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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII. 1876–79.

Asia Minor: Cyprus, the Island

Wine of Cyprus

By Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)

Given to Me by H. S. Boyd, Author of “Select Passages from the Greek Fathers,” etc., to Whom These Stanzas Are Addressed

IF old Bacchus were the speaker

He would tell you with a sigh,

Of the Cyprus in this beaker

I am sipping like a fly,—

Like a fly or gnat on Ida

At the hour of goblet-pledge,

By queen Juno brushed aside, a

Full white arm-sweep, from the edge.

Sooth, the drinking should be ampler,

When the drink is so divine;

And some deep-mouthed Greek exampler

Would become your Cyprus wine!

Cyclop’s mouth might plunge aright in,

While his one eye over-leered,—

Nor too large were mouth of Titan,

Drinking rivers down his beard.

Pan might dip his head so deep in

That his ears alone pricked out,

Fauns around him, pressing, leaping,

Each one pointing to his throat:

While the Naiads like Bacchantes,

Wild, with urns thrown out to waste,

Cry, “O earth, that thou wouldst grant us

Springs to keep, of such a taste!”

But for me, I am not worthy

After gods and Greeks to drink;

And my lips are pale and earthy

To go bathing from this brink.

Since you heard them speak the last time,

They have faded from their blooms,

And the laughter of my pastime

Has learnt silence at the tombs.

Ah, my friend! the antique drinkers

Crowned the cup, and crowned the brow.

Can I answer the old thinkers

In the forms they thought of, now?

Who will fetch from garden-closes

Some new garlands while I speak,

That the forehead, crowned with roses,

May strike scarlet down the cheek?

Do not mock me! with my mortal,

Suits no wreath again, indeed!

I am sad-voiced as the turtle

Which Anacreon used to feed;

Yet as that same bird demurely

Wet her beak in cup of his,—

So, without a garland, surely

I may touch the brim of this.

Go!—let others praise the Chian!—

This is soft as Muses’ string,—

This is tawny as Rhea’s lion,

This is rapid as its spring,—

Bright as Paphia’s eyes e’er met us,

Light as ever trod her feet!

And the brown bees of Hymettus

Make their honey not so sweet.

Very copious are my praises,

Though I sip it like a fly!—

Ah—but, sipping,—times and places

Change before me suddenly—

As Ulysses’ old libation

Drew the ghosts from every part,

So your Cyprus wine, dear Grecian,

Stirs the Hades of my heart.

And I think of those long mornings

Which my thought goes far to seek,

When, betwixt the folio’s turnings,

Solemn flowed the rhythmic Greek.

Past the pane, the mountain spreading,

Swept the sheep-bell’s tinkling noise,

While a girlish voice was reading,—

Somewhat low for αι’s and οι’s.

Then what golden hours were for us!—

While we sate together there,

While the white vests of the chorus

Seemed to wave up a live air!

How the cothurns trod majestic

Down the deep iambic lines;

And the rolling anapæstic

Curled like vapor over shrines!

O, our Æschylus, the thunderous!

How he drove the bolted breath

Through the cloud, to wedge it ponderous

In the gnarled oak beneath.

O, our Sophocles, the royal,

Who was born to monarch’s place,—

And who made the whole world loyal,

Less by kingly power than grace.

Our Euripides, the human—

With his droppings of warm tears;

And his touches of things common,

Till they rose to touch the spheres!

Our Theocritus, our Bion,

And our Pindar’s shining goals!—

These were cup-bearers undying

Of the wine that ’s meant for souls.

And my Plato, the divine one,—

If men know the gods aright

By their motions as they shine on

With a glorious trail of light!—

And your noble Christian bishops,

Who mouthed grandly the last Greek:

Though the sponges on their hyssops

Were distent with wine—too weak.

Yet, your Chrysostom, you praised him,

With his liberal mouth of gold;

And your Basil, you upraised him

To the height of speakers old:

And we both praised Heliodorus

For his secret of pure lies;

Who forged first his linked stories

In the heat of lady’s eyes.

And we both praised your Synesius

For the fire shot up his odes,

Though the Church was scarce propitious

As he whistled dogs and gods.—

And we both praised Nazianzen

For the fervid heart and speech;

Only I eschewed his glancing

At the lyre hung out of reach.

Do you mind that deed of Até

Which you bound me to so fast,—

Reading “De Virginitate,”

From the first line to the last?

How I said at ending, solemn,

As I turned and looked at you,

That St. Simeon on the column

Had had somewhat less to do?

For we sometimes gently wrangled;

Very gently, be it said,—

Since our thoughts were disentangled

By no breaking of the thread!

And I charged you with extortions

On the nobler fames of old,—

Ay, and sometimes thought your Porsons

Stained the purple they would fold.

For the rest,—a mystic moaning,

Kept Cassandra at the gate,

With wild eyes the vision shone in,—

And wide nostrils scenting fate.

And Prometheus, bound in passion

By brute Force to the blind stone,

Showed us looks of invocation

Turned to ocean and the sun.

And Medea we saw burning

At her nature’s planted stake;

And proud Œdipus fate-scorning

While the cloud came on to break—

While the cloud came on slow—slower,

Till he stood discrowned, resigned!—

But the reader’s voice dropped lower

When the poet called him blind!

Ah, my gossip! you were older,

And more learned, and a man!—

Yet that shadow—the enfolder

Of your quiet eyelids—ran

Both our spirits to one level,

And I turned from hill and lea

And the summer-sun’s green revel,—

To your eyes that could not see.

Now Christ bless you with the one light

Which goes shining night and day!

May the flowers which grow in sunlight

Shed their fragrance in your way!

Is it not right to remember

All your kindness, friend of mine,

When we two sate in the chamber,

And the poets poured us wine?

So, to come back to the drinking

Of this Cyprus,—it is well,

But those memories, to my thinking,

Make a better œnomel;

And whoever be the speaker,

None can murmur with a sigh—

That, in drinking from that beaker,

I am sipping like a fly.