Jupiter on Juno


Tantaene animis caelestibus irae?

So that’s her latest feat of espionage!
There she goes off in an immortal huff;
Slams out with a last shriek of heavenly rage:
“When, when”, she wants to know, “will you leave off
Chasing mortal girls and learn to be your age?
Are not the pleasures of my bed enough?”
She knows too much, I tell her. Even so
I am tempted to tell her what she does not know.

She does not know how tedious they become,
These goddesses, for ever young and fair,
Flaunting their regal charms of bust and bum,
Queening their way with that Olympian air
Of effortless, nonchalant equilibrium,
Untouched by doubt, by weakness or despair,
Complacent virgins and self-righteous wives
Who never took a risk in all their lives.

She cannot conceive the wonder, the mere bliss
Of loving a woman who, at her peak and prime
Senses her beauty doomed to the abyss;
Who, in the inexorable lapse of time,
Must take her chance, knowing how frail it is,
Yet, daring the unknown, achieves sublime
Ardours she could not know me capable of
And reaches raptures past her hope of love.

She cannot imagine how humanity flowers
From aspirations, of which gods have no need,
To be caught up in this divine of ours;
How ecstasy when laced with terror can breed
Spasms of vision and vision lend them powers
Of divination; how, pregnant with my seed,
Their bodies, grown strange, crave metamorphoses
To other natures: beasts, stones, stars or trees.

What prompts them, in such shapes, to welcome me?
What goddess, visited by bull or swan,
Would not just laugh or turn in scorn and flee?
They know me far too well. With women alone
I tap the human springs of fantasy
And in their arms, as never in heaven, have known
That sense of undiscovered light which broods
In mortal poetry’s similitudes.

Woman is half a living metaphor
That reaches towards its unknown counterpart.
No goddess needs apotheosis nor
Any fulfilment of the mind and heart;
Nothing that she may think worth wishing for
Demands imagination, knowledge or art.
All things being in her power to attain,
What she enjoys she may enjoy again.

So what words could I find that would convey
The pleasure of sensing worlds beyond my reach
In mortal minds where mine must beat its way
From dim surmise to final lucid speech;
I, threading their labyrinths of doubt, while they
Dazzle through aether, probing each to each
I, towards her tender, dark mortality
And, groping to discern my numen, she?

In that embrace how exquisite, how brief
The mind’s exchange, the body’s precarious joy,
Transfigurations of spirit beyond belief
For those whom easy, unending pleasures cloy!
For once to know and share the urge, the grief
Heightening one hour the next hour must destroy;
Yet how explain to an immortal wife
That single hour might be the crown of life?

What good, of course would explanation do?
When all that counts with her has just been said,
What past resentments must it not renew?
What tears of jealous fury would she shed?
Omnipotence leaves so little to pursue,
Omniscience less to talk about in bed
And I, no conversationalist, I admit,
Shine more in love’s performance than its wit.

Still she’s a heavenly creature, bountiful
And splendid even in anger; what is more,
How can I blame her, godhead being so dull?
Her immortality must prove a chore
Did not some screaming rage restore the full
— Now, why have I not thought of this before? —
The full immediacy, that zest of strife
And plural of spouse which is the spice of life.

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