Victor Hugo: The Satyr

Prologue

At Mount Olympus’ foot, in solitude,
a satyr lived amid the great wildwood,
deep in the trees, hunting and dreaming, night
and day, pursuing vague white forms in flight,
pricking his twelve or fifteen senses to
what pleasures he could pounce on as they flew.
Who was this faun? No one was certain. Flora
knew nothing, nor did Vesper, nor Aurora
who knows all, a clockwork voyeur and sneak.
You’d have to get the wild rose bush to speak, ……………..10
or question every flutter and bird’s nest—
none had a handle on that cheeky beast.
Now, scholars have numbered every faun there is;
we know them all, like famous vintages,
as we survey the dales of Satyr Bluff:
Stulcus of Pallantyre has fame enough;
Gaeus chortles on Maenalon all night;
Boscus, goat-boy of Crete, and Chrysolite,
a rustic denizen of Janus Butte,
from dawn to darkness tootling on his flute; ……………….20
Anthrops of Pindus, on every scholar’s shelf—
but not our faun. Some labeled him a wolf;
others, a god; but none had evidence.
He was all he could be, at all events:
some scabrous god’s unmanageable child.

His handsy antics had the whole wood riled.
Even the bacchants trembled. Wood-nymphs scuttled
to cracks in great escarpments, where they huddled;
Echo, shut in her cave, dreaded exposure.
For this furred dreamer, mixed of muck and azure, …….30
nymphs’ dens were alcoves meant for a bed-cover;
he was the whole wild forest’s feral lover;
cunningly he would exploit, with each ambush,
that moment when some nymph, in the noon hush,
gazed in a fountain’s mirror, glazed with light;
he stopped Glycera and Chloe in full flight;
by lakes, beneath birch-shade, his stare caressed
a swimming Naiad, lambently undressed,
her female body like a starry spark.
Flamelike, his leering eye lit up the dark. …………………….40
Summer produced no sweets he wouldn’t plunder;
the flower’s artlessness aroused his wonder;
with tender, vast cupidity he’d tally
laburnums, privets, lilies-of-the-valley;
not even poppies made him drowse or doze,
this libertine devoted to the rose.
He was naughtiest in May; its comedies
he watched as through a window, and would tease
Zephyr (You rascal!), Flora (You old maid!).
When waters whispered Love, then he obeyed, …………..50
and clasped elusive ripples in green shadows.
Tipsy with fragrance, sprawling through the meadows
in an orgy of nosegays, he drank blisses
from lilies, myrtles, rowans’ pearly kisses;
while, witnessing debauchery so frank,
the jealous thistle tried to scratch his shank.
Yes, he was so far gone in crude excess,
the quail and jay denounced his wantonness.
He’d grope the darkness, hands forever out
for blonde pigtails; after months of drought, ……………..60
rivers, clad only in misty underclothes,
taking their buckets to rain-showers, froze
to spot that horny head, that randy grin.
Once Psyche, thinking herself alone, plunged in
to swim nude in a fountain, when his leer
suddenly, screened by leaves, she saw appear;
she fled, berating heaven with her blame.
His innocence, like Rhea’s, knew no shame;
his urges, half a god’s, half bestial,
mounted the sacred Rock of the Ideal: ………………………...70
where birds can soar, a goat can penetrate.
Now all Olympus was in a frazzled state,
irked by his capers and thrill-seeking soul.
Then Hercules yanked the dog out of his hole
and dragged him by the ear to Jupiter.

I
The Blue

Standing atop that high vermillion spur
the satyr saw the stairs of heaven soar
and seemed to tremble, ravished to his core;
and seemed, mouth drinking wind, head blitzed with awe
by everything he smelled and heard and saw—……………..80
this Faun, his hooves still earthy with manure—
to thrill beneath those skies so calm and pure;
now he paused at the cave-mouth, poised to enter
Jove’s hall, the sunlight and the lightning’s center,
to gaze on the blue vault, the Pleiades,
agape to watch the naked softnesses
parading past in endless swarming crowds
of all those deities that we call clouds.
It was that time when the sun’s horses spring
forth through the sky rapt with awakening,…………………….90
now throwing its doors wide with noise of thunder,
white harbingers of Dawn awash in wonder;
behind them, eye-surrounded, the ball fraught
with awful, radiating power was brought,
the rondure of the burning chariot;
the god’s hand on the reins you could just spot;
the Northwind finished hitching up the traces;
the four hot thoroughbreds, in their first paces,
showed off their golden fronts, up-rearing high
between the dark and flaming zones of sky;……………………100
their manes were steaming, seeming to respire
a smoke of onyx, diamonds, pearls, sapphire,
dispersed into base elements, disappearing;
the first three, proud of eye, their nostrils flaring,
shook dewdrops through the regions of daylight;
the last went scattering stars in the night.

The sky, the day that climbs and blooms delight;
earth giving ground, dark’s edges growing bronze;
these heights and glories, auroral stallions,
their whinnies summoning the infinite;…………………………..110
this sublime whole, bright, peaceful, fortunate,
rejoicing, puissant, pure, divulged one grave
recess: there, shining near the Gorgon’s cave,
god-weapons lay which the southeast cyclone’s
tenacity kept atop the Titans’ bones;
there Power and Brutality were yoked;
the spearheads there, still hot from havoc, smoked,
and gobs of flesh clung to the cutlery
of Mars, Bellona, Pallas, Hecate; ……………………………………….120
hair tipped the trident’s teeth and blood the lightning.

If grains could see the stones marked for their grinding,
or berries, the approaching she-goat’s maw,
they’d share our satyr’s pensive look, who saw
those weapons gleaming in the sky-blue foyer.
He entered heaven—the beasts’ doughty destroyer
still had his ear: no way to wriggle free.
Each step pricked through the blue immensity;
limping, ashamed of his primordial slime,
with cloven hooves he pockmarked the sublime;………………130
the monstrous beastliness of the rude clod
weighed gross and heavy on the clouds of god.
So, on he went, toward that vast hanging screen
whereon the Morning Star slides cool and clean,
when suddenly, in a flood of light and awe,
the curtain wrenched aside, he stooped, and saw
the terrifying gods in their huge bliss.

These ravishing unknowns of the abyss,
Powers invisible, shone where they ruled
on the twelve golden thrones Vulcan had tooled;……………...140
ambrosia was served there, and nectar poured,
around the never-satiated board.
Jove occupied the foot; Venus, the head.
She, couched on melting foam as on a bed,
nude and louche and superhuman, lolled,
girt by the fire of eyes which she enthralled;
at times, in waves of incense, passion, prayer,
the whole sea seemed to billow in her hair.
And Jove, three-eyed, daydreamed, foot on the eagle,
his staff a tree that bloomed with power, regal;…………………150
in his eyes played the world’s nativity:
one held the present, and one, history;
the third, aflutter with the future, dreamed.
Like the great gulf where suns are quenched he seemed;
Latona, Danae, and Semele
danced in his hazy gaze, where one could see
omnipotence conversing with volition,
dire compulsion wrestling hesitation;
he doled out fates; his meditations ran
on Cadmus’ glory and Ixion’s pain;……………………………………160
his dreams, in which the horrors of the night
threw blots of darkness on a ground of light,
were like the dapple of a leopard’s skin,
fusing or parting with the discipline
or impulse of his mercy, or his anger,
while, in the dark, his thumb and his forefinger
would, like Atropos’ scissors, spread and close;
the light of peace was born from his repose,
and from his flaring nostrils war exuded;
and so, with Themis in his chest, he brooded,…………………....170
as patient as Arachne’s sisterhood,
who weave their webs—between the cold and shrewd
poise of Minerva and the intricate
designs which Mercury’s agency has wrought—
in the dark corners of the master’s thought.

Behind Jove, Cupid twinkled, cruel and pretty,
an infant free of tears, remorse, and pity,
who’d giggled at his birth, and felt of age
to wreak from heaven his devilish outrage.

The cosmos, in harmonious compliance,………………………….180
made music round those overwhelming giants.
The only sights were loveliness, and awe;
all through eternity there was no flaw;
about them heaven quivered with their beauty;
earth praised them for subduing it to duty;
beasts loved their bows and men adored their spears,
and savored, like tremendous fruits, each fierce,
unpunished, happy, sacrosanct onslaught;
their hatreds turned to lyres underfoot;
even the brazen clangor that complains…………………………...190
from Lake Stymphalia made triumphal strains.

Above Olympus’ brilliance, past the rise
of the new heaven’s birth and the old one’s demise,
past Chaos, that gigantic dishabille,
twelve murky cages rolled around their wheel—
the Zodiac, whose axle’s twelve divisions
in skiey chains confined twelve apparitions;
wells where the void gapes open, without bound,
and the Dog flees the Goat, around, around;
weird orb that sets, in nubilous environs,………………………..200
Archers of azure against starry Lions.

Before Amphion’s lyre, in days of old,
studded its dusky shell with nails of gold,
these creatures of Fate, that overawe the sight,
were the black sons of bitter Mother Night;
when Day came, he would battle them, until
he conquered, in a grim clash Dark feels still;
now, riddled with Apollo’s arrows, all
these prodigies from head to foot recall
the black and light disaster they still feel,……………………….210
and bleed from starry wounds that will not heal.

Then Hercules, from his Ossa-splitting fist
released his prisoner, and roughly thrust
him forward on the grand blue floor. “Go on,”
he said, and there, in that rare air, our faun
stood, ugly, dark, hirsute, unflappable,
like goats that Smyrna’s sailors, to recall
the countryside, paint upon canvas sails.
Then tittering assailed the stars in gales
so fierce, a Titan, chained on a mountain’s brow,…………….220
looked up and groaned, “Whom are they maiming now?”
First, Jupiter laughed, and stormy Neptune lightened;
the Ocean’s currents changed, and Fortune’s brightened;
an Hour, halted with her hourglass,
forgot, among earth’s denizens, to pass.
That swinish snout provoked such gleeful riot,
even the Muses were inspired by it.
Venus’s face, auroral as the east,
began to sputter, “What is that—that beast?”
Diana reached behind her for a missile;……………………………..230
Euphrates, stunned, lifted a bone-dry vessel;
the dove shut her sweet eyes; the peacock, fan
spread haughtily, derided the goat-man;
goddesses giggled like girls, so grand and great
they made our satyr hyperventilate.
Lame, horned, obscene, he made for Venus’ seat;
the wild thing ogled, dazed, her naked feet.
Everyone swooned. Mars kissed Minerva’s lips;
Mercury, frisky, grabbed Bellona’s hips;
Diana’s hunting hounds on Oeta howled;…………………………..240
the thunder burst, guffawing, from its cloud;
gods gabbed with goddesses, close-talking, flirty,
while Vulcan danced, and Pluto made such dirty
jokes that they shocked the God of Raillery;
that Juno might convulse more privately,
Hebe stepped in front, and kept her covered;
and Old Man Winter held his ribs, and quivered.

Meanwhile, the butt of the gods’ laughing fit
whispered to Venus, “You and me, let’s split.”

No language can evoke, nor writer pen,………………………………...250
the peals that stormed through the empyrean.
When Hercules said, “Voila! Behold the freak,”
amphictyonic Jove began to speak:
“We ought to have you made a stream, or marble,
or clapped in cells arboreal or herbal.
But I’m glad of the laugh. My imprimatur:
rejoin your caves, your wildwoods, your lake-water.
But, that the laugh which saved you may continue,
sing, wretch, the beastly music you have in you.
Olympus listens; come on, sing!”
…………………………………………………….Goatfoot…………………………….260
replied: “But, but—my pipes are crushed, kaput.
Hercules trashes every place he enters;
crossing my cave, he trampled them to splinters.
To sing with no pipes—what am I, a brute?”

Mercury smiled and handed him his flute.

The humble goat, used to a shady nook,
sat down behind a cloud with dreamy look—
the monarchs seemed more distant there, which cheered him.
The eagle, only thing that had not jeered him,
lifted his head. His song was deep and strange,…………………..270
serene and sad.
………………………Along Taygetus’ range,
and down in Mysia, in the ravine
and woods beneath Olympus, beasts were seen
to stop, and lift their heads between the branches;
does with bottomless eyes reared on their haunches,
and wolves made sign to tigers to give ear;
the treetops, elm and cedar, everywhere
moved in mysterious ways; the pines hummed with them;
and glowering oaks were nodding to the rhythm.

That Faun, so hard to fathom, the Graces’ bane,………………..280
forgot that he was in the gods’ domain.

II
The Black

He sang the earth monstrosities enflesh:

water—the treacherous salt, the sinuous fresh—
meandered in his proem through a mass
of sand and gravel and green reeds and grass;
then he sang Ocean, typhon flecked with foam,
and downcast Earth, the caves’ and hollows’ home,
its terrifying depths, its holes and craters,
where shadows undulate on darkling waters;
where, drowned in igneous lakes, volcanos fume……………….290
to wear a mountain-helmet, a flame-plume;
where, in abyssal gulfs that stagger thought,
one sees the vanished gods’ old hells wink out.
He sang of sap, and the immense recesses
of night, and silence, and our lonelinesses,
of frowns etched pensively on beetling cliffs;
a sort of ocean, but with birds for skiffs,
boscage for algae, and for sponges, mosses,
dreamt by the green world with its million faces;
the unforgetting trees, wind in their hair,…………………………….300
through valleys, along lakes, in mountain air,
helping the planet hold its ancient ground;
among them, oaks—rigid, steadfast, profound—
defending friendly plots of forest earth,
where acorns, halfway opening, give birth,
and shepherds come to moon beneath the shade;
nor can the stiff-necked Old Man Oak be swayed
without huge efforts of the woodman’s iron.
The hayseed sang Dodona and Cithaeron,
Mount Haemus, Erymanthus, and Hymettus……………………...310
where the sou’easters train their fierce afflatus;
April and Tellus, taken in flagrante;
the streambeds that receive the fountains’ plenty;
the pomegranate, pink beneath her tunic,
the pious, rutting cedar (stately cynic),
and, among branches’ stringent thickening,
the brutal, palpitant heartbeat of spring:
Urn-like, the void embraces the World Tree;
below, earth’s midnight sinkhole teemingly
opens its well, with flowers, leaves, and clutter…………………………320
of moving boughs the breezes soon will flutter;
it says
, Live! Grasp! It’s yours! O grass-blade, thrust!
O fir-tree, reach! The woods bloom; the august
Tree with its hydra-roots digs out the planet;
their hideous, twisted necks enfold and span it;
their million mouths among the dead ones sink,
gaping for darkness, which they try to drink,
and, drunk, according to the air, place, season,
exhale or vomit it as scent or poison:
whether, embalmed or spoilt, they emanate………………………………330
perfumed with love, or venomous with hate.
From there, to glamor graces, gods, heroes,
come the carnation, laurel, lily, rose;
but hemlock for the men who see, and ponder.

What does the Earth care? Chaos swims around her;
her toil is birth, which never is complete,
and universal hunger gums her teat.
All roots grow downward, groping for her breast.
Trees are voracious gullets that ingest,
dissolved in stirring air, the elements;………………………………………..340
they wolf the showers down, they wolf the winds.
For them, all things are kindly: night, death; rot
observes the rose, and feeds her on the spot.
The woodland grasses ravenously lunch;
at all times one can hear the crack and crunch
of plant-teeth chewing, chewing. The view enlarges:
as far as eye can see, the landscape gorges;
all alters in the Tree’s almighty way;
it must have sand and gravel, grit and clay;
it needs them for the holm oak and the mastic………………………..350
and the blackberry; meanwhile, the fantastic
wilderness eats, and Earth looks on in bliss.

The faun seemed lost in thoughts of the abyss;
he limned the tree, from under its root-mat;
the flowers’ lethal underground combat;
caves where flames flicker, but no sunrays sieve;
Creation’s atramentous negative;
how springs escape and lava geysers forth.
He seemed to seek some specter under earth;
a magic vein gaped that he seemed to tap;………………………….360
the ghostly chain that held him seemed to snap;
he gleamed; all heard his loosed imaginings
make a vague, predatory whir of wings:

The woods are gloom’s grim home; black terror there
prowls even as morning comes to gild the air;
trunks keep their shadows clapped in manacles;
above the dark weave of their pinnacles,
dawn loiters palely; one sees branches twisted—
horrible, slithering, serpentine—against it.
Everything quivers; over the briar’s gauntness,………………………..370
the watchful mountain rears—imposing witness;
the night, the soaring summits, mist-surrounded,
the cold caves, open-mouthed as if astounded,
the bluffs’ stern silhouettes; the thinking rocks
which sages question, ringed by shadow flocks:
necks craning, mute, they strain to fathom fate.
The mountains, wild eyes open, cogitate;
into subhuman depths, these black and bald
giants plunge on toward mystery, enthralled;
they train their eyes upon the actual air,…………………………………..380
trying to grasp some truth, unvarnished, bare
(of Mount Olympus they are not aware);
plumbing the high, ascetic, fitful skies,
at times they take the secret by surprise,
and glimpse the Cause, in some pure ray that glistens;
the Sacred Riddle, naked in the distance,
gleams white, in the deep gulf none can sound.
Tremendous nature! Unbreakable, the bond
between the dreamt ideal and mounting green.
O interstellar lakes where gods come clean!………………………………390
Grim body of Diana! Savage nude,
who, from far off, through veils of shadow viewed,
makes monstrous trees in rocky foothills rise!
Wildwoods!

…………………Their denizen had closed his eyes;
the flute, which he would take up and then drop
amid his fevered movements, galled his lip;
he hurled it on the sacred mountaintop.
His eyelids tightly shut, he might have slept,
but for the rays that through his lashes crept.

He pressed on:

……………………….Hail to Earth, for we are awed!………………………….400
And hail to Chaos!—he, too, is a god;
his exploits are our element, his dinning;
alone, he bears the sacred name: Beginning.
When time was not yet born, he was the one
who seized, deep in his house, the sleeping Dawn
before the first wink of the first day’s light
and forced, with sweet, inexorable might,
her morning and his midnight lips to latch;
and from that kiss we saw the starlight hatch.
Before the Word, this scurrilous consort……………………………………410
of Boundlessness was heard to roar, hiss, snort;
the first-born animals are acolytes
of his fecundity and appetites;
gods, even, might well muse on animals,
who are not daylight things, nor criminals.
The brute in embryo, grand, isolated,
with all of earth’s dark potency is freighted;
grey sibyls know it; prophets are aware
who haunt the wastelands where the locusts are;
therefore Thessalian witches rip out hanks……………………………..420
of clotted hair from caught hyena flanks;
therefore gaunt Orpheus pined for the notes
of the dark music howled from the wolves’ throats.

“Marsyas!” walleyed Vulcan, jealous, grunted;
Apollo shushed him with a look, enchanted.
The faun’s eyes opened—he might well have heard,
but went on, knee clasped in his hands, unstirred:

Now hear, you gods! I’ll utter one word: Soul.
Beneath leaf-flutter, where the monsters growl,
a small voice speaks: the Soul. Chaos her sire;………………………..430
without her, foetor, not fresh air; quagmire,
not currents. Soul, once born, dispels her source:
Chaos is ground, but Soul is motive force.
Part beast, part jungle, Being first began;
when Air longs to be Spirit, then comes Man!
This sphinx, Man, what is he? At first, so wise—
o riddle!—but demented when he dies.
O skies he left, bring back the Age of Gold!

The faun now, with his stormy flight on hold,
opened one finger first, then two, then three,………………..440
like one who counts and sows concurrently,
and cried out on Olympus’ sacred crest:

Sacred, o gods, the tree; sacred, the beast;
and sacred, man. Revere the Earth, the grounds
where man creates, invents, constructs, and founds—
potential giant, still in embryo;
Earth—where animals amble in sunglow—
Earth—where stirred treetops speak oracles—
in all the void spangled with miracles,
gods, Earth is the prodigy you’re closest to,…………………………..
.450
the unknown globe that you go ramping through,
you stunning ones, majestic on your height,
who out of golden goblets sip the light,
whom dawn parades before, and flame behind,
as you traverse the night so great and blind!

The satyr’s forehead now was dripping sweat,
like ocean-water from a hauled-in net;
as if in a simoom, his tresses flew.
Apollo asked, “You want the lyre?”

……………………………………………………..“I do.”
He took it and, serene, began to strum,…………………………..460
standing erect in the delirium
of dreams and tremors, breaking days and skies,
with two abysses shining in his eyes.

“How handsome he is!” Venus gushed, aghast,
while Vulcan stumped to Hercules, and hissed,
“Antaeus!” Hercules elbowed him, hard.

III
The Dark

The faun now faced them, but without regard.

He sang of Man, his perilous dark road;
of Man, the Chosen key to Nature’s code,
who, by his own fault, in disastrous flight,……………………...470
relapsed into the sightlessness of night.
He sang Atlantis, the race’s happy prime;
how pure perfume turned to miasmic slime,
how, under heaven, their hymn contrived to choke
itself, how freedom fashioned its own yoke,
and how the subjugated earth went mute.
Prometheus’s name he did not bruit,
but in his eyes the stolen fire shone.
He sang of humankind cut off, alone;
of all the tortures, felonies, and frauds…………………………..480
hatched from amoral kings, and unmoved gods.
Poor men, who saw the heavens close above!
Pious in vain, they had their start in love;
brothers in vain, they exiled Hate, foul flyer
with eagle claws and seven throats of fire.
What Fate asked, Cadmus-like, they boldly did;
they sowed the dragon’s teeth, and harvested
phantoms aflutter like dead leaves: these clash
with sword in hand, then scatter in a flash,
sent whirling when the wind from nowhere gusts.………….490
They are the kings, they are the gods, these ghosts.
They’re always being born, always replaced.
Antique equality becomes disgraced;
Busiris stands by Draco; Death instates
itself in statutes, serving potentates;
the last free, holy breath dies at the order
of monumental Law, the all-distorter;
men hold their tongues, crushed by a heap so high;
grow vengeful and corrupted, steal and lie;
the soul, unknown, obscure, is slavish, vile,………….,……….500
turns magma underneath the mountainous pile,
not irrigating but consuming, slashing.
And in the faun’s song there was heard the gnashing
of plagues that flail the earth in swarming hordes.
And war was in the song, war-trumpets, swords,
and firefights, and throats cut by the willing,
and glory, and the awful thrill of killing;
the lusciousness of pennons in the winds;
dawn breaking, soldiers waking in their tents;
night clinging to them, shadowing, while day smiles………510
and armies march in waves through long defiles;
in muddy ground the catapult gets stuck;
men shove, and oxen strain, exhaling smoke;
the leaders shout, composed; war-cars invade
tapering canyon walls their wheels abrade.
On fire—hideous shock!—both sides collide
head-on, each, like the other, terrified:
the wrath of warriors is a pit of dread.
Huge floods of fear! A king at each’s head.
Cut, sword! O axes, butcher! Maces, brain!……………………….520
Horse, trample man, and man, and man, and man!
Men, kill! Lash your teams on; knock towers over!
Now, decompose, and let the vultures hover!
Both swords and endless wars are lineal;
man flees in woods and caves, or finds a hole;
dislodging the stone slab that seals his den,
he pricks his ears for kings and marching men.
His hair grows long; the same dark haunts avail
the animals and him; he starts to fail;
who once was woman now becomes female;……………………..530
children are little runts; the lust he feeds
is born of midnight air and unmet needs;
his holy instincts find their end in dung;
kings brutalize him, having stopped his tongue;
the muzzle soon becomes a bit, and tether.
And yet, without him, the horizons wither.
What, its chef-d’oeuvre stricken, is creation?
Man’s visage only beams illumination;
he only speaks; without him, all’s beheaded.
In the faun’s eyes, two shining teardrops, threaded………….540
as if before a scrim of flame, unroll.
He paints the void, dead set against the soul;
the shadows ramifying, dark as dirges;
forests of fate, and packs of evil urges;
men running, hiding, while gods track their spoor.
And, as these mournful strophes from him pour,
the vivid wind’s transmogrifying breath
with the hauteur of heaven strews his path.
Silently the Boreases surround him.
As if a cord none apprehended bound them,……………………….550
the brutes draw closer to him, wolf and fox,
panther, and bear, and lion with thick locks;
some, padding toward the gods, approach so near,
that, in the forming clouds, their jaws appear.
No gods laughed now. All those victorious
monarchs were intently bent on this
species of spirit spouting from a beast.

He plunged on:
…………………………Man is below; on the high crest
are gods and kings; disease is their valet.
From chaos man emerges just halfway;……………………………………..
560
below the waist, he is all brute. He craves
conflicting things; sometimes, his white flag waves.
Where, then, is Hope? She, craven heart, has fled.
All deafness makes a din about his head.
Earth weighs him down, air sickens, water islands;
around, the desert sea’s unfriendly silence.
This cruel cabal of machinations makes
fires and lightnings harry him like snakes;
like warriors, the northwinds buffet and chill;
sickness assists the sword, and kings fulfill…………………………………570
the elements; Night blesses their conquest.
So Matter joins in mangling man, possessed
of soul enough to be a force, abetting
the nightly, unintelligible bloodletting.
Matériel, alas, grows one with fate.
And yet, beware him, stripped of his estate!
Out of the dark, a heartbeat-quickening dawn,
superb and terrible, is coming on,
to save man, long-awaited, from the grime,
and alter the relentless look of time.…………………………………………..580
Who’s seen the future? plumbed Perhaps? A morn
is coming, yes, when all will be reborn,
all overcome; the granite will grow loving,
and the cold crag yield to the shoulder’s shoving,
impossible becoming practical.
With all those ravagers, that wreck and kill,
mankind will forge a lever’s point of focus;
within the acorn called Today, an oak is
forming; beneath dead ash, the live vermillion!
Weak man, designed for holy, just rebellion,…………………………….590
you slither now—and will you always slither?
Who knows if, one day, we won’t see you gather
strength from the void, and, soaring, sovereign,
with lightning wrested from the empyrean,
attach your coursers to the car of Awe?
Yes, someday Man may well become the law,
subdue the elements, and give no quarter
to throttled Chaos, till it comes to order,
the holy order of Unity, Love, Peace,
all old oppressors tamed and made to cease;……………………………600
create a strange new stallion to ride,
in which all life, all nature, are allied,
saddle its rump, which hell’s hot blasts have lit,
and set, in iron jaws, the burning bit!
Sifting coal in the feed-tank, you’ll see man,
the stable-master of leviathan,
crying to all things:
Do my will! Sprout, seed!
He’ll fix a harness on his metal steed,
composed of secrets study apprehends,
and seize the steam, vague bridle made of winds,……………………610
and bear its gleaming, as the demons do:
woods, streams and steeps will see him passing through,
virile, the stars trapped in his lantern brightening,
upon his prodigy of steel, smoke, lightning!
His clattering gallop will astound twilight,
loud as Dawn breaking down the doors of Night!
Who knows if, as the ages ripen him,
he won’t eventually make his dragon swim,
to plow, with fiery brow, the blue abyss?
If he won’t flout the old antithesis,…………………………………………….620
and say to Matter, Soar! and give it pinions?
If he won’t tread the thunderbolt’s dominions,
and from his body suddenly unyoke
deadweight, his wretched skin, uncleanly cloak
base muck imposes on the intellect,
until one sees him, verminous insect—
o wonder!—spread his wings against the skies.
Be great, mankind, advance! Rebel, arise!
A looped chain keeps the circling stars connected,
and that chain is the chain of peace, perfected;………………………….630
it is the azure chain, the chain of heaven;
to tether you, o Mortal, it was given,
for spirits moving are like spheres in flight,
and you, too, must revolve around the light!
Join the august choir! Raise your level!
Don the pure yoke; put off the yoke of evil.
Become Humanity, the threefold whole,
man, woman, child: now, more and more, be soul!
O seed of Caesars, in a slavish squire,
O demon, with a deity for sire,…………………………………………………….640
grasp sunlight, seize the dawn, usurp the fire!
Winged trunk, god-faced, climb, climb, toward heaven’s spark,
and hurl your cloven hooves into the dark!

IV
The Star-Strewn

Panting, the satyr paused now, forehead gleaming
as if upraised amidst a river’s streaming;
another face was showing in his own.
The gods, pensive, uneasy, toward the throne
had turned, where Jupiter sat thunderstruck.

He went on:

……………..Out from the heel which made it choke,
the Real, reborn, will tame its enemies.……………………………………..650
You do not know, you gods, what the world is;
you’ve conquered, but you haven’t understood.
Below you, many spirits wait and brood,
in fire and in flood, in rain and mist,
dreaming the day when you will not exist;
but what is that to me, who am the wide
eye fixed in the great night, unterrified!
Old Thebes’s sphinx is not the only sphinx.
Know this, tyrants of life and death’s precincts,
lords of bloodshed, transparent to my sight,……………………………..660
we are all brigands on this soaring height
where earth and heaven seem in harmony—
your goal, to overbear; mine, to be free.
While you sow hatred, treachery, oppression,
and compass in three footsteps all transgression,
I contemplate. My vision plumbs the caves.
I look. I see. Woods, cities, temples, graves,
halcyon and eagle, the blue sky
of Mount Olympus, Stygian blackness—I
behold them all the same, with the same eye.………………………….670
Both gods and plagues, tomorrow’s and today’s,
with the same fluency traverse my gaze.
And I bear witness that all flows; One is.
And that One, no man knows, nor notices.
Men draw near, try a guess, a sketch, ad hoc;
they hew and smooth a marble, sculpt a rock,
and make a statue, saying, This is god,
then stand before it, dazzled, overawed,
and call their clergy, of whatever faith.
Be deathless, fine; grind mortals down; sow death;………………..680
make useless heaps of bodies life once flooded;
hold sway! And when—you have some time—you’ve bloodied
the heavens that the daylight laves with azure;
when, victors, you’ve devoured your full measure;
all will be said and done; you’ll be cast off
for the black, final god men call Enough!
Delphi and Pisa roll like war-machines;
all that we thought would stand forever leans
and topples quicker than a count of twenty.

And while the faun pursued this argument, he…………………..690
grew vast, outgrowing Polyphemus first,
outgrowing Typhon, who blasphemed and cursed
and used his fists like hammers; more prodigious
than Titan now, he outstripped Athos’ ridges;
into his dark shape, boundless space was flowing;
as sailors see a promontory growing,
the gods, bolt-upright, watched as he increased;
in his brow dawned a new, outlandish east;
his hair was wilderness now; ocean currents,
rivers and lakes ran down his legs in torrents;……………………700
his horns turned into Atlas, Caucasus;
lightning cracked round him, blinding, thunderous;
meadows and fields grew where his waistline narrows;
his grotesque lumps turned into cordilleras;
the deer and tigers that his notes transported
climbed up, onto his body, and cavorted;
in his limbs, Aprils blossomed, flower-lit;
Decembers hid their heads in each armpit;
and people pleaded for directions, lost
at junctures where the lines of his palms crossed.……………..710
Eagles were kettling in his mouth, hinged wide;
the lyre his hands touched grew magnified,
and threw out thunder, snarls, tears, hymns, and groans;
entangled in its seven strings, cyclones
struggled like flies flypaper has ensnared;
upon his overwhelming chest, stars flared.

He cried aloud:

……………..No terminus, no base,
the future widens boundlessly, like space,
as Spirit interpenetrates all Things.
You mar the issue, if you choke the springs.………………………………720
World, from embodied gods all evil streams;
with dark smoke we obscure the pure sunbeams.
Why set such fantasies above what Is?
Glimmers and breezes are not monarchies.
Defer to the eternal march of moons,
of black skies, blue skies, midnights, dawns, and noons!
Defer to atoms, pure in flame and river,
and to the World Soul, shining on forever!
A king is war; a deity, a void.
Life, freedom, faith—let dogma be destroyed!…………………………..730
Everywhere, genius thrives, and light is lord!
O Love! All shall be music, peace, concord.
Pure air shall satisfy the wolves. Defer
to the All! My name is Pan. Kneel, Jupiter!

Chris Childers

Chris Childers

Christopher Childers has poems, essays, and translations published or forthcoming at Kenyon Review, Yale Review, Parnassus, and elsewhere. He is at work on a translation of Latin and Greek Lyric Poetry from Archilochus to Martial for Penguin Classics.
Chris Childers

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Author: Chris Childers

Christopher Childers has poems, essays, and translations published or forthcoming at Kenyon Review, Yale Review, Parnassus, and elsewhere. He is at work on a translation of Latin and Greek Lyric Poetry from Archilochus to Martial for Penguin Classics.