To Corinth from Athens there
A youth whose face was unknown.
He sought his jovial host, to claim
What two fathers had early sown:
Pledged each one
Daughter and son
To be bride and bridegroom when grown.
Yet would he still be welcome,
That’s but won with a costly deed?
He, like his own, is still pagan — their
Baptized faith is the Christian creed.
When belief buds anew,
What’s beloved and true
Is often ripped out like some evil weed.
The house of the father and
daughter is still
And silent — the mother wakes to invite
Her guest within, received with good will
In the finest chamber by lantern light.
There’s food and a flask
Before he can ask,
And tending him thus, she bids a good night.
But the well-concocted feast
Rouses no hunger for treats in store;
Weariness causes him to forget
Food and drink, lying down in the clothes he wore,
And he’s found sweet rest,
When a singular guest
Enters in through the open door.
And there, through the
lamplight’s glimmering gloom,
In her white robe and veil, as the laws command,
A modest maiden steps into the room;
Round her brow is a black and golden band.
Seeing him, the sight
Makes her blanch with fright,
And she lifts, astonished, her small white hand.
“Am I so foreign in my own house
That I don’t see my guest, or know his name?
Trapped in my cell like a cloistered mouse!
Now, I am overcome with shame.
Rest there, and stay
On that bed, I pray,
And I’ll leave as suddenly as I came.”
“Stay, loveliest maiden!” shouts
Starting up from the bed in haste.
“Here is Ceres’, here Bacchus’s joy,
Dear child, you bring Amor’s gift to taste!
Love, you’re pale with dread,
Let us see, instead,
With what godly pleasure we two are graced!”
“Stay away, oh youth, stay just
where you are!
I am a stranger to joy’s domain.
The last step’s taken — a step too far —
By my dear, sick mother, when freed from pain.
She swore my doom:
Youth and nature’s bloom
Would be tribute to Heaven, her health to gain.
“For the old gods’ mad and merry
Has emptied out of this silent hall.
To heaven’s Unseen goes our sacred song;
On the Cross is a Savior adored by all.
There is sacrifice here:
Neither lamb nor steer,
But unheard, the human victims fall.”
And he asks himself, weighing
her every word,
So that nothing escapes his memory:
Is it true, in this place where no sound is heard,
My beloved bride stands in front of me?
“Mine alone, thy troth!
For thy father’s oath
Begged a blessing from Heaven in plighting thee!”
“But I am not yours, you worthy
My second sister shall be your bride.
When I’m racked in that silent cloister-hole,
Dream of me, and our love denied,
Thinking only of you,
Though my love is rue
That soon the soil of the grave shall hide.”
“No! as I swear by this lamp’s
Whose glow foretokens our future rite,
Lost neither to joy nor to me, a name
You shall take of my father’s house, tonight!
Darling, stay right there:
You and I will share
This unlooked-for wedding feast, with delight!”
Now the signs of fidelity change
She gives him her necklace of gold so rare;
He gives her the chalice that lies in reach,
Silver, of richness beyond compare.
“That is not for me,
But I pray, cut free
A single lock of your chestnut hair.”
Just then, the witching-hour
And its muffled tocsin puts her at ease.
She opens pale lips, to greedily suck
Dark blood-colored wine, down to the lees;
But of wheaten bread
Most daintily fed,
Not the smallest morsel does that mouth seize.
And now, she offers him the cup:
Like her, with lusty haste, he drinks.
He yearns for love, as they silently sup:
Alas, my poor sick heart! he thinks.
But she withstands
All his demands,
Until weeping, down on the bed he sinks.
And she throws herself down next
“Alas, I am loath to see you distressed!
But now, you’ve touched my every limb,
And feel with a shiver what I’ve suppressed.
As white as snow,
Yet like ice aglow
Is the chosen sweetheart against your breast.”
Fiercely, he grasps her in arms
By the power of youth, and begins to rave:
“I hope to warm you like this, ere long!
Or were you sent to me from the grave?
Oh, breathless kiss!
Too much love-bliss!
Don’t you feel the fire in me, wave on wave?”
Love has united what no man
Tears mix with lust in this lovers’ meeting.
Greedy, she sucks at his mouth’s hot flames;
Each knows just the other; all else is fleeting.
His passion’s flood
Warms her frozen blood,
But in her chest, no heart is beating.
Meanwhile, sneaking by on her
Through the halls of the house, the mother draws near:
She listens long at the door to sounds
Surpassing strange, as they strike her ear:
Harsh and sweet, inside,
Bridegroom and bride
In love's stammering frenzy, wild and clear.
And yet, she stays motionless at
For first, she’ll convince herself of this:
The highest oaths of love they swore;
Caressing words make her anger hiss!
“Cock-crow heralds light!
But tomorrow night,
Will you come again?” and they kiss and kiss.
No longer can she be still and
Quickly unlocking their citadel:
“Are there harlots in this house, who turn
Compliant to strangers’ wishes, pell-mell?”
And then, through the door,
Where the lamp shows more,
She sees — God! — the child that she knows so well.
And the youth’s first impulse,
born of fear,
Is to cover the girl with the veil she shed,
To wrap the carpet around his dear,
But the sheet winds round by itself instead.
And by ghostly power,
Rising like a tower,
Her shape floats slowly above the bed.
“Mother! Mother! You speak
So you begrudge me this beautiful night?
I’m banished from warmth, like winter’s birds —
Did I wake to despair of love and light?
Is it not enough
Shroud and grave should snuff
The life you brought to its early blight?
“Forced into a corner, whence I
To seek my own justice and rebirth!
All the chants that your priests may hum
And all of their blessings have no worth.
Salt and water, in truth,
Cannot quell hot youth;
Alas! Love cannot be cooled in earth.
“When this youngling first was
promised to me,
Blithe temples of Venus still did stand.
Mother, you broke your own decree
At a wrong and alien vow’s demand!
For no god has heard
The mother’s word
To deny her daughter’s promised hand.
“Out of the grave I now am
Seeking the goodness for which I pine,
Loving the lost man I was given,
Sucking the blood from his heart’s red vine.
When this one is dead,
I’ll find others instead,
And the young will succumb to this wrath of mine!
“Handsome youth! you can live no
Here and now, it’s your time to fade.
I gave you the necklace that I once wore;
Your lock I’ve taken away in trade.
Look at it, I pray!
Dawn will find you gray,
Only brown again when you are a shade.
“Hear now, mother, my final
Build for us a funeral pyre.
Open my prison and set me free;
Bring the lovers to rest, in fire!
When the sparks are thrown,
When the ash is blown,
We’ll rush to the gods of our desire.”