Achilles' wrath, to Greece the direful spring Of woes unnumber'd, heavenly goddess, sing! That wrath which hurl'd to Pluto's gloomy reign The souls of mighty chiefs untimely slain; Whose limbs unburied on the naked shore, Devouring dogs and hungry vultures tore. Since great Achilles and Atrides strove, Such was the sovereign doom, and such the will of Jove! Declare, O Muse! in what ill-fated hour Sprung the fierce strife, from what offended power Latona's son a dire contagion spread, And heap'd the camp with mountains of the dead; The king of men his reverent priest defied, And for the king's offence the people died.
Of the cunning hero,
The wanderer, blown off course time and again
After he plundered Troy's sacred heights.
Of all the cities he saw, the minds he grasped,
The suffering deep in his heart at sea
As he struggled to survive and bring his men home
But could not save them, hard as he tried—
The fools—destroyed by their own recklessness
When they ate the oxen of Hyperion the Sun,
And that god snuffed out their day of return.
Of these things,
Speak, Immortal One,
And tell the tale once more in our time.
By now, all the others who had fought at Troy—
At least those who had survived the war and the sea—
Were safely back home. Only Odysseus
Still longed to return to his home and his wife.
The nymph Calypso, a powerful goddess—
And beautiful—was clinging to him
In her caverns and yearned to possess him.
Arms and the man I sing, who, forced by fate And haughty Juno's unrelenting hate, Expelled and exiled, left the Trojan shore. Long labors, both by sea and land, he bore; And in the doubtful war, before he won The Latin realm and built the destined town, His banished gods restored to rights divine, And settled sure succession in his line; From whence the race of Alban fathers come, And the long glories of majestic Rome. O Muse! the causes and the crimes relate,— What goddess was provok'd, and whence her hate; For what offense the Queen of Heav'n began To persecute so brave, so just a man; Involv'd his anxious life in endless cares, Expos'd to wants, and hurried into wars! Can heav'nly minds such high resentment show, Or exercise their spite in human woe? Against the Tiber's mouth, but far away, An ancient town was seated on the sea,— A Tyrian colony; the people made Stout for the war, and studious of their trade: Carthage the name; belov'd by Juno more Than her own Argos, or the Samian shore. Here stood her chariot; here, if Heav'n were kind, The seat of awful empire she design'd. Yet she had heard an ancient rumor fly, (Long cited by the people of the sky,) That times to come should see the Trojan race Her Carthage ruin, and her tow'rs deface; Nor thus confin'd, the yoke of sov'reign sway Should on the necks of all the nations lay. She ponder'd this, and fear'd it was in fate; Nor could forget the war she wag'd of late For conqu'ring Greece against the Trojan state. Besides, long causes working in her mind, And secret seeds of envy, lay behind; Deep graven in her heart the doom remain'd Of partial Paris, and her form disdain'd; The grace bestow'd on ravish'd Ganymed, Electra's glories, and her injur'd bed. Each was a cause alone; and all combin'd To kindle vengeance in her haughty mind. For this, far distant from the Latian coast She drove the remnants of the Trojan host; And sev'n long years th' unhappy wand'ring train Were toss'd by storms, and scatter'd thro' the main. Such time, such toil, requir'd the Roman name, Such length of labor for so vast a frame. Now scarce the Trojan fleet with sails and oars Had left behind the fair Sicilian shores, Entering with cheerful shouts the watery reign, And plowing frothy furrows in the main, When, laboring still, with endless discontent The Queen of Heaven did thus her fury vent:— "Then am I vanquished? must I yield?" said she, "And must the Trojans reign in Italy?" So Fate will have it, and Jove adds his force; Nor can my power divert their happy course. Could angry Pallas, with revengeful spleen, The Grecian navy burn and drown the men? She, for the fault of one offending foe, The bolts of Jove himself presumed to throw; With whirlwinds from beneath she tossed the ship And bare exposed the bosom of the deep: Then, as an eagle gripes the trembling game, The wretch , yet hissing with her father's flame, She strongly seized, and with a burning wound, Transfixed and naked, on a rock she bound. But I, who walked in awful state above, The majesty of heaven, the sister-wife of Jove, For length of years my fruitless force employ Against the thin remains of ruined Troy. What nations now to Juno's power will pray, Or offerings on my slighted altars lay?"
Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.
So bitter is it, death is little more;
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
Speak will I of the other things I saw there.
I cannot well repeat how there I entered,
So full was I of slumber at the moment
In which I had abandoned the true way.
But after I had reached a mountain's foot,
At that point where the valley terminated,
Which had with consternation pierced my heart,
Upward I looked, and I beheld its shoulders,
Vested already with that planet's rays
Which leadeth others right by every road.
Then was the fear a little quieted
That in my heart's lake had endured throughout
The night, which I had passed so piteously.
And even as he, who, with distressful breath,
Forth issued from the sea upon the shore,
Turns to the water perilous and gazes;
So did my soul, that still was fleeing onward,
Turn itself back to re-behold the pass
Which never yet a living person left.
After my weary body I had rested,
The way resumed I on the desert slope,
So that the firm foot ever was the lower.
And lo! almost where the ascent began,
A panther light and swift exceedingly,
Which with a spotted skin was covered o'er!
And never moved she from before my face,
Nay, rather did impede so much my way,
That many times I to return had turned.
The time was the beginning of the morning,
And up the sun was mounting with those stars
That with him were, what time the Love Divine
At first in motion set those beauteous things;
So were to me occasion of good hope,
The variegated skin of that wild beast,
The hour of time, and the delicious season;
But not so much, that did not give me fear
A lion's aspect which appeared to me.
He seemed as if against me he were coming
With head uplifted, and with ravenous hunger,
So that it seemed the air was afraid of him;
And a she-wolf, that with all hungerings
Seemed to be laden in her meagreness,
And many folk has caused to live forlorn!
She brought upon me so much heaviness,
With the affright that from her aspect came,
That I the hope relinquished of the height.
And as he is who willingly acquires,
And the time comes that causes him to lose,
Who weeps in all his thoughts and is despondent,
E'en such made me that beast withouten peace,
Which, coming on against me by degrees
Thrust me back thither where the sun is silent.
While I was rushing downward to the lowland,
Before mine eyes did one present himself,
Who seemed from long-continued silence hoarse.
When I beheld him in the desert vast,
"Have pity on me," unto him I cried,
"Whiche'er thou art, or shade or real man!"
He answered me: "Not man; man once I was,
And both my parents were of Lombardy,
And Mantuans by country both of them.
'Sub Julio' was I born, though it was late,
And lived at Rome under the good Augustus,
During the time of false and lying gods.
A poet was I, and I sang that just
Son of Anchises, who came forth from Troy,
After that Ilion the superb was burned.
But thou, why goest thou back to such annoyance?
Why climb'st thou not the Mount Delectable,
Which is the source and cause of every joy?"
"Now, art thou that Virgilius and that fountain
Which spreads abroad so wide a river of speech?"
I made response to him with bashful forehead.
"O, of the other poets honour and light,
Avail me the long study and great love
That have impelled me to explore thy volume!
Thou art my master, and my author thou,
Thou art alone the one from whom I took
The beautiful style that has done honour to me.
Behold the beast, for which I have turned back;
Do thou protect me from her, famous Sage,
For she doth make my veins and pulses tremble."
"Thee it behoves to take another road,"
Responded he, when he beheld me weeping,
"If from this savage place thou wouldst escape;
Because this beast, at which thou criest out,
Suffers not any one to pass her way,
But so doth harass him, that she destroys him;
And has a nature so malign and ruthless,
That never doth she glut her greedy will,
And after food is hungrier than before.
Many the animals with whom she weds,
And more they shall be still, until the Greyhound
Comes, who shall make her perish in her pain.
He shall not feed on either earth or pelf,
But upon wisdom, and on love and virtue;
'Twixt Feltro and Feltro shall his nation be;
Of that low Italy shall he be the saviour,
On whose account the maid Camilla died,
Euryalus, Turnus, Nisus, of their wounds;
Through every city shall he hunt her down,
Until he shall have driven her back to Hell,
There from whence envy first did let her loose.
Therefore I think and judge it for thy best
Thou follow me, and I will be thy guide,
And lead thee hence through the eternal place,
Where thou shalt hear the desperate lamentations,
Shalt see the ancient spirits disconsolate,
Who cry out each one for the second death;
And thou shalt see those who contented are
Within the fire, because they hope to come,
Whene'er it may be, to the blessed people;
To whom, then, if thou wishest to ascend,
A soul shall be for that than I more worthy;
With her at my departure I will leave thee;
Because that Emperor, who reigns above,
In that I was rebellious to his law,
Wills that through me none come into his city.
He governs everywhere, and there he reigns;
There is his city and his lofty throne;
O happy he whom thereto he elects!"
And I to him: "Poet, I thee entreat,
By that same God whom thou didst never know,
So that I may escape this woe and worse,
Thou wouldst conduct me there where thou hast said,
That I may see the portal of Saint Peter,
And those thou makest so disconsolate."
Then he moved on, and I behind him followed.
(394 B. C.)
If more than once, as annals tell,
Through blood without compunction spilt,
An egotist arch rule has snatched,
And stamped the seizure with his sabre’s hilt,
And, legalised by lawyers, stood;
Shall the good heart whose patriot fire
Leaps to a deed of startling note,
Do it, then flinch? Shall good in weak expire?
Needs goodness lack the evil grit,
That stares down censorship and ban,
And dumbfounds saintlier ones with this—
God’s will avouched in each successful man?
Or, put it, where dread stress inspires
A virtue beyond man’s standard rate,
Seems virtue there a strain forbid-
Transcendence such as shares transgression’s fate?
If so, and wan eclipse ensue,
Yet glory await emergence won,
Is that high Providence, or Chance?
And proved it which with thee, Timoleon?
O, crowned with laurel twined with thorn,
Not rash thy life’s cross-tide I stem,
But reck the problem rolled in pang
And reach and dare to touch thy garment’s hem.
When Argos and Cleone strove
Against free Corinth’s claim or right,
Two brothers battled for her well:
A footman one, and one a mounted knight.
Apart in place, each braved the brunt
Till the rash cavalryman, alone,
Was wrecked against the enemy’s files,
His bayard crippled and he maimed and thrown.
Timoleon, at Timophanes’ need,
Makes for the rescue through the fray,
Covers him with his shield, and takes
The darts and furious odds and fights at bay;
Till, wrought to pallor of passion dumb,
Stark terrors of death around he throws,
Warding his brother from the field
Spite failing friends dispersed and rallying foes.
Here might he rest, in claim rest here,
Rest, and a Phidian form remain;
But life halts never, life must on,
And take with term prolonged some scar or stain.
Yes, life must on. And latent germs
Time’s seasons wake in mead and man;
And brothers, playfellows in youth,
Develop into variance wide in span.
Timophanes was his mother’s pride—
Her pride, her pet, even all to her
Who slackly on Timoleon looked:
Scarce he (she mused) may proud affection stir.
He saved my darling, gossips tell:
If so, ’twas service, yea, and fair;
But instinct ruled and duty bade,
In service such, a henchman e’en might share.
When boys they were I helped the bent;
I made the junior feel his place,
Subserve the senior, love him, too;
And sooth he does, and that’s his saving grace.
But me the meek one never can serve,
Not he, he lacks the quality keen
To make the mother through the son
An envied dame of power, a social queen.
But thou, my first-born, thou art I
In sex translated; joyed, I scan
My features, mine, expressed in thee;
Thou art what I would be were I a man.
My brave Timophanes, ’tis thou
Who yet the world’s forefront shalt win,
For thine the urgent resolute way,
Self pushing panoplied self through thick and thin.
Nor here maternal insight erred:
Forsworn, with heart that did not wince
At slaying men who kept their vows,
Her darling strides to power, and reigns—a Prince.
Because of just heart and humane,
Profound the hate Timoleon knew
For crimes of pride and men-of-prey
And impious deeds that perjurous upstarts do;
And Corinth loved he, and in way
Old Scotia’s clansman loved his clan,
Devotion one with ties how dear
And passion that late to make the rescue ran.
But crime and kin—the terrorised town,
The silent, acquiescent mother—
Revulsion racks the filial heart,
The loyal son, the patriot true, the brother.
In evil visions of the night
He sees the lictors of the gods,
Giant ministers of righteousness,
Their fasces threatened by the Furies’ rods.
But undeterred he wills to act,
Resolved thereon though Ate rise;
He heeds the voice whose mandate calls,
Or seems to call, peremptory from the skies.
Nor less but by approaches mild,
And trying each prudential art,
The just one first advances him
In parley with a flushed intemperate heart.
The brother first he seeks—alone,
And pleads; but is with laughter met;
Then comes he, in accord with two,
And these adjure the tyrant and beset;
Whose merriment gives place to rage:
“Go,” stamping, “what to me is Right?
I am the Wrong, and lo, I reign,
And testily intolerant too in might”:
And glooms on his mute brother pale,
Who goes aside; with muffled face
He sobs the predetermined word,
And Right in Corinth reassumes its place.
But on his robe, ah, whose the blood?
And craven ones their eyes avert,
And heavy is a mother’s ban,
And dismal faces of the fools can hurt.
The whispering-gallery of the world,
Where each breathed slur runs wheeling wide.
Eddies a false perverted truth,
Inveterate turning still on fratricide.
The time was Plato’s. Wandering lights
Confirmed the atheist’s standing star;
As now, no sanction Virtue knew
For deeds that on prescriptive morals jar.
Reaction took misgiving’s tone,
Infecting conscience, till betrayed
To doubt the irrevocable doom
Herself had authorised when undismayed.
Within perturbed Timoleon here
Such deeps were bared as when the sea,
Convulsed, vacates its shoreward bed,
And Nature’s last reserves show nakedly.
He falters, and from Hades’ glens
By night insidious tones implore—
Why suffer? hither come and be
What Phocion is who feeleth man no more.
But, won from that, his mood elects
To live—to live in wilding place;
For years self-outcast, he but meets
In shades his playfellow’s reproachful face.
Estranged through one transcendent deed
From common membership in mart,
In severance he is like a head
Pale after battle trunkless found apart.
But flood-tide comes though long the ebb,
Nor patience bides with passion long;
Like sightless orbs his thoughts are rolled
Arraigning heaven as compromised in wrong:
“To second causes why appeal?
Vain parleying here with fellow clods.
To you, Arch Principals, I rear
My quarrel, for this quarrel is with gods.
“Shall just men long to quit your world?
It is aspersion of your reign;
Your marbles in the temple stand—
Yourselves as stony and invoked in vain?”
Ah, bear with one quite overborne,
Olympians, if he chide ye now;
Magnanimous be even though he rail
And hard against ye set the bleaching brow.—
“ If conscience doubt, she’ll next recant.
What basis then? O, tell at last,
Are earnest natures staggering here
But fatherless shadows from no substance cast?
“Yea, are ye, gods? Then ye, ’tis ye
Should show what touch of tie ye may,
Since ye, too, if not wrung are wronged
By grievous misconceptions of your sway.
“But deign, some little sign be given-
Low thunder in your tranquil skies;
Me reassure, nor let me be
Like a lone dog that for a master cries.”
Men’s moods, as frames, must yield to years,
And turns the world in fickle ways;
Corinth recalls Timoleon—ay,
And plumes him forth, but yet with schooling phrase.
On Sicily’s fields, through arduous wars,
A peace he won whose rainbow spanned
The isle redeemed; and he was hailed
Deliverer of that fair colonial land.
And Corinth clapt: Absolved, and more!
Justice in long arrears is thine:
Not slayer of thy brother, no,
But saviour of the state, Jove’s soldier, man divine.
Eager for thee thy City waits:
Return! with bays we dress your door.
But he, the Isle’s loved guest, reposed,
And never for Corinth left the adopted shore.
If from great nature's or our own abyss Of thought we could but snatch a certainty, Perhaps mankind might find the path they miss— But then 't would spoil much good philosophy. One system eats another up, and this Much as old Saturn ate his progeny; For when his pious consort gave him stones In lieu of sons, of these he made no bones. But System doth reverse the Titan's breakfast, And eats her parents, albeit the digestion Is difficult. Pray tell me, can you make fast, After due search, your faith to any question? Look back o'er ages, ere unto the stake fast You bind yourself, and call some mode the best one. Nothing more true than not to trust your senses; And yet what are your other evidences? For me, I know nought; nothing I deny, Admit, reject, contemn; and what know you, Except perhaps that you were born to die? And both may after all turn out untrue. An age may come, Font of Eternity, When nothing shall be either old or new. Death, so call'd, is a thing which makes men weep, And yet a third of life is pass'd in sleep. A sleep without dreams, after a rough day Of toil, is what we covet most; and yet How clay shrinks back from more quiescent clay! The very Suicide that pays his debt At once without instalments (an old way Of paying debts, which creditors regret) Lets out impatiently his rushing breath, Less from disgust of life than dread of death. 'T is round him, near him, here, there, every where; And there 's a courage which grows out of fear, Perhaps of all most desperate, which will dare The worst to know it:—when the mountains rear Their peaks beneath your human foot, and there You look down o'er the precipice, and drear The gulf of rock yawns,—you can't gaze a minute Without an awful wish to plunge within it. 'T is true, you don't—but, pale and struck with terror, Retire: but look into your past impression! And you will find, though shuddering at the mirror Of your own thoughts, in all their self-confession, The lurking bias, be it truth or error, To the unknown; a secret prepossession, To plunge with all your fears—but where? You know not, And that's the reason why you do—or do not. But what 's this to the purpose? you will say. Gent. reader, nothing; a mere speculation, For which my sole excuse is—'t is my way; Sometimes with and sometimes without occasion I write what 's uppermost, without delay: This narrative is not meant for narration, But a mere airy and fantastic basis, To build up common things with common places. You know, or don't know, that great Bacon saith, 'Fling up a straw, 't will show the way the wind blows;' And such a straw, borne on by human breath, Is poesy, according as the mind glows; A paper kite which flies 'twixt life and death, A shadow which the onward soul behind throws: And mine 's a bubble, not blown up for praise, But just to play with, as an infant plays. The world is all before me—or behind; For I have seen a portion of that same, And quite enough for me to keep in mind;— Of passions, too, I have proved enough to blame, To the great pleasure of our friends, mankind, Who like to mix some slight alloy with fame; For I was rather famous in my time, Until I fairly knock'd it up with rhyme. I have brought this world about my ears, and eke The other; that 's to say, the clergy, who Upon my head have bid their thunders break In pious libels by no means a few. And yet I can't help scribbling once a week, Tiring old readers, nor discovering new. In youth I wrote because my mind was full, And now because I feel it growing dull. But 'why then publish?'—There are no rewards Of fame or profit when the world grows weary. I ask in turn,—Why do you play at cards? Why drink? Why read?—To make some hour less dreary. It occupies me to turn back regards On what I 've seen or ponder'd, sad or cheery; And what I write I cast upon the stream, To swim or sink—I have had at least my dream. I think that were I certain of success, I hardly could compose another line: So long I 've battled either more or less, That no defeat can drive me from the Nine. This feeling 't is not easy to express, And yet 't is not affected, I opine. In play, there are two pleasures for your choosing— The one is winning, and the other losing. Besides, my Muse by no means deals in fiction: She gathers a repertory of facts, Of course with some reserve and slight restriction, But mostly sings of human things and acts— And that 's one cause she meets with contradiction; For too much truth, at first sight, ne'er attracts; And were her object only what 's call'd glory, With more ease too she 'd tell a different story. Love, war, a tempest—surely there 's variety; Also a seasoning slight of lucubration; A bird's-eye view, too, of that wild, Society; A slight glance thrown on men of every station. If you have nought else, here 's at least satiety Both in performance and in preparation; And though these lines should only line portmanteaus, Trade will be all the better for these Cantos. The portion of this world which I at present Have taken up to fill the following sermon, Is one of which there 's no description recent. The reason why is easy to determine: Although it seems both prominent and pleasant, There is a sameness in its gems and ermine, A dull and family likeness through all ages, Of no great promise for poetic pages. With much to excite, there 's little to exalt; Nothing that speaks to all men and all times; A sort of varnish over every fault; A kind of common-place, even in their crimes; Factitious passions, wit without much salt, A want of that true nature which sublimes Whate'er it shows with truth; a smooth monotony Of character, in those at least who have got any. Sometimes, indeed, like soldiers off parade, They break their ranks and gladly leave the drill; But then the roll-call draws them back afraid, And they must be or seem what they were: still Doubtless it is a brilliant masquerade; But when of the first sight you have had your fill, It palls—at least it did so upon me, This paradise of pleasure and ennui. When we have made our love, and gamed our gaming, Drest, voted, shone, and, may be, something more; With dandies dined; heard senators declaiming; Seen beauties brought to market by the score, Sad rakes to sadder husbands chastely taming; There 's little left but to be bored or bore. Witness those 'ci-devant jeunes hommes' who stem The stream, nor leave the world which leaveth them. 'T is said—indeed a general complaint— That no one has succeeded in describing The monde, exactly as they ought to paint: Some say, that authors only snatch, by bribing The porter, some slight scandals strange and quaint, To furnish matter for their moral gibing; And that their books have but one style in common— My lady's prattle, filter'd through her woman. But this can't well be true, just now; for writers Are grown of the beau monde a part potential: I 've seen them balance even the scale with fighters, Especially when young, for that 's essential. Why do their sketches fail them as inditers Of what they deem themselves most consequential, The real portrait of the highest tribe? 'T is that, in fact, there 's little to describe. 'Haud ignara loquor;' these are Nugae, 'quarum Pars parva fui,' but still art and part. Now I could much more easily sketch a harem, A battle, wreck, or history of the heart, Than these things; and besides, I wish to spare 'em, For reasons which I choose to keep apart. 'Vetabo Cereris sacrum qui vulgarit—' Which means that vulgar people must not share it. And therefore what I throw off is ideal— Lower'd, leaven'd, like a history of freemasons; Which bears the same relation to the real, As Captain Parry's voyage may do to Jason's. The grand arcanum 's not for men to see all; My music has some mystic diapasons; And there is much which could not be appreciated In any manner by the uninitiated. Alas! worlds fall—and woman, since she fell'd The world (as, since that history less polite Than true, hath been a creed so strictly held) Has not yet given up the practice quite. Poor thing of usages! coerced, compell'd, Victim when wrong, and martyr oft when right, Condemn'd to child-bed, as men for their sins Have shaving too entail'd upon their chins,— A daily plague, which in the aggregate May average on the whole with parturition. But as to women, who can penetrate The real sufferings of their she condition? Man's very sympathy with their estate Has much of selfishness, and more suspicion. Their love, their virtue, beauty, education, But form good housekeepers, to breed a nation. All this were very well, and can't be better; But even this is difficult, Heaven knows, So many troubles from her birth beset her, Such small distinction between friends and foes, The gilding wears so soon from off her fetter, That—but ask any woman if she'd choose (Take her at thirty, that is) to have been Female or male? a schoolboy or a queen? 'Petticoat influence' is a great reproach, Which even those who obey would fain be thought To fly from, as from hungry pikes a roach; But since beneath it upon earth we are brought, By various joltings of life's hackney coach, I for one venerate a petticoat— A garment of a mystical sublimity, No matter whether russet, silk, or dimity. Much I respect, and much I have adored, In my young days, that chaste and goodly veil, Which holds a treasure, like a miser's hoard, And more attracts by all it doth conceal— A golden scabbard on a Damasque sword, A loving letter with a mystic seal, A cure for grief—for what can ever rankle Before a petticoat and peeping ankle? And when upon a silent, sullen day, With a sirocco, for example, blowing, When even the sea looks dim with all its spray, And sulkily the river's ripple 's flowing, And the sky shows that very ancient gray, The sober, sad antithesis to glowing,— 'T is pleasant, if then any thing is pleasant, To catch a glimpse even of a pretty peasant. We left our heroes and our heroines In that fair clime which don't depend on climate, Quite independent of the Zodiac's signs, Though certainly more difficult to rhyme at, Because the sun, and stars, and aught that shines, Mountains, and all we can be most sublime at, Are there oft dull and dreary as a dun— Whether a sky's or tradesman's is all one. An in-door life is less poetical; And out-of-door hath showers, and mists, and sleet, With which I could not brew a pastoral. But be it as it may, a bard must meet All difficulties, whether great or small, To spoil his undertaking or complete, And work away like spirit upon matter, Embarrass'd somewhat both with fire and water.
And then went down to the ship, Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and We set up mast and sail on that swart ship, Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also Heavy with weeping, so winds from sternward Bore us out onward with bellying canvas, Circe's this craft, the trim-coifed goddess. Then sat we amidships, wind jamming the tiller, Thus with stretched sail, we went over sea till day's end. Sun to his slumber, shadows o'er all the ocean, Came we then to the bounds of deepest water, To the Kimmerian lands, and peopled cities Covered with close-webbed mist, unpierced ever With glitter of sun-rays Nor with stars stretched, nor looking back from heaven Swartest night stretched over wretched men there. The ocean flowing backward, came we then to the place Aforesaid by Circe. Here did they rites, Perimedes and Eurylochus, And drawing sword from my hip I dug the ell-square pitkin; Poured we libations unto each the dead, First mead and then sweet wine, water mixed with white flour. Then prayed I many a prayer to the sickly death's-head; As set in Ithaca, sterile bulls of the best For sacrifice, heaping the pyre with goods, A sheep to Tiresias only, black and a bell-sheep. Dark blood flowed in the fosse, Souls out of Erebus, cadaverous dead, of brides Of youths and at the old who had borne much; Souls stained with recent tears, girls tender, Men many, mauled with bronze lance heads, Battle spoil, bearing yet dreory arms, These many crowded about me; with shouting, Pallor upon me, cried to my men for more beasts; Slaughtered the heards, sheep slain of bronze; Poured ointment, cried to the gods, To Pluto the strong, and praised Proserpine; Unsheathed the narrow sword, I sat to keep off the impetuous impotent dead, Till I should hear Tiresias. But first Elpenor came, our friend Elpenor, Unburied, cast on the wide earth, Limbs that we left in the house of Circe, Unwept, unwrapped in sepulchre, since toils urged other. Pitiful spirit. And I cried in hurried speech: "Elpenor, how art thou come to this dark coast? Cam'st thou afoot, outstripping seamen?" And he in heavy speech: "Ill fate and abundant wine. I slept in Circe's ingle. Going down the long ladder unguarded, I fell against the buttress, Shattered the nape-nerve, the soul sought Avernus. But thou, O King, I bid remember me, unwept, unburied, Heap up mine arms, be tomb by sea-bord, and inscribed: A man of no fortune, and with a name to come. And set my oar up, that I swung mid fellows." And Anticlea came, whom I beat off, and then Tiresias Theban, Holding his golden wand, knew me, and spoke first: "A second time? why? man of ill star, Facing the sunless dead and this joyless region? Stand from the fosse, leave me my bloody bever For soothsay." And I stepped back, And he stong with the blood, said then: "Odysseus Shalt return through spiteful Neptune, over dark seas, Lose all companions." And then Anticlea came. Lie quiet Divus. I mean, that is Andreas Divus, In officina Wecheli, 1538, out of Homer. And he sailed, by Sirens and thence outward and away And unto Circe. Venerandam, In the Creatan's phrase, with the golden crown, Aphrodite, Cypri munimenta sortita est, mirthful, orichalchi, with golden Girdles and breast bands, thou with dark eyelids Bearing the golden bough of Argicida. So that:
Jesús, Estrella, Esperanza, Mercy:
Sails flashing to the wind like weapons,
sharks following the moans the fever and the dying;
horror the corposant and compass rose.
voyage through death
to life upon these shores.
“10 April 1800—
Blacks rebellious. Crew uneasy. Our linguist says
their moaning is a prayer for death,
ours and their own. Some try to starve themselves.
Lost three this morning leaped with crazy laughter
to the waiting sharks, sang as they went under.”
Desire, Adventure, Tartar, Ann:
Standing to America, bringing home
black gold, black ivory, black seed.
Deep in the festering hold thy father lies,
of his bones New England pews are made,
those are altar lights that were his eyes.
Jesus Saviour Pilot Me
Over Life’s Tempestuous Sea
We pray that Thou wilt grant, O Lord,
safe passage to our vessels bringing
heathen souls unto Thy chastening.
“8 bells. I cannot sleep, for I am sick
with fear, but writing eases fear a little
since still my eyes can see these words take shape
upon the page & so I write, as one
would turn to exorcism. 4 days scudding,
but now the sea is calm again. Misfortune
follows in our wake like sharks (our grinning
tutelary gods). Which one of us
has killed an albatross? A plague among
our blacks—Ophthalmia: blindness—& we
have jettisoned the blind to no avail.
It spreads, the terrifying sickness spreads.
Its claws have scratched sight from the Capt.'s eyes
& there is blindness in the fo’c’sle
& we must sail 3 weeks before we come
What port awaits us, Davy Jones’
or home? I’ve heard of slavers drifting, drifting,
playthings of wind and storm and chance, their crews
gone blind, the jungle hatred
crawling up on deck.
Thou Who Walked On Galilee
“Deponent further sayeth The Bella J
left the Guinea Coast
with cargo of five hundred blacks and odd
for the barracoons of Florida:
“That there was hardly room ’tween-decks for half
the sweltering cattle stowed spoon-fashion there;
that some went mad of thirst and tore their flesh
and sucked the blood:
“That Crew and Captain lusted with the comeliest
of the savage girls kept naked in the cabins;
that there was one they called The Guinea Rose
and they cast lots and fought to lie with her:
“That when the Bo’s’n piped all hands, the flames
spreading from starboard already were beyond
control, the negroes howling and their chains
entangled with the flames:
“That the burning blacks could not be reached,
that the Crew abandoned ship,
leaving their shrieking negresses behind,
that the Captain perished drunken with the wenches:
“Further Deponent sayeth not.”
Pilot Oh Pilot Me
Aye, lad, and I have seen those factories,
Gambia, Rio Pongo, Calabar;
have watched the artful mongos baiting traps
of war wherein the victor and the vanquished
Were caught as prizes for our barracoons.
Have seen the nigger kings whose vanity
and greed turned wild black hides of Fellatah,
Mandingo, Ibo, Kru to gold for us.
And there was one—King Anthracite we named him—
fetish face beneath French parasols
of brass and orange velvet, impudent mouth
whose cups were carven skulls of enemies:
He’d honor us with drum and feast and conjo
and palm-oil-glistening wenches deft in love,
and for tin crowns that shone with paste,
red calico and German-silver trinkets
Would have the drums talk war and send
his warriors to burn the sleeping villages
and kill the sick and old and lead the young
in coffles to our factories.
Twenty years a trader, twenty years,
for there was wealth aplenty to be harvested
from those black fields, and I’d be trading still
but for the fevers melting down my bones.
Shuttles in the rocking loom of history,
the dark ships move, the dark ships move,
their bright ironical names
like jests of kindness on a murderer’s mouth;
plough through thrashing glister toward
fata morgana’s lucent melting shore,
weave toward New World littorals that are
mirage and myth and actual shore.
Voyage through death,
voyage whose chartings are unlove.
A charnel stench, effluvium of living death
spreads outward from the hold,
where the living and the dead, the horribly dying,
lie interlocked, lie foul with blood and excrement.
Deep in the festering hold thy father lies,
the corpse of mercy rots with him,
rats eat love’s rotten gelid eyes.
But, oh, the living look at you
with human eyes whose suffering accuses you,
whose hatred reaches through the swill of dark
to strike you like a leper’s claw.
You cannot stare that hatred down
or chain the fear that stalks the watches
and breathes on you its fetid scorching breath;
cannot kill the deep immortal human wish,
the timeless will.
“But for the storm that flung up barriers
of wind and wave, The Amistad, señores,
would have reached the port of Príncipe in two,
three days at most; but for the storm we should
have been prepared for what befell.
Swift as the puma’s leap it came. There was
that interval of moonless calm filled only
with the water’s and the rigging’s usual sounds,
then sudden movement, blows and snarling cries
and they had fallen on us with machete
and marlinspike. It was as though the very
air, the night itself were striking us.
Exhausted by the rigors of the storm,
we were no match for them. Our men went down
before the murderous Africans. Our loyal
Celestino ran from below with gun
and lantern and I saw, before the cane-
knife’s wounding flash, Cinquez,
that surly brute who calls himself a prince,
directing, urging on the ghastly work.
He hacked the poor mulatto down, and then
he turned on me. The decks were slippery
when daylight finally came. It sickens me
to think of what I saw, of how these apes
threw overboard the butchered bodies of
our men, true Christians all, like so much jetsam.
Enough, enough. The rest is quickly told:
Cinquez was forced to spare the two of us
you see to steer the ship to Africa,
and we like phantoms doomed to rove the sea
voyaged east by day and west by night,
deceiving them, hoping for rescue,
prisoners on our own vessel, till
at length we drifted to the shores of this
your land, America, where we were freed
from our unspeakable misery. Now we
demand, good sirs, the extradition of
Cinquez and his accomplices to La
Havana. And it distresses us to know
there are so many here who seem inclined
to justify the mutiny of these blacks.
We find it paradoxical indeed
that you whose wealth, whose tree of liberty
are rooted in the labor of your slaves
should suffer the august John Quincy Adams
to speak with so much passion of the right
of chattel slaves to kill their lawful masters
and with his Roman rhetoric weave a hero’s
garland for Cinquez. I tell you that
we are determined to return to Cuba
with our slaves and there see justice done. Cinquez—
or let us say ‘the Prince’—Cinquez shall die.”
The deep immortal human wish,
the timeless will:
Cinquez its deathless primaveral image,
life that transfigures many lives.
Voyage through death
to life upon these shores.
"I walked into" "the forest;" "for the woods were lit" "by yellow street lamps" "along various" "dirty pathways" "I paused a moment" "to absorb" "the texture" "of bark & needles" "The wind carried" "with a pine scent" "the river's aura—" "delicious air" "Then a figure" "appeared before me—" "a woman" "in a long dress" "standing featureless" "in a dark space" " 'Welcome,' she said," "& stepped into" "the light" "She was dark-haired" "but very pale" "I stared hard at her, realizing" "that her flesh was" "translucent," "& tremulous," "a whitish gel" "She was protoplasmic-" "looking—" "But rather beautiful," "violet-eyed" " 'What is this place?' " "I asked her" " 'It would be paradise,' she said," " 'but, as you see," "it's very dark," "& always dark" "You will find that" "those who live here" "are changed" "enough" "from creation's first intent" "as to be deeply" "upset . . . " "But you must really" "keep going now' " " 'Are those tents" "over there?' I asked" "I saw small pyramids" "at a distance" " 'Yes, these woods are" "full of beings," "primal beings," "hard to see—" "because it's" "always dark here" "Most of them" "need not concern you now" "But wait here," "someone is coming" "to show you your way' " "She stepped back into" "the shadows," "turned & left me"
-ring of the well-
Fray was the name where we came
to next. Might've been a place,
might not've been a place but
we were there, came to it
than we could se... Come to
so soon, it was a name we stuck
pins in hoping we'd stay. Stray
was all we ended up with. Spar
was another name we heard
went by... Rasp we also heard it
called... Came to it sooner
than we could see but soon enough
saw we were there. Some who'd
come before us called it Bray...
Sound's own principality it was, a
pocket of air flexed mouthlike,
meaning's mime and regret, a squib of
something said, so intent it
seemed. At our backs a blown
bamboo flute, trapic remnant,
Coast reconnoiter come up empty
but for that, a first, forgotten
warble trafficked in again even so,
mango seed's reminder sent to what
end we'd eventually see...
Come thru there before we were
told. Others claiming to be us had
come thru... The ubiquitous two lay
bound in cloth come down from on
hoping it so, twist of their raiment
integument, emollient feel for what
might not have been there. Head in the
clouds he'd have said of himself,
have said elsewhere, his to be above and
below, not know or say, hers to be
alibi, elegy otherwise known...
have said elsernrheren
Above and below, limbo what fabric
intervened. Limbo the bending they moved
in between. Limbo the book of
bent knee... Antiphonal thread
attended by thread. Keening string
by thrum, inwardness, netherness...
strings tied their hair high, limbo
the headrags they wore... The admission
of cloth that it was cover, what
was imminent out of reach, given
went for real, unreal,