Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DELPHI HUMORESQUE, by WILLIAM ALEXANDER PERCY



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DELPHI HUMORESQUE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The tree of agamemnon gives a shade
Last Line: Then, kissing a dead leaf good-bye, is gone.
Subject(s): Delphi; Greece; Castri; Greeks


The tree of Agamemnon gives a shade
For little tables where cheap drinks are made,
And old men walking to Arachova
Rest here and smoke and sip their mastica
Before they take the road whose dust could cup
The feet of Oedipus and not rise up.
There is unbroken sound of singing here
From boys and women leading to the clear
Castalian spring their donkeys, sheep, and goats
To drink where once the Muses cooled their throats.
(The mint and thyme they planted never die,
But sweeten still the wash spread here to dry.)
Or should the singing cease in gossips' laughter
Still lovelier sounds will billow up and after,
For every slope is starred with tiny bells
Where flocks are feeding in the shadows' wells,
And there's no beast, untethered or in check,
But wears a glimmering bell about his neck
To find him by, as well as beads of blue
To keep off Nereids, a pranky crew.
So veils of tinkling blow and coil about
Stirred by the unseen goatherd's satyr-shout.
I'll mention too -- an elegy to win! --
That vigorous ecstatic choral din
Trembling like heat waves from the olive trees,
The mad cicadas, dear to Socrates,
Whose favorite singing place would seem to be
Around the old gymnasium -- Pardee!
A lovelier singing place is not on earth,
Haunted like April with a by-gone mirth,
The mirth of young men stripping for the games
And calling out the poems of their names! --
All quiet now and bounded by gray trees,
Forgotten almost, haply not by these.
And here's a secret for enchanted ears,
Leal to sweet birds and waters and the spheres:
When night has poured the valleys full of dark
And Agamemnon's plane tree sees no spark
Of pipe or cigarette beneath his boughs,
But only one old man with pearly brows,
The Shepherd Silence listening to the stars --
Then, if you creep beside him, with the bars
Of witchery down, you'll hear the halting chills
Of faintest music quavering up the hills,
So stealthy, whist, and silvery with tears
It stirs the fairy fur upon your ears.
Far down and rimmed about by lonely ledges
With constellations netted to their edges,
A solitary shepherd tends his flock
In the deep darkenss. Leaned against a rock
And wrapped from throat to sandals in the cloak
That shepherds use, he's taken from his poke
That holds his bread and olives, wine and cheese,
A solace for the night as sweet as these,
His flute, which Pan first whittled by the river
(And taught our hearts their most celestial shiver.)
Far down, in his great loneliness, he plays;
About him, scattered wide, the still herds graze,
Above, the herds of heaven slowly pass --
To both, his piping falls like dew on grass.
Ah, it must stir the heart of dead Apollo
To come again and have the Muses follow!
Alas, it stirs instead a mournful ass
To raise lament that lazy night must pass!
The bustling day crowds in with uncouth noise,
Life frets about, that gives much and destroys,
Along Parnassos mule-trains go for wood,
Or carry wine harsh with the pine-tree's blood,
And bells again and laughter and much song,
Foregathering and gossip, and a throng
Of glutton small boys raiding all the trees
For almonds, figs, and stainy mulberries.
O barbarous pastoral old felicity
Where men's thoughts could be thought by any tree
And all our intricacies of fine grief
Are ill and alien as to a leaf! . . .
I'll not forget this table by the spring
Where Agamemnon's plane tree slopes its wing:
I've drunk three mastica and puffed the weed
And writ a deal of rhymes that none will read.
Heigh-ho! The olives lose their silver light,
Soon but too tardily and there'll be night.
Already gold has left the Shining Rocks,
The upper air has grown wild hollyhocks.
A stir of wind dawdles and starts a song,
Then, kissing a dead leaf good-bye, is gone.





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