Orion, and Other Poems

by Charles G.D. Roberts


 

SAPPHO


 

HER hair it floated fair and free
In the blushful evening sky;
           The purple sea
           Sobbed wearily,
To the curlew’s mournful cry;                                     
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           Her white feet mock’d
           The barren rock,
With their warmth and beauty and life;
           Her white hands prest
           All close her breast,                                        
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To stifle its bursting strife.
           The musical sea
           Sobbed musically,

The warm wind whispered her,—"Flee:
           Counsel I thee                                                
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           That thou warily flee
The fair-seeming snare of the sea."
           But deeper she drank,
           As the gold sun sank,
The mist of the sea’s purple breath;                            
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           While the sun’s last embrace
           Lit flame in her face,
And her eyes searched the shadows of Death.

           But the shadows are driven,
           Like night-clouds riven,                                  
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From her eyes by a heaven of song,
           That trembles and floats,
           In silver-lipped notes,
From a light skiff drifting along:
           All the singers save one                                  
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           Full-faced to the sun,
But the one to the rim of the moon;
           And it seeméd the tune
           Was the voice of the moon,
Or the moon the embodied tune.                                
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           O’er the tingling pink
           Of her eager ear’s brink
The golden melody swells,
           As a ripple’s song slips
           In the dawn-kissed lips                                    
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Of listening, mimicking shells;
           And chases away—
           So enchanting the lay—
Her purpose and pain, forsooth,
           Till she sees the face,                                      
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           In the thin moon’s embrace,
Of the Mitylenian youth;

           And the shadows return,
           And her drooped lids burn,
And she calls to him under her breath;                        
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           Then leaps to meet,
           At the cliff’s chilled feet,
The hungry embraces of Death.

           And the slumbrous sea
           Wakes tremulously,                                        
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And thrills to his furthest streams;
           And a sudden glow
           Through the depths below
Gives the Nereids blissful dreams;
           And the deepest sea-graves                            
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           In Leucadian caves
Are lighted with golden gleams,
           As though the sunk sun
           Had thitherward run
To pry with his fronting beams.                                  
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           And the musical sea
           Sings more musically
Than he ever has sung before,
           And the whole night long
           His syrenal song                                             
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Beguiles the soul of the shore.
           And at peep of morrow
           In red-eyed sorrow
The Lesbian maids come by;
           And search the sand                                       
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           Of the rippled strand,
And the shallows remote and nigh;
           But they see the maiden
           All tenderly laid in
A coral bed deep from harms;                                   
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           And for all their endeavor
           The sea will not give her
From his encircling arms.
           Nor ever could they
           Have won her away,                                      
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For all their Ionian cunning,
           Had not the sea-maids,
           In their emerald braids,
Who were wont to sit a-sunning
           In the sea-monarch’s smile,                            
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           In their envy and guile
           Upborn her again to the shore,
Which shall gleam with the blaze of her funeral-pile,
           But throb with her song no more.

 

Chorus of Lesbian youth, singing around the funeral-pyre.

SEMI-CHORUS I

          Scatter roses from full hands;

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              Wreathe bright garlands; bring white heifers.
          Call sweet savors from far lands,
              Borne on wings of morning zephyrs.

SEMI-CHORUS II

          Burn, with olives’ outpressed fatness,

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              Riches of the swarthy bees.
          Bring to slake the thirsty embers
              Wine new-purgéd from the leas.

SEMI-CHORUS I

          Twine the voices; wreathe the song;
              Weave a dirge of mythic numbers.

SEMI-CHORUS II

          Breathe it high and sweet and strong,

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              For ye will not pierce her slumbers.

CHORUS

          Jove-bestowed, thy passioned singing
              O’er the Grecian nations came;
          Was in Grecian ears a heaven,
              And in Grecian blood a flame.  

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          Now thy songful lips are silent;
              But thy deathless song shall dwell
          In men’s bosoms, and its echoes
              Down far-distant ages swell.

          And forever thy sweet singing
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              Rich to hearts of men shall come,
          In its meaning and its music
              A full goblet crowned with foam.

          Now the sea lies gray and chilly
              Under the wet streaks of dawn;
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          Now the dull red embers darken,
              And their glow is almost gone:

          Quench them; pour the last libation;
              Slake them with red Lesbian wine;
          In wrought brass enclose her ashes:
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              Once more are the Muses nine.