Our Fountain in the Garden of Love
There’s something cold about a formal garden:
the stone, the hedges, and the symmetries;
the alleys and the pools; the lawns that harden
into a distance where there are no trees.
Did someone say this was the Garden of Love?
More like the Prison. In spite of its size
and gestures at breadth, one glance was enough:
we wished to tear it all down with our eyes.
Later, we would both grudgingly admit
some features were appealing, and erase
our first impressions—almost. Beauty lies
in scenes like this, though on the face of it,
love’s garden seems to be a hostile place.
A fountain occupies the middle space
(not center—many symmetries are skewed
in subtle ways), projecting calm when viewed
from every vantage point, not just head on.
Statues with their feet planted firmly in air
—a trompe l’oeil gimmick—like young lovers, stare
at each other, or look across the lawn
and through the water falling from above.
The splashing never ceases.
Welling up from a series of underground pumps
the many liquid pieces
of light and shadow tumble out in clumps
and fall to pools below.
The flow, almost constant, is astonishing--
the lovers, at least, think so
or would, if they could think of anything
beyond what they desire.
They stand there, looking through the streams that spill;
they stare and never tire.
The water falls around them. They stand still.
The fountain bubbles higher.
Each one is waiting for the other to move.
(While waiting, they both froze?)
“In truth,” they might lie, “we never wished to remove
our expressions—or our clothes.”
We couldn’t gather much about them from their dress.
It was the standard robe—more of a sheet or quilt--
whose virtue, it seemed, was its “Greek-” or “Roman-ness,”
fashions ancient even when the fountain was built.
Love, at least, hadn’t gone out of fashion—yet.
(Or so the pair endeavored to impress on us.)
They’d walked on air for ages now, and now the threat
of falling was quite real; their union, tenuous.
Who paid for upkeep of the fountain anyway?
The cost must be immense. To keep Love beautiful--
not just “intact,” and not just “functioning each day”--
you need more change than lovers threw into the pool.
The subject must be love, at least that much was clear.
Was it? The more we looked, the more we were unsure.
Why wasn’t there some modest placard posted here?
a line or note on whom this thing was fashioned for?
Just listening to the fountain made us drift elsewhere,
even (especially?) when looking into it.
The fiercer the attempt to maintain focus there,
the more its sprays would hint at the inadequate
power of the will to resist what it wants.
Namely will-lessness, peace, repose, a childish
desire to stop the world from spinning, just for once.
But not once and for all. Be careful what your wish . . .
the lovers whispered, but wish while you’re still here.
The trickling of the fountain plays tricks on the ear.
It soughs like wind in leaves.
Or a stream (a real stream)—so much so the listener
believes and disbelieves.
At times it almost seems the pair is whispering.
To themselves? Or have we been caught
pretending they can speak and (how rude) listening
to thoughts they never thought?
They’re only in our minds. And in less than a blink,
they stop appearing real.
They turn to stone again. And the thoughts they can’t think,
the feelings they don’t feel,
and all the words they never could put into speech
vanish the moment when
the waters of the fountain, arching upwards, reach
their highest point, and then
reverse their course and dwindle down
to almost nothing . . .
A seaside town.
The sun sets slowly on the bayside where
houses silhouette it. (Day holds off night
longer near water.) Taking in the air,
the ocean swells; a fountain juggles light;
and lovers’ laughter chimes like pocket change.
Everything is tranquil, and something’s strange.
There must be wind, for, far off, you can see
wool waves disturb the surface of the sea.
Perhaps a storm is coming, or perhaps
just pressure dropping. “Change is in the air.”
A couple waits for heaven to collapse
behind the scene, continuing to stare
across the water, until the light grows dim,
and then make their wishes—and toss their pennies in.
The subject is change. For the fountain recalls
many variations of itself. Suburban malls
with cascading waters; sharp scents of chlorine;
rapids; pebbled brooks; artificial waterfalls
in lobbies so busy they are almost serene . . .
Constancy in change, perhaps? Change in constancy?
The lovers neither nod assent nor disagree.
The fountain chuckles softly, following its course
back to itself, and then away, continually
releasing all its pressures, of which it is the source.
At their height, fountain waters shoot from every side
and fall around the centre.
Opposing streams meet there, but only to divide,
retreating where they enter.
For a moment, it seems Chance and Fate come together
(in fact, one stream’s behind).
Then the streams separate. But hardly for forever:
their arc is of a kind
that points to possibilities of a return.
We only have to wait
about five minutes in this instance for a turn--
it really can’t be late,
and like so many other things about this place
appears to be designed
to give us an illusion of movement, in place
of one heart, one mind.
What I remember most: the lovers never move.
They stand there, and they stand there, stubborn as a stone.
They stand there. Multilingual signboards disapprove
of touching: we are warned to leave them alone.
But can we? They are pleading for our sympathy,
if not to tell their story, or let it come to be.
They would do more than signal “We are what love is.”
In our last walk around the fountain, distances
vanished: the lovers were of one mind again.
But then that moment passed, and breaches reappeared.
The fountain would rise up again, soon. Until then,
it spurt with less insistence: strings of water dangled
behind the lovers, lost their arcs, and disappeared.
They wanted us to look at them from every angle,
or failing that, approach them with an open mind--
if not “open,” not closed, if not “not closed,” inclined
toward understanding. Was that asking for so much?
The myth of a story or a love that might be--
the heart cries out “unique”; the mind, “exemplary”--
appealing to whomever it was meant to touch.
Divided by a sheet of falling water like rain,
two human figures yearn
after and for each other, as if expressing pain
and love, and pain, in turn--
trying to move and to be moving (art insists),
but never going far.
They can’t begin to hope, or fear, their love exists
or even feel they are
about, always about, to kiss,
astonished at their stoniness.
This poem was not written in response to a single fountain of love, but to many.
Steven Monte is a professor of literature and a translator. He works and lives in NYC, where he also runs marathons. His translations include The Selected Poems of Victor Hugo, and various Renaissance and Romantic poets, mostly French and Italian. His most recently scholarly work is on Shakespeare’s Sonnets (The Secret Architecture of Shakespeare’s Sonnets). He has published his own poetry and translations in journals such as The Paris Review, Think, and TriQuarterly.
The Ekphrastic Review
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