Verse > Anthologies > > Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. > The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse
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Arthur Quiller-Couch, comp.  The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse.  1922.
 
Sent from Egypt with a Fair Robe of Tissue to a Sicilian Vinedresser
By T. Sturge Moore (1870–1944)
 
B.C. 276

PUT out to sea, if wine thou wouldest make
Such as is made in Cos: when open boat
May safely launch, advice of pilots take;
And find the deepest bottom, most remote
From all encroachment of the crumbling shore,        5
Where no fresh stream tempers the rich salt wave,
Forcing rash sweetness on sage ocean’s brine;
As youthful shepherds pour
Their first love forth to Battos gnarl’d and grave,
Fooling shrewd age to bless some fond design.        10
 
Not after storm! but when, for a long spell,
No white-maned horse has raced across the blue,
Put from the beach! lest troubled be the well—
Less pure thy draught than from such depth were due.
Fast close thy largest jars, prepared and clean!        15
Next weight each buoyant womb down through the flood,
Far down! when, with a cord the lid remove,
And it will fill unseen,
Swift as a heart Love smites sucks back the blood:—
This bubbles, deeper born than sighs, shall prove.        20
 
If thy bow’d shoulders ache, as thou dost haul—
Those groan who climb with rich ore from the mine;
Labour untold round Ilion girt a wall;
A god toil’d that Achilles’ arms might shine;
Think of these things and double knit thy will!        25
Then, should the sun be hot on thy return,
Cover thy jars with piles of bladder weed,
Dripping, and fragrant still
From sea-wolds where it grows like bracken-fern:
A grapnel dragg’d will soon supply thy need.        30
 
Home to a tun convey thy precious freight!
Wherein, for thirty days, it should abide,
Closed, yet not quite closed from the air, and wait
While, through dim stillness, slowly doth subside
Thick sediment. The humour of a day,        35
Which has defeated youth and health and joy,
Down, through a dreamless sleep, will settle thus,
Till riseth maiden gay,
Set free from all glooms past—or else a boy
Once more a school-friend worthy Troilus.        40
 
Yet to such cool wood tank some dream might dip:
Vision of Aphrodite sunk to sleep,
Or of some sailor let down from a ship,
Young, dead, and lovely, while across the deep
Through the calm night his hoarse-voiced comrades chaunt—        45
So far at sea, they cannot reach the land
To lay him perfect in the warm brown earth.
Pray that such dreams there haunt!
While, through damp darkness, where thy tun doth stand.
Cold salamanders sidle round its girth.        50
 
Gently draw off the clear and tomb it yet,
For other twenty days, in cedarn casks!
Where through trance, surely, prophecy will set;
As, dedicated to light temple-tasks,
The young priest dreams the unknown mystery.        55
Through Ariadne, knelt disconsolate
In the sea’s marge, so well’d back warmth which throbb’d
With nuptial promise: she
Turn’d; and, half-choked through dewy glens, some great,
Some magic drone of revel coming sobb’d.        60
 
Of glorious fruit, indeed, must be thy choice!
Such as has fully ripen’d on the branch,
Such as due rain, then sunshine, made rejoice,
Which, pulp’d and colour’d, now deep bloom doth blanch!
Clusters like odes for victors in the games,        65
Strophe on strophe globed, pure nectar all!
Spread such to dry! if Helios grant thee grace,
Exposed unto his flames
Two days, or, if not, three, or, should rain fall,
Stretch them on hurdles in the house four days!        70
 
Grapes are not sharded chestnuts, which the tree
Lets fall to burst them on the ground, where red
Rolls forth the fruit, from white-lined wards set free,
And all undamaged glows ’mid husks it shed;
Nay, they are soft and should be singly stripp’d        75
From off the bunch, by maiden’s dainty hand,
Then dropp’d through the cool silent depth to sink
(Coy, as herself hath slipp’d,
Bathing, from shelves in caves along the strand)
Till round each dark grape water barely wink;        80
 
Since some nine measures of sea-water fill
A butt of fifty, ere the plump fruit peep,
Like sombre dolphin shoals when nights are still,
Which penn’d in Proteus’ wizard circle sleep,
And ’twixt them glinting curves of silver glance        85
If Zephyr, dimpling dark calm, counts them o’er.
Let soak thy fruit for two days thus, then tread!
While bare-legg’d bumpkins dance,
Bright from thy bursting press arch’d spouts shall pour,
And gurgling torrents towards thy vats run red.        90
 
Meanwhile the maidens, each with wooden rake,
Drag back the skins and laugh at aprons splash’d;
Or youths rest, boasting how their brown arms ache,
So fast their shovels for so long have flash’d,
Baffling their comrades’ legs with mounting heaps.        95
Treble their labour! still the happier they,
Who, at this genial task, wear out long hours,
Till vast night round them creeps,
When soon the torch-light dance whirls them away;
For gods, who love wine, double all their powers.        100
 
Iacchus is the always grateful god!
His vineyards are more fair than gardens far;
Hanging, like those of Babylon, they nod
O’er each Ionian cliff and hill-side scar!
While Cypris lends him saltness, depth, and peace;        105
The brown earth yields him sap for richest green;
And he has borrow’d laughter from the sky;
Wildness from winds; and bees
Bring honey.—Then choose casks which thou hast seen
Are leakless, very wholesome, and quite dry!        110
 
That Coan wine the very finest is,
I do assure thee, who have travell’d much
And learn’d to judge of diverse vintages.
Faint not before the toil! this wine is such
As tempteth princes launch long pirate barks;—        115
From which may Zeus protect Sicilian bays,
And, ere long, me safe home from Egypt bring,
Letting no black-sail’d sharks
Scent this king’s gifts, for whom I sweeten praise
With those same songs thou didst to Chloë sing!        120
 
I wrote them ’neath the vine-cloak’d elm, for thee.
Recall those nights! our couches were a load
Of scented lentisk; upward, tree by tree,
Thy father’s orchard sloped, and past us flow’d
A stream sluiced for his vineyards; when, above,        125
The apples fell, they on to us were roll’d,
But kept us not awake,—O Laco, own
How thou didst rave of love!
Now art thou staid, thy son is three years old;
But I, who made thee love-songs, live alone.        130
 
Muse thou at dawn o’er thy yet slumbering wife!—
Not chary of her best was Nature there,
Who, though a third of her full gift of life
Was spent, still added beauties still more rare;
What calm slow days, what holy sleep at night,        135
Evolved her for long twilight trystings fraught
With panic blushes and tip-toe surmise:
And then, what mystic might—
All, with a crowning boon, through travail brought!
Consider this and give thy best likewise!        140
 
Ungrateful be not! Laco, ne’er be that!
Well worth thy while to make such wine ’twould be:
I see thy red face ’neath thy broad straw hat,
I see thy house, thy vineyards, Sicily!—
Thou dost demur, good, but too easy, friend:        145
Come put those doubts away! thou hast strong lads,
Brave wenches; on the steep beach lolls thy ship,
Where vine-clad slopes descend,
Sheltering our bay, that headlong rillet glads,
Like a stripp’d child fain in the sea to dip.        150
 
 
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