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Polyphemus poem – Alfred Austin


POLYPHEMUS “Where lurk they now? Either in some green grot,

With cool, moist mosses overhung, that drink

From slowly-welling, never-waning wave

The freshness of their sustenance; or hid

In the snug hollow of some rounded bole,

Chestnut or pine, whose heart corroding time

Hath pared away, leaving the knotted rind

For shelter against sunshine, wind, or rain,

The weather’s wantonness; or, haply, couched

Under the veil of newly-wedded vine,

And, like its lissom tendrils, interlaced

The one within the other, palm with palm,

And fingers feeling fondly round the throat

And underneath the tresses, smooth-skinned pair,

Whom unforeseeing heedlessness of love

And insolicitude of youth enthral,

To one vague purpose by themselves unguessed,

Still pasturing on the flowery sweets of life.

I see them neither on the hill, nor yet

Down in the vale, nor on the dimpled beach,

Nor sporting with the dolphins in the wave:

Though this one orb, crafty Ulysses seared,

By Neptune’s healing potency restored,

From mainland unto mainland wandereth wide,

Scanning each dip and dingle of the isle,

And every ridge and roller of the sea.

Well, better thus! Did I behold them now,

In noonday heat, their ruddy lips as close

As cherry unto cherry on one stem,

Their eyes one long, unseparating gaze,

Not all the snows on Etna would allay

The fever of my longing.”

GALATEA “Follow me, Acis, follow me, follow,

Over the hillock and down by the hollow!

Follow me, follow, where musk-rose and myrtle

Entangle my tresses and catch in my kirtle;

Onward where cistus and cyclamen mingle,

And hemlock and asphodel gleam in the dingle,

Down to the dip where the brook bends and babbles,

The water-hen nests, and her callow brood dabbles;

Under the labyrinth hazelnut cover,

Follow me, follow, my light-footed lover!

Thence to the open where sunlight is sweeter,

And there we will prove which is lither and fleeter.

Past the bruised rosemary look for and find me;

Track me and trace by the fragrance behind me.

See! I am breathless; so hither, and hold me,

And close to your tenderness fondle and fold me.

This is the oldest and sweetest of blisses,

To be followed, and caught, and pay forfeit of kisses;

So follow me, follow!”

POLYPHEMUS “The shadows on the silent hillside stretch

Longer and darker, and more sharp and clear

The smokeless cone of Etna cleaves the air,

And soon from snowy breast to brow will flush

Pink as the rose in Galatea’s cheek.

I must go gather up my goats, and press

The stream from out the heavy-uddered ewes

Loud bleating for relief. A bubbling bowl

Of vesper milk would cozen any maid,

Any but Galatea, to my side,

While I, myself imperious Neptune’s son,

To her recounted legendary tales

Of demigod and nymph when Love was young.

Ah! Love is always young, and I am old;

And any beardless stripling casts a spell

Of fresh enchantment round the nubile heart

That I with all my cunning cannot weave.

To be so wise, withal so little loved!

We blossom for ourselves, we fruit for others!

Nothing avails my knowledge, nor the years

Of intercourse with those elusive powers

That underlie the semblances we see,

Whereby I somewhat to the heart have pierced

Of Nature and Necessity, and wrung

Toll of their secrets. What is left me else,

Weary of insurrection ‘gainst the gods,

The far-off, calm, invulnerable gods,

Sailing supine on thunder-sheeted clouds

And canopied by the unpropped dome of Heaven?

Could I to one high purpose fix my mind,

And, when my flock were browsing ‘mong the crags,

Or folded for the night, forget my youth

And those desires, the dregs of bygone joy,

That youth, no longer sparkling, leaves to age,

The stars my sole companions and the herbs

Culled in the secret places, and pursue

With passionless resolve the steadfast search,

In planet and in simple, for the key

Of the world’s central government, and store

In deathless verse for famishing mankind

The harvest of my reaping, I might then

Bless silent, slow, unsympathising Time

That on my brow accumulates the years

To crown them with tranquillity. But now

I have all the snows of Etna on my head,

And all its panting furnace in my heart.

Where are they now? Did I but penetrate

To the recesses of their amorous bliss,

I, with one blast from this volcanic breast,

Should strew their fondlings on the blackened coils

Of lava down the hillside.”

ACIS “Wake, Galatea, now wake from your dreaming!

On beach and on breaker the moonlight is streaming.

Down in the lucent tide mermaids are singing,

And the seaweed above them is swaying and swinging!

Melody rises and rolls through the shingle,

Where sweet wave and salt wave have meeting and mingle.

Sweetest one, fleetest one, fleetest and fairest,

Come where the black rocks are bleakest and barest,

But curve for your coming ‘twixt billow and billow

The softest of couches, with foam-fringe for pillow!

Through the wave, ‘neath the wave, over and over,

Dive where the coral gleams pink as the clover

I gathered and gave you from Proserpine’s garden,

When Love had displeased you, and prayed you for pardon.

Wake from your dreaming and haste to the haven,

Where smoothly with gold sand the sea-floor is paven.

Loosen your girdle, and lengthen your tresses,

And glide through the water that curls and caresses.

Float we and flow we, but moved by its motion,

Till we and the moonlight are one with the ocean.

Wake, Galatea!”

POLYPHEMUS “Now is the hour when most I feel how lone

It is to be a bastard of the gods,

Not wholly human, yet not quite divine,

Celestially fathered, yet shut out

From the serene of Heaven! While I range

The pathless labyrinth of forest pines,

Laden with logwood for my cavern hearth;

Climb the rough crags betwixt whose smooth, green flanks

The adventurous goats browse wayward; or descend,

Driving them home before my voice; or rive

Time-toughened oaks for virgin honeycomb,

Dripping with golden sweetness; or with care

Curdle the autumn milk in shelving bowls

For winter sustenance; then I forget

The god within me, and on task intent

That needs but mortal energy I live,

Human at every pore, a man-no more.

But now my flock are folded safe within,

And in the snow-cold larder of my cave

Is store for morrow’s nourishment; and lo!

Up from the wave rolleth the rounded moon,

To wend her silent, uncompanioned way

Monotonous through Heaven; and with her mounts

The Olympian ichor in my veins, to wake

Ancestral longings. Nymphs as fair as she

Whom strenuous Neptune forcibly bewitched

To be my mother, willingly to me

In adolescent days subdued their hearts

And sported with my strength, for I could bear,

Aye, and could carry still, their flimsy forms

Straight up the lava-loops, and let them gaze

Into the jaws of Etna! That sleek pair,

Who flout me with their fondlings, I could ride

One upon either shoulder, round and round

The various isle, plain, pasture, promontory,

Orchard, and sun-burnt bluff, or thuswise wade

Through torrents raging with the melted snow

From norward rampart ranges. But they love

Only to toy and trifle in the vale.

Heaven is too lofty for their dwarf desires,

And I too vast for puny purposes.”

ACIS “Are you there, Galatea?”

GALATEA “Yes, here in the moonlight,

Where the wave is as bright as the beach in the noonlight.”

ACIS “You are brighter than either. I cannot descry you

From radiant ripple until I come nigh you.

I lose you, I find you, again you grow dimmer,

Till round me seems nothing but shadow and shimmer.

‘Tis your golden-rayed ringlets that baffle and blind me.”

GALATEA “Float unto my voice, dear, and there you will find me.

Here, lock we our hands, love, and float we together,

Or cling, if you will, to my tresses for tether.

We are one upon land, be we one on the breaker!”

ACIS “Who found Galatea could never forsake her.”

GALATEA “Dear Acis, my Acis! Now wed we our voices,

And sing with the surge as it roams and rejoices.

There are moonbeams below us, and moonbeams above us,

And the stars in the heavens look down on and love us.”

ACIS “O fair Galatea!”

GALATEA “My fond, faithful Acis!”

POLYPHEMUS “Hark! ‘Twas her voice, upsoaring from the sea!

The twain are riding on the moonlit foam,

As is their wont when rolls the rising moon

A radiant roadway right athwart the wave,

For fatuous fancy’s forward-running feet

To journey to the goal of its desires.

See, there they float enamoured, hand in hand,

Rising and falling with the heaving tide

As it subsides or surges. Save her voice

Guided my vision, I had now not felt

The torture of their transports, nor discerned

Which is her billowy beauty, which the wave.

Now, by the mighty and majestic gods,

And that wide-weltering if lesser god,

My sea-subduing father, why should I,

Who have the thunders at my beck, and forge

In my fuliginous smithy bolts for Jove,

Live mocked to moaning by that puny pair,

When I from Etna’s bulging flanks could wrench,

As, by my pangs unbearable! will I now,

This many-rooted rock, and straightway heave

Destruction on their dallying.”

ACIS “O, where’s Galatea?”

GALATEA “Deep down in the wave,

Where the love-loving gods have submerged me, to save.

I am one with the mermaidens, one with the main,

Shall no more be your playmate on pasture and plain;

The flower-fields of Enna will see me no more,

I may float to the seaweed, but not to the shore.

Come there to me, Acis! I never can be

Immortal, save, dearest, immortal with thee!’

ACIS “I am here on the hillside, in hidden ravine,

Where the mosses are moist and the maidenhair green.

I am suckled by snow-bosoms warmed by the sun,

Through the reeds and the rushes I ripple and run.

I, too, am immortal, I never can fail;

If my source is the summit, my bourne is the vale.

I am coming, am coming, on hastening feet,

That the sweet wave and salt wave may mingle and meet;

To your mermaiden-music hill-music will bring

From the full founts of summer and freshets of spring.

We together shall glide, we together shall gleam,

For you are my Siren, and I am your Stream;

From your fondness my fondness no hatred can sever,

I shall lap you, and lave you, and love you for ever,

Beloved Galatea!”


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