Joy Rises Laughing

Rudy Burckardt (left) and Edwin Denby (Right)

There is a bit of insanity in dancing that does everybody a great deal of good.

Edwin Denby

Ravenna

by Edwin Denby (1903 – 1983)

A governing and rouged nun, she lifts the cubed
Jewels, garlanded heavy on hair, shoulders
Breasts, on hands and feet, the drak-blue the cell-roomed
Splendor’s fountain lifts sunken to Him Who holds her;
But the emperor is running to his pet hens
Cackling like a hermit, and his foolish smile
Alone on the vacancy of noon-glazed fens
Haunts a blossoming water-capital’s guile;
Holy placidity of lilylike throats
Ravenna of fleets, silent above the cows
A turnip plain and stagnant houses floats
Exultance of sailor hymns, virginal vows;
In a church’s tiered and April-green alcoves
Joy rises laughing at ease to love God’s loves

 


Edwin Denby was born in Tientsin, China in 1903. He spent his childhood first in Shanghai, then in Vienna, where his father served as consul general from 1909-1915, before coming to the United States in 1916. He attended Harvard and University of Vienna without completing a degree.  He found his life long partner Rudy Burckhardt in Switerland in 1934 while looking for someone to take his passport photo. 

Denby is an artist’s artist.   He is one of those names whom you have never heard of but seemed to rub shoulders with the artistic elite in New York and Europe.  Long time friends with Willem de Kooning, Orson Welles, John Houseman, Paul Bowles, Eugene Labiche and Aaron Copland just to name a few.   He is best remembered as a ballet critic in New York and Europe and for adapting several scripts for theater and movies. 

As a fellow lover of ballet, I had come across his name in his main area of work back as a writer about ballet in the 1980’s when I had season tickets to Northrop Ballet Series and the best in the ballet world would come to  town including Baryshnikov with American Ballet Theater more than once.  So, I was pleasantly surprised to discover he wrote poetry and excellent poetry at that as well.  Denby published multiple books of poetry over a 25 year period. 

I am particularly taken with Song.   It is obviously inspired by his experience with his partner Burkhardt.   It is a simple poem, but expresses the gift of true love as good as any.   Its rhyme makes the serious a little less serious, the playfulness of love, more playful, the force of love, more forceful.   Its meter sneaks up on you and  is more sophisticated in its construction than on first glance when read the second time through.  It is the kind of poem if it was written for you it might be better than a wedding ring.   It is the kind of poem that everyone should write for their true love.  And, if you aren’t up to that task, read them this one over breakfast tomorrow and clink your coffee cups in honor of Rudy and Edwin. 


Song

by Edwin Denby

I don’t know any more what it used to be
Before I saw you at table sitting across from me
All I can remember is I saw you look at me
And I couldn’t breathe and I hurt so bad I couldn’t see.

I couldn’t see but just your looking eyes
And my ears was buzzing with a thumping noise
And I was scared the way everything went rushing around
Like I was all alone, like I was going to drown.

There wasn’t nothing left except the light of your face,
There might have been no people, there might have been no place,
Like as if a dream were to be stronger than thought
And could walk into the sun and be stronger than aught.

Then someone says something and then you spoke
And I couldn’t hardly answer up, but it sounded like a croak
So I just sat still and nobody knew
That since that happened all of everything is you.