The Harp-Player On Etna

A poem by Matthew Arnold



Hist! once more!
Listen, Pausanias! Aye, ’tis Callicles!
I know those notes among a thousand. Hark!


(Sings unseen, from below.)
The track winds down to the clear stream,
To cross the sparkling shallows; there
The, cattle love to gather, on their way
To the high mountain pastures, and to stay,
Till the rough cow-herds drive them past,
Knee-deep in the cool ford; for ’tis the last
Of all the woody, high, well-water’d dells
On Etna; and the beam
Of noon is broken there by chestnut boughs
Down its steep verdant sides; the air
Is freshen’d by the leaping stream, which throws
Eternal showers of spray on the moss’d roots
Of trees, and veins of turf, and long dark shoots
Of ivy-plants, and fragrant hanging bells
Of hyacinths, and on late anemonies,
That muffle its wet banks; but glade,
And stream, and sward, and chestnut trees,
End here; Etna beyond, in the broad glare
Of the hot noon, without a shade,
Slope behind slope, up to the peak, lies bare;
The peak, round which the white clouds play.
In such a glen, on such a day,
On Pelion, on the grassy ground,
Chiron, the aged Centaur, lay,
The young Achilles standing by.
The Centaur taught him to explore
The mountains; where the glens are dry,
And the tired Centaurs come to rest,
And where the soaking springs abound,
And the straight ashes grow for spears,
And where the hill-goats come to feed,
And the sea-eagles build their nest.
He show’d him Phthia far away,
And said: O boy, I taught this lore
To Peleus, in long distant years!
He told him of the Gods, the stars,
The tides;, and then of mortal wars,
And of the life which heroes lead
Before they reach the Elysian place
And rest in the immortal mead;
And all the wisdom of his race.



[He advances to the edge of the crater. Smoke
and fire break forth with a loud noise, and
CALLICLES is heard below singing:

The lyre’s voice is lovely everywhere!
In the court of Gods, in the city of men,
And in the lonely rock-strewn mountain glen.
In the still mountain air.

Only to Typho it sounds hatefully!
To Typho only, the rebel o’erthrown,
Through whose heart Etna drives her roots of stone,
To imbed them in the sea.

Wherefore dost thou groan so loud?
Wherefore do thy nostrils flash,
Through the dark night, suddenly,
Typho, such red jets of flame?
Is thy tortur’d heart still proud?
Is thy fire-scath’d arm still rash?
Still alert thy stone-crush’d frame?
Doth thy fierce soul still deplore
The ancient rout by the Cilician hills,
And that curst treachery on the Mount of Gore?
Do thy bloodshot eyes still see
The fight that crown’d thy ills,
Thy last defeat in this Sicilian sea?
Hast thou sworn, in thy sad lair,
Where east the strong sea-currents suck’d thee down,
Never to cease to writhe, and try to sleep,
Letting the sea-stream wander through thy hair?
That thy groans, like thunder deep,
Begin to roll, and almost drown
The sweet notes, whose lulling spell
Gods and the race of mortals love so well,
When through thy eaves thou hearest music swell?

But an awful pleasure bland
Spreading o’er the Thunderer’s face,
When the sound climbs near his seat,
The Olympian council sees;
As he lets his lax right hand,
Which the lightnings doth embrace,
Sink upon his mighty knees.
And the eagle, at the beck
Of the appeasing gracious harmony,
Droops all his sheeny, brown, deep-feather’d neck,
Nestling nearer to Jove’s feet;
While o’er his sovereign eye
The curtains of the blue films slowly meet,
And the white Olympus peaks
Rosily brighten, and the sooth’d Gods smile
At one another from their golden chairs,
And no one round the charmèd circle speaks.
Only the loved Hebe bears
The cup about, whose draughts beguile
Pain and care, with a dark store
Of fresh-pull’d violets wreath’d and nodding o’er;
And her flush’d feet glow on the marble floor.



CALLICLES (from below)

As the sky-brightening south-wind clears the day,
And makes the mass’d clouds roll,
The music of the lyre blows away
The clouds that wrap the soul.

Oh, that Fate had let me see
That triumph of the sweet persuasive lyre!
That famous, final victory
When jealous Pan with Marsyas did conspire!

When, from far Parnassus’ side,
Young Apollo, all the pride
Of the Phrygian flutes to tame,
To the Phrygian highlands came!
Where the long green reed-beds sway
In the rippled waters grey
Of that solitary lake
Where Maeander’s springs are born;
Where the ridg’d pine-wooded roots
Of Messogis westward break,
Mounting westward, high and higher.
There was held the famous strife;
There the Phrygian brought his flutes,
And Apollo brought his lyre;
And, when now the westering sun
Touch’d the hills, the strife was done,
And the attentive Muses said
‘Marsyas! thou art vanquishèd.’
Then Apollo’s minister
Hang’d upon a branching fir
Marsyas, that unhappy Faun,
And began to whet his knife.
But the Maenads, who were there,
Left their friend, and with robes flowing
In the wind, and loose dark hair
O’er their polish’d bosoms blowing,
Each her ribbon’d tambourine
Flinging on the mountain sod,
With a lovely frighten’d mien
Came about the youthful God.
But he turn’d his beauteous face
Haughtily another way,
From the grassy sun-warm’d place,
Where in proud repose he lay,
With one arm over his head,
Watching how the whetting sped.

But aloof on the lake strand,
Did the young Olympus stand,
Weeping at his master’s end;
For the Faun had been his friend.
For he taught him how to sing.
And he taught him flute-playing.
Many a morning had they gone
To the glimmering mountain lakes,
And had torn up by the roots
The tall crested water-reeds
With long plumes, and soft brown seeds,
And had carved them into flutes,
Sitting on a tabled stone
Where the shoreward ripple breaks.
And he taught him how to please
The red-snooded Phrygian girls,
Whom the summer evening sees
Flashing in the dance’s whirls
Underneath the starlit trees
In the mountain villages.
Therefore now Olympus stands,
At his master’s piteous cries
Pressing fast with both his hands
His white garment to his eyes,
Not to see Apollo’s scorn;
Ah, poor Faun, poor Faun! ah, poor Faun!



CALLICLES (front below)

Through the black, rushing smoke-bursts,
Thick breaks the red flame;
All Etna heaves fiercely
Her forest-cloth’d frame.

Not here, O Apollo
Are haunts meet for thee.
But, where Helicon breaks down
In cliff to the sea,

Where the moon-silver’d inlets
Send far their light voice
Up the still vale of Thisbe,
O speed, and rejoice!

On the sward at the cliff-top
Lie strewn the white flocks;
On the cliff-side the pigeons
Roost deep in the rocks.

In the moonlight the shepherds,
Soft lull’d by the rills,
Lie wrapt in their blankets,
Asleep on the hills.

What forms are these coming
So white through the gloom:’
What garments out-glistening
The gold-flower’d broom?

What sweet-breathing presence
Out-perfumes the thyme?
What voices enrapture
The night’s balmy prime?

’Tis Apollo comes leading
His choir, the Nine.
The leader is fairest,
But all are divine.

They are lost in the hollows!
They stream up again!
What seeks on this mountain
The glorified train?

They bathe on this mountain,
In the spring by their road;
Then on to Olympus,
Their endless abode!

Whose praise do they mention
Of what is it told?
What will be for ever;
What was from of old.

First hymn they the Father
Of all things; and then
The rest of immortals,
The action of men.

The day in his hotness,
The strife with the palm;
The night in her silence,
The stars in their calm.

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