ISSUE NINE
November 1999

Louis Simpson

Louis Simpson Louis Simpson is the author of 16 books of verse; he has also published books of literary criticism, biographies, memoirs, and fiction. He lives in Stony Brook, New York.

Ballade des Dames du Temps Jadis     Click to hear in real audio


Dictes moy ou, n'en quel pays,
Est Flora la belle Rommaine,
Archipiada ne Thaïs
Qui fut sa cousine germaine,
Echo parlant quant bruyt on maine
Dessus riviere ou sus estan,
Qui beaulté ot trop plus qu'humaine.
Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?

Ou est la tres sage Helloïs
Pour qui chastré fut et puis moyne
Pierre Esbaillart a Saint Denis?
Pour son amour ot ceste essoyne.
Semblablement, ou est la royne
Qui commanda que Buridan
Fust geté en ung sac en Saine?
Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?

La royne Blanche comme lis
Qui chantoi a voix de seraine,
Berte au grant pié, Bietris, Alis,
Haremburgis qui tine le Maine
Et Jehanne la bonne Lorraine
Qu'Englois brulerent a Rouan;
Ou sont ilz, ou, Vierge souvraine?
Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?

Prince, n'enquerez de sepmaine
Ou elles sont, ne de cest an,
Qu'a ce reffrain ne vous remaine:
Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?

 

 

Ballade: Women of Time Past     Click to hear in real audio


Tell me in what country is
Flora the beautiful Roman,
Archipiada, or Thaïs.
Echo who speaks to no man
Unless he speaks first, then she can
Over a river, lake, or bay,
Was too beautiful to be human.
But where are the snows of yesterday?

Where is the learned Heloise,
For whom was gelded that poor man,
Pierre Abelard of Saint Denis?
With love of her his pains began.
The queen who wanted Buridan
Bagged and dropped in the Seine, they say,
Was a very passionate woman,
But where are the snows of yesterday?

Queen Blanche of the fleur-de-lys,
Who sang so well the people ran ...
To hear; Bertha Bigfoot, Alice,
Arembourg, the countess of Maine,
And Joan the bonny of Lorraine,
Burned by the English ... Where are they,
Tell me, 0 Virgin Sovereign!
But where are the snows of yesterday?

Prince, do not enquire again
Where all those women are today.
All you will hear is the refrain,
But where are the snows of yesterday?

 

 

A Farewell to his Muse     Click to hear in real audio


The floorboards creak
and I lie thinking.
Timor mortis NON conturbat me.
The idea of dying
doesn't frighten me a bit,
nor the bad road to it,
sans eyes, sans teeth ...

But the muse has left my bed,
having removed her things
on the sly, thinking
I don't notice, the bitch!
Go on, why don't you
just say it, "I don't love you."
Leave! Get the hell out!
I don't want to know who with.

Some talentless creep
from a Creative Writing
and Poetry Business School.
Get on line—vita brevis
prostrate yourself,
crawl on hands and knees,
and kiss her ars longa.

He's got it all worked out:
two years to a Guggenheim,
followed by the reward
of genius, a Macarthur;
in ten, with the assistance
of friends, the Pulitzer.
Finally to sit in state
in the National Academy
and Institute of Conniving ...

                    *

Well, easy come,
easy go. And it's been fun.
Farewell the something something
that make ambition virtue.

There was a time I could quote
the Bard by the yard.
But I had to give it up.
There is nothing you can learn
from the English, except
how to talk like a gentleman
with your nose in the air
and marbles in your mouth.

In fact, there was nothing
I could learn from anyone.
All you really know is given
at moments when you're seeing
and listening.
                   Being in love
is a great help.

Oh yes, but keep a dog.

 

 

Louis Simpson: Poetry
Copyright © 1999 The Cortland Review Issue NineThe Cortland Review