top of page
  • By Stewart Burke

The Garden of Lonely Pleasure


Within this garden of lonely pleasure

the living waters whisper your name.

Iris and lilac—now wild, but once tame—

herald Spring’s newfound indolent leisure.

 

Indolence is a form of insolence,

as the scented, barbed rose knows so well.

If it could talk what stories would it tell?

How can such velvet clefts claim innocence?

 

Outside this garden of lonely pleasure

the teal have left Lake Dal for wing-ways North.

Warblers build their nests, cuckoos plight their troth.

Golden oriole bides investiture.

 

Within, cherry and apple perfumes waft.

The wallcreeper’s silence belies the bright

crimson of its wings when not folded tight.

The skin of the peach reminds me how soft. . . .  

 

First in this garden of lonely pleasure

stood the mulberry grove where now tits sing.

Golden rain and torch trees and fountains bring

relief from the bright sun’s grandest gestures.  

 

Now, laughingthrush mocks the concept of walls,

reminding of man’s conceit which once built

lofty halls and towers tall and rooms gilt.

Now, the wind soughs and the sparrowhawk calls.

 

Last in this garden of lonely pleasure

am I who savor the lush profusion

amidst illusive dreams. But illusion

has no place amongst such natural treasures.

 

The eight stone terraces all now are bare,

and empty, too, the white pavilion

where once I bravely placed a vermillion

pomegranate blossom in your dark hair.


Stewart Burke lives in Arlington, VA. Retired from one of those ABC agencies, beyond writing poetry he enjoys traveling abroad and studying and teaching martial arts with his wonderful daughter. He most delights in reading in translation the classical poetry of the Near East, the Subcontinent, China, and Japan. Burke particularly savors the works in translation of Li Qingzhao, Shmuel ha-Nagid, and Hafiz. William Empson and Theodore Wratislaw are two of his favorite English-language poets.

8 Comments


ajsedia
Dec 11, 2022

If I could describe this poem in one word, it would be "sumptuous." It is about as rife with description as language will allow, and beautifully evokes the exotic scenery. I find it reminiscent of symbolist verse, with its affinity for exoticism and sensory richness. But at its core the work is a beautifully framed contrast of the inner and outer worlds, and the identity of the addressee poses some very intriguing interpretive prospects.

Like

martinmccarthy1956
martinmccarthy1956
Nov 19, 2022

This is a truly wonderful poem which John has already shrewdly and accurately assessed in terms of its formal mastery. In regard to the individual lines, I particularly like the second: 'the living waters whisper your name' (simple but profound) - and the last two: 'where once I bravely placed a vermillion / pomegranate in your dark hair.' That is so vivid! I can picture the scene so clearly. Well done, Stewart!

Like
martinmccarthy1956
martinmccarthy1956
Nov 21, 2022
Replying to

I remember reading a poem once by D.H. Lawrence in which he said: 'Whatever you create and make live / lives only because of the life you put into it' (or something to that effect). This, for me, is one of the primary functions of being a good poet - to make a particular, special experience live on vividly long after its moment has passed. So I'm glad you told me where that image of the 'vermillion pomegranate' came from and how the Vivaldi anecdote was so alive and hauntingly real for you. I could feel it in your words.

Like

jm6783685
jm6783685
Nov 19, 2022

At first, given the title, I thought this poem would turn out to be mere 'mental masturbation', of the sort that Byron decried in Keats, but in fact it's a wonderful poem! And one which I want to read again and again. The sheer lushness and exoticism of it, so carefully balanced with that ironic self-control and all those self-critical strictures which are the hallmark of the best work, quickly win one over, and one knows one is in the presence of a master. From whom I at least can learn. And indeed want to.

Like
ajsedia
Dec 11, 2022
Replying to

The possibility for that double entendre in the title struck me, as well.

Like
bottom of page