Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 4/The dirge of Adonis

Translation of part of a poem by Bion of Smyrna (1st century BCE).



Ai! ai! wail for Adonis!—the young Loves wail for him, ai! ai!
Hurt on the hill lies Adonis the beautiful; torn with the boar’s tusk,
Torn on the ivory thigh with the ivory tusk, his low gasping

Anguishes Cypris’ soul:—the dark blood trickles in rivers
Down from his snowy side,—his eyes are dreamily dimming
Under their lids; and the rose leaves his lip, and the kisses upon it
Fade, and wax fainter, and faintest, and die, before Cypris can snatch them;
Dear to the Goddess his kiss, though it be not the kiss of the living;
Dear—but Adonis wists none of the mouth that kissed him a dying.

Ai! ai! wail for Adonis!—ai! ai! say the Loves for Adonis.
Cruel! ah, cruel the wound on the thigh of the hunter Adonis,
Yet in her innermost heart a deeper wears Queen Cytheræa.
Round the fair dead boy his hounds go, dismally howling;
Bound him the hill-spirits weep; but chiefest of all Aphrodite,
Bitterly bitterly wailing, through all the long hollows laments him,
Calling him Husband and Love—her Boy—her Syrian Hunter.
Meantime dead in his gore lieth he—from groin unto shoulder
Bloody; from breast to thigh; the fair young flank of Adonis,
Heretofore white as the snow, dull now, and dabbled with purple.

Ai! ai! sad Cytheræa—the Loves all answer with ai! ai!
All the cliffs echo it, all the oaks rustle it, Ai! for Adonis.
Even the river-waves ripple the sorrows of sad Aphrodite,—
Even the springs on the hills have a tear for the hunter Adonis;
Yea, and the rose-leaves are redder for grief; for the grief Cytheræa
Tells in the hollow dells, and utters to townland and woodland.

Ai! ai! Lady of Cyprus, “Lo! dead is my darling Adonis!”
Echo answers thee back,—“Oh! dead is thy darling Adonis.”
Who, good sooth, but would say, Ai! ai! for her passionate story?
When that she saw and knew the wound of Adonis,—the death-wound—
Saw the blood come red from the gash, and the white thigh a-waning,
Wide outraught she her arms, and cried, “Ah! stay, my Adonis!
Stay for me, ill-starred love!—stay! stay! till I take thee the last time,
Hold thee and fold thee, and lips meet lips, and mingle together.
Rouse thee—a little, Adonis! kiss back for the last time, beloved!
Kiss me—kiss me—only so long as the life of a kiss is!
So I may suck from thy soul to my mouth, to my innermost heart-beat,
All the breath of thy life, and take the last of its love-spell
Unto the uttermost drop—one kiss! I will tenderly keep it
As I did thee, my Adonis, sith thou dost leave me, Adonis!
Utterly hapless my fate, and utterly hopeless my grief is,
Weeping my love who is dead to me; hating the Fate that hath slain him.
Fled is my joy, like a dream; thou art dead, thrice lovely and longed for!
Queen Cytheræa is widowed—the Loves in my bowers are idle—
Gone my charmed girdle with thee; why, rash one, went’st thou a-hunting?—
Mad wert thou, being so fair, to match thee with beasts of the forest.”

Edwin Arnold.