Ogyges [poem by Henry Kendall]

[Editor: This poem by Henry Kendall was published in Leaves from Australian Forests (1869).]

Ogyges.

Stand out, swift-footed leaders of the horns,
And draw strong breath, and fill the hollowy cliff
With shocks of clamour, — let the chasm take
The noise of many trumpets, lest the hunt
Should die across the dim Aonian hills,
Nor break through thunder and the surf-white cave
That hems about the old-eyed Ogyges
And bars the sea-wind, rain-wind, and the sea!

Much fierce delight hath old-eyed Ogyges
[A hairless shadow in a lion’s skin]
In tumult, and the gleam of flying spears,
And wild beasts vexed to death; “for,” sayeth he,
“Here lying broken, do I count the days
For very trouble; being like the tree —
The many-wintered father of the trunks
On yonder ridges: wherefore it is well
To feel the dead blood kindling in my veins
At sound of boar or battle; yea to find
A sudden stir, like life, about my feet,
And tingling pulses through this frame of mine
What time the cold clear dayspring, like a bird
Afar off, settles on the frost-bound peaks,
And all the deep blue gorges, darkening down,
Are filled with men and dogs and furious dust!”

So in the time whereof thou weetest well —
The melancholy morning of the World —
He mopes or mumbles, sleeps or shouts for glee,
And shakes his sides — a cavern-hutted King!
But when the ouzel in the gaps at eve
Doth pipe her dreary ditty to the surge
All tumbling in the soft green level light,
He sits as quiet as a thick-mossed rock,
And dreameth in his cold old savage way
Of gliding barges on the wine-dark waves,
And glowing shapes, and sweeter things than sleep,
But chiefly, while the restless twofold bat
Goes flapping round the rainy eaves above,
Where one broad opening letteth in the moon,
He starteth, thinking of that gray-haired man,
His sire: then oftentimes the white-armed child
Of thunder-bearing Jove, young Thebe, comes
And droops above him with her short sweet sighs
For Love distraught — for dear Love’s faded sake
That weeps and sings and weeps itself to death
Because of casual eyes, and lips of frost,
And careless mutterings, and most weary years.

Bethink you, doth the wan Ægyptian count
This passion, wasting like an unfed flame,
Of any worth now; seeing that his thighs
Are shrunken to a span; and that the blood
Which used to spin tumultuous down his sides
Of life in leaping moments of desire,
Is drying like a thin and sluggish stream
In withered channels — think you, doth he pause
For golden Thebe and her red young mouth?

Ah, golden Thebe — Thebe, weeping there,
Like some sweet wood-nymph wailing for a rock,
If Octis with the Apollonian face —
That fair-haired prophet of the sun and stars —
Could take a mist and dip it in the West
To clothe thy limbs of shine about with shine
And all the wonder of the amethyst,
He’d do it — kneeling like a slave for thee!
If he could find a dream to comfort thee,
He’d bring it: thinking little of his lore,
But marvelling greatly at those eyes of thine.
Yea, if the Shepherd waiting for thy steps,
Pent down amongst the dank black-weeded rims,
Could shed his life like rain about thy feet,
He’d count it sweetness past all sweets of love
To die by thee — his life’s end in thy sight.

Oh, but he loves the hunt, doth Ogyges!
And therefore should we blow the horn for him:
He, sitting mumbling in his surf-white cave
With helpless feet and alienated eyes,
Should hear the noises nathless dawn by dawn
Which send him wandering swiftly through the days
When like a springing cataract he leapt
From crag to crag, the strongest in the chase
To spear the lion, leopard, or the boar!
O but he loves the hunt; and, while the shouts
Of mighty winds are in this mountained World,
Behold the white bleak woodman, Winter, halts
And bends to him across a beard of snow
For wonder; seeing Summer in his looks
Because of dogs and calls from throats of hair
All in the savage hills of Hyria!
And, through the yellow evenings of the year,
What time September shows her mooned front
And poppies burnt to blackness droop for drouth,
The dear Demeter, splashed from heel to thigh
With spinning vine-blood, often stoops to him
To crush the grape against his wrinkled lips
Which sets him dreaming of the thickening wolves
In darkness, and the sound of moaning seas.
So with the blustering tempest doth he find
A stormy fellowship: for when the North
Comes reeling downwards with a breath like spears,
Where Dryope the lonely sits all night
And holds her sorrow crushed betwixt her palms,
He thinketh mostly of that time of times
When Zeus the Thunderer — broadly-blazing King —
Like some wild comet beautiful but fierce,
Leapt out of cloud and fire and smote the tops
Of black Ogygia with his red right hand,
At which great fragments tumbled to the Deeps —
The mighty fragments of a mountain-land —
And all the World became an awful Sea!

But, being tired, the hairless Ogyges
Best loveth night and dim forgetfulness!
“For,” sayeth he, “to look for sleep is good
When every sleep is as a sleep of death
To men who live, yet know not why they live,
Nor how they live! I have no thought to tell
The people when this time of mine began;
But forest after forest grows and falls,
And rock by rock is wasted with the rime,
While I sit on and wait the end of all;
Here taking every footstep for a sign;
An ancient shadow whiter than the foam!”



Source:
Henry Kendall, Leaves from Australian Forests, Melbourne: George Robertson, 1869, pages 87-91

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