19 March 2014

What Song Did the Sirens Sing?

W. Compton Leith (pseudonym of Ormonde Maddock Dalton, 1866-1945), Sirenica (London: John Lane, 1913), pp. 68-69:
Whosoever gives ear [to the Sirens' song], is straightway rapt far from the good common things that he might have loved; when he returns to them, they are transformed for him and hateful; he may no longer have the same pleasure of them; they satisfy his soul no more. The harmonies of life are become a vague dissonance, tuneless and persistent, like an Arab song. In the well of satisfaction rises a water of gall; the very duty fulfilled leaves behind it a remorse for something haply overlooked or misaccomplished; until another hour of vision comes, there is nothing but the life preoccupied, the doing without zeal, the hearkening without attention. Pursuing the smooth paven ways, he seems to himself sedulous over trivial aims, and provident of supervacuous ends; the vanity of all these things is so transparent to him that the business of material existence becomes a by-work, an idle labour of perfunction; what is it but a screen or cloak to interpose between curious eyes and the secret errantry of the soul? Let the Imagined Better Thing but distantly appear, and the beauty of all beside is discoloured in the contrast, as the hue of a lowlier stone pales before the royal glow of sards. For the desire of this, the good things of use, the deeds rich in content, are tedious to him and profitless; and if the absent mind have no success among these, how much less the absent soul? While he gives them his forced interest, impassioned longing for things beyond breaks in upon his labour and makes it vain.
Herbert James Draper, Ulysses and the Sirens (1909)