Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE CENTAUR'S FAREWELL, by WILLIAM ROSE BENET



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THE CENTAUR'S FAREWELL, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: They are passed from the feast that my hands might have spread, from the
Last Line: My sleep shall bring dreams that are barren, and midnight wail out on my rest!
Subject(s): Chiron (centaur); Farewell; Parting


For they found Chiron, their ancient tutor, standing stiffly before his cave, when that they had
forded Anaurus and come to that clearing beneath the face of Pelion above the thymy downs.
Then they spake of Pelias and the launching at Pegasae. And there was tossing of war-bonnets,
shouts and laughter and weeping. The boy Achilles brought them wine with eyes of wonder.
And his father kissed him and bade him be of cheer. Then they knelt when that ancient centaur
raised his hands. And they departed to their ship, but the boy and the ancient stood upon the
headland to watch them out to sea.

"They are passed from the feast that my hands might have spread, from the boughs that mine arms
might have laid,
In the days when I taught them, Achilles, -- so young, oh, youth of my heart!
Past Athos to face, beyond Samothrace, the Hellespont mantling dismayed
With gales, ere the Euxine, thick-darkened with storm, looms black where the cliffs draw apart!
They are passed from the hoofs that defended their raids, from the eyes that were watch o'er their
sleep,
From the harp that rang battle, the lips that made wise young athletes to wrestle and leap, --
They are passed from their teacher, their father, their friend, -- and the old way for heroes is
steep;
Aye, steep as the climb past Anaurus, with torrents as cruel athwart!

"Look south on the little walled towns of the world where Haemonia shines in the sun!
Look north to Olympus and Ossa, Achilles, child of the light!
For these were the lowlands they rambled with laughter, the heights where the hunt used to run
With insolent twanging of bow-strings, -- the stag tracked forth from the thickets of night.
AEneus and Actaeon, Jason the Healer, wild Heracles shouting aloud,
Asclepius twining an arm with his serpents, and Peleus graceful and proud,
The golden-souled Orpheus lithe at the race, with his strange voice and harp for the crowd, --
Ah, once they returned with the nightfall where red flamed their welcome and bright!

"My children go forth to the gods of their sires to serve and to conquer and sin.
Once -- they were young, Achilles, -- as young as thou art, and as glad.
And I, who am wise with old judgments and gods and the trophies it boots not to win,
Misshapen, uncouth, feel the sorrows of ages on heavy-bowed shoulders and sad.
The Kronian dead are my watchers by night and my shadowy comrades by day;
And Iapetus sired and Clymene bore him a race that were mightier than they.
The Golden, the Silvern, the Brazen, the Heroes, the Iron, -- and then pass away
The races of man, like the foam-front sucked back from the sands it hath had!

"I wait for the wars that shall be, though the heavens grow pale with the din of our wars.
The Phicean hill knows a portent and Laius is slain in his blood.
One sins at the couch of Jocasta, and raises his sick, sightless face to the stars.
Assault is on Thebes, and the Brothers are ashes where towers have trembled and stood.
Nay, thou -- even thou, sturdy lad of the quiver -- I mark thee on alien shores.
That arm hurls its spear by encrimsoned Scamander. They fall in their streets, at their doors,
Bright warriors in harness, -- for shame is on Ilium, and ravage and red battle roars
Ere Glaucos call forth his sea-horses to trample their prows in the flood.

" -- And the past? I have looked on the perfect Cyrene the sun-god once called me to see,
She that bore the nymphs' bane, Aristeaus, the boy and the keeper of bees;
And that spouse at whose wedding the evil Eurytion made 't shameful such centaurs should be.
I have known Teiresias -- Melampus -- as wise as the gods of all ranks and degrees.
My fate at Malea the future unveils, and my death by -- the flower of my sons.
Ah, Pholos, that wine that the Mightiest unseals flows red as my ebbing life runs! ...
Nay, child of my heart, turn thine eyes down to Iolcus, and mark the delectable ones
Half-glimpsed through the trailing arbutus and dark and thick-clambering trees!

"Haunt, haunt, oh, Napaeae, the eyes of him ever, that ever he rest by my side!
Nymphs of Pelion, blind him and bind him! The sun is gone low in the west!
They are passed, the brave pupils that Chiron held dearly, the young gods that spake to his pride.
All are passed; this the last, whose eyes follow the Argo afar on the perilous quest! ...
Cold, cold is the cave, and the ashes are scattered of nights that were feasting and rhyme.
Ah, Orpheus, my Orpheus, haled over Strymon to days of long-suffering and crime,
The leaves are fall'n fast on the days that were marjoram -- marjoram, myrtle and thyme!
My sleep shall bring dreams that are barren, and midnight wail out on my rest!





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