The Three, by Hyam Plutzik (1933)
Hyam Plutzik graduated from Trinity College, Phi Beta Kappa, in 1932. He continued his study of literature and poetry with a two-year fellowship from Trinity College to Yale University Graduate School. The first significant recognition of his talent in writing poetry came in 1933 when he won the Yale Poetry Award (then known as the Cooke Prize) for “The Three.” The poet Stephen Vincent Benét, a previous recipient of the award, sat on the judging committee. Benét and Plutzik continued to correspond with each other through the 1940s.
When the Galilean met the gods, Olympus tottered;
The Meek One's savage followers hewed down the shrines;
The hungry gods wandered like shades in erewhon.
The clan of the Olympians of Jupiter—was fallen:
Far from his forges lame Vulcan limped:
Emaciated Venus remembered the rising from the sea,
And sought to hide her nakedness in opaque darkness.
But Ixion and Sisyphus and Tantalus
Still in a hole of Hell lived on;
Left to endure their destined, long frustration;
Subject to the doom prescribed of old; forgotten
When the gods cowered before the Galilean.
Each in his own torment dwelling, they lived.
The wheel of Ixion turned round perpetually,
Unflagging as a moon swung in its orbit.
Ixion, breaking the silence of a millennium,
Groaned, ldquo; O God! rdquo;—the wheel turned on.
Sisyphus struggled upward; his muscles fought with the rock shy;—
But at the brink he faltered, and again he saw
The dark mass hounding unimpeded to the valley.
Tantalus opened his eyes upon the wastes of Hell.
(For a moment a gentle dream had captured Tantalus,
A moment of peace in the eternal rackings of desire.)
Now a great yearning seized him; he strove for consummation
With the combined intensity of all the hungers:
Of love and fear, ambition and revenge;
But he could not reach the water or the wheat,
And so subsided into desperate immobility.
Tantalus turned his eyes upon the wastes of Hell.
Now first he saw Hell deserted, its drear stretches
Unpeopled, undulating far to where the Stygian river wound,
With Charon's empty boat moored to the shore.
Tantalus turned his wondering face to Ixion then.
Ixion said: "Do you not know the gods are gone?
All their vassal souls in Hell are liberated;
We alone are left to toil forever. The gods fled,
But we were forgotten. Our doom is irrevocable,
Bound into the very laws that govern nature."
Ixion said: "Jupiter and all his clan are prostrate,
Why are we not free? Our pain has made us worthy
Of greatness; the matrix of good rests in us."
(The wheel turned round, and Ixion left an imprint in the mire.
Sisyphus plodded upward—silently his muscles fought with the rock.)
Ixion said; "Where would we go with freedom?
Where the gods and the souls that revered them wander,
Aimless abstractions in the gloom of erewhon?"
Tantalus looked and saw the gods again—distant unrealities—
Their lust-marred faces softened by suffering—
Fallen potentates moving restless in an air of ruin.
Jupiter was there—a beggar; Ceres—barren;
Neptune leaned on his trident for a staff;
Venus fled always, not with the glide of a goddess.
She remembered her beauty at the rising from the sea,
And sought in shame to obliterate herself in darkness.
Now Tantalus looked away, far to Olympus,
Where the halls of the gods, yielding to the fingers of centuries,
Were molded to ruin, unheeded by the followers of the Meek One—
Where under the clenched fist of ages palaces were crumbling.
Ixion said: "Does the domain of Time extend forever?
Will not duration pause to give us rest?
Is there no extra-temporal Elysium awaiting?
The ages form a processional. and walk slowly,
Very slowly, while we implore for surcease—
Asking for an hour to hold our torment in abeyance."
Ixion said: "Were Time to end and then begin again,
With all its infinite components which sum our misery:
Minutes and centuries and endless eons—
Then might the new temporal cycle find us strong.
Refreshed for our long wake together here in Hell—shy;
Refreshed, with all the memories of past agony forgotten.
But Time continues infinite: everlasting is your frustration, Tantalus;
Sisyphus will always plod with his rock, ignored and silent,
Repeating his futile gesture innumerably.
I am bound on one wheel in the machine
Of universal law; with it the other wheels revolve.
We cry for surcease: our future is predestined infinitely.
For an unending, interminable era we are indentured."
(The wheel revolved; the body of Ixion felt the mire.)
Tantalus turned his ravenous thoughts from hunger.
He said: "The accumulation of our pain will crush us,
As the long march of infinity continues."
"We cannot be crushed. though telling forces
Weigh on us," Ixion said. "Insuperable powers
Flay us; but the gods have in their humor
Made us insuperable; ultimate defeat will never come.
Instead of quick extinction we are tortured
By mighty energies translated into pain.
We are fagged runners. continuing beyond endurance,
Even fortitude is not for us, nor pride. We are ignored
By the listless gods and the race of men existent."
Tantalus looked over the gloomy dome of Hell,
To where, on the Earth's lustrous rind, men still moved.
"Our incarcerated centuries have altered men," said Tantalus.
"Their world is webbed by chains of mechanism.
Their instruments control them: their Parcae
Are their own creations, weaving for them wefts of steel.
Mortals have spurned the gods, our ancient masters:
The dying gods—but we, the everlasting living,
The unquiescent spirits, are forgotten with them."
Tantalus said: "The old gods know not of us;
Nor do we rest in the hearts of living men,
As when we were pitied once, before the change."
Sisyphus spoke then, momentarily his long silence broken:
"Mortals have forgotten us, but we are with them.
We are with them .... "
His words became inaudible.
Ixion cried for release.
Tantalus was silent.
The great hungering of Tantalus arose again,
Whetted by thirty centuries of deprivation—
Piercing him with the intensity of all the lusts:
Of love. ambition and revenge alloyed.
But he could not reach the water or the wheat ....
The hungering of Tantalus arose again ....
Ixion's wheel revolved and moved perpetually.
The rack bore him, beyond requital of his sin.
Ixion's body left an imprint in the mire.
The wheel of Ixion revolved perpetually ....
Sisyphus rolled a great boulder slowly upward;
His muscles fought with black stone, and faltered.
Repetition on repetition .... Ixion fights with a rock ...
The hungering of Tantalus arose again.