There lives a creature of a dreamer's brain,
That strove by charms, and with the aid of ghosts,
Of making gold to find the secret out;
That drew a wide ring round his crucible,
And, while the spirits worked at alchemy,
He, to beat back vast, adverse ghosts essayed.
But soon, within the circle he had drawn,
Was set a monstrous Foot, so large, his face
Was level with the instep: all in vain
His puny efforts to drive back the Foot.
Oh, hard for him who, having once let in
On the charm'd circle of the golden good
The first advance of error, strives to oust
The evil, and make clear the round again.
Not often will the giant Foot retreat.
And I behink me him who, in the past,
Before Christ's passion ransom'd man from sin,
And in a land that did not know of God
Forced back the Foot of one remorseful crime,
Walked silently beneath the silent stars,
And gave his heart to cogitation thus:
'Anteia, wife to Proitos, tempted me:
She, in the palace where the fountains are,
Met me at twilight as she walked alone,
Clad with uncinctured robe, adorned with gems,
Perfumed with all the spices of the East.
She made her arms a wreath about my neck,
And, lifting both her small, gold-sandal'd feet,
Hung her full weight on me; her mouth's closed bud,
Thrilled by the ardent summer of desire,
Butst into honey'd flower against my lips.
With warm cheek pressed to mine, she, in my ear,
Exhaled the poison whisper of her love.
'I drew back scornfully surprised, and hissed
Between set teeth a menace at all sin.
She left me thus, and went to him, her liege,
And with the broken fragments of her speech-
Bits of the jar that could not hold her tears-
She let it fall that I had wronged her much.
'In swift, deep wrath the fierce king called for me,
And on a tablet writing fatal words,
With them he sent me forth beyond his realm
To Lykia, to the king thereof, who met,
And, by the stream of Xanthos, welcomed me.
Nine days of feasting passed, and on the tenth
The tablet was unsealed, its purport known-
And its base appetite is gorged today.
'Th' unconquerable Chimaira first I slew.
She was in front a lion, and behind
A serpent, and was in the middle a goat.
Her breath was blazing fire, with which, in rage,
She burned the drought-parched forests in her path.
And her, by winged alliance with the horse,
I slew, indeed, and gave to rigid death.
I overcame the far-famed Solymi,
I smote the man-opposing Amazons,
I turned to naught the well-armed ambuscade,
And made illustrious my bitter name.
'But what if I had yielded to the queen,
And from the king had stolen that which she,
Tho' offering, had yet no right to give?
I hold, the soul is like a piece of cloth
That, being stained, can be made clean no more-
That nothing can erase the stain of sin.
'Picture that I, having passed safely through
The darkness that is seen by dying eyes,
Have reached the light beyond, and see the gods
In synod throned, and hear Zeus speak and say:
''We serve no law, yet bind the steadfast earth
And all the ways of men in chains of law
Harmonious with good and linked thereto.
The blinded mortal lured to break one chain
Makes discord, stains the fabric of his soul,
And brings dire retribution headlong down.'
'Then I, in meek abasement kneeling there
Upon the low, first step of Zeus's throne,
Hold up my shameful soul, a piece of cloth
Through fault of Queen Anteia doubly stained,
''O Zeus, accept this humble gift!
Thou wroughtest it: the texture is as fine
As the loose wool of clouds, or the worm's silk.
These blots and stains are most like roses strewn.'
'His calmness rippled by slight breeze of scorn,
The great cloud-gatherer would answer me:
''O fool! and blind, to mock the mighty gods;
For, on the mystic texture of the soul,
Only a noble deed shows like a flower.'
'Well, whoso wills shall ever have his way,
And what was right, that I had willed to do.
So, haply, I on Pegasus shall scale
White-crowned Olympus to the brazen halls,
If I may keep the path of righteousness
That the strong gods ordained.'
Thus mused he then,
Unmindful that great zeal for any good
Begets a narrowness that leads to ill.
The heaven-sent gad-fly stings the flying horse,
And hurls the rider back to common ground.
Henry Abbey's Other Poems
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