Poets' Corner Scripting
© 2000, 2020 S.L. Spanoudis and
All rights reserved worldwide.
Transcribed for Poets' Corner
July 2000 by S.L.Spanoudis
[This 1915 work is believed to be in the public domain in the US. Please check local restrictions in other geographies.]
RIVERS TO THE SEA
BY SARA TEASDALE
- MIDNIGHT, and in the darkness not a sound,
- So, with hushed breathing, sleeps the autumn night;
- Only the white immortal stars shall know,
- Here in the house with the low-lintelled door,
- How, for the last time, I have lit the lamp.
- I think you are not wholly careless now,
- Walls that have sheltered me so many an hour,
- Bed that has brought me ecstasy and sleep,
- Floors that have borne me when a gale of joy
- Lifted my soul and made me half a god.
- Farewell! Across the threshold many feet
- Shall pass, but never Sappho's feet again.
- Girls shall come in whom love has made aware
- Of all their swaying beauty--they shall sing,
- But never Sappho's voice, like golden fire,
- Shall seek for heaven thru your echoing rafters.
- There shall be swallows bringing back the spring
- Over the long blue meadows of the sea,
- And south-wind playing on the reeds of rain,
- But never Sappho's whisper in the night,
- Never her love-cry when the lover comes.
- Farewell! I close the door and make it fast.
- The little street lies meek beneath the moon,
- Running, as rivers run, to meet the sea.
- I too go seaward and shall not return.
- Oh garlands on the doorposts that I pass,
- Woven of asters and of autumn leaves,
- I make a prayer for you: Cypris be kind,
- That every lover may be given love.
- I shall not hasten lest the paving stones
- Should echo with my sandals and awake
- Those who are warm beneath the cloak of sleep,
- Lest they should rise and see me and should say,
- "Whither goes Sappho lonely in the night?"
- Whither goes Sappho? Whither all men go,
- But they go driven, straining back with fear,
- And Sappho goes as lightly as a leaf
- Blown from brown autumn forests to the sea.
- Here on the rock Zeus lifted from the waves,
- I shall await the waking of the dawn,
- Lying beneath the weight of dark as one
- Lies breathless, till the lover shall awake.
- And with the sun the sea shall cover me--
- I shall be less than the dissolving foam
- Murmuring and melting on the ebbing tide;
- I shall be less than spindrift, less than shells;
- And yet I shall be greater than the gods,
- For destiny no more can bow my soul
- As rain bows down the watch-fires on the hills.
- Yes, if my soul escape it shall aspire
- To the white heaven as flame that has its will.
- I go not bitterly, not dumb with pain,
- Not broken by the ache of love--I go
- As one grown tired lies down and hopes to sleep.
- Yet they shall say: "It was for Cercolas;
- She died because she could not bear her love."
- They shall remember how we used to walk
- Here on the cliff beneath the oleanders
- In the long limpid twilight of the spring,
- Looking toward Lemnos, where the amber sky
- Was pierced with the faint arrow of a star.
- How should they know the wind of a new beauty
- Sweeping my soul had winnowed it with song?
- I have been glad tho' love should come or go,
- Happy as trees that find a wind to sway them,
- Happy again when it has left them rest.
- Others shall say, "Grave Dica wrought her death.
- She would not lift her lips to take a kiss,
- Or ever lift her eyes to take a smile.
- She was a pool the winter paves with ice
- That the wild hunter in the hills must leave
- With thirst unslaked in the brief southward sun."
- Ah Dica, it is not for thee I go;
- And not for Phaon, tho' his ship lifts sail
- Here in the windless harbor for the south.
- Oh, darkling deities that guard the Nile,
- Watch over one whose gods are far away.
- Egypt, be kind to him, his eyes are deep--
- Yet they are wrong who say it was for him.
- How should they know that Sappho lived and died
- Faithful to love, not faithful to the lover,
- Never transfused and lost in what she loved,
- Never so wholly loving nor at peace.
- I asked for something greater than I found,
- And every time that love has made me weep,
- I have rejoiced that love could be so strong;
- For I have stood apart and watched my soul
- Caught in the gust of passion, as a bird
- With baffled wings against the dusty whirlwind
- Struggles and frees itself to find the sky.
- It is not for a single god I go;
- I have grown weary of the winds of heaven.
- I will not be a reed to hold the sound
- Of whatsoever breath the gods may blow,
- Turning my torment into music for them.
- They gave me life; the gift was bountiful,
- I lived with the swift singing strength of fire,
- Seeking for beauty as a flame for fuel--
- Beauty in all things and in every hour.
- The gods have given life--I gave them song;
- The debt is paid and now I turn to go.
- The breath of dawn blows the stars out like lamps,
- There is a rim of silver on the sea,
- As one grown tired who hopes to sleep, I go.
- Oh Litis, little slave, why will you sleep?
- These long Egyptian noons bend down your head
- Bowed like the yarrow with a yellow bee.
- There, lift your eyes no man has ever kindled,
- Dark eyes that wait like faggots for the fire.
- See how the temple's solid square of shade
- Points north to Lesbos, and the splendid sea
- That you have never seen, oh evening-eyed.
- Yet have you never wondered what the Nile
- Is seeking always, restless and wild with spring
- And no less in the winter, seeking still?
- How shall I tell you? Can you think of fields
- Greater than Gods could till, more blue than night
- Sown over with the stars; and delicate
- With filmy nets of foam that come and go?
- It is more cruel and more compassionate
- Than harried earth. It takes with unconcern
- And quick forgetting, rapture of the rain
- And agony of thunder, the moon's white
- Soft-garmented virginity, and then
- The insatiable ardor of the sun.
- And me it took. But there is one more strong,
- Love, that came laughing from the elder seas,
- The Cyprian, the mother of the world;
- She gave me love who only asked for death--
- I who had seen much sorrow in men's eyes
- And in my own too sorrowful a fire.
- I was a sister of the stars, and yet
- Shaken with pain; sister of birds and yet
- The wings that bore my soul were very tired.
- I watched the careless spring too many times
- Light her green torches in a hungry wind;
- Too many times I watched them flare, and then
- Fall to forsaken embers in the autumn.
- And I was sick of all things--even song.
- In the dull autumn dawn I turned to death,
- Buried my living body in the sea,
- The strong cold sea that takes and does not give--
- But there is one more strong, the Cyprian.
- Litis, to wake from sleep and find your eyes
- Met in their first fresh upward gaze by love,
- Filled with love's happy shame from other eyes,
- Dazzled with tenderness and drowned in light
- As tho' you looked unthinking at the sun,
- Oh Litis, that is joy! But if you came
- Not from the sunny shallow pool of sleep,
- But from the sea of death, the strangling sea
- Of night and nothingness, and waked to find
- Love looking down upon you, glad and still,
- Strange and yet known forever, that is peace.
- So did he lean above me. Not a word
- He spoke; I only heard the morning sea
- Singing against his happy ship, the keen
- And straining joy of wind-awakened sails
- And songs of mariners, and in myself
- The precious pain of arms that held me fast.
- They warmed the cold sea out of all my blood;
- I slept, feeling his eyes above my sleep.
- There on the ship with wines and olives laden,
- Led by the stars to far invisible ports,
- Egypt and islands of the inner seas,
- Love came to me, and Cercolas was love.
- III (previously published in "Helen of Troy and Other Poems")
- The twilight's inner flame grows blue and deep,
- And in my Lesbos, over leagues of sea,
- The temples glimmer moon-wise in the trees.
- Twilight has veiled the little flower-face
- Here on my heart, but still the night is kind
- And leaves her warm sweet weight against my breast.
- Am I that Sappho who would run at dusk
- Along the surges creeping up the shore
- When tides came in to ease the hungry beach,
- And running, running till the night was black,
- Would fall forespent upon the chilly sand
- And quiver with the winds from off the sea?
- Ah quietly the shingle waits the tides
- Whose waves are stinging kisses, but to me
- Love brought no peace, nor darkness any rest.
- I crept and touched the foam with fevered hands
- And cried to Love, from whom the sea is sweet,
- >From whom the sea is bitterer than death.
- Ah, Aphrodite, if I sing no more
- To thee, God's daughter, powerful as God,
- It is that thou hast made my life too sweet
- To hold the added sweetness of a song.
- There is a quiet at the heart of love,
- And I have pierced the pain and come to peace
- I hold my peace, my Cleïs, on my heart;
- And softer than a little wild bird's wing
- Are kisses that she pours upon my mouth.
- Ah never any more when spring like fire
- Will flicker in the newly opened leaves,
- Shall I steal forth to seek for solitude
- Beyond the lure of light Alcaeus' lyre,
- Beyond the sob that stilled Erinna's voice.
- Ah, never with a throat that aches with song,
- Beneath the white uncaring sky of spring,
- Shall I go forth to hide awhile from Love
- The quiver and the crying of my heart.
- Still I remember how I strove to flee
- The love-note of the birds, and bowed my head
- To hurry faster, but upon the ground
- I saw two wingèd shadows side by side,
- And all the world's spring passion stifled me.
- Ah, Love there is no fleeing from thy might,
- No lonely place where thou hast never trod,
- No desert thou hast left uncarpeted
- With flowers that spring beneath thy perfect feet.
- In many guises didst thou come to me;
- I saw thee by the maidens while they danced,
- Phaon allured me with a look of thine,
- In Anactoria I knew thy grace,
- I looked at Cercolas and saw thine eyes;
- But never wholly, soul and body mine,
- Didst thou bid any love me as I loved.
- Now have I found the peace that fled from me;
- Close, close against my heart I hold my world.
- Ah, Love that made my life a Iyric cry,
- Ah, Love that tuned my lips to Iyres of thine,
- I taught the world thy music, now alone
- I sing for one who falls asleep to hear.
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