Golden lights and lengthening shadows,
Flings the splendid sun declining,
O'er the monastery garden
Rich in flower, fruit and foliage.
Through the avenue of nut trees,
Pace two grave and ghostly friars,
Snowy white their gowns and girdles,
Black as night their cowls and mantles.
Lithe and ferret-eyed the younger,
Black his scapular denoting
A lay brother; his companion
Large, imperious, towers above him.
'T is the abbot, great Fra Pedro,
Famous through all Saragossa
For his quenchless zeal in crushing
Heresy amidst his townfolk.
Handsome still with hood and tonsure,
E'en as when the boy Pedrillo,
Insolent with youth and beauty,
Who reviled the gentle Rabbi.
Lo, the level sun strikes sparkles
From his dark eyes brightly flashing.
Stern his voice: 'These too shall perish.
I have vowed extermination.
'Tell not me of skill or virtue,
Filial love or woman's beauty-
Jews are Jews, as serpents serpents,
In themselves abomination.'
Earnestly the other pleaded,
'If my zeal, thrice reverend master,
E'er afforded thee assistance,
Serving thee as flesh serves spirit,
'Hounding, scourging, flaying, burning,
Casting into chains or exile,
At thy bidding these vile wretches,
Hear and heed me now, my master.
'These be nowise like their brethren,
Ben Jehudah is accounted
Saragossa's first physician,
Loved by colleague as by patient.
'And his daughter Donna Zara
Is our city's pearl of beauty,
Like the clusters of the vineyard
Droop the ringlets o'er her temples.
'Like the moon in starry heavens
Shines her face among her people,
And her form hath all the languor,
Grace and glamour of the palm-tree.
'Well thou knowest, thrice reverend master,
This is not their first affliction,
Was it not our Holy Office
Whose bribed menials fired their dwelling?
'Ere dawn broke, the smoke ascended,
Choked the stairways, filled the chambers,
Waked the household to the terror
Of the flaming death that threatened.
'Then the poor bed-ridden mother
Knew her hour had come; two daughters,
Twinned in form, and mind, and spirit,
And their father-who would save them?
'Towards her door sprang Ben Jehudah,
Donna Zara flew behind him
Round his neck her white arms wreathing,
Drew him from the burning chamber.
'There within, her sister Zillah
Stirred no limb to shun her torture,
Held her mother's hand and kissed her,
Saying, 'We will go together.'
'This the outer throng could witness,
As the flames enwound the dwelling,
Like a glory they illumined
Awfully the martyred daughter.
'Closer, fiercer, round they gathered,
Not a natural cry escaped her,
Helpless clung to her her mother,
Hand in hand they went together.
'Since that 'Act of Faith' three winters
Have rolled by, yet on the forehead
Of Jehudah is imprinted
Still the horror of that morning.
'Saragossa hath respected
His false creed; a man of sorrows,
He hath walked secure among us,
And his art repays our sufferance.'
Thus he spoke and ceased. The Abbot
Lent him an impatient hearing,
Then outbroke with angry accent,
'We have borne three years, thou sayest?
''T is enough; my vow is sacred.
These shall perish with their brethren.
Hark ye! In my veins' pure current
Were a single drop found Jewish,
'I would shrink not from outpouring
All my life blood, but to purge it.
Shall I gentler prove to others?
Mercy would be sacrilegious.
'Ne'er again at thy soul's peril,
Speak to me of Jewish beauty,
Jewish skill, or Jewish virtue.
I have said. Do thou remember.'
Down behind the purple hillside
Dropped the sun; above the garden
Rang the Angelus' clear cadence
Summoning the monks to vespers.
The Death Of Raschi
[Aaron Ben Mier 'loquitur.']
If I remember Raschi? An I live,
Grandson, to bless thy grandchild, I'll forget
Never that youth and what he did for Prague.
Aye, aye, I know! he slurred a certain verse
In such and such a prayer; omitted quite
To stand erect there where the ritual
Commands us rise and bow towards the East;
Therefore, the ingrates brand him heterodox,
Neglect his memory whose virtue saved
Each knave of us alive. Not I forget,
No more does God, who wrought a miracle
For his dear sake. The Passover was here.
Raschi, just wedded with the fair Rebekah,
Bode but the lapsing of the holy week
For homeward journey with his bride to France.
The sacred meal was spread. All sat at board
Within the house of Rabbi Jochanan:
The kind old priest; his noble, new-found son,
Whose name was wrung in every key of praise,
By every voice in Prague, from Duke to serf
(Save the vindictive bigot, Narzerad);
The beautiful young wife, whose cup of joy
Sparkled at brim; next her the vacant chair
Awaited the Messiah, who, unannounced,
In God's good time shall take his place with us.
Now when the Rabbi reached the verse where one
Shall rise from table, flinging wide the door,
To give the Prophet entrance, if so be
The glorious hour have sounded, Raschi rose,
Pale, grave, yet glad with great expectancy,
Crossed the hushed room, and, with a joyous smile
To greet the Saviour, opened the door.
A cry, 'Revenged!' a thrust, a stifled moan,
The sheathing of a poniard-that was all!
In the dark vestibule a fleeing form,
Masked, gowned in black; and in the room of prayer,
Raschi, face downward on the stone-cold floor,
Bleeding his life out. Oh! what a cry was that
(Folk shuddered, hearing, roods off in the street)
Wherewith Rebekah rushed to raise her lord,
Kneeling beside him, striving in vain to quench
With turban, veil, torn shreds of gown, stained hands,
The black blood's sickening gush. He never spoke,
Never rewarded with one glance of life
The passion in her eyes. He met his end
Even as beneath the sickle the full ear
Bows to its death-so beautiful, silent, ripe.
Well, we poor Jews must gulp our injuries,
Howe'er they choke us. What redress in Prague
For the inhuman murder? A strange Jew
The victim; the suspected criminal
The ducal counselor! Such odds forbade
Revenge or justice. We forbore to seek.
The priest, discrowned o' the glory of his age,
The widow-bride, mourned as though smitten of God,
Gave forth they would with solemn obsequies
Bury their dead, and crave no help from man.
Now of what chanced betwixt the night of murder
And the appointed burial I can give
Only the sum of gossip-servants' tales,
Neighbors' reports, close confidences leaked
From friends and kindred. Night and day, folk said,
Rebekah wept, prayed, fasted by the corpse,
Three mortal days. Upon the third, her eyes,
Sunk in their pits, glimmered with wild, strange fire.
She started from her place beside the dead,
Kissed clay-cold brow, cheeks, lids, and lips once more,
And with a maniac's wan, heart-breaking smile,
Veiled, hooded, glided through the twilight streets,
A sable shadow. From the willow-grove,
Close by the Moldau's brink, beyond the bridge,
Her trace was lost. 'T was evening and mild May,
Air full of spring, skies perfect as a pearl;
Yet one who saw her pass amidst the shades
O' the blue-gray branches swears a sudden flame,
As of miraculous lightning, thrilled through heaven.
One hour thereafter she reentered Prague,
Slid swiftly through the streets, as though borne on
By ankle-wings or floating on soft cloud,
Smiling no more, but with illumined eyes,
Transfigured brow, grave lips, and faltering limbs,
So came into the room where Raschi lay
Stretched 'twixt tall tapers lit at head and foot.
She held in both hands leafy, flowerless plants,
Some she had fastened in her twisted hair,
Stuck others in her girdle, and from all
Issued a racy odor, pungent-sweet,
The living soul of Spring. Death's chamber seemed
As though clear sunshine and a singing bird
Therein had entered. From the precious herb
She poured into a golden bowl the sap,
Sparkling like wine; then with a soundless prayer,
White as the dead herself, she held the cup
To Raschi's mouth. A quick, small flame sprang up
From the enchanted balsam, died away,
And lo! the color dawned in cheek and lips,
The life returned, the sealed, blind lids were raised,
And in the glorious eyes love reawoke,
And, looking up, met love.
So runs the tale,
Mocked by the worldly-wise; but I believe,
Knowing the miracles the Lord hath wrought
In every age for Jacob's seed. Moreover,
I, with the highest and meanest Jew in Prague,
Was at the burial. No man saw the dead.
Sealed was the coffin ere the rites began,
And none could swear it went not empty down
Into the hollow earth. Too shrewd our priest
To publish such a wonder, and expose
That consecrated life to second death.
Scarce were the thirty days of mourning sped,
When we awoke to find his home left bare,
Rebekah and her father fled from Prague.
God grant they had glad meeting otherwhere!
Raschi In Prague
Raschi of Troyes, the Moon of Israel,
The authoritative Talmudist, returned
From his wide wanderings under many skies,
To all the synagogues of the Orient,
Through Spain and Italy, the isles of Greece,
Beautiful, dolorous, sacred Palestine,
Dead, obelisked Egypt, floral, musk-breathed Persia,
Laughing with bloom, across the Caucasus,
The interminable sameness of bare steppes,
Through dark luxuriance of Bohemian woods,
And issuing on the broad, bright Moldau vale,
Entered the gates of Prague. Here, too, his fame,
Being winged, preceded him. His people swarmed
Like bees to gather the rich honey-dew
Of learning from his lips. Amazement filled
All eyes beholding him. No hoary sage,
He who had sat in Egypt at the feet
Of Moses ben-Maimuni, called him friend;
Raschi the scholiast, poet, and physician,
Who bore the ponderous Bible's storied wisdom,
The Mischna's tangled lore at tip of tongue,
Light as a garland on a lance, appeared
In the just-ripened glory of a man.
From his clear eye youth flamed magnificent;
Force, masked by grace, moved in his balanced frame;
An intellectual, virile beauty reigned
Dominant on domed brow, on fine, firm lips,
An eagle profile cut in gilded bronze,
Strong, delicate as a head upon a coin,
While, as an aureole crowns a burning lamp,
Above all beauty of the body and brain
Shone beauty of a soul benign with love.
Even as a tawny flock of huddled sheep,
Grazing each other's heels, urged by one will,
With bleat and baa following the wether's lead,
Or the wise shepherd, so o'er the Moldau bridge
Trotted the throng of yellow-caftaned Jews,
Chattering, hustling, shuffling. At their head
Marched Rabbi Jochanan ben-Eleazar,
High priest in Prague, oldest and most revered,
To greet the star of Israel. As a father
Yearns toward his son, so toward the noble Raschi
Leapt at first sight the patriarch's fresh old heart.
'My home be thine in Prague! Be thou my son,
Who have no offspring save one simple girl.
See, glorious youth, who dost renew the days
Of David and of Samuel, early graced
With God's anointing oil, how Israel
Delights to honor who hath honored him.'
Then Raschi, though he felt a ball of fire
Globe itself in his throat, maintained his calm,
His cheek's opaque, swart pallor while he kissed
Silent the Rabbi's withered hand, and bowed
Divinely humble, his exalted head
Craving the benison.
For each who asked
He had the word of counsel, comfort, help;
For all, rich eloquence of thanks. His voice,
Even and grave, thrilled secret chords and set
Plain speech to music. Certain folk were there
Sick in the body, dragging painful limbs,
To the physician. These he solaced first,
With healing touch, with simples from his pouch,
Warming and lulling, best with promises
Of constant service till their ills were cured.
And some, gray-bearded, bald, and curved with age,
Blear-eyed from poring over lines obscure
And knotty riddles of the Talmud, brought
Their problems to this youth, who cleared and solved,
Yielding prompt answer to a lifetime's search.
Then, followed, pushed by his obsequious tribe,
Who fain had pedestaled him on their backs,
Hemming his steps, choking the airs of heaven
With their oppressive honors, he advanced,
Midst shouts, tumultuous welcomes, kisses showered
Upon his road-stained garments, through Prague's streets,
Gaped at by Gentiles, hissed at and reviled,
But no whit altering his majestic mien
For overwhelming plaudits or contempt.
Glad tidings Raschi brought from West and East
Of thriving synagogues, of famous men,
And flourishing academies. In Rome
The Papal treasurer was a pious Jew,
Rabbi Jehiel, neath whose patronage
Prospered a noble school. Two hundred Jews
Dwelt free and paid no tributary mark.
Three hundred lived in peace at Capua,
Shepherded by the learned Rabbi David,
A prince of Israel. In Babylon
The Jews established their Academy.
Another still in Bagdad, from whose chair
Preached the great rabbi, Samuel Ha-levi,
Versed in the written and the oral law,
Who blindfold could repeat the whole vast text
Of Mischna and Gemara. On the banks
Of Eden-born Euphrates, one day's ride
From Bagdad, Raschi found in the wilderness,
Which once was Babylon, Ezekiel's tomb.
Thrice ten perpetual lamps starred the dim shrine,
Two hundred sentinels held the sleepless vigil,
Receiving offerings. At the Feast of Booths
Here crowded Jews by thousands, out of Persia,
From all the neighboring lands, to celebrate
The glorious memories of the golden days.
Ten thousand Jews with their Academy
Damascus boasted, while in Cairo shone
The pearl, the crown of Israel, ben-Maimuni,
Physician at the Court of Saladin,
The second Moses, gathering at his feet
Sages from all the world.
As Raschi spake,
Forgetting or ignoring the chief shrine,
The Exile's Home, whereunto yearned all hearts,
All ears were strained for tidings. Some one asked:
'What of Jerusalem? Speak to us of Zion.'
The light died from his eyes. From depths profound
Issued his grave, great voice: 'Alas for Zion!
Verily is she fallen! Where our race
Dictated to the nations, not a handful,
Nay, not a score, not ten, not two abide!
One, only one, one solitary Jew,
The Rabbi Abraham Haceba, flits
Ghostlike amid the ruins; every year
Beggars himself to pay the idolaters
The costly tax for leave to hold a-gape
His heart's live wound; to weep, a mendicant,
Amidst the crumbled stones of palaces
Where reigned his ancestors, upon the graves
Where sleep the priests, the prophets, and the kings
Who were his forefathers. Ask me no more!'
Now, when the French Jew's advent was proclaimed,
And his tumultuous greeting, envious growls
And ominous eyebeams threatened storm in Prague.
'Who may this miracle of learning be?
The Anti-Christ! The century-long-awaited,
The hourly-hoped Messiah, come at last!
Else dared they never wax so arrogant,
Flaunting their monstrous joy in Christian eyes,
And strutting peacock-like, with hideous screams,
Who are wont to crawl, mute reptiles underfoot.'
A stone or two flung at some servile form,
Liveried in the yellow gaberdine
(With secret happiness but half suppressed
On features cast for misery), served at first
For chance expression of the rabble's hate;
But, swelling like a snow-ball rolled along
By mischief-plotting boys, the rage increased,
Grew to a mighty mass, until it reached
The palace of Duke Vladislaw. He heard
With righteous wrath his injured subjects' charge
Against presumptuous aliens: how these blocked
His avenues, his bridges; bared to the sun
The canker-taint of Prague's obscurest coigne;
Paraded past the churches of the Lord
One who denied Him, one by them hailed Christ.
Enough! This cloud, no bigger than one's hand,
Gains overweening bulk. Prague harbored, first,
Out of contemptuous ruth, a wretched band
Of outcast paupers, gave them leave to ply
Their money-lending trade, and leased them land
On all too facile terms. Behold! to-day,
Like leeches bloated with the people's blood,
They batten on Bohemia's poverty;
They breed and grow; like adders, spit back hate
And venomed perfidy for Christian love.
Thereat the Duke, urged by wise counsellors-
Narzerad the statesman (half whose wealth was pledged
To the usurers), abetted by the priest,
Bishop of Olmutz, who had visited
The Holy Sepulchre, whose long, full life
Was one clean record of pure piety-
The Duke, I say, by these persuasive tongues,
Coaxed to his darling aim, forbade his guards
To hinder the just anger of his town,
And ordered to be led in chains to him
The pilgrim and his host.
At noontide meal
Raschi sat, full of peace, with Jochanan,
And the sole daughter of the house, Rebekah,
Young, beautiful as her namesake when she brought
Her firm, frail pitcher balanced on her neck
Unto the well, and gave the stranger drink,
And gave his camels drink. The servant set
The sparkling jar's refreshment from his lips,
And saw the virgin's face, bright as the moon,
Beam from the curled luxuriance of black locks,
And cast-back linen veil's soft-folded cloud,
Then put the golden ear-ring by her cheek,
The bracelets on her hands, his master's pledge,
Isaac's betrothal gift, whom she should wed,
And be the mother of millions-one whose seed
Dwells in the gates of those which hate them.
Yearned Raschi to adorn the radiant girl
Who sat at board before him, nor dared lift
Shy, heavy lids from pupils black as grapes
That dart the imprisoned sunshine from their core.
But in her ears keen sense was born to catch,
And in her heart strange power to hold, each tone
O' the low-keyed, vibrant voice, each syllable
O' the eloquent discourse, enriched with tales
Of venturous travel, brilliant with fine points
Of delicate humor, or illustrated
With living portraits of world-famoused men,
Jews, Saracens, Crusaders, Islamites,
Whose hand he had grasped-the iron warrior,
Godfrey of Bouillon, the wise infidel
Who in all strength, wit, courtesy excelled
The kings his foes-imperial Saladin.
But even as Raschi spake an abrupt noise
Of angry shouts, of battering staves that shook
The oaken portal, stopped the enchanted voice,
The uplifted wine spilled from the nerveless hand
Of Rabbi Jochanan. 'God pity us!
Our enemies are upon us once again.
Hie thee, Rebekah, to the inmost chamber,
Far from their wanton eyes' polluting gaze,
Their desecrating touch! Kiss me! Begone!
Raschi, my guest, my son'-But no word more
Uttered the reverend man. With one huge crash
The strong doors split asunder, pouring in
A stream of soldiers, ruffians, armed with pikes,
Lances, and clubs-the unchained beast, the mob.
'Behold the town's new guest!' jeered one who tossed
The half-filled golden wine-cup's contents straight
In the noble pure young face. 'What, master Jew!
Must your good friends of Prague break bolts and bars
To gain a peep at this prodigious pearl
You bury in your shell? Forth to the day!
Our Duke himself claims share of your new wealth;
Summons to court the Jew philosopher!'
Then, while some stuffed their pokes with baubles snatched
From board and shelf, or with malignant sword
Slashed the rich Orient rugs, the pictured woof
That clothed the wall; others had seized and bound,
And gagged from speech, the helpless, aged man;
Still others outraged, with coarse, violent hands,
The marble-pale, rigid as stone, strange youth,
Whose eye like struck flint flashed, whose nether lip
Was threaded with a scarlet line of blood,
Where the compressed teeth fixed it to forced calm.
He struggled not while his free limbs were tied,
His beard plucked, torn and spat upon his robe-
Seemed scarce to know these insults were for him;
But never swerved his gaze from Jochanan.
Then, in God's language, sealed from these dumb brutes,
Swiftly and low he spake: 'Be of good cheer,
Reverend old man. I deign not treat with these.
If one dare offer bodily hurt to thee,
By the ineffable Name! I snap my chains
Like gossamer, and in his blood, to the hilt,
Bathe the prompt knife hid in my girdle's folds.
The Duke shall hear me. Patience. Trust in me.'
Somewhat the authoritative voice abashed,
Even hoarse and changed, the miscreants, who feared
Some strong curse lurked in this mysterious tongue,
Armed with this evil eye. But brief the spell.
With gibe and scoff they dragged their victims forth,
The abused old man, the proud, insulted youth,
O'er the late path of his triumphal march,
Befouled with mud, with raiment torn, wild hair
And ragged beard, to Vladislaw. He sat
Expectant in his cabinet. On one side
His secular adviser, Narzerad,
Quick-eyed, sharp-nosed, red-whiskered as a fox;
On the other hand his spiritual guide,
Bishop of Olmutz, unctuous, large, and bland.
'So these twain are chief culprits!' sneered the Duke,
Measuring with the noble's ignorant scorn
His masters of a lesser caste. 'Stand forth!
Rash, stubborn, vain old man, whose impudence
Hath choked the public highways with thy brood
Of nasty vermin, by our sufferance hid
In lanes obscure, who hailed this charlatan
With sky-flung caps, bent knees, and echoing shouts,
Due to ourselves alone in Prague; yea, worse,
Who offered worship even ourselves disclaim,
Our Lord Christ's meed, to this blaspheming Jew-
Thy crimes have murdered patience. Thou hast wrecked
Thy people's fortune with thy own. But first
(For even in anger we are just) recount
With how great compensation from thy store
Of hoarded gold and jewels thou wilt buy
Remission of the penalty. Be wise.
Hark how my subjects, storming through the streets,
Vent on thy tribe accursed their well-based wrath.'
And, truly, through closed casements roared the noise
Of mighty surging crowds, derisive cries,
And victims' screams of anguish and affright.
Then Raschi, royal in his rags, began:
'Hear me, my liege!' At that commanding voice,
The Bishop, who with dazed eyes had perused
The grieved, wise, beautiful, pale face, sprang up,
Quick recognition in his glance, warm joy
Aflame on his broad cheeks. 'No more! No more!
Thou art the man! Give me the hand to kiss
That raised me from the shadow of the grave
In Jaffa's lazar-house! Listen, my liege!
During my pilgrimage to Palestine
I, sickened with the plague and nigh to death,
Languished 'midst strangers, all my crumbling flesh
One rotten mass of sores, a thing for dogs
To shy from, shunned by Christian as by Turk,
When lo! this clean-breathed, pure-souled, blessed youth,
Whom I, not knowing for an infidel,
Seeing featured like the Christ, believed a saint,
Sat by my pillow, charmed the sting from pain,
Quenched the fierce fever's heat, defeated Death;
And when I was made whole, had disappeared,
No man knew whither, leaving no more trace
Than a re-risen angel. This is he!'
Then Raschi, who had stood erect, nor quailed
From glances of hot hate or crazy wrath,
Now sank his eagle gaze, stooped his high head,
Veiling his glowing brow, returned the kiss
Of brother-love upon the Christian's hand,
And dropping on his knees implored the three,
'Grace for my tribe! They are what ye have made.
If any be among them fawning, false,
Insatiable, revengeful, ignorant, mean-
And there are many such-ask your own hearts
What virtues ye would yield for planted hate,
Ribald contempt, forced, menial servitude,
Slow centuries of vengeance for a crime
Ye never did commit? Mercy for these!
Who bear on back and breast the scathing brand
Of scarlet degradation, who are clothed
In ignominious livery, whose bowed necks
Are broken with the yoke. Change these to men!
That were a noble witchcraft simply wrought,
God's alchemy transforming clods to gold.
If there be one among them strong and wise,
Whose lips anoint breathe poetry and love,
Whose brain and heart served ever Christian need-
And there are many such-for his dear sake,
Lest ye chance murder one of God's high priests,
Spare his thrice-wretched tribe! Believe me, sirs,
Who have seen various lands, searched various hearts,
I have yet to touch that undiscovered shore,
Have yet to fathom that impossible soul,
Where a true benefit's forgot; where one
Slight deed of common kindness sown yields not
As now, as here, abundant crop of love.
Every good act of man, our Talmud says,
Creates an angel, hovering by his side.
Oh! what a shining host, great Duke, shall guard
Thy consecrated throne, for all the lives
Thy mercy spares, for all the tears thy ruth
Stops at the source. Behold this poor old man,
Last of a line of princes, stricken in years,
As thy dead father would have been to-day.
Was that white beard a rag for obscene hands
To tear? a weed for lumpish clowns to pluck?
Was that benignant, venerable face
Fit target for their foul throats' voided rheum?
That wrinkled flesh made to be pulled and pricked,
Wounded by flinty pebbles and keen steel?
Behold the prostrate, patriarchal form,
Bruised, silent, chained. Duke, such is Israel!'
'Unbind these men!' commanded Vladislaw.
'Go forth and still the tumult of my town.
Let no Jew suffer violence. Raschi, rise!
Thou who hast served the Christ-with this priest's life,
Who is my spirit's counselor-Christ serves thee.
Return among thy people with my seal,
The talisman of safety. Let them know
The Duke's their friend. Go, publish the glad news!'
Raschi the Saviour, Raschi the Messiah,
Back to the Jewry carried peace and love.
But Narzerad fed his venomed heart with gall,
Vowing to give his fatal hatred vent,
Despite a world of weak fantastic Dukes
And heretic bishops. He fulfilled his vow.
LAUGHTER and dance, and sounds of harp and lyre,
Piping of flutes, singing of festal songs,
Ribbons of flame from flaunting torches, dulled
By the broad summer sunshine, these had filled
Since the high noon the pillared vestibules,
The peristyles and porches, in the house
Of the bride's father. Maidens, garlanded
With rose and myrtle dedicate to Love,
Adorned with chaplets fresh the bride, and veiled
The shining head and wistful, girlish face,
Ineffable sweetness of divided lips,
Large light of clear, gray eyes, low, lucid brows,
White as a cloud, beneath pale, clustering gold.
When sunless skies uncertain twilight cast,
That makes a friend's face as an alien's strange,
Investing with a foreign mystery
The dear green fields about our very home.
Then waiting stood the gilded chariot
Before the porch, and from the vine-wreathed door,
Issued the white-veiled bride, while jocund youths
And mænads followed her with dance and song.
She came with double glory; for her lord,
Son of Apollo and Calliope,
Towered beside her, beautiful in limb
And feature, as though formed to magic strains,
Like the Bœotian city, that arose
In airy structures to Amphion's lute.
The light serene shone from his brow and eyes,
Of one whose lofty thoughts keep consonance
With the celestial music of the spheres.
His smile was fluent, and his speech outsang
The cadences of soft-stringed instruments.
He to the chariot led Eurydice,
And these twain, mounting with their paranymph,
Drove onward through the dusky twilit fields,
Preceded by the nymphs and singing youths,
And boys diffusing light and odors warm,
With flaming brands of aromatic woods,
And matrons bearing symbols of the life
Of careful wives, the distaff and the sieve;
And followed by the echoes of their songs,
The fragrance crushed from moist and trodden grass,
The blessing of the ever-present gods,
Whom they invoked with earnest hymns and prayer.
From Orpheus' portico, festooned with vines,
Issued a flood of rare, ambrosial light,
As though Olympian portals stood ajar,
And Hymen, radiant by his torch's flame,
Mystic with saffron vest and purple, stood
With hands munificent to greet and bless.
Ripe fruits were poured upon the married pair
Alighting, and the chariot wheels were burnt,
A token that the bride returned no more
Unto her father's house. With step resolved,
She crossed the threshold soft with flowers, secure
That his heroic soul who guided her,
Was potent and alert to grace her life,
With noble outlines and ideal hues,
Uplifting it to equal height with his.
EPITHALAMIUM. TO ZEUS.
Because thou art enthroned beyond our reach,
Behind the brightest and the farthest star,
And silence is as eloquent as speech,
To thee who knowest us for what we are,
We bring thee naught save brief and simple prayer,
Strong in its naked, frank sincerity.
Send sacred joys of marriage to this pair,
With fertile increase and prosperity.
Three nymphs had met beneath an oak that cast
Cool, dappled shadow on the glowing grass,
And liquid gleam of the translucent brook.
The air was musical with frolic sounds
Of feminine voices, and of laughter blithe.
Patines of sunshine fell like mottled gold
On the rose-white of bright bare limbs and neck,
On flowing, snowy mantles, and again
With sudden splendor on the gloriole
Of warm, rich hair. The fairest nymph reclined
Beneath the tree, and leaned her yellow head,
With its crisp, clustering rings, against the trunk,
And dipped her pure feet in the colorless brook,
Stirring the ripples into circles wide,
With cool, delicious plashings in the stream.
Her young companions lay upon the grass,
With indolent eyes half closed, and parted lips
Half-smiling, in the languor of the noon.
But suddenly these twain, arising, cried,
Startled and sharply, 'Lo, Eurydice,
Behold!' and she, uplifting frightened eyes,
Saw a strange shepherd watching with bold glance.
Veiling their faces with their mantles light,
Her sisters fled swift-footed, with shrill cries,
Adown the meadow, but her wet feet clung
To the dry grasses and the earthy soil.
'Eurydice, I love thee! fear me not,
For I am Aristæus, with gray groves
Of hoary olives, and innumerous flocks,
And precious swarms of yellow-vested bees.'
But she with sudden strength eluding him,
Sprang o'er the flowery turf, with back-blown hair,
And wing-like garments, shortened breath, and face
Kindled with shame and terror. In her flight
She ran through fatal flowers and tangled weeds,
And thick rank grass beside a stagnant pool,
When, with a keen and breathless cry of pain,
Abrupt she fell amidst the tall, green reeds.
Then Aristæus reached her, as a snake
Crept back in sinuous lines amidst the slime.
Desire was changed to pity, when he saw
The wounded dryad in her agony
Strive vainly to escape, repelling him
With feeble arms. 'Forgive me, nymph,' he cried;
' I will not touch, save with most reverent hands,
Thy sacred form. But let me bear thee hence,
And soothe thy bruise with healing herbs. 'Too late,
Leave me,' she sighed, 'and lead thou Orpheus here,
That I may see him ere the daylight fails.'
He left her pale with suffering, —earth seemed strange
Unto her eyes, who knew she looked her last
On level-stretching meadows, hazy hills,
And all the light and color of the sky.
Brief as a dream she saw her happy life,
Her father's face, her mother's blessed eyes,
The hero who, unheralded, appeared,
And all was changed,— all things put forth a voice,
As in the season of the singing birds.
She looked around revived, and saw again
The lapsing river and abiding sky.
Across the sunny fields came Aristæus,
With Orpheus following,— and after these,
Sad nymphs and heroes grave with sympathy.
Quite calm she lay, and almost wished to die
Before they reached her, if the throbbing pain
Of limb and heart could only thus be stilled.
But Orpheus hastened to her side, and mourned,
'Eurydice, Eurydice! Remain, —
For there is no delight of speech nor song
Among the dead. Will the gods jest with me,
And call this life, which must forevermore
Be but a void, a hunger, a desire,
A stretching out of empty hands to grasp
What earth nor sea nor heaven will restore?
Is this the life that I conceived and sang,
Rich with all noble opportunities
And beautiful realities?' But she:
'Brave Orpheus, search thou not the eternal gods,
Surely they love us dearer than we know.
Do thou refrain, for yet I hold my faith.
When I am gone, thou still wilt have thy lyre;
Love it and cherish,— it is Fate's best gift,
And with death's clearer vision, I can see
That in all ages men will be upraised
Nearer to gods through this than through aught else.
My death may but inspire a larger note,
A passionate cadence to thy strain, which else
Were not quite human, and thus incomplete.
And with this thought I am content to die.
Cease not to sing to me when I am gone;
Thy voice will reach me in the farthest spheres,
Or wake me out of silence. Now begin,
That I may float on those celestial waves
Into the darkness, as I oft have longed.'
Once in a wild, bright vision, came to me
Beautiful music, luminous as morn,
An effluence of light and rapture born,
With eyes as full of splendor as the sea;
Dazzling as youth, with pinions frail as air,
Yet potent to uplift and soar as prayer.
Again I see her, cypress in her wreath,
Sad with all grave and tender mysteries;
Tears in her unimaginable eyes,
That look their first with wondering awe on Death.
Never again, in all the after years,
Will her lips laugh with utter mirthfulness;
Nor the strange longing in her eyes grow less,
Nor any time dispel their mist of tears.
Yea, with new numbers she completes her strain,
A song unsung before by gods or men;
But she hath lost, ah! lost for evermore,
The ringing note of joy ineffable,
The high assurance proud, that all is well,
The glad refrain that pealed from shore to shore.
O lyre, thou hast done with joyous things,
Triumphant ecstasies, exultant song;
Of subtle pain, keen anguish, hopeless wrong,
I fashion now another of thy strings,
And strike thee with a strong hand passionate,
Into a fuller music, adequate
Unto a soul that seeks insatiably,
With fond, illusive hope and faith divine;
For through all ages will my soul seek thine,
Eurydice, my lost Eurydice!
What solace to lament with empty hands
And smitten heart, above a mound of earth,
Vivid with mockery of perpetual flowers,
O'er one small urn that holds beneath its lid,
With overmeasure, all the flameless dust
And soulless ashes of our love? Yet this
Was Orpheus' life, to mourn beside the grave,
From his stringed lyre compelling wild response
And thrilling intonation of his grief,
That made the hearts of gnarled and knotty oaks
Ache as with human sympathy, and rived
The adamantine centre of the rock,
And lured the forest beasts, and hushed the birds,
Mavis and lark, while with wide, awful wings,
The eagle shadowed his exalted brow.
'Surely,' he cried, 'the senseless dust hears not,
More than the burnt brand hears old natural sounds
Innumerable rustle of young leaves.
It cannot be that only these remain,
The ashes of her glittering limbs, warm flesh,
And blessed hair,— my love had more than these
Where is the vital soul, that was to me
An inspiration and an influence?
The gods are not unstable like rash man,
Aimlessly to create and discreate,
With cruel and capricious fantasy,
For thus the immaculate skies would be a lie;
Eurydice is but withdrawn from me,
And disembodied, while mine eyesight blinds,
My senses are a hindrance, and obstruct
The accurate perception of my soul.
When mine own spirit, nightly disenthralled,
Soars to the land of dreams, whose boundaries,
By day, loom infinitely far and vague,
And yet, at night, become our very home,—
There still I see thee with the same bright form,
The same auroral eyes that made for me
Perpetual morning; and I stretch mine arms
Hungering after thee, and, calling, wake
Unto the vapid glare of languid dawn.
Yet all these things address my very soul,
Telling it that thou art not dead; for death
Is but the incarnation of man's fears;
Gods do not recognize it. If thou art
(As I have faith) in the known universe,
Yea, though it be in the extremest land,
Beyond the sunset, with its shining isles,
I will go forth and seek thee, nor will cease
To mourn thee and desire, till I have found.'
Thus Orpheus fared across the full-fed streams
Of Hebrus and of Strymon, and beyond
The purple outlines and aerial crags,
Snow-glittering of Scardus, Rhodope,
And grand Orbelus; through fair, fertile fields
Of Thessaly with increase of ripe corn,
Through Attica, Bœotia and Eubœa,
And southward to the royal-citied state,
Beautiful Corinth, throned upon the base
Of green Acrocorinthus, whose soft slope
Was dedicate with temples to the gods,
And towering over all the sacred shrine
Of Aphrodite. Upward from the town
The mountain rose defensive, where the walls
Of Corinth ended, and beyond the gates,
The radiant plain of the Corinthian Gulf
Stretched infinitely. Orpheus rested here,
Till he bethought him to ascend the mount,
With offerings at Aphrodite's shrine—
Not sanguine victims, but fresh myrtle wreath
And faultless rose—to sue the oracle
For help and guidance.
All the town was still,
The bright red band of sunrise lit the sky
Above the dark blue gulf, and Orpheus heard
A hundred birds saluting, from the brake,
Aurora, and cool rush of waterfalls.
Made murmurous music, while Athené breathed
The vigor of the morning in his soul.
Up the steep mountain side he passed, beyond
The silver growth of olives, and the belt
Of pines, to where the foam-white temple stood,
Smitten at once by all the beams of morn.
He saw the double peak, rose-white with snow
And early sunshine, of Parnassus cleave
The northern sky, and sacred Helicon
Erect its head, crowned with the Muses' grove,
The Bay of Crissa and Corinthian Gulf,
Below flashed restless, and a path of gold
Divided with clear, tremulous light the waves.
From the large beauty of the morn, he went
Into the holy limits of the shrine,
With warm air heavy with the odorous rose.
I put into my prayer to thee, O mother,
The tumult and the passion of the ocean,
The unflecked purity of winnowed foam-wreaths;
To thee who sprang from these, the incarnation
Of all the huge sea holds of grace or splendor,
With its own light between thine amorous eyelids.
For I, in thy most sacred cause a pilgrim,
Have wandered tireless, from Thrace to Corinth,
'Midst foreign scenes and alien men and women.
And at my right hand Grief incessant follows,
And at my left walks Memory with the semblance
Of lost Eurydice's ethereal beauty.
Infatuate I gaze, until the vision
Thrills me to madness, and I start and tremble,
Remembering also Grief is my companion.
Onward through spacious fields, by copious waters,
Through purple growth of amaranth and crocus,
And past the marble beauty of great cities,
We three have journeyed,— strangers saw me reckless,
And knew at once that I had walked with sorrow,
And that the gods had chosen me their victim.
Are all my carols useless, worse than useless?
Shall my long pilgrimage, thus unrewarded,
End at the blank, insuperable ocean?
Hast thou no wise compassion, goddess, mother?
In all the measureless years' unfathomed chances,
Is the dear past to be repeated never?
O supreme mother! crowned with blessed poppy
As well as myrtle,— bring her here, or compass
My soul with death, that elsewhere I may seek her.
He ceased, and through the temple spread a mist
Ambrosial, and above the shrine a star
Serenely brightened, and a heavenly voice
Made sweet response: ' Love guides himself thy course
To the last sea-girt rock. No worthy soul
May ever truly seek, and fail to find.'
Still southward Orpheus journeyed, till he reached
Cape Tænarus, the last bleak point of Greece,
Desolate o'er an infinite waste of waves,
While sunset lit the western sea and sky
With yellow floods of warm, diffusive light,
Kindling his serious face and earnest eyes,
And glittering on his lyre. Long time he stood,
And gazed upon the trouble of the waves,
Expectant of a word, a sign— and still
No answer made the wild, indifferent sea.
Impetuous, he smote his quivering lyre
To reckless and sonorous melody,
Vibrating o'er the watery turbulence.
Then far below its western bath, the sun
Dipped and was gone, and all the sea was gray.
Still through the air rang those imploring notes,
Unutterably plaintive— till there came
From out the ocean cave of Tænarus
The shining forms of Oceanides,
With myriad faces raised supremely fair,
And myriad arms that beckoned as he sang.
Behold! a stir amidst the frothing brine,
As though upheaved by powers submarine,
In implicate confusion, wave on wave,
Then rose with windy manes and fiery eyes,
Proudly careering, the immortal steeds,
Bearing, within the shell-shaped car, the god
Of august aspect and imperial port,
With such profusion of ambrosial locks
As curl around the very front of Zeus.
He with benign regard the minstrel viewed,
Then whirling thrice his massy trident, struck
The scarpéd promontory with its fork.
And Orpheus felt the solid basis yield,
And heard the hollow rumbling, as when earth
Rocks to her centre, and high hills spit flame.
And lo! he stood before a sulphurous throne,
Set in an open space, wherefrom there streamed
Four rivers stagnant, black. Here Ades reigned,
His very presence unto mortal sense
Oppressive as low thunder in the air.
The triple-headed guardian of his realm
Crouched at his feet, and in the dismal murk,
The hideous Harpies hovered o'er his head.
The serpent-haired Eumenides stood near,
Brow-bound with sanguine fillets, and the Fates
Wielded the distaff, spindle, and sharp shears.
The air was dense with noisome influence,
And shadowy apparitions seemed to float
Athwart the dusk. But on the infernal throne
Conspicuous in beauty, by her lord,
Persephone was seated. Wonderment
Looked from her eyes, in seeing him, no god,
Who came before his time among the dead,
Unarmed with spear or shield, a glistening lyre
Nigh slipping from the loose grasp of his hands.
'Who comes unsummoned to my realm?' began
The baleful godhead in discordant tones,
Widely reverberant; and the low, clear voice
Of Orpheus answered: 'One who would remain,
If but the impotent body could be free
To follow the desires of the soul,—
Orpheus, an unskilled singer.' 'Birth and death
Are preordained for thee, presumptuous man.
What narrow space of time the Fates accord,
'Twould best become thee to bear worthily,
With dignity, and leave the rest to them,
The end as the beginning.' 'Plead for me,
O beautiful Persephone, — behold!
Eurydice was snatched with violent hand
From out mine eager arms, and I have sought
Her image o'er the peopled earth in vain.'
Then she: 'I may not summon her, nor hope
To swerve the haughty purpose of my lord.
With influence of thy familiar voice,
If thou canst touch her spirit, she is thine.'
But Ades: 'Who recalls the dead by prayer?
They whose calm souls are once possessed by death,
Find such a solid joy in grasping firm,
After life's phantasms, this reality,
That wisdom, grief, nor love persuadeth them
Their liberated spirits to confine
With fleshly limitations. Nathless sing,—
And prove life's glittering evanescence vain,
Outweighed by death's sublime security.'
I render thanks, eternal gods, that ye
Empower myself to call Eurydice.
Man only can fulfill his own desire;
And if I fail, the sorrow rests with me.
Ye give what we deserve; I pray alone
Ne'er to be cursed with what I have not won.
And to whom else would I intrust my lyre,
This supreme invocation to intone?
But in myself I feel the love, the power,
The lyric inspiration, while the flower
Of all my life brings forth its proper fruit,
In this my loftiest, most godlike hour.
If I could make ye feel the agony
Of the strong man, O gods, condemned to see
The light fail from dear eyes, the white lips mute,
The elusive soul take flight eternally
To where we cannot follow it nor find,
With the most subtle searchings of the mind,
With the most passionate longings of the soul,
Deaf, unresponsive as the empty wind;
Then would your pity as your power be,
'Twould crown us all with immortality,
And grace us with completeness, make us whole,
Worthy to be the peers of deity.
For we are mighty now to slay and bless,
Yea, gifted with strange strength of steadfastness,
To conquer bodiless and viewless foes
Within ourselves, yet in our helplessness,
As children, in the presence of this Death,
Whom nor revolt nor patience conquereth,
Implacable, with grim mouth fastened close,
That with no hope our anguish answereth.
Resound with wildest utterance, O my lyre;
Let each note be a living flame of fire,
To reach her, to burn through her, to compel,
Strong with the infinite strength of my desire.
I am no god, yet Fate, Eurydice,
A goddess for my slave hath given me,—
Immortal Music, pure, ineffable;
And I send her, my handmaid, after thee.
If all wherein I put my faith as sure,
Be not delusions vain which death will cure;
If the sublime reliance of the soul
On her own powers be no empty lure,
Whereat the high gods laugh in bitter scorn;
If what I have achieved and what forborne,
Will lead me nearer to a worthy goal,
If all life's promises be not forsworn,—
Eurydice, appear! Before mine eyes,
O gods, I see a formless essence rise,
That moulds itself unto the music's beat,
Appareled in the glory of the skies.
Now, while I ring a more celestial tone,
The spirit more divinely bright hath grown,
To larger modulations, strains complete,
The white limbs from the shapeless mist are won,
As from the bosom of a summer cloud,
Wherewith a goddess would her semblance shroud.
Is this mine own creation? Is it truth,
That with warm life I have blank air endowed?
The soft cloud parts asunder,— yea, 'tis she!
Once more the face that was my star I see,
Crowned with the beauty of immortal youth,
Eurydice, my lost Eurydice!
Silent beside his silent, fallen lyre,
The singer stood, and clasped her in his arms,
Gazing upon this pale, fair face as one
Whose heart's supreme desire is satisfied.
'Is not this hour the hour I have foreseen,
Through all obstructions and infirmities
Of my mortality, and is it not
More glorious in fruition than I dreamed!
Yea, I have dreamed it all, eternal gods,
Even as now have pressed her to my heart
With the same clinging effort to retain,
And seen this breathing form, these lucent eyes
Vivid as now, instinct with life and love.
Yet have I waked to chill discouragement,
To vacant disappointment, and the sense
Of aching, unassuaged desire. O speak,
For in my dreams I never hear thy voice,
Save veiled and indistinct, a mockery
Of the old limpid music. Speak to me:
Thy flesh is warm, thy heart beats close to mine,
Thine upturned face is wet with human tears;
O speak to me,— lest I should wake again
To barren fields and empty skies of Thrace.'
Then in low, natural tones, Eurydice:
'Thy voice hath reached me in the farthest spheres,
And waked me out of silence.' 'Follow me,—
It is thyself,— if I must wake from this,
'Twill be to death or madness. Follow me,
From darkness palpable, to earth, to light
Of ample skies, and freshness of blown grass
And rolling waters.' 'Hold!' the jarring voice
Of Ades interposed: ''Tis excellent
The attribute we gave thee, to convert
To such a weapon as may overcome
The old hereditary foes of man,
Sleep, death, corruption, and necessity.
But to reveal thyself the peer of gods,
Not only through inspired ecstasy,
But through a continent persistency,
This never was accomplished by thy race,
And thou must yet be tried. This soul is thine,
For thou hast won her from the jaws of Hell;
Yea, she may follow thee as free as light,—
Lead thou the way and charm the hostile fiends.
Look forward ever; if thine eyes revert
But once to gaze on her, to reassure
Unworthy fears, or sate a mean desire,
Thou art not mate for us. She will dissolve
To empty air —never to be recalled.
Back to the vital earth, O follow me,
To rippling well-heads and to sunlit plains,
Greened by soft wash of rains.
See orchards rosy with prolific bloom,
And vineyards' purple gloom.
Lulled by the languid flow of lilied streams,
There will I sing my dreams.
Behold! I chant a hymn of adoration,
For I can see, in all the universe,
No error and no curse.
The gods have naught withheld, in power and sway,
From him who will obey
Their own divine and everlasting laws.
Above the world's applause,
As vigorous as morning, he can rise,
Wrest the desired prize
From the clenched hands of Nemesis and Fate.
With victory elate,
I chant unmitigated prayer and praise
To gods who part our ways,
Seeing 'midst clamorous change incredible,
That all is ordered well.
In more harmonious strains, O lyre, express
My twice-born happiness;
Yea, utter and translate with larger sense
My rich experience,
That makes complete life's solemn threnody
Joy unalloyed and free,
Grief unexampled, victory at last,
When strife is overpast.
Through pathways hedged with horrors still they fared
Invulnerable. Darkness stayed them not,
Nor yet more dreadful light, revealing oft
The hideous fiends who rose on every side,
Huge shapes of ill, to gaze upon the twain.
A Greek, who, fleeing, smote a vibrant lyre,
That chimed to carols more divinely quired
Than those that fill with ravishment a grove,
Misty with moonlight, where the plain brown bird
Makes midnight vocal. Closely following him,
A woman with grave aspect, parted lips,
Upraising, in enthralléd ecstasy,
Large eyes serene, fulfilled with holier light
For having pierced beyond the boundaries
Of time and of mortality. The day
Shone through the murk at last, and filled their path
With dusky sunbeams; and far-stretching fields
Of soft, delicious green, and crystal skies,
Encouraged them; all perils past save one.
But a black, stagnant river crawled along,
Spanned by no bridge, and ferried by no sail,
With muddy tide between the day and them.
And Orpheus with enamored eyes passed on,
And saw not how the loathsome waters crept,
Nor how his magic song enchanted them
To solid substance; but he missed at once
The footsteps light that had inspired his lay.
Impetuous he turned to reassure
His fearful soul, and sate his hungry eyes;
But as he turned, the inspiration fled,
His lips refused to frame the fruitless words,
His eyes beheld,—O gods! Eurydice
Removed already far away from him,
By all the wide-expanded space, between
Our loftiest dream and our unworthy deed.
She gazed with no reproachful glance nor tears,
And Orpheus felt himself beneath her, fall,
Momently down from empyreal heights,
And lo! he stood within the fields of Thrace,
On earth familiar, 'neath familiar skies,
And heard a voice float through the shining air,
From unimaginable distances,
Faint as a dream, — 'Farewell, farewell, farewell.'
'Woe! woe! what lamentations may express
The fullness of my new calamity!
I, overbearing, who presumed to reach
The lordly and severe stability
Of the immortals, — whom may I invoke?
To whom may man appeal when he hath failed
Unto himself? What god will interpose
To thwart invincible necessity?
Lost, lost forever! I stood elevate,
For one brief moment dreaming I had won
The skill and power of true divinity.
Gods! with what lofty and superb disdain
Ye must look down on mine unworthy haste,—
Ye, who with grandeur of sublime repose,
And majesty of patience, still abide
Invariable through eternity!
Alas! my mighty visions were to me
Auspicious omens, and they fed my heart
With vigor and encouragement; but now,
This was no dream; for Hope, full-flushed and fair,
Born, like the freshness of auroral dew,
From unseen air, and traceless vanishing,
Consorts not with this mighty goddess, Truth,
With solemn and unfathomable eyes,
For Truth is one with Death and Destiny.
With what a depth of meaning didst thou turn,
For the last time, to me, Eurydice,
A glory 'midst the darkness, with that glance
Of infinite compassion, hands outstretched,
As if to save the from mine own defect.
With what humiliation and despair
I saw thee rising unattainably!—
The vault, the stream accursed had disappeared;
I was in Thrace uplooking to the sky.
O, to what harmonies I might have wed
The blessed tidings which all men await!
Now I can only make my song express
A distant echo, a suggestion vague,
Of the serene contentment of thy voice.
Sing this, my lyre, that all who hark to thee
With an attentive and a gentle ear,
May hear the promise, faint and yet assured,
Recall the grace and the deliciousness
Of immortality, and strive anew
Towards the ideal unattained by me,
Yet still accessible to stronger souls.'
Thus Orpheus, when the first wild burst of woe
Had passed; no need to seek her now;
No need to wander o'er the peopled earth.
Was he in truth a victim of the gods,
Or rather with a fairer fortune blest
Than happier men, selected for a fate
Divinely tragical, that he might know
The fullness of a life's experience,
And find expression adequate for all,
Simple as wisdom, and as dignified
As silence? From his kind he lived apart,
As one who cherishes a grief, nor seeks
Forgetfulness nor comfort; elevate
To glittering eminence by destiny,
And lonely through the privacy of woe
Beyond the reaches of man's sympathy.
Where lucid Hebrus bathes its golden sands,
He sat discoursing gracious harmonies,
Amidst the morning fields, when on his ears
Sounded with horrid dissonance the clang
Of smitten cymbals and the throb of drums.
But still the revelers remained unseen,
Till, rounding suddenly a neighboring hill,
The whole mad troop came dancing into sight.
First marched a jovial bacchanal, who bore
A crystal vessel, decked with branching vine,
Then youth and nymphs with ivy chapleted,
In purfled raiment of hues delicate,
With mitres, thyrsi, cymbals, drums and flutes,
Some balancing upon their graceful heads,
Regal with crisp-curled gold, their burdens light
Of baskets heaped with figs and dusky grapes.
And 'midst them all the sacrificial goat,
Adorned with berries. Thus the festal throng,
With wanton gestures, and with antic bounds,
And wild embracings, mad with wine, approached,
With peals of laughter, echoing faintly back
From jocund hill to hill, and lusty shouts
Of 'Bacché, Bacché!'
With wassail all the night,
Celestial Bacchus, we have worshipped thee!
With riotous revel and with festal wine.
Still on the hills in early morning light,
With frolic dances and brisk jollity,
Our hymns of praise are thine.
For we have seen thee, god!
The fawn-skin slipping from thy shoulder bare,
Thy gestures lithe and loose, thine eyes that shine,
Thy rosy hands that waved a clustered rod
Of uncrushed grapes, and thine ambrosial hair,
Dripping with myrrh and wine.
Thou art not strict, severe,
Like loftier gods and ruthless goddesses,
Implacable like Pallas, Zeus, or Truth;
But to humanity akin and near,
Eager for folly, and the luxuries
Of lustful health and youth.
This crystal-vialed balm,
Divinely brewed, soothing as Lethe's streams,
Is the most generous gift of Deity,
Informing us with soft oblivion calm
Of Death and Fate, with joys beyond the dreams
Of grave sobriety.
Come, let us drink again.
Resound, O timbrels, and thou bird-voiced flute;
Thyrsus and pipes make shrill and dear acclaim,
To Bacchus, who impurples hill and plain
With vineyards bursting with increase of fruit,
Subtle as liquid flame.
Œoë! quaff and sing!
Who drinks no more, offends the deity
Of Bacchus! lo on Hebrus' grassy brink,
A minstrel sits, with gold lute glistening,
Marring our rites with stern solemnity,
Who doth not chant nor drink.
Ho! Orpheus, laugh again,
From mirthful heart, and join our happy throng;
Cease to lament with unappeased desire.
We bring a cordial for all grief and pain.
Add to the choral strain thy siren song,
And thine enchanted lyre.
For Fate hath answered thee
With cold derision; Death respondeth not.
Here is a god who soothes tire soul and sense
With sweet nepenthe,—thy Eurydice
Thou wilt not lure to earthly grove nor grot
With suasive eloquence.
Here, nymphs no whit less fair
Are waiting thee, with warm, caressing arms
And loving eyes, lips fit for gods to kiss,
And rosy shoulders, dimpling white and bare,—
Pliant and graceful, with innumerous Charms,
To sate thy heart with bliss.
Hence, thou ignoble throng!
Dare ye profane the splendid purity,
The high nobility of morn, with rites
Lewd and disgusting, and delirious song,
Completing in dear sunshine, shamelessly,
Rude orgies of wild nights?
Ha! he insults the god,
With his presumptuous and impious scorn.
Avenge, O bacchanals, the cause divine;
Compel him with the sacred cup and rod,
To quaff his salutation to the morn,
In frothing, Massic wine!
Mad bacchanals, begone!
I honor all the gods and Nemesis.
They favor not such frantic revelry,
But blameless lives, and deeds most like their own,
The service of a patient heart submiss,
And staunch integrity.
Behold the morning hills,
Sky-kissed Libethra, delicate as air;
The fragile grasses gray with wreaths of dew.
Hark to the tumbling of the mountain rills
To Eos and Athene your first prayer
And sacrifice are due.
With shameless blasphemy,
He dares proscribe, O god, thy rank and fame.
Enough! enough! he hath despised us long,
Bewailing his beloved Eurydice.
O nymphs, avenge yourselves in Liber's name,
Slay him 'midst dance and song.
Your deadly javelins fling
With flinty missiles at the singer proud,
Who deems himself an equal of the gods,
Because he hath the skill to pipe and sing,
With facile fluency of speech endowed.
Smite him with spears and rods.
Ring forth, my lyre, again,—
With magic harmonies my doom avert,
In tones as plaintive and as rich as life.
Our stones and javelins we have hurled in vain;
His lyre enchants them, he remains unhurt,
'Midst all the wrath and strife.
Toss the loud tambourine,
Its tight-drawn skin with noisy fingers smite;
Clash ye the cymbals, sing with fatal art;
Cast ye his sundered limbs the stream within,—
They irritate us, soft and bare and white;
Rend them, O nymphs, apart.
Sweet Death, deliver me
Out of the reach of envy, lust, and hate;
Enfold me in thy large-embracing arms.
Ah! will he now invoke Eurydice,
Madly resisting his allotted fate
With vile, unhallowed charms?
So with a clamorous swell
Of drums and timbrels, we o'erpower the breath
Of dulcet and persuasive melody.
The maniacs conquer! O my lyre, farewell!
Approach, thou beautiful and welcome Death,
With lost Eurydice.