Apollo's Song

NOT on the earth he stood, but lifted up
High on a changeful cloud, now tinct with dawn,
Now gray as starless night on dreaming snows,
And if the cloud turned, or the god alone
Turned in his song, I know not; but methought
All the world-throng beheld him face to face.
Low breathed the deep beginning. None might say
Where Silence dipped her coasts in Song’s sweet seas,
Nor when we launched thereon ; at once afloat
We found us, and to float on that strange tide
Was ecstasy. Nay, if Elysium lay
Beyond such seas, the great souls thither bound
Would loiter like schoolboys along the way.
All senses now were swallowed up in one,
All thought, all feeling, aye, the Soul itself
Sat in the ear ; as when some city’s throng
Stall, hall, and home, and market-place forsake
And crowd the minster gates to crown their king,
Crowned in their hearts already. If the spell
Lay on us for an hour, or hour of years,
None knew ; but all too soon the tuneful flood
Caressed us homeward, and our spirits touched
Once more the gray coasts of Reality.
Thus the god sang and ceased — or would have ceased,
But for a passionate cry, born of a heart
“ Lo, thy songs ” (so rang the cry),
“ Be all of heaven. Sing us, O God, the songs
Of Men ! ”
An instant then Apollo paused,
Laid down his lyre, his lissome fingers clasped
Behind him, and, a simple-hearted youth
Supreme in beauty, lifted up his voice
He sang of Youth and June ; green fields
And dancing feet and velvet orchard floors
Pink with perfumèd snows ; of bees and birds
And the shy tinkle of too happy brooks
Wimpling among the roses. Then young Love
Moved through the music, and with him first came
The troubled note that, like the sombre lines
In imaged light, runs through all mortal joy.
Not this the sounding chant Olympus knew,
Nor a god singing; earthly bliss and grief
Mixed in these chords, an aching bliss, a grief
Dearer than half our joys. All human life
Flowed through the melody, and evermore
Echoing sighs ; until at last the god,
Leaving the palpable, in haunting strains
Too keen, too thrilling sweet for homesick hearts
To exile doomed, ’gan breathe of voiceless hopes
And deep unutterable dreams that are
The soul’s blind fumbling at the breast of Fate
Here in Time’s darkness. Then with sound of tears,
Like the night rain in desolate autumn woods,
A broken cry went up, “ Forbear, O God,
Forbear, lest thou shouldst slay us with thy song!”
William Hervey Woods.