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-menage 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 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 its own applause?

      If that is what men are
Or should be, if those water-saints display
      The pattern of our arete,
What of these showered fauns in their bizarre,

      Spangled, and plunging house?
They are at rest in fullness 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.


Richard Wilbur, Collected Poems 1943-2004, Harvest Books, 2006.