Littell's Living Age/Volume 127/Issue 1640/The Prayer of the Swine to Circe

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Huddling they came, with shag sides caked with mire,
With hoofs still sullied from the troughs o'er-spurned,
With wrinkling snouts; yet eyes in which desire,
With some strange light, unutterably burned,
Unquenchable, — and still where'er she turned
They rose about her, striving each o'er each,
As if with brute importuning they yearned
In that dumb wise some piteous tale to teach,
Yet lacked the words thereto, denied the power of speech.

For these, — Eurylochus alone escaping, —
In truth, that small unhappy band had been,
Whom wise Odysseus, dim precaution shaping,
Ever at heart, of peril unforeseen,
Had sent inland; whom then the islet-Queen,
The fair disastrous daughter of the sun.
Had changed to semblants of the beasts unclean,
With evil wand transforming one by one
To shapes of loathly swine, imbruted and undone.

But the men's minds remained, and these forever
Made hungry suppliance through the passionate eyes.
Still searching aye, with impotent endeavour,
To find, if yet, in any look, there lies
A saving hope, or, if they might surprise
In that cold face soft pity's spark concealed,
Which she, still scorning, evermore denies,
Nor was there in her any ruth revealed.
To whom with such mute speech and dumb words they appealed.

"What hope is ours — what hope! To find no mercy.
After much war and many travails done? —
Ah, kinder far than thy fell philters, Circe,
The ravening Cyclops and the Læstrigon!
And, O, thrice-cursed be Laertes' son,
Through whom, at last, we watch the days decline
With no fair ending of the quest begun.
Condemned in styes to weary and to pine.
And beat with mortal hearts through this foul veil of swine!

"For us not now, for us, alas! no more,
The old green glamour of the glancing sea;
For us not now the laughter of the oar.
The strong-ribbed keelson where our comrades be;
Not now, at even, any more shall we.
By low-browed banks and reedy river-places.
Watch the beast hurry and the wild-fowl flee;
Or, shoreward steering, in the upland spaces
Have sight of curling smoke, and fair-skinned foreign faces!

"Alas for us! — for whom the columned houses,
We left afore-time, cheerless must abide;
Cheerless the hearth where now no guest carouses,
No minstrel raises song at eventide;
And O, more cheerless than all else beside.
The wisiful hearts with heavy longing full;
The wife that watched us on the waning tide.
The sire whose eyes with weariness are dull,
The mother whose slow tears fall on the woven wool!

"If swine we be, if we indeed be swine,
Daughter of Persè, make us swine indeed;
Well-pleased upon the litter's straw to lyne,
Well-pleased on acorn shales and mast to feed.
Moved by all instincts of the bestial breed;
But O Unmerciful, O Pitiless,
Leave us not thus with sick men's hearts to bleed!
To waste long days in yearning, dumb distress.
In memory of things gone, and utter hopelessness!

"Leave us at least, if not the things we were,
At least consentient to the things we be;
Not hapless doomed to loathe the acts we share.
And senseful roll in senseless savagery:
For surely cursed above all cursed are we.
And surely this the bitterest of ill;
To feel the old aspirings fair and free
Become blind movements of a powerless will.
Dispersed through swine-like frames, to swine-like issues still.

"But make us men again, for that thou mayst!
Yea, make us men, enchantress, and restore
These grovelling forms, degraded and debased,
To fair embodiments of men once more;
Yea, by all men that ever woman bore;
Yea, e'en by him, who yet, brought forth in pain.
Shall draw sustaining from thy bosom's core, —
O'er whose thy face yet kindly shall remain,
And find its like therein, — make thou us men again!

"Make thou us men again, if men but groping
That dark hereafter which th' Olympians keep;
Make thou us men again, if men but hoping
Behind death's door security of sleep:
For yet to laugh is somewhat, and to weep;
To feel delight of living, and to plough
The salt-blown acres of the shoreless deep;
Better, yea, better far, all these than bow
Foul faces to foul earth, and yearn — as we do now!"

So they, in speech unsyllabled. But she.
The bitter goddess, born to be their bane,
Uplifting straight her wand of ivory.
Compelled them groaning to the styes again;
Where they, once more, in misery, were fain
To rend the oaken woodwork as before,
And tear the troughs in impotence of pain.
Not knowing, they, that even at the door
Divine Odysseus stood, — as Hermes told of yore.

Good Words.