I love Con Brio by William Carlos Williams, but I don’t have much of a clue what it means. According to Google Translate, Con Brio means “with vigor.” I can only assume the vigor refers to the narrator as he is quite forceful in his defense of Sir Lancelot and his “deed” with Guinevere.
The author is a real skeptic regarding Lancelot’s adultery, going so far as to accuse anybody who “holds Lancelot as a morose fellow” as having a “sick historical thought.” He calls these folks “miserly,” a word that returns later in the poem. One of the mysteries of the poem for me is the author’s focus on Lancelot’s shameless spending habits after his deed with King Arthur’s wife. He defends this spending (con brio) and says that miserliness is “some sort of slither below contempt!”
He likens this miserliness to an apple tree that is “exempt / from bearing anything but sweet blossoms all year,” a metaphor that I’m still trying to wrap my head around. I think it must have to do with substance (or sustenance?). An apple tree that looks cute but does not bear fruit is like a person with money but doesn’t spend it in that they are both limiting their own potential. “Innocent days of them be wasted quite,” Williams says.
Williams ends the poem with a turn back to the adultery, “How can we have less and less? / Have we not the deed?” I may be wrongfully assuming that the deed he is referring to is adultery, but I can’t think of any other deed Lancelot did with Guinevere that is unspeakable enough to be referred to as simply “the deed.” Maybe the wanton spending is actually this wanton spending of love and isn’t at all monetary. It’s hard to say for sure, considering the last line ends with, “Lancelot thought little, spent his gold and rode to fight / Mounted, if God was willing, on a good steed.”
It’s hard not to read these last lines with a sexual connotation. There is a bit of a contradiction between God willing if Lancelot’s deed is good or not, considering it seems Lancelot has plenty of gold to simply buy a good horse. This line has me thinking the steed being referred to may not be a four-legged warhorse. The title now makes a gross amount of sense.