Free as a bird and joyfully, my heart
Soared up among the rigging, in and out of it;
Under a cloudless sky the ship rolled on
Like an angel drunk with the brilliant sun.
"That dark, grim island therewhat would that be?"
"Cythera," we're told, "the legendary isle
Old bachelors tell stories of and smile.
There's really not much to it, you can see."
O place of many a mystic sacrament!
Archaic Aphrodite's splendid shade
Lingers above your waters like a scent
Infusing spirits with an amorous mood.
Worshipped from of old by every nation,
Myrtle-green island, where each new bud discloses
Sighs of souls in loving adoration
Breathing like incense from a bed of roses
Or like a dove roo-cooing on and on . . .
No; Cythera was a poor barren rock,
A stony desert tormented by the shriek
Of seagulls. And yet there was something to see:
This was no temple buried in flowers and trees
With a young priestess moving to and fro,
Her body heated by a secret glow,
Her robe half-opening to every breeze;
But coasting nearer, close enough to land
To scatter flocks of birds as we passed by,
We saw a tall cypress-shaped thing at hand
A triple gallows black against the sky.
Ferocious birds, each perched on its own meal,
Were madly tearing at the thing that hung
And ripened; each, its filthy beak a drill,
Made little bleeding holes to root among.
The eyes were hollowed. Heavy guts cascading
Flowed like water halfway down the thighs;
The torturers, though gorged on these vile joys,
Had also put their beaks to use castrating
The corpse. A pack of dogs beneath its feet,
Their muzzles lifted, whirled around and snapped and gnawed;
One bigger beast amid this jealous lot
Looked like an executioner with his guard.
O Cytherean, child of this fair clime,
Silently you suffered these attacks,
Paying the penalty for whatever acts
Of infamy had kept you from a tomb.
Grotesquely dangling, somehow you brought on
Violent as vomit rising up from the chest,
Strong as a river bilious to taste
A flow of sufferings I'd thought long gone.
Confronted with such dear remembered freight,
Poor bastard, now it was my turn to feel
A panther's slavering jaws, a beak's cruel drill
Once it was my flesh they loved to eat.
The sky was lovely, and the sea divine,
but something thick and binding like a shroud
Wrapped my heart in layers of black and blood;
From then on this allegory would be mine.
O Venus! On your island what did I see
But my own image on the gallows tree?
O God, give me the strength to contemplate
My own heart, my own body without hate!