Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ULYSSES, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS



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ULYSSES, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Settled to evenings before the doorway
Last Line: "go ask your mother penelope."
Subject(s): Mythology - Classical; Ulysses; Odysseus


Settled to evenings before the doorway
With Telemachus, who sat at his knee,
"Why did you stay so long from Ithaca,
Leaving my mother Penelope?"

The eyes of the hero rolled and wandered,
Thinking of Scylla and Sicily.
"That's a hard question," answered Ulysses,
"Harder, if answered, for you to see.

"There was the Cyclops, there was AEolus,
There were the Sirens, and Hades for me;
Apollo's oxen, Hades' horrors,
Circe, and then Ogygia.

"All these after the war, Telemachus --
Too long a tale, as you will agree.
The bards must write it, when you are older
Read till the gray hairs give you the key

"Of the wonder and richness that were your father's
Life in the war, the long way home.
No man has lived, as I, Telemachus,
None ever will live in the days to come

"A life that followed the paths and hollows
Of Time, the wayward ways of the streams
That flow round earth, the winds and waters
Of passion, wisdom, thought and dreams.

"There are two things, my boy, and only
Two in the world, remember this:
One thing is men, the other women,
And after the two of them nothing is.

"I have known men as king and warrior,
Known them as liegmen, spears of the line.
Good enough lamps for workaday darkness --
They are not food, they are not wine;

"They are not heat that stir the secret
Core of the seed of a man, be sure.
And I, Ulysses, needed the planets,
And suns of the spring to live, mature."

"What do you mean?" asked Telemachus,
"And, say is it true you lost eight years
Away from Ithaca, me and my mother
Because of a certain Calypso's tears?"

The eyes of the hero rolled and wandered.
"There now, my boy, you have the truth.
I'll try to tell you perhaps you'll get it
In spite of your filial love and your youth.

"First, understand there are two things only; --
One is women, the other men.
And men I knew before and at Troyland,
And searched their hearts again and again.

"What do you get? Secrets of cunning,
Cruelty, strength, and much that you use
In the battle with them; but what's a woman?
She is the mother, she is the Muse

"That leads and lifts to life -- Telemachus
How can I tell you? -- have a care!
Young men seize on the words of wisdom,
And find their hands in a silken snare,

"Hearing blindly, seeing literally,
What is a sword, a lamp, a shield?
Touch and learn, the name is only
The shell wherein the thing is concealed."

"What do you mean?" asked Telemachus.
"What do I mean? Attend to me!
I'll try to tell you, telling a story
Of the island called Ogygia.

"I know women -- how shall I tell you?
Women are good, and good is wine.
Yet how to tell the wine and women
That turn her adorers into swine.

"You must have aid of Hermes, swiftness
Of spirit and sense to tell them apart;
How to be strong, how to be tender,
How to surrender and keep your heart.

"Easy for me to baffle Circe,
Easy the Sirens to slip -- just wax!
I steered for Ithaca, you and your mother,
Isle to isle on the ocean's tracks,

"Until I came and saw Calypso.
Son you would be with Calypso yet.
It takes a hero suppled in flame
To see Calypso, and leave, forget

Face and voice enough to leave her,
Spurn her promises, turn from her tears,
Come to Ithaca with this doorway,
Age that hovers, the little years."

"What do you mean?" asked Telemachus.
"Live and learn," Ulysses replied.
"Calypso promised me youth eternal
If I would stay and make her my bride."

"And why not stay?" asked Telemachus
"To have her for wife, if not a youth
Eternal given you?" "Boy of me listen
Now for the core of the deepest truth:
"We dined in grottoes of blooming ivy;
We supped in halls of cedar and gold;
We slept on balconies, sapphire tented --
But even I found this growing old.

"I saw her beauty bare by star light,
And by the sea in the sun, and stoled
In silk as white as snow on Parnassus --
But even I found this growing old.

"Her tresses smelt of the blooms of Hymettus,
Her breasts were cymbals sweet to behold;
Her voice was a harp of pearl and silver --
But even I found this growing old.

"Her lips were like the flame of a taper
Scented and musical, as she would fold
White arms over the brawn of my shoulders --
But even I found this growing old.

"She promised me this and youth forever,
So long as the sun and the planets rolled.
I knew they were gifts she could not give me,
Empty promises too grow old.

"And even if given, why forever
Live the things that have grown enough?
She loved me, wonderful Calypso.
But what is love? It is only love.

"And the salt of a man turns to his doorway,
He makes his will for his blood at the end.
My boy, that's why I left Calypso
And came to you -- do you comprehend?

"To sit unshorn, and clothed as I choose,
Talk with the swineherd, potter or shirk,
Babble at ease, my boy, with your mother
Around the house at rest or at work.

"And you must not forget, Telemachus,
In order to have immortality
It had to be with Calypso -- therefore
I came to you and Penelope,

"Who soon will leave me, at best, or else
I'll leave you for the Isles of the Blest.
I find this doorway good, Telemachus,
As a place to dream and a place to rest."

"I do not understand, Ulysses,
Father of me. At first the call
Of the blood, I thought, would hasten you homeward.
And now I wonder you came at all

"Here to Ithaca. What, my father,
Is here but my mother growing old;
Aged Laertes, Telemachus --
What of Calypso's hair of gold?

"What of the island, what of the feasting,
What of her kisses, were it I
I'd spurn eternal youth, as a mortal
Live with Calypso until I should die."

"I have no doubt," said the many minded
Great Ulysses. "It's plain to see
You are a boy yet. When is supper?
Go ask your mother Penelope."





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