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Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Ted Hughes | Phaeton in ''Tales from Ovid''

Phaethon, hair ablaze,
A fiery speck, lengthening a vapour trail,
Plunged towards the earth
Like a star
Falling and burning out on a clear night.
In a remote land
Far from his home
The hot current
Of the broad Eridanus
Quenched his ember-
And washed him ashore.
The Italian nymphs
Buried his remains, that were glowing again
And flickering little flames
Of the three-forked fire from God.
Over his grave, on a rock they wrote this: Here lies Phoebus' boy who died
In the sun's chariot.
His strength too human, and too hot
His courage and his pride.

His father mourned, hidden,
Eclipsed with sorrow.
They say no sun showed on that day.
But the fires of the burning earth
Were so far useful, to give some light.
And now Clymene's outcry
Equalled the catastrophe.
Mad with grief, she searched the whole earth
To find the boy's limbs, or his bones.
She came to the grave. With her breasts naked
She embraced the engraved rock.
The daughters of the sun grieved as keenly,
Beating their breasts,
Throwing themselves down on their brother's tomb,
Calling incessantly
For the one who would never hear them.
Days, weeks, months, they mourned.
Their lamentations were obsessive,
As if they could never exhaust them
They wore out four full moons with their wailings
Until at last Phaethusa -
As she flung herself to the ground -
Cried out that her feet were fixed of a sudden.
And Lampetie, as she stepped to help her,
Found her own feet rooted, immovable.
A third, tearing her hair,
Brought away handfuls of leaves.
One screamed that a tree bole
Had imprisoned her calves and thighs.
Another was whimpering with horror
To find her arms crooking into stiff branches.
And as they all struggled in vain
To escape or understand, tree bark,
Rough and furrowed, crept on upwards
Over their bodies, throats, faces -
Till it left only their lips, human enough
To call for their mother.
And what could she do
But stagger to and fro
In growing terror -
Torn his way and that,
Kissing the mouths she could still find?
And when she tried to free her daughters
Ripping at the bark, and snapping the branches -
A liquid, like blood,
Came welling out of the wounds,
And the mouths screamed :
"O Mother, do not hurt us.
Though we are trees
We are your daughters -
Oh now we must leave you."

So their last words were silenced
By the sealing bark.
But then, through that bark,
There oozed lymph like tears, that in the sun's light
Solidified as amber.
These dropped from the boughs
Into the hurrying river
Which carried them off
To adorn, some day far in the future,
Roman brides.

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