Poem 131 – The Tale of Hyacintos; and a Discussion of Romantic Poetry

I.

Were I to forge a ring for you it would be thine,
But instead I craft a poem and it is mine.
Shall I sing, Muses, of Ganymede beloved of Zeus,
Or how gods and titans came to their truce?
Or else of Hippolytus, brave and fair,
Who fell to Aphrodite for his arrogant lack of care?
Perchance of Adonis, but one more name springs to mind –
I will sing of him, Muses, perhaps pleasure you will find.
I sing, Muses – Hyacinth’s tale I’ll tell;
The tragedy of he beloved of gods, how he sweetly fell.

~~~

Tell me Muses, who is it I see, his hair tousled in the wind,
Fair locks upon his brow, his perfectly formed chin,
Climbing the mountain, singing to his flocks,
Scrambling to the summit over the broken white rocks?
You whisper, Muses, so tell me again what you say,
Ah, ’tis Hyacintos, smiling and gay,
As the bleating of goats fades away,
And the breeze blows in his hair.

Far away, yet somehow there,
Zephyr cannot help but stare,
Present in the blowing gusts of air.
The god of the West Wind, the sweetest of all,
Sends warm billows from the sun-soaked central sea.
They curl around Hyacintos who laughs in their caresses,
Not knowing they are as roses to their master who’s here,
In the warm billows sent by he, Zephyr.

But they are not alone beneath the baking sun,
For there’s the chariot of Apollo up above.
The god of that inferno, he also loves,
And bathes the playful Hyacintos.
He fills his mind with music and his face with greater beauty,
While soaring through the heavens in the day.

These are our players, two gods and their young love,
The two bewitched by their sister Aphrodite’s dove,
The one blissfully not knowing what fate spins
As two watch him from above.

II.

Others say it differently,
But Zephyr was afraid,
Not daring to go near his devotion,
For fear he’d be unmade.
So sing, Muses, of the truth,
Let us see that distant hill for proof.

Blow, Zephyr, fierce and proud,
Your warm western winds a pleasure to your love,
Circle around him and whisper ‘Hyacintos’,
But you fear, oh wind-god, and whisper without sound.

Speak louder, Zephyr, and tell him you care,
Proclaim your love to the goatherd.
Whisper his name, “Hyacintos”,
As he circles to hear this voice from the air.

Then appear behind him, ever so bold,
“I am Zephyr, you I long to behold,
It is you who draws the winds here, Hyacintos,”
And the sun disappears, and the skies grow cold.

“Walk with me goatherd, though you know me not,
Let me tell you I loved you from afar,
Say what you mean to me, dear Hyacintos,
You’ve stolen my heart, that is my lot.”

Thus spoke Hyacintos,
“I’ll wander with you wind-god,
If the westerly breezes are plentiful still,
They’ve accompanied me while watching the waters,
The gambolling goats, and sheep on the hill.”

So they walked together, mortal and god,
And Hyacintos’ heart did grow.
He turned to Zephyr, smiling so tenderly,
Opened his mouth-
Said Zephyr “I know.”

And the wind rose triumphant, carrying songs
From Egypt, and scents from the East.
The wonders of the world were brought to Hyacintos,
The pleasures of men were the boy’s feast,
And Zephyr sang his song of love:

“My love, let me run my supple fingers through your hair,
Dance through the sunlight and the air,
Embrace you, praise you, worship you,
Without a care!

“My darling feel the wind that is blowing from the sea,
And relish that we are both truly free,
Laugh or sing, all fear erasing,
Or kiss me, oh my love!

“Can you feel in the breeze a new world’s being born,
All sorrow has been forsworn?
Nothing but gladness, verging on madness,
No more sadness – just us!

“My love let us be I and thy, he and me,
Laughing under the blue skies above!
Say you’ll love me always, your name I’ll praise,
My love!

“Oh my love, I’m yours.”

And Hyacintos turned, that ill-fated boy,
And uttered the words that cursed him to die;
“As am I, handsome Zephyr, as am I.”

III.

So what then, Muses, of the beauteous boy,
Loved of the wind and the sun?
Tell me, oh songstresses,
How the war over him was begun.
Zephyr’s love for Hyacintos was returned,
But up in the heavens Apollo still burned,
And one night he descended to speak to his love,
But at his cottage met Zephyr.
Apollo was bold, the stronger of the pair,
And Zephyr was filled with fear.
Said he:

“Apollo? What a pleasant surprise,
What brings you here?”

Apollo replied, “Those pleasant eyes,
That boy so sweet and dear.

“You speak of Hyacintos?”

“Of course, and I grieve your loss –
I understand you took his fancy before I came along”.

“And afterwards, Apollo, for how can you compete with me?”

“With ease, oh master of the pleasant breeze.”

“How can you compare with I,
Lord of the swarming air,
How could even dare to defy
The heart of Hyacintos the fair?”

“With ease, for I am lord of all beautiful men,
And master of the lofty brow.
Sweet music and the sun are my dominion –
He will fall to Cupid’s arrow.”

“But I am the wind, the raging storm,
The cooling breeze everywhere!
I am chaos itself, the master of the maelstroms!”

“Zephyr, you are nothing but boastful empty air”.

The two gods then faced eachother,
And waited for the other to speak.
But then both turned, for in their anger,
They had raised their love from his sleep.

IV.

Apollo turned to Hyacintos, and smiling the singer said
“Who do you prefer my love, and choose to make your own?
The two of us won’t fight for you, for fear you might come to harm,
So tell me, dear Hyacintos, to whom do you devote your charms?”

Hyacintos stared wildly at the choice no man could make,
Waiting for Zephyr to softly speak.
But Zephyr stood there stupefied, though his breezes started roaring,
“Tell me, Lord Apollo, why you?” said Hyacintos, securing

Doom and anguish, pain and sorrow,
His fleeting time’s swift end,
For Apollo’s sweet beauty filled the air,
And on his lyre the god did strum.

A song of great beauty was played on that lyre,
And in Hyacintos’ breast it lit a great fire,
There seemed to be no words, yet somehow it spoke
Of love and hope, of mortal desire,
Of moments that were for forever,
Raging one moment, then tranquil as sleep,
Soon Hyacintos was forced to weep,
Soft tears filled his eyes and mind,
For where else could he such beauty find,
As the music of purest love?

And the music stopped, and Apollo did smile,
And turned to the silenced Zephyr.
The wind-god said nothing, but turned with shame,
For his words could not render such tears.
Hyacintos felt a cool breeze and turned to the wind,
And waited for the voice of the one he held dear.
Still silence remained, not even the warm winds
With which Zephyr first tantalised the boy.
So Hyacintos spoke, and as he did so shed a single tear.

“Say – something wonderful,
Say – something magical,
Say why I should be thine.

“Show – that I’m dear to you.
Still no? Then I fear for you,
Just say you’ll remember me when I leave!

“Can’t you show me you love me?
Are you afraid to care?
You’ll be just a memory, a breath of wind in my hair,
Unless you can say something magical to me.”

But still the wind god was silent, though he longed to speak,
And Hyacintos turned away as his crystal tear,
Made golden by Apollo’s sun,
Fell from his cheek.

V.

And the boy turned to the god,
And his soft lips brushed against his cheek,
And he turned in silence away,
And still Zephyr could not speak.
Then Apollo took Hyacintos by the hand,
And walked with him to a distant land,
And then Zephyr, choked, found his voice,
And in a whisper he said,

“Farewell to my hope,
Goodbye, my bleeding heart,
For he has gone, has left me.
Blow no more, you bitter winds,
You cannot freeze me any more,
Now joy lies cold and lifeless.

“Can you not hear my cries in the wind?
Do you not know what you mean to me?
When ev’ry star is the glint of your eye,
When ev’ry voice is an imitation
Of you, my love?
Do you not hear me sigh in the breeze,
The harrowing storms of my solitude?
The hated hurricane, the terrifying gale,
Of my wrath? Of my pain?

“Leave me here on my own,
Allow me that dignity,
That you do not see me weep.
Each tear for Hyacintos,
Is a silver eternity,
For me in the sighing winds.”

VI.

Sing to me Muses of what followed that boy,
The first mortal to reject his immortal love.
What came to pass to the shepherd of the hillside,
Now sweet breezes caressed him no more?
Tell me of his passions, of the glory that he gained,
The repute he earned, the discredit and shame,
The winds he longed for beneath the warming sun,
And how the death of Hyacintos was begun.

He wandered with Apollo, and his fame spread ‘cross the globe,
He travelled in the sun-chariot above.
But he returned home to his mother, and his lover to Diane,
His sister and protector from his whims.
For one strange moment, mortal and god spoke as one,
Warning those they loved so dearly to avoid what had begun.

“My dear, you cannot do this,” they beseeched those sorry men.
“Why not?” came the bold reply.
“Apollo, you are divine,” said Diane to her brother,
“But you are not, Hyacintos, and I fear for you,” said his mother.
“A mortal should stay away from those who rule the skies above.”
“But was not sweet Europa Zeus’ dearest love?”

“She was a fair maiden, the fairest in all Greece!
Hyacintos may be fair, but not fair enough to disrupt the peace
Of gods,” Diane told her brother, as Hyacintos heard the same.

Smiling, Hyacintos turned to she who bore him,
And with a carefree air,
Replied “I am beloved of two gods -
Who are you to say I’m not fair?
Is it that I am a man, I who take Apollo’s hand?
Zeus was smitten by Ganymede, prince of the Trojan lands.”

Apollo, having said the same, heard the same reply:
“You compare yourself to the king of the gods,
Lord of the cloud-covered sky?
And a Prince of Troy, son of the city,
The finest place on the Aegean sea?
The arrogance! He is a shepherd.”

“But Apollo, a god, loves me,
And I too love he!”

“Then know your place, you foolish man,
Know that this affair cannot be!
Between a mortal of his rank and sex,
With one of our divinity!
You may have power, but you know we do not,
Cannot do such things!”

“I will go to him as long as his love-song reaches my ears.”
“Stay away then, stay away for him,
Do you not fear the wrath of Zephyr?”

“I am protected by my love,
Let him send his winds from above.
I care not for his storms, or for his rage,
He had his chance, and was unmade.”

Then the moment ended, and the lovers did not heed,
The warnings from their family that they did sorely need.

VII.

Now silence falls, Muses,
Between Hyacintos and Apollo,
As they stroll in the basking sun.
No words are spoken, for speech is not needed,
When they feel their lives as one.
Nothing disturbs the lovers’ walk,
Not noise nor sorrow –
The time for fearful weeping is done.
But the wind blows no longer,
O’er the lotus-capp’d pools –
The tragedy has barely begun.

VIII.

Though the winds are still around Hyacintos,
In the caves and caverns by the sea still they roar.
‘Twixt arches and stacks they rip up the waves,
And the mutter and rage like never before.

“He stole him!
His cunning, his lies,
In those shining eyes,
He knew I could see –
He stole him from me!
Stole those words from my heart,
The tongue from my mouth,
Until stupefied I stood as he sang his old song,
The ditty ‘neath the sun that took what was mine,
And I stood there! I watched his brilliant shine,
Eclipsed the warm embrace of the arms that I embraced.
Never again will I press lips against that face,
Link fingers with my adored, my own,
For I am now alone,
Watching their romance,
The wond’rous boy with a thief!
Oh, he shall come to grief,
No peace shall be his.
Mercy? Ha! I cannot forgive,
For he snatched from my fingers the perfect eternity
That had been promised unto me,
The moment Aphrodite gave my love to me.
He snatched him away,
But the sun-god shall fall,
Fall as did Phaeton, from your blazing solar ball,
Fall as I did as I stood in thrall,
Gazing like cattle has my happiness walked away,
Stolen by the thief of my perfect days.”

IX.

Sing to me no more, oh Muses,
Unless it is a sweet dirge,
Mourning the wondrous Hyacintos –
Alas, I must fight the urge!
But still the tale draws on,
And ‘neath my pen,
He beloved of gods must end,
In the wind and sun of the past.

His locks flowed in the breeze as he laughed in the sun,
His lover stood there, the shining one,
And the day was warm as they met that day,
For the sport of discus, such a joyful game.
They embraced, they kissed,
They knew it not, a final time,
Then Hyacintos did test the wind and let his discus fly.

Zephyr sought his young love’s eyes,
But then he saw Apollo, and wished for him to die.
He turned the disc upon him in a fearful rage,
A blast of wind from the distant west hit the toy with which they played.
He sought to smite the sun god, the thief of love and peace,
And then the wind subsided, and both gods were forced to weep.

His beauty shattered, his costume stained,
Hyacintos had been slain.
Then both gods stood and stared, amazed,
The suddenness of this tragic change,
This bitter death, untimely loss,
The rest of time reduced to dross,
For before them, shattered by the twisted toss,
Lay Hyacintos.

X.

The sun flickered, the wind died,
But still the boy did lie.
The gods stood, they both did weep,
But neither god could speak.
They stood in silence, immortal, undying,
As their love lay in his blood, defiling,
His mortal frame that had been so dear.

But who could say words worthy of being said?
It was too late, the blood had been shed,
Still Zephyr stepped from out of the sky,
With sorrow in his godly eye.
He stared at Apollo, the thief, the liar,
While Apollo glanced back at the coward, destroyer.
Zephyr stepped forwards to gaze at his love,
His broken heart torn anew,
While Apollo looked longingly at the lips that were broken,
At the laughter still etched on his face.
There were no words to say, and Zephyr said

Nothing.
He looked the thief in his sorrowing eyes,
And bent his immortal back, bowing to Apollo.
The sun god glared, and inclined his heavy head,
But when he raised it Zephyr had gone,
A mere phantom in the wind.

Now Apollo wept, “Ai ai! Ai ai!
What misfortune is mine now Hyacintos has died!”
The wailing winds, they echoed his cry,
And Apollo knelt where his lover did lie,
As his hair was tossed in the wind.
He raised a flower from out of the gore,
“Now your name will be remembered forevermore,
In beauty as in life, not stained by bitterness and blood.
Farewell, Hyacintos, oh man that I loved.”

With that, he departed, and left on the hill,
Beautiful Hyacintos, the man he had killed.

XI.

So Muses, I have sung of Hyacintos,
The boy beloved by gods,
Of how he loved and felt their lips,
And touched their perfect fingertips.
Of how he rose, and how he fell,
By the hand of one who loved him well,
I’ve sung his song, his fate I did tell,
But I too, alas, have fallen for his spell.
I know not how to end this song,
Now Hyacintos is deceased,
How to mark his tragic end,
How to let him meet with peace,
But to say that Apollo and Zephyr
Eternally did pine,
And thus, with the tears of the gods,
We close these sorrowful lines.

***

Dear readers,

Many congratulations for finishing this poem of somewhat greater length than usual. I do not normally post re-written work. However, I wanted to post a revised version of Hyacintos, which has some fairly large changes made, and some less noticeable ones. Most important is the re-written contest, which I revised to a manner that I found more pleasing. I like having it all in one place, and taking the chance to revisit my work.

At this point, I am going to do something a little different to the usual brief posts. I would also like to discuss why I chose to write about Hyacintos, rather than any of the many other Greek and Roman myths. The fundamental reason is that Hyacintos allowed me the chance to write a love story about people who were not the conventional straight pair (Not that I object to doing that, but I do so rather a lot). Not only was this a nice change, but the myth allowed me to explore this in a way that much modern work does not – homoromantic love, not as suffering in the face of prejudice, but as love, with the problems of all kinds of love.

One thing that I have noticed while reading, watching, and listening to ‘unconventional’ love stories is that, in the mainstream, it seems difficult for writers to resist the temptation to present it as a heroic struggle against society, while heteroromantic couples are more often treated as having problems with their relationship, or if their are social obstacles, they are about faction, class, race etc.. For excellent examples of the first, see Romeo and Juliet or West Side Story. Personally, I enjoy the latter, and this song exemplifies the conflict of the story: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oxfOncYiag . Of course, issues of faction and love can be found in works as old as the Iliad, but they are less important to the story. Issues of class dividing love can be found in a range of places, from classic children’s stories like Cinderella to almost every costume drama on T.V.. Many of the best English-language examples of race dividing people in love are from the U.S.A.. A personal favourite is South Pacific, especially this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4cqTBA6L44These are the kind of social conflicts that I find engaging in a love story, though they frequently become clichéd – I have only given exemplars. Of course, I may be wrong, and simply not engaging with the media enough – please correct me if this is the case.

There are obviously enormous social prejudices to overcome, I would like to see some reflection of social changes in recent years in the media’s treatment of homoromantic love. Not that all work dealing with homophobia as an issue is bad – far from it. It is simply that I dislike it being the sole obstacle in stories. So, to some extent, this poetry is a response to that. It’s far from a major issue, but if there’s a niche, then it’s nice to try and put something in there. I do not seek to pretend that this is the best effort to fill the gap. Indeed, the tale of gods and men is an old one, and my rendition has many flaws. Partly the fact that I’m frankly hypocritical – I succumb to all the clichés I describe in part VI… Mostly that the poetry is far from perfect.

So, why Hyacintos? Because it gave me a classical tale (A genre that regular readers will know I am fond of) which addressed a love story. A very charming love story that I have enjoyed reading in various forms for some time, particularly the part where the Hyacinth-flower is created. The combination of romance and tragedy was perfect, to me, and it allowed me to write about an aspect of love that I am interested in, but rarely write on. Though I seek to make my romantic poetry as gender-neutral as possible, it tends towards the ‘heteronormative paradigm’. This poem is an effort to rebalance that, in celebration of writing over a hundred poems. I hope there will be many more to come, and I’d like to thank all of you for your support. If you wish to discuss this, or give me any feedback, please comment below.

Kind regards,

The Hapless Neo-Romantic (Which now I see as a terrible, unintended double-meaning. Both a new Romantic, and a new romantic, if that makes sense…)

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