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EURIPIDES – The Bird Choros of Ion

Birds from Parnassus,
swift
you dart
from the loftiest peaks;
you hover, dip,
you sway and perch
undaunted on the gold-set cornice;
you eagle,
god’s majestic legate,
who tear, who strike
song-birds in mid-flight,
my arrow whistles toward you,
swift
be off;

ah drift,
ah drift
so soft, so light,
your scarlet foot so deftly placed
to waft you neatly
to the pavement,
swan, swan
and do you really think
your song
that tunes the harp of Helios,
will save you
from the arrow-flight?
turn back,
back
to the lake of Delos;

lest all the song notes
pause and break
across a blood-stained throat
gone songless,
turn back,
back
ere it be too late,
to wave-swept Delos.

Alas, and still another,
what?
you’d place your mean nest
in the cornice?
sing, sing
my arrow-string,
tell to the thief
that plaits its house
for fledglings
in the god’s own house,
that still the Alpheus
whispers sweet
to lure
the birdlets to the place,
that still the Isthmus
shines with forests;
on the white statues
must be found
no straw nor litter
of bird-down,
Phœbos must have his portal fair;

and yet, O birds,
though this my labour
is set,
though this my task is clear,
though I must slay you,
I, god’s servant,
I who take here
my bread and life
and sweep the temple,
still I swear
that I would save you,
birds or spirits,
winged songs
that tell to men god’s will;

still, still
the Alpheus whispers clear
to lure the bird-folk
to its waters,
ah still
the Isthmus
blossoms fair;
lest all the song notes
pause and break
across a blood-stained throat
gone songless,
turn back,
back
ere it be too late,
to wave-swept Delos.

Hilda Doolittle

Translator

January 29, 2022