The Cicalas: An Idyll

A poem by Henry Newbolt

Scene: AN ENGLISH GARDEN BY STARLIGHT

Persons: A LADY AND A POET


THE POET

Dimly I see your face: I hear your breath
Sigh faintly, as a flower might sigh in death
And when you whisper, you but stir the air
With a soft hush like summer's own despair.


THE LADY (aloud)

O Night divine, O Darkness ever blest,
Give to our old sad Earth eternal rest.
Since from her heart all beauty ebbs away,
Let her no more endure the shame of day.


THE POET

A thousand ages have not made less bright
The stars that in this fountain shine to-night:
Your eyes in shadow still betray the gleam
That every son of man desires in dream.


THE LADY

Yes, hearts will burn when all the stars are cold;
And Beauty lingers--but her tale is told:
Mankind has left her for a game of toys,
And fleets the golden hour with speed and noise.


THE POET

Think you the human heart no longer feels
Because it loves the swift delight of wheels?
And is not Change our one true guide on earth,
The surest hand that leads us from our birth?


THE LADY

Change were not always loss, if we could keep
Beneath all change a clear and windless deep:
But more and more the tides that through us roll
Disturb the very sea-bed of the soul.


THE POET

The foam of transient passions cannot fret
The sea-bed of the race, profounder yet:
And there, where Greece and her foundations are,
Lies Beauty, built below the tide of war.


THE LADY

So--to the desert, once in fifty years--
Some poor mad poet sings, and no one hears:
But what belated race, in what far clime,
Keeps even a legend of Arcadian time?


THE POET

Not ours perhaps: a nation still so young,
So late in Rome's deserted orchard sprung,
Bears not as yet, but strikes a hopeful root
Till the soil yield its old Hesperian fruit.


THE LADY

Is not the hour gone by? The mystic strain,
Degenerate once, may never spring again.
What long-forsaken gods shall we invoke
To grant such increase to our common oak?


THE POET

Yet may the ilex, of more ancient birth,
More deeply planted in that genial earth,
From her Italian wildwood even now
Revert, and bear once more the golden bough.


THE LADY

A poet's dream was never yet less great
Because it issued through the ivory gate!
Show me one leaf from that old wood divine,
And all your ardour, all your hopes are mine.


THE POET

May Venus bend me to no harder task!
For--Pan be praised!--I hold the gift you ask.
The leaf, the legend, that your wish fulfils,
To-day he brought me from the Umbrian hills.


THE LADY

Your young Italian--yes! I saw you stand
And point his path across our well-walled land:
A sculptor's model, but alas! no god:
These narrow fields the goat-foot never trod!


THE POET

Yet from his eyes the mirth a moment glanced
To which the streams of old Arcadia danced;
And on his tongue still lay the childish lore
Of that lost world for which you hope no more.


THE LADY

Tell me!--from where I watched I saw his face,
And his hands moving with a rustic grace,
Caught too the alien sweetness of his speech,
But sound alone, not sense, my ears could reach.


THE POET

He asked if we in England ever heard
The tiny beasts, half insect and half bird,
That neither eat nor sleep, but die content
When they in endless song their strength have spent.


THE LADY

Cicalas! how the name enchants me back
To the grey olives and the dust-white track!
Was there a story then?--I have forgot,
Or else by chance my Umbrians told it not.


THE POET

Lover of music, you at least should know
That these were men in ages long ago,--
Ere music was,--and then the Muses came,
And love of song took hold on them like flame.


THE LADY

Yes, I remember now the voice that speaks--
Most living still of all the deathless Greeks--
Yet tell me--how they died divinely mad,
And of the Muses what reward they had.


THE POET

They are reborn on earth, and from the first
They know not sleep, they hunger not nor thirst
Summer with glad Cicala's song they fill,
Then die, and go to haunt the Muses' Hill.


THE LADY

They are reborn indeed! and rightly you
The far-heard echo of their music knew!
Pray now to Pan, since you too, it would seem,
Were there with Phaedrus, by Ilissus' stream.


THE POET

Beloved Pan, and all ye gods whose grace
For ever haunts our short life's resting-place,
Outward and inward make me one true whole,
And grant me beauty in the inmost soul!


THE LADY

And thou, O Night, O starry Queen of Air,
Remember not my blind and faithless prayer!
Let me too live, let me too sing again,
Since Beauty wanders still the ways of men.

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