Orion/Book I/Canto I

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YE rocky heights of Chios, where the snow,
Lit by the far-off and receding moon,
Now feels the soft dawn's purpling twilight creep
Over your ridges, while the singing dews,
Like creatures on a mission from the spheres,
Swarm down, and wait to be instinct with gold
And solar fire!—ye mountains waving brown
With thick-winged woods, and blotted with deep caves
In secret places; and ye paths that stray
E'en as ye list; what odours and what sighs
Tend your sweet silence through the star-showered night,
Like memories breathing of the Goddess forms
That left your haunts, yet with the day return!
The shadow of a stag that fled across,
Followed by a Giant's shadow with a spear!

    "Hunter of Shadows, thou thyself a Shade,"
Be comforted in this,—that substance holds
No higher attributes; one sovran law
Alike develops both, and each shall hunt
Its proper object, each in turn commanding
The primal impulse, till gaunt Time become
A shadow cast on space, to fluctuate,
Waiting the breath of the Creative Power
To give new types for substance yet unknown:
So from faint nebulæ bright worlds are born;
So worlds return to vapour. Dreams design
Most solid lasting things, and from the eye
That searches life, death evermore retreats.

    The shadowy chase has vanished; round the swell
Of the near mountain sweeps a bounding stag—
Round whirls a god-like Giant close behind—
O'er a fallen trunk the stag with slippery hoofs
Stumbles—his sleek knees lightly touch the grass—
Upward he springs—but in his forward leap,
The Giant's hand hath caught him fast beneath
One shoulder tuft, and lifted high in air,
Sustains! Now Phoibos' chariot rising bursts
Over the summits with a circling blaze,
Gilding those frantic antlers, and the head
Of that so glorious Giant in his youth,
Who, as he turns, the form succinct beholds
Of Artemis,—her bow, with points drawn back,
A golden hue on her white rounded breast
Reflecting, while the arrow's ample barb
Gleams o'er her hand, and at his heart is aimed.

    The Giant lowered his arm—away the stag
Breast forward plunged into a thicket near;
The Goddess paused, and dropt her arrow's point—
Raised it again—and then again relaxed
Her tension, and while slow the shaft came gliding
Over the centre of the bow, beside
Her hand, and gently drooped, so did the knee
Of that heroic shape do reverence
Before the Goddess. Their clear eyes had ceased
To flash, and gazed with earnest softening light.

    His stature, though colossal, scarcely seemed
Beyond the heroic mould, such symmetry
His form displayed; and in his countenance
A noble honesty and ardour beamed,
With child-like faith, unconscious of themselves,
And of the world, its vanities and guile.
Eyes of deep blue, large waves of chestnut locks,
A forehead wide, and every feature strong,
Yet without heaviness or angry line,
Had he; and as he knelt, a trustful smile
That dreads no consequence, and quite forgets
All danger, lightly played around his mouth.
Meanwhile the Nymphs and all the sylvan troop,
Like wave on wave when coloured by the clouds,
Pell-mell come rolling round the mountain side,
And crowd around the Goddess, who commands
The hunt to pause. At once the music stops—
And all the hounds, with wistful looks, crouch down.

    "Young Giant of the woods," said Artemis,
"The bow, that ne'er till now its glittering points
Bent back without recoil and whirring twang—
That sound a shaft's flight, and that flight a death—
For once to its quiescent shape returns
Unsated. 'Midst these woodland vales and heights
Seldom I rove, but from my train, have Nymphs
Permission sought full oft to lead the chase
Among these echoes and these fleeting shades.
Thee have they seen, as now, bounding beyond
Their swiftest hounds to bear the stag away,
As thou once more hadst surely done this morn,
But for my presence. Say, then, whence thou spring'st;
Where dwell'st thou—how art called—and wherefore thus
Dar'st thou the sports of these my Wood-nymphs mar?"

    "Goddess!" the Giant answered "I am sprung
From the great Trident-bearer, who sustains
And rocks the floating earth, and from the nymph—
A huntress joying in the dreamy woods—
Euryale. Little I use to speak,
Save to my kindred giants, who in caves
Amid yon forest dwell, beyond the rocks,
Or to my Cyclop friends; nor know I what words
Best suit a Goddess' ear. I and the winds
Do better hold our colloquies, when shadows,
After long hunting, vanish from my sight
Into some field of gloom. I am called 'Orion,'—
And for the sports I have so often marred,
'Twas for my own I did it, but without
A thought of whose the Nymphs, or least design
Of evil. Wherefore, Artemis, pardon me;
Or if again thou'dst bend thy bow, first let me
To great Poseidon offer up a prayer,
That his divine waves with absorbing arms
May take my body rather than dull earth."

    With attitude relaxed from queenly pride
To yet more queenly grace, the shaft she placed
Within her burnished quiver, and the bow
A Nymph unstrung, while with averted face—
As gazing down the woodland vista slopes,
Which oft her bright orb silvered through black shades
When midnight throbbed to silence—Artemis asked,
"And who are these thy brothers of the cave,
And why dost with the Cyclops hold consort?"

    "My wood-friends, all of ancestry renowned,
Claim for their sires heroes, or kings, or gods;
And two of them have seen the ways of men;"
Orion answered, while with uplifted breast,
Like a smooth wave o'ergilded by the morn,
High heaving ere it cast itself ashore,
Buoyant, elate, and massively erect,
He stood. "They are my kindred thus descended,
And, though not brothers, yet we recognize
A sort of brotherhood in this decree
Of fate, or Zeus,—that nature filled our frames
With larger share of bodily elements
Than others mortal born. Seven giants we,
Of different minds, and destinies, and powers,
Yet glorified alike in corporal forms.
Few are my years, O Artemis! few my needs,
Though large my fancied wants, and small my knowledge,
Save of one art. Earth's deep metallic veins
Hephæstos taught me to refine and forge
To shapes that in my fancy I devised,
For use or ornament. To the lame God
Grateful I felt, nor knew what thanks to give;
But, ere a shadow-hunter I became—
A dreamer of strange dreams by day and night—
For him I built a palace underground,
Of iron, black and rough as his own hands.
Deep in the groaning disembowelled earth,
The tower-broad pillars and huge stanchions,
And slant supporting wedges I set up,
Aided by the Cyclops who obeyed my voice
Which through the metal fabric rang and pealed
In orders echoing far, like thunder-dreams.
With arches, galleries, and domes all carved—
So that great figures started from the roof
And lofty coignes, or sat and downward gazed
On those who strode below and gazed above—
I filled it; in the centre framed a hall:
Central in that, a throne; and for the light,
Forged mighty hammers that should rise and fall
On slanted rocks of granite and of flint,
Worked by a torrent, for whose passage down
A chasm I hewed. And here the God could take,
Midst showery sparks and swathes of broad gold fire,
His lone repose, lulled by the sounds he loved;
Or, casting back the hammer-heads till they choked
The water's course, enjoy, if so he wished,
Midnight tremendous, silence, and iron sleep."

    Thus in rough phrase, and with no other grace
Than forthright truth, Orion told his tale;
Then smiling looked around upon the Nymphs,
Till all their bright eyes glowed and turned aside;
And then he gazed down at the couchant hounds,
Whose eyes and ears grew interrogative,
For well the fleet-heeled robber they all knew.

    Now spake an Ocean-nymph with sea-green eyes:
"Goddess, he hath not told thee all; his skill
And strength, unaided—singing as he wrought—
Scooped out the bay of Zankle, framed its port;
Banked up the rampire that forbids the surge
To break o'er Sicily; and a temple built
To the sea-deities." "I had forgot;"
Orion said: "These things, long since, were done."

    "Hunter, I pardon thee, and from my Nymphs
All memory of thy late offence I take,
As though they ne'er had seen thee:" Artemis said,
With a sweet voice and look. "Retire awhile,
Ye sylvan troop, to yonder deep-mossed dell;
And thou, Orion, henceforth in my train
Thy station take." More had the Goddess said,
But o'er the whiteness of a neck that ne'er
One tanned kiss from the ardent sun received,
A soft suffusion came; and waiting not
Reply, her silver sandals glanced i' the rays,
As doth a lizard playing on a hill,
And on the spot where she that instant stood
Nought but the bent and quivering grass was seen.

    Above the isle of Chios, night by night,
The clear moon lingered ever on her course,
Covering the forest foliage, where it swept
In its unbroken breadth along the slopes,
With placid silver; edging leaf and trunk
Where gloom clung deep around; but chiefly sought
With melancholy splendour to illume
The dark-mouthed caverns where Orion lay
Dreaming among his kinsmen. Ere the breath
Of Phoibos' steeds rose from the wakening sea,
And long before the immortal wheel-spokes cast
Their hazy apparition up the sky
Behind the mountain peaks, pale Artemis left
Her fainting orb, and touched the loftiest snows
With feet as pure, and white, and crystal cold,
In the sweet misty woodland to rejoin
Orion with her Nymphs. And he was blest
In her divine smile, and his life began
A new and higher period, nor the haunts
Of those his giant brethren ever sought,
But shunned them and their ways, and slept alone
Upon a verdant rock, while o'er him floated
The clear moon, causing music in his brain
Until the sky-lark rose. He felt 'twas love.