Astyages's Weblog

July 9, 2012

Bilitis: Elegies at Mytilene, (part 2)

by Pierre Louys


(Translated by Astyages)



Softly enclose your arms, like a girdle,

around me.  Oh touch, Oh touch my skin like this!

neither water nor the midday breeze are as

sweet as your hand.


Today, my darling, little sister, it is

your turn.  Remember the tenderness

I taught you last night, and come near to me,

Who is wearily kneeling to you without speaking.


Your lips descend onto my lips.  All

Your hair, undone, follows them, as an

Embrace follows a kiss.  It slides over my

Left breast; hiding your eyes from me.


Give me your hand.  It’s so warm!

Entwine it in mine, and don’t take it away.

Hands unite better than lips, and their

Passion is equal to nothing.


66 – GAMES

More than her all her balls or her doll, I am

for her a toy.  All the parts of

my body she plays with like a child,

for long hours, without speaking.


She undid my hair and redid it according

to her whim, presently knotted under the chin

like a stuffed cushion, or twisted into

coils or plaited to the ends.


She looks with astonishment at the colour

of my eyelashes, the creases of my throat.  Sometimes

she makes me get down on my knees to pose with my

hands on the sheets;


Then (and it is one of those days) she slides

her little head underneath and imitates the

trembling kid suckling at the belly

of its mother.


67 – EPISODE (not translated)



Under the transparent woollen sheet we

slid, she and I.  Even our heads

were snuggled down, and the lamp lit

the stuffing underneath us.


Thus I saw her darling body under a

mysterious light.  We were nearer to

each other, and free, and intimate, and

naked.  “In the same shirt,” she said.


We remained thus hooded to be even more

uncovered, and in the thin air of the

bed, the odours of two women grew, a stew

of two natural aromas.


Nothing of the world, not even the lamp, saw

us that night.  Whether or not we made

love, she and I alone could say.

But the men will know nothing.



She sleeps with her undone hair, her hands

entwined behind her neck.  Is she dreaming?  Her

mouth is open; she breathes softly.


With something of the white swan’s grace, I wiped,

without waking her, the sweat from her arms, the

fever from her cheeks.  Her closed eyelids

are two blue flowers.


Ever so softly I rise; I will have

to draw water, milk the cow and ask for

some fire from the neighbours. I want my hair curled,

and to be dressed when she opens her eyes.


Sleep, stay a while longer between her

beautifully-curved eyelashes and let her night continue

happily with a dream of good omen.



I shall kiss the long black sails of your neck

from one end to the other , oh sweet bird,

captured dove, whose heart leaps under my hand.


I shall take her mouth in my mouth

as a child takes the breast of its mother.

Shudder!  … Because the kiss penetrates

deeply, permissive to love.


I shall promenade my lips like fire on

your arms, and around your neck, and I shall make you

turn onto your ticklish side with the

dragging caress of my fingernails.


Listen to me whisper in your ear: all the rumours

of the sea… Mnasidika!  Your look

teases me.  I shall close your frail

and smokey eyelids with my kiss.



You must not have your hair styled, for fear

a too-hot iron may burn your neck or your

hair.  Leave it on your shoulders and

spreading along the length of your arm.


You must not get dressed, for fear

that a girdle might make sharp red

crease-marks on your hips.

Stay naked like a little girl.


You must not even get up, for fear

that your delicate feet may be hurt by

walking.  You shall rest in bed, O victim

Of Eros, and I shall dress your poor sores.


It is because I don’t want to see on your body any other

Marks, Mnasidika, but the mark of a kiss held

Too long, the scratch of a slender nail,

Or the purpled band of my embrace.



Love me, not with smiles, with flutes

or with cut flowers, but with your

heart and your tears, as I love you with my

breasts and with my groans.


When your breasts alternate with my breasts,

when I feel your life against my life, when

your knees stand erect behind me, then

my breathless mouth will not know even

how to find yours.


Train me as I train you!  See, the

lamp is nearly dead, we are rolling in the

night; but I press your smoking body and I

hear your perpetual plea…


Moan! moan! moan! O woman!  Eros

trains us in sadness.  You shall suffer

less on this bed to bring a child into this

world than to lie in it with your love.


73 – REPRISE (not translated)



Breathless, I took her hand and I

firmly pressed it under the moist skin of

my left breast.  And I turned my head here

and there and I moved my lips without speaking.


My panic-stricken heart, abrupt and hard, was beating

and beating in my chest, like a bruised and

imprisoned satyr knocks, looking for a way out.

She said to me, “Your heart is hurting you…”


“Oh, Mnasidika,” I replied, the heart of

women is not there.  This is a poor

bird, a dove who is beating her feeble

wings.  The heart of a woman is more terrible.


“Similarly to a little bay of myrtle,

it burns with a red flame and under an

abundant sap.  It is there where I feel

bitten by the voraciousness of Aphrodite.”



We rest, with eyes closed; the silence

is great around our bed.  Ineffable

nights of summer!  But she, thinking

I was asleep, placed her warm hand on my arm.


She murmured, “Bilitis, are you sleeping?”   My heart

beat faster, but without answering, I breathed

regularly like a sleeping woman in her

dreams.  Then she began to speak:


“So that you will not hear me,” she said,

“Ah, how I love you!”  And she repeated my name.

“Bilitis… Bilitis…” And she lightly touched me with

the tip of her trembling fingers:


“It is mine, this mouth!  Mine alone!

Is there a more beautiful one in the world?  Ah!

My happiness, my happiness!  It is mine

This naked arm, this neck and this hair…”



She has left, she is far away, but I see

her, because everything is full of her in this bedroom,

everything is hers, and I am like the rest.


This bed is still warm where I let my mouth

stray, it is pressed down in the form of her body.

In this soft cushion slept her little head

enveloped in hair.


This basin is the one in which she washed; this

comb has penetrated the knots of her tangled

hair.  These slippers held her naked

feet.  These pockets of gauze contained her breasts.


But what I dare not even touch with my finger, is

this mirror where she saw her hot bruises, and where still lives

perhaps, the reflection of her moistened lips.  


77 – LOVE

Alas, if I think of her, my throat dries up,

my head spins, my breasts harden and

hurt me, I shudder and I cry while walking.


If I see her, my heart stops, my hands

tremble, my feet slip, the redness

of a fire climbs to my cheeks, my temples throb painfully.


If I touch her, I become foolish, my arms

stiffen; my knees fail me.  I fall

in front of her, and I lie there like a

woman about to die.


For all that she said to me I feel wounded.

Her love is a torture and the passers-by

hear my pleas… Alas!  How

can I call her my Beloved?



There you are!  Get rid of your little bands, and your

fasteners and your tunic.  Rid yourself of everything down to

your sandals, to the ribbons on your legs,

to the band at your breast.


Wash the black from your eyelashes, and the rouge from

your lips.  Rub away the white from your shoulders

and straighten your hair with water.


Because I want to have you completely pure, so that you are

naked on the bed, at the feet of your fertile mother

and in front of your glorious father,


So chaste that my hand in your hand makes you

blush from head to toe and that one word from me

in your ear will distract your straying eyes.



My little child, I have so few years

left with you, I love you, no, not

like a lover, but as if you had

come from my own painfully labouring entrails.


When I stretch out on my knees, your two

frail arms around me, your mouth straining,

you search my breast and my teats slowly slip

between your palpitating lips.


Then I dream of other times, I really suckled

that sensitive mouth, supple and

clean, the vase of purple-coloured myrrh

in which the happiness of Bilitis is mysteriously



Sleep.  I will rock you with one hand on my

knee which gently rocks your cradle up and down.  Sleep then.

I shall sing for you some sad little

songs which send the newborn to sleep…



As we were walking along the beach, without

speaking, and enveloped up to the chin

in our robes of sombre wool, some happy young

girls passed by.


“Ah! It is Bilitis and Mnasidika!  See

the beautiful little squirrel that we caught:

it’s as soft as a bird and frightened as a rabbit.


“At Lydia’s house we will put it in a cage and we

will give it lots of milk with some

leaves of lettuce.  It’s a female, she

will live a long time.”


And the fools ran on.  For

us, without speaking we sat,

me on a rock, she on the sand, and we

watched the sea.



“Hello, Bilitis, Mnasidika, hello.”

“Sit down. how is your husband?”

“Too good.  Don’t tell

him you’ve seen me.  He will kill me if he

knows I’m here.”

“Don’t be scared.”


“And that is your bedroom?  And there is your

bed?  Forgive me.  I am curious.”

“You know however, Myrrhine’s bed.”

“Yes, a bit.”

“One would say pretty.”

“And lascivious, O my

dear!  But we must be quiet.”


“What do you want of me?”

“What do you want to borrow?”


“I dare not name the object.”

“We don’t have any.”


“Mnasidika is a virgin.”

“Well, where can one buy it?”

“At the house of the shoemaker, Drakhon.”


“Tell me also:  Who sold you your embroidery thread?

Mine was broken when I looked at it.”

“I made it myself, but Nais sells excellent thread.”

“At what price?  Three obols.”

“That’s dear.  And the object?”

“Two drachmas”




Winter was hard, Mnasidika.  Everything is cold

outside our bed.  Get up, in the meantime, come

with me, because I have lit a big fire with

dead stumps and split wood.


We warm ourselves squatting on our heels, all

naked, our hair on our backs, and we drink milk

from the same cup and we eat millet cakes.


How loud and gay the flames are!  Aren’t you too close?

Your skin is turning red.

Let me kiss everywhere the flame has burned.


In the midst of the burning firebrands I am going to heat

the iron and style your hair.  With the dead coals

I shall write your name on the wall.



“What do you want?”  said he.  “If I must, I

would sell my last jewels for just one

attentive slave to watch for desire in your

eyes, the least thirst of your lips.


“If the milk of our goats seems insipid to you, I

will rent some for you, as for a child; a

wet-nurse with swollen breasts which each

morning you will milk.


“If our bed seems rough, I shall buy all

the soft cushions, all the silken

covers, all the sheets, furry with feathers from

the Amathusian merchants.


“All!  But that must suffice, and if

we should sleep on the earth, the earth

must be softer to you than the warm bed

of a stranger.”



Large eyes of Mnasidika, how

happy you make me when love darkens

your eyelids and animates you and you sink

under the tears;


But how foolish, when you

turn elsewhere, distracted by a woman

passing by, or by a memory which is not



Then my cheeks become hollow, my hands

tremble and I suffer, it seems to me

all over; before you my life is gone.


Large eyes of Mnasidika, don’t stop

looking at me!  Or I shall poke holes in you with my

needle and you will see nothing more

but terrible night.


85 –  MAKE-UP

Everything, and my life, and the world, and men,

everything which is not her is nothing.

everything which is not her, I give to you,



Does she know how much work I put into

being beautiful in her eyes, with my hairstyle and with

my make-up, with my dresses and my perfumes.


I would spend as much time turning a millstone, I

would row the oars of a ship or I would dig the

earth, if it could keep this prize here.


But all done so that she never learns about it,

goddesses who live above us!  The day

she knows that I love her she will look for

another woman.



She laughed all day long, and she was even

a little mocking of me.

She refused to obey me, in front of several foreign



When we had gone home, I pretended

I wasn’t speaking to her, and how she threw

Herself on my neck, saying:  “You’re angry?”

I said to her,


“Ah!  You are not how you were, you are not

still like you were that first day.  I no longer

recognize you, Mnasidika.”  She made no



But she put on all her jewels which she hadn’t

Worn for a long time, and the same

Yellow dress embroidered with blue as the day of

Our meeting.


87  –  SCENE

“Where were you?”

“At the flower-sellers’.

I bought some beautiful Irises.  Here you are,

I brought them for you.”

“How long did it take you

to buy four flowers?”

“The merchant kept me back.”


“You have pale cheeks and your eyes are


“It’s fatigue from the road.”

“Your hair is moist and tangled.”

“It’s the heat and the wind

which have messed up my hair.”


“Someone has undone your girdle.  I tied the

knot myself; looser than this one.”

“So loose that it came undone; a passing

slave re-did it for me.”


“There is something on your dress.”

“It’s the water which has fallen from the flowers.”

“Mnasidika, my little soul, your Irises are the most beautiful in all


“I know it well, I know it well.”


88  –  WAITING

The sun has spent the whole night with the

dead since I’ve been waiting for you, sitting on my

bed, weary from my vigil.  The wick of the lamp

has nearly burnt down to the end.


She hasn’t come home yet:  here is the last

star.  I know well that she won’t come home.

I know even the name which I hate.  And meanwhile

I still wait.


Now she’s coming!  Yes, she

comes, her hair undone and without roses,

her robe soiled, stained, rumpled, her tongue

dry and her eyelids black.


As soon as she opened the door, I said to her…

“But here she is… This is her dress which I’m touching,

her hands, her hair, her skin.”

I kiss a mouth, lost to me, and I cry.



For whom now shall I paint my lips?

For whom shall I polish my fingernails?  For whom

Shall I perfume my hair?


For whom are my breasts powdered with rouge, if they

must no longer tempt her?  For whom are my arms

washed with milk if they must no longer

embrace her?


How can I sleep?  How

can I go to bed?  This evening my hand,

in all my bed, did not find your warm hand.


I dare no longer return home, in the

bedroom, horribly empty.  I dare no longer

open the door.  I dare not even open my eyes.


90  –  LETTER

It’s impossible, impossible.  I beg

you on my knees, with tears, all the

tears that I have cried over this horrible

letter, do not abandon me like this.


Can you dream how horrible it is to lose you again

for the second time, after having

had the immense joy of hoping to win you back.

Ah!  My love!  Do you not feel how much I love you!


Listen to me.  Consent to see me one

more time.  Would you like, tomorrow, to lie

in the sun, in front of your door?  Tomorrow or the next

day.  I shall come to fetch you.  Do not refuse me this.


This may be the last time perhaps, but just this one

more time, just this once more!  I ask

you, I cry out to you, and dream that on your

answer depends the whole of the rest of my life.



You were jealous of us, Gyrinno, you

too-ardent girl.  Such bouquets

you have suspended from the mantle of our door!  You

were waiting for us in the passage and you followed us

in the street.


Now you are as you wished, held

in the beloved place, and with your head on the cushion

where floats another woman’s scent.  You are

larger than she was.  Your

different body astonishes me.


Look, I finally give in.  Yes, it is

me.  You can play with my breasts, caress

my hips, open my knees.  My body

entirely I surrender to your

untiring lips,  –  Alas!


Ah!  Gyrinno!  With love my tears are also

overflowing!  Wipe them away with your hair,

do not kiss them, my darling; and hold me even

Closer to master my trembling.


92  –  EFFORT

Again!  Enough of sighs and of reaching arms!

Begin again!  Do you think then, that love

is a relaxation?  Gyrinno, it is a

task, and of all tasks it is the toughest.


Wake up!  You must not sleep.

What matters it, your blue eyelids and

the bar of sorrow which burns your

meagre legs.  Astarte boils in my loins.


We were lying together before the twilight.

Here already is hurtful daybreak; but I

am not weary for so little.  I shall not sleep

before the following evening.


I shall not sleep:  you must not

Sleep.  Oh! How bitter is the savour of

the morning!  Gyrinno, appreciate that.  Embraces

are more difficult… stranger and slower.


93  –  MYRRHINE (not translated)



Don’t think I loved you.  I ate

you like a ripe fig, I drank you

like a burning water, I wore you around

me like a girdle of skin.


I am amused by your body, because

you have short hair and pointy breasts

above a meagre body, and black nipples

like two little dates.


As one needs water and fruit, a

woman is also necessary, but already I no

longer know your name, you who have passed through my

arms like the shadow of another adored one.


Between your flesh and mine, a burning dream

possessed me.  I shall press you onto me as

onto a wound and I shall cry:  Mnasidika!

Mnasidika!  Mnasidika!



“What do you want, old woman?”

“To console you.”

“It is lost sorrow.”

“Someone told me that since your

break-up, you would go from love to love

finding neither forgetfulness nor peace.  I come to

propose someone.”



“She is a young slave born in

Sardis.  She has no equal in the world,

because she is at the same time man and woman, even

though her chest and her long hair and her clear

voice create the illusion.


“Her age?  Sixteen years.”

“Her height?”

“Tall. She didn’t know anyone here, apart from Psappha

who is lost in love and wanted me to buy her for twenty minas.

If you hire her, she is yours.”


And what could I do?

For twenty-two nights I have tried in vain

to escape into memory…


“Well and good, I shall take

this one again, but warn the poor

little thing, that she is not to be afraid at all if I

sob in her arms.”



I remember… (at what time of day do

I not have her in front of my eyes?)  I remember

the way she put up her hair

with her feeble fingers, so pale.


I remember a night she spent here,

her cheek lay on my breast, so gently, that

happiness woke me up, and the next day she

had on her face the little round mark of my nipple.


I saw her holding her cup of milk and looking

sideways at me with a smile.  I saw

her, powdered and coiffed, opening her large

eyes in front of her mirror, and retouching with

her finger the rouge on her lips.


And above all, if my despair is a perpetual

torture, it is because I know, moment by

moment, how she fainted in the arms

of another, and that whatever she asked him

he gave her.



Doll of wax, cherished toy that she called

her child, she left you too and she

forgot you like me, who made, with her, your

father or mother, I don’t know…


The pressure of her lips have faded

your little cheeks; and here is your broken

left hand which made her cry so much.  This

little cyclas you are wearing is the one she



From listening to her, you already know how to read.  So that

you were not deprived, and in the evening, inclined over

you, she would open her tunic and give you her

breast, “So that you will not cry”, she said.


Doll, if I wanted to see her again, I would give you

to Aphrodite, as the dearest of my gifts.

But I want to think that she is completely dead.



Sing a funereal song, Mytilenian muses,

Sing!  The earth is sombre as a mourning

robe and the yellow trees shiver like

a head shorn of hair.


Heraios!  Oh, sad, sweet month!  The leaves

fall gently like snow; the sun

is more penetrating in the opening forest

I hear nothing more but silence.


Here is what I wore to the tomb of Pittakos

burdened with years.  Many are dead, that

I knew.  And she who lives is for me

as if she were no more.


This one is the tenth autumn that I have seen

death on this plain.  It is time too

that I disappear.  Weep with me, Mytilenian

Muses, weep over my footsteps.

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