Verse > Anthologies > Thomas R. Lounsbury, ed. > Yale Book of American Verse
Thomas R. Lounsbury, ed. (1838–1915). Yale Book of American Verse.  1912.
John Godfrey Saxe. 1816–1887
116. Orpheus and Eurydice
  SIR Orpheus, whom the poets have sung 
In every metre and every tongue, 
Was, you may remember, a famous musician,— 
At least for a youth in his pagan condition,— 
For historians tell he played on his shell         5
From morning till night, so remarkably well 
That his music created a regular spell 
On trees and stones in forest and dell! 
What sort of an instrument his could be 
Is really more than is known to me,—  10
For none of the books have told, d' ye see! 
It 's very certain those heathen "swells" 
Knew nothing at all of oyster-shells, 
And it 's clear Sir Orpheus never could own a 
Shell like those they make in Cremona;  15
But whatever it was, to "move the stones" 
It must have shelled out some powerful tones, 
And entitled the player to rank in my rhyme 
As the very Vieuxtemps of the very old time! 
  But alas for the joys of this mutable life!  20
Sir Orpheus lost his beautiful wife— 
Eurydice, who vanished one day 
From Earth, in a very unpleasant way! 
It chanced, as near as I can determine, 
Through one of those vertebrated vermin  25
That lie in the grass so prettily curled, 
Waiting to "snake" you out of the world! 
And the poets tell she went to—well— 
A place where Greeks and Romans dwell 
After they burst their mortal shell;  30
A region that in deepest shade is, 
And known by the classical name of Hades,— 
A different place from the terrible furnace 
Of Tartarus, down below Avernus. 
  Now, having a heart uncommonly stout,  35
Sir Orpheus did n't go whining about, 
Nor marry another, as you would, no doubt, 
But made up his mind to fiddle her out! 
But near the gate he had to wait, 
For there in state old Cerberus sate,  40
A three-headed dog, as cruel as Fate, 
Guarding the entrance early and late; 
A beast so sagacious, and very voracious, 
So uncommonly sharp and extremely rapacious, 
That it really may be doubted whether  45
He 'd have his match, should a common tether 
Unite three aldermen's heads together! 
  But Orpheus, not in the least afraid, 
Tuned up his shell, and quickly essayed 
What could be done with a serenade,  50
In short, so charming an air he played, 
He quite succeeded in overreaching 
The cunning cur, by musical teaching, 
And put him to sleep as fast as preaching! 
  And now our musical champion, Orpheus,  55
Having given the janitor over to Morpheus, 
Went groping around among the ladies 
Who throng the dismal halls of Hades, 
      Calling aloud 
      To the shady crowd,  60
In a voice as shrill as a martial fife, 
"O, tell me where in hell is my wife!" 
(A natural question, 't is very plain, 
Although it may sound a little profane.) 
      "Eurydice! Eu-ryd-i-ce!"  65
He cried as loud as loud could be, 
(A singular sound, and funny withal, 
In a place where nobody rides at all!) 
O, come, my dear, along with me!"  70
And then he played so remarkably fine, 
That it really might be called divine,— 
      For who can show, 
      On earth or below, 
Such wonderful feats in the musical line?  75
  E'en Tantalus ceased from trying to sip 
The cup that flies from his arid lip; 
Ixion, too, the magic could feel, 
And, for a moment, blocked his wheel; 
  Poor Sisyphus, doomed to tumble and toss  80
The notable stone that gathers no moss, 
Let go his burden, and turned to hear 
The charming sounds that ravished his ear; 
And even the Furies—those terrible shrews 
Whom no one before could ever amuse,  85
Those strong-bodied ladies with strong-minded views 
Whom even the Devil would doubtless refuse, 
Were his Majesty only permitted to choose, 
Each felt for a moment her nature desert her, 
And wept like a girl o'er the "Sorrows of Werther."  90
  And still Sir Orpheus chanted his song, 
Sweet and clear and strong and long, 
He cried as loud as loud could be; 
And Echo, taking up the word,  95
Kept it up till the lady heard, 
And came with joy to meet her lord. 
And he led her along the infernal route, 
Until he had got her almost out, 
When, suddenly turning his head about, 100
(To take a peep at his wife, no doubt,) 
      He gave a groan, 
      For the lady was gone, 
And had left him standing there all alone! 
For by an oath the gods had bound 105
Sir Orpheus not to look around 
Till he was clear of the sacred ground, 
If he 'd have Eurydice safe and sound; 
For the moment he did an act so rash 
His wife would vanish as quick as a flash! 110
Young women! beware, for goodness' sake, 
Of every sort of "sarpent snake"; 
Remember the rogue is apt to deceive, 
And played the deuce with grandmother Eve! 115
Young men! it 's a critical thing to go 
Exactly right with a lady in tow; 
But when you are in the proper track, 
Just go ahead, and never look back! 

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