I am the shadowed - the bereaved - the unconsoled,
The Aquitanian prince of the stricken tower:
My one star's dead, and my constellated lute
Bears the Black Sun of Melancholia.
You who consoled me, in the tombstone night,
Bring back my Posilipo, the Italian sea,
The flower that so pleased my wasted heart,
And the arbor where the vine and rose agree.
Am I Love or Apollo? . . . Lusignan or Biron?
My brow is red still from the kiss of the queen;
I've dreamed in the cavern where the siren swims . . .
And twice a conqueror have crossed Acheron:
Modulating on the Orphic lyre in turn
The sighs of the saint, and the fairy's screams.
If a person does not want to read this too closely, I can't say I blame him. It's arcane, from the title on, and doesn't make sense. Hard to focus on it. It is, in some ways, a really famous poem. Here's what I did.
The Spanish title is from, or at least in, Ivanhoe, of all things: "the device on his shield was a young oak-tree pulled up by the roots, with the Spanish word Desdichado, signifying Disinherited." (Ch. 8) The knight Ivanhoe adopts the word as his secret identity.
Now I have a clue to the second line. Maybe you didn't need it, but I did. The Aquitanian prince in the tower might be Richard the Lion-Hearted, imprisoned in Germany on his way home from the Crusades.
The Black Sun of Melancholy is a reference, at least, to Dürer's Melencolia I print (1514) - see the upper left corner. How can I tell that from the poem? I can't, but it comes up again in Nerval's Aurélia.
Posilipo is a seaside suburb of Naples that Nerval had visited. Goethe was there on February 27, 1787 (see The Italian Journey). He said it was very beautiful, which is not too enlightening. But Nerval made his first splash, at the age of twenty, with a translation of Faust, Pt. I, so, hmm.
Plus, the, or a, tomb of Virgil is in Posilipo. So that ties in to the crossing of the Acheron, into, and presumably back out of ("twice a conqueror"), Hell, both through The Aeneid and through Dante, and which seems to lead Nerval to the first poet and conqueror of Hell, Orpheus.
Have I accomplished anything yet? Maybe this is crazy; maybe it's how the poem was meant to be read. The second line, Le prince d'Aquitaine à la tour abolie, is also line 430 of The Waste Land (1922), one of the "fragments I have shored against my ruins," along with Dante and The Spanish Tragedy and "London Bridge is falling down," all ruins about ruins, fragments about fragments. Nerval called these poems The Chimeras, mythical monsters composed of the pieces of many beasts.
Translation by Peter Jay, The Chimeras, 1984.