This poem by Walter Turner is beautiful but mysterious. Tantalus was a mythological Greek figure, a very unpleasant character who after various misdeeds was punished by standing in a pool of water with food just out of reach, and every time he bent to drink the water flowed away… He was punished in this way for all eternity. So maybe Turner is thinking of the man for ever tempted but unable to satisfy his hunger and thirst… or maybe Turner was thinking of another Tantalus, a geographical Tantalus on the other side of the word – Mount Tantalus – Puu-ohia, is an extinct cinder cone in the southern Koʻolau Range on the Hawaiian Island of Oʻahu which also has a summit crater called, unsurprisingly, the Tantalus Crater.
The Towers Of Tantalus
Above untrodden streets of Time;
The sunlight and the moonlight shone
Together, on great spars of rime.
Terrestrial lilies were those Towers
In calm sky pools of that dark noon;
Calm lay on rocks of frozen light
The shadow of the Sun and Moon.
Still, bright-gold chrysanthemums
Shone in the polished, dim, jade halls,
And at small windows in still woods
Hung snow-curved, shining waterfalls.
Those pinnacles, sky-pointed, sang
A cloud-embroidered song of doom,
The flowers sang in the halls below
Wax sprays of light in ebon gloom.
The waters frozen in the woods
Were mirrored on the shadowed sloors;
Cold constellations from the sky
Hung low, dream-captured at the doors.
‘Twas music hewn upon the air
Flashed for a moment on these eyes
I heard the trumpets crumple, and
I stared once more at transient skies.