Ode to a Nightingale – Lipogram

John Keats (1795-1821)

Translated by Timothy Adès

Au Rossignol
by immortal Romantic, victim of consumption
John o’ London
Let’s see whether he needed the letter e.
First verse by HARRY GUEST;
TIMOTHY ADÈS wrote the rest.

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
         My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
         One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
         But being too happy in thine happiness, —
                That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
                        In some melodious plot
         Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
                Singest of summer in full-throated ease.
O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
         Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
         Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
         Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
                With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
                        And purple-stained mouth;
         That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
                And with thee fade away into the forest dim:
Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
         What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
         Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
         Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
                Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
                        And leaden-eyed despairs,
         Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
                Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.
Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
         Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
         Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
         And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
                Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;
                        But here there is no light,
         Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
                Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.
I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
         Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
         Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
         White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
                Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;
                        And mid-May’s eldest child,
         The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
                The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.
Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
         I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
         To take into the air my quiet breath;
                Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
         To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
                While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
                        In such an ecstasy!
         Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain —
                   To thy high requiem become a sod.
Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
         No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
         In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
         Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
                She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
                        The same that oft-times hath
         Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
                Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.
Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
         To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
         As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
         Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
                Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep
                        In the next valley-glades:
         Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
                Fled is that music :— Do I wake or sleep?
My mind hurts and a drowsy poison pains
My soul as though of opium I had drunk
Or, quaffing a dull drug down to its drains
An hour ago, to Pluto’s lands had sunk.
‘Tis not through craving for thy happy lot
But finding too much joy in all thy bliss –
O thou, light–flying dryad of this wood,
In a harmonious plot
Of mossy boughs which shift as shadows kiss.
Thy full throat sings: May harbours all that’s good.
O, for a draught of vino! that has lain
Cooling for months a long way down in ground,
Tasting of Flora’s country, lush with rain,
Occitan song, and sunlit dancing round!
O for a glassful of that sunny South,
Full of Parnassian blushful vrai grand cru,
With strings of air–drops bubbling at its brim,
Staining maroon my mouth;
That I might drink, and slip away with you,
All lost to all, in wildwoods dark and dim.
I’d slip away, dissolving. Soon forgot,
What you among your arbours had not known,
Our worry and our quinsy and our hot
Flush of folk sitting for a mutual groan,
Our palsy, shaking sad gray hairs, not many,
Our youth grown pallid, dying, phantom–slight:
For but to think is to drink draughts of sorrow,
Look black as antimony;
Girls can’t maintain two lustrous orbs of sight;
If Cupid sighs, it’s only till tomorrow.
Away! away! for I will fly to you,
Not riding out with Bacchus’ jaguars,
But (blind–man’s buff!) on lyric wings, although
My brain is numb, and jolts and jams and jars.
Look, now I’m with you! It’s a kind, soft night;
With luck, Milady Moon is holding court,
And, round about, a throng of starry Fays;
No, it’s too dark: no light
But what from skyward airily is brought
Through branchy gloom and winding mossy ways.
I cannot scan what’s budding at my foot,
Nor what soft balsam hangs upon your boughs,
But in this fragrant dark, I try to moot
Such aromatics as this month allows
To grass, to shrub, to fruiting blossom wild;
Sunk in its fronds, fast fading violot;
Hawthorn, triantaphyll dawn–drunk with musk,
May’s coming first–born child,
And pastoral non–hybrid, which is not
A murmurous haunt of gnats at dog–star’s dusk.
Dark auscultation! and again! for oft
I am half amorous of R.I.P.,
In many musing stanzas call him, soft,
To lift in air my faint vitality:
This opportunity I shouldn’t miss,
To pass away at midnight without pain,
Whilst thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such high flights of bliss!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I’d auscult in vain
To thy contakion, at last a clod.
Thou wast not born to croak, immortal Bird!
No hungry propagations grind you down;
That song I track this passing night occurr’d
In days long past to tyrant, king and clown:
On top of that — who knows? — it found a path
To Ruth, athirst for Moab’s distant turf,
Who stood distraught amid th’ un–British corn;
And on occasion hath
Charm–d magic miradors that look on rough
Hazardous floods, in goblin lands forlorn.
Forlorn! That actual word purports to toll,
To toil yours truly back to John from you!
¡Adios! This fancy tricks us nicht so wohl
As what — fallacious fay! — it’s thought to do.
¡Adios! ¡Adios! Thy soulful singing faints
Away, past paddocks and a placid brook,
Climbing a hill; and now it sinks down, boring
Into low–lying haunts:
A vision? Or a waking think–and–look?
All’s tacit: — Am I vigilant, or snoring?
Translation: Copyright © Timothy Adès
Said at Drop–In, Daunts/Simpsons Piccadilly Bookshop, March 2015

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