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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Opening Scene of “Prince Deukalion”

By Bayard Taylor (1825–1878)

[Prince Deukalion: a Lyrical Drama. 1878.]

SCENE.A plain, sloping from high mountains towards the sea. At the bases of the mountains lofty vaulted entrances of caverns. A ruined temple, on a rocky height. A SHEPHERD, asleep in the shadow of a clump of laurels: the flock scattered over the plain.

SHEPHERD (awaking).
HAVE I outslept the thunder? Has the storm

Broken and rolled away? That leaden weight

Which pressed mine eyelids to reluctant sleep

Falls off: I wake; yet see not anything

As I beheld it. Yonder hang the clouds,

Huge, weary masses, leaning on the hills;

But here, where starwort grew and hyacinth,

And bees were busy at the bells of thyme,

Stare flinty shards; and mine unsandal’d feet

Bleed as I press them: who hath wrought the change?

The plain, the sea, the mountains, are the same;

And there, aloft, Demeter’s pillared house,—

What!—roofless, now? Are she and Jove at strife?

And, see!—this altar to the friendly nymphs

Of field and flock, the holy ones who lift

A poor man’s prayer so high the Gods may hear,—

Shivered?—Hath thunder, then, a double bolt?

They said some war of Titans was renewed,

But such should not concern us, humble men

Who give our dues of doves and yearling lambs

And mountain honey. Let the priests in charge,

Who weigh their service with our ignorance,

Resolve the feud!—’tis they are answerable,

Not we; and if impatient Gods make woe,

We should not suffer!
Hark!—what strain is that,

Floating about the copses and the slopes

As in old days, when earth and summer sang?

Too sad to come from their invisible tongues

That moved all things to joy; but I will hear.

We came when you called us, we linked our dainty being

With the mystery of beauty, in all things fair and brief:

But only he hath seen us, who was happy in the seeing,

And he hath heard, who listened in the gladness of belief.

As a frost that creeps, ere the winds of winter whistle.

And odors die in blossoms that are chilly to the core.

Your doubt hath sent before it the sign of our dismissal;

We pass, ere ye speak it; we go, and come no more!

If blight they threaten, ’tis already here;

Yet still, methinks, the sweet and wholesome grass

Will sometime spring, and softer rains wash white

My wethers’ fleeces. We, Earth’s pensioners,

Expect less bounty when her store is scant;

But while her life, though changed from what it was,

Feeds on the sunshine, we shall also live.

VOICES (from underground).
We won, through martyrdom, the power to aid;

We met the anguish and were not afraid;

Like One, we bore for you the penal pain.

Behold, your life is but a culprit’s chance

To rise, renewed, from out its closing trance;

And, save its loss, there is not any gain!

What tongues austere are these, that offer help

Of loving lives?—that promise final good,

Greater than gave the Gods, so theirs be lost?

Sad is their message, yet its sense allures,

And large the promise, though it leaves us bare.

I would I knew the secret; but, instead,

I shudder with a strange, voluptuous awe,

As when the Pythia spake: ’tis doom disguised,—

Choice offered us when term of choice is past,

And we, obedient unto them that choose,

Are made amenable! Hark,—once again!

Our service hath ceased for you, shepherds!

We fade from your days and your dreams,

With the grace that was lithe as a leopard’s,

The joy that was swift as a stream’s!

To the musical reeds, and the grasses;

To the forest, the copse, and the dell;

To the mist, and the rainbow that passes;

The vine, and the goblet,—farewell!

Go, drink from the fountains that flow not!—

Our songs and our whispers are dumb:

But the thing ye are doing ye know not,

Nor dream of the thing that shall come!

Flame hath not melted, nor did earthquake rend

The dungeons where we waited for The End,

Which coming not, we issue forth to power.

We quench vain joy with shadows of the grave;

We smite your lovely wantonness, to save;

We hang Eternity on Life’s weak hour!

We wait in the breezes,

We hide in the vapors,

And linger in echoes,

Awaiting recall.

The word is spoken, let the judgment fall!

The heart of the lover,

The strings of the psalter,

The shapes in the marble

Our passing deplore:

Truth comes, and vanity shall be no more!

Not wholly we vanish;

The souls of the children,

The faith of the poets

Shall seek us, and find.

Dead are the things the world has left behind.

Lost beauty shall haunt you

With tender remorses;

And out of its exile

The passion return!

The flame shall purify, the fire shall burn!

Lift from the rivers

Your silver sandals,

From mists of the mountains

Your floating veils!—

From musky vineyard,

And copse of laurel,

The ears that listened

For lovers’ tales!

Let olives ripen

And die, untended;

Leave oak and poplar,

And homeless pine!

Take shell and trumpet

From swell of surges,

And feet that glisten

From restful brine!

As the bee when twilight

Has closed the bell,—

As love from the bosom

When doubts compel,

We go: farewell!

The strains dissolve into the hollow air,

Yet something stays,—a sense of distant woe,

As now, this hour, while the green lizards glide

Across the sun-warmed stones, and yonder bird

Prinks with deliberate bill his ruffled plumes,

Far off, in other lands, an earthquake heaved

The high-towered cities, and a darkness fell

From twisted clouds that ruin as they pass.

But, lo!—who rises yonder?—as from sleep

Rising, slow movements of a sluggish grace,

That speak her gentle, though a Titaness,

And strong, though troubled is her breadth of brow,

And eyes of strange, divine obscurity.

She sees me not: I am too mean for sight

Of such a goddess; yet, methinks, the milk

Of those large breasts might feed me into that

Which once I dreamed I should be,—lord, not slave!