Shepherds at Delphi

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There were three simple shepherds,
Two men and a boy and
Their wolf-rending sheep-dogs,
Ranging Parnassos
To see what Poseidon,
The shaker of mountains,
Whom mortals invoke as
God of the terrible
Underground waters,
Had lately been up to
In the valleys of Phokis.

And what should they see near
The spring of the Muses’
Castalian fountain,
But an issue of steam
From a gash in the flank of
The god’s holy mountain.

Pausanias tells us
They peeped in the crater
Till the fumes overcame them
With poetic frenzy
Sent by Apollo
Who held them accursed.
The boy and his father
And old uncle Kreon
Are said to have uttered
His oracles first.

And as for the sheep-dogs,
I put it to you:
Had they not been daunted
By the reek of the rock-rift,
Who knows, they might well have
Prophesied too.
The god had intended
Of course a quite different

Course to be followed:
A dignified Temple,
A service of paeans,
A well-furnished altar
And oracles spoken,
Or sung in bel canto,
By golden-mouthed sybils,
Boio and Hippo
And deep-minded Manto.

Well, it just goes to show
How even a god may
Find himself baffled
By the innocent blunder
Of well-meaning rustics;
And it prompts me to wonder
How often the persons
Who call themselves poets
May be peasants who stumbled
By chance on the sacred
Sources of song.
I could name you a dozen
Oracular scribblers
Of this generation,
Bards of my time who
By pure misadventure,
Having snuffed up a lungful,
Have burst into rhyme to
Get it all wrong!

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