|C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the Worlds Best Literature.|
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.
|The Thoughts of Macareus|
|By Eugénie (18051848) and Maurice (18101839) de Guérin|
From The Centaur, by Maurice de Guérin: Translation of Matthew Arnold
|I HAD my birth in the caves of these mountains. Like the stream of this valley, whose first drops trickle from some weeping rock in a deep cavern, the first moment of my life fell in the darkness of a remote abode, and without breaking the silence. When our mothers draw near to the time of their delivery, they withdraw to the caverns, and in the depth of the loneliest of them, in the thickest of its gloom, bring forth, without uttering a plaint, offspring silent as themselves. Their puissant milk makes us surmount without weakness or dubious struggle the first difficulties of life; and yet we leave our caverns later than you your cradles. The reason is, that we have a doctrine that the early days of existence should be kept apart and enshrouded, as days filled with the presence of the gods.|| 1|
| Nearly the whole term of my growth was passed in the darkness where I was born. The recesses of my dwelling ran so far under the mountain that I should not have known on which side was the exit, had not the winds, when they sometimes made their way through the opening, sent fresh airs in, and a sudden trouble. Sometimes too my mother came back to me, having about her the odors of the valleys, or streaming from the waters which were her haunt. Her returning thus, without a word said of the valleys or the rivers, but with the emanations from them hanging about her, troubled my spirit, and I moved up and down restlessly in my darkness. What is it, I cried, this outside world whither my mother is borne; and what reigns there in it so potent as to attract her so often? At these moments my own force began to make me unquiet. I felt in it a power which could not remain idle; and betaking myself either to toss my arms, or to gallop backward and forward in the spacious darkness of the cavern, I tried to make out, from the blows which I dealt in the empty space or from the transport of my course through it, in what direction my arms were meant to reach or my feet to bear me. Since that day I have wound my arms round the busts of centaurs, and round the bodies of heroes, and round the trunks of oaks; my hands have essayed the rocks, the waters, plants without number, and the subtlest impressions of the air,for I uplift them in the dark and still nights to catch the breaths of wind, and to draw signs whereby I may augur my road; my feetlook, O Melampus, how worn they are! And yet, all benumbed as I am in this extremity of age, there are days when in broad sunlight on the mountaintops I renew these gallopings of my youth in the cavern, and with the same object, brandishing my arms and employing all the fleetness which yet is left to me
| O Melampus, thou who wouldst know the life of the centaurs, wherefore have the gods willed that thy steps should lead thee to me, the oldest and most forlorn of them all? It is long since I have ceased to practice any part of their life. I quit no more this mountain summit, to which age has confined me. The point of my arrows now serves me only to uproot some tough-fibred plant; the tranquil lakes know me still, but the rivers have forgotten me. I will tell thee a little of my youth; but these recollections, issuing from a worn memory, come like the drops of a niggardly libation poured from a damaged urn.|| 3|
| The course of my youth was rapid and full of agitation. Movement was my life, and my steps knew no bound. One day when I was following the course of a valley seldom entered by the centaurs, I discovered a man making his way up the streamside on the opposite bank. He was the first whom my eyes had lighted on: I despised him. Behold, I cried, at the utmost but the half of what I am! How short are his steps! and his movement how full of labor! Doubtless he is a centaur overthrown by the gods, and reduced by them to drag himself along thus.
| Wandering along at my own will like the rivers, feeling wherever I went the presence of Cybele, whether in the bed of the valleys or on the height of the mountains, I bounded whither I would, like a blind and chainless life. But when Night, filled with the charm of the gods, overtook me on the slopes of the mountain, she guided me to the mouth of the caverns, and there tranquillized me as she tranquillizes the billows of the sea. Stretched across the threshold of my retreat, my flanks hidden within the cave and my head under the open sky, I watched the spectacle of the dark. The sea gods, it is said, quit during the hours of darkness their palaces under the deep; they seat themselves on the promontories, and their eyes wander over the expanse of the waves. Even so I kept watch, having at my feet an expanse of life like the hushed sea. My regards had free range, and traveled to the most distant points. Like sea-beaches which never lose their wetness, the line of mountains to the west retained the imprint of gleams not perfectly wiped out by the shadows. In that quarter still survived, in pale clearness, mountain summits bare and pure. There I beheld at one time the god Pan descend, ever solitary; at another, the choir of the mystic divinities; or I saw pass some mountain nymph charm-struck by the Night. Sometimes the eagles of Mount Olympus traversed the upper sky, and were lost to view among the far-off constellations, or in the shade of the dreaming forests.|| 5|
| Thou pursuest after wisdom, O Melampus, which is the science of the will of the gods; and thou roamest from people to people like a mortal driven by the Destinies. In the times when I kept my night watches before the caverns, I have sometimes believed that I was about to surprise the thought of the sleeping Cybele, and that the mother of the gods, betrayed by her dreams, would let fall some of her secrets; but I have never made out more than sounds which faded away in the murmur of night, or words inarticulate as the bubbling of the rivers.|| 6|
| O Macareus, one day said to me the great Chiron, whose old age I tended, we are both of us centaurs of the mountain; but how different are our lives! Of my days all the study is (thou seest it) the search for plants; thou, thou art like those mortals who have picked up on the waters or in the woods, and carried to their lips, some pieces of the reed pipe thrown away by the god Pan. From that hour these mortals, having caught from their relics of the god a passion for wild life, or perhaps smitten with some secret madness, enter into the wildness, plunge among the forests, follow the course of the streams, bury themselves in the heart of the mountains, restless and haunted by an unknown purpose. The mares beloved of the winds in the farthest Scythia are not wilder than thou, nor more cast down at nightfall, when the North Wind has departed. Seekest thou to know the gods, O Macareus, and from what source men, animals, and the elements of the universal fire have their origin? But the aged Ocean, the father of all things, keeps locked within his own breast these secrets; and the nymphs who stand around sing as they weave their eternal dance before him, to cover any sound which might escape from his lips half opened by slumber. The mortals dear to the gods for their virtue have received from their hands lyres to give delight to man, or the seeds of new plants to make him rich; but from their inexorable lips, nothing!|
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| Such were the lessons which old Chiron gave me. Waned to the very extremity of life, the centaur yet nourished in his spirit the most lofty discourse
| For me, O Melampus, I decline into my last days, calm as the setting of the constellations. I still retain enterprise enough to climb to the top of the rocks, and there I linger late, either gazing on the wild and restless clouds, or to see come up from the horizon the rainy Hyades, the Pleiades, or the great Orion; but I feel myself perishing and passing quickly away, like a snow-wreath floating on the stream; and soon shall I be mingled with the waters which flow in the vast bosom of Earth.|| 9|