On Berenice's Hair

Conon, who hath observed the mighty skies,
Where burning constellations set and rise,
Who all their motions watches and can say
How spreading shades eclipse the hot sun's ray,
And how the stars in fixed procession move,
And how fair Trivia is detained by love
Beneath the Latmian rocks, the while her flight
Wheeling through space is stayed by passion's might,
That Conon me did see my radiance shed,
Me, the curled lock from Berenice's head,
Shining with heavenly brilliancy, whom she
To many gods an offering to be
Did dedicate, outstretching her smooth arms,
That so her lord might be preserved from harms.
For he had gone with a destroying band,
A new-made husband, to the Assyrian land,
Fresh from love's triumphs, bearing still the scars
Of amorous combats, and of nightly wars.
Do the new-wedded Venus then despise?
Or do those tears which flow from virgins' eyes,
Tears upon bridal thresholds shed destroy,
Feigned as they are, the happy parents' joy?
Nay, by the gods, untrue is all this grief,
This my queen taught me, when the gallant chief,
Her husband, went to face the battle grim,
And she was left alone bereft of him;
For then what lamentations forth she poured--
Thou'lt say 'twas not the absence of thy lord
And widowed couch that made thy tears to flow,
But 'twas a brother's loss that caused thy woe;
How so? when sorrow did upon thee prey
And through thy tender heart did eat its way,
Till thy soft breast was rack'd with direful pain,
Nor did thy senses in their seat remain.
And yet from childhood thou was known to me
A maiden of most noble mind to be,
Hast thou forgotten that good deed which won
For thee a noble bridegroom? Ne'er was done
Than that a braver deed, but when in woe
Thou sentest forth thy lord abroad to go,
What words hung choked upon thy trembling tongue,
While from thine eyes thy hands the tear-drops wrung:
What god hath changed thee thus? do lovers grieve
When for long absence they their lov'd ones leave?
And then thou me, thy hair, for thy dear spouse
To all the gods above with earnest vows
And blood of bulls didst dedicate, if he
Should after no long time return to thee.
And should pursuing his victorious way
Add conquered Asia to the Egyptian sway.
So now I pay the vow that had been given,
And shine amid the brilliant host of heaven.
Unwillingly, O queen, did I thy hair
Part from thy head, this by thy head I swear,
And may they who this oath take lightly feel
Due vengeance, but what force can equal steel?
For steel o'erturned that hugest hill by far,
O'er which doth pass the sun's bright gleaming car,
When through mount Athos sailed the Median fleet,
And in new channels did the waters meet.
If 'neath steel's strokes such mighty things can quail,
How could a woman's tender hair prevail?
O Jove, may fate o'ertake the Chalyb race!
Or they who first began the veins to trace
Beneath the earth, and first from iron ore
Began to forge the hardened steel of yore!
My sister-locks bewailed me lost to view
When through the air with quivering wings there flew
The Ethiop Memnon's brother, the winged steed
Of Chloris; me aloft he bore with speed,
We left Arsinoe's temple, and on high
Traversed in rapid flight the ethereal sky,
Till at the seat of Venus fair and chaste
Upon her bosom I the lock was placed.
For Zephyritis' slave her message bore
To the fair region on Canopus' shore,
That not alone in heaven's wide varied plain
Should Ariadne's golden crown remain,
But that I too my brilliant light should shed,
The golden spoils from Berenice's head;
So bathed in tears I reached the fanes divine
Where Venus did to me a place assign
'Mongst older lights a new star; where the sheen
Of Virgo and of Leo fierce is seen,
And where Callisto's nightly glories burn;
There towards the west my heavenly course I turn,
Before Böotes I my place maintain
Who with slow course sinks late into the main.
But though the footsteps of the gods by night
Pass and repass above my shining light,
By day again to Tethys do I flee,
The white-haired mistress of the mighty sea;
These things, Rhamnusian maid, with favour hear,
No truth will I conceal through any fear;
Not though the other stars in anger chide
Will I the secrets of my true soul hide--
Not all these things can gladden so my heart
That from my mind the pain can e'er depart,
The pain to feel that I, my mistress' hair,
Must from her head eternal absence bear.
Where erst, though not in her sweet virgin bloom,
I drank full many a scent and rich perfume.
Now O ye fair, whom Hymen's torch hath wed,
Forbear to share the eager bridegroom's bed,
Nor to his eyes your tender bosom bare
Till from the onyx box an offering rare
Pleasing to me ye give; let this be done
By all who base adulterous pleasures shun,
And seek chaste wedlock's rights, but let the dust
The gifts of those who lend themselves to lust
Drink up in scorn, for I will never claim
Offerings from those who lead dark lives of shame.
But may fair love and peace for aye abide
In the blest dwelling of each loving bride!
And thou, O queen, when gazing on the skies
Thou bid'st the torches' flames to Venus rise,
Do thou on me rich offerings too bestow,
Nor let my light without due honour glow,--
But why should me these glittering stars detain?
Would that I might my mistress' hair again,
As erst become; Orion's belt divine
Might then refulgent next Aquarius shine.

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Monday, July 11, 2011 - 01:42

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Catullus

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