Richard Wilbur





A Baroque Wall-Fountain in the Villa Sciarra
for Dore and Adja

        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, its 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 secular 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 its 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.

*areté, a Greek word meaning roughly “virtues”