Igitur non dormiamus sicut ceteri.

‘A Baroque Wall-Fountain in the Villa Sciarra’ by Richard Wilbur

Update: I have been receiving a lot of traffic for this from google searches and it looks like people are either looking for an interpretation of the poem or are seeking photos of the fountain.  While I do have an interpretation of this poem, I’m not a professional literary critic and I’m, at best, a hack academic.  However, I am happy to lend a hand to any Wilbur fans so do email me at m.jordan.lichens [at] gmail.com if you would like me to refer you to resources.  For the photo hunters, I do have plenty of pictures of the fountain in the Villa Sciarra in Rome, which I had the pleasure of living next to.  While the photos are mine, it must needs be said that I do not own the rights to this poem and am only quoting it to share the pure art.  I am in no way turning a profit from this or claiming any ownership.  Cheers, mjl.

Under the bronze crown

Too big for the head of the stone cherub whose feet

A serpent has begun to eat,

Sweet water brims a cockle and braids down

Past spattered mosses, breaks

On the tipped edge of a second shell, and fills

The massive third below.  It spills

In threads then from the scalloped rim, and makes

A scrim or summery tent

For a faun-ménage and their familiar goose.

Happy in all that ragged, loose

Collapse of water, its effortless descent

And flatteries of spray,

The stocky god upholds the shell with ease,

Watching, about his shaggy knees,

The goatish innocence of his babes at play;

His fauness all the while

Leans forward, slightly, into a clambering mesh

Of water-lights, her sparkling flesh

In a saecular ecstasy, her blinded smile

Bent on the sand floor

Of the trefoil pool, where ripple-shadows come

And go in swift reticulum,

More addling to the eye than wine, and more


Interminable to thought

Than pleasure’s calculus.  Yet since this all

Is pleasure, flash, and waterfall,

Must it no be too simple?  Are we not

More intricately expressed

In the plain fountains that Maderna set

Before St. Peter’s – the main jet

Struggling aloft until it seems at rest

In the very act of rising, until

The very wish of water is reversed,

That heaviness borne up to burst

In a clear, high, cavorting head, to fill

With blaze, and then in gauze

Delays, in a gnatlike shimmering, in a fine

Illumined version of itself, decline,

And patter on the stones its own applause?

If that is what men are

Or should be, if those water-saints display

The pattern of our arête,

What of these showered fauns in their bizarre,

Spangled, and plunging house?

They are at rest in fullness of desire

For what is given, they do not tire

Of the smart of the sun, the pleasant water-douse

And riddled pool below,

Reproving our disgust and our ennui

With humble insatiety.

Francis, perhaps, who lay in sister snow

Before the wealthy gate

Freezing and praising, might have seen in this

No trifle, but  shade of bliss –

That land of tolerable flowers, that state

As near and far as grass

Where eyes becomes the sunlight, and the hand

Is worthy of water: the dreamt land

Toward which all hungers leap, all pleasures pass.


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