Pindar stood with his chorus on the dancing floor. The stern poet
Uttered his dark glory. Light as a flight of tumbling birds
Was the dipping and soaring of his syllables and the wheeling maze.
Demure as virgins, young men of noble houses, trained and severe,
Strongly as if it were a battle and resolutely danced his ode;
Their faces rigid, but their limbs and garments flowed like water.
‘Unless a god in secret helps the work, trouble and skill
Are unavailing; the laborious plodder’s wages are oblivion,
For a soul’s weight is born with her. My wisdom is the birth of heaven;
In heaven itself the everlasting gods dare not begin
A feast or dance without the favour and assent of the grave Charities.
‘For gods and men are of one stock and came of the same womb
Though an utter separation is between them, and we are nothing
While their unshakable, eternal floor is the firmament of bronze.
They look down; they behold the isle of Delos far below,
Set like a star amid the deep-blue world’s level expanse.
‘But we are tethered to Hope that will promise anything without blushing,
And the flowering water of foreknowledge is far away beyond our reach.
Therefore neither ashore nor in the hollow ships will any praise
Be given to an act on which the doer does not stake his life.
(At Pindus the glory of the Dorian spear burst into flower.)
And we live for a day. What are we? What are we not? A man
Is a dream about a shadow. Only when a brightness falls from heaven
Can human splendour expand and glow and mortal days grow soft.
’Not even to Kadmos though a peer for Gods, not to the Aiakid
Peleus, was there allowed a perfect, whole, unslippery life;
Though these were fortunate, men say, beyond all human bounds
And heard the gold-drown’d Muses singing on their marriage day.
Over the mountain and to seven-gated Thebes the song
Drew near when deep-dark-eyed Harmonia became Kadmos’ bride,
And Peleus took the Nereid Thetis, and had gods for guests.
He also had sorrow afterwards for Achilles’ sake, his son,
And Kadmos, weeping for his daughter; even though the Father of the skies
Had lain in Semele’s desired bed and white embrace.
’Take the god’s favor when it comes. Now from one quarter, now
From another, the wing’d weathers ride above us. Not for long,
If it grows heavy with goodness, will fortune remain good.
‘Once over Lerna a shower of snow turned into flakes of gold;
Once, following the doe of the Pleiades whose horns were charactered with gold,
Herakles hunted far beyond the Ister till he found
A land that lies at the other side of the North Wind. And he stood
Gazing upon the trees of that country; he was struck with sweet desire.
But do not therefore imagine that ever you, by land or sea,
Will find the miraculous road into the Hyperborean place.
Of unattainable longings sour is the fruit; grinding madness.
‘Bless’d is the man who does not enter into the grave, the hollow earth,
Before he has seen at Eleusis the acts unspeakable which show
The end and new beginning of our life, the divine gift.
Some find the road that leads beyond the tower of Kronos, and the isles
Where no one labours, no one bruises the flower of his white hand
Wounding with spade or oar the parsimonious earth or bitter sea.
Golden are the flowers they pick for garlands in the righteous wood.
‘But the voice of the Pierides is hateful to all the enemies of Zeus,
And the melody that makes drowsy with delight the eagle on his scepter
Is torture to those who lie in Tartaros. Hundred-headed Tyhpon
Struggles in anguish as he hears it, vomiting lava and smoke.’
The heaven-descended nobles of the pure Dorian blood,
Not thinking they understood him, but silent in reverence for the god
And for the stern poet, heard him and understood it all.
Tears stood in their eyes because of the beauty of the young men who danced.
– CS Lewis