The Poets

July 19, 2009



He viewed afoot a silv’ry lake
And took himself to take a drink-
Then beauty moved his thirsting soul,
As there he bent above the brink.

No mortal flesh this seemed to he
Who marveled at its dear design-
Behold, a face beheld him back,
Whose symmetry was pure divine!

Handsome was the heav’nly sight
That rip’ling lay within the clear;
He touched his finger to its cheek
And wavelets had it disappear.

When agitation placid came
He dared- from love- new love embrace;
But wading through the wat’ry void
Disturbed the beauty of its face.

Again it came, again he touch’d;
Again the figure fluctuates.
Lamenting there aside that bank
He cursed himself and all the Fates:

“What awful light is cast below
That tells me what I see is I:
The boy within the shimm’ring gleam,
‘Tis me, O wretch’d me- but why?”

Then Nemesis who linger’d there,
With fatal judgment in her vest,
Remorseless cast the final lot
Which grew despairing in his breast.

Bereft of love’s requited touch
He pounded moans upon his chest,
And stagg’ring ‘mongst the wind’d reeds
There came by Nyx eternal rest.

His deathbed there’s a thing of woe,
A cautionary tale some fear:
The Naiads, Dryads- all the Nymphs,
Warn self-love grows a flower there.


*See comments area for brief background to the poem.


John W. May said...

Behind the poem:

The Romanized version of the Narcissus myth begins with the seduction of the fountain nymph Liriope by a river deity who traps her with his waters. She gives birth to a boy who comes to be known as the most beautiful youth of Thespiae in Boeotia.

Liriope consults the prophet and mighty seer Tiresias respecting her son’s future … he warns rather cryptically that the boy will enjoy longevity so long as he resists looking on himself.

The myth continues so that the babe is a young man- indeed, the most beautiful in all of Boeotia. All loved him, all besought and desired him … and all were toyfully (if not cruelly) spurned by him. Even Echo, a gorgeous mountain nymph, sought the love of this most handsome youth, and she too was rejected.

One day, while for a wild stag the hunt was afoot, Liriope’s son grew thirsty. The glimmer of a nearby lake caught his attention, so the boy (followed silently by a love struck Echo) makes his way to its waters.

The account tells of a brief interaction between Narcissus and Echo (where Echo is shunned by the boy), but what concerns us here is what happens with Narcissus at that body of water. When he reaches it, he bends down to take a sip and suddenly beholds a beautiful face looking back onto him. He’s more than dazzled by what he sees- he comes under the highest possible degree of obsessive infatuation.

He attempts all he can to embrace and kiss the form, but to no end- the ‘veil of water’ prevents every futile effort. After several unsuccessful attempts to pull the figure out of the depths he comes to realize it’s a mere reflection of himself. Ovid has him despairing:

“And as he gazed upon the mirrored pool he said at last, `Ah, youth beloved in vain!”
(Met. 726 and 7)

Grief stricken , our young Narcissus shreds his garment and pounds his chest in agony, and weary, dies there by that watery gleam: “and those bright eyes, which had so loved to gaze, entranced, on their own master's beauty, sad Night closed.”

“His Naiad sisters mourned, and having clipped their shining tresses laid them on his corpse: and all the Dryads mourned : and Echo made lament anew. And these would have upraised his funeral pyre, and waved the flaming torch, and made his bier; but as they turned their eyes where he had been, alas he was not there! And in his body's place a sweet flower grew, golden and white, the white around the gold.” (Met. 737 – 745)


The best site to read the Roman (i.e. Ovid) account of the Narcissus myth is:


John W. May said...

Last minute edit.

Stanza 6 and 7 where initially excluded, which refers to the judgment of Nemesis. I decided (last minute) that it would be inappropriate to leave it out. Indeed, Narcissus incurred her judgment by behaving cruelly to all his peers (the typical behavior of self-love).

Nancy said...

The imagery in this poem is so lovely. It is really breathless and so hard to comment on without sounding trite. Well, well done my friend! I particularly like the phrase, "Then beauty moved his thirsting soul." It vividly captures the moment... and the spiritual aspect of his soul thirsting is wonderful. Too bad poor Narcissus did not seek the Living Water, instead of his own vain heart. I'm also really happy you decided to include the stanzas about Nemesis. Not only to fill in the gap that would have been left in the "plot" without it, but to make me realize how often I have called something my "nemesis" without realizing the origin of the phrase!

Iacobe Kenna said...

Narcissus (21/100)
If the pond upon which his eyes had gazed
Existed still or were a riverbed
Love's florid bow with arching arrows raised
Would shower down so thick, a darkness spread,
Over time that time would reflect again.

For stagnant that which any beauty lies
Echoing would, their eyes, find lieing vain
That other places ageing mulitplies
And not the place where they have rooting stayed.

But as Narcissus learned even flowers
Can not hold on the darling buds of May
For seasons, and petals, fall in showers;
And always time will catch that stagnant stare
When, laid, are eyes in its reflective snare

As of April 9th, 2010