Translation of Villas on Lake Como

The lake licks green inlets from the land
And nustles up against its curvy shoreline.
Which came first, the lakeshore’s shape––this sinus-shape
The water, struggle though it will, must still submit to?
Or did the water cut itself this frame,
A grindstone, fluid, on the bowl of cliffs
To form these isthmuses and coves, these verdant tongues?

Were they here first, these many shades of grey?
Primeval grey, the grey of ancient deluge,
Grey of slate and weathering and granite––
The highest and the deepest. Like a vowel,
The tone here shifts too glibly into blue.
The lake, an amethyst of sky, abruptly turns:
In wind and rain it darkens to a druse.

Or Duse. Yet there was drama once. Franz Liszt
lived here, begat his children, and composed.
And hideous mansions on the other shore
Still stand half-finished, haunted, and in ruins.
One––the finest villa far and wide–– 
Sits swaddled in a rhododendron heath, a garden
With azaleas, roses, myrtles, and camellias.

Pliny the Elder––it all began with him.
The minerals, the flora and fauna––he described
Whatever passed before his eyes, including people.
The lungs, the skin and bones, the blood,
The nipples, nerves, and eyelids with their lashes,
Even the voice itself, and every gesture, every sound
The orchestra produced, for him, was nature’s lore.

"The lake teaches astonishment, a living crystal,
Volatile and changing as if to move the heart.
Outside a villa, or with music, or on Logan Square,
Each beat of weather strikes melodious ground.
The younger Pliny honed his prose style here
On the feature pages of the breeze. To him,
The lake was home, a cistern for the self.

Enticing how it stands there, the facade inviting
Yet never quite accessible, white upon the shore,
The ideal villa, dreamed of by both Plinys.
There on Lamis (Lake Como) it defies the ages
And the future’s grey, the grey of urbane narrowness.
Cliffs to its back, in storms backed up to waves,
It calls for columned order, music, and the word.

Which came first, the word as speech––or style?
The style of clouds above the lake, the art of water
Propagates itself in garden pools and fountains.
The bronze-lipped cherub spits but tap water,
And the dolphin, oxidized, keeps snapping at the air.
Like the distant throb of motors, the Pathetique
Echoes in darkness from the lake’s depth.