From the Book of Myths

by Bliss Carman


 

MARSYAS


 

In Celænæ by Meander lived a youth once long ago,
And one passion great and splendid brimmed his heart to overflow,—
Filled the world for him with beauty, sense and colour, joy and glow.

Not ambition and not power, love nor luxury nor fame,
Beckoned him to join their pageant, summoned Marsyas by name,

5
Bidding unreluctant spirit dare to keep the soaring aim;

But the sorceries of music, note and rapture, tone and thrill,
Sounding the serene enchantment over meadow, stream and hill,
Blew for him the undesisting magic call-note, followed still.

And he followed. Heart of wonder, how the keen blue smoke upcurled

10
From the shepherd huts to heaven! How the dew lay silver-pearled
Where sleek sided cattle wandered through the morning of the world!

On a stream bank lay the idler dreaming dreams—for it was Spring—
And he heard the frogs in chorus make the watery marshes ring;
Heard new comers at their nesting in the vineyards pipe and sing;

15
 
Heard the river lisp below him; heard the wind chafe reed on reed;
Every earth-imprisoned creature finding vent and voice at need.
Ah! if only so could mortal longing and delight be freed!

Hark! What piercing unknown cry comes stealing o’er the forest ground,
Pouring sense and soul together in an ecstasy new-found?

20
Dream’s fulfilment brought to pass and life untethered at a bound!

Then it pauses, and the youth beyond the river-bend perceives
A divine one in her beauty stand, half-hidden by the leaves,
Fingering a wondrous wood-pipe, whence the clear sound joys or grieves.

As he looked, entranced and musing at the marvel of the strain,

25
All her loveliness uncinctured with a madness touched his brain,
And love, like a vernal fever, dyed him with its scarlet stain.

But Athene, glancing downward in the silver of the stream,
As she fluted, saw her perfect mouth distorted by a seam;
Faltered, stopped, and, disconcerted, seemed to ponder half in dream

30
 
For a rueful moment; and then with reluctance tossed the reed
She had fashioned in a happy leisure mood to serve her need
Back into the tranquil river, nothing but a river weed,

All the cunning life that filled it quenched and spilt and flung away,
To go seaward to oblivion on a wandering stream. But stay!

35
The young Phrygian lad has seen it,—marked the current set his way,—

Stooped and picked it from the water; put the treasure-trove to lip;
Blown his first breath, faint yet daring; felt the wild notes crowd and slip
Into melody and meaning from each testing finger-tip.

Then, ah, then had mortal spirit sweep and room at last to range

40
The lost limits of creation and the borderlands of change,
All earth’s loveliness transmuting into something new and strange;

All of beauty, all of knowledge, all of wonder, fused and caught
In the rhythmus of the music, weaving out of sense and thought
And a touch of love the fabric out of which the world was wrought.

45
 
And the joy of each new cadence, as the glad notes pressed and cried,
Eager for the strain’s fulfilment, as they rose and merged and died
In the music’s utmost measure, filled the rose-grey mountain side,—

Touched the sheep-bells in the meadow, moved the rushes in the stream,
And suffused the youth with glory as he passed from theme to theme;

50
Made him as the gods of morning in the ampler air of dream.

Ah, what secret, what enchantment so could help the human need,
Save the breath of life that lingered in the hollow of the reed,
Since the careless mouth of beauty blessed it—with so little heed?

There he stood, a youth transfigured in the young world’s golden glow.

55
Made immortal in a moment by the music’s melting flow,
Pattern of the artist’s glory for the after years to know.

There he stands for us in picture, with the pipe whereon he plays; 
The slow, large-eyed cattle wonder, and the flocks forget to graze,
While upon the hill a shepherd turns and listens in amaze.

60


In the woods the timid creatures, reassured, approach and peer,
Half aware the charm’s allurement they must follow as they hear
Is the first far-looked-for presage of the banishment of fear.

Silence falls upon the woodland, quiet settles on the plain;
Earth and air and the blue heaven, without harm or taint or stain,

65
Are restored to their old guise of large serenity again.

Thus the player at his piping in the early mode and grave
Took form Wisdom the inventress what the earth in bounty gave,
And therein to round completion put the beating heart and brave.

So, you artists and musicians, earth awaits perfection still;

70
Wisdom tarries by the brookside, beauty loiters on the hill,
For the love that shall reveal them with the yet undreamed-of skill.

Love be therefore all your passion, the one ardour that ye spend
To enhance the craft’s achievement with significance and trend,
Making faultless the wild strain that else were faulty to the end.

75

Love must lend the magic cadence —that unearthly dying fall
When the simple sweet earth-music takes us captive past recall,
And the loved one and the lover lose this world, nor care at all.