canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Sestina: The Garden

by David Solway

I will in some secret place, where I have no spying uncle,
Rejoice with my joy, in a garden or in a chamber.
- Arnaut Daniel, Lo ferm voler (“That firm desire”)

My days of sunshine, and my tranquil nights.
And my sweet sighs, and that delightsome style
Which hath made tunable my verse and rhymes,
These all, turned suddenly to grief and tears…
- Francesco Petrarch, Sestina 9

The blighted rose lets fall its petalled tears
mourning a garden century-suppressed,
disarrayed in mockery of season
and gradation, brought by time into grief,
cankered by infestations, untended,
the last, lost sentinel that beauty knows.

We may demur, but everybody knows
these petals have become incarnate tears.
Forget the indifference we’ve contended
from time to time against! we’re unimpressed
by the code of an old Petrarchan grief
or the need of some recourse to seize on,

blinded by the very thing one sees. On
the subject of the rose, gathered in nose-
gays, cut and stemmed in vases—as if grief
could be allayed by new arrangements, tears
in the fabric woven back, roses pressed
between pages cagily intended

to suggest that nothing really ended
and firm desire flourished past its season—
on the subject of the rose, frame-compressed
within those demarcations of Arnaut’s,
arrayed in plotted lines and solemn tiers,
we have, like distant heirs, all come to grief.

So let’s rehearse the burden of our grief,
bear bouquets of what we left unfriended,
utter truth, unashamed of shedding tears,
we who were curators for a season
of a heritage now infirm. Who knows?
Maybe the lie of being unimpressed

will be exposed, despite what we’ve repressed
of troubling intimations, hiding grief
behind facsimiles any child knows
are only sketches the brush or pen did,
sprays of roses always out of season,
cunningly cut out by counterfeiters. 

Now let the rose’s tears flow unsuppressed
by all our seasoned renegades from grief
who left untended what the garden knows. 




TDR is produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

All content is copyright of the person who created it and cannot be copied, printed, or downloaded without the consent of that person. 

See the masthead for editorial information. 

All views expressed are those of the writer only. 

TDR is archived with the Library and Archives Canada

ISSN 1494-6114. 

Facebook page

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts. Nous remercions de son soutien le Conseil des Arts du Canada.