Si credere dignum est.--Virgil, Georgics, III, 390
Oh, worthy of belief I hold it was, Virgil, your legend in those strange three lines! No question, that adventure came to pass One black night in Arcadia: yes, the pines, Mountains and valleys mingling made one mass Of black with void black heaven: the earth's confines, The sky's embrace,--below, above, around, All hardened into black without a bound.
Fill up a swart stone chalice to the brim With fresh-squeezed yet fast-thickening poppy-juice: See how the sluggish jelly, late a-swim, Turns marble to the touch of who would loose The solid smooth, grown jet from rim to rim, By turning round the bowl! So night can fuse Earth with her all-comprising sky. No less, Light, the least spark, shows air and emptiness.
And thus it proved when--diving into space, Stript of all vapor, from each web of mist, Utterly film-free--entered on her race The naked Moon, full-orbed antagonist Of night and dark, night's dowry: peak to base, Upstarted mountains, and each valley, kissed To sudden life, lay silver-bright: in air Flew she revealed, Maid-Moon with limbs all bare.
Still as she fled, each depth,--where refuge seemed-- Opening a lone pale chamber, left distinct Those limbs: mid still-retreating blue, she teemed Herself with whiteness,--virginal, uncinct By any halo save what finely gleamed To outline not disguise her: heavenwas linked In one accord with earth to quaff the joy, Drain beauty to the dregs without alloy.
Whereof she grew aware. What help? When, lo, A succorable cloud with sleep lay dense: Some pinetree-top had caught it sailing slow, And tethered for a prize: in evidence Captive lay fleece on fleece of piled-up snow Drowsily patient: flake-heaped how or whence, The structure of that succorable cloud, What matter? Shamed she plunged into its shroud.
Orbed--so the woman-figure poets call Because of rounds on rounds--that apple-shaped Head which its hair binds close into a ball Each side the curving ears--that pure undraped Pout of the sister paps--that . . . once for all, Say--her consummate circle thus escaped With its innumerous circlets, sank absorbed, Safe in the cloud--O naked Moon full-orbed!
But what means this? The downy swathes combine, Conglobe, the smothery coy-caressing stuff Curdles about her! Vain each twist and twine Those lithe limbs try, encroached on by a fluff Fitting as close as fits the dented spine Its flexible ivory outside-flesh: enough! The plumy drifts contract, condense, constringe, Till she is swallowed by the feathery springe.
As when a pearl slips lost in the thin foam Churned on a sea-shore, and, o'er-frothed, conceits Herself safe-housed in Amphitrite's dome,-- If, through the bladdery wave-worked yeast, she meets What most she loathes and leaps from,--elf from gnome No gladlier,--finds that safest of retreats Bubble about a treacherous hand wide ope To grasp her--(divers who pick pearls so grope)--
So lay this Maid-Moon clasped around and caught By rough red Pan, the god of all that tract: He it was schemed the snare thus subtly wrought With simulated earth-breath,--wool-tufts packed Into a billowy wrappage. Sheep far-sought For spotless shearings yield such: take the fact As learned Virgil gives it,--how the breed Whitens itself forever: yes, indeed!
If one forefather ram, though pure as chalk From tinge on fleece, should still display a tongue Black 'neath the beast's moist palate, prompt men balk The propagating plague: he gets no young: They rather slay him,--sell his hide to calk Ships with, first steeped with pitch,--nor hands are wrung In sorrow for his fate: protected thus, The purity we loved is gained for us. So did girl-Moon, by just her attribute Of unmatched modesty betrayed, lie trapped, Bruised to the breast of Pan, half god half brute, Raked by his bristly boar-sward while he lapped --Never say, kissed her! that were to pollute Love's language--which moreover proves unapt To tell how she recoiled--as who finds thorns Where she sought flowers--when, feeling, she touched--horns!
Then--does the legend say?--first moon-eclipse Happened, first swooning-fit which puzzled sore The early sages? Is that why she dips Into the dark, a minute and no more, Only so long as serves her while she rips The cloud's womb through and, faultless as before, Pursues her way? No lesson for a maid Left she, a maid herself thus trapped, betrayed?
Ha, Virgil? Tell the rest, you! "To the deep Of his domain the wildwood, Pan forthwith Called her, and so she followed"--in her sleep, Surely?--"by no means spurning him." The myth Explain who may! Let all else go, I keep --As of a ruin just a monolith-- Thus much, one verse of five words, each a boon: Arcadia, night, a cloud, Pan, and the moon.