remember the way the soft-hung night
Displayed its stars as dainty gems, the way
The wine, with mirth, imbued our tongues, the way
The moon, against the sea, had wrinkled light.

These scenes, my Myrtho, hide inside my heart,
Yet come aflame to tell an endless tale
Of short-lived things. Of passion torn apart

Perhaps by nothing. Myrtho! Neither pale
Hortensia nor green myrtle nor frail
Roses can soothe this woe-erupting heart!

III. Third Pathétique Variation

Proud Naples. Prouder Posillipo. You
Awaken thoughts and memories of her,
My Myrtho, blossom-crowned, as if it were
Mere days since last we walked, hand-in-hand, through

Your streets. To find that girl, in dreams, anew!
I drink the wine of Myrtho’s sparkling eyes
And stumble near the sparkling sea. She sighs,
Then laughs. Her smile coats all things with mirth, like dew.

Our love was grand, but torn asunder, like
Roger, that Norman duke of Sicily,
Hammering down the stone-hewn gods of Rome,

Or maybe more like death without a strike.
O Myrtho! I can’t gaze upon this sea
And slight how times divine, through you, were shown.

—Alexander Shacklebury

One thought on “April 2014

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *