A Strange and Sweet Unrest

Awake forever with a sweet unrest . . .” —John Keats, “Bright Star”

She stands at the windowpane, no one in sight,
No one behind her in the silent room,
No human form to be seen in the sultry night;
And, for a moment, she feels steeped in gloom.

Yet somewhere distant, someone thinks of her,
Feels the pangs of love pound through his breast;
And all through her being, she feels something stir:
The traces of a strange and sweet unrest.

And she may never know the source of it,
May simply brush her languid locks and sigh
As lonely night birds sing and moth wings flit
Against the glass and moments tick on by.

Yes. She may never know what happened there.
Yet love still met her on that dead night air.

 

A Dream of the Graces Three

They gaze at me with gleaming eyes,
These slender nymphs who must be fed.
Their hair is flowing, blond and red;
And are they demons in disguise,

Or, no, the sumptuous in my soul,
Whom I have far too long neglected,
With sanctimonious pomp rejected?
I need them now to make me whole.

They come with flowing hair and gown
And irresistible merry mood,
And I must work to give them food . . .
For them, I would hurl the temple down—

That shrine to rigid right and duty
Whose shadow looms over me by day,
Distracting me from poetic play,
Barring my apprehension of beauty.

 

The Ancestral Homestead

The wings of the dog-trot house had collapsed much like
The wings of an accordion one has squeezed to death,
Depriving the instrument of its last gasping breath
Till hardly dust was left within that wreck.

It seemed far tinier than it had back when
I used to go there with my Pawpaw, who had left
It thirty years before to be bereft
Of his birthright in the spendthrift ways of men

Who long for grander things in city life
Yet learn too late to love the land they lost.

That house had sung the last song it could sing.
Yet from its death throes, poverty’s strangling strife,
From all those dissonant chords coughed at such cost,
May my words wing abroad with resonant ring.

 

Spring

By Novalis (1772-1801); translated by William Ruleman

I saw it turning green in the meadows
And flowering all around the hedgerows;
Each day, new foliage filled the scene;
The air was mild, the sky serene:
I knew not how it came to me
Nor how these things had come to be.

And ever darker grew the wood
(Now the songbirds’ neighborhood),
And I was soon drawn toward their sound
In fragrant pathways all around.
I knew not how it came to me
Nor how such things had come to be.

Now, everywhere, it surged and blent:
All life—each color, sound, and scent—
All seemed happy to combine
So that each might sweetly shine.
I knew not how it came to me
Nor how such things had come to be.

Had I felt a ghost revive
To make all creatures come alive
And everywhere—in wood and field—
Bouquets of blossoms to be revealed?
I knew not how it came to me
Nor how such things had come to be.

“Is this a new world?” one surmises.
From idle dust, a whole bush rises.
A tree takes on an animal’s gestures;
Beasts are veiled in human vestures.
I knew not how it came to me
Nor how such things had come to be.

And as I pondered my life’s whole,
A mighty urge stirred in my soul:
A friendly maiden came my way
And took my musings in her sway.
I knew not how it came to me
Nor how such things had come to be.

The forest hid us from the sun,
And I thought: spring has begun!
And all on earth appeared a sign
That humans soon would be divine.
And now I knew how it came to me
And how such things had come to be.

 

Frühling

Novalis

Es färbte sich die Wiese grün
Und um die Hecken sah ich blühn,
Und täglich sah ich neue Kräuter,
Mild war die Luft, der Himmel heiter.
Ich wusste nicht, wie mir geschah,
Und wie das wurde, was ich sah.

Und immer dunkler ward der Wald
Auch bunter Sänger Aufenthalt,
Es drang mir bald auf allen Wegen
Ihr Klang in süßem Duft entgegen.
Ich wusste nicht, wie mir geschah,
Und wie das wurde, was ich sah.

Es quoll und trieb nun überall,
Mit Leben, Farben, Duft und Schall;
Sie schienen gern sich zu vereinen,
Dass alles möchte lieblich scheinen.
Ich wusste nicht, wie mir geschah,
Und wie das wurde, was ich sah.

So dacht ich: ist ein Geist erwacht,
Der alles so lebendig macht
Und der mit tausend schönen Waren
Und Blüten sich will offenbaren?
Ich wusste nicht, wie mir geschah,
Und wie das wurde, was ich sah.

Vielleicht beginnt ein neues Reich.
Der lockre Staub wird zum Gesträuch,
Der Baum nimmt tierische Gebärden
Das Tier soll gar zum Menschen werden.
Ich wusste nicht, wie mir geschah,
Und wie das wurde, was ich sah.

Wie ich so stand und bei mir sann,
Ein mächt’ger Trieb in mir begann.
Ein freundlich Mädchen kam gegangen
Und nahm mir jeden Sinn gefangen.

Ich wusste nicht, wie mir geschah,
Und wie das wurde, was ich sah.

Uns barg der Wald vor Sonnenschein
Das ist der Frühling! fiel mir ein.
Und kurz, ich sah, dass jetzt auf Erden
Die Menschen sollten Götter werden.
Nun wusst ich wohl, wie mir geschah,
Und wie das wurde, was ich sah.

 

William Ruleman is Professor of English at Tennessee Wesleyan University. His most recent books include From Rage to Hope (White Violet Books, 2016), Munich Poems, and Salzkammergut Poems (the latter two from Cedar Springs Books, also 2016).

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4 Responses

  1. Ruth

    ‘A Strange and Sweet Unrest’ is a nicely turned, Romantic sonnet, where one subtle moment holds mystery which leads us away into longing dreams.
    The Three Graces are a lively and beautiful metaphor, and the swing of the lines lets them dance… (though the last stanza falters in perfect rhythm).
    Though I do not understand German well, it is clear that the translation of Novalis’ Spring poem here is rendered into an English version which replicates as far as possible the rhyme and meter of the original… something which is not easy to do well; and the poem has the mystical simplicity of scene from a fairy tale… intriguing.

    Reply
  2. Yolanda

    Wonderful, especially the first two. Loved every word, ease my heart knowing distant love can be felt from afar

    Reply
  3. Lorna Davis

    I love all of these – I am amazed at the ability to translate a poem from another language into another beautiful poem – but I must admit that I am especially fond of the first one. “A strange and sweet unrest” is such a perfect description of that feeling, and your poem creates a lovely image with it.

    Reply
  4. William Ruleman

    Thank you all for your kind comments. I am deeply grateful.

    With best wishes,

    William Ruleman

    Reply

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