My heart was like a bird that fluttered joyously
And glided free among the tackle and the lines!
The vessel rolled along under a cloudless sky
An angel, tipsy, gay, full of the radiant sun.
What is that sad black isle? I asked as we approached
They call it Cythera, land to write songs about,
Banal Utopia of veterans of love;
But look, it seems to be a poor land after all.
Island of sweet intrigues, and feastings of the heart!
The ghost of ancient Venus the magnificent
Glides like a haunting scent above your swelling seas,
Enrapturing the soul in languishing and love.
Sweet isle of greenery, myrtle and blooming flowers,
Perpetual delight of those in every land,
Where sighs of adoration from the hearts of lovers
Roll as incense does over a rosy bower,
Or like the constant crooning of a turtle-dove!
Cythera was an island barren in terrain,
A mere deserted rock, disturbed by piercing cries.
But on it I could glimpse a curious device!
No temple was this thing, among the woodland shades,
Where the young worshipper, the flowers' devotee,
Would tarry, body burning, hot with secret lusts,
Her robe half-open to the fleeting wisps of breeze;
But as we skimmed the shore, fairly near enough
To agitate the birds with swelling of our sails,
What we saw was a gibbet, made of three great stakes.
It reared against the sky, black, as a cypress stands.
Ferocious birds were gathered, snatching at their food,
Raging around a hanging shape already ripe;
Each creature worked his tool, his dripping filthy beak,
Into the bleeding corners of this rottenness.
The eyes were two blank gaps, and from the hollow paunch
Its tangled guts let loose, spilling over the thighs,
And those tormentors, gorged with hideous delights,
Had castrated the corpse with snapping of their beaks.
Under the feet, a troupe of jealous quadrupeds,
The muzzle lifted high, eddied and prowled about;
One larger, bolder beast was restless all the more,
The leader of the pack, surrounded by his aides.
Dweller in Cythera, child of a sky so clear,
In silence you endure these desecrations
In expiation for your infamous beliefs
And crimes which have denied you proper burial.
Hanged man, ridiculous, your sorrows are my own!
I feel, in blinding view of your loose-hanging limbs,
A rising to the teeth, a building in my throat
Of a choking spew of gall, and all my ancient griefs;
Along with you, poor devil, dear to memory,
I suffered all the stabs of all the killer crows
And felt the grinding jaws of panthers, cruel and black,
Who once took such delight in feasting on my flesh.
The sky was ravishing, the sea a very glass;
For me the world was black, and bloody would it be.
Alas! And as within a heavy shroud, I have
Entombed my heart in this perverse allegory!
Venus, in your black isle not one thing was erect
But the symbolic tree whereon my image hung.
Ah, Lord! I beg of you the courage and the strength
To take without disgust my body and my heart!