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Narcissus. Oil painting by Caravaggio, c. 1594–1596

Since the great, glad greeting of dawn from the eastern hills
        Triumphant ran with a shout to the woods below,
With the song in his ears of the clearly clamoring rills
        He has lain, like a man of snow,
Slender and straight as the joyous immortals are made,
        Born of woman, but born with the grace of a god.
Unheeded airs, caressingly cool, have played
        With his hair, and the nymphs have trod
Close to his side, and have kissed him, waiting to flee—
                        But Narcissus, what recketh he?

In the pool where the lithe fish flashes and slips
        From his covert to snap at the careless, fluttering flies,
Narcissus has seen the curve of his drooping lips,
        And, like mirrored miniature heavens, his shining eyes.
And a flush like a dew-dipped rose has dyed the pool,
He has laid his cheek to the ripples cool;
        Brow touches brow, lips lips, and his eyes of violet roam
        Down through the crystal depths. In the darkening dome
The stars shine forth from their faint, far ways,
Trimming their lamps; and, from the purple haze,
        The moon, cloud-veiled, her circle just complete,
Wan as a travail-spent mother, plants her feet
        On the carpeted hills, and fearful of change
Seeks her reflected face in the sea’s southward range—
                        But Narcissus, what recketh he?

Narcissus, Narcissus, where is thy boyish bloom,
Thy long, slim form that lay beside the pool,
And the lips cold smiling to their smiling image cool?

        Only a strange, indefinite perfume,
And a dim white spot in the night when soft airs blow;
A flower, bending, bending low
Its petals and its yellow heart to where the waters flow;
Its scent the winds have borne
Through the pearl-gray east to the arms of morn,
To faint and to die in the wakening light—
But of time’s swift flight, the dawn, and the noon, and the night,
The sun’s gold glory, the moon’s white mystery,
                        Narcissus, what recketh he?

New York, 1896.

This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.