David St. John’s “Last Night with Rafaella” consists of twenty-six “stanzas” varying in length from a single line to nine lines, a classic free-verse or open-form poem. As is typical with this form of poem, there is no fixed or predominant meter, rather a sweeping musical cadence that is the hallmark of a long, open lyric.
In 1984, St. John received the Prix de Rome Fellowship in literature, awarded by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and spent a year in Rome, where he began work on “Last Night with Rafaella.” The poem is a recollection of an evening the speaker in the poem spent in long conversation with Rafaella, a makeup artist in the world of high fashion. Rafaella is “a sophisticated,/ Well-traveled woman, so impossible/ To shock,” while the speaker wants to talk about “changing [his] life,” “The spiritual life,” and his own “Long disenchantment with the ordinary world.”
Roughly, the first half of the poem takes place in one of the “outside tables” of the café “Rosati” in the “Piazza del Popolo.” Here the speaker muses about “Doing something meaningful—perhaps/ Exploring a continent or discovering a vaccine,” while Rafaella strokes the back of his wrist. The other “meaningful” activities the speaker considers are “Falling in love or over the white falls/ Of a dramatic South American river!—”
The spectrum of meaningful activities purposefully...
(The entire section is 595 words.)