If poetry is love’s banquet, with minstrels reciting tales of cities sacked and sea voyages wrecked while the princely hosts and their guests lift their sacramental chalices and sip the liqueurs of contentment,
Play on, not to the sensual ear but to the spirit ditties of no tone.
Play on, if music be the food of love,
Give me excess of it.
I sip from the cup that Keats says is full of the warm south, mirth, and sun, “With beaded bubbles winking at the brim / And purple-stained mouth,” and I recommend Byron’s remedy for a hangover: “hock and soda water.”
For every poet a fruit or a sweet, plums for Williams, bananas and pineapples for Stevens; the shape of a pear (Stevens), the burst of “Joy’s grape” (Keats), and the word as delicious as the melon sweet as fresh water to the parched lips of the sailor on the abandoned raft: honeydew.
But I have a question for you, dear reader, friend and fellow admirer of the English Romantic poets as we walk hand in hand in the deer park of Magdalen College in Oxford. Why was the original transgression the consumption of a fruit rather than, say, a stroll on a prohibited path or a swim in a no-swim zone or a long dazed look at your image on the surface of a pond? It’s not: you may touch anything but this bush. It’s not: you may go anywhere but here. It is the eating of a fruit that is forbidden, the taste of the fruit that opens your eyes and reveals your shameful nakedness, man and woman, and I want to know why it has to be a fruit, it has to hang from the tree of knowledge, and you have to eat it.
David Lehman has taught in the New School’s MFA Writing Program since its inception in 1996. His new book of poetry is “Poems in the Manner Of,” coming from Scribner in March 2017.
featured image via Anastasia Linska on Flickr.