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The poems of Edmund Clarence Stedman/Poems of Greece

POEMS OF GREECE


(A portion of the Tenth and the whole of the Thirteenth Idyls of Theocritus are given in the following translations. The text of "Hylas" is somewhat in dispute, and as the translator has examined various editions, his versions will be found to differ, in one or two places, from the common reading. He has also, with good authority, divided the alternate songs of "The Reapers" into the couplets, which so exactly balance each other, and which are approved by critical and poetical instinct. The English hexameter has been selected as the only measure adapted to a literal and a lineal rendering of the peculiar idyllic verse. These specimens of the Sicilian-Doric poetry, including a pastoral, and a semi-epic theme, are from a version of the works of Theocritus, Bion, and Moschus, which was begun many years ago, but has never been completed.)


THE REAPERS

Milo and Battus

MILO.

But come now, down with the harvest!
Strike up also, I pray, a sweetheart song of the maiden;
Thus will you work more lightly:—I think you used to be tuneful.

BATTUS (sings).

"Sing with me, O Pierian Muses, the lass that is lissome;
For ye make all things fair, whatever ye touch, ye Divine Ones!


"Graceful Bombýcê, they call you a Syrian, scrawny and sunburnt,—
All but me, who alone pronounce you the color of honey.


"Ay, and the violet's dark, and the hyacinth wearing its letters:
None the less, for all that, are they sorted first in the garlands.


"She-goats hunt tor the clover, the wolf goes after the she-goat,
After the plough the crane,—but I've gone raving for you, love!


"Would that mine were as much as Crœsus, they say, was possessed of;
Then should we twain, in gold, be set up before Aphrodite;


"You with a—yes, with a flute, and a rose, or, maybe, an apple;
I, with new Amyclæan shoes, and a robe in the fashion.


"Graceful Bombýcê, your feet are pretty as dice that twinkle;
Soft is your voice; but your manner,—I have no words to express it!"

MILO.

Look you, the lad has been sly, composing us elegant ditties:
See how well he has measured the form of his even rhythm!


O this beard of mine, which I seem to have grown to no purpose!
But, to go on, now hear these words of the sage Lytiersês:

(Sings.)

"O Dêmêter, abounding in fruit and ears of the harvest,
Well may this field be worked and yield a crop beyond measure!


"Hard, bind hard, ye binders, the sheaves, lest ever a passer
Say, 'These men are poor sticks, and their pay is cash out of pocket.'


"Toward the north-wind let your swath of grain in the cutting
Look, or else to the west, for thus the ear will grow fuller.


"Threshers, threshing the corn, should shun the slumbers of noonday;
That is the very hour when the chaff flies off from the wheat-stalk.


"Reapers, begin your toil when the tuft-lark soars from the meadow:
Cease when he sleeps: besides, in the heat of the day take your leisure.


"Give me a frog's life, boys! he needs, to pour out his tipple,
No cup-bearer, not he, for't is up to his mouth all around him.


"Better to boil the lentil, you'll find it, niggardly steward:
Ware lest you cut your hand in making two halves of a cummin."

(Speaks.)

Staves like these 't is fit that men at work in the sunshine
Troll; but, lad, 't were better to prate of your starveling passion
Unto your mother awake in her bed at break of the morning.


HYLAS

Not for ourselves alone the God, who fathered that stripling
Erôs, begat him, Nicias, as we have flattered us: neither
Unto ourselves the first have beauties seemed to be beauties,—
Not unto us, who are mortal and do not foresee the morrow;
But that heart of brass, Amphitryôn's son, who awaited5
Stoutly the ruthless lion, he too was fond of a youth once—
Graceful Hylas, the lad with the curling locks,—and he taught him
All fair things, as a father would teach the child of his bosom,
All which himself had learned, and great and renowned in song grown;
Nor was he ever at all apart from him, neither at mid-day,10
Nor when the white-horsed car of Eôs ran up to Zeusward,—
Nor when the twittering chickens looked to their nest, and the mother
Over her smoky perch at eve had fluttered her pinions,—
So might the lad be featly trained to his heart's own liking,
And, with himself for guide, grow up a genuine hero.15
Now when it chanced that Jason, the son of Æson, went sailing
After the Golden Fleece, and with him followed the nobles,—
Picked from all the towns and ripe for that service,—among them
Also to rich Iôlkos came the laboring hero,
He that was son of Alcmêne,—the heroine of Midea;20
By his side went Hylas down to the bulwarked Argo,—
Which good ship the clashing Cyanean rocks in no wise
Touched, but clove as an eagle,—and so ran into deep Phasis,—
Clove through a mighty surge, whence low reefs jutted in those days.
So at the time when the Pleiads rise,—and out-of-way places25
Pasture the youngling lamb, and Spring has turned,—the immortal
Flower of heroes began of their voyage then to be mindful,
And, having sat them down again in the hollow Argo,
Came to the Hellespont, a south wind blowing, the third day,
And within the Propontis their anchorage made,—where oxen30
Broaden Ciánian furrows afield, and brighten the ploughshare.
There stepping out on the beach they got the meal of the evening,
Two by two; and many were strewing a couch for them all, since
Close at hand lay a meadow,—to furnish sedge for the bedding:
Thence sharp flowering-rush and low galingale they cut them.35
And with a brazen ewer the fair-haired Hylas was seeking
Water, for Héraklês' supper and sturdy Telamon's also,—
Comrades twain, that ever were used to eat at one table.
Erelong, too, he spied a spring in a low-lying hollow:
Round its brim there grew a host of rushes, and dark-blue
Celandine rose, and pale-green maiden-hair: and parsley41
Throve, and the witch-grass tangling wild through watery places.
Now the Nymphs were starting a dance in the midst of the fountain,—
Sleepless Nymphs, divine, to country people a terror,—
Malis, Euneica, and one with her look of the Spring, Nycheia.45
Soothly, the lad was holding the huge jar over the water,
Dipping in haste, when one and all grew fast to his hand there.
Love wound close around the gentle hearts of the bevy,
Love for the Argive boy: and headlong into the dark pool
Fell he, as when a fiery star has fallen from heaven50
Headlong into the sea, and a sailor cries to his shipmates:
"Loosen the tackle, lads!—O, here comes a wind for sailing!"
As for the Nymphs, they held on their knees the tearful stripling,
And with their kindly words were fain to comfort his spirit.
But Amphitryôn's son, alarmed for the youth, bestirred him,55
Taking Scythian-wise his bended bow and its arrows,
Also the club, which his right hand ever to hold was accustomed.
Thrice, ay, thrice he shouted Hylas! loud as his deep throat
Could, while thrice the lad heard underneath, and a thin voice
Came from the wave, and O, so near he was, yet so distant!60
And as a thick-maned lion, that hears a whimpering fawn cry
Far away,—some lion that munches flesh on the mountains,—
Speeds from his lair to a meal which surely waits for his coming,
So, through untrodden brambles, Héraklês, craving the dear youth,
Sped in tremor and scoured great reaches this way and that way.65
Reckless are they who love! what ills he suffered while ranging
Cliffs and thickets! and light, beside this, seemed the quest of Jason.
Meanwhile the ship lay still, with her tackle hoisted above her,
And,—of those present,—the youth were clearing the sails at midnight,
Waiting for Héraklês: he, wherever his feet might lead him,70
Wild went on, for a cruel god was tearing his heartstrings.
Fairest Hylas is numbered thus with the Happy Immortals:
Nathless the heroes were scoffing at Héraklês as a deserter,
Since he had fled from the ship of the thirty benches, from Argo.
Onward he trudged afoot to Colchis and welcomeless Phasis.75


I. THE DEATH OF AGAMEMNON

FROM HOMER

[Odyssey, XI, 385-456]

ODYSSEUS IN HADES

Afterward, soon as the chaste Persephone hither and thither385
Now had scattered afar the slender shades of the women,
Came the sorrowing ghost of Agamemnon Atreides;
Round whom thronged, besides, the souls of the others who also
Died, and met their fate, with him in the house of Aigisthos.
He, then, after he drank of the dark blood, instantly knew me,—390
Ay, and he wailed aloud, and plenteous tears was shedding,
Toward me reaching hands and eagerly longing to touch me;
But he was shorn of strength, nor longer came at his bidding
That great force which once abode in his pliant members.
Seeing him thus, I wept, and my heart was laden with pity,395
And, uplifting my voice, in wingèd words I addressed him:
"King of men, Agamemnon, thou glorious son of Atreus,
Say, in what wise did the doom of prostrate death overcome thee?
Was it within thy ships thou wast subdued by Poseidon
Rousing the dreadful blast of winds too hard to be mastered,400
Or on the firm-set land did banded foemen destroy thee
Cutting their oxen off, and their flocks so fair, or, it may be,
While in a town's defence, or in that of women, contending?"
Thus I spake, and he, replying, said to me straightway:
"Nobly-born and wise Odysseus, son of Laertes,405
Neither within my ships was I subdued by Poseidon
Rousing the dreadful blast of winds too hard to be mastered,
Nor on the firm-set land did banded foemen destroy me,—
Nay, but death and my doom were well contrived by Aigisthos,
Who, with my cursèd wife, at his own house bidding me welcome,410
Fed me, and slew me, as one might slay an ox at the manger!
So, by a death most wretched, I died; and all my companions
Round me were slain off-hand, like white-toothed swine that are slaughtered
Thus, when some lordly man, abounding in power and riches,
Orders a wedding-feast, or a frolic, or mighty carousal.415
Thou indeed hast witnessed the slaughter of numberless heroes
Massacred, one by one, in the battle's heat; but with pity
All thy heart had been full, if thou hadst seen what I tell thee,—
How in the hall we lay among the wine-jars, and under
Tables laden with food; and how the pavement, on all sides,420
Swam with blood! And I heard the dolorous cry of Kassandra,
Priam's daughter, whom treacherous Klytaimnestra anear me
Slew; and upon the ground I fell in my death-throes, vainly
Reaching out hands to my sword, while the shameless woman departed,
Nor did she even stay to press her hands on my eyelids,425
No, nor to close my mouth, although I was passing to Hades.
O, there is naught more dire, more insolent than a woman
After the very thought of deeds like these has possessed her,—
One who would dare to devise an act so utterly shameless,
Lying in wait to slay her wedded lord. I bethought me,430
Verily, home to my children and servants giving me welcome
Safe to return; but she has wrought for herself confusion,
Plotting these grievous woes, and for other women hereafter,
Even for those, in sooth, whose thoughts are set upon goodness."
Thus he spake, and I, in turn replying, adressed him:435
"Heavens! how from the first has Zeus the thunderer hated,
All for the women's wiles, the brood of Atreus! What numbers
Perished in quest of Helen,—and Klytaimnestra, the meanwhile,
Wrought in her soul this guile for thee afar on thy journey."
Thus I spake, and he, replying, said to me straightway:440
"See that thou art not, then, like me too mild to thy helpmeet;
Nor to her ear reveal each secret matter thou knowest,
Tell her the part, forsooth, and see that the rest shall be hidden.
Nathless, not unto thee will come such murder, Odysseus,
Dealt by a wife; for wise indeed, and true in her purpose,445
Noble Penelope is, the child of Ikarios. Truly,
She it was whom we left, a fair young bride, when we started
Off for the wars; and then an infant lay at her bosom,
One who now, methinks, in the list of men must be seated,—
Blest indeed! ah, yes, for his well-loved father, returning,450
Him shall behold, and the son shall clasp the sire, as is fitting.
Not unto me to feast my eyes with the sight of my offspring
Granted the wife of my bosom, but first of life she bereft me.
Therefore I say, moreover, and charge thee well to remember,
Unto thine own dear land steer thou thy vessel in secret,455
Not in the light; since faith can be placed in woman no longer."


II. THE DEATH OF AGAMEMNON

FROM AISCHYLOS

1

[Aischylos, Agamemnon, 1266–1318.[1]]

Chorus—Kassandra—Agamemnon.

CHORUS.

O wretched woman indeed, and O most wise,
Much hast thou said; but if thou knowest well
Thy doom, why, like a heifer, by the Gods
Led to the altar, tread so brave of soul?

KASSANDRA.

There's no escape, O friends, the time is full.

CHORUS.

Nathless, the last to enter gains in time.

KASSANDRA.

The day has come; little I make by flight.

CHORUS.

Thou art bold indeed, and of a daring spirit!

KASSANDRA.

Such sayings from the happy none hath heard.

CHORUS.

Grandly to die is still a grace to mortals.

KASSANDRA.

Alas, my sire,—thee and thy noble brood!

(She starts back from the entrance.)

CHORUS.

How now? What horror turns thee back again?

KASSANDRA.

Faugh! faugh!

CHORUS.

Why such a cry? There's something chills thy soul!

KASSANDRA.

The halls breathe murder,—ay, they drip with blood.

CHORUS.

How? 'T is the smell of victims at the hearth.

KASSANDRA.

Nay, but the exhalation of the tomb!

CHORUS.

No Syrian dainty, this, of which thou speakest.

KASSANDRA (at the portal).

Yet will I in the palace wail my own
And Agamemnon's fate! Enough of life!
Alas! O friends!
Yet not for naught I quail, not as a bird
Snared in the bush: bear witness, though I die,
A woman's slaughter shall requite my own,
And, for this man ill-yoked, a man shall fall!
Thus prays of you a stranger, at death's door.

CHORUS.

Lost one, I rue with thee thy foretold doom!

KASSANDRA.

Once more I fain would utter words, once more,—
'T is my own threne! And I invoke the Sun,
By his last beam, that my detested foes
May pay no less to them who shall avenge me,
Than I who die an unresisting slave!

(She enters the palace.)

CHORUS.

Of Fortune was never yet enow
To mortal man; and no one ever
Her presence from his house would sever
And point, and say, "Come no more nigh!"
Unto our King granted the Gods on high
That Priam's towers should bow,
And homeward, crowned of Heaven, hath he come;
But now if, for the ancestral blood that lay
At his doors, he falls,—and the dead, that cursed his home,
He, dying, must in full requite,—
What manner of man is one that would not pray
To be born with a good attendant Sprite?

(An outcry within the palace.)

AGAMEMNON.

Woe's me! I am stricken a deadly blow within!

CHORUS.

Hark! Who is 't cries "a blow"? Who meets his death?

AGAMEMNON.

Woe's me! again! a second time I am stricken!

CHORUS.

The deed, methinks, from the King's cry, is done.
Quick, let us see what help may be in counsel!


2.

[Agamemnon, 1343-1377.]

Enter Klytaimnestra, from the Palace.

KLYTAIMNESTRA.

Now, all this formal outcry having vent,
I shall not blush to speak the opposite.
How should one, plotting evil things for foes,
Encompass seeming friends with such a bane
Of toils? it were a height too great to leap?
Not without full prevision came, though late,
To me this crisis of an ancient feud.
And here, the deed being done, I stand—even where
I smote him! nor deny that thus I did it,
So that he could not flee nor ward off doom.
A seamless net, as round a fish, I cast
About him, yea, a deadly wealth of robe;
Then smote him twice; and with a double cry
He loosed his limbs; and to him fallen I gave
Yet a third thrust, a grace to Hades, lord
Of the underworld and guardian of the dead.
So, falling, out he gasps his soul, and out
He spurts a sudden jet of blood, that smites
Me with a sable rain of gory dew,—
Me, then no less exulting than the field
In the sky's gift, while bursts the pregnant ear!
Things being thus, old men of Argos, joy,
If joy ye can;—I glory in the deed!
And if 't were seemly ever yet to pour
Libation to the dead, 't were most so now;
Most meet that one, who poured for his own home
A cup of ills, returning, thus should drain it!

CHORUS.

Shame on thy tongue! how bold of mouth thou art
That vauntest such a speech above thy husband!

KLYTAIMNESTRA.

Ye try me as a woman loose of soul;
But I with dauntless heart avow to you
Well knowing—and whether ye choose to praise or blame
I care not—this is Agamemnon; yea,
My husband; yea, a corpse, of this right hand,
This craftsman sure, the handiwork! Thus stands it.


3

[Agamemnon, 1466–1507.]

Chorus—Semi-chorus—Klytaimnestra

CHORUS.

Woe! Woe!
King! O how shall I weep for thy dying?
What shall my fond heart say anew?
Thou in the web of the spider art lying,
Breathing out life by a death she shall rue.

SEMI-CHORUS.

Alas! alas for this slavish couch! By a sword
Two-edged, by a hand untrue,
Thou art smitten, even to death, my lord!

KLYTAIMNESTRA.

Thou sayest this deed was mine alone;
But I bid thee call me not
The wife of Agamemnon's bed;
'Twas the ancient fell Alastor[2] of Atreus' throne,
The lord of a horrid feast, this crime begot,
Taking the shape that seemed the wife of the dead,—
His sure revenge, I wot,
A victim ripe hath claimed for the young that bled.

SEMI-CHORUS.

Who shall bear witness now,—
Who of this murder, now, thee guiltless hold?
How sayest thou? How?
Yet the fell Alastor may have holpen, I trow:
Still is dark Ares driven
Down currents manifold
Of kindred blood, wherever judgment is given,
And he comes to avenge the children slain of old,
And their thick gore cries to Heaven!

CHORUS.

Woe! Woe!
King! O how shall I weep for thy dying?
What shall my fond heart say anew?
Thou in the web of the spider art lying,
Breathing out life by a death she shall rue!

SEMI-CHORUS.

Alas! alas for this slavish couch! By a sword
Two-edged, by a hand untrue,
Thou art smitten, even to death, my lord!

KLYTAIMNESTRA.

Hath he not subtle Atè brought
Himself, to his kingly halls?
'Twas on our own dear offspring,—yea,
On Iphigeneia, wept for still, he wrought
The doom that cried for the doom by which he falls.
O, let him not in Hades boast, I say,
For 't is the sword that calls,
Even for that foul deed, his soul away!


PENELOPE

Not thus, Ulysses, with a tender word,
Pretence of state affairs, soft blandishment,
And halt assurances, canst thou evade
My heart's discernment. Think not such a film
Hath touched these aged eyes, to make them lose
The subtlest mood of those even now adroop,
Self-conscious, darkling from my nearer gaze.
Full well I know thy mind, O man of wiles!
man of restless yearnings—fate impelled,
Fate-conquering—like a waif thrown back and forth
On many waters! Oft I see thee stand
At eve, a landmark on the outer cliff,
Looking far westward; later, when the feast
Smokes in the hall, and nimble servants pass
Great bowls of wine, and ancient Phemeus sings
The deeds of Peleus' son, thy right hand moves
Straight for its sword-hilt, like a ship for home;
Then, when thou hearest him follow in the song
Thine own miraculous sojourn of long years
Through stormy seas, weird islands, and the land
Of giants, and the gray companions smite
Their shields, and cry, What do we longer here?
Afloat! and let the great waves bear us on!
I know thou growest weary of the realm,
Thy wife, thy son, the people, and thy fame.


I too have had my longings. Am I not
Penelope, who when Ulysses came
To Sparta and Icarius bade her choose
Betwixt her sire and wooer, veiled her face
And stept upon the galley silver-oared,
And since hath kept thine Ithacensian halls?
Then when the hateful Helen fled to Troy
With Paris, and the Argive chieftains sailed
Their ships to Aulis, I would have thee go—
Presaging fame, and power, and spoils of war.
So ten years passed; meanwhile I reared thy son
To know his father's wisdom, and, apart
Among my maidens, wove the yellow wool.
But then, returning one by one, they came,—
The island princes; high-born dames of Crete
And Cephalonia saw again their lords;
Only Ulysses came not; yet the war
Was over, and his vessels, like a troop
Of cranes in file, had spread their wings for home.
More was unknown. Then many a winter's night
The servants piled great fagots, smeared with tar,
High on the palace-roof; with mine own hands
I fired the heaps, that, haply, far away
On the dark waters, might my lord take heart
And know the glory of his kingly towers.


So winter passed; and summer came and went,
And winter and another summer; then—
Alas, how many weary months and days!
But he I loved came not. Meanwhile thou knowest
Pelasgia's noblest chiefs, with kingly gifts
And pledges of dower, gathered in the halls;
But still this heart kept faithful, knowing yet
Thou wouldst return, though wrecked on alien shores.
And great Athenè often in my dreams
Shone, uttering words of cheer. But, last of all,
The people rose, swearing a king should rule,
To keep their ancient empery of the isles
Inviolate and thrifty: bade me choose
A mate, no longer dally. Then I prayed
Respite, until the web within my loom,
Of gold and purple curiously devised
For old Laertes' shroud should fall complete
From hands still faithful to his blood. Thou knowest
How like a ghost I left my couch at night,
Unravelling the labor of the day,
And warded off the fate, till came that time
When my lost sea-king thundered in his halls,
And with long arrows clove the suitors' hearts.
So constant was I! now not thirty moons
Go by, and thou forgettest all. Alas!
What profit is there any more in love?
What thankless sequel hath a woman's faith!


Yet if thou wilt,—in these thy golden years,
Safe-housed in royalty, like a god revered
By all the people,—if thou yearnest yet
Once more to dare the deep and Neptune's hate,
I will not linger in a widowed age;
I will not lose Ulysses, hardly found
After long vigils; but will cleave about
Thy neck, with more than woman's prayers and tears,
Until thou take me with thee. As I left
My sire, I leave my son, to follow where
Ulysses goeth, dearer for the strength
Of that great heart which ever drives him on
To large experience of newer toils!


Trust me, I will not any hindrance prove,
But, like Athenè's helm, a guiding star,
A glory and a comfort! O, be sure
My heart shall take its lesson from thine own!
My voice shall cheer the mariners at their oars
In the night watches; it shall warble songs,
Whose music shall outvie the luring airs
Of Nereïd or Siren. If we find
Those isles thou namest, where the golden fount
Gives youth to all who taste it, we will drink
Deep draughts, until the furrows leave thy brow,
And I shall walk in beauty, as when first
I saw thee from afar in Sparta's groves.
But if Charybdis seize our keel, or swift
Black currents bear us down the noisome wave
That leads to Hades, till the vessel sink
In Stygian waters, none the less our souls
Shall gain the farther shore, and, hand in hand,
Walk from the strand across Elysian fields,
'Mong happy thronging shades, that point and say:
"There go the great Ulysses, loved of gods,
And she, his wife, most faithful unto death!"


ALECTRYON

Great Arês, whose tempestuous godhood found
Delight in those thick-tangled solitudes
Of Hebrus-watered tracts of rugged Thrace,—
Great Arês, scouring the Odrysian wilds,
There met Alectryôn, a Thracian boy,
Stalwart beyond his years, and swift of foot
To hunt from morn till eve the white-toothed boar.
"What hero," said the war-God, "joined his blood
With that of Hæmian nymph, to make thy form
So fair, thy soul so daring, and thy thews
So lusty for the contest on the plains
Wherein the fleet Odrysæ tame their steeds?"


From that time forth the twain together chased
The boar, or made their coursers cleave the breadth
Of yellow Hebrus, and, through vales beyond,
Drove the hot leopard foaming to his lair.
And day by day Alectryôn dearer grew
To the God's restless spirit, till from Thrace
He bore him, even to Olympos; there
Before him set immortal food and wine,
That fairer youth and lustier strength might serve
His henchman; bade him bear his arms, and cleanse
The crimsoned burnish of his brazen car:
So dwelt the Thracian youth among the Gods.


There came a day when Arês left at rest
His spear, and smoothed his harmful, unhelmed brow,
Calling Alectryôn to his side, and said:
"The shadow of Olympos longer falls
Through misty valleys of the lower world;
The Earth shall be at peace a summer's night;
Men shall have calm, and the unconquered host
Peopling the walls of Troas, and the tribes
Of Greece, shall sleep sweet sleep upon their arms;
For Aphroditê, queen of light and love,
Awaits me, blooming in the House of Fire,
Girt with the cestus, infinite in grace,
Dearer than battle and the joy of war:
She, for whose charms I would renounce the sword
Forever, even godhood, would she wreathe
My brows with myrtle, dwelling far from Heaven.
Hêphaistos, the lame cuckold, unto whose
Misshapen squalor Zeus hath given my queen,
To-night seeks Lemnos, and his sooty vault
Roofed by the roaring surge; wherein, betimes,
He and his Cyclops pound the ringing iron,
Forging great bolts for Zeus, and welding mail,
White-hot, in shapes for Heroes and the Gods.
Do thou, Alectryôn, faithful to my trust,
Hie with me to the mystic House of Fire.
Therein, with wine and fruitage of her isle,
Sweet odors, and all rarest sights and sounds,
My Paphian mistress shall regale us twain.
But when the feast is over, and thou seest
Arês and Aphroditê pass beyond
The portals of that chamber whence all winds
Of love flow ever toward the fourfold Earth,
Watch by the entrance, sleepless, while we sleep;
And warn us ere the glimpses of the Dawn;
Lest Hêlios, the spy, may peer within
Our windows, and to Lemnos speed apace,
In envy clamoring to the hobbling smith,
Hêphaistos, of the wrong I do his bed."


Thus Arês; and the Thracian boy, well pleased,
Swore to be faithful to his trust, and liege
To her, the perfect queen of light and love.
So saying, they reached the fiery, brazen gates,
Encolumned high by Heaven's artisan,
Hêphaistos, rough, begrimed, and halt of foot,—
Yet unto whom was Aphroditê given
By Zeus, because from his misshapen hands
All shapely things found being; but the gift
Brought him no joyance, nor made pure his fame,
Like those devices which he wrought himself,
Grim, patient, unbeloved.


There passed they in
At portals of the high, celestial House,
And on beyond the starry-golden court,
Through amorous hidden ways, and winding paths
Set round with splendors, to the spangled hall
Of secret audience for noble guests.
Here Charis labored, so Hêphaistos bade,
Moulding the room's adornments; here she built
Low couches, framed in ivory, overlain
With skins of pard and panther, and the fleece
Of sheep which graze the low Hesperian isles;
And in the midst a cedarn table spread,
Whereon the loves of all the elder Gods
Were wrought in gold and silver; and the light
Of quenchless rubies sparkled over all.
Thus far came Arês and Alectryôn,
First leaving shield and falchion at the door,
That naught of violence should haunt that air
Serene, but laughter-loving peace, and joys
The meed of Gods, once given men to know.


Then, from her daïs in the utmost hall,
Shone toward them Aphroditê, not by firm,
Imperial footfalls, but in measureless
Procession, even as, wafted by her doves,
She kissed the faces of the yearning waves
From Cyprus to the high Thessalian mount,
Claiming her throne in Heaven; so light she stept,
Untended by her Graces; only he,
Erôs, th' eternal child, with welcomings
Sprang forward to Arês, like a beam of light
Flashed from a coming brightness, ere it comes;
And the ambrosial mother to his glee
Joined her own joy, coy as she glided near
Arês, till Arês closed her in his arms
An instant, with the perfect love of Gods.
And the wide chamber gleamed with their delight,
And infinite tinkling laughters rippled through
Far halls, wherefrom no boding echoes came.


But when the passion of their meeting fell
To dalliance, the mighty lovers, sunk
Within those ivory couches golden-fleeced,
Made wassail at the wondrous board, and held
Sweet stolen converse till the middle night.
And soulless servitors came gliding in,
Handmaidens, wrought of gold, the marvellous work
Of lame Hêphaistos; having neither will,
Nor voice, yet bearing on their golden trays
Lush fruits and Cyprian wine, and, intermixt,
Olympian food and nectar, earth with heaven.
These Erôs and Alectryôn took therefrom,
And placed before the lovers: and, meanwhile,
Melodious breathings from unfingered lutes,
Warblings from unseen nightingales, and songs
From lips uncrimsoned, scattered music round.
So fled the light-shod moments, hour by hour,
While the grim husband clanged upon his forge
In lurid caverns of the distant isle,
Unboding, and unheeded in his home,
Save with a scornful jest. Till now the crown
Of Artemis shone at her topmost height:
Then rose the impassioned lovers, with rapt eyes
Fixed each on each, and passed beyond the hall,
Through curtains of that chamber whence all winds
Of love flow ever toward the fourfold Earth;
At whose dim vestibule Alectryôn
Disposed him, mindful of his master's word;
But Erôs, heavy-eyed, long since had slept,
Deep-muffled in the softness of his plumes.
And all was silence in the House of Fire.


Only Alectryôn, through brazen bars,
Watched the blue East for Eôs, she whose torch
Should warn him of the coming of the Sun.
Even thus he kept his vigils; but, ere half
Her silvery downward path the Huntress knew,
His senses by that rich immortal food
Grew numbed with languor. Then the shadowy hall's
Deep columns glimmered, interblent with dreams,—
Thick forests, running waters, darkling caves
Of Thrace; and half in thought he grasped the bow;
Hunted once more within his native wilds,
Cheering the hounds; until before his eyes
The drapery of all nearer pictures fell,
And his limbs drooped. Whereat the imp of Sleep,
Hypnos, who hid him at the outer gate,
Slid in with silken-sandalled feet, and laid
A subtle finger on his lids. And so,
Crouched at the warder-post, Alectryôn slept.


Meanwhile the God and Goddess, recking nought
Of evil, trusting to the faithful boy,
Sank satiate in the calm of trancèd rest.
And past the sleeping warder, deep within
The portals of that chamber whence all winds
Of love flow ever toward the fourfold Earth,
Hypnos kept on, walking, yet half afloat
In the sweet air; and fluttering with cool wings
Above their couch fanned the reposeful pair
To slumber. Thus, a careless twilight hour,
Unknowing Eôs and her torch, they slept.


Ill-fated rest! Awake, ye fleet-winged Loves,
Your mistress! Eôs, rouse the sleeping God,
And warn him of the coming of the Day!
Alectryôn, wake! In vain: Eôs swept by,
Radiant, a blushing finger on her lips.
In vain! Close on her flight, from furthest East,
The peering Hêlios drove his lambent car,
Casting the tell-tale beams on earth and sky,
Until Olympos laughed within his light,
And all the House of Fire grew roofed with gold;
And through its brazen windows Hêlios gazed
Upon the sleeping lovers: thence away
To Lemnos flashed, across the rearward sea,
A messenger, from whom the vengeful smith,
Hêphaistos, learned the story of his wrongs;
Whence afterward rude scandal spread through Heaven.


But they, the lovers, startled from sweet sleep
By garish Day, stood timorous and mute,
Even as a regal pair, the hart and hind,
When first the keynote of the clarion horn
Pierces their covert, and the deep-mouthed hound
Bays, following on the trail; then, with small pause
For amorous partings, sped in diverse ways.
She, Aphroditê, clothed in pearly cloud,
Dropt from Olympos to the eastern shore;
Thence floated, half in shame, half laughter-pleased,
Southward across the blue Ægaean sea,
That had a thousand little dimpling smiles
At her discomfort, and a thousand eyes
To shoot irreverent glances. But her conch
Passed the Eubœan coasts, and softly on
By rugged Dêlos, and the gentler slope
Of Naxos, to Icarian waves serene;
Thence sailed betwixt fair Rhodos, on the left,
And windy Carpathos, until it touched
Cyprus; and soon the conscious Goddess found
Her bower in the hollow of the isle;
And wondering nymphs in their white arms received
Their white-armed mistress, bathing her fair limbs
In fragrant dews, twining her lucent hair
With roses, and with kisses soothing her;
Till, glowing in fresh loveliness, she sank
To stillness, tended in the sacred isle,
And hid herself awhile from all her peers.


But angry Arês faced the treacherous Morn,
Spurning the palace tower; nor looked behind,
Disdainful of himself and secret joys
That stript him to the laughter of the Gods.
Toward the East he made, and overhung
The broad Thermaic gulf; then, shunning well
The crags of Lemnos, by Mount Athôs stayed
A moment, mute; thence hurtled sheer away,
Across the murmuring Northern sea, whose waves
Are swollen in billows ruffled with the cuffs
Of endless winds; so reached the shores of Thrace,
And spleen pursued him in the tangled wilds.


Hither at eventide remorseful came
Alectryôn; but the indignant God,
With harsh revilings, changed him to the Cock,
That evermore, remembering his fault,
Heralds with warning voice the coming Day.

1863.


CRETE

Though Arkádi's shattered pile
Hides her dead without a dirge,
Lo! where still the mountain isle
Fronts the angry Moslem surge!
Hers, in old, heroic days,
Her unfettered heights afar
'Twixt the Grecian Gulf to raise,
And the torrid Libyan star.


From her bulwarks to the North
Stretched the glad Ægaean Sea,
Sending bards and warriors forth
To the triumphs of the free;
Ill the fierce invader throve,
When, from island or from main,
Side by side the Grecians strove:
Swift he sought his lair again!


Though the Cretan eagle fell,
And the ancient height were won,
Freedom's light was guarded well,—
Handed down from sire to son;
Through the centuries of shame,
Ah! it never wholly died,
But was hid, a sacred flame,
There on topmost Ida's side.


Shades of heroes Homer sung—
Wearing once her hundred crowns—
Rise with shadowy swords among
Candia's smoking fields and towns;
Not again their souls shall sleep,
Nor the crescent wane in peace,
Till from every island-keep
Shines the starry Cross of Greece.


NEWS FROM OLYMPIA[3]

Olympia? Yes, strange tidings from the city
Which pious mortals builded, stone by stone,
For those old gods of Hellas, half in pity
Of their storm-mantled height and dwelling lone,—
Their seat upon the mountain overhanging
Where Zeus withdrew behind the rolling cloud,
Where crowned Apollo sang, the phorminx twanging,
And at Poseidon's word the forests bowed.


Ay, but that fated day
When from the plain Olympia passed away;
When ceased the oracles, and long unwept
Amid their fanes the gods deserted fell,
While sacerdotal ages, as they slept,
The ruin covered well!


The pale Jew flung his cross, thus one has written,
Among them as they sat at the high feast,
And saw the gods, before that token smitten,
Fade slowly, while His presence still increased,
Until the seas Ionian and Ægean
Gave out a cry that Pan himself was dead,
And all was still; thenceforth no more the pæan,
No more by men the prayer to Zeus was said.


Sank, like a falling star,
Hêphaistos in the Lemnian waters far;
The silvery Huntress fled the darkened sky;
Dim grew Athene's helm, Apollo's crown;
Alpheios' nymphs stood wan and trembling by
When Hera's fane went down.


News! what news? Has it in truth then ended,
The term appointed for that wondrous sleep?
Has Earth so well her fairest brood defended
Within her bosom? Was their slumber deep
Not this our dreamless rest that knows no waking,
But that to which the years are as a day?
What! are they coming back, their prison breaking,—
These gods of Homer's chant, of Pindar's lay?


Are they coming back in might,
Olympia's gods, to claim their ancient right?
Shall then the sacred majesty of old,
The grace that holy was, the noble rage,
Temper our strife, abate our greed for gold,
Make fine the modern age?


Yes, they are coming back, to light returning!
Bold are the hearts and void of fear the hands
That toil, the lords of War and Spoil unurning,
Or of their sisters fair that break the bands;
That loose the sovran mistress of desire,
Queen Aphrodite, to possess the earth
Once more; that dare renew dread Hera's ire,
And rouse old Pan to wantonness of mirth.


The herald Niké, first,
From the dim resting-place unfettered burst,
Winged victor over fate and time and death!
Zeus follows next, and all his children then;
Phoibos awakes and draws a joyous breath,
And Love returns to men.


Ah, let them come, the glorious Immortals,
Rulers no more, but with mankind to dwell,
The dear companions of our hearts and portals,
Voiceless, unworshipped, yet beloved right well!
Pallas shall sit enthroned in wisdom's station,
Eros and Psyche be forever wed,
And still the primal loveliest creation
Yield new delight from ancient beauty bred.


Triumphant as of old,
Changeless while Art and Song their warrant hold,
The visions of our childhood haunt us still,
Still Hellas sways us with her charm supreme.
The morn is past, but Man has not the will
To banish yet the dream.


  1. Text of Paley.
  2. The Evil Genius, the Avenger.
  3. "One after the other the figures described by Pausanias are dragged from the earth. Nike has been found; the head of Kladeos is there; Myrtilos is announced, and Zeus will soon emerge. This is earnest of what may follow."—Dispatch to the London Times.