Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, WINE OF CYPRUS, by ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING



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WINE OF CYPRUS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: If old bacchus were the speaker
Last Line: I am sipping like a fly.
Subject(s): Poetry & Poets


I

IF old Bacchus were the speaker,
He would tell you with a sigh
Of the Cyprus in this beaker
I am sipping like a fly, --
Like a fly or gnat on Ida
At the hour of goblet-pledge,
By queen Juno brushed aside, a
Full white arm-sweep, from the edge.

II

Sooth, the drinking should be ampler
When the drink is so divine,
And some deep-mouthed Greek exemplar
Would become your Cyprus wine:
Cyclops' mouth might plunge aright in,
While his one eye overleered,
Nor too large were mouth of Titan
Drinking rivers down his beard.

III

Pan might dip his head so deep in,
That his ears alone pricked out,
Fauns around him pressing, leaping,
Each one pointing to his throat:
While the Naiads, Like Bacchantes,
Wild, with urns thrown out to waste,
Cry, 'O earth, that thou wouldst grant us
Springs to keep, of such a taste!'

IV

But for me, I am not worthy
After gods and Greeks to drink,
And my lips are pale and earthy
To go bathing from this brink:
Since you heard them speak the last time,
They have faded from their blooms,
And the laughter of my pastime
Has learnt silence at the tombs.

V

Ah, my friend! the antique drinkers
Crowned the cup and crowned the brow.
Can I answer the old thinkers
In the forms they thought of, now?
Who will fetch from garden-closes
Some new garlands while I speak,
That the forehead, crowned with roses,
May strike scarlet down the cheek?

VI

Do not mock me! with my mortal
Suits no wreath again, indeed;
I am sad-voiced as the turtle
Which Anacreon used to feed:
Yet as that same bird demurely
Wet her beak in cup of his,
So, without a garland, surely
I may touch the brim of this.

VII

Go, -- let others praise the Chian!
This is soft as Muses' string,
This is tawny as Rhea's lion,
This is rapid as his spring,
Bright as Paphia's eyes e'er met us,
Light as ever trod her feet;
And the brown bees of Hymettus
Make their honey not so sweet.

VIII

Very copious are my praises,
Though I sip it like a fly!
Ah -- but, sipping, -- times and places
Change before me suddenly:
As Ulysses' old libation
Drew the ghosts from every part,
So your Cyprus wine, dear Grecian,
Stirs the Hades of my heart.

IX

And I think of those long mornings
Which my thought goes far to seek,
When, betwixt the folio's turnings,
Solemn flowed the rhythmic Greek:
Past the pane the mountain spreading,
Swept the sheep's-bell's tinkling noise,
While a girlish voice was reading,
Somewhat low for ai's and oi's.

X

Then, what golden hours were for us!
While we sat together there,
How the white vests of the chorus
Seemed to wave up a live air!
How the cothurns trod majestic
Down the deep iambic lines,
And the rolling anapaestic
Curled like vapor over shrines!

XI

Oh, our AEschylus, the thunderous,
How he drove the bolted breath
Through the cloud, to wedge it ponderous
In the gnarled oak beneath!
Oh, our Sophocles, the royal,
Who was born to monarch's place,
And who made the whole world loyal
Less by kingly power than grace!

XII

Our Euripides, the human,
With his droppings of warm tears,
And his touches of things common
Till they rose to touch the spheres!
Our Theocritus, our Bion,
And our Pindar's shining goals! --
These were cup-bearers undying
Of the wine that's meant for souls.

XIII

And my Plato, the divine one,
If men know the gods aright
By their motions as they shine on
With a glorious trail of light!
And your noble Christian bishops,
Who mouthed grandly the last Greek!
Though the sponges on their hyssops
Were distent with wine -- too weak.

XIV

Yet, your Chrysostom, you praised him
As a liberal mouth of gold;
And your Basil, you upraised him
To the height of speakers old:
And we both praised Heliodorus
For his secret of pure lies, --
Who forged first his linked stories
In the heat of ladies' eyes.

XV

And we both praised your Synesius
For the fire shot up his odes,
Though the Church was scarce propitious
As he whistled dogs and gods.
And we both praised Nazianzen
For the fervid heart and speech:
Only I eschewed his glancing
At the lyre hung out of reach.

XVI

Do you mind that deed of Ate
Which you bound me to so fast, --
Reading 'De Virginitate,'
From the first line to the last?
How I said at ending, solemn
As I turned and looked at you,
That Saint Simeon on the column
Had had somewhat less to do?

XVII

For we sometimes gently wrangled,
Very gently, be it said,
Since our thoughts were disentangled
By no breaking of the thread!
And I charged you with extortions
On the nobler fames of old --
Ay, and sometimes thought your Porsons
Stained the purple they would fold.

XVIII

For the rest -- a mystic moaning
Kept Cassandra at the gate,
With wild eyes the vision shone in,
And wide nostrils scenting fate.
And Prometheus, bound in passion
By brute Force to the blind stone,
Showed us looks of invocation
Turned to ocean and the sun.

XIX

And Medea we saw burning
At her nature's planted stake:
And proud (Edipus fate-scorning
While the cloud came on to break --
While the cloud came on slow, slower,
Till he stood discrowned, resigned! --
But the reader's voice dropped lower
When the poet called him BLIND.

XX

Ah, my gossip! you were older,
And more learned, and a man!
Yet that shadow, the enfolder
Of your quiet eyelids, ran
Both our spirits to one level;
And I turned from hill and lea
And the summer-sun's green revel,
To your eyes that could not see.

XXI

Now Christ bless you with the one light
Which goes shining night and day!
May the flowers which grow in sunlight
Shed their fragrance in your way!
Is it not right to remember
All your kindness, friend of mine,
When we two sat in the chamber,
And the poets poured us wine?

XXII

So, to come back to the drinking
Of this Cyprus, -- it is well,
But those memories, to my thinking,
Make a better oenomel;
And whoever be the speaker,
None can murmur with a sigh
That, in drinking from that beaker,
I am sipping like a fly.





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