Orion/Book I/Canto II

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MIDST ponderous substance had Orion's life
Dawned, and his acts were massive as his form.
Those his companions of the forest owned
Like corporal forces, but their several minds
And aims were not as his. The Worker he,
The builder-up of things, and of himself:
His wood-friends were Rhexergon, of descent
Royal, heroic—breaker-down of things—
A coaster, skilled in fishing and in ships;—
Autarces, arch-backed like the forest boar,
Short-haired, harsh-voiced, of fierce and wayward will;—
Harpax, with large loose mouth, and restless hand,
Son of the God of Folly by a maid
Who cursed him—and the child, an idiot else,
Grew keen, in rapine taking great delight;—
Forceful Biastor;—smooth Encolyon,
The son of Hermes, yet in all things slow,
With sight oblique and forehead slanting high,
The dull retarder, chainer of the wheel;—
And Akinetos—who, since first the dawn
Sat on his marble forehead, ne'er had gazed
Onward with purpose of activity,
Nor felled a tree, nor hollowed out a cave,
Nor built a roof, nor aided any work,
Nor heaved a sigh, nor cared for anything
Save contemplation of the eternal scheme—
The Great Unmoved—a giant much revered.

    Forgotten by their sires in other loves,
Here had they chiefly dwelt, and in these caves,
Save two, Encolyon and the Great Unmoved,
Who came from Ithaca. The islanders
Had driven them thence; and this the idle cause.
The barren stony land had ne'er produced
Enough of grain for food; but by the skill
Of their artificers in iron and brass,
And by their herds of goats and cloud-woolled sheep,
With other isles the Ithacans exchanged,
And each was well supplied. Encolyon's brain
Some goddess—and 'twas Discord, as results
Made plain—one night inspired with sage alarms,
And straight the King of Ithaca he sought,
Imploring him, "if that he duly prized
A heaven-blest crown and subjects all content,
To drive the ships, sent from the neighbouring isles,
Forth from his port, or sink the grain they brought:
Else would his people, over-fed, grow slothful,
Rude, and importunate with new conceits,
And soon degenerating in their race,
Neglect their proper island, and their King.
But, on its own resources nobly forced,
Then would the stony Ithaca become
Great in herself by self-dependent power."

    To this the King gave ear, and on the shore
He, with Encolyon, for an omen prayed;
And soon along the horizontal line
Rising, they saw a threatening rack of clouds,
Black as the fleet from Aulis 'gainst doomed Troy,—
In after-time well known. Encolyon cried
"Behold propitious anger on the isle,
For its wrong doings!" Wherefore all the grain
From friendly islands they, with scorn, sent back.
A famine soon in Ithaca spread wide,
And hungry people prowled about at night,
Then clamoured, and took arms—their war-cry "bread!"
Thus was the dormant evil of their hearts
Attested, and the King his people knew,
And bitterly their want of reverence felt.

    Encolyon, in his stature tall confiding,
Though Akinetos warned him not to move,
Went gravely forth the rebel throngs to meet.
The politic giant's staid demeanour awed
The angry mass at first, and with their eyes
They seemed to listen, doubtful of their ears,
So puzzling was his speech. He to the King
And his chief heroes then discoursed apart,
Convincing them that all the wheels went well.
With head bent sideways from the light, he looked
Like to some statesman of consummate mind
Working an ancient problem; and then spake
In language critical, final, stolid, astute,
Concluding with affectionate appeal
To common sense, and all we hold most dear.
"Keep down—put back—prevent! O Gods prevent!"
This was his famous saying. Now the King
Led out his patriot army—but ere long
The army hungered too—the King was slain—
Encolyon fled, and hid within a ship.

    Forthwith a crowd to Akinetos thronged,
Crying, "What say'st thou, giant who art wise?
What shall we do?" And Akinetos said,
"Great hunger is a single thing—one want:
Satisfy that, and strength will be acquired
To multiply desire—wants without end!
Therefore be patient: leave all else to fate."

    Stubborn the people as their own dry rocks—
Enraged as the wild winds—to reason deaf—
And also wanting food—cursed his calm thought—
Cast stones upon him, and had surely slain
But that without resistance he bore all,
And without word; so they, being tired, relented,
And bore him to the ship, where, in the hold,
Encolyon lay at length with in-drawn breath.
To Chios sailed the ship. The Ithacans
Chose a new king, and traded with the isles.

    In this companionship Orion's bent
Of nature had not merged; his working spirit
Sought from the fallen trunks and rocks to frame
Rude image of his fancies, till at length
He won Hephæaestos' love, from whom he learnt
The god's own solid art. But this attained,
And proved by mastery, a restless dream
Dawned on his soul which he desired to shape,
Yet knew not how, nor saw its like around,
But vaguely felt at times, and thought he saw
In shadows. Wherefore through the forest depths,
Through vales and over hills, a hunter fleet
He chased his unknown hopes; and when the stag,
Or goat, or ounce, he overtook and seized,
Ever he set them free, and e'en the bear
And raging boar his spear refrained to strike,
Save by its shadow, as they roaring fled.
The bodily thing became to him as nought
When gained; nor satisfied with efforts passed.

    Now from a Goddess did he quickly learn
The mystery of his mood, and saw how vain
His early life had been, and felt new roots
Quicken within him, branches new that sprung
Aloft, and with expanding energies
Tingled, and for immortal fruit prepared.

    She met him in her beauty. Oft when dawn
With a grave red looked through the ash-pale woods,
And quick dews singing fell, while with a pulse
As quick, Orion stood beneath the trees,
And gazed upon the uncertain scene,—his heart
Forewarned his senses with a rapturous thrill.
He turned, and from the misty green afar,
In silence did the Goddess' train appear
Rounding a thicket. Slow the crowding hounds
Tript circling onward; Nymphs with quivered backs,
And clear elastic limbs of nut-brown hue,
Or like tanned wall-fruit, ripening and compact;
And short-horned Fauns down gazing on their pipes;
And Oceanides with tresses green
Plaited in order, or by golden nets
In various device confined, each bearing
Shell lyres and pearl-mouthed trumpets of the sea;
Dryads and Oreads decked with oak-leaf crowns
And heath-bells, dancing in the fragrant air;
And Sylvans, who, half Faun, half shepherd, lead
A grassy life, with cymbals in each hand
Pressed cross-wise on the breast, waiting the sign;—
Attendant round a pale gold chariot moved:
By two large-antlered milk-white stags 'twas drawn,
Their sleek hides 'neath the fine dews quivering,
In delicate delight. Above them rose
The fair-haired Goddess, onward softly gliding,
As though erect she stood on wafted clouds.
She smiled not; but the crescent on her brow
Gleamed with a tender light. He knew 'twas love.

    Giddy with happiness Orion's spirit
Now danced in air;—his heart tumultuous beat
Too high a measure and too wild, to taste
The fullness that he dreamed encompassed him,
But he could not encompass, nor scarce dare
Clearly to recognize. And Artemis smiled
Upon him with a radiance silver sweet,
And o'er his forehead oft her hand she waved,
Till visions of the purity of love
Above him floated, and his being filled.

    Language of Gods she taught him; and displayed,
Far as 'twas fitting, and from all gross acts
Refined, their several wondrous histories:
But chief of all, in accents.nobly sad,
She told of kindness by Poseidon done,
His ocean sire, when swan-necked Leto bearing
Twins of bright destiny and heirs of heaven—
Herself and Phoibos—cruelly was driven
Through the bleak ways of earth, and found no rest,
Pursued by serpent jealousy, for Zeus
Had loved fair Leto; how Orion's sire
A floating isle that sometimes 'neath the waves
Drifted unseen, sometimes shewed watery rocks,
Smote with his trident, and majestical
Delos arose—stood fast—and gave a home
To fainting Leto,—and a place of birth
For deities—the Sun, and his loved Orb.
The mysteries, worship, and the sacrifice
Of her Ephesian Temple, she displayed
Before his wondering thought, and oft he knelt
In solitude, when of its hundred columns,
Each reared by kingly hands, wakeful he dreamed,
And felt his Goddess love too high removed.
The ocean realm below, and all its caves
And bristling vegetation, plant and flower,
And forests in their dense petrific shade
Where the tides moan for sleep which never comes;
All this she taught him, and continually
Knowledge of human life made clear to him
Through facts and fables. He the intricate web
Of nature, gradually of himself began
To unwind, and see that gods and men were one—
Born of one element, imperfect both,
Yet aspirant, and with perfection's germ
Somewhere within. He brooded o'er these things.

    One day, at noontide, when the chase was done,
Which with unresting speed since dawn had.held,
The woods were all with golden fire alive,
And heavy limbs tingled with glowing heat.
Sylvans and Fauns at full length cast them down,
And cooled their flame-red faces in the grass,
Or o'er a streamlet bent, and dipped their heads
Deep as the top hair of their pointed ears;
While Nymphs and Oceanides retired
To grots and sacred groves, with loitering steps,
And bosoms swelled and throbbing, like a bird's
Held between human hands. The hounds with tongues,
Crimson, and lolling hot upon the green,
And outstretched noses, flatly crouched; their skins
Clouded or spotted, like the field-bean's flower,
Or tiger-lily, painted the wide lawns.

    Orion wandered deep into a vale
Alone; from all the rest his steps he bent,
Thoughtful, yet with no object in his mind;
Languid, yet restless. Near a hazel copse,
Whose ripe nuts hung in clusters twined with grapes,
He paused, down gazing, 'till upon his sense
A fragrance stole, as of ambrosia wafted
Through the warm shades by some divinity
Amid the woods. With gradual step he moved
Onward, and soon the poppied entrance found
Of a secluded bower. He entered straight,
Unconsciously attracted, and beheld
His Goddess love, who slept—her robe cast off,
Her sandals, bow and quiver, thrown aside,
Yet with her hair still braided, and her brow
Decked with her crescent light. Awed and alarmed
By loving reverence—which dreads offence
E'en though the wrong were never known, and feels
Its heart's religion for religion's self,
Besides its object's claim—swift he retired.

    The entrance gained, what thoughts, what visions his!
What danger had he 'scaped, what innocent crime,
Which Artemis might yet have felt so deep!
He blest the God of Sleep who thus had held
Her senses! Yet, what loveliness had glanced
Before his mind—scarce seen! Might it not be
Illusion?—some bright shadow of a hope
First dawning? Would not sleep's God still exert
Safe influence, if that he once more stole back
And gazed an instant? 'Twere not well to do,
And would o'erstain with doubt the accident
Which first had led him there. He dare not risk
The chance 'twere not illusion—oh, if true!
While thus he murmured hesitating, slow,
As slow and hesitating he returned
Instinctively, and on the Goddess gazed!

    With adoration and delicious fear,
Lingering he stood; then pace by pace retired,
'Till in the hazel copse sighing he paused,
And with most earnest face and vacant eye,
And brow perplexed, stared at a tree. His hands
Were clenched; his feet pressed down the soil,
And changed their place. Suddenly lie turned round,
And made his way direct into the bower.

    There was a slumbrous silence in the air,
By noon-tide's sultry murmurs from without
Made more oblivious. Not a pipe was heard
From field or wood; but the grave beetle's drone
Passed near the entrance: once the cuckoo called
O'er distant meads, and once a horn began
Melodious plaint, then died away. A sound
Of murmurous music yet was in the breeze,
For silver gnats that harp on glassy strings,
And rise and fall in sparkling clouds, sustained
Their dizzy dances o'er the seething meads.
With brain as dizzy stood Orion now
I' the quivering bower. There rapturous he beheld,
As in a trance, not conscious of himself,
The perfect sculpture of that naked form,
Whose Parian whiteness and clear outline gleamed
In its own hue, nor from the foliage took
One tint, nor from his ample frame one shade.
Her lovely hair hung drooping, half unbound,—
Fair silken braids, fawn-tinted delicately,
That on one shoulder lodged their opening coil.
Her large round arms of dazzling beauty lay
In matchless symmetry and inviolate grace
Along the mossy floor. At length he dropped
Softly upon his knees, his clasped hands raised
Above his head, 'till by resistless impulse
His arms descending, were expanded wide—
Swift as a flash, erect the Goddess rose!

    Her eyes shot through Orion, and he felt
Within his breast an icy dart. Confronted,
Mutely they stood, but all the bower was filled
With rising mist that chilled him to the bone,
Colder, as more obscure the space became;
And ere the last collected shape he saw
Of Artemis, dispersing fast amid
Dense vapoury clouds, the aching wintriness
Had risen to his teeth, and fixed his eyes,
Like glistening stones in the congealing air.