The Riddle of Sisyphus

What know we of Sisyphus,
       his plight upon his hill?
He who pushed his stony fate
       and maybe pushes still
             upon that craggy height
             until it roll in flight

down the furthest side,
       and Sisyphus commence again —
a curse, a punishment for pride,
      hubris’ weighty crown,
            until time is blown and gone
             and dawn is night and night is dawn.

What know we of Sisyphus,
       who hold that he was pained
and sent in agony to wind
       clocklike up and down again,
             mindless as an asteroid,
             his purpose so devoid?

Tell me rather that Sisyphus
       took the measure of this life
and wagered all gainst his pagan gods
       that meaning be the bride
             of him who knows to find her
             within the death of wonder.

Tell me rather that Sisyphus
       rose upon that crest, and rises,
to find each time a novel view
       in the selfsame earth and skies
             that a million times he has seen,
             and as many more again has dreamed.

Lo! he stands anew upon the rise,
       and his exertions, so far from vain,
have been but the currency to buy
       this beauty from this pain.
             He sees, he crafts, on horizons old,
             glories yet to his spirit untold.

Lo! he stands again upon the mount.
       ’Neath him the same pastoral;
bosks and stones whose count
       he has tallied countless; the sorrel
             plain, turquoise cliffs, the granite cloud;
             the river mighty wild and broad.

And he, eyes of steel, his visage wondered
       against wonder’s own demise,
his breath by bald exertions plundered,
       his muscles tormented and his spirit wise,
             smiles subtle as he gazes on sights
             wrung and pillaged from banal heights.

Behold this glance of novel light!
       Behold this ray that never so caressed
that flower which just a single prior night
       had not yet come to her nuptial dress!
             Look how the sun, the moon, are emplaced
             anew upon the sky’s diamond face!

Or see you how the winds, as never, caress
       the grass, the moving beasts, the self-renewing waters?
And see you how this gaze itself will bless
       with novel beauty what is usured
             by greedy time, if only it has been purified
             by strain and battle, by suffering well tried?

Sisyphus, you say to me, wrestled stone;
       I say not, but rather his own soul.
Boulder a proxy to flesh and bone;
       granite but spirit in a form to roll.
             Sisyphus pushed only Sisyphus
             each time he gained again the apex;

and Sisyphus then in calm pursued
       his own soul that had, before his bliss,
raced to chill the fire, that the cycle be renewed.
       O say: what know we of Sisyphus —
             what know we, what know we! —
                   his plight, his conquest, his love, his test —
             and how a man can chain himself free.

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