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John Crowe Ransom

(30 April 1888 - 3 July 1974 / Pulaski Tennessee)

An American Addresses Philomela


Procne, Philomela, and Itylus,
Your names are liquid, your improbable tale
Is recited in the classic numbers of the nightingale.
Ah, but our numbers are not felicitous,
It goes not liquidly for us!

Perched on a Roman ilex and duly apostrophised,
The nightingale descanted unto Ovid;
She has even appeared to the Teutons, the swilled and gravid;
At Fontainebleau it may be the bird was gallicised;
Never was she baptised.

To England came Philomela with her strain,
Fleeing the hawk her husband ; querulous ghost,
She wanders when he sits heavy on his roost,
Utters herself in the original again,
The untranslatable refrain.

Not to these shores she came, this other Thrace,
Environ barbarous to the royal Attic;
How could her delicate dirge run democratic,
Delivered in a cloudless boundless public place
To a hypermuscular race?

I pernoctated with the Oxford students once,
And in the quadrangles, in the cloisters, on the Cher,
Precociously knocked at antique doors ajar,
Fatuously touched the hems of the Hierophants,
Sick of my dissonance;

I went out to Bagley Wood, I climbed the hill,
Even the moon had slanted off in a twinkling,
I heard the sepulchral owl and a few bells tinkling,
There was no more villainous day to unfulfill,
The diuturnity was still;

Up from the darkest wood where Philomela sat,
Her fairy numbers issued; what then ailed me?
My ears are called capacious, but they failed me,
Her classics registered a little flat!
I rose, and venomously spat.

Philomela, Philomela, lover of song,
I have despaired of thee and am unworthy,
My scene is prose, this people and I are earthy;
Unto more beautiful, persistently more young
Thy fabulous provinces belong.

Submitted: Wednesday, March 31, 2010

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