Saturday, 17 April 2021

Hugo Claus: 'Sonnets I-X and XIV-XV'




That for a single moment most things are designed

to gain perfection only to die out,

reflects the will of both the world and Einstein.

And that people are like leaves that sprout


under pollution filling every sky

and within the memory they fade alike

is guaranteed by time, which I detect

clutching me by the scruff of the neck.


Therefore at my wits’ end I’m called

upon at one moment to laud

the fact I see you on display,


your young magic as not seen before,

a naked monument that unpunished falls

forward, toppling before my gaze.





If in the occident there’s nothing new

just what’s been there from the word go,

what can I then invent that, wrongly too,

some infant has not thought of long ago?


Etruscan, Aztec and Hellenic - as such

you’re pinned as postcards on the wall and hung -

ogling, for sale and worshipped far too much,

my centuries-old shrew forever young.


How would the antique world react

to you body’s present miracle?

Keep on believing that no instant will


ever generate unless the memory’s intact?

The old rogues simple were unable

to handle your self-containment - nor do I still.





I thought (a dog’s my frequent guise):

I’ll wait until the wintertime is here,

that can etch lines around her mouth at a trice,

or until cunning spring that envies her


and ploughs deep furrows in her skin’s fine field,

and then she’ll be like I am, marred at best.

Suddenly though this autumn was here, its yield

bewildering and blessed


like my late love and you remain unscathed,

my love. I dare to state my creed

that my coldness will never be your death,


that you will never leave me, dazed

by my deep-freeze breath 

I believe so. As do corpses that still bleed.





What you desire, what you refuse, what you may be,

assumes the many shadowy strange curves

of a stranger in my tent and she

has a horrible effect on my nerves,


the inextricable merry widow, she looks

like all her shadows shown on spec.

Do you give me too the selfsame looks?

Aggrieved I learn I look just like your ex.


My metaphors are where I then take flight.

Shadows that rhyme, for me that’s cushy.

Rhetorically, for example: that you taste of spring grass,


or illogically: that you bend like wheat,

or typically: that of late your upper lip was

as lewd as the down of your pussy.





Saw a steaming grey that stood there damp

when the sky sucked water from its mane.

Saw a black cloud lick a rainbow clean.

Saw flamingos, flying dogs, starvation camps.


Saw only yesterday how undefiled

though spattered by sunlight the wet lawn gleamed,

it was as if, it could just be, it seemed

to be be the iris of your eyes, now multiplied,


and I forgot all space, all speech, all text,

And at a phantom insect I lashed out

as at your image.


Since you my gaze is quite bewitched,

Even more shattering have I brought about

and mended not one fragment of the damage.





Crowing under the shower only over you.

My common sense for once not acting daft.

Suddenly, in mid-handstand, I just knew

that you are my homogeneous better half


and that we therefore, quite serene,

would do much better living far apart.

It sounds quite common, possibly obscene,

but only then can I give you your part.


Absence would only start to gnaw me through

if I were not to think of you as of a one

that brings together all my abaci.


Therefore I honour distance and the night alone,

for only so can I make of your one a two,

living with two desires unsatisfied.





That I love my own ego far too much, well sure, all right,

and that it is a sin to taint your soul this way

and that it is an illness which, day and night,

lays waste the ego till it wants to die?


Okay, so what? A mirror as my measure

may I then dance till all my notes are known?

I’ve realised too late and with no pleasure

that I’m long-sighted and I own


that’s why I’ve never managed properly

to master my defeat at every turn.

Besides, that’s what I decide for you,

specially when blindly riding you.

Only what you would seek to read in me

will I still learn.





Just now my stomach clenched with spite

and I don’t know, by God, why I feel so.

Don’t lie, mate. It was only something trite

and it’s envy that controls your glands, too.


‘Why, for example, is William rich and why

does Francis have those sea-green eyes of his

and why is John Disaster always right

and why must I put all with all of this?


Love, tell me that I need not get het up

and make of wretchedness such heavy weather,

that I must sing, feel free as a lark,


each morning of our blazing time together

when, between the sheets, we’re both set up

after the cries, yawns, sobbings in the dark.





Once more alone in my nest, badly worn,

She lies reviving with that other man, it seems.

I travel in my head, in all the corn

and chaff of my dreams.


My dreams drag themselves forward on their knees.

They mill-sail towards her

like hordes of blind men on their skis,

they make so many blunders, such disorder


that there her shadow starts to gleam.

Like amber. Like the grey dawn

she makes the black unblack


and I cannot calm down, I claw

towards the bright spot of her heart, back

towards that light that simply will not dim.





Freedom’s your game? Forget it, lady,

you’ve got no talent for it, no antenna,

you have no wish for freedom’s real gehenna,

nor for its pain, nor for the remedy.


Don’t lose yourself in the monotone

of sleep indifferent to sleeping,

in fiddling at that erogenous zone

that keeps on flowing and gaping.


Pretend instead in fetters you’re restrained

and after screwing whisper about being free,

blame me as the one who is enslaving


and let me be deluded, let me be,

tumbling in your moon-struck raving

in one contentment tightly chained.





And when the little copper kettle full

of the ashes I once was is emptied out

over the patient grass, my beautiful,

don’t stand and fool about


and wipe the mascara from your cheeks.

Think of the fingers which once wrote these lines

when our longing was at its peak

and which stroked you when they were still alive.


And laugh at what I was - recalling then

the cinema and that snoring spate,

the pants that always used to sag,


the feeble joke and lumbering gait

towards you time and time again

when I’d your now warm lushness in the bag.





Years ago I was able to dream

(oh infantile, prophetic soul)

of things as yet unseen,

fatal as the invention of the wheel.


Now the world is mortal just like me,

and that’s the end of it.

I get a kick from all uncertainty,

I don’t believe a shit.


Dreams I chase up to the attic

where the stupid children live.

I’m lying. There’s still one folly as lunatic


for which in this pious sonnet

I provide a narrative -

one last demon with my name on it.

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