open your eyes
an imperative whisper
insistent as a kiss
open your eyes
no horror greets her slow wakening;
merely a young man clad in red,
specter of the rose still tucked in her bodice,
dewy and fragrant as when she plucked it,
tore away its thorns,
and set out laughing for the ball.
I had my death of you. . .
yet for that death
I ask no Mass, no exorcism, no expiation;
the price of my death is only a dance.
You cannot chase me from your dreams
save with a dance.
And so it begins, this pas de deux
of ghost and maiden;
no dance at the ball,
no dance ever after,
shall match the exhilaration of this!
such poses, such elongations, such lifts!
the heat of love
in his strong arms,
in the caress of his iron thigh.
all but swooning
she breathes my love. . .
but night flies
and time respects no dream,
no dance, no rose
one soft kiss placed upon her heart
and he leaves on a leap,
hanging against gravity
like a bloody drop of dew:
God’s beautiful mad clown
the rose at her breast
is tenderly tucked away to dry
beneath an airless jar
and someday a poet will hear the tale,
this romance of a rose,
and scrawl a few lines of epitaph
Once, in a snowy vale
there lay entombed a rose,
the envy of kings.
Poem copyright 2012 by Faire Lewis.
Once, there was a poem called Le Spectre de la Rose by the French poet, novelist and critic Theophile Gautier.
In 1911, the great choreographer Michel Fokine was inspired to make a ballet of the poem. Set to German Romantic composer Carl Maria von Weber’s 1819 piece “Invitation to the Dance” (orchestrated in 1841 by Hector Berlioz), Fokine’s ballet premiered on April 19th, 1911, with the great Russian dancers Vaslav Nijinsky as the Specter of the Rose and Tamara Karsavina as the Girl.
Those who saw that debut never forgot Nijinsky’s exit, at which he appeared to stop in midair, at the peak of a leap–a feat he is said to have shrugged off, saying “you get up there, and then you stop.”
Gautier’s poem is one of those that really loses something in translation, and gains nothing in my extremely free adaptation, which draws more from the ballet than the poem. But I have long been fascinated with Nijinsky–God’s beautiful mad clown–better remembered for his controversial ballets L’apres-midi d’un faun (Afternoon of a Faun) and Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring)–who was diagnosed within a decade of the premiere of Le Spectre de la Rose with schizophrenia and never danced again after 1920.
So I make bold to dedicate it to his memory–and that one moment when gravity seemed to suspend itself for him. 🙂
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