Treasure Island

Allen Tate

(19 November 1899 - 9 February 1979 / Winchester, Kentucky)

A Carrion


(From the French of Charles Baudelaire)

Remember now, my Love, what piteous thing
We saw on a summer's gracious day:
By the roadside a hideous carrion, quivering
On a clean bed of pebbly clay,

Her legs flexed in the air like a courtesan,
Burning and sweating venomously,
Calmly exposed its belly, ironic and wan,
Clamorous with foul ecstasy.

The sun bore down upon this rottenness
As if to roast it with gold fire,
And render back to nature her own largess
A hundredfold of her desire.

Heaven observed the vaunting carcass there
Blooming with the richness of a flower;
And that almighty stink which corpses wear
Choked you with sleepy power!

The flies swarmed on the putrid vulva, then
A black tumbling rout would seethe
Of maggots, thick like a torrent in a glen,
Over those rags that lived and seemed to breathe.

They darted down and rose up like a wave
Or buzzed impetuously as before;
One would have thought the corpse was held a slave
To living by the life it bore!

This world had music, its own swift emotion
Like water and the wind running,
Or corn that a winnower in rhythmic motion
Fans with fiery cunning.

All forms receded, as in a dream were still,
Where white visions vaguely start
From the sketch of a painter s long-neglected idyl
Into a perfect art!

Behind the rocks a restless bitch looked on
Regarding us with jealous eyes,
Waiting to tear from the livid skeleton
Her loosed morsel quick with flies,

And even you will come to this foul shame,
This ultimate infection,
Star of my eyes, my being's inner flame,
My angel and my passion!

Yes: such shall you be, O queen of heavenly grace,
Beyond the last sacrament,
When through your bones the flowers and sucking grass
Weave their rank cerement.

Speak, then, my Beauty, to this dire putrescence,
To the worm that shall kiss your proud estate,
That I have kept the divine form and the essence
Of my festered loves inviolate!

Submitted: Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Edited: Saturday, November 19, 2011

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