Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Asia
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII.  1876–79.
 
Asia Minor: Cyprus, the Island
Wine of Cyprus
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)
 
Given to Me by H. S. Boyd, Author of “Select Passages from the Greek Fathers,” etc., to Whom These Stanzas Are Addressed

IF old Bacchus were the speaker
  He would tell you with a sigh,
Of the Cyprus in this beaker
  I am sipping like a fly,—
Like a fly or gnat on Ida        5
  At the hour of goblet-pledge,
By queen Juno brushed aside, a
  Full white arm-sweep, from the edge.
 
Sooth, the drinking should be ampler,
  When the drink is so divine;        10
And some deep-mouthed Greek exampler
  Would become your Cyprus wine!
Cyclop’s mouth might plunge aright in,
  While his one eye over-leered,—
Nor too large were mouth of Titan,        15
  Drinking rivers down his beard.
 
Pan might dip his head so deep in
  That his ears alone pricked out,
Fauns around him, pressing, leaping,
  Each one pointing to his throat:        20
While the Naiads like Bacchantes,
  Wild, with urns thrown out to waste,
Cry, “O earth, that thou wouldst grant us
  Springs to keep, of such a taste!”
 
But for me, I am not worthy        25
  After gods and Greeks to drink;
And my lips are pale and earthy
  To go bathing from this brink.
Since you heard them speak the last time,
  They have faded from their blooms,        30
And the laughter of my pastime
  Has learnt silence at the tombs.
 
Ah, my friend! the antique drinkers
  Crowned the cup, and crowned the brow.
Can I answer the old thinkers        35
  In the forms they thought of, now?
Who will fetch from garden-closes
  Some new garlands while I speak,
That the forehead, crowned with roses,
  May strike scarlet down the cheek?        40
 
Do not mock me! with my mortal,
  Suits no wreath again, indeed!
I am sad-voiced as the turtle
  Which Anacreon used to feed;
Yet as that same bird demurely        45
  Wet her beak in cup of his,—
So, without a garland, surely
  I may touch the brim of this.
 
Go!—let others praise the Chian!—
  This is soft as Muses’ string,—        50
This is tawny as Rhea’s lion,
  This is rapid as its spring,—
Bright as Paphia’s eyes e’er met us,
  Light as ever trod her feet!
And the brown bees of Hymettus        55
  Make their honey not so sweet.
 
Very copious are my praises,
  Though I sip it like a fly!—
Ah—but, sipping,—times and places
  Change before me suddenly—        60
As Ulysses’ old libation
  Drew the ghosts from every part,
So your Cyprus wine, dear Grecian,
  Stirs the Hades of my heart.
 
And I think of those long mornings        65
  Which my thought goes far to seek,
When, betwixt the folio’s turnings,
  Solemn flowed the rhythmic Greek.
Past the pane, the mountain spreading,
  Swept the sheep-bell’s tinkling noise,        70
While a girlish voice was reading,—
  Somewhat low for αι’s and οι’s.
 
Then what golden hours were for us!—
  While we sate together there,
While the white vests of the chorus        75
  Seemed to wave up a live air!
How the cothurns trod majestic
  Down the deep iambic lines;
And the rolling anapæstic
  Curled like vapor over shrines!        80
 
O, our Æschylus, the thunderous!
  How he drove the bolted breath
Through the cloud, to wedge it ponderous
  In the gnarled oak beneath.
O, our Sophocles, the royal,        85
  Who was born to monarch’s place,—
And who made the whole world loyal,
  Less by kingly power than grace.
 
Our Euripides, the human—
  With his droppings of warm tears;        90
And his touches of things common,
  Till they rose to touch the spheres!
Our Theocritus, our Bion,
  And our Pindar’s shining goals!—
These were cup-bearers undying        95
  Of the wine that ’s meant for souls.
 
And my Plato, the divine one,—
  If men know the gods aright
By their motions as they shine on
  With a glorious trail of light!—        100
And your noble Christian bishops,
  Who mouthed grandly the last Greek:
Though the sponges on their hyssops
  Were distent with wine—too weak.
 
Yet, your Chrysostom, you praised him,        105
  With his liberal mouth of gold;
And your Basil, you upraised him
  To the height of speakers old:
And we both praised Heliodorus
  For his secret of pure lies;        110
Who forged first his linked stories
  In the heat of lady’s eyes.
 
And we both praised your Synesius
  For the fire shot up his odes,
Though the Church was scarce propitious        115
  As he whistled dogs and gods.—
And we both praised Nazianzen
  For the fervid heart and speech;
Only I eschewed his glancing
  At the lyre hung out of reach.        120
 
Do you mind that deed of Até
  Which you bound me to so fast,—
Reading “De Virginitate,”
  From the first line to the last?
How I said at ending, solemn,        125
  As I turned and looked at you,
That St. Simeon on the column
  Had had somewhat less to do?
 
For we sometimes gently wrangled;
  Very gently, be it said,—        130
Since our thoughts were disentangled
  By no breaking of the thread!
And I charged you with extortions
  On the nobler fames of old,—
Ay, and sometimes thought your Porsons        135
  Stained the purple they would fold.
 
For the rest,—a mystic moaning,
  Kept Cassandra at the gate,
With wild eyes the vision shone in,—
  And wide nostrils scenting fate.        140
And Prometheus, bound in passion
  By brute Force to the blind stone,
Showed us looks of invocation
  Turned to ocean and the sun.
 
And Medea we saw burning        145
  At her nature’s planted stake;
And proud Œdipus fate-scorning
  While the cloud came on to break—
While the cloud came on slow—slower,
  Till he stood discrowned, resigned!—        150
But the reader’s voice dropped lower
  When the poet called him blind!
 
Ah, my gossip! you were older,
  And more learned, and a man!—
Yet that shadow—the enfolder        155
  Of your quiet eyelids—ran
Both our spirits to one level,
  And I turned from hill and lea
And the summer-sun’s green revel,—
  To your eyes that could not see.        160
 
Now Christ bless you with the one light
  Which goes shining night and day!
May the flowers which grow in sunlight
  Shed their fragrance in your way!
Is it not right to remember        165
  All your kindness, friend of mine,
When we two sate in the chamber,
  And the poets poured us wine?
 
So, to come back to the drinking
  Of this Cyprus,—it is well,        170
But those memories, to my thinking,
  Make a better œnomel;
And whoever be the speaker,
  None can murmur with a sigh—
That, in drinking from that beaker,        175
  I am sipping like a fly.
 
 
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