The Fairest of them All

“A great calm listens to me, where I listen for hope.”
-Paul Valery, “Narcissus Speaks”

Ovid. Metamorphoses. Book III. 423-434 (Echo & Narcissus).

He desired himself without knowing it.
The one adoring was himself the one adored.
He pursues and he is the one pursued.
In equal parts he lights the flame and he burns.

How often his vain kisses for the trickster stream!
How often, grasping for the neck he saw there,
He plunged his arms amid the waters
And there failed to clasp himself!

What he sees, he does not understand.
Yet, what he sees he burns for.
What beguiles his eyes sustains his confusion.

Naif, why grasp in vain at a skirting image?
What you seek is nowhere.
What you love, just by turning away, you lose.
What you see is reflection’s shadow.
There’s nothing to it: it comes, it stays, with you.
With you it will leave, if you can leave.

Se cupit imprudens et qui probat, ipse probatur,
dumque petit, petitur, pariterque accendit et ardet.
Inrita fallaci quotiens dedit oscula fonti!
In mediis quotiens visum captantia collum
bracchia mersit aquis, nec se deprendit in illis!
Quid videat, nescit: sed quod videt, uritur illo,
atque oculos idem, qui decipit, incitat error.
Credule, quid frusta simulacra fugacia captas?
quod petis, est nusquam; quod amas, avertere, perdes.
Ista repercussae, quam cernis, imaginis umbra est:
nil habet ista sui; tecum venitque manetque,
tecum discedet, si tu discedere possis.

Figure with midlength brown-blond hair bent over, looking into his reflection
Caravaggio. Narcissus. 1597-1599. Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica. Rome, Italy.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

Leave a Reply