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September 16, 2009

The Songs of Bilitis: Chapter 1

Filed under: The Songs of Bilitis — astyages @ 11:49 pm

 

The  Songs of Bilitis

 

By Pierre Louys

 

Translated by David L Rowlands

 

Acknowledgements:

Many thanks to Project Guttenberg for providing the plain-text version of this work in French, without which my translation would have been impossible; and thanks also to my good friend, George Theodoridis, for his many helpful comments and for translating for me the two Greek sentences which purport to be quotes from Theocritus and Sappho, respectively, at the start of each section.

 

Chapter 1

 

THE BUCOLIC LIFE IN PAMPHYLIA

 

“Hady`de’moi to`me’lisma. kai` _e’n sy’rhiggi meli’sd_o

k_e’n aul_o*i lale’_o, k_e’n d_o’naki,  k_e’n plagiau’l_o*i.”

(My music, too, is sweet, whether I trill on the pipe or speak

with the flute or with the reed or the double pipe.)

                                                                         THEOCRITUS.

 

1  —   THE TREE

 I had undressed to climb a tree;

my naked thighs embraced smooth, moist bark;

my sandals climbed among the branches.

 

Way up high, but still under the leaves

and shaded from the heat, I was horseback

riding in a secluded fork balancing

my feet in the void

 

It had rained.  Drops of water fell and

flowed over my skin.  My hands were

dirtied with moss, and my toes were

red, because of the crushed flowers.

 

I felt the beautiful tree live when the wind

passed through it; then my legs could go no further

so I pressed my open lips

to the mossy nape of a branch. 

  

2   —  PASTORAL SONG

I must sing a pastoral song, to invoke

Pan, god of the summer wind.  I guard my

flock and Selenis guards hers, under the round shadow

of a trembling olive-tree.

 

Selenis is lying in the meadow.  She

stands and runs, or hunts for cicadas, or

picks flowers and herbs, or washes

her face in the cold water of the stream.

Me, I pull wool from the blond backs of the

sheep to fill my distaff, and spin it. 

The hours are long.

An eagle passes across the sky.

 

The shadows turn:  let’s swap the basket

of figs and the jar of milk.  I must sing

a pastoral song, to invoke Pan, god of the summer wind.

 

 

3  —  MATERNAL SPEECH

My mother bathes me in darkness, she

dresses me in full sun and combs my hair in

the light; but if I leave by the light of the moon,

she tightens my girdle and makes a double knot.

 

She says to me:  “Play with the virgins, dance

with little children; don’t look out the window;

fly from the speech of young men

and doubt the counsel of widows.

 

“One evening, someone, as for everyone, will

come to carry you over the threshold in the middle of a

large procession of sonorous drums and lover’s flutes.

 

“On that night, when you grow up, Bilito, you

will leave me three gourds of gall:  one for

the morning, one for midday, and the third,

the most bitter, the third for the days of the feast.”

 

4:  BARE FEET

I have black hair, growing long down my back,

and a little round skull-cap.  My shirt is

of white homespun.  My firm legs

turn brown in the sun.   

 

If I lived in town, I would have jewels of gold,

and gilded shirts and shoes of silver…

I look at my naked feet, in their shoes of dust.

 

Psophis!  Come here, you poor little thing! 

Take me to the springs, wash my feet in your

hands and press olives together with violets

to flavour them with the flowers.

 

Today you will be my slave; you will

follow me and you will serve me, and at the end of

the day I will give you, for your mother,

some lentils from my garden.

 

5 – THE OLD MAN AND THE NYMPHS

An old blind man lived on the mountain.

For having looked upon the nymphs, his eyes

had been dead for a long time.  And ever since,

his happiness was a distant memory.

 

“Yes, I saw them, he said to me.

Helopsychria, Limnanthis; they were

awake, near the edge of Physos’ pond.

The bright water was above their knees.

 

The napes of their necks inclined under their

long hair.  Their nails were slender

like the wings of the cicada.  Their nipples

were cupped like the flowers of the hyacinth.

 

Their fingers played with the water

and pulled long-stemmed water-lilies from

an invisible vase.  Around their separated thighs,

the ripples spread… “

 

6  —  SONG

Stiff-necked tortoise, what are you doing there in the middle?

I’m winding the yarn and the thread of Miletus.

Alas alas!  Don’t you want to come and dance?

I am in great pain.  I am in great pain…

 

Stiff-necked tortoise, what are you doing there in the middle?

I’m cutting a reed for the funerary flute.

Alas! Alas!  What happened?

I will not tell, I will not tell.

 

Stiff-necked tortoise, what are you doing there in the middle?

I’m pressing olives to make the oil for the gravestone

Alas!  Alas!  And who has died?

How can you ask me?  How can you ask me?

 

Stiff-necked tortoise, what are you doing there in the middle?

He fell into the sea…

Alas!  Alas!  How did that happen?

From on top of white horses.  From on top of white horses.

 

7 – THE PASSER-BY

As I was sitting one evening in front of the door

of the house, a young man came passing by.

He looked at me, I turned my head away.

He spoke to me, I didn’t answer.

 

He wanted to approach me.  I took a scythe from

against the wall and would have split his cheek

if he had advanced a single step.

 

Then, recoiling a little, he put on a smile and

whispered to me through his hand, saying,

“Receive the kiss.”  And I shouted and I cried

so that my mother came running.

 

Worried, thinking that I had been stung by

a scorpion, I cried:  “He kissed me.”

My mother also kissed me and took me

into her arms.

 

8  —  THE DREAM

It was already fully day…  I had to be

up!   But morning sleep is sweet and

the warmth of my bed keeps me curled up.

I want to stay and sleep some more.

 

Soon I shall be in the stable.  I

will give grass and flowers to the goats,

and the goatskin of cold water drawn from

the well, where I will drink at the same time as they.

 

Then I shall tie them to a stake to milk

their sweet warm udders; and if the

kids are not anxious, I shall suck

with them their now-supple teats.

 

Did not Amaltheia nourish Zeus?

I will go then.  But not yet.  The sun

came up too soon and my mother is not yet awake.

 

9   —  THE RAIN

The gentle rain has moistened everything, very

softly and in silence.  It is still raining a

little.  I shall go out under the trees.  Feet

naked, so as not to dirty my shoes.

 

The rain in spring is delicious.  The

branches loaded with moist flowers have a

perfume which makes me giddy.  I can see the

delicate skin of the bark shining in the sun.

 

Alas!  For the flowers on the earth!  Have

pity on the fallen flowers.  You must not

sweep them into the dirt; but

save them for the queen bees.

 

The scarabs and the snails cross the

way between the puddles of water; I don’t want

to walk on them, nor to startle the sleeping

lizard which stretches itself and blinks its eyelids

 

10  — THE FLOWERS

Nymphs of the woods and streams, beneficent

friends, I have come.  Do not hide,

but come and help me because I am sorely pained

by so many plucked flowers

 

I wish to choose from among the whole forest one

poor hamadryad with raised arms.  And from

her hair, the colour of leaves I shall pick

my most sultry rose.

 

Look!  I have taken so many to the fields that

I cannot carry them back unless you make me

A bouquet.  If you refuse me, take care:

 

Those of you with red hair I

Saw yesterday made erect like a beast by the

Satyre Lamprosathes, and I denounce

the impudence.

 

11  —  IMPATIENCE

I threw myself into her arms and cried, and

for a long time she felt my hot tears

cool on her shoulder, before my sadness

let me speak:

 

“Alas!  I am just a child; the

young men do not look at me.  When

will I have the breasts of a young girl like yours

which swell the robe and tempt to kiss?

 

No-one has curious eyes if my tunic

slips; no-one will pick up a flower fallen

from my hair; no-one tells me he will kill me if

my mouth gives itself to another.

 

She replied to me tenderly:  “Bilitis,

little virgin, you cry like a cat at

the moon and you distress yourself without cause.  The

most impatient girls are not the earliest chosen.

 

12  —  COMPARISONS

Wagtail, bird of Kypris, sing

with our first desires!  The new bodies

of young girls are covered in flowers like

the earth.  The night of all our dreams approaches

and we chat amongst ourselves.

 

Sometimes we compare out beauty,

so different, our hair already long,

our young breasts still small

our pubes round like quails and giddy under

their new-born feathers.

 

Yesterday I wrestled with destiny against Melancthon

my elder.  She was proud of her breasts which

sprang up in only a month, and, pointing to

my flat tunic, called me:  “little child”.

 

Not a man could see us, we

mimicked nakedness in front of the girls, and if she

won on one point, I defeated her on others. 

Wagtail, bird of Cyprus, sing with our first desires!

 

13  — THE RIVER IN THE FOREST 

I was bathing alone in the river

in the forest.  Without doubt I scared

the nyads as I hardly understood their troubles from

so far off, under the dark water.

 

I called them.  To resemble them

entirely, I wove Irises, black as my hair

behind my toes, with the

clusters of yellow wallflowers.

 

From the long floating grass, I made

myself a green girdle, and to see it I

pressed my breasts and inclined my head a little.

 

And I called out:  “Nyads!  Nyads!  Come

and play with me!  Be nice!”  But the nyads

were transparent, and perhaps, without

knowing it, I had caressed their supple arms.

 

14  —  PHITTA MELIAI

When the sun burns less fiercely

we will go to play beside the river, where we

will wrestle for a fragile crocus or for a moist hyacinth.

 

We will make a necklace for the bout and a

garland for the race.  We will take each other

by the hand and by the tails of our tunics.

 

Phitta Meliai!  Give us honey.  Phitta

Nyads!  Let us bathe with you.  Phitta Meliades!

Give us sweet shade for our sweaty bodies.

 

And we offer you, beneficent Nymphs,

Not disgraceful wine, but oil and

Milk and goats with curved horns.

 

15  —  THE SYMBOLIC RING

The travellers who return to Sardis

speak of the necklaces and precious stones which

burden the women of Lydia, from the top of

their hair down to their painted feet.

 

The girls of my country have no bracelets

nor diadems, but their finger carries one

golden ring, and on the setting is engraved

the triangle of the goddess.

 

When they turn the point outwards

this means:  Psyche is to take them.  When

they turn the point inwards, it

means:  Psyche has taken them.

 

The men there believe.  The women don’t.

Me, I don’t look much at which way

the point is turned, because Psyche delivers

them easily.  Psyche is always to take them.

 

16  —  DANCES IN THE MOONLIGHT

On the soft grass, at night, the young

girls with violets in their hair danced

together, and half of them made

reply to the suitors.

 

The virgins said:  “We are not for

you”  And as they were modest

they hid their virginity.  A faun

played a flute under the trees.

 

The others said:  “You must

come and look for us.”   They clawed at the robes

and tunics of the man, and they struggled without

energy while mingling their dancing legs.

 

Then each one proclaimed himself vanquished, and took

his friend by the ears as one takes a cup by the

two handles, and, with inclined heads,

drank their kisses.

 

17  —  THE LITTLE CHILDREN

The river is nearly dry; the withered

reeds are dying in the mud; the air burns,

and, far from the hollow banks,

a clear stream trickles over the gravel.

 

It is there where from morning to night naked little

children come to play.  They bathe,

no higher than their calves, because the

river is low.

 

But they wade in the current, and

slip sometimes on the rocks and the

little boys throw water over the

laughing little girls.

 

And when a group of merchants passes,

leading enormous white bulls to drink in the stream,

they cross their hands behind their backs

and watch the huge beasts.

 

18  —  THE STORY

I am loved by little children. Those who

see me, run to me and cling

to my tunic, clasping my legs in

their little arms.

 

If they have cut flowers, they give them all

to me; if they have caught a scarab they

put it into my hand; if they have nothing, they

kiss me and make me sit down in front of them.

 

Then they kiss me on the cheek, they

rest their heads against my breast; and beg

me with their eyes.  I know very well what

that means.

 

That means:  “Dear Bilitis, tell us,

as we are good, the story of the hero

Perseus or the death of little Helle.”

 

19  —  THE MARRIED FRIEND

Our mothers were pregnant at the same time and

tonight, Melissa, my dearest friend was married. 

The roses are still on the

road; the torches are still burning.

 

And I return by the same path, with

Mummy, and I imagine:  This day is hers,

so I too will be able to wed also.

Am I not already a big girl?

 

The procession, the flutes, the nuptial song and

the flowered chariot of the spouse, all these festivities,

one more night, unrolls in front of me,

among other things, olive branches.

 

As at this same hour Melissa, I

shall reveal myself in front of a man, I shall know

love in the night, and later the little

children will nourish themselves at my swelling breasts…

 

20  —  SECRETS

The next day, I went to her house, and

we blushed when we saw each other.

She bade me enter into her bedroom

so we could be alone together.

 

I had lots of things to say to her; but

I forgot them all upon seeing her.  I

didn’t even dare to throw myself

upon her neck.  I looked at her high girdle.

 

I was astonished that nothing was changed on her

face, that she seemed to be still my friend and yet

in the interval, since the vigil, she had

Learned so much that startled me.

 

Suddenly I sat on her knees, and I took

Her into my arms, I whispered into her ear

Quickly, anxiously.  Then she put her mouth

Against my ear, and told me everything.

 

21  —  THE BLUE-EYED MOON

At night, the hair of the women tangles in the

branches of the willows.  I

walk beside the water’s edge.  Suddenly,

I heard singing:  Only then I

recognized that they were young girls.

 

I said to them:  “What are you singing?” They

answered:  “The Homecomers.”  The one

waited for her father and the other her brother; but

the one who waited for her fiancé was the most impatient.

 

They had woven for themselves coronets

and garlands, cut palms from

palm-trees and pulled lotuses from the water.  They

held each other by the neck and sang, one

after the other.

 

I had walked the length of the stream, sadly,

and all alone, but when I looked around

me, I saw that behind the large trees the

Moon with blue eyes had led me back. 

 

22  —  REFLECTIONS  (not translated)

 

23  —  SONG:  SHADOW OF THE WOODS

“Shadow of the woods where she must come”, said I,

where has my mistress gone?”  “She has

gone down to the plain.”  “Plain, where has

my mistress gone?”  “She followed the banks of

the river.

 

Beautiful river who saw her pass, tell me,

is she near here?  She left me for the

path.   Path, can you still see her?

She left me for the road.

 

Oh, white road, road to the town, tell me,

where did you take her?  To the golden street

which enters Sardis.  Oh street of light,

can you feel her naked feet?  She has entered

the palace of the king.

 

Oh palace, splendour of the world,

give her to me!  Look, she has necklaces

on her breast and hoops in her

hair, a hundred pearls the length of her legs,

two arms around her shapely body.” 

 

24  —  LYKAS

Come, we shall go into the fields, under the

juniper bushes; we shall eat

honey in the rushes, we shall make traps

for grasshoppers with stalks of asphodel.

 

Come, we shall go to see Lykas, who guards

his father’s flocks on the peaks of the

shadowy Taurus range.  Surely he will give us

some milk.

 

I can already hear the sound of his flute.  He is a

very skilful player.  Here are the dogs and the

lambs, and himself, standing under a tree.

Isn’t he as handsome as Adonis!

 

Oh, Lykas, give us some milk.  Here are some

figs from our fig-trees.  We are going to stay

with you.  Bearded billy-goats, don’t leap about, for

fear of exciting the restless nanny-goats.

 

25  —  THE OFFERING TO THE GODDESS

It is not for Artemis that one adores

Pergamus, this garland woven by my hands,

although Artemis is a good goddess who

keeps me safe in difficult times.

 

It is not for Athena that one adores

Sidon, although she is of ivory and gold and

she carries in her hand a pomegranate

which tempts the birds.

 

No, it is for Aphrodite whom I worship

in my breast, because she alone gives me

that which my lips miss, if I hang

my garland of tender roses from her

sacred tree.

 

But I shall not speak too loudly of that which I

beseech her to grant me.  I shall stretch myself up on

the tips of my toes and through a cleft in

the bark I shall confide my secret.

 

26  —  THE AGREEABLE FRIEND

The storm lasted all night.  Selenis, of the

beautiful hair, had come to spin with me.  She

stayed from fear of the mud.  We had  

heard the prayers and were squeezed one against

the other… we filled my little bed.

 

When girls sleep in pairs, sleep

stays at the door.  “Bilitis, tell me,

tell me who you love.”  She slid

her arm against mine to caress me

softly.

 

And she said, in front of my mouth:  “I know,

Bilitis, who you love.  Close your eyes, I

am Lykas.”  I replied as I touched her:  “Do

I not see very well that you are a girl?  Your

joke is pointless.

 

But she replied:  “In truth, I am Lykas,

if you close your eyelids.  Here are his arms,

there are his hands…”  And tenderly, in the

silence, she enchanted my dreams with a

singular illusion.

 

27  —  PRAYER TO PERSEPHONE

Purified by the ritual ablutions, and

clothed in violet tunics, we have

kissed the earth our hands full of

olive branches.

 

“Oh, Subterranean Persephone, or whatever name

you desire, if the name agrees with you,

listen to us oh Hair of Darkness.  Barren,

Unsmiling Queen.

 

“Kokhlis, daughter of Thrasymachos, is ill,

and dangerously.  Do not call her back

yet.  You know she cannot escape you:

One day, later, you will take her.

 

“But don’t drag her away so quickly, O Invisible

tyrant, because she mourns the loss of her virginity.

She beseeches you through our prayers, and we

give three black unshorn ewes to save her.”

 

28 – THE KNUCKLEBONES PARTY

As we both loved to do, we

played knucklebones.  And this was

a memorable game.  Lots of young girls

assisted.

 

Her first throw gained her the Cyclops, and

I won Solon.  But she won

Kallibolos, and, feeling myself lost, I

prayed to the goddess.

 

I played. I had Epiphenon, she the terrible

Chios, I, the Antiteukhos, she the

Trikhias, and I Aphrodite which won

this lover’s dispute.

 

But seeing her pale, I took her by the neck

and I spoke very close to her ear (so that only she could hear),

“Don’t worry my little friend.

We shall let them choose between the two of us”

 

29 – THE DISTAFF

For the whole day my mother had shut me up in

the girls’ school, with my sisters, who I don’t like and

who speak amongst themselves in low voices. 

In a little corner, I spun my distaff.

 

Distaff, as I am alone with you,

it is to you that I shall speak.  With your

wig of white wool you are like an

old woman.  Listen to me.

 

If I could, I would not be here,

sitting in the shadow of the wall spinning with

boredom:  I would be lying among the violets

on the slopes of the Taurus mountains.

 

As he is poorer than I am, my mother

does not want him to marry me.  And nevertheless, I

shall tell you:  or I will not see the wedding-day

where it will be he who carries me across the

threshold.

 

30 – PAN’S FLUTE

For Hyacinthus Day, he gave me

a flute made of tall reeds,

held together with white wax which is sweet to

my lips, like millet.

 

He is teaching me to play, sitting on his knees;

but I am trembling a little.  He plays it

after me, so softly that I can hardly hear.

 

We have nothing to say to each other, so close

are we to each other; but our songs

want to respond, and turn and turn about our

mouths unite on the flute.

 

It is late, here is the song of the green frogs

which starts with the onset of night.  My mother

will never believe that I stayed so long

to look for my lost girdle…

 

31 – THE HAIRSTYLE

He said to me:  “Last night I had a dream. 

I had your hair around my neck. 

I had your hair like a black necklace around

the nape of my neck and on my chest.

 

I caressed it, and it was mine; and

we were thus tied together forever, by the

same hair, mouth on mouth, in the manner of

two laurels which often have but one root.

 

And bit by bit, it seemed to me, our

limbs were so entangled, that I was becoming

you or that you were entering into me like my

soul.

 

When he had finished, he gently put his

hands on my shoulders, and he looked at me

with a look so tender, that I kissed his eyes

with a shiver.

 

32 – THE CUP

Lykas saw me coming, clad only in a

brief shift, because the days were

stifling; he wanted to mould my breast which

was still uncovered.

 

He took some fine potter’s clay, kneaded in cold water

and light.  When he had pressed it onto

my skin, I thought I would faint, so cold

was this clay.

 

From the mould of my breast, he made a cup,

rounded and stemmed.  He put it to dry

in the sun and painted it purple and

ochre, pressing flowers into it all around.

 

Then we went up to the spring

that was sacred to the nymphs, and we

threw the cup into the current, with

stalks of gillyflowers.

 

33 – ROSES IN THE NIGHT

As night mounted the sky, the world

was ours and the Gods’.  We’re going to the

fields at the spring, the dark woods with

clearings where we guided our naked feet.

 

The brilliant little stars enough for the

little shadows which are us.  Sometimes,

under the low branches, we find

sleeping deer.

 

But the most charming part of the night above all

else was a place known to us alone and

which drew us across the forest: a thicket

of mysterious roses.

 

Because nothing on earth is so divine as

the perfume of roses in the night.  How

was it that at times when I was alone I

felt no intoxication?

 

34 – REMORSE

At first I didn’t answer, and I had a

blush on my cheeks, and the beating of

my heart hurt within my breast.

 

Then I resisted, I said: “No!  No!”  I

turned my head away and the kiss did not

broach my lips, nor love my

clenched knees.

 

Then he asked my forgiveness, he caressed

my hair, I felt his burning breath,

and he was gone… Now I am alone.

 

I looked at the empty place, the deserted woods, the

trodden earth.  And I bit my knuckles until they

bled and muffled my cries in the grass.

 

35  — THE BROKEN DREAM

All alone I was sleeping, like a

partridge in the heather.  The light breeze,

The sound of the waters, the sweetness of the night

kept me there.

 

I was sleeping, an imprudent thing to do,

and I awoke with a cry.  I struggled, and

I wept; but already it was too late.

What can the arms of a woman do?

 

He didn’t leave me.  On the contrary,

More tenderly in his arms he clasped me to

Him and I saw nothing more in the world, neither earth nor

The trees but only the gleam of his eyes…

 

To you, victorious Kypris, I dedicate these

Offerings still moist, still pink; the traces

Of the sorrows of the virgin, the end of my

Dream and of my resistance.

 

36 – TO THE WASHERWOMEN

Washerwomen, do not say that you have seen me!

I trust myself to you; do not repeat it!

Between my tunic and my breast I brought you

Something.

 

I am like a frightened little chicken…

I don’t know if I dare to tell you… My

Heart beats like I shall die… it is a

Veil that I brought you.

 

A veil and the ribbons from my legs.  You

See; there is blood.  By Apollo it was

In spite of me!  I was well defended; but

A man who loves is stronger than us.

 

Wash them well; spare neither salt nor

Chalk.  I shall put four obols for you

At the feet of Aphrodite; and even

A silver drachma.

 

37 – SONG

When he returned, I hid my

Face with both hands.  He said to me: 

“Fear nothing.  Who saw us embrace?”  “Who

Saw us?  The night and the moon.

 

“And the stars and the first light of dawn.  The moon

Was admiring itself in the lake and told the water under

The willows.  The water of the lake told the pole.

 

“And the pole told the boat and the boat

Told the fisherman.  Alas!  Alas!  If that were

All!  But the fisherman told a woman.

 

“The fisherman told a woman:  my father and

my mother and my sisters, and

all of Hellas will know.”

 

38 – BILITIS

One woman envelopes herself in white wool. 

Another clothes herself in silk and gold.  Another

covers herself with flowers, with green leaves and

grapes.

 

I know only to live naked.  My lover,

take me as I am:  without robes nor jewels

nor sandals; here is Bilitis alone.

But my hair is black with its own blackness and my

lips red with their own redness.  My curls

float around me, free and round

like feathers.

 

Take me just as my mother made me in

A night of love long ago, and if I please you

Then don’t forget to tell me.

 

39  — THE LITTLE HOUSE

The little house where his bed is, is the most

beautiful on earth.  It is made with the

branches of trees, four walls of dry earth

and a garland of thatch.

 

I love it, because we lie there since the nights grew

cold; and the colder the night, the longer it is. 

At the rise of day I feel myself finally weary.

 

The mattress is in the sun; two blankets

of black wool enclose our bodies which

are warming up again.  His chest compresses my breasts.

My heart beats…

 

He enters me so hard that I thought he would break me, poor

little girl that I am; but while he is

in me I no longer know anything of the world, and

you could have cut off my four limbs without

waking me from my joy.

 

40 – JOY (not translated)

 

41  — THE LOST LETTER

Alas for me!  I have lost his letter.  I

had put it between my skin and my breast-band,

in the warmth of my breast.  I ran; it fell.

 

I’m going to retrace my steps:  if someone

found it, he would tell my mother and I

shall be whipped in front of my mocking sisters.

 

If it is a man who finds it, he will give it

back to me; or even, if he wanted to talk to me in

secret I know the means to charm him.

 

If it is a woman, who puts it up for sale, O Zeus

the Protector, protect me!  Because she would tell

everybody, or she would take my lover.

 

42 – SONG

The night is so deep that it enters through

my eyes.  – You could not see the way. You could

lose yourself in the forest.

 

The noise of the waterfalls fills my

ears.  – You would not hear the voice of

your lover even if he was only twenty feet away.

 

The odour of the flowers is so strong that I

swoon and am about to fall. – You would not feel

them if they carpeted your path.

 

Ah!  It is good, far from here, on the other

side of the mountain, but I see it and I

hear it and I feel it as if it were touching me.

 

43 – THE OATH

“When the water of the stream flows back up

to the snow-covered summits;

when we sow barley and wheat in

the moving furrows of the sea;

 

“when the pines sprout in the lakes and the

water-lilies on rocks, when the sun

becomes black, when the moon falls onto the grass.

 

“Then, but only then, will I take

another wife and forget you Bilitis,

soul of my life, heart of my heart.”

 

He said that to me!  He said that to me!  What matters

the rest of the world to me!  Where are you, insane happiness

which can compare with my happiness!

 

44 — NIGHT

It is me now, looking for him again.

each night, very softly, I leave the

house, and I go by a long road,

to his meadow, to watch him sleep.

 

Sometimes I stay a long time without speaking,

happy just to see him, and I put my lips close

to his, to kiss only

his breath.

 

Then suddenly, I spread myself over him.  He

wakes in my arms, and he can no longer

get back up because I wrestle with him!  He submits, and laughs and

pleads with me.  And so we played through the night.

 

… First dawn, Oh mischievous clarity, you already!

In what forever-nocturnal cavern, on

which subterranean meadow could we

love for so long, that we lose even your

memory…

 

45 – LULLABY (BERCEUSE:  lit: ‘She who rocks the cradle’)

Sleep!  I asked in Sardis for your toys, and

your clothes in Babylon.  Sleep, you are the daughter

of Bilitis and of a king of the rising sun.

 

The woods, they are the palace in which we fought for

you alone and which I give you.  The trunks

of the pines, these are its columns; the high

branches, these are its vaulted roof.

 

Sleep.  So that he doesn’t wake you, I would sell

the sun to the sea.  The wind from the wings of

a dove is not as light as your breath.

 

Daughter of mine, flesh of my flesh, you will tell me

when you open your eyes, if you want the

plain or the town, or the mountain or the

moon, or the white procession of the gods.

 

46 – THE TOMB OF THE NYADS

The length of the rime-covered woods, I

walked; the hair in front of my mouth was

blossoming with little icicles, and my

sandals were heavy with piled-up slush.

 

He said to me:  “What are you looking for?” “I’m

on the tracks of a satyr.  His cloven little footsteps

alternate like the holes in a white

shawl.”  He said to me: “The Satyrs are dead.

 

“The satyrs and the nymphs too.  In

thirty years we have not had a winter so

terrible.  The footprint which you see is that of

a goat.  But let us stay here, where their tomb is.”

 

And with the iron of his hoe he broke the ice

on the spring where once laughed the Nyads.

He took large cold pieces, and,

lifting them to the pale sky, looked through them.

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