What a shame to become a tree!
No laurel leaves could ever replace
your hands, your arms, your lovely face–
human shapes are more pleasing to me.
And why become a Sicilian stream?
I’m not god of rivers deep
who’ll disturb your bubbling sleep
with mingling waters in your dreams.
Of course you’ll outrun me–
I’m not lovelorn Apollo,
and my apples aren’t golden,
though I hurl them at your feet with glee.
Why is it you must follow
that goddess who’ll not be beholden
to Aphrodite’s enchanting spell?
A tragic example, indeed!
I admit that I willingly fell
to that arrow, though with your speed
you seem determined to outrun
it. Modesty might become pride
and your reflection flower and become
self-trapping if you try to hide
in that dark, lonesome wood.
Pools were made for sharing, I think;
I suspect you’d find it good
to sit with me here and drink
from foolish Arethusa’s sparkling water.
Be Aphrodite’s child, not Diana’s daughter.
In a story of mine that was published in the late lamented Melic Review, the narrator mentions “a sonnet I had written the week before about Daphne and Apollo.” It wasn’t really a sonnet, though in my memory it was, and I assumed it lost long ago. But alas, here it is, transcribed from the little orange pocket-sized spiral notebook I found in the basement!
This was obviously the effort of an English major, someone who reads the footnotes in the scholarly editions of Milton and can hold forth on the relative merits of Donne, Herrick, and Marvell. I wish some kindly professor had seen this and said, “Well, you’ve made the minimum seven classical allusions, and though the meter is irregular you’ve kept to a very nice rhyme scheme. Don’t you think you should go play outside for a while?” It would have saved me a lot of trouble.
The classical allusions, for those who don’t have their Edith Hamilton handy, include:
- Daphne, the nymph who was turned into a laurel tree to avoid the advances of Apollo
- Arethusa, the nymph who was turned into a fountain of water to avoid the advances of the river god Alpheus. (She bubbles on the island of Ortygia in Sicily, hence the “Sicilian stream.”)
- The golden apples Hippomenes threw at Atalanta to distract her in their race.
- Narcissus, whose reflection became “self-trapping.”
- Diana, the goddess of the hunt and the moon, who was also the protector of chastity; she’s the one who turned Daphne into a tree.
- And, of course, Aphrodite, the goddess of love.
There may well be more that I can’t recall; I liked allusions a little too much.