Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The Burden of Itys (Author: Oscar Wilde)


  1. This English Thames is holier far than Rome,
    Those harebells like a sudden flush of sea
    Breaking across the woodland, with the foam
    Of meadow-sweet and white anemone
    To fleck their blue waves,—God is likelier there,
    Than hidden in that crystal-hearted star the pale monks bear!
  2. Those violet-gleaming butterflies that take
    Yon creamy lily for their pavilion
    Are monsignores, and where the rushes shake
    A lazy pike lies basking in the sun
    His eyes half-shut,—He is some mitred old
    Bishop in partibus! look at those gaudy scales all green and golds.
  3. The wind the restless prisoner of the trees
    Does well for Palæstrina, one would say
    The mighty master's hands were on the keys
    Of the Maria organ, which they play
    When early on some sapphire Easter morn
    In a high litter red as blood or sin the Pope is borne
  4. From his dark House out to the Balcony
    Above the bronze gates and the crowded square,
    Whose very fountains seem for ecstasy
    To toss their silver lances in the air,
    And stretching out weak hands to East and West
    In vain sends peace to peaceless lands, to restless nations rest.
  5. Is not yon lingering orange afterglow
    That stays to vex the moon more fair than all
    Rome's lordliest pageants! strange, a year ago
    I knelt before some crimson Cardinal
    Who bare the Host across the Esquiline,
    And now—those common poppies in the wheat seem twice as fine.
  6. The blue-green beanfields yonder, tremulous
    With the last shower, sweeter perfume bring
    Through this cool evening than the odorous
    Flame-jewelled censers the young deacons swing,
    When the grey priest unlocks the curtained shrine,
    And makes God's body from the common fruit of corn and vine.

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  8. Poor Fra Giovanni bawling at the mass
    Were out of tune now, for a small brown bird
    Sings overhead, and through the long cool grass
    I see that throbbing throat which once I heard
    On starlit hills of flower-starred Arcady,
    Once where the white and crescent sand of Salamis meets sea.
  9. Sweet is the swallow twittering on the eaves
    At daybreak, when the mower whets his scythe,
    And stock-doves murmur, and the milkmaid leaves
    Her little lonely bed, and carols blithe
    To see the heavy-lowing cattle wait
    Stretching their huge and dripping mouths across the farmyard gate.
  10. And sweet the hops upon the Kentish leas,
    And sweet the wind that lifts the new-mown hay,
    And sweet the fretful swarms of grumbling bees
    That round and round the linden blossoms play;
    And sweet the heifer breathing in the stall,
    And the green bursting figs that hang upon the red-brick wall.
  11. And sweet to hear the cuckoo mock the spring
    While the last violet loiters by the well,
    And sweet to hear the shepherd Daphnis sing
    The song of Linus through a sunny dell
    Of warm Arcadia where the corn is gold
    And the slight lithe-limbed reapers dance about the wattled fold.
  12. And sweet with young Lycoris to recline
    In some Illyrian valley far away,
    Where canopied on herbs amaracine
    We too might waste the summer-trancèd day
    Matching our reeds in sportive rivalry,
    While far beneath us frets the troubled purple of the sea.
  13. But sweeter far if silver-sandalled foot
    Of some long-hidden God should ever tread
    The Nuneham meadows, if with reeded flute
    Pressed to his lips some Faun might raise his head
    By the green water-flags, ah! sweet indeed
    To see the heavenly herdsman call his white-fleeced flock to feed.

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  15. Then sing to me thou tuneful chorister,
    Though what thou sing'st be thine own requiem!
    Tell me thy tale thou hapless chronicler
    Of thine own tragedies! do not contemn
    These unfamiliar haunts, this English field,
    For many a lovely coronal our northern isle can yield
  16. Which Grecian meadows know not, many a rose,
    Which all day long in vales Æolian
    A lad might seek in vain for over-grows
    Our hedges like a wanton courtesan
    Unthrifty of her beauty; lilies too
    Ilissos never mirrored star our streams, and cockles blue
  17. Dot the green wheat which, though they are the signs
    For swallows going south, would never spread
    Their azure tents between the Attic vines;
    Even that little weed of ragged red,
    Which bids the robin pipe, in Arcady
    Would be a trespasser, and many an unsung elegy
  18. Sleeps in the reeds that fringe our winding Thames
    Which to awake were sweeter ravishment
    Than ever Syrinx wept for, diadems
    Of brown bee-studded orchids which were meant
    For Cytheræa's brows are hidden here
    Unknown to Cytheræa, and by yonder pasturing steer
  19. There is a tiny yellow daffodil,
    The butterfly can see it from afar,
    Although one summer evening's dew could fill
    Its little cup twice over ere the star
    Had called the lazy shepherd to his fold
    And be no prodigal; each leaf is flecked with spotted gold
  20. As if Jove's gorgeous leman Danae
    Hot from his gilded arms had stooped to kiss
    The trembling petals, or young Mercury
    Low-flying to the dusky ford of Dis
    Had with one feather of his pinions
    Just brushed them!—the slight stem which bears the burden of its suns
  21. Is hardly thicker than the gossamer,
    Or poor Arachne's silver tapestry,—
    Men say it bloomed upon the sepulchre
    Of One I sometime worshipped, but to me


    It seems to bring diviner memories
    Of faun-loved Heliconian glades and blue nymph-haunted seas,
  22. Of an untrodden vale at Tempe where
    On the clear river's marge Narcissus lies,
    The tangle of the forest in his hair,
    The silence of the woodland in his eyes,
    Wooing that drifting imagery which is
    No sooner kissed than broken; memories of Salmacis
  23. Who is not boy or girl and yet is both,
    Fed by two fires and unsatisfied
    Through their excess, each passion being loth
    For love's own sake to leave the other's side
    Yet killing love by staying, memories
    Of Oreads peeping through the leaves of silent moonlit trees,
  24. Of lonely Ariadne on the wharf
    At Naxos, when she saw the treacherous crew
    Far out at sea, and waved her crimson scarf
    And called false Theseus back again nor knew
    That Dionysos on an amber pard
    Was close behind her, memories of what Mæonia's bard
  25. With sightless eyes beheld, the wall of Troy,
    Queen Helen lying in the carven room,
    And at her side an amorous red-lipped boy
    Trimming with dainty hand his helmet's plume,
    And far away the moil, the shout, the groan,
    As Hector shielded off the spear and Ajax hurled the stone;
  26. Of wingèd Perseus with his flawless sword
    Cleaving the snaky tresses of the witch,
    And all those tales imperishably stored
    In little Grecian urns, freightage more rich
    Than any gaudy galleon of Spain
    Bare from the Indies ever! these at least bring back again,
  27. For well I know they are not dead at all,
    The ancient Gods of Grecian poesy,
    They are asleep, and when they hear thee call
    Will wake and think 'tis very Thessaly,
    This Thames the Daulian waters, this cool glade
    The yellow-irised mead where once young Itys laughed and played.

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  29. If it was thou dear jasmine-cradled bird
    Who from the leafy stillness of thy throne
    Sang to the wondrous boy, until he heard
    The horn of Atalanta faintly blown
    Across the Cumner hills, and wandering
    Through Bagley wood at evening found the Attic poets' spring,—
  30. Ah! tiny sober-suited advocate
    That pleadest for the moon against the day!
    If thou didst make the shepherd seek his mate
    On that sweet questing, when Proserpina
    Forgot it was not Sicily and leant
    Across the mossy Sandford stile in ravished wonderment,—
  31. Light-winged and bright-eyed miracle of the wood!
    If ever thou didst soothe with melody
    One of that little clan, that brotherhood
    Which loved the morning-star of Tuscany
    More than the perfect sun of Raphael
    And is immortal, sing to me! for I too love thee well.
  32. Sing on! sing on! let the dull world grow young,
    Let elemental things take form again,
    And the old shapes of Beauty walk among
    The simple garths and open crofts, as when
    The son of Leto bare the willow rod,
    And the soft sheep and shaggy goats followed the boyish God.
  33. Sing on! sing on! and Bacchus will be here
    Astride upon his gorgeous Indian throne,
    And over whimpering tigers shake the spear
    With yellow ivy crowned and gummy cone,
    While at his side the wanton Bassarid
    Will throw the lion by the mane and catch the mountain kid!
  34. Sing on! and I will wear the leopard skin,
    And steal the moonèd wings of Ashtaroth,
    Upon whose icy chariot we could win
    Cithæron in an hour ere the froth
    Has overbrimmed the wine-vat or the Faun
    Ceased from the treading! ay, before the flickering lamp of dawn
  35. Has scared the hooting owlet to its nest,
    And warned the bat to close its filmy vans,


    Some Mænad girl with vine-leaves on her breast
    Will filch their beech-nuts from the sleeping Pans
    So softly that the little nested thrush
    Will never wake, and then with shrilly laugh and leap will rush
  36. Down the green valley where the fallen dew
    Lies thick beneath the elm and count her store,
    Till the brown Satyrs in a jolly crew
    Trample the loosestrife down along the shore,
    And where their hornèd master sits in state
    Bring strawberries and bloomy plums upon a wicker crate!
  37. Sing on! and soon with passion-wearied face
    Through the cool leaves Apollo's lad will come,
    The Tyrian prince his bristled boar will chase
    Adown the chestnut-copses all a-bloom,
    And ivory-limbed, grey-eyed, with look of pride,
    After yon velvet-coated deer the virgin maid will ride.
  38. Sing on! and I the dying boy will see
    Stain with his purple blood the waxen bell
    That overweighs the jacinth, and to me
    The wretched Cyprian her woe will tell,
    And I will kiss her mouth and streaming eyes,
    And lead her to the myrtle-hidden grove where Adon lies!
  39. Cry out aloud on Itys! memory
    That foster-brother of remorse and pain
    Drops poison in mine ear,—O to be free,
    To burn one's old ships! and to launch again
    Into the white-plumed battle of the waves
    And fight old Proteus for the spoil of coral-flowered caves!
  40. O for Medea with her poppied spell!
    O for the secret of the Colchian shrine!
    O for one leaf of that pale asphodel
    Which binds the tired brows of Proserpine,
    And sheds such wondrous dews at eve that she
    Dreams of the fields of Enna, by the far Sicilian sea,
  41. Where oft the golden-girdled bee she chased
    From lily to lily on the level mead,
    Ere yet her sombre Lord had bid her taste
    The deadly fruit of that pomegranate seed,
    Ere the black steeds had harried her away
    Down to the faint and flowerless land, the sick and sunless day.

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  43. O for one midnight and as paramour
    The Venus of the little Melian farm!
    O that some antique statue for one hour
    Might wake to passion, and that I could charm
    The Dawn at Florence from its dumb despair
    Mix with those mighty limbs and make that giant breast my lair!
  44. Sing on! sing on! I would be drunk with life,
    Drunk with the trampled vintage of my youth,
    I would forget the wearying wasted strife,
    The riven veil, the Gorgon eyes of Truth,
    The prayerless vigil and the cry for prayer,
    The barren gifts, the lifted arms, the dull insensate air!
  45. Sing on! sing on! O feathered Niobe,
    Thou canst make sorrow beautiful, and steal
    From joy its sweetest music, not as we
    Who by dead voiceless silence strive to heal
    Our too untented wounds, and do but keep
    Pain barricadoed in our hearts, and murder pillowed sleep.
  46. Sing louder yet, why must I still behold
    The wan white face of that deserted Christ,
    Whose bleeding hands my hands did once enfold,
    Whose smitten lips my lips so oft have kissed,
    And now in mute and marble misery
    Sits in his lone dishonoured House and weeps, perchance for me?
  47. O Memory cast down thy wreathèd shell!
    Break thy hoarse lute O sad Melpomene!
    O sorrow, sorrow keep thy cloistered cell
    Nor dim with tears this limpid Castaly!
    Cease, cease, sad bird, thou dost the forest wrong
    To vex its sylvan quiet with such wild impassioned song!
  48. Cease, cease, or if 'tis anguish to be dumb
    Take from the pastoral thrush her simpler air,
    Whose jocund carelessness doth more become
    This English woodland than thy keen despair,
    Ah! cease and let the northwind bear thy lay
    Back to the rocky hills of Thrace, the stormy Daulian bay.
  49. A moment more, the startled leaves had stirred,
    Endymion would have passed across the mead
    Moonstruck with love, and this still Thames had heard
    Pan plash and paddle groping for some reed


    To lure from her blue cave that Naiad maid
    Who for such piping listens half in joy and half afraid.
  50. A moment more, the waking dove had cooed,
    The silver daughter of the silver sea
    With the fond gyves of clinging hands had wooed
    Her wanton from the chase, and Dryope
    Had thrust aside the branches of her oak
    To see the lusty gold-haired lad rein in his snorting yoke.
  51. A moment more, the trees had stooped to kiss
    Pale Daphne just awakening from the swoon
    Of tremulous laurels, lonely Salmacis
    Had bared his barren beauty to the moon,
    And through the vale with sad voluptuous smile
    Antinous had wandered, the red lotus of the Nile
  52. Down leaning from his black and clustering hair
    To shade those slumberous eyelids' caverned bliss,
    Or else on yonder grassy slope with bare
    High-tuniced limbs unravished Artemis
    Had bade her hounds give tongue, and roused the deer
    From his green ambuscade with shrill halloo and pricking spear.
  53. Lie still, lie still, O passionate heart, lie still!
    O Melancholy, fold thy raven wing!
    O sobbing Dryad, from thy hollow hill
    Come not with such desponded answering!
    No more thou wingèd Marsyas complain,
    Apollo loveth not to hear such troubled songs of pain!
  54. It was a dream, the glade is tenantless,
    No soft Ionian laughter moves the air,
    The Thames creeps on in sluggish leadenness,
    And from the copse left desolate and bare
    Fled is young Bacchus with his revelry,
    Yet still from Nuneham wood there comes that thrilling melody
  55. So sad, that one might think a human heart
    Brake in each separate note, a quality
    Which music sometimes has, being the Art
    Which is most nigh to tears and memory;
    Poor mourning Philomel, what dost thou fear?
    Thy sister doth not haunt these fields, Pandion is not here,

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  57. Here is no cruel Lord with murderous blade,
    No woven web of bloody heraldries,
    But mossy dells for roving comrades made,
    Warm valleys where the tired student lies
    With half-shut book, and many a winding walk
    Where rustic lovers stray at eve in happy simple talk.
  58. The harmless rabbit gambols with its young
    Across the trampled towing-path, where late
    A troop of laughing boys in jostling throng
    Cheered with their noisy cries the racing eight;
    The gossamer, with ravelled silver threads,
    Works at its little loom, and from the dusky red-eaved sheds
  59. Of the lone Farm a flickering light shines out
    Where the swinked shepherd drives his bleating flock
    Back to their wattled sheep-cotes, a faint shout
    Comes from some Oxford boat at Sandford lock,
    And starts the moor-hen from the sedgy rill,
    And the dim lengthening shadows flit like swallows up the hill.
  60. The heron passes homeward to the mere,
    The blue mist creeps among the shivering trees,
    Gold world by world the silent stars appear,
    And like a blossom blown before the breeze
    A white moon drifts across the shimmering sky,
    Mute arbitress of all thy sad, thy rapturous threnody.
  61. She does not heed thee, wherefore should she heed,
    She knows Endymion is not far away;
    'Tis I, 'tis I, whose soul is as the reed
    Which has no message of its own to play,
    So pipes another's bidding, it is I,
    Drifting with every wind on the wide sea of misery.
  62. Ah! the brown bird has ceased: one exquisite trill
    About the sombre woodland seems to cling
    Dying in music, else the air is still,
    So still that one might hear the bat's small wing
    Wander and wheel above the pines, or tell
    Each tiny dew-drop dripping from the blue-bell's brimming cell.

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  64. And far away across the lengthening wold,
    Across the willowy flats and thickets brown,
    Magdalen's tall tower tipped with tremulous gold
    Marks the long High Street of the little town,
    And warns me to return; I must not wait,
    Hark! 'tis the curfew booming from the bell at Christ Church gate.