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Poem by Alfred Austin
Midway his upward unavailing course Sate Sisyphus, his back against his load, Halting a moment from that task of doom. Adown his swollen cheeks ran streams of sweat Dripping from thick-drenched locks; and watery beads Gathered and stood on his stupendous limbs. The sinews of his arm, like gnarled knots On hollow bark of legendary oak, Credentials of incalculable years, Bulged up, and in his horny hands outspread Upon his wrinkled knees, the arching veins Glittered like tempered steel. His stertorous breath Moaned like to bellows in cyclopean forge, Wherewith in smithy subterranean Against the Gods rebellious demigods Fashion their molten ineffectual bolts. But when, asudden, swift on angry flash, Rumbled imperious thunder overhead, At the commanding mandate, Sisyphus, Bulkily rising, straightened limbs relaxed, And turned him yet again unto his task, Mumbling the while habitual lament. ``Why was I chosen for this hateful task, Fantastically futile, which the Gods Lay on their victim, for their own disport? Rather a thousand times upon the wheel Would I, Ixion-like, be racked, or lift The tantalising gourd-cup to my lips. I was no wickeder than they, and I Founded Ephyra in a stony land, Raised monolithic temples to the Gods, And made the name of Corinth glorious from Peloponnesus unto Attica. Was it a crime to be Ulysses' sire By sportive Anticlea ere she wed Laertes, bringing him a Royal heir? Yearning for whom, when Circe and her lures From Ithaca withheld his bark, she died. If such to me imputed be a crime, Then all the Gods are bestial criminals, Lustful, adulterous, meretricious Gods. What more was my offence? Was it because I from the clustered sister-Pleiades Lured Merope to earth to share my love, Not an ephemeral, but strong-nuptialled love? Whereat the Gods, envying a mortal's joy, Darkened her light in Heaven, and vengefully In me infused her immortality, That I might strain for ever at the task Of aiding upward downward-destined world. ``If mortals were but once by doom allowed To limit their ambition, and abide On some material or majestic height! But onward, upward, ever are they urged By the half-God within their blood to pass Beyond the flaming barriers of the world, Where the inexorable sentries stand To drive them back, and me, unwilling drudge, Forced downward by the weight I upward rolled. When to the very pinnacle of Art, Majestically lovely, for restrained, Hellenic minds from barbarous gropings towered, The beast in mortals sensuously craved For craft more carnal, Goddesses undraped In marble, to such use recalcitrant, Satyrs and fauns, licentious comedy, Provocative of laughter or of lust, Dethroning the Ideal for the Real. When the stern Roman on the world imposed By forceful dominance the Reign of Law, Then did the East with tribute undermine The male-won Empire, and barbarian hordes Rent the Imperial marble from its limbs, And revelled in the wreck of its decline. ``O, but now! now! now! Heavier the load, weightier than ever yet, For men, infatuated, now conceive, Eliminating Spirit, they will find In matter immaterialised the germ, Fountain, and origin of all that moves. But behind Fate there is another Fate, And yet another, undiscoverable. Yet Man, again illusioned, presses on, Fondling the fancy he will shortly pierce Unto the generating source of things, The Atom atomless: whereat the Gods Shake with ironic laughter, since themselves Know it not, neither do they seek to know, Aware, above them there are other Gods, May-be one sole impenetrable God, Never created, never dying, One With the unbounded Universe, Himself The soul and substance of Eternity. That is my one last hope, that He will free My body from this pagan servitude, And with omnipotent mercifulness merge My Being into His!''
Alfred Austin's other poems:
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