Edgar Lee Masters: Thomas Trevelyan (Spoon River Anthology)

READING in Ovid the sorrowful story of Itys,
Son of the love of Tereus and Procne, slain
For the guilty passion of Tereus for Philomela,
The flesh of him served to Tereus by Procne,
And the wrath of Tereus, the murderess pursuing
Till the gods made Philomela a nightingale,
Lute of the rising moon, and Procne a swallow
Oh livers and artists of Hellas centuries gone,
Sealing in little thuribles dreams and wisdom,
Incense beyond all price, forever fragrant,
A breath whereof makes clear the eyes of the soul
How I inhaled its sweetness here in Spoon River!
The thurible opening when I had lived and learned
How all of us kill the children of love, and all of us,
Knowing not what we do, devour their flesh;
And all of us change to singers, although it be
But once in our lives, or change—alas!—to swallows,
To twitter amid cold winds and falling leaves!

***

A thurible is a container in which incense in burned.

Procne was the elder daughter of a king of Athens named Pandion and the wife of King Tereus of Thrace. Her beautiful sister Philomela visited the couple and was raped by Tereus, who tore out her tongue to prevent her revealing the crime. She wove a tapestry which made it clear what had been done, and the two women took their revenge.

Procne killed her son by Tereus, Itys (or Itylos), boiled him and served him as a meal to her husband. After he had finished his meal, the sisters presented Tereus with the severed head of his son, and he realised what had been done. He snatched up an axe and pursued them with the intent to kill the sisters.They fled but were almost overtaken by Tereus. In desperation, they prayed to the gods to be turned into birds and escape Tereus’ rage and vengeance.The gods transformed Procne into a swallow, Philomela into a nightingale and Tereus into a hoopoe.

Source: Wikipedia

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