The Garden of Earthly Delights – a poetic triptych by Jeffrey Essmann

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Heironymus Bosch
The Garden of Earthly Delights
Three Miltonic Sonnets, After Bosch


The newborn world is all aswirl with beasts
Obedient who, as God specified,
Have duly fruitful been, have multiplied
And claim laid to the garden west to east.
Their prowl for food and flesh knows no surcease;
With feral instinct so preoccupied
(As mammals munch in happy fratricide)
They barely note the human arrivistes.
Amid this world of roving appetite
The pair, their souls as naked as their skin,
Their Maker’s grace in twofold flesh distill.
Yet Adam, as his eyes first take Eve in,
First knows the trenchant stirrings of free will;
God holds her wrist, perhaps a bit too tight.
For while these two delight,
His biting eyes as yet make out the end
Whereto this all too earthly flesh will tend.
It already impends:
Off to the side where one can hardly see,
An apple sits that’s fallen from a tree…

The Garden of Earthly Delights

All nature is distorted now, perverse,
As frenzy wanton far and wide presides.
In endless circles dry desire rides,
And fruit grown monstrous cannot slake the thirst.
Gigantic birds and fish are interspersed
With mythic beasts and forms that have decried 
All beastly nature, God’s designs defied.
Yet human nature’s clearly all the worse.
For once these rutting things had living souls
Subsumed in God but severed now by lust
Insatiable they somehow call delight.
In endless permutations they adjust
Themselves to unleashed pleasure’s strangest rites
And Paradise is now a Grand Guignol:
A garish rigmarole
Of human impulse twisted into knots,
All dignity rejected or forgot
As near the center squats
With head to ground some soul within the throes
Of sodomy inflicted with a rose.


A ravaged city’s belching smoke ingrains
A livid sky whose onyx clouds are tried
By stunted rays like searchlights misapplied,
For search in such a darkness is in vain.
A bloody lake has taken on its stain
From corpses of the endless genocide;
Another’s frozen solid, vitrified
By cold despair, benumbed by human pain.
A tortured orchestra the ears beset—
Someone is crucified upon a lute;
A horn is muted by a severed limb—
While fore the Lord of Evil Absolute
Devours corpses and ad interim
Excretes them into some hell deeper yet.
Delight turned to regret
Eternal is the fate of human flesh
That thought it could from godly soul unmesh
Itself and thus refresh
Unendingly the crest of pleasure’s swell—
A wave that breaks upon the shores of Hell.

Jeffrey Essmann is an essayist and poet living in New York. His poetry has appeared in numerous magazines and literary journals, among them Dappled Things, the St. Austin ReviewAmerica MagazineU.S. CatholicPensiveGrand Little ThingsHeart of Flesh Literary Journal, and various venues of the Benedictine monastery with which he is an oblate. He is editor of the Catholic Poetry Room page on the Integrated Catholic Life website.

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