Front Page Titles (by Subject) HYMN TO MERCURY. TRANSLATED FROM THE GREEK OF HOMER - Posthumous Poems
HYMN TO MERCURY. TRANSLATED FROM THE GREEK OF HOMER - Percy Bysshe Shelley, Posthumous Poems 
Posthumous Poems (London: John and Henry L. Hunt, 1824).
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HYMN TO MERCURY.
TRANSLATED FROM THE GREEK OF HOMER
- Sing, Muse, the son of Maia and of Jove,
- The Herald-child, king of Arcadia
- And all its pastoral hills, whom in sweet love
- Having been interwoven, modest May
- Bore Heaven’s dread Supreme—an antique grove
- Shadowed the cavern where the lovers lay
- In the deep night, unseen by Gods or Men,
- And white-armed Juno slumbered sweetly then.
- Now, when the joy of Jove had its fulfiling,
- And Heaven’s tenth moon chronicled her relief,
- She gave to light a babe all babes excelling,
- A schemer subtle beyond all belief;
- A shepherd of thin dreams, a cow-stealing,
- A night-watching, and door-waylaying thief,
- Who mongst the Gods was soon about to thieve
- And other glorious actions to achieve.
- The babe was born at the first peep of day;
- He began playing on the lyre at noon,
- And the same evening did he steal away
- Apollo’s herds;—the fourth day of the moon
- On which him bore the venerable May,
- From her immortal limbs he leaped full soon,
- Nor long could in the sacred cradle keep,
- But out to seek Apollo’s herds would creep.
- Out of the lofty cavern wandering
- He found a tortoise, and cried out—“A treasure!”
- (For Mercury first made the tortoise sing)
- The beast before the portal at his leisure
- The flowery herbage was depasturing,
- Moving his feet in a deliberate measure
- Over the turf. Jove’s profitable son
- Eyeing him laughed, and laughing thus begun:—
- “A useful god-send are you to me now,
- King of the dance, companion of the feast,
- Lovely in all your nature! Welcome, you
- Excellent plaything! Where, sweet mountain beast,
- Got you that speckled shell? Thus much I know,
- You must come home with me and be my guest;
- You will give joy to me, and I will do
- All that is in my power to honour you.
- “Better to be at home than out of door;—
- So come with me, and though it has been said
- That you alive defend from magic power,
- I know you will sing sweetly when you’re dead.”
- Thus having spoken, the quaint infant bore,
- Lifting it from the grass on which it fed,
- And grasping it in his delighted hold,
- His treasured prize into the cavern old.
- Then scooping with a chisel of grey steel
- He bored the life and soul out of the beast—
- Not swifter a swift thought of woe or weal
- Darts through the tumult of a human breast
- Which thronging cares annoy—not swifter wheel
- The flashes of its torture and unrest
- Out of the dizzy eyes—than Maia’s son
- All that he did devise hath featly done.
- And through the tortoise’s hard strong skin
- At proper distances small holes he made,
- And fastened the cut stems of reeds within,
- And with a piece of leather overlaid
- The open space and fixed the cubits in,
- Fitting the bridge to both, and stretched o’er all
- Symphonious cords of sheep gut rhythmical.
- When he had wrought the lovely instrument,
- He tried the chords, and made division meet
- Preluding with the plectrum, and there went
- Up from beneath his hand a tumult sweet
- Of mighty sounds, and from his lips he sent
- A strain of unpremeditated wit
- Joyous and wild and wanton—such you may
- Hear among revellers on a holiday.
- He sung how Jove and May of the bright sandal
- Dallied in love not quite legitimate;
- And his own birth, still scoffing at the scandal,
- And naming his own name, did celebrate;
- His mother’s cave and servant maids he planned all
- In plastic verse, her household stuff and state,
- Perennial pot, trippet, and brazen pan,—
- But singing he conceived another plan.
- Seized with a sudden fancy for fresh meat,
- He in his sacred crib deposited
- The hollow lyre, and from the cavern sweet
- Rushed with great leaps up to the mountain’s head,
- Revolving in his mind some subtle feat
- Of thievish craft, such as a swindler might
- Devise in the lone season of dun night.
- Lo! the great Sun under the ocean’s bed has
- Driven steeds and chariot—the child meanwhile strode
- O’er the Pierian mountains clothed in shadows,
- Where the immortal oxen of the God
- Are pastured in the flowering unmown meadows,
- And safely stalled in a remote abode—
- The archer Argicide, elate and proud,
- Drove fifty from the herd, lowing aloud.
- He drove them wandering o’er the sandy way,
- But, being ever mindful of his craft,
- Backward and forward drove he them astray,
- So that the tracks which seemed before, were aft;
- His sandals then he threw to the ocean spray,
- And for each foot he wrought a kind of raft
- Of tamarisk, and tamarisk-like sprigs,
- And bound them in a lump with withy twigs.
- And on his feet he tied these sandals light,
- The trail of whose wide leaves might not betray
- His track; and then, a self-sufficing wight,
- Like a man hastening on some distant way,
- He from Piera’s mountain bent his flight;
- But an old man perceived the infant pass
- Down green Onchestus heaped like beds with grass.
- The old man stood dressing his sunny vine:
- “Halloo! old fellow with the crooked shoulder!
- You grub those stumps? before they will bear wine
- Methinks even you must grow a little older:
- Attend, I pray, to this advice of mine,
- As you would ’scape what might appal a bolder—
- Seeing, see not—and hearing, hear not—and—
- If you have understanding—understand.”
- So saying, Hermes roused the oxen vast;
- O’er shadowy mountain and resounding dell,
- And flower-paven plains, great Hermes past;
- Till the black night divine, which favouring fell
- Around his steps, grew grey, and morning fast
- Wakened the world to work, and from her cell
- Sea-strewn, the Pallantean Moon sublime
- Into her watch-tower just began to climb.
- Now to Alpheus he had driven all
- The broad-foreheaded oxen of the Sun;
- They came unwearied to the lofty stall
- And to the water troughs which ever run
- Through the fresh fields—and when with rushgrass tall,
- Lotus and all sweet herbage, every one
- Had pastured been, the great God made them move
- Towards the stall in a collected drove.
- A mighty pile of wood the God then heaped,
- And having soon conceived the mystery
- Of fire, from two smooth laurel branches stript
- The bark, and rubbed them in his palms,—on high
- Suddenly forth the burning vapour leapt,
- And the divine child saw delightedly—
- Mercury first found out for human weal
- Tinder-box, matches, fire-irons, flint and steel.
- And fine dry logs and roots innumerous
- He gathered in a delve upon the ground—
- And kindled them—and instantaneous
- The strength of the fierce flame was breathed around:
- And whilst the might of glorious Vulcan thus
- Wrapt the great pile with glare and roaring sound,
- Hermes dragged forth two heifers, lowing loud,
- Close to the fire—such might was in the God.
- And on the earth upon their backs he threw
- The panting beasts, and rolled them o’er and o’er,
- And bored their lives out. Without more ado
- He cut up fat and flesh, and down before
- The fire, on spits of wood he placed the two,
- Toasting their flesh and ribs, and all the gore
- Pursed in the bowels; and while this was done
- He stretched their hides over a craggy stone.
- We mortals let an ox grow old, and then
- Cut it up after long consideration,—
- But joyous-minded Hermes from the glen
- Drew the fat spoils to the more open station
- Of a flat smooth space, and portioned them; and when
- He had by lot assigned to each a ration
- Of the twelve Gods, his mind became aware
- Of all the joys which in religion are.
- For the sweet savour of the roasted meat
- Tempted him though immortal. Nathelesse
- He checked his haughty will and did not eat,
- Though what it cost him words can scarce express,
- And every wish to put such morsels sweet
- Down his most sacred throat, he did repress;
- But soon within the lofty portalled stall
- He placed the fat and flesh and bones and all.
- And every trace of the fresh butchery
- And cooking, the God soon made disappear,
- As if it all had vanished through the sky;
- He burned the hoofs and horns and head and hair,
- The insatiate fire devoured them hungrily;—
- And when he saw that everything was clear,
- He quenched the coals and trampled the black dust,
- And in the stream his bloody sandals tossed.
- All night he worked in the serene moonshine—
- But when the light of day was spread abroad
- He sought his natal mountain peaks divine.
- On his long wandering, neither man nor god
- Had met him, since he killed Apollo’s kine,
- Nor house-dog had barked at him on his road;
- Now he obliquely through the key-hole past,
- Like a thin mist, or an autumnal blast.
- Right through the temple of the spacious cave
- He went with soft light feet—as if his tread
- Fell not on earth; no sound their falling gave;
- Then to his cradle he crept quick, and spread
- The swaddling-clothes about him; and the knave
- Lay playing with the covering of the bed
- With his left hand about his knees—the right
- Held his beloved tortoise-lyre tight.
- There he lay innocent as a new born child,
- As gossips say; but though he was a god,
- The goddess, his fair mother, unbeguiled
- Knew all that he had done being abroad:
- “Whence come you, and from what adventure wild,
- You cunning rogue, and where have you abode
- All the long night, clothed in your impudence?
- What have you done since you departed hence?
- “Apollo soon will pass within this gate
- And bind your tender body in a chain
- Inextricably tight, and fast as fate,
- Unless you can delude the God again,
- Even when within his arms—ah, runagate!
- A pretty torment both for gods and men
- Your father made when he made you!”—“Dear mother,”
- Replied sly Hermes, “Wherefore scold and bother?
- “As if I were like other babes as old,
- And understood nothing of what is what;
- And cared at all to hear my mother scold.
- I in my subtle brain a scheme have got,
- Which whilst the sacred stars round Heaven are rolled
- Will profit you and me—nor shall our lot
- Be as you counsel, without gifts or food,
- To spend our lives in this obscure abode.
- “But we will leave this shadow-peopled cave
- And live among the Gods, and pass each day
- In high communion, sharing what they have
- Of profuse wealth and unexhausted prey;
- And from the portion which my father gave
- To Phœbus, I will snatch my share away,
- Which if my father will not—nathelesse I,
- Who am the king of robbers, can but try.
- “And, if Latona’s son should find me out,
- I’ll countermine him by a deeper plan;
- I’ll pierce the Pythian temple-walls, though stout,
- And sack the fane of every thing I can—
- Cauldrons and tripods of great worth no doubt,
- Each golden cup and polished brazen pan,
- All the wrought tapestries and garments gay.”—
- So they together talked;—meanwhile the Day
- Ætherial born arose out of the flood
- Of flowing Ocean, bearing light to men.
- Apollo past toward the sacred wood,
- Which from the inmost depths of its green glen
- Echoes the voice of Neptune,—and there stood
- On the same spot in green Onchestus then
- That same old animal, the vine-dresser,
- Who was employed hedging his vineyard there.
- Latona’s glorious Son began:—“I pray
- Tell, ancient hedger of Onchestus green,
- Whether a drove of kine has past this way,
- All heifers with crooked horns? for they have been
- Stolen from the herd in high Pieria,
- Where a black bull was fed apart, between
- Two woody mountains in a neighbouring glen,
- And four fierce dogs watched there, unanimous as men.
- “And, what is strange, the author of this theft
- Has stolen the fatted heifers every one,
- But the four dogs and the black bull are left:—
- Stolen they were last night at set of sun,
- Of their soft beds and their sweet food bereft—
- Now tell me, man born ere the world begun,
- Have you seen any one pass with the cows?”—
- To whom the man of overhanging brows:
- “My friend, it would require no common skill
- Justly to speak of everything I see:
- On various purposes of good or ill
- Many pass by my vineyard,—and to me
- ’Tis difficult to know the invisible
- Thoughts, which in all those many minds may be:—
- Thus much alone I certainly can say,
- I tilled these vines till the decline of day.
- “And then I thought I saw, but dare not speak
- With certainty of such a wondrous thing,
- A child, who could not have been born a week,
- Those fair-horned cattle closely following,
- And in his hand he held a polished stick:
- And, as on purpose, he walked wavering
- From one side to the other of the road,
- And with his face opposed the steps he trod.”
- Apollo hearing this, past quickly on—
- No winged omen could have shown more clear
- That the deceiver was his father’s son.
- So the God wraps a purple atmosphere
- Around his shoulders, and like fire is gone
- To famous Pylos, seeking his kine there,
- And found their track and his, yet hardly cold,
- And cried—“What wonder do mine eyes behold!
- “Here are the footsteps of the horned herd
- Turned back towards their fields of asphodel;—
- But these! are not the tracks of beast or bird,
- Grey wolf, or bear, or lion of the dell,
- Or maned Centaur—sand was never stirred
- By man or woman thus! Inexplicable!
- Who with unwearied feet could e’er impress
- The sand with such enormous vestiges?
- “That was most strange—but this is stranger still!”
- Thus having said, Phœbus impetuously
- Sought high Cyllene’s forest-cinctured hill,
- And the deep cavern where dark shadows lie,
- And where the ambrosial nymph with happy will
- Bore the Saturnian’s love-child, Mercury—
- And a delightful odour from the dew
- Of the hill pastures, at his coming, flew.
- And Phœbus stooped under the craggy roof
- Arched over the dark cavern:—Maia’s child
- Perceived that he came angry, far aloof,
- About the cows of which he had been beguiled,
- And over him the fine and fragrant woof
- Of his ambrosial swaddling clothes he piled—
- As among fire-brands lies a burning spark
- Covered, beneath the ashes cold and dark.
- There, like an infant who had sucked his fill
- And now was newly washed and put to bed,
- Awake, but courting sleep with weary will,
- And gathered in a lump hands, feet, and head,
- He lay, and his beloved tortoise still
- He grasped and held under his shoulder-blade.
- Phœbus the lovely mountain-goddess knew,
- Not less her subtle, swindling baby, who
- Lay swathed in his sly wiles. Round every crook
- Of the ample cavern, for his kine, Apollo
- Looked sharp; and when he saw them not, he took
- The glittering key, and opened three great hollow
- Recesses in the rock—where many a nook
- Was filled with the sweet food immortals swallow,
- And mighty heaps of silver and of gold
- Were piled within—a wonder to behold!
- And white and silver robes, all overwrought
- With cunning workmanship of tracery sweet—
- Except among the Gods there can be nought
- In the wide world to be compared with it.
- Latona’s offspring, after having sought
- His herds in every corner, thus did greet
- Great Hermes:—“Little cradled rogue, declare
- Of my illustrious heifers, where they are!
- “Speak quickly! or a quarrel between us
- Must rise, and the event will be, that I
- Shall hawl you into dismal Tartarus,
- In fiery gloom to dwell eternally;
- Nor shall your father nor your mother loose
- The bars of that black dungeon—utterly
- You shall be cast out from the light of day,
- To rule the ghosts of men, unblest as they.”
- To whom thus Hermes slily answered:—“Son
- Of great Latona, what a speech is this!
- Why come you here to ask me what is done
- With the wild oxen which it seems you miss?
- I have not seen them, nor from any one
- Have heard a word of the whole business;
- If you should promise an immense reward,
- I could not tell more than you now have heard.
- “An ox-stealer should be both tall and strong,
- And I am but a little new-born thing,
- Who, yet at least, can think of nothing wrong:—
- My business is to suck, and sleep, and fling
- The cradle-clothes about me all day long,—
- Or half asleep, hear my sweet mother sing,
- And to be washed in water clean and warm,
- And hushed and kissed and kept secure from harm.
- “O, let not e’er this quarrel be averred!
- The astounded Gods would laugh at you, if e’er
- You should allege a story so absurd,
- As that a new-born infant forth could fare
- Out of his home after a savage herd.
- I was born yesterday—my small feet are
- Too tender for the roads so hard and rough:—
- And if you think that this is not enough,
- “I swear a great oath, by my father’s head,
- That I stole not your cows, and that I know
- Of no one else, who might, or could, or did.—
- Whatever things cows are, I do not know,
- For I have only heard the name.”—This said,
- He winked as fast as could be, and his brow
- Was wrinkled, and a whistle loud gave he,
- Like one who hears some strange absurdity.
- Apollo gently smiled and said:—“Aye, aye,—
- You cunning little rascal, you will bore
- Many a rich man’s house, and your array
- Of thieves will lay their siege before his door,
- Silent as night, in night; and many a day
- In the wild glens rough shepherds will deplore
- That you or yours, having an appetite,
- Met with their cattle, comrade of the night!
- “And this among the Gods shall be your gift,
- To be considered as the lord of those
- Who swindle, house-break, sheep-steal, and shop-lift;—
- But now if you would not your last sleep dose,
- Crawl out!”—Thus saying, Phœbus did uplift
- The subtle infant in his swaddling clothes,
- And in his arms, according to his wont,
- A scheme devised the illustrious Argiphont.
- * * * * *
- * * * *
- And sneezed and shuddered—Phœbus on the grass
- Him threw, and whilst all that he had designed
- He did perform—eager although to pass,
- Apollo darted from his mighty mind
- Towards the subtle babe the following scoff:—
- “Do not imagine this will get you off,
- “You little swaddled child of Jove and May!”
- And seized him:—“By this omen I shall trace
- My noble herds, and you shall lead the way.”—
- Cyllenian Hermes from the grassy place,
- Like one in earnest haste to get away,
- Rose, and with hands lifted towards his face
- Roused both his ears—up from his shoulders drew
- His swaddling clothes, and—“What mean you to do
- “With me, you unkind God?”—said Mercury:
- “Is it about these cows you teize me so?
- I wished the race of cows were perished!—I
- Stole not your cows—I do not even know
- What things cows are. Alas! I well may sigh,
- That since I came into this world of woe,
- I should have ever heard the name of one—
- But I appeal to the Saturnian’s throne.”
- Thus Phœbus and the vagrant Mercury
- Talked without coming to an explanation,
- With adverse purpose. As for Phœbus, he
- Sought not revenge, but only information,
- And Hermes tried with lies and roguery
- To cheat Apollo—But when no evasion
- Served—for the cunning one his match had found—
- He paced on first over the sandy ground.
- He of the Silver Bow the child of Jove
- Followed behind, till to their heavenly Sire
- Came both his children—beautiful as Love,
- And from his equal balance did require
- A judgment in the cause wherein they strove.
- O’er odorous Olympus and its snows
- A murmuring tumult as they came arose,—
- And from the folded depths of the great Hill,
- While Hermes and Apollo reverent stood
- Before Jove’s throne, the indestructible
- Immortals rushed in mighty multitude;
- And whilst their seats in order due they fill,
- The lofty Thunderer in a careless mood
- To Phœbus said:—“Whence drive you this sweet prey,
- This herald-baby, born but yesterday?—
- “A most important subject, trifler, this
- To lay before the Gods!”—“Nay, father, nay,
- When you have understood the business,
- Say not that I alone am fond of prey.
- I found this little boy in a recess
- Under Cyllene’s mountains far away—
- A manifest and most apparent thief,
- A scandal-monger beyond all belief.
- “I never saw his like either in heaven
- Or upon earth for knavery or craft:—
- Out of the field my cattle yester-even,
- By the low shore on which the loud sea laughed,
- He right down to the river-ford had driven;
- And mere astonishment would make you daft
- To see the double kind of footsteps strange
- He has impressed wherever he did range.
- “The cattle’s track on the black dust, full well
- Is evident, as if they went towards
- The place from which they came—that asphodel
- Meadow, in which I feed my many herds,—
- His steps were most incomprehensible—
- I know not how I can describe in words
- Those tracks—he could have gone along the sands
- Neither upon his feet nor on his hands;—
- “He must have had some other stranger mode
- Of moving on: those vestiges immense,
- Far as I traced them on the sandy road,
- Seemed like the trail of oak-toppings:—but thence
- No mark or track denoting where they trod
- The hard ground gave:—but, working at his fence,
- A mortal hedger saw him as he past
- To Pylos, with the cows, in fiery haste.
- “I found that in the dark he quietly
- Had sacrificed some cows, and before light
- Had thrown the ashes all dispersedly
- About the road—then, still as gloomy night,
- Had crept into his cradle, either eye
- Rubbing, and cogitating some new sleight.
- No eagle could have seen him as he lay
- Hid in his cavern from the peering day.
- “I tax’d him with the fact, when he averred
- Most solemnly that he did neither see
- Or even had in any manner heard
- Of my lost cows, whatever things cows be;
- Nor could he tell, though offered a reward,
- Not even who could tell of them to me.”
- So speaking, Phœbus sate; and Hermes then
- Addressed the Supreme Lord of Gods and Men:—
- “Great Father, you know clearly before hand
- That all which I shall say to you is soothe;
- I am a most veracious person, and
- Totally unacquainted with untruth.
- At sunrise, Phœbus came, but with no band
- Of Gods to bear him witness, in great wrath,
- To my abode, seeking his heifers there,
- And saying that I must show him where they are,
- “Or he would hurl me down the dark abyss.
- I know, that every Apollonian limb
- Is clothed with speed and might and manliness,
- As a green bank with flowers—but unlike him
- I was born yesterday, and you may guess
- He well knew this when he indulged the whim
- Of bullying a poor little new-born thing
- That slept, and never thought of cow-driving.
- “Am I like a strong fellow who steals kine?
- Believe me, dearest Father, such you are,
- This driving of the herds is none of mine;
- Across my threshhold did I wander ne’er,
- So may I thrive! I reverence the divine
- Sun and the Gods, and I love you, and care
- Even for this hard accuser—who must know
- I am as innocent as they or you.
- “I swear by these most gloriously-wrought portals—
- (It is, you will allow, an oath of might)
- Through which the multitude of the Immortals
- Pass and repass forever, day and night,
- Devising schemes for the affairs of mortals—
- That I am guiltless; and I will requite,
- Although mine enemy be great and strong,
- His cruel threat—do thou defend the young!”
- So speaking, the Cyllenian Argiphont
- Winked, as if now his adversary was fitted:—
- And Jupiter according to his wont,
- Laughed heartily to hear the subtle-witted
- Infant give such a plausible account,
- And every word a lie. But he remitted
- Judgment at present—and his exhortation
- Was, to compose the affair by arbitration.
- And they by mighty Jupiter were bidden
- To go forth with a single purpose both,
- Neither the other chiding nor yet chidden:
- And Mercury with innocence and truth
- To lead the way, and show where he had hidden
- The mighty heifers.—Hermes, nothing loth,
- Obeyed the Ægis-bearer’s will—for he
- Is able to persuade all easily.
- These lovely children of Heaven’s highest Lord
- Hastened to Pylos and the pastures wide
- And lofty stalls by the Alphean ford,
- Where wealth in the mute night is multiplied
- With silent growth. Whilst Hermes drove the herd
- Out of the stony cavern, Phœbus spied
- The hides of those the little babe had slain,
- Stretched on the precipice above the plain.
- “How was it possible,” then Phœbus said,
- “That you, a little child, born yesterday,
- A thing on mother’s milk and kisses fed,
- Could two prodigious heifers ever flay?
- Even I myself may well hereafter dread
- Your prowess, offspring of Cyllenian May,
- When you grow strong and tall.”—He spoke, and bound
- Stiff withy bands the infant’s wrists around.
- He might as well have bound the oxen wild;
- The withy bands, though starkly interknit,
- Fell at the feet of the immortal child,
- Loosened by some device of his quick wit.
- Phœbus perceived himself again beguiled,
- And stared—while Hermes sought some hole or pit,
- Looking askance and winking fast as thought,
- Where he might hide himself and not be caught.
- Sudden he changed his plan, and with strange skill
- Subdued the strong Latonian, by the might
- Of winning music, to his mightier will;
- His left hand held the lyre, and in his right
- The plectrum struck the chords—unconquerable
- Up from beneath his hand in circling flight
- The gathering music rose—and sweet as Love
- The penetrating notes did live and move
- Within the heart of great Apollo—he
- Listened with all his soul, and laughed for pleasure.
- Close to his side stood harping fearlessly
- The unabashed boy; and to the measure
- Of the sweet lyre, there followed loud and free
- His joyous voice; for he unlocked the treasure
- Of his deep song, illustrating the birth
- Of the bright Gods and the dark desart Earth:
- And how to the Immortals every one
- A portion was assigned of all that is;
- But chief Mnemosyne did Maia’s son
- Clothe in the light of his loud melodies;—
- And as each God was born or had begun
- He in their order due and fit degrees
- Sung of his birth and being—and did move
- Apollo to unutterable love.
- These words were winged with his swift delight:
- “You heifer-stealing schemer, well do you
- Deserve that fifty oxen should requite
- Such minstrelsies as I have heard even now.
- Comrade of feasts, little contriving wight,
- One of your secrets I would gladly know,
- Whether the glorious power you now show forth
- Was folded up within you at your birth,
- “Or whether mortal taught or God inspired
- The power of unpremeditated song?
- Many divinest sounds have I admired,
- The Olympian Gods and mortal men among;
- But such a strain of wondrous, strange, untired,
- And soul-awakening music, sweet and strong,
- Yet did I never hear except from thee,
- Offspring of May, impostor Mercury!
- “What Muse, what skill, what unimagined use,
- What exercise of subtlest art, has given
- Thy songs such power?—for those who hear may choose
- From three, the choicest of the gifts of Heaven,
- Delight, and love, and sleep,—sweet sleep, whose dews
- Are sweeter than the balmy tears of even:—
- And I, who speak this praise, am that Apollo
- Whom the Olympian Muses ever follow:
- “And their delight is dance, and the blithe noise
- Of song and overflowing poesy;
- And sweet, even as desire, the liquid voice
- Of pipes, that fills the clear air thrillingly;
- But never did my inmost soul rejoice
- In this dear work of youthful revelry,
- As now I wonder at thee, son of Jove;
- Thy harpings and thy song are soft as love.
- “Now since thou hast, although so very small,
- Science of arts so glorious, thus I swear,
- And let this cornel javelin, keen and tall,
- Witness between us what I promise here,—
- That I will lead thee to the Olympian Hall,
- Honoured and mighty, with thy mother dear,
- And many glorious gifts in joy will give thee,
- And even at the end will ne’er deceive thee.”
- To whom thus Mercury with prudent speech:—
- “Wisely hast thou enquired of my skill:
- I envy thee no thing I know to teach
- Even this day:—for both in word and will
- I would be gentle with thee; thou canst reach
- All things in thy wise spirit, and thy sill
- Is highest in heaven among the sons of Jove,
- Who loves thee in the fulness of his love.
- “The Counsellor Supreme has given to thee
- Divinest gifts, out of the amplitude
- Of his profuse exhaustless treasury;
- By thee, ’tis said, the depths are understood
- Of his far voice; by thee the mystery
- Of all oracular fates,—and the dread mood
- Of the diviner is breathed up, even I—
- A child—perceive thy might and majesty—
- “Thou canst seek out and compass all that wit
- Can find or teach;—yet since thou wilt, come take
- The lyre—be mine the glory giving it—
- Strike the sweet chords, and sing aloud, and wake
- Thy joyous pleasure out of many a fit
- Of tranced sound—and with fleet fingers make
- Thy liquid-voiced comrade talk with thee,
- It can talk measured music eloquently.
- “Then bear it boldly to the revel loud,
- Love-wakening dance, or feast of solemn state,
- A joy by night or day—for those endowed
- With art and wisdom who interrogate
- It teaches, babbling in delightful mood
- All things which make the spirit most elate,
- Soothing the mind with sweet familiar play,
- Chasing the heavy shadows of dismay.
- “To those who are unskilled in its sweet tongue,
- Though they should question most impetuously
- Its hidden soul, it gossips something wrong—
- Some senseless and impertinent reply.
- But thou who art as wise as thou art strong
- Can compass all that thou desirest. I
- Present thee with this music-flowing shell,
- Knowing thou canst interrogate it well.
- “And let us two henceforth together feed
- On this green mountain slope and pastoral plain,
- The herds in litigation—they will breed
- Quickly enough to recompense our pain,
- If to the bulls and cows we take good heed;—
- And thou, though somewhat over fond of gain,
- Grudge me not half the profit.”—Having spoke,
- The shell he proffered, and Apollo took.
- And gave him in return the glittering lash,
- Installing him as herdsman;—from the look
- Of Mercury then laughed a joyous flash.
- And then Apollo with the plectrum strook
- The chords, and from beneath his hands a crash
- Of mighty sounds rushed up, whose music shook
- The soul with sweetness, as of an adept
- His sweeter voice a just accordance kept.
- The herd went wandering o’er the divine mead,
- Whilst these most beautiful Sons of Jupiter
- Won their swift way up to the snowy head
- Of white Olympus, with the joyous lyre
- Soothing their journey; and their father dread
- Gathered them both into familiar
- Affection sweet,—and then, and now, and ever,
- Hermes must love Him of the Golden Quiver,
- To whom he gave the lyre that sweetly sounded,
- Which skilfully he held and played thereon.
- He piped the while, and far and wide rebounded
- The echo of his pipings; every one
- Of the Olympians sat with joy astounded,
- While he conceived another piece of fun,
- One of his old tricks—which the God of Day
- Perceiving, said:—“I fear thee, Son of May;—
- “I fear thee and thy sly camelion spirit,
- Lest thou should steal my lyre and crooked bow;
- This glory and power thou dost from Jove inherit,
- To teach all craft upon the earth below;
- Thieves love and worship thee—it is thy merit
- To make all mortal business ebb and flow
- By roguery:—now, Hermes, if you dare,
- By sacred Styx a mighty oath to swear
- “That you will never rob me, you will do
- A thing extremely pleasing to my heart.”
- Then Mercury sware by the Stygian dew,
- That he would never steal his bow or dart,
- Or lay his hands on what to him was due,
- Or ever would employ his powerful art
- Against his Pythian fane. Then Phœbus swore
- There was no God or man whom he loved more.
- “And I will give thee as a good-will token,
- The beautiful wand of wealth and happiness;
- A perfect three-leaved rod of gold unbroken,
- Whose magic will thy footsteps ever bless;
- And whatsoever by Jove’s voice is spoken
- Of earthly or divine from its recess,
- It, like a loving soul to thee will speak,
- And more than this, do thou forbear to seek.
- “For, dearest child, the divinations high
- Which thou requirest, ’tis unlawful ever
- That thou, or any other deity
- Should understand—and vain were the endeavour;
- For they are hidden in Jove’s mind, and I
- In trust of them, have sworn that I would never
- Betray the counsels of Jove’s inmost will
- To any God—the oath was terrible.
- “Then, golden-wanded brother, ask me not
- To speak the fates by Jupiter designed;
- But be it mine to tell their various lot
- To the unnumbered tribes of human kind.
- Let good to these, and ill to those be wrought
- As I dispense—but he who comes consigned
- By voice and wings of perfect augury
- To my great shrine, shall find avail in me.
- “Him will I not deceive, but will assist;
- But he who comes relying on such birds
- As chatter vainly, who would strain and twist
- The purpose of the Gods with idle words,
- And deems their knowledge light, he shall have mist
- His road—whilst I among my other hoards
- His gifts deposit. Yet, O son of May,
- I have another wondrous thing to say.
- “There are three Fates, three virgin Sisters, who
- Rejoicing in their wind-outspeeding wings,
- Their heads with flour snowed over white and new,
- Sit in a vale round which Parnassus flings
- Its circling skirts—from these I have learned true
- Vaticinations of remotest things.
- My father cared not. Whilst they search out dooms,
- They sit apart and feed on honeycombs.
- “They, having eaten the fresh honey, grow
- Drunk with divine enthusiasm, and utter
- With earnest willingness the truth they know;
- But if deprived of that sweet food, they mutter
- All plausible delusions;—these to you
- I give;—if you inquire, they will not stutter;
- Delight your own soul with them:—any man
- You would instruct, may profit, if he can.
- “Take these and the fierce oxen, Maia’s child—
- O’er many a horse and toil-enduring mule,
- O’er jagged-jawed lions, and the wild
- White-tusked boars, o’er all, by field or pool,
- Of cattle which the mighty Mother mild
- Nourishes in her bosom, thou shalt rule—
- Thou dost alone the veil of death uplift—
- Thou givest not—yet this is a great gift.”
- Thus king Apollo loved the child of May
- In truth, and Jove covered them with love and joy.
- Hermes with Gods and men even from that day
- Mingled, and wrought the latter much annoy,
- And little profit, going far astray
- Through the dun night. Farewell, delightful Boy,
- Of Jove and Maia sprung,—never by me,
- Nor thou, nor other songs shall unremembered be.