Yannis Keats

Translated from the Modern Greek by A.E. Stallings

A branch, the hand of Apollo,
The plane tree’s polished, broad bough,
Spread above you, may it bring you
The universe’s immortal peace.

You’d meet me on the broad and shining shore
            Of Pylos, so I’d planned,
With Mentor’s tall ship pulled up on the beach
            Snug in the sand.

We would be bound, as those who sailed with the gods,
            In the winged friendship of youth,
And would take our seats in the stone thrones that Time
            And custom had made smooth

And meet that man who still in the third generation
            Reigned serene, a sage
Whose tales of travels and holy decrees had ripened
            In his mind with age—

At dawn, we’d attend the sacrifice to the gods,
            The ritual slaughters
Of the three-year-old heifers, and hear the single cry
            That rose from his three daughters

When the axe thwacked, and the black-fringed, slow-rolling eye
            Drowned in a swoon
Of darkness, and the gilt horns were rendered idle,
            A hazy half moon.

My love imagined you, as a sister her brother,
            In your virginal bath,
How Polycaste rinsed your naked body and dressed you
            In a robe of fine cloth.

I thought to prod you a little with my foot
            As dawn was about to break:
The gleaming chariot’s yoked for us and ready.
            No time to lose! Awake!

And to spend all day in the talk that comes and goes,
            Or silence, when no one spoke,
While we drove the horses who were always leaning one way
            Or another against the yoke,

But most of all I wanted to see your eyes,
            Your deer-like eyes, behold
The palace of Menelaus, and forget themselves
            In bronze and the gleam of gold,

Unwavering gaze, sinking the sight so deep,
            You’d never remember
The figured silver, the ivory, gilded or white,
            The heavy amber,

And I thought that I would say in a hushed voice
            Leaning close to your ear,
Watch out, my friend, because in a moment, soon,
            Helen will appear

Before our very eyes, the one and only
            Daughter of the Swan,
And then we will sink our eyelids in the river
            Of Oblivion.


So brightly I saw you; but what grassy roads
            Have led me to your tomb!
And the blazing roses with which I strew your grave
            And make all Rome abloom,

Light the way unto your golden songs
            As though they were the brave,
Armed bodies that turn to dust before one’s eyes
            In an ancient, new-breached grave,

And all the worthy treasure of Mycenae,
            The golden plunder
I thought to lay before you—goblet, sword,
            And diadem—past wonder,

A mask on your dead beauty like the mask
            That covered the face
Of the king of the Achaeans—all gold, all artifice,
            Hammered upon Death’s trace.

More Poems by Angelos Sikelianos
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