A Book of Myths

Page: 76

To break the fierce assaults of sea and of storm there had been built out from the shore a mole, and on to this barrier leapt the distraught Halcyone. She ran along it, and when the dead, white body of the man she loved was still out of reach, she prayed her last prayer—a wordless prayer of anguish to the gods.

“Only let me get near him,” she breathed. “Grant only that I nestle close against his dear breast. Let me show him that, living or dead, I am his, and he mine forever.”

And to Halcyone a great miracle was then vouchsafed, for from out of her snowy shoulders grew snow-white pinions, and with them she skimmed over the waves until she reached the rigid body of Ceyx, drifting, a helpless burden for the conquering waves, in with the swift-flowing tide. As she flew, she uttered cries of love and of longing, but only strange raucous cries came from the throat that had once only made music. And when she reached the body of Ceyx and would fain have kissed his marble lips, Halcyone found that no longer were her own lips like the petals of a fair red rose warmed by the sun. For the gods had heard her prayer, and her horny beak seemed to the watchers on the shore to be fiercely tearing at the face of him who had been king of Thessaly.


Yet the gods were not merciless—or, perhaps, the love of Halcyone was an all-conquering love. For as [Pg 153] the soul of Halcyone had passed into the body of a white-winged sea-bird, so also passed the soul of her husband the king. And for evermore Halcyone and her mate, known as the Halcyon birds, defied the storm and tempest, and proudly breasted, side by side, the angriest waves of the raging seas.

To them, too, did the gods grant a boon: that, for seven days before the shortest day of the year, and for seven days after it, there should reign over the sea a great calm in which Halcyone, in her floating nest, should hatch her young. And to those days of calm and sunshine, the name of the Halcyon Days was given.

And still, as a storm approaches, the white-winged birds come flying inland with shrill cries of warning to the mariners whose ships they pass in their flight.

“Ceyx!” they cry. “Remember Ceyx!”

And hastily the fishermen fill their sails, and the smacks drive homeward to the haven where the blue smoke curls upwards from the chimneys of their homesteads, and where the red poppies are nodding sleepily amongst the yellow corn.

Note.—The kingfisher is commonly known as the real “Halcyon” bird. Of it Socrates says: “The bird is not great, but it has received great honour from the gods because of its lovingness; for while it is making its nest, all the world has the happy days which it calls halcyonidæ, excelling all others in their calmness.”

[Pg 154]


“... Every sound is sweet;
Myriads of rivers hurrying thro’ the lawn,
The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
And murmuring of innumerable bees.”


In the fragrance of the blossom of the limes the bees are gleaning a luscious harvest. Their busy humming sounds like the surf on a reef heard from very far away, and would almost lull to sleep those who lazily, drowsily spend the sunny summer afternoon in the shadow of the trees. That line of bee-hives by the sweet-pea hedge shows where they store their treasure that men may rob them of it, but out on the uplands where the heather is purple, the wild bees hum in and out of the honey-laden bells and carry home their spoils to their own free fastnesses, from which none can drive them unless there comes a foray against them from the brown men of the moors.