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Ovid's Metamorphoses - Book X


"Phoebus himself was charmed by Hyacinthus,

And if the Fates had given him more time,

And space as well, Apollo would have placed him

Where stars break out in heaven.  Anyhow,

The boy became immortal. Now as often

As spring rides down the frosted reign of winter,

And leaping Ram runs after diving Pisces,

Frail Hyacinthus rises from green earth.

My father loved the boy;  he thought him sweeter

Than any living creature of his kind ---

And Delphi, capital of sacred glory,

Was like a tomb, deserted by Apollo.

The god went ranging after boyish pleasures

And strolled suburban Sparta, field and river.

Bored with the arts of music and long bow,

He found distraction near his lover's home.

Humble as any mountain guide or shepherd,

He carried bird nets, tended dogs and leashed them,

And joined the boy in day-long mountain climbing.

This native life stirred Phoebus' appetite

And made the boy more charming now than ever.

When Phoebus-Titan came at noon, half way

Between grey morning and the evening's pallor,

The lovers, naked, sleeked themselves with oil,

And stood at discus-throw. Phoebus came first,

And like a shot he whirled the disk midair

To cut a cloud in two. It disappeared;

It looked as if the thing had gone forever ---

And eager to retrieve it, Hyacinthus

Ran out to meet it where it seemed to fall.

Then like a ricochetting wheel of fire,

It glanced a rock and struck the boy full face.

As pale as Death itself, the god rushed toward him,

To fold the shrinking creature in his arms,

To bind his broken features with sweet grasses,

To cure his ragged lips and sightless eyes.

But all of Phoebus' healing arts were useless:

As in a garden, if one breaks a flower,

Crisp violet or poppy or straight lilly

Erect with yellow stamens pointed high,

The flower wilts, head toppled into earth,

So bent the dying face of Hyacinthus,

Staring at nothingness toward breast and shoulder.

'Even now, my child, your hour is passed, is run,'

Cried Phoebus, 'and my hand your murderer,

And yet its crime was meeting yours at play.

Was that a crime?   Or was my love to blame ---

The guilt that follows love that loves too much?

You should have lived forever in my sight,

Your life well-earned, and my life given for it ---

But this runs far beyond the laws of Fate,

Yet certain accents of your name shall echo

"Ai, Ai," within the music of my lyre

And shall be printed letters on frail flowers.

And Ajax, hero of a time to come

Will wear a name that calls your name to mind.'

As God Apollo spoke his prophecies,

The blood that filled the grasses at his feet

Turned to brighter dye than Tyrian purple.

And from its lips there came a lily flower.

And yet, unlike the silver-white of lilies,

Its colour was a tinted, pinkish blue.

Nor was this miracle enough for Phoebus;

He wrote the words 'Ai, Ai' across its petals,

The sign of his own grief, his signature.

And now, the very gentlemen of Sparta

Give honours to the memory of their son,

And like their ancestors, each year they gather

To make a feast on Hyacinthus day.


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