Friday, April 6, 2012

Narcissus and Echo

Shall the water not remember     Ember
my hand’s slow gesture, tracing above   of
its mirror my half-imaginary      airy
portrait? My only belonging      longing;
is my beauty, which I take       ache
away and then return, as love       of
teasing playfully the one being     unbeing.
whose gratitude I treasure        Is your
moves me. I live apart         heart
from myself, yet cannot         not
live apart. In the water’s tone,      stone?
that brilliant silence, a flower      Hour,
whispers my name with such slight     light:
moment, it seems filament of air,       fare 
the world becomes cloudswell.     well.
- Fred Chappell (b. 1936)

Fred Chappell's beautiful poem, Narcissus and Echo, is a combination of two poems into a third. Based on the Greek mythology surrounding Narcissus, a vain young man who falls in love with his reflection, and the beautiful nymph Echo, who lives under the curse of only being able to repeat the words of others.

I've always found the story a striking one. There is something very sad about not being able to express what you as an individual think. Chappell's Echo, however, is capable of self-expression; even though she does only repeat the sounds that leave Narcissus' mouth, she forms her own ideas, her own expressions. She speaks.

If you want to read more about the Greek myth behind Chappell's poem, there is a brief summary at this website:

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