A SICILIAN IDYLL AND JUDITH
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
The Vinedresser and other Poems, 1 899
Aphrodite against Artemis, 1901
The Little School, 1905
The Centaur and Bacchant, from the French by-
Maurice de Guerin, 1899
Art and Life, 1910
A SICILIAN IDYLLS
T STUROC MOORe
PUBLISHED -BY-DUCKWORTH- fcf-CO-LONDON-MCMXi
All rights reserved
TO P. WYNDHAM LEWIS
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A Sicilian Idyll ... ... vii.
Judith ...... . xli.
A SICILIAN IDYLL
I thank thee, no ;
Already have I drunk a bowl of wine . . .
Nay, nay, why wouldst thou rise ?
There rolls thy ball of worsted ! Sit thee down ;
Come, sit thee down, Cydilla,
And let me fetch thy ball, rewind the wool,
And tell thee all that happened yesterday.
Thanks, Damon ; now, by Zeus, thou art so brisk,
It shames me that to stoop should try my bones.
We both are old,
And if we may have peaceful days are blessed ;
Few hours of buoyancy will come to break
The sure withdrawal from us of life's flood.
True, true, youth looks a great way off! To think
It once was age did lie quite out of sight !
Not many days have been so beautiful
As yesterday, Cydilla : yet one was ;
And I with thee broke tranced on its fine spell ;
Thou dost remember ? yes ? but not with tears,
Ah, not with tears, Cydilla, pray, oh, pray !
Pardon me, Damon,
'Tis many years since thou hast touched thereon ;
And something stirs about thee,
Such air of eagerness as was thine when
I was more foolish than in my life, I hope
To ever have been at another time.
Pooh ! foolish ? thou wast then so very wise
That, often having seen thee foolish since,
Wonder has made me faint that thou shouldst err.
Nay, then I erred, dear Damon : and remorse
Was not so slow to find me as thou deemst.
There, mop those dear wet eyes, or thou'lt ne'er hear
What it was filled my heart full yesterday.
Tell, Damon ; since I well know that regrets
Hang like dull gossips round another's ear.
First, thou must know that oftentimes I rise,
Not needing or not finding sleep, of watching
Afraid no longer to be prodigal,
And gaze upon the beauty of the night.
Quiet hours, while dawn absorbs the waning stars,
Are like cold water sipped between our cups
Washing the jaded palate till it taste
The wine again. Ere the sun rose, I sat
Within my garden porch ; my lamp was left
Burning beside my bed, though it would be
Broad day before I should return upstairs.
I let it burn, willing to waste some oil
Rather than to disturb my tranquil mood ;
But, as the Fates determined, it was seen.
Suddenly, running round the dovecote, came
A young man naked, breathless, through the dawn,
Florid with haste and wine ; it was Hipparchus.
Yes, there he stood before me panting, rubbing
His heated flesh which felt the cold at once.
When he had breath enough he begged me straight
To put the lamp out ; and himself had done it
Ere I was on the stair.
Flung all along my bed, his gasping shook it
When I at length could sit down by his side :
" What cause, young sir, brings you here in this plight
At such an hour?" He shuddered, sighed and rolled
My blanket round him ; then came a gush of words :
" The first of causes, Damon, namely Love,
Eldest and least resigned and most unblushing
Of all the turbulent impulsive gods.
A quarter of an hour scarce has flown
Since lovely arms clung round me, and my head
Asleep lay nested in a woman's hair ;
My cheek still bears print of its ample coils."
Athwart its burning flush he drew my fingers
And their tips felt it might be as he said.
" Oh, I have had a night, a night, a night !
Had Paris so much bliss ?
And oh ! was Helen's kiss
To be compared with those I tasted ?
Which but for me had all been wasted
On a bald man, a fat man, a gross man, a beast
To scare the best guest from the very best feast ! "
Cydilla need not hear half that he said,
For he was mad awhile.
But having given rein to hot caprice,
And satyr jest, and the distempered male,
At length, I heard his story.
At sun-down certain miles without the town
He'd chanced upon a light- wheeled litter-car,
And in it there stood one
Yet more a woman than her garb was rich,
With more of youth and health than elegance.
" The mules," he said, " were beauties : she was one,
And cried directions to the neighbour field :
' O catch that big bough ! Fool, not that, the next !
Clumsy, you've let it go ! O stop it swaying,
The eggs will jolt out ! ' From the road," said he,
" I could not see who thus was rated ; so
Sprang up beside her and beheld her husband,
Lover or keeper, what you like to call him ;
A middle-aged stout man upon whose shoulders
Kneeled up a scraggy mule-boy slave, who was
The fool that could not reach a thrush's nest
Which they, while plucking almond, had revealed.
Before she knew who it could be, I said
' Why, yes, he is a fool, but we, fair friend,
Were we not foolish waiting for such fools ?
Let us be off!' I stooped, took, shook the reins
With one hand, while the other clasped her waist.
' Ah, who ? ' she turned ; I smiled like amorous Zeus ;
A certain vagueness clouded her wild eyes
As though she saw a swan, a bull, a shower
Of hurried flames, and felt divinely pleased.
I cracked the whip and we were jolted down ;
A kiss was snatched getting the ribbons straight ;
We hardly heard them first begin to bawl
So great our expedition towards the town :
We flew. I pulled up at an inn, then bid them
Stable my mules and chariot and prepare
A meal for Dives ; meanwhile we would stroll
Down to the market. Took her arm in mine,
And, out of sight, hurried her through cross-lanes,
Bade her choose, now at a fruit, now pastry booth.
Until we gained my lodging she spoke little
But often laughed, tittering from time to time,
" O Bacchus, what a prank! Just think of Cymon,
So stout as he is, at least five miles to walk
Without a carriage! Well, you take things coolly."-
Or such appreciation nice of gifts
I need not boast of, since I had them gratis.
When my stiff door creaked open grudgingly
Her face first fell ; the room looked bare enough.
Still we brought with us fruit and cakes ; I owned
A little cellar of delicious wine ;
An unasked neighbour's garden furnished flowers ;
Jests helped me nimbly, I surpassed myself ;
So we were friends and, having laughed, we drank,
Ate, sang, danced, grew wild. Soon both had one
Desire, effort, goal,
One bed, one sleep, one dream. . . .
O Damon, Damon, both had one alarm,
When woken by the door forced rudely open,
Lit from the stair, bedazzled, glowered at, hated !
She clung to me : her master, husband, uncle
(I know not which or what he was) stood there ;
It crossed my mind he might have been her father.
Naked, unarmed, I rose, and did assume
What dignity is not derived from clothes,
Bid them to quit my room, my private dwelling.
It was no use, for that gross beast was rich ;
Had his been neither legal right nor moral,
My natural right was nought, for his she was
In eyes of those bribed catchpolls. Brute revenge
Seethed in his pimpled face : " To gaol with him ! "
He shouted huskily. I wrapped some clothes
About my shuddering bed-fellow, a sheet
Flung round myself; ere she was led away,
Had whispered to her " Shriek, faint on the stairs !"
Then I was seized by two dog officers.
That girl was worth her keep, for, going down,
She suddenly writhed, gasped, and had a fit.
My chance occurred, and I whipped through the casement;
All they could do was catch away the sheet ;
I dropped a dozen feet into a bush,
Soon found my heels and plied them ; here I am.
A strange tale, Damon, this to tell to me
And introduce as thou at first began.
Thy life, Cydilla, has at all times been
A ceremony : this young man's
Discovered by free impulse, not couched in forms
Worn and made smooth by prudent folk long dead.
I love Hipparchus for his wave-like brightness ;
He wastes himself, but till his flash is gone
I shall be ever glad to hear him laugh :
Nor could one make a Spartan of him even
Were one the Spartan with a will to do it.
Yet had there been no more than what is told,
Thou wouldst not now be lending ear to me.
Hearing such things, I think of my poor son,
Which makes me far too sad to smile at folly.
There, let me tell thee all just as it happened,
And of thy son I shall be speaking soon.
Delphis ! Alas, are his companions still
No better than such ne'er-do-wells ? I thought
His life was sager now, though he has killed
My hopes of seeing him a councillor.
How thou art quick to lay claim to a sorrow !
Should I have come so eagerly to thee
If all there was to tell were such poor news ?
Forgive me ; well know I there is no end
To Damon's kindness ; my poor boy has proved it ;
Could but his father so have understood him !
Let lie the sad contents of vanished years ;
Why with complaints reproach the helpless dead ?
Thy husband ne'er will cross thy hopes again.
Come, think of what a sky made yesterday
The worthy dream of thrice divine Apollo !
Hipparchus' plan was, we should take the road
(As, when such mornings tempt me, is my wont),
And cross the hills, along the coast, toward Mylae.
He in disguise, a younger handier Chloe,
Would lead my mule ; must brown his face and arms :
And thereon straight to wake her he was gone.
Their voices from her cabin crossed the yard :
He swears those parts of her are still well made
Which she keeps too well hidden when about ;
And she, no little pleased, that interlards,
Between her exclamations at his figure,
Reproof of gallantries half-laughed at hers.
Anon she titters as he dons her dress
Doubtless with pantomime
Head-carriage and hip-swagger.
A wench, more conscious of her sex than grace,
He then rejoined me, changed beyond belief,
Roguish as vintage makes them ; bustling helps
Or hinders Chloe harness to the mule ;
In fine bewitching both her age and mine.
The life that in such fellows runs to waste
Is like a gust that pulls about spring trees
And spoils your hope of fruit, while it delights
The sense with bloom and odour scattered, mingled
With salt spume savours from a crested offing.
The sun was not long up when we set forth
And, coming to the deeply shadowed gate,
Found catchpolls lurked there, true to his surmise.
Them he, his beard disguised like face-ache, sauced ;
(Too gaily for that bandaged cheek, thought I);
But they, whose business was to think,
Were quite contented, let the hussy pass,
Returned her kisses blown back down the road,
And crowned the mirth of their outwitter's heart.
As the steep road wound clear above the town,
Fewer became those little comedies
To which encounters roused him : till, at last,
He scarcely knew we passed some vine-dressers :
And I could see the sun's heat, lack of sleep,
And his late orgy would defeat his powers.
So, where the road grows level and must soon
Descend, I bade him climb into the car ;
On which the mule went slower still and slower.
This creature who, upon occasions, shows
Taste very like her master's, left the highway
And took a grass-grown wheel-track that led down
Zigzag athwart the broad curved banks of lawn
Coating a valley between rounded hills
Which faced the sea abruptly in huge crags.
Each slope grew steeper till I left my seat
And led the mule ; for now Hipparchus' snore
Tuned with the crooning waves heard from below.
We passed two narrow belts of wood and then
The sea, that first showed blue above their tops,
Was spread before us chequered with white waves
Breaking beneath on boulders which choked up
The narrowed issue seawards of the glen.
The steep path would no more admit of wheels :
I took the beast and tethered her to graze
Within the shade of a stunt ilex clump,
Returned to find a vacant car ; Hipparchus,
Uneasy on my tilting down the shafts,
And heated with strange clothes, had roused himself
And lay asleep upon his late disguise,
Naked 'neath the cool eaves of one huge rock
That stood alone, much higher up than those
Over, and through, and under which, the waves
Made music or forced milk-white floods of foam.
There I reclined, while vision, sound and scent
Won on my willing soul like sleep on joy,
Till all accustomed thoughts were far away
As from a happy child the cares of men.
The hour was sacred to those earlier gods
Who are not active, but divinely wait
The consummation of their first great deeds,
Unfolding still and blessing hours serene.
Presently I was gazing on a boy,
(Though whence he came my mind had not perceived).
Twelve or thirteen he seemed, with clinging feet
Poised on a boulder, and against the sea
Set off. His wide-brimmed hat of straw was arched
Over his massed black and abundant curls
By orange ribbon tied beneath his chin ;
Around his arms and shoulders his sole dress,
A cloak, was all bunched up. He leapt, and lighted
Upon the boulder just beneath ; there swayed,
And perked his head like an inquisitive bird,
As gravely happy ; of all unconscious save
His body's aptness for its then employment ;
His eyes intent on shells in some clear pool
Or choosing where he next will plant his feet.
Again he leaps, his curls against his hat
Bounce up behind. The daintiest thing alive,
He rocks awhile, turned from me towards the sea ;
Unseen I might devour him with my eyes.
At last he stood upon a ledge each wave
Spread with a sheet of foam four inches deep ;
From minute to minute, while it bathed his feet,
He gazing at them saw them disappear
And reappear all shining and refreshed ;
Then raised his head, beheld the ocean stretched
Alive before him in its magnitude.
None but a child could have been so absorbed
As to escape its spell till then, none else
Could so have voiced glad wonder in a song :
" All the waves of the sea are there !
In at my eyes they crush,
Till my head holds as fair a sea :
Though I shut my eyes, they are there !
Now towards my lids they rush,
Mad to burst forth from me
Back to the open air !
To follow them my heart needs,
O white-maned steeds, to ride you ;
To the western isles astride you
Amyntas speeds ! "
" Damon ! " said a voice quite close to me
And looking up ... as might have stood Apollo
In one vast garment such as shepherds wear
And leaning on such tall staff stood. . . . Thou guessest,
Whose majesty as vainly was disguised
As must have been Apollo's minding sheep.
Delphis ! I know, dear Damon, it was Delphis !
Healthy life in the country having chased
His haggard looks ; his speech is not wild now,
Nor wicked with exceptions to things honest :
Thy face a kindlier way than speech tells this.
Yea, dear Cydilla, he was altogether
What mountaineers might dream of for a king.
But tell me, is he tutor to that boy ?
He is an elder brother to the lad.
Nay, nay, hide nothing, speak the worst at once.
I meant no hint of ill ;
A god in love with young Amyntas might
Look as he did ; fathers alone feel like him :
Could I convey his calm and happy speech
Thy last suspicion would be laid to rest.
Damon, see, my glad tears have drowned all fear :
Think'st thou he may come back and win renown,
And fill his father's place ?
Not as his father filled it,
But with an inward spirit correspondent
To that contained and high imposing mien
Which made his father honoured before men
Of greater wisdom, more integrity.
And loved before men of more kindliness !
O Damon, far too happy am I now
To grace thy naughtiness by showing pain.
My Delphis " owns the brains and presence too
That make a Pericles ! " . . . (the words are thine)
Had he but had the will ; and has he now ?
Good Damon, tell me, quick ?
He dreams not of the court, and city life
Is what he rails at.
Well, if he now be wise and sober-souled
And loved for goodness, I can rest content.
My brain lights up to see thee happy ! wait,
It may be I can give some notion how
Our poet spoke :
" Damon, the best of life is in thine eyes,
Worship of promise-laden beauty. Seems he not
The god of this fair scene ?
Those waves claim such a master as that boy ;
And these green slopes have waited till his feet
Should wander them, to prove they. were not spread
In wantonness. What were this flower's prayer
Had it a voice ? The place behind his ear
Would brim its cup with bliss and overbrim :
Oh, to be worn and fade beside his cheek ! "
" In love and happy, Delphis ; and the boy ?"
" Loves and is happy."
" You hale from ? "
We have been out two days and crossed this ridge,
West of Mount Mycon's head. I serve his father,
A farmer well-to-do and full of sense,
Who owns a grass-farm cleared among the pines
North-west the cone, where even at noon in summer,
The slope it falls on lengthens a tree's shade.
To play the lyre, read and write and dance
I teach this lad ; in all their country toil
Join, nor ask better fare than cheese, black bread,
Butter or curds, and milk, nor better bed
Than litter of dried fern or lentisk yields,
Such as they all sleep soundly on and dream,
(If e'er they dream) of places where it grew,
Where they have gathered mushrooms, eaten berries,
Or found the sheep they lost, or killed a fox,
Or snared the kestrel, or so played their pipes
Some maid showed pleasure, sighed, nay even wept.
There to be poet need involve no strain,
For though enough of coarseness, dung, nay, nay,
And suffering too, be mingled with the life,
'Tis wedded to such air,
Such water and sound health !
What else might jar or fret chimes in attuned
Like satyr's cloven hoof or lorn nymph's grief
In a choice ode. Though lust, disease and death,
As everywhere, are cruel tyrants, yet
They all wear flowers, and each sings a song
Such as the hilly echo loves to learn."
"At last then even Delphis knows content? "
" Damon, not so :
This life has brought me health but not content.
That boy, whose shouts ring round us while he flings
Intent each stone toward yon shining object
Afloat inshore ... I eat my heart to think
How all which makes him worthy of more love
Must train his ear to catch the siren croon
That never else had reached his upland home !
And he who failed in proof, how should he arm
Another against perils ? Ah, false hope
And credulous enjoyment! How should I,
Life's fool, while wakening ready wit in him,
Teach how to shun applause and those bright eyes
Of women who pour in the lap of spring
Their whole year's substance ? They can offer
To fill the day much fuller than I could,
And yet teach night surpass it. Can my means
Prevent the ruin of the thing I cherish ?
What cares Zeus for him ? Fate despises love.
Why, lads more exquisite, brimming with promise,
A thousand times have been lost for the lack
Of just the help a watchful god might give ;
But which the best of fathers, best of mothers,
Of friends, of lovers cannot quite supply.
Powers, who swathe man's virtue up in weakness
Then plunge his delicate mind in hot desire,
Preparing pleasure first and after shame
To bandage round his eyes, these gods are not
The friends of men."
The Delphis of old days before me stood,
Passionate, stormy, teeming with black thought,
His back turned on that sparkling summer sea,
His back turned on his love ; and wilder words
And less coherent thought poured from him now.
Hipparchus waking took stock of the scene.
I watched him wend down, rubbing sleepy lids,
To where the boy was busy throwing stones.
He joined the work, but even his stronger arm
And heavier flints he hurled would not suffice
To drive that floating object nearer shore :
And, ere the rebel Delphis had expressed
Enough of anger and contempt for gods,
(Who, he asserted, were the dreams of men),
I saw the stone-throwers both take the water
And swimming easily attain their end.
The way they held their noses proved the thing
A tunny, belly floating upward, dead ;
Both towed it till the current caught and swept it
Out far from that sweet cove ; they laughing watched
Then, suddenly, Amyntas screamed and Delphis
Turned to see him sink
Locked in Hipparchus' arms.
The god Apollo never
Burst through a cloud with more ease than thy son
Poured from his homespun garb
The rapid glory of his naked limbs,
And like a streak of lightning reached the waves :
Wherein his thwarted speed appeared more awful
As, brought within the scope of comprehension,
Its progress and its purpose could be gauged.
Spluttering Amyntas rose, Hipparchus near him
Who cried " Why coy of kisses, lovely lad ?
I ne'er would harm thee ; art thou not ashamed
To treat thy conquest thus ? "
He shouted partly to drown the sea's noise, chiefly
The nearing Delphis to disarm.
His voice lost its assurance while he spoke,
And, as he finished, quick to escape he turned ;
Thy son's eyes and that steady coming on,
As he might see them over ruffled crests,
Far better helped him swim
Than ever in his life he swam before.
Delphis passed by Amyntas ;
Hipparchus was o'ertaken,
Cuffed, ducked and shaken ;
In vain he clung about his angry foe ;
Held under he perforce let go :
I, fearing for his life, set up a whoop
To bring cause and effect to thy son's mind,
And in dire rage's room his sense returned.
He towed Hipparchus back like one he'd saved
From drowning, laid him out upon that ledge
Where late Amyntas stood, where now he kneeled
Shivering, alarmed and mute.
Delphis next set the drowned man's mouth to drain ;
We worked his arms, for I had joined them ; soon
His breathing recommenced : we laid him higher
On sun-warmed turf to come back to himself;
Then we climbed to the cart without a word.
The sun had dried their limbs ; they, putting on
Their clothes, sat down ; at length, I asked the lad
What made him keen to pelt a stinking fish.
Blushing, he said, " I wondered what it was.
But that man, when he came to help, declared
'Twould prove a dead sea-nymph, and we might see,
By swimming out, how finely she was made.
I did not half believe, yet when we found
That foul stale fish, it made us laugh." He smiled
And watched Hipparchus spit and cough and groan.
I moved to the car and unpacked bread and meat,
A cheese, some fruit, a skin of wine, two bowls.
Amyntas was all joy to see such things ;
Ran off and pulled acanthus for our plates ;
Chattering, he helped me set all forth, was keen
To choose rock basin where the wine might cool ;
Approved, was full as happy as I to praise :
And most he pleased me, when he set a place
For poor Hipparchus. Thus our eager work,
While Delphis, in his thoughts retired, sat frowning,
Grew like a home-conspiracy to trap
The one who bears the brunt of outside cares
Into the glow of cheerfulness that bathes
The children and the mother, happy not
To foresee winter, short-commons or long debts,
Since they are busied for the present meal,
Too young, too weak, too kind, to peer ahead,
Or probe the dark horizon bleak with storms.
Oh ! I have sometimes thought there is a god
Who helps with lucky accidents when folk
Join with the little ones to chase such gloom.
That chance which left Hipparchus with no clothes,
Surely divinity was ambushed in it ?
When he must put on Chloe's, Amyntas rocked
With laughter, and Hipparchus, quick to use
A favourable gust, pretends confusion
Such as a farmer's daughter red-faced shows
If in the dance her dress has come unpinned.
She suddenly grows grave ; yet, seeing there
Friends only, stoops behind a sister-skirt.
Then, having set to rights the small mishap,
Holding her screener's elbows, round her shoulder
Peeps, to bob back meeting a young man's eye.
All, grateful for such laughs, give Hermes thanks.
And even Delphis at Hipparchus smiled
When, from behind me, he peeped bashful forth ;
Amyntas called him Baucis every time,