On the sea-shore at Cyprus stood
A little shelter’d rustic altar,
Where those whom Venus loved could come
And pious prayers and praises falter.
’Twas humble, yet the Golden Age
Ere tyrants were, had kept it guarded,
And centuries long that little fane
A sheltering plane had greenly warded.
Up to its marble steps the waves
Came creeping, courtier-like, in whispers
The Zephyrs spoke among the boughs,
Like lovers, or like infant-lispers;
Dark violets purpled all the turf
Beneath that plane-tree’s soft green shadow,
Nowhere the amaranth grew so fair
As just within that sea-side meadow.
Phædon, a sculptor, Lemnian born,
Had toil’d for years to deck that altar
With his best art; no lust for gold
Or bad men’s scorn could make him falter;
So he had carved his dead love’s face
As Clytè—praying still in anguish
That for one hour she might return
From those dark shades where sad souls languish.
“’Tis done!” one eve the sculptor cried,
And knelt in prayer to Aphroditè.
His dream stood petrified at last,
That marble nymph—his gentle Clytè.
The goddess heard him as he knelt,
And smiled from rosy clouds, consenting;
The maid was ferried back to earth,
Pluto for one short hour relenting.
That swelling breast—the lover’s pillow—
Was now of Parian crystal whiteness;
Those Juno arms, that Jove might fold,
Were of a smooth and radiant lightness;
Her hair in rippling wave on wave
Crown’d a fair head so sweetly mournful,
The eyes were full of tender grief,
The full-lipp’d mouth was witching scornful.
The room was dark where Phædon knelt,
But as he prayed the moonbeams entered,
And, like a crown of glory pure,
Upon the brow of Clytè centred;
Then down her face they gently stole,
With silver all her raiment sheathing.
His prayer was answered; Phædon cried,
“She lives! she lives! I hear her breathing!”
Like one who, rousing from a trance,
Reluctant wakes, and half in sorrow,
Clytè stepp’d from that pedestal—
Death had been vanquish’d till the morrow.
She kiss’d her lover’s burning brow,
Her soft white arms around him lacing;
Venus had sent her from the dead
To soothe him with her sweet embracing.
But when day dawn’d and he awoke,
That rainbow-dream had pass’d for ever—
The nymph had turn’d to stone again,
To wake to life and beauty—never.
With a deep sigh he kiss’d the lips
Of that sweet nymph, once more reposing;
Then seized his shaping-steel and clay
To toil till life’s long day was closing.
He wept not, but, in patience strong,
Thought of the blissful re-uniting,
As soldiers do of rest and sleep
After a long day’s toilsome fighting;
And in his art content he toil’d
To deck that fane of Aphroditè,
And by him, as he laboured, stood
His statue of the gentle Clytè.