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Two Sonnets of the Sirens

'Les Sirenes estoient tant intimes amies et fidelles compagnes de Proserpine, qu'elles estoient toujours ensemble. Esmues du juste deul de la perte de leur chere compagne, et enuyees jusques au desepoir, elles s'arresterent a la mer Sicilienne, ou par leurs chants elles attiroient les navigans, mais l'unique fin de la volupte de leur musique est la Mort.' ~ Pontus De Tyard, 1570

The Sirens once were maidens innocent
That through the water-meads with Proserpine
Plucked no fire-hearted flowers, but were content
Cool fritillaries and flag-flowers to twine,
With lilies woven and with wet woodbine;
Till once they sought the bright AEtnaean flowers,
And their glad mistress fled from summer hours
With Hades, far from olive, corn, and vine.
And they have sought her all the wide world through
Till many years, and wisdom, and much wrong
Have filled and changed their song, and o'er the blue
Rings deadly sweet the magic of the song,
And whoso hears must listen till he die
Far on the flowery shores of Sicily.

So is it with this singing art of ours, That once with maids went maidenlike, and played With woven dances in the poplar-shade, And all her song was but of lady's bowers And the returning swallows, and spring flowers, Till forth to seek a shadow-queen she strayed, A shadowy land; and now hath overweighed Her singing chaplet with the snow and showers. Yes, fair well-water for the bitter brine She left, and by the margin of life's sea Sings, and her song is full of the sea's moan, And wild with dread, and love of Proserpine; And whoso once has listened to her, he His whole life long is slave to her alone.

Andrew Lang