Gnatho

A poem by Maurice Henry Hewlett

Gnatho, Satyr, homing at dusk,
Trotting home like a tired dog,
By mountain slopes 'twixt the junipers
And flamed oleanders near the sea,
Found a girl-child asleep in a fleece,
Frail as wax, golden and rose;
Whereat at first he skipt aside
And stayed him, nosing and peering, whereto
Next he crept, softly breathing,
Blinking his fear. None was there
To guard; the sun had dipt in the sea,
Faint fire empurpled the flow
Of heaving water; no speck, no hint
Of oar or wing on the main, on the deep
Sky, empty as a great shell,
Fainting in its own glory. This thing,
This rare breath, this miracle--
Alone with him in the world! His
To wonder, fall to, with craning eyes
Fearfully daring; next, since it moved not,
Stooping, to handle, to stroke, to peer upon
Closely, nosing its tender length,
Doglike snuffing--at last to kiss
In reverence wonderful, lightlier far
Than thistledown falls, brushing the Earth.
But the child awoke and, watching him, cried not,
Cruddled visage, choppy hands,
Blinking eyes, red-litten, astare,
Horns and feet--nay, crowed and strained
To reach this wonder.
As one a glass
Light as foam, hued like the foam,
A breath-bubble of fire, will carry,
He in arms lifted his freight,
Looking wonderfully upon it
With scarce a breath, and humbleness
To be so brute ebbed to the flood
Of pride in his new assuréd worth--
Trusted so, who could be vile?

So to his cave in the wood he bore her,
Fleeting swift as a fear thro' the dark trees.

There in the silence of tall trees,
Under the soaring shafts,
Far beneath the canopied leafage,
In the forest whisper, the thick silences;
Or on the wastes
Of sheltered mountains where the spires
Of solemn cypress frame the descent
Upon the blue, and open to sea--
Here grew Ianthe maiden slim
With none to spy but this gnarled man-brute;
Most fair, most hid, like a wood-flower
Slim for lack of light; so she grew
In flowering line of limb
And flower of face, retired and shy,
Urged by the bland air; unknown,
Lonely and lovely, husbanding
Her great possessions--hers now,
Another's when he cared to claim them.
For thus went life: to lead the herds
Of pricking deer she saw the great stags
Battle in empty glades, then mate;
Thus on the mountains chose the bears,
And in the woods she heard the wolves
Anguishing in their loves
Thro' the dense nights, far in the forest.
And so collected went she, and sure
Her time would come and with it her master.

But Gnatho watcht her under his brows
When she lay heedless, spilling beauty--
How ever lovelier, suppler, sleeker,
How more desirable, how near;
How rightly his, how surely his--
Then gnaw'd his cheek and turn'd his head.

For unsuspect, some dim forbidding
Rose within him and knockt at his heart
And said, Not thine, but for reverence.
And some wild horror desperate drove him,
Suing a pardon from unknown Gods
For untold trespass, to seek the sea,
Upon whose shore, to whose cool breathing
He'd stretch his arms, broken with strife
Of self and self; and all that water
Steadfast lapt and surged. Came tears
To furrow his cheeks, came strength to return
To her, and bear with longer breath
Her sweet familiarities, blind
Obedience to nascent blind desire--
Till again he lookt and burn'd again.

Thus his black ferment boil'd. O' nights
He'd dream and revel frenziedly
As with the love-stung nymphs. Awake,
In a chill sweat, he'd tear at himself,
Claw at his flesh and leap in the brook,
Drench the red embers of his vice
Into a mass abhorred. Clean then,
He'd seek his bed and pass unscath'd
The bower of fern where the sleek limbs
Of white Ianthe, mesht in her hair,
Lay lax in sleep. But Gnatho now
Saw only God, as on some still peak
Snowy and lonely under the stars
We look, and see God in all that calm.

One night of glamour, under a moon
That seemed to steep the air with gold,
They two sat stilly and watcht the sea
Tremulously heaving over a path
Of light like a river of molten gold.
Warm blew the breeze to land; she lean'd
Her idle head, idly played
Her fingers in his belt, and he
Embracing held her, yielding, subdued;
Sideways saw the curve of her cheek,
Downcast lashes, droopt lip
Which seem'd to court his pleasure--
Then
On waves of fire came racing his needs
With zest of rage to possess and tear
That which his frenzy, maskt as love,
Courted: so he lean'd to her ear,
Thrilled in torrents hoarse his case--
"Love, I burn, I burn!
Slake me, love!" He raved in whisper.
And she lookt up with her wide full eyes,
Saying, "My love!" and yielded herself.

Deep night settled on hill and plain,
The moon went out, the concourse of stars
Lay strewn above, and with golden eyes
Peered on them lockt. Far and faint
The great stags belled; far and faint
Quested the wolves; the leopards' howling
Lent desolation to night; and low
The night-jar purr'd. At sea one light
Swayed restlessly, and on the rocks
Sounded the tireless lapping deep.
Lockt they lay thro' all the silences.

Dawn stole in with whimper of rain
And a wailing wind from the sea--
Gray sea, gray dawn and scurrying clouds
And scud of rain. The fisher boat,
The sands, the headlands fringed with broom
And tamarisk were blotted.
Alone,
Caged in the mist of earth
That beat his torment back to himself,
So that in vain he sought for the Gods,
And lifted up hands in vain
To witness this white wreck prone and still--
Gnatho the Satyr blinkt on his work.

1898-1912.

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