Two Versions of Shelley's "Arethusa"


Robert Duncan did not join in the Modernist denigration of Shelley, but the following rewriting of Shelley's "Arethusa" is both tribute and reproach, it seems to me -- a tribute to Shelley's vivid re-imagining of the myth and a reproach to his tin ear!

Duncan's poem is from his Roots and Branches, published by New Directions.

Note: I have attempted to reproduce the spacing of both poems, a typographical feature that was particularly important to Robert Duncan. This may result in some unintended run-over lines unless the page is viewed using Netscape on a large monitor -- or by reducing the font size to 10 by use of the font section of the options menu. -- S.C.


Percy Bysshe Shelley

Robert Duncan

Arethusa Shelley's arethusa set to new measures
I 1
      Arethusa arose Now Arethusa from her snow couches arises,
      From her couch of snows Hi! from her Acroceraunian heights springs,
In the Acroceraunian mountains, -- down leaping, from cloud and crag
      From cloud and from crag, jagged shepherds her bright fountains.
      With many a jag, She bounds from rock-face to rock-face streaming
Shepherding her bright fountains. her uncombed rainbows of hair round her.
      She leapt down the rocks,         Green paves her way-fare.
      With her rainbow locks         Where she goes there
Streaming among the streams; --         dark ravine serves her
      Her steps paved with green         downward towards the West-gleam.
      The downward ravine As if still asleep she goes, glides or
Which slopes to the western gleams;         lingers in deep pools.
      And gliding and springing
      She went, ever singing,
In murmurs soft as sleep;
      The Earth seemed to love her,
      And Heaven smiled above her,
As she lingered towards the deep.
II 2
      Then Alpheus bold,                 Now bold Alpheus
      On his glacier cold,         aroused from his cold glacier
With his trident the mountains strook; strikes the mountains and opens
      And opened a chasm         a chasm in the rock so that
      In the rocks -- with the spasm all Erymanthus shakes, and the black
All Erymanthus shook.         south wind is unseald,
      And the black south wind from urns of silent snow comes, Earthquake
      It unsealed behind         rends asunder
The urns of the silent snow, thunderous the bars of the springs below.
      And earthquake and thunder
      Did rend in sunder         Beard and hair of the River-god
The bars of the springs below.         show through the torrent's sweep
      And the beard and the hair where he follows the fleeting light of the nymph
      Of the River-god were         to the brink of the Dorian,
Seen through the torrent's sweep,         margins of deep Ocean.
      As he followed the light
      Of the fleet nymph's flight
To the brink of the Dorian deep.
III 3
      'Oh, save me! Oh, guide me!         Oh save me! Take me untoucht, she cries.
      And bid the deep hide me,         Hide me,
For he grasps me now by the hair!' for Alpheus already grasps at my hair!
      The loud Ocean heard,         The loud Ocean heard,
      To its blue depth stirred, to its blue depths stirrd and divided,
And divided at her prayer; taking her into the roar of its surf.
      And under the water         And under the water she flees
      The Earth's white daughter         white Arethusa,
Fled like a sunny beam; the sunlight still virginal in her courses,
      Behind her descended         Earth's daughter, descends,
      Her billows, unblended billowing, unblended in the Dorian
With the brackish Dorian stream: --         brackish waters.
      Like a gloomy stain                 Where Alpheus,
      On the emerald main         close upon her, in gloom,
Alpheus rushed behind, --         staining the salt dark tide comes,
      As an eagle pursuing black clouds overtaking the white
      A dove to its ruin         in an emerald sky, Alpheus
Down the streams of the cloudy wind. eagle-eyed down streams of the wind pursues
        dove-wingd Arethusa.
IV 4
      Under the bowers         Under those bowers they go
      Where the Ocean powers         where the ocean powers
Sit on their pearled thrones; brood on their thrones. Thru these coral woods,
      Through the coral woods         shades in the weltering flood,
      Of the weltering floods,         maiden and raging
Over heaps of unvalued stones;         Alpheus swirl.
      Through the dim beams Over forgotten heap, stone upon stone,
      Which amid the streams         thru dim beams
Weave a network of coloured light;         which amid streams
      And under the caves, weave a network of colord lights they go,
      Where the shadowy waves         girl-stream and man-river after her.
Are as green as the forest's night: --
      Outspeeding the shark,         Pearl amid shadows
      And the sword-fish dark,         of the deep caves
Under the Ocean's foam, that are green as the forest's night,
      And up through the rifts         swift they fly,
      Of the mountain clifts with the shark and the swordfish pass into the wave
They passed to their Dorian home.         -- he overtaking her,
        as if wedding, surrounding her,
spray rifts in clefts of the shore cliffs rising.
        Alpheus,
                Arethusa,
                        come home.
V 5
      And now from their fountains When now from Enna's mountains they spring,
      In Enna's mountains,         afresh in her innocence
Down one vale where the morning basks, Arethusa to Alpheus gladly comes.
      Like friends once parted Into one morning two hearts awake,
      Grown single-hearted, at sunrise leap from sleep's caves to return
They ply their watery tasks.         to the vale where they meet,
      At sunrise they leap drawn by yearning from night into day.
      From their cradles steep
In the cave of the shelving hill; Down into the noontide flow,
      At noontide they flow         into the full of life winding again, they find
      Through the woods below their way thru the woods
And the meadows of asphodel;         and the meadows of asphodel below.
      And at night they sleep Wedded, one deep current leading,
      In the rocking deep         they follow to dream
Beneath the Ortygian shore; -- in the rocking deep at the Ortygian shore.
      Like spirits that lie         Spirits drawn upward,
      In the azure sky         they are divided
When they love but live no more. into the azure from which the rain falls,
        life from life,
seeking their way to love once more.


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