.

Humility

Lo, I have seen the Muses plain. What need
Have I to go on living?—’Twas in Rome:
I touched the flesh (it was a holy deed)
That Michelangelo shaped out of stone.
O what a great and glorious legacy
The Ancients left us!—beautiful and rare.
But look at me: a child. No prodigy,
No virtuoso. How could I compare?
No matter; I’ve a plan. I’ll spend my time
In patient study, as a child befits,
And dream: that someday I might craft a rhyme
Or sculpt a work to match those ancient wits.
And yet… I fear this is temerity;
Such high ambition’s meant for worthier men than me.

.

.

Satire: The Rake’s Argument

My lady, what fool creed is this,
That you would scarce allow a kiss
And nothing there beyond?
But sweet, surely you must not miss
That most profane and perfect bliss—
Such abstinence is fond!

My lady, this is selfishness:
Beauty is joy, wherefore largesse
Must surely mean to share
The matchless beauty you possess,
And bring to me much happiness;
Such is the stuff of prayer!

But nay, you will not deign to grant
A simple man his simple want.
Your virtue is but vice!
The virtuous offer what is scant
(Like beauty), yea, and that you shan’t
Is sin, as I surmise.

Give up impious chastity!
Let me a kiss, or two, or three,
And let things flower thence:
The deed alone is charity,
So do it well, and feel with me
The pleasures of the sense!

Fear not some judgment from above!
Our God has long been wearied of
The fair and foul men durst.
These are good works, yea, good enough:
My heart aches for a woman’s love,
And you can sate this thirst.

.

.

Gratia Plena

Blest is she the woman full of grace;
Though other strengths a lady may possess,
This highest virtue holds a singular place.

Though this or that may mar a pretty face,
Or blanch red cheeks, or spoil an ample breast,
Still blest is she the woman full of grace.

What use is snow-white skin or dainty waist?
Such trifles fade with time, and evanesce;
The highest virtue keeps its singular place.

For beauty captures but a prince’s gaze;
His true regard asks elegance, finesse:
So blest is she the woman full of grace.

No wealth nor riches ever could replace
This rare delight worth purest gold, no less:
This highest virtue holds a singular place.

Beauty shall come and go—this always stays,
And she who has it has a true noblesse.
Thus blest is she the woman full of grace:
This highest virtue holds a singular place.

.

.

Hymn to Beauty

by Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), Translated from French by Alexandra Guo

Come you from the vast skies, or the abyss,
O Beauty? your regard, base and divine,
Confuses noble deeds and sins amiss:
A mystic power akin to that of wine.

Your eye contains the daybreak and the dusk;
Your kiss is an elixir unforetold;
You lace the air with perfumes, and the musk
Makes heroes cowardly and children bold.

Did you fall from the stars or rise from hell?
Charmed Fate but follows meekly at your heel;
Delight and discord both, you sow as well;
You govern all, heeding no man’s appeal.

You tread upon the dead in mockery;
Horror is but a favour on your breast;
Murder, the finest of your finery,
Goes frolicking upon your prideful chest.

The dazzled moth flies headlong to your flame,
And as it burns, it utters, “Bless this blaze!”
The lover lounging over his lover’s frame
Seems as a sick man at his dying place.

Are you from heaven or hell? it matters not,
(O Beauty! O great beast, wild and unknown!)
For that your eyes, your smiles to me have brought
A universe I love, yet had not known.

From God or Satan? why, it matters not.
No matter (singular Queen!) where you were born,
(O velvet-eyèd fae!) for you have wrought
A world less sad, and moments less forlorn.

.

Original French

Hymne à la Beauté

Viens-tu du ciel profond ou sors-tu de l’abîme,
Ô Beauté ? ton regard, infernal et divin,
Verse confusément le bienfait et le crime,
Et l’on peut pour cela te comparer au vin.

Tu contiens dans ton œil le couchant et l’aurore ;
Tu répands des parfums comme un soir orageux ;
Tes baisers sont un philtre et ta bouche une amphore
Qui font le héros lâche et l’enfant courageux.

Sors-tu du gouffre noir ou descends-tu des astres ?
Le Destin charmé suit tes jupons comme un chien ;
Tu sèmes au hasard la joie et les désastres,
Et tu gouvernes tout et ne réponds de rien.

Tu marches sur des morts, Beauté, dont tu te moques ;
De tes bijoux l’Horreur n’est pas le moins charmant,
Et le Meurtre, parmi tes plus chères breloques,
Sur ton ventre orgueilleux danse amoureusement.

L’éphémère ébloui vole vers toi, chandelle,
Crépite, flambe et dit : Bénissons ce flambeau !
L’amoureux pantelant incliné sur sa belle
A l’air d’un moribond caressant son tombeau.

Que tu viennes du ciel ou de l’enfer, qu’importe,
Ô Beauté ! monstre énorme, effrayant, ingénu !
Si ton œil, ton souris, ton pied, m’ouvrent la porte
D’un Infini que j’aime et n’ai jamais connu ?

De Satan ou de Dieu, qu’importe ? Ange ou Sirène,
Qu’importe, si tu rends, — fée aux yeux de velours,
Rythme, parfum, lueur, ô mon unique reine ! —
L’univers moins hideux et les instants moins lourds ?

.

.Al

Alexandra Guo is a 15-year-old student at the School of the Arts Singapore (SOTA).


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4 Responses

  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    For someone so young, this is very good poetry! The speaker in “Humility” need not represent this young writer, who has nothing to be humble about.

    “The Rake’s Argument” and “Gratia Plena” are excellent companion pieces, the first being in the voice of an amoral seducer, while the second is a praise-poem of the higher feminine virtues (and also deliberately reminiscent of prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary). They show that Ms. Guo knows how to make use of different fictive voices in various poetic situations, rather than just expressing her personal feelings, or telling the reader about what she thinks. Some poets take years before they even learn that such an aesthetic approach is possible.

    Reply
  2. Terry L. Norton

    I enjoyed all of the poems. The casuistry in the second piece is well done and
    entertaining.

    Reply
  3. Margaret Coats

    Alexandra, these are four sparkling examples of different kinds of lyric. The “Humility” sonnet has a daring last line where you show that the young speaker really is a child because he or she makes a grammar mistake–and I am sure from your skill with language that this is no mistake on your part! Correct grammar requires “worthier men than I,” but you boldly present the error in a line too long for the poem’s pattern. This second “mistake” has been used by many poets to end a sonnet by going beyond what the reader expects. You use it very well here to insist on the speaker’s youth.

    “The Rake’s Argument” not only showcases the flawed logic of the speaker, but makes excellent use of the form with its different line lengths. “Gratia Plena” is a lovely villanelle in which the imperfect rhymes work to perfection, and your focus on grace as opposed to beauty leads right into your Baudelaire translation. The translation keeps enough of the French poet’s thought to represent him well, while you are not afraid to use words and expressions of your own that suit your English poem better than literal translation. Lines 6 and 7 provide excellent examples: the two lines switch positions, and Baudelaire’s stormy evening and amphora vanish, rightly giving way to your musk and the “unforetold” quality of the elixir, which he does mention as a “philtre.” All very well done!

    Reply
  4. Cynthia Erlandson

    I agree with the comments above — I think this is an extremely impressive showing of poetic skill! My favorite is your sonnet on Humility. Lines 3 and 4, particularly, are exquisite. And the thought expressed is beautiful. I would say you have certainly found your gift (one of them, at least). I believe you should keep writing all your life, and I imagine you will.

    Reply

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