Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE BIRDS: THE HYMN OF THE BIRDS, by ARISTOPHANES

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE BIRDS: THE HYMN OF THE BIRDS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Come on then, ye dwellers by nature in darkness
Last Line: That we are to you all as the manifest godhead that speaks in prophetic apollo?
Variant Title(s): Grand Chorus Of Birds;chorus Of Birds
Subject(s): Apollo; Birds; Mythology - Classical; Night; Bedtime

[I was allured into the audacity of this experiment by consideration of a fact
which hitherto does not seem to have been taken into consideration by any
translator of the half divine humourist in whose incomparable genius the highest
qualities of Rabelais were fused and harmonized with the supremest gifts of
Shelley: namely that his marvellous metrical invention of the anapaestic
heptameter was almost exactly reproducible in a language to which all variations
and combinations of anapaestic, iambic, or trochaic metre are as natural and
pliable as all dactylic and spondaic forms of verse are unnatural and abhorrent.
As it happens, this highest central interlude of a most adorable masterpiece is
as easy to detach from its dramatic setting, and even from its lyrical context,
as it was easy to give line for line of it in English. In two metrical points
only does my version vary from the verbal pattern of the original. I have of
course added rhymes, and
double rhymes, as necessary makeweights for the imperfection of an otherwise
inadequate lauguage; and equally of course I have not attempted the impossible
and undesirable task of reproducing the rare exceptional effect of a line
overcharged on purpose with a preponderance of heavy-footed spondees: and this
for the obvious reason that even if such a line -- which I doubt -- could be
exactly represented, foot by foot and pause for pause, in English, this English
line would no more be a verse in any proper sense of the word than is the line I
am writing at this moment. And my main intention, or at least my main desire,
in the undertaking of this brief adventure was to renew as far as possible for
English ears the music of this resonant and thriumphant metre, which goes
ringing at full gallop as of horses who 'dance as 'twere to the music Their own
hoofs make.' I would not seem over curious in search of an apt or an inapt
quotation; but nothing can
be fitter than a verse of Shakspere's to praise at once and to describe the most
typical verse of Aristophanes.]

COME on then, ye dwellers by nature in darkness, and like to the leaves'
That are little of might, that are moulded of mire, unenduring and shadowlike
Poor plumeless ephemerals, comfortless mortals, as visions of shadows fast
Lift up your mind unto us that are deathless, and dateless the date of our
Us, children of heaven, us, ageless for aye, us, all of whose thoughts are
That ye may from henceforth, having heard of us all things aright as to matters
Of the being of birds and beginning of gods, and of streams, and the dark beyond
Truthfully knowing aright, in my name bid Prodicus pack with his preaching.
It was Chaos and Night at the first, and the blackness of darkness, and Hell's
broad border,
Earth was not, nor air, neither heaven; when in depths of the womb of the dark
without order
First thing first-born of the black-plumed
Night was a wind-egg hatched in her bosom,
Whence timely with seasons revolving again sweet Love burst out as a blossom,
Gold wings glittering forth of his back, like whirlwinds gustily turning.
He, after his wedlock with Chaos, whose wings are of darkness, in Hell broad-
For his nestlings begat him the race of us first, and upraised us to light new-
And before this was not the race of the gods, until all things by Love were
And of kind united with kind in communion of nature the sky and the sea are
Brought forth, and the earth, and the race of the gods everlasting and blest.
So that we are
Far away the most ancient of all things blest.
And that we are of Love's generation
There are manifest manifold signs. We have wings, and with us have the Love's
And manifold fair young folk that forswore love once, ere the bloom of them
Have the men that pursued and desired them subdued, by the help of us only
With such baits as a quail, a flamingo, a goose, or a cock's comb staring and
All best good things that befall men come from us birds, as is plain to all
For first we proclaim and make known to them spring, and the winter and autumn
in season;
Bid sow, when the crane starts clanging for
Afric, in shrill-voiced emigrant number,
And calls to the pilot to hang up his rudder again for the season, and slumber;
And then weave a cloak for Orestes the thief, lest he strip men of theirs if it
And again thereafter the kite reappearing announces a change in the breezes,
And that here is the season for shearing your sheep of their spring wool. Then
does the swallow
Give you notice to sell your greatcoat, and provide something light for the heat
that's to follow.
Thus are we as Ammon or Delphi unto you,
Dodona, nay, Phoebus Apollo.
For, as first ye come all to get auguries of birds, even such is in all things
your carriage,
Be the matter a matter of trade, or of earning your bread, or of any one's
And all things ye lay to the charge of a bird that belong to discerning
Winged fame is a bird, as you reckon: you sneeze, and the sign's as a bird for
All tokens are "birds" with you -- sounds too, and lackeys, and donkeys. Then
must it not follow
That we ARE to you all as the manifest godhead that speaks in prophetic Apollo?

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