Henry Alford

(1810-1871 / England)

The Epitaph Of Bion.


Dolefully sound, ye groves and Dorian waters,
Lament, ye rivers, our beloved Bion;
Mourn, all ye plants, and whisper low, ye forests;
Ye flowers, breathe sadly from your drooping petals;
Put on deep red, anemones and roses;
Wail thine own letters, hyacinth, and ai ai
Write double on thy leaves for our sweet poet.

Begin the grief, begin, Sicilian Muses.
Ye nightingales, in the thick leafage sobbing,
Tell the Sicilian streams of Arethusa
Bion is dead, the shepherd--boy, and with him
Song too is dead, and all the Dorian music.

Begin the grief, begin, Sicilian Muses.
Strymonian swans, sing sadly by your waters;
Warble a funeral elegy, in ditties
Such as he sung, the rival of your voices.
Tell the Œagrian Nymphs, and tell the damsels
That play in Thrace, Dead is the Dorian Orpheus.

Begin the grief, begin, Sicilian Muses.
Our friend shall pipe beside his flocks no longer,
Nor sit and sing alone beneath the ilex;
But tunes oblivious strains to sullen Pluto.
Mute are the mountains, and the herd is straying
And will not feed, but wanders sadly lowing.

Begin the grief, begin, Sicilian Muses.
Thine early death lamented great Apollo,
Pan wept to miss thy singing, all the Naiads
Wept in their woods, and turned to tears their fountains;
Echo is weeping that she must be silent
Thy lips no longer mocking. At thy parting
Trees shed their fruit, and all the flowers were blighted;
Milk failed the flocks, and in our hives the honey
Sunk mouldering in the wax; for no more sweetness
Shall there be, now thy honey--song hath perished.

Begin the grief, begin, Sicilian Muses.
Not so beside the sea--beach wailed the dolphin,
Nor nightingale in shrubby rocks embowered,
Nor on the long green hills the piping swallow;
Not so for his Alcyone wept Ceÿx;
Nor Cerylus along the dark--blue waters;
Not so in Eastern dells the birds of Memnon
Wailed, flying round his tomb, the son of Ao,
As all lamented for the death of Bion.

Begin the grief, begin, Sicilian Muses.
Shepherd, with thee the Muses' gifts have perished--
All beauty, and the joy of youthful lovers--
Sadly the Loves around thy tomb are weeping:
Cypris hath loved thee better than the memory
Of the last kiss she prest on pale Adonis.

Begin the grief, begin, Sicilian Muses.
Thou tunefullest of streams, a second sorrow,
A second sorrow, Meles, hath befallen;
Thy Homer died, sweet prophet of the Muses;
And then, they say, thy glorious son thou wailest
Along thy shallows, and far into ocean
Carriedst the sound of grief: and now another
Must thou lament, and dry away for anguish.
Both were beloved by fountains: one was favoured
Of Hippocrene, and one of Arethusa;
One sung the lay of Tyndarus' fair daughter,
The son of Thetis, and the twin Atreidae;
But ours no wars, nor tears--the god of shepherds
And herdsmen sung he, as his flock he tended,
And bound the syrinx, and milked the sweet--breathed heifers,
And spake of Love, and was dear to Aphrodita.

Begin the grief, begin, Sicilian Muses.
All countries mourn for thee, all ancient cities:
Not so mourned Ascra for her Shepherd--prophet;
Not so the castled Lesbos for Alcaeus;
Nor Ceos her old songster; not so Paros
Archilochus desires; and leaving Sappho
Thy legend sings the widowed Mitylene.

Begin the grief, begin, Sicilian Muses.
Alas! when mallows perish in the gardens,
The crisp--green parsley, and the hardy anise,
They live again, and grow another summer;
But we, the great and strong, the sons of wisdom,
When first we die, unknown in earthy hollow
Sleep a long boundless sleep, that hath no waking.
Thou shalt be gathered to the dust in silence,
But sorry songsters live and sing for ever:
Well have the Muses ordered it, for better
Sing sweet and die, than be like them immortal.

Begin the grief, begin, Sicilian Muses.
Poison hath touched thy mouth, a draught of poison;--
How came it to thy lips and was not sweetened?
What man so cruel that for thee could mingle,
Or offering it escaped uncharmed thy singing?

Begin the grief, begin Sicilian Muses.
Who now shall sound thy reed, beloved poet?
Who is so bold that to his lips will bear it?
To Pan I offer it; but Pan refuses
To wake its melody, lest he in playing
Should miss thy skill, and be adjudged thy second.

Submitted: Monday, April 19, 2010

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