From the Book of Myths

by Bliss Carman


 

AT PHÆDRA'S TOMB


 

What old grey ruin can this be,
Beside the blue Saronic Sea?
What tomb is this, what temple here,
Thus side by side so many a year?

This is that temple Phædra built

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To Aphrodite, having spilt
Her whole heart's great warm love in vain,
One lovely mortal's love to gain;
Yet trusting by that fervent will,
Consuming and unconquered still,
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In spite of failure and of fate,
By favour of the gods to sate
Her splendid lost imperious
Mad love for young Hippolytus,
Whose brilliant beauty seemed to glow
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Like a tall Alp in rosy snow,
While love and passion, wind and fire,
Flared through the field of her desire.

"Great Mother, come from Paphos now
With benediction on thy brow,

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And pity! Not beneath the sun
Lives such another hapless one.
O Aphrodite of the sea,
For love have mercy upon me!
Give me his beauty now to slake
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This body's longing and soul's ache!
Touch his cold heart until he know
The divine sorrow of love's woe."

What madness hers, what folly his!
And all their beauty come to this

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Epitome of mortal doom—
A name, a story, and a tomb!
Have ye not seen the fog from sea
On Autumn mornings silently
Steal in to land, and wrap the sun
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With its grey, cold oblivion?

The goddess would not smile on her,
On him no gentler mood confer.
He still must flush his maiden whim;
She still must leash her love for him,

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A fancy lawless and superb,
Too wild to tame, too strong to curb,
Too great for her to swerve or stay
In our half-hearted modern way.

Have ye not seen the fog from land

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Blow out to sea, and leave the band
Of orange marsh and lilac shore
To brood in Autumn peace once more?
So there survives the magic fame
Of her imperishable name,—
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Light from a time when love was great,
And strong hearts had no fear of fate,
But lived and strove and wrought and died,
With beauty for their only guide.

And yet this temple, raised and wrought

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With prayers and tears, availed her nought.
The years with it have had their will;
Her soft name is a by-word still
For thwarted spirit, vexed and teased
By yearnings that cannot be eased,—
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The soul that chafes upon the mesh
Of tenuous yet galling flesh.

How blue that midday shadow is
In the white dust of Argolis! . . .
This is her tomb. . . . See, near at hand,

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This myrtle! Here she used to stand.
Those days when her love-haunted eyes
Saw her new-builded hope arise,
Watching the masons set the stone
And fingering her jewelled zone,
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Or moving restless two and fro,
Her pale brows knit a little, so.

Look! every leaf pierced through and through!
I doubt not the gold pin she drew
From her dark hair, and, as the storm

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Of love swept through her lovely form
With pique and passion, thrust on thrust,
Vented her vehemence. O dust,
That once entempled such a flame
With beauty, colour, line and name,
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And gave great Love a dwelling-place
Behind so fair, so sad a face,
Where is thy wilful day-dream now,
That passionate lip, that moody brow?
Ah, fair Greek woman, if there bloom
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Some flower of knowledge in the gloom,
Receive the piteous, loving sigh
Of one more luckless passer-by.
Peace, peace, wild heart! Unsatisfied
Has every mortal lived and died,
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Since thy dear beauty found a bed
Forever with the dreaming dead,
In seagirt Hellas long ago,
Immortal for thy mortal woe!