The Garden of Earthly Delights Three Miltonic Sonnets, After Bosch Eden 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. Hell 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 Review, America Magazine, U.S. Catholic, Pensive, Grand Little Things, Heart 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.