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POET'S CHOICE By Robert Pinsky

The weeping crocodile -- these vile pernicious three.

The basilisk his nature takes from thee,

Who for my life in secret wait dost lie,

And to my heart sendst poison from thine eye:

Thus do I feel the pain, the cause, yet cannot see.

Fair-maid no more, but Mer-maid be thy name,

Who with thy sweet alluring harmony

Hast played the thief, and stolen my heart from me,

And like a tyrant makst my grief thy game:

Thou crocodile, who when thou hast me slain,

Lamentst my death, with tears of thy disdain.

The slaying and death of Drayton's couplet, like the alligators in Dobyns's poem, are pure fantasy -- they mean that he is in love, and that it hurts because all is not going perfectly. That is the sharp, fantastical, comical action of the imagination, straddling the gulf between perfection and reality.

(Stephen Dobyns's poem "Alligator Dark" is from his book "Mystery, So Long." Penguin. Copyright © 2005 by Stephen Dobyns. Michael Drayton's poem "Three sorts of serpents do resemble thee" can be found in the anthology "English Renaissance Poetry," edited by John Williams. Univ. of Arkansas. Copyright © 1963 by John Williams.)


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