Thomas Hood

Here you will find the Long Poem Lycus the Centaur of poet Thomas Hood

Lycus the Centaur


(The Argument: Lycus, detained by Circe in her magical dominion, is beloved by a Water Nymph, who, desiring to render him immortal, has recourse to the Sorceress. Circe gives her an incantation to pronounce, which should turn Lycus into a horse; but the horrible effect of the charm causing her to break off in the midst, he becomes a Centaur).

Who hath ever been lured and bound by a spell 
To wander, fore-doomed, in that circle of hell 
Where Witchery works with her will like a god, 
Works more than the wonders of time at a nod,? 
At a word,?at a touch,?at a flash of the eye, 
But each form is a cheat, and each sound is a lie, 
Things born of a wish?to endure for a thought, 
Or last for long ages?to vanish to nought, 
Or put on new semblance? O Jove, I had given 
The throne of a kingdom to know if that heaven, 
And the earth and its streams were of Circe, or whether 
They kept the world's birthday and brighten'd together! 
For I loved them in terror, and constantly dreaded 
That the earth where I trod, and the cave where I bedded, 
The face I might dote on, should live out the lease 
Of the charm that created, and suddenly cease: 
And I gave me to slumber, as if from one dream 
To another?each horrid,?and drank of the stream 
Like a first taste of blood, lest as water I quaff'd 
Swift poison, and never should breathe from the draught,? 
Such drink as her own monarch husband drain'd up 
When he pledged her, and Fate closed his eyes in the cup. 
And I pluck'd of the fruit with held breath, and a fear 
That the branch would start back and scream out in my ear; 
For once, at my suppering, I plucked in the dusk 
An apple, juice-gushing and fragrant of musk; 
But by daylight my fingers were crimson'd with gore, 
And the half-eaten fragment was flesh at the core; 
And once?only once?for the love of its blush, 
I broke a bloom bough, but there came such a gush 
On my hand, that it fainted away in weak fright, 
While the leaf-hidden woodpecker shriek'd at the sight; 
And oh! such an agony thrill'd in that note, 
That my soul, startling up, beat its wings in my throat, 
As it long'd to be free of a body whose hand 
Was doom'd to work torments a Fury had plann'd!

There I stood without stir, yet how willing to flee, 
As if rooted and horror-turn'd into a tree,? 
Oh! for innocent death,?and to suddenly win it, 
I drank of the stream, but no poison was in it; 
I plunged in its waters, but ere I could sink, 
Some invisible fate pull'd me back to the brink; 
I sprang from the rock, from its pinnacle height, 
But fell on the grass with a grasshopper's flight; 
I ran at my fears?they were fears and no more, 
For the bear would not mangle my limbs, nor the boar, 
But moan'd?all their brutalized flesh could not smother 
The horrible truth,?we were kin to each other!

They were mournfully gentle, and group'd for relief, 
All foes in their skin, but all friends in their grief: 
The leopard was there,?baby-mild in its feature; 
And the tiger, black-barr'd, with the gaze of a creature 
That knew gentle pity; the bristle-back'd boar, 
His innocent tusks stain'd with mulberry gore; 
And the laughing hyena?but laughing no more; 
And the snake, not with magical orbs to devise 
Strange death, but with woman's attraction of eyes; 
The tall ugly ape, that still bore a dim shine 
Through his hairy eclipse of a manhood divine; 
And the elephant stately, with more than its reason, 
How thoughtful in sadness! but this is no season 
To reckon them up from the lag-bellied toad 
To the mammoth, whose sobs shook his ponderous load. 
There were woes of all shapes, wretched forms, when I came, 
That hung down their heads with a human-like shame; 
The elephant hid in the boughs, and the bear 
Shed over his eyes the dark veil of his hair; 
And the womanly soul turning sick with disgust, 
Tried to vomit herself from her serpentine crust; 
While all groan'd their groans into one at their lot, 
As I brought them the image of what they were not.

Then rose a wild sound of the human voice choking 
Through vile brutal organs?low tremulous croaking: 
Cries swallow'd abruptly?deep animal tones 
Attuned to strange passion, and full-utter'd groans; 
All shuddering weaken, till hush'd in a pause 
Of tongues in mute motion and wide-yawning jaws; 
And I guessed that those horrors were meant to tell o'er 
The tale of their woes; but the silence told more, 
That writhed on their tongues; and I knelt on the sod, 
And pray'd with my voice to the cloud-stirring god, 
For the sad congregation of supplicants there, 
That upturn'd to his heaven brute faces of prayer; 
And I ceased, and they utter'd a moaning so deep,