(translated from the Latin of Catullus)
Sped over deeps of the sea in his boat’s rapid gliding,
Attis, his hurrying feet across Phrygia guiding,
Entered the forested shades of the Goddess’ abiding.
There in such frenzy his spirit bewildered was driven,
He from his members with flint-edge their burden has riven.
Afterwards, feeling that naught of his manhood remained,
He, with whose bloodshed but lately the earth had been stained,
She the light timbrel uplifted in fingers of snow –
Timbrel and token, thy mysteries, Mother, to show –
Delicate fingers the echoing oxhide to shake:
Tremulous voice, that a song for her fellows would make:
“Seek we together, O Gallae, the woodland’s deep hollow!
Wandering kine of the Lady of Dindymus, follow!
Come, ye self-exiled who sought for an alien home:
Followers mine, will you follow me yet as I roam?
Ocean’s quick fury enduring with fortitude’s merit,
Daring your love-hating bodies from man to disherit –
Forth let us speed for our Mistress, to gladden her spirit!
Idleness leaving, at once and as one let us move
Seeking the Phrygian shrine of the Goddess, the grove
There, where the cymbals give voice and the timbrels reply,
Where the curved flutes of the Phrygian sobbingly cry,
Ivy-crowned Maenads their tresses tempestuous flinging,
Shrilling their call as the sacred devices are swinging,
Whither the vagabond cohorts of Cybele wander –
Lead we the speed of our dancing, our offering yonder!”
Even as Attis, mock-woman, thus sang to the crowd,
Sudden from quivering tongues rang the dance-cry aloud:
Rang the light timbrel, and hollow the cymbals were clashed,
Forth to green Ida the swift-footed company dashed.
Attis, too wrought to the frenzy, all breathless was faring
Through the dark forest the foremost, the timbrel yet bearing,
Wild as a heifer unbroken the yoke to elude:
Swiftly the haste of their leader the Gallae pursued.
So it befell, at the house of the Goddess arriving,
Foodless they sank to their slumber, all spent with their striving:
Laden with weariness, sleep on their eyelids was pressed,
Respite from raging releasing their spirits to rest.
Only when Sol with the gold of his countenance flaming
Lit the pale heavens, the rockland, the seas beyond taming,
Hunted the shadows with creature of hoofbeat proclaiming,
Sleep from awakening Attis was swiftly departed:
Took him the goddess Pasithea, tremulous-hearted!
Now, by his slumber from flashing of fantasy freed,
Attis himself in his heart could survey all his deed:
Clearly his loss, and the place where he was, he could scan:
Swift in the storm of his mind to the seashore he ran.
Out on the waste of the waters her tearful eyes bent,
Thus to her country she cried all her grievous lament:
“O my dear country that bore me, that life to me gave!
Fool that I am, I have fled like a runaway slave:
Runaway, turning my foot towards Ida to hide,
Here among snows, among frozen wild dens to abide,
Dens where in frenzy I also my shelter may claim!
Where, my dear country? – what region as thine shall I name?
How do mine eyes of themselves seek in longing for thee,
While for a little my spirit from raging is free!
Far from my home, in these forests my life shall I measure,
Absent from friends and from parents, from birthplace and treasure?
Absent from market and wrestling-ground, contest and pleasure?
Sorrowful, sorrowful spirit, lament and lament!
What is there human of form that my fate has not lent?
I once a man, and a youth, and a lad, and a boy,
I who was first in our games, and the wrestling-ground’s joy:
Crowded my gates, and to kindlier doors I was free:
Mine were the blossoming garlands one morning to be
When I should rise with the sun, and my house all arrayed:
Ministress I of the Gods am, and Cybele’s maid!
Maenad, and part of myself, shall my title be now,
Sterile, and dweller in snows of green Ida’s cold brow.
Phrygia’s summit: the rest of my life shall I view it,
Haunting the glade with the hind, with the boar ranging through it?
Now, O my deed I lament: now O now would undo it!”
Thus from his lips as the hurrying syllables broke,
To the all-hearkening Gods a new cry to evoke –
Then of her lions great Cybele loosened the yoke:
Urging that terror to cattle, the left of the pair,
“Angrily harry him back to his place and his share!
Back to his frenzy impel him and back to the grove,
He who too freely away from my keeping would rove!
Smite yourself, spite yourself, flailing your flanks with your tail,
Bellow till Echo your fellow be, roar like the gale,
Flames of your mane by the strength of your shoulders be shaken!”
Thus the dire Goddess, and fastened the yoke half-forsaken.
Lashing and roaring, inflaming the rage of his heart,
Crashing through thickets the lion was swift to depart:
Till in the plashing, the pallid domain of the tide,
There by the marble-cool waters poor Attis he spied.
Once leapt the lion, and Attis fled mad to the glade:
There for the rest of his life he was Cybele’s maid.
Goddess, great Cybele, Dindymus’ Lady, great Mother,
Far from this dwelling of mine be thy frenzy to gather!
Those whom thou drivest to rage, be they other, far other!
Copyright © 2002 by Leon Barcynski
This splendid lyrical poem, which explores elements of the myth of Orpheus and celebrates the mysteries of the Octave, was composed in 1963 by Melita Denning (late Grand Master of the Order Aurum Solis) and issued to the Order in that same year. It was employed as an introduction to a study of the Orphic theogonies, and itself provided material for psychological and magical analysis. It was later included in the preliminary material of book 1 of The Magical Philosophy (Llewellyn, 1974), where it served both as general dedicatory material for the entire series and as specific memorial tribute to astrologer-magician Ernest Page, beloved Guardian of the Order of the Sacred Word from 1959 until his death in 1966. The poem is reproduced here as originally issued and distributed within the Order Aurum Solis.
I seek a token
Higher than death with breath of fire can abate,
Greater than plant’s enchantment, than secret spoken,
Sweet as song, strong as fate.
Grief’s passion to purpose turning
Lingered the Thracian, musician fingers ever for the dead
Questing upon the strings, un-resting, never discerning
The sounds that from those quivering seven bled:
Music whose skill had he willed, from the walls of the hills a voice
Had called of human tears, or the mirth of earth to rejoice:
Music that held in its power each hour of the planets’ burning:
When suddenly his mind heard, and its burden shed.
He knew his way to tread.
How travels living man to the land where Death is king?
Some unquestioning, no heed giving, sightless go.
But of those who know, there are few that sing
The journeying of the terrible road to show.
In the chasm where the traveller descends,
Half down the riven pit, on the steep
Crumbling cliff where drift of the daylight ends
A tree is rooted deep,
Reaching its mere bare greyness towards the air:
And the twigs that are nearest the day are called Despair.
As far beneath, where breathing is pent by wraiths of night,
With ravelled shadow closed about, the traveller goes
In doubt of living, perceiving without sight:
And there it is the silent river flows
Oblivious venomous mist for ever weaving:
And there it is, the history truly vouches,
With changeless gaze the triple horror couches:
Lip-slavering hate, fear whimpering, howling, grieving,
And leaden jaws that close.
But here the harper safely passed, nor greatly heeded:
Clear in his heart was the remembered day
When trees entranced had danced to hear him play.
Not yet to win his way a greater art he needed.
Solemn splendour of Hades’ hall!
Sombre columns with golden capitals crowned,
And jewelled throngs attending, languid all,
Pallid as candle flames by the noonday drowned:
Where the dark king with his consort virginal
Still smiles as if he frowned.
O Hades, here at thy throne
In homage the doom I sing of kingdoms of man.
Ringed be a land with pride, or of wider span
Than can in a season ripen what spring beyond spring has sown.
Though high cities besides with store of gold have shone,
Yet when, O king, thou dost but call thine own,
Man’s government is done.
Or shall I sing the fate of ancient things?
Wherever the power, the honour of age is won
And treasure of measured time has greatly grown.
There, when some hour thy pleasure’s message brings –
O strings, falter and moan --
At once all is gone.
Shall learning be our boast?
Short time, a life, for that unearthly reaping!
Nor ever shows some frail earth-questing ghost
More grant of all his hoarded knowledge keeping
Than strife of stuttered words his life could have uttered sleeping.
The wise who learn to die, their prize avails the most.
So sang, so played on the seven strings’ sweetness and pain
The stranger, every hope laying low at Hades’ feet:
Broken, plaintive every tone was made.
Whether of good or of pride, to Death was the gain:
The faithful sailor lost, the trader by storm betrayed,
Glory of courage in war outpoured, vainly scorning retreat.
Then to a stronger cry the music leading
His inmost grief he told.
Of the bride from his long gaze torn -- from his tortured pleading --
Beauty that vied with morning, borne alone to the cold
Skyless night of Hades’ hold.
And with his love his life’s harsh overturning.
Not, he sighed, that I sought; although awhile
In her smile I caught more joy than the Fates allow:
But one doom waits, however we make its trial.
Where Zeus has struck, a vine may deck the barren bough
But Hades’ victim is smitten beyond denial
And past adorning.
But mark, O king: hear and heed a deed of mine!
See, my harp has a new thing, the new, the eighth string!
Thine is power on the dower of earth, but this is divine.
Freedom I cry, the birth of freedom I sound and sing:
Greater than fate, the eighth string: O king, do you know its worth?
Seven sounds ring for all the earth has seen.
Weave and change the player may, aspiring
Beyond that range: but the leaping fire of his lay
Falls back, back as if tiring
In mortal weariness its bonds between:
For all the sun has seen is indeed thy prey
But the eighth string makes thy power its mirth.
This is the octave: gate that closes
By opening onward: end that suspends all end.
Here then, O king, is my token:
Phoenix, the scale as a stair of fire to ascend
Where ever higher she hovers, never reposes.
By this, the one thing free in a world at thy feet,
I bid thee behold at last thy sovereignty broken.
My own I claim, not entreat.
So thus his music earned the unheard-of boon
To bring his bride again to sight of the skies:
But how to tell
His faith’s one flaw, one doubt that all was well,
Doubt of ill chance, that glanced about too soon?
She faded from his eyes:
But thus far wise, he knew, though his heart had failed,
The mystery was true and had prevailed
Though never his should be the blissful prize.
How lives the lover by love and by death forsaken?
He lives to rove as if blind to time and place,
But the beloved finding in every face
To a life beyond his life he must awaken.
The harper his way has taken
To slopes of rock and grass where slow flocks move,
Now bent on solitude his sorrow’s bond to sever,
Now with the herd-boys met, matching in mock endeavour –
As if the novice-power of his harp to prove –
Their music’s wild grace shaken,
Their wine-ripe fruit-sweet fluting to the river:
But death was ever present though absent ever,
And never present, never absent was love.
Guessing his name revered, to tell, and bear
Of his fame a listener’s share:
But not the old clear praises could they frame,
So strange the maze he traced from his song’s beginning:
The bride gained yet denied to him, lost yet closer than air,
And death’s gate unbarred, ajar for the winning.
But he welcomed them with laughter, and wrought a splendour of sound --
The sport of after echoes around the mountain meadow --
And the women danced, their spirit seeming as his unbound
And the earth but shadow.
Nearer whirled the dancers, one tossed glance seeking
From him who played of heart’s desire, eyes lost in light of vision:
Till a girl sped to his side, from height of the frenzy breaking,
Grasped his wrist resistless away from the strings, and cried
‘Darkness and nothing is this, or day and the kiss of your bride?
Singer, give proof of the truth of your song: give us life, O magician!’
So the first hands smote: the crowd so loudly calling and shrieking
His own throat’s cry he doubted, or if he panted dumb.
He saw his arm unplanted
His no more to raise though breath were granted.
Then to his neck, death-consented, one struck:
And night was come.
They strewed him to the sobbing winds, to the rain
That dropped on the hills, his head to the flooding river.
And all the land was shrill with shuddering pain.
But so the doom was past:
Day serene has smiled from darkness flying:
One with his love is that child of the lords undying.
Blest at last:
And earth has his song for ever.
Who comes maying, comes maying with me? -
Lad and maiden, sweetheart and friend –
Softly slip from your house-doors free:
Sweet May-night in the woods we'll spend!
We'll pass by where the hawthorns white
Breathe their bridal odour of love:
Not a twig shall we pluck till light -
Sweet May-night in the woods we'll rove!
Bring ye plenty of bread and ale,
Meat and sweet as it pleases ye, bring:
Lanterns vying with moonlight pale,
In the woods we shall sup and sing!
Praise the Goddess-Queen for whose feast
Love's the hymnal and kisses the creed:
Two and two 'mid the leaves embraced,
Sweet May-night in joy let us speed!
Bathed in dew when the daybreak is come,
Boughs of hawthorn bear we away -
Crowned and decked with its sacred bloom,
In the morning we'll bring home the May!
[He:] O beauty's blossom, most cruel maid,
A grievous foe have you been to me:
My heart you took and my trust betrayed
And smiled as I sank in the dark sea.
But why, why did you turn away
And why so faithless when I was true?
O, summer love has its shining day,
But winter love watches the night through!
[She:] 'Twas you, O golden my lord, confessed
To my loving ear your immortal race,
And if I tricked you I did but jest
Yet perish now lacking your kind grace.
O, blame be to the wind that drives
My fainting steps where the first leaves fly!
For winter love with the pine-tree thrives
But summer love will with its bloom die.
[He:] My sweet and fairest one, live to seal
Our bond of love in my light anew!
O turn to me as the heavens wheel,
For I am returned to seek you:
So turn again to me now at last
And we shall fear for no wind that blows:
For winter love through the storm holds fast,
And summer love laughs with the red rose!
[Both:] The year declines from its summer height
In burning glory of autumn gold,
Yet pales already the early light
And stubble stands in the mists cold:
But leads winter to spring's new birth
While love and wonder their treasures pour,
Still bringing down to this mortal earth
The beams of a deathless splendour.
Now the fields are bare and sober,
Shorn of harvest's goodly cheer,
Now the days of dim October
All are spent, and spent the year:
Through the night and morrow,
Robed in sorrow,
Modron seeks her son so dear!
Now the far gates swing asunder;
Light from world to world they spill:
Souls departed move in wonder
Hither past the dreaded sill,
Venture, neither chidden
Down the Star-road as they will!
Bread and salt and wine and honey
Offer we, and pile the fire!
Guests who come so strange a journey
Win the greeting they desire,
While the span of nature,
Past and future,
This night's vision grasps entire!
Worship we at day's red waking
Gods of ever-living might:
Brigid, Lady of all Making,
Lugh, who wields the Spear of Light;
Softly hymn that other,
She whose son is gone from sight!
On the third day, song is ended,
Fires are cold and hearts decline --
Till we see a radiance splendid
That forgotten cabin
Guards the Mabin,
Guards the Goddess' son divine!
High he bears the flame returning,
High his head, with gladness crowned!
High and bright the beacons burning
Welcome him, the Lost and Found!
From the darkness winning
Love and joy he sheds around!