Arethusa Saved

by Thom Gunn

Thom Gunn

When the god of the river
pursues her over Greece
weed-rot on his breath
rape on his mind,
at length Arethusa
loses her lead,
stops, prays for help
from a huntress like herself.
Artemis grants her
ground-fog to hide her
and she cowers wetly
in condensing cloud
and her own sweat cooling
from the cross-country run.
Bubbles itch
in her close-bobbed hair;
where her foot touches
forms a pool, small
but widening quickly;
liquid rolls down her,
excessively, really,
covering her body
till the body is obscured:
a living sheet of water
has clothed then replaced
hair, body, and foot.
The river-god roaming
round the cloud's circumference
sniffing at the edge
like a dog at a rat-hole
calls out boisterously
with country-boy bravado
‘Arethusa darling
come out and get screwed.’
At length the cloud clears
—he sees Arethusa
melted to his element,
a woman of water.
Roaring with joy
he reverts to river
making to plunge upon her
and deluge her with dalliance.
But Artemis opened
many earth-entrances
cracks underneath her
hair-thin but deep.
Down them the girl slips
soaking out of sight
before his glassy stare
—to be conducted through darkness
to another country
Sicily, where she springs
(fountain Arethuse)
as virgin stream presiding
over pastoral hymn
with intact hymen,
to be figured on medals
and flanked with fish,
hair caught in a net
whom the god never netted.

Last updated October 04, 2022