“The Transformation of Echo” – Ovid

Echo, 1943 - Paul Delvaux


        “Echo” (1943)

           Paul Delvaux




Fam’d far and near for knowing things to come,

             From him th’ enquiring nations sought their doom;


him, Tiresias, the prophet, if you’ll



their doom, their auguries, their

fates, their destinies

             The fair Liriope his answers try’d,


Liriopea water nymph, a naiad

             And first th’ unerring prophet justify’d.


justify’d, gave credence to, believed

             This nymph the God Cephisus had abus’d,


Cephisusa river god


             With all his winding waters circumfus’d,


circumfus’d, surrounded, enveloped

And on the Nereid got a lovely boy,


the Nereid, Liriopedaughter of Nereus,

god of the Sea, in Dryden’s, inaccurate

however, translation of Ovid, Liriope is,

rather, a fresh water nymph, a naiad,

not listed among the fifty, fifty, I say, 

daughters of Nereus, the Nereids,

sea nymphs

Whom the soft maids ev’n then beheld with joy.


soft maids, sister, the other 49,

presumably, Nereids


             The tender dame, sollicitous to know

             Whether her child should reach old age or no,

             Consults the sage Tiresias, who replies,

             “If e’er he knows himself he surely dies.”


The tender dame, Liriope


“If e’er he knows himself he surely dies.”,

typically cryptically for a prophecy, see,

for instance, your daily horoscope

             Long liv’d the dubious mother in suspence,

             ‘Till time unriddled all the prophet’s sense.


in the depth of time, all is revealed

             Narcissus now his sixteenth year began,


Narcissus, son, however illicit, of

Liriope and Cephisus

             Just turn’d of boy, and on the verge of man;

             Many a friend the blooming youth caress’d,

             Many a love-sick maid her flame confess’d:


I’ve noted that beautiful people are

pursued by men and women, be 

that beautiful person either a man 

or a woman, a situation they have 

to ever undergo, if not even endure

             Such was his pride, in vain the friend caress’d,

             The love-sick maid in vain her flame confess’d.


pride, independence, personal


             Once, in the woods, as he pursu’d the chace,

             The babbling Echo had descry’d his face;


Echo, a mountain nymph


babbling, like water rippling


descry’d, espied, caught sight of

             She, who in others’ words her silence breaks,


who can only speak when others have


             Nor speaks her self but when another speaks.


Echo‘s curse since time immemorial

             Echo was then a maid, of speech bereft,


bereft, deprived


             Of wonted speech;


wonted, usual, habitual, ordinary


                             for tho’ her voice was left,

             Juno a curse did on her tongue impose,

             To sport with ev’ry sentence in the close.


To sport with, have fun with


in the close, at the end


             Full often when the Goddess might have caught

             Jove and her rivals in the very fault,


the Goddess, Juno / Hera, wife of

Jove / Jupiter / Zeus, God of gods

             This nymph with subtle stories would delay

             Her coming, ’till the lovers slip’d away.


it is interesting to note that not only

Echo, but any, in such a culture of

many gods, would’ve had to choose

among them, despite their, however

divine, individual inconsistencies, 

to the sure detriment of any mortal

caught in the middle, personal guilt

wouldn’t’ve been as foundational a

driving element, therefore, in such

a culture as it would be under

monotheistic religions, where the

moral path is categorically ordained,

specifically determined, as in, for

instance, the Ten Commandments,

but Fate, rather, or the will of the

gods, however frivolous, plays a

much larger role there, we are

putty in this alternate theological

universe, in the hands of

essentially disinterested deities


             The Goddess found out the deceit in time,


The Goddess, Juno / Hera, wife of
Jove / Jupiter / Zeus, God of gods

             And then she cry’d, “That tongue, for this thy crime,

             Which could so many subtle tales produce,

             Shall be hereafter but of little use.”


one would think that Jove / Jupiter /

Zeus, the instigator, might’ve had

something to say about that, though

the challenger be his wife, but he


Hence ’tis she prattles in a fainter tone,

             With mimick sounds, and accents not her own.


a mere shadow of her former self


see above

             This love-sick virgin, over-joy’d to find

             The boy alone, still follow’d him behind:


the pining of a woman for a man

without moral judgment in a

theological text is radical in our

monotheistic tradition, where

lust, voluptuousness, in either

direction, have been the work

of the Devil, not the natural

inclination, brought on by very

springtime, instinctive, rather

than premeditated or predatory,

that more pantheistic belief

systems present

When glowing warmly at her near approach,

             As sulphur blazes at the taper’s touch,

             She long’d her hidden passion to reveal,


long’d, desired, hoped, wished for

             And tell her pains, but had not words to tell:

             She can’t begin, but waits for the rebound,

             To catch his voice, and to return the sound.


Echo cannot voice, begin, her own

words, sentences, needs an already

vocalized statement, a prompt, in

order to utter whatever, is therefore,

before Narcissus, her intended, her

desired, ever mute


             The nymph, when nothing could Narcissus move,

             Still dash’d with blushes for her slighted love,


dash’d, undone, thrown asunder


             Liv’d in the shady covert of the woods,

             In solitary caves and dark abodes;

             Where pining wander’d the rejected fair,


or Where the rejected fair, Echo,

wander’d pining


             Till harrass’d out, and worn away with care,

             The sounding skeleton, of blood bereft,


sounding skeleton, reverberating

remains, resonating essence


see, again, above


             Besides her bones and voice had nothing left.


Echo, the entity itself, herself,

barren, indeed bereft


             Her bones are petrify’d, her voice is found

             In vaults, where still it doubles ev’ry sound.


listen, you’ll hear it, despite the

intervening centuries



R ! chard