L'Après-Midi D'un Faune

(From the French of Stéphane Mallarmé.)

I would immortalize these nymphs: so bright
   Their sunlit colouring, so airy light,
   It floats like drowsing down. Loved I a dream?
   My doubts, born of oblivious darkness, seem
   A subtle tracery of branches grown
   The tree’s true self—proving that I have known
   No triumph, but the shadow of a rose.
   But think. These nymphs, their loveliness ... suppose
   They bodied forth your senses’ fabulous thirst?
   Illusion! which the blue eyes of the first,
   As cold and chaste as is the weeping spring,
   Beget: the other, sighing, passioning,
   Is she the wind, warm in your fleece at noon?
   No, through this quiet, when a weary swoon
   Crushes and chokes the latest faint essay
   Of morning, cool against the encroaching day,
   There is no murmuring water, save the gush
   Of my clear fluted notes; and in the hush
   Blows never a wind, save that which through my reed
   Puffs out before the rain of notes can speed
   Upon the air, with that calm breath of art
   That mounts the unwrinkled zenith visibly,
   Where inspiration seeks its native sky.
   You fringes of a calm Sicilian lake,
   The sun’s own mirror which I love to take,
   Silent beneath your starry flowers, tell
   _How here I cut the hollow rushes, well
   Tamed by my skill, when on the glaucous gold
   Of distant lawns about their fountain cold
   A living whiteness stirs like a lazy wave;
   And at the first slow notes my panpipes gave
   These flocking swans, these naiads, rather, fly
   Or dive._ Noon burns inert and tawny dry,
   Nor marks how clean that Hymen slipped away
   From me who seek in song the real A.
   Wake, then, to the first ardour and the sight,
   O lonely faun, of the old fierce white light,
   With, lilies, one of you for innocence.
   Other than their lips’ delicate pretence,
   The light caress that quiets treacherous lovers,
   My breast, I know not how to tell, discovers
   The bitten print of some immortal’s kiss.
   But hush! a mystery so great as this
   I dare not tell, save to my double reed,
   Which, sharer of my every joy and need,
   Dreams down its cadenced monologues that we
   Falsely confuse the beauties that we see
   With the bright palpable shapes our song creates:
   My flute, as loud as passion modulates,
   Purges the common dream of flank and breast,
   Seen through closed eyes and inwardly caressed,
   Of every empty and monotonous line.
   Bloom then, O Syrinx, in thy flight malign,
   A reed once more beside our trysting-lake.
   Proud of my music, let me often make
   A song of goddesses and see their rape
   Profanely done on many a painted shape.
   So when the grape’s transparent juice I drain,
   I quell regret for pleasures past and feign
   A new real grape. For holding towards the sky
   The empty skin, I blow it tight and lie
   Dream-drunk till evening, eyeing it.
                                         Tell o’er
   Remembered joys and plump the grape once more.
   _Between the reeds I saw their bodies gleam
   Who cool no mortal fever in the stream
   Crying to the woods the rage of their desire:
   And their bright hair went down in jewelled fire
   Where crystal broke and dazzled shudderingly.
   I check my swift pursuit: for see where lie,
   Bruised, being twins in love, by languor sweet,
   Two sleeping girls, clasped at my very feet.
   I seize and run with them, nor part the pair,
   Breaking this covert of frail petals, where
   Roses drink scent of the sun and our light play
   'Mid tumbled flowers shall match the death of day._
   I love that virginal fury—ah, the wild
   Thrill when a maiden body shrinks, defiled,
   Shuddering like arctic light, from lips that sear
   Its nakedness ... the flesh in secret fear!
   Contagiously through my linked pair it flies
   Where innocence in either, struggling, dies,
   Wet with fond tears or some less piteous dew.
   _Gay in the conquest of these fears, I grew
   So rash that I must needs the sheaf divide
   Of ruffled kisses heaven itself had tied.
   For as I leaned to stifle in the hair
   Of one my passionate laughter (taking care
   With a stretched finger, that her innocence
   Might stain with her companion’s kindling sense
   To touch the younger little one, who lay
   Child-like unblushing) my ungrateful prey
   Slips from me, freed by passion’s sudden death,
   Nor heeds the frenzy of my sobbing breath._
   Let it pass! others of their hair shall twist
   A rope to drag me to those joys I missed.
   See how the ripe pomegranates bursting red
   To quench the thirst of the mumbling bees have bled;
   So too our blood, kindled by some chance fire,
   Flows for the swarming legions of desire.
   At evening, when the woodland green turns gold
   And ashen grey, 'mid the quenched leaves, behold!
   Red Etna glows, by Venus visited,
   Walking the lava with her snowy tread
   Whene’er the flames in thunderous slumber die.
   I hold the goddess!
                       Ah, sure penalty!
   But the unthinking soul and body swoon
   At last beneath the heavy hush of noon.
   Forgetful let me lie where summer’s drouth
   Sifts fine the sand and then with gaping mouth
   Dream planet-struck by the grape’s round wine-red star.
   Nymphs, I shall see the shade that now you are.
Other works by Aldous Huxley ...