Ariel Psychopompos

John Opsopaus
(c) 1997

For weeks the peasant folk have prayed for rain,
parading sacred icons through the streets,
for respite from relentless, withering heat.
In answer now the thickening clouds descend,
a somber gray and green-tinged leaden lid,
the airtight seal of a sarcophagus,
that traps inside the suffocating air.
With silent dread we sail our ship and watch
the inky tendrils drooping to the sea.
In flight before the storm we meet the fog,
which wraps us close in hot and humid air.
Base matter buoys us up; we glide across
the smooth dark sheet that covers the abyss.
Concealing night descends before its time;
the howling wind and pelting rain arrive.
Confined within this dismal catacomb
of wind and water, through the dark we grope,
through elemental chaos, seeking light.
Sudden lightening strikes and splits the gloom;
the cracks of thunder echo through our cave.

This bark of souls is driven through the seas;
we seek to plumb the depths while yet we live;
we scorn the trembling throngs who never give
themselves to sail in tempests such as these!

Our eyes are dazed by portents in the air:
the Hermes Fire hovers round the mast,
and peacock feathers shimmer on the sheets.
The air is charged with scintillating sprites;
two hundred sparks are dancing on the yards.
Like living snakes my hairs begin to stir
and rear to strike; they writhe within a crown
of lurid lights, of flames that do not burn.
Uncanny Light of Nature, was it you
who raised the tempest o'er the silent sea,
who bore the waters that are poured on us?
Perhaps you are some sentient aerial sprite,
a sylph who rules the element of air.
Quicksilver spirit of the incandescent sky,
you flit and dart before the bow to guide
us like an angel over unknown seas,
and drink the air before you as you fly.
Like howling Harpies, winds assault our ship.
I fancy hearing some angelic voice;
a wailing spectral sound, that's neither male
nor female, sings its Siren song to me.
This spirit talks according to the sense
and sympathy of those who question it.
Mercurial sprite, you are a mystery!
Can any know exactly who you are?
Although you are but air, I ask your name!

I am the Valiant One, the Earth's Great Lord,
and rule the Lion of Midsummer Nights.
They called me Angel when I first was born,
in craggy heights, and suckled by a hind.
The Old Man of the Mountain came to see;
in wisdom he renamed me: Ariel.

Thou trickster spirit, minister of fate!
I know thee Ariel, eternal child;
though born of earth, you're more akin to air.

I am at home in all the elements.
A year of years I've lived inside a tree,
imprisoned in the pine as in a grave;
now I am free among the elements.
But you were bound this self-same span of time:
one year to be released from dogma's chains,
ten years of dedication to the Muse,
one year since godlike Adonais died,
in which to find a soul to be admired.

Infernal angel of unwelcome death,
you come to lead my living soul away.
Are thirty years to be my destined lot?
I knew you'd come to draw me to the depths,
although the water's freed me twice before.
Yet now I'll solve the greatest mystery.

It is my charge to wed the Sun and Moon,
a daring spirit and a wondrous soul.
I lead you to come forth on golden sands,
for you are bound to that Antigone
you loved too well in lifetimes long ago.
From life to life I guard your happiness
and lead you through the watery abyss.

A fire glows within the ocean's depths;
but look: the flame is cold, the water dry.
The soul of Adonais blazes like a star
and summons you to his eternal realm.

I weep for Adonais - he is dead!

Mourn not for Adonais; he is safe.

The bloody altar where he died is thine!
Slaughtered in the City of Peace, so called,
though more in thrall to thee, a god of war!
Although you're named the Lion of the Lord,
you yet deny him just as much as I;
now you recruit me to your atheist crew.
I weep for Adonais, for my lord,
whose words are never distant from my heart.

Mourn not your lord, for soon you'll be like him,
transmuted to a nobler form of life.
Come, kiss the wild waves! Heed their tempting call!

The call must be obeyed, and soon I see
the leaden waters closing over me.
I'll plummet, sinking many fathoms down
to plumb the depths to where the truth is found.

I always knew the waves would be my grave,
and through a shipwreck I would be reborn.
With valor I will drown my proper self,
and vanish in the never-sated sea.

Abandoning this vessel of my soul,
I plunge into the caustic foaming bath,
and taste the biting salt on those wild lips,
the fiery spirit burning in the sea.
For first I met the Spirit of the Air,
but now must pass by Water, Earth and Fire.
Infused by salt I suffer some sea-change,
transmuting into something rich and strange.

In golden sands below a vault of blue
I'm buried now to bake beneath the sun.
Dissolved by acid and by alkali,
I am reduced to base material,
till purple hues appear among the black.

With fragrant frankincense and biting salt,
and bathed in wine and oil, I wait the light.
The much sought fire bakes me in its glow,
consuming every corporeal part.
The words of Adonais are aflame
and close beside my heart escape in clouds.
My fevered brain begins to seethe and boil;
behold my heart laid bare for all to see!
At last will all the dross be burned away,
till nothing but the heart of hearts remains.
A quintessential essence, I escape,
an evanescent vapor to the sky.


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Last updated: Tue Apr 8 22:42:34 EDT 1997