Thursday, 28 July 2022

Henrik Wergeland: Beginning of 'Jan van Huysum's Flower Piece'




Clumsy human admiration

that needs air and lips to say it!

Clumsier than the shy wonder

humble beasts display, you blunder

wholly in your adoration

squander in rapt adulation; --

with your passion’s savage heart

you misuse your love and slay it:

your adored unsullied art.

         Woe, if now that I need utter

(so compelled I sense my breast

gently moan when it is pressed)

I should cause this drop to flutter

from van Huysum’s soft rose petal

shaken by my lips’ rough breath!

Spring breeze, giddy, slow to settle,

shows more mercy if you will:

Dew’s bright gleam from grove and hedge

rain with iridescent edge,

hid in lady’s-mantle folds

every drop the eye beholds

it has plundered recklessly

in the air has scattered free

.. this one only lies there still,

at its rim like teardrop borne

trembling by an eyelash worn,

outmost in your diadem,

anguish that is sweet and tender

rolled on by your weighty gem;

lovely as the pearl whose splendour

merits it the heart of stars;

full as Magdalena’s tears

full and heavy, almost bursting;

shattering and yet still whole,

as sound counsel ripeness nears

in an angel’s saddened soul. 

         Oh! the smallest drop is christened

great which on that petal glistened.

Glistened? Yes, has it not vanished,

like a word’s for ever banished

once the mouth did it impart

from the still ground of its heart?

Every instant seemed to call

for its weight to cause it fall.

         That it should be ever spilling

ever with more gleam be swelling,

ever trickling and yet filling,

-- is a wonder there’s no telling,

at which I amazed do ponder

art’s great virtue, Nature’s error,

as if sound were captured there,

speeding swallow in the air, 

image in the spring’s clear mirror.

         Oh, what dread with sweet allure!

Fear of wind and sun’s bright ray

Drop that no more can endure!

Fly that wants to speed away!

         Snail that now its house would move

to the leaf below, above!

Painted leaf that up would strive!

Flower-cadavers that yet live!

Oh, what dread with sweet allures!

While I stare at their profusion

I encounter in confusion

features of long-past amours.

Oh, although you are so true

I can scarce believe you grew

’mongst the others on our earth

but in Eden had your birth:

Flowers! that you are therefore

flowers for certain and yet more:

Flowers of flowers, these corpses all

that enthral us in the garden

as pure spirits in God’s heaven 

are like corpses in their pall. 

         Ah, like this bouquet in fashion

would most likely love appear

with its swarm of burning passion

as if lover, while embracing

with abandon his most dear,

had his heart cleft at the seams,

so one in a flash of sight 

(swiftly as a glimpse one spies

of a phantom taking flight)

could discern its inmost dreams,

its unspoken aspirations

its unborn deliberations

its sworn oath before it dies

in a faithless breath of air –

while it still is lying there

as a new-born, pure and fair,

who’ll turn into an offender –

its full hope, ere wings sprout tender 

like the flower’s heart-leaf tips,

its first words ere they are spoken

its great joy ere it has broken

and a smile has touched its lips.    

         Where is found so great a passion,

such great pleasure, choked by pain,

such a muffled heartbeat’s hush,

such a glow on lips that kiss,

such a bleeding heart-wound’s stain

as in that tulip’s deep abyss,

in the dark nocturnal scarlet

of this self-consuming garnet,

this convulsive, sickly flush!

         How delightful is the bliss,

the intoxicating instant

of love’s sweetness when her yes

she gave to you, seen in the two

red roses that each other meet!

After kisses, such a thirst

that they both burn with fierce heat?

How must love’s remorse now hurt,

blushing red with paleness strive

in this whiteness so serene?

Where an urge for joy so thrive

as in this carnation’s sheen?

Where a blood that so can glimmer

as its garnet dew-rain’s shimmer

scattered o’er the pearl’s frail skin?

Sweet devotion’s keenest eyes

never saw in distant skies

for Zion’s blessèd sons a frieze

of such festive great marquees

as convolvuli here spread

bluer than the heaven’s bed,

finer than the modest veil

placed before the bridal mouth.

Innocence can boast no blue

so fine nor cold so shorn

as the hyacinth adorn;

tenderness so fine in muster

as the lilac’s full deployment:

every small flower in its cluster

is its own small vase, with lustre

of a porcelain’s half-shine,

full of honey’s sweet enjoyment

full of butterflies’ rich wine.           

         Are so pure an angel’s mind,

virgin’s thoughts, a new-born’s dream

and the martyr’s tearful stream

as narcissus’ pallid star!

Oh, therein the saint will find

his devotions mirrored are;

for, despite its stem so raised,

it has bowed its pious head,

as if God in prayer it praised,

as if innocence could err

as if it had sinned instead.

And where could a thought be bred

in a young man’s brilliant brain

fiery as on flaming cheek

of this blood-red poppy sleek?

And where such an ardent plan

in manhood’s heart is ever thought

as the flaming vault whose span

in this tulip stretches taut?

And where did there sigh a prayer

that was e’er so chaste and fair

as that slender blue-eyed Mary

which so humbly, coyly clings

– coy as thought of silent tears –

to a moss-rose bud so clear?

And where is the bard that sings

equal to this mute small thing

Floral mysteries, the chary,

if but once it bared its art

and its rosy lips would part?

         Oh, could this bud speak to me,

and a spirit it inspire

Oh, I’d beg it if I could

(beauties may be begged with fire)

to inform me if it would

how such flowers came to be!

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