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Poem by Eleanor Farjeon

Apollo in Pherae

Asklepios! dead son! Asklepios!

I was a God. I am a God. I tend
Admetos' flocks upon the meek green earth,
And sun-fires course in all the veins of me.
I watch mild sheep a-browse in tame, sweet pastures
Or dipping in quiet waters. Yesterday
I blazed the heavenly arc from east to west;
Men saw me pinnacled on the crest of noon
Crown'd with celestial flame ...
To-day the discrown'd gold of my hair is strewn
In the green lap of grasses, my bowed brow
Leans on the good strong shoulder of the earth
Even as a stricken mortal's might, that seeks
His comfortable mother in his grief.
Earth, earth, what flower from seed wilt thou put forth
Fed by the waters of mine eyes, that most
Shoot lightnings? dews wrung from the Sun-god's eyes,
Divinely wrathful, mortally unhappy!

Asklepios! my son! Asklepios!
I am a God. Admetos is a King.
The God came to the King's doors overnight
And knocked and was admitted; and the King
Knew me and asked my will.
                                "To be thy servant
Throughout a year of days," I answered him.
"Phœbus-Apollo, how shall this thing be?"
I said: "I slew a smith, a monstrous clod,
Not God or mortal, one that had done evil.
I am the avenger of evil among the Gods,
For this one and for that I have stretched my bow
And winged my arrow through the heart of Wrong;
But this was evil done unto myself,
And Vengeance wore the sleek face of Advantage,
Wherefor Zeus robs me of my Godhead, King,
And I will be thy shepherd for a year."
He stood half wonderstruck, half shamed-protesting,
But I bade him bring me out among his flocks
And speak no more.
                      "I will have peace," I said.

"Fear not, and bid thy people not to fear;
For I am worn with too much strife and passion,
And no more hurt shall come from that I do.
Thou shalt not suffer by this term of service,
But see thy lands grow rich and bountiful,
And where thou lov'st I'll win thy love for thee,
And life shall prosper with thee,
                                "Life is sweet!
Make it not too sweet, God, lest when death come
It look more bitter than my soul can bear."
"Even death, Admetos, I'll delay for thee.
Now, peace! I am done with vengeance for a space."
Thus I am come again upon the earth
Even as a common man ...

The people eye me timidly, and dare
Not consort with the God they may not worship.
Even so it was in those first days of life
When I was a boy in Delos with my Mother,
And only half aware I was a God.
O this unconquerable loneliness
That binds the crown of Godhead on our brows!
Yet easier the aloofness of the people
Than the familiar face of the half-God Pan.
I met in the woods the brute-divinity,
Who fleered an impudent hoof, a satyr-smile
Licking his lips:
                "What, Helios! is the sun
Debased to something lower than the earth?
What! are we two, I of the beast's grain, thou
The delicate, disdainful spirit of flame,
The seed of mischief and the seed of Zeus,
Brought equal at the last? Nay, is the beast
Sun's master, Helios? Shepherds are my subjects.
I do not sway high kingdoms of the air
I drag my hoofs in the clay. I do not fashion
Songs for the stars upon a golden lyre
I (as did Marsyas, ha?) scrape out rough tunes
On common reeds. I am not beautiful,
I have not eyes like June-blue heavens on fire,
Nor hair filched from the harvest of the sun,
Nor a white matchless shape, supple and swift
And strong and splendid. I am an earthy thing,
Half goat and half coarse boor, not fit to touch
The sun's moon-sister(yet, who knows? who knows!
Let her keep watch on Latmos how she will
Above the slumbers of her pretty shepherd!)
No, Pan is not as Helios! Helios is
A shepherd, sister'd by a shepherd's wanton,
And Pan's a King, and shepherds are his subjects!"

Zeus, did it feed thy pride on proud Olympos,
Did it pleasure thee to hear the brutish God,
The disgustful animal we chafe to name
A God even as ourselves, thus flout thy son?

Asklepios! dead son! Asklepios!

Doomed to the solitariness of greatness
We watch, we lonely Gods on shrouded heights,
The careful, padded steps, the little lives,
The little trivial lives of men and women
That fear our anger and entreat our favour;
And while we are indifferent all is well,
And if we rise to hate all is not ill,
But when we stoop to meet uplifted eyes
Of bright aspiring fools that will not choose
To tread life's inconspicuous middle ways
O, when we love we bring our lov'd ones woe

I had a son, his name was Phaeton.
Could he be of my being and not be proud?
He was all inspiration, and he mounted
Up to the highest and reached his hands for the sun
And shouted: "I will light the fires in heaven!"
But he was three-parts man to one-part God,
So men and Gods shrugged his brief blaze of glory
Into extinction ... Thus I lost my son,
Phaeton, killed thro' overmuch ambition.

I had a son, his name was Orpheus.
Could he be of my being and not love?
His love was rooted deeplier than Hell.
He said: "I will pluck back my love from Hell
Tho' it upheave all Hell in the plucking." When
He failed, being one-part man to three-parts God,
He chose the swift way to regain his love
And died a vile death ... Thus I lost my son,
Orpheus, killed thro' too great love and longing.

I had a son. He was Asklepios,
Could he be of my being and not KNOW?
His wisdom girdled life and death in one;
Life smiled on him, because he smiled on death
And said: "Life is less conquerable than death."
He said: "I will reverse the word of death."
He said: "I will make the dead to live again."
Two days ago Asklepios lived ...
                                        The King
Of the nether-world, that wears the face of night
And hates me, wearing day's face, called on Zeus:
"This mortal steals upon my sovereignty,
Stands brazen champion for the world of flesh,
Determines souls that waver towards the Styx
Worse! hales the souls back from beyond the Styx,
Bringing the dead to life. This is more craft,
Brother, than we may suffer in a man.
Shall he with careless finger sway at will
The Balance of Destiny? Avenge me, Zeus!"
A Cyclops forged a thunder-bolt for Zeus,
And, black-browed, Zeus did launch it ... Thus I lost
My son Asklepios, killed thro' too much knowledge.

Asklepios! my dead Asklepios!

Let the dark King of Stygia howl for aid
To Olympos! I am King of Heaven and ask
No aid! I wreak my vengeance for myself.
I rose up in the wrath of my bereavement
And set an arrow to the silver bow
That none save I can bend, and let it fly.
I might not slay the wielder of the bolt,
But I did slay the forger of the bolt.
And when I saw the Cyclops pierced and dead
I came to Zeus and told him of my deed:
"Father, 'gainst whom my bow was never turned,
Father, that hast destroyed thine own son's son,
I defy thy doing and have destroyed thy tool."

Then while the Gods stood all aghast, Zeus spake:
"Go from among this immortal company
Which thou hast sinned against in daring so
To sin against _me_ that am the head of all,
And learn to quell thy too fierce spirit, learn
To teach thy riotous blood obedience,
Serving the sons of men one year of days.
Go hence! thou art not of us for twelve moons."
I nothing said, and went. For when we Gods
Revolt among ourselves the end is near,
And Zeus must levy justice as he will.

Asklepios! my dead Asklepios!
Had an hundred bolts been forged instead of one
I had slain an hundred Cyclops for thy sake
And suffered an hundred years of degradation!

Earth that receivest my body for a space,
I first saw light upon thee. Comfort me,
And tame a little the untamed blood in me.
Better will I endure to learn of thee
Than of the envious Gods, whom this disgrace
Serves for a secret feast to glut their hearts on.
For we have loved each other, thou and I,
And I have belted thee with golden arms,
And I have claspt thee daily with hot kisses,
And felt thee leap and pulse and answer to me
Like a shy maid grown bold and glad with love.
There's that in the core of thee that is so kin
To the core of me, it holds us twain inseverable,
Tho' from a billion blue-gold caverns of air
Translucent waves of space roll up an ocean
'Twixt earth and sun: our hearts beat time together.
My sister of the spheres has no such power
To quicken thee, be lov'd of thee and love thee.
She rains down light like argent snows; and thou,
Part shadow'd, part-illumin'd, wholly chill'd,
Submitt'st thyself to call her queen, who asks
No ardent service of thee, earth, as I do.
Yet, chaste twin-sister, we were of one birth;
Thy veins run all the silver, mine the gold.
What marvel Leto had nine days labour of us,
Strenuously thus disparting snow from flame,
To give the Gods one daughter all pure ice,
One son all perfect fire?...
                                  O Thunderer!
That spark of immortal fire which, pregnant in her,
Evolved into my Godhead, issuèd
Out of _thy_ Godhead; my humiliation
Is thy humiliation, Zeus! I stand
Supremest in thy shining progeny:
I am thy glittering symbol fix'd in heaven
To draw the dazed, adoring eyes of men:
I am thy arm of vengeance, I the hand
Bestowing thy good gifts: I am thy Voice
Of mystic prophecy and divination
Thro' which thou keep'st thy fingers on men's souls.
Daughters and sons thou hast whose attributes,
This one by twisty cunning, this by love
Too often base, this by remorseless carnage
Not bearing the high name of vengeance, these
By the insidious lusts of gold and wine,
Serve to express thee to the bodies of men;
But I express thee to the ghost in them,
For there is none whose vesture is like mine
Weft only of the spirit's highest tissues,
So that the world beholding thee thro' me
Beholds thee at thy zenith, and exalted
Out of the flesh struggles to sense an instant
The music, fire and essence of Olympos.
This Thunderer, wilt thou smirch? More dim, more dim
Than the imperial spark thou quenchest in me
Thou mak'st thy imperial fires whence I did spring,
The fount of us so indissoluble
That what shames thee shames me.
                                    Earth, is this vengeance?

Nay, I see clearer. Rest unstained of me,
Thou God that art the father of my being.
The spirit of me, which is _Thou_, makes cause with thee
Against me. We must be inviolable
Or men will point their fingerswhen We fall.

Asklepios! farewell, Asklepios!

Earth, I will serve on thee my year of days
Nor chafe beneath them like a petulant boy.
Ay, tho' Zeus force my Godhead into bonds
I will yet bear my bondage like a God.

Eleanor Farjeon

Eleanor Farjeon's other poems:
  1. When You Say
  2. Sonnets. 11. A few of us who faltered as we fared
  3. Sonnets. 14. Now I have love again and life again
  4. Three Miles to Penn
  5. Revolt

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