Acis et Galatea. Polyphemus.“Acis, the son of Faunus and the nymph
Symaethis, was a great delight to his
dear father and his mother, but even more
to me, for he alone had won my love.
Eight birthdays having passed a second time,
his tender cheeks were marked with softest down.
“While I pursued him with a constant love,
the Cyclops followed me as constantly.
And, should you ask me, I could not declare
whether my hatred of him, or my love
of Acis was the stronger.—They were equal.
“O gentle Venus! what power equals yours!
That savage, dreaded by the forest trees,
feared by the stranger who beholds his face
contemner of Olympus and the gods,
now he can feel what love is. He is filled
with passion for me. He burns hot for me,
forgetful of his cattle and his caves.
“Now, Polyphemus, wretched Cyclops, you
are careful of appearance, and you try
the art of pleasing. You have even combed
your stiffened hair with rakes: it pleases you
to trim your shaggy beard with sickles, while
you gaze at your fierce features in a pool
so earnest to compose them. Love of flesh,
ferocity and your keen thirst for blood
have ceased. The ships may safely come and go!
“While all this happened, Telemus arrived
at the Sicilian Aetna—Telemus,
the son of Eurymus, who never could
mistake an omen, met the dreadful fierce,
huge Cyclops, Polyphemus, and he said,
‘That single eye now midmost in your brow
Ulysses will take from you.’ In reply,
the Cyclops only laughed at him and said,
‘Most silly of the prophets! you are wrong,
a maiden has already taken it!’
So he made fun of Telemus, who warned
him vainly of the truth—and after that,
he either burdened with his bulk the shore,
by stalking back and forth with lengthy strides,
or came back weary to his shaded cave.
“A wedge-formed hill projects far in the sea
and either side there flow the salty waves.
To this the giant savage climbed and sat
upon the highest point. The wooly flock,
no longer guided by him, followed after.
There, after he had laid his pine tree down,
which served him for a staff, although so tall
it seemed best fitted for a ship's high mast,
he played his shepherd pipes—in them I saw
a hundred reeds. The very mountains felt
the pipings of that shepherd, and the waves
beneath him shook respondent to each note.
All this time I was hidden by a rock,
reclining on the bosom of my own
dear Acis; and, although afar, I heard
such words as these, which I can not forget:—
‘O Galatea, fairer than the flower
of snow-white privet, and more blooming than
the meadows, and more slender than the tall
delightful alder, brighter than smooth glass,
more wanton than the tender skipping kid,
smoother than shells worn by continual floods,
more pleasing than the winter sun, or than
the summer shade, more beautiful than fruit
of apple trees, more pleasing to the sight
than lofty plane tree, clearer than pure ice,
and sweeter than the ripe grape, softer than
soft swan-down and the softest curdled milk;
alas, and if you did not fly from me,
I would declare you are more beautiful
than any watered garden of this world.
‘And yet, O Galatea; I must say,
that you are wilder than all untrained bullocks,
harder than seasoned oak, more treacherous
than tumbled waters, tougher than the twigs
of osier and the white vine, harder to move
than cliffs which front these waves, more violent
than any torrent, you are prouder than
the flattered peacock, fiercer than hot fire,
rougher than thistles, and more cruel than
the pregnant she-bear, deafer than the waves
of stormy seas, more deadly savage than
the trodden water-snake: and, (what I would
endeavor surely to deprive you of)
your speed is fleeter than the deer
pursued by frightful barkings, and more swift
than rapid storm-winds and the flitting air.
‘But Galatea, if you knew me well
you would regret your hasty flight from me,
and you would even blame your own delay,
and strive for my affection. I now hold
the choice part of this mountain for my cave,
roofed over with the native rock. The sun
is not felt in the heat of middle day,
nor is the winter felt there: apples load
the bending boughs and luscious grapes
hang on the lengthened vines, resembling gold,
and purple grapes as rich—I keep for you
those two delicious fruits. With your own hands,
you shall yourself uncover strawberries,
growing so soft beneath the woodland shade;
you shall pluck corners in the autumn ripe,
and plums, not only darkened with black juice
but larger kinds as yellow as new wax.
If I may be your mate, you shall have chestnuts,
fruits of the arbute shall be always near,
and every tree shall yield at your desire.
‘The ewes here all are mine, and many more
are wandering in the valleys; and the woods
conceal a multitude—and many more
are penned within my caves. If you perchance
should ask me, I could never even guess
or count the number; it is for the poor
to count their cattle. Do not trust my word,
but go yourself and see with your own eyes,
how they can hardly stand up on their legs
because of their distended udders' weight.
‘I have lambs also, as a future flock,
kept in warm folds, and kids of their same age
in other folds. I always have supplies
of snow-white milk for drinking, and much more
is hardened with good rennet liquefied.
‘The common joys of ordinary things
will not be all you should expect of me—
tame does and hares and she-goats or a pair
of doves, or even a nest from a tall tree—
for I have found upon a mountain top,
the twin cubs of a shaggy wild she-bear,
of such appearance you can hardly know
the one from other. They will play with you.
The very day I found them I declared,
these I will keep for my dear loved one's joy.
‘Do now but raise your shining head above
the azure sea: come Galatea come,
and do not scorn my presents. Certainly,
I know myself, for only recently
I saw my own reflection pictured clear
in limpid water, and my features pleased
and charmed me when I saw it. See how huge
I am. Not even Jove in his high heaven
is larger than my body: this I say
because you tell me how imperial Jove
surpasses.—Who is he? I never knew.
‘My long hair plentifully hangs to hide
unpleasant features; as a grove of trees
overshadowing my shoulders. Never think
my body is uncomely, although rough,
thick set with wiry bristles. Every tree
without leaves is unseemly; every horse,
unless a mane hangs on his tawny neck;
feathers must cover birds; and their soft wool
is ornamental on the best formed sheep:
therefore a beard, and rough hair spread upon
the body is becoming to all men.
I have but one eye centered perfectly
within my forehead, so it seems most like
a mighty buckler. Ha! does not the Sun
see everything from heaven? Yet it has
but one eye.—
‘Galatea, you must know,
my father is chief ruler in your sea,
and therefor I now offer him to you
as your own father-in-law—But oh, do take
some pity on a suppliant,— and hear his prayer,
for only unto you my heart is given.
‘I, who despise the power of Jove, his heavens
and piercing lightnings, am afraid of you—
your wrath more fearful than the lightning's flash—
but I should be more patient under slights,
if you avoided all men: why reject
the Cyclops for the love that Acis gives?
And why prefer his smiles to my embraces,
but let him please himself, and let him please
you, Galatea, though against my will.
‘If I am given an opportunity
he will be shown that I have every strength
proportioned to a body vast as mine:
I will pull out his palpitating entrails,
and scatter his torn limbs about the fields
and over and throughout your salty waves;
and then let him unite himself to you.—
I burn so, and my slighted passion raves
with greater fury and I seem to hold
and carry Aetna in my breast—transferred
there with its flames—Oh Galatea! can
you listen to my passion thus unmoved!’
“I saw all this; and, after he in vain
had uttered such complaints, he stood up like
a raging bull whose heifer has been lost,
that cannot stand still, but must wander on
through brush and forests, that he knows so well:
when that fierce monster saw me and my Acis—
we neither knew nor guessed our fate—he roared:
‘I see you and you never will again
parade your love before me!’ In such a voice
as matched his giant size. All Aetna shook
and trembled at the noise; and I amazed
with horror, plunged into the adjoining sea.
“My loved one, Acis turned his back and fled
and cried out, ‘Help me Galatea, help!
0, let your parents help me, and admit
me safe within their realm; for I am now
near my destruction!’ But the Cyclops rushed
at him and hurled a fragment, he had torn
out from the mountain, and although the extreme
edge only of the rock could reach him there.
It buried him entirely.
“Then I did
the only thing the Fates permitted me:
I let my Acis take ancestral power
of river deities. The purple blood
flowed from beneath the rock, but soon
the sanguine richness faded and became
at first the color of a stream, disturbed
and muddied by a shower. And presently
it clarified.— The rock that had been thrown
then split in two, and through the cleft a reed,
stately and vigorous, arose to life.
And soon the hollow mouth in the great rock,
resounded with the waters gushing forth.
And wonderful to tell, a youth emerged,
the water flowing clear about his waist,
his new horns circled with entwining reeds,
and the youth certainly was Acis, though
he was of larger stature and his face
and features all were azure. Acis changed
into a stream which ever since that time
has flowed there and retained its former name.