NARCISSUS AND ECHOTHE HOUSE OF CADMUSTiresias' fame of prophecy was spread
through all the cities of Aonia,
for his unerring answers unto all
who listened to his words. And first of those
that harkened to his fateful prophecies,
a lovely Nymph, named Liriope, came
with her dear son, who then fifteen, might seem
a man or boy—he who was born to her
upon the green merge of Cephissus' stream—
that mighty River-God whom she declared
the father of her boy.—
she questioned him.
Imploring him to tell her if her son,
unequalled for his beauty, whom she called
Narcissus, might attain a ripe old age.
To which the blind seer answered in these words,
“If he but fail to recognize himself,
a long life he may have, beneath the sun,”—
so, frivolous the prophet's words appeared;
and yet the event, the manner of his death,
the strange delusion of his frenzied love, confirmed it.
Three times five years so were passed.
Another five-years, and the lad might seem
a young man or a boy. And many a youth,
and many a damsel sought to gain his love;
but such his mood and spirit and his pride,
none gained his favour.
Once a noisy Nymph,
(who never held her tongue when others spoke,
who never spoke till others had begun)
mocking Echo, spied him as he drove,
in his delusive nets, some timid stags.—
for Echo was a Nymph, in olden time,—
and, more than vapid sound,—possessed a form:
and she was then deprived the use of speech,
except to babble and repeat the words,
once spoken, over and over.
her silly tongue, because she often held
that glorious goddess with her endless tales,
till many a hapless Nymph, from Jove's embrace,
had made escape adown a mountain. But
for this, the goddess might have caught them. Thus
the glorious Juno, when she knew her guile;
“Your tongue, so freely wagged at my expense,
shall be of little use; your endless voice,
much shorter than your tongue.” At once the Nymph
was stricken as the goddess had decreed;—
and, ever since, she only mocks the sounds
of others' voices, or, perchance, returns
their final words.
One day, when she observed
Narcissus wandering in the pathless woods,
she loved him and she followed him, with soft
and stealthy tread.—The more she followed him
the hotter did she burn, as when the flame
flares upward from the sulphur on the torch.
Oh, how she longed to make her passion known!
To plead in soft entreaty! to implore his love!
But now, till others have begun, a mute
of Nature she must be. She cannot choose
but wait the moment when his voice may give
to her an answer.
Presently the youth,
by chance divided from his trusted friends,
cries loudly, “Who is here?” and Echo, “Here!”
Replies. Amazed, he casts his eyes around,
and calls with louder voice, “Come here!” “Come here!”
She calls the youth who calls.—He turns to see
who calls him and, beholding naught exclaims,
“Avoid me not!” “Avoid me not!” returns.
He tries again, again, and is deceived
by this alternate voice, and calls aloud;
“Oh let us come together!” Echo cries,
“Oh let us come together!” Never sound
seemed sweeter to the Nymph, and from the woods
she hastens in accordance with her words,
and strives to wind her arms around his neck.
He flies from her and as he leaves her says,
“Take off your hands! you shall not fold your arms
around me. Better death than such a one
should ever caress me!” Naught she answers save,
Thus rejected she lies hid
in the deep woods, hiding her blushing face
with the green leaves; and ever after lives
concealed in lonely caverns in the hills.
But her great love increases with neglect;
her miserable body wastes away,
wakeful with sorrows; leanness shrivels up
her skin, and all her lovely features melt,
as if dissolved upon the wafting winds—
nothing remains except her bones and voice—
her voice continues, in the wilderness;
her bones have turned to stone. She lies concealed
in the wild woods, nor is she ever seen
on lonely mountain range; for, though we hear
her calling in the hills, 'tis but a voice,
a voice that lives, that lives among the hills.
Thus he deceived the Nymph and many more,
sprung from the mountains or the sparkling waves;
and thus he slighted many an amorous youth.—
and therefore, some one whom he once despised,
lifting his hands to Heaven, implored the Gods,
“If he should love deny him what he loves!”
and as the prayer was uttered it was heard
by Nemesis, who granted her assent.
NARCISSUSThere was a fountain silver-clear and bright,
which neither shepherds nor the wild she-goats,
that range the hills, nor any cattle's mouth
had touched—its waters were unsullied—birds
disturbed it not; nor animals, nor boughs
that fall so often from the trees. Around
sweet grasses nourished by the stream grew; trees
that shaded from the sun let balmy airs
temper its waters. Here Narcissus, tired
of hunting and the heated noon, lay down,
attracted by the peaceful solitudes
and by the glassy spring. There as he stooped
to quench his thirst another thirst increased.
While he is drinking he beholds himself
reflected in the mirrored pool—and loves;
loves an imagined body which contains
no substance, for he deems the mirrored shade
a thing of life to love. He cannot move,
for so he marvels at himself, and lies
with countenance unchanged, as if indeed
a statue carved of Parian marble. Long,
supine upon the bank, his gaze is fixed
on his own eyes, twin stars; his fingers shaped
as Bacchus might desire, his flowing hair
as glorious as Apollo's, and his cheeks
youthful and smooth; his ivory neck, his mouth
dreaming in sweetness, his complexion fair
and blushing as the rose in snow-drift white.
All that is lovely in himself he loves,
and in his witless way he wants himself:—
he who approves is equally approved;
he seeks, is sought, he burns and he is burnt.
And how he kisses the deceitful fount;
and how he thrusts his arms to catch the neck
that's pictured in the middle of the stream!
Yet never may he wreathe his arms around
that image of himself. He knows not what
he there beholds, but what he sees inflames
his longing, and the error that deceives
allures his eyes. But why, O foolish boy,
so vainly catching at this flitting form?
The cheat that you are seeking has no place.
Avert your gaze and you will lose your love,
for this that holds your eyes is nothing save
the image of yourself reflected back to you.
It comes and waits with you; it has no life;
it will depart if you will only go.