Sybaris

Lap, ripple, lap, Icarian wave, the sand
Along the ruins of this piteous land;
Murmur the praises of a lost delight,
And soothe the aching of my starved sight
With sheen of mirrored beauties, caught aright.

Here stood enchanted palaces of old,
All veined porphyry and burnished gold;
Here matrons and slight maidens sat aloof
Beneath cool porches, rich with Tyrian woof
Hung from the carven rafters of the roof.

Here in a mart a swarthy turbaned brave
Showed the wrought blade or praised the naked slave.
" Touch with your finger-tips this edge of steel, "
Quoth he, " and see this lad, from head to heel
Like a bronze Cupid. Feel, my masters, feel. "

Here Aphrodite filled with frenzied love
The dark recesses of her murmurous grove.
The doves that haunted it, the winds that sighed,
Were souls of youths that in her coverts died,
And hopes of heroes strewed her garden wide.

Under her shades a narrow brazen gate
Led to the courts of Ares and of Fate.
Who entered breathed the unutterable prayer
Of cruel hearts, and death was worshipped there,
And men went thence enfranchised by despair.

Here the proud athlete in the baths delayed,
While a cool fountain on his shoulders played,
Then in fine linen swathed his breast and thighs,
And silent, myrtle-crowned, with serious eyes,
Stepped forth to list the wranglings of the wise.

A sage stalked by, his ragged mantle bound
About his brows; his eyes perused the ground;
He conned the number of the cube and square
Of the moon's orb; his horny feet and bare
Trampled the lilies carpeting the stair.

A jasper terrace hung above the sea
Where the King supped with his beloved three:
The Libyan chanted of her native land
In raucous melody, the Indian fanned,
And the huge mastiff licked his master's hand.

Below, alone, despairing of the gale,
A crouching sailor furled the saffron sail;
Then rose, breathed deep, and plunged in the lagoon.
A mermaid spied his glistening limbs: her croon
Enticed him down; her cold arms choked him soon.

And the King laughed, filled full his jewelled bowl,
And drinking mused: " What know we of the soul?
What magic, perfecting her harmony,
Have these red drops that so attune her key,
Or those of brine that set the wretched free?

" If death should change me, as old fables feign,
Into some slave or beast, to purge with pain
My lordly pleasures, let my torment be
Still to behold thee, Sybaris, and see
The sacred horror of thy loves and thee.

" Be thou my hell, my dumb eternal grief,
But spare thy King the madness of belief,
The brutish faith of ignorant desire
That strives and wanders. Let the visible fire
Of beauty torture me. That doom is higher.

" I wear the crown of life. The rose and gem
Twine with the pale gold of my diadem.
Nature, long secret, hath unveiled to me
And proved her vile. Her wanton bosoms be
My pillow now. I know her, I am free. "

He spoke, and smiling stretched a languid hand,
And music burst in mighty chords and bland
Of harp and flute and cymbal. — When between
Two cypresses the large moon rose, her sheen
Silvered the nymphs' feet, tripping o'er the green.
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