WHAT has the tortured, old Faun been doing ?
What was his impious sin,
That the Maenads have ceased from pursuing
Cattle, with leaps and din,
To compass him round,
On woodland ground,
With cords and faces dire,—
Cords fastened with strain,
Faces hate-stretched ?
Why have they fetched
Snakes from the grass, with swift tongues of fire,
And a reed from the stream-sodden plain ?
Beneath the sun's and the oak-leaves' flicker,
They settle near—ah, near !
One blows her reed, as dry as a wicker,
Into the old Faun's ear ;
The scream of the wind,
With flood combined,
Rolls on his simple sense :
It is anguish heard,
For quietness splits
Within ; and fits
Of gale and surge are a fierce offence
To him who knows but the breeze or bird.
One sits with fanciful eyes beside him ;
Malice and wonder mix
In her glance at the victim—woe betide him,
When once her snakes transfix
His side ! Ere they dart,
With backward start
She waits their rigid pause ;
And with comely stoop
One maid, elate
With horror, hate
And triumph, up from his ankle draws
The skin away in a clinging loop.
Before the women a boy-faun dances,
Grapes and stem at his chin,—
Mouth of red the red grape-bunch enhances
Ere it is sucked within
By the juicy lips,
Free as the tips
Of tendrils in their curve ;
And his flaccid cheek,
Mid mirthful heaves
And ripples, weaves
A guiltless smile that might almost serve
For the vines themselves in vintage-week.
What meaning is here, or what mystery,
What fate, and for what crime ?
Why so fearful this silvan history
Of a far summer-time ?
There was no ill-will
That day until
With fun the grey-beard shook
At the Maenads' torn,
Spread hair, their brave,
Dancing ; and women will never brook
Mirth at their folly, O doomed, old Faun !
Image: Correggio; Allegory of the Vices (ca. 1531). Tempera on canvas. 148 x 88 cm. © The Louvre Museum, Paris