Maurice Thompson

The Orphic Legacy

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When steadily blew the wind from shores of Thrace,
And stirred the vines of Lesbos, loaded down
With racy fruit all round Methymna town,
Lo, floating on the water, came a dead man's face.


And from the pallid, parted lips thereof
Issued strange singing of idyllic song,
As it lay tossing white-capped waves among,
Upturned to the sweet sky that smiling bent above.


What wondrous flotsam! And a golden shell
Drifted beside it, stringed with silver chords,
Playing fit accompaniment to the words
That through the sounds of winds and swashing sea did swell.


"Sweetest of all the Ægean Isles," it said,
"Oh, bury me beneath thy fruitful vines,
And pour libations of thy choicest wines;
For, lo, I am the far-famed Thracian singer's head!


"And I am torn of jealous women's hands,
Because to my dead love I held me true;
Me the Bacchantes, over-drunken, slew;
Now, bodiless, I drift upon thine island sands.


"This my gold shell I bring as gift to thee;
And thou shalt see full soon its precious use,
When Sappho's voice awakes the lyric muse,
And with his seven-stringed lute Terpander charms the sea."


Then through the splendid weather maids there came,
With loving men, and walked upon the beach,
Arm twined in arm, and murmuring each to each,
Slow burning up their hearts in love's sweet, pitiless flame.


But when the tender gusts of Orphic song
Smote on their ears with lyre-accompaniment,
Far down the beach's sandy slope they went,
And found the singing head and tunëd shell among


Sea-drifts that on the foamy surf-line lay.
What jetsam! but they hailed it with delight;
They buried the singing head from sight,
And to Methymna took the sweet-stringed shell away.


They hung it in the temple tenderly
(Where all untouched, its chords kept quivering
And with rare music never ceased to ring,
That filled the temple as with moanings of the sea).


Thence flaws of song, with charming chords between,
Swept through the olive groves and dusky vines,
And through the mastic and Aleppo pines
To the rose-bannered garden walls of Mitylene.

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Maurice Thompson