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Poetry readings: The Beacon


Poetry readings: A Baroque Wall-Fountain in the Villa Sciarra
Richard Wilbur Poet
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When I was living in Rome and working at the American Academy and living over on via Sproviere in Monteverde Nuovo, I used to walk to work every morning, passing by the Villa Sciarra, the only public gardens in Rome which have artificial ruins, for heaven's sake. In the Villa Sciarra there's a perfectly wonderful fountain, about which I could find nothing in the Academy library, except that it's classified as scuola vignolesca. Well, I don't need to say too much about it because the poem is a description of that fountain and of what it might mean, but passing by the Villa Sciarra and glancing in at this fountain many a morning, I came to associate it with sheer pleasure; as I was going my industrious way to put in a day's work, this fountain stood for pleasure. And so this is a poem about that fountain and about pleasure, and about spiritual hunger as well.

A Baroque Wall Fountain in the Villa Sciarra

     Under the bronze crown
Too big for the head of the stone cherub whose feet
  A serpent has begun to eat,
Sweet water brims a cockle and braids down
    Past spattered mosses, breaks
On the tipped edge of a second shell, and fills
  The massive third below. It spills
In threads then from the scalloped rim, and makes
    A scrim or summery tent
For a faun-ménage and their familiar goose.
  Happy in all that ragged, loose
Collapse of water, it's effortless descent
    And flatteries of spray,
The stocky god upholds the shell with ease,
  Watching, about his shaggy knees
The goatish innocence of his babes at play;
    His fauness all the while
Leans forward, slightly, into a clambering mesh
  Of water-lights, her sparkling flesh
In a saecular ecstasy, her blinded smile
    Bent on the sand floor
Of the trefoil pool, where ripple-shadows come
  And go in swift reticulum,
More addling to the eye than wine and more
    Interminable to thought
Than pleasure's calculus. Yet since this all
  Is pleasure, flash, and waterfall,
Must it not be too simple? are we not
    More intricately expressed
In the plain fountains that Maderna set
  Before St. Peter's-The main jet
Struggling aloft until it seems at rest
    In the act of rising, until
The very wish of water is reversed,
  That heaviness borne up to burst
In a clear, high, cavorting head, to fill
    With blaze, and then in gauze
Delays, in a gnatlike shimmering, in a fine
  Illumined version of itself, decline,
And patter on the stones, it's own applause?
    If that is what men are
Or should be, if those water-saints display
  The pattern of our areté,
What of these showered fauns in their bizarre,
    Spangled, and plunging house?
They are at rest in fulness of desire
  For what is given, they do not tire
Of the smart of the sun, the pleasant water-douse
    And riddled pool below,
Reproving our disgust and our ennui
  With humble insatiety.
Francis, perhaps, who lay in sister snow
    Before the wealthy gate
Freezing and praising, might have seen in this
  No trifle, but a shade of bliss-
That land of tolerable flowers, that state
    As near and far as grass
Where eyes become the sunlight, and the hand
  Is worthy of water: the dreamt land
Toward which all hungers leap, all pleasures pass.


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 Baroque Wall-Fountain in the Villa Sciarra, Rome, Monteverde Nuovo, Villa Sciarra

Duration: 4 minutes, 50 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2005

Date story went live: 29 September 2010