Mycon; lately, while I wandered
Our beaches close around, biding
The tuna, coming to their feed;
I wondered why
So weirdly the ravens
Cried me; in crag and cavern
Water-fowl, perching wet, poured out
Plaintive sorrows into the sad rocks;—-
When the arching dolphins neither leapt from the level
Sea, nor in the waves
Danced their dances, in their way; for the day was
When Phyllis whom we loved we covered in soil,
Wept at the mound for the godly shadow,
Wretched we; and after,
Even now, remain among
And rustic Pylemon never hesitates
To speak us solace.
Surely thus the reason, while I roamed
All the whole night over, here and there;¬¬––––
While I passed Posillipo’s wide slope,
And teeming waters of Nesis, in my quick boat——
That groaning gulls bellowed some mournful thing.
Phyllis to her death-rites;
Phyllis, if we may believe,
Herself was calling them on––––
To grieving and the pieties of the grave.
The sight of such a sad procession;
Now, my friend, I recollect it.
With these eyes, myself I saw,
Myself I saw those hands and faces;
Saw with these, I say, these eyes,
What funeral; how wretched;——though at last
Greedy grief did not dash me despairing
Against the cliffs and rocks, nor fire,
On her pyre, devoured me; and no god
Drowned me in the ocean.
Lycidas, my friend, do you not feel——
Happier this has been for her than if––––
Than if she were alive, and yet to bear
Lycotas’ smoky caves, or the poor roof
Of bristly Amyntas; and were even
Seeking still for the hook some worthless bait,
Or weaving up, with slender osiers,
The tears of traps and nets?
But you, if you have any song
To wail old flames; sad words to witness
Long-beloved shades and ashes;
Friend, begin. The shore has lain out smooth
For you her yielding sands;
The crazy breakers lay their rumbling down.
Indeed, these verses, lately, hastily,
Fashioned for her funeral,——I
From port’s-end gazing on the beaches’ bow,
Doing honour to the stones of her snowy grave;——
These I shall begin.
You, scatter with your hand, over the tomb,
Cypress with its cones; cover
With green myrtle the mound.
Look: from the cerulean sea
We bring you mosses; gleaming conches;
Nor do we spare
Coral sought the whole deep ocean through,––––
Hardly had from the bosom of the deep,–––––
Torn from the sea-bed rocks. . .
Begin the solemn song.
Begin, while Milcon to the sun unfurls
His nets, and spreads around
His sodden ropes in circles on the sand.
What rocky bluffs, what coastal caves
Will you lay open now to me,
What grasses from a secret shore,
Our Father Glaucus;——
What herbs with magic juices shall you show,
Show me now, Glaucus, by the powers of which
Leaving the land behind me, wretched I,
Made a new dweller in the ocean-flood,——
I shall follow you through the midmost waves,
Transformed in body, with two-pointed tail
Beating the marble foam?
Why should I in misery long for life
On lonely earth, no Phyllis left for me?
What shall I now find sweet;——now, with my light
Ripped away? For what, here, should I hope?
Why should I linger any longer now,
Luckless—to look on desiccated shrubs
And desert beaches, lie
Supine upon these clammy weeds of the sea,
And throw my words, vain words, at a deaf tomb?
And this is the marriage, these
The happy wedding rites
I am to celebrate.
And thus does Venus give the joys at last,
Joys of the long-wished, pine-torch-blazing day?
And does Lucina thus
Grant only fear in the dark?
Who, my sweetest Phyllis; who took you away?
Away from me,——sole solace of my life,
Once; and only hope?——
Now a pain and everlasting grief,
Deep in the heart.
It was not given
Me with you
To join in sleep
So long desired
Nor pluck what sweet things youth held out to us;
Nor us to lead
Life to its latest years.
Now, so hard to think it so, this stone
Covers you over;——and for me, you are nowhere.
Nowhere on earth is Phyllis; but story and shade
Trouble my wretched nights with sleeplessness;
And I am wretched; and in what land at last
Shall I pursue you? Which way shall I follow?
. . . Once, because of you, I loved the land;
The people; happy cities between walls.
Now what joy I have is from the wave,
My wandering all the bounds of the great profounds,
My straying as I will in stormy waters,
Mixing with Triton crowds, and ocean beasts
That live among the rocks, and even among
The ugly bodies of the monstrous seals;
Out, where I may never see the land.
And now? Now to that land
Tended so many years; and men; and towns:
Farewell. Farewell, dear beaches, and farewell
Phyllis, my best. . .
By the flowing waters, we shall build
Seven altars: seven shaggy calves,
Beasts of the mighty sea,
We will sacrifice; a yearly rite,
For you. . .
And we will hang for you
Garlands of oysters, seven to a string;
Oysters and murex and white shiny pearls.
Here, Nisaee, and Cymodoce—
All shaken loose, her flaxen hair!—
Soft Palaemon, come with his noble mother;
And Panope; and she who guards the deeps
Of Sicily, Galatea, will, for you,
Weave solemn dances, and will sing the songs
That from a godly heart
Prophetic Proteus taught,
Weeping the funeral of great Achilles,
Soothing the bitter grief of Thetis,
Dear one, whether you are blessed to dwell
In the high heavens, or now
Among Elysian ghosts,
The reverend Lethean hordes,
You follow fish through Lethe’s light
Pellucid pools; or pluck, with a sweet hand,
Eternal blossoms; crocus and narcissus,
And vivid amaranth;
And mix with tender violets the pale green
Of drooping sea-weed;——yet watch over us,
And softly come.
For ever you shall be
A power of the waters;
Always an omen of joy for fishermen.
As to the nymphs, and Nereus,
And golden Amphitrite;
So will the lucky fishing boats pour out
Libations to your soul.
For now, accept this final song,
Over your tomb; a song the fisherman,
Tying the line to the bending rod, may read;
And from the steep cliff, sigh:——
In the lap of her beloved Siren
River Sebeto, blessed by the twin graves
Lycidas, your verses are sweet music;
I would not rather hear,
The halcyon’s lament, or in damp grass
By waterside the swan in sweet complaint.
For ever may Megaria
Offer you conches by the score,
And from its rocky crags, may Mergelline
Yield you oysters, and sea-urchins. . . Friend,
Since night puts off her shadows darkening,
The sun not scaling, yet, the heavens’ span:——
Begin again. Repeat your song for me;
For it is pleasant to hear songs repeated.
But do not drive me further into sorrow,
Mycon; already my eyes and cheeks,
All pallid, have been drowned enough. . .
Look, how grief is drying up my throat
And makes my deep heart
Quake with sobbing;
My voice sickens and leaves my gasping soul.
Yet some time I shall sing this song again,
And more songs, better perhaps than this,
So long as the Muse does not forsake the singer.
And even for wind-borne ships to see, one day,
Or yet beneath the naked cliffs
That lie along Miseno’s coast,
I shall write these verses out, and draw
Great rusty characters,
So sailors passing by, from the deep sea,
May read them over and say,
“Lycidas made these poems”.
But seeing all along the shore
Our friends, light-hearted, wait; and want
Your strength to heave the nets; then come,
And let us rise. I shall sit by her tomb.
You go to your companions; now is time
To look for bait.
Your empty traps are floating without weight.
translated by A. W.