Orion, and Other Poems

by Charles G.D. Roberts







HUNG like a rich pomegranate o’er the sea
    The ripened moon; along the trancéd sand
The feather-shadowed ferns drooped dreamfully ;
The solitude’s evading harmony
    Mingled remotely over sea and land;


A light wind woke and whispered warily,
    And myriad ripples tinkled on the strand.


She lay face downward on the sighing shore,
    Her head upon her bended arm; her hair
Loose-spreading fell, a heart-entangling store;


Her shoulder swelling through it glimmered more
    Divinely white than snows in morning air;
One tress, more wide astray, the ripples bore
    Where her hand clenched the ooze in mute despair.


A wandering wind laughed over her, then slunk

    Shamefast away, laden with her deep woe,
Smit with the consciousness that she had drunk
Grief’s numbing chalice to the dregs, and sunk,
    As deep as ever mortal soul could go,
To sleep’s dim caves: while, like a wave-borne trunk,

    Did her still body no life-promise show.


Then stronger stirred her pulses; and a sound
    Of her deep-drawn and slowly-measured breath,
Now shattered by a gasping sob, or drowned
By sudden rustlings of the leaves around,


    Told of her spirit driven back from Death,
Whom it had sought with forehead duly bound
    With fillets, where the hemlock wavereth.


A many-throated din came echoing
    Over the startled trees confusedly,


From th’ inmost mountain folds hurled clamoring
Along the level shore to droop its wing:
    She blindly rose, and o’er the moon-track’d sea
Toward Athens stretched her hands,—"With shouts
            they bring
    Their conquering chieftain home; ah me! ah me!"




But clearer came the music, zephyr-borne,

    And turned her yearnings from the over-seas,
Hurtled unmasked o’er glade and belted bourne,—
Of dinning cymbal, covert-rousing horn,
    Soft waxen pipe, shrill-shouted EVOES:

Then sat she down unheeding and forlorn,
    Half dreaming of old Cretan melodies.


Like thought quick-frozen in the vivid brain
    At need of sudden, vast emergency,
She sat there dazed and motionless; the main


Sobbed round and caught her longest tress again,
    And clasped her shell-like foot, nor heeded she;
And nearer, and nearer, like thick gusts of rain,
    The clamor swelled and burst upon the sea:


The thickets rocked; the ferns were trampled down;

    The shells and pebbles splashed into the waves;
The white sands reeked with purple stains and brown,
With crushed grape-clusters and fig-bunches strown;
    Hoof’d sylvans, fauns, satyrs from mossy caves,
Fur-clad Bacchantes, leapt around to drown

    God Bacchus’ voice, whose lip the crimson laves.


His thyrsus, wreathed with many-veinéd vine
    That magically blossomed and bare fruit,
He waved above the crowd with grace divine,
And straightway by the silver waste of brine


    They laid them gently down with gesture mute;
The while he twinéd his persuasions fine
    And meshed her grief-clipt spirit with his lute.


These sweet entanglements he closely wove,—
    "A god hath heard thy plainings piteous;

A god’s deep heart thy shrill shriek shuddering clove;
A god hath left his incense-teeming grove,
    And sought thee by the chill sea’s barrenness;
A god’s strong spirit night-long vainly strove,
    And fell before thy mortal loveliness.



"Forget the subtle-tongued Ionian’s love
    His speech that flowed like honey, and his vows ;
Forget the deaf, black ship that fleetly drove,
Leaving thee hopeless in this moaning cove;
    Forget the Past’s dumb misery, and rouse


Thy heart and lift thy spirit clear above
    Dead griefs as fitteth godhead’s promised spouse.


"And hearken, maiden! I will love thee well.
    Then rise and follow, rise and follow, rise
And give a god thine hand, and come and dwell


With gods, and drink the purpling œnomel,
    And slake desire with aught that lures thine eyes,
From flowerful hermitage in some green dell
    To sphere-realms in the star-entangled skies.


"Rich largess of all crystalline delights,

    With converse of the well-persuading lyre,
Shall satisfy thee of sweet sounds and sights,
And each compelling beauty that excites
    A yearning shall fulfil its own desire;
And vintagers shall worship thee with rites

    Of wine outpoured and vervain-nourished fire.


"And all these pleasures shall be sure for thee;
    And woven through them like a golden thread
The certainty of one fixt love for thee,—
And that a god’s, shall bind them fast for thee,—


    So fast that by no finely-stinging dread,
Lest they should prove some dream-wrought mockery,
    Shall thy heart’s joyance e’er be visited."


And so with silver-linkéd melodies
    He wooed her till the moon lay pale and low;

And first she lifted up her dreaming eyes
And dreamed him her old love in fairer guise;
    And then her soul drew outwards, and a glow
Woke in her blood of pleasure and surprise,
    To think it was a god that loved her so.



And last she rose up happily, and gave
    Her hand to him, by sudden love made bold,—
The while the sun got up refreshed and drave
Square-shouldered through the lucent mists, that clave
    To the clear-echoed inland hills, and rolled


Along their peaks in many a pallid wave,
    Or floated coldly o’er the molten gold,—


And went with him where honey-dew distils
    Through swimming air in odorous mists and showers,
Where music the attentive stillness fills,

And every scent and color drips and spills

    From myriad quivering wings of orchid flowers;
And there they dwelt deep in the folded hills,
    Blissfully hunting down the fleet-shod hours.


And who shall say her love was incomplete?
    For love fares hardly on ingratitude,

And love dies quickly nurtured on deceit,
And love turns hatred captured by a cheat;
    And love had died while in despair immewed;
And this god’s love was surely very sweet,
    For she was a forsaken maid he wooed.