Variations of Greek Themes by Edwin Arlington Robinson
I A HAPPY MAN (Carphyllides)
When these graven lines you see, Traveler, do not pity me; Though I be among the dead, Let no mournful word be said.
Children that I leave behind, And their children, all were kind; Near to them and to my wife, I was happy all my life.
My three sons I married right, And their sons I rocked at night; Death nor sorrow ever brought Cause for one unhappy thought.
Now, and with no need of tears, Here they leave me, full of years,— Leave me to my quiet rest In the region of the blest.
II A MIGHTY RUNNER (Nicarchus)
The day when Charmus ran with five In Arcady, as I’m alive, He came in seventh.—“Five and one Make seven, you say? It can’t be done.”— Well, if you think it needs a note, A friend in a fur overcoat Ran with him, crying all the while, “You’ll beat ’em, Charmus, by a mile!” And so he came in seventh. Therefore, good Zoilus, you see The thing is plain as plain can be; And with four more for company, He would have been eleventh.
III THE RAVEN (Nicarchus)
The gloom of death is on the raven’s wing, The song of death is in the raven’s cries: But when Demophilus begins to sing, The raven dies.
IV EUTYCHIDES (Lucilius)
Eutychides, who wrote the songs, Is going down where he belongs. O you unhappy ones, beware: Eutychides will soon be there! For he is coming with twelve lyres, And with more than twice twelve quires Of the stuff that he has done In the world from which he’s gone. Ah, now must you know death indeed, For he is coming with all speed; And with Eutychides in Hell, Where’s a poor tortured soul to dwell?
V DORICHA (Posidippus)
So now the very bones of you are gone Where they were dust and ashes long ago; And there was the last ribbon you tied on To bind your hair, and that is dust also; And somewhere there is dust that was of old A soft and scented garment that you wore— The same that once till dawn did closely fold You in with fair Charaxus, fair no more.
But Sappho, and the white leaves of her song, Will make your name a word for all to learn, And all to love thereafter, even while It’s but a name; and this will be as long As there are distant ships that will return Again to your Naucratis and the Nile.
VI THE DUST OF TIMAS (Sappho)
This dust was Timas; and they say That almost on her wedding day She found her bridal home to be The dark house of Persephone.
And many maidens, knowing then That she would not come back again, Unbound their curls; and all in tears, They cut them off with sharpened shears.
VII ARETEMIAS (Antipater of Sidon)
I’m sure I see it all now as it was, When first you set your foot upon the shore Where dim Cocytus flows for evermore, And how it came to pass That all those Dorian women who are there In Hades, and still fair, Came up to you, so young, and wept and smiled When they beheld you and your little child. And then, I’m sure, with tears upon your face To be in that sad place, You told of the two children you had borne, And then of Euphron, whom you leave to mourn. “One stays with him,” you said, “And this one I bring with me to the dead.”
VIII THE OLD STORY (Marcus Argentarius)
Like many a one, when you had gold Love met you smiling, we are told; But now that all your gold is gone, Love leaves you hungry and alone.
And women, who have called you more Sweet names than ever were before, Will ask another now to tell What man you are and where you dwell.
Was ever anyone but you So long in learning what is true? Must you find only at the end That who has nothing has no friend?
IX TO-MORROW (Macedonius)
To-morrow? Then your one word left is always now the same; And that’s a word that names a day that has no more a name. To-morrow, I have learned at last, is all you have to give: The rest will be another’s now, as long as I may live. You will see me in the evening?—And what evening has there been, Since time began with women, but old age and wrinkled skin?
X LAIS TO APHRODITE (Plato)
When I, poor Lais, with my crown Of beauty could laugh Hellas down, Young lovers crowded at my door, Where now my lovers come no more.
So, Goddess, you will not refuse A mirror that has now no use; For what I was I cannot be, And what I am I will not see.
XI AN INSCRIPTION BY THE SEA (Glaucus)
No dust have I to cover me, My grave no man may show; My tomb is this unending sea, And I lie far below. My fate, O stranger, was to drown; And where it was the ship went down Is what the sea-birds know.