Eleusinia

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Eleusinia  (1881) 
by Arthur Machen
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Eleusinia,

BY A FORMER MEMBER OF H.C.S.

OUDEIS MUOMENOS ODURETAI.

HEREFORD:
PRINTED BY JOSEPH JONES, 10, BROAD STREET.
1881.

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Eleusinia.


THE ASSEMBLING.

THE day is dawning. Whither shall we bend
Our steps, and whither send
The herald on before us; mighty clouds
That have been thick about the path of night,
Now parting all asunder, let the rays
Of mighty Pæan glance upon the hills,
And shew us here and there a marble tower,
With minarets that climb aloft, and gleam
Like silver crowns upon the hills of time.
Let us then climb these hill-tops, if with pain
And patient limbs we may attain thereto.. ......... We then at last have come unto the brow,
And gloried with the rays of the young sun,
May look upon the valley underneath.
It is a plain far stretching to the sea,
Which rocks and tumbles on the distant shore,
While close beneath the hill on which we stand
There is a city shining like a bride,
Whose birth-place was in old Pentelicus.
And all the roads which lead into the town
Are crowded with the hurrying steps of men,
Who have been coming from the north and south,
And east and west;
That they may see the city on this day,
And celebrate the praise of Demeter.


Are they not weary toiling through the night?
Is it not long before the dawn is breaking?
Shall not the pilgrims gladden in the light?
When the God shall burst forth, the powers of darkness shaking.


No, we are not weary, if the night is long;
Nay, it is not long before the dawn is breaking.
For there rises oft the solemn swelling song
While our holy priest his offering is making.


Demeter all holy, see we toil to meet thee,
From the distant parts of thy beloved land;
Demeter all holy, shall we ever see thee
Standing in thy majesty, while countless as the sand
On yonder shore, the multitude adore thee
As thou blessest all men with thy loving hand?


Athens is thy dwelling place:
Holy mother, give us grace.
In the town thy temple stands
Bright, all marble from thine hands,
While the gathering people kneel, journeying from many lands.


Is that thy priest who stands within the town?
Is that thy choir whose thunders roar and swell?
Hail to thee most mighty, great be thy renown,
While minstrels sing, and priests thy glory tell.


And now the glory of the rising sun,
Poured forth upon the city marble-built;
And all the crowd of worshippers was come
Unto the temple of the Goddess Queen.
And there they hymn her with resounding songs,
Which rise and fall like thunders, or the noise
Of mighty waters rolling on the shore.
And so the day goes on in worshipping,
Until the sun has hid himself behind
The purple hills that compass Athens round.
And the moon glitters in the pale blue sky
Upon the pilgrims, who have laid their limbs
Weary, but glad at heart, upon the beds
Of herbs, which all the city strews for them.
Such was the ending of the opening day.


THE SEA-SHORE.

NOW to the sea the mystai bend their steps,
To purge all stain of guilt from off their souls;
And as they go, in pure white vestments clad,
Each one and all implore the goddess queen
To pardon all the sins of the past life,
And wash them pure, and free from every fault.
Down from the temple through the narrow streets,
And gardens smelling sweet, and cool with leaves,
Till they have passed out of the city gates,
And come unto the plain beyond the town.
All through its levels in a mighty band,
Singing in praise of Demeter the Queen.
And then the shore—for every one must wash
His limbs therein, and have it for a sign,
That, as the flesh is pure and free from stain,
The soul within is in like manner cleansed.
So the cool water sweeps away the stain,
And all have been absolved—the priest has said.


THE FAST.

THE dawn again is breaking o'er the deep;
Shall we still journey onward, or yet keep
The fast in Athens? The sea heaves
And murmurs, as the yellow autumn leaves
At eastern winds, and nought relieves
The masses of grey clouds, but ever dark
They stand; and on this day no song
Said of the lark.


For is not now this day a day of tears,
Kept through the long-past years?
Kept and is keeping,
In fast and in weeping.
Now in the city where they stand,
Sorrowing in dark attire,
Wailing at the priest's command
A dirge, while with a lamp of fire
Slowly he lights the sacred pyre
With sad desire.


See, for thy sake is weariness;
Queen for thy sake is great distress.
Let us not perish, kind earth mother,
Sister by sister, brother by brother;
But heavy with thy heaviness,
Mourning and weeping on the temple floor,
Let there be pity for our great complaint.
And as by the sea shore,
We, washing, all were freed from taint;
Turn to us, mighty Queen, and weep no more.


So passed the day in mourning and in fast.


THE PROCESSION.

THE day is dawning. Whither shall we bend
Our steps, or whither send
The herald on before us; the great plain
Pours forth a shout of praise and many songs;
Thunders which roll and sweep the summer air,
Rising and falling like the swelling sea,
And striking all the soul with solemn awe.
Into the heart they rushed like sweet dark wine,
And all the rocks were ringing with the sound
All through the plain in which fair Athens stands,
Until the sailors seaward heard the noise
Of many thunders, and their hearts were stirred,
And worshipping they too took up the chant;
So it rolled along
Over the clear sweet waves till Thetis heard,
Deep in her palaces beneath the sea.
So sweet a song they made, the music yet
Is not all silenced, some clear notes remain,
Though many waves of centuries have passed
Upon those pleasant days: but hark awhile
Unto the chorus, though the years have sped,
And the dim twilight of the world is come.


Goddess most fair,
Loving the gracious land
Of Greece, and the golden sand
Of all its shores, ruling with thy hand
Thy dear Athenian town, but present everywhere.


Are we not pleasing to thee?
Goddess and queen of the corn:
Holiest mother divine,
Grant us thy glory to see,
Bright as the coming of morn:
See how we kneel, and are present, and worship thy shrine.


Hail! thou most sweet
And gracious one,
Is it not meet
To praise thee when the sun
Pours forth his strong far-reaching heat,
And then at evening when his race is run.


Ah! like a summer sea
At eventide
Thy beauty is to me,
I care for nought beside,
Save only thee;
Let thine anthems be upraised, let no chorus be denied.


Ah! soft and sweet
The maidens' voices raise
The hymn of praise,
As through the winding street
With eager feet
They pass, crowned with roses and with bays.


If in the holy place
Men worship thee;
And pray to see thy face,
So we.


If in the inmost fane
Thy glory stands;
Grant us to touch, being without stain,
Thine hands.


If the priest veils his head
And boweth low;
Make us too, pure, as thou hast said,
As snow.


Keep us, who worship thee,
Within thy sight;
Let us, though in the darkness, see
Thy light.


So the whole city burst into a song
That reached us where we stood upon the hill;
And all the altars smoked with frankincense,
Which sailors, toiling in the eastern seas,
With many weary furrows of the deep,
Had brought unto the praise of Demeter.
And all the day the seven-stringed harp rejoiced,
And the procession passed along the streets,
Even until the darkness covered all,
And wearied with great joy the city slept.


THE DAY OF TORCHES.

THE sun has slowly sought his resting place,
And the dim twilight of the day has come;
The worshippers assemble in the streets,
Coming from all the by-ways of the town.
The priest is present; every one a torch
Carries on high, and joins the line of light
Moving towards the temple: let us go.
For there is neither song nor choral chant,
Only the solemn sound of many feet
Moving with one accord; and at the head
Slow walks the priest, holding a torch on high.
At length the long procession reached the place,
Holy to Demeter: then passing on
Through gates and dimly lighted passages,
Until they came unto the central hall,
All set with marble columns, dimly seen,
And here and there a lamp with rosy light
Burning before a statue or a shrine,
Lighting the dimness of the painted walls:
Until the place is full.
All through the night never a voice is heard
In all the echoing passages and halls.
All through the watches of the silent night
The lurid light of many torches shines,
On altar, statue, dimly painted frieze,
Of which the features flicker, hardly seen
In the dim light of torches borne on high.
Still not a word! the watches of the night
Are passing swiftly: and the day is near. ..... ..... ..... Still must they stand,
Waiting and longing for the dawn to come;
For every light burns dimly; and the soul,
Weary of anguish, sickened with the watch.
Paler and paler grows the torch's light,
More and yet more uncertain shew the walls;
And still no sign...
Not from the priest, or from the weary crowd,
But very silence... ...... ...... See! the rosy dawn
Is come at last: the priest has given the sign,
"Depart in peace, the vigil has been watched."


IACCHUS.

THE day is dawning. Whither shall we bend
Our steps, or wither send
The herald on before us? many strings
Are swept, and many echoings of song
Sound and resound throughout the city streets.
Is there a minstrel left?
Or any music which is still unthrilled
Among their choirs? ah! the voices rush
Up like a trumpet through the summer air.
Was ever song like this? the birds rejoice
And sing for gladness; but let us be still,
We are not worshippers; the years are fled,
And hushed the music, if a lingering voice
And echo of their gladness be revealed,
It is enough. Ah! that in early years,
Before the greyness of the world had come,
I could have worshipped also, but enough.
Perchance across the mist and stormy shore
There comes a semitone of solemn sound.
If with sad eyes, all blinded by the mist,
We stretch across the waste, and strain to hear,
What music then was made for weary hearts.
Hark! the chant sweeps and thrills,
Falling and rising like a mighty voice
Of many waters. ......... ......... Through the city gates,
Unto the plain they pass a mighty throng,
For it is near the end, and a great joy
Fills every heart with praise and loud acclaim.


Sweet, we are thine, thy vision is not far,
But close the temple stair
And marble altars; faint not by the way
And fall not, for the fair
Queen shineth like a star
At close of day.
Press on yet faster, lest there be delay.


The maidens are not silent: what a strain
Of love and sweet desire floats along
Their clear sweet voicéd chorus: is there any song
Like to their music, pleasure and sweet pain
Are met together, mingled in a chain,
There is no failing; e'en the weak are strong.


The sweet soft scent of roses fills the air
With silent music, even as a dream
The lilies languish and the censers steam,
Sweet sounds and scents are mingled everywhere;
Far in the clear blue distance climbs the mountain stair.


Thus with their offering of solemn song
The glad procession sweeps along the road,
With dances and with music, till afar
They see the temple: with renewed acclaim
The waves of song burst forth as each one sees
The goal of his desire.
Clear in the summer air it stands and shines
Like music carved in marble, and a song.
What can we say or sing
Of such a moment, for the swelling chords
Are broken of the old resounding harp;
Let there be silence and a solemn awe.
And as we strain across the blinding storm
Of many ages; only semitones
Half broken, half resounding, echo yet,
Heard by a few who love the former time,
And dim remembrance of the far-off years.
Now peace awhile, the night is drawing near;
Peace, and let silence fall
Upon the temple, peace and solemn fear.


THE INITIATION.

THE night has come, a cloud of darkness falls
Upon the temple, save a lonely torch
Lighting at intervals the silent throng,
Who still are waiting there until the time
When all its glories shall be seen by them;
And still a silence...


The heart is sick with waiting, half afraid
And half expectant, is not yet the time?
But ever silence... ..... ..... Hark the trumpet sounds!
Upon the steps the holy herald stands,
And bids the worshippers prepare to see
The glory of the goddess.
How awful darkness broods, and one by one
They pass within; but what is seen by them
Within the temple; who of men shall tell,
Only dim legends handed down and told
From age to age; but no man knows the truth,
Only they tell that sudden light was seen,
And then the darkness covered all again.
Anon the thunder rolls and breaks along,
Crashing and thrilling all the halls among,
And then the silence covered all again. ..... ..... Sweet and fearful sounds,
Following in alternation till the soul
Was melted all within, the heart was still
And almost life departed, then at last
The glory of the goddess was revealed.

FINIS.

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This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1927.


The author died in 1947, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 74 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.