Chaucer: We goon wrong ful often, trewely

(Chaucer, from the Ellesmere Manuscript)

Surely we do not know exactly what we pray for; we behave like a man as drunk as a mouse. A drunk man knows very well that he has a home, but he does not know the right way to it; in addition, the road is slippery for a drunk man. Certainly, in the world we behave similarly. We try hard for happiness, but we very often go wrong.

–Chaucer, “The Knight’s Tale.” His Middle English verse, followed by R. M. Lumiansky’s prose modern English translation

Allen Tate: Calidus Juventa?

I finished Allen Tate’s Collected Poems: 1919-1976 the other day. I cannot say it was always a pleasurable experience (he really makes a reader work hard, in a way like unto Eliot), but there were plenty of perfect lines to keep a reader occupied. Here’s one of his earlier poems, from 1922, that is a good example of what I mean.

Calidus Juventa?

         Non ego hoc ferrem, calidus juventa, Consule Planco.

We are afraid that we have not lived.
We are not afraid of dying.
Toss images to the indifferent morning
Amid laughter and crying–
Amid fitful buffetings of strangled hearts
While they are dying.

Draw tight the words of death shivering
On the strictured page–
The cup of Morgan Fay is shattered.
Life is a bitter sage,
And we are weary infants
In a palsied age.

Christian Wiman: I Sing Insomnia

I sing insomnia
                          to the minor devils
prowling alleys
                         of my mind
loneliness’s lipsticked leer
no fix can ease
                         envy sipping bile
I make a lullaby
                           to make myself
into a sleeper
                      of the faith
             my little while
         without a why
                    –Christian Wiman, from Every Riven Thing