More cod-Renaissance poetry, anyone? Just me then…
This poem has been sitting around unfinished for years. Its preoccupation with the Muses suggests I was writing it around the same time as the second canto of my absurd homage to The Faerie Queene, but the subject of this hymn is Nyx, a classical goddess of the night. A primordial figure, a first principal associated with creation and the mothering of gods, she is seen only in shadowy glimpses but possesses such exceptional power that she daunted Zeus himself.
For a long time I’d been stuck on the eighth verse and didn’t know where to take the poem after the ninth. I brought it along to a reunion of my old writing group and enjoyed reading what I had, so set out to break my block at last. Still don’t know what I think about this draft – any thoughts or suggestions most welcome!
O Sisters nine, I pray, impartial be,
Nor for the love you bear your father sheen
Look harshly on these humble lines, or me –
But lend your aid to praise the darkness’ Queen.
With heady draughts from Helicon’s quick springs
My tongue exult, to exalt her deity;
Then plucking from the stars that lyre whose strings
Orpheus pluckt, this lay accompany.
Or if the ancient feud too violent proves,
‘Twixt Night and Day, for you to curb your ire:
Still gash my mouth with Pegasus’ fell hooves
And there a second Hippocrene inspire.
Or should you deem my stumbling verse too rude,
Then make a second Marsyas of me:
That from my flesh a lyre might be thewed
Forth pouring hymns to Nyx eternally.
For whether aid or ire, O maidens bright,
Still must ye bow your heads, and cloak your rays,
In deference unto primeval Night,
While I her dusky splendours darkly blaze.
For what can prideful Day boast more than Night?
And how should Night derided be by Day?
When only by the dark may we mark light,
Yet without light still Night’s dark charms bewray?
For though sweet flowers dazzle in the sun,
Their incense burns more sweetly ‘neath night’s veil;
Nor can the jay’s bright feathers overrun
The senses like the soft-tongued nightingale.
And can the daylight on thy love’s silk skin
Outmatch the midnight’s warmth beneath thy hand?
And does not all enlightenment seem thin
Beside those things in dreams we understand?
Eke while Day brings but toil, and daily cares,
The Night grants every weary worker sleep,
To beg at fate no more with futile prayers,
But praises soft upon their pillows heap.
Nor only rest, but revels are the Night’s,
The tabor and the pipe, the wine, the dance,
The joy which honest merriment invites
And all that follows from flirtatious glance.
So sisters nine, I beg you, do not cling
Unto Parnassus’ verge for that last sight
Of evening’s glow, but heed me as I sing:
Come down into the valley of the Night.
Let rest your weeping eyes, Melpemone;
Clio, let be those scrolls in dead sea jars;
Put down your pen and sleep, Calliope;
Urania, behold the whirling stars!
O Polyhymnia, pour out the wine!
Thalia, drink; dance on, Terpsichore;
Erato, join your throbbing voice to mine;
Euterpe, play that flute with gaiety.
In time let each with each a partner find,
Nor fear that Cupid’s dart might miss its mark:
Night’s devotee, he chooses to be blind
And knows right well his target in the dark.
Then lie exhausted down beneath Night’s cloak
And trace the contours of your lovers’ face
While I, my thoughts adrift like scented smoke,
Fall on into my goddess’s embrace.
Just maintaining my cred as a creature of the night…