A Tale Of Polypheme.

A poem by Henry Austin Dobson

"There's nothing new"--Not that I go so far
As he who also said "There's nothing true,"
Since, on the contrary, I hold there are
Surviving still a verity or two;
But, as to novelty, in my conviction,
There's nothing new,--especially in fiction.

Hence, at the outset, I make no apology,
If this my story is as old as Time,
Being, indeed, that idyll of mythology,--
The Cyclops' love,--which, somewhat varied, I'm
To tell once more, the adverse Muse permitting,
In easy rhyme, and phrases neatly fitting.

"Once on a time"--there's nothing new, I said--
It may be fifty years ago or more,
Beside a lonely posting-road that led
Seaward from Town, there used to stand of yore,
With low-built bar and old bow-window shady,
An ancient Inn, the "Dragon and the Lady."

Say that by chance, wayfaring Reader mine,
You cast a shoe, and at this dusty Dragon,
Where beast and man were equal on the sign,
Inquired at once for Blacksmith and for flagon:
The landlord showed you, while you drank your hops,
A road-side break beyond the straggling shops.

And so directed, thereupon you led
Your halting roadster to a kind of pass,
This you descended with a crumbling tread,
And found the sea beneath you like a glass;
And soon, beside a building partly walled--
Half hut, half cave--you raised your voice and called.

Then a dog growled; and straightway there began
Tumult within--for, bleating with affright,
A goat burst out, escaping from the can;
And, following close, rose slowly into sight--
Blind of one eye, and black with toil and tan--
An uncouth, limping, heavy-shouldered man.

Part smith, part seaman, and part shepherd too:
You scarce knew which, as, pausing with the pail
Half filled with goat's milk, silently he drew
An anvil forth, and reaching shoe and nail,
Bared a red forearm, bringing into view
Anchors and hearts in shadowy tattoo.

And then he lit his fire.... But I dispense
Henceforth with you, my Reader, and your horse,
As being but a colorable pretence
To bring an awkward hero in perforce;
Since this our smith, for reasons never known,
To most society preferred his own.

Women declared that he'd an "Evil Eye,"--
This in a sense was true--he had but one;
Men, on the other hand, alleged him shy:
We sometimes say so of the friends we shun;
But, wrong or right, suffices to affirm it--
The Cyclops lived a veritable hermit,--

Dwelling below the cliff, beside the sea,
Caved like an ancient British Troglodyte,
Milking his goat at eve, and it may be,
Spearing the fish along the flats at night,
Until, at last, one April evening mild,
Came to the Inn a Lady and a Child.

The Lady was a nullity; the Child
One of those bright bewitching little creatures,
Who, if she once but shyly looked and smiled,
Would soften out the ruggedest of features;
Fragile and slight,--a very fay for size,--
With pale town-cheeks, and "clear germander eyes."

Nurses, no doubt, might name her "somewhat wild;"
And pedants, possibly, pronounce her "slow;"
Or corset-makers add, that for a child,
She needed "cultivation;"--all I know
Is that whene'er she spoke, or laughed, or romped, you
Felt in each act the beauty of impromptu.

The Lady was a nullity--a pale,
Nerveless and pulseless quasi-invalid,
Who, lest the ozone should in aught avail,
Remained religiously indoors to read;
So that, in wandering at her will, the Child
Did, in reality, run "somewhat wild."

At first but peering at the sanded floor
And great shark jaw-bone in the cosy bar;
Then watching idly from the dusky door,
The noisy advent of a coach or car;
Then stealing out to wonder at the fate
Of blistered Ajax by the garden gate,--

Some old ship's figure-head--until at last,
Straying with each excursion more and more,
She reached the limits of the road, and passed,
Plucking the pansies, downward to the shore,
And so, as you, respected Reader, showed,
Came to the smith's "desirable abode."

There by the cave the occupant she found,
Weaving a crate; and, with a gladsome cry,
The dog frisked out, although the Cyclops frowned
With all the terrors of his single eye;
Then from a mound came running, too, the goat,
Uttering her plaintive, desultory note.

The Child stood wondering at the silent man,
Doubtful to go or stay, when presently
She felt a plucking, for the goat began
To crop the trail of twining briony
She held behind her; so that, laughing, she
Turned her light steps, retreating, to the sea.

But the goat followed her on eager feet,
And therewithal an air so grave and mild,
Coupled with such a deprecatory bleat
Of injured confidence, that soon the Child
Filled the lone shore with louder merriment,
And e'en the Cyclops' heavy brow unbent.

Thus grew acquaintanceship between the pair,
The girl and goat;--for thenceforth, day by day,
The Child would bring her four-foot friend such fare
As might be gathered on the downward way:--
Foxglove, or broom, and "yellow cytisus,"
Dear to all goats since Greek Theocritus.

But, for the Cyclops, that misogynist
Having, by stress of circumstances, smiled,
Felt it at least incumbent to resist
Further encroachment, and as one beguiled
By adverse fortune, with the half-door shut,
Dwelt in the dim seclusion of his hut.

And yet not less from thence he still must see
That daily coming, and must hear the goat
Bleating her welcome; then, towards the sea,
The happy voices of the playmates float;
Until, at last, enduring it no more,
He took his wonted station by the door.

Here was, of course, a pitiful surrender;
For soon the Child, on whom the Evil Eye
Seemed to exert an influence but slender,
Would run to question him, till, by and by,
His moody humor like a cloud dispersing,
He found himself uneasily conversing.

That was a sow's-ear, that an egg of skate,
And this an agate rounded by the wave.
Then came inquiries still more intimate
About himself, the anvil, and the cave;
And then, at last, the Child, without alarm
Would even spell the letters on his arm.

"G--A--L--Galatea." So there grew
On his part, like some half-remembered tale,
The new-found memory of an ice-bound crew,
And vague garrulities of spouting whale,--
Of sea-cow basking upon berg and floe.
And Polar light, and stunted Eskimo.

Till, in his heart, which hitherto had been
Locked as those frozen barriers of the North,
There came once more the season of the green,--
The tender bud-time and the putting forth,
So that the man, before the new sensation,
Felt for the child a kind of adoration;--

Rising by night, to search for shell and flower,
To lay in places where she found them first;
Hoarding his cherished goat's milk for the hour
When those young lips might feel the summer's thirst;
Holding himself for all devotion paid
By that clear laughter of the little maid.

Dwelling, alas! in that fond Paradise
Where no to-morrow quivers in suspense,--
Where scarce the changes of the sky suffice
To break the soft forgetfulness of sense,--
Where dreams become realities; and where
I willingly would leave him--did I dare.

Yet for a little space it still endured,
Until, upon a day when least of all
The softened Cyclops, by his hopes assured,
Dreamed the inevitable blow could fall,
Came the stern moment that should all destroy,
Bringing a pert young cockerel of a Boy.

Middy, I think,--he'd "Acis" on his box:--
A black-eyed, sun-burnt, mischief-making imp,
Pet of the mess,--a Puck with curling locks,
Who straightway travestied the Cyclops' limp,
And marveled how his cousin so could care
For such a "one-eyed, melancholy Bear."

Thus there was war at once; not overt yet,
For still the Child, unwilling, would not break
The new acquaintanceship, nor quite forget
The pleasant past; while, for his treasure's sake,
The boding smith with clumsy efforts tried
To win the laughing scorner to his side.

There are some sights pathetic; none I know
More sad than this: to watch a slow-wrought mind
Humbling itself, for love, to come and go
Before some petty tyrant of its kind;
Saddest, ah!--saddest far,--when it can do
Naught to advance the end it has in view.

This was at least the Cyclops' case, until,
Whether the boy beguiled the Child away,
Or whether that limp Matron on the Hill
Woke from her novel-reading trance, one day
He waited long and wearily in vain,--
But, from that hour, they never came again.

Yet still he waited, hoping--wondering if
They still might come, or dreaming that he heard
The sound of far-off voices on the cliff,
Or starting strangely when the she-goat stirred;
But nothing broke the silence of the shore,
And, from that hour, the Child returned no more.

Therefore our Cyclops sorrowed,--not as one
Who can command the gamut of despair;
But as a man who feels his days are done,
So dead they seem,--so desolately bare;
For, though he'd lived a hermit, 'twas but only
Now he discovered that his life was lonely.

The very sea seemed altered, and the shore;
The very voices of the air were dumb;
Time was an emptiness that o'er and o'er
Ticked with the dull pulsation "Will she come?"
So that he sat "consuming in a dream,"
Much like his old forerunner, Polypheme.

Until there came the question, "Is she gone?"
With such sad sick persistence that at last,
Urged by the hungry thought which drove him on,
Along the steep declivity he passed,
And by the summit panting stood, and still,
Just as the horn was sounding on the hill.

Then, in a dream, beside the "Dragon" door,
The smith saw travellers standing in the sun;
Then came the horn again, and three or four
Looked idly at him from the roof, but One,--
A Child within,--suffused with sudden shame,
Thrust forth a hand, and called to him by name.

Thus the coach vanished from his sight, but he
Limped back with bitter pleasure in his pain;
He was not all forgotten--could it be?
And yet the knowledge made the memory vain;
And then--he felt a pressure in his throat,
So, for that night, forgot to milk his goat.

What then might come of silent misery,
What new resolvings then might intervene,
I know not. Only, with the morning sky,
The goat stood tethered on the "Dragon" green,
And those who, wondering, questioned thereupon,
Found the hut empty,--for the man was gone.

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