Poetry International Poetry International
Poem

John Tranter

Under Tuscan Skies

Under Tuscan Skies

Under Tuscan Skies

In the calm of a Lyons’ Tea Shop near Piccadilly
punctuated with rustling noises and clinkings,
Edward found himself looking back
on his time in Tuscany. He had seen it then
as ‘the life so short, the craft so long to learn’,
in fact venomous to endure, those
horrible neighbours, but useful fodder
for his writing project, at the time, but now
in the British gloom it seemed fleeting and fruitless,
like the life of a white foam flake
amid a clashing of steel knives and hot looks –
why had he written it up in the form of little
poems, clotted with factitious insights? –
tissue-paper in a threshing machine – in fact,
he now prefers the incomplete circle of his drafts
to the blunt certainty of the finished book, as
the months of hope spent plotting his little holiday
were better than the awful actuality.
What had he written? Watery flashback –

The ancient Roman sun preserves the sky,
reserving his warmth to faithfulness,
shining upon the undismayed towers,
whose images enscrolled the situation.
Lucy, recently rebuffed, sat speaking her mind
to her frequent and attentive male companion,
to hew a passage to his understanding.
‘He, the God of Love and Shopping
may not have been hurt by your bruising snub,
to Him it’s just water off a cold shoulder,’
she murmured, nudging closer. Would
clutch come to seize? And seize
to feed a passion? Eager boys, she knew,  
would be prostrate at her feet, if they could.

A conversation in the forest, the grove
that borders the municipal zoo:
Her sex makes a brief longing.
– Thank you, more of the same.
I went straight to the heart of the matter.
– My dear, gentlemen are different.
But these two ladies are as bright as possible.
– Then what are you made of?
The same stuff as parsons are, but
with a warmer blood in my body
.

They were walking about like restless animals,
ursine, almost blasphemous in their excessive exercise.


In a deft aside Edward explained the meaning
of the landscape, I mean the Mediterranean.
It was satisfying to imagine those huge
geological forces striving for a million years
to provide a vista that perfectly illustrated
certain Romantic imaginings that gushed out of
the tail-pipe of the Industrial Revolution.

The scene: The arrival. The action: She knew.
Lucy rehearsed her emotions under Parnassus,
till the late hour caught in her throat.
I was young fool! That fight with the driver!
Blunder, irretrievable, and so forth.

The clumsy dolt. Social gaffe. Red face.  
Lucy, wincing, understanding everything.
Ow! He will never forgive me! Fuck it!

But why should she be upset? She’s just a girl,
and one day as a lady she will sweep away
the wraiths that cloud the view, just as
a Viennese mind doctor with a gesture
calms a dog. But now, at muggy midnight,
she found herself alone on the road,
engraving her love malignantly upon a stone,
as a seething of hyacinths breathed
upon the hushed evening. So be it!
In the snows of recognition there is little warmth
and less life; better to guess and hesitate.

Now a storm yells and clambers over the horizon,
battering rain herds them into a shelter,
among the shadows comes forgiveness,
a prison of green centuries gladly huddled into.
Shuddering they reach out for
one another’s mortifying spasms...

I had read, Edward murmured to himself,
that the floods of love in their urgent spate
magnify a horoscope, and that the god of fate,
leaning on the sky, counts our chances
on enormous fingers – so let the storm cease:
now the world is soaked and glittering,
and the young lovers creep back to find
their place in it, among the clattering traffic
and the rattle of cups.
Close

Under Tuscan Skies

In the calm of a Lyons’ Tea Shop near Piccadilly
punctuated with rustling noises and clinkings,
Edward found himself looking back
on his time in Tuscany. He had seen it then
as ‘the life so short, the craft so long to learn’,
in fact venomous to endure, those
horrible neighbours, but useful fodder
for his writing project, at the time, but now
in the British gloom it seemed fleeting and fruitless,
like the life of a white foam flake
amid a clashing of steel knives and hot looks –
why had he written it up in the form of little
poems, clotted with factitious insights? –
tissue-paper in a threshing machine – in fact,
he now prefers the incomplete circle of his drafts
to the blunt certainty of the finished book, as
the months of hope spent plotting his little holiday
were better than the awful actuality.
What had he written? Watery flashback –

The ancient Roman sun preserves the sky,
reserving his warmth to faithfulness,
shining upon the undismayed towers,
whose images enscrolled the situation.
Lucy, recently rebuffed, sat speaking her mind
to her frequent and attentive male companion,
to hew a passage to his understanding.
‘He, the God of Love and Shopping
may not have been hurt by your bruising snub,
to Him it’s just water off a cold shoulder,’
she murmured, nudging closer. Would
clutch come to seize? And seize
to feed a passion? Eager boys, she knew,  
would be prostrate at her feet, if they could.

A conversation in the forest, the grove
that borders the municipal zoo:
Her sex makes a brief longing.
– Thank you, more of the same.
I went straight to the heart of the matter.
– My dear, gentlemen are different.
But these two ladies are as bright as possible.
– Then what are you made of?
The same stuff as parsons are, but
with a warmer blood in my body
.

They were walking about like restless animals,
ursine, almost blasphemous in their excessive exercise.


In a deft aside Edward explained the meaning
of the landscape, I mean the Mediterranean.
It was satisfying to imagine those huge
geological forces striving for a million years
to provide a vista that perfectly illustrated
certain Romantic imaginings that gushed out of
the tail-pipe of the Industrial Revolution.

The scene: The arrival. The action: She knew.
Lucy rehearsed her emotions under Parnassus,
till the late hour caught in her throat.
I was young fool! That fight with the driver!
Blunder, irretrievable, and so forth.

The clumsy dolt. Social gaffe. Red face.  
Lucy, wincing, understanding everything.
Ow! He will never forgive me! Fuck it!

But why should she be upset? She’s just a girl,
and one day as a lady she will sweep away
the wraiths that cloud the view, just as
a Viennese mind doctor with a gesture
calms a dog. But now, at muggy midnight,
she found herself alone on the road,
engraving her love malignantly upon a stone,
as a seething of hyacinths breathed
upon the hushed evening. So be it!
In the snows of recognition there is little warmth
and less life; better to guess and hesitate.

Now a storm yells and clambers over the horizon,
battering rain herds them into a shelter,
among the shadows comes forgiveness,
a prison of green centuries gladly huddled into.
Shuddering they reach out for
one another’s mortifying spasms...

I had read, Edward murmured to himself,
that the floods of love in their urgent spate
magnify a horoscope, and that the god of fate,
leaning on the sky, counts our chances
on enormous fingers – so let the storm cease:
now the world is soaked and glittering,
and the young lovers creep back to find
their place in it, among the clattering traffic
and the rattle of cups.

Under Tuscan Skies

Sponsors
Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Ludo Pieters Gastschrijver Fonds
Hendrik Muller fonds
Lira fonds
J.E. Jurriaanse
Literature Translation Institute of Korea
Partners
LantarenVenster – Verhalenhuis Belvédère