The Homecoming - Poem by Propertius

Like the weary Cnossian maid that lay on the desolate shore
while Theseus's sail faded far in the distance away;
like Cepheus's daughter, when first she gave herself to sleep,
Andromeda, freed at last from her flinty crag;
like some exhausted Maenad, fallen from the endless dance
to collapse on the grassy bank of Apidanus's stream,
so Cynthia seemed to me to breathe out quiet repose,
her head reclining on her random hands,
when heavy with wine I had trudged homeward my weary way,
and the slaves whirled their torches in dead of night;
and I - for not yet wholly had wine bereft me of wits -
stole up to her, hovering gently by the bed;
and although possessed by the double flame of Love and Wine,
those two inexorable gods, commanding me
to venture a careful embrace as she lay there, and take my fill
of dangerous kisses, stroking her with my hand,
yet I lacked the daring to spoil my mistress's peaceful rest,
dreading her all too familiar bitter reproaches;
but I kept on standing there rooted and stared with unwavering eyes,
like Argus gazing at Io's dismaying horns;
and now I loosened the festive garland from off my forehead
and laid it gently, Cynthia, over your brow,
and again I rejoiced in smoothing your all disarrayed coiffure,
and stealthily offered you apples from cradling hands,
and lavished every gift in vain on ingrate sleep
(they often rolled to the floor from your curving breast) ,
and when you sometimes stirred and heaved an infrequent sigh
I gaped in foolish amazement at the sign,
fearing what alien terrors you met while wandering in sleep,
what man compelled you to be unwillingly his?
But then at last the moon, as it poured through the opposite window
(the late-lingering moon with its dying light)
roused open her sleep-sealed eyes with the gentle touch of its beams,
and rising on elbow in her soft couch, she spoke:
'So! at last another's scorn restores you to my bed,
after she threw you out and slammed the door!
For where have you spent the long hours of night, that should have been mine,
- to come here now, worn out, when the stars are fading?
O if only you had to endure such nights as you always inflict
on me, cruel man, unhappy girl that I am!
Just now I was trying to stave off sleep with my crimson embroidery,
or again, when I wearied, with tunes on the Orphic lyre,
and the while I made low complaint (to myself, since I was deserted)
of your long and frequent delays in another's arms;
till sleep came on with the pleasant blur of his wings, and I drowsed:
that was my last worry among my tears! '

- translated from the Latin by Jon Corelis

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Read poems about / on: sleep, moon, daughter, dance, girl, sometimes, night, light, rose, kiss, fear, star

Poem Submitted: Saturday, November 29, 2003

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