From: The Bird and the Bell with Other Poems (1875)
Author: Christopher Pearse Cranch
Published: Osgood and Company 1875 Boston


“Phœbo ante alios dilectus, Iapis
Iasides: acri quondam cui captus amore
Ipse suas artes, sua munera, lætus Apollo
Augurium, citharamque, dabat, celeresquc sagittas.
Ille, ut depositi proferret fata parentis,
Scire potestates herbarum, usumque medendi,
Maluit, et mutas agitare inglorius artes.”
Virgil, Æneid, B. XII.

IN Troas, on Mount Ida’s sloping side,
There lived a shepherd youth whom Phœbus loved,
Iapis, old Iasius’ son, his name.
His father, feeble, aged, many a month
Had kept his couch, or basking in the sun
Sat, mid the mossy rocks that faced the south,
Before his cottage door. Long had his son,
His sole attendant, striven to bring back
His father’s failing strength; but they were poor,
And in all arts medicinal unskilled.
Yet all was done that filial love and care,
Unschooled in lore of herbs and cures, could do.

On Ida’s slopes, one night, the stifled winds
Of summer had all fainted in the heats
That pressed upon the bosoms of the hills,
But rose again, with crashing bursts of storm,
And sweeping rains, that drenched the piny clefts;
And through the incumbent night in blazing spasms
Flashed fur and fast the thunderbolts of Jove;
A beautiful and blinding light, that all
The landscape, and the distant towers of Troy,
And the gray sea away by Tenedos
Seemed dashed with sudden shocks of moonlight mixed
With chaos and the black of Erebus.

Iapis and Iasius sat beneath
Their humble roof, and from the casement gazed
Upon the sky, with long-suspended breath
Between the ominous intervals of fire
And thunder, till at length Iapis spoke.
“Father, it is the anger of the gods,
On us perchance; perchance on Priam’s walls
Some overwhelming doom must fall erelong.”
But old Iasius answered: “Nay, not so.
My strength ebbs back, as if a weight of years
Rolled from my shoulders. Though I am no seer,
I feel the presence of the Olympian will,
Masking benignity in portents fierce,
To work some issue, all unknown, yet bright
For thee, for me, and for the Trojan realm.
Lo, now the thunder rolls away; the rain
Has ceased; and only down the mountain gorge
The torrents leap in tumbling cataracts.
The clouds have parted, and the sleepy storm
Flutters his dying fire-wings far away,
Quivering through domes and pinnacles of cloud,
Where on the horizon ride the tossing ships,
Black-masted, heaving with the ocean’s swell.
I too would rest. Sleep falls, as not for months,
Upon my weary eyes. Thou too, my son,
More hopefully go seek thy couch. Some good
The gods design, else why this wondrous calm?”

At dawn of day lapis woke. His sire,
Already was awake, a peaceful smile
Upon his lips. “A happy dream I’ve had,”
He said,—“a dream of radiant morn and youth.
Golden Apollo mingled with my trance,
And lit with splendor each fantastic shape
That flitted through its changes. Nay, not now,
I will not tell it now,—some day, some morn,
When thou, poor shepherd boy, shalt need no more
Thy mountain goats, thy staff, and humble garb,
And sorry penance and routine of care,
Linked to the fortunes of thy tottering sire.
Apollo, lo, Apollo loves thee, boy!
Go forth this morn, this very morn, and build
An altar to the god in yonder grove.
With hallowed rites and willing sacrifice
Pray to the god of wisdom and of light.”

Then forth into the ambrosial air of morn
Iapis went, much pondering in his mind
What dream it may have been that cheered his sire.
It was a morning that seemed all distilled
Of amber, gold and gems, and dewy scents
From fields and woods, the rhyme of heaven with earth.
Pale in the pearly west the white moon hung
Like an inverted silver cup drained dry,
After some midnight banquet of the gods
Withdrawn into the blue, with all their stars.
Beyond the windows to the east uprose
A grove of cedars, dark against the dawn.
Beneath the shadows of the antique boughs
The spiry odors of the night still lay
Entangled in the embraces of the dew.
And o’er the cedars flamed the rose and gold
Of braided clouds fantastically curled,
Dappled and flecked and streaked with opal tints;
And all the east was ringing with the choirs
Of rapturous birds. So far away it seemed
From storms and sorrows and all earthly cares,
As though ‘t were but a step from Ida’s top
Into the Olympian calm of deathless gods.

Then down the eastern slope Iapis stepped,
Till the dense cedars, opening, half disclosed,
Through bunches interlaced, the imperial morn
That burned from amber-gray to crimson-gold,—
The coming presence of the god of light.
Then, as Iapis thought to grasp his bow
And arrows, and to slay a tawny wolf,
As offered victim at Apollo’s shrine,
(So had the youth been taught by custom old)
Sudden uprose the sun; and in the sun
A face, whose beauty thrilled him with strange awe.
And whether he were sleeping or awake,
He knew not; yet these words into his soul
Passed, with the rapture of the rising sun:
“Iapis, not from thee do I require
The death of aught, though ‘t were a prowling wolf
About thy sheepfold. Sacrifice to me
Is naught, when true devotion such as thine
I know, and know thy depths of love untold.
Fair youth, long, long have I from heights serene
Yearned for communion with the soul enshrined
Within thy mortal frame. Now have I come
To offer thee the gifts a god alone
Can give. Lo, here thou liv’st a shepherd’s life,
Obscure, inglorious, far from men and. towns,
Far from the toils and fame of mighty men
Whose words shake kingdoms, or “hose daring hands
O’erthrow the embattled masonry of time;
Or who, with wisdom half allied to us,
Invert the future; or who sweep the lyre,
And chant the strains that live from age to age,—
Our favorites, yet no dearer to our soul
Than thou. These, for the love I bear, O youth,
These gifts, Apollo’s gifts, if thou but—choose,
Are thine, thou consecrate alone to me! “

With head bowed down and with a faltering tongue,
As one o’erburdened with a weight of love
He not deserves, or one who cannot gauge
With customary measuring-wand the depths
Of knowledge hidden, hidden yet desired,
And though desired, so hard to be attained;
Not all contented with his present lot,
Yet fearing somewhat the steep, slippery heights
Trod by the shining heroes of his dreams,
Iapis thus replied: “O thou who rul’st
The sun, the day, the march of year on year I
O Fount of light, whom with my simple vows
In rustic fashion every morn I adore!
I am unworthy to accept such gifts.
I know not what they are, I can but guess
Their grandeur; seek some fitter man than me.”

He paused. Again the golden Presence spoke:
“To plead in senates, to enchain the crowd
With words of magic eloquence, to know
The impenetrable future, to ensnare
The secrets of all depths and heights of power,
To wing the arrow from the sounding bow
With fatal aim, to know the muse divine,
And thrill the world with poesy and song,—
Think well, these gifts are thine, if thou but choose;
For I do love thee better than thou know’st.”

So radiant was the sun-god’s smile, as thus
He spoke, so winning were his tones, so near
He seemed to come, it was as though some friend
Of half-remembered form, met in a dream,
Held speech with him in sympathetic tones.

Then said Iapis,—for he had pondered long,
And thought upon his hoary-headed sire,—
“O great Apollo, thou hast left unnamed
One gift of thine,—one power that I would prize
O’er all the rest that thou hast offered me.
I have a father, suffering, bent with age,
And he is dear to me, as I to him.
Grant, if it be thy will, most mighty one,
Grant me the knowledge of these herbs that grow
About my feet and in the mountain-clefts,
To know their essence, and extract the cures
That lurk within their leaves and flowers and roots,
And how and when with art medicinal
To use—so I may make e’en poison serve
The ends of restoration—every plant
That suns itself beneath thy sovereign eye.
Thus to my failing sire shall I bring back
His youth and health, and so rejoice with him.
Thus too shall I amid our cities serve
My countrymen, should war or fell disease
Besiege their walls, and know life’s noblest use,
To help my fellow-men.”
Then Phœbus smiled
With light so radiantly sweet, the youth
Saw how each little flower and mountain weed
Turned to the sun-god; while such fragrance-filled
The morn, as never save in heaven is known,
When all the gods are at their ambrosial feasts.

And so Iapis knew his prayer was heard,
And joyful to his but returned, and told
All to his sire. “Lo now,” Iasius said,
“My dream comes true; but other than I dreamed.
Riches, and power, and hidden lore, and skill
In augury and archery and the lute
And poet’s pen,—all these my fancy found
For thee in vision, but no power to know
The virtues of the commonest weed that grows,
To use the seeming useless, and so heal
And save from pain and death thy fellow-men.
For what would it avail, though thou shouldst stand
A trained familiar at the awful doors
Of life and death and miracle and fate,
Knowing the things that God alone should know?
Or what to wing the viewless shaft of death,
Destroying, where thy hand should save and bless?
Or say that thou shouldst own the higher gifts
Of eloquence and poesy and song?
Better than poet’s dreams and singer’s tones,
The task to win the secrets wrapped and hid
In Nature’s mute and unresponsive breast,
Whose powers unlocked by thought shall lift the race
Of man to endless happiness and strength.
Who toils for fame and power may slip and fall
And crumble to a puff of worthless dust;
Who lives to help his kind, how mean soe’er
His lot may be, deserves, not love alone
Of all the immortals, but a fellowship
With them shall win, that honors Jove himself.”

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