Orpheus In Thrace


Dear is the newly won,
But O far dearer the for ever lost!
He that at utmost cost
His utmost deed hath done
The lost one to recover, and in vain,
What shall his heart, his anguished heart, sustain?
Not the warm and youthful sun,
Flowers breathing on the bough,
Nor a voice, nor music now–
Touches of joy, more hard to bear than pain!
These charm not where he is, but only there
Where she is gone, who took with her delight,
Peace, and all things fair,
And left the whole world bare.
And O, what far well’s fountain shall requite
Him who hath drunk so deeply of despair?

Orpheus on a stone–strewn slope
High amid the hills of Thrace
Sets to the bleak North his face.
He a traveller from hope,–
As a bird whose mate is stricken
Flies and flies o’er ocean foam
Nor endures to seek a home,–
Seeks a land where no leaves quicken,
Where from gorges to the plain
Iron–tongued the torrent roars
Into troubled streams that strain
Eddying under barren shores;
Where thronged ridges darkly rise,
Shouldering the storms that sweep
Through the winter–loaded skies,
When far up in heavens asleep
For an hour the clouds unclose:–
Throned in peace beyond the bourne
Of their moving vapours torn,
Glimmer the majestic snows,
Whence an eagle slowly sails
O’er the solitary vales.
Such to Orpheus’ pilgrim eyes
The unreached far mountains rise.
“Come,” he groans, “you storms, and scourge me,
Dull these inward pangs that urge me
Ever into new despair.
Make my flesh endure as steel,
Let me now the utmost feel,
Bring me news of things that bear–
Frozen torrents, naked trees
That abjure the summer’s breeze,–
Keen upon this body fall!
O let me feel your fiercest sting or feel no more at all!”
His hand, half–conscious, straying
Over the well–loved lyre,
Strikes; frail notes obeying
Sadly in air expire.
Wingless they falter forth,
As the pale large plumes of snow
From the dim cloud–curdling North,
Unwilling and soft and slow,
That fall on the hands and the hair
Of Orpheus unheeded, and die,
As out of his heart’s despair
He speaks to his lyre: “Ah, why
Would I stir thee from silence now,
When silence is far the best?
As of old I touch thee, but thou
Unwillingly answerest.
Ah, marvellous once was thy power
In the marvellous days of old!
I touched thee, and all hearts heard,
And the snake had no thought to devour,
And the shy fawn stayed and was bold,
And the panther crept near in desire;
And the toppling Symplegades hung
To hearken thy strings as I sung,
And Argo glanced through like a bird,
Like a swallow, to hear thee, my lyre!
And the soul of the dragon was stirred,
Till his vast coil slowly stooped
From the tree where the Fleece glimmered gold,
And his ageless eyelids drooped,
And his strength sank, fold by fold;
And only the dim leaves heard,
As we stept o’er his coils that were cold.
Mighty wast thou indeed;
But O, in my utmost need,
My heart thou couldst not quell,
My heart that loved too well!
I turned on the brink of the light;
Her hand hung fast in my own;
I was sure as a God in my might;
I gazed; she grew pale, she was flown.
Then the dawn turned back to the night,
And I stood in the world alone.
Eurydice, could I have loved thee less,
I had won thee lightly again.
My great joy wrought my wretchedness,
And thee, whom I love, I have slain.”

What lights are these that dance,
Like fire–flies clustering on the dusk hillside,
Mingle and then divide,
Swerve and again advance,
Peopling the shadows thick, till Rhodope
Seems rocking all her towering pines in glee?
Maenads of exultant glance,
Thracian maidens, Thracian dames,
Toss these perilous fair flames.
Soon their full tresses roll from neck to knee,
Swift as a dark shower in the sunset poured;
Soon panting bosoms from rent robes shine bare!
Thoughts leap in accord,
Bright as an unsheathed sword,
Tumultuously free, and mad to dare;
And loud they cry on Bacchus, their wild lord.

O can cheeks of white and red,
Lips that love made tremble often,
Eyes an infant’s tears can soften,
Alter with a change so dread?
Yea, a deep fire craving fuel,
Like the dungeoned fires of Earth,
Pants from secrecy for birth,
Careless if its way be cruel.
While from tempest faint they stand,
Orpheus ‘mid their riot strays,
Silent halts with listless hand
And with sorrow–sunken gaze.
“Who is this?” in wrath they cry,
“Spectre sprung to mock our glee!
Woe to this pale face, for he
Joins our mirth or he shall die!”–
Singer, touch thy magic lyre!
Thou couldst stay them soft and still,
Tamed and gentle, to thy will.
Ah, in grief is no desire.
Grief in stony bonds hath bound him,
And these bright forms that surround him
With high torches menacing
And light spears in restless ring,
Seem his own thoughts raging, seem
Furies of embodied dream,
Furies whom ’tis vain to flee.
Alas, he hath for shield and sword
Only one defenceless word,
“Eurydice, Eurydice!”
To piercing wound and branding flame
He answers with that piteous name
The world now echoes back alone.
“Eurydice!” his soul flies forth in that belovèd moan.

Alas, that the hand should deflower
The treasure the heart loves best,
That the will of an alien power
Should blindly the soul have possest!
Proudly our own great woe
We accomplish, and laugh to have done.
Then strength passes from us; we know,
And we hide our heads from the sun.
Behold, as the dawn–flushed air
Glimmers on peak and vale,
To the pines on the upland bare
Come shadowy forms and pale;
Stealing, maiden and mother,
By single paths of dread,
And wondering each at the other
Bend over the piteous dead,
And touching those rent limbs, cry,
With kisses kneeling low,
In sad affrighted moan,
“It was not I!” “Nor I!”
What evil God blinded us so
To wound our beloved, our delight?
For our dancing thou hadst not a song,
And now we have none for thy wrong.
Though thy lyre could charm honey from stone,
Yet we pitied not thee, our delight!
Nay, thee who couldst heal us alone
In our grief, at whose magical boon
Peace brooded a dove o’er our pain,
And our hearts with the sun and the moon
Were at peace, that shall be not again,
Nor our hope with the spring be in tune;
Thee, thee, even thee, have we slain!
Woe for the world, woe!
In cherishing fair snow
Let us bury thee whom we marred,
With the lyre that our flame hath charred.
Gentle wast thou as a flower,
But careless as thunder were we;
And our tears, that should be as a shower
To raise and to foster thee,
Drop vainly, and past is our power
With that blindness and fury and glee.
Yea, the solace we wanted not then in our mirth
From our helpless sorrow is taken;
And for ever untuned is the beautiful earth,
And the home of our hearts is forsaken.

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