Astyages's Weblog

June 3, 2012


The Songs of Bilitis


Pierre Louys


Translated by

David L Rowlands


The Bucolic Life in Pamphylia (Part 2)



“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,

And 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.



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.



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


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.



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.”



As we both loved to do, we

played knucklebones. And this was

a memorable game. Lots of young girls


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”



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




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…



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


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.



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?



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.



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.



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


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.”



One woman envelopes herself in white wool.

Another clothes herself in silk and gold. Another

covers herself with flowers, with green leaves and


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.



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)



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.



“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



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.



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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