The Passage (Le Voyage)

I

To the child who loves maps and stamps
The universe equals his vast appetite
How expansive the world by the light of the lamp
But in memory’s eye how frail and slight!

One day we embark with feverish brains
Our turbulent hearts heavy with rancor
We’re ferried by oceanic quatrains
Allaying our boundlessness, the sea is our anchor,

Some thrill to escape autocracy’s vise
Others cruel beds, shrouded in gloom
Astrologers lost in the dazzling eyes
of Circe, enchantress with deadly perfumes.

To prevent being changed into beasts, they devour
The light and the space, and glimmering skies
The irascible frost, the blazing sunshower
Slowly effacing the mark of her kiss.

But true pioneers sail off at random
Just for the leaving; hearts light as balloons,
Whimsical fate they’ll never abandon
And without knowing why they chase after the moon.

Their very desires as shapeless as clouds,
With dreams of young conscripts, bright cannons to aim,
Of sumptuous pleasures, ever-changing, unknown
That no human mind has been able to name.

II

We imitate, God help us, the top and the ball
Waltzing and bounding, at sixes and sevens
Excitement torments us and keeps us in thrall
A cruel angel whipping the sun through the heavens

Frivolous destiny, always in motion
Our goal being nowhere, could well be anywhere
Driven by hope, with a patsy’s devotion
In the search for repose we run ourselves threadbare!

Our three-masted ship, Utopia-bound
A shout from the bridge calls: Smoke em if you got em
Then from the crows’s nest a wild voice resounds
“Love … glory … joy! Oh shit, We’ve hit bottom!”

Each new island the lookout reports
Is a new Eldorado promised by Fate;
Prepared for an orgy we race to the port
But collide with a reef in the stark morning light.

Oh, the poor lover of fantastical shores!
Should he be clapped in irons, thrown into the drink?
Drunk fabricator of Americas galore
Mirages which makes this the bitterest brink!

Like the old drifter, tramping through muck
Dreaming, nose high, of some shining sanctum;
His bewitched eye spies Cockaigne, oh what luck!
Wherever a torch casts its light on a slum…

III

Amazing travelers! What noble stories
We read in your eyes deep as the seas!
Open the coffers of your rich memories
These wonderful jewels, fashioned from galaxies.

We want to travel without sail or steam
To brighten the stale ennui of our prisons
Let your dazzling memories gleam
Across the canvas of our minds, framed only by their horizons.

“Tell us, what have you seen?”

IV

“We’ve seen skies of stars and oceans of waves,
And beaches of sand, yes bright shoals of sand
And despite some disasters and last minute saves,
We were often quite bored, just like you on your strand.

Glorious sun on the indigo sea,
Glorious cities at glowing sunset
Lit in our hearts a mad urge to flee
Into the sky of green and scarlet

The richest cities, the loveliest valleys
Never contained as mysterious a pull
As clouds on the wind as they mingle and dally
Our hearts begged for more, no matter how full.

For desire is only encouraged by pleasure
Like an old tree fertilized by delight
The rougher and harder its bark grows in texture
The more its old branches reach out to the sunlight

Will you always keep growing, will you someday outlast
The most ancient cypress? But look here, we have styled
Some sketches for your scrapbook voracious and vast
You brothers who best love the distant and wild.

To sphinxes and idols we offered salute
And gaped at opulent jewel-studded thrones
And fairytale palaces filled with such loot
Making even the richest of bankers to groan.

Costumes that offered a feast to the eyes;
Women whose painted teeth gleam from afar
Snake charming harlequins, clever and wise

V

And? What else?
Oh, how childish your minds are.

VI

Here’s the important thing to retain
Not something we sought, but wherever we’ve been
From top to bottom of destiny’s chain,
The commonplace spectacle of immortal sin:

The woman compliant, moronic and proud
Her pleasures accrue as her scruples grow fewer
The man, greedy tyrant, his lechery uncowed
A slave of a slave, a trench in the sewer.

The lighthearted hangman, the whimpering martyr
The festival seasoned and scented with gore;
The decadence sapping the charlatan’s charter
The people flogged senseless who cry out for more.

A host of religions all just like ours
Each climbing skyward beyond our travails
While virtue, offered a sweet smelling bower
Takes as much pleasure on cold beds of nails

Chatty Humanity, boasting and preening
Born into madness and now so much worse
Cries out to God in agonized keening
“My likeness, my master, May you be cursed!”

The less foolish, drawn by delirium’s charms,
Fleeing the sheepish and haphazard mob
Just to take refuge in opium’s arms
–That’s the perennial news of the globe.”

VII

One draws such bitter lessons from travel
The small, prosaic world’s ever glum
Yesterday, forever, days unravel
An oasis of dread in a desert of boredom!

Should we quit or stay? Stay if you’re able
Take off, if you must. One runs, one hides
Miles away or just beneath the table
Time never stops or breaks his stride

Even the Wand’ring Jew cursed to ramble
Cannot flee fast enough, by horse or sail
In Time’s net, we’re all bound to get tangled
Even those who shun all travail

When He finally trods upon our spines,
We’ll declare our hope and hoist our chins
Like in old times when we made for China,
Eyes fixed seaward, faces to the wind

We set sail upon the darkened sea
With the joyful heart of volunteers
Do you hear sweet voices sing so gaily
Come you lotus-seekers over here

In the languid air we brightly harvest
The exotic fruit you hunger for
Come get drunk upon on the curious sweetness
In mild afternoon drowse evermore”

This familiar accent such a nectar
Old lost cousins stretch out through the mist
“To refresh your heart, swim to your Electra!”
Says she whose dainty knees we once had kissed.

VIII

O Death, old captain, it is time to sever the link
This land has wearied us, O Death! Don’t keep us long
Though sea and sky are both as black as ink,
Our hearts are filled with the merriest song!

Pour out your poison to inflame our fever
Oh, how this fire burns our minds so pure and true
We’ll dive down to Heaven or Hell, or wherever
In the depths of the unknown we’ll seek out the New!

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