BETA

Orpheus turns to look at his wife, Eurydice, and her shadowy figure falls back toward Hades. He reaches out toward her with his right arm and clutches his lyre with his left. She falls backward with outstretched arms. Both figures are dressed in classical robes. Their clothing and Eurydice’s hair both flow as if caught by a breeze. Grasses and small flowers line the ground. Full-page illustration contained within a single-ruled border.

Orpheus and Eurydice.

As sweet Eurydice, with footfall light,1
Roved the Thessalian woods one moonlit night,2
Singing amidst the gentle Naiad throng,3
Who ranged attentive to her voice, a song4
That her own Orpheus taught her, suddenly5
Aristæus, hot with honey-wine, comes by,6
Follows the music ardently, and ere7
The singer and the listening nymphs are ware,8
Leaps in their midst, and, kindling to her charms,9
Clasps at Eurydice with eager arms.10
She, the sweet melody on her lovely lips,11
Snapt with a scream, from his embraces slips,12
And crying, ‘ Orpheus, Orpheus,’ swift as light,13
Flies from the woods, he following, through the night,14
Until escaped from the pursuer’s hand15
O’er the full Hebrus she has swum to land ;16
When, through the shelter of the sloping sward,17
A hooded snake that haunts the river ford18
Shoots his lithe length to meet her from the ground,19
And, ere she sees it, darts a deadly wound.20
She still would flee, if but she still may reach21
Her home, now nigh, and find a friendly leech,22
Or die at least in her dear love’s embrace23
But the black poison runs a swifter race ;24
Her footsteps fail, her limbs their force forget,25
Her fluttering sighs came fast and faster yet ;26
The landscape swims around,—she falters, falls27
Thrice strives to rise, and thrice on Orpheus calls,28
Each cry a fainter echo of the last,29
And murmuring Orpheus still the gentle spirit passed.30
Then Aristæus, stricken with remores,31
Braves the loud flood, and kneels beside her corse,32
And chafes her hands, and every art essays33
From her last sleep the lovely Nymph to raise.34
But all in vain, and, turning with a tear,35
Slow he retraces his too swift career.36
Anon the Naiads from the general flight37
Toward their Hebrus one by one unite ;38
And when—ah ! woeful hap—they see her slain,39
Beat their white breasts, and lift the cry of pain,40
Wood, vale, and mountain mingle in the dirge,41
The desolate River sobs from verge to verge ;42
And Night herself, veiling her starry eyes,43
Leads the lament with long-drawn tempest-sighs.44
O say not that two sympathetic souls45
Can only mix as outward sense controls.46
Far off the mother of an only daughter,47
Pierced with her pangs, has trembling resought her :48
The absent brother feels the fatal power49
That strikes the partner of his natal hour ;50
And the fond youth, beneath far distant skies,51
Knows the sad moment when his mistress dies.52
Thus Orpheus, who had left his lovely spouse53
For Delphi’s steep to pay his filial vows54
To King Apollo, starts from sleep to hear55
His name thrice shrieked with anguish in his ear :56
To earth he starts—a weapon wildly snatches57
Hies through the hall, the darkling door unlatches,58
And stands bewildered in the moonlight clear,59
Crying, ‘ Eurydice, your love is here ;’60
Till the night airs on his uncovered brows61
Blowing awhile his woe-stunned wits arouse.62
But sense no solace yields, and, as he flies63
With homeward haste, still dark and darker rise64
Death’s phantom fears, till on the dewy lea65
Orpheus has clasped his cold Eurydice,66
And laid alond by her with weeping strong67
And sobs tempestuous tosses all day long.68
Then King Apollo, pitying the pain69
Of his dear son, whom most he loved of men,70
Stands by his side, his awful beauty veiling71
In softest cloud, and thus rebukes his wailing :72
Rise, Orpheus, rise, infatuate with grief ;73
Orpheus, arise, Apollo brings relief ;74
For not in vain hast thou required my favour75
With filial vows and first-fruits sweet of savour ;76
Nor idly did thy docile genius follow77
The magic music of thy sire Apollo.78
No Marsyas thou, but reverently mute79
To hear and learn the language of my lute,80
And therefore thou of living men alone81
Canst charm all cruel force with music’s moan.82
For this did Jason, warned of Chiron old,83
In choice of questers for the Fleece of Gold,84
Prefer thee helmsman of the hero crew85
Of Argo, wisely yielding thee thy due :86
Else had they never rowed to Colchian seas87
Past those gray cliffs the dread Symplegades ;88
For, as with oars that to thy harping clear89
In cadence dipped, the desperate course they steer,90
From the almost shock the shores resilient flew91
Rapt to thy lay and let the questers through ;92
Thou too, when far upon the western main93
Fierce thirst possessed the heroes, with thy strain94
Alone could’st win from the Hesperian Maids95
The golden offspring of their garden shades ;96
And after, when the Argonautic oars97
Approached too near those bark-beguiling shores,98
Where bleach the bones of many a music-slain99
Mariner—and the Siren Sisters’ strain100
Was with its amorous enchantment stealing101
Each quester’s soul, thy heavenly pæan pealing102
Struck dumb the weird witch-music, and reclaimed103
Their service due who else the Quest had shamed.’104
And what avails that skill,’ the mourner sighs,105
Oh ! father mine, when low my mistress lies ;106
Though, when I luted, love stole softly o’er her,107
The song that won her never can restore her.’108
Orpheus, I heard you once, when stars were clear,109
Echoing the strains that thrill from sphere to sphere ;110
You sang, whilst Argo o’er the ocean hoary111
Leaped to the lay, Creation’s awful story112
Softly you sang ; and, though you knew it not,113
Nature was tranced around in troubled thought,114
Fearful lest thou shouldst wake that louder lay115
Intolerable that shook her natal day.116
Idly she feared, for I of gods and men,117
Save Love alone, have knowledge of that strain,118
And I but once its music can recall119
Yet, for I love thee, son, yea more than all120
My children, and now pity, bride-bereft,121
Thee I endue with my transcendent gift,122
The song of songs, to whose ecstatic strain123
Informing Love, from Chaos’ dread insane,124
Called the young Cosmos. Lift that psalm again,125
And earth shall quake, the empyrean lower,126
Seas rage, and at the last the Infernal Power127
Ope to thy lay the inexorable door,128
And thy lost mistress to thine arms restore.’129
He said, and vanished, whilst a rosy source130
Of sudden sunset flowing found the corse,131
Kissed her cold feet, suffused her bosom’s snow,132
Blushed in her cheek, and melted on her brow.133
Then Orpheus : ‘ For the dim discoloured light134
Of Hymen’s torch upon my nuptial night135
This nadiant omen, Phœbus, I accept ;’136
Whilst o’er the lute his eager fingers swept,137
Preluding softly to that mystic strain138
Which he but wakened once, and none shall wake again.139
Then the sphere-music stole upon the harp,140
Pregnant with rapturous pain and pleasure sharp,141
All things that are, enchanted, paused to hear,142
Save the small growths that sprang to be more near ;143
For joy and sorrow, birth and life, and death144
Trembled together in that tuneful breath.145
Anon the wild sphere-music louder grew,146
Loud as when first the parent atoms flew,147
Of air and water, fire and formless earth,148
Each seed to share an elemental birth ;149
For to that cadence arched the skyey dome,150
The soft soil hardened, Ocean sought his home,151
And shapes of sea and landscape loom around,152
Till sun and moon and stars the night astound,153
With living lustre leaping to the sound ;154
And vendure springs, and with the breathing orm155
The earth and air and ocean sudden swarm ;156
And last of all, to crown Creation’s plan,157
Awakes to life the myriad-mooded man.158
But, on the even of that natal day,159
Love’s louder song had died into the lay,160
That all to subtle-sweet for mortal ears161
Thrills with eternal music through the spheres.162
Orpheus alone had caught that softer strain,163
And, as he wakes it now, his eager brain,164
Inspired by Phœbus, links the sound subdued165
To its loud, long-forgotten parent mood.166
So lutes he, and so sings, with flashing eyes167
And dark dishevelled locks that fall and rise168
O’er his torn vestments to the cadence wild.169
Eve fades—night blackens—and Apollo’s child,170
Unseen as Philomel pours his passionate thought171
Whilst round him all the universe, distraught172
By the fierce phrenzy of awful lyre,173
All breathing forms, earth, ocean, air, and fire,174
Hear and make moan as each indwelling essence175
That forms them feels the old Creative Presence176
Maddening their rest, and drawing them to mix177
In other moulds, and all that is perplex ;178
Till at the sphere-song, out of centuried sleep,179
Old Chaos rears him from the utmost deep,180
Deeming perchance that erst obnoxious hymn,181
Favourable now unto his empire dim ;182
Then rocked the earth for fear, the vaulted heaven183
Thundered aghast, far leaped th’ affrighted levin,184
Shook the deep sea dismayed, and, at the last,185
Through the song-severed gates of hell the poet passed.186
Hard by the hideous porch a spectral crew187
Deform first meet the minstrel’s troubled view ;188
Grief, Labour, Care, Disease, and tristful Age189
And Fear and Famine, War, Revenge, and Rage,190
But shape more dread of all the demon Death191
With infant face distort, a maid beneath,192
Yet with lean palsied arms and locks of eld,193
Who first from far the approaching bard beheld,194
And fain to startle him to swift retreat195
Begins : ‘ O fool, what strain to Death is sweet.196
Essay no further, lest this countenance,197
In wrath revealed, consume thee at a glance.198
Or canst thou, front to front opposed, outstare199
Her whose fierce eyes’ intolerable glare,200
Spite all the horrors of her serpent brow201
And hellish aspect, laid Medusa low.’202
She said, but Orpheus struck his saddest chord,203
Wept the fell fiend, and past her haunt abhorred204
The youth unhurt pursued his darkling way,205
Till at his feet the Stygian river lay,206
And rustling round him stole those bloodless ranks207
That wait expectant on the oozy banks208
For Charon’s bark ; but that grim senior rowed209
Toward the further shore his goblin load.210
Then Orpheus, for Eurydice the lost,211
Eager peruses all that phantom host,212
But vainly, when outspake a giant ghost,213
Whose shoulders topped the crowd.  ‘ Oh ! comrade dear,214
Orpheus divine, what quest has led thee here,215
Alive ! O strange, as first I sought this shore,216
Admetus’ bride, Alcestis, to restore,217
And with these hands, how forceless now, alas !218
Fettered the Triple Hound all fear to pass ;219
Surely some bitter cause thy suppliant dress,220
Dishevelled hair, and downcast eyes confess.’221
Then Orpheus weeping, ‘ Ah me, grief on grief,222
No woe is single, thou too here, my chief,223
Whom yesterday sang Victor, then she crossed224
The ninefold stream before thy life was lost,225
For, by a serpant slain, Eurydice,226
My bride, is hither borne. Oh, woe is me !227
Her now I seek ; but what fate forced thee here,228
Whom of old Argo’s crew I loved most dear ?’229
Then great Alcides tells the jealous wile230
Of Deianeira, by the Centaur’s guile,231
Malignant, fraught with poison fierce and fire232
Life-ridding on the self-sought funeral pyre.233
Console thee, Herakles, my comrade dear,’234
Orpheus presaged, ‘for short space art thou here.235
It only needs to expiate the ire236
Of Dis, conceived what time his hell-hound dire237
Thy might o’ermastered, that as yon weak ghosts238
As forceless thou awhile shouldst range his coasts.239
Right soon from Hell exempt, with honours meet,240
Thee gods shall welcome to a heavenly seat,241
Constellate in their midst, and for the love242
Of woman, bless with Hebe’s bower above.’243
Now Charon brings his boat once more to land,244
And Orpheus hastes his service to demand ;245
But with a hateful scowl the ferryman246
In scornful answer to his suit began,247
Back, rash intruder in the realms of dark,248
For long as I direct the Stygian bark249
No sprite embodied enters it again,’250
He said ; but Orpheus woke a soothing strain,251
So sweet, so softly wildering the brain,252
That all his grisly length old Charon slept,253
Then lightly to his seat the poet stepped,254
And, singing, o’er the stream with easy oarage swept.255
Stretched on the further shore the Triple Hound256
Owns with a troubled voice the magic sound,257
Whom Orpheus passed, and through the palace-gate258
Of Hell still presses on with hope elate,259
Until at last before the dusky throne260
Of Dis and Proserpine he casts him down.261
Whom, sternly eyeing, Pluto straight addressed :262
Stranger, declare thy name and what thy quest,263
No Tityos sure, nor with Alcides’ might,264
Hast thou approached the realms of nether night ;265
My minions have been mocked with panic error,266
If thou, effeminate form, hast caused them terror.267
Speak, but expect no grace.’ Then Proserpine268
Broke in, ‘ My Lord, ’tis Orpheus the divine,269
Offspring of Phœbus and Calliope,270
Who, when the Fleece-Quest neared sweet Sicily,271
His descant turned till e’en the sea-beach smiled,272
To bright-eyed blossom by his song beguiled.’273
Then Orpheus, with fresh heart, awoke his litany wild.274
Not out of impious lust, O Nameless Name,275
Nor friend for friend, as Herakles hither came,276
Have I adventured to thine empire dread277
No might of mine—aywell, this downcast head278
And feeble limbs provoke thy sharpest scorn279
Not his poor prowess hath thy servant borne280
Thus strangely past thy guardian forms of fear,281
Charon and Cerberus, and set unscathed here,282
A Power eternal bears me from above283
Now in my need forsake me not, O Love—’284
On whom so crying bitterly a great change,285
With tremor fierce and sighing thick and strange,286
Smote suddenly—his labouring limbs assume287
Stature divine, his front immortal bloom,288
Erect he starts, a sudden halo bright289
Burns from his brow, beneath whose living light290
His eyes, bright stars in bluest heaven, shed291
Ethereal influence through that palace dread,292
Whilst his sweet voice divine went forth amonst the dead,293
Singing the lives of those two lovers fond,294
How dutiful in youth, then how beyond295
Compare in piety ; and how they loved296
A long, long love, that but the purer proved297
By bitter ordeal ; their brief nuptial bliss298
And latest parting ; last the envenomed kiss299
Of the fierce serpent, when with flying foot,300
Scarce had Eurydice foiled the vile pursuit301
Of Aristæus, and how she failed and fell,302
And made her death-bed in the asphodel.303
Here paused the voice awhile ; but soon again304
Awaking, poured a most enchanting strain305
Of a fair goddess in Sicilian meads,306
And Eros charioting those dusky steeds307
Soft o’er the lily leaves and grasses green,308
And to the King of Night bearing his beauteous queen.309
Last the voice sang how that deep love divine310
Had never quenched in Dis or Proserpine,311
Or failed in anywise for Eros’ aid,312
For which dear services that sweet voice prayed313
Eurydice’s reprieve with its last breath,314
Then on the darkness dies a most delicious death.315
The strange song ceased ; but, ere its echo dies,316
Pluto repents him, and to Minos cries :317
Eurydice is free, ’tis thine to fix318
The law that speeds the lovers o’er the Styx319
Unto the upper light, whose stern decree320
Bids Orpheus lead his dear Eurydice,321
But nor to turn, nor look upon his love322
Till they have safely reached the realms above.’323
Then forth they fare, the living and the dead,324
He first, she following with painful tread,325
Till every peril passed and ghostly dread,326
Upon the very threshold of the day,327
Fearful lest that dear shape had gone astray,328
Orpheus looks back, O fool ! for close behind329
His love still followed with a faithful mind ;330
But scarce has turned him when that well-known form,331
Half-spectre still, yet momently more warm332
With waking life, dissolves with shrill despair333
And looks of anguish on the nether air.334
Rose as she sank a universal knell,335
And clapped in thunder the grim gates of hell336
Seven days and nights he strove, but strove in vain,337
Once more to wake that elemental strain,338
Nourished the while on nought but tearful sorrow ;339
But with the eighth inexorable morrow340
He sadly rose, one look of longing cast341
On Tænarus, and, sighing, Thraceward passed,342
And three long years, amidst the lost one’s bowers,343
Wandered, wild warbling to her favourite flowers,344
Laments more melancholy sweet than ever345
Echo had answered by the Hebrus’ river.346
Thus on Eurydice his constant thought347
Still fixed, no solace of fresh love he sought,348
Till as he sleeps outworn within that wood349
Whence she whilere had flown towards the flood,350
Exasperate each at Orpheus’ slights of love,351
A Mænad troop steal on him through the grove,352
Of whom one snatches swiftly from the ground353
His lute, low-shivering with ill-omened sound.354
Io, exultant ! Io ! ’ through the brakes !355
The Bacchants shout, and shuddering Orpheus wakes,356
But helpless quite, as of his lyre forlorn,357
By the wild women limb from limb is torn.358
Eurydice,’ the passing spirit cries ;359
Eurydice,’ the troubled vale replies ;360
Eurydice,’ afar, each snowy summit sighs.361