To the memory of my mother
And now she has over her head brown clouds of roots
a slim lily of salt on the temples beads of sand
while she sails on the bottom of a boat through foaming nebulas
a mile beyond us where the river turns
visible-invisible as the light on a wave
truly she isn't different-abandoned like all of us
I'm Flying Under The Light
I'm flying under the light to avoid detection.
There. That's the first line. A cornerstone.
Maybe water, granite or quicksand
but the cosmic glain
is cracked open like a skull
to extract the message from the fortune-cookie.
The second line comes easier
though it hasn't come yet.
I'm waiting like a crematorium at the end of my cigarette.
Yes. Hot coffins for cool people.
Like it. Where's the rest?
A mirror looks into my face
and sees the enlightened folly of creation
is not the work of a clown.
Forgive the little arrogant flag of flame
I've been trying to raise
out of a nation of ashes
like an arsonist with noble aspirations.
I've looked up at too many stars over the years
not to see beyond my next breath
like a cloud of unknowing,
a road of ghosts,
into the sweeping clarity
of the silence and the darkness
that have unmarrowed me like a bone
to grow new organs of light, new senses,
new eyes and hearts and minds
that are free of the ferocities of night
that consume them death by death
in unextinguishable fire.
It's a mode of compassion
I can't get off my chest,
my way of venting with tears in my eyes
when I consider what becomes of us
who stood here once in the high starfields
alone in an opening between the groves
and gave our eyes back to the sky like water
that tasted of too much suffering
to be sweetened like an apple by grief
or provide us with a vision of relief
that floats better
than all these lifeboats of belief
even in the donated tents of these bones,
flapping like skin in a desert wind,
only our homelessness is our own.
Like stars and dirt and leaves
we're swept off the stairs
across thresholds, out the door
and into the dustpans of our own eyes
whenever we think about putting down roots
and waking up beside our own boots
like bodies that walked all the way with us
to a known address and a bed
we didn't share with the dead.
Even when the moon is full and beautiful
I can hear the clacking castanets
of the crabs and the pebbles
rounded like skulls in the tides
of the untold myriads
that have come and gone like the sea.
To be so much and then nothing,
to be washed clean of everything you cherish
to watch the dyes run like blood and paint
or arsonists from autumn leaves
when your mind has lucked out
like a watercolour in the rain
and your brain unspools like mud.
Sometimes I think my awareness
is no more than the smear
of an incidental rainbow
on a distended bubble
whose inflation always
snaps back on itself in tears.
I prick myself on the thorn of a star
and let my eyes pop into vaster skies
and almost convince myself
that our bodies are crushed like grapes
to deepen the abyss of the wines
that bleed us into oblivion.
Or life is a dream without a dreamer,
fireflies in a well without an echo,
a magician so overcome by his own spell
there are doves flying out of his nostrils
and fish building nests in his brain like a tree
and yet he still can't conceive
of what he pulled out of his hat.
And fulfilment may well be the enlightened flower
of the ignorant roots of desire
like the truth in the mouth of a liar
but I'm not assuming I'm a vegetable
and who knows,
when you put it all together
from the earth and the light and the rain
into one brain
I might be nothing more
than just another kind of weather
trying to take shelter
in this makeshift eye of the storm.
But do you see what I mean?
There's no more continuity in being blind
than there is in looking into the face of God
and seeing the worlds within worlds
that seep like feelings into her thoughts
as if one world without a witness weren't enough.
Words stumble here like physics
before its singularity
and are left like bodies and shoes
on the myriad thresholds of hyperspace
where the worlds pour into each other
like a waterclock of salmon
returning to the source of it all
like the pulse of the sea to the call
of the voiceless bell that gives birth
to all the unimaginable generations of time
that have wounded the faceless mirrors of eternity
by breaking the silence and serenity
of the well that would not answer
by dropping in like eyes
that disappear in waves
washing out their own reflections.
Sometimes it seems as if
there are only two kinds of people in the world:
those that are going and those that have gone.
Where did they go?
Where are they coming from?
Are we the only strangers on the road
and our inhospitable purpose, this passing?
When she leaned on the windowsill
and cradled her head in her hands
to watch the summer clouds
her arms were cormorants of light
and she wore the window awry like a crown.
And the old Japanese man
with hair whiter than moonlight
who used to apologize to the weeds
he uprooted all morning long
in the whisper of a language
only he could understand
for making a distinction.
Where have they gone
where eyes can go and see and come back
across the threshold of their extinction,
mile zero of a road that leads
everywhere all at once
like any point in the infinite space
of the expanding universe?
Why must we leave
the mystic particulars of our lives
like shoes and bodies and names
at the opening door of our bootless generalities?
These fingertips were kissed by a mother
who strung them tenderly
like ten little birds
ten little arrows
to the lips of her bow.
Now that they've flown
can anyone follow
the light into the unknown
or lift their reflections from the waters,
their shadows from the gound
like breadcrumbs and fingertips
to say where they've gone
or even more impossibly
find out where we are now
so they can find their way back to us?
Or is all that we ever were and will be
like the root in the flower
that passes it by
on its way into the open
where its eyelids fall away?
When I fall away from myself
like a dropp of water
from the tongue of a leaf,
an unspoken word, a tear,
like rain on an autumn headstone
will the stone ripple
like the rings of a tree
to let you know
that the great sea of life
still jumps like a fish within me
to break through the immaculate
silence of the pond,
its undulant membrane of light,
like spring in the morning,
like a pulse of light beyond
the dark side of the mirror
that has never seen the moon,
that absorbs everything
like a cloak, or an oilslick,
an eclipse, a black hole
where things never appear,
to let you know I'm here. I'm here
where I have always been
where the joy of life transcends
its own thresholds of meaning
by parting its own waters
like the wake of a night passage
or the curtains of an open window
or a woman who opens her legs like a compass,
suffering her own felicity
to give birth to the shoreless sea,
dropp by drop,
you and me
each moment we live
where death hasn't laid down its threshold
and birth can't get through its own gate
because the concepts have left no living ancestry
in this empty world of now
where we live, where we
have always lived,
our elbows on the horizon
like two moons on a windowsill,
wondering, longing, dreaming,
a breath, a veil, a mist
as we evaporate
like visions off the lakes of our eyes
into the great abyss of our unknowing
like a nightstream that lives
to what's going on, inexhaustibly.
- quotes about luck
- quotes about Moon
- quotes about lifeboats
- quotes about donations
- quotes about genealogy
- quotes about wine
- quotes about white
- quotes about physics
- quotes about language
The Domestic Affections
WHENCE are those tranquil joys, in mercy giv'n,
To light the wilderness with beams of Heav'n?
To sooth our cares, and thro' the cloud diffuse,
Their tempered sun-shine, and celestial hues?
Those pure delights, ordain'd on life to throw
Gleams of the bliss ethereal natures know?
Say, do they grace Ambition's regal throne,
When kneeling myriads call the world his own?
Or dwell with luxury, in th' enchanted bow'rs,
Where taste and wealth exert creative pow'rs?
Favor'd of Heav'n! O Genius! are they thine,
When round thy brow the wreaths of glory shine;
While rapture gazes on thy radiant way,
'Midst the bright realms of clear and mental day?
No! sacred joys! 'tis yours to dwell enshrin'd,
Most fondly cherish'd, in the purest mind;
To twine with flowers, those lov'd, endearing ties,
On earth so sweet,—so perfect in the skies!
Nurs'd on the lap of solitude and shade,
The violet smiles, embosom'd in the glade;
There sheds her spirit on the lonely gale,
Gem of seclusion! treasure of the vale!
Thus, far retir'd from life's tumultuous road,
Domestic bliss has fix'd her calm abode,
Where hallow'd innocence and sweet repose
May strew her shadowy path with many a rose:
As, when dread thunder shakes the troubled sky,
The cherub, infancy, can close its eye,
And sweetly smile, unconscious of a tear,
While viewless angels wave their pinions near;
Thus, while around the storms of discord roll,
Borne on resistless wing, from pole to pole;
While war's red lightnings desolate the ball,
And thrones and empires in destruction fall;
Then, calm as evening on the silvery wave,
When the wind slumbers in the ocean-cave,
She dwells, unruffled, in her bow'r of rest,
Her empire, home!—her throne, affection's breast!
For her, sweet nature wears her loveliest blooms,
And softer sun-shine ev'ry scene illumes.
When spring awakes the spirit of the breeze,
Whose light wing undulates the sleeping seas;
When summer, waving her creative wand,
Bids verdure smile, and glowing life expand;
Or autumn's pencil sheds, with magic trace,
O'er fading loveliness, a moon-light grace;
Oh! still for her, thro' Nature's boundless reign,
No charm is lost, no beauty blooms in vain;
While mental peace, o'er ev'ry prospect bright,
Throws mellowing tints, and harmonizing light!
Lo! borne on clouds, in rushing might sublime,
Stern winter, bursting from the polar clime,
Triumphant waves his signal-torch on high,
The blood-red meteor of the northern sky!
And high thro' darkness rears his giant-form,
His throne, the billow!—and his flag, the storm!
Yet then, when bloom and sun-shine are no more,
And the wild surges foam along the shore;
Domestic bliss! thy heaven is still serene,
Thy star, unclouded, and thy myrtle, green!
Thy fane of rest no raging storms invade,
Sweet peace is thine, the seraph of the shade!
Clear thro' the day, her light around thee glows,
And gilds the midnight of thy deep repose!
Hail, sacred home! where soft Affection's hand,
With flow'rs of Eden twines her magic band!
Where pure and bright, the social ardors rise,
Concentring all their holiest energies!
When wasting toil has dimm'd the vital flame,
And ev'ry power deserts the sinking frame;
Exhausted nature still from sleep implores
The charm that lulls, the manna that restores!
Thus, when oppress'd with rude tumultuous cares,
To thee, sweet home! the fainting mind repairs;
Still to thy breast, a wearied pilgrim, flies,
Her ark of refuge from uncertain skies!
Bower of repose! when torn from all we love,
Thro' toil we struggle, or thro' distance rove;
To thee we turn, still faithful, from afar,
Thee, our bright vista! thee, our magnet-star!
And from the martial field, the troubled sea,
Unfetter'd thought still roves to bliss and thee!
When ocean-sounds in awful slumber die,
No wave to murmur, and no gale to sigh;
Wide o'er the world, when peace and midnight reign,
And the moon trembles on the sleeping main;
At that still hour, the sailor wakes to keep,
'Midst the dead calm, the vigil of the deep!
No gleaming shores his dim horizon hound,
All heaven—and sea—and solitude—around!
Then, from the lonely deck, the silent helm,
From the wide grandeur of the shadowy realm;
Still homeward borne, his fancy unconfin'd,
Leaving the worlds of ocean far behind,
Wings like a meteor-flash her swift career,
To the lov'd scene, so distant, and so dear!
Lo! the rude whirlwind rushes from its cave,
And danger frowns—the monarch of the wave!
Lo! rocks and storms the striving bark repel,
And death and shipwreck ride the foaming swell!
Child of the ocean! is thy bier the surge,
Thy grave the billow, and the wind thy dirge?
Yes! thy long toils, thy weary conflicts o'er,
No storm shall wake, no perils rouse thee more!
Yet, in that solemn hour, that awful strife,
The struggling agony for death or life;
E'en then, thy mind, embitt'ring ev'ry pain,
Retrac'd the image so belov'd—in vain!
Still to sweet home, thy last regrets were true,
Life's parting sigh—the murmur of adieu!
Can war's dread scenes the hallow'd ties efface,
Each tender thought, each fond remembrance chase?
Can fields of carnage, days of toil, destroy
The lov'd impressions of domestic joy?
Ye day-light dreams! that cheer the soldier's breast,
In hostile climes, with spells benign and blest;
Sooth his brave heart, and shed your glowing ray,
O'er the long march, thro' desolation's way;
Oh! still ye bear him from th' ensanguin'd plain,
Armour's bright flash, and victory's choral strain;
To that lov'd home, where pure affection glows,
That shrine of bliss! asylum of repose!
When all is hush'd—the rage of combat past,
And no dread war-note swells the moaning blast;
When the warm throb of many a heart is o'er,
And many an eye is clos'd—to wake no more;
Lull'd by the night-wind, pillow'd on the ground,
(The dewy death-bed of his comrades round!)
While o'er the slain the tears of midnight weep,
Faint with fatigue, he sinks in slumbers deep!
E'en then, soft visions, hov'ring round, portray,
The cherish'd forms that o'er his bosom sway!
He sees fond transport light each beaming face,
Meets the warm tear-drop, and the long embrace!
While the sweet welcome vibrates thro' his heart,
'Hail, weary soldier! —never more to part!'
And, lo! at last, releas'd from ev'ry toil,
He comes! the wanderer views his native soil!
Then the bright raptures, words can never speak,
Flash in his eye, and mantle o'er his cheek!
Then love and friendship, whose unceasing pray'r,
Implor'd for him, each guardian-spirit's care;
Who, for his fate, thro' sorrow's lingering year,
Had prov'd each thrilling pulse of hope and fear;
In that blest moment, all the past forget,
Hours of suspense! and vigils of regret!
And, oh! for him, the child of rude alarms,
Rear'd by stern danger, in the school of arms;
How sweet to change the war-song's pealing note,
For woodland-sounds, in summer-air that float!
Thro' vales of peace, o'er mountain-wilds to roam,
And breathe his native gales, that whisper—'Home!'
Hail! sweet endearments of domestic ties,
Charms of existence! angel-sympathies!
Tho' pleasure smile, a soft, Circassian queen!
And guide her votaries thro' a fairy scene;
Where sylphid forms beguile their vernal hours,
With mirth and music, in Arcadian bow'rs;
Tho' gazing nations hail the fiery car,
That bears the son of conquest from afar;
While Fame's loud Pæan bids his heart rejoice,
And ev'ry life-pulse vibrates to her voice;
Yet from your source alone, in mazes bright,
Flows the full current of serene delight!
On Freedom's wing, that ev'ry wild explores,
Thro' realms of space, th' aspiring eagle soars!
Darts o'er the clouds, exulting to admire,
Meridian glory—on her throne of fire!
Bird of the sun! his keen, unwearied gaze,
Hails the full noon, and triumphs in the blaze!
But soon, descending from his height sublime,
Day's burning fount, and light's empyreal clime;
Once more he speeds to joys more calmly blest,
'Midst the dear inmates of his lonely nest!
Thus Genius, mounting on his bright career,
Thro' the wide regions of the mental sphere;
And proudly waving, in his gifted hand,
O'er Fancy's worlds, Invention's plastic wand;
Fearless and firm, with lightning-eye surveys
The clearest heav'n of intellectual rays!
Yet, on his course tho' loftiest hopes attend,
And kindling raptures aid him to ascend;
(While in his mind, with high-born grandeur fraught,
Dilate the noblest energies of thought
Still, from the bliss, ethereal and refin'd,
Which crowns the soarings of triumphant mind,
At length he flies, to that serene retreat,
Where calm and pure, the mild affections meet;
Embosom'd there, to feel and to impart,
The softer pleasures of the social heart!
Ah! weep for those, deserted and forlorn,
From ev'ry tie, by fate relentless torn!
See, on the barren coast, the lonely isle,
Mark'd with no step, uncheer'd by human smile;
Heart-sick and faint, the shipwreck'd wanderer stand,
Raise the dim eye, and lift the suppliant hand!
Explore with fruitless gaze the billowy main,
And weep—and pray—and linger!—but in vain!
Thence, roving wild thro' many a depth of shade!
Where voice ne'er echo'd, footstep never stray'd;
He fondly seeks, o'er cliffs and deserts rude,
Haunts of mankind, 'midst realms of solitude!
And pauses oft, and sadly hears alone,
The wood's deep sigh, the surge's distant moan!
All else is hush'd! so silent, so profound,
As if some viewless power, presiding round,
With mystic spell, unbroken by a breath,
Had spread for ages the repose of death!
Ah! still the wanderer, by the boundless deep,
Lives but to watch,—and watches but to weep!
He sees no sail in faint perspective rise,
His the dread loneliness of sea and skies!
Far from his cherish'd friends, his native shore,
Banish'd from being—to return no more;
There must he die!—within that circling wave,
That lonely isle—his prison and his grave!
Lo! thro' the waste, the wilderness of snows,
With fainting step, Siberia's exile goes!
Homeless and sad, o'er many a polar wild,
Where beam, or flower, or verdure, never smil'd;
Where frost and silence hold their despot-reign,
And bind existence in eternal chain!
Child of the desert! pilgrim of the gloom!
Dark is the path which leads thee to the tomb!
While on thy faded cheek, the arctic air
Congeals the bitter tear-drop of despair!
Yet not, that fate condemns thy closing day,
In that stern clime, to shed its parting ray;
Not that fair Nature's loveliness find light,
No more shall beam enchantment on thy sight;
Ah! not for this, far, far beyond relief,
Deep in thy bosom dwells the hopeless grief;
But that no friend of kindred heart is there,
Thy woes to meliorate, thy toils to share;
That no mild soother fondly shall assuage
The stormy trials of thy lingering age;
No smile of tenderness, with angel-power,
Lull the dread pangs of dissolution's hour;
For this alone, despair, a withering guest,
Sits on thy brow, and cankers in thy breast!
Yes! there, e'en there, in that tremendous clime,
Where desert-grandeur frowns, in pomp sublime;
Where winter triumphs, thro' the polar night,
In all his wild magnificence of might;
E'en there, Affection's hallow'd spell might pour,
The light of heav'n around th' inclement shore!
And, like the vales with bloom and sun-shine grac'd,
That smile, by circling Pyrennees embrac'd,
Teach the pure heart, with vital fires to glow,
E'en 'midst the world of solitude and snow!
The Halcyon's charm, thus dreaming fictions feign,
With mystic power, could tranquillize the main;
Bid the loud wind, the mountain-billow sleep,
And peace and silence brood upon the deep!
And thus, Affection, can thy voice compose
The stormy tide of passions and of woes;
Bid every throb of wild emotion cease,
And lull misfortune in the arms of peace!
Oh! mark yon drooping form, of aged mien,
Wan, yet resign'd, and hopeless, yet serene!
Long ere victorious time had sought to chase
The bloom, the smile, that once illum'd his face;
That faded eye was dimm'd with many a care,
Those waving locks were silver'd by despair!
Yet filial love can pour the sovereign balm,
Assuage his pangs, his wounded spirit calm!
He, a sad emigrant! condemn'd to roam
In life's pale autumn from his ruin'd home;
Has borne the shock of peril's darkest wave,
Where joy—and hope—and fortune—found a grave!
'Twas his, to see destruction's fiercest band,
Rush, like a TYPHON, on his native land,
And roll, triumphant, on their blasted way,
In fire and blood—the deluge of dismay!
Unequal combat rag'd on many a plain,
And patriot-valour wav'd the sword—in vain!
Ah! gallant exile! nobly, long, he bled,
Long brav'd the tempest gath'ring o'er his head!
Till all was lost! and horror's darkening eye,
Rous'd the stern spirit of despair—to die!
Ah! gallant exile! in the storm that roll'd
Far o'er his country, rushing uncontroll'd;
The flowers that grac'd his path with loveliest bloom,
Torn by the blast—were scatter'd on the tomb!
When carnage burst, exulting in the strife,
The bosom ties that bound his soul to life;
Yet one was spar'd! and she, whose filial smile,
Can sooth his wanderings, and his tears beguile,
E'en then, could temper, with divine relief,
The wild delirium of unbounded grief;
And whisp'ring peace, conceal, with duteous art,
Her own deep sorrows in her inmost heart!
And now, tho' time, subduing ev'ry trace,
Has mellow'd all, he never can erase;
Oft will the wanderer's tears in silence flow,
Still sadly faithful to remember'd woe!
Then she, who feels a father's pang alone,
(Still fondly struggling to suppress her own
With anxious tenderness is ever nigh,
To chase the image that awakes the sigh!
Her angel-voice his hinting soul can raise
To brighter visions of celestial days!
And speak of realms, where virtue's wing shall soar
On eagle-plume—to wonder and adore!
And friends, divided here, shall meet at last,
Unite their kindred souls—and smile on all the past!
Yes! we may hope, that Nature's deathless ties,
Renew'd, refin'd—shall triumph in the skies!
Heart-soothing thought! whose lov'd, consoling pow'r,
With seraph-dreams can gild reflection's hour;
Oh! still be near! and bright'ning thro' the gloom,
Beam and ascend! the day-star of the tomb!
And smile for those, in sternest ordeals prov'd,
Those lonely hearts, bereft of all they lov'd!
Lo! by the couch, where pain and chill disease,
In ev'ry vein the ebbing life-blood freeze;
Where youth is taught, by stealing, slow decay,
Life's closing lesson—in its dawning day;
Where beauty's rose is with'ring ere its prime,
Unchang'd by sorrow—and unsoil'd by time;
There, bending still, with fix'd and sleepless eye,
There, from her child, the mother learns—to die!
Explores, with fearful gaze, each mournful trace
Of ling'ring sickness in the faded face;
Thro' the sad night, when ev'ry hope is fled,
Keeps her lone vigil by the suff'rer's bed;
And starts each morn, as deeper marks declare
The spoiler's hand—the blight of death—is there!
He comes! now feebly in th' exhausted frame,
Slow, languid, quiv'ring, burns the vital flame!
From the glaz'd eye-ball sheds its parting ray,
Dim, transient spark! that flutt'ring, fades away!
Faint beats the hov'ring pulse, the trembling heart,
Yet fond existence lingers—ere she part!
'Tis past! the struggle and the pang are o'er,
And life shall throb with agony no more!
While o'er the wasted form, the features pale,
Death's awful shadows throw their silvery veil!
Departed spirit! on this earthly sphere,
Tho' poignant suff'ring mark'd thy short career;
Still could maternal love beguile thy woes,
And hush thy sighs—an angel of repose!
But who may charm her sleepless pang to rest,
Or draw the thorn that rankles in her breast?
And while she bends in silence o'er thy bier,
Assuage the grief, too heart-sick for a tear?
Visions of hope! in loveliest hues array'd,
Fair scenes of bliss! by Fancy's hand portray'd;
And were ye doom'd, with false, illusive smile,
With flatt'ring promise, to enchant awhile?
And are ye vanish'd, never to return,
Set in the darkness of the mouldering urn?
Will no bright hour departed joys restore?
Shall the sad parent meet her child no more;
Behold no more the soul-illumin'd face,
Th' expressive smile, the animated grace?
Must the fair blossom, wither'd in the tomb,
Revive no more in loveliness and bloom?—
Descend, blest Faith! dispel the hopeless care,
And chase the gathering phantoms of despair!
Tell, that the flow'r, transplanted in its morn,
Enjoys bright Eden, freed from every thorn;
Expands to milder suns, and softer dews;
The full perfection of immortal hues!
Tell, that when mounting to her native skies,
By death releas'd, the parent-spirit flies;
There shall the child, in anguish mourn'd so long,
With rapture hail her, 'midst the cherub-throng;
And guide her pinion, on exulting flight,
Thro' glory's boundless realms, and worlds of living light!
Ye gentle spirits of departed friends!
If e'er on earth your buoyant wing descends;
If, with benignant care; ye linger near,
To guard the objects in existence dear;
If hov'ring o'er, ethereal band! ye view
The tender sorrows, to your memory true;
Oh! in the musing hour, at midnight deep,
While for your loss Affection wakes to weep;
While ev'ry sound in hallow'd stillness lies,
But the low murmur of her plaintive sighs;
Oh! then, amidst that holy calm, be near!
Breathe your light whisper softly in her ear!
With secret spells, her wounded mind compose,
And chase the faithful tear—for you that flows!
Be near! when moon-light spreads the charm you lov'd,
O'er scenes where once your earthly footstep rov'd!
Then, while she wanders o'er the sparkling dew,
Thro' glens, and wood-paths, once endear'd by you;
And fondly lingers, in your fav'rite bow'rs,
And pauses oft, recalling former hours;
Then wave your pinion o'er each well-known vale,
Float in the moon-beam, sigh upon the gale!
Bid your wild symphonies remotely swell,
Borne by the summer-wind, from grot and dell;
And touch your viewless harps, and sooth her soul,
With soft enchantments and divine control!
Be near! sweet guardians! watch her sacred rest,
When slumber folds her in his magic vest!
Around her, smiling, let your forms arise
Return'd in dreams, to bless her mental eyes!
Efface the mem'ry of your last farewell,
Of glowing joys, of radiant prospects, tell!
The sweet communion of the past, renew,
Reviving former scenes, array'd in softer hue!
Be near, when death, in virtue's brightest hour,
Calls up each pang, and summons all his pow'r!
Oh! then, transcending Fancy's loveliest dream,
Then let your forms, unveil'd, around her beam!
Then waft the vision of unclouded light,
A burst of glory, on her closing sight!
Wake from the harp of heav'n th' immortal strain,
To hush the final agonies of pain!
With rapture's flame, the parting soul illume,
And smile triumphant thro' the shadowy gloom!
Oh! still be near! when, darting into day,
Th' exulting spirit leaves her bonds of clay;
Be yours to guide her flutt'ring wing on high,
O'er many a world, ascending to the sky!
There let your presence, once her earthly joy,
Tho' dimm'd with tears, and clouded with alloy;
Now form her bliss on that celestial shore,
Where death shall sever kindred hearts no more!
Yes! in the noon of that Elysian clime,
Beyond the sphere of anguish, death, or time;
Where mind's bright eye, with renovated fire,
Shall beam on glories—never to expire;
Oh! there, th' illumin'd soul may fondly trust,
More pure, more perfect, rising from the dust;
Those mild affections, whose consoling light
Sheds the soft moon-beam on terrestrial night;
Sublim'd, ennobled, shall for ever glow,
Exalting rapture—not assuaging woe!
- quotes about victory
- quotes about tomb
- quotes about sadness
- quotes about energy
- quotes about migrants
- quotes about emigration
- quotes about intellect
- quotes about desert
- quotes about worry
The Tower Beyond Tragedy
You'd never have thought the Queen was Helen's sister- Troy's
burning-flower from Sparta, the beautiful sea-flower
Cut in clear stone, crowned with the fragrant golden mane, she
the ageless, the uncontaminable-
This Clytemnestra was her sister, low-statured, fierce-lipped, not
dark nor blonde, greenish-gray-eyed,
Sinewed with strength, you saw, under the purple folds of the
queen-cloak, but craftier than queenly,
Standing between the gilded wooden porch-pillars, great steps of
stone above the steep street,
Awaiting the King.
Most of his men were quartered on the town;
he, clanking bronze, with fifty
And certain captives, came to the stair. The Queen's men were
a hundred in the street and a hundred
Lining the ramp, eighty on the great flags of the porch; she
raising her white arms the spear-butts
Thundered on the stone, and the shields clashed; eight shining
Let fly from the wide window over the entrance the wildbirds of
their metal throats, air-cleaving
Over the King come home. He raised his thick burnt-colored
beard and smiled; then Clytemnestra,
Gathering the robe, setting the golden-sandaled feet carefully,
stone by stone, descended
One half the stair. But one of the captives marred the comeliness
of that embrace with a cry
Gull-shrill, blade-sharp, cutting between the purple cloak and
the bronze plates, then Clytemnestra:
Who was it? The King answered: A piece of our goods out of
the snatch of Asia, a daughter of the king,
So treat her kindly and she may come into her wits again. Eh,
you keep state here my queen.
You've not been the poorer for me.- In heart, in the widowed
chamber, dear, she pale replied, though the slaves
Toiled, the spearmen were faithful. What's her name, the slavegirl's?
AGAMEMNON Come up the stair. They tell me my kinsman's
Lodged himself on you.
CLYTEMNESTRA Your cousin Aegisthus? He was out of refuge,
flits between here and Tiryns.
Dear: the girl's name?
AGAMEMNON Cassandra. We've a hundred or so other
captives; besides two hundred
Rotted in the hulls, they tell odd stories about you and your
guest: eh? no matter: the ships
Ooze pitch and the August road smokes dirt, I smell like an
old shepherd's goatskin, you'll have bath-water?
They're making it hot. Come, my lord. My hands will pour it.
(They enter the palace.)
In the holy city,
In Troy, when the stone was standing walls and the ash
Was painted and carved wood and pictured curtains,
And those lived that are dead, they had caged a den
Of wolves out of the mountain, and I a maiden
Was led to see them: it stank and snarled,
The smell was the smell here, the eyes were the eyes
Of steep Mycenae: O God guardian of wanderers
Let me die easily.
So cried Cassandra the daughter of King Priam, treading the steps
of the palace at Mycenae.
Swaying like a drunken woman, drunk with the rolling of the
ship, and with tears, and with prophecy.
The stair may yet be seen, among the old stones that are Mycenae;
tall dark Cassandra, the prophetess,
The beautiful girl with whom a God bargained for love, high-nurtured,
captive, shamefully stained
With the ship's filth and the sea's, rolled her dark head upon her
shoulders like a drunken woman
And trod the great stones of the stair. The captives, she among
them, were ranked into a file
On the flagged porch, between the parapet and the spearmen.
The people below shouted for the King,
King Agamemnon, returned conqueror, after the ten years of
battle and death in Asia.
Then cried Cassandra:
Good spearmen you did not kill my father, not you
Violated my mother with the piercing
That makes no life in the womb, not you defiled
My tall blond brothers with the masculine lust
That strikes its loved one standing,
And leaves him what no man again nor a girl
Ever will gaze upon with the eyes of desire:
Therefore you'll tell me
Whether it's an old custom in the Greek country
The cow goring the bull, break the inner door back
And see in what red water how cloaked your King
Bathes, and my brothers are avenged a little.
One said: Captive be quiet. And she: What have I to be quiet for,
you will not believe me.
Such wings my heart spreads when the red runs out of any
Greek, I must let the bird fly. O soldiers
He that mishandled me dies! The first, one of your two brute
Aj axes, that threw me backward
On the temple flagstones, a hard bride-bed, I enduring him
heard the roofs of my city breaking,
The roar of flames and spearmen: what came to Ajax? Out of a
cloud the loud-winged falcon lightning
Came on him shipwrecked, clapped its wings about him, clung
to him, the violent flesh burned and the bones
Broke from each other in that passion; and now this one, returned
safe, the Queen is his lightning.
While she yet spoke a slave with haggard eyes darted from the
door; there were hushed cries and motions
In the inner dark of the great hall. Then the Queen Clytemnestra
issued, smiling. She drew
Her cloak up, for the brooch on the left shoulder was broken; the
fillet of her hair had come unbound;
Yet now she was queenly at length; and standing at the stair-head
spoke: Men of Mycenae, I have made
Sacrifice for the joy this day has brought to us, the King come
home, the enemy fallen, fallen,
In the ashes of Asia. I have made sacrifice. I made the prayer
with my own lips, and struck the bullock
With my own hand. The people murmured together, She's not
a priestess, the Queen is not a priestess,
What has she done there, what wild sayings
Make wing in the Queen's throat?
CLYTEMNESTRA I have something to tell you.
Too much joy is a message-bearer of misery.
A little is good; but come too much and it devours us. Therefore
we give of a great harvest
Sheaves to the smiling Gods; and therefore out of a full cup we
pour the quarter. No man
Dare take all that God sends him, whom God favors, or destruction
Rides into the house in the last basket. I have been twelve years
your shepherdess, I the Queen have ruled you
And I am accountable for you.
Why should a man kill his own mother?
The cub of the lion being grown
Will fight with the lion, but neither lion nor wolf
Nor the unclean jackal
Bares tooth against the womb that he dropped out of:
Yet I have seen
Strike that captive woman with your hand, spearman; and then
if the spirit
Of the she-wolf in her will not quiet, with the butt of the spear.
CASSANDRA -the blade in the child's hand
Enter the breast that the child sucked-that woman's-
The left breast that the robe has dropped from, for the brooch is
That very hillock of whiteness, and she crying, she kneeling
(The spearman 'who is nearest CASSANDRA covers her mouth
twith his hand.)
My sister's beauty entered Troy with too much gladness. They
forgot to make sacrifice.
Therefore destruction entered; therefore the daughters of Troy
cry out in strange dispersals, and this one
Grief has turned mad. I will not have that horror march under
the Lion-gate of Mycenae
That split the citadel of Priam. Therefore I say I have made
sacrifice; I have subtracted
A fraction from immoderate joy. For consider, my people,
How unaccountably God has favored the city and brought home
the army. King Agamemnon,
My dear, my husband, my lord and yours,
Is yet not such a man as the Gods love; but insolent, fierce, overbearing,
Brought many times many great evils
On all the heads and fighting hopes of the Greek force. Why,
even before the fleet made sail,
While yet it gathered on Boeotian Aulis, this man offended. He
slew one of the deer
Of the sacred herd of Artemis, out of pure impudence, hunter's
pride that froths in a young boy
Laying nock to string of his first bow: this man, grown, a grave
king, leader of the Greeks.
The angry Goddess
Blew therefore from the horn of the Trojan shore storm without
end, no slackening, no turn, no slumber
Of the eagle bound to break the oars of the fleet and split the
hulls venturing: you know what answer
Calchas the priest gave: his flesh must pay whose hand did the
evil-his flesh! mine also. His? My daughter.
They knew that of my three there was one that I loved.
Blameless white maid, my Iphigenia, whose throat the knife,
Whose delicate soft throat the thing that cuts sheep open was
drawn across by a priest's hand
And the soft-colored lips drained bloodless
That had clung here-here- Oh!
(Drawing the robe from her breasts.)
These feel soft, townsmen; these are red at the tips, they have
neither blackened nor turned marble.
King Agamemnon hoped to pillow his black-haired breast upon
them, my husband, that mighty conqueror,
Come home with glory. He thought they were still a woman's,
they appear a woman's. I'll tell you something.
Since fawn slaughtered for slaughtered fawn evened the debt
these that feel soft and warm are wounding ice,
They ache with their hardness . . .
Shall I go on and count the other follies of the King? The
insolences to God and man
That brought down plague, and brought Achilles' anger against
the army? Yet God brought home a remnant
Against all hope: therefore rejoice.
But lest too much rejoicing slay us I have made sacrifice. A little
girl's brought you over the sea.
What could be great enough for safe return? A sheep's death?
A bull's? What thank-offering?
All these captives, battered from the ships, bruised with captivity,
damaged flesh and forlorn minds?
God requires wholeness in the victim. You dare not think what
he demands. I dared. I, I,
Men of the Argolis, you that went over the sea and you that
guarded the home coasts
And high stone war-belts of the cities: remember how many
spearmen these twelve years have called me
Queen, and have loved me, and been faithful, and remain faithful.
What I bring you is accomplished.
King Agamemnon. The King. We will hear the King.
CLYTEMNESTRA What I bring you is accomplished.
Accept it, the cities are at peace, the ways are safe between
them, the Gods favor us. Refuse it ...
You will not refuse it ...
VOICES The King. We will hear the King. Let
us see the King.
You will not refuse it; I have my faithful They would run, the
From the gate and by the graves through every crooked street
of the great city, they would run in the pasture
Outside the walls: and on this stair: stemmed at this entrance-
Ah, sister, do you also behold visions? I was watching red
Be wise, townsmen. As for the King: slaves will bring him to you
when he has bathed; you will see him.
The slaves will carry him on a litter, he has learned Asian ways in
Asia, too great a ruler
To walk, like common spearmen.
CASSANDRA Who is that, standing behind
you, Clytemnestra? What God
Dark in the doorway?
CLYTEMNESTRA Deal you with your own demons. You
know what I have done, captive. You know
I am holding lions with my two eyes: if I turn and loose
them . . .
CASSANDRA It is . . . the King. There! There! Ah!
Or of I should make any move to increase confusion. If I should
say for example, Spearman
Kill that woman. I cannot say it this moment; so little as from
one spear wound in your body
A trickle would loose them on us.
CASSANDRA Yet he stands behind you.
A-ah! I can bear it. I have seen much lately
A CAPTAIN (down the stair; standing forward from his men)
O Queen, there is no man in the world, but one (if that one
lives), may ask you to speak
Otherwise than you will. You have spoken in riddles to the
people . . .
CASSANDRA Not me! Why will you choose
Me! I submitted to you living, I was forced, you entered me . . .
THE CAPTAIN Also there was a slave here,
Whose eyes stood out from his chalk face, came buzzing from
the palace postern gate, whimpering
A horrible thing. I killed him. But the men have heard it.
CASSANDRA You were the king, I was your slave.
Here you see, here, I took the black-haired breast of the bull,
I endured it, I opened my thighs, I suffered
The other thing besides death that you Greeks have to give
THE CAPTAIN Though this one raves and you are silent,
Queen, terrible-eyed . . .
CASSANDRA That was the slave's part: but this
time . . . dead King . . .
I ... will . . . not submit. Ah! Ah! No!
If you will steal the body of someone living take your wife's,
take that soldier's there
I pray you Queen command the captive woman be quieted in a
stone chamber; she increases confusion,
The soldiers cannot know some terrible thing may not have
happened; you men and the King's grin
Like wolves over the kill, the whole city totters on a swordedge
Drive him off me! Pity, pity!
I have no power; I thought when he was dead another man would
use me, your Greek custom,
Not he, he, newly slain.
He is driving me out, he enters, he possesses, this is my last defilement.
Ah . . . Greeks . . .
With the voice the spirit seemed to fly out.
She upflung her shining
Arms with the dreadful and sweet gesture of a woman surrendering
utterly to force and love,
She in the eyes of the people, like a shameless woman, and fell
writhing, and the dead King's soul
Entered her body. In that respite the Queen:
Captain: and you,
soldiers, that shift unsoldierly
The weapons that should be upright, at attention, like stiff
grass-blades: and you, people of Mycenae:
While this one maddened, and you muttered, echoing together,
and you, soldier, with anxious questions
Increased confusion: who was it that stood firm, who was it that
stood silent, who was it that held
With her two eyes the whole city from splitting wide asunder?
Your Queen was it? I am your Queen,
And now I will answer what you asked. ... It is true. . . . He
has died. ... I am the Queen.
My little son Orestes will grow up and govern you.
spoke the body of Cassandra
Arose among the shaken spears, taller than the spears, and stood
among the waving spears
Stone-quiet, like a high war-tower in a windy pinewood, but
deadly to look at, with blind and tyrannous
Eyes; and the Queen: All is accomplished; and if you are wise,
people of Mycenae: quietness is wisdom.
No tumult will call home a dead man out of judgment. The end
is the end. Ah, soldiers! Down spears!
What, now Troy's fallen you think there's not a foreigner in
the world bronze may quench thirst on? Lion-cubs,
If you will tear each other in the lair happy the wolves, happy
the hook-nose vultures.
Call the eaters of carrion? I am your Queen, I am speaking to
you, you will hear me out before you whistle
The foul beaks from the mountain nest. I tell you I will forget
mercy if one man moves now.
I rule you, I.
The Gods have satisfied themselves in this man's death; there
shall not one drop of the blood of the city
Be shed further. I say the high Gods are content; as for the
And the great ghost of the King: my slaves will bring out the
King's body decently before you
And set it here, in the eyes of the city: spices the ships bring from
the south will comfort his spirit;
Mycenae and Tiryns and the shores will mourn him aloud; sheep
will be slain for him; a hundred beeves
Spill their thick blood into the trenches; captives and slaves go
down to serve him, yes all these captives
Burn in the ten-day fire with him, unmeasured wine quench it,
urned in pure gold the gathered ashes
Rest forever in the sacred rock; honored; a conqueror. . . .
Slaves, bring the King out of the house.
Alas my husband! she cried, clutching the brown strands of her
hair in both her hands, you have left me
A woman among lions! Ah, the King's power, ah the King's
victories! Weep for me, Mycenae!
Widowed of the King!
The people stood amazed, like sheep that
snuff at their dead shepherd, some hunter's
Ill-handled arrow having struck him from the covert, all by
mischance; he is fallen on the hillside
Between the oak-shadow and the stream; the sun burns his dead
face, his staff lies by him, his dog
Licks his hand, whining. So, like sheep, the people
Regarded that dead majesty whom the slaves brought out of the
house on a gold bed, and set it
Between the pillars of the porch. His royal robe covered his
wounds, there was no stain
Then that captain who had spoken before:
O Queen, before the mourning
The punishment: tell us who has done this. She raised her head,
and not a woman but a lioness
Blazed at him from her eyes: Dog, she answered, dog of the
Who said Speak dog, and you dared speak? Justice is mine.
Then he was silent; but Cassandra's
Body standing tall among the spears, over the parapet, her body
but not her spirit
Cried with a man's voice: Shall not even the stones of the stair,
shall not the stones under the columns
Speak, and the towers of the great wall of my city come down
against the murderess? O Mycenae
I yearned to night and day under the tents by Troy, O Tiryns,
O Mycenae, the door
Of death, and the gate before the door!
CLYTEMNESTRA That woman lies, or the
spirit of a lie cries from her. Spearman,
Kill that woman!
But Cassandra's body set its back against the
parapet, its face
Terribly fronting the raised knife; and called the soldier by his
name, in the King's voice, saying
Sheathe it; and the knife lowered, and the soldier
Fell on his knees before the King in the woman's body; and the
body of Cassandra cried from the parapet:
Horrible things, horrible things this house has witnessed: but here
is the most vile, that hundreds
Of spears are idle while the murderess, Clytemnestra the murderess,
the snake that came upon me
Naked and bathing, the death that lay with me in bed, the death
that has borne children to me,
Stands there unslain.
CLYTEMNESTRA Cowards, if the bawling of that bewildered
heifer from Troy fields has frightened you
How did you bear the horns of her brothers? Bring her to me.
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA
Let no man doubt, men of Mycenae,
She has yet the knife hid in her clothes, the very blade that
stabbed her husband and the blood is on it.
Look, she handles it now. Look, fellows. The hand under the
robe. Slay her not easily, that she-wolf.
Do her no honor with a spear! Ah! If I could find the word, if
I could find it,
The name of her, to say husband-slayer and bed-defiler, bitch
and wolf-bitch, king's assassin
And beast, beast, beast, all in one breath, in one word: spearmen
You would heap your shields over this woman and crush her
slowly, slowly, while she choked and screamed,
No, you would peel her bare and on the pavement for a bridebed
with a spear-butt for husband
Dig the lewd womb until it burst: this for Agamemnon, this for
Aegisthus Agh, cowards of the city
Do you stand quiet?
CLYTEMNESTRA Truly, soldiers,
I think it is he verily. No one could invent the abominable voice,
the unspeakable gesture,
The actual raging insolence of the tyrant. I am the hand ridded
the Argolis of him.
I here, I killed him, I, justly.
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA You have heard her, you have
heard her, she has made confession.
Now if she'll show you the knife too
CLYTEMNESTRA Here. I kept it for safety.
And, as that beast said, his blood's yet on it.
Look at it, with so little a key I unlocked the kingdom of destruction.
Stand firm, till a God
Lead home this ghost to the dark country
So many Greeks have peopled, through his crimes, his violence,
his insolence, stand firm till that moment
And through the act of this hand and of this point no man shall
suffer anything again forever
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA
I say if you let this woman live, this crime go
unpunished, what man among you
Will be safe in his bed? The woman ever envies the man, his
strength, his freedom, his loves.
Her envy is like a snake beside him, all his life through, her envy
and hatred: law tames that viper:
Law dies if the Queen die not: the viper is free then.
It will be poison in your meat or a knife to bleed you sleeping.
They fawn and slaver over us
And then we are slain.
CLYTEMNESTRA (to one of the slaves that carried the King’s
Is my lord Aegisthus
Slain on the way? How long? How long?
(To the people) He
came, fat with his crimes.
Greek valor broke down Troy, your valor, soldiers, and the brain
of Odysseus, the battle-fury of Achilles,
The stubborn strength of Menelaus, the excellence of you all:
this dead man here, his pride
Ruined you a hundred times: he helped nowise, he brought bitter
destruction: but he gathered your glory
For the cloak of his shoulders. I saw him come up the stair, I saw
my child Iphigenia
Killed for his crime; I saw his harlot, the captive woman there,
crying out behind him, I saw . . .
I saw ... I saw . . . how can I speak what crowd of the dead
faces of the faithful Greeks,
Your brothers, dead of his crimes; those that perished of plague
and those that died in the lost battles
After he had soured the help of Achilles for another harlot
those dead faces of your brothers,
Some black with the death-blood, many trampled under the
hooves of horses, many spotted with pestilence,
Flew all about him, all lamenting, all crying out against him,
horrible horrible I gave them
Vengeance; and you freedom.
(To the slave) Go up and look,
for God's sake, go up to the parapets,
Look toward the mountain. Bring me word quickly, my strength
How can I hold all the Argolis with my eyes forever? I alone?
Hell cannot hold her dead men,
Keep watch there-send me word by others-go, go!
(To the people) He
Magnificent, abominable, all in bronze.
I brought him to the bath; my hands undid the armor;
My hands poured out the water;
Dead faces like flies buzzed all about us;
He stripped himself before me, loathsome, unclean, with laughter;
The labors of the Greeks had made him fat, the deaths of the
faithful had swelled his belly;
I threw a cloak over him for a net and struck, struck, struck,
Blindly, in the steam of the bath; he bellowed, netted,
And bubbled in the water;
All the stone vault asweat with steam bellowed;
And I undid the net and the beast was dead, and the broad vessel
Stank with his blood.
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA
The word! The word! O burning mind of Godr
If ever I gave you bulls teach me that word, the name for her,
the name for her!
A SLAVE (running from the door; to CLYTEMNESTRA)
My lord. Aegisthus has come down the mountain, Queen, he
approaches the Lion-gate.
CLYTEMNESTRA It is time. I am tired now.
Meet him and tell him to come in the postern doorway.
THE CAPTAIN (on the stair: addressing the soldiers and the people
Companions: before God, hating the smell of crimes, crushes the
city into gray ashes
We must make haste. Judge now and act. For the husband-slayer
I say she must die, let her pay forfeit. And for the great ghost
of the King, let all these captives,
But chiefly the woman Cassandra, the crier in a man's voice there,
be slain upon his pyre to quiet him.
He will go down to his dark place and God will spare the city.
(To the soldiers above, on the ramp and the porch)
Comrades: Mycenae is greater
Than the Queen of Mycenae. The King is dead: let the Queen
die: let the city live. Comrades,
We suffered something in Asia, on the stranger's coast, laboring
for you. We dreamed of home there
In the bleak wind and drift of battle; we continued ten years,
laboring and dying; we accomplished
The task set us; we gathered what will make all the Greek cities
glorious, a name forever;
We shared the spoil, taking our share to enrich Mycenae. O but
our hearts burned then, O comrades
But our hearts melted when the great oars moved the ships, the
water carried us, the blue sea-waves
Slid under the black keel; I could not see them, I was blind with
tears, thinking of Mycenae.
We have come home. Behold the dear streets of our longing,
The stones that we desired, the steep ways of the city and the
Reek and steam with pollution, the accursed vessel
Spills a red flood over the floors.
The fountain of it stands there and calls herself the Queen. No
Queen, no Queen, that husband-slayer,
A common murderess. Comrades join us
We will make clean the city and sweeten it before God. We
will mourn together at the King's burying,
And a good year will come, we will rejoice together.
CLYTEMNESTRA Dog, you dare
something. Fling no spear, soldiers,
He has a few fools back of him would attempt the stair if the
dog were slain: I will have no one
Killed out of need.
ONE OF HER MEN ON THE PORCH (flinging his spear)
Not at him: at you
But some God, no lover of justice, turned it; the
great bronze tip grazing her shoulder
Clanged on the stones behind: the gong of a change in the dance:
now Clytemnestra, none to help her,
One against all, swayed raging by the King's corpse, over the
golden bed: it is said that a fire
Stood visibly over her head, mixed in the hair, pale flames and
CLYTEMNESTRA Here am I, thieves, thieves,
Drunkards, here is my breast, a deep white mark for cowards to
aim at: kings have lain on it.
No spear yet, heroes, heroes?
See, I have no blemish: the arms are white, the breasts are deep
and white, the whole body is blemishless:
You are tired of your brown wives, draw lots for me, rabble,
thieves, there is loot here, shake the dice, thieves, a game yet!
One of you will take the bronze and one the silver,
One the gold, and one me,
Me Clytemnestra a spoil worth having:
Kings have kissed me, this dead dog was a king, there is another
King at the gate: thieves, thieves, would not this shining
Breast brighten a sad thief's hut, roll in his bed's filth
Shiningly? You could teach me to draw water at the fountain,
A dirty child on the other hip: where are the dice? Let me
throw first, if I throw sixes
I choose my masters: closer you rabble, let me smell you.
Don't fear the knife, it has king's blood on it, I keep it for an
It has shot its sting.
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA Fools, fools, Strike!
Are your hands dead?
CLYTEMNESTRA You Would see all of me
Before you choose whether to kill or dirtily cherish? If what
the King's used needs commending
To the eyes of thieves for thieves' use: give me room, give me
room, fellows, you'll see it is faultless.
The dress . . . there . . .
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA Fools this wide whore played wife
When she was going about to murder me the King; you, will
you let her trip you
With the harlot's trick? Strike! Make an end!
CLYTEMNESTRA I have not my
sister's, Troy's flame's beauty, but I have something.
This arm, round, firm, skin without hair, polished like marble:
the supple-jointed shoulders:
Men have praised the smooth neck, too,
The strong clear throat over the deep wide breasts . . .
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA She is
buying an hour: sheep: it may be Aegisthus
Is at the Lion-gate.
CLYTEMNESTRA If he were here, Aegisthus,
I’d not be the pedlar of what trifling charms I have for an
hour of life yet. You have wolves' eyes:
Yet there is something kindly about the blue ones there yours,
young soldier, young soldier. . . . The last,
The under-garment? You won't buy me yet? This dead dog,
The King here, never saw me naked: I had the night for nurse:
turn his head sideways, the eyes
Are only half shut. If I should touch him, and the blood came,
you'd say I had killed him. Nobody, nobody,
Killed him: his pride burst.
Ah, no one has pity!
I can serve well, I have always envied your women, the public ones.
Who takes me first? Tip that burnt log onto the flagstones,
This will be in a king's bed then. Your eyes are wolves' eyes:
So many, so many, so famishing
I will undo it, handle me not yet, I can undo it ...
Or I will tear it.
And when it is off me then I will be delivered to you beasts . . .
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA
Then strip her and use her to the bones, wear her through, kill
her with it.
When it is torn
You'll say I am lovely: no one has seen before . . .
It won't tear: I'll slit it with this knife
(Aegisthus, with many spearmen, issues from the great door.
CLYTEMNESTRA stabs right and left with the knife; the
men are too close to strike her with their long spears.)
It's time. Cowards, goats, goats. Here! Aegisthus!
I am here. What have they done?
Nothing: clear the porch: I have done something. Drive them
on the stair!
Three of them I've scarred for life: a rough bridegroom, the
rabble, met a fierce bride.
(She catches up her robe.)
I held them with my eyes, hours, hours. I am not tired. . . .
My lord, my lover:
I have killed a twelve-point stag for a present for you: with my
own hands: look, on the golden litter.
You arrive timely.
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA
Tricked, stabbed, shamed, mocked at, the spoil of a lewd woman,
I lie there ready for her back-stairs darling to spit on. Tricked,
stabbed, sunk in the drain
And gutter of time. I that thundered the assault, I that mustered
the Achaeans. Cast out of my kingdom,
Cast out of time, out of the light.
CLYTEMNESTRA One of the captives, dear.
It left its poor wits
Over the sea. If it annoys you I'll quiet it. But post your sentinels.
All's not safe yet, though I am burning with joy now.
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA O single-eyed
glare of the sky
Flying southwest to the mountain: sun, through a slave's eyes,
My own broken, I see you this last day; my own darkened, no
dawn forever; the adulterers
Will swim in your warm gold, day after day; the eyes of the
murderess will possess you;
And I have gone away down: knowing that no God in the earth
nor sky loves justice; and having tasted
The toad that serves women for heart. From now on may all
Marry them with swords. Those that have borne children
Their sons rape them with spears.
CLYTEMNESTRA More yet, more, more, more,
while my hand's in? It's not a little
You easily living lords of the sky require of who'd be like you,
who'd take time in the triumph,
Build joy solid. Do we have to do everything? I have killed
what I hated:
Kill what I love? The prophetess said it, this dead man says it:
my little son, the small soft image
That squirmed in my arms be an avenger? Love, from your loins
Seed: I begin new, I will be childless for you. The child my son,
the child my daughter!
Though I cry I feel nothing.
AEGISTHUS O strongest spirit in the world.
We have dared enough, there is an end to it.
We may pass nature a little, an arrow-flight,
But two shots over the wall you come in a cloud upon the feasting
Gods, lightning and madness.
Dear: make them safe. They may try to run away, the children.
Set spears to watch them: no harm, no harm,
But stab the nurse if they go near a door. Watch them, keep the
gates, order the sentinels,
While I make myself Queen over this people again. I can do it.
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA The sun's gone; that glimmer's
The moon of the dead. The dark God calls me. Yes, God,
I'll come in a moment.
CLYTEMNESTRA (at the head of the great stairs)
Soldiers: townsmen: it seems
I am not at the end delivered to you: dogs, for the lion came:
the poor brown and spotted women
Will have to suffice you. But is it nothing to have come within
handling distance of the clear heaven
This dead man knew when he was young and God endured him?
Is it nothing to you?
It is something to me to have felt the fury
And concentration of you: I will not say I am grateful: I am
not angry: to be desired
Is wine even to a queen. You bathed me in it, from brow to foot-sole,
I had nearly enough.
But now remember that the dream is over. I am the Queen:
Mycenae is my city. If you grin at me
I have spears: also Tiryns and all the country people of the
Argolis will come against you and swallow you,
Empty out these ways and walls, stock them with better subjects.
A rock nest for new birds here, townsfolk:
You are not essential.
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA. I hear him calling through the shewolf's
noise, Agamemnon, Agamemnon,
The dark God calls. Some old king in a fable is it?
CLYTEMNESTRA So choose.
What choices? To reenter my service
Unpunished, no thought of things past, free of conditions . . .
Or dine at this man's table, have new mouths made in you to
eat bronze with.
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA Who is Agamemnon?
You letting go of the sun: is it dark the land you are running
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA It is dark.
CLYTEMNESTRA IS it Sorrowful?
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA
There is nothing but misery.
CLYTEMNESTRA Has any man ever come back thence?
Hear me, not the dark God.
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA No man has ever.
Go then, go, go down. You will not choose to follow him, people
of the rock-city? No one
Will choose to follow him. I have killed: it is easy: it may be
I shall kill nearer than this yet:
But not you, townsfolk, you will give me no cause; I want
security; I want service, not blood.
I have been desired of the whole city, publicly; I want service,
not lust. You will make no sign
Of your submission; you will not give up your weapons; neither
shall your leaders be slain;
And he that flung the spear, I have forgotten his face.
AEGISTHUS (entering) Dearest,
they have gone, the nurse and the children,
No one knows where.
CLYTEMNESTRA I am taming this people: send men after
them. If any harm comes to the children
Bring me tokens. I will not be in doubt, I will not have the arch
fall on us. I dare
What no one dares. I envy a little the dirty mothers of the city.
Nothing in me hurts. I have animal waters in my eyes, but the
spirit is not wounded. Electra and Orestes
Are not to live when they are caught. Bring me sure tokens.
CASSANDRA Who is this woman like a beacon
Lit on the stair, who are these men with dogs' heads?
I have ranged time and seen no sight like this one.
Have you returned, Cassandra? . . . The dead king has gone
down to his place, we may bury his leavings.
I have witnessed all the wars to be; I am not sorrowful
For one drop from the pail of desolation
Spilt on my father's city; they were carrying it forward
To water the world under the latter starlight.
CLYTEMNESTRA (to her slaves)
Take up the poles of the bed; reverently; careful on the stair;
give him to the people. (To the people) O soldiers
This was your leader; lay him with honor in the burial-chapel;
guard him with the spears of victory;
Mourn him until to-morrow, when the pyre shall be built.
Ah, King of men, sleep, sleep, sleep!
. . . But when shall I? ... They are after their corpse, like
dogs after the butcher's cart. Cleomenes, that captain
With the big voice: Neobulus was the boy who flung the spear
and missed. I shall not miss
When spear-flinging-time comes. . . . Captive woman, you have
seen the future, tell me my fortune.
(Aegisthus comes from the doorway.)
Have your hounds got them?
AEGISTHUS I've covered every escape with men,
they'll not slip through me. But commanded
To bring them here living.
CLYTEMNESTRA That's hard: tigresses don't do it: I
have some strength yet: don't speak of it
And I shall do it.
AEGISTHUS It is a thing not to be done: we'll guard them
closely: but mere madness
Lies over the wall of too-much.
CLYTEMNESTRA King of Mycenae, new-crowned
king, who was your mother?
What mark do you aim at?
CLYTEMNESTRA And your father?
CLYTEMNESTRA And her father?
same man, Thyestes.
See, dearest, dearest? They love what men call crime, they have
taken her crime to be the king of Mycenae.
Here is the stone garden of the plants that pass nature: there is
no too-much here: the monstrous
Old rocks want monstrous roots to serpent among them. I will
have security. I'd burn the standing world
Up to this hour and begin new. You think I am too much used
for a new brood? Ah, lover,
I have fountains in me. I had a fondness for the brown cheek
of that boy, the curl of his
The widening blue of the doomed eyes ... I will be spared
nothing. Come in, come in, they'll have news for us.
If anywhere in the world
Were a tower with foundations, or a treasure-chamber
With a firm vault, or a walled fortress
That stood on the years, not staggering, not moving
As the mortar were mixed with wine for water
And poppy for lime: they reel, they are all drunkards,
The piled strengths of the world: no pyramid
In bitter Egypt in the desert
But skips at moonrise; no mountain
Over the Black Sea in awful Caucasus
But whirls like a young kid, like a bud of the herd,
Under the hundredth star: I am sick after steadfastness
Watching the world cataractlike
Pour screaming onto steep ruins: for the wings of prophecy
God once my lover give me stone sandals
Planted on stone: he hates me, the God, he will never
Take home the gift of the bridleless horse
The stallion, the unbitted stallion: the bed
Naked to the sky on Mount Ida,
The soft clear grass there,
Be blackened forever, may vipers and Greeks
In that glen breed
Twisting together, where the God
Come golden from the sun
Gave me for a bride-gift prophecy and I took it for a treasure:
I a fool, I a maiden,
I would not let him touch me though love of him maddened me
Till he fed me that poison, till he planted that fire in me,
The girdle flew loose then.
The Queen considered this rock, she gazed on the great stone
blocks of Mycenae's acropolis;
Monstrous they seemed to her, solid they appeared to her, safe
rootage for monstrous deeds: Ah fierce one
Who knows who laid them for a snare? What people in the
world's dawn breathed on chill air and the vapor
Of their breath seemed stone and has stood and you dream it is
established? These also are a foam on the stream
Of the falling of the world: there is nothing to lay hold on:
No crime is a crime, the slaying of the King was a meeting of
two bubbles on the lip of the cataract,
One winked . . . and the killing of your children would be
nothing: I tell you for a marvel that the earth is a dancer,
The grave dark earth is less quiet than a fool's fingers,
That old one, spinning in the emptiness, blown by no wind in
vain circles, light-witted and a dancer.
You are prophesying: prophesy to a purpose, captive woman.
My children, the boy and the girl,
Have wandered astray, no one can find them.
CASSANDRA Shall I tell the lioness
Where meat is, or the she-wolf where the lambs wander astray?
CLYTEMNESTRA But look into the darkness
And foam of the world: the boy has great tender blue eyes,
brown hair, disdainful lips, you'll know him
By the gold stripe bordering his garments; the girl's eyes are
my color, white her clothing
Of shining bubbles burst and wander
On the stream of the world falling . . .
CLYTEMNESTRA These are my children!
CASSANDRA I see
mountains, I see no faces.
Tell me and I make you free; conceal it from me and a soldier's
spear finishes the matter.
I am the spear's bride, I have been waiting, waiting for that
CLYTEMNESTRA (striking her) Live then. It will not be unpainful.
(CLYTEMNESTRA goes in.)
O fair roads north where the land narrows
Over the mountains between the great gulfs,
that I too with the King's children
Might wander northward hand in hand.
Mine are worse wanderings:
They will shelter on Mount Parnassus,
For me there is no mountain firm enough,
The storms of light beating on the headlands,
The storms of music undermine the mountains, they stumble
and fall inward,
Such music the stars
Make in their courses, the vast vibration
Plucks the iron heart of the earth like a harp-string.
Iron and stone core, O stubborn axle of the earth, you also
Dissolving in a little time like salt in water,
What does it matter that I have seen Macedon
Roll all the Greek cities into one billow and strand in Asia
The anthers and bracts of the flower of the world?
That I have seen Egypt and Nineveh
Crumble, and a Latian village
Plant the earth with javelins? It made laws for all men, it dissolved
like a cloud.
I have also stood watching a storm of wild swans
Rise from one river-mouth . . . O force of the earth rising,
O fallings of the earth: forever no rest, not forever
From the wave and the trough, from the stream and the slack,
from growth and decay: O vulture-
Pinioned, my spirit, one flight yet, last, longest, unguided,
Try into the gulf,
Over Greece, over Rome, you have space O my spirit for the
Are not few of captivity: how many have I stood here
Among the great stones, while the Queen's people
Go in and out of the gate, wearing light linen
For summer and the wet spoils of wild beasts
In the season of storms: and the stars have changed, I have
The grievous and unprayed-to constellations
Pile steaming spring and patient autumn
Over the enduring walls: but you over the walls of the world,
Over the unquieted centuries, over the darkness-hearted
Millenniums wailing thinly to be born, O vulture-pinioned
Try into the dark,
Watch the north spawn white bodies and red-gold hair,
Race after race of beastlike warriors; and the cities
Burn, and the cities build, and new lands be uncovered
In the way of the sun to his setting ... go on farther, what
In the wars and the toils? but I say
Where are prosperous people my enemies are, as you pass them
O my spirit
Curse Athens for the joy and the marble, curse Corinth
For the wine and the purple, and Syracuse
For the gold and the ships; but Rome, Rome,
With many destructions for the corn and the laws and the javelins,
the insolence, the threefold
Abominable power: pass the humble
And the lordships of darkness, but far down
Smite Spain for the blood on the sunset gold, curse France
For the fields abounding and the running rivers, the lights in the
cities, the laughter, curse England
For the meat on the tables and the terrible gray ships, for old
laws, far dominions, there remains
A mightier to be cursed and a higher for malediction
When America has eaten Europe and takes tribute of Asia, when
the ends of the world grow aware of each other
And are dogs in one kennel, they will tear
The master of the hunt with the mouths of the pack: new fallings,
new risings, O winged one
No end of the fallings and risings? An end shall be surely,
Though unnatural things are accomplished, they breathe in the
They swim in the air, they bridle the cloud-leaper lightning to
carry their messages:
Though the eagles of the east and the west and the falcons of
the north were not quieted, you have seen a white cloth
Cover the lands from the north and the eyes of the lands and the
claws of the hunters,
The mouths of the hungry with snow
Were filled, and their claws
Took hold upon ice in the pasture, a morsel of ice was their
catch in the rivers,
That pure white quietness
Waits on the heads of the mountains, not sleep but death, will
Of burnt cities and ships in that year warm you my enemies?
The frost, the old frost,
Like a cat with a broken-winged bird it will play with you,
It will nip and let go; you will say it is gone, but the next
Season it increases: O clean, clean,
White and most clean, colorless quietness,
Without trace, without trail, without stain in the garment, drawn
From the poles to the girdle. ... I have known one Godhead
To my sore hurt: I am growing to come to another: O grave
Last of the lords of the earth, I pray you lead my substance
Speedily into another shape, make me grass, Death, make me
Make me air to wander free between the stars and the peaks;
but cut humanity
Out of my being, that is the wound that festers in me,
Not captivity, not my enemies: you will heal the earth also,
Death, in your time; but speedily Cassandra.
You rock-fleas hopping in the clefts of Mycenae,
Suckers of blood, you carrying the scepter farther, Persian,
Roman and Mongol and American, and you half-gods
Indian and Syrian and the third, emperors of peace, I have seen
on what stage
You sing the little tragedy; the column of the ice that was before
on one side flanks it,
The column of the ice to come closes it up on the other: audience
I have never seen yet: I have heard the silence: it is I Cassandra,
Eight years the bitter watchdog of these doors,
Have watched a vision
And now approach to my end. Eight years I have seen the
Walk up and down this stair; and the rocks groan in the night,
the great stones move when no man sees them.
And I have forgotten the fine ashlar masonry of the courts of my
father. I am not Cassandra
But a counter of sunrises, permitted to live because I am crying
to die; three thousand,
Pale and red, have flowed over the towers in the wall since I was
here watching; the deep east widens,
The cold wind blows, the deep earth sighs, the dim gray finger
of light crooks at the morning star.
The palace feasted late and sleeps with its locked doors; the last
drunkard from the alleys of the city
Long has reeled home. Whose foot is this then, what phantom
Toils on the stair?
A VOICE BELOW Is someone watching above? Good sentinel I
am only a girl beggar.
I would sit on the stair and hold my bowl.
CASSANDRA I here eight years have
begged for a thing and not received it.
You are not a sentinel? You have been asking some great boon,
out of all reason.
CASSANDRA No: what the meanest
Beggar disdains to take.
THE GIRL BEGGAR Beggars disdain nothing: what is it that
they refuse you?
CASSANDRA What's given
Even to the sheep and to the bullock.
THE GIRL Men give them salt, grass
they find out for themselves.
CASSANDRA Men give them
The gift that you though a beggar have brought down from the
north to give my mistress.
THE GIRL You speak riddles.
I am starving, a crust is my desire.
CASSANDRA Your voice is young though
winds have hoarsened it, your body appears
Flexible under the rags: have you some hidden sickness, the
young men will not give you silver?
I have a sickness: I will hide it until I am cured. You are not
a Greek woman?
CASSANDRA But you
Born in Mycenae return home. And you bring gifts from Phocis:
for my once master who's dead
Vengeance; and for my mistress peace, for my master the King
peace, and, by-shot of the doom's day,
Peace for me also. But I have prayed for it.
THE GIRL I know you, I knew
you before you spoke to me, captive woman,
And I unarmed will kill you with my hands if you babble
That peace you have prayed for, I will bring it to you
If you utter warnings.
CASSANDRA To-day I shall have peace, you cannot
tempt me, daughter of the Queen, Electra.
Eight years ago I watched you and your brother going north
to Phocis: the Queen saw knowledge of you
Move in my eyes: I would not tell her where you were when
she commanded me: I will not betray you
To-day either: it is not doleful to me
To see before I die generations of destruction enter the doors
Where is your brother?
ELECTRA Prophetess: you see all: I will tell you
CASSANDRA He has well chosen his ambush,
It is true Aegisthus passes under that house to-day, to hunt in
ELECTRA Now I remember
Your name. Cassandra.
CASSANDRA Hush: the gray has turned yellow, the
Stream up from the east; they stir there in the palace; strange,
is it not, the dawn of one's last day's
Like all the others? Your brother would be fortunate if to-day
The last of his.
ELECTRA He will endure his destinies; and Cassandra hers;
and Electra mine.
He has been for years like one tortured with fire: this day will
CASSANDRA They are opening the gates: beg now.
To your trade, beggar-woman.
THE PORTER (coming out) Eh, pillar of miseries,
You still on guard there? Like a mare in a tight stall, never lying
down. What's this then?
A second ragged one? This at least can bend in the middle and
sit on a stone.
ELECTRA Dear gentleman
I am not used to it, my father is dead and hunger forces me to
beg, a crust or a penny.
This tall one's licensed in a manner. I think they'll not let two
bundles of rag
Camp on the stair: but if you'd come to the back door and please
me nicely: with a little washing
It'd do for pastime.
ELECTRA I was reared gently: I will sit here, the King
will see me,
And none mishandle me.
THE PORTER I bear no blame for you.
I have not seen you: you came after the gates were opened.
(He goes in.)
O blossom of fire, bitter to men,
Watchdog of the woeful days,
How many sleepers
Bathing in peace, dreaming themselves delight,
All over the city, all over the Argolid plain, all over the dark
(Not me, a deeper draught of peace
And darker waters alone may wash me)
Do you, terrible star, star without pity,
Wolf of the east, waken to misery.
To the wants unaccomplished, to the eating desires,
To unanswered love, to hunger, to the hard edges
And mold of reality, to the whips of their masters.
They had flown away home to the happy darkness,
They were safe until sunrise.
(King Aegisthus, with his retinue, comes from the great
Even here, in the midst of the city, the early day
Has a clear savor. (To ELECTRA) What, are you miserable, holding
the bowl out?
We'll hear the lark to-day in the wide hills and smell the mountain.
I'd share happiness with you.
What's your best wish, girl beggar?
ELECTRA It is covered, my lord, how
should a beggar
Know what to wish for beyond a crust and a dark corner and a
AEGISTHUS Why do you tremble?
I was reared gently; my father is dead.
AEGISTHUS Stand up: will you take
service here in the house? What country
Bred you gently and proved ungentle to you?
ELECTRA I have wandered
north from the Eurotas, my lord,
Begging at farmsteads.
AEGISTHUS The Queen's countrywoman then, she'll
use you kindly. She'll be coming
In a moment, then I'll speak for you. -Did you bid them yoke
the roans into my chariot, Menalcas,
The two from Orchomenus?
ONE OF THE RETINUE Yesterday evening, my lord,
I sent to the stable.
AEGISTHUS They cost a pretty penny, we'll see how they
carry it. She's coming: hold up your head, girl.
(CLYTEMNESTRA, with two serving-women, comes from
Good hunt, dearest. Here's a long idle day for me to look to.
Kill early, come home early.
There's a poor creature on the step who's been reared nicely
and slipped into misery. I said you'd feed her,
And maybe find her a service. Farewell, sweet one.
CLYTEMNESTRA Where did she come from? How long have you
AEGISTHUS She says she has begged her way up from Sparta.
The horses are stamping on the cobbles, good-by, good-by.
(He goes down the stair with his huntsmen.)
CLYTEMNESTRA Good-by, dearest. Well. Let me see your face.
ELECTRA It is filthy to look at. I am ashamed.
CLYTEMNESTRA (to one of her serving-women) Leucippe do
you think this is a gayety of my lord's, he's not used to be
so kindly to beggars?
-Let me see your face.
LEUCIPPE She is very dirty, my lady. It is possible one of the
house-boys . . .
CLYTEMNESTRA I say draw that rag back, let me see your face.
I'd have him whipped then.
ELECTRA It was only in hope that someone would put a crust
in the bowl, your majesty, for I am starving. I didn't think
your majesty would see me.
CLYTEMNESTRA Draw back the rag.
ELECTRA I am very faint and starving but I will go down; I am
CLYTEMNESTRA Stop her, Corinna. Fetch the porter, Leucippe.
You will not go so easily. (ELECTRA sinks down on the steps
and lies prone, her head covered.) I am aging out of queenship
indeed, when even the beggars refuse my bidding.
(LEUCIPPE comes in 'with the porter.) You have a dirty stair,
porter. How long has this been here?
THE PORTER O my lady it has crept up since I opened the doors,
it was not here when I opened the doors.
CLYTEMNESTRA Lift it up and uncover its face. What is that
cry in the city? Stop: silent: I heard a cry . . .
Prophetess, your nostrils move like a dog's, what is that shouting?
. . .
I have grown weak, I am exhausted, things frighten me ...
Tell her to be gone, Leucippe, I don't wish to see her, I don't
wish to see her.
ELECTRA Ah, Queen, I will show you my face.
CLYTEMNESTRA No ... no ... be gone.
ELECTRA (uncovering her face)
Mother: I have come home: I am humbled. This house keeps
a dark welcome
For those coming home out of far countries.
CLYTEMNESTRA I Won't look: how
could I know anyone? I am old and shaking.
He said, Over the wall beyond nature
Lightning, and the laughter of the Gods. I did not cross it,
I will not kill what I gave life to.
Whoever you are, go, go, let me grow downward to the grave
ELECTRA I cannot
Go: I have no other refuge. Mother! Will you not kiss me, will
you not take me into the house,
Your child once, long a wanderer? Electra my name. I have
begged my way from Phocis, my brother is dead there,
Who used to care for me.
CLYTEMNESTRA Who is dead, who?
ELECTRA My brother Orestes,
Killed in a court quarrel
CLYTEMNESTRA (weeping) Oh, you lie! The widening blue
The little voice of the child . . . Liar.
ELECTRA It is true. I have wept
long, on every mountain. You, mother,
Have only begun weeping. Far off, in a far country, no fit
burial . . .
CLYTEMNESTRA And do you bringing
Bitterness ... or lies . . . look for a welcome? I have only
killed my daughter for a lamb on a stone and now
you say the boy too . . . dead, dead?
The world's full of it, a shoreless lake of lies and floating rumors
. . . pack up your wares, peddler,
Too false for a queen. Why, no, if I believed you . . . Beast,
treacherous beast, that shouting comes nearer,
What's in the city?
ELECTRA I am a stranger, I know nothing of the city,
I know only
My mother hates me, and Orestes my brother
Died pitifully, far off.
CLYTEMNESTRA Too many things, too many things call
me, what shall I do? Electra,
Electra help me. This comes of living softly, I had a lion's
ELECTRA Me for help? I am utterly helpless, I had help in my
brother and he is dead in Phocis.
Give me refuge: but each of us two must weep for herself, one
sorrow. An end of the world were on us
What would it matter to us weeping? Do you remember him,
CLYTEMNESTRA I have dared too much: never dare anything,
Electra, the ache is afterward,
At the hour it hurts nothing. Prophetess, you lied.
You said he would come with vengeance on me: but now he is
dead, this girl says: and because he was lovely, blue-eyed,
And born in a most unhappy house I will believe it. But the
world's fogged with the breath of liars,
And if she has laid a net for me . . .
I'll call up the old lioness lives yet in my body, I have dared,
I have dared, and tooth and talon
Carve a way through. Lie to me?
ELECTRA Have I endured for months,
with feet bleeding, among the mountains,
Between the great gulfs alone and starving, to bring you a lie
now? I know the worst of you, I looked for the worst,
Mother, mother, and have expected nothing but to die of this
home-coming: but Orestes
Has entered the cave before; he is gathered up in a lonely mountain
quietness, he is guarded from angers
In the tough cloud that spears fall back from.
CLYTEMNESTRA Was he still beautiful?
The brown mothers down in the city
Keep their brats about them; what it is to live high! Oh!
Tell them down there, tell them in Tiryns,
Tell them in Sparta,
That water drips through the Queen's fingers and trickles down
her wrists, for the boy, for the boy
Born of her body, whom she, fool, fool, fool,
Drove out of the world. Electra,
Make peace with me.
Oh, Oh, Oh!
I have labored violently all the days of my life for nothing--
nothing-worse than anything- this death
Was a thing I wished. See how they make fools of us.
Amusement for them, to watch us labor after the thing that will
tear us in
pieces. . . . Well, strength's good.
I am the Queen; I will gather up my fragments
And not go mad now.
ELECTRA Mother, what are the men
With spears gathering at the stair's foot? Not of Mycenae by
their armor, have you mercenaries
Wanting pay? Do they serve . . . Aegisthus?
CLYTEMNESTRA What men? I seem
not to know . . .
Who has laid a net for me, what fool
For me, me? Porter, by me.
Leucippe, my guards; into the house, rouse them. I am sorry
I am best in storm. You, Electra?
The death you'll die, my daughter. Guards, out! Was it a lie?
No matter, no matter, no matter,
Here's peace. Spears, out, out! They bungled the job making
me a woman. Here's youth come back to me,
And all the days of gladness.
LEUCIPPE (running back from the door) O, Queen, strangers ...
ORESTES (a sword in his hand, 'with spearmen following, comes
from the door) Where is that woman
The Gods utterly hate?
ELECTRA Brother: let her not speak, kill quickly.
Is the other one safe now?
ORESTES That dog
Fell under his chariot, we made sure of him between the wheels
and the hooves, squealing. Now for this one.
Wait. I was weeping, Electra will tell you, my hands are wet
For your blue eyes that death had closed she said away up in
Phocis. I die now, justly or not
Is out of the story, before I die I'd tell you wait, child, wait.
Did I quiver
Or pale at the blade? I say, caught in a net, netted in by my
enemies, my husband murdered,
Myself to die, I am joyful knowing she lied, you live, the only
Under all the spread and arch of daylight
That I love, lives.
ELECTRA The great fangs drawn fear craftiness now,
CLYTEMNESTRA As for her, the wife of a shepherd
Suckled her, but you
These very breasts nourished: rather one of your northern
spearmen do what's needful; not you
Draw blood where you drew milk. The Gods endure much, but
ORESTES This, a God in his temple
CLYTEMNESTRA Ah, child, child, who has mistaught you and
who has betrayed you? What voice had the God?
How was it different from a man's and did you see him? Who
sent the priest presents? They fool us,
And the Gods let them. No doubt also the envious King of
Phocis has lent you counsel as he lent you
Men: let one of them do it. Life's not jewel enough
That I should plead for it: this much I pray, for your sake, not
with your hand, not with your hand, or the memory
Will so mother you, so glue to you, so embracing you,
Not the deep sea's green day, no cleft of a rock in the bed of
the deep sea, no ocean of darkness
Outside the stars, will hide nor wash you. What is it to me that
I have rejoiced knowing you alive,
child, O precious to me, O alone loved, if now dying by my
manner of death
I make nightmare the heir, nightmare, horror, in all I have of
And you haunted forever, never to sleep dreamless again, never
to see blue cloth
But the red runs over it; fugitive of dreams, madman at length,
the memory of a scream following you houndlike,
Inherit Mycenae? Child, for this has not been done before, there
is no old fable, no whisper
Out of the foundation, among the people that were before our
people, no echo has ever
Moved among these most ancient stones, the monsters here, nor
stirred under any mountain, nor fluttered
Under any sky, of a man slaying his mother. Sons have kil
III. The Other Half-Rome
Another day that finds her living yet,
Little Pompilia, with the patient brow
And lamentable smile on those poor lips,
And, under the white hospital-array,
A flower-like body, to frighten at a bruise
You'd think, yet now, stabbed through and through again,
Alive i' the ruins. 'T is a miracle.
It seems that, when her husband struck her first,
She prayed Madonna just that she might live
So long as to confess and be absolved;
And whether it was that, all her sad life long
Never before successful in a prayer,
This prayer rose with authority too dread,—
Or whether, because earth was hell to her,
By compensation, when the blackness broke
She got one glimpse of quiet and the cool blue,
To show her for a moment such things were,—
Or else,—as the Augustinian Brother thinks,
The friar who took confession from her lip,—
When a probationary soul that moved
From nobleness to nobleness, as she,
Over the rough way of the world, succumbs,
Bloodies its last thorn with unflinching foot,
The angels love to do their work betimes,
Staunch some wounds here nor leave so much for God.
Who knows? However it be, confessed, absolved,
She lies, with overplus of life beside
To speak and right herself from first to last,
Right the friend also, lamb-pure, lion-brave,
Care for the boy's concerns, to save the son
From the sire, her two-weeks' infant orphaned thus,
And—with best smile of all reserved for him—
Pardon that sire and husband from the heart.
A miracle, so tell your Molinists!
There she lies in the long white lazar-house.
Rome has besieged, these two days, never doubt,
Saint Anna's where she waits her death, to hear
Though but the chink o' the bell, turn o' the hinge
When the reluctant wicket opes at last,
Lets in, on now this and now that pretence,
Too many by half,—complain the men of art,—
For a patient in such plight. The lawyers first
Paid the due visit—justice must be done;
They took her witness, why the murder was.
Then the priests followed properly,—a soul
To shrive; 't was Brother Celestine's own right,
The same who noises thus her gifts abroad.
But many more, who found they were old friends,
Pushed in to have their stare and take their talk
And go forth boasting of it and to boast.
Old Monna Baldi chatters like a jay,
Swears—but that, prematurely trundled out
Just as she felt the benefit begin,
The miracle was snapped up by somebody,—
Her palsied limb 'gan prick and promise life
At touch o' the bedclothes merely,—how much more
Had she but brushed the body as she tried!
Cavalier Carlo—well, there's some excuse
For him—Maratta who paints Virgins so—
He too must fee the porter and slip by
With pencil cut and paper squared, and straight
There was he figuring away at face:
"A lovelier face is not in Rome," cried he,
"Shaped like a peacock's egg, the pure as pearl,
"That hatches you anon a snow-white chick."
Then, oh that pair of eyes, that pendent hair,
Black this and black the other! Mighty fine—
But nobody cared ask to paint the same,
Nor grew a poet over hair and eyes
Four little years ago when, ask and have,
The woman who wakes all this rapture leaned
Flower-like from out her window long enough,
As much uncomplimented as uncropped
By comers and goers in Via Vittoria: eh?
'T is just a flower's fate: past parterre we trip,
Till peradventure someone plucks our sleeve—
"Yon blossom at the briar's end, that's the rose
"Two jealous people fought for yesterday
"And killed each other: see, there's undisturbed
"A pretty pool at the root, of rival red!"
Then cry we "Ah, the perfect paragon!"
Then crave we "Just one keepsake-leaf for us!"
Truth lies between: there's anyhow a child
Of seventeen years, whether a flower or weed,
Ruined: who did it shall account to Christ—
Having no pity on the harmless life
And gentle face and girlish form he found,
And thus flings back. Go practise if you please
With men and women: leave a child alone
For Christ's particular love's sake!—so I say.
Somebody, at the bedside, said much more,
Took on him to explain the secret cause
O' the crime: quoth he, "Such crimes are very rife,
"Explode nor make us wonder now-a-days,
"Seeing that Antichrist disseminates
"That doctrine of the Philosophic Sin:
"Molinos' sect will soon make earth too hot!"
"Nay," groaned the Augustinian, "what's there new?
"Crime will not fail to flare up from men's hearts
"While hearts are men's and so born criminal;
"Which one fact, always old yet ever new,
"Accounts for so much crime that, for my part,
"Molinos may go whistle to the wind
"That waits outside a certain church, you know!"
Though really it does seem as if she here,
Pompilia, living so and dying thus,
Has had undue experience how much crime
A heart can hatch. Why was she made to learn
—Not you, not I, not even Molinos' self—
What Guido Franceschini's heart could hold?
Thus saintship is effected probably;
No sparing saints the process!—which the more
Tends to the reconciling us, no saints,
To sinnership, immunity and all.
For see now: Pietro and Violante's life
Till seventeen years ago, all Rome might note
And quote for happy—see the signs distinct
Of happiness as we yon Triton's trump.
What could they be but happy?—balanced so,
Nor low i' the social scale nor yet too high,
Nor poor nor richer than comports with ease,
Nor bright and envied, nor obscure and scorned,
Nor so young that their pleasures fell too thick,
Nor old past catching pleasure when it fell,
Nothing above, below the just degree,
All at the mean where joy's components mix.
So again, in the couple's very souls
You saw the adequate half with half to match,
Each having and each lacking somewhat, both
Making a whole that had all and lacked nought.
The round and sound, in whose composure just
The acquiescent and recipient side
Was Pietro's, and the stirring striving one
Violante's: both in union gave the due
Quietude, enterprise, craving and content,
Which go to bodily health and peace of mind.
But, as 't is said a body, rightly mixed,
Each element in equipoise, would last
Too long and live for ever,—accordingly
Holds a germ—sand-grain weight too much i' the scale—
Ordained to get predominance one day
And so bring all to ruin and release,—
Not otherwise a fatal germ lurked here:
"With mortals much must go, but something stays;
"Nothing will stay of our so happy selves."
Out of the very ripeness of life's core
A worm was bred—"Our life shall leave no fruit."
Enough of bliss, they thought, could bliss bear seed,
Yield its like, propagate a bliss in turn
And keep the kind up; not supplant themselves
But put in evidence, record they were,
Show them, when done with, i' the shape of a child.
"'T is in a child, man and wife grow complete,
"One flesh: God says so: let him do his work!"
Now, one reminder of this gnawing want,
One special prick o' the maggot at the core,
Always befell when, as the day came round,
A certain yearly sum,—our Pietro being,
As the long name runs, an usufructuary,—
Dropped in the common bag as interest
Of money, his till death, not afterward,
Failing an heir: an heir would take and take,
A child of theirs be wealthy in their place
To nobody's hurt—the stranger else seized all.
Prosperity rolled river-like and stopped,
Making their mill go; but when wheel wore out,
The wave would find a space and sweep on free
And, half-a-mile off, grind some neighbour's corn.
Adam-like, Pietro sighed and said no more:
Eve saw the apple was fair and good to taste,
So, plucked it, having asked the snake advice.
She told her husband God was merciful,
And his and her prayer granted at the last:
Let the old mill-stone moulder,—wheel unworn,
Quartz from the quarry, shot into the stream
Adroitly, as before should go bring grist—
Their house continued to them by an heir,
Their vacant heart replenished with a child.
We have her own confession at full length
Made in the first remorse: 't was Jubilee
Pealed in the ear o' the conscience and it woke.
She found she had offended God no doubt,
So much was plain from what had happened since,
Misfortune on misfortune; but she harmed
No one i' the world, so far as she could see.
The act had gladdened Pietro to the height,
Her spouse whom God himself must gladden so
Or not at all: thus much seems probable
From the implicit faith, or rather say
Stupid credulity of the foolish man
Who swallowed such a tale nor strained a whit
Even at his wife's far-over-fifty years
Matching his sixty-and-under. Him she blessed;
And as for doing any detriment
To the veritable heir,—why, tell her first
Who was he? Which of all the hands held up
I' the crowd, one day would gather round their gate,
Did she so wrong by intercepting thus
The ducat, spendthrift fortune thought to fling
For a scramble just to make the mob break shins?
She kept it, saved them kicks and cuffs thereby.
While at the least one good work had she wrought,
Good, clearly and incontestably! Her cheat—
What was it to its subject, the child's self,
But charity and religion? See the girl!
A body most like—a soul too probably—
Doomed to death, such a double death as waits
The illicit offspring of a common trull,
Sure to resent and forthwith rid herself
Of a mere interruption to sin's trade,
In the efficacious way old Tiber knows.
Was not so much proved by the ready sale
O' the child, glad transfer of this irksome chance?
Well then, she had caught up this castaway:
This fragile egg, some careless wild bird dropped,
She had picked from where it waited the foot-fall,
And put in her own breast till forth broke finch
Able to sing God praise on mornings now.
What so excessive harm was done?—she asked.
To which demand the dreadful answer comes—
For that same deed, now at Lorenzo's church,
Both agents, conscious and inconscious, lie;
While she, the deed was done to benefit,
Lies also, the most lamentable of things,
Yonder where curious people count her breaths,
Calculate how long yet the little life
Unspilt may serve their turn nor spoil the show,
Give them their story, then the church its group.
Well, having gained Pompilia, the girl grew
I' the midst of Pietro here, Violante there,
Each, like a semicircle with stretched arms,
Joining the other round her preciousness—
Two walls that go about a garden-plot
Where a chance sliver, branchlet slipt from bole
Of some tongue-leaved eye-figured Eden tree,
Filched by two exiles and borne far away.
Patiently glorifies their solitude,—
Year by year mounting, grade by grade surmount
The builded brick-work, yet is compassed still,
Still hidden happily and shielded safe,—
Else why should miracle have graced the ground?
But on the twelfth sun that brought April there
What meant that laugh? The coping-stone was reached;
Nay, above towered a light tuft of bloom
To be toyed with by butterfly or bee,
Done good to or else harm to from outside:
Pompilia's root, stalk and a branch or two
Home enclosed still, the rest would be the world's.
All which was taught our couple though obtuse,
Since walls have ears, when one day brought a priest,
Smooth-mannered soft-speeched sleek-cheeked visitor,
The notable Abate Paolo—known
As younger brother of a Tuscan house
Whereof the actual representative,
Count Guido, had employed his youth and age
In culture of Rome's most productive plant—
A cardinal: but years pass and change comes,
In token of which, here was our Paolo brought
To broach a weighty business. Might he speak?
Yes—to Violante somehow caught alone
While Pietro took his after-dinner doze,
And the young maiden, busily as befits,
Minded her broider-frame three chambers off.
So—giving now his great flap-hat a gloss
With flat o' the hand between-whiles, soothing now
The silk from out its creases o'er the calf,
Setting the stocking clerical again,
But never disengaging, once engaged,
The thin clear grey hold of his eyes on her—
He dissertated on that Tuscan house,
Those Franceschini,—very old they were—
Not rich however—oh, not rich, at least,
As people look to be who, low i' the scale
One way, have reason, rising all they can
By favour of the money-bag! 't is fair—
Do all gifts go together? But don't suppose
That being not so rich means all so poor!
Say rather, well enough—i' the way, indeed,
Ha, ha, to fortune better than the best:
Since if his brother's patron-friend kept faith,
Put into promised play the Cardinalate,
Their house might wear the red cloth that keeps warm,
Would but the Count have patience—there's the point!
For he was slipping into years apace,
And years make men restless—they needs must spy
Some certainty, some sort of end assured,
Some sparkle, tho' from topmost beacon-tip,
That warrants life a harbour through the haze.
In short, call him fantastic as you choose,
Guido was home-sick, yearned for the old sights
And usual faces,—fain would settle himself
And have the patron's bounty when it fell
Irrigate far rather than deluge near,
Go fertilize Arezzo, not flood Rome.
Sooth to say, 't was the wiser wish: the Count
Proved wanting in ambition,—let us avouch,
Since truth is best,—in callousness of heart,
And winced at pin-pricks whereby honours hang
A ribbon o'er each puncture: his—no soul
Ecclesiastic (here the hat was brushed)
Humble but self-sustaining, calm and cold,
Having, as one who puts his hand to the plough,
Renounced the over-vivid family-feel—
Poor brother Guido! All too plain, he pined
Amid Rome's pomp and glare for dinginess
And that dilapidated palace-shell
Vast as a quarry and, very like, as bare—
Since to this comes old grandeur now-a-days—
Or that absurd wild villa in the waste
O' the hill side, breezy though, for who likes air,
Vittiano, nor unpleasant with its vines,
Outside the city and the summer heats.
And now his harping on this one tense chord
The villa and the palace, palace this
And villa the other, all day and all night
Creaked like the implacable cicala's cry
And made one's ear drum ache: nought else would serve
But that, to light his mother's visage up
With second youth, hope, gaiety again,
He must find straightway, woo and haply win
And bear away triumphant back, some wife.
Well now, the man was rational in his way:
He, the Abate,—ought he to interpose?
Unless by straining still his tutelage
(Priesthood leaps over elder-brothership)
Across this difficulty: then let go,
Leave the poor fellow in peace! Would that be wrong?
There was no making Guido great, it seems,
Spite of himself: then happy be his dole!
Indeed, the Abate's little interest
Was somewhat nearly touched i' the case, they saw:
Since if his simple kinsman so were bent,
Began his rounds in Rome to catch a wife,
Full soon would such unworldliness surprise
The rare bird, sprinkle salt on phoenix' tail,
And so secure the nest a sparrow-hawk.
No lack of mothers here in Rome,—no dread
Of daughters lured as larks by looking-glass!
The first name-pecking credit-scratching fowl
Would drop her unfledged cuckoo in our nest
To gather greyness there, give voice at length
And shame the brood … but it was long ago
When crusades were, and we sent eagles forth!
No, that at least the Abate could forestall.
He read the thought within his brother's word,
Knew what he purposed better than himself.
We want no name and fame—having our own:
No worldly aggrandizement—such we fly:
But if some wonder of a woman's-heart
Were yet untainted on this grimy earth,
Tender and true—tradition tells of such—
Prepared to pant in time and tune with ours—
If some good girl (a girl, since she must take
The new bent, live new life, adopt new modes)
Not wealthy (Guido for his rank was poor)
But with whatever dowry came to hand,—
There were the lady-love predestinate!
And somehow the Abate's guardian eye—
Scintillant, rutilant, fraternal fire,—
Roving round every way had seized the prize
—The instinct of us, we, the spiritualty!
Come, cards on table; was it true or false
That here—here in this very tenement—
Yea, Via Vittoria did a marvel hide,
Lily of a maiden, white with intact leaf
Guessed thro' the sheath that saved it from the sun?
A daughter with the mother's hands still clasped
Over her head for fillet virginal,
A wife worth Guido's house and hand and heart?
He came to see; had spoken, he could no less—
(A final cherish of the stockinged calf)
If harm were,—well, the matter was off his mind.
Then with the great air did he kiss, devout,
Violante's hand, and rise up his whole height
(A certain purple gleam about the black)
And go forth grandly,—as if the Pope came next.
And so Violante rubbed her eyes awhile,
Got up too, walked to wake her Pietro soon
And pour into his ear the mighty news
How somebody had somehow somewhere seen
Their tree-top-tuft of bloom above the wall,
And came now to apprize them the tree's self
Was no such crab-sort as should go feed swine,
But veritable gold, the Hesperian ball
Ordained for Hercules to haste and pluck,
And bear and give the Gods to banquet with—
Hercules standing ready at the door.
Whereon did Pietro rub his eyes in turn,
Look very wise, a little woeful too,
Then, periwig on head, and cane in hand,
Sally forth dignifiedly into the Square
Of Spain across Babbuino the six steps,
Toward the Boat-fountain where our idlers lounge,—
Ask, for form's sake, who Hercules might be,
And have congratulation from the world.
Heartily laughed the world in his fool's-face
And told him Hercules was just the heir
To the stubble once a corn-field, and brick-heap
Where used to be a dwelling-place now burned.
Guido and Franceschini; a Count,—ay:
But a cross i' the poke to bless the Countship? No!
All gone except sloth, pride, rapacity,
Humours of the imposthume incident
To rich blood that runs thin,—nursed to a head
By the rankly-salted soil—a cardinal's court
Where, parasite and picker-up of crumbs,
He had hung on long, and now, let go, said some,
Shaken off, said others,—but in any case
Tired of the trade and something worse for wear,
Was wanting to change town for country quick,
Go home again: let Pietro help him home!
The brother, Abate Paolo, shrewder mouse,
Had pricked for comfortable quarters, inched
Into the core of Rome, and fattened so;
But Guido, over-burly for rat's hole
Suited to clerical slimness, starved outside,
Must shift for himself: and so the shift was this!
What, was the snug retreat of Pietro tracked,
The little provision for his old age snuffed?
"Oh, make your girl a lady, an you list,
"But have more mercy on our wit than vaunt
"Your bargain as we burgesses who brag!
"Why, Goodman Dullard, if a friend must speak,
"Would the Count, think you, stoop to you and yours
"Were there the value of one penny-piece
"To rattle 'twixt his palms—or likelier laugh,
"Bid your Pompilia help you black his shoe?"
Home again, shaking oft the puzzled pate,
Went Pietro to announce a change indeed,
Yet point Violante where some solace lay
Of a rueful sort,—the taper, quenched so soon,
Had ended merely in a snuff, not stink—
Congratulate there was one hope the less
Not misery the more: and so an end.
The marriage thus impossible, the rest
Followed: our spokesman, Paolo, heard his fate,
Resignedly Count Guido bore the blow:
Violante wiped away the transient tear,
Renounced the playing Danae to gold dreams,
Praised much her Pietro's prompt sagaciousness,
Found neighbours' envy natural, lightly laughed
At gossips' malice, fairly wrapped herself
In her integrity three folds about,
And, letting pass a little day or two,
Threw, even over that integrity,
Another wrappage, namely one thick veil
That hid her, matron-wise, from head to foot,
And, by the hand holding a girl veiled too,
Stood, one dim end of a December day,
In Saint Lorenzo on the altar-step—
Just where she lies now and that girl will lie—
Only with fifty candles' company
Now, in the place of the poor winking one
Which saw,—doors shut and sacristan made sure,—
A priest—perhaps Abate Paolo—wed
Guido clandestinely, irrevocably
To his Pompilia aged thirteen years
And five months,—witness the church register,—
Pompilia, (thus become Count Guido's wife
Clandestinely, irrevocably his,)
Who all the while had borne, from first to last,
As brisk a part i' the bargain, as yon lamb,
Brought forth from basket and set out for sale,
Bears while they chaffer, wary market-man
And voluble housewife, o'er it,—each in turn
Patting the curly calm inconscious head,
With the shambles ready round the corner there,
When the talk's talked out and a bargain struck.
Transfer complete, why, Pietro was apprised.
Violante sobbed the sobs and prayed the prayers
And said the serpent tempted so she fell,
Till Pietro had to clear his brow apace
And make the best of matters: wrath at first,—
How else? pacification presently,
Why not?—could flesh withstand the impurpled one,
The very Cardinal, Paolo's patron-friend?
Who, justifiably surnamed "a hinge,"
Knew where the mollifying oil should drop
To cure the creak o' the valve,—considerate
For frailty, patient in a naughty world.
He even volunteered to supervise
The rough draught of those marriage-articles
Signed in a hurry by Pietro, since revoked:
Trust's politic, suspicion does the harm,
There is but one way to brow-beat this world,
Dumb-founder doubt, and repay scorn in kind,—
To go on trusting, namely, till faith move
And faith here made the mountains move.
Why, friends whose zeal cried "Caution ere too late!"—
Bade "Pause ere jump, with both feet joined, on slough!"—
Counselled "If rashness then, now temperance!"—
Heard for their pains that Pietro had closed eyes,
Jumped and was in the middle of the mire,
Money and all, just what should sink a man.
By the mere marriage, Guido gained forthwith
Dowry, his wife's right; no rescinding there:
But Pietro, why must he needs ratify
One gift Violante gave, pay down one doit
Promised in first fool's-flurry? Grasp the bag
Lest the son's service flag,—is reason and rhyme,
Above all when the son's a son-in-law.
Words to the wind! The parents cast their lot
Into the lap o' the daughter: and the son
Now with a right to lie there, took what fell,
Pietro's whole having and holding, house and field,
Goods, chattels and effects, his worldly worth
Present and in perspective, all renounced
In favour of Guido. As for the usufruct—
The interest now, the principal anon,
Would Guido please to wait, at Pietro's death:
Till when, he must support the couple's charge,
Bear with them, housemates, pensionaries, pawned
To an alien for fulfilment of their pact.
Guido should at discretion deal them orts,
Bread-bounty in Arezzo the strange place,—
They who had lived deliciously and rolled
Rome's choicest comfit 'neath the tongue before.
Into this quag, "jump" bade the Cardinal!
And neck-deep in a minute there flounced they.
But they touched bottom at Arezzo: there—
Four months' experience of how craft and greed
Quickened by penury and pretentious hate
Of plain truth, brutify and bestialize,—
Four months' taste of apportioned insolence,
Cruelty graduated, dose by dose
Of ruffianism dealt out at bed and board,
And lo, the work was done, success clapped hands.
The starved, stripped, beaten brace of stupid dupes
Broke at last in their desperation loose,
Fled away for their lives, and lucky so;
Found their account in casting coat afar
And bearing off a shred of skin at least:
Left Guido lord o' the prey, as the lion is,
And, careless what came after, carried their wrongs
To Rome,—I nothing doubt, with such remorse
As folly feels, since pain can make it wise,
But crime, past wisdom, which is innocence,
Needs not be plagued with till a later day.
Pietro went back to beg from door to door,
In hope that memory not quite extinct
Of cheery days and festive nights would move
Friends and acquaintance—after the natural laugh,
And tributary "Just as we foretold—"
To show some bowels, give the dregs o' the cup,
Scraps of the trencher, to their host that was,
Or let him share the mat with the mastiff, he
Who lived large and kept open house so long.
Not so Violante: ever a-head i' the march,
Quick at the bye-road and the cut-across,
She went first to the best adviser, God—
Whose finger unmistakably was felt
In all this retribution of the past.
Here was the prize of sin, luck of a lie!
But here too was what Holy Year would help,
Bound to rid sinners of sin vulgar, sin
Abnormal, sin prodigious, up to sin
Impossible and supposed for Jubilee' sake:
To lift the leadenest of lies, let soar
The soul unhampered by a feather-weight.
"I will" said she "go burn out this bad hole
"That breeds the scorpion, baulk the plague at least
"Of hope to further plague by progeny:
"I will confess my fault, be punished, yes,
"But pardoned too: Saint Peter pays for all."
So, with the crowd she mixed, made for the dome,
Through the great door new-broken for the nonce
Marched, muffled more than ever matron-wise,
Up the left nave to the formidable throne,
Fell into file with this the poisoner
And that the parricide, and reached in turn
The poor repugnant Penitentiary
Set at this gully-hole o' the world's discharge
To help the frightfullest of filth have vent,
And then knelt down and whispered in his ear
How she had bought Pompilia, palmed the babe
On Pietro, passed the girl off as their child
To Guido, and defrauded of his due
This one and that one,—more than she could name,
Until her solid piece of wickedness
Happened to split and spread woe far and wide:
Contritely now she brought the case for cure.
Replied the throne—"Ere God forgive the guilt,
"Make man some restitution! Do your part!
"The owners of your husband's heritage,
"Barred thence by this pretended birth and heir,—
"Tell them, the bar came so, is broken so,
"Theirs be the due reversion as before!
"Your husband who, no partner in the guilt,
"Suffers the penalty, led blindfold thus
"By love of what he thought his flesh and blood
"To alienate his all in her behalf,—
"Tell him too such contract is null and void!
"Last, he who personates your son-in-law,
"Who with sealed eyes and stopped ears, tame and mute,
"Took at your hand that bastard of a whore
"You called your daughter and he calls his wife,—
"Tell him, and bear the anger which is just!
"Then, penance so performed, may pardon be!"
Who could gainsay this just and right award?
Nobody in the world: but, out o' the world,
Who knows?—might timid intervention be
From any makeshift of an angel-guide,
Substitute for celestial guardianship,
Pretending to take care of the girl's self:
"Woman, confessing crime is healthy work,
"And telling truth relieves a liar like you,
"But how of my quite unconsidered charge?
"No thought if, while this good befalls yourself,
"Aught in the way of harm may find out her?"
No least thought, I assure you: truth being truth,
Tell it and shame the devil!
Said and done:
Home went Violante, disbosomed all:
And Pietro who, six months before, had borne
Word after word of such a piece of news
Like so much cold steel inched through his breastblade,
Now at its entry gave a leap for joy
As who—what did I say of one in a quag?—
Should catch a hand from heaven and spring thereby
Out of the mud, on ten toes stand once more.
"What? All that used to be, may be again?
"My money mine again, my house, my land,
"My chairs and tables, all mine evermore?
"What, the girl's dowry never was the girl's,
"And, unpaid yet, is never now to pay?
"Then the girl's self, my pale Pompilia child
"That used to be my own with her great eyes—
"He who drove us forth, why should he keep her
"When proved as very a pauper as himself?
"Will she come back, with nothing changed at all,
"And laugh 'But how you dreamed uneasily!
"'I saw the great drops stand here on your brow—
"'Did I do wrong to wake you with a kiss?'
"No, indeed, darling! No, for wide awake
"I see another outburst of surprise:
"The lout-lord, bully-beggar, braggart-sneak,
"Who not content with cutting purse, crops ear—
"Assuredly it shall be salve to mine
"When this great news red-letters him, the rogue!
"Ay, let him taste the teeth o' the trap, this fox,
"Give us our lamb back, golden fleece and all,
"Let her creep in and warm our breasts again!
"Why care for the past? We three are our old selves,
"And know now what the outside world is worth."
And so, he carried case before the courts;
And there Violante, blushing to the bone,
Made public declaration of her fault,
Renounced her motherhood, and prayed the law
To interpose, frustrate of its effect
Her folly, and redress the injury done.
Whereof was the disastrous consequence,
That though indisputably clear the case
(For thirteen years are not so large a lapse,
And still six witnesses survived in Rome
To prove the truth o' the tale)—yet, patent wrong
Seemed Guido's; the first cheat had chanced on him:
Here was the pity that, deciding right,
Those who began the wrong would gain the prize.
Guido pronounced the story one long lie
Lied to do robbery and take revenge:
Or say it were no lie at all but truth,
Then, it both robbed the right heirs and shamed him
Without revenge to humanize the deed:
What had he done when first they shamed him thus?
But that were too fantastic: losels they,
And leasing this world's-wonder of a lie,
They lied to blot him though it brand themselves.
So answered Guido through the Abate's mouth.
Wherefore the court, its customary way,
Inclined to the middle course the sage affect.
They held the child to be a changeling,—good:
But, lest the husband got no good thereby,
They willed the dowry, though not hers at all,
Should yet be his, if not by right then grace—
Part-payment for the plain injustice done.
As for that other contract, Pietro's work,
Renunciation of his own estate,
That must be cancelled—give him back his gifts,
He was no party to the cheat at least!
So ran the judgment:—whence a prompt appeal
On both sides, seeing right is absolute.
Cried Pietro "Is the child no child of mine?
"Why give her a child's dowry?"—"Have I right
"To the dowry, why not to the rest as well?"
Cried Guido, or cried Paolo in his name:
Till law said "Reinvestigate the case!"
And so the matter pends, to this same day.
Hence new disaster—here no outlet seemed;
Whatever the fortune of the battle-field,
No path whereby the fatal man might march
Victorious, wreath on head and spoils in hand,
And back turned full upon the baffled foe,—
Nor cranny whence, desperate and disgraced,
Stripped to the skin, he might be fain to crawl
Worm-like, and so away with his defeat
To other fortune and a novel prey.
No, he was pinned to the place there, left alone
With his immense hate and, the solitary
Subject to satisfy that hate, his wife.
"Cast her off? Turn her naked out of doors?
"Easily said! But still the action pends,
"Still dowry, principal and interest,
"Pietro's possessions, all I bargained for,—
"Any good day, be but my friends alert,
"May give them me if she continue mine.
"Yet, keep her? Keep the puppet of my foes—
"Her voice that lisps me back their curse—her eye
"They lend their leer of triumph to—her lip
"I touch and taste their very filth upon?"
In short, he also took the middle course
Rome taught him—did at last excogitate
How he might keep the good and leave the bad
Twined in revenge, yet extricable,—nay
Make the very hate's eruption, very rush
Of the unpent sluice of cruelty relieve
His heart first, then go fertilize his field.
What if the girl-wife, tortured with due care,
Should take, as though spontaneously, the road
It were impolitic to thrust her on?
If, goaded, she broke out in full revolt,
Followed her parents i' the face o' the world,
Branded as runaway not castaway,
Self-sentenced and self-punished in the act?
So should the loathed form and detested face
Launch themselves into hell and there be lost
While he looked o'er the brink with folded arms;
So should the heaped-up shames go shuddering back
O' the head o' the heapers, Pietro and his wife,
And bury in the breakage three at once:
While Guido, left free, no one right renounced,
Gain present, gain prospective, all the gain,
None of the wife except her rights absorbed,
Should ask law what it was law paused about—
If law were dubious still whose word to take,
The husband's—dignified and derelict,
Or the wife's—the … what I tell you. It should be.
Guido's first step was to take pen, indite
A letter to the Abate,—not his own,
His wife's,—she should re-write, sign, seal and send.
She liberally told the household-news,
Rejoiced her vile progenitors were gone,
Revealed their malice—how they even laid
A last injunction on her, when they fled,
That she should forthwith find a paramour,
Complot with him to gather spoil enough,
Then burn the house down,—taking previous care
To poison all its inmates overnight,—
And so companioned, so provisioned too,
Follow to Rome and there join fortunes gay.
This letter, traced in pencil-characters,
Guido as easily got re-traced in ink
By his wife's pen, guided from end to end,
As if it had been just so much Chinese.
For why? That wife could broider, sing perhaps,
Pray certainly, but no more read than write
This letter "which yet write she must," he said,
"Being half courtesy and compliment,
"Half sisterliness: take the thing on trust!"
She had as readily re-traced the words
Of her own death-warrant,—in some sort 't was so.
This letter the Abate in due course
Communicated to such curious souls
In Rome as needs must pry into the cause
Of quarrel, why the Comparini fled
The Franceschini, whence the grievance grew,
What the hubbub meant: "Nay,—see the wife's own word,
"Authentic answer! Tell detractors too
"There's a plan formed, a programme figured here
"—Pray God no after-practice put to proof,
"This letter cast no light upon, one day!"
So much for what should work in Rome: back now
To Arezzo, follow up the project there,
Forward the next step with as bold a foot,
And plague Pompilia to the height, you see!
Accordingly did Guido set himself
To worry up and down, across, around,
The woman, hemmed in by her household-bars,—
Chase her about the coop of daily life,
Having first stopped each outlet thence save one
Which, like bird with a ferret in her haunt,
She needs must seize as sole way of escape
Though there was tied and twittering a decoy
To seem as if it tempted,—just the plume
O' the popinjay, not a real respite there
From tooth and claw of something in the dark,—
The tenebrific passage of the tale:
How hold a light, display the cavern's gorge?
How, in this phase of the affair, show truth?
Here is the dying wife who smiles and says
"So it was,—so it was not,—how it was,
"I never knew nor ever care to know—"
Till they all weep, physician, man of law,
Even that poor old bit of battered brass
Beaten out of all shape by the world's sins,
Common utensil of the lazar-house—
Confessor Celestino groans "'T is truth,
"All truth and only truth: there's something here,
"Some presence in the room beside us all,
"Something that every lie expires before:
"No question she was pure from first to last."
So far is well and helps us to believe:
But beyond, she the helpless, simple-sweet
Or silly-sooth, unskilled to break one blow
At her good fame by putting finger forth,—
How can she render service to the truth?
The bird says "So I fluttered where a springe
"Caught me: the springe did not contrive itself,
"That I know: who contrived it, God forgive!"
But we, who hear no voice and have dry eyes,
Must ask,—we cannot else, absolving her,—
How of the part played by that same decoy
I' the catching, caging? Was himself caught first?
We deal here with no innocent at least,
No witless victim,—he's a man of the age
And priest beside,—persuade the mocking world
Mere charity boiled over in this sort!
He whose own safety too,—(the Pope's apprised—
Good-natured with the secular offence,
The Pope looks grave on priesthood in a scrape)
Our priest's own safety therefore, may-be life,
Hangs on the issue! You will find it hard.
Guido is here to meet you with fixed foot,
Stiff like a statue—"Leave what went before!
"My wife fled i' the company of a priest,
"Spent two days and two nights alone with him:
"Leave what came after!" He stands hard to throw
Moreover priests are merely flesh and blood;
When we get weakness, and no guilt beside,
'Tis no such great ill-fortune: finding grey,
We gladly call that white which might be black,
Too used to the double-dye. So, if the priest
Moved by Pompilia's youth and beauty, gave
Way to the natural weakness… . Anyhow
Here be facts, charactery; what they spell
Determine, and thence pick what sense you may!
There was a certain young bold handsome priest
Popular in the city, far and wide
Famed, since Arezzo's but a little place,
As the best of good companions, gay and grave
At the decent minute; settled in his stall,
Or sidling, lute on lap, by lady's couch,
Ever the courtly Canon; see in him
A proper star to climb and culminate,
Have its due handbreadth of the heaven at Rome,
Though meanwhile pausing on Arezzo's edge,
As modest candle does 'mid mountain fog,
To rub off redness and rusticity
Ere it sweep chastened, gain the silver-sphere!
Whether through Guido's absence or what else,
This Caponsacchi, favourite of the town,
Was yet no friend of his nor free o' the house,
Though both moved in the regular magnates' march:
Each must observe the other's tread and halt
At church, saloon, theatre, house of play.
Who could help noticing the husband's slouch,
The black of his brow—or miss the news that buzzed
Of how the little solitary wife
Wept and looked out of window all day long?
What need of minute search into such springs
As start men, set o' the move?—machinery
Old as earth, obvious as the noonday sun.
Why, take men as they come,—an instance now,—
Of all those who have simply gone to see
Pompilia on her deathbed since four days,
Half at the least are, call it how you please,
In love with her—I don't except the priests
Nor even the old confessor whose eyes run
Over at what he styles his sister's voice
Who died so early and weaned him from the world.
Well, had they viewed her ere the paleness pushed
The last o' the red o' the rose away, while yet
Some hand, adventurous 'twixt the wind and her,
Might let shy life run back and raise the flower
Rich with reward up to the guardian's face,—
Would they have kept that hand employed all day
At fumbling on with prayer-book pages? No!
Men are men: why then need I say one word
More than that our mere man the Canon here
Saw, pitied, loved Pompilia?
This is why;
This startling why: that Caponsacchi's self—
Whom foes and friends alike avouch, for good
Or ill, a man of truth whate'er betide,
Intrepid altogether, reckless too
How his own fame and fortune, tossed to the winds,
Suffer by any turn the adventure take,
Nay, more—not thrusting, like a badge to hide,
'Twixt shirt and skin a joy which shown is shame—
But flirting flag-like i' the face o' the world
This tell-tale kerchief, this conspicuous love
For the lady,—oh, called innocent love, I know!
Only, such scarlet fiery innocence
As most folk would try muffle up in shade,—
—'T is strange then that this else abashless mouth
Should yet maintain, for truth's sake which is God's,
That it was not he made the first advance,
That, even ere word had passed between the two,
Pompilia penned him letters, passionate prayers,
If not love, then so simulating love
That he, no novice to the taste of thyme,
Turned from such over-luscious honey-clot
At end o' the flower, and would not lend his lip
Till … but the tale here frankly outsoars faith:
There must be falsehood somewhere. For her part,
Pompilia quietly constantly avers
She never penned a letter in her life
Nor to the Canon nor any other man,
Being incompetent to write and read:
Nor had she ever uttered word to him, nor he
To her till that same evening when they met,
She on her window-terrace, he beneath
I' the public street, as was their fateful chance,
And she adjured him in the name of God
To find out, bring to pass where, when and how
Escape with him to Rome might be contrived.
Means were found, plan laid, time fixed, she avers,
And heart assured to heart in loyalty,
All at an impulse! All extemporized
As in romance-books! Is that credible?
Well, yes: as she avers this with calm mouth
Dying, I do think "Credible!" you'd cry—
Did not the priest's voice come to break the spell.
They questioned him apart, as the custom is,
When first the matter made a noise at Rome,
And he, calm, constant then as she is now,
For truth's sake did assert and re-assert
Those letters called him to her and he came,
—Which damns the story credible otherwise.
Why should this man,—mad to devote himself,
Careless what comes of his own fame, the first,—
Be studious thus to publish and declare
Just what the lightest nature loves to hide,
So screening lady from the byword's laugh
"First spoke the lady, last the cavalier!"
—I say,—why should the man tell truth just now
When graceful lying meets such ready shrift?
Or is there a first moment for a priest
As for a woman, when invaded shame
Must have its first and last excuse to show?
Do both contrive love's entry in the mind
Shall look, i' the manner of it, a surprise,—
That after, once the flag o' the fort hauled down,
Effrontery may sink drawbridge, open gate,
Welcome and entertain the conqueror?
Or what do you say to a touch of the devil's worst?
Can it be that the husband, he who wrote
The letter to his brother I told you of,
I' the name of her it meant to criminate,—
What if he wrote those letters to the priest?
Further the priest says, when it first befell,
This folly o' the letters, that he checked the flow,
Put them back lightly each with its reply.
Here again vexes new discrepancy:
There never reached her eye a word from him:
He did write but she could not read—could just
Burn the offence to wifehood, womanhood,
So did burn: never bade him come to her,
Yet when it proved he must come, let him come,
And when he did come though uncalled,—why, spoke
Prompt by an inspiration: thus it chanced.
Will you go somewhat back to understand?
When first, pursuant to his plan, there sprang,
Like an uncaged beast, Guido's cruelty
On soul and body of his wife, she cried
To those whom law appoints resource for such,
The secular guardian,—that's the Governor,
And the Archbishop,—that's the spiritual guide,
And prayed them take the claws from out her flesh.
Now, this is ever the ill consequence
Of being noble, poor and difficult,
Ungainly, yet too great to disregard,—
This—that born peers and friends hereditary,—
Though disinclined to help from their own store
The opprobrious wight, put penny in his poke
From private purse or leave the door ajar
When he goes wistful by at dinner-time,—
Yet, if his needs conduct him where they sit
Smugly in office, judge this, bishop that,
Dispensers of the shine and shade o' the place—
And if, friend's door shut and friend's purse undrawn,
Still potentates may find the office-seat
Do as good service at no cost—give help
By-the-bye, pay up traditional dues at once
Just through a feather-weight too much i' the scale,
Or finger-tip forgot at the balance-tongue,—
Why, only churls refuse, or Molinists.
Thus when, in the first roughness of surprise
At Guido's wolf-face whence the sheepskin fell,
The frightened couple, all bewilderment,
Rushed to the Governor,—who else rights wrong?
Told him their tale of wrong and craved redress—
Why, then the Governor woke up to the fact
That Guido was a friend of old, poor Count!—
So, promptly paid his tribute, promised the pair,
Wholesome chastisement should soon cure their qualms
Next time they came, wept, prated and told lies:
So stopped all prating, sent them dumb to Rome.
Well, now it was Pompilia's turn to try:
The troubles pressing on her, as I said,
Three times she rushed, maddened by misery,
To the other mighty man, sobbed out her prayer
At footstool of the Archbishop—fast the friend
Of her husband also! Oh, good friends of yore!
So, the Archbishop, not to be outdone
By the Governor, break custom more than he,
Thrice bade the foolish woman stop her tongue,
Unloosed her hands from harassing his gout,
Coached her and carried her to the Count again,
—His old friend should be master in his house,
Rule his wife and correct her faults at need!
Well, driven from post to pillar in this wise,
She, as a last resource, betook herself
To one, should be no family-friend at least,
A simple friar o' the city; confessed to him,
Then told how fierce temptation of release
By self-dealt death was busy with her soul,
And urged that he put this in words, write plain
For one who could not write, set down her prayer
That Pietro and Violante, parent-like
If somehow not her parents, should for love
Come save her, pluck from out the flame the brand
Themselves had thoughtlessly thrust in so deep
To send gay-coloured sparkles up and cheer
Their seat at the chimney-corner. The good friar
Promised as much at the moment; but, alack,
Night brings discretion: he was no one's friend,
Yet presently found he could not turn about
Nor take a step i' the case and fail to tread
On someone's toe who either was a friend,
Or a friend's friend, or friend's friend thrice-removed,
And woe to friar by whom offences come!
So, the course being plain,—with a general sigh
At matrimony the profound mistake,—
He threw reluctantly the business up,
Having his other penitents to mind.
If then, all outlets thus secured save one,
At last she took to the open, stood and stared
With her wan face to see where God might wait—
And there found Caponsacchi wait as well
For the precious something at perdition's edge,
He only was predestinate to save,—
And if they recognized in a critical flash
From the zenith, each the other, her need of him,
His need of … say, a woman to perish for,
The regular way o' the world, yet break no vow,
Do no harm save to himself,—if this were thus?
How do you say? It were improbable;
So is the legend of my patron-saint.
Anyhow, whether, as Guido states the case,
Pompilia,—like a starving wretch i' the street
Who stops and rifles the first passenger
In the great right of an excessive wrong,—
Did somehow call this stranger and he came,—
Or whether the strange sudden interview
Blazed as when star and star must needs go close
Till each hurts each and there is loss in heaven—
Whatever way in this strange world it was,—
Pompilia and Caponsacchi met, in fine,
She at her window, he i' the street beneath,
And understood each other at first look.
All was determined and performed at once.
And on a certain April evening, late
I' the month, this girl of sixteen, bride and wife
Three years and over,—she who hitherto
Had never taken twenty steps in Rome
Beyond the church, pinned to her mother's gown,
Nor, in Arezzo, knew her way through street
Except what led to the Archbishop's door,—
Such an one rose up in the dark, laid hand
On what came first, clothes and a trinket or two,
Belongings of her own in the old day,—
Stole from the side o' the sleeping spouse—who knows?
Sleeping perhaps, silent for certain,—slid
Ghost-like from great dark room to great dark room
In through the tapestries and out again
And onward, unembarrassed as a fate,
Descended staircase, gained last door of all,
Sent it wide open at first push of palm,
And there stood, first time, last and only time,
At liberty, alone in the open street,—
Unquestioned, unmolested found herself
At the city gate, by Caponsacchi's side,
Hope there, joy there, life and all good again,
The carriage there, the convoy there, light there
Broadening ever into blaze at Rome
And breaking small what long miles lay between;
Up she sprang, in he followed, they were safe.
The husband quotes this for incredible,
All of the story from first word to last:
Sees the priest's hand throughout upholding hers,
Traces his foot to the alcove, that night,
Whither and whence blindfold he knew the way,
Proficient in all craft and stealthiness;
And cites for proof a servant, eye that watched
And ear that opened to purse secrets up,
A woman-spy,—suborned to give and take
Letters and tokens, do the work of shame
The more adroitly that herself, who helped
Communion thus between a tainted pair,
Had long since been a leper thick in spot,
A common trull o' the town: she witnessed all,
Helped many meetings, partings, took her wage
And then told Guido the whole matter. Lies!
The woman's life confutes her word,—her word
Confutes itself: "Thus, thus and thus I lied."
"And thus, no question, still you lie," we say.
"Ay but at last, e'en have it how you will,
"Whatever the means, whatever the way, explodes
"The consummation"—the accusers shriek:
"Here is the wife avowedly found in flight,
"And the companion of her flight, a priest;
"She flies her husband, he the church his spouse:
"What is this?"
Wife and priest alike reply
"This is the simple thing it claims to be,
"A course we took for life and honour's sake,
"Very strange, very justifiable."
She says, "God put it in my head to fly,
"As when the martin migrates: autumn claps
"Her hands, cries 'Winter's coming, will be here,
"'Off with you ere the white teeth overtake!
"'Flee!' So I fled: this friend was the warm day,
"The south wind and whatever favours flight;
"I took the favour, had the help, how else?
"And so we did fly rapidly all night,
"All day, all night—a longer night—again,
"And then another day, longest of days,
"And all the while, whether we fled or stopped,
"I scarce know how or why, one thought filled both,
"'Fly and arrive!' So long as I found strength
"I talked with my companion, told him much,
"Knowing that he knew more, knew me, knew God
"And God's disposal of me,—but the sense
"O' the blessed flight absorbed me in the main,
"And speech became mere talking through a sleep,
"Till at the end of that last longest night
"In a red daybreak, when we reached an inn
"And my companion whispered 'Next stage—Rome!'
"Sudden the weak flesh fell like piled-up cards,
"All the frail fabric at a finger's touch,
"And prostrate the poor soul too, and I said
"'But though Count Guido were a furlong off,
"'Just on me, I must stop and rest awhile!'
"Then something like a huge white wave o' the sea
"Broke o'er my brain and buried me in sleep
"Blessedly, till it ebbed and left me loose,
"And where was I found but on a strange bed
"In a strange room like hell, roaring with noise,
"Ruddy with flame, and filled with men, in front
"Who but the man you call my husband? ay—
"Count Guido once more between heaven and me,
"For there my heaven stood, my salvation, yes—
"That Caponsacchi all my heaven of help,
"Helpless himself, held prisoner in the hands
"Of men who looked up in my husband's face
"To take the fate thence he should signify,
"Just as the way was at Arezzo. Then,
"Not for my sake but his who had helped me—
"I sprang up, reached him with one bound, and seized
"The sword o' the felon, trembling at his side,
"Fit creature of a coward, unsheathed the thing
"And would have pinned him through the poison-bag
"To the wall and left him there to palpitate,
"As you serve scorpions, but men interposed—
"Disarmed me, gave his life to him again
"That he might take mine and the other lives,
"And he has done so. I submit myself!"
The priest says—oh, and in the main result
The facts asseverate, he truly says.
As to the very act and deed of him,
However you mistrust the mind o' the man—
The flight was just for flight's sake, no pretext
For aught except to set Pompilia free.
He says "I cite the husband's self's worst charge
"In proof of my best word for both of us.
"Be it conceded that so many times
"We took our pleasure in his palace: then,
"What need to fly at all?—or flying no less,
"What need to outrage the lips sick and white
"Of a woman, and bring ruin down beside,
"By halting when Rome lay one stage beyond?"
So does he vindicate Pompilia's fame,
Confirm her story in all points but one—
This; that, so fleeing and so breathing forth
Her last strength in the prayer to halt awhile,
She makes confusion of the reddening white
Which was the sunset when her strength gave way,
And the next sunrise and its whitening red
Which she revived in when her husband came:
She mixes both times, morn and eve, in one,
Having lived through a blank of night 'twixt each
Though dead-asleep, unaware as a corpse,
She on the bed above; her friend below
Watched in the doorway of the inn the while,
Stood i' the red o' the morn, that she mistakes,
In act to rouse and quicken the tardy crew
And hurry out the horses, have the stage
Over, the last league, reach Rome and be safe:
When up came Guido.
Guido's tale begins—
How he and his whole household, drunk to death
By some enchanted potion, poppied drugs
Plied by the wife, lay powerless in gross sleep
And left the spoilers unimpeded way,
Could not shake off their poison and pursue,
Till noontide, then made shift to get on horse
And did pursue: which means he took his time,
Pressed on no more than lingered after, step
By step, just making sure o' the fugitives,
Till at the nick of time, he saw his chance,
Seized it, came up with and surprised the pair.
How he must needs have gnawn lip and gnashed teeth,
Taking successively at tower and town,
Village and roadside, still the same report
"Yes, such a pair arrived an hour ago,
"Sat in the carriage just where now you stand,
"While we got horses ready,—turned deaf ear
"To all entreaty they would even alight;
"Counted the minutes and resumed their course."
Would they indeed escape, arrive at Rome,
Leave no least loop-hole to let murder through,
But foil him of his captured infamy,
Prize of guilt proved and perfect? So it seemed.
Till, oh the happy chance, at last stage, Rome
But two short hours off, Castelnuovo reached,
The guardian angel gave reluctant place,
Satan stepped forward with alacrity,
Pompilia's flesh and blood succumbed, perforce
A halt was, and her husband had his will.
Perdue he couched, counted out hour by hour
Till he should spy in the east a signal-streak—
Night had been, morrow was, triumph would be.
Do you see the plan deliciously complete?
The rush upon the unsuspecting sleep,
The easy execution, the outcry
Over the deed "Take notice all the world!
"These two dead bodies, locked still in embrace,—
"The man is Caponsacchi and a priest,
"The woman is my wife: they fled me late,
"Thus have I found and you behold them thus,
"And may judge me: do you approve or no?"
Success did seem not so improbable,
But that already Satan's laugh was heard,
His black back turned on Guido—left i' the lurch
Or rather, baulked of suit and service now,
Left to improve on both by one deed more,
Burn up the better at no distant day,
Body and soul one holocaust to hell.
Anyhow, of this natural consequence
Did just the last link of the long chain snap:
For an eruption was o' the priest, alive
And alert, calm, resolute and formidable,
Not the least look of fear in that broad brow—
One not to be disposed of by surprise,
And armed moreover—who had guessed as much?
Yes, there stood he in secular costume
Complete from head to heel, with sword at side,
He seemed to know the trick of perfectly.
There was no prompt suppression of the man
As he said calmly "I have saved your wife
"From death; there was no other way but this;
"Of what do I defraud you except death?
"Charge any wrong beyond, I answer it."
Guido, the valorous, had met his match,
Was forced to demand help instead of fight,
Bid the authorities o' the place lend aid
And make the best of a broken matter so.
They soon obeyed the summons—I suppose,
Apprised and ready, or not far to seek—
Laid hands on Caponsacchi, found in fault,
A priest yet flagrantly accoutred thus,—
Then, to make good Count Guido's further charge,
Proceeded, prisoner made lead the way,
In a crowd, upstairs to the chamber-door
Where wax-white, dead asleep, deep beyond dream,
As the priest laid her, lay Pompilia yet.
And as he mounted step and step with the crowd
How I see Guido taking heart again!
He knew his wife so well and the way of her—
How at the outbreak she would shroud her shame
In hell's heart, would it mercifully yawn—
How, failing that, her forehead to his foot,
She would crouch silent till the great doom fell,
Leave him triumphant with the crowd to see
Guilt motionless or writhing like a worm!
No! Second misadventure, this worm turned,
I told you: would have slain him on the spot
With his own weapon, but they seized her hands:
Leaving her tongue free, as it tolled the knell
Of Guido's hope so lively late. The past
Took quite another shape now. She who shrieked
"At least and for ever I am mine and God's,
"Thanks to his liberating angel Death—
"Never again degraded to be yours
"The ignoble noble, the unmanly man,
"The beast below the beast in brutishness!"—
This was the froward child, "the restif lamb
"Used to be cherished in his breast," he groaned—
"Eat from his hand and drink from out his cup,
"The while his fingers pushed their loving way
"Through curl on curl of that soft coat—alas,
"And she all silverly baaed gratitude
"While meditating mischief!"—and so forth.
He must invent another story now!
The ins and outs o' the rooms were searched: he found
Or showed for found the abominable prize—
Love-letters from his wife who cannot write,
Love-letters in reply o' the priest—thank God!—
Who can write and confront his character
With this, and prove the false thing forged throughout:
Spitting whereat, he needs must spatter whom
But Guido's self?—that forged and falsified
One letter called Pompilia's, past dispute:
Then why not these to make sure still more sure?
So was the case concluded then and there:
Guido preferred his charges in due form,
Called on the law to adjudicate, consigned
The accused ones to the Prefect of the place,
(Oh mouse-birth of that mountain-like revenge!)
And so to his own place betook himself
After the spring that failed,—the wildcat's way.
The captured parties were conveyed to Rome;
Investigation followed here i' the court—
Soon to review the fruit of its own work,
From then to now being eight months and no more.
Guido kept out of sight and safe at home:
The Abate, brother Paolo, helped most
At words when deeds were out of question, pushed
Nearest the purple, best played deputy,
So, pleaded, Guido's representative
At the court shall soon try Guido's self,—what's more,
The court that also took—I told you, Sir—
That statement of the couple, how a cheat
Had been i' the birth of the babe, no child of theirs.
That was the prelude; this, the play's first act:
Whereof we wait what comes, crown, close of all.
Well, the result was something of a shade
On the parties thus accused,—how otherwise?
Shade, but with shine as unmistakable.
Each had a prompt defence: Pompilia first—
"Earth was made hell to me who did no harm:
"I only could emerge one way from hell
"By catching at the one hand held me, so
"I caught at it and thereby stepped to heaven:
"If that be wrong, do with me what you will!"
Then Caponsacchi with a grave grand sweep
O' the arm as though his soul warned baseness off—
"If as a man, then much more as a priest
"I hold me bound to help weak innocence:
"If so my worldly reputation burst,
"Being the bubble it is, why, burst it may:
"Blame I can bear though not blameworthiness.
"But use your sense first, see if the miscreant proved,
"The man who tortured thus the woman, thus
"Have not both laid the trap and fixed the lure
"Over the pit should bury body and soul!
"His facts are lies: his letters are the fact—
"An infiltration flavoured with himself!
"As for the fancies—whether … what is it you say?
"The lady loves me, whether I love her
"In the forbidden sense of your surmise,—
"If, with the midday blaze of truth above,
"The unlidded eye of God awake, aware,
"You needs must pry about and trace the birth
"Of each stray beam of light may traverse night,
"To the night's sun that's Lucifer himself,
"Do so, at other time, in other place,
"Not now nor here! Enough that first to last
"I never touched her lip nor she my hand
"Nor either of us thought a thought, much less
"Spoke a word which the Virgin might not hear.
"Be such your question, thus I answer it."
Then the court had to make its mind up, spoke.
"It is a thorny question, yea, a tale
"Hard to believe, but not impossible:
"Who can be absolute for either side?
"A middle course is happily open yet.
"Here has a blot surprised the social blank,—
"Whether through favour, feebleness or fault,
"No matter, leprosy has touched our robe
"And we unclean must needs be purified.
"Here is a wife makes holiday from home,
"A priest caught playing truant to his church,
"In masquerade moreover: both allege
"Enough excuse to stop our lifted scourge
"Which else would heavily fall. On the other hand,
"Here is a husband, ay and man of mark,
"Who comes complaining here, demands redress
"As if he were the pattern of desert—
"The while those plaguy allegations frown,
"Forbid we grant him the redress he seeks.
"To all men be our moderation known!
"Rewarding none while compensating each,
"Hurting all round though harming nobody,
"Husband, wife, priest, scot-free not one shall 'scape,
"Yet priest, wife, husband, boast the unbroken head
"From application of our excellent oil:
"So that, whatever be the fact, in fine,
"We make no miss of justice in a sort.
"First, let the husband stomach as he may,
"His wife shall neither be returned him, no—
"Nor branded, whipped and caged, but just consigned
"To a convent and the quietude she craves;
"So is he rid of his domestic plague:
"What better thing can happen to a man?
"Next, let the priest retire—unshent, unshamed,
"Unpunished as for perpetrating crime,
"But relegated (not imprisoned, Sirs!)
"Sent for three years to clarify his youth
"At Civita, a rest by the way to Rome:
"There let his life skim off its last of lees
"Nor keep this dubious colour. Judged the cause:
"All parties may retire, content, we hope."
That's Rome's way, the traditional road of law;
Whither it leads is what remains to tell.
The priest went to his relegation-place,
The wife to her convent, brother Paolo
To the arms of brother Guido with the news
And this beside—his charge was countercharged;
The Comparini, his old brace of hates,
Were breathed and vigilant and venomous now—
Had shot a second bolt where the first stuck,
And followed up the pending dowry-suit
By a procedure should release the wife
From so much of the marriage-bond as barred
Escape when Guido turned the screw too much
On his wife's flesh and blood, as husband may.
No more defence, she turned and made attack,
Claimed now divorce from bed and board, in short:
Pleaded such subtle strokes of cruelty,
Such slow sure siege laid to her body and soul,
As, proved,—and proofs seemed coming thick and fast,—
Would gain both freedom and the dowry back
Even should the first suit leave them in his grasp:
So urged the Comparini for the wife.
Guido had gained not one of the good things
He grasped at by his creditable plan
O' the flight and following and the rest: the suit
That smouldered late was fanned to fury new,
This adjunct came to help with fiercer fire,
While he had got himself a quite new plague—
Found the world's face an universal grin
At this last best of the Hundred Merry Tales
Of how a young and spritely clerk devised
To carry off a spouse that moped too much,
And cured her of the vapours in a trice:
And how the husband, playing Vulcan's part,
Told by the Sun, started in hot pursuit
To catch the lovers, and came halting up,
Cast his net and then called the Gods to see
The convicts in their rosy impudence—
Whereat said Mercury "Would that I were Mars!"
Oh it was rare, and naughty all the same!
Brief, the wife's courage and cunning,—the priest's show
Of chivalry and adroitness,—last not least,
The husband—how he ne'er showed teeth at all,
Whose bark had promised biting; but just sneaked
Back to his kennel, tail 'twixt legs, as 't were,—
All this was hard to gulp down and digest.
So pays the devil his liegeman, brass for gold.
But this was at Arezzo: here in Rome
Brave Paolo bore up against it all—
Battled it out, nor wanting to himself
Nor Guido nor the House whose weight he bore
Pillar-like, by no force of arm but brain.
He knew his Rome, what wheels to set to work;
Plied influential folk, pressed to the ear
Of the efficacious purple, pushed his way
To the old Pope's self,—past decency indeed,—
Praying him take the matter in his hands
Out of the regular court's incompetence.
But times are changed and nephews out of date
And favouritism unfashionable: the Pope
Said "Render Cæsar what is Cæsar's due!"
As for the Comparini's counter-plea,
He met that by a counter-plea again,
Made Guido claim divorce—with help so far
By the trial's issue: for, why punishment
However slight unless for guiltiness
However slender?—and a molehill serves
Much as a mountain of offence this way.
So was he gathering strength on every side
And growing more and more to menace—when
All of a terrible moment came the blow
That beat down Paolo's fence, ended the play
O' the foil and brought mannaia on the stage.
Five months had passed now since Pompilia's flight,
Months spent in peace among the Convert nuns.
This,—being, as it seemed, for Guido's sake
Solely, what pride might call imprisonment
And quote as something gained, to friends at home,—
This naturally was at Guido's charge:
Grudge it he might, but penitential fare,
Prayers, preachings, who but he defrayed the cost?
So, Paolo dropped, as proxy, doit by doit
Like heart's blood, till—what's here? What notice comes?
The convent's self makes application bland
That, since Pompilia's health is fast o' the wane,
She may have leave to go combine her cure
Of soul with cure of body, mend her mind
Together with her thin arms and sunk eyes
That want fresh air outside the convent-wall,
Say in a friendly house,—and which so fit
As a certain villa in the Pauline way,
That happens to hold Pietro and his wife,
The natural guardians? "Oh, and shift the care
"You shift the cost, too; Pietro pays in turn,
"And lightens Guido of a load! And then,
"Villa or convent, two names for one thing,
"Always the sojourn means imprisonment,
"Domus pro carcere—nowise we relax,
"Nothing abate: how answers Paolo?"
What would you answer? All so smooth and fair,
Even Paul's astuteness sniffed no harm i' the world.
He authorized the transfer, saw it made
And, two months after, reaped the fruit of the same,
Having to sit down, rack his brain and find
What phrase should serve him best to notify
Our Guido that by happy providence
A son and heir, a babe was born to him
I' the villa,—go tell sympathizing friends!
Yes, such had been Pompilia's privilege:
She, when she fled, was one month gone with child,
Known to herself or unknown, either way
Availing to explain (say men of art)
The strange and passionate precipitance
Of maiden startled into motherhood
Which changes body and soul by nature's law.
So when the she-dove breeds, strange yearnings come
For the unknown shelter by undreamed-of shores,
And there is born a blood-pulse in her heart
To fight if needs be, though with flap of wing,
For the wool-flock or the fur-tuft, though a hawk
Contest the prize,—wherefore, she knows not yet.
Anyhow, thus to Guido came the news.
"I shall have quitted Rome ere you arrive
"To take the one step left,"—wrote Paolo.
Then did the winch o' the winepress of all hate,
Vanity, disappointment, grudge and greed,
Take the last turn that screws out pure revenge
With a bright bubble at the brim beside—
By an heir's birth he was assured at once
O' the main prize, all the money in dispute:
Pompilia's dowry might revert to her
Or stay with him as law's caprice should point,—
But now—now—what was Pietro's shall be hers,
What was hers shall remain her own,—if hers,
Why then,—oh, not her husband's but—her heir's!
That heir being his too, all grew his at last
By this road or by that road, since they join.
Before, why, push he Pietro out o' the world,—
The current of the money stopped, you see,
Pompilia being proved no Pietro's child:
Or let it be Pompilia's life he quenched,
Again the current of the money stopped,—
Guido debarred his rights as husband soon,
So the new process threatened;—now, the chance,
Now, the resplendent minute! Clear the earth,
Cleanse the house, let the three but disappear
A child remains, depositary of all,
That Guido may enjoy his own again,
Repair all losses by a master-stroke,
Wipe out the past, all done all left undone,
Swell the good present to best evermore,
Die into new life, which let blood baptize!
So, i' the blue of a sudden sulphur-blaze,
Both why there was one step to take at Rome,
And why he should not meet with Paolo there,
He saw—the ins and outs to the heart of hell—
And took the straight line thither swift and sure.
He rushed to Vittiano, found four sons o' the soil,
Brutes of his breeding, with one spark i' the clod
That served for a soul, the looking up to him
Or aught called Franceschini as life, death,
Heaven, hell,—lord paramount, assembled these,
Harangued, equipped, instructed, pressed each clod
With his will's imprint; then took horse, plied spur,
And so arrived, all five of them, at Rome
On Christmas-Eve, and forthwith found themselves
Installed i' the vacancy and solitude
Left them by Paolo, the considerate man
Who, good as his word, had disappeared at once
As if to leave the stage free. A whole week
Did Guido spend in study of his part,
Then played it fearless of a failure. One,
Struck the year's clock whereof the hours are days,
And off was rung o' the little wheels the chime
"Good will on earth and peace to man:" but, two,
Proceeded the same bell and, evening come,
The dreadful five felt finger-wise their way
Across the town by blind cuts and black turns
To the little lone suburban villa; knocked—
"Who may be outside?" called a well-known voice.
"A friend of Caponsacchi's bringing friends
That's a test, the excusers say:
Ay, and a test conclusive, I return.
What? Had that name brought touch of guilt or taste
Of fear with it, aught to dash the present joy
With memory of the sorrow just at end,—
She, happy in her parents' arms at length
With the new blessing of the two weeks' babe,—
How had that name's announcement moved the wife?
Or, as the other slanders circulate,
Were Caponsacchi no rare visitant
On nights and days whither safe harbour lured,
What bait had been i' the name to ope the door?
The promise of a letter? Stealthy guests
Have secret watchwords, private entrances:
The man's own self might have been found inside
And all the scheme made frustrate by a word.
No: but since Guido knew, none knew so well,
The man had never since returned to Rome
Nor seen the wife's face more than villa's front,
So, could not be at hand to warn or save,-
For that, he took this sure way to the end.
"Come in," bade poor Violante cheerfully,
Drawing the door-bolt: that death was the first,
Stabbed through and through. Pietro, close on her heels,
Set up a cry—"Let me confess myself!
"Grant but confession!" Cold steel was the grant.
Then came Pompilia's turn.
Then they escaped.
The noise o' the slaughter roused the neighbourhood.
They had forgotten just the one thing more
Which saves i' the circumstance, the ticket to-wit
Which puts post-horses at a traveller's use:
So, all on foot, desperate through the dark
Reeled they like drunkards along open road,
Accomplished a prodigious twenty miles
Homeward, and gained Baccano very near,
Stumbled at last, deaf, dumb, blind through the feat,
Into a grange and, one dead heap, slept there
Till the pursuers hard upon their trace
Reached them and took them, red from head to heel,
And brought them to the prison where they lie.
The couple were laid i' the church two days ago,
And the wife lives yet by miracle.
All is told.
You hardly need ask what Count Guido says,
Since something he must say. "I own the deed—"
(He cannot choose,—but—) "I declare the same
"Just and inevitable,—since no way else
"Was left me, but by this of taking life,
"To save my honour which is more than life.
"I exercised a husband's rights." To which
The answer is as prompt—"There was no fault
"In any one o' the three to punish thus:
"Neither i' the wife, who kept all faith to you,
"Nor in the parents, whom yourself first duped,
"Robbed and maltreated, then turned out of doors.
"You wronged and they endured wrong; yours the fault.
"Next, had endurance overpassed the mark
"And turned resentment needing remedy,—
"Nay, put the absurd impossible case, for once—
"You were all blameless of the blame alleged
"And they blameworthy where you fix all blame,
"Still, why this violation of the law?
"Yourself elected law should take its course,
"Avenge wrong, or show vengeance not your right;
"Why, only when the balance in law's hand
"Trembles against you and inclines the way
"O' the other party, do you make protest,
"Renounce arbitrament, flying out of court,
"And crying 'Honour's hurt the sword must cure'?
"Aha, and so i' the middle of each suit
"Trying i' the courts,—and you had three in play
"With an appeal to the Pope's self beside,—
"What, you may chop and change and right your wrongs
"Leaving the law to lag as she thinks fit?"
That were too temptingly commodious, Count!
One would have still a remedy in reserve
Should reach the safest oldest sinner, you see!
One's honour forsooth? Does that take hurt alone
From the extreme outrage? I who have no wife,
Being yet sensitive in my degree
As Guido,—must discover hurt elsewhere
Which, half compounded-for in days gone by,
May profitably break out now afresh,
Need cure from my own expeditious hands.
The lie that was, as it were, imputed me
When you objected to my contract's clause,—
The theft as good as, one may say, alleged,
When you, co-heir in a will, excepted, Sir,
To my administration of effects,
—Aha, do you think law disposed of these?
My honour's touched and shall deal death around!
Count, that were too commodious, I repeat!
If any law be imperative on us all,
Of all are you the enemy: out with you
From the common light and air and life of man!
Run Through The Light
I asked my love to give me shelter
And all she offered me were dreams
Of all the moments spent together
That move like never ending streams.
Run to the light
Everything is alright
Run thro the light of day
You run to the light of night
And every movement made together
Till every thought was just the same
And all the pieces fit forever
In the game.
Welcome to the light
Now everything is okay
Run thro the light of night
You run to the light of day.
Run Through The Light (Alternate Version)
I asked my love to give me shelter
And all she offered me were dreams
Of all the moments spent together
That move like never ending streams.
Run to the light
Everything is alright
Run thro' the light of day
You run to the light of night
And every movement made together
Till every thought was just the same
And all the pieces fit forever
In the game.
Welcome to the light
Now everything is okay
Run thro' the light of night
You run to the light of day
The Light Through The Morning Window
THE LIGHT THROUGH THE MORNING WINDOW
The light through the morning window
The small leaves of the light green tree
The pale sky waiting behind everything
The night which is gone now.
All these failures one after the other,
Other names other destinies, greater than mine
The single singing I cannot hear
The great prophecies I will not realize.
Others who are more to me
Even than I am to myself.
The morning again
Trying to live again
A poem again perhaps.
In a life of many days
In which each small day
Its own struggle
And each night
A night which ends
With morning light.
Now She'll Never Know
In the after-silence fighting leaves behind
I try to think it over
But my mind's gone blind
I lost the right to argue somewhere down the line
I had to tell
She told me to
Go to Hell
And here I am
In the gaping hole
Home truths tear in a home
Married to this hurting
I know it's all my fault
Who can tell
Looks like we have
A house to sell
Now she'll never know
What anyone could tell her
Now she'll never know
What anyone can see
Now she won't believe me
Ever again, completely
Now I hang around
Feet back on the ground
I just can't stand
I just can't stand
Now she'll Never know
What anyone could tell her
Now she'll never know
What anyone can see
Now she won't believe me
Ever again, completely
Now she'll never know
Or ever dream
How much she means to me
The light's in my head - Villanelle
There's a light in the sickroom that never goes dead,
Though daylight is dimming, through the still open curtain-
But the light's in my head; the light's in my head!
He lies in a stupor, but calls out from his bed;
And he never complains, but you fear that he's hurting-
There's a light in the sickroom that never goes dead.
She doesn't sleep nights, but sleeps daytimes instead;
Her breathing's still even, but death's near for certain-
But the light's in my head; the light's in my head!
First they said stroke, and then heart attack- dread!
With the new diagnosis, with death he is flirting-
There's a light in the sickroom that never goes dead.
There's cancer and heart disease, so lightly we tread;
It's bad news for sure- her aneurysm bursting! -
But the light's in my head; the light's in my head!
It's all here inside me now, all that I've said,
Now what's left in memory's darkness, I'm cursing;
There's a light in the sickroom that never goes dead-
And the light's in my head- the light's in my head!
The Dance Of Life
Gracious and lovable and sweet,
She made his jaded pulses beat,
And made the glare of streets grow dim
And life more soft and hushed for him….
Over her shoulder now she smiled
Trustfully to him, like a child,
The while her fingers gayly moved
Alonge these white keys dearly loved,
Making them laugh a jocund measure,
Making them show and sing her pleasure….
A smile that dwelt upon his eyes,
To see what mood might therein rise,-
What point of soft light seen afar
Which might dilate to moon or star….
A smile that for a second space
Brooded wistfully on her face,
Opening soft her spirit's door,
Disclosing depths undreamed before:
Passionate depths of half-seen flame,
Young loveliness despising shame,
Desire that trembled to meet desire,
And fire that yearned to fuse with fire….
And lightly then she turned away,
Ironic music rippled gay,-
Subtle sarcastic flippancies
Disguising speechless ecstasies…
'Play something else…' He rose to turn
The pages, while the deep nocturne
Struck slow rich chords of plangent pain,
Beautiful, into heart and brain;
A tortured, anguished, suffering thing
That seemed at once to cry and sing;
Despairing love that strove to find
The face beloved with fingers blind.
He saw her body's slender grace,
This drooping shoulder, shadowed face;
All of her body, hidden so
In saffron satin's flush and flow,-
Its white and simple loveliness,-
Came on his heart like giddiness,
Seductive as this music came;
Until her body seemed like flame,-
Intense white flame, so swiftly moving
That it gave scarcely time for loving;
But rapid as the sun she seemed,
A blinding light that flowed and streamed
And sang and shone through roaring space….
The sun itself! for now her face,
Wherein this music's whole soul dwelt,
Drew him like helpless star, he felt
A fierce compulsion, reckless, mad,
A sweet compulsion, troubled, glad,
His trembling hands went out to her,
Her cool flesh made his senses blur;
While, head thrown backward, sinking dim,
She opened wide her soul to him….
Past his life went whirls of lights,
Chaos of music, days and nights,
Her wild eyes yearned to lure him in
And close him up in dark of sin,
To lure him in and drink him down
And all his soul in love to drown….
Her nakedness he seemed to see.
And breast to breast, and knee to knee,
Tremulous, breathless, swaying, burning,
Body to beautiful body yearning,
In joy and terror, flesh to flesh,
They flamed in passion's fine red mesh,-
Living in one short breath again
The cosmic tide's whole bliss and pain,
Darkness and ether, nebulous fire,
Vast suns whirled forth by vast desire,
Huge moons flung out with monstrous mirth
And stars in glorious hells of birth,
All jubilating, blazing, reeling,
An orgiastic splendor wheeling,
Moon torn from earth and star from sun
In screaming pain, titanic fun,
And stars whirled back to sun again
To be consumed in flaming pain!…
In them at last all life was met:
They were God's self! This earth had set.
Mad fires of life sang through their veins,
Ruinous blisses, joyous pains,
Life the destroyer, life the breaker,
And death, the everlasting maker….
The Old Age Of Queen Maeve
A certain poet in outlandish clothes
Gathered a crowd in some Byzantine lane,
Talked1 of his country and its people, sang
To some stringed instrument none there had seen,
A wall behind his back, over his head
A latticed window. His glance went up at time
As though one listened there, and his voice sank
Or let its meaning mix into the strings.
MAEVE the great queen was pacing to and fro,
Between the walls covered with beaten bronze,
In her high house at Cruachan; the long hearth,
Flickering with ash and hazel, but half showed
Where the tired horse-boys lay upon the rushes,
Or on the benches underneath the walls,
In comfortable sleep; all living slept
But that great queen, who more than half the night
Had paced from door to fire and fire to door.
Though now in her old age, in her young age
She had been beautiful in that old way
That's all but gone; for the proud heart is gone,
And the fool heart of the counting-house fears all
But Soft beauty and indolent desire.
She could have called over the rim of the world
Whatever woman's lover had hit her fancy,
And yet had been great-bodied and great-limbed,
Fashioned to be the mother of strong children;
And she'd had lucky eyes and high heart,
And wisdom that caught fire like the dried flax,
At need, and made her beautiful and fierce,
Sudden and laughing.
O unquiet heart,
Why do you praise another, praising her,
As if there were no tale but your own tale
Worth knitting to a measure of sweet sound?
Have I not bid you tell of that great queen
Who has been buried some two thousand years?
When night was at its deepest, a wild goose
Cried from the porter's lodge, and with long clamour'
Shook the ale-horns and shields upon their hooks;
But the horse-boys slept on, as though some power
Had filled the house with Druid heaviness;
And wondering who of the many-changing Sidhe
Had come as in the old times to counsel her,
Maeve walked, yet with slow footfall, being old,
To that small chamber by the outer gate.
The porter slept, although he sat upright
With still and stony limbs and open eyes.
Maeve waited, and when that ear-piercing noise
Broke from his parted lips and broke again,
She laid a hand on either of his shoulders,
And shook him wide awake, and bid him say
Who of the wandering many-changing ones
Had troubled his sleep. But all he had to say
Was that, the air being heavy and the dogs
More still than they had been for a good month,
He had fallen asleep, and, though he had dreamed nothing,
He could remember when he had had fine dreams.
It was before the time of the great war
Over the White-Horned Bull and the Brown Bull.
She turned away; he turned again to sleep
That no god troubled now, and, wondering
What matters were afoot among the Sidhe,
Maeve walked through that great hall, and with a sigh
Lifted the curtain of her sleeping-room,
Remembering that she too had seemed divine
To many thousand eyes, and to her own
One that the generations had long waited
That work too difficult for mortal hands
Might be accomplished, Bunching the curtain up
She saw her husband Ailell sleeping there,
And thought of days when he'd had a straight body,
And of that famous Fergus, Nessa's husband,
Who had been the lover of her middle life.
Suddenly Ailell spoke out of his sleep,
And not with his own voice or a man's voice,
But with the burning, live, unshaken voice
Of those that, it may be, can never age.
He said, 'High Queen of Cruachan and Magh Ai,
A king of the Great Plain would speak with you.'
And with glad voice Maeve answered him, 'What king
Of the far-wandering shadows has come to me,
As in the old days when they would come and go
About my threshold to counsel and to help?'
The parted lips replied, 'I seek your help,
For I am Aengus, and I am crossed in love.'
'How may a mortal whose life gutters out
Help them that wander with hand clasping hand,
Their haughty images that cannot wither,
For all their beauty's like a hollow dream,
Mirrored in streams that neither hail nor rain
Nor the cold North has troubled?'
'I am from those rivers and I bid you call
The children of the Maines out of sleep,
And set them digging under Bual's hill.
We shadows, while they uproot his earthy housc,
Will overthrow his shadows and carry off
Caer, his blue-eyed daughter that I love.
I helped your fathers when they built these walls,
And I would have your help in my great need,
Queen of high Cruachan.'
'I obey your will
With speedy feet and a most thankful heart:
For you have been, O Aengus of the birds,
Our giver of good counsel and good luck.'
And with a groan, as if the mortal breath
Could but awaken sadly upon lips
That happier breath had moved, her husband turned
Face downward, tossing in a troubled sleep;
But Maeve, and not with a slow feeble foot,
Came to the threshold of the painted house
Where her grandchildren slept, and cried aloud,
Until the pillared dark began to stir
With shouting and the clang of unhooked arms.
She told them of the many-changing ones;
And all that night, and all through the next day
To middle night, they dug into the hill.
At middle night great cats with silver claws,
Bodies of shadow and blind eyes like pearls,
Came up out of the hole, and red-eared hounds
With long white bodies came out of the air
Suddenly, and ran at them and harried them.
The Maines' children dropped their spades, and stood
With quaking joints and terror-stricken faces,
Till Maeve called out, 'These are but common men.
The Maines' children have not dropped their spades
Because Earth, crazy for its broken power,
Casts up a Show and the winds answer it
With holy shadows.' Her high heart was glad,
And when the uproar ran along the grass
She followed with light footfall in the midst,
Till it died out where an old thorn-tree stood.
Friend of these many years, you too had stood
With equal courage in that whirling rout;
For you, although you've not her wandering heart,
Have all that greatness, and not hers alone,
For there is no high story about queens
In any ancient book but tells of you;
And when I've heard how they grew old and died,
Or fell into unhappiness, I've said,
'She will grow old and die, and she has wept!'
And when I'd write it out anew, the words,
Half crazy with the thought, She too has wept!
Outrun the measure.
I'd tell of that great queen
Who stood amid a silence by the thorn
Until two lovers came out of the air
With bodies made out of soft fire. The one,
About whose face birds wagged their fiery wings,
Said, 'Aengus and his sweetheart give their thanks
To Maeve and to Maeve's household, owing all
In owing them the bride-bed that gives peace.'
Then Maeve: 'O Aengus, Master of all lovers,
A thousand years ago you held high ralk
With the first kings of many-pillared Cruachan.
O when will you grow weary?'
They had vanished,
But our of the dark air over her head there came
A murmur of soft words and meeting lips.
Not Even The Light
Not even the light of the stars
shining like the keys to the ancient love-letters
bound among the secret jewels
of the queen of heaven
penetrates me as deeply as you do.
The planet wheels into the night
bearing its burden of humans
murdering each other
to enforce one state of ignorance
as the rabid bees
strafe the demented flowers
on the far side of the world
for enriching their radioactive pollen,
convinced in their madness
more honey than blood will flow from the wound.
I walk by myself
along the brittle banks of a frozen stream
among the detonations of the cattails
waiting like Napoleonic cannoneers
to stoke the charge of the next volley.
The snow in the sunset
is stained a spectral apricot
that disappears like breath on a cold window
and the sky is vast with my insignificance.
Two or three decades of life left,
if I'm lucky,
and though I have tried to use my time
to leave a gift for someone I will never meet,
long ago I realized
there is no way of assessing
what they will find
after the coffin closes like an eyelid
on this long, dark, radiant brevity
that once shone like the moon
in the ores of my blood.
Like the wandering of this rivulet
my heart has always been
a pilgrim without a shrine
and the direction of prayer has encompassed all
like a man getting up off his knees
and walking through an open door
to drink from the cup of his lover
in the shadows of the autumn willow
that sways like kite-tails
from the flights of fire
she ignites among the stars
that gather in the dark like strangers
before their own ghosts.
What the wind
has torn away from me like apple-bloom,
like poems, like smoke and leaf, like skies,
like tears and blood and faith
it has replaced
with these deeper revelations of you
that hang like a windfall of scarlet bells
from the branch of a dead tree in winter.
The wine of your life and light
has matured in the ferocious crucibles of the sun
and you have been poured out
like the passion of a sword
to cleave the stone of my heart
with these truant rivers of wounded silver
that flow through me like blood.
A young breeze
tries to hone the edge of its blade
on the rising moon
as a black ribbon of water
runs like a snake of oil
between the enclosing jaws
and cataracts of ice,
tiny wavelets scaling its skin
scintillant with the small commotions of stars overhead.
The bush wolves
have been nosing for muskrat
and you can almost taste the steam
rising from hot meat on the air.
I squeak like a pulley through the virgin snow,
following the banks of my own meandering,
owing nothing of myself to anyone,
wholly my own solitude,
as I pass through the gates
of the enclosing darkness
trying to enter the abyss and the mystery
of what I have lived so precariously
over the last sixty-three years,
what it means, if anything,
to be a human among these paper birches
on an island in the stream,
looking up at the intimate unattainability
of the stars,
knowing you are growing old,
that death is more populous with friends
than life, that love
has sloughed you so many times
like a viper's skin,
like the phases of the moon,
like a shrine of smoke and ashes,
that the phoenix hesitates
to robe itself in the full glory
of its former plumes of fire.
My mother will die soon.
I must say it,
voice it in my blood
to be able to bear it
and my children are clouds in the world
that no longer look for their reflections
in the eyes of the lake they arose from
as if they were merely breathed out.
And how in any god's name
can a man define the absence
he has grown to be,
except he standardize his own spinal cord
as the only measure of loss
he has to go by?
And even after
all the millennia of my walking,
I'm still only six feet closer to the stars
though my mind can embody all of space
in a solitary thought.
And the deep, inner silence
in the empty throne-room of my heart
where even the most profound events of my life
are seen to be ultimately no more
than the antics of a jester
playing with shadows,
turns out after all to be
just another mode of weeping.
It takes a lifetime
for a dropp of water
to gather the courage to fall
from the tip of a blade of stargrass,
and the tongue has tears
the eyes know nothing of.
I admire the cool crimson
on the brushes of the ground willow
as they try to catch my likeness
on the ice-primed canvas of the snow,
to portray me as I lived
they need to be loaded with blood not paint.
Like the moon
I have worn the same blossom
as a face
for years now
and I still don't know the fruit
that ripens beneath it;
whether my life has sweetened
in orchards of light,
or black dwarf of the forbidden apple
on a dead tree,
I taste like a full eclipse.
And what could it change even if I did know?
When the diaspora of my starseed
at a harvest of thorns;
who is the host
and who is the guest
and who asks for a menu?
And no matter how far from home
the journey takes him,
whether down a dead-end alley
or further than the stars
was there ever a man
who didn't walk to his own funeral
like a bell
looking for any beginning
that might not be lost in the end?
Or does the snake
that takes its tail in its mouth
as a gesture of eternity
eventually end up swallowing
its own head
like this stream before me
making its way to the sea?
I stepped across a star sill
through a vertical door into life
and in the leaving of it
I shall knock from the inside
on a door that's horizontal
to continue my descent toward earth
down a ladder of thresholds;
and what began so earnestly
among family and friends and lovers
will be concluded by a stranger
who will wear my name like a gravestone.
But here among the tangle
of these fallen trees, their roots
and washed like a corpse
by the water and the snow,
Venus peers through the fingers
of the branches above
where two crows have paired
like quotation marks
around the hearsay of the night
though I am left speechless
by the random beauty of the scene,
as if my voice had been released like a bird
into its own most intimate, inward vision
and that vision were everywhere you like the sky
it disappears into like I do
everytime my heart is opened
like one of the lockets of time
and I stare into your eyes
and the universe stares back
as you breathe out the night with all of its stars
and then I breathe you in
just as a golden feather of the moon
lands without a ripple
or unravelling wake
on the mirror of these lonely, black waters
I have followed deep into the darkness
like the urgent secret of my own lifestream,
and I know it's you. I know it's you.
The Palace of Art
I built my soul a lordly pleasure-house,
Wherein at ease for aye to dwell.
I said, "O Soul, make merry and carouse,
Dear soul, for all is well."
A huge crag-platform, smooth as burnish'd brass
I chose. The ranged ramparts bright
From level meadow-bases of deep grass
Suddenly scaled the light.
Thereon I built it firm. Of ledge or shelf
The rock rose clear, or winding stair.
My soul would live alone unto herself
In her high palace there.
And "while the world runs round and round," I said,
"Reign thou apart, a quiet king,
Still as, while Saturn whirls, his steadfast shade
Sleeps on his luminous ring."
To which my soul made answer readily:
"Trust me, in bliss I shall abide
In this great mansion, that is built for me,
So royal-rich and wide."* * * * *
Four courts I made, East, West and South and North,
In each a squared lawn, wherefrom
The golden gorge of dragons spouted forth
A flood of fountain-foam.
And round the cool green courts there ran a row
Of cloisters, branch'd like mighty woods,
Echoing all night to that sonorous flow
Of spouted fountain-floods.
And round the roofs a gilded gallery
That lent broad verge to distant lands,
Far as the wild swan wings, to where the sky
Dipt down to sea and sands.
From those four jets four currents in one swell
Across the mountain stream'd below
In misty folds, that floating as they fell
Lit up a torrent-bow.
And high on every peak a statue seem'd
To hang on tiptoe, tossing up
A cloud of incense of all odour steam'd
From out a golden cup.
So that she thought, "And who shall gaze upon
My palace with unblinded eyes,
While this great bow will waver in the sun,
And that sweet incense rise?"
For that sweet incense rose and never fail'd,
And, while day sank or mounted higher,
The light aërial gallery, golden-rail'd,
Burnt like a fringe of fire.
Likewise the deep-set windows, stain'd and traced,
Would seem slow-flaming crimson fires
From shadow'd grots of arches interlaced,
And tipt with frost-like spires.* * * * *
Full of long-sounding corridors it was,
That over-vaulted grateful gloom,
Thro' which the livelong day my soul did pass,
Well-pleased, from room to room.
Full of great rooms and small the palace stood,
All various, each a perfect whole
From living Nature, fit for every mood
And change of my still soul.
For some were hung with arras green and blue,
Showing a gaudy summer-morn,
Where with puff'd cheek the belted hunter blew
His wreathed bugle-horn.
One seem'd all dark and red--a tract of sand,
And some one pacing there alone,
Who paced for ever in a glimmering land,
Lit with a low large moon.
One show'd an iron coast and angry waves.
You seem'd to hear them climb and fall
And roar rock-thwarted under bellowing caves,
Beneath the windy wall.
And one, a full-fed river winding slow
By herds upon an endless plain,
The ragged rims of thunder brooding low,
With shadow-streaks of rain.
And one, the reapers at their sultry toil.
In front they bound the sheaves. Behind
Were realms of upland, prodigal in oil,
And hoary to the wind.
And one a foreground black with stones and slags,
Beyond, a line of heights, and higher
All barr'd with long white cloud the scornful crags,
And highest, snow and fire.
And one, an English home--gray twilight pour'd
On dewy pastures, dewy trees,
Softer than sleep--all things in order stored,
A haunt of ancient Peace.
Nor these alone, but every landscape fair,
As fit for every mood of mind,
Or gay, or grave, or sweet, or stern, was there,
Not less than truth design'd.* * * * *
Or the maid-mother by a crucifix,
In tracts of pasture sunny-warm,
Beneath branch-work of costly sardonyx
Sat smiling, babe in arm.
Or in a clear-wall'd city on the sea,
Near gilded organ-pipes, her hair
Wound with white roses, slept St. Cecily;
An angel look'd at her.
Or thronging all one porch of Paradise
A group of Houris bow'd to see
The dying Islamite, with hands and eyes
That said, We wait for thee.
Or mythic Uther's deeply-wounded son
In some fair space of sloping greens
Lay, dozing in the vale of Avalon,
And watch'd by weeping queens.
Or hollowing one hand against his ear,
To list a foot-fall, ere he saw
The wood-nymph, stay'd the Ausonian king to hear
Of wisdom and of law.
Or over hills with peaky tops engrail'd,
And many a tract of palm and rice,
The throne of Indian Cama slowly sail'd
A summer fann'd with spice.
Or sweet Europa's mantle blew unclasp'd,
From off her shoulder backward borne:
From one hand droop'd a crocus: one hand grasp'd
The mild bull's golden horn.
Or else flush'd Ganymede, his rosy thigh
Half-buried in the Eagle's down,
Sole as a flying star shot thro' the sky
Above the pillar'd town.
Nor these alone; but every legend fair
Which the supreme Caucasian mind
Carved out of Nature for itself, was there,
Not less than life, design'd.* * * * *
Then in the towers I placed great bells that swung,
Moved of themselves, with silver sound;
And with choice paintings of wise men I hung
The royal dais round.
For there was Milton like a seraph strong,
Beside him Shakespeare bland and mild;
And there the world-worn Dante grasp'd his song,
And somewhat grimly smiled.
And there the Ionian father of the rest;
A million wrinkles carved his skin;
A hundred winters snow'd upon his breast,
From cheek and throat and chin.
Above, the fair hall-ceiling stately-set
Many an arch high up did lift,
And angels rising and descending met
With interchange of gift.
Below was all mosaic choicely plann'd
With cycles of the human tale
Of this wide world, the times of every land
So wrought, they will not fail.
The people here, a beast of burden slow,
Toil'd onward, prick'd with goads and stings;
Here play'd, a tiger, rolling to and fro
The heads and crowns of kings;
Here rose, an athlete, strong to break or bind
All force in bonds that might endure,
And here once more like some sick man declined,
And trusted any cure.
But over these she trod: and those great bells
Began to chime. She took her throne:
She sat betwixt the shining Oriels,
To sing her songs alone.
And thro' the topmost Oriels' coloured flame
Two godlike faces gazed below;
Plato the wise, and large brow'd Verulam,
The first of those who know.
And all those names, that in their motion were
Full-welling fountain-heads of change,
Betwixt the slender shafts were blazon'd fair
In diverse raiment strange:
Thro' which the lights, rose, amber, emerald, blue,
Flush'd in her temples and her eyes,
And from her lips, as morn from Memnon, drew
Rivers of melodies.
No nightingale delighteth to prolong
Her low preamble all alone,
More than my soul to hear her echo'd song
Throb thro' the ribbed stone;
Singing and murmuring in her feastful mirth,
Joying to feel herself alive,
Lord over Nature, Lord of the visible earth,
Lord of the senses five;
Communing with herself: "All these are mine,
And let the world have peace or wars,
'T is one to me." She--when young night divine
Crown'd dying day with stars,
Making sweet close of his delicious toils--
Lit light in wreaths and anadems,
And pure quintessences of precious oils
In hollow'd moons of gems,
To mimic heaven; and clapt her hands and cried,
"I marvel if my still delight
In this great house so royal-rich, and wide,
Be flatter'd to the height.
"O all things fair to sate my various eyes!
O shapes and hues that please me well!
O silent faces of the Great and Wise,
My Gods, with whom I dwell!
"O God-like isolation which art mine,
I can but count thee perfect gain,
What time I watch the darkening droves of swine
That range on yonder plain.
"In filthy sloughs they roll a prurient skin,
They graze and wallow, breed and sleep;
And oft some brainless devil enters in,
And drives them to the deep."
Then of the moral instinct would she prate
And of the rising from the dead,
As hers by right of full accomplish'd Fate;
And at the last she said:
"I take possession of man's mind and deed.
I care not what the sects may brawl.
I sit as God holding no form of creed,
But contemplating all."* * * * *
Full oft the riddle of the painful earth
Flash'd thro' her as she sat alone,
Yet not the less held she her solemn mirth,
And intellectual throne.
And so she throve and prosper'd; so three years
She prosper'd: on the fourth she fell,
Like Herod, when the shout was in his ears,
Struck thro' with pangs of hell.
Lest she should fail and perish utterly,
God, before whom ever lie bare
The abysmal deeps of Personality,
Plagued her with sore despair.
When she would think, where'er she turn'd her sight
The airy hand confusion wrought,
Wrote, "Mene, mene," and divided quite
The kingdom of her thought.
Deep dread and loathing of her solitude
Fell on her, from which mood was born
Scorn of herself; again, from out that mood
Laughter at her self-scorn.
"What! is not this my place of strength," she said,
"My spacious mansion built for me,
Whereof the strong foundation-stones were laid
Since my first memory?"
But in dark corners of her palace stood
Uncertain shapes; and unawares
On white-eyed phantasms weeping tears of blood,
And horrible nightmares,
And hollow shades enclosing hearts of flame,
And, with dim fretted foreheads all,
On corpses three-months-old at noon she came,
That stood against the wall.
A spot of dull stagnation, without light
Or power of movement, seem'd my soul,
'Mid onward-sloping motions infinite
Making for one sure goal.
A still salt pool, lock'd in with bars of sand,
Left on the shore, that hears all night
The plunging seas draw backward from the land
Their moon-led waters white.
A star that with the choral starry dance
Join'd not, but stood, and standing saw
The hollow orb of moving Circumstance
Roll'd round by one fix'd law.
Back on herself her serpent pride had curl'd.
"No voice," she shriek'd in that lone hall,
"No voice breaks thro' the stillness of this world:
One deep, deep silence all!"
She, mouldering with the dull earth's mouldering sod,
Inwrapt tenfold in slothful shame,
Lay there exiled from eternal God,
Lost to her place and name;
And death and life she hated equally,
And nothing saw, for her despair,
But dreadful time, dreadful eternity,
No comfort anywhere;
Remaining utterly confused with fears,
And ever worse with growing time,
And ever unrelieved by dismal tears,
And all alone in crime:
Shut up as in a crumbling tomb, girt round
With blackness as a solid wall,
Far off she seem'd to hear the dully sound
Of human footsteps fall.
As in strange lands a traveller walking slow,
In doubt and great perplexity,
A little before moon-rise hears the low
Moan of an unknown sea;
And knows not if it be thunder, or a sound
Of rocks thrown down, or one deep cry
Of great wild beasts; then thinketh, "I have found
A new land, but I die."
She howl'd aloud, "I am on fire within.
There comes no murmur of reply.
What is it that will take away my sin,
And save me lest I die?"
So when four years were wholly finished,
She threw her royal robes away.
"Make me a cottage in the vale," she said,
"Where I may mourn and pray.
"Yet pull not down my palace towers, that are
So lightly, beautifully built:
Perchance I may return with others there
When I have purged my guilt."
Evangeline: Part The Second. III.
NEAR to the bank of the river, o'ershadowed by oaks, from whose branches
Garlands of Spanish moss and of mystic mistletoe flaunted,
Such as the Druids cut down with golden hatchets at Yule-tide,
Stood, secluded and still, the house of the herdsman. A garden
Girdled it round about with a belt of luxuriant blossoms,
Filling the air with fragrance. The house itself was of timbers
Hewn from the cypress-tree, and carefully fitted together.
Large and low was the roof; and on slender columns supported,
Rose-wreathed, vine-encircled, a broad and spacious veranda,
Haunt of the humming-bird and the bee, extended around it.
At each end of the house, amid the flowers of the garden,
Stationed the dove-cots were, as love's perpetual symbol,
Scenes of endless wooing, and endless contentions of rivals.
Silence reigned o'er the place. The line of shadow and sunshine
Ran near the tops of the trees; but the house itself was in shadow,
And from its chimney-top, ascending and slowly expanding
Into the evening air, a thin blue column of smoke rose.
In the rear of the house, from the garden gate, ran a pathway
Through the great groves of oak to the skirts of the limitless prairie,
Into whose sea of flowers the sun was slowly descending.
Full in his track of light, like ships with shadowy canvas
Hanging loose from their spars in a motionless calm in the tropics,
Stood a cluster of trees, with tangled cordage of grape-vines.
Just where the woodlands met the flowery surf of the prairie,
Mounted upon his horse, with Spanish saddle and stirrups,
Sat a herdsman, arrayed in gaiters and doublet of deerskin.
Broad and brown was the face that from under the Spanish sombrero
Gazed on the peaceful scene, with the lordly look of its master.
Round about him were numberless herds of kine, that were grazing
Quietly in the meadows, and breathing the vapory freshness
That uprose from the river, and spread itself over the landscape.
Slowly lifting the horn that hung at his side, and expanding
Fully his broad, deep chest, he blew a blast, that resounded
Wildly and sweet and far, through the still damp air of the evening.
Suddenly out of the grass the long white horns of the cattle
Rose like flakes of foam on the adverse currents of ocean.
Silent a moment they gazed, then bellowing rushed o'er the prairie,
And the whole mass became a cloud, a shade in the distance.
Then as the herdsman turned to the house, through the gate of the garden
Saw he the forms of the priest and the maiden advancing to meet him.
Suddenly down from his horse he sprang in amazement, and forward
Rushed with extended arms and exclamations of wonder;
When they beheld his face, they recognized Basil the blacksmith.
Hearty his welcome was, as he led his guests to the garden.
There in an arbor of roses with endless question and answer
Gave they vent to their hearts, and renewed their friendly embraces,
Laughing and weeping by turns, or sitting silent and thoughtful.
Thoughtful, for Gabriel came not; and now dark doubts and misgivings
Stole o'er the maiden's heart; and Basil, somewhat embarrassed,
Broke the silence and said, 'If you came by the Atchafalaya,
How have you nowhere encountered my Gabriel's boat on the bayous?'
Over Evangeline's face at the words of Basil a shade passed.
Tears came into her eyes, and she said, with a tremulous accent,
'Gone? is Gabriel gone?' and, concealing her face on his shoulder,
All her o'erburdened heart gave way, and she wept and lamented.
Then the good Basil said,-and his voice grew blithe as he said it,-
'Be of good cheer, my child; it is only to-day he departed.
Foolish boy! he has left me alone with my herds and my horses.
Moody and restless grown, and tried and troubled, his spirit
Could no longer endure the calm of this quiet existence.
Thinking ever of thee, uncertain and sorrowful ever,
Ever silent, or speaking only of thee and his troubles,
He at length had become so tedious to men and to maidens,
Tedious even to me, that at length I bethought me, and sent him
Unto the town of Adayes to trade for mules with the Spaniards.
Thence he will follow the Indian trails to the Ozark Mountains,
Hunting for furs in the forests, on rivers trapping the beaver.
Therefore be of good cheer; we will follow the fugitive lover;
He is not far on his way, and the Fates and the streams are against him.
Up and away to-morrow, and through the red dew of the morning
We will follow him fast and bring him back to his prison.'
Then glad voices were heard, and up from the banks of the river,
Borne aloft on his comrades' arms, came Michael the fiddler.
Long under Basil's roof had he lived like a god on Olympus,
Having no other care than dispensing music to mortals.
Far renowned was he for his silver locks and his fiddle.
'Long live Michael,' they cried, 'our brave Acadian minstrel!'
As they bore him aloft in triumphal procession; and straightway
Father Felician advanced with Evangeline, greeting the old man
Kindly and oft, and recalling the past, while Basil, enraptured,
Hailed with hilarious joy his old companions and gossips,
Laughing loud and long, and embracing mothers and daughters.
Much they marvelled to see the wealth of the ci-devant blacksmith,
All his domains and his herds, and his patriarchal demeanor;
Much they marvelled to hear his tales of the soil and the climate,
And of the prairies, whose numberless herds were his who would take them;
Each one thought in his heart, that he, too, would go and do likewise.
Thus they ascended the steps, and, crossing the airy veranda,
Entered the hall of the house, where already the supper of Basil
Waited his late return; and they rested and feasted together.
Over the joyous feast the sudden darkness descended.
All was silent without, and, illuming the landscape with silver,
Fair rose the dewy moon and the myriad stars; but within doors,
Brighter than these, shone the faces of friends in the glimmering lamplight.
Then from his station aloft, at the head of the table, the herdsman
Poured forth his heart and his wine together in endless profusion.
Lighting his pipe, that was filled with sweet Natchitoches tobacco,
Thus he spake to his guests, who listened, and smiled as they listened:-
'Welcome once more, my friends, who long have been friendless and homeless,
Welcome once more to a home, that is better perchance than the old one!
Here no hungry winter congeals our blood like the rivers;
Here no stony ground provokes the wrath of the farmer.
Smoothly the ploughshare runs through the soil, as a keel through the water.
All the year round the orange-groves are in blossom; and grass grows
More in a single night than a whole Canadian summer.
Here, too, numberless herds run wild and unclaimed in the prairies;
Here, too, lands may be had for the asking, and forests of timber
With a few blows of the axe are hewn and framed into houses.
After your houses are built, and your fields are yellow with harvests,
No King George of England shall drive you away from your homesteads,
Burning your dwellings and barns, and stealing your farms and your cattle.'
Speaking these words, he blew a wrathful cloud from his nostrils,
While his huge, brown hand came thundering down on the table,
So that the guests all started; and Father Felician, astounded,
Suddenly paused, with a pinch of snuff halfway to his nostrils.
But the brave Basil resumed, and his words were milder and gayer:
'Only beware of the fever, my friends, beware of the fever!
For it is not like that of our cold Acadian climate,
Cured by wearing a spider hung round one's neck in a nutshell!'
Then there were voices heard at the door, and footsteps approaching
Sounded upon the stairs and the floor of the breezy veranda.
It was the neighboring Creoles and small Acadian planters,
Who had been summoned all to the house of Basil the Herdsman.
Merry the meeting was of ancient comrades and neighbors:
Friend clasped friend in his arms; and they who before were as strangers,
Meeting in exile, became straightway as friends to each other,
Drawn by the gentle bond of a common country together.
But in the neighboring hall a strain of music, proceeding
From the accordant strings of Michael's melodious fiddle,
Broke up all further speech. Away, like children delighted,
All things forgotten beside, they gave themselves to the maddening
Whirl of the dizzy dance, as it swept and swayed to the music,
Dreamlike, with beaming eyes and the rush of fluttering garments.
Meanwhile, apart, at the head of the hall, the priest and the herdsman
Sat, conversing together of past and present and future;
While Evangeline stood like one entranced, for within her
Olden memories rose, and loud in the midst of the music
Heard she the sound of the sea, and an irrepressible sadness
Came o'er her heart, and unseen she stole forth into the garden.
Beautiful was the night. Behind the black wall of the forest,
Tipping its summit with silver, arose the moon. On the river
Fell here and there through the branches a tremulous gleam of the moonlight,
Like the sweet thoughts of love on a darkened and devious spirit.
Nearer and round about her, the manifold flowers of the garden
Poured out their souls in odors, that were their prayers and confessions
Unto the night, as it went its way, like a silent Carthusian.
Fuller of fragrance than they, and as heavy with shadows and night-dews,
Hung the heart of the maiden. The calm and the magical moonlight
Seemed to inundate her soul with indefinable longings,
As, through the garden gate, beneath the shade of the oak-trees,
Passed she along the path to the edge of the measureless prairie.
Silent it lay, with a silvery haze upon it, and the fire-flies
Gleaming and floating away in mingled and infinite numbers.
Over her head the stars, the thoughts of God in the heavens,
Shone on the eyes of man, who had ceased to marvel and worship,
Save when a blazing comet was seen on the walls of that temple,
As if a hand had appeared and written upon them, 'Upharsin.'
And the soul of the maiden, between the stars and the fire-flies,
Wandered alone, and she cried, 'O Gabriel! O my beloved!
Art thou so near unto me, and yet I cannot behold thee?
Art thou so near unto me, and yet thy voice does not reach me?
Ah! how often thy feet have trod this path to the prairie!
Ah! how often thine eyes have looked on the woodlands around me!
Ah! how often beneath this oak, returning from labor,
Thou hast lain down to rest, and to dream of me in thy slumbers!
When shall these eyes behold, these arms be folded about thee?'
Loud and sudden and near the note of a whippoorwill sounded
Like a flute in the woods; and anon, through the neighboring thickets,
Farther and farther away it floated and dropped into silence.
'Patience!' whispered the oaks from oracular caverns of darkness;
And, from the moonlit meadow, a sigh responded, 'To-morrow!'
Bright rose the sun next day; and all the flowers of the garden
Bathed his shining feet with their tears, and anointed his tresses
With the delicious balm that they bore in their vases of crystal.
'Farewell!' said the priest, as he stood at the shadowy threshold;
'See that you bring us the Prodigal Son from his fasting and famine,
And, too, the Foolish Virgin, who slept when the bridegroom was coming.'
'Farewell!' answered the maiden, and, smiling, with Basil descended
Down to the river's brink, where the boatmen already were waiting.
Thus beginning their journey with morning, and sunshine, and gladness,
Swiftly they followed the flight of him who was speeding before them,
Blown by the blast of fate like a dead leaf over the desert.
Not that day, nor the next, nor yet the day that succeeded,
Found they trace of his course, in lake or forest or river,
Nor, after many days, had they found him; but vague and uncertain
Rumors alone were their guides through a wild and desolate country;
Till, at the little inn of the Spanish town of Adayes,
Weary and worn, they alighted, and learned from the garrulous landlord,
That on the day before, with horses and guides and companions,
Gabriel left the village, and took the road of the prairies.
The Birth of The War-God (Canto Seventh ) - Uma''s Bridal
In light and glory dawned the expected day
Blest with a kindly star's auspicious ray,
When gaily gathered at Himálaya's call
His kinsmen to the solemn festival.
Through the broad city every dame's awake
To grace the bridal for her monarch's sake;
So great their love for him, this single care
Makes one vast household of the thousands there.
Heaven is not brighter than the royal street
Where flowers lie scattered 'neath the nobles' feet,
And banners waving to the breeze unfold
Their silken broidery over gates of gold.
And she, their child, upon her bridal day
Bears her dear parents' every thought away.
So, when from distant shores a friend returns,
With deeper love each inmost spirit burns.
So, when grim Death restores his prey again
Joy brighter shines from memory of pain.
Each noble matron of Himálaya's race
Folds his dear Umá in a long embrace,
Pours blessings on her head, and prays her take
Some priceless jewel for her friendship's sake.
With sweetest influence a star of power
Had joined the spotted moon: at that blest hour
To deck fair Umá many a noble dame
And many a gentle maid assiduous came.
And well she graced their toil, more brightly fair
With feathery grass and wild flowers in her hair.
A silken robe flowed free below her waist;
Her sumptuous head a glittering arrow graced.
So shines the young unclouded moon at last,
Greeting the sun, its darksome season past.
Sweet-scented Lodhra dust and Sandal dyed
The delicate beauties of the fair young bride,
Veiled with a soft light robe. Her tiring-girls
Then led her to a chamber decked with pearls
And paved with sapphires, where the lulling sound
Of choicest music breathed divinely round.
There o'er the lady's limbs they poured by turns
Streams of pure water from their golden urns.
Fresh from the cooling bath the lovely maid
In fairest white her tender form arrayed.
So opens the Kása all her shining flowers
Lured from their buds by softly falling showers.
Then to a court with canopies o'erhead
A crowd of noble dames the maiden led—
A court for solemn rites, where gems and gold
Adorn the pillars that the roof uphold.
There on a couch they set her with her face
Turned toward the east. So lovely then the grace
Of that dear maid, so ravishing her smile,
E'en her attendants turned to gaze awhile;
For though the brightest gems around her lay,
Her brighter beauty stole their eyes away.
Through her long tresses one a chaplet wound,
And one with fragrant grass her temples crowned,
While o'er her head sweet clouds of incense rolled
To try and perfume every shining fold.
Bright dyes of saffron and the scented wood
Adorned her beauty, till the maiden stood
Fairer than Gangá when the Love-birds play
O'er sandy islets in her silvery bay.
To what rare beauty shall her maids compare
Her clear brow shaded by her glossy hair?
Less dazzling pure the lovely lotus shines
Flecked by the thronging bees in dusky lines.
Less bright the moon, when a dark band of cloud
Enhances beauties which it cannot shroud.
Behind her ear a head of barley drew
The eye to gaze upon its golden hue.
But then her cheek, with glowing saffron dyed,
To richer beauty called the glance aside.
Though from those lips, where Beauty's guerdon lay,
The vermeil tints were newly washed away,
Yet o'er them, as she smiled, a ray was thrown
Of quivering brightness that was all their own.
'Lay this dear foot upon thy lover's head
Crowned with the moon,' the laughing maiden said,
Who dyed her lady's feet—no word spake she,
But beat her with her wreath in playful glee.
Then tiring-women took the jetty dye
To guard, not deck, the beauty of her eye,
Whose languid half-shut glances might compare
With lotus leaves just opening to the air;
And as fresh gems adorned her neck and arms,
So quickly changing grew the maiden's charms,
Like some fair plant where bud succeeding bud
Unfolds new beauty; or a silver flood
Where gay birds follow quickly; or like night,
When crowding stars come forth in all their light.
Oft as the mirror would her glance beguile
She longed to meet her Lord's approving smile.
Her tasteful skill the timid maid essays
To win one smile of love, one word of praise.
The happy mother took the golden dye
And raised to hers young Umá's beaming eye.
Then swelled her bosom with maternal pride
As thus she decked her darling for a bride.
Oh, she had longed to trace on that fair brow
The nuptial line, yet scarce could mark it now.
On Umá's rounded arm the woollen band
Was fixt securely by the nurse's hand.
Blind with the tears that filled her swimming eye,
In vain the mother strove that band to tie.
Spotless as curling foam-flakes stood she there,
As yielding soft, as graceful and as fair:
Or like the glory of an autumn night
Robed by the full moon in a veil of light.
Then at her mother's hest, the maid adored
The spirit of each high ancestral lord,
Nor failed she next the noble dames to greet,
And give due honour to their reverend feet.
They raised the maiden as she bowed her head:
'Thine be the fulness of his love!' they said.
Half of his being, blessing high as this
Can add no rapture to her perfect bliss.
Well-pleased Himálaya viewed the pomp and pride
Meet for his daughter, meet for Śiva's bride;
Then sought the hall with all his friends to wait
The bridegroom's coming with a monarch's state.
Meanwhile by heavenly matrons' care displayed
Upon Kuvera's lofty mount were laid
The ornaments of Śiva, which of yore
At his first nuptials the bridegroom wore.
He laid his hand upon the dress, but how
Shall robes so sad, so holy, grace him now?
His own dire vesture took a shape as fair
As gentle bridegroom's heart could wish to wear.
The withering skull that glazed the eye with dread,
Shone a bright coronal to grace his head.
That elephant's hide the God had worn of old
Was now a silken robe inwrought with gold.
Ere this his body was with dust besprent:
With unguent now it shed delightful scent;
And that mid-eye which glittering like a star
Shot the wild terror of its glance afar—
So softly now its golden radiance beamed—
A mark of glory on his forehead seemed.
His twining serpents, destined still to be
The pride and honour of the deity,
Changed but their bodies: in each sparkling crest
The blazing gems still shone their loveliest.
What need of jewels on the brow of Him
Who wears the crescent moon? No spot may dim
Its youthful beauty, e'en in light of day
Shedding the glory of its quenchless ray.
Well-pleased the God in all his pride arrayed
Saw his bright image mirrored in the blade
Of the huge sword they brought; then calmly leant
On Nandi's arm, and toward his bull he went,
Whose broad back covered with a tiger's hide
Was steep to climb as Mount Kailása's side.
Yet the dread monster humbly shrank for fear,
And bowed in reverence as his Lord drew near.
The matrons followed him, a saintly throng,
Their ear-rings waving as they dashed along:
Sweet faces, with such glories round them shed
As made the air one lovely lotus bed.
On flew those bright ones: Káli came behind,
The skulls that decked her rattling in the wind:
Like the dark rack that scuds across the sky,
With herald lightning and the crane's shrill cry.
Hark! from the glorious bands that lead the way,
Harp, drum, and pipe, and shrilling trumpet's bray,
Burst through the sky upon the startled ear
And tell the Gods the hour of worship's near.
They came; the Sun presents a silken shade
Which heaven's own artist for the God had made,
Gilding his brows, as though bright Gangá rolled
Adown his holy head her waves of gold.
She in her Goddess-shape divinely fair,
And Yamuná, sweet river-Nymph, were there,
Fanning their Lord, that fancy still might deem
Swans waved their pinions round each Lady of the Stream.
E'en Brahmá came, Creator, Lord of Might,
And Vishṇu glowing from the realms of light.
'Ride on,' they cried, 'thine, thine for ever be
The strength, the glory, and the victory.'
To swell his triumph that high blessing came
Like holy oil upon the rising flame.
In those Three Persons the one God was shown,
Each first in place, each last,—not one alone;
Of Śiva, Vishṇu, Brahmá, each may be
First, second, third, among the Blessed Three.
By Indra led, each world-upholding Lord
With folded hands the mighty God adored.
In humble robes arrayed, the pomp and pride
Of glorious deity they laid aside.
They signed to Nandi, and the favourite's hand
Guided his eye upon the suppliant band.
He spake to Vishṇu, and on Indra smiled,
To Brahmá bowed—the lotus' mystic child.
On all the hosts of heaven his friendly eye
Beamed duly welcome as they crowded nigh.
The Seven Great Saints their blessings o'er him shed,
And thus in answer, with a smile, he said:
'Hail, mighty Sages! hail, ye Sons of Light!
My chosen priests to celebrate this rite.'
Now in sweet tones the heavenly minstrels tell
His praise, beneath whose might Tripura fell.
He moves to go: from his moon-crest a ray
Sheds quenchless light on his triumphant way.
On through the air his swift bull bore him well,
Decked with the gold of many a tinkling bell;
Tossing from time to time his head on high,
Enwreathed with clouds as he flew racing by,
As though in furious charge he had uptorn
A bank of clay upon his mighty horn.
Swiftly they came where in its beauty lay
The city subject to Himálaya's sway.
No foeman's foot had ever trod those halls,
No foreign bands encamped around the walls.
Then Śiva's glances fixed their eager hold
On that fair city as with threads of gold.
The God whose neck still gleams with cloudy blue
Burst on the wondering people's upturned view,
And on the earth descended, from the path
His shafts once dinted in avenging wrath.
Forth from the gates a noble army poured
To do meet honour to the mighty Lord.
With all his friends on elephants of state
The King of Mountains passed the city gate,
So gaily decked, the princes all were seen
Like moving hills inwrapt in bowery green.
As the full rushing of two streams that pour
Beneath one bridge with loud tumultuous roar,
So through the city's open gate streamed in
Mountains and Gods with tumult and with din.
So glorious was the sight, wonder and shame,
When Śiva bowed him, o'er the Monarch came;
He knew not he had bent his lofty crest
In reverent greeting to his heavenly guest
Himálaya, joying in the festive day,
Before the immortal bridegroom led the way
Where heaps of gay flowers burying half the feet
Lay breathing odours through the crowded street.
Careless of all beside, each lady's eye
Must gaze on Śiva as the troop sweeps by.
One dark-eyed beauty will not stay to bind
Her long black tresses, floating unconfined
Save by her little hand; her flowery crown
Hanging neglected and unfastened down.
One from her maiden tore her foot away
On which the dye, all wet and streaming, lay,
And o'er the chamber rushing in her haste,
Where'er she stepped, a crimson footprint traced.
Another at the window takes her stand;
One eye is dyed,—the pencil in her hand.
Here runs an eager maid, and running, holds
Loose and ungirt her flowing mantle's folds,
Whilst, as she strives to close the parting vest,
Its brightness gives new beauty to her breast.
Oh! what a sight! the crowded windows there
With eager faces excellently fair,
Like sweetest lilies, for their dark eyes fling
Quick glances quivering like the wild bee's wing.
Onward in peerless glory Śiva passed;
Gay banners o'er his way their shadows cast,
Each palace dome, each pinnacle and height
Catching new lustre from his crest of light.
On swept the pageant: on the God alone
The eager glances of the dames were thrown;
On his bright form they fed the rapturous gaze,
And only turned to marvel and to praise:
'Oh, well and wisely, such a lord to gain
The Mountain-Maid endured the toil and pain.
To be his slave were joy; but Oh, how blest
The wife—the loved one—lying on his breast!
Surely in vain, had not the Lord of Life
Matched this fond bridegroom and this loving wife,
Had been his wish to give the worlds a mould
Of perfect beauty! Falsely have they told
How the young flower-armed God was burnt by fire
At the red flash of Śiva's vengeful ire.
No: jealous Love a fairer form confessed,
And cast away his own, no more the loveliest.
How glorious is the Mountain King, how proud
Earth's stately pillar, girt about with cloud!
Now will he lift his lofty head more high,
Knit close to Śiva by this holy tie.'
Such words of praise from many a bright-eyed dame
On Śiva's ear with soothing witchery came.
Through the broad streets 'mid loud acclaim he rode,
And reached the palace where the King abode.
There he descended from his monster's side,
As the sun leaves a cloud at eventide.
Leaning on Vishṇu's arm he passed the door
Where mighty Brahmá entered in before.
Next Indra came, and all the host of heaven,
The noble Saints and those great Sages seven.
Then led they Śiva to a royal seat;
Fair gifts they brought, for such a bridegroom meet:
With all due rites, the honey and the milk,
Rich gems were offered and two robes of silk.
At length by skilful chamberlains arrayed
They led the lover to the royal maid.
Thus the fond Moon disturbs the tranquil rest
Of Ocean glittering with his foamy crest,
And leads him on, his proud waves swelling o'er,
To leap with kisses on the clasping shore.
He gazed on Umá. From his lotus eyes
Flashed out the rapture of his proud surprise.
Then calm the current of his spirit lay
Like the world basking in an autumn day.
They met; and true love's momentary shame
O'er the blest bridegroom and his darling came.
Eye looked to eye, but, quivering as they met,
Scarce dared to trust the rapturous gazing yet.
In the God's hand the priest has duly laid
The radiant fingers of the Mountain-Maid,
Bright, as if Love with his dear sprays of red
Had sought that refuge in his hour of dread.
From hand to hand the soft infection stole,
Till each confessed it in the inmost soul.
Fire filled his veins, with joy she trembled; such
The magic influence of that thrilling touch.
How grows their beauty, when two lovers stand
Eye fixt on eye, hand fondly linkt in hand!
Then how, unblamed, may mortal minstrel dare
To paint in words the beauty of that pair!
Around the fire in solemn rite they trod,
The lovely lady and the glorious God;
Like day and starry midnight when they meet
In the broad plains at lofty Meru's feet.
Thrice at the bidding of the priest they came
With swimming eyes around the holy flame.
Then at his word the bride in order due
Into the blazing fire the parched grain threw,
And toward her face the scented smoke she drew,
Which softly wreathing o'er her fair cheek hung,
And round her ears in flower-like beauty clung.
As o'er the incense the sweet lady stooped,
The ear of barley from her tresses drooped,
And rested on her cheek, beneath the eye
Still brightly beaming with the jetty dye.
'This flame be witness of your wedded life:
Be just, thou husband, and be true, thou wife!'
Such was the priestly blessing on the bride.
Eager she listened, as the earth when dried
By parching summer suns drinks deeply in
The first soft droppings when the rains begin.
'Look, gentle Umá,' cried her Lord, 'afar
Seest thou the brightness of yon polar star?
Like that unchanging ray thy faith must shine.'
Sobbing, she whispered, 'Yes, for ever thine.'
The rite is o'er. Her joyful parents now
At Brahmá's feet in duteous reverence bow.
Then to fair Umá spake the gracious Power
Who sits enthroned upon the lotus flower:
'O beautiful lady, happy shalt thou be,
And hero children shall be born of thee;'
Then looked in silence: vain the hope to bless
The bridegroom, Śiva, with more happiness.
Then from the altar, as prescribed of old,
They turned, and rested upon seats of gold;
And, as the holy books for men ordain,
Were sprinkled duly with the moistened grain.
High o'er their heads sweet Beauty's Queen displayed
Upon a stem of reed a cool green shade,
While the young lotus-leaves of which 'twas made
Seemed, as they glistened to the wondering view,
All richly pearled with drops of beady dew.
In twofold language on each glorious head
The Queen of Speech her richest blessings shed;
In strong, pure, godlike utterance for his ear,
To her in liquid tones, soft, beautifully clear.
Now for awhile they gaze where maids divine
In graceful play the expressive dance entwine;
Whose eloquent motions, with an actor's art,
Show to the life the passions of the heart.
The rite was ended; then the heavenly band
Prayed Śiva, raising high the suppliant hand:
'Now, for the dear sake of thy lovely bride,
Have pity on the gentle God,' they cried,
'Whose tender body thy fierce wrath has slain:
Give all his honour, all his might again.'
Well pleased, he smiled, and gracious answer gave:
Śiva himself now yields him Káma's slave.
When duly given, the great will ne'er despise
The gentle pleading of the good and wise.
Now have they left the wedded pair alone;
And Śiva takes her hand within his own
To lead his darling to the bridal bower,
Decked with bright gold and all her sumptuous dower.
She blushes sweetly as her maidens there
Look with arch smiles and glances on the pair;
And for one moment, while the damsels stay,
From him she loves turns her dear face away.
The Odyssey: Book 6
So here Ulysses slept, overcome by sleep and toil; but Minerva
went off to the country and city of the Phaecians- a people who used
to live in the fair town of Hypereia, near the lawless Cyclopes. Now
the Cyclopes were stronger than they and plundered them, so their king
Nausithous moved them thence and settled them in Scheria, far from all
other people. He surrounded the city with a wall, built houses and
temples, and divided the lands among his people; but he was dead and
gone to the house of Hades, and King Alcinous, whose counsels were
inspired of heaven, was now reigning. To his house, then, did
Minerva hie in furtherance of the return of Ulysses.
She went straight to the beautifully decorated bedroom in which
there slept a girl who was as lovely as a goddess, Nausicaa,
daughter to King Alcinous. Two maid servants were sleeping near her,
both very pretty, one on either side of the doorway, which was
closed with well-made folding doors. Minerva took the form of the
famous sea captain Dymas's daughter, who was a bosom friend of
Nausicaa and just her own age; then, coming up to the girl's bedside
like a breath of wind, she hovered over her head and said:
"Nausicaa, what can your mother have been about, to have such a lazy
daughter? Here are your clothes all lying in disorder, yet you are
going to be married almost immediately, and should not only be well
dressed yourself, but should find good clothes for those who attend
you. This is the way to get yourself a good name, and to make your
father and mother proud of you. Suppose, then, that we make tomorrow a
washing day, and start at daybreak. I will come and help you so that
you may have everything ready as soon as possible, for all the best
young men among your own people are courting you, and you are not
going to remain a maid much longer. Ask your father, therefore, to
have a waggon and mules ready for us at daybreak, to take the rugs,
robes, and girdles; and you can ride, too, which will be much
pleasanter for you than walking, for the washing-cisterns are some way
from the town."
When she had said this Minerva went away to Olympus, which they
say is the everlasting home of the gods. Here no wind beats roughly,
and neither rain nor snow can fall; but it abides in everlasting
sunshine and in a great peacefulness of light, wherein the blessed
gods are illumined for ever and ever. This was the place to which
the goddess went when she had given instructions to the girl.
By and by morning came and woke Nausicaa, who began wondering
about her dream; she therefore went to the other end of the house to
tell her father and mother all about it, and found them in their own
room. Her mother was sitting by the fireside spinning her purple
yarn with her maids around her, and she happened to catch her father
just as he was going out to attend a meeting of the town council,
which the Phaeacian aldermen had convened. She stopped him and said:
"Papa dear, could you manage to let me have a good big waggon? I
want to take all our dirty clothes to the river and wash them. You are
the chief man here, so it is only right that you should have a clean
shirt when you attend meetings of the council. Moreover, you have five
sons at home, two of them married, while the other three are
good-looking bachelors; you know they always like to have clean
linen when they go to a dance, and I have been thinking about all
She did not say a word about her own wedding, for she did not like
to, but her father knew and said, "You shall have the mules, my
love, and whatever else you have a mind for. Be off with you, and
the men shall get you a good strong waggon with a body to it that will
hold all your clothes."
On this he gave his orders to the servants, who got the waggon
out, harnessed the mules, and put them to, while the girl brought
the clothes down from the linen room and placed them on the waggon.
Her mother prepared her a basket of provisions with all sorts of
good things, and a goat skin full of wine; the girl now got into the
waggon, and her mother gave her also a golden cruse of oil, that she
and her women might anoint themselves. Then she took the whip and
reins and lashed the mules on, whereon they set off, and their hoofs
clattered on the road. They pulled without flagging, and carried not
only Nausicaa and her wash of clothes, but the maids also who were
When they reached the water side they went to the
washing-cisterns, through which there ran at all times enough pure
water to wash any quantity of linen, no matter how dirty. Here they
unharnessed the mules and turned them out to feed on the sweet juicy
herbage that grew by the water side. They took the clothes out of
the waggon, put them in the water, and vied with one another in
treading them in the pits to get the dirt out. After they had washed
them and got them quite clean, they laid them out by the sea side,
where the waves had raised a high beach of shingle, and set about
washing themselves and anointing themselves with olive oil. Then
they got their dinner by the side of the stream, and waited for the
sun to finish drying the clothes. When they had done dinner they threw
off the veils that covered their heads and began to play at ball,
while Nausicaa sang for them. As the huntress Diana goes forth upon
the mountains of Taygetus or Erymanthus to hunt wild boars or deer,
and the wood-nymphs, daughters of Aegis-bearing Jove, take their sport
along with her (then is Leto proud at seeing her daughter stand a full
head taller than the others, and eclipse the loveliest amid a whole
bevy of beauties), even so did the girl outshine her handmaids.
When it was time for them to start home, and they were folding the
clothes and putting them into the waggon, Minerva began to consider
how Ulysses should wake up and see the handsome girl who was to
conduct him to the city of the Phaeacians. The girl, therefore,
threw a ball at one of the maids, which missed her and fell into
deep water. On this they all shouted, and the noise they made woke
Ulysses, who sat up in his bed of leaves and began to wonder what it
might all be.
"Alas," said he to himself, "what kind of people have I come
amongst? Are they cruel, savage, and uncivilized, or hospitable and
humane? I seem to hear the voices of young women, and they sound
like those of the nymphs that haunt mountain tops, or springs of
rivers and meadows of green grass. At any rate I am among a race of
men and women. Let me try if I cannot manage to get a look at them."
As he said this he crept from under his bush, and broke off a
bough covered with thick leaves to hide his nakedness. He looked
like some lion of the wilderness that stalks about exulting in his
strength and defying both wind and rain; his eyes glare as he prowls
in quest of oxen, sheep, or deer, for he is famished, and will dare
break even into a well-fenced homestead, trying to get at the sheep-
even such did Ulysses seem to the young women, as he drew near to them
all naked as he was, for he was in great want. On seeing one so
unkempt and so begrimed with salt water, the others scampered off
along the spits that jutted out into the sea, but the daughter of
Alcinous stood firm, for Minerva put courage into her heart and took
away all fear from her. She stood right in front of Ulysses, and he
doubted whether he should go up to her, throw himself at her feet, and
embrace her knees as a suppliant, or stay where he was and entreat her
to give him some clothes and show him the way to the town. In the
end he deemed it best to entreat her from a distance in case the
girl should take offence at his coming near enough to clasp her knees,
so he addressed her in honeyed and persuasive language.
"O queen," he said, "I implore your aid- but tell me, are you a
goddess or are you a mortal woman? If you are a goddess and dwell in
heaven, I can only conjecture that you are Jove's daughter Diana,
for your face and figure resemble none but hers; if on the other
hand you are a mortal and live on earth, thrice happy are your
father and mother- thrice happy, too, are your brothers and sisters;
how proud and delighted they must feel when they see so fair a scion
as yourself going out to a dance; most happy, however, of all will
he be whose wedding gifts have been the richest, and who takes you
to his own home. I never yet saw any one so beautiful, neither man nor
woman, and am lost in admiration as I behold you. I can only compare
you to a young palm tree which I saw when I was at Delos growing
near the altar of Apollo- for I was there, too, with much people after
me, when I was on that journey which has been the source of all my
troubles. Never yet did such a young plant shoot out of the ground
as that was, and I admired and wondered at it exactly as I now
admire and wonder at yourself. I dare not clasp your knees, but I am
in great distress; yesterday made the twentieth day that I had been
tossing about upon the sea. The winds and waves have taken me all
the way from the Ogygian island, and now fate has flung me upon this
coast that I may endure still further suffering; for I do not think
that I have yet come to the end of it, but rather that heaven has
still much evil in store for me.
"And now, O queen, have pity upon me, for you are the first person I
have met, and I know no one else in this country. Show me the way to
your town, and let me have anything that you may have brought hither
to wrap your clothes in. May heaven grant you in all things your
heart's desire- husband, house, and a happy, peaceful home; for
there is nothing better in this world than that man and wife should be
of one mind in a house. It discomfits their enemies, makes the
hearts of their friends glad, and they themselves know more about it
than any one."
To this Nausicaa answered, "Stranger, you appear to be a sensible,
well-disposed person. There is no accounting for luck; Jove gives
prosperity to rich and poor just as he chooses, so you must take
what he has seen fit to send you, and make the best of it. Now,
however, that you have come to this our country, you shall not want
for clothes nor for anything else that a foreigner in distress may
reasonably look for. I will show you the way to the town, and will
tell you the name of our people; we are called Phaeacians, and I am
daughter to Alcinous, in whom the whole power of the state is vested."
Then she called her maids and said, "Stay where you are, you
girls. Can you not see a man without running away from him? Do you
take him for a robber or a murderer? Neither he nor any one else can
come here to do us Phaeacians any harm, for we are dear to the gods,
and live apart on a land's end that juts into the sounding sea, and
have nothing to do with any other people. This is only some poor man
who has lost his way, and we must be kind to him, for strangers and
foreigners in distress are under Jove's protection, and will take what
they can get and be thankful; so, girls, give the poor fellow
something to eat and drink, and wash him in the stream at some place
that is sheltered from the wind."
On this the maids left off running away and began calling one
another back. They made Ulysses sit down in the shelter as Nausicaa
had told them, and brought him a shirt and cloak. They also brought
him the little golden cruse of oil, and told him to go wash in the
stream. But Ulysses said, "Young women, please to stand a little on
one side that I may wash the brine from my shoulders and anoint myself
with oil, for it is long enough since my skin has had a drop of oil
upon it. I cannot wash as long as you all keep standing there. I am
ashamed to strip before a number of good-looking young women."
Then they stood on one side and went to tell the girl, while Ulysses
washed himself in the stream and scrubbed the brine from his back
and from his broad shoulders. When he had thoroughly washed himself,
and had got the brine out of his hair, he anointed himself with oil,
and put on the clothes which the girl had given him; Minerva then made
him look taller and stronger than before, she also made the hair
grow thick on the top of his head, and flow down in curls like
hyacinth blossoms; she glorified him about the head and shoulders as a
skilful workman who has studied art of all kinds under Vulcan and
Minerva enriches a piece of silver plate by gilding it- and his work
is full of beauty. Then he went and sat down a little way off upon the
beach, looking quite young and handsome, and the girl gazed on him
with admiration; then she said to her maids:
"Hush, my dears, for I want to say something. I believe the gods who
live in heaven have sent this man to the Phaeacians. When I first
saw him I thought him plain, but now his appearance is like that of
the gods who dwell in heaven. I should like my future husband to be
just such another as he is, if he would only stay here and not want to
go away. However, give him something to eat and drink."
They did as they were told, and set food before Ulysses, who ate and
drank ravenously, for it was long since he had had food of any kind.
Meanwhile, Nausicaa bethought her of another matter. She got the linen
folded and placed in the waggon, she then yoked the mules, and, as she
took her seat, she called Ulysses:
"Stranger," said she, "rise and let us be going back to the town;
I will introduce you at the house of my excellent father, where I
can tell you that you will meet all the best people among the
Phaecians. But be sure and do as I bid you, for you seem to be a
sensible person. As long as we are going past the fields- and farm
lands, follow briskly behind the waggon along with the maids and I
will lead the way myself. Presently, however, we shall come to the
town, where you will find a high wall running all round it, and a good
harbour on either side with a narrow entrance into the city, and the
ships will be drawn up by the road side, for every one has a place
where his own ship can lie. You will see the market place with a
temple of Neptune in the middle of it, and paved with large stones
bedded in the earth. Here people deal in ship's gear of all kinds,
such as cables and sails, and here, too, are the places where oars are
made, for the Phaeacians are not a nation of archers; they know
nothing about bows and arrows, but are a sea-faring folk, and pride
themselves on their masts, oars, and ships, with which they travel far
over the sea.
"I am afraid of the gossip and scandal that may be set on foot
against me later on; for the people here are very ill-natured, and
some low fellow, if he met us, might say, 'Who is this fine-looking
stranger that is going about with Nausicaa? Where did she End him? I
suppose she is going to marry him. Perhaps he is a vagabond sailor
whom she has taken from some foreign vessel, for we have no
neighbours; or some god has at last come down from heaven in answer to
her prayers, and she is going to live with him all the rest of her
life. It would be a good thing if she would take herself of I for sh
and find a husband somewhere else, for she will not look at one of the
many excellent young Phaeacians who are in with her.' This is the kind
of disparaging remark that would be made about me, and I could not
complain, for I should myself be scandalized at seeing any other
girl do the like, and go about with men in spite of everybody, while
her father and mother were still alive, and without having been
married in the face of all the world.
"If, therefore, you want my father to give you an escort and to help
you home, do as I bid you; you will see a beautiful grove of poplars
by the road side dedicated to Minerva; it has a well in it and a
meadow all round it. Here my father has a field of rich garden ground,
about as far from the town as a man' voice will carry. Sit down
there and wait for a while till the rest of us can get into the town
and reach my father's house. Then, when you think we must have done
this, come into the town and ask the way to the house of my father
Alcinous. You will have no difficulty in finding it; any child will
point it out to you, for no one else in the whole town has anything
like such a fine house as he has. When you have got past the gates and
through the outer court, go right across the inner court till you come
to my mother. You will find her sitting by the fire and spinning her
purple wool by firelight. It is a fine sight to see her as she leans
back against one of the bearing-posts with her maids all ranged behind
her. Close to her seat stands that of my father, on which he sits
and topes like an immortal god. Never mind him, but go up to my
mother, and lay your hands upon her knees if you would get home
quickly. If you can gain her over, you may hope to see your own
country again, no matter how distant it may be."
So saying she lashed the mules with her whip and they left the
river. The mules drew well and their hoofs went up and down upon the
road. She was careful not to go too fast for Ulysses and the maids who
were following on foot along with the waggon, so she plied her whip
with judgement. As the sun was going down they came to the sacred
grove of Minerva, and there Ulysses sat down and prayed to the
mighty daughter of Jove.
"Hear me," he cried, "daughter of Aegis-bearing Jove, unweariable,
hear me now, for you gave no heed to my prayers when Neptune was
wrecking me. Now, therefore, have pity upon me and grant that I may
find friends and be hospitably received by the Phaecians."
Thus did he pray, and Minerva heard his prayer, but she would not
show herself to him openly, for she was afraid of her uncle Neptune,
who was still furious in his endeavors to prevent Ulysses from getting
The Odyssey: Book 23
Euryclea now went upstairs laughing to tell her mistress that her
dear husband had come home. Her aged knees became young again and
her feet were nimble for joy as she went up to her mistress and bent
over her head to speak to her. "Wake up Penelope, my dear child,"
she exclaimed, "and see with your own eyes something that you have
been wanting this long time past. Ulysses has at last indeed come home
again, and has killed the suitors who were giving so much trouble in
his house, eating up his estate and ill-treating his son."
"My good nurse," answered Penelope, "you must be mad. The gods
sometimes send some very sensible people out of their minds, and
make foolish people become sensible. This is what they must have
been doing to you; for you always used to be a reasonable person.
Why should you thus mock me when I have trouble enough already-
talking such nonsense, and waking me up out of a sweet sleep that
had taken possession of my eyes and closed them? I have never slept so
soundly from the day my poor husband went to that city with the
ill-omened name. Go back again into the women's room; if it had been
any one else, who had woke me up to bring me such absurd news I should
have sent her away with a severe scolding. As it is, your age shall
"My dear child," answered Euryclea, "I am not mocking you. It is
quite true as I tell you that Ulysses is come home again. He was the
stranger whom they all kept on treating so badly in the cloister.
Telemachus knew all the time that he was come back, but kept his
father's secret that he might have his revenge on all these wicked
Then Penelope sprang up from her couch, threw her arms round
Euryclea, and wept for joy. "But my dear nurse," said she, "explain
this to me; if he has really come home as you say, how did he manage
to overcome the wicked suitors single handed, seeing what a number
of them there always were?"
"I was not there," answered Euryclea, "and do not know; I only heard
them groaning while they were being killed. We sat crouching and
huddled up in a corner of the women's room with the doors closed, till
your son came to fetch me because his father sent him. Then I found
Ulysses standing over the corpses that were lying on the ground all
round him, one on top of the other. You would have enjoyed it if you
could have seen him standing there all bespattered with blood and
filth, and looking just like a lion. But the corpses are now all piled
up in the gatehouse that is in the outer court, and Ulysses has lit
a great fire to purify the house with sulphur. He has sent me to
call you, so come with me that you may both be happy together after
all; for now at last the desire of your heart has been fulfilled; your
husband is come home to find both wife and son alive and well, and
to take his revenge in his own house on the suitors who behaved so
badly to him."
"'My dear nurse," said Penelope, "do not exult too confidently
over all this. You know how delighted every one would be to see
Ulysses come home- more particularly myself, and the son who has
been born to both of us; but what you tell me cannot be really true.
It is some god who is angry with the suitors for their great
wickedness, and has made an end of them; for they respected no man
in the whole world, neither rich nor poor, who came near them, who
came near them, and they have come to a bad end in consequence of
their iniquity. Ulysses is dead far away from the Achaean land; he
will never return home again."
Then nurse Euryclea said, "My child, what are you talking about? but
you were all hard of belief and have made up your mind that your
husband is never coming, although he is in the house and by his own
fire side at this very moment. Besides I can give you another proof;
when I was washing him I perceived the scar which the wild boar gave
him, and I wanted to tell you about it, but in his wisdom he would not
let me, and clapped his hands over my mouth; so come with me and I
will make this bargain with you- if I am deceiving you, you may have
me killed by the most cruel death you can think of."
"My dear nurse," said Penelope, "however wise you may be you can
hardly fathom the counsels of the gods. Nevertheless, we will go in
search of my son, that I may see the corpses of the suitors, and the
man who has killed them."
On this she came down from her upper room, and while doing so she
considered whether she should keep at a distance from her husband
and question him, or whether she should at once go up to him and
embrace him. When, however, she had crossed the stone floor of the
cloister, she sat down opposite Ulysses by the fire, against the
wall at right angles [to that by which she had entered], while Ulysses
sat near one of the bearing-posts, looking upon the ground, and
waiting to see what his wife would say to him when she saw him. For
a long time she sat silent and as one lost in amazement. At one moment
she looked him full in the face, but then again directly, she was
misled by his shabby clothes and failed to recognize him, till
Telemachus began to reproach her and said:
"Mother- but you are so hard that I cannot call you by such a
name- why do you keep away from my father in this way? Why do you
not sit by his side and begin talking to him and asking him questions?
No other woman could bear to keep away from her husband when he had
come back to her after twenty years of absence, and after having
gone through so much; but your heart always was as hard as a stone."
Penelope answered, "My son, I am so lost in astonishment that I
can find no words in which either to ask questions or to answer
them. I cannot even look him straight in the face. Still, if he really
is Ulysses come back to his own home again, we shall get to understand
one another better by and by, for there are tokens with which we two
are alone acquainted, and which are hidden from all others."
Ulysses smiled at this, and said to Telemachus, "Let your mother put
me to any proof she likes; she will make up her mind about it
presently. She rejects me for the moment and believes me to be
somebody else, because I am covered with dirt and have such bad
clothes on; let us, however, consider what we had better do next. When
one man has killed another, even though he was not one who would leave
many friends to take up his quarrel, the man who has killed him must
still say good bye to his friends and fly the country; whereas we have
been killing the stay of a whole town, and all the picked youth of
Ithaca. I would have you consider this matter."
"Look to it yourself, father," answered Telemachus, "for they say
you are the wisest counsellor in the world, and that there is no other
mortal man who can compare with you. We will follow you with right
good will, nor shall you find us fail you in so far as our strength
"I will say what I think will be best," answered Ulysses. "First
wash and put your shirts on; tell the maids also to go to their own
room and dress; Phemius shall then strike up a dance tune on his lyre,
so that if people outside hear, or any of the neighbours, or some
one going along the street happens to notice it, they may think
there is a wedding in the house, and no rumours about the death of the
suitors will get about in the town, before we can escape to the
woods upon my own land. Once there, we will settle which of the
courses heaven vouchsafes us shall seem wisest."
Thus did he speak, and they did even as he had said. First they
washed and put their shirts on, while the women got ready. Then
Phemius took his lyre and set them all longing for sweet song and
stately dance. The house re-echoed with the sound of men and women
dancing, and the people outside said, "I suppose the queen has been
getting married at last. She ought to be ashamed of herself for not
continuing to protect her husband's property until he comes home."
This was what they said, but they did not know what it was that
had been happening. The upper servant Eurynome washed and anointed
Ulysses in his own house and gave him a shirt and cloak, while Minerva
made him look taller and stronger than before; she also made the
hair grow thick on the top of his head, and flow down in curls like
hyacinth blossoms; she glorified him about the head and shoulders just
as a skilful workman who has studied art of all kinds under Vulcan
or Minerva- and his work is full of beauty- enriches a piece of silver
plate by gilding it. He came from the bath looking like one of the
immortals, and sat down opposite his wife on the seat he had left. "My
dear," said he, "heaven has endowed you with a heart more unyielding
than woman ever yet had. No other woman could bear to keep away from
her husband when he had come back to her after twenty years of
absence, and after having gone through so much. But come, nurse, get a
bed ready for me; I will sleep alone, for this woman has a heart as
hard as iron."
"My dear," answered Penelope, "I have no wish to set myself up,
nor to depreciate you; but I am not struck by your appearance, for I
very well remember what kind of a man you were when you set sail
from Ithaca. Nevertheless, Euryclea, take his bed outside the bed
chamber that he himself built. Bring the bed outside this room, and
put bedding upon it with fleeces, good coverlets, and blankets."
She said this to try him, but Ulysses was very angry and said,
"Wife, I am much displeased at what you have just been saying. Who has
been taking my bed from the place in which I left it? He must have
found it a hard task, no matter how skilled a workman he was, unless
some god came and helped him to shift it. There is no man living,
however strong and in his prime, who could move it from its place, for
it is a marvellous curiosity which I made with my very own hands.
There was a young olive growing within the precincts of the house,
in full vigour, and about as thick as a bearing-post. I built my
room round this with strong walls of stone and a roof to cover them,
and I made the doors strong and well-fitting. Then I cut off the top
boughs of the olive tree and left the stump standing. This I dressed
roughly from the root upwards and then worked with carpenter's tools
well and skilfully, straightening my work by drawing a line on the
wood, and making it into a bed-prop. I then bored a hole down the
middle, and made it the centre-post of my bed, at which I worked
till I had finished it, inlaying it with gold and silver; after this I
stretched a hide of crimson leather from one side of it to the
other. So you see I know all about it, and I desire to learn whether
it is still there, or whether any one has been removing it by
cutting down the olive tree at its roots."
When she heard the sure proofs Ulysses now gave her, she fairly
broke down. She flew weeping to his side, flung her arms about his
neck, and kissed him. "Do not be angry with me Ulysses," she cried,
"you, who are the wisest of mankind. We have suffered, both of us.
Heaven has denied us the happiness of spending our youth, and of
growing old, together; do not then be aggrieved or take it amiss
that I did not embrace you thus as soon as I saw you. I have been
shuddering all the time through fear that someone might come here
and deceive me with a lying story; for there are many very wicked
people going about. Jove's daughter Helen would never have yielded
herself to a man from a foreign country, if she had known that the
sons of Achaeans would come after her and bring her back. Heaven put
it in her heart to do wrong, and she gave no thought to that sin,
which has been the source of all our sorrows. Now, however, that you
have convinced me by showing that you know all about our bed (which no
human being has ever seen but you and I and a single maid servant, the
daughter of Actor, who was given me by my father on my marriage, and
who keeps the doors of our room) hard of belief though I have been I
can mistrust no longer."
Then Ulysses in his turn melted, and wept as he clasped his dear and
faithful wife to his bosom. As the sight of land is welcome to men who
are swimming towards the shore, when Neptune has wrecked their ship
with the fury of his winds and waves- a few alone reach the land,
and these, covered with brine, are thankful when they find
themselves on firm ground and out of danger- even so was her husband
welcome to her as she looked upon him, and she could not tear her
two fair arms from about his neck. Indeed they would have gone on
indulging their sorrow till rosy-fingered morn appeared, had not
Minerva determined otherwise, and held night back in the far west,
while she would not suffer Dawn to leave Oceanus, nor to yoke the
two steeds Lampus and Phaethon that bear her onward to break the day
At last, however, Ulysses said, "Wife, we have not yet reached the
end of our troubles. I have an unknown amount of toil still to
undergo. It is long and difficult, but I must go through with it,
for thus the shade of Teiresias prophesied concerning me, on the day
when I went down into Hades to ask about my return and that of my
companions. But now let us go to bed, that we may lie down and enjoy
the blessed boon of sleep."
"You shall go to bed as soon as you please," replied Penelope,
"now that the gods have sent you home to your own good house and to
your country. But as heaven has put it in your mind to speak of it,
tell me about the task that lies before you. I shall have to hear
about it later, so it is better that I should be told at once."
"My dear," answered Ulysses, "why should you press me to tell you?
Still, I will not conceal it from you, though you will not like BOOK
it. I do not like it myself, for Teiresias bade me travel far and
wide, carrying an oar, till I came to a country where the people
have never heard of the sea, and do not even mix salt with their food.
They know nothing about ships, nor oars that are as the wings of a
ship. He gave me this certain token which I will not hide from you. He
said that a wayfarer should meet me and ask me whether it was a
winnowing shovel that I had on my shoulder. On this, I was to fix my
oar in the ground and sacrifice a ram, a bull, and a boar to
Neptune; after which I was to go home and offer hecatombs to all the
gods in heaven, one after the other. As for myself, he said that death
should come to me from the sea, and that my life should ebb away
very gently when I was full of years and peace of mind, and my
people should bless me. All this, he said, should surely come to
And Penelope said, "If the gods are going to vouchsafe you a happier
time in your old age, you may hope then to have some respite from
Thus did they converse. Meanwhile Eurynome and the nurse took
torches and made the bed ready with soft coverlets; as soon as they
had laid them, the nurse went back into the house to go to her rest,
leaving the bed chamber woman Eurynome to show Ulysses and Penelope to
bed by torch light. When she had conducted them to their room she went
back, and they then came joyfully to the rites of their own old bed.
Telemachus, Philoetius, and the swineherd now left off dancing, and
made the women leave off also. They then laid themselves down to sleep
in the cloisters.
When Ulysses and Penelope had had their fill of love they fell
talking with one another. She told him how much she had had to bear in
seeing the house filled with a crowd of wicked suitors who had
killed so many sheep and oxen on her account, and had drunk so many
casks of wine. Ulysses in his turn told her what he had suffered,
and how much trouble he had himself given to other people. He told her
everything, and she was so delighted to listen that she never went
to sleep till he had ended his whole story.
He began with his victory over the Cicons, and how he thence reached
the fertile land of the Lotus-eaters. He told her all about the
Cyclops and how he had punished him for having so ruthlessly eaten his
brave comrades; how he then went on to Aeolus, who received him
hospitably and furthered him on his way, but even so he was not to
reach home, for to his great grief a hurricane carried him out to
sea again; how he went on to the Laestrygonian city Telepylos, where
the people destroyed all his ships with their crews, save himself
and his own ship only. Then he told of cunning Circe and her craft,
and how he sailed to the chill house of Hades, to consult the ghost of
the Theban prophet Teiresias, and how he saw his old comrades in arms,
and his mother who bore him and brought him up when he was a child;
how he then heard the wondrous singing of the Sirens, and went on to
the wandering rocks and terrible Charybdis and to Scylla, whom no
man had ever yet passed in safety; how his men then ate the cattle
of the sun-god, and how Jove therefore struck the ship with his
thunderbolts, so that all his men perished together, himself alone
being left alive; how at last he reached the Ogygian island and the
nymph Calypso, who kept him there in a cave, and fed him, and wanted
him to marry her, in which case she intended making him immortal so
that he should never grow old, but she could not persuade him to let
her do so; and how after much suffering he had found his way to the
Phaeacians, who had treated him as though he had been a god, and
sent him back in a ship to his own country after having given him
gold, bronze, and raiment in great abundance. This was the last
thing about which he told her, for here a deep sleep took hold upon
him and eased the burden of his sorrows.
Then Minerva bethought her of another matter. When she deemed that
Ulysses had had both of his wife and of repose, she bade
gold-enthroned Dawn rise out of Oceanus that she might shed light upon
mankind. On this, Ulysses rose from his comfortable bed and said to
Penelope, "Wife, we have both of us had our full share of troubles,
you, here, in lamenting my absence, and I in being prevented from
getting home though I was longing all the time to do so. Now, however,
that we have at last come together, take care of the property that
is in the house. As for the sheep and goats which the wicked suitors
have eaten, I will take many myself by force from other people, and
will compel the Achaeans to make good the rest till they shall have
filled all my yards. I am now going to the wooded lands out in the
country to see my father who has so long been grieved on my account,
and to yourself I will give these instructions, though you have little
need of them. At sunrise it will at once get abroad that I have been
killing the suitors; go upstairs, therefore, and stay there with
your women. See nobody and ask no questions."
As he spoke he girded on his armour. Then he roused Telemachus,
Philoetius, and Eumaeus, and told them all to put on their armour
also. This they did, and armed themselves. When they had done so, they
opened the gates and sallied forth, Ulysses leading the way. It was
now daylight, but Minerva nevertheless concealed them in darkness
and led them quickly out of the town.
The Odyssey: Book 20
Ulysses slept in the cloister upon an undressed bullock's hide, on
the top of which he threw several skins of the sheep the suitors had
eaten, and Eurynome threw a cloak over him after he had laid himself
down. There, then, Ulysses lay wakefully brooding upon the way in
which he should kill the suitors; and by and by, the women who had
been in the habit of misconducting themselves with them, left the
house giggling and laughing with one another. This made Ulysses very
angry, and he doubted whether to get up and kill every single one of
them then and there, or to let them sleep one more and last time
with the suitors. His heart growled within him, and as a bitch with
puppies growls and shows her teeth when she sees a stranger, so did
his heart growl with anger at the evil deeds that were being done: but
he beat his breast and said, "Heart, be still, you had worse than this
to bear on the day when the terrible Cyclops ate your brave
companions; yet you bore it in silence till your cunning got you
safe out of the cave, though you made sure of being killed."
Thus he chided with his heart, and checked it into endurance, but he
tossed about as one who turns a paunch full of blood and fat in
front of a hot fire, doing it first on one side and then on the other,
that he may get it cooked as soon as possible, even so did he turn
himself about from side to side, thinking all the time how, single
handed as he was, he should contrive to kill so large a body of men as
the wicked suitors. But by and by Minerva came down from heaven in the
likeness of a woman, and hovered over his head saying, "My poor
unhappy man, why do you lie awake in this way? This is your house:
your wife is safe inside it, and so is your son who is just such a
young man as any father may be proud of."
"Goddess," answered Ulysses, "all that you have said is true, but
I am in some doubt as to how I shall be able to kill these wicked
suitors single handed, seeing what a number of them there always
are. And there is this further difficulty, which is still more
considerable. Supposing that with Jove's and your assistance I succeed
in killing them, I must ask you to consider where I am to escape to
from their avengers when it is all over."
"For shame," replied Minerva, "why, any one else would trust a worse
ally than myself, even though that ally were only a mortal and less
wise than I am. Am I not a goddess, and have I not protected you
throughout in all your troubles? I tell you plainly that even though
there were fifty bands of men surrounding us and eager to kill us, you
should take all their sheep and cattle, and drive them away with
you. But go to sleep; it is a very bad thing to lie awake all night,
and you shall be out of your troubles before long."
As she spoke she shed sleep over his eyes, and then went back to
While Ulysses was thus yielding himself to a very deep slumber
that eased the burden of his sorrows, his admirable wife awoke, and
sitting up in her bed began to cry. When she had relieved herself by
weeping she prayed to Diana saying, "Great Goddess Diana, daughter
of Jove, drive an arrow into my heart and slay me; or let some
whirlwind snatch me up and bear me through paths of darkness till it
drop me into the mouths of overflowing Oceanus, as it did the
daughters of Pandareus. The daughters of Pandareus lost their father
and mother, for the gods killed them, so they were left orphans. But
Venus took care of them, and fed them on cheese, honey, and sweet
wine. Juno taught them to excel all women in beauty of form and
understanding; Diana gave them an imposing presence, and Minerva
endowed them with every kind of accomplishment; but one day when Venus
had gone up to Olympus to see Jove about getting them married (for
well does he know both what shall happen and what not happen to
every one) the storm winds came and spirited them away to become
handmaids to the dread Erinyes. Even so I wish that the gods who
live in heaven would hide me from mortal sight, or that fair Diana
might strike me, for I would fain go even beneath the sad earth if I
might do so still looking towards Ulysses only, and without having
to yield myself to a worse man than he was. Besides, no matter how
much people may grieve by day, they can put up with it so long as they
can sleep at night, for when the eyes are closed in slumber people
forget good and ill alike; whereas my misery haunts me even in my
dreams. This very night methought there was one lying by my side who
was like Ulysses as he was when he went away with his host, and I
rejoiced, for I believed that it was no dream, but the very truth
On this the day broke, but Ulysses heard the sound of her weeping,
and it puzzled him, for it seemed as though she already knew him and
was by his side. Then he gathered up the cloak and the fleeces on
which he had lain, and set them on a seat in the cloister, but he took
the bullock's hide out into the open. He lifted up his hands to
heaven, and prayed, saying "Father Jove, since you have seen fit to
bring me over land and sea to my own home after all the afflictions
you have laid upon me, give me a sign out of the mouth of some one
or other of those who are now waking within the house, and let me have
another sign of some kind from outside."
Thus did he pray. Jove heard his prayer and forthwith thundered high
up among the from the splendour of Olympus, and Ulysses was glad
when he heard it. At the same time within the house, a miller-woman
from hard by in the mill room lifted up her voice and gave him another
sign. There were twelve miller-women whose business it was to grind
wheat and barley which are the staff of life. The others had ground
their task and had gone to take their rest, but this one had not yet
finished, for she was not so strong as they were, and when she heard
the thunder she stopped grinding and gave the sign to her master.
"Father Jove," said she, "you who rule over heaven and earth, you have
thundered from a clear sky without so much as a cloud in it, and
this means something for somebody; grant the prayer, then, of me
your poor servant who calls upon you, and let this be the very last
day that the suitors dine in the house of Ulysses. They have worn me
out with the labour of grinding meal for them, and I hope they may
never have another dinner anywhere at all."
Ulysses was glad when he heard the omens conveyed to him by the
woman's speech, and by the thunder, for he knew they meant that he
should avenge himself on the suitors.
Then the other maids in the house rose and lit the fire on the
hearth; Telemachus also rose and put on his clothes. He girded his
sword about his shoulder, bound his sandals on his comely feet, and
took a doughty spear with a point of sharpened bronze; then he went to
the threshold of the cloister and said to Euryclea, "Nurse, did you
make the stranger comfortable both as regards bed and board, or did
you let him shift for himself?- for my mother, good woman though she
is, has a way of paying great attention to second-rate people, and
of neglecting others who are in reality much better men."
"Do not find fault child," said Euryclea, "when there is no one to
find fault with. The stranger sat and drank his wine as long as he
liked: your mother did ask him if he would take any more bread and
he said he would not. When he wanted to go to bed she told the
servants to make one for him, but he said he was re such wretched
outcast that he would not sleep on a bed and under blankets; he
insisted on having an undressed bullock's hide and some sheepskins put
for him in the cloister and I threw a cloak over him myself."
Then Telemachus went out of the court to the place where the
Achaeans were meeting in assembly; he had his spear in his hand, and
he was not alone, for his two dogs went with him. But Euryclea
called the maids and said, "Come, wake up; set about sweeping the
cloisters and sprinkling them with water to lay the dust; put the
covers on the seats; wipe down the tables, some of you, with a wet
sponge; clean out the mixing-jugs and the cups, and for water from the
fountain at once; the suitors will be here directly; they will be here
early, for it is a feast day."
Thus did she speak, and they did even as she had said: twenty of
them went to the fountain for water, and the others set themselves
busily to work about the house. The men who were in attendance on
the suitors also came up and began chopping firewood. By and by the
women returned from the fountain, and the swineherd came after them
with the three best pigs he could pick out. These he let feed about
the premises, and then he said good-humouredly to Ulysses,
"Stranger, are the suitors treating you any better now, or are they as
insolent as ever?"
"May heaven," answered Ulysses, "requite to them the wickedness with
which they deal high-handedly in another man's house without any sense
Thus did they converse; meanwhile Melanthius the goatherd came up,
for he too was bringing in his best goats for the suitors' dinner; and
he had two shepherds with him. They tied the goats up under the
gatehouse, and then Melanthius began gibing at Ulysses. "Are you still
here, stranger," said he, "to pester people by begging about the
house? Why can you not go elsewhere? You and I shall not come to an
understanding before we have given each other a taste of our fists.
You beg without any sense of decency: are there not feasts elsewhere
among the Achaeans, as well as here?"
Ulysses made no answer, but bowed his head and brooded. Then a third
man, Philoetius, joined them, who was bringing in a barren heifer
and some goats. These were brought over by the boatmen who are there
to take people over when any one comes to them. So Philoetius made his
heifer and his goats secure under the gatehouse, and then went up to
the swineherd. "Who, Swineherd," said he, "is this stranger that is
lately come here? Is he one of your men? What is his family? Where
does he come from? Poor fellow, he looks as if he had been some
great man, but the gods give sorrow to whom they will- even to kings
if it so pleases them
As he spoke he went up to Ulysses and saluted him with his right
hand; "Good day to you, father stranger," said he, "you seem to be
very poorly off now, but I hope you will have better times by and
by. Father Jove, of all gods you are the most malicious. We are your
own children, yet you show us no mercy in all our misery and
afflictions. A sweat came over me when I saw this man, and my eyes
filled with tears, for he reminds me of Ulysses, who I fear is going
about in just such rags as this man's are, if indeed he is still among
the living. If he is already dead and in the house of Hades, then,
alas! for my good master, who made me his stockman when I was quite
young among the Cephallenians, and now his cattle are countless; no
one could have done better with them than I have, for they have bred
like ears of corn; nevertheless I have to keep bringing them in for
others to eat, who take no heed of his son though he is in the
house, and fear not the wrath of heaven, but are already eager to
divide Ulysses' property among them because he has been away so
long. I have often thought- only it would not be right while his son
is living- of going off with the cattle to some foreign country; bad
as this would be, it is still harder to stay here and be ill-treated
about other people's herds. My position is intolerable, and I should
long since have run away and put myself under the protection of some
other chief, only that I believe my poor master will yet return, and
send all these suitors flying out of the house."
"Stockman," answered Ulysses, "you seem to be a very well-disposed
person, and I can see that you are a man of sense. Therefore I will
tell you, and will confirm my words with an oath: by Jove, the chief
of all gods, and by that hearth of Ulysses to which I am now come,
Ulysses shall return before you leave this place, and if you are so
minded you shall see him killing the suitors who are now masters
"If Jove were to bring this to pass," replied the stockman, "you
should see how I would do my very utmost to help him."
And in like manner Eumaeus prayed that Ulysses might return home.
Thus did they converse. Meanwhile the suitors were hatching a plot
to murder Telemachus: but a bird flew near them on their left hand- an
eagle with a dove in its talons. On this Amphinomus said, "My friends,
this plot of ours to murder Telemachus will not succeed; let us go
to dinner instead."
The others assented, so they went inside and laid their cloaks on
the benches and seats. They sacrificed the sheep, goats, pigs, and the
heifer, and when the inward meats were cooked they served them
round. They mixed the wine in the mixing-bowls, and the swineherd gave
every man his cup, while Philoetius handed round the bread in the
breadbaskets, and Melanthius poured them out their wine. Then they
laid their hands upon the good things that were before them.
Telemachus purposely made Ulysses sit in the part of the cloister
that was paved with stone; he gave him a shabby-looking seat at a
little table to himself, and had his portion of the inward meats
brought to him, with his wine in a gold cup. "Sit there," said he,
"and drink your wine among the great people. I will put a stop to
the gibes and blows of the suitors, for this is no public house, but
belongs to Ulysses, and has passed from him to me. Therefore, suitors,
keep your hands and your tongues to yourselves, or there will be
The suitors bit their lips, and marvelled at the boldness of his
speech; then Antinous said, "We do not like such language but we
will put up with it, for Telemachus is threatening us in good earnest.
If Jove had let us we should have put a stop to his brave talk ere
Thus spoke Antinous, but Telemachus heeded him not. Meanwhile the
heralds were bringing the holy hecatomb through the city, and the
Achaeans gathered under the shady grove of Apollo.
Then they roasted the outer meat, drew it off the spits, gave
every man his portion, and feasted to their hearts' content; those who
waited at table gave Ulysses exactly the same portion as the others
had, for Telemachus had told them to do so.
But Minerva would not let the suitors for one moment drop their
insolence, for she wanted Ulysses to become still more bitter
against them. Now there happened to be among them a ribald fellow,
whose name was Ctesippus, and who came from Same. This man,
confident in his great wealth, was paying court to the wife of
Ulysses, and said to the suitors, "Hear what I have to say. The
stranger has already had as large a portion as any one else; this is
well, for it is not right nor reasonable to ill-treat any guest of
Telemachus who comes here. I will, however, make him a present on my
own account, that he may have something to give to the bath-woman,
or to some other of Ulysses' servants."
As he spoke he picked up a heifer's foot from the meat-basket in
which it lay, and threw it at Ulysses, but Ulysses turned his head a
little aside, and avoided it, smiling grimly Sardinian fashion as he
did so, and it hit the wall, not him. On this Telemachus spoke
fiercely to Ctesippus, "It is a good thing for you," said he, "that
the stranger turned his head so that you missed him. If you had hit
him I should have run you through with my spear, and your father would
have had to see about getting you buried rather than married in this
house. So let me have no more unseemly behaviour from any of you,
for I am grown up now to the knowledge of good and evil and understand
what is going on, instead of being the child that I have been
heretofore. I have long seen you killing my sheep and making free with
my corn and wine: I have put up with this, for one man is no match for
many, but do me no further violence. Still, if you wish to kill me,
kill me; I would far rather die than see such disgraceful scenes day
after day- guests insulted, and men dragging the women servants
about the house in an unseemly way."
They all held their peace till at last Agelaus son of Damastor said,
"No one should take offence at what has just been said, nor gainsay
it, for it is quite reasonable. Leave off, therefore, ill-treating the
stranger, or any one else of the servants who are about the house; I
would say, however, a friendly word to Telemachus and his mother,
which I trust may commend itself to both. 'As long,' I would say,
'as you had ground for hoping that Ulysses would one day come home, no
one could complain of your waiting and suffering the suitors to be
in your house. It would have been better that he should have returned,
but it is now sufficiently clear that he will never do so; therefore
talk all this quietly over with your mother, and tell her to marry the
best man, and the one who makes her the most advantageous offer.
Thus you will yourself be able to manage your own inheritance, and
to eat and drink in peace, while your mother will look after some
other man's house, not yours."'
To this Telemachus answered, "By Jove, Agelaus, and by the sorrows
of my unhappy father, who has either perished far from Ithaca, or is
wandering in some distant land, I throw no obstacles in the way of
my mother's marriage; on the contrary I urge her to choose
whomsoever she will, and I will give her numberless gifts into the
bargain, but I dare not insist point blank that she shall leave the
house against her own wishes. Heaven forbid that I should do this."
Minerva now made the suitors fall to laughing immoderately, and
set their wits wandering; but they were laughing with a forced
laughter. Their meat became smeared with blood; their eyes filled with
tears, and their hearts were heavy with forebodings. Theoclymenus
saw this and said, "Unhappy men, what is it that ails you? There is
a shroud of darkness drawn over you from head to foot, your cheeks are
wet with tears; the air is alive with wailing voices; the walls and
roof-beams drip blood; the gate of the cloisters and the court
beyond them are full of ghosts trooping down into the night of hell;
the sun is blotted out of heaven, and a blighting gloom is over all
Thus did he speak, and they all of them laughed heartily. Eurymachus
then said, "This stranger who has lately come here has lost his
senses. Servants, turn him out into the streets, since he finds it
so dark here."
But Theoclymenus said, "Eurymachus, you need not send any one with
me. I have eyes, ears, and a pair of feet of my own, to say nothing of
an understanding mind. I will take these out of the house with me, for
I see mischief overhanging you, from which not one of you men who
are insulting people and plotting ill deeds in the house of Ulysses
will be able to escape."
He left the house as he spoke, and went back to Piraeus who gave him
welcome, but the suitors kept looking at one another and provoking
Telemachus fly laughing at the strangers. One insolent fellow said
to him, "Telemachus, you are not happy in your guests; first you
have this importunate tramp, who comes begging bread and wine and
has no skill for work or for hard fighting, but is perfectly
useless, and now here is another fellow who is setting himself up as a
prophet. Let me persuade you, for it will be much better, to put
them on board ship and send them off to the Sicels to sell for what
they will bring."
Telemachus gave him no heed, but sat silently watching his father,
expecting every moment that he would begin his attack upon the
Meanwhile the daughter of Icarius, wise Penelope, had had had a rich
seat placed for her facing the court and cloisters, so that she
could hear what every one was saying. The dinner indeed had been
prepared amid merriment; it had been both good and abundant, for
they had sacrificed many victims; but the supper was yet to come,
and nothing can be conceived more gruesome than the meal which a
goddess and a brave man were soon to lay before them- for they had
brought their doom upon themselves.
Flowers Are The Clocks Of The Light
Flowers are the clocks of the light.
Spring grey. Clouds. Half smoke, half crocus.
The rivulets are carrying last November's leaves away
like long lines of ants bearing the gnostic gospels
of the snow thawing into a spiritual life of water
back to the shrine of their colony
to be chewed over by the divines
masticating the mystery into something
like an edible orthodoxy of mystic impiety.
My heart is a bruised apple with purple blood today.
Neither passionate, nor aloof, clinging
nor unwilling to let go if that's what I must do.
One foot on shore. One in a lifeboat.
O what funny bridges we make as if
we were trying to balance the axis
of heaven and earth upon our nose
like the calves of giraffes learning to walk on stilts.
But there you go. What are you going to do?
That's the way it seems.
You've got to look up and stick your neck out
if you want to graze on the stars.
Same way with dreams. You've got to
risk waking up if you don't want to lose them.
I've wandered off from the carnage
of my doomed holy war of one with my heart
into a peaceful valley where I can sit
on a glacial skull of prophetic rock
and sheathe my sword in the wound I drew it from
like fire from the ore of a crippled dragon
that walked with a limp out of the war
weary of winning these honourable surrenders
like Jacob wrestling with the angel in the way.
Soft here. Easy on the eyes. A gentle touch.
The air on the verge of tears and the trees
about to see who's a skeleton and who's a survivor.
Who made it through the winter, and who
dreamed they died in their sleep and did,
and who, the ghost amputee of the limbs they lost.
I have a mindful heart and a warrior's compassion
for lost lovers, friends, suicides, martyrs, heretics,
neglected gods, defrocked saints, those
who fell half crazy on the broken panes
of their own clarity, committing hara kiri
on the splintered plinths of their own love-crossed stars.
One-eyed artists riding a pair of red bicycle glasses
in a high-wire act without safety nets
like a dropp of dew on a spider's thread
trying to lay the first cable of a suspension bridge
they hope will follow them across the impassable abyss,
offering themselves up like uncertain sacrifices to oblivion.
Big-hearted poets who scattered their works
like the apple bloom of hidden orchards
as their eyes waxed wide-eyed
as a harvest moon into late October
and wound up being gouged by slumlords
in squalid apartment rooms
with an atlas of cracks in the windows,
dunking the hard crust of the bitter life
they were given back in return
for breaking the bread of their souls with strangers
even as they bled to death like a goldrush
and all that was eventually left were the nuggets
of the hearts of coal they dunk in their tears
to make them more palatable
when the Hesperides burn out
the last of their radiant diamonds
and all that's left of their sidereal lyric
is written in the braille of black holes
that comes up snake-eyes on the dice
they've carved from their starless skulls.
And painters whose visions fell from the sky
like rain on the eyelids of dirty windows,
like stars who were washed out
like nocturnal watercolours they painted in tears
like hot cinders from the unradiant world's
way of seeing things with its eyes closed.
Those whose flame burned
like the hydrogen blue of a wild iris
and then disappeared into the perfected heat
of their spiritual immolations, and those,
who scattered their ashes like morning doves on the wind
as if they were breaking their bodies
like loaves and fishes among the flowers
thronging up the hillside like the jester-caps
of the wine-stained trillium
getting drunk with nuns in white.
Just want to let my starmud settle in a puddle.
Look at a few clouds for awhile, the crowns of the trees,
notice the deepening red of the upper branches of the birch
reaching out like thermometers for the sun
and how they look so much like ground willows
raised up high on a marble obelisks and altars
like a blood offering to the sky.
I'm at rest for a moment like the nadir of a bell
in its arc of sadness and bliss, life and death,
one breath and the next, neither heads nor tails
of the copper penny of the moon on the horizon.
And from here I can see the Elysian Fields of the Blessed
littered with the corpses and bones
of my companions and fellow aspirants
the spirit knows as its own.
And I mourn the loss of so many heroic children,
so many glorious losers, determined clowns,
all the lost pages of the books of crazy wisdom
that died like the rainbow bodies
of sages and gardens in their own arms
like the new moon in the embrace of the old.
These are my war dead. These
are the crosses and poppies of blood I kneel before.
These are the ones for whom my tears,
my sorrow, my blessing, my heart is shaped
like a dropp of dew at the tip of a blade of stargrass,
ready to fall at the slightest quaking of an insight
into the intimate beauty and cosmic cost of their sacrifice
not for what they believed, but in what
they tried to make come true without knowing
what it was until it appeared before them
like a child with a piece of bread in her hand,
pointing with the other to the birthstar she comes from.
These were wishing wells of clean water in a dry land.
These were people whose skulls were lunar grails
they offered up to the ailing kingdom
and said, here, drink until I'm empty.
These were people of plenty who walked
in rags and scars, poverty, exile and despair
only to be crucified at the stake like scarecrows
in the starfields of their expansive hearts
come to harvest in the hand of Virgo
like the autumnal equinox of a generous soul.
Sitting pensively here before the gates
of the realms they've entered, it's for these,
I wrap my blood like a robe of silence,
like the gentle mantle of this approaching spring
over their shoulders to keep their memory
alive, warm, hauntingly near and eternally human.
These, for whom my heart grows mute
as this long loveletter I've been writing all my life
knowing by the time it finishes me
all those I would have sent it to will be gone,
gone, gone, gone, altogether gone beyond.
But like any war memorial without a heart of stone,
I am a happy and a sad thing simultaneously
to celebrate the indefensibly human divinity
of these who sprang up like poppies in the grass
and spread their spirit like wildfire
in a rage of renewal that proclaimed
the spiritual innocence of our births and deaths,
evangels standing at the sacred forks of rivers
with nothing to say about salvation in passing
but keep on flowing your own way
flawlessly to the sea that receives and seats
everyone below the salt in the lowest place of all
before it raises them up again to fall
like snow on the blue hills
of a deciduously spiritual mindscape.
These who didn't labour in iron chains
but beaded the light and the water into
a necklace of eyes on the loom of a spiderweb.
As if a jeweller had shown us how
to make dreamcatchers out of our tears.
No. Stone will not do to mark the passing
and return of the water birds to the zeniths and nadirs
of these northern lakes I'm peacefully marooned among
like the shattered pieces of two way mirrors
that put an abrupt end to the conscious interrogation
of their own shadows, reflections, echoes and ghosts
like a spiritual form of espionage
as enlightenment slowly dawned upon them like a firefly
that revealed they already had the answers
to their deepest questions
even before they knew what to ask.
Even before it's wholly dark out, the nightwatchman
is lighting up the sky with stars.
Yes. It must be nothing less than life itself
that honours these whose spirits leaped up playfully
like a gust of stars to blow on the flames.
Their names must be written on the wind
with the occasional ink blot of a crow to keep things
spontaneously unavoidable, as fallibly unpredictable
as they lived their lives on the wing
feathered by the fires of life.
So I live my lives, I die my deaths,
I suffer my wounds and my joys,
my eurekas, hallelujahs, my wonders
my masha Allahs, my oi veys, my inspirations,
the barnyard airfields of my mediocrity
with the wingspan of a kite afraid of heights
hanging on for dear life to something grounded
like an ostrich with its head stuck in the stars.
I rise from the ashes in the urns of my burnt-out genius
like a phoenix with the endless afterlives
of a recurring comet wondering
what it's the sign of this time, what message
does it carry like a loveletter or a warning
not meant to take itself too seriously, and to whom
is it addressed if not as a tribute to these
who have adorned and deepened the darkness
and intensified the light by colouring outside the lines
of the taboos of their homeless madness
standing on the thresholds of their beings in transit
like the unacknowledged orphans of what they're becoming?
I observe the branches of the birch,
I taste the ancient breeding of the light
in the plush syrups of the bleeding maples.
I listen for the night bird in the green room
getting ready to sing its heart out
at its debut appearance in the spotlight of the moon.
I watch the sapling aspens shaking nervously
as they recite their new leaves to the wind
at their very first poetry reading
and in a startled rush of heron's wings
I can hear the one-handed applause of the ghosts
of the more seasoned trees of an old growth forest
that once stood here in the midst of life
as lyrical once, as vulnerable once, as these.
I can see death's door ajar ahead of me.
I come to it out of the dark
like a befuddled bat to a porchlight.
How many lives before have I sat here
transcendentally defeated by the better part of me
and watched the stars slowly emerge like eyes
out of the peacock green silk of the sky
like the ghosts of ancient mulberry blossoms
unfolding their poems like the sails of paper boats,
messenger butterflies with secret love notes
written like starmaps to their otherworldliness
in the indecipherable mother-tongue of all holy books.
Antares, Arcturus, Aldebaran, Betelgeuse,
among all these big ripe red stars,
I'm characteristically human enough
to have realized a long time ago,
even before the volcanoes did,
compared to their radiant enormities,
my life's just another blood stain
among many on the darkness
that can't explain themselves
or account for where they've been,
what they've seen, or counter-intuitively why.
Or who spilled the wine on the sun.
And I'm more than well aware
of the concentrated intensity
of the needle-eyed focus
I've been trying to thread my life through
like this night creek flowing before me
like an oilspill on the moon,
like a sacred syllable smuggled
through the lapis lazuli bull-gates
and up the emergency backstairs
of the polyglot towers of PsychoBabylon
where the faithful are called to prayer in tongues.
In the beginning was the Word.
And it was a nightbird singing in the dark.
It was an image of everything that can't be said,
Imagination trying to render the likeness
of an imageless space, the features of a face
that lets you see the stars in her eyes
as the mutable signs of her ineffability
shining through the dark matter of a veil,
even as you're mixing
complementary colours on your palette
like a stained-glass soul to give your life
to what you cannot see. Even in
this morgue of dead gods, this eyeless reality
arrayed in all its creative potential before us,
the dark abundance of the plenum-void,
or however you want to picture or not,
what else could it be, given we're all born
out of our own image of love
with the playful hearts and minds of artists
with the aesthetic tastes
and spiritual genius of children
transfixed by starfish in the morning
well within reach of their shining.
All artists are lunar orphans
that have been left on the stairs
of the last shrine of idolatry
before reality leaves them speechless and deaf.
And how many times have I come here
just to watch my mind painting
in the light and time
of this mystically specific life
my thoughts, emotions, intuitions,
my clarities, the occultations of my fireflies
trying to get a fire started
out of the dry kindling of lightning
I've piled up like a pyre
for my imminent sky burial
like waterbirds lifting off the lake
in a shower of eyes and insights scattered
like seeds and broken rosaries from their wings
to turn into all other things like spring
returning to its myth of origins.
Or a singer alone on the road, homesick
for the silence he broke into with his song
like the pebble of the moon
thrown into the quiescent pond of the world.
Like the call of Canada geese high overhead at night
returning empty from the land of the dead
having delivered their charges successfully
without looking back retroactively upon the past
to see if they were still being followed or not.
But then, again, who isn't walking
in the footsteps of ghosts who went on ahead of them
on some forsaken shore somewhere?
And I've been mistaken often enough to admit it,
I've sat here on my stony throne sometimes
in this abdicated kingdom,
in the middle of this boneyard
of courtly fossils in the darkness
of the La Brea Tarpit in a black out of stars
at the end of my own tunnel vision
when I looked at things in a dark mood
through the third eye of my orbiting telescope
and all I could see was endless space
with a widow's ashes smeared on its face,
not the chromatically abberated rainbows of rosier lenses
with more of a two-eyed outlook on things
that swim into their ken like cults
of shepherd moons that outnumber
the schools of fish than I've ever seen on Neptune.
Just the salt flats of a future that's not much good
at growing flowers and stars,
but has a knack for keeping things from going bad.
And I whispered suggestively into my left ear
that's not a reason green enough to go on living.
There's no food for thought in the ashes
of the Alexandrian Library of the dead.
There's no harvest, there's no end of the world
stored like grain in the empty urns
and back amphorae of the new moon
bobbing like cormorants on the mast
of a shipwreck Atlantean fathoms below the waterline.
And remembering a dead poet friend of mine,
thought old age is the year of the locusts,
though he didn't live it that way
well into his nineties and beyond.
And finding nothing up ahead to give it forward to
gave my future up to living it for people like him
as if it were no less theirs than mine,
only to realize as I progressed backwards in time
the return journey through the zodiac
I've made of the stations of my life
is so much more spiritually vital than the first
that wasn't quite as down to earth
as this one where solid things seem
like mere shadows of the picture-music
streaming like the Road of Ghosts through
a sad nightmare we're all glued to
like constellations of black dwarfs to flypaper
compared with these translucent masterpieces
inspired by the song of a hidden nightbird
empowered by the singular longing
of the candle it keeps lighting up and blowing out,
like the eternal flame of the synteretic spark
looking for enlightenment
with a white cane in the dark.
So. Yes. For me, for them, for people
it will be ten thousand lifetimes
before we embrace again at zenith
when the sun shines at midnight,
and the wide-eyed lunatics
follow the moon like a cult to the dark side
to see what she's been hiding from them
like a black pearl in her other hand.
So, yes, yes, even now that my tears fall
way more often than they ought
or I should even remotely like,
I give my assent to them all like spring rain
on the withered stars and rusty spearheads
of the brown New England asters.
I live it like a living memorial
to future generations yet to come
of what it was like to be human
in a makeshift Eden of desiccated tree limbs
where sacred water snakes
once sang in their green boughs like birds.
I live it for them like the spontaneous flightplan
of an heretical root fire
spreading like a phoenix
through the valley of death
in a frontal assault of fireflies
going off like fireworks in all directions at once
as if the easiest way
to storm the walls in the way of anywhere
and enter by the right gate, is to live
the way these did each in their own good time,
no matter the ferocity of the species-killing meteors
that were hurled against them like the Perseids.
Or the eviction notices they couldn't ignore
that were slipped like razorblades
across their thresholds of pain
to vacate the premises of their biospheres
by such and such a moment on a Mayan calendar.
And in spite of all that, in the face of the fate
that befell them like wild apples
in a windfall of last year's trees,
live it even now at this late date through me
like a legacy of surrealistically enlightened madness
that can always find something to celebrate
about walking around on the earth for their sake
cherishing my insignificance in an unworthy world
just to see in whatever I turn my eyes to
what a jewel of awareness that truly is.
I see the uprooted tree where lighting
decapitated the head of the Medusa.
I see the crocus in its cap
more like two hands folded in prayer
trying to keep warm over a small golden fire
than I do the pope of flowers.
I smell the fragrance of decay
in the damp, green moss of a funeral home
clinging to the cliches of its emotional condolences
like wigs on a skull waiting for a hair transplant
of red columbine with its blonde roots showing through
like the sun peeping through the eyelid of a crimson dusk.
I break off a blood-stained horn of sumac
and savour it like the taste
of a lemon-flavoured couch
I spit out of my mouth like high-protein lint
at the bottom of an empty pocket
that knows how to survive in the woods
without having to live for itself.
My hand caresses the water
like the wing of a loon on a moonlit lake
that isn't waiting for its return.
I pity a dead squirrel with eye-sockets
that have been gouged out like white meat
from the shells of black walnuts
and I can feel compassion whelming up
in the eyes of the dead who can see this through me
like a death mask I place on their faces
eyebrow to eyebrow with this vision of life
I'm living like a lifeboat in the aftermath of theirs.
Compass needles like infinite directions of prayer
among the abandoned pagodas of the pine-cones
waiting for fire to awake the sacred seed syllables
they've hidden under their eyelids
to raise them up to renew the world again
like evergreens in a towering wilderness,
like morning doves hidden under the eaves
of their crumbling temples,
or a nightbird such as me
with a star in its beak
like a lost earring of the moon
it's retrieved like a holy word
from the mindstream
its shining was once returned to
like a silver tribute to the river.
Venus and Jupiter going down in the west.
Saturn and Mars rising late in the east.
Love, power, pensive sorrow and war,
the lifelines of the least of us
flowing like dynasties of blood and tears
down the world mountain,
out of the melting hills
into the new seabeds of these
who were magnanimously blessed by the moon
realizing as they approach the deltas of the dead
they're finally at peace with themselves
like a poet sitting on the banks
of a woodland stream in the early spring
sleepwalking through everyone else's dreams
not as someone who made a vow over a deathbed,
not as mere words mouthed breathlessly
like ghosts dissipating into the chilly dead air,
but the heart of a nightbird returning
to the lyrics of an ancient repertoire
it can't help but remember and sing
like an overture of picture-music
as a prelude to the pagan advent
of the ancestral recurrence of a prophetic spring.
Stars like nocturnal waterlilies soon
crowding the banks of the Milky Way.
A moonrise of lustrous bubbles in Pisces
like fish swimming in the reflected treetops,
singing along with the boundless birds
that nest like a choir of homeless voices
returning like the dead in vital bliss to their roots
like a fire sign to the living
from these who were interred like ashes
in the urns of a phoenix
born with the wingspan
of an autumn sumac that went down in flames
like the names of the noblest of these
who were moved like Luna moths and Icarian comets
to risk flying too close to the sun,
to burn the flightfeathers of their imaginations
like love letters expiring in the heretical fires
on a pyre of broken wands and empty pens
of what inspired them the most to write
in the indelible inks of the human spirit
read like a secret message of invisible desires
over the a fire in a script of cursive smoke
like spring returning like words and birds
to the lyrical mouths of lonely, holy ghosts
trying to put an earthly picture-music
like flesh back on bones of the flutes
of their ineffable spiritual longing
to sing for the unattainable like the high note
of an inconceivably sustainable table of contents.
The Iliad: Book 3
When the companies were thus arrayed, each under its own captain,
the Trojans advanced as a flight of wild fowl or cranes that scream
overhead when rain and winter drive them over the flowing waters of
Oceanus to bring death and destruction on the Pygmies, and they
wrangle in the air as they fly; but the Achaeans marched silently,
in high heart, and minded to stand by one another.
As when the south wind spreads a curtain of mist upon the mountain
tops, bad for shepherds but better than night for thieves, and a man
can see no further than he can throw a stone, even so rose the dust
from under their feet as they made all speed over the plain.
When they were close up with one another, Alexandrus came forward as
champion on the Trojan side. On his shoulders he bore the skin of a
panther, his bow, and his sword, and he brandished two spears shod
with bronze as a challenge to the bravest of the Achaeans to meet
him in single fight. Menelaus saw him thus stride out before the
ranks, and was glad as a hungry lion that lights on the carcase of
some goat or horned stag, and devours it there and then, though dogs
and youths set upon him. Even thus was Menelaus glad when his eyes
caught sight of Alexandrus, for he deemed that now he should be
revenged. He sprang, therefore, from his chariot, clad in his suit
Alexandrus quailed as he saw Menelaus come forward, and shrank in
fear of his life under cover of his men. As one who starts back
affrighted, trembling and pale, when he comes suddenly upon a
serpent in some mountain glade, even so did Alexandrus plunge into the
throng of Trojan warriors, terror-stricken at the sight of the son
Then Hector upbraided him. "Paris," said he, "evil-hearted Paris,
fair to see, but woman-mad, and false of tongue, would that you had
never been born, or that you had died unwed. Better so, than live to
be disgraced and looked askance at. Will not the Achaeans mock at us
and say that we have sent one to champion us who is fair to see but
who has neither wit nor courage? Did you not, such as you are, get
your following together and sail beyond the seas? Did you not from
your a far country carry off a lovely woman wedded among a people of
warriors- to bring sorrow upon your father, your city, and your
whole country, but joy to your enemies, and hang-dog shamefacedness to
yourself? And now can you not dare face Menelaus and learn what manner
of man he is whose wife you have stolen? Where indeed would be your
lyre and your love-tricks, your comely locks and your fair favour,
when you were lying in the dust before him? The Trojans are a
weak-kneed people, or ere this you would have had a shirt of stones
for the wrongs you have done them."
And Alexandrus answered, "Hector, your rebuke is just. You are
hard as the axe which a shipwright wields at his work, and cleaves the
timber to his liking. As the axe in his hand, so keen is the edge of
your scorn. Still, taunt me not with the gifts that golden Venus has
given me; they are precious; let not a man disdain them, for the
gods give them where they are minded, and none can have them for the
asking. If you would have me do battle with Menelaus, bid the
Trojans and Achaeans take their seats, while he and I fight in their
midst for Helen and all her wealth. Let him who shall be victorious
and prove to be the better man take the woman and all she has, to bear
them to his home, but let the rest swear to a solemn covenant of peace
whereby you Trojans shall stay here in Troy, while the others go
home to Argos and the land of the Achaeans."
When Hector heard this he was glad, and went about among the
Trojan ranks holding his spear by the middle to keep them back, and
they all sat down at his bidding: but the Achaeans still aimed at
him with stones and arrows, till Agamemnon shouted to them saying,
"Hold, Argives, shoot not, sons of the Achaeans; Hector desires to
They ceased taking aim and were still, whereon Hector spoke. "Hear
from my mouth," said he, "Trojans and Achaeans, the saying of
Alexandrus, through whom this quarrel has come about. He bids the
Trojans and Achaeans lay their armour upon the ground, while he and
Menelaus fight in the midst of you for Helen and all her wealth. Let
him who shall be victorious and prove to be the better man take the
woman and all she has, to bear them to his own home, but let the
rest swear to a solemn covenant of peace."
Thus he spoke, and they all held their peace, till Menelaus of the
loud battle-cry addressed them. "And now," he said, "hear me too,
for it is I who am the most aggrieved. I deem that the parting of
Achaeans and Trojans is at hand, as well it may be, seeing how much
have suffered for my quarrel with Alexandrus and the wrong he did
me. Let him who shall die, die, and let the others fight no more.
Bring, then, two lambs, a white ram and a black ewe, for Earth and
Sun, and we will bring a third for Jove. Moreover, you shall bid Priam
come, that he may swear to the covenant himself; for his sons are
high-handed and ill to trust, and the oaths of Jove must not be
transgressed or taken in vain. Young men's minds are light as air, but
when an old man comes he looks before and after, deeming that which
shall be fairest upon both sides."
The Trojans and Achaeans were glad when they heard this, for they
thought that they should now have rest. They backed their chariots
toward the ranks, got out of them, and put off their armour, laying it
down upon the ground; and the hosts were near to one another with a
little space between them. Hector sent two messengers to the city to
bring the lambs and to bid Priam come, while Agamemnon told Talthybius
to fetch the other lamb from the ships, and he did as Agamemnon had
Meanwhile Iris went to Helen in the form of her sister-in-law,
wife of the son of Antenor, for Helicaon, son of Antenor, had
married Laodice, the fairest of Priam's daughters. She found her in
her own room, working at a great web of purple linen, on which she was
embroidering the battles between Trojans and Achaeans, that Mars had
made them fight for her sake. Iris then came close up to her and said,
"Come hither, child, and see the strange doings of the Trojans and
Achaeans till now they have been warring upon the plain, mad with lust
of battle, but now they have left off fighting, and are leaning upon
their shields, sitting still with their spears planted beside them.
Alexandrus and Menelaus are going to fight about yourself, and you are
to the the wife of him who is the victor."
Thus spoke the goddess, and Helen's heart yearned after her former
husband, her city, and her parents. She threw a white mantle over
her head, and hurried from her room, weeping as she went, not alone,
but attended by two of her handmaids, Aethrae, daughter of Pittheus,
and Clymene. And straightway they were at the Scaean gates.
The two sages, Ucalegon and Antenor, elders of the people, were
seated by the Scaean gates, with Priam, Panthous, Thymoetes, Lampus,
Clytius, and Hiketaon of the race of Mars. These were too old to
fight, but they were fluent orators, and sat on the tower like cicales
that chirrup delicately from the boughs of some high tree in a wood.
When they saw Helen coming towards the tower, they said softly to
one another, "Small wonder that Trojans and Achaeans should endure
so much and so long, for the sake of a woman so marvellously and
divinely lovely. Still, fair though she be, let them take her and
go, or she will breed sorrow for us and for our children after us."
But Priam bade her draw nigh. "My child," said he, "take your seat
in front of me that you may see your former husband, your kinsmen
and your friends. I lay no blame upon you, it is the gods, not you who
are to blame. It is they that have brought about this terrible war
with the Achaeans. Tell me, then, who is yonder huge hero so great and
goodly? I have seen men taller by a head, but none so comely and so
royal. Surely he must be a king."
"Sir," answered Helen, "father of my husband, dear and reverend in
my eyes, would that I had chosen death rather than to have come here
with your son, far from my bridal chamber, my friends, my darling
daughter, and all the companions of my girlhood. But it was not to be,
and my lot is one of tears and sorrow. As for your question, the
hero of whom you ask is Agamemnon, son of Atreus, a good king and a
brave soldier, brother-in-law as surely as that he lives, to my
abhorred and miserable self."
The old man marvelled at him and said, "Happy son of Atreus, child
of good fortune. I see that the Achaeans are subject to you in great
multitudes. When I was in Phrygia I saw much horsemen, the people of
Otreus and of Mygdon, who were camping upon the banks of the river
Sangarius; I was their ally, and with them when the Amazons, peers
of men, came up against them, but even they were not so many as the
The old man next looked upon Ulysses; "Tell me," he said, "who is
that other, shorter by a head than Agamemnon, but broader across the
chest and shoulders? His armour is laid upon the ground, and he stalks
in front of the ranks as it were some great woolly ram ordering his
And Helen answered, "He is Ulysses, a man of great craft, son of
Laertes. He was born in rugged Ithaca, and excels in all manner of
stratagems and subtle cunning."
On this Antenor said, "Madam, you have spoken truly. Ulysses once
came here as envoy about yourself, and Menelaus with him. I received
them in my own house, and therefore know both of them by sight and
conversation. When they stood up in presence of the assembled Trojans,
Menelaus was the broader shouldered, but when both were seated Ulysses
had the more royal presence. After a time they delivered their
message, and the speech of Menelaus ran trippingly on the tongue; he
did not say much, for he was a man of few words, but he spoke very
clearly and to the point, though he was the younger man of the two;
Ulysses, on the other hand, when he rose to speak, was at first silent
and kept his eyes fixed upon the ground. There was no play nor
graceful movement of his sceptre; he kept it straight and stiff like a
man unpractised in oratory- one might have taken him for a mere
churl or simpleton; but when he raised his voice, and the words came
driving from his deep chest like winter snow before the wind, then
there was none to touch him, and no man thought further of what he
Priam then caught sight of Ajax and asked, "Who is that great and
goodly warrior whose head and broad shoulders tower above the rest
of the Argives?"
"That," answered Helen, "is huge Ajax, bulwark of the Achaeans,
and on the other side of him, among the Cretans, stands Idomeneus
looking like a god, and with the captains of the Cretans round him.
Often did Menelaus receive him as a guest in our house when he came
visiting us from Crete. I see, moreover, many other Achaeans whose
names I could tell you, but there are two whom I can nowhere find,
Castor, breaker of horses, and Pollux the mighty boxer; they are
children of my mother, and own brothers to myself. Either they have
not left Lacedaemon, or else, though they have brought their ships,
they will not show themselves in battle for the shame and disgrace
that I have brought upon them."
She knew not that both these heroes were already lying under the
earth in their own land of Lacedaemon.
Meanwhile the heralds were bringing the holy oath-offerings
through the city- two lambs and a goatskin of wine, the gift of earth;
and Idaeus brought the mixing bowl and the cups of gold. He went up to
Priam and said, "Son of Laomedon, the princes of the Trojans and
Achaeans bid you come down on to the plain and swear to a solemn
covenant. Alexandrus and Menelaus are to fight for Helen in single
combat, that she and all her wealth may go with him who is the victor.
We are to swear to a solemn covenant of peace whereby we others
shall dwell here in Troy, while the Achaeans return to Argos and the
land of the Achaeans."
The old man trembled as he heard, but bade his followers yoke the
horses, and they made all haste to do so. He mounted the chariot,
gathered the reins in his hand, and Antenor took his seat beside
him; they then drove through the Scaean gates on to the plain. When
they reached the ranks of the Trojans and Achaeans they left the
chariot, and with measured pace advanced into the space between the
Agamemnon and Ulysses both rose to meet them. The attendants brought
on the oath-offerings and mixed the wine in the mixing-bowls; they
poured water over the hands of the chieftains, and the son of Atreus
drew the dagger that hung by his sword, and cut wool from the lambs'
heads; this the men-servants gave about among the Trojan and Achaean
princes, and the son of Atreus lifted up his hands in prayer.
"Father Jove," he cried, "that rulest in Ida, most glorious in
power, and thou oh Sun, that seest and givest ear to all things, Earth
and Rivers, and ye who in the realms below chastise the soul of him
that has broken his oath, witness these rites and guard them, that
they be not vain. If Alexandrus kills Menelaus, let him keep Helen and
all her wealth, while we sail home with our ships; but if Menelaus
kills Alexandrus, let the Trojans give back Helen and all that she
has; let them moreover pay such fine to the Achaeans as shall be
agreed upon, in testimony among those that shall be born hereafter.
Aid if Priam and his sons refuse such fine when Alexandrus has fallen,
then will I stay here and fight on till I have got satisfaction."
As he spoke he drew his knife across the throats of the victims, and
laid them down gasping and dying upon the ground, for the knife had
reft them of their strength. Then they poured wine from the
mixing-bowl into the cups, and prayed to the everlasting gods, saying,
Trojans and Achaeans among one another, "Jove, most great and
glorious, and ye other everlasting gods, grant that the brains of them
who shall first sin against their oaths- of them and their children-
may be shed upon the ground even as this wine, and let their wives
become the slaves of strangers."
Thus they prayed, but not as yet would Jove grant them their prayer.
Then Priam, descendant of Dardanus, spoke, saying, "Hear me, Trojans
and Achaeans, I will now go back to the wind-beaten city of Ilius: I
dare not with my own eyes witness this fight between my son and
Menelaus, for Jove and the other immortals alone know which shall
On this he laid the two lambs on his chariot and took his seat. He
gathered the reins in his hand, and Antenor sat beside him; the two
then went back to Ilius. Hector and Ulysses measured the ground, and
cast lots from a helmet of bronze to see which should take aim
first. Meanwhile the two hosts lifted up their hands and prayed
saying, "Father Jove, that rulest from Ida, most glorious in power,
grant that he who first brought about this war between us may die, and
enter the house of Hades, while we others remain at peace and abide by
Great Hector now turned his head aside while he shook the helmet,
and the lot of Paris flew out first. The others took their several
stations, each by his horses and the place where his arms were
lying, while Alexandrus, husband of lovely Helen, put on his goodly
armour. First he greaved his legs with greaves of good make and fitted
with ancle-clasps of silver; after this he donned the cuirass of his
brother Lycaon, and fitted it to his own body; he hung his
silver-studded sword of bronze about his shoulders, and then his
mighty shield. On his comely head he set his helmet, well-wrought,
with a crest of horse-hair that nodded menacingly above it, and he
grasped a redoubtable spear that suited his hands. In like fashion
Menelaus also put on his armour.
When they had thus armed, each amid his own people, they strode
fierce of aspect into the open space, and both Trojans and Achaeans
were struck with awe as they beheld them. They stood near one
another on the measured ground, brandishing their spears, and each
furious against the other. Alexandrus aimed first, and struck the
round shield of the son of Atreus, but the spear did not pierce it,
for the shield turned its point. Menelaus next took aim, praying to
Father Jove as he did so. "King Jove," he said, "grant me revenge on
Alexandrus who has wronged me; subdue him under my hand that in ages
yet to come a man may shrink from doing ill deeds in the house of
He poised his spear as he spoke, and hurled it at the shield of
Alexandrus. Through shield and cuirass it went, and tore the shirt
by his flank, but Alexandrus swerved aside, and thus saved his life.
Then the son of Atreus drew his sword, and drove at the projecting
part of his helmet, but the sword fell shivered in three or four
pieces from his hand, and he cried, looking towards Heaven, "Father
Jove, of all gods thou art the most despiteful; I made sure of my
revenge, but the sword has broken in my hand, my spear has been hurled
in vain, and I have not killed him."
With this he flew at Alexandrus, caught him by the horsehair plume
of his helmet, and began dragging him towards the Achaeans. The
strap of the helmet that went under his chin was choking him, and
Menelaus would have dragged him off to his own great glory had not
Jove's daughter Venus been quick to mark and to break the strap of
oxhide, so that the empty helmet came away in his hand. This he
flung to his comrades among the Achaeans, and was again springing upon
Alexandrus to run him through with a spear, but Venus snatched him
up in a moment (as a god can do), hid him under a cloud of darkness,
and conveyed him to his own bedchamber.
Then she went to call Helen, and found her on a high tower with
the Trojan women crowding round her. She took the form of an old woman
who used to dress wool for her when she was still in Lacedaemon, and
of whom she was very fond. Thus disguised she plucked her by
perfumed robe and said, "Come hither; Alexandrus says you are to go to
the house; he is on his bed in his own room, radiant with beauty and
dressed in gorgeous apparel. No one would think he had just come
from fighting, but rather that he was going to a dance, or had done
dancing and was sitting down."
With these words she moved the heart of Helen to anger. When she
marked the beautiful neck of the goddess, her lovely bosom, and
sparkling eyes, she marvelled at her and said, "Goddess, why do you
thus beguile me? Are you going to send me afield still further to some
man whom you have taken up in Phrygia or fair Meonia? Menelaus has
just vanquished Alexandrus, and is to take my hateful self back with
him. You are come here to betray me. Go sit with Alexandrus
yourself; henceforth be goddess no longer; never let your feet carry
you back to Olympus; worry about him and look after him till he make
you his wife, or, for the matter of that, his slave- but me? I shall
not go; I can garnish his bed no longer; I should be a by-word among
all the women of Troy. Besides, I have trouble on my mind."
Venus was very angry, and said, "Bold hussy, do not provoke me; if
you do, I shall leave you to your fate and hate you as much as I
have loved you. I will stir up fierce hatred between Trojans and
Achaeans, and you shall come to a bad end."
At this Helen was frightened. She wrapped her mantle about her and
went in silence, following the goddess and unnoticed by the Trojan
When they came to the house of Alexandrus the maid-servants set
about their work, but Helen went into her own room, and the
laughter-loving goddess took a seat and set it for her facing
Alexandrus. On this Helen, daughter of aegis-bearing Jove, sat down,
and with eyes askance began to upbraid her husband.
"So you are come from the fight," said she; "would that you had
fallen rather by the hand of that brave man who was my husband. You
used to brag that you were a better man with hands and spear than
Menelaus. go, but I then, an challenge him again- but I should
advise you not to do so, for if you are foolish enough to meet him
in single combat, you will soon all by his spear."
And Paris answered, "Wife, do not vex me with your reproaches.
This time, with the help of Minerva, Menelaus has vanquished me;
another time I may myself be victor, for I too have gods that will
stand by me. Come, let us lie down together and make friends. Never
yet was I so passionately enamoured of you as at this moment- not even
when I first carried you off from Lacedaemon and sailed away with you-
not even when I had converse with you upon the couch of love in the
island of Cranae was I so enthralled by desire of you as now." On this
he led her towards the bed, and his wife went with him.
Thus they laid themselves on the bed together; but the son of Atreus
strode among the throng, looking everywhere for Alexandrus, and no
man, neither of the Trojans nor of the allies, could find him. If they
had seen him they were in no mind to hide him, for they all of them
hated him as they did death itself. Then Agamemnon, king of men,
spoke, saying, "Hear me, Trojans, Dardanians, and allies. The
victory has been with Menelaus; therefore give back Helen with all her
wealth, and pay such fine as shall be agreed upon, in testimony
among them that shall be born hereafter."
Thus spoke the son of Atreus, and the Achaeans shouted in applause.