previous
next

A. W. Schlegel,

ARION.

Proudly swept Arion's fingers o'er the lyre that owned him lord,
Answering to his touch in music trembling from each quickened chord;
All hearts bowed before the minstrel—harp for sceptre in his hand,
Kingly homage found he ever—welcome—home—in every land,
He hath sailed, with treasure laden, from Tarentum's sunny shore,
Gaily steering unto Hellas—to his own fair Greece once more.

For an old and quenchless longing draws him to his friend again:
Periander, Corinth's master, holds him by a silken chain.
Ere to foreign lands he wandered, risking peace for honour's sake,
Like unto a loving brother, thus his princely patron spake:—
“Rest thee still within my palace: what would'st have that I refuse?
In the fickle game of fortune, he who winneth much may lose!”

But to him Arion answered:—“Nay, my lord, I cannot rest,
For the wand'rer's ilfe of peril pleaseth the free poet's breast.
Shall I hide what God hath given thousand hearts with joy to fill?
I must spread abroad his bounty, sway the world by minstrel skill.
How, when I have won my guerdon, in the far-off future time,
Shall I feast upon my glory, bard-renowned in every clime!”

Lo! the second morn hath risen on his foaming homeward way,
Summer breezes, fragrance-freighted, soft and warm around him play.
“Periander,” he exclaimeth, “thou must own thy boding vain;
Though our parting was for ever, I shall clasp my friend again;
Rich shall be our altar-off' rings, thine for me, and mine for thee,
And, with guests around us crowding, we will hold high jubilee!”




  ― 200 ―
Friendly still are breeze and billow, not a cloud is in the sky,
From a speckless vault of azure gleams the sun's broad golden eye.
Wisely to the waves he trusted—there was truth in their bright smile;
But the men, who smiled as brightly, veiled black villainy with guile;
For he hears the sailors whisper, coveting his hoarded gold.
Soon around the poet circling, thus they speak their treason bold:—

“Minstrel, thou may'st live no longer; would'st thou have on land a grave,
By thine own hand must thou perish: otherwise the yawning wave
Waiteth for thee;” But Arion offereth a pleading prayer:—
“Traitors, can ye thus deceive me—human hearts such rancour bear:—
Take my gold, I give it gladly, if such ransom ye demand.
Spare my life and keep my treasure; let me reach my native land!”

“Nay, the mercy were too costly: minstrel, plainly, thou must die—
Find a tomb beneath the billow, vaulted by the silent sky.
Who could quiet Periander, if we set thee on the shore,
When they tattling tongue had told him how we robbed thee of thy store?
What were e'en thy bursting caskets unto men without a home,
Doomed, with freight of useless treasure, still to wander through the foam?”

“If no compact can be stricken—if, indeed, my days are o'er—
Grant me, then, one last petition, ere I sink for evermore!
In my death, as in my lifetime, let me play the minstrel's part,
Hear once more my cherished harp strings, dear as children to my heart!
When the song no more resoundeth, when the strain hath ceased to trill,
'Tis my signal for the death-plunge—ye may work your ruthless will!”

Not a sigh of shame or sorrow answered to the minstrel's prayer;
On the wealth, their murder's wages, still with greedy eyes they glare;
But the respite that he asketh e'en their hearts cannot refuse.
Though the pirates slay the singer, song is gift too sweet to lose.
“Will you, then, in silence listen—whilst I robe me, cease to press?—
For Apollo's inspiration I must don my richest dress.”

Bloomy robe of regal purple, streaked with streams of broidered gold,
Round his graceful form he flingeth, drooping in voluptuous fold;
On the sunny deck it traileth, flashing back the morning light;
Armlets, thick with clustered jewels, glance beneath it, fiercely bright.
As upon the swelling billow, sea-bird like, the galley rocks,
Over neck and cheek and forehead float his wreathed and scented locks;

In his right the iv'ry plectrum, in his left the darling lyre.
Eyeballs drinking in the sunshine, beaming back a brighter fire;
Whilst the gang of ruthless robbers circle him in awe-struck band,
Forth he steps, and by the bulwark, proud and fearless, takes his stand,
Watching the deep wine-faced ocean, ruffled by the zephyr's wings—
Hark! a chord runs down the harp-strings—melts in air—Arion sings:—




  ― 201 ―
“Come, gentle sister of my song,
And with me seek the shades below!
What though before the Gate of Woe
Stand Cerberus to work us wrong?

“We need not fear the Hound of Hell,
If thou be faithful to my hand;
Even in Pluto's dreary land
The lyre retains its magic spell.

“Hail, heroes on the Elysian plain,
At peace beyond the gloomy stream!
Beneath the endless noontide's gleam
Ye soon shall hear my greeting strain!

“But is there joy with you for me?—
For, ah! I leave my friend behind,
Though Orpheus came to you to find
His ravished bride, Eurydice.

“But ah! she faded like a dream—
The hard-earned prize his song had won;
And he lived on to curse the sun
That mocked him with its flouting beam.

“Still, I must hence; I will not fear;
The gods are gazing from on high;
Full many a sternly silent eye
Beholds the foul crime acted here.

“Tremble ye men of savage breast,
Who thus an unarmed bard would slay!
There yet shall be a reck'ning day—
Sweet Nereids protect your guest!”

Then into the deep he plunges, and the waves roll o'er his head,
Whilst the pirate barque flies onwards, every inch of canvas spread.
But a dolphin-shoal had followed, listening to his witching song:
Ere he drowneth they surround him, in a friendly, glittering throng,
And, upon their monarch mounted, proud he rides the waters o'er,
Safely through the billows carried, hurrying to the distant shore.

Though the fish's only music be the hoarse voice of the brine,
Dolphins at the sound of harp-strings flock e'en round the fisher's line;
As the strain floats o'er the water, golden gleams the spangled spray—
'Tis the dolphins at their gambols, tumbling in fantastic play;
Nearer, with fond eyes of longing, nearer, nearer yet, they come,
Till the crafty traitor minstrel draws to land his audience dumb.




  ― 202 ―
With a proud and loving rapture the good dolphin bears its load,
Like a warrior's steed curvetting o'er the long and liquid road.
On its arched back sits Arion, holding high his darling lyre,
Sprinkling music as he passeth, blended notes from voice and wire;
And the waves spring up around him, as he plays and as he sings,
Beating time unto his chanting, dancing to his echoing strings.

Where the dolphin laid its burden, safely on the shingled sand,
Molten fish and molten minstrel, telling of the deed, shall stand—
High upon the craggy headland, looking o'er the dimpled sea,
Bronzen chronicle eternal of that fond fidelity!
Now the faithful fish returneth to its ocean home once more,
And Arion's heart runs over thus in thanks upon the shore:—

“I must say farewell, my dolphin, true and trusty friend in need:
Would that I could recompense thee, worthily reward thy deed!
But out paths now lie asunder—thine upon the shining main,
Mine across the swelling mountain, o'er the olive-laden plain.
Fare thee well, sweet Galatea henceforth 'tis thy lot to bear:
She shall bridle thee and tend thee: go and seek thy mistress fair!”

Light of heart Arion wanders as he roamed in foreign lands,
Bearing still his life-long treasure, child-like, in his loving hands.
Soon the haughty towers of Corinth gleam upon him from afar:
O'er the plain with song he speedeth, yon proud fanes his guiding star.
Losses fade now life is given; joy shall yet his bosom thrill.
What although his gold hath vanished? Friend and lyre are left him still.

Straight before that friend appearing, cries he:—“I have come to rest
Henceforth, weary of my wand'ring, on this fond and faithful breast;
For the gift that God had given thousand hearts with joy to fill,
Like a god, my hands have lavished—swayed the world by minstrel skill.
Though false traitors filched my treasure, robbed me of my golden store,
Yet my fame no theft can ravish—bard renowned for evermore!”

Then he tells of his strange rescue when the waves above him rolled.
Periander listens breathless to the tale his lips unfold.
“Crime like this,” the prince exclaimeth, “shall it not be brought to light?
Should it rest without avenger, what were all my boasted might?
Thou must hide thee for a season, thy betrayers to betray,
Lest the rumour of thy coming guilty hearts from home affray.”

When again within the haven to her wharf the galley glides,
When like swan with folded pinions on the tranquil wave she rides,
Straightway all her crew are summoned: “Hail!—your news?—I fain would learn
Tidings of my friend Arion—much I mourn for his return!”
“We beheld him in Tarentum, flourishing in wealth and grace”—
Hark!—a footstep—and Arion stands before them face to face!




  ― 203 ―
Bloomy robe of regal purple, streaked with streams of broidered gold,
Round his graceful form is gathered drooping in voluptuous fold;
On the marble floor it traileth, flashing back the morning light:
Armlets, thick with clustered jewels, glancing beneath it, fiercely bright:
Rich as when the rocking galley waved it in the sunny air,
Over neck and cheek and forehead, falls his wreathed and scented hair:

In his right the iv'ry plectrum, in his left the darling lyre—
At his feet the false band falleth, struck as by the levin's fire.
“Lo! the man whom we would murder, whom the waters bore away,
Stands before us, proudly smiling, clad as on that cursed day!
Minstrel, mortal man no longer—there he smileth like a god—
Would the earth would close above us, ere he blast us by his nod!”

“'Tis Arion stands before you; still the world-famed minstrel lives;
Phœbus to his faithful servant aid in direst danger gives;
And he calleth not for vengeance, scorns to shed your paltry blood,
Would not stain our lovely Hellas with so false and foul a flood;
But depart ye, villains! straightway unto some barbarian shore—
On the sights and sounds of Beauty ye shall feast your hearts no more?”

previous
next