Four Plays of Aeschylus (Cookson)/The Persians
Scene: An open place before the Tomb of Darius.
We are the faithful ministers
Of Persia's absent sons,
That marched away to Hellas;
Their golden mansions,
Rich with all wealth and splendour,
Are in our trust and care,
For the great king, King Xerxes,
Darius' son and heir,
Chose us as wise men well in years
The realm for him to hold;
But for his homeward progress
His host a-gleam with gold,
The boding- heart is harried
With auguries of ill:
Asia is stripped of manhood;
A young king hath his will:
But to this metropolitan
Proud siege of Persia's kings
No runner comes, no rider
Good news or bad news brings.
To Susa and Ecbatana
They bade a long farewell;
They saw behind them sink from sight
Old Kissia's citadel;
And some rode out on horseback,
And some in long ships sailed;
Stout plodders closing up their ranks
The footmen strode all-mailed.
Amistres hasteth with them,
And great Artaphrenes,
Lords of rich satrapies,
Kings on whose throne a greater
Its majesty uprears,
Marshals of an uncounted host,
Bowmen and cavaliers,
They sweep forever onward;
Their daunting looks dismay,
And jubilant are their high hearts
For joy of coming fray.
Lord of the bow, Imaeus,
Artembares, the rider bold
Whom charging squadrons cheer,
Masistres and Pharandaces;
With many a doughty fere
Whom Nile, great nourisher of men,
Sent forth; Pegastogon,
Egyptian born; Susiskanes,
And Artames, whose wone
Is sacred Memphis;—there he rules;
And Ariomardus, lord
Or Thebes, that ancient child of Time;
Marsh-folk to pull aboard
The galleys,—fearsome combatants
Past count; and in their train
The langour-loving Lydians,
Lords of the Asian main.
Two royal men command them,
Arcteus of fair renown,
And the great lord Metrogathes;
And their all-golden town,
Sardis, hath sent forth men that ride
On cars of aspect dread,
With double yoke of horses,
And triple harnesséd:
And Tharubis and Mardon,
Of Tmolus' holy hill
Near neighbours both, have ta'en an oath,
(The which may heaven fulfil,)
To cast the yoke on Hellas
That holdeth freedom dear;
They are the stuff of iron tough,
Hard anvils to the spear.
Then come the Mysian slingers;
And golden Babylon
Hath sent a mingled, motley host,
Endlessly winding on;
And some are sailors of the fleet,
And others draw the bow;
All Asia pours her falchion-men;
The great king bids them go.
Ay, they are gone! The bloom, the rose,
The pride of Persian earth:
And with a mighty longing
The land that gave them birth,
Asia, their nursing mother, mourns;
And day succeeds to day,
And wives and little ones lose heart,
Sighing the time away.
I grant you that our royal host,
The walléd city's scourge,
Hath long since reached the neighbour coast
That frowns across the surge;
Hath roped with mooréd rafts the strait,
Their path the heaving deck,
At Athamantid Helle's Gate
Upon the sea's proud neck
Bolting a yoke from strand to strand:
And Asia's hordes, I grant,
Outnumber the uncounted sand:
Our king is valiant:
He shepherdeth a mighty flock,
God's benison therewith,
Till iron arms all Hellas lock,
Port, isle and pass and frith.
And at his word leap captains bold
Ready to do or die,
Being himself of the race of gold,
Equal with God most high.
The dragon-light of his black eyes
Darts awe, as to express
The lord of mighty argosies
And minions numberless.
So, seated in his Syrian car,
He leads 'gainst spear and pike
His sagittaries: death from far
Their wounding arrows strike.
Meseemeth none of mortal birth
That tide of men dare brave,
A sea that delugeth the earth,
A vast resistless wave.
No! Persia's matchless millions
No human power can quell,
Such native valour arms her sons,
Such might incomparable!
For Fate from immemorial age
Chose out her sons for power:
Bade them victorious war to wage
And breach the bastioned tower:
In chivalry to take delight
Where clashing squadrons close:
Kingdoms and polities the might
Of their strong arm o'erthrows.
They gaze on ocean lawns that leap
With bickering billows gray
Swept by fierce winds; their myriads sweep
Ocean's immense highway,
Where, leashed with cables fibre-fine,
Their buoyant galleys bridge
The rough waves of the sundering brine
From ridge to crested ridge.
And yet what man, of woman born,
Outwits the guile of God?
The pit He digs what foot may scorn,
Though with all lightness shod?
For ruin first with laughing face
Lures man into the net,
Whence never wight of mortal race
Leapt free and scatheless yet.
These are the thoughts that fret and fray
The sable garment of my soul.
Shall Persia's host sing, Wellaway,
With universal shout of dole:
Shall Susa hear, of manhood shorn?
Shall this imperial city mourn?
Yea, and shall Kissia's castle-keep
With answering note of grief reply?
Shall huddled women wail and weep
Bearing the burthen to that cry,
While torn in rents their raiment falls
And tattered hang their costly shawls?
Not one is left: all they that drive
Or ride proud steeds, all footmen stout,
Like swarming bees that quit the hive,
With him that leads the dance, went out;
Shackling two shores across the sea
They thrust a floating promontory.
But beds are wet with many a tear
Where late the longed-for love lay warm;
New luxury of grief is dear
To our fair Persians: some mailed form
She kissed 'Goodbye,' her love, her own,
Each misses, left in wedlock lone.
Men of Persia, here in council, seated round this ancient roof,
Sounding deep, for sore the need is, let us put it to the proof,
How it fareth with King Xerxes, great Darius' golden heir,
Lord of lieges, mighty dynast, who made Persia rich and fair;
Whether conquest wingeth onward with the drawing of the bow
Or the ashen-hafted spear-head crowns with victory the foe.
But, behold, a light that shineth with august and godlike rays,
Royal Mother of King Xerxes, regnant Queen of my young days;—
Rapidly her chariot rolleth; in the dust I lay me prone;
Homage, love and loyal duty proffer we in unison.
[Enter the Queen.]
Queen-Dowager of Persian dames deep-veiled,
Mother of Xerxes and Darius' wife,
Spouse of a god, and not less justly hailed
As to one godlike authoress of life,—
Unless the power that prospered us of yore
Now with our armies goeth out no more!
Therefore am I come forth into the day
From golden courts and that one chamber fair
Where in my arms the great Darius lay.
My heart too feels the canker-fret of care;
Good friends, I have a story for your ears
That wakes within a train of haunting fears.
What if great wealth should scatter in his stride
The prosperous glory that Darius reared,
God being with him? Doubts new-felt divide
My mind. Possessions must not be revered
Save as men use them; yet they that have none
How poor! To them what lustre hath the sun?
For in themselves great riches are not wrong:
That's not my fear: but when the master's eye
Through absence fails, the thought in me is strong,
A house is blind except its lord be by.
Herein, grave sirs, interpret and advise;
In your sage counsel all my wisdom lies.
Be sure of this, Queen of this land of ours,
There never was nor ever can be need
To ask us twice for help by word or deed,
So far as ripe experience empowers
Leal hearts to proffer guidance: in our breast
There is no thought save how to serve thee best.
I am much conversant with dreams at night
Since with his army my dear son is gone
To ravage and lay waste Ionia,
But nothing yet so startlingly distinct
As yesternight, as you shall forthwith hear.
For there appeared to me in bright apparel
Two women; one with Persian robes adorned,
The other in the Dorian garb; and each
Taller in stature than are women now,
Faultlessly fair, both sisters of one house.
The first in Hellas dwelt, by sortilege
Assigned; the other lived in Barbary.
And so it was, that in my dream methought
There was some kind of quarrel 'twixt the twain,
Which, when my dear son was apprised of it,
He would compose and make them live as friends.
And so he harnessed them to a chariot
Lashing their necks to the yoke. And the tall form
Clad in our raiment answered to the rein;
But the other struggled; tore the tackle up
And without bit or bridle breaking loose
Snapped the strong yoke asunder. My son fell;
And suddenly his father stood beside him,
Even Darius, sorry for his fall.
This is the vision I beheld last night.
But when I rose and in fair-flowing stream
Had washed my hands, so cleansed for sacrifice
I stood before an altar, purposing
To make my offering of the elements
To the Divine Forfenders, whose indeed
The office is. And, lo, an eagle fled
To Phoebus' burning brazier! Good my friends,
When I saw that I was struck dumb with fear.
And presently a falcon flew at him,
Beat him about the body with its wings,
And with its claws his proud crest-feathers plucked,
And strange—and passing strange—the eagle quailed
Nor dared at all retaliate. What I saw
Filled me with dread and will affright your ears.
Well do ye know that if our son succeed
He will become the wonder of the world;
And even if he fail, there is no law
Can call him to account; but unimpaired,
Life granted him, his throne is o'er this land.
Mother, we would not by aught we might say
Alarm unduly or raise hopes too high.
Better approach the gods, better go pray,
If shapes of ugly seeming haunt thine eye.
Beseech them to deliver thee from ill,
And for thyself, thy children and the State
And all thou lovest good things to fulfil.
This done, with drink-offerings propitiate
Earth and the dead; and then entreat thy spouse,
Darius, whom thou say'st that yesternight
Thou did'st behold, for thee and for thy house
Up from the underworld into the light
To' send good luck, and adverse things blindfold
Muffle in nether darkness. Not untaught
By my prophetic soul have I made bold
To speak, convinced so best may good be sought.
Well, come what may, my dream hath found in thee
A first expounder loyal to our son
And all our house. May fair as fair can be
Befall. I'll get me home. All shall be done
In honour of the gods and the dear dead
That dwell beneath the earth, as thou hast said.
But, good my friends, tell me where Athens lies?
Far, far away, westwards—beyond these skies,—
Where kingly Helios pales his golden fires.
Is that the land that our dear son desires,
Gone on so long a chase, to make his prey?
Assuredly: if Athens own his sway
All Hellas must before his footstool bend.
Is't a great people? Can this Athens send
'Gainst him a numerous armament?
Have cause to know their army by its deeds.
Are they great archers then?
Princess, not so:
'Tis not the arrow's point, the sinewy bow,
That makes them to be feared: stand they or charge
They are close fighters with the spear and targe.
What more of mark? Have they much wealth laid by?
A vein of silver is their treasury.
Who is the ruler of this people? Who
Lord of their levies and their revenue?
Subject they are not unto any man:
They say 'slave' sorts not with 'Athenian.'
Have they no master? The less likely they
To stand their ground against invaders.
Darius' armament this kingless folk
For all its splendour and its numbers broke
And utterly destroyed.
There's matter here
For anxious questionings, not without fear,
For all whose sons went up 'gainst Athens.
O Queen, if that I err not, shalt even now
Hear the authentic story. Here is a man
Able to tell us how the Persians ran
In this momentous race; and, whether good
Or ill his tidings, he brings certitude.
Enter a Messenger.
Ye habitations of broad Asia,
And thou, O land of Persia, receipt
Of affluent wealth, how much and how great glory
Hath perished at a blow! Of Persian men
The flower is fall'n and vaded! Woe is me!
Ill is it to be the bearer of bad tidings,
And yet, for hard necessity constrains,
I am to cloak up nothing, Persians—tell
The woeful tale to the end! All's lost; the power
Of Barbary is utterly destroyed.
O unimagined ruin, dark and drear
And fathomlessly deep!
Weep, men of Persia, while ye hear
And harken while ye weep!
Yea, we have fought it to a finish—I
Thought not to see the day of my return.
O life! too tedious pilgrimage
To the last span outdrawn!
On fading eyes waxed dim with weary age
Was this dark day to dawn?
Persians, the story that I have to tell
Is not a thing caught up from others' lips;
All ills prepared for our discomfiture
Myself was witness of; yea, had my share.
Vain, vain the arrow-blast,
The tumult of loud war!
Vain all the missiles Asia idly cast
On Hellas' fatal shore!
The bodies of men miserably slain
Lie heaped upon the shore of Salamis
And glut full many a creek and cove thereby.
The bodies of the men that died
The breakers buffet, the billows beat!
Tinct with the azure of the sea-salt tide,
Rolled with the wreckage of a shattered fleet!
There was no help in arrow or in bow!
Our whole fleet foundered when their warships rammed.
Howl! Cry aloud! Call down upon the foe
Ages of anguish and inexorable woe!
All evil that their hearts devised they wrought!
Mourn for the mighty host that they have brought to nought!
Salamis! thou execrable name!
Athens! My spirit mourns remembering thee!
Athens! for ever hateful to thy foes!
Written in memory's book for thee the record glows,
The long, long roll, past count, of them that mourn
In every Persian home husbandless and forlorn!
I have kept silence long; calamity
Hath struck me dumb: for this surpassing grief
May not be told and stops the mouth of question.
But men must bear the troubles Heaven sends.
Compose thyself then; and this dire disaster,
Much as thou mournest it, fully unfold.
Who hath not fallen? And whom must we lament
Among the leaders of the people? Who
Of titled and of sceptred rank hath left
A gap among our noblest by his death?
Xerxes himself is among the living; he
Beholds the light of day.
A light indeed
To me and all my house! A glad day-break
After black mirk of night.
Chief of ten thousand horse, is brayed and beat
All up and down the sharp Silenian shore.
And Dadakas, the Chiliarch, struck by a spear
Dropped like an airy diver in the sea.
And Tenagon, most noble Tenagon,
True Bactrian to the core, is a wanderer now
Round Ajax' wave-washed, ocean-echoing isle.
Lilaeus, Arsames and Argétes
Fell fighting, and are ground against the rocks
That gird the steep holm where the ring-doves breed:
And Arcteus, neighbour once of inland streams,
Founts of Egyptian Nilus, and Adeues,
Yea, and Pharnuchus, weighted with the load
Of ponderous armour—three from out one ship—
Plunged overboard. The Chrysian Matallus,
Lord of ten thousand fighting men, went down.
And he who marshalled thirty thousand horse,
All black, his dark, flame-coloured, bushy beard
Dyed gules in his own gore. The Arabian
Magus, and Artames the Bactrian,
Far from the rough, stern land he chose for home,
Perished in those disastrous seas. There sank
Amistris; and Amphistreus cast away
His spear. And Ariomardus, good as brave,
To the great grief of Sardis met his death.
And Seisames the Mysian is slain:
And Tharubis, of five times fifty ships
Grand Admiral—he was Lernæan-born
And beautiful withal—is lost. Alack!
He gave his life in an unlucky cause.
The bravest of the brave, Syennesis,
Generalissimo of the Cilicians,
A man whose splendid valour cost more blood
To the enemy than any single foe,
Died gloriously. Thus much have I told
Touching the captains of the host. And now
Some few disasters, where they came in crowds,
I will relate.
This is the very crown
And summit of all sorrow. For proud Persia
Direst humiliation: shriek on shriek
Shall follow on thy news. But retrace thy steps;
Tell me how many sail the Hellenes had
That they dared close upon the Persian power
And ram us ship for ship.
Ah, had it lain
With numbers to decide, be well assured
Victory had crowned the fleet of Barbary!
The whole Hellenic navy was no more
Than ten divisions of thirty sail apiece,
And but a tithe of them in the fighting-line!
Xerxes, it is a point within my knowledge,
Went into action with a thousand sail:
Two hundred ships and seven of high speed
Is the reputed reckoning. Accuse us not
That in this fight we failed to play the man:
A God it was who broke our power, weighed down
The judgment scale with no impartial hand.
There are divinities that keep the realm
Of divine Pallas safe.
Is Athens safe?
Is not the city sacked?
Ay, but her men!
They live, and therefore her defence is sure.
Tell me how first the fleets encountered; who
Began the attack, the Hellenes or my son
Exulting in the number of his ships?
Princess, the first beginner of all the woes
That afterwards ensued, though whence he came
None knoweth, was some genius of wrath,
Some wicked spirit such as lures men on
To their destruction. There came a man,
A Hellene, from the Athenian host, and he
On this wise spake unto Xerxes, thy son—
'If there shall come a dusk and darksome night
The Hellenes will not tarry; leaping down
Upon their rowers' benches they will pull
For safety, hither, thither scattering
In secret flight.' And when thy son heard that
He instantly—perceiving not the guile
Of the Hellene nor the spite of jealous Gods,—
Made known to all the captains of his ships
That when the burning sun should cease to beam
Across the world, and glimmering twilight took
The court and curtilage of serene air,
The main armada must disperse and form
Three squadrons line abreast, blocking the exits
And narrow channels where the salt waves churn:
The residue to compass Ajax' Isle.
Then, if the Hellenes turned to flee from doom
By privily withdrawing in the dark,
Not one could get away, but their whole fleet
Must fall into our hands. So spake the king
In sanguine mood, with not the least surmise
Of the divine purpose, presently fulfilled.
And not at all in any disarray
But with a disciplined obedience,
They made their dinner ready, every seaman
Lashing his oar-shank to the 'ell-turned thole;
And when the sun waxed dim and night came on,
Each master oarsman went aboard his ship
And every captain of the fighting crews,
And down the long lines of those ships of war
Squadron to squadron spake right cheerily,
Hailing each other; not a ship of them
Lost her allotted station; and all night
The captains kept them cruising to and fro.
And night passed, and the Hellenic armament
Made no attempt to steal away unseen.
But when with her white horses day shone fair
And overspread the broad and ample earth,
There rose and rang from the Hellenic host
A roar of voices musical with psalms,
And loudly from the island precipices
Echo gave back an answering cheer. Thereat
Seeing their judgment grievously at fault,
Fear fell on the barbarians. Not for flight
Did the Hellenes then chant that inspiring hymn,
But resolutely goings into battle,
Whereto the trumpet set all hearts on fire.
The word was given, and, instantaneously,
Oars smote the roaring waves in unison
And churned the foam up. Soon their whole fleet appeared;
The port division thrown out like a horn
In precise order; then the main of them
Put out against us. We could plainly hear
The thunder of their shouting as they came.
'Forth, sons of Hellas! free your land, and free
Your children and your wives, the native seats
Of Gods your fathers worshipped and their graves.
This is a bout that hazards all ye have.'
And verily from us in the Persian tongue
There rose an answering roar; the long suspense
Was ended. In an instant, ship smote ship,
With thrust of armoured prow. The first to ram
Was a Greek; that impact carried clean away
A tall Phoenician's poop. Then all came on,
Each steering forthright for a ship of ours.
At first the encountering tide of Persians held;
But caught in the narrows, crowded without sea-room,
None could help other; nay, they fell aboard
Their own ships, crashing in with beak of bronze,
Till all their oars were smashed. But the Hellenes
Rowed round and round, and with sure seamanship
Struck where they chose. Many of ours capsized,
Until the very sea was hid from sight
Choked up with drifting wreckage and drowning men.
The beaches and low rocks were stacked with corpses:
The few barbarian vessels still afloat,
Fouling each other fled in headlong rout.
But they with broken oars and splintered spars
Beat us like tunnies or a draught of fish,
Yea, smote men's backs asunder; and all the while
Shrieking and wailing hushed the ocean surge,
Till night looked down and they were rapt away.
But, truly, if I should discourse the length
Of ten long days I could not sum our woes.
There never yet 'twixt sunrise and sunset
Perished so vast a multitude of men.
Woe! woe! An ocean of calamity
Hath broke on Persia and all Barbary.
But this is not the half. A grief ensued
So heavy, its forerunner kicks the beam.
Oh, can misfortune come in hatefuller shape?
What spite of malice adverse to our host
Sweeps through some more immeasurable arc
The moving finger that metes out our woes?
The prime of Persian manhood, men who had
True greatness in their souls, illustrious born,
And ever among the first in the king's trust,
Died miserably a most inglorious death.
Good friends, was ever woman so accursed
With evil fortune? Tell me how they died.
There is an island opposite the shores
Of Salamis, a little, wretched isle,
With never a safe cove where ships may ride,
But Pan, who loves the choric dance, haunts there,
Footing it lightly on the wave-washed strand.
Thither the king despatched them, with intent
That when the enemy, forced to abandon ship,
Sought safety on that isle, they might with ease
Put all the host of Hellas to the sword,
And rescue their own comrades from the salt
Sea-friths. But he judged ill the event. For when
The Gods the glory of the sea-fight gave
Unto the Hellenes, armed to the teeth they sprang
Ashore and compassed the whole island round,
So that they knew not where to turn. And many
They battered to death with stones: some they shot dead
With arrows: finally, to make an end,
Rushed in and finished off their butcher's work
Hacking their helpless victims limb from limb,
Until not one of them was left alive.
And Xerxes, when he saw that depth beyond
All depths of sorrow, wailed aloud. For he sat
Upon a throne conspicuous to the host,
On a high hill beside the open sea.
There with rent robes and a heart-piercing cry
Straightway he gave the signal to his troops
Drawn up upon the shore and let them go
In wild, disordered flight. This further stroke
Of fortune's malice fell for thee to mourn.
O wicked spirit! How did'st thou beguile
Our Persians' hearts! How bitter a revenge
Upon illustrious Athens was vouchsafed
To our dear son! Not all that Barbary lost
Beforetime on the field of Marathon
Sufficed! But, thinking to repay in kind
All that we suffered there, he hath drawn on
A deluge of immeasurable woe!
But tell me of the ships that 'scaped destruction,
Where didst thou leave these? Hast sure news of them?
The captains of the remnant hoisted sail
And ran before the wind, a rabble rout.
But the remainder of our army perished
In the Boeotian country, some of thirst
For lack of solace of refreshing springs.
We that were left, taking no time to breathe,
Crossed into Phocis and the Locrian land
And the Maliac gulf where the Spercheius flows
Watering a broad plain with his gracious stream.
Achaia and the Thessalian cities then
Opened to us their gates, but we were sore
Straitened for lack of meat. And there the most
Perished of thirst and hunger, for, God wot,
We must contend with both. Anon we came
To the Magnesian country and the coasts
Of Macedonia by the Axian frith
And Bolbe's reedy marshes and the range
Pangaean—country of Edonia.
And on that very night God caused a frost
Out of due season: Strymon's holy stream
Was frozen over. And many, that heretofore
Denied the Gods, thanked heaven upon their knees,
Yea, bowed themselves to earth and sky. And when
They had made an end of calling on the Gods
The host began to cross on the firm ice.
And whoso crossed before the beams of God
Were scattered wide, reached safety. But anon
The round, bright sun with blazing rays of fire
Made right across the stream a waterway,
Thawing the midst thereof with glowing heat.
And then they fell in heaps: he happiest
Who soonest gasped away the breath of life.
All that were left, all that had won to safety,
Crossed Thrace and in the teeth of fearful hardships,
That desperate retreat accomplished, came—
But they were few indeed—to their own home.
Behold these things are merest truth: but much
I leave unsaid; many and grievous woes
The wrath of God hurled down upon our host.
Spirit whose dispensation is too hard,
Thou hast set a heavy foot upon our necks,
Ground Persia in the dust!
My heart is sick;
I mourn a vanished host! Visions of the night
How plainly ye portended woe! And you,
How fondly ye interpreted my dream!
Natheless, since here at least your oracle
Fails not, I will go pray, first to the Gods;
Then I will take the sacred elements,—
Offerings to earth, oblations to the dead,—
And come to you again. Things past I know;
But I would fain inquire if what's to come
Promises better fortune. Lend your aid:
With men of trust true counsel take, I charge ye;
And, if our son return in the meantime,
Console him and escort him to our house,
Lest that on woe there follow further woe.
O Zeus, thou art king! There is none thee beside!
Thou hast shattered our host and humbled our pride!
Thou hast darkened with grief the light of thy day
O'er Susa and Ecbatana!
They have rent their thin veils, their kerchiefs thread-drawn,
Our delicate mourners; their wimples of lawn
They have drenched with salt tears; the young wife newly-wed
Looks out for her lord, but he comes not; her bed,
Laid soft with fair linen, where love had his bliss,
Standeth vacant; cold sorrow their banqueter is;
But they rise up an-hungered, though they sit long;
And I too o'er the fallen would utter my song.
This earth, this Asia, wide as east from west,
Mourns—empty,—of her manhood dispossessed.
Xerxes the King led forth his war-array!
Xerxes the King hath cast his host away!
Xerxes the King (Oh King unwise!)
Steered in the wake of doom his orient argosies!
How fell it that Darius, lord of the bow,
In Susa long ago,
Fair fortune had? That then
He who ruled Persia won the hearts of men?
The ships, the swarthy ships, with brow of gloom
And wide wings woven on the weary loom,
Landsmen and mariners haled to that far shore!
The ships, the black ships whelmed them evermore!
They struck, they split, they filled,
They sank: and, oh, death's throes Ionian vengeance stilled.
And now by plain and pass, rude, wild and bare,
In the frore Thracian air,
After long wandering,
Scarce 'scaped with life, comes home our lord the King.
But they on that wild water,
Firstlings of death and slaughter,
Roam, where the long waves lash Kychrean sands;
Roam, but no wave shall lift them,
Nor ebb nor flood-tide drift them
To this dear earth beloved above all lands.
Wide as the sky, and deep
As those dark waters sweep,
Wail! let grief gnaw your heart, and wring your hands!
Combed with no tender combing,
Where angry waves break foaming,
Children of Ocean's unpolluted tide
Flesh their dumb mouths, and tear
The dead men once so fair:
Old eyes are wet whose tears Time long since dried;
The sire weeps his lost son,
The home its goodman gone,
And all the woeful tale is bruited far and wide.
They pay no more tribute; they bow them no more!
The word of power is not spoken
By the princes of Persia; their day is o'er,
And the laws of the Medes are broken
Through Asia's myriad-peopled land;
For the staff is snapped in the King's right hand.
And a watch is not set on the free, frank tongue,
Yea, liberty's voice speaks loud;
And the yoke is loosed from the neck that was wrung
And the back to dominion bowed:
For the earth of Ajax isle is red
With the blood of Persia's noble dead!
Enter the Queen.
Good friends, the heart that hath found trouble knows
That when calamity is at the flood
We shake at shadows; but, if once the tide
Flow fair, and fortune send a prospering wind,
We cannot think that it will change. To me
All prayers I offer now are full of dread,
And voices loud, but not with victory,
Sound in mine ears; so fell a stroke of fortune
Dismays my soul. Therefore am I returned,
Not as of late with chariots and with pomp;
I bring libations due from son to sire,
Meet for propitiation; gifts that please
Dead bodies in their graves. Milk, white and pure,
And crystal honey cropped from bee-searched flowers,
And cool cups drawn from virgin founts; and here,
Pressed from wild nature's bosom, is strong wine,
The jocund youngling of an ancient stem;
And I have oil of olive, amber-clear,
Sweet esence of a never-fading tree,
And wreathed blossoms,—children all of earth
That yieldeth every fruit. Then, dear my friends,
Accompany with song acceptable
These luscious draughts that soothe the silent dead,
And forth from his sepulchral monument
Call up Darius' spirit. The cup earth drinks
I will pour out to the Gods of the underworld.
Queen of Persia, chief in worth,
'Neath the chambers of the earth,
Send thy rich libations streaming;
We with prayers of holy seeming
Will beseech the dead that there
They may find acceptance fair.
Gods infernal, pure and holy,
Earth and Hermes, melancholy
Lord of death and gloom and night,
Send his soul up to the light.
He will heal,—point undismayed
Where grief's far horizons fade.
Peer of the Gods, whose kingly state
Is evermore felicity!
Shifting as the shocks of fate
Sinks and soars our endless cry
Uttered in an ancient tongue:
Hearest thou the shades among?
All ye gods of souls earth-bound,
Hearken! Earth, break up thy sod!
Grant us sight from thy dark ground
Of Susa's son and Persia's god!
To such an ample spirit ne'er
Persian earth gave sepulchre.
Dear was the man; dear is his burial-mound!
A power sleeps here, whose influence shall not fade!
Oh, where he sits sole King 'mong Kings discrowned,
Aidoneus, dim Aidoneus, speed Darius' shade!
In wantonness of heart he ne'er made war,
Nor lost a world wasting the lives of men;
They hailed him their God-given counsellor;—
God-given he was, and great was Persia's glory then.
Old majesty! Great Padishah!
Come forth, and from thy barrow high,
Show the white plume of thy tiar,
Thy buskin dipped in crocus-dye!
Unclouded spirit, morning-clear—,
Griefs thy glory never knew,
Lord of our Lord, thy coming stay.
A mist hath fallen of Stygian hue;
Persia's youth is cast away!
Unclouded spirit, morning-clear,
Thou, whose passing nations wept,
Wherefore hath ambition swept
Worlds that thou didst hold in fee,
Empire, awe and admiralty,
In one headlong ruin borne?
Ships perfidious, ships foresworn,
Crewless, oarless, scallop-scaled,
Ye your pride to Hellas vailed,
Hidden from the sight of suns
That gild her golden galleons!
[The Ghost of Darius ascends from his tomb.
Trusty and well-beloved! Comrades of mine
When we were young together; now most grave
Signors of Persia, what afflicts the realm?
Earth groans and jars and frets with fevered pulse;
I see my consort standing by my tomb,
And verily I am afraid. Withal,
The cup of kind remembrance, poured in prayer,
I have received. And ye make lamentation
Beside my sepulchre in such shrill key
As calls up spirits: yea, with piteous cries
Summon me from my grave; and wayleave thence
Is hard to come by; for the infernal Gods
Love better to hold fast than to let go.
Nevertheless, with them have I prevailed,
And ye behold me! Haste! my time is short
And I would not offend. What aileth Persia?
What strange, what heavy stroke hath smitten her?
I dare not meet thy gaze: I fear
To speak what must offend thine ear;
With veiled eyes, I bow me prone,
As at the footstool of thy throne!
Know that by strong persuasion of thy grief
I am ascended from the shades. Be brief;
Put awe and forms of courtly speech away,
And utter boldly all thou hast to say.
Thou askest speech of me, and I
Fear to do that courtesy;
At thy bidding to impart
Tidings which must grieve thy heart.
Since thine old awe is not to be enforced,
Good Queen, dear partner death alone divorced
From spousal joys, though thee the touch of age
Hath changed to outward view, this grief assuage,
These sobs and tears give o'er: take courage then
To speak but one clear word to me; for men
Cast in the mould of frail humanity
Are heirs to all its ills: by land and sea
Evils a-many are reserved for man,
If that Time lengthen out his little span.
O of mankind the happiest by far,
While thou didst yet behold the day's bright star,
How enviable in thy life wast thou!
How like a god thy days were passed. And now
I envy thee in death: yea, count it bliss
Not to have lived to search the black abyss,
The bottomless pit of sorrow. Dear my lord,
Darius, to sum all in one brief word;
Persia lies waste—a kingdom desolate!
Speak'st thou of plague and famine! Or is the state
By rancour of domestic faction rent?
Nothing of this; her mighty armament
Hath suffered ruin round the Athenian coast.
Tell me; what son of mine led forth our host?
Impetuous Xerxes: and to fill his train
Emptied of manhood Asia's vasty plain.
And on this rash attempt, of folly born,
Went he by land or sea?
With either horn,
Broadening the thrust of his battle-front, he planned
A double enterprise by sea and land.
How found he means o'er all the realms that lie
'Twixt us and Persia, plains and mountains high,
To launch on foot an armament so vast?
A yoke on Helle's stormy frith he cast
And made a causeway through the unruly sea.
A giant's toil to shut with lock and key
The wrathful Bosphorus!
The thing was done!
Methinks, an unseen power helped our son.
A power of might indeed to send him mad!
Ay, since the achievement evil issue had!
What fate hath foiled our arms that ye make moan
For fallen men?
The fleet is overthrown
And in its ruin whelmed the host on shore.
Then hath my people perished? Hath grim war
Ta'en toll of all?
Yea, Susa lieth bare,
And mourns her perished youth, her manhood fair.
Oh, the lost levies! Oh, the bright array
Of proud confederate peoples!
Through all her clans and Egypt's commonalty
For children lost lift up a bitter cry.
Calamitous adventurer! thine emprise
Hath drained the very sap of thine allies!
Xerxes, a lonely man, that few attend,
They say ——
What say they? Draws he to an end
Of his long march? And hath he haply found
Some place of safety?
Yea, the stormy sound
And the long bridge that spans the sundering sea,
Which when he hailed a happy man was he!
So, he hath crossed the strait and touched the strand
And journeys delicately through the land
Of Asia—or thou hast heard things false and smooth?
None challengeth these tidings; they are clear truth
And beyond cavil.
Ah, with how swift stride
Hath come fulfilment of things prophesied!
How on my son hath Zeus in anger sent
The end foretold, which my fears did prevent!
For long ago I knew the Gods would speed
The final consummation of that rede,
And when man, shod with haste and girt with pride,
Beckons his own doom, God is on his side.
And now, methinks, to all men of good will
The fount lies bare whence flowed this broadening ill;
But the event my son too rashly wrought
In the blind arrogance of childish thought.
He dreamed that he could chain, as men chain slaves,
The holy haste of Hellespontine waves,
God's flowing Bosphorus; another measure
Presumed to teach its billows, at his pleasure
Bound them in linkéd fetters hammered fast,
Yea, made a high way, where his army passed.
A mortal man on all the Gods that be
He ventured war; the lordship of the sea,
Poseidon's realm (he judged so much amiss),
Challenged and thought to quell. And was not this
The very madness of a mind diseased?
Prosperity and power and wealth, which eased
The lives of men, my long reign's rich reward,
Is plunder now for some freebooter's sword!
All this impetuous Xerxes, over-ruled
By evil men, in their rash counsel schooled,
Learned; for they taught him that thy valour won
Great opulence and wide dominion
For thy succeeding heirs; and 'twas a taunt
Of theirs that he at home was valiant,
But with new wealth no wise increased thy store:
And so detraction oft-repeated bore
Ill fruit: to doom the readiest way he went
And against Hellas launched his armament.
And in all truth the thing that he hath done
Is great in consequence, in memory
Never to be forgotten: such a fall
From power and glory, such a grievous loss
Ne'er yet made Susa empty, since the day
When first King Zeus assigned her pride of place,
Centreing in one man dominion
Over all Asia rich in fleece and flock,
The staff of Empire steady in his hand.
It was a Mede that mastered first her hosts;
His son completed that which he began,
For wisdom laid her hand upon the helm
And caution tempered daring. Third from him
Reigned Cyrus, blest in all he undertook.
He with all friendly powers established peace
On firm foundations. His arm was stretched
Over the land of Lydia, and he
Made Phrygia vassal; all Ionia
He drave before him with the reins of power;
Neither provoked he God to jealous wrath,
So amiable and gracious were his ways.
And Cyrus' fourth son set the host in order;
But the fifth, Mardus, reigning in his stead,
Brought upon fatherland and monarchy
Shame and reproach. And him by subtle craft
Artaphrenes, an honourable man,
Slew in the palace, powerfully helped
By friends resolved upon the deed. And chance
Placed on my head the crown I coveted.
And with great armies I waged many wars,
But ne'er in such calamity involved
The realm: and now Xerxes, my son, because
His thoughts are a young man's thoughts, remembers not
My precepts: for I call ye all to witness,
Friends and coevals, not a man of us
Had ever by misuse of so much power
Made it the instrument of so great a woe.
O King Darius, whither tends the scope
Of thy discourse? What may we thence conclude?
How may this land of Persia best emerge
From these sore trials and yet see good days?
Wage no more wars 'gainst Hellas, wage no more,
Not though the Medic power were mightier yet;
For verily her soil is her ally.
How sayst thou 'her ally'? How can her soil
Take arms for her and fight upon her side?
The power of numbers, be they ne'er so vast,
She wears away by famine.
Few and choice
Shall be the muster, with all manner store
They that are left
In Hellas even now shall not escape
Nor see their homes again.
What hast thou said!
Doth not the armament of Barbary
March out of Europe over Helle's sound?
Few out of many, if the oracles
Of Heaven, by warrant of these late events,
Gain credence: they are individable;
They do not fail in part, nor yet in part
Are they fulfilled. And even were they flawed
With false predictions, Xerxes, in false hopes
Confiding, hath abandoned to their fate
A vast array, the chosen of his host.
Where the Asopus watereth the plain
And maketh fat the deep Boeotian earth
They are cut off; and there is reserved for them
The culmination of their sufferings,
A just reward of pride and godless thoughts,
Because in Hellas they thought it no shame
To' strip the ancient statues of the Gods
And burn their temples: yea, cast down the altars,
And from their firm foundations overthrew,
So that they lie in heaps, the builded fanes
Of unseen powers. The evil that they did
Is in like measure meted unto them,
Yea, and more shall be meted; deeper still
Lies the hid vein of suffering; yet a little
And it shall gush forth. So great shall be the carnage;
A veritable offering of blood,
Congealed with slaughter, on Plataea's plain,
The dark oblation of the Dorian spear.
High as are heaped the sands their carcases
Shall be hereafter, even to sons' sons,
A silent witness for whoso hath eyes,
That proud thoughts are not for the worm called man;
For pride in blossom, like an ear of corn,
Swells and grows ripe with ruin reaped in tears.
Ye, when ye see these things and think thereon,
Remember Athens and remember Hellas!
Let none of you, that fortune, which is yours
And which God gave, disdaining, set your hearts
On what ye have not, neither in getting more
Pour out like water vast prosperity.
Zeus is a chastener of froward wills
And he correcteth with a heavy hand.
Wherefore be ye instructors of your lord,
And with well-reasoned admonitions teach him
To have a humbler heart and cast away
The sin of pride, for it offendeth God.
And, Xerxes' dear and venerable Mother,
Return to the palace; bring forth fitting raiment
And go therewith to meet thy son: for all
About him, torn by grief, in tatters hangs
The ravelment of his rich-embroidered robe.
Moreover comfort him with gentle words;
Thee only will he hearken. I go hence
Descending through the darkness of the earth.
Farewell, grave elders; in adversity
Find out the soul's true solace day by day;
Where dead men lie wealth nothing profiteth.
[The Shade of Darius descends into the tomb.
Griefs many, woes that Barbary now endures
And shall endure hereafter wring my heart.
O Fate, how endless is the train of sorrow
That entereth my soul! But there's no pang
That gnaws with keener tooth than picturing
My son, his royal person clothed shame
And trappings of dishonour. I will hence
And take me handsome robes and make essay
To meet him. In the hour of evil fortune
We'll not be false to all we hold! most dear.
All of earth's fullness was ours, all the spacious
Amplitude life yields or law can uphold,
When the unvanquished, the grief less, all-gracious,
Godlike Darius ruled Persia of old.
Glory of conquest and gift of good order
His statutes bestowed and our armies achieved;
Joyous and fresh they came back to our border,
In strength unexhausted, with triumph received.
What commonwealths he captive took
And never once his home forsook
Nor Halys' river passed;
Daughters of Acheloan race,
Where thunder on the shores of Thrace
Strymonian billows vast.
Beyond the marshes stretched his power,
The shadow of a fenced tower
Flung wide o'er Helle's path;
It fell on cities fair that line
Propontis' inlet lacustrine
And stormy Pontus' strath.
His were the surf-beaten islands hard by us,
Where the thrust of the land lifts the wave-flung spray;
Lesbos and Paros and Naxos and Chios
And Samos, with oil of her olive-groves gray;
Myconus's earth paid toll to Darius;
Tenos-by-Andros acknowledged his sway.
Far from both shores, where the waters divide us,
Clasped in the mid-sea's ambient kiss,
Lemnos and Icarus' isle and Cnidus,
Paphos, Rhodes, Soloe were minions of his;
And thy namesake—thy parent—O thou, whose waves hide us,
Mother of mourning, Salamis!
The portion of Javan a wise moderation
Bound to his throne by her people's decrees;
Weariless then was the might of our nation;
Countless the swarm of her mercenaries;
But now in the day of God's sore visitation
We are tamed and chastised with the stripes of strong seas.
My fate is upon me;
My star hath declined;
A grief hath undone me;
A doom none divined
Hath broken the sceptre of Persia as a reed that is snapped in the wind.
Age, thine eyes chide me;
They bow down my head;
My strength is denied me;
My limbs are as lead.
Would God I lay fallen in battle, covered up out of sight with the dead!
Lord of our splendour,
Our goodly array;
Despoiler and spender
Of thy host; God hath cut off thy lieges and darkened the light of thy day.
And Persia, their mother,
Mourns them that fell:
She, she, and none other,
Acclaimeth thee well,
King Xerxes, that gorged with her children the maw and the belly of Hell!
The pride and the power of her
Thou hast brought low:
Count the fallen flower of her,
Lords of the bow,
Reckon a myriad-muster, 'twere ten times ten thousand, I trow.
Sad lord of lost legions,
Sorrow on thee!
Through Asia's wide regions
Thy welcome shall be
Lamentation and mourning and weeping: she stoopeth; she boweth the knee.
Wail loud! Be not dumb!
On me be your moan!
For I am become
To kingdom and throne
A plague and a curse; yea, a burden, a weariness unto my own.
O crowned desolation,
Whose stripes thy land bears;
A sore salutation
She sounds in thy ears;
Mariandyne's death-lament hails thee: the cup of thy feasting is tears.
Pour forth thy sorrow!
Long, long shall it flow!
Nor to-day nor to-morrow
Sufficeth thy woe.
I have felt the fierce changes of fortune; the blast of God's vengeance I know.
Fraught with awe for thy fate
My weeping shall be;
Whelmed 'neath the weight
Of the weltering sea
I am fain to wail forth my lament for thy realm and thy house and for thee!
Ionia's embattled might,
In Ares' fatal armour dight,
Spurred by the foaming oar,
Swept men, ships, honour, all, away:
And there was left the wild waves' play
Heard in the lone of loveless night
On that disastrous shore.
Woe! Woe! thrice woe!
Inquire of me and ask all ye are fain to know.
Where, where is that great multitude,
Leal vassals of thy throne,
Susas and Pelagon?
Oh, tell me where is Psammis?
Where is Susiskanes,
Who from Ecbatana rode forth,—
Aboard a ship of Tyre
Perished. Where cold waves close
Above the wreck of lost empire
I left them with their foes:
The beaded bubbles hush and hiss,
The strong tide ebbs and flows,
Bruised on the beach at Salamis,
The waves that break on Salamis
Scourge them with bitter blows.
Woe! Woe! thrice woe! But tell me,
Pharnuchus, where is he?
Ariomardus and Seualkes
Whose fief was a king's fee?
And hast thou lost Lilæus,
Sprung from a noble strain?
And Tharubis and Memphis,
Are they among the slain?
For them my heart is fain.
Woe! Woe! thrice woe!
These many found one overthrow!
Their eyes all dim with coming death
They fixed on Athens, old, diluvial birth
Of Hate; inland on her detested earth
They gasped away their breath.
A Persian of the Persians,
The very eye of thee,
Who mustered men by thousands ten
Alpistus, where is he?
The son of Batanochus,
The son of Sesamas,
The son of Megabates;—
Parthus and Oibaras,
Art thou returned without them?
And will they come no more?
And lie they there forsaken
On that disastrous shore?
Alas! what need of language?
The trouble of thy face
Proclaims this woe beyond all woes
To Persia's sceptred race!
Wring not my heart! Rouse not again
That insupportable refrain
For friends cut off and comrades slain.
Though sharp your pang and shrill your cry of dole
There is a louder voice that wails within my soul.
But many, many more I miss!
Xanthes of Mardian clans
Chieftain; and Anchares, who led
The valiant Arians;
And Arsames and Diæxis,
Lords of the lordly steed,
And Dadacas and Lythimnas,
And Tolmus good at need,
A greedy fighter fell to fill
With the red meat of war;
I marvel that they follow not
Thy crimson-curtained car.
All, all have gone the darkling way
With that great host they led!
All, all are gone the darkling way
Down to the unmemoried dead!
Forbear! This stabs me to the heart!
O unseen power, whoe'er thou art,
Thou hast hurled down a gleaming woe,
Bright ruin's ghastly meteor-glow!
A stroke hath fallen resonant
To the last beat of time.
A stroke hath fallen resonant
To earth's remotest clime.
O strange, new pang! Sharp agony!
Ionia, mistress of the sea
We struck under an evil star;
Yea, Persia hath ill-hap in war!
So great a host, and all are gone!
And I am left, a thing men look upon
And weep and wail!
O royal Persian!
What hast thou not lost?
Nay, behold and see
Of sumptuous superfluity
The poor remains: the remnant left to me!
Yea, yea; thou hast lost ships, men, gear—
But worse remains: all Persia's power is here,
Clapped in the compass of an arrow-case!
Ye gods, into how little space
Is crept thy treasure still unspent!
Yet in this quiver there is room enough
To hold the relics of my armament.
Of bag and baggage, store and stuff,
Artillery and equipage, O King,
Hast thou brought back safe home this despicable thing?
All weapons else wherewith we went arrayed,
All power, and every necessary aid
That armies fight with, have been stripped away!
Alack! the sons of Javan fly not from a fray!
They take too much delight in war!
These eyes beheld a grief they looked not for.
Thy great armada, thy long battle-line
When I saw that such grief was mine
From hem to hem my robe I rent.
O God !
Cry loud with all lament!
Yea, the whole almonry of sorrow drain!
No amplest 'O' can this large ill contain.
I feel a twofold, yea, a threefold chain,
And every link a fiery pain,
Constrict my heart.
Yea, we must weep.
And we must put on sackcloth; but the foe
On this dark anniversary shall keep
Pastime and sport, highday and holiday.
And all thy strength and all thy bright array—
Lo! I fled naked: none escorts me home—
And all thy friends and comrades cast away!
The waters of calamity flow deep;
They break in death and ruin; and they sweep
Wrecks of the wrath of God in their tumultuous foam.
Weep blood! Yea, with sharp nail
The lank and hollow cheek of dotage tear,
Then each man to his house.
Anon with me the burthen bear!
Shriek for shriek and groan for groan,
In miserable antiphone!
Shrill forth your loud lament in unison.
Xerxes and Chorus.
Woe! Woe! Woe! Woe!
O grief the heaviest of all
To hear my lord the King's voice wailing his downfall!
Weep on, weep on for the King's sake;
Thy woeful service neither stint nor spare!
Eyes must be wet or hearts will break.
Anon with me the burthen bear.
Lord, I am ready to obey.
Wail and weep with wellaway!
Wellaway! And wellaway!
Xerxes and Chorus.
Woe! Woe! Woe!
This mingled cup is mine and thine,
Foamed with the ferment of a black and bitter wine.
Beat thy breast and wail
The Mysian wail!
Spare not thy silvery hairs;
Pluck out the reverend beard upon thy chin!
I spare them not whom no grief spares.
Renew, renew thy cry! Begin
With mine your voices blending,
Let sorrow have no ending!
Sorrow, sorrow hath no ending.
Rend thine ample train!
Behold! 'tis rent in twain!
Touch the hair-strung lute
And teach it sorrow for my power laid low!
All mournful music else be dumb and mute.
That shrill lament shall ever flow!
To-day and every morrow
Let fall the rain of sorrow.
To-day shall have a rainy morrow.
Now with me the burthen bear!
Woe! Woe! Woe!
And whence ye came with footstep slow
And cry of wail and weeping go.
Woe! Woe! Woe!
Through all the city let your voice be sent!
Through all the city one lament.
Groan, ye who did so delicately tread!
O Persian earth, I stumble on your dead!
Yea, yea, yea!
In the oared galleys they were cast away!
My groanings shall thine escort be!
I'll play thee home with such sad minstrelsy!