Chapman describes, in blank verse, how Odysseus, washed up on the island of Calypso, finds where:
”A grove grew
In endless spring about her cavern round
With odorous cypress, pines and poplars, crowned,
Where hawks, sea owls and long tongued bitterns bred,
And other birds their shady pinions spread.
All fowls maritimal: none roosted there
But whose labours in the water were.
A vine did all the hollow cave embrace,
Still green, yet some still-ripe bunches gave it grace.
Four fountains, one against another, poured
Their silver streams and meadows all enflowr’d
With sweet balm-gentle and blue violets hid,
That decked the soft breast of each fragrant mead.”
John Keats wrote his poem ‘On Looking into Chapman’s Homer with a similar leap of the heart’
Now my story…
Leading Seaman Johnson’s ears were roaring when he recovered once again from the stupor of days adrift on a life raft. His ship had been torpedoed by a Japanese submarine east of the Philippine Islands ten days before. The emergency rations and water lasted three days and he lasted two more days in the blazing sun before losing consciousness.
He had been recovering degrees of consciousness and slipping back into oblivion so often that he had lost all sense of time except that he was aware of the rotation of light and sunburn, and cold and darkness. He was in one of the states of unawareness when he realised that the surging and crashing noise he could hear was the sound of breakers. He let go and slid back with profound relief on the raft into the slumber of utter fatigue.
He half awoke to find himself being carried in somebody’s arms. Before slipping back again into a wave of nausea he thought that at least he hadn’t landed on this tropical shore only to be eaten by a komodo dragon. What might have been hours later he began to perceive light through half-opened eyes and felt the warmth of soft flesh on his face. He felt like a baby, perfectly secure while energy seemed to pervade every cell of his body. He breathed deeply and slept.
When he next woke he found to his astonishment that he was being suckled by a woman. He withdrew his mouth not knowing whether to continue or pretend to be sorry for a misdemeanour.
‘I feel like a baby’, he said. The woman had been waiting for him to speak. ‘Don’t worry’ said her soft voice. ‘You need sustenance, take it from me’. The speaker was the most beautiful woman Johnson had ever seen. Golden red hair, pale skin and clad in a loose white robe; she shone with kindness. He dropped into sleep again.
This infantile pattern continued for some days until Johnson could stay awake and look at the woman and at his surroundings. He was in a cave hung with flowers and strewn with herbs just above the beach. He was lying on a raised bed, nothing more than a ledge protruding from the rock wall. He asked ‘Where am I?’ The woman who had been watching him came over and knelt beside him. ‘You are safe here on my island. Slowly you will get better as you imbibe from me. Like ambrosia it will give life to you’. And so it was to be but there were a thousand questions that Johnson wanted to ask. ‘All in good time’ said the soft voice.
The daily suckling continued and Johnson felt better than he had ever felt in his life and he made some exploratory steps in and around the cave. One morning she said to him, ‘I have to leave you for a little while I go to bathe. You will be perfectly safe but when I am away you must never follow me’. At this time Johnson knew that he was not yet strong enough to follow even if he wanted to. He contented himself with wandering around the area outside the cave and kicked around in the leaves and bushes there. One day he found a long bone and with horror recognised a human femur, then scraps of blue cloth, a couple of tarnished brass buttons and more bones.
He hurried back and fell on his couch full of apprehension and fear. Who was she, what was she, and what did she live on? When she returned she sensed, with that unerring instinct inherent in women that something was wrong. She sat down beside him and said ‘I need to tell you about myself. My name is Miomene and I am an immortal nymph of the woodlands. Aeons ago, longer than your human mind can envisage I was exiled to this island by our father Zeus’.
Johnson was mystified. ‘Olympian gods! I thought they were just myths, things that mankind made up’.
‘They have always existed since before the world, even the universe began’, she said, ‘It’s just that mankind constantly reinvents them in shapes that suit the particular age’.
‘But why so cruel as to exile you here. What did you do wrong?’
‘I must not tell you why but I have been here on this tiny island ever since and nobody except unfortunate sailors have ever been my company. I have nurtured them, and cared for them over the years’.
‘But why did you breast-feed me?
‘You would have died without it. I imbued you for a short while with my immortal nature, a rescue remedy against your intense fatigue. Soon you will crave for human food and you will forage and find it here on my island’.
‘And the bones in the undergrowth out there?’ he asked.
Miomene paused and pensively replied ‘There were others before you. Being mortal they could not live forever even with my divine nourishment. I can restore a fading life and give a little longer time than is permitted to mankind but I cannot make them immortal’.
Johnson’s curiosity was not completely satisfied and the desire to find out the place where she went came upon him so that one morning he determined to follow her even though he felt disloyal. Keeping her at a distance he saw her walking until she disappeared from his sight long enough for him to creep upon her. First he saw the robe thrown carelessly over a bush. He could see no sign of Miomene only a creature like a huge amoeba bathing in a stream. He ran back to the cave frightened beyond measure.
Miomene returned now in her former beautiful form and knew he had disobeyed her. ‘You have followed me. Are you satisfied now that you have seen me as I really am? I shall not harm you’, she breathed.
‘But why the disguise?’
‘How could I do differently?’ she asked. ‘You were dying and you needed me and I brought you back to life in the only way open to me. If I had appeared to you in my true form, would you have accepted nurture from me then?’
‘But this Greek god business. I thought all the gods on Olympus were supposed divinely to be divinely beautiful as I see you now.’, said Johnson.
‘Ah, the gods! It is in their nature to manifest themselves in forms that you humans would like them to have. Your Jehovah-like god would appear as a burning bush because that was what Moses had been taught by his culture to expect as a divine sign. Sometimes they have manifested themselves as great warriors, spirit animals, rivers, and eruptions from volcanoes’.
He thought about this carefully and asked ‘Well, what about your manifestation to me?’
‘There is in every man’s deepest mind an ideal of perfect womanhood. You are simply seeing the perfect form that you have in your mind. You are seeing what you would like to see. I have done nothing except draw it out of you as I did when I divined your language’.
‘What about the other castaways, the human remains out there?’
‘My sea husbands come, I love them, they die and I mourn them.
‘Don’t they ever get’ he paused to get the right word, ‘don’t they ever get er, rescued?’
‘Sometimes ships passed by and they would light a fire to attract attention to the island and so be rescued as you put it. When they are safe on board they look back and see nothing of me and the memory of their stay with me fades. Yet in later life, perhaps while sitting alone in a pleasant garden on a summer evening, they will look up pensively as if trying but never succeeding to recapture a beautiful dream.
There were some who hid from the ships choosing to stay with me until they died. You may perhaps have to make the choice yourself one day but until then you will find yourself living in complete happiness with me’.
‘But what about you, Miomene, when they were rescued? What if I should go away or die as I must?’
Miomene gave a long sigh.
‘I have no choice but to exist until Zeus should relent’.
Comments and critiques welcome