Aesthetic Realism Online Library Poetry


The Cydnus, by José Maria de Heredia
                                 Translation by Eli Siegel 

A wide, triumphant blue, a dazzling sun:
The silver trireme pales the river's flow:
And incense rises as the rowers row,
And flutes are heard as silken shivers run.

By pompous prow the fair and hawklike One
Leans out from royal place to see and know.
This Cleopatra proud, in evening show,
Seems like a mighty bird, with hunt begun.

In Tarsus waits a soldier's quiet face.
And ancient Egypt's queen, in eager space
Spreads out her amber arms—in purple, bright.
She has not seen, as sign of asking fate,
The godlike children whirl in subtle light:
Desire, Death. They play; they won't be late.


The Cydnus, By José Maria de Heredia. 1950. The sonnets in Les Trophées of Jose Maria de Heredia can be regarded quite properly as fourteen-line cups melodiously and definitely containing their historical tea. Heredia had his fourteen-line form and then looked for something in history (or it might be just in landscape, with history faint) to become words, lines, sentences, rhymes, rhythm, so that an abstract form, tried in literature, bob, remain, and be various with verbal flesh. (Keats and Words­worth did something like this in English, but not with the stylistic, melodious, undeviating rigor of Heredia.) Heredia is sonnets and hardly anything else. History and love at the edge of Asia Minor are in this sonnet. A high sun is stopped by a trireme, which in turn is contained by river's flow. There is the delicacy of incense as rowers work hard. Flutes and silk are in motion.—Cleopatra is given the severity of a seeking bird. A soldier's quiet face awaits the seeking, mighty bird. And as queen and soldier look for each other, intently, there is a whirl of the abstract so much in life: desire, death. The whirl has its reposeful place in the sonnet.

From Hail, American Development (Definition Press)
© 1968 by Eli Siegel

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