Thomas Sturge Moore (1870-1944 / England)
A Sicilian Idyll
(First Scene) Damon
I thank thee, no;
Already have I drunk a bowl of wine . . .
Nay, nay, why wouldst thou rise?
There rolls thy ball of worsted! Sit thee down;
Come, sit thee down, Cydilla,
And let me fetch thy ball, rewind the wool,
And tell thee all that happened yesterday.
Thanks, Damon; now, by Zeus, thou art so brisk,
It shames me that to stoop should try my bones.
We both are old,
And if we may have peaceful days are blessed;
Few hours of bouyancy will come to break
The sure withdrawal from us of life's flood.
True, true, youth looks a great way off! To think
It wonce was age did lie quite out of sight!
Not many days have been so beautiful
As yesterday, Cydilla; yet one was;
And I with thee broke tranced on its fine spell;
Thou dost remember? Yes? but not with tears,
Ah, not with tears, Cydilla, pray, oh, pray!
Pardon me, Damon,
'Tis many years since thou hast touched thereon;
And something stirs about thee -
Such air of eagerness as was thine when
I was more foolish than in my life, I hope
To ever have been at another time.
Pooh! foolish? - thou wast then so very wise
That, often having seen thee foolish since,
Wonder has made me faint that thou shouldst err.
Nay, then I erred, dear Damon; and remorse
Was not so slow to find me as thou deemst.
There, mop those dear wet eyes, or thou'lt ne'er hear
What it was filled my heart yesterday.
Tell, Damon; since I well know that regrets
Hang like dull gossips round another's ear.
First, thou must know that oftentimes I rise, -
Not heeding or not finding sleep, of watching
Afraid no longer to be prodigal, -
And gaze upon the beauty of the night.
Quiet hours, while dawn absorbs the waning stars,
Are like cold water sipped between our cups
Washing the jaded palate till it taste
The wine again. Ere the sun rose, I sat
Within my garden porch; my lamp was left
Burning beside my bed, though it would be
Broad day before I should return upstairs.
I let it burn, willing to waste some oil
Rather than to disturb my tranquil mood;
But, as the Fates determined, it was seen. -
Suddenly, running round the dovecote, came
A young man naked, breathless, through the dawn,
Florid with haste and wine; it was Hipparchus.
Yes, there he stood before me panting, rubbing
His heated flesh which felt the cold at once.
When he had breath enough, he begged me straight
To put the lamp out; and himself and done it
Ere I was on the stair.
Flung all along my bed, his gasping shook it
When I at length could sit down by his side:
'What cause, young sir, brings you here in this plight
At such an hour?' He shuddered, sighed and rolled
My blanket round him; then came a gush of words:
'The first of causes, Damon, namely Love,
Eldest and least resigned and most unblushing
Of all the turbulent impulsive gods.
A quarter of an hour scarce has flown
Since lovely arms clung round me, and my head
Asleep lay nested in a woman's hair;
My cheek still bears print of its ample coils.'
Athwart its burning flush he drew my fingers
And their tips felt it might be as he said.
'Oh I have had a night, a night, a night!
Had Paris so much bliss?
And oh! was Helen's kiss
To be compared with those I tasted?
Which but for me had all been wasted
On a bald man, a fat man, a gross man, a beast
To scare the best guest from the very best feast!'
Cydilla need not hear half that he said,
For he was mad awhile.
But having given rein to hot caprice,
And satyr jest, and the distempered male,
At length, I heard his story.
At sun-down certain miles without the town
He'd chanced upon a light-wheeled litter-car,
And in it there stood one
Yet more a woman than her garb was rich,
With more of youth and health than elegance.
'The mules,' he said, 'were beauties: she was one,
And cried directions to the neighbour field:
'O catch that big bough! Fool, not that, the next!
Clumsy, you've let it go! O stop it swaying,
The eggs will jolt out!' From the road,' said he,
'I could not see who thus was rated; so
Sprang up beside her and beheld her husband,
Lover or keeper, what you like to call him; -
A middle-aged stout man upon whose shoulders
Kneeled up a scraggy mule-boy slave, who was
The fool that could not reach a thrush's nest
Which they, while plucking almond, had revealed.
Before she knew who it could be, I said,
'Why yes, he is a fool, but we, fair friend,
Were we not foolish waiting for such fools?
Let us be off!' I stooped, took, shook the reins
With one hand, while the other clasped her waist.
'Ah, who?' she turned; I smiled like amorous Zeus;
A certain vagueness clouded her wild eyes
As though she saw a swan, a bull, a shower
Of hurried flames, and felt divinely pleased.
I cracked the whip and we were jolted down;
A kiss was snatched getting the ribbons straight;
We hardly heard them first begin to bawl,
So great our expedition towards the town:
We flew. I pulled up at an inn, then bid them
Stable my mules and chariot and prepare
A meal for Dives; meanwhile we would stroll
Down to the market. Took her arm in mine,
And, out of sight, hurried her through cross-lanes,
Bade her choose, now at a fruit, now pastry booth.
Until we gained my lodging she spoke little
But often laughed, tittering from time to time,
'O Bacchus, what a prank! - Just think of Cymon,
So stout as he is, at least five miles to walk
Without a carriage! - well you take things coolly' -
Or such appreciation nice of gifts
I need not boast of, since I had them gratis,
When my stiff door creaked open grudgingly
Her face first fell; the room looked bare enough.
Still we brought with us food and cakes; I owned
A little cellar of delicious wine;
An unasked neighbour's garden furnished flowers;
Jests helped me nimbly, I surpassed myself;
So we were friends and, having laughed, we drank,
Ate, sang, danced, grew wild. Soon both had one
Desire, effort, goal,
One bed, one sleep, one dream . . .
O Damon, Damon, both had one alarm,
When woken by the door forced rudely open,
Lit from the stair, bedazzled, glowered at, hated!
She clung to me; her master, husband, uncle
(I know not which or what he was) stood there;
It crossed my mind he might have been her father.
Naked, unarmed, I rose, and did assume
What dignity is not derived from clothes,
Bid them to quit my room, my private dwelling.
It was no use, for that gross beast was rich;
Had his been neither legal right nor moral,
My natural right was nought, for his she was
In eyes of those bribed catchpolls. Brute revenge
Seethed in his pimpled face: 'To gaol with him!'
He shouted huskily. I wrapped some clothes
About my shuddering bed-fellow, a sheet
Flung round myself; ere she was led away,
Had whispered to her 'Shriek, faint on the stair!'
Then I was seized by two dog officers.
That girl was worth her keep, for, going down,
She suddenly writhed, gasped, and had a fit.
My chance occurred, and I whipped through the casement;
All they could do was catch away the sheet;
I dropped a dozen feet into a bush,
Soon found my heels and plied them; here I am.'
A strange tale, Damon, this to tell to me
And introduce as thou at first began.
Thy life, Cydilla, has at all times been
A ceremony: this young man's
Discovered by free impulse, not couched in forms
Worn and made smooth by prudent folk long dead.
I love Hipparchus for his wave-like brightness;
He wastes himself, but till his flash is gone
I shall be ever glad to hear him laugh:
Nor could one make a Spartan of him even
Were one the Spartan with a will to do it.
Yet had there been no more than what is told,
Thou wouldst not now be lending ear to me.
Hearing such things, I think of my poor son,
Which makes me far too sad to smile at folly.
There, let me tell thee all just as it happened,
And of thy son I shall be speaking soon.
Delphis! Alas, are his companions still
No better than such ne'er-do-wells? I thought
His life was sager now, though he has killed
My hopes of seeing him a councillor.
How thou art quick to lay claim to a sorrow!
Should I have come so eagerly to thee
If all there was to tell thee were such poor news?
Forgive me; well know I there is no end
To Damon's kindness; my poor boy has proved it;
Could but his father so have understood him!
Let lie the sad contents of vanished years;
Why with complaints reproach the helpless dead?
Thy husband ne'er will cross thy hopes again.
Come, think of what a sky made yesterday
The worthy dream of thrice divine Apollo!
Hipparchus' plan was, we should take the road
(As, when such mornings tempt me, is my wont)
And cross the hills, along the coast, toward Mylae.
He in disguise, a younger handier Chloe,
Would lead my mule; must brown his face and arms:
And thereon straight to wake her he was gone.
Their voices from her cabin crossed the yard;
He swears those parts of her are still well made
Which she keeps too well hidden when about; -
And she, no little pleased, that interlards,
Between her exclamations at his figure,
Reproof of gallantries half-laughed at hers.
Anon she titters as he dons her dress
Doubtless with pantomime -
Head-carriage and hip-swagger.
A wench, more conscious of her sex than grace,
He then rejoined me, changed beyond belief,
Roguish as vintage makes them; bustling helps
Or hinders Chloe harness to the mule; -
In fine bewitching both her age and mine.
The life that in such fellows runs to waste
Is like a gust that pulls about spring trees
And spoils your hope of fruit, while it delights
The sense with bloom and odour scattered, mingled
With salt spume savours from a crested offing.
The sun was not long up when we set forth
And, coming to the deeply shadowed gate,
Found catchpolls lurked there, true to his surmise.
Them he, his beard disguised like face-ache, sauced;
(Too gaily for that bandaged cheek, thought I);
But they, whose business was to think,
Were quite contented, let the hussy pass,
Returned her kisses blown back down the road,
And crowned the mirth of their outwitter's heart.
As the steep road wound clear above the town,
Fewer became those little comedies
To which encounteres roused him: till, at last,
He scarcely knew we passed some vine-dressers:
And I could see the sun's heat, lack of sleep,
And his late orgy would defeat his powers.
So, where the road grows level and must soon
Descend, I bade him climb into the car;
On which the mule went slower still and slower.
This creature, who, upon occasions, shows
Taste very like her master's left the highway
And took a grass-grown wheel-track that led down
Zigzag athwart the broad curved banks of lawn
Coating a valley between rounded hills
Which faced the sea abruptly in huge crags.
Each slope grew steeper till I left my seat
And led the mule; for now Hipparchus' snore
Tuned with the crooning waves heard from below.
We passed two narrow belts of wood and then
The sea, that first showed blue above their tops,
Was spread before us chequered with white waves
Breaking beneath on boulders which choked up
The narrowed issue seawards of the glen.
The steep path would no more admit of wheels:
I took the beast and tethered her to graze
Within the shade of a stunt ilex clump, -
Returned to find a vacant car; Hipparchus,
Uneasy on my tilting down the shafts,
And heated with strange clothes, had roused himself
And lay asleep upon his late disguise,
Naked 'neath the cool eaves of one huge rock
That stood alone, much higher up than those
Over, and through, and under which, the waves
Made music or forced milk-white floods of foam.
There I reclined, while vision, sound and scent
Won on my willing soul like sleep on joy,
Till all accustomed thoughts were far away
As from a happy child the cares of men.
The hour was sacred to those earlier gods
Who are not active, but divinely wait
The consummation of their first great deeds,
Unfolding still and blessing hours serene.
Presently I was gazing on a boy,
(Though whence he came my mind had not perceived).
Twelve or thirteen he seemed, with clinging feet
Poised on a boulder, and against the sea
Set off. His wide-brimmed hat of straw was arched
Over his massed black and abundant curls
By orange ribbon tied beneath his chin;
Around his arms and shoulders his sole dress,
A cloak, was all bunched up. He leapt, and lighted
Upon the boulder just beneath; there swayed,
And perked his head like an inquisitive bird,
As gravely happy; of all unconscious save
His body's aptness for its then employment;
His eyes intent on shells in some clear pool
Or choosing where he next will plant his feet.
Again he leaps, his curls against his hat
Bounce up behind. The daintiest thing alive,
He rocks awhile, turned from me towards the sea;
Unseen I might devour him with my eyes.
At last he stood upon a ledge each wave
Spread with a sheet of foam four inches deep;
From minute to minute, while it bathed his feet,
He gazing at them saw them disappear
And reappear all shining and refreshed;
Then raised his head, beheld the ocean stretched
Alive before him its magnitude.
None but a child could have been so absorbed
As to escape its spell till then, none else
Could so have voiced glad wonder in a song: -
'All the waves of the sea are there!
In at my eyes they crush.
Till my head holds as fair a sea:
Though I shut my eyes, they are there!
Nay towards my lids they rush,
Mad to burst forth from me
Back to the open air! -
To follow them my heart needs,
O white-maned steeds, to ride you;
To the western isles astride you
'Damon!' said a voice quite close to me
And looking up . . . as might have stood Apollo
In one vase garment such as shepherds wear
And leaning on such tall staff stood . . . Thou guessest,
Whose majesty as vainly was disguised
As must have been Apollo's minding sheep.
Delphis! I know, dear Damon, it was Delphis!
Healthy life in the country having chased
His haggard looks; his speech is not wild now,
Nor wicked with exceptions to things honest:
Thy face a kindlier way than speech tells this.
Yes, dear Cydilla, he was altogether
What mountaineers might dream of for a king.
But tell me, is he tutor to that boy?
He is an elder brother to the lad.
Nay, nay, hide nothing, speak the worst at once.
I meant no hint of ill;
A god in love with young Amyntas might
Look as he did; fathers alone feel like him:
Could I convey his calm and happy speech
Thy last suspicion would be laid to rest.
Damon, see, my glad tears have drowned all fear;
Think'st thou he may come back and win renown,
And fill his father's place?
Not as his father filled it,
But with an inward spirit correspondent
To that contained and high imposing mien
Which made his father honoured before men
Of greater wisdom, more integrity.
And loved before men of more kindliness!
O Damon, far too happy am I now
To grace thy naughtiness by showing pain.
My Delphis 'owns the brains and presence too
That makes a Pericles!' . . . (the words are thine)
Had he but the will; and has he now?
Good Damon, tell me quick?
He dreams not of the court, and city life
Is what he rails at.
Well, if he now be wise and sober-souled
And loved for goodness, I can rest content.
My brain lights up to see thee happy! wait,
It may be I can give some notion how
Our poet spoke:
'Damon, the best of life is in thine eyes -
Worship of promise-laden beauty. Seems he not
The god of this fair scene?
Those waves claim such a master as that boy;
And these green slopes have waited till his feet
Should wander them, to prove they were not spread
In wantonness. What were this flower's prayer
Had it a voice? The place behind his ear
Would brim its cup with bliss and overbrim;
O, to be worn and fade beside his cheek!' -
'In love and happy, Delphis; and the boy?' -
'Loves and is happy' -
'You hale from?' -
We have been out two days and crossed this ridge,
West of Mount Mycon's head. I serve his father,
A farmer well-to-do and full of sense,
Who owns a grass-farm cleared among the pines
North-west the cone, where even at noon in summer,
The slope it falls on lengthens a tree's shade.
To play the lyre and write and dance
I teach this lad; in all their country toil
Join, nor ask better fare than cheese, black bread,
Butter or curds, and milk, nor better bed
Than litter of dried fern or lentisk yields,
Such as they all sleep soundly on and dream,
(If e'er they dream) of places where it grew, -
Where they have gathered mushrooms, eaten berries,
Or found the sheep they lost, or killed a fox,
Or snared the kestrel, or so played their pipes
Some maid showed pleasure, sighed, nay even wept.
There to be poet need involve no strain,
For though enough of coarseness, dung, - nay, nay,
And suffering, too, be mingled with the life,
'Tis wedded to such an air,
Such water and sound health!
What else might jar or fret chimes in attuned
Like satyr's cloven hoof or lorn nymph's grief
In a choice ode. Though lust, disease and death,
As everywhere, are cruel tyrants, yet
They all wear flowers, and each sings a song
Such as the hilly echo loves to learn.'
'At last then even Delphis knows content?'
'Damon, not so:
This life has brought me health but not content.
That boy, whose shouts ring round us while he flings
Intent each sone toward yon shining object
Afloat inshore . . . I eat my heart to think
How all which makes him worthy of more love
Must train his ear to catch the siren croon
That never else had reached his upland home!
And he who failed in proof, how should he arm
Another against perils? Ah, false hope,
And credulous enjoyment! How should I,
Life's fool, while wakening ready wit in him,
Teach how to shun applause, and those bright eyes
Of women who pour in the lap of spring
Their whole year's substance? They can offer
To fill the day much fuller than I could,
And yet teach night surpass it. Can my means
Prevent the ruin of the thing I cherish?
What cares Zeus for him? Fate despises love.
Why, lads more exquisite, brimming with promise,
A thousand times have been lost for the lack
Of just the help a watchful god might give;
But which the best of fathers, best of mothers,
Of friends, of lovers cannot quite supply.
Powers, who swathe man's virtue up in weakness,
Then plunge his delicate mind in hot desire,
Preparing pleasure first and after shame
To bandage round his eyes, - these gods are not
The friends of men.'
The Delphis of old days before me stood,
Passionate, stormy, teeming with black thought,
His back turned on that sparkling summer sea,
His back turned on his love; and wilder words
And less coherent thought poured from him now.
Hipparchus waking took stock of the scene.
I watched him wend down, rubbing sleepy lids,
To where the boy was busy throwing stones.
He joined the work, but even his stronger arm
And heavier flints he hurled would not suffice
To drive that floating object nearer shore:
And, ere the rebel Delphis had expressed
Enough of anger and contempt for gods,
(Who, he asserted, were the dreams of men),
I saw the stone-throwers both take the water
And swimming easily attain their end.
The way they held their noses proved the thing
A tunny, belly floating upward, dead;
Both towed it till the current caught and swept it
Out far from that sweet cove; they laughing watched:
Then, suddenly, Amyntas screamed and Delphis
Turned to see him sink
Locked in Hipparchus' arms.
The god Apollo never
Burst through a cloud with more ease than thy son
Poured from his homespun garb
The rapid glory of his naked limbs,
And like a streak of lightning reached the waves: -
Wherein his thwarted speed appeared more awful
As, brought within the scope of comprehension,
Its progress and its purpose could be gauged.
Spluttering Amyntas rose, Hipparchus near him
Who cried 'Why coy of kisses, lovely lad?
I ne'er would harm thee; art thou not ashamed
To treat thy conquest thus?'
He shouted partly to drown the sea's noise, chiefly
The nearing Dephis to disarm.
His voice lost its asurance while he spoke,
And, as he finished, quick to escape he turned;
Thy son's eyes and that steady coming on,
As he might see them over ruffled crests,
Far better helped him swim
Than ever in his life he swam before.
Delphis passed by Amyntas;
Hipparchus was o'er taken,
Cuffed, ducked and shaken;
In vain he clung about his angry foe;
Held under he perforce let go:
I, fearing for his life, set up a whoop
To bring cause and effect to thy son's mind,
And in dire rage's room his sense returned.
He towed Hipparchus back like one he'd saved
From drowning, laid him out upon that ledge
Where late Amyntas stood, where now he kneeled
Shivering, alarmed and mute.
Delphis next set the drowned man's mouth to drain;
We worked his arms, for I had joined them; soon
His breathing recommenced; we laid him higher
On sun-warmed turf to come back to himself;
Then we climbed to the cart without a word.
The sun had dried their limbs; they, putting on
Their clothes, sat down; at length, I asked the lad
What made him keen to pelt a stinking fish.
Blushing, he said, 'I wondered what it was.
But that man, when he came to help, declared
'Twould prove a dead sea-nymph, and we might see,
By swimming out, how finely she was made.
I did not half believe, yet when we found
That foul stale fish, it made us laugh.' He smiled
And watched Hipparchus spit and cough and groan.
I moved to the car and unpacked bread and meat,
A cheese, some fruit, a skin of wine, two bowls.
Amyntas was all joy to see such things;
Ran off and pulled acanthus for our plates;
Chattering, he helped me set all forth, - was keen
To choose rock basin where the wine might cool;
Approved, was full as happy as I to praise:
And most he pleased me, when he set a place
For poor Hipparchus. Thus our eager work,
While Delphis, in his thoughts retired, sat frowning,
Grew like a home-conspiracy to trap
The one who bears the brunt of outside cares
Into the glow of cheerfulness that bathes
The children and the mother, - happy not
To forsee winter, short-commons or long debts,
Since they are busied for the present meal, -
Too young, too weak, too kind, to peer ahead,
Or probe the dark horizon bleak with storms.
Oh! I have sometimes thought there is a god
Who helps with lucky accidents when folk
Join with the little ones to chase such gloom.
That chance withch left Hipparchus with no clothers,
Surely divinity was ambushed in it?
When he must put on Chloe's, Amyntas rocked
With laughter, and Hipparchus, quick to use
A favourable gust, pretends confusion
Such as a farmer's daughter red-faced shows
If in the dance her dress has come unpinned.
She suddenly grow grave; yet, seeing there
Friends only, stoops behind a sister-skirt.
Then, having set to rights the small mishap,
Holding her screener's elbows, round her shoulder
Peeps, to bob back meeting a young man's eye.
All, grateful for such laughs, give Hermes thanks.
And even Delphis at Hipparchus smiled
When, from behind me, he peeped bashful forth;
Laughing because he was or was not like
Some wench . . .
Why, Delphis, in the name of Zeus
How come you here?
Cydilla What can have happened, Delphis?
Be brief for pity!
Delphis Nothing, mother, nothing
That has not happened time on time before
To thee, to Damon, when the life ye thought
With pride and pleasure yours, has proved a dream.
They strike down on us from the top of heaven,
Bear us up in their talons, up and up,
Drop us: we fall, are crippled, maimed for life.
'Our dreams'? nay, we are theirs for sport, for prey,
And life is the King Eagle,
The strongest, highest, flyer, from whose clutch
The fall is fatal always.
Cydilla Delphis, Delphis,
Good Damon had been making me so happy
By telling . . .
How he watched me near the zenith?
Three years back
That dream pounced on me and began to soar;
Having been sick, my heart had found new lies;
The only thoughts I then had ears for were
Healthy, virtuous, sweet;
A counry setting was the sole could take me
Three hears back.
Damon might have guessed
From such a dizzy height
What fall was coming.
Ah my boy, my boy!
Sit down, be patient, let us hear and aid, -
Has aught befallen Amyntas?
Would he were dead!
Would that I had been brute enough to slay him. -
Great Zeus, Hipparchus had so turned his head.
His every smile and word
As we sat by our fire, stung my fool's heart. -
'How we laughed to see him curtsey,
Fidget strings about his waist, -
Giggle, his beard caught in the chlamys' hem
Drawing it tight about his neck, just like
Our Baucis.' Could not sleep
For thinking of the life they lead in towns;
He said so: when, at last,
He sighed from dreamland, thoughts
I had been day-long brooding
Broke into vision.
A child, a girl,
Beautiful, nay more than others beautiful,
Not meant for marriage, not for one man meant,
You know what she will be;
At six years old or seven her life is round her;
A company, all ages, old men, young men,
Whose vices she must prey on.
And the bent crone she will be is there too,
Patting her head and chuckling prophecies. -
O cherry lips, O wild bird eyes,
O gay invulnerable setter-at-nought
Of will, of virtue -
Thou art as constant a cause as is the sea,
As is the sun, as are the winds, as night,
Of opportunities not only but events; -
The unalterable past
Is full of thy contrivance,
Goddess of ruin!
No girl; nay, nay,
Amyntas is young,
Has beauty and health - and yet
In his sleep I have seen him smile
And known that his dream was vile;
Those eyes which brimmed over with glee
Till my life flowed as fresh as the sea -
Those eyes, gloved each in a warm live lid,
May be glad that their visions are hid.
I taught myself to rhyme; the trick will cling.
Ah, Damon, day-lit vision is more dread
Than those which suddenly replace the dark!
When the dawn filtered through our tent of boughs
I saw him closely wrapped in his grey cloak,
His head upon a pile of caked thin leaves
Whose life had dried up full two years ago.
Their flakes shook in the breath from those moist lips;
The vow his kiss would seal must prove, I knew
As friable as that pale ashen fritter;
It had more body than reason dare expect
From that so beautiful creature's best intent.
He waking found me no more there; and wanders
Through Ætna's woods to-day
Calling at times, or questioning charcoal burners,
Till he shall strike a road shall lead him home;
Yet all his life must be spent as he spends
This day in whistling, wondering, singing, chatting,
In the great wood, vacant and amiable.
Can it be possible that thou desertest
Thy love, thy ward, the work of three long years,
Because chance, on an April holiday
Has filled this boy's talk with another man,
And wonder at another way of life?
Worse than a woman's is such jealousy;
The lad must live!
Live, live, to be sure, he must live!
I have lived, am a fool for my pains!
And yet, and yet,
This heart has ached to play the god for him: -
Mine eyes for his had sifted visible things;
Speech had been filtered ere it reached his ear;
Not in the world should he have lived, but breathed
Humanity's distilled quintessences;
The indiscriminate multitude sorted should yield him
Acquaintance and friend discerned, chosen by me: -
By me, who failed, wrecked, my youth's prime, and dragged
More wonderful than his gifts in the mire!
Yet if experience could not teach and save
Others from ignorance, why, towns would be
Ruins, and civil men like outlaws thieve,
Stab, riot, ere two generations passed.
Where is the Athens that Pericles loved?
Where are the youths that were Socrates' friends?
There was a town where all learnt
What the wisest taught!
Why had crude Sparta such treasonous force?
Could Philip of Macedon
Breed a true Greek of his son?
What honour to conquer a world
Where Alcibiades had failed,
Lead half-drilled highland hordes
Whose lust would inherit the wise?
There is nothing art's industry shaped
But their idleness praising it mocked.
Thus Fate re-assumed her command
And laughed at experienced law.
What ails man to love with such pains?
Why toil to create in the mind
Of those who shall close in his grave
The best that he is and has hoped?
The longer permission he has,
The nobler the structure so raised,
The greater its downfall. Fools, fools,
Where is a town such as Pericles ruled?
Where youths to replace those whom Socrates loved?
Wise Damon, thou art silent; - Mother, thou
Hast only arms to cling about they son. -
Who can descry the purpose of a god
With eyes wide-open? shut them, every fool
Can conjure up a world arriving somewhere,
Resulting in what he may call perfection.
Evil must soon or late succeed to good.
There well may once have been a golden age:
Why should we treat it as a poet's tale?
Yet, in those hills that hung o'er Arcady,
Some roving inebriate Daimon
Begat him fair children
On nymphs of the vineyard,
On nymphs of the rock: -
And in the heart of the forest
Lay bound in white arms,
In action creative a father
Without a thought for his child: -
A purposeless god,
The forbear of men
To corrupt, ape, inherit and spoil
That fine race before hand with doom!
No, Damon, what's an answer worth to one
Whose mind has been flung open?
Only last night,
The gates of my spirit gave entrace
Unto the great light;
And I saw how virtue seduceth,
Not ended today or tomorrow
Like the passion for love,
Like the passion for life -
But perennial pain
And age-long effort.
Dead deeds are the teeth that shine
In the mouth that repeateth praise,
That spurs men to do high things
Since their fathers did higher before -
To give more than they hope to receive,
To slave and to die in a secular cause!
The mouth that smiles over-praise
Eats out the heart of each fool
To feed the great dream of a race.
Yet wearied peoples each in turn awake
From virtue, as a man from his brief love,
And, roughtly shaken, face the useless truth;
No answer to brute fact has e'er been found.
Slaves of your slaves, caged in your furnished rooms,
Ushered to meals when reft of appetite -
Though hungry, bound to wait a stated hour -
Your dearest contemplation broken off
By the appointed summons to your bath;
Racked with more thought for those whom you may flog
Than for those dear; obsessed by your possessions
With a dull round of stale anxieties; -
Soon maintenance grows the extreme reach of hope
For those held in respect, as in a vice,
By citizens of whom they are the pick.
Of men the least bond is the roving seaman
Who hires himself to merchantman or pirate
For single voyages, stays where he may please,
Lives his purse empty in a dozen ports,
And ne'er obeys the ghost of what once was!
His laugh chimes readily; his kiss, no symbol
Of aught to come, but cordial, eager, hot,
Leaves his tomorrow free. With him for comrade
Each day shall be enough, and what is good
Enjoyed, and what is evil borne or cursed.
I go, because I will not have a friend
Lay claim upon my leisure this day week.
I will be melted by each smile that takes me;
What though a hundred lips should meet with mine!
A vagabond I shall be as the moon is.
The sun, the waves, the winds, all birds, all beasts,
Are ever on the move, and take what comes;
They are not parasites like plants and men
Rooted in that which fed them yesterday.
Not even Memory shall follow Delphis,
For I will yield to all impulse save hers,
Therein alone subject to prescient rigour;
Lest she should lure me back among the dying -
Pilfer the present for the beggar past.
Free minds must bargain with each greedy moment
And seize the most that lies to hand at once.
Ye are too old to understand my words;
I yet have youth enough, and can escape
From that which sucks each individual man
Into the common dream.
Stay, Delphis, hear what Damon has to say!
He is mad!
Mad - yes - mad as cruelty!
. . . . . .
Poor, poor Cydilla! was it then to this
That all my tale was prologue?
Think of Amyntas, think of that poor boy,
Bereaved as we are both bereaved! Come, come,
Find him, and say that Love himself has sent us
To offer our poor service in his stead.
Good Damon, help me find my wool; my eyes
Are blind with tears; then I will come at once!
We must be doing something, for I feel
We both shall drown our hearts with time to spare.
Comments about this poem (A Sicilian Idyll by Thomas Sturge Moore )
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