Orion, and Other Poems

by Charles G.D. Roberts






WEARY, forsaken by fair, fickle sleep,
    A traveller rose, and stood outside his tent,
That shrouded was in dusky shadows deep,
    By palm-trees cast that o’er it kindly leant.
    A low moon lingered o’er a large extent                                       

Of lifeless, shifting sands; her pallid rays
    Had kissed the scorchéd waste to sweet content;
And now her farewells whispering, still she stays,
As loth to leave the land to Phoebus’ fiery blaze.


Slowly she sinks; and faint streaks quietly creep                             

    Up from the east into the dusky sky;
Aurora’s yellow hair, that up the steep
    Streams to the rear of night full breezily,
Shaken from her flushed fingers that now dye
The under-heavens crimson; now she springs                                  

    Full-blown before the Day, and hastens by
With silver-footed speed and yearning wings,
To kiss a form of stone that at her coming sings.


Thrilled at the voice the traveller starts aside,
    And sees the image, prostrate, half enwound                               
With red, unstable sand-wreaths, and its wide
    Forehead, and lips that moved not with their sound
    Celestial, lined with many a furrowed wound,
Deep-graven by the gnawing desert blast:
    Half-buried sphinxes strewed the waste around,                          

And human-headed bulls, now mouldering fast,—
Their imperious shapes half gone, their greatness wholly past.


Out of this desolation vast and dead,
    Now glorified and clothed in red and gold,—
Brightness befitting Egypt’s hero’s bed,—                                       
    A matin to his goddess mother rolled
    From dawn-kissed lips, that also kissed the mould
Of their decaying substance. The sweet psalm
    Thrilled in the listener’s ears, with manifold
Cool music mingled of the murmuring palm;                                     

And accents large and sad deepened the lifeless calm.


"Sweet mother, stay; thy son requireth thee!
    All day the sun, with massive, maddening glare,
Beats on my weary brow and tortures me.
    All day the pitiless sand-blasts gnaw and wear                        

    Deep furrows in my lidless eyes and bare.
All day the palms stand up and mock at me,
    And drop cool shade over the dead bones there,
And voiceless stones, that crave no canopy:
O beautiful mother, stay; ’tis thy son prayeth thee.                           


"O mother, stay; thy son’s heart needeth thee!
    The night is kind, and fans me with her sighs,
But knoweth not nor feeleth sad for me.
    Hyenas come and laugh into my eyes,
    The weak bats fret me with their small, shrill cries,                       

And toads and lizards crawl in slimy glee.
    Thou comest—and my tortures dost surprise—
And fondlest me with fresh hands tearfully.
O dewy-lipped mother, stay; thy son desireth thee.


"O mother, why so quickly wouldst thou flee?                                
    Let Echo leave her mountain rocks and twine
My words with triple strength to cling to thee
    And clog thy limbs from flight as with strong wine;
    Let them recall sweet memories of thine,
Of how the long-shadowed towers of wind-swept Troy                 

    Were dear to thee, and near, whilst thou didst pine
For the god-faced Tithonus, and the joy
Thou drank’st when thou hadst gained the willing, kingly boy.


"O mother, how Scamander chided thee,
    And swelled his tawny floods with grief for him,                        
And drowned his oozy rushes by the sea;
    For often have I heard such tales from him,
    Thou listening, whilst the purple night did swim
Reluctant past, and young Æmathion hung
    Upon thy wealthy bosom; music, dim                                          

In ears not all divine, the nigh stars sung,
Of thine high origin Hyperion’s courts among.


"O mother, what forebodings visited thee
    From the Laconian’s ravish’d bridal bed;
What mists of future tears half blinded thee                       
    When Ilion’s god-built gates, wide-openéd,
    Let in the fatal Spartan woman wed
To Troy in flames, dogs gorged with Trojan slain,
    And tears of thine, mother, for thy son dead.
Dead; would my soul were with the body slain,                               

Nor stony-fetter’d here upon this Theban plain!


"O mother, what glooms darkened down on thee,
    And tearful fears made thy scared eyelids red,
When me thou sawest by some god’s enmity
    Madly to meet Pelides’ fury led,                                                 
    Sparing the agéd Nestor’s childless head
By me made childless. On the Phrygian plain,
    Between the bright-eyed Greeks and Trojans bred
Warriors, I met the Phthian ash in vain,
Which bade my breast’s bright wine the trampled stubble stain.


"Then, mother, weeping, thou to Jove didst flee,
    And wring thy fingers, and, a suppliant,
Didst kneel before him, grasping his great knee
    And awful beard, and clinging like a plant
    Of ivy to an oak, till he should grant                                           

Peculiar honors, not vouchsafed before,
    To thy son’s obsequies; nor didst thou pant
And pray in vain, and kiss his beard all hoar,
And large ambrosial locks that veiled the sapphire floor.


"For, mother, when the ruddy-bosomed sea                                  
    Had drunk its fill of fire, and, climbing high,
Smoke of my funeral-pyre, with savory
    Odors of oil and honey, ’riched the sky,
    Out of the seething flames a cloud did fly
Of shrill-voiced birds,—like swarms of swarthy bees                    

    That move their household goods in young July,—
And, screaming, fought and perished, to appease
My manes and fulfil impelling Jove’s decrees.


"O mother, hath my song no charm for thee,
    To hamper thee from flight? Thou then didst wait                       
Scarce till the lustral drops were dry for me,
    And embers parch’d with dark wine satiate;
    But wast away through the Hesperean gate
To mourn o’er waters Atlantean. Now
    Thy loose locks trailéd are in golden state                                 

Down the far side of yon keen peaks of snow;
The brazen sun hath come, and beareth on my brow.


"Soon will for me the many-spangled night
    Rise, and reel round, and tremble toward the verge;
Soon will the sacred Ibis her weird flight                                      
    Wing from the fens where shore and river merge,
    With long-drawn sobbings of the reed-choked surge.
The scant-voiced ghosts, in wavering revelry
    For Thebes’ dead glory, gibber a fitful dirge:
Would thou wert here, mother, to bid them flee!                            
O beautiful mother, hear; thy chained son calleth thee."