New Orleans (“From the French Quarter”). But I am especially taken with the very powerful “The Ballad of St. James Infirmary,” a truly death-centered poem wherein the speaker is hard and cold enough to imagine her own wake, but with a mocking laughter as grisly as Villon’s. Let me quote a large and unforgettable section of it:
So noting, let me be the first
To give my last directions:
In parting, let there be no thirst.
Perform no vivisections.
Six kinds of wine have at my wake,
Six felines to meow.
Play early, “The Unfortunate Rake.”
I have no interest how.
And do not bury me in blue.
Choose black, or any other.
Blue was the venerable hue
In which I laid my mother.
I always did admire those pleats
Of satin, puffed and tight,
Which imitated wedding sheets
In subtle shades of white.
Lay me in such. Display a wreath
Of sweet alyssum near
My head, stone urns of thyme beneath
To make the scents austere.
I’d kill to have written that last quatrain. The absolutely perfect delicacy, the verbal balance of English and Latin, the mix of funereal and floral that recalls the ending of the Rubaiyat… what more can one ask of a poet?