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Poetry and Mythology inspired by Fauns and Nymphs

Updated: Jun 18, 2019

In Ancient Greece and Rome, the land was understood to be interconnected with guardian deities and elemental beings who presided over certain areas of the landscape.

"The shady groves and flowery vales were peopled by Dryads or wood-nymphs, and Satyrs, a species of rural deities, who, like Pan, had the horns, legs, and feet of a goat. Mountains and streams possessed their guardian gods and goddesses, and every fountain had its Naiad or water-nymph." History of Greece by William and Robert Chambers (1838.)


Ancient mythology and its deep connection with nature fascinates me. Mythologist Joseph Campbell once wrote in Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine: “When you are meditating on a deity, you are meditating on powers of your own spirit and psyche, and on powers that are also out there. One finds in practically all the religious traditions of the world (with a few exceptions) that the aim is for the individual to put himself into accord with nature, with his nature, and that's both physical and psychological health...So when mythology is properly understood...the object venerated is a personification of an energy that dwells within the individual.”


Storyteller Martin Shaw reflected on this relationship between a healthy psyche and the health of the land in his book, Snowy Tower: Parzival and the Wet Black Branch of Language: “The land ails because it is out of relationship with the Grail, it is out of relationship with the great story...Things that thrilled us once, do so no longer. Everything is flat. The wasteland can be seen as a world that has lost its way, when a culture has declined into a mass civilization.”


In Ancient Greece, nature was a central component of its religions and the powers of the elements were often associated with human or godly forms, for example thunder could be the voice of Jupiter and the murmurs of a stream could belong to its guardian deity. "Not a spot but had its altar; every grove was consecrated to its peculiar nymphs, its Dryads and its Fauns; every stream and fountain had the votive marble for its own bright Nereid," Lives of the Apostles of Jesus Christ by David Francis Bacon (1836.)


In Rome, the faun was a mythological being, half-man and half-goat, known as a satyr in Ancient Greece although the two beings differed in nature - satyrs were more women-loving and had more knowledge it was believed. The Greek god of nature, rustic music and companion of the nymphs, Pan, was a satyr and his Roman comparison was known as Faunus - the horned god of the forest. There are many myths about Pan and the nymphs, including the story of the origin of his flute - the nymph Syrinx was turned into reeds by her sisters in order to escape the advances of Pan - yet still infatuated by her, Pan blew into the reeds which produced a melodious sound and so the flute was born, after cutting the reeds into seven pieces and joining them side by side.

Fauna playing the Syrinx by Swiss symbolist painter Arnold Böcklin, 1875.


Nymphs were female nature deities, dwelling in or bound to particular areas of the landscape - naiads were nymphs of the water and dryads were tree nymphs (specifically oak, yet the term was also used more generally.) Although there were many more Greek classifications including Oreads who were mountain nymphs, plant nymphs, Alseids (nymphs of groves and glens,) Leimoniads (nymphs of meadows,) Anthousai (flower nymphs) as well as celestial nymphs such as the Pleiades sisters who were the seven daughters of Atlas and the oceanid nymph Pleione, who was the protectress of sailing.


There are countless ancient myths and stories about nymphs and fauns - here I have included some poems, myths and artworks which have inspired me.


Hylas and the Water Nymphs by Henrietta R. Rae - in this Greek myth, it was said that the water nymph, Dryope, fell in love with Hylas, a squire of Heracles, she kissed him and grabbed his arm - the nymphs pulled him into the pool and after extensive searches by Heracles he was not found and was believed to have become the lover of Dryope.


Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse (1903) - this painting was based on the myth of the Oread (mountain nyph) Echo, who was cursed to repeat the last words she had heard, and unable to speak to her lover, she watched him fall in love with his reflection.


Faun and Nymph, by Australian painter, Sydney Long (1910)


Percy Bysshe Shelley was one of the romantic poets, born on the 4th August 1792 in Sussex, England, he died in 1822 - his wife, Mary Shelley, was the author of Frankenstein. The following poem was written in response to a text 'Proserpine and Midas' written by Mary in which Pan and Apollo sing competing songs before Tmolus as judge who eventually rewards the lyre-playing Apollo. This scene was beautifully portrayed in Ovid's Metamorphoses, an epic Roman poem based on Greek mythology - in this myth, the King, Midas, declares the judgement unjust to which Apollo condemns him to bare the ears of an ass.


Hymn of Pan

by Percy Bysshe Shelley


From the forests and highlands          We come, we come; From the river-girt islands,          Where loud waves are dumb                 Listening to my sweet pipings. The wind in the reeds and the rushes,          The bees on the bells of thyme, The birds on the myrtle bushes,          The cicale above in the lime, And the lizards below in the grass, Were as silent as ever old Tmolus was,                 Listening to my sweet pipings. Liquid Peneus was flowing,          And all dark Tempe lay In Pelion's shadow, outgrowing          The light of the dying day,                 Speeded by my sweet pipings. The Sileni, and Sylvans, and Fauns,          And the Nymphs of the woods and the waves, To the edge of the moist river-lawns,          And the brink of the dewy caves, And all that did then attend and follow, Were silent with love, as you now, Apollo,                 With envy of my sweet pipings. I sang of the dancing stars,          I sang of the daedal Earth, And of Heaven, and the giant wars,          And Love, and Death, and Birth—                 And then I chang'd my pipings, Singing how down the vale of Maenalus          I pursu'd a maiden and clasp'd a reed. Gods and men, we are all deluded thus!          It breaks in our bosom and then we bleed. All wept, as I think both ye now would, If envy or age had not frozen your blood,                 At the sorrow of my sweet pipings.



Pan and the Nymph, by English painter, George Percy Jacomb-Hood, 1896

Metamorphoses (Book 11)

by Ovid


While Pan was boasting there to mountain nymphs of his great skill in music, and while he was warbling a gay tune upon the reeds, cemented with soft wax, in his conceit he dared to boast to them how he despised Apollo's music when compared with his—. At last to prove it, he agreed to stand against Apollo in a contest which it was agreed should be decided by Tmolus as their umpire.

This old god sat down on his own mountain, and first eased his ears of many mountain growing trees, oak leaves were wreathed upon his azure hair and acorns from his hollow temples hung. First to the Shepherd-god Tmolus spoke:

“My judgment shall be yours with no delay. Pan made some rustic sounds on his rough reeds, delighting Midas with his uncouth notes; for Midas chanced to be there when he played.

When Pan had ceased, divine Tmolus turned to Phoebus, and the forest likewise turned just as he moved. Apollo's golden locks were richly wreathed with fresh Parnassian laurel; his robe of Tyrian purple swept the ground; his left hand held his lyre, adorned with gems and Indian ivory. His right hand held the plectrum—as an artist he stood there before Tmolus, while his skilful thumb touching the strings made charming melody.

Delighted with Apollo's artful touch, Tmolus ordered Pan to hold his reeds excelled by beauty of Apollo's lyre. That judgment of the sacred mountain god pleased all those present, all but Midas, who blaming Tmolus called the award unjust.

The Delian god forbids his stupid ears to hold their native human shape; and, drawing them out to a hideous length, he fills them with gray hairs, and makes them both unsteady, wagging at the lower part: still human, only this one part condemned, Midas had ears of a slow-moving ass.

Midas, careful to hide his long ears, wore a purple turban over both, which hid his foul disgrace from laughter. But one day a servant, who was chosen to cut his hair with steel, when it was long, saw his disgrace. He did not dare reveal what he had seen, but eager, to disclose the secret, dug a shallow hole, and in a low voice told what kind of ears were on his master's head. All this he whispered in the hollow earth he dug, and then he buried all he said by throwing back the loose earth in the hole so everything was silent when he left.

A grove thick set with quivering reeds began to grow there, and when it matured, about twelve months after that servant left, the grove betrayed its planter. For, moved by a gentle South Wind, it repeated all the words which he had whispered, and disclosed from earth the secret of his master's ears.


French poet Arthur Rimbaud was born on the 20th October 1854 and died just after his 37th birthday - he is well known for his passionate yet volatile love affair with poet Paul Verlaine (who once drunkenly shot Rimbaud in the left wrist) and his symbolic poetry with his most notable work being Illuminations, an incomplete suite of poems, rich in sensory language, published in 1886. The following poem was written during the years 1869-1871.


Tête de Faune (Head of a Faun)

by Arthur Rimbaud

Among the foliage, green casket flecked with gold, In the uncertain foliage that blossoms With gorgeous flowers where sleeps the kiss, Vivid and bursting through the sumptuous tapestry,


A startled faun shows his two eyes And bites the crimson flowers with his white teeth. Stained and ensanguined like mellow wine His mouth bursts out in laughter beneath the branches.


And when he has fled - like a squirrel - His laughter still vibrates on every leaf And you can see, startled by a bullfinch The Golden Kiss of the Wood, gathering itself together again.


( Translated from the French by Oliver Bernard.)


In the following poem 'Sun and Flesh', Rimbaud wrote about the nymph Syrinx who became the reeds of Pan's flute pipes as well as many other Greek deities such as Venus, the goddess of love, beauty and fertility. Cybele who is also mentioned was a great mother-goddess of wild nature and fertility in the Roman Empire and Astarte was the Hellenized form of a Middle Eastern goddess Astoreth, a form of Ishtar - a chief goddess, also celebrated in Egypt.


Primavera, by Italian painter, Sandro Botticelli (late 1470s or early 1480s.) A large painting bringing together different mythological characters, although there is no story explaining what brings them together. The lady on the far right is the flower nymph Chloris being held by Zephyr who eventually became her husband and to her left is Flora, the goddess of Spring and flowers whom she transforms into and the woman in the centre is Venus.


The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli (mid 1480s) depicting the goddess arriving at the shore after her birth - on the left is the wind god Zephyr and most likely Chloris, the flower nymph, his wife.


Sun and Flesh (Credo in Unam)

by Arthur Rimbaud


Birth of Venus I The Sun, the hearth of affection and life, Pours burning love on the delighted earth, And when you lie down in the valley, you can smell How the earth is nubile and very full-blooded; How its huge breast, heaved up by a soul, Is, like God, made of love, and, like woman, of flesh, And that it contains, big with sap and with sunlight, The vast pullulation of all embryos! And everything grows, and everything rises!

- O Venus, O Goddess! I long for the days of antique youth, Of lascivious satyrs, and animal fauns, Gods who bit, mad with love, the bark of the boughs, And among water-lilies kissed the Nymph with fair hair! I long for the time when the sap of the world, River water, the rose-coloured blood of green trees Put into the veins of Pan a whole universe! When the earth trembled, green,beneath his goat-feet; When, softly kissing the fair Syrinx, his lips formed Under heaven the great hymn of love; When, standing on the plain, he heard round about him Living Nature answer his call; When the silent trees cradling the singing bird, Earth cradling mankind, and the whole blue Ocean, And all living creatures loved, loved in God!

I long for the time of great Cybele, Who was said to travel, gigantically lovely, In a great bronze chariot, through splendid cities; Her twin breasts poured, through the vast deeps, The pure streams of infinite life. Mankind sucked joyfully at her blessed nipple, Like a small child playing on her knees. - Because he was strong, Man was gentle and chaste.

Misfortune! Now he says: I understand things, And goes about with eyes shut and ears closed. - And again, no more gods! no more gods! Man is King, Man is God! But the great faith is Love! Oh! if only man still drew sustenance from your nipple, Great mother of gods and of men, Cybele; If only he had not forsaken immortal Astarte Who long ago, rising in the tremendous brightness Of blue waters, flower-flesh perfumed by the wave, Showed her rosy navel, towards which the foam came snowing And , being a goddess with the great conquering black eyes, Made the nightingale sing in the woods and love in men's hearts!

The Birth of Venus

II

I believe! I believe in you! divine mother, Sea-born Aphrodite! - Oh! the path is bitter Since the other God harnessed us to his cross; Flesh, Marble, Flower, Venus, in you I believe! - yes, Man is sad and ugly, sad under the vast sky. He possesses clothes, because he is no longer chaste, Because he has defiled his proud, godlike head And because he has bent, like an idol in the furnace, His Olympian form towards base slaveries! Yes, even after death, in the form of pale skeletons He wishes to live and insult the original beauty! - And the Idol in whom you placed such maidenhood, Woman, in whom you rendered our clay divine, So that Man might bring light into his poor soul And slowly ascend, in unbounded love, From the earthly prison to the beauty of day, Woman no longer knows even how to be a Courtesan! - It's a fine farce! and the world snickers At the sweet and sacred name of great Venus!

III

If only the times which have come and gone might come again! - For Man is finished! Man has played all the parts! In the broad daylight, wearied with breaking idols He will revive, free of all his gods, And, since he is of heaven, he will scan the heavens! The Ideal, that eternal, invincible thought, which is All; The living god within his fleshly clay, Will rise, mount, burn beneath his brow! An when you see him plumbing the whole horizon, Despising old yokes, and free from all fear, You will come and give him holy Redemption! - Resplendent, radiant, from the bosom of the huge seas You will rise up and give to the vast Universe Infinite Love with its eternal smile! The World will vibrate like an immense lyre In the trembling of an infinite kiss!

- The World thirsts for love: you will come and slake its thirst.

O! Man has raised his free, proud head! And the sudden blaze of primordial beauty Makes the god quiver in the altar of the flesh! Happy in the present good, pale from the ill suffered, Man wishes to plumb all depths, - and know all things! Thought, So long a jade, and for so long oppressed, Springs from his forehead! She will know Why!... Let her but gallop free, and Man will find Faith! - Why the blue silence, unfathomable space? Why the golden stars, teeming like sands? If one ascended forever, what would one see up there? Does a sheperd drive this enormous flock Of worlds on a journey through this horror of space? And do all these worlds contained in the vast ether, tremble at the tones of an eternal voice? - And Man, can he see? can he say: I believe? Is the langage of thought anymore than a dream? If man is born so quickly, if life is so short Whence does he come? Does he sink into the deep Ocean Of Germs, of Foetuses, of Embryos, to the bottom of the huge Crucible where Nature the Mother Will resuscitate him, a living creature, To love in the rose and to grow in the corn?...

We cannot know! - We are weighed down With a cloak of ignorance, hemmed in by chimaeras! Men like apes, dropped from our mothers' wombs, Our feeble reason hides the infinite from us! We wish to perceive: - and Doubt punishes us! Doubt, dismal bird, beat us down with its wing... - And the horizon rushes away in endless flight!...

The vast heaven is open! the mysteries lie dead Before erect Man, who folds his strong arms Among the vast splendour of abundant Nature! He sings... and the woods sing, the river murmurs A song full of happiness which rises towards the light!... - it is Redemption! it is love! it is love!...

IV

O splendour of flesh! O ideal splendour! O renewal of love, triumphal dawn When, prostrating the Gods and the Heroes, White Callipyge and little Eros Covered with the snow of rose petals, will caress Women and flowers beneath their lovely outstretched feet! - O great Ariadne who pour out your tears On the shore, as you see, out there on the waves, The sail of Theseus flying white under the sun, O sweet virgin child whom a night has broken, Be silent! On his golden chariot studded with black grapes, Lysios, who has been drawn through Phrygian fields By lascivious tigers and russet panthers, Reddens the dark mosses along the blue rivers. - Zeus, the Bull, cradles on his neck like a child The nude body of Europa who throws her white arm Round the God's muscular neck which shivers in the wave. Slowly he turns his dreamy eye towards her; She, droops her pale flowerlike cheek On the brow of Zeus; her eyes are closed; she is dying In a divine kiss, and the murmuring waters Strew the flowers of their golden foam on her hair. - Between the oleander and the gaudy lotus tree Slips amorously the great dreaming Swan Enfloding Leda in the whiteness of his wing; - And while Cypris goes by, strangely beautiful, And, arching the marvellous curves of her back, Proudly displays the golden vision of her big breasts And snowy belly embroidered with black moss, - Hercules, Tamer of beasts, in his Strength, Robes his huge body with the lion's skin as with glory And faces the horizons, his brow terrible and sweet!

Vaguely lit by the summer moon, Erect, naked, dreaming in her pallor of gold Streaked by the heavy wave of her long blue hair, In the shadowy glade whenre stars spring in the moss, The Dryade gazes up at the silent sky... - White Selene, timidly, lets her veil float, Over the feet of beautiful Endymion, And throws him a kiss in a pale beam... - The Spring sobs far off in a long ectasy... It is the nymph who dreams with one elbow on her urn, Of the handsome white stripling her wave has pressed against. - A soft wind of love has passed in the night, And in the sacred woods, amid the standing hair of the great trees, Erect in majesty, the shadowly Marbles, The Gods, on whose brows the Bullfinch has his nest, - the Gods listen to Men, and to the infinite World!


A photo of Rimbaud (aged 17), taken in 1871 by journalist Étienne Carjat.


'Diana and her Nymphs' an illustration for The Faerie Queen by English painter and children's book illustrator, William Crane. Crane created many beautiful illustrations for various fairy tale books. The Faerie Queen was an epic poem, published in 1590, written by English poet Edmund Spenser during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.


'Dryads and Naiads' by Walter Crane


'Sweet, Piercing Sweet was the Music of Pan's Pipe,' by Walter Crane for The Story of Greece by Mary Macgregor.


In the following poem by romantic poet John Keats, the nightingale is described as a dryad - the bird's song awakens something within the poet - he longs to escape his mortal consciousness with all its worries and so follows the bird through poetry, deep into the immortal forest. Keats was born on the 31st October 1795 in London and this is one of his most famous pieces.


Ode to a Nightingale

by John Keats


My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains          My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk, Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains          One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk: 'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,          But being too happy in thine happiness,—                 That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees                         In some melodious plot          Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,                 Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been          Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth, Tasting of Flora and the country green,          Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth! O for a beaker full of the warm South,          Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,                 With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,                         And purple-stained mouth;          That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,                 And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget          What thou among the leaves hast never known, The weariness, the fever, and the fret          Here, where men sit and hear each other groan; Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,          Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;                 Where but to think is to be full of sorrow                         And leaden-eyed despairs,          Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,                 Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,          Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards, But on the viewless wings of Poesy,          Though the dull brain perplexes and retards: Already with thee! tender is the night,          And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,                 Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays;                         But here there is no light,          Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown                 Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,          Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs, But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet          Wherewith the seasonable month endows The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;          White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;                 Fast fading violets cover'd up in leaves;                         And mid-May's eldest child,          The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,                 The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time          I have been half in love with easeful Death, Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme,          To take into the air my quiet breath;                 Now more than ever seems it rich to die,          To cease upon the midnight with no pain,                 While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad                         In such an ecstasy!          Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—                    To thy high requiem become a sod.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!          No hungry generations tread thee down; The voice I hear this passing night was heard          In ancient days by emperor and clown: Perhaps the self-same song that found a path          Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,                 She stood in tears amid the alien corn;                         The same that oft-times hath          Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam                 Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell          To toll me back from thee to my sole self! Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well          As she is fam'd to do, deceiving elf. Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades          Past the near meadows, over the still stream,                 Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep                         In the next valley-glades:          Was it a vision, or a waking dream?                 Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?

Perhaps one of the most famous, well-loved fauns is that of Mr Tumnus, my childhood favourite, from The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (published between 1950-1956.) Lewis once remarked that the first story in the series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, came to him from the image in his mind of a faun, carrying an umbrella and parcels through a snowy wood. His Narnia books feature many Greek mythological creatures including dryads, nymphs, centaurs, maenads, minotaurs, satyrs, unicorns and flying horses.


Finally I'd like to include the poem 'Afternoon of a Faun' by French poet Stéphane Mallarmé who was considered to be one of the four major poets alongside Rimbaud, Verlaine and Charles Baudelaire in the second half of the nineteenth century and was born on the 18th of March 1842 in Paris. This poem is considered to be his best work and it inspired various composers including Claude Debussy who wrote 'Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun' - this work eventually became the basis of the ballet 'Afternoon of a Faun' by Russian choreographer and dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. It relates the sensual adventures of a less than charming faun who has just awoken from an afternoon nap and recalls the nymphs he had met in the morning.


L'après-midi d'un faune (or "The Afternoon of a Faun")

by Stéphane Mallarmé


These nymphs, I would perpetuate them.

So bright

Their crimson flesh that hovers there, light

In the air drowsy with dense slumbers.

Did I love a dream?

My doubt, mass of ancient night, ends extreme

In many a subtle branch, that remaining the true

Woods themselves, proves, alas, that I too

Offered myself, alone, as triumph, the false ideal of roses.


Let’s see….

or if those women you note

Reflect your fabulous senses’ desire!

Faun, illusion escapes from the blue eye,

Cold, like a fount of tears, of the most chaste:

But the other, she, all sighs, contrasts you say

Like a breeze of day warm on your fleece?

No! Through the swoon, heavy and motionless

Stifling with heat the cool morning’s struggles

No water, but that which my flute pours, murmurs

To the grove sprinkled with melodies: and the sole breeze

Out of the twin pipes, quick to breathe

Before it scatters the sound in an arid rain,

Is unstirred by any wrinkle of the horizon,

The visible breath, artificial and serene,

Of inspiration returning to heights unseen.


O Sicilian shores of a marshy calm

My vanity plunders vying with the sun,

Silent beneath scintillating flowers, RELATE

That I was cutting hollow reeds here tamed

By talent: when, on the green gold of distant

Verdure offering its vine to the fountains,

An animal whiteness undulates to rest:

And as a slow prelude in which the pipes exist

This flight of swans, no, of Naiads cower

Or plunge…

Inert, all things burn in the tawny hour

Not seeing by what art there fled away together

Too much of hymen desired by one who seeks there

The natural A: then I’ll wake to the primal fever

Erect, alone, beneath the ancient flood, light’s power,

Lily! And the one among you all for artlessness.


Other than this sweet nothing shown by their lip, the kiss

That softly gives assurance of treachery,

My breast, virgin of proof, reveals the mystery

Of the bite from some illustrious tooth planted;

Let that go! Such the arcane chose for confidant,

The great twin reed we play under the azure ceiling,

That turning towards itself the cheek’s quivering,

Dreams, in a long solo, so we might amuse

The beauties round about by false notes that confuse

Between itself and our credulous singing;

And create as far as love can, modulating,

The vanishing, from the common dream of pure flank

Or back followed by my shuttered glances,

Of a sonorous, empty and monotonous line.


Try then, instrument of flights, O malign

Syrinx by the lake where you await me, to flower again!

I, proud of my murmur, intend to speak at length

Of goddesses: and with idolatrous paintings

Remove again from shadow their waists’ bindings:

So that when I’ve sucked the grapes’ brightness

To banish a regret done away with by my pretence,

Laughing, I raise the emptied stem to the summer’s sky

And breathing into those luminous skins, then I,

Desiring drunkenness, gaze through them till evening.


O nymphs, let’s rise again with many memories.

My eye, piercing the reeds, speared each immortal

Neck that drowns its burning in the water

With a cry of rage towards the forest sky;

And the splendid bath of hair slipped by

In brightness and shuddering, O jewels!

I rush there: when, at my feet, entwine (bruised

By the languor tasted in their being-two’s evil)

Girls sleeping in each other’s arms’ sole peril:

I seize them without untangling them and run

To this bank of roses wasting in the sun

All perfume, hated by the frivolous shade

Where our frolic should be like a vanished day.’


I adore you, wrath of virgins, O shy

Delight of the nude sacred burden that glides

Away to flee my fiery lip, drinking

The secret terrors of the flesh like quivering

Lightning: from the feet of the heartless one

To the heart of the timid, in a moment abandoned

By innocence wet with wild tears or less sad vapours.

Happy at conquering these treacherous fears

My crime’s to have parted the dishevelled tangle

Of kisses that the gods kept so well mingled:

For I’d scarcely begun to hide an ardent laugh

In one girl’s happy depths (holding back

With only a finger, so that her feathery candour

Might be tinted by the passion of her burning sister,

The little one, naïve and not even blushing)

Than from my arms, undone by vague dying,

This prey, forever ungrateful, frees itself and is gone,

Not pitying the sob with which I was still drunk.


No matter! Others will lead me towards happiness

By the horns on my brow knotted with many a tress:

You know, my passion, how ripe and purple already

Every pomegranate bursts, murmuring with the bees:

And our blood, enamoured of what will seize it,

Flows for all the eternal swarm of desire yet.

At the hour when this wood with gold and ashes heaves

A feast’s excited among the extinguished leaves:

Etna! It’s on your slopes, visited by Venus

Setting in your lava her heels so artless,

When a sad slumber thunders where the flame burns low.


I hold the queen!


O certain punishment…

No, but the soul

Void of words, and this heavy body,

Succumb to noon’s proud silence slowly:

With no more ado, forgetting blasphemy, I

Must sleep, lying on the thirsty sand, and as I

Love, open my mouth to wine’s true constellation!


Farewell to you, both: I go to see the shadow you have become.


(Translated by A. S. Kline.)

The ballet performance of 'Afternoon of a Faun' by Vaslav Nijinsky including music by Claude Debussy.

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