Pain: what is it, why did it spare me so?
It teased me just enough to make me smile
And intended only for me to know
That pure part that makes life yet more worthwhile.
Striding uphill alongside Sisyphus1
I play with my small pebble, and we talks2:
Says he’s hauling ships over the isthmus…
All talk is but a trading back of thought.
I don’t know what he thinks of me
Nor he what’s skipping across this mind;
His eyes flash great perplexity
When I smile at things which still seem kind.
Pain’s secrets, in this way, remain concealed
And in the trials at Corinth3 nothing is revealed.
the shrewd and greedy founder of Corinth who was doomed forever in Hades, the realm of the dead, to roll uphill a heavy stone which always rolled down again. ↩
(sic) colloquialism, “…and we talk”. ↩
an ancient Greek city described as “thriving” by Homer, situated on the Isthmus of Corinth, a strip of land just over 6 kilometers wide that connects the Peloponnesian peninsula to the Greek mainland. A canal cutting across the isthmus had been imagined already at the time of the Tyrants, but its excavation was not begun before the reign of the Roman emperor Nero and completed only as recently as 1873; thanks to it, ships coming and going from the Corinthian Gulf or Ionian Sea to the Saronic Gulf no longer need to circumnavigate the vast Peloponnese. In ancient times, however, boats were carried across the isthmus along a road known as the diolkos, built especially for the purpose. The particular nature of Sisyphus’s otherworldly punishment seems to echo the burden of those charged with carting vessels to and fro over the rise. ↩