These poems are part of Daniel Galef’s series Imaginary Sonnets. Each sonnet is a verse soliloquy from the perspective of a different historical figure. 



Gillette to Frenhofer

(spoken by the character in Balzac’s story “Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu”)

I’m lost for words, except to say you’ve made
__A nothing of me. Neither the Lescault
Nor any hint of me have you portrayed.
__It’s faultless—or perhaps it’s one great faux—
A void of color out of which one part
__Emerges as a callow farce—my foot
__(I think it’s mine). But art is gone. You’ve put
Both muse and model in a tomb of art.
And life itself! In this there’s less of life
__Than in an empty frame. In nature’s eye
It’s death. Go, snap your mahlstock and your knife,
Let all your paints be boiled off in the sun,
__Then burn the rest. The smoke will join the sky,
And you’ll at last make art and nature one.



Henrique to Melaka

(spoken by Magellan’s navigator, the first man to complete a journey around the Earth)

Are you the same Melaka I saw chained
__And broken (me in chains as well) as I
__Was ripped from you, and charged to wander, pained,
A world more filled with people than the sky
With stars? How could that be? I’ve not turned back
__To scan my shattered past, its mirror shards
__Which twist your face—Then are you but her black
Reflection in the waves? A slave regards
Through eyes made blind with tears, but through a mind
__That decades could not darken, chains not bind,
__But distance distort. Unfathomed fathoms ranged,
He searched the circle sea through stinging eyes for you.
You are the same, Melaka. He is changed.
__An alien man, with alien eyes, still cries for you.



Pisanello to Serafina

(spoken by the Rennaissance Italian painter; adapted from the poem “Famagusta”)

Me? Who am I? Aha! So Fortune’s smiled
__On me again. My “luck” at last runs out.
A time there was when I would be reviled
__As soon as sighted, or loved by devout
Fanatics. Naught between: no speck of bleak
__Indifference. I was tossed ‘twixt each extreme,
It’s tough to say which worse, or which could wreak
__The most of mischief. Sometimes it would seem
That both were but the same: Two devils in
__Opposing guises, who would take in turns
To torture me for complementary sins
__With complementary punishments. It burns
No more to be by clawing crowds abhorred,
I’ve seen, than be by cloying mobs adored.



Besides poetry, Daniel Galef also writes fiction, humor, and plays—including the play The Bottomless Pit in the Back Room of Nick’s Speakeasy which premiered at the Théâtre MainLine in Montreal in February directed by Alissa Zilber.

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5 Responses

  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    Surely the speaking character in the third sonnet is not the Renaissance painter Pisanello, but the character Leopoldo Pisanello in Woody Allen’s film “To Rome with Love” — the man who has an affair with his secretary Serafina after he goes from obscurity to fame, and then back again. It would seem that the sonnet is based on this screenplay.

    • Daniel Galef

      Dammit, Salemi, you’ve found me out! I thought I had at least until the annotated edition of my opera omnia was published…. However, the leap from correlation to causation is always a precarious one—why do you assume that my poem is based on the movie, and not the other way around?

  2. James A. Tweedie

    Mr. Galef, As always I enjoyed the wit, the insight, and the historically arcane references to little-known characters sharing the thoughts of their hearts to characters even more obscure than they are! And doing it all with free-spirited refinement. I enjoyed this walk down a memory lane of which I had previously had no memory!

    As an aside not directly related to the poems, it may be technically correct to say that Henrique (and the other surviving members of Magellan’s crew who returned to Portugal) was the first to complete a (single) journey around the earth, But Magellan, himself, is credited with being the first to actually accomplish this feat by virtue of having visited the Philippines on a previous voyage sailing east from Portugal. His death in the Philippines on his final, westward voyage came after having recrossed the latitude he had reached years earlier.

    Regardless, thanks for the clever, finely honed poems.

  3. James A. Tweedie

    I meant, of course, to say, “he had crossed the longitude he had reached years earlier.”

  4. David Watt

    Mr. Galef, your background as a playwright is evident in each of these clever pieces. My favorite poem is ‘Gillette to Frenhofer’, as Gillette’s scathing words really hit their mark.


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