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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Victory of Orpheus
The Argonautic Legend
 
From ‘The Life and Death of Jason’

The Sirens:
  OH, happy seafarers are ye,
    And surely all your ills are past,
  And toil upon the land and sea,
    Since ye are brought to us at last.
 
  To you the fashion of the world,        5
    Wide lands laid waste, fair cities burned,
  And plagues, and kings from kingdoms hurled,
    Are naught, since hither ye have turned.
 
  For as upon this beach we stand,
    And o’er our heads the sea-fowl flit,        10
  Our eyes behold a glorious land,
    And soon shall ye be kings of it.
 
Orpheus:
  A little more, a little more,
    O carriers of the Golden Fleece,
  A little labor with the oar,        15
    Before we reach the land of Greece.
 
  E’en now perchance faint rumors reach
    Men’s ears of this our victory,
  And draw them down unto the beach
    To gaze across the empty sea.        20
 
  But since the longed-for day is nigh,
    And scarce a god could stay us now,
  Why do ye hang your heads and sigh,
    And still go slower and more slow?
 
The Sirens:
  Ah, had ye chanced to reach the home
        25
    Your fond desires were set upon,
  Into what troubles had ye come!
    What barren victory had ye won!
 
  But now, but now, when ye have lain
    Asleep with us a little while        30
  Beneath the washing of the main,
    How calm shall be your waking smile!
 
  For ye shall smile to think of life
    That knows no troublous change or fear,
  No unavailing bitter strife,        35
    That ere its time brings trouble near.
 
Orpheus:
  Is there some murmur in your ears,
    That all that we have done is naught,
  And nothing ends our cares and fears,
    Till the last fear on us is brought?        40
 
The Sirens:
  Alas! and will ye stop your ears,
    In vain desire to do aught,
  And wish to live ’mid cares and fears,
    Until the last fear makes you naught?
 
Orpheus:
  Is not the May-time now on earth,
        45
    When close against the city wall
  The folk are singing in their mirth,
    While on their heads the May flowers fall?
 
The Sirens:
  Yes, May is come, and its sweet breath
    Shall well-nigh make you weep to-day,        50
  And pensive with swift-coming death
    Shall ye be satiate of the May.
 
Orpheus:
  Shall not July bring fresh delight,
    As underneath green trees ye sit,
  And o’er some damsel’s body white,        55
    The noon-tide shadows change and flit?
 
The Sirens:
  No new delight July shall bring,
    But ancient fear and fresh desire;
  And spite of every lovely thing,
    Of July surely shall ye tire.        60
 
Orpheus:
  And now when August comes on thee,
    And ’mid the golden sea of corn
  The merry reapers thou mayst see,
    Wilt thou still think the earth forlorn?
 
The Sirens:
  Set flowers on thy short-lived head,
        65
    And in thine heart forgetfulness
  Of man’s hard toil, and scanty bread,
    And weary of those days no less.
 
Orpheus:
  Or wilt thou climb the sunny hill,
    In the October afternoon,        70
  To watch the purple earth’s blood fill
    The gray vat to the maiden’s tune?
 
The Sirens:
  When thou beginnest to grow old,
    Bring back remembrance of thy bliss
  With that the shining cup doth hold,        75
    And weary helplessly of this.
 
Orpheus:
  Or pleasureless shall we pass by
    The long cold night and leaden day,
  That song and tale and minstrelsy
    Shall make as merry as the May?        80
 
The Sirens:
  List then, to-night, to some old tale
    Until the tears o’erflow thine eyes;
  But what shall all these things avail,
    When sad to-morrow comes and dies?
 
Orpheus:
  And when the world is born again,
        85
    And with some fair love, side by side,
  Thou wanderest ’twixt the sun and rain,
    In that fresh love-begetting tide;
 
  Then, when the world is born again,
    And the sweet year before thee lies,        90
  Shall thy heart think of coming pain,
    Or vex itself with memories?
 
The Sirens:
  Ah! then the world is born again
    With burning love unsatisfied,
  And new desires fond and vain,        95
    And weary days from tide to tide.
 
  Ah! when the world is born again,
    A little day is soon gone by,
  When thou, unmoved by sun or rain,
    Within a cold straight house shall lie.        100
 
Therewith they ceased awhile, as languidly
The head of Argo fell off toward the sea,
And through the water she began to go;
For from the land a fitful wind did blow,
That, dallying with the many-colored sail,        105
Would sometimes swell it out and sometimes fail,
As nigh the east side of the bay they drew;
Then o’er the waves again the music flew.
 
The Sirens:
  Think not of pleasure short and vain,
  Wherewith, ’mid days of toil and pain,        110
  With sick and sinking hearts ye strive
  To cheat yourselves that ye may live
  With cold death ever close at hand.
  Think rather of a peaceful land,
  The changeless land where ye may be        115
  Roofed over by the changeful sea.
 
Orpheus:
  And is the fair town nothing then,
  The coming of the wandering men
  With that long talked-of thing and strange.
  And news of how the kingdoms change,        120
  The pointed hands, and wondering
  At doers of a desperate thing?
  Push on, for surely this shall be
  Across a narrow strip of sea.
 
The Sirens:
  Alas! poor souls and timorous,
        125
  Will ye draw nigh to gaze at us
  And see if we are fair indeed?
  For such as we shall be your meed,
  There, where our hearts would have you go.
  And where can the earth-dwellers show        130
  In any land such loveliness
  As that wherewith your eyes we bless,
  O wanderers of the Minyæ,
  Worn toilers over land and sea?
 
Orpheus:
  Fair as the lightning ’thwart the sky,
        135
  As sun-dyed snow upon the high
  Untrodden heaps of threatening stone
  The eagle looks upon alone,
  Oh, fair as the doomed victim’s wreath,
  Oh, fair as deadly sleep and death,        140
  What will ye with them, earthly men,
  To mate your threescore years and ten?
  Toil rather, suffer and be free,
  Betwixt the green earth and the sea.
 
The Sirens:
  If ye be bold with us to go,
        145
  Things such as happy dreams may show
  Shall your once heavy lids behold
  About our palaces of gold;
  Where waters ’neath the waters run,
  And from o’erhead a harmless sun        150
  Gleams through the woods of chrysolite.
  There gardens fairer to the sight
  Than those of the Phæacian king
  Shall ye behold; and, wondering,
  Gaze on the sea-born fruit and flowers,        155
  And thornless and unchanging bowers,
  Whereof the May-time knoweth naught.
 
  So to the pillared house being brought,
  Poor souls, ye shall not be alone,
  For o’er the floors of pale blue stone        160
  All day such feet as ours shall pass,
  And ’twixt the glimmering walls of glass,
  Such bodies garlanded with gold,
  So faint, so fair, shall ye behold,
  And clean forget the treachery        165
  Of changing earth and tumbling sea.
 
Orpheus:
  Oh the sweet valley of deep grass,
  Where through the summer stream doth pass,
  In chain of shadow, and still pool,
  From misty morn to evening cool;        170
  Where the black ivy creeps and twines
  O’er the dark-armed, red-trunkèd pines,
  Whence clattering the pigeon flits,
  Or brooding o’er her thin eggs sits,
  And every hollow of the hills        175
  With echoing song the mavis fills.
  There by the stream, all unafraid,
  Shall stand the happy shepherd maid,
  Alone in first of sunlit hours;
  Behind her, on the dewy flowers,        180
  Her homespun woolen raiment lies,
  And her white limbs and sweet gray eyes
  Shine from the calm green pool and deep,
  While round about the swallows sweep,
  Not silent; and would God that we,        185
  Like them, were landed from the sea.
 
The Sirens:
  Shall we not rise with you at night,
  Up through the shimmering green twilight,
  That maketh there our changeless day,
  Then going through the moonlight gray,        190
  Shall we not sit upon these sands,
  To think upon the troublous lands
  Long left behind, where once ye were,
  When every day brought change and fear!
  There, with white arms about you twined,        195
  And shuddering somewhat at the wind
  That ye rejoiced erewhile to meet,
  Be happy, while old stories sweet,
  Half understood, float round your ears,
  And fill your eyes with happy tears.        200
  Ah! while we sing unto you there,
  As now we sing, with yellow hair
  Blown round about these pearly limbs,
  While underneath the gray sky swims
  The light shell-sailor of the waves,        205
  And to our song, from sea-filled caves
  Booms out an echoing harmony,
  Shall ye not love the peaceful sea?
 
Orpheus:
  Nigh the vine-covered hillocks green,
  In days agone, have I not seen        210
  The brown-clad maidens amorous,
  Below the long rose-trellised house,
  Dance to the querulous pipe and shrill,
  When the gray shadow of the hill
  Was lengthening at the end of day?        215
  Not shadowy or pale were they,
  But limbed like those who ’twixt the trees
  Follow the swift of goddesses.
  Sunburnt they are somewhat, indeed,
  To where the rough brown woolen weed        220
  Is drawn across their bosoms sweet,
  Or cast from off their dancing feet;
  But yet the stars, the moonlight gray,
  The water wan, the dawn of day,
  Can see their bodies fair and white        225
  As hers, who once, for man’s delight,
  Before the world grew hard and old,
  Came o’er the bitter sea and cold;
  And surely those that met me there
  Her handmaidens and subjects were;        230
  And shame-faced, half-repressed desire
  Had lit their glorious eyes with fire,
  That maddens eager hearts of men.
  Oh, would that I were with them when
  The risen moon is gathering light,        235
  And yellow from the homestead white
  The windows gleam; but verily
  This waits us o’er a little sea.
 
The Sirens:
  Come to the land where none grows old,
  And none is rash or over-bold        240
  Nor any noise there is or war,
  Or rumor from wild lands afar,
  Or plagues, or birth and death of kings;
  No vain desire of unknown things
  Shall vex you there, no hope or fear        245
  Of that which never draweth near;
  But in that lovely land and still
  Ye may remember what ye will,
  And what ye will, forget for aye.
  So while the kingdoms pass away,        250
  Ye sea-beat hardened toilers erst,
  Unresting, for vain fame athirst,
  Shall be at peace for evermore,
  With hearts fulfilled of Godlike lore,
  And calm, unwavering Godlike love,        255
  No lapse of time can turn or move.
  There, ages after your fair fleece
  Is clean forgotten, yea, and Greece
  Is no more counted glorious,
  Alone with us, alone with us,        260
  Alone with us, dwell happily,
  Beneath our trembling roof of sea.
 
Orpheus:
  Ah! do ye weary of the strife,
  And long to change this eager life
  For shadowy and dull hopelessness,        265
  Thinking indeed to gain no less
  Than this, to die, and not to die,
  To be as if ye ne’er had been,
  Yet keep your memory fresh and green,
  To have no thought of good or ill,        270
  Yet keep some thrilling pleasure still?
  Oh, idle dream! Ah, verily
  If it shall happen unto me
  That I have thought of anything,
  When o’er my bones the sea-fowl sing,        275
  And I lie dead, how shall I pine
  For those fresh joys that once were mine,
  On this green fount of joy and mirth,
  The ever young and glorious earth;
  Then, helpless, shall I call to mind        280
  Thoughts of the flower-scented wind,
  The dew, the gentle rain at night,
  The wonder-working snow and white,
  The song of birds, the water’s fall,
  The sun that maketh bliss of all;        285
  Yea, this our toil and victory,
  The tyrannous and conquered sea.
 
The Sirens:
  Ah, will ye go, and whither then
    Will ye go from us, soon to die,
  To fill your threescore years and ten        290
    With many an unnamed misery?
 
  And this the wretchedest of all,
    That when upon your lonely eyes
  The last faint heaviness shall fall,
    Ye shall bethink you of our cries.        295
 
  Come back, nor, grown old, seek in vain
    To hear us sing across the sea;
  Come back, come back, come back again,
    Come back, O fearful Minyæ!
 
Orpheus:
  Ah, once again, ah, once again,
        300
    The black prow plunges through the sea;
  Nor yet shall all your toil be vain,
    Nor ye forget, O Minyæ!
 
 
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