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Poetry readings: A Baroque Wall-Fountain in the Villa Sciarra


Poetry readings: A Prayer to Go to Paradise with the Donkeys
Richard Wilbur Poet
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Back in the early 1950s, I was putting together a bestiary text for Alexander Calder to illustrate, and that led me on wonderful hunts through the stacks of Widener Library at Harvard and, and elsewhere, and of course I got tips from lots of my friends as to where I could find a good animal passage or animal poem. It was actually Dylan Thomas who told me I could find a very good poem about donkeys if I looked into the poems of the French poet Francis Jammes, and so here's my translation of Francis Jammes' poem, A Prayer to Go to Paradise with the Donkeys.
When I must come to you O my God, I pray that... No, start over.

When I must come to you O my God, I pray
It be some dusty-roaded holiday,
And even as in my travels here below,
I beg to choose by what road I shall go
To paradise, where the clear stars shine by day.
I'll take my walking-stick and go my way,
And to my friends the donkeys I shall say,
"I am Francis Jammes and I'm going to paradise,
For there is no hell in the land of the loving God."
And I'll say to them: "come sweet friends of the blue skies,
Poor creatures who, with the flap of the ears or a nod
Of the head, shake off the buffets, the bees, the flies..."
Let me come with these donkeys Lord into your land,
These beasts who bow their heads so gently, and stand
With their small feet joined together in a fashion
Utterly gentle, asking your compassion.
I shall arrive, followed by their thousands of ears,
Followed by those with baskets at their flanks,
By those who lug the carts of mountebanks
Or loads of feather-dusters and kitchen-wares,
By those with humps of battered water-cans,
By bottle-shaped she-asses who halt and stumble,
By those tricked out in little pantaloons
To cover their wet, blue galls where flies assemble
In whirling swarms, making a drunken hum.
Dear God, let it be with these donkeys that I come,
And let it be that angels lead us in peace
To leafy streams, where cherries tremble in air,
Sleek as the laughing flesh of girls; and there
In that haven of souls, let it be that, leaning above
Your divine waters, I shall resemble these donkeys,
Whose humble and sweet poverty will appear
Clear in the clearness of your eternal love.

I love that poem.


Acclaimed US poet Richard Wilbur (1921-2017) published many books and was twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize. He was less well known for creating a musical version of Voltaire's “Candide” with Bernstein and Hellman which is still produced throughout the world today.

Listeners: David Sofield

David Sofield is the Samuel Williston Professor of English at Amherst College, where he has taught the reading and writing of poetry since 1965. He is the co-editor and a contributor to Under Criticism (1998) and the author of a book of poems, Light Disguise (2003).

Tags: A Prayer to Go to Paradise with the Donkeys, Harvard University, Alexander Calder, Dylan Thomas, Francis Jammes

Duration: 3 minutes, 27 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2005

Date story went live: 29 September 2010