By Richard Balthazar
Many years ago I stumbled on a verse in an English literature anthology that stopped me in my tracks. As I started reading the first line, “Let not the dark thee cumber…” I flashed on the rest of the poem, like those moments in favorite music when you can already hear the next measures. Being a Russian literature guy, there was no way I’d ever heard of the poet or the poem before. It was a verse from “Night Piece to Julia” by Robert Herrick, a 17th Century English poet:
Let not the dark thee cumber;
What though the moon doth slumber,
The stars of the night
Will lend thee their light,
Like tapers, clear, without number.
I mention this transcendent limerick here for two reasons. First, it’s a message I think everyone should hear and heed, a call to be fearless and rejoice in beautiful life. I hope you’ll do that too. And second, if there really is such a thing as reincarnation, I’ve got a healthy hunch of at least one personage I may have been in earlier ages. (Maybe I’m like Archy of “Archy & Mehitabel” by Don Marquis, a cockroach who is a reincarnated free verse poet and writes his poems by jumping on the typewriter keys.)
Anyway, long before I knew what poetry was all about, even as a teenager, I had inclinations and noted in my diary little verses that popped into my head, often sensitive but mostly platitudinous. In college, poetry seemed the only way to process my doomed love for the Indian Desai, and I labored over the same short piece for months till just stopping, unable to say it right.
While a married grad student/security cop, I almost got it right in a memory-poem about my first love Peter, and other poems came as sensuous fantasies about the gay love I was missing, a good number of them in Russian to preserve secrecy. Those personal effusions stood in stark contrast to the futurist poetry I translated from the Russian for my master’s thesis. After the divorce, when sublimely in love with dancer Kenny, I whipped out a series of poems about magical moments of our passion, and more outbursts flared up in later love affairs. By the later 70’s I’d slipped out of the poetical mode of thought and into prose.
The poetry included here is free verse in the broad, economic sense. There are links for free downloads.
Poetickle Pieces on Men, a collection of my early poetry. Written over several years and love affairs, these personal verses are mostly influenced by the Russian Acmeist poets like Anna Akhmatova. For me, at least, they still evoke those treasured moments of love.
Translations from Russian:
“Zangezi” selections, by Velemir Khlebnikov. The weird English is an attempt to match the neologisms created by the possibly insane Futurist poet. It was tricky fun making up words and earned me a Master’s degree.
“Joan and the Angels,” selection (for singing) from the opera “Maid of Orleans,” by Petr Tchaikovsky. This was done for the 1978 performances by the Canadian Opera Company with Lyn Vernon as Joan and Brent Ellis as Lionel. The Toronto Sun noted that it had been “translated into a most lyrical English.” The finale of the first act, Joan’s scene with the angels, you’ve simply got to read. (This is sung in some of the most ecstatic music you’ll ever hear.)