Two Antique Sonnets and a Joke

©1960 By Bob Litton

PREFACE:  Gentle readers, how about a little back story:

The first poem, “Tannhaüser in the Underworld”, I wrote after listening to an LP album of Richard Wagner’s romantic music drama Tannhaüser. If you are not acquainted with that work, or at least the story, you might get more out of my poem by reading a synopsis of it, but I wouldn’t count on it. Basically, Tannhaüser was a legendary poet-singer who, in Wagner’s version, has a problem coping with his dual nature: the sensual and the spiritual.

The second sonnet, “Dear Christmas Spirit”, is obviously patterned after “letters-to-Santa”; but it’s a serious imitation. I had just been reading much of the British Metaphysicals’poetry (John Donne, etal.) and their style is slightly reflected in my verse here.

As for “Eclogue”, it is simply a small dessert of amusement. I had noticed one day that I had a habit of wondering what or who I might be if I were not me; I suppose the question must have been generated upon my hearing that many people believe in reincarnation. The “borogove” and the “tove” are fantasy creatures I borrowed from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

Tannhaüser in the Underworld

Behold this change in me, fair Queen of the wood!
How my wild renunciation of Love fades
and flees before the glow of your semblant rood,
how I blush amid the laughter of your maids.
Whether you be lusty Venus, full of guile and fire ─
or fair, chaste Elizabeth, lost in a darker green —
I know not, but know only this scarlet stab of desire
which long night watches and prayers failed to wean.
You’ve led me benighted to this mountain’s cave,
toward what end I hopefully, fearfully surmise,
for it confounds my vision as both boudoir and grave;
so I dare do  naught but expect the lover’s prize.
What omen that me these contrary thoughts enthrall,
while all about —  as if Heaven cared! — stars do fall?

Dear Christmas Spirit

Bring me Faith which can change but not diminish,
though I walk Job’s way beneath a sleeting sky.
Grant me Strength still innocent of a mocking wish
that someone else my life might justify.
Tote also Hope in your burdening, sooty bag,
something I might wear against the damp’s return,
when the wax wick splutters above the chimney’s slag,
and these rimy logs are too frozen to burn.
But leave those behind if they leave not room
for Charity.  Least flesh needs the warmest soul,
knit to another like a child in the womb;
nor does it pause before Life, its sleeves to roll.
If you grant all these to my selfish cheer,
with others I’ll share them throughout next year. 

Eclogue

Quizzed a borogove within the tree:
“What would I be if I were not me?”
A tiny tove by the dial replied,
“You need not be so satisfied!”

Finis

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