Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 49

It was now morning. She went to the sea-shore, and sought the spot where she last saw him, on his departure. "Here he lingered and cast off his tacklings and gave me his last kiss." While she reviews every moment, and strives to recall every incident, looking out over the sea, she descries an indistinct object floating in the water. At first she was in doubt what it was, but by degrees the waves bore it nearer, and it was plainly the body of a man. Though unknowing of whom, yet, as it was of some shipwrecked one, she was deeply moved, and gave it her tears, saying, "Alas! Unhappy one, and unhappy, if such there be, thy wife!" Borne by the waves, it came nearer. As she more and more nearly views it, she trembles more and more. Now, now it approaches the shore. Now marks that she recognizes appear. It is her husband! Stretching out her trembling hands towards it, she exclaims, "O, dearest husband, is it thus you return to me?"

There was built out from the shore a mole, constructed to break the assaults of the sea, and stem its violent ingress. She leaped upon this barrier and (it was wonderful she could do so) she flew, and striking the air with wings produced on the instant, skimmed along the surface of the water, an unhappy bird. As she flew, her throat poured forth sounds full of grief, and like the voice of one lamenting. When she touched the mute and bloodless body, she enfolded its beloved limbs with her new- formed wings, and tried to give kisses with her horny beak. Whether Ceyx felt it, or whether it was only the action of the waves, those who looked on doubted, but the body seemed to raise its head. But indeed he did feel it, and by the pitying gods both of them were changed into birds. They mate and have their young ones. For seven placid days, in winter time, Halcyone broods over her nest, which floats upon the sea. Then the way is safe to seamen. Aeolus guards the winds, and keeps them from disturbing the deep. The sea is given up, for the time, to his grandchildren.

The following lines from Byron's Bride of Abydos might seem borrowed from the concluding part of this description, if it were not stated that the author derived the suggestion from observing the motion of a floating corpse.

  "As shaken on his restless pillow,
  His head heaves with the heaving billow;
  That hand, whose motion is not life,
  Yet feebly seems to menace strife,
  Flung by the tossing tide on high,.
  Then levelled with the wave "

Milton, in his Hymn for the Nativity, thus alludes to the fable of the Halcyon:

  "But peaceful was the night
  Wherein the Prince of light
  His reign of peace upon the earth began;
  The winds with wonder whist,
  Smoothly the waters kist,
  Whispering new joys to the mild ocean
  Who now hath quite forgot to rave
  While birds of calm sit brooding on the charmed wave."