From the First Notes of Dawn to the Last Chords of Dusk

apollo & marsyas
Apollo & Marsyas by Pietro Perugino

From the First Notes of Dawn to the Last Chords of Dusk

Praise Apollo, Sun and Light !
Praise the hand-harp glorifier !
Plays them strings like dynamite,
Plays so far he’s outasight.
Bringing on the dawn with its mojo rising,
Day-long solos from his nuclear fire –
And as for his vocals, you should hear the guy sing !
From early-morning blues to evensong choir.
He plucks and strums it,
Twangs and drums it,
Whistles and hums it till his rays expire.

But to Marsyas the shepherd,
Dusk was no time to retire –
So he heckled undeterred
This yawning, lightweight, early-bird.
“Eager rising, my premising
Says is most unhealthy and absurd.
Dawn despising, my advising
Says is only nat’ral and preferred.
For those of us by music stirred
Think morning is a dirty word.
And what bards view his skies of blue or clouds of white ?
Or ever gets to see Apollo’s pyre ?
We rise with the lunar satellite
To score the shadows, sing the night,
And likewise dress in black attire.”

“So a challenge I declare,
Apollo,” said this acolyte.
“Dude, I gotta tell you square
I love your image, dig your hair,
So please don’t think that all my criticising
Is intended as a jealous slight –
But you, without your even realising,
Lost, I say, your promise and your bite.
Let us both play, if you dare,
Before the Muses, maidens fair,
To blow their fuses, lay them bare.
And they shall judge between us, good or dire:
Who’s all that or who just cruses,
Who’s got nout and who’s got flair.
(And man, those spacey chicks can sure inspire.)”

Thus the play-off was before
These groupies egging on the fight.
Order settled by the straw:
The kid played first.  (He’d lost the draw.)
This farmboy fresh from out the shire
Lets his magic flute ascend and soar
As swooping melodies explore
And drift in phrases reaching ever higher –
Never shrill, but weightless flight,
Aloft, a-dream, their souls alight,
He sates their ev’ry appetite.
Then comes a shift, the notes downpour
As raining from the sky they roar –
Led on, led on: this pilot-piping flyer,
Who brings them home with themes comprising
Of a thousand heights or more.
Surely now the gold he’s sizing –
How can old Apollo match this score ?

Picking up his trusty lyre,
Tuning up the strings a nock,
Stroking soft each tension-wire,
So he turned to his defier:
“Son,” he said, “for all you mock,
You’re not just crock, I’m no denier:
Prince of Pipes – the Fluting Jock.
Now, Mister, go home to your flock –
For I am King, and you will call me Sire.”
Suddenly by some strange sleight
His strings were ringing loud and bright,
The very air his amplifier.
He could make that catgut weep, and tenderly suspire.
Now the god was energising
Thrashing up the fahrenheit
Bass-enticing, tenor-prising
Vaporising kryptonite.
Squealing strings – discordant crier,
Then teased from the aftershock
A melody so pure and sprite:
The long-lost chord to which we all aspire.
“Son, for all your poppycock
You really tried, you weren’t just schlock
I’m almost sad to clean your clock –
But this gig’s mine, you neophyte,
For you might fly, but I can rock !

Waiting for the girls to sum it,
Who would get the nul point blight ?
Not our Marsy, for he’s won it !
Blow me down, the kid has done it !
He made all the dames ignite –
Faced the music, overcome it.
But this god won’t take the plummet:
“Just a moment, squire.”
Apollo turned his harp capsizing,
Upside-down he plays, reprising
All he played before entire.
“Can you do the same ?” came his enquire.
“Course I can’t !” the boy said, wising
To his sudden shaky plight.
“Flutes don’t work like that, as you know quite.”
“Okay, then, no need for spite,”
Apollo said, “I’ll turn mine right.”
And so again he played his harp – but still the artful tryer,
Now his voice was synchronizing,
Sweetly singing, improvising –
Such a voice !  And who can not admire ?
Swiftly was the kid cognising
How he’s losing out his prizing,
But his protests only mire –
For, Apollo makes surmising:
“Do you not use your breath to expedite
The notes within your flute ?  And might
Not I use breath to best excite
My strings, with my sweet harmonising ?”

Then came to Apollo’s aid
The Muses, (each a sweet-faced liar).
Soon the lad was cast in shade,
As Sunshine charmed each fickle maid.
They chose again their jollifier,
And upon the brow divine were laurels laid.
Apollo rent his godly ire:
Had that shepherd bound and flayed
He flogged the lad himself, to see him slayed.
Strip by strip his agonising
Sucked his wind and gasped his breathing tight –
The breath he blew with, this chastising,
Stole away forever, ev’ry smite.
“All this for a flute” he whispered as he paid,
“It is too much.  Your lashstrap is a critic’s blade.”
At this Apollo brought respite,
The execution briefly stayed,
To answer him on how he’d strayed:
“You thought my Sun was old, must surely tire,
Yet with age comes cunning and desire:
When we dim, we fight on smarter, ruthless, slyer.
It’s only talent makes the grade –
It ain’t what notes you blow, it’s how they’re played.”

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