George Meredith

(12 February 1828 – 18 May 1909 / Portsmouth, England)

Phaethon--Attempted In Galliambic Measure - Poem by George Meredith

At the coming up of Phoebus the all-luminous charioteer,
Double-visaged stand the mountains in imperial multitudes,
And with shadows dappled men sing to him, Hail, O Beneficent!
For they shudder chill, the earth-vales, at his clouding, shudder to
In the light of him there is music thro' the poplar and river-sedge,
Renovation, chirp of brooks, hum of the forest--an ocean-song.
Never pearl from ocean-hollows by the diver exultingly,
In his breathlessness, above thrust, is as earth to Helios.
Who usurps his place there, rashest? Aphrodite's loved one it is!
To his son the flaming Sun-God, to the tender youth, Phaethon,
Rule of day this day surrenders as a thing hereditary,
Having sworn by Styx tremendous, for the proof of his parentage,
He would grant his son's petition, whatsoever the sign thereof.
Then, rejoiced, the stripling answered: 'Rule of day give me; give
it me,
Give me place that men may see me how I blaze, and transcendingly
I, divine, proclaim my birthright.' Darkened Helios, and his
Choked prophetic: 'O half mortal!' he exclaimed in an agony,
'O lost son of mine! lost son! No! put a prayer for another thing:
Not for this: insane to wish it, and to crave the gift impious!
Cannot other gifts my godhead shed upon thee? miraculous
Mighty gifts to prove a blessing, that to earth thou shalt be a joy?
Gifts of healing, wherewith men walk as the Gods beneficently;
As a God to sway to concord hearts of men, reconciling them;
Gifts of verse, the lyre, the laurel, therewithal that thine origin
Shall be known even as when I strike on the string'd shell with
And the golden notes, like medicine, darting straight to the
Fill them up, till hearts of men bound as the billows, the ships
Thus intently urged the Sun-God; but the force of his eloquence
Was the pressing on of sea-waves scattered broad from the rocks
What shall move a soul from madness? Lost, lost in delirium,
Rock-fast, the adolescent to his father, irreverent,
'By the oath! the oath! thine oath!' cried. The effulgent foreseer
Quivering in his loins parental, on the boy's beaming countenance
Looked and moaned, and urged him for love's sake, for sweet life's
sake, to yield the claim,
To abandon his mad hunger, and avert the calamity.
But he, vehement, passionate, called out: 'Let me show I am what I
That the taunts I hear be silenced: I am stung with their
Only, Thou, my Father, Thou tell how aloft the revolving wheels,
How aloft the cleaving horse-crests I may guide peremptorily,
Till I drink the shadows, fire-hot, like a flower celestial,
And my fellows see me curbing the fierce steeds, the dear dew-
Yea, for this I gaze on life's light; throw for this any sacrifice.'

All the end foreseeing, Phoebus to his oath irrevocable
Bowed obedient, deploring the insanity pitiless.
Then the flame-outsnorting horses were led forth: it was so
They were yoked before the glad youth by his sister-ancillaries.
Swift the ripple ripples follow'd, as of aureate Helicon,
Down their flanks, while they impatient pawed desire of the
And the bit with fury champed. Oh! unimaginable delight!
Unimagined speed and splendour in the circle of upper air!
Glory grander than the armed host upon earth singing victory!
Chafed the youth with their spirit surcharged, as when blossom is
shaken by winds,
Marked that labour by his sister Phaethontiades finished, quick
On the slope of the car his forefoot set assured: and the morning
Seeing whom, and what a day dawned, stood the God, as in harvest
When the reaper grasps the full sheaf and the sickle that severs it:
Hugged the withered head with one hand, with the other, to indicate
(If this woe might be averted, this immeasurable evil),
Laid the kindling course in view, told how the reins to manipulate:
Named the horses fondly, fearful, caution'd urgently betweenwhiles:
Their diverging tempers dwelt on, and their wantonness, wickedness,
That the voice of Gods alone held in restraint; but the voice of
None but Gods can curb. He spake: vain were the words: scarcely
Mounted Phaethon, swinging reins loose, and, 'Behold me, companions,
It is I here, I!' he shouted, glancing down with supremacy;
'Not to any of you was this gift granted ever in annals of men;
I alone what only Gods can, I alone am governing day!'
Short the triumph, brief his rapture: see a hurricane suddenly
Beat the lifting billow crestless, roll it broken this way and that;
At the leap on yielding ether, in despite of his reprimand,
Swayed tumultuous the fire-steeds, plunging reckless hither and yon;
Unto men a great amazement, all agaze at the Troubled East:-
Pitifully for mastery striving in ascension, the charioteer,
Reminiscent, drifts of counsel caught confused in his arid wits;
The reins stiff ahind his shoulder madly pulled for the mastery,
Till a thunder off the tense chords thro' his ears dinned horrible.
Panic seized him: fled his vision of inviolability;
Fled the dream that he of mortals rode mischances predominant;
And he cried, 'Had I petitioned for a cup of chill aconite,
My descent to awful Hades had been soft, for now must I go
With the curse by father Zeus cast on ambition immoderate.
Oh, my sisters! Thou, my Goddess, in whose love I was enviable,
From whose arms I rushed befrenzied, what a wreck will this body be,
That admired of thee stood rose-warm in the courts where thy
Celebration had from me, me the most splendidly privileged!
Never more shall I thy temple fill with incenses bewildering;
Not again hear thy half-murmurs--I am lost!--never, never more.
I am wrecked on seas of air, hurled to my death in a vessel of
Hither, sisters! Father, save me! Hither, succour me, Cypria!'

Now a wail of men to Zeus rang: from Olympus the Thunderer
Saw the rage of the havoc wide-mouthed, the bright car
Over Asia, Africa, low down; ruin flaming over the vales;
Light disastrous rising savage out of smoke inveterately;
Beast-black, conflagration like a menacing shadow move
With voracious roaring southward, where aslant, insufferable,
The bright steeds careered their parched way down an arc of the
For the day grew like to thick night, and the orb was its beacon-
And from hill to hill of darkness burst the day's apparition forth.
Lo, a wrestler, not a God, stood in the chariot ever lowering:
Lo, the shape of one who raced there to outstrip the legitimate
Lo, the ravish'd beams of Phoebus dragged in shame at the chariot-
Light of days of happy pipings by the mead-singing rivulets!
Lo, lo, increasing lustre, torrid breath to the nostrils; lo,
Torrid brilliancies thro' the vapours lighten swifter, penetrate
Fasten merciless, ruminant, hueless, on earth's frame crackling
He aloft, the frenzied driver, in the glow of the universe,
Like the paling of the dawn-star withers visibly, he aloft:
Bitter fury in his aspect, bitter death in the heart of him.
Crouch the herds, contract the reptiles, crouch the lions under
their paws.
White as metal in the furnace are the faces of human-kind:
Inarticulate creatures of earth dumb all await the ultimate shock.
To the bolt he launched, 'Strike dead, thou,' uttered Zeus, very
'Perish folly, else 'tis man's fate'; and the bolt flew unerringly.
Then the kindler stooped; from the torch-car down the measureless
Leaned his rayless head, relinquished rein and footing, raised not a
Like the flower on the river's surface when expanding it vanishes,
Gave his limbs to right and left, quenched: and so fell he
Seen of men as a glad rain-fall, sending coolness yet ere it comes:
So he showered above them, shadowed o'er the blue archipelagoes,
O'er the silken-shining pastures of the continents and the isles;
So descending brought revival to the greenery of our earth.

Lither, noisy in the breezes now his sisters shivering weep,
By the river flowing smooth out to the vexed sea of Adria,
Where he fell, and where they suffered sudden change to the
Ever-wailful trees bemoaning him, a bruised purple cyclamen.

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 15, 2010

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