Orion/Book I/Canto III

From Wikisource
< Orion‎ | Book I
Jump to navigation Jump to search

O'ER plastic nature any change may come,
Save that which seeks to crush the primal germ;
And outward circumstance may breed within,
A second nature which o'ercomes the first,
But ne'er destroys, though dormant or subdued.
More toil for him whose wandering fancies teem
With too much life, and that vitality
Which eats into itself; more toil of brain
And limb, sole panacea for the change
From tyrant senses to pure intellect.
Wherefore, his work redoubled, Artemis
Directs Orion's course; not as before
With grave and all-subduing tenderness,
While with white fingers midst his chestnut locks,
In her speech pausing, gently would she hang
Violets, as white as her own hands, and sprigs
Of Cretan dittany, whose nodding spikes
Flushed deeper pink beneath the sacred touch,—
But with a penetrating influence
And front austere, as suiting best the Queen
Of maiden immortality. His soul
Strove hard to ascend and leave the earth behind;
And by the Goddess' guidance every hour
Had its fixed duties. Husbandry of fields
She taught those giant hands, and how to raise
The sweetest herbs and roots, which now his food
Became; nor taste and culture of the vine
Permitted, nor of slaughtered kine the flesh,
Nor forest boar, nor other thing that owns
An animal life. Lastly, she taught his mind
To reason on itself, far as the bounds
Of sense external furnish images
And types in attestation of each phase
Of man's internal sphere—large orbit space
For varied lights—and also shewed the way
Rightly his complex knowledge to employ,
And from their shadows trace substantial things,
Things back again to shadows—thus evolving
The principle of thought, from root to air.

    This done, the blossom and the fruit of all
Was her prime truth, into each element
Of his life's feelings and its acts, to instil:
'Twas Love's divinest essence. In the soul,
Central its altar's flame for ever burns
Inviolate, and knowing not the change
Which time and fate o'er all else in the world
Bring speedily, or with a creeping film
That hides decay. Ever at peace it dwells
With its secure desires, which are soul-fed,
Nor on idolatrous devotion made
Dependent, nor on will and wayward moods
Of others; 'tis self-centred as a star,
And in the music of the conscious nerves,
Finds bliss, which e'en the slightest touch or look
Of this magnetic passion can create,
And render perfect. Nor doth absence break
The links of ecstasy, which from a heart
By heart are drawn, but 'midst the glare of day,
The depths of night, alone or in a crowd,
Imagination of love's balmy breath
Can to the spirit fashion and expand
Love's own pure rapture and delirium.
To this fixed sublimation there belong
No conflicts of pale doubts, anxieties,
Mean jealousies, anguish of heart-crushed slaves,
And forlorn faces looking out on seas
Of coming madness, from the stony gaps
Through which departed truth and bliss have fled;
But high communion, and a rapturous sense
Of passion's element, whereof all life
Is made ; and therefore life should ne'er attain
A mastery o'er its pure creative light.

    Midst chequered sunbeams through the glancing woods
No more Orion hunted; from the dawn
Till eve, within some lonely grot he sat,
His thoughts reviewing, or beneath a rock
Stood, back reclined, and watching the slow clouds,
As doth a shepherd in a vacant mood.
Oft to some highest peak would he ascend,
And gaze below upon his giant friends,
Who looked like moving spots, so dark and small;
And oft, upon some green cliff ledge reclined,
Watch with sad eye the jocund chase afar
In the green landscape, where the quivering line
Led by the stag—who drew its rout behind
Of woodland shapes, confused as were their cries,
And sparkling bodies of fleet-chasing hounds,—
Passed like a magic picture, and was gone.
His husbandry soon ceased; he hated toil
Unvaried, ending always in itself,
And to the Goddess pleaded thoughtful hours
For his excuse, and indolent self-disgust.
Small profit found his thought; his sympathies
Were driven inward, and corroded there.

    Sometimes he wandered to the lowland fens,
Where the wild mares toss their sharp manes in the blast,
And scour through washy reeds and hollows damp—
Hardened in after ages by long droughts;
Arid and stony in the present time—
And midst the elements he sought relief
From inward tempests. Once for many hours,
In silence, only broken from afar
By the deep lowing of some straying herd,
Moveless and without speech he watched a hind
Weeding a marsh; a brutish clod, half built,
Hog-faced and hog-backed with his daily toil,
Mudded and root-stained by the steaming ooze,
As he himself were some unnatural growth;
Who yet, at times, whistled through broken fangs—
"Happier than I, this hind," Orion thought.

Once tow'rds the city outskirts strayed his steps,
With a half purpose some relief to seek
Midst haunts of men, and on the way he met
A mastic-sifter with his fresh-oiled face.
"O friend!" Orion said, "why dost thou walk
With shining cheek so sadly in the sun?"
Sighing, the melancholy man replied:—
"The lentisk-trees have ceased to shed their gums;
Their tears are changed for mine, since by that tree
Myself and children live. My toil stands still.
Hard lot for man, who something hath within
More than a tree, and higher than its top,
Or circling clouds, to live by a mere root
And its dark graspings! Clearly I see this,
And know how 'tis that toil unequally
Is shared on earth: but knowledge is not power
To a poor man alone 'gainst all the world,
Who, meantime, needs to eat. Like the hot springs
That boil themselves away, and serve for nought,
Which yet must have some office, rightly used,
Man hath a secret source, for some great end,
Which by delay seems wasted. Ignorance
Chokes us, and time outwits us."—On he passed.
"That soul hath greater cause for grief than I,"
Orion thought—yet not the less was sad.

    Away disconsolate the giant went,
Now clambering forest slopes, now hurrying down
Precipitous brakes, tearing the berried boughs
For food, scarce tasted, and oft gathering husks,
Or wind-eggs of strange birds dropt in the fens,
To toss them in some rapid brook, and watch
Their wavering flight. But now a tingling sound
Wakes his dull ear!—a distant rising drone
Upon the air, as of a wintry wind—
And dry leaves rustle like a coming rain.
The wind is here; and, following soon, descends
A tempest, which relieves its rage in tears.
Kneeling he stooped, and drank the hissing flood,
And wished the Ogygian deluge were returned;
Then sat in very wilfulnees beside
The banks while they o'erflowed, till starting up,
Bounding he sought his early giant friends.

    Them, in their pastoral yet half savage haunts
Found, as of yore, he with brief speech addressed,
And bade them to an orgie on the plain,
By rocks and forests amphitheatred.
Such greeting high they with a gleeful roar
Received, and forthwith rose to follow him,
Save Akinetos, who seemed not to hear,
But looked more grave still seated on a stone,
While they betook them to the plains below.

    Thither at once they sped, and on the way
Rhexergon tore down boughs, while Harpax slew
Oxen and deer, more than was need; and soon
On the green space Orion built the pile
With cross logs, underwood, dry turf and ferns,
And cast upon it fat of kine, and heaps
Of crisp dry leaves; and fired the pile, and beat
A hollow shield, and called the Bacchic train,
Who brought their skins of wine, and loaded poles
That bent with mighty clusters of black grapes
Slung midway. In the blaze Orion threw
Choice gums, and oil, that with explosion bright
Of broad and lucid flame alarmed the sky,
And fragrant spice, then set the Fauns to dance,
While whirled the timbrels, and the reed-pipes blew
A full-toned melody of mad delight.
Down came the Mænads from the sun-brown hills,
And flocked the laughing Nymphs of groves and brooks;
With whom came Opis, singing to a lyre,
And Sida, ivory-limbed and crowned with flowers.
High swelled the orgie; and the roasting bulk
Of bull and deer was scarce distinguishable
'Mid the loud-crackling boughs that sprawled in flame.
Now richest odours rose, and filled the air—
Made glittering with the cymbals spun on high
Through jets of nectar upward cast in sport,
And raging with songs and laughter and wild cries.

    In the first pause for breath and deeper draughts,
A Faun who on a quiet green knoll sat
Somewhat apart, sang a melodious ode,
Made rich by harmonies of hidden strings,
Unto bright Merope the island's pride,
And daughter of the king; whereto a quire
Gave chorus, and her beauties rare rehearsing,
Wished that Orion shared with her the throne.

    The wine ran wastefully, and o'er the ears
Of the tall jars that stood too near the fire,
Bubbled and leapt, and streamed in crimsoning foam,
Hot as the hissing sap of the green logs.
But none took heed of that, nor anything.
Thus song and feast, dance, and wild revelry,
Succeeded; now in turn, now all at once
Mingling tempestuously. In a blind whirl
Around the fire Biastor dragged a rout
In osier bands and garlands; Harpax fiercely
The violet scarfs and autumn-tinted robes
From Nymph and Mænad tore; and by the hoofs
Autarces seized a Satyr, with intent,
Despite his writhing freaks and furious face,
To dash him on a gong, but that amidst
The struggling mass Encolyon thrust a pine,
Heavy and black as Charon's ferrying pole,
O'er which they, like a bursting billow, fell.

    At length when night came folding round the scene,
And golden lights grew red and terrible,
Flashed torch and spear, while reed-pipes deeper blew
Sonorous dirgings and melodious storm,
And timbrels groaned and jangled to the tones
Of high-sustaining horns,—then round the blaze,
Their shadows brandishing afar and athwart
Over the level space and up the hills,
Six giants held portentous dance, nor ceased
Till one by one in bare Bacchante arms,
Brim-full of nectar, helplessly they rolled
Deep down oblivion. Sleep absorbed their souls.

    Region of Dreams! ye seething procreant beds
For germs of life's solidities and power;
Whether ye render up from other spheres
Our past or future beings to the ken
Of this brief state; or, wiser, art designed,
With all thy fleeting images confused,
To scatter, during half our mortal hours,
The concentrating passions and the thoughts
Which else were madness; Oh maternal realm,
Console each troubled heart!—with opiate hand
Gently the senses charm, and lead astray
The vulture thoughts by thy blest phantasies,
Beckoning with vague yet irresistible smile!

    Sleep's God the prayer well pleased received, but said
"Not such the meed of those who seek my courts
Through Bacchanalian orgies." O'er the brain
Of fallen Orion visions suitable
Came with voluptuous gorgeousness, preceded
By a dim ode; and as it nearer swelled,
In rapturous beauty Merope swept by,
Who on him gazed in ecstasy! He strove
To rise—to speak—in vain. Yet still she gazed,
And still he strove; till a voice cried in his ear,
"Depart from Artemis!—she loves thee not—
Thou art too full of earth! " He started awake!
The piercing voice that cast him forth, still rang
Within his soul; the vision of delight
Still ached along each nerve; and slowly turning
A look perplexed around the spectral air,
Himself he found alone 'neath the cold sky
Of day-break, midst black ashes and ruins drear.