Everywhere the rites of Bacchus, as if the world were only Watchmen, dogs; you’ll not meet anyone: Like heavy barrels the peaceful days roll on; Far-off voices in a hut – you neither understand them nor reply.
After tea we came into the great brown garden, Dark blinds lowered like eyelids on the windows, Past white columns to see the grapes Where airy glass has sluiced the sleepy mountain.
The vine, I said, lives on like ancient battles – Leafy-headed horsemen fight in flowery flourishes: The science of Hellas in stony Tauris – and here are The noble golden acres, the rusty furrows.
Well, in the white room silence stands like a spinning-wheel. It smells of vinegar and paint and the cellar’s new wine. Do you remember, in the Grecian house, the wife dear to all (Not Helen – another) – how long she spent weaving?
Golden fleece, where are you, golden fleece? The whole journey a thundering of the sea’s weighty waves. And leaving his ship, canvas worn out on the seas, Odysseus came back, filled with time and space.
Spring’s transparent-grey asphodels Are still far away. For a while yet sand rustles, Waves seethe. But here my spirit, like Persephone, Enters the insubstantial circle, And in the kingdom of the dead Delightful sunburnt arms don’t exist.
Why do we entrust to a boat The weight of a funeral urn, And celebrate the black rose festival On amethyst-coloured water? My spirit aspires there, Beyond the misty headland of Meganom, And a black sail shall come back from there After the burial!
A shadowy column of storm-clouds Quickly passes, Under a wind-driven moon Black rose-flakes scurry. And memory’s huge flag – Bird of death and mourners – Trails its black borders Over the cypress stern.
And the sad fan of years gone by Opens with a rustling sigh Where the amulet was darkly buried With a shudder in the sand. My spirit aspires there, Beyond the misty headland of Meganom, And a black sail shall come back from there After the burial!
I have studied the science of separations From nocturnal laments when hair flows loose. Oxen chew, waiting lengthens, This last hour of vigil in the city. And I honour the rituals of that cock-crowing night When, having lifted the journey’s burden of grief, Tear-stained eyes gazed into the distance And the singing of Muses blended with the weeping of women.
Who can know from the word goodbye What kind of parting is in store for us, What the cock’s clamour promises When a light burns in the acropolis, And at the dawn of some sort of new life When the lazy ox chews in his stall Why the rooster, herald of new life, Flaps his wings on the city walls?
And I like the way of weaving: The shuttle runs, the spindle hums, And – flying to meet us like swan’s down – Look, barefooted Delia! Oh how meagre life’s weft, How threadbare the language of rejoicing! Everything existed of old, everything happens again, And only the moment of recognition is sweet.
So be it: a translucent shape Like a squirrel’s pelt Lies on a clean clay dish And a girl stares, bent over the wax. Not for us to foretell the Grecian Erebus; Wax is for women what bronze is for men. On us our fate falls only in battles; Their death is given in divination.
Sisters: heaviness and tenderness bear the same insignia. Wasps too suck the lungwort heavy as a rose. Man dies, the hot sand cools. Yesterday’s sun is borne on a black litter.
Oh, heaviness of honeycombs, tenderness of nets: It is easier to raise a rock than to say your name! I am left with one care only, a golden one: To free myself from the burden of time.
I drink the turbid air as if it were dark water. Time is turned by the plough, and the rose was earth. The heavy-tender roses, in their slow whirlpool, Are plaited into double wreaths.
Return to the incestuous lap, Leah, from which you came: Instead of Ilium’s sun You chose a yellow twilight.
Go, no one shall touch you. On the father’s breast, at dead of night, Let the incestuous daughter Bury her head.
But a fateful change Must be fulfilled in you: You shall be called Leah – not Helen –, Not because imperial blood
Flows heavier in those veins Than in your veins. No, you shall fall in love with a Jew And dissolve in him. God help you.
When Psyche – life – descends among shades, Pursuing Persephone through half-transparent leaves, The blind swallow hurls itself at her feet With Stygian affection and a green twig.
Phantoms quickly throng around their new companion, They meet the fugitive with grievings, In her face they wring weak hands, Perplexed by bashful hope.
One holds out a mirror, another a phial of perfumes – The soul likes trinkets, is after all feminine. And dry complainings, like fine rain, Sprinkle the leafless forest with transparent voices.
And uncertain what to do in this tender hubbub The soul doesn’t recognize the transparent trees. Psyche breathes on the mirror, slow to hand over The lozenge of copper to the master of the ferry.
I have forgotten the word I wanted to say. On severed wings, to play with the transparent ones, The blind swallow flies back to her palace of shadows; A nocturnal song is sung in a frenzy.