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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Origin of the Lyre

By The Homeric Hymns

From the ‘Hymn to Mercury’: Paraphrase by Percy Bysshe Shelley

THE BABE was born at the first peep of day;

He began playing on the lyre at noon,

And the same evening did he steal away

Apollo’s herds;—the fourth day of the moon

On which him bore the venerable May,

From her immortal limbs he leaped full soon,

Nor long could in the sacred cradle keep,

But out to seek Apollo’s herds would creep.

Out of the lofty cavern wandering

He found a tortoise, and cried out—“A treasure!”

(For Mercury first made the tortoise sing.)

The beast before the portal at his leisure

The flowery herbage was depasturing,

Moving his feet in a deliberate measure

Over the turf. Jove’s profitable son

Eyeing him laught, and laughing thus begun:—

“A useful godsend are you to me now,

King of the dance, companion of the feast,

Lovely in all your nature! Welcome, you

Excellent plaything! Where, sweet mountain beast,

Got you that speckled shell? Thus much I know,—

You must come home with me and be my guest;

You will give joy to me, and I will do

All that is in my power to honor you.

“Better to be at home than out of door;—

So come with me, and though it has been said

That you alive defend from magic power,

I know you will sing sweetly when you’re dead.”

Thus having spoken, the quaint infant bore,

Lifting it from the grass on which it fed,

And grasping it in his delighted hold,

His treasured prize into the cavern old.

Then scooping with a chisel of gray steel,

He bored the life and soul out of the beast—

Not swifter a swift thought of woe or weal

Darts thro’ the tumult of a human breast

Which thronging cares annoy—not swifter wheel

The flashes of its torture and unrest

Out of the dizzy eyes—than Maia’s son

All that he did devise hath featly done.

And thro’ the tortoise’s hard stony skin

At proper distances small holes he made,

And fastened the cut stems of reeds within,

And with a piece of leather overlaid

The open space and fixt the cubits in,

Fitting the bridge to both, and stretcht o’er all

Symphonious cords of sheep-gut rhythmical.

When he had wrought the lovely instrument,

He tried the chords, and made division meet

Preluding with the plectrum, and there went

Up from beneath his hand a tumult sweet

Of mighty sounds, and from his lips he sent

A strain of unpremeditated wit,

Joyous and wild and wanton—such you may

Hear among revelers on a holiday.