APOLLO AND DAPHNE
Ovid's Metamorphoses - Book I
Though earth may not have willed catastrophe
The latest of new creatures was the serpent.
Even you, great Python of hillside and valley
Who haunt the deepest shadows in men's hearts !
Wherever the monsters turned, green darkness fell
In winding paths through sacred grove and briar.
Then bright Apollo with his sun-tipped arrows
Whose swiftness stilled the flight of goat and deer
Aimed at the beast with darts that fell in showers.
So Python perished, but not until his wounds
Were black with blood and God Apollo's quiver
Almost spent. That is the reason why
Apollo's games are called the Pythian Feast,
In memory of the serpent's golden death,
In honor of the god's swift victory ---
The Feast that brings fleet-footed, swift-riding
Youth garlands of oak leaf as they win the race.
This was before the laurel wreath became
Apollo's gift of grace in shrine and temple
Before he twined the green immortal laurel
Within the sunlight of his golden hair.
Apollo's first love was elusive Daphne,
The child of Peneus, kindly tyrant of the river,
Nor did the god pursue the girl by chance ---
The cause was Cupid's anger at Apollo:
Still heated by his conquest of the snake,
Phoebus saw Cupid wind a tight-strung bow,
"Who is this lecherous child," said he, "who plays
With weapons and is not a man? The bow
Was made for me; I am the one who kills
A worthy enemy, wild beasts --- and look at
Great Python wallowing in blood; his body
Covers half the countryside. Your business
Is not to play with arrows, but set afire
Your little torch that guides unwary lovers."
The child of Venus glanced at flush Apollo:
"Your arrows may be murder to us all,
But mine shall pierce your veins: as much
As mortals are less than the divine, so
Your poor glory is less than my poor skill."
With that he raised his wings and in quick air
He found a shaded ledge on high Parnassus;
There carefully he made a choice of arrows ---
Two darts that were of opposite persuasion,
One, like a golden spear, was sharp as fire,
And is love's fire in the flesh, the other,
Heavy as boredom, dull as lead, he plunged
At a single stroke into white Daphne's breast.
Then Cupid aimed at Phoebus, and love's arrow
With fire of lightning pierce his bones;
Apollo walked as in a tower of flames.
As Phoebus burned with love young Daphne fled
As though she feared love's name, as if she were
The wraith of virgin Phoebe, huntress and child
Who trapped small creatures of the bushband fen,
And ran with floating hair through green-deep forest;
Nor would she hear of lovers or of men,
Nor cared for promise of a wedding day,
Nor Hymen's night of love. Time and again
Old Peneuse complained, "Where is my son-in-law,
Daughter, where have you hidden my grandchildren?"
As though the wedding torch were sight of evil
Pale Daphne flushed at every thought of it,
And hid her face against her father's shoulder
And pleading with her arms around his neck
Said, "Father, make me an eternal virgin.
Do what Diana's father did for her."
Peneuse agreed, but your enchantments, Daphne,
Had greater powers than a father's will,
Nor could your prayers undo a beauty's charm.
At one look Phoebus loved her; as he gazed,
"Daphne," he thought, "is mine," but did not think
His prophecy might fail him --- his hopes, desires
Had outpaced all the Delian oracles;
Then as September fields of wheat and straw
Take fire from a careless traveller's torch
Left smouldering in the wind that wakes the dawn,
So did Apollo's heart break into flames,
The sterile fires that feed on empty hopes.
And while he gazed at Daphne's floating hair
That fell in tendrils at her throat and forehead
He thought, "What if that fair head wore a crown?"
He looked into her eyes and saw the stars.
Though staring does not satisfy desire,
His eyes praised all they saw --- her lips, her fingers,
Her hands, her naked arms from wrist to shoulder;
And what they did not see they thought the best.
Yet she ran from him swifter than light air
That turns to nothingness as we pursue it,
Nor did she stop to hear Apollo calling:
"O daughter of the deep green-shadowed River,
Who follows you is not your enemy;
The lamb runs from the wolf, the deer from lion,
The trembling-feathered dove flies from the eagle
Whose great wings cross the sky -- such is your flight
While mine is love's pursuit. Rest where time waits
But where you vanish the way is rough; briar
And thorn and fallen rock make wounds that bleed,
And green pits open where swift unwary fall.
And I who follow am neither pain nor death;
Then walk with me and ask me who I am.
Surely my home is not in mountain passes,
Nor am I shepherd or wild-haired stable boy.
O ignorant, unknowing, thoughtless child
Who runs in darkness --- and from whom? From me?
Jove is my father and I am lord of Delphi;
My temples stand at Claros, Patara,
And beyond the cities, glimmering Tenebros,
Enchanted island of the eastern seas.
Where caves and temples speak you hear my voices,
My lyre sounds the soul of harmony;
My arrows never fail --- and yet one arrow
More certain of its aim than mine wakes fire
Behind the chambers of an indifferent heart.
And if you wait, learn more: I am physician,
The good physician of magic in clever herbs
And artful grasses; yet herbs are feeble cures,
Unhealthy diet for one who falls in love.
Nor can physcian cure himself ---"
As Daphne ran
Phoebus had more to say, and she distracted,
In flight, in fear, wind flowing through her dress
And her wild hair --- she grew more beautiful
The more he followed her and saw wind tear
Her dress and the short tunic that she wore,
The girl a naked wraith in wilderness.
And as they ran young Phoebus saved his breath
For greater speed to close the race, to circle
The spent girl in an open field, to harry
The chase as greyhound races hare,
His teeth, his black jaws glancing at her heels.
The god by grace of hope, the girl, despair,
Still kept their increasing pace until his lips
Breathed at her shoulder; and almose spent,
The girl saw waves of a familiar river,
Her father's home, and in a trembling voice
Called, "Father, if your waters still hold charms
To save your daughter, cover with green earth
This body I wear too well," and as she spoke
A soaring drowsiness possessed her; growing
In earth she stood, white thighs embraced by climbing
Bark, her white arms branches, her fair head swaying
In a cloud of leaves; all that was Daphne bowed
In the stirring of the wind, the glittering green
Leaf twined within her hair and she was laurel.
Even no Phoebus embraced the lovely tree
Whose heart he felt still beating in its side;
He stroked its branches, kissed the sprouting bark,
And as the tree still seemed to sway, to shudder
At his touch, Apollo whispered, "Daphne,
Who cannot be my wife must be the seal,
The sign of all I own, immortal leaf
Twined in my hair as hers, and by this sign
My constant love, my honour shall be shown:
When Roman captains home from victory
Ride with the Legions of Capitoline,
Their heads will shine with laurels and wherever
The Augustus sets his gates, plain or frontier,
Or Roman city wall, the bronze oak leaf
And the green-pointed laurel shall guard the portal
And grace the Roman crown." As Phoebus spoke,
The laurel shook her branches and seemed to bow
A timid blessing on her lover's pleasure.
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