By Richard Wilbur

In reality, each love is that of the divine image, and each is pure.

Why is it that whenever I talk with the duchess
My belly growls and my nose waters? Why must it
Be my hand that tumbles her wine-glass over
Into the Cellini salt-dish?

Stiff as a gaffer, fidgety as a child,
After twenty years of struggling to be a courtier
I remain incapable of the least politeness,
Wit, song, or learning.

And I wonder sometimes, what is it in me that hates me?
Is it that rolling captain who should burst
Like surf into her presence, dumping down
His pillage of the seas,

And in a wink dissolve her castled pride?
She scorns no common magic, and could be pleased
To be manhandled like a kitchen-girl,
So it were sweet and reckless.

Or is it that idolatrous fool that’s in me,
Who, lest she alter, should enchant the hour
With gentled sparrows and an aimless lute,
Enthralling her with tales

Of a king’s daughter bound in mountain sleep,
Whose prince and wakener, detained by trials
In deserts, deeps, and grottoes of the world,
Approaches her forever?

Or am I spited by the priest I might be
There in the stone grove of her oratory?
No ship sails out so free as she at prayer,
With head bowed and shrouded.

Confessing her, and my delight in her,
To the great ways and haven of her beauty,
Would I not serve her better? Would not my hand
Be steady with the wine?

Jackass, again you turn and turn this prism,
Whose every light is of the purest water.
How should I fathom her whose white hands fold
The rainbow like a fan?

O maiden, muse, and maiden, O my love
Whose every moment is the quick of time,
I am your bumbling servant now and ever,
In this and the other kingdom.


Richard Wilbur, Collected Poems 1943–2004, Harcourt, 2004.