Orphic Hymn to Mnemosyne

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THE ORPHIC HYMNS are a collection of 87 short religious poems composed in either the late Hellenistic (C3rd or C2nd B.C.) or early Roman (C1st to C2nd A.D.) era. They are based on the beliefs of Orphism, a mystery cult or religious philosophy which claimed descent from the teachings of the mythical hero Orpheus.

Orpheus to Mousaios

Friend, use it to good fortune

Learn now, Mousaios, a rite mystic and most holy;

A prayer which surely excels all others.

Kind Zeus and Gaia, heavenly and pure flames of the Sun,

Sacred light of the Moon and all the Stars;

Poseidon too, dark-maned holder of the earth,

Pure Persephone and Demeter of the splendid fruit,

Artemis, the arrow-pouring maiden,

And kindly Phoibos, who dwells on the sacred ground of Delphoi.

And Dionysos, the dancer, whose honors among the blessed gods are the highest.

Strong-spirited Ares, holy and mighty Hephaistos,

And the goddess foam-born to whose lot fell sublime gifts;

And you, divinity excellent, who is king of the Underworld.

I call upon Hebe, and Eileithyia, and the noble ardor of Herakles,

The great blessings of Justice and Piety,

The glorious Nymphs and Pan the greatest,

And upon Hera, buxom wife of aegis-bearing Zeus.

I also call upon lovely Mnemosyne and the holy Muses, all nine,

As well as upon the Graces, the Seasons, the Year;

Fair-tressed Leto, divine and revered Dione,

The armed Kouretes, the Korybantes, the Kubeiroi,

Great saviors, Zeus’ ageless scion,

The Idaian gods, and upon Hermes, messenger and herald of those in heaven;

Upon Themis too, diviner of men I call,

And on Night, oldest of all, and light-bringing Day:

Then upon Faith, Dike, blameless Thesmodoteira,

Rhea, Kronos, dark-dwelling Tethys,

The great Okeanos together with his daughters,

The might of preeminent Atlas and Aion,

Chronos the ever-flowing, the splendid water of the Styx,

All these gentle gods and also Pronoia,

And the holy Daimon as well as the one baneful to mortals;

Then upon the divinities dwelling in heaven, air, water,

On earth, under the earth and in the fiery element.

Ino, Leukothea, Palaimon giver of bliss,

Sweet-speaking Nike, queenly Adresteia,

The great king Asklepios who grants soothing,

The battle-stirring maiden Pallas, all the Winds,

Thunder, and the parts of the four-pillared Cosmos.

And I invoke the Mother of the immortals, Attis and Men,

And the goddess Ourania, immortal and holy Adonis, beginning and end, too

Which is the most important,

And ask them to come in a spirit of joyous mercy

To this holy rite and libation of reverence.

— Translation by Apostolos N. Athanassakis

Other Translation here


Μάνθανε δὴ, Μουσαῖε, θυηπολίην περισέμνην, 

εὐχήν, ἣ δή τοι προφερεστέρη ἐστὶν ἁπασέων.

Ζεῦ βασιλεῦ, καὶ Γαῖα, καὶ οὐράνιαι φλόγες ἁγναὶ

Ἠελίου, Μήνης θ’ ἱερὸν σέλας, Ἄστρα τε πάντα·

καὶ σύ, Ποσείδαον γαιήοχε κυανοχαῖτα,

Φερσεφόνη θ’ ἁγνὴ, Δημήτηρ τ’ ἀγλαόκαρπε,

Ἄρτεμί τ’ ἰοχέαιρα, κόρη, καὶ ἤϊε Φοῖβε,

ὃς Δελφῶν ναίεις ἱερὸν πέδον· ὅς τε μεγίστας

τιμὰς ἐν μακάρεσσιν ἔχεις, Διόνυσε χορευτά·

Ἆρές τ’ ὀμβριμόθυμε, καὶ Ἡφαίστου μένος ἁγνὸν,

ἀφρογενής τε θεά, μεγαλώνυμα δῶρα λαχοῦσα·

καὶ σύ, καταχθονίων βασιλεῦ, μέγ’ ὑπείροχε δαῖμον·

Ἥβη τ’, Εἰλείθυια, καὶ Ἡρακλέος μένος ἠΰ·

καὶ τὸ Δικαιοσύνης τε καὶ Εὐσεβίης μέγ’ ὄνειαρ

κικλήσκω, Νύμφας τε κλυτὰς, καὶ Πᾶνα μέγιστον,

Ἥρην τ’, αἰγιόχοιο Διὸς θαλερὴν παράκοιτιν·

Μνημοσύνην τ’ ἐρατὴν, Μούσας τ’ ἐπικέκλομαι ἁγνὰς

ἐννέα καὶ Χάριτάς τε, καὶ Ὥρας, ἠδ’ Ἐνιαυτὸν,

Λητώ τ’ εὐπλόκαμον θείην σεμνήν τε Διώνην,

Κουρῆτάς τ’ ἐνόπλους Κορύβαντάς τ’, ἠδὲ Καβείρους,

καὶ μεγάλους Σωτῆρας ὁμοῦ, Διὸς ἄφθιτα τέκνα·

Ἰδαίους τε θεοὺς, ἠδ’ ἄγγελον Οὐρανιώνων,

Ἑρμείαν κήρυκα, Θέμιν θ’, ἱεροσκόπον ἀνδρῶν,

Νύκτα τε πρεσβίστην καλέω, καὶ φωσφόρον Ἦμαρ,

Πίστιν τ’, ἠδὲ Δίκην, καὶ ἀμύμονα Θεσμοδότειραν·

Ῥείαν τ’, ἠδὲ Κρόνον, καὶ Τηθὺν κυανόπεπλον,

Ὠκεανόν τε μέγαν, σύν τ’ Ὠκεανοῖο θύγατρας

Ἄτλαντός τε καὶ Αἰῶνος μέγ’ ὑπείροχον ἰσχύν·

καὶ Χρόνον ἀέναον, καὶ τὸ Στυγὸς ἀγλαὸν ὕδωρ,

Μειλιχίους τε θεούς· ἀγαθήν τ’ ἐπὶ τοῖσι Πρόνοιαν·

Δαίμονά τ’ ἠγάθεον, καὶ Δαίμονα πήμονα θνητῶν·

Δαίμονας οὐρανίους τε καὶ εἰναλίους καὶ ἐνύδρους,

καὶ χθονίους καὶ ὑποχθονίους, ἠδ’ ἠεριφοίτους·,

καὶ Σεμέλην, Βάκχου τε συνευαστῆρας ἅπαντας,

Ἰνὼ Λευκοθέην τε, Παλαίμονά τ’ ὀλβιοδώτην.

[Νίκην θ’ ἡδυέπειαν, ἰδ’ Ἀδρήστειαν ἄνασσαν·

καὶ βασιλῆα μέγαν Ἀσκληπιὸν ἠπιοδώτην.]

Παλλάδα τ’ ἐγρεμάχην κούρην, Ἀνέμους τε πρόπαντας,

καὶ Βροντὰς, Κόσμου τε μέρη τετρακίονος αὐδῶ·

Μητέρα τ’ ἀθανάτων, Ἄττιν καὶ Μῆνα κικλήσκω,

Οὐρανίην τε θεάν, σύν δ’ ἄμβροτον ἁγνὸν Ἄδωνιν,

Ἀρχήν τ’ ἠδὲ Πέρας· (τὸ γὰρ ἔπλετο πᾶσι μέγιστον)

ἐλθεῖν εὐμενέας, κεχαρημένον ἦτορ ἔχοντας,

τήνδε θυηπολίην ἱερὴν, σπονδήν τ’ ἐπὶ σεμνήν.

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El Desdichado

Je suis le Ténébreux, – le Veuf, – l’Inconsolé,
Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la Tour abolie :
Ma seule Etoile est morte, – et mon luth constellé
Porte le Soleil noir de la Mélancolie.

Dans la nuit du Tombeau, Toi qui m’as consolé,
Rends-moi le Pausilippe et la mer d’Italie,
La fleur qui plaisait tant à mon coeur désolé,
Et la treille où le Pampre à la Rose s’allie.

Suis-je Amour ou Phébus ?… Lusignan ou Biron ?
Mon front est rouge encor du baiser de la Reine ;
J’ai rêvé dans la Grotte où nage la sirène…

Et j’ai deux fois vainqueur traversé l’Achéron :
Modulant tour à tour sur la lyre d’Orphée
Les soupirs de la Sainte et les cris de la Fée.

— Gérard de Nerval

English Translations here

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Dunkles zu sagen

Wie Orpheus spiel ich
auf den Saiten des Lebens den Tod
und in die Schönheit der Erde
und deiner Augen, die den Himmel verwalten,
weiß ich nur Dunkles zu sagen.

Vergib nicht, daß auch du, plotzlich,
an jenem Morgen, als dein Lager
noch naß war von Tau und die Nelke
an deinem Herzen schlief,
den dunklen Fluß sahst,
der an dir vorbeizog.

Die Saite des Schweigens
gespannt auf die Welle von Blut,
griff ich dein tönendes Herz.
Verwandelt ward deine Locke
ins Schattenhaar der Nacht,
der Finsternis schwarze Flocken
beschneiten dein Antlitz.

Und ich gehör dir nicht zu.
Beide klagen wir nun.

Aber wie Orpheus weiß ich
auf der Seite des Todes das Leben
und mir blaut
dein für immer geschlossenes Aug.

— Ingeborg Bachmann

To Say Dark Things

Like Orpheus, I play
death on the strings of life,
and in the beauty of the earth
and your eyes, which govern the heavens, I can only say dark things.

Don’t forget how, all of a sudden,
on that morning when your camp
was still wet with dew and the carnation lay asleep on your heart,
you too saw the dark river
flowing by.

The string of silence
pulled taut on the wave of blood, I grasped your sounding heart. Your curls were turned
into the night’s hair of shadows,  black flakes of darkness
fell on your face.

And I don’t belong to you.  We lament both now. But like Orpheus I know
life strung on the side of death and your eyes, closed forever, are blue to me.

— Translated by Rebekah Wilson

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Aus der Hand frißt der Herbst mir sein Blatt: wir sind Freunde.
Wir schälen die Zeit aus den Nüssen und lehren sie gehn:
die Zeit kehrt zurück in die Schale.

Im Spiegel ist Sonntag,
im Traum wird geschlafen,
der Mund redet wahr.

Mein Aug steigt hinab zum Geschlecht der Geliebten:
wir sehen uns an,
wir sagen uns Dunkles,
wir lieben einander wie Mohn und Gedächtnis,
wir schlafen wie Wein in den Muscheln,
wie das Meer im Blutstrahl des Mondes.

Wir stehen umschlungen im Fenster, sie sehen uns zu von der Straße:

es ist Zeit, daß man weiß!
Es ist Zeit, daß der Stein sich zu blühen bequemt,
daß der Unrast ein Herz schlägt.
Es ist Zeit, daß es Zeit wird.

Es ist Zeit.

— Paul Celan


Autumn is eating a leaf from my hand: we are friends.
We are picking time out of a nut, we teach it to run:
and time rushes back to its shell.

In the mirror it’s Sunday,
in dreams people sleep,
the mouth tells the truth.

My eye descends to the sex of my loved one,
we gaze at each other,
we whisper out darkness,
we love one another like poppies and memory,
we sleep like wine in a seashell,
like the sea in the moon’s bloody rays.

Embracing we stand by the window, and people look up from 
the street:
it is time that they knew!
It is time that the stone grew accustomed to blooming,
that unrest formed a heart.
It is time it was time.

It is time.

— Translated by Jerome Rothenberg

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M. Б.

То не Муза воды набирает в рот.
То, должно, крепкий сон молодца берет.
И махнувшая вслед голубым платком
наезжает на грудь паровым катком.

И не встать ни раком, ни так словам,
как назад в осиновый строй дровам.
И глазами по наволочке лицо
растекается, как по сковороде яйцо.

Горячей ли тебе под сукном шести
одеял в том садке, где – Господь прости –
точно рыба – воздух, сырой губой
я хватал то, что было тогда тобой?

Я бы заячьи уши пришил к лицу,
наглотался б в лесах за тебя свинцу,
но и в черном пруду из дурных коряг
я бы всплыл пред тобой, как не смог «Варяг».

Но, видать, не судьба, и года не те.
И уже седина стыдно молвить – где.
Больше длинных жил, чем для них кровей,
да и мысли мертвых кустов кривей.

Навсегда расстаемся с тобой, дружок.
Нарисуй на бумаге простой кружок.
Это буду я: ничего внутри.
Посмотри на него – и потом сотри.

1980 г.

— Иосиф Бродский 

It’s not that the Muse feels like clamming up, 
It’s more like high time for the lad’s last nap. 
And the scarf-waving lass who wished him the best 
Drives a steamroller across his chest. 

And the words won’t rise either like that rod 
Or like logs to rejoin their old grove’s sweet rot, 
And, like eggs in the frying pan, the face 
Spills its eyes all over the pillowcase. 

Are you warm tonight under those six veils 
In that basin of yours whose strung bottom wails; 
Where like fish that gasp at the foreign blue 
My raw lip was catching what then meant you? 

I would have hare’s ears sewn to my bald head, 
In thick woods for your sake I’d gulp drops of lead, 
And from black gnarled snags in the oil-smooth pond 
I’d bob up to your face as some Tirpitz won’t. 

But it’s not on the cards or the waiter’s tray, 
And it pains to say where one’s hair turns gray. 
There are more blue veins than the blood to swell 
Their dried web, let alone some remote brain cell. 

We are parting for good, little friend, that’s that. 
Draw an empty circle on your yellow pad. 
This will be me: no insides in thrall. 
Stare at it a while, then erase the scrawl.

— Translated by Joseph Brodsky

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Archaïscher Torso Apollos

Wir kannten nicht sein unerhörtes Haupt, 
darin die Augenäpfel reiften. Aber 
sein Torso glüht noch wie ein Kandelaber, 
in dem sein Schauen, nur zurückgeschraubt, 

sich hält und glänzt. Sonst könnte nicht der Bug 
der Brust dich blenden, und im leisen Drehen 
der Lenden könnte nicht ein Lächeln gehen 
zu jener Mitte, die die Zeugung trug. 

Sonst stünde dieser Stein entstellt und kurz 
unter der Schultern durchsichtigem Sturz 
und flimmerte nicht so wie Raubtierfelle; 

und bräche nicht aus allen seinen Rändern 
aus wie ein Stern: denn da ist keine Stelle, 
die dich nicht sieht. Du mußt dein Leben ändern. 

— Rainer Maria Rilke

Apollo’s Archaic Torso

We cannot know his incredible head,
where the eyes ripened like apples,
yet his torso still glows like a candelabrum,
from which his gaze, however dimmed,

still persists and gleams. If this were not so,
the bow of his breast could not blind you,
nor could a smile, steered by the gentle curve
of his loins, glide to the centre of procreation.

And this stone would seem disfigured and stunted,
the shoulders descending into nothing,
unable to glisten like a predator’s pelt,

or burst out from its confines and radiate
like a star: for there is no angle from which
it cannot see you. You have to change your life.

— Translated by Sarah Stutt

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From “To the Muses”

         …Fair Nine, forsaking Poetry! 

How have you left the ancient love

  That bards of old enjoy’d in you! 

The languid strings do scarcely move!

  The sound is forc’d, the notes are few! 

— William Blake

Read the poem here

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FromTom o’ Bedlam

I know more than Apollo,
For oft, when he lies sleeping
I see the stars at bloody wars
In the wounded welkin weeping;

— Anonymous

Read “Tom o’ Bedlamhere

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From “The Waste Land” III. The Fire Sermon

… The nymphs are departed.

And their friends, the loitering heirs of City directors;

Departed, have left no addresses.

— T. S. Eliot

Read “The Waste Land” here