A poem commissioned jointly by the Foundation for Innocence
in the Arts and the Fund for the Advancement of Joy.
Hill after bumpkin hill blinking
wakes and wildweeds startle into flowers,
flowers into stars
as fat ambassadorial bees
buzz in and out of embassies.
Tailored in moss-green satin
an old man indisputably of the old school,
silent in Latin,
perambulates the unruffled street
as if to demonstrate
paradigms of cool.
Then three young bucks, daisies above their ears,
bare-armed, bare-headed, breeze along
whistling as a glee to the god of weather
like a wind trio, in parts, a three-part song,
mobbed by envious and incredulous birds
in a musical dither.
Maples and elms bystanding laugh
a light leaf
to hear the wisecrack of a gun
from some inspired rapscallion.
Ceremonially a brick battalion
of chimneys salute the sun.
Hornpipes and hymns in mixed musicology,
Verdi from a green musicbox,
a fiddle hilarious with one string,
a deaconess with a sudden rage to sing
not to mention musical clocks.
In pure voluptuousness people take off their shoes
to test the felicity of grass,
the luxury of lawns.
Dark girls turn dryad without trying
and boys of a certain cast impersonate fauns
and even try flying.
Infants with the gift of speech
talk to the larger flowers and, bending, listen.
One chick is filling a fluted squashblossom
for cornucopia with dewberries,
and all the red raspberries within reach.
And when the churchbells, firebells, cry noon,
picnics fit for an Eighteenth-Century picture,
buttermilk to overflowing,
dew-cold, butter-flecked and thick
enough to eat with a spoon,
and salads, salads that won't stop growing.
Wherever fountains, pools, puddles, or hoses
spill, urchins and nymphs undress
to their last pink roses
to put on glass or better than glass
beads of water
or something wetter.
And poets as guilelessly as running
boys catching butterflies in nets
catch butterflies and better than butterflies in verses
and, staking their virtuosity in punning,
open plump metaphorical purses
and make tall bets.
But one at an oriel, brooding and dreamy,
folds his poem-to-love in the form of a kite
or glider and, leaning, lets it go
down through the zigzag air, and so
(and so easily)
publishes it by giving it flight.
Elsewhere old Mrs. Goldthwaite wishing the unusual
touch to her herb tea,
flies to the hornet attic and comes down,
just as tinkling callers call,
in her (seacaptain's wife) grandmother's receiving gown
of cool pongee.
Mint, Mrs. Edlweiss, sage, or camomile?
Mint, please. Glory, how your teaspoons shine!
Purring Mrs. Goldthwaite pours. Meanwhile
old Mr. Goldthwaite puttering down cellar,
unmindful of any caller,
unearths a bottle of old elderflower wine.
The teadrinkers indoors hear the outdoor dancers
in shadows blue, shadows oblique,
dancers whose figurations open and close
like questions and answers.
Jack picks a daisy, dancing, with his toes
and little kids play hide-and-seek.
Till under the solemn moon they all turn silly
trying to catch the white milk in their hands
to spatter one another's faces,
running impossible races,
hunting the red tigerlily,
discovering undiscoverable lands.
But the moon, the moon stays sober and reaches
down, after a time, to touch them
coolly in white-curtained rooms
the old like gothic carvings on tombs,
the children not so much sleeping as enchanted
seashells on remote beaches.
Robert Francis, Robert Francis: Collected Poems, 1936-1976,
University of Massachusetts Press, 1985.