Monday, October 31, 2016


Deep in the Stacks

Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982), "Under Soracte," The Collected Shorter Poems (New York: New Directions, 1966), p. 212 (line numbers added):
Another day, deep in the stacks,
Where no one had come for years.
Walled in by the forbidding tomes
Of Migne's Patrologia,
I stood, reading the heart tearing        5
Plaints of Abelard. All at once
I realized that for some time
I had been smelling a sweet, light
Perfume, very faint, and very chic;
And then I heard the shiver        10
Of thin bracelets, and a murmur
That went on and paused and went on again;
And discovered that beyond me
In the next aisle a boy and girl
Made love in the most remote        15
Corner of knowledge.
The title of Rexroth's poem is of course an allusion to Horace's Soracte ode, especially the last half (1.9.13-24; tr. Niall Rudd):
Avoid asking what will happen tomorrow; whatever kind of day Fortune sends you, enter it as a profit, and do not say no to sweet love and dancing, while you are still a lad and your green age is free from peevish whiteness. Now is the time to make for the Park and the city squares, where soft whispers are heard at the time appointed, when dusk is falling, and delightful laughter comes from a secluded corner (giving away the girl who hides there), and a token is snatched from an arm or coyly resisting finger.

quid sit futurum cras fuge quaerere et
quem Fors dierum cumque dabit lucro
  appone, nec dulcis amores        15
    sperne puer neque tu choreas,
donec virenti canities abest
morosa. nunc et Campus et areae
  lenesque sub noctem susurri
    composita repetantur hora,        20
nunc et latentis proditor intimo
gratus puellae risus ab angulo
  pignusque dereptum lacertis
    aut digito male pertinaci.
With Horace's "intimo ... ab angulo" (lines 21-22) cf. Rexroth's "in the most remote corner" (lines 15-16).

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