Pygmalion

  by: John Hooley

 

 

 

 

In Cyprus, in an old world time
Dreamy, mysterious, sublime,
When Gods still trod this earth, and men
Looke out on life with reverent ken
There lived a sculptor whose right hand
More deft than any in the land
Wrought marble, gold, or ivory
Into majestic imagery,
And bodied what in men drew near
The perfect beauty of a sphere
God-fashined and inhabited,
All light and loveliness bestead,
And not so far as now it seems,
Not such a thing of silly dreams
Abstract and unattainable
As unto us who live to sell,
And know the science of--to buy,
How many miles will reach the sky,
And what's the length and breadth of space
It seems in this good year of grace.

 

Filled with sublime imaginings
The sculptor's life was, and the things
That go to make up others' lives,
The pelf for which the merchant strives,
The farmer's care for beeves and hives
The young man's love, the old man's wives,
The fierce excitement of fight
The being man of mark and might
Seemed useless, idle cares to him
So he might follow out his whim
And live amidst his communings
With Gods and Gods' foreshadowings,
And haply with his hands work out
Something the world were void without.

 

And so it fell he lived aloof
(Not greatly for his own behoof)
From men and man's companionship,
With never taste of woman's lip,
Or talk with fellows of the old
Strange, sympathetic manifold
Experiences of the world
That round about them swam and swirled,
But through a Halcyonian youth
Dreamed in all innocence and truth
Of beauty and its fashioning,
And how his art might nearer bring
The Gods and his imagining
To those fair songs that poets sing
Of gladness over land and sea
And all perfectability.

 

Sometimes indeed his soul was stirred,
Sometimes his higher sense was blurred
By longings for some woman's love,
Or so he thought--and from above
Felt himself dragged to earth, and fain
To find his destined love, and gain
Another Goddess, and a shrine
For what most noble and divine
There was about himself, and all
The dreams he busied him withal.

 

And found her not, alas! but found
Grovelling earth or empty sound,
Creatures of flesh and blood, whereas
What to him was a comely lass
Tender and true as her bracelet's gold,
Pure as the lambs in her father's fold?

 

He craved a woman, daughter of man,
But something still Olympian,
Someone to share his highest hopes,
Some creature full of turns and tropes,
And mystic meanings such as shall
Prove keys to worlds celestial.

 

So, thirty years had overhead
Melted in sunny skies and wed
With time's brood of oblivion
And many a better life death-won
Ere he was bond slave to desire,
And Aphrodite filled with ire
That man should dare so to decry
Herself and love's supremacy
Swore a great oath that he should rue
Such slight of love, and all men's due.

 

Then straight the sculptor was possessed,
And as he thought himself much blessed
With inspiration for a cast,
Girl into woman overpast,
Gifted with graces girlhood lacked.
But all unwitting of the fact,
And still with girl simplicity
Dreaming about the life to be.

 

And as he worked, and won his thought
Into the ivory he wrought
He grew to love the thing, as men
Will love the thing they work at when
That work is manifest well done,
And they and it are wellnigh one.

 

Pygmalion the sculptor, knew
As o'er his work light hand he drew
And stroked it with a soft caress
His work was wellnigh perfectness:
"Were but the Cyprian girls like you,
So beauteous, bashful, high-souled, true
Pygmalion had long ere this
Wedded with one of you, I wis"
He said, and softly smiled one day
At what his lips were fain to say.

 

Lo ye! when love is labouring
Short is the time it takes to bring
The loved thing unto perfectness
Therewith the waiting world to bless;
Day after day the image grew,
Day after day the snow-flake strew
Of chisel clippings on the floor
Grew less and less; and more and more
Pygmalion loved the thing that he
Had brought so near divinity;
Loved it no longer as a man
Will love the work that he began
And carried to successful end,
But loved as lovers love who spend
All of their substance for kiss,
As madmen love in an abyss
Of furious, fierce consuming fire,
As men may love who move the ire
Of the great goddess of desire,
Staying to love till love's self tire.

 

In vain his reason strove and taught:
He loved but an ideal he thought
Or shamefaced tried to think; and so
Busied his heated brain to show
That with a forehead, mouth, and face
And form of such a godlike grace
A statue needs must godlike be
High-souled, transcendent--verily
Gifted with soul and thought, because
These things were so--and his she was.

 

Vainly then reason strove and taught,
Vainly his shame and passion fought,
His eyes full of a fond caress
Wandered towards the loveliness
That from the ivory smiled on him
As fain to follow out his whim,
And now seemed stretching out soft arms
To draw him from all hurts and harms
And all the world's mischances to
The bosom of the woman who
With loving lip, and love-dimmed eye
And heaving breast, and love's glad sigh,
All loveliness dight and arrayed
Waited his coming long delayed,
And with her hopeful earnest eyes
Promised the love that never dies.

 

So at the last, reason might flout
E'en as it liked. He had no doubt
That he was parlously in love
Beyond all reason's shake or shove;
And how, or why, mattered not much
Under the glamour of a touch
Of such divine affliction.

 

Then in his madness, day by day
He lay and dreamed long days away
Looking upon his masterpiece,
Until this madness with increase
Of looking at and longing for
That lovely seeming quickly bore
Him into sea of senses' fire
And wild Promethean desire
To win some life unto the thing
His lither hands had made, and bring
Colour and warmth from some far sun
To glorify the chosen one,
And gain unto himself may be
Some respite from his misery,
Some love requital for a life,
Some joy though all the world was rife
With loves and longings, war's distress,
And manifold unhappiness.

 

Pondering much how this might be
He paced beside the voiceful sea
That often in the years gone by
Had helped his counsels lovingly:
And all night long he walked and thought
Hither and thither, wild, distraught,
Unwitting time till morning came,
And vision rosy as young shame,
Bathed in a blaze of ambient
Hyacinth lights that came and went,
A woman shape--a Godhead glow
That glorified the world's faint show--
Flashed on his dazzled sense and said
Soft as a wife but newly wed,
"What ails you, O Pygmalion?
Tell me your grief, unhappy one."

 

Dazzled, dumbfoundered, down he fell
Before that grace ineffable,
Stretching his arms towards the place
He knew although he hid his face
Love's Goddess still irradiated;
And all his pent up soul there sped
Therewith as unto sanctuary,
And all his hapless misery,
And all his madness, all his hope,
And all his longins's stretch and scope
Went with no words thereto as he
Prayed the benign divinity
For grace, and help--and passionately
Swore that if granted surely she
Should have devoutest votary,
And in her shrine beside the sea
Her own fair statue that should be
Far lands' delight, and enviously
Regarded both of Gods and men.
"Shall I not have another then
To help my thought, and guide me to
Better conception how to do?
And will not this sweet help be thine,
And shall not all our love entwine
With gratitude to thee, and thought
How we may please thee as we ought"
He said; and more he would have said,
But something made him lift his head
And looking on a beauteousness
That this world's words fail to express,
Blessing of silence and content,
And peace sure as the firmament
Fell on his soul--and wishfully
The waking wrack of land and sea
Was hushed to hear that sphere sweet voice
Bidding the sculptor go rejoice
Since Love would grant his prayer, and give
Life to the thing he would have live.

 

The sculptor had his wish--a maid
To be his wife as he had prayed;
And if the statue verily
Was beautiful exceedingly,
Now wit ye well, the living thing
As much as summer passes spring,
As much as daylight shames dark night,
As much as life mocks death's despite,
The living maid for loveliness
Surpassed the ivory held duresse,
The lovely, lifeless, coy impress
Of beauty born the world to bless.

 

And sure you wis that it was bliss
Unto Pygmalion to kiss
Those maiden lips, those modest eyes
Waking to love with young surprise;
And sure you deem that enviously
Such life might well regarded be
And yet--and yet--doth not the fire
Of such exceeding fierce desire
Quickly consume and leave behind
Cinders and ash a man may find
Bitter and burning in his mouth--
And all around him drought and drouth?

 

When that the sculptor and his bride
Had passed from out the summertide
Into the winter of the year
When they were wed; and bleak and blear
The world was shivering outside,
Pygmalion's tough coat of pride
Was pierced and riddled, and the man
Humbled, dejected, under ban
Obliged, spite of himself to own
Unto himself, that still alone
Must he is life live--as he might--
For she who should have been a light,
New light, new life, new glory to
The man her lover, never knew
Of light, or life, or glory or
The lofty things the man lived for.
And at the last, as I have said,
Pygmalion found that he had wed
A woman, and fair flesh and blood
As in Olympian spring might bud,
But still a statue; verily
Work of supremest statuary,
But soul was lacking thereunto,
And knowledge of the good and true,
And strivings for nobility
Dim seen as sun in polar sea,
And faith, and hope, and sympathy
But words for use unmeaningly.

 

And to such thing his perjured lip
Had sworn life long companionship,
And love and loyalty, when love
Seemed glorious gift from Gods above,
And Aphrodite's grace new sun,
Despaired of sun, dawning for one
Lost in a lovelorn dismal night
On which no day or day's delight
Should ever shine again he thought,
What time the statue's life he sought.

 

And now the thing that he had willed
Was to the letter all fulfilled;
And if its spirit unto eyes
Used to the day, seemed otherwise
Why whose--alack! how had he been
Besotted, fooled, silly beseen!

 

Anon, his heart with pity filled
All such complainings stayed or stilled,
And painfully, and patiently
He set himself to remedy
Failings and faults that might be due
To lack of education, to
The lack of parents, lack of youth,
A hundred thousand things forsooth,
That though perhaps we know them not
Go to make up that polyglot
And many-echoing entity,
A woman's life, and its to be.

 

Setting her then upon his knee,
He, loving, low-voiced, reverently
Talked to her of the mystery,
The grace and the divinity
Of her attainment unto life
Because he chose her for his wife,
And Aphrodite, love's fair Queen
Kind past all telling it had been,
Perhaps because he loved--

 

She slid
From out his lap and gently rid
Herself of his embrace, and said
Shaking her dainty little head
And smoothing out her drapery,
That sitting so upon his knee
Rumpled her hair--how men forget!
And disarranged the proper set
Of newest fashioned robe that for
The first time on that day she wore.

 

Awhiles, and he would read from out
Some ancient written scroll about
The Gods, their great achievements, and
The glory that in every land
Waits on the deathless ones whose will
The world and men do but fulfil,
And of whose helpful kindliness,
And gifts, and grace, and graciousness,
Many a loving word was writ
In that gold lettered manuscript.

 

And as he read; or eloquent
Told old world tales how lovers went
With ups and downs, and scapes and scathe,
And loving truth, and loyal faith,
And sorrows and this world's alloy
Through lift to love's full crown of joy,
His bride would yawn right wearily,
Or interrupt the tale to see
Her maidens idled not may be,
Or what new sail put out to sea.
Whiles would he take her to the sea
In hope that its immensity,
Echo of all worlds joy and dole,
Might have some message to her soul.
Whiles to a woodland glade he drew
Her dainty feet, and held to view
Adown the dewy avenues
Mingle of many mossy hues
Harmonious blent, while overhead
Grey tree trunks orchid garlanded
Bloomed brown and purple, red and green,
A leafy wild gaily beseen
In shifting slant of sun-lit sheen
Soon overshadowed; and between
The slant and shadow and the screen
Of bosky woodland, dimly seen,
Dryads and fauns shy peeping out
To spy the folk from the world without.
But nought of this the bride could see;
And ocean's weird immensity,
If any thought at all it brought
Suggested to her but the thought
That pleasant would it be to lave
Her heated body in its wave.
Glory of cloud, and sun, and sky,
The infinite variety
Of this fair world's apparaylment
Brought her no joys of calm content,
No love, no hope, no reverence;
And to her unimpassioned sense
Effort of painter's highest art
That from its setting seemed to start,
And beauty of high columned fane
And storied frieze appealed in vain.
The living sculptor's love, alas!
Was powerless to bring to pass
Another miracle, or make
The beauty of the statue wake
To sense of any loveliness
In things outside itself, or bless
Her lover with some sympathy
In guerdon for the love that he
Had given her as lavishly
As rain clouds to the thankless sea.
And if such love might not prevail
How should fair worlds outside avail?

 

Sadly then thought Pygmalion
Best die before this eidolon
Dragged him to depths of more despair,
And it might be, trouble and care
For sordid and unworthy things,
The waste of soul such trouble brings,
Darkness, and desolation--

 

Had it not dragged him down forsooth?
Gone was his golden, happy youth;
Weak the desire once brave and strong
To love all right and hate all wrong;
Idle the artist hand that had
Been wont to make his life so glad.
Nay then! the very vow he made
What time to Love's fair Queen he prayed
Of her fair image that should be
All worlds delight and palmary
Was unfulfilled, scarce inchoate!
How dare he then complain and prate
About his woes and wish to die,
He who would cheat love's majesty,
Even the letter of his vow
Still unperformed, still due. And now,
He who had not performed, who owed
More unto Love than a palinode
Must whine as if he sooth believed
Himself to be a man aggrieved.

 

How strange! how different it seemed,
The work that six months since he deemed
Pleasure sufficient for a life!
What effort, and what dogged strife
With inclination, indolence
And wishful yet much wanting sense
Of what he wanted to be done
It needed. But Pygmalion
Worked steadfastly, if wearily,
And at the last, and after he
Had failed full many a time, could see
Something that promised fair to be
Some adumbration of his thought,
Some nearness to the beauty sought:
And in his work could live, and find
It satisfied at least his mind.

 

Therewith the wife waxed querulous,
Inclined to fret, or make a fuss
In that she was neglected, left
Alone, unhappy, and bereft
Of even his society,
Hers surely, duly, rightfully--
Now would she sit his work anigh
And meekly stare, and meekly sigh
In silence well nigh maddening:
Now, purple cloth, or ruby ring
Begged for his judgment, now again,
Some household trouble to explain,
Or his advice thereon to hear
She must demand and hold his ear:
Anon, and round him would she throw
Those soft white arms of hers, and so
Wheedle him from his work to go
Town-wards to see a puppet show,
Sea-wards to see what novelties
The merchants brought from overseas,
Or to some neighbour's house to chat
And gossip over this and that.

 

Nevertheless, the work at last
Was finished, and in sooth surpassed
Pygmalion's highest hopes of it
And seemed an offering, worthy, fit,
And beautiful enough to grace
Even a Godhead's resting place.
The artist soul was satisfied:
The man must needs go fetch his bride
To swell his triumph with her praise,
And haply her sweet self upraise
Unto some fuller life, since now
Full word and letter of his vow
Was perfected and manifest:
And this perfection might be blessed
And gain her soul deliverance,
Or some awaking from its trance.

 

She came, and looked, and straightway said
"'Tis very pretty." Then the tread
Of some procession in the street,
Tinkle of dancing girls' gay feet,
And clash of cymbals caught her ear
As some rejoicing crowd drew near,
And clapping her little hands for glee
She rushed towards it recklessly,
And in her hurry scurry so
Managed affairs that she must throw
The statue to the floor, and smash
The work of months in one fell crash.
"O, what a pity," then she said,
With one look back--then onward sped
Without another word, without
A sigh to show she thought about
The sacrilege!--the terrible
Ruin wode and irreparable
That she had caused as carelessly
As kine tread down some flowered lea.
Dazed and distraught, Pygmalion
Gazed on the well-loved labour done
To fragmentary nothingness;
And in his poignant first distress
Could see no comfort anywhere,
Fell but monotonous despair.

 

Presently--and excess of grief
Must work itself some quick relief--
He found himself pondering how
He was constrained by this same vow,
Since unto his ability
Sooth had he striven hard to be
Faithful to all the things he vowed.
And if the Gods had not allowed
Fulfilment to his vows--nay then,
Persistently had balked him when
He, failing nor of strength or will
Had set himself these to fulfil--
Whose was the fault? Not his forsooth!
And since the Gods such little ruth
For him and his endurings had,
Why should he make his lifetime sad?
Why without knowing whose or why
Rivet the chains about it by
Slavish adherence to decree
Of custom or conveniency,
Incomprehensibility
Whence and however might it be.

 

Why should a vow seem such a power?
The Gods who heard it that same hour
Set them to hinder and prevent
Fulfilment of the words they leant
Such kindly seeming ear unto.
Where was the pact then? what was due?
And unto whom? and for what thing
In this one-sided bargaining?

 

A little while; and he thought
Gods were not so: nor sold nor bought:
'Twas sure no God's fair ordinance
Led him that will-o-wispish dance,
And with far glimpse of heaven's fire
Lured and would swamp him in a mire
Of old traditions, curiously
Careless of human misery.

 

Forth then he rushed tumultuously,
And by the wishful, wailing sea
Sought out a ship that presently
Should leave that shore--witherwards he
In no wise cared--so that he went,
And left the life so spoiled and shent
Behind and but a memory,
A dream, a nightmare verily,
While Westwards, onwards, overseas
In gardened green Hesperides,
Or haply in the Fortunate isles
He might go rest himself awhiles,
And in some fair futurity
Forget the fell obscurity
That hat eclipsed his happiness,
And held in darkness and duresse
The better half of him.


   More poems by John Hooley