The Trojan Women (Murray)

Introductory NoteEdit

Judged by common standards, the Troädes is far from a perfect play; it is scarcely even a good play. It is an intense study of one great situation, with little plot, little construction, little or no relief or variety. The only movement of the drama is a gradual extinguishing of all the familiar lights of human life, with, perhaps, at the end, a suggestion that in the utterness of night, when all fears of a possible worse thing are passed, there is in some sense peace and even glory. But the situation itself has at least this dramatic value, that it is different from what it seems.

The consummation of a great conquest, a thing celebrated in paeans and thanksgivings, the very height of the day-dreams of unregenerate man—it seems to be a great joy, and it is in truth a great misery. It is conquest seen when the thrill of battle is over, and nothing remains but to wait and think. We feel in the background the presence of the conquerors, sinister and disappointed phantoms; of the conquered men, after long torment, now resting in death. But the living drama for Euripides lay in the conquered women. It is from them that he has named his play and built up his scheme of parts: four figures clearly lit and heroic, the others in varying grades of characterisation, nameless and barely articulate, mere half-heard voices of an eternal sorrow.

Indeed, the most usual condemnation of the play is not that it is dull, but that it is too harrowing; that scene after scene passes beyond the due limits of tragic art. There are points to be pleaded against this criticism. The very beauty of the most fearful scenes, in spite of their fearfulness, is one; the quick comfort of the lyrics is another, falling like a spell of peace when the strain is too hard to bear (cf. p. 89). But the main defence is that, like many of the greatest works of art, the Troädes is something more than art. It is also a prophecy, a bearing of witness. And the prophet, bound to deliver his message, walks outside the regular ways of the artist.

For some time before the Troädes was produced, Athens, now entirely in the hands of the War Party, had been engaged in an enterprise which, though on military grounds defensible, was bitterly resented by the more humane minority, and has been selected by Thucydides as the great crucial crime of the war. She had succeeded in compelling the neutral Dorian island of Mêlos to take up arms against her, and after a long siege had conquered the quiet and immemorially ancient town, massacred the men and sold the women and children into slavery. Mêlos fell in the autumn of 416 B.C. The Troädes was produced in the following spring. And while the gods of the prologue were prophesying destruction at sea for the sackers of Troy, the fleet of the sackers of Mêlos, flushed with conquest and marked by a slight but unforgettable taint of sacrilege, was actually preparing to set sail for its fatal enterprise against Sicily.

Not, of course, that we have in the Troädes a case of political allusion. Far from it. Euripides does not mean Mêlos when he says Troy, nor mean Alcibiades' fleet when he speaks of Agamemnon's. But he writes under the influence of a year which to him, as to Thucydides, had been filled full of indignant pity and of dire foreboding. This tragedy is perhaps, in European literature, the first great expression of the spirit of pity for mankind exalted into a moving principle; a principle which has made the most precious, and possibly the most destructive, elements of innumerable rebellions, revolutions, and martyrdoms, and of at least two great religions.

Pity is a rebel passion. Its hand is against the strong, against the organised force of society, against conventional sanctions and accepted Gods. It is the Kingdom of Heaven within us fighting against the brute powers of the world; and it is apt to have those qualities of unreason, of contempt for the counting of costs and the balancing of sacrifices, of recklessness, and even, in the last resort, of ruthlessness, which so often mark the paths of heavenly things and the doings of the children of light. It brings not peace, but a sword.

So it was with Euripides. The Troädes itself has indeed almost no fierceness and singularly little thought of revenge. It is only the crying of one of the great wrongs of the world wrought into music, as it were, and made beautiful by "the most tragic of the poets." But its author lived ever after in a deepening atmosphere of strife and even of hatred, down to the day when, "because almost all in Athens rejoiced at his suffering," he took his way to the remote valleys of Macedon to write the Bacchae and to die.

G. M.

Characters in the PlayEdit


HECUBA, Queen of Troy, wife of Priam, mother of Hector and Paris.

CASSANDRA, daughter of Hecuba, a prophetess.

ANDROMACHE, wife of Hector, Prince of Troy.

HELEN, wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta; carried off by Paris, Prince of Troy.

TALTHYBIUS, Herald of the Greeks.


"The Troädes was first acted in the year 415 B.C. "The first prize was won by Xenocles, whoever he may have been, with the four plays Oedipus, Lycaon, Bacchae and Athamas, a Satyr-play. The second by Euripides with the Alexander, Palamêdês, Troädes and Sisyphus, a Satyr-play."—AELIAN, Varia Historia, ii. 8.

The Trojan WomenEdit

The scene represents a battlefield, a few days after the battle. At the back are the walls of Troy, partially ruined. In front of them, to right and left, are some huts, containing those of the Captive Women who have been specially set apart for the chief Greek leaders. At one side some dead bodies of armed men are visible. In front a tall woman with white hair is lying on the ground asleep.

It is the dusk of early dawn, before sunrise. The figure of the god POSEIDON is dimly seen before the walls.


Up from Aegean caverns, pool by pool

Of blue salt sea, where feet most beautiful

Of Nereid maidens weave beneath the foam

Their long sea-dances, I, their lord, am come,

Poseidon of the Sea. 'Twas I whose power,

With great Apollo, builded tower by tower

These walls of Troy; and still my care doth stand

True to the ancient People of my hand;

Which now as smoke is perished, in the shock

Of Argive spears. Down from Parnassus' rock

The Greek Epeios came, of Phocian seed,

And wrought by Pallas' mysteries a Steed

Marvellous, big with arms; and through my wall

It passed, a death-fraught image magical.

The groves are empty and the sanctuaries

Run red with blood. Unburied Priam lies

By his own hearth, on God's high altar-stair,

And Phrygian gold goes forth and raiment rare

To the Argive ships; and weary soldiers roam

Waiting the wind that blows at last for home,

For wives and children, left long years away,

Beyond the seed's tenth fullness and decay,

To work this land's undoing.

And for me,

Since Argive Hera conquereth, and she

Who wrought with Hera to the Phrygians' woe,

Pallas, behold, I bow mine head and go

Forth from great Ilion and mine altars old.

When a still city lieth in the hold

Of Desolation, all God's spirit there

Is sick and turns from worship.—Hearken where

The ancient River waileth with a voice

Of many women, portioned by the choice

Of war amid new lords, as the lots leap

For Thessaly, or Argos, or the steep

Of Theseus' Rock. And others yet there are,

High women, chosen from the waste of war

For the great kings, behind these portals hid;

And with them that Laconian Tyndarid,

Helen, like them a prisoner and a prize.

And this unhappy one—would any eyes

Gaze now on Hecuba? Here at the Gates

She lies 'mid many tears for many fates

Of wrong. One child beside Achilles' grave

In secret slain, Polyxena the brave,

Lies bleeding. Priam and his sons are gone;

And, lo, Cassandra, she the Chosen One,

Whom Lord Apollo spared to walk her way

A swift and virgin spirit, on this day

Lust hath her, and she goeth garlanded

A bride of wrath to Agamemnon's bed.

[He turns to go; and another divine Presence becomes visible in the dusk. It is the goddess PALLAS ATHENA.]

O happy long ago, farewell, farewell,

Ye shining towers and mine old citadel;

Broken by Pallas, Child of God, or still

Thy roots had held thee true.


Is it the will

Of God's high Brother, to whose hand is given

Great power of old, and worship of all Heaven,

To suffer speech from one whose enmities

This day are cast aside?


His will it is:

Kindred and long companionship withal,

Most high Athena, are things magical.


Blest be thy gentle mood!—Methinks I see

A road of comfort here, for thee and me.


Thou hast some counsel of the Gods, or word

Spoken of Zeus? Or is it tidings heard

From some far Spirit?


For this Ilion's sake,

Whereon we tread, I seek thee, and would make

My hand as thine.


Hath that old hate and deep

Failed, where she lieth in her ashen sleep?

Thou pitiest her?


Speak first; wilt thou be one

In heart with me and hand till all be done?


Yea; but lay bare thy heart. For this land's sake

Thou comest, not for Hellas?


I would make

Mine ancient enemies laugh for joy, and bring

On these Greek ships a bitter homecoming.


Swift is thy spirit's path, and strange withal,

And hot thy love and hate, where'er they fall.


A deadly wrong they did me, yea within

Mine holy place: thou knowest?


I know the sin

Of Ajax, when he cast Cassandra down.


And no man rose and smote him; not a frown

Nor word from all the Greeks!


And 'twas thine hand

That gave them Troy!


Therefore with thee I stand

To smite them.


All thou cravest, even now

Is ready in mine heart. What seekest thou?


An homecoming that striveth ever more

And cometh to no home.


Here on the shore

Wouldst hold them or amid mine own salt foam?


When the last ship hath bared her sail for home!

Zeus shall send rain, long rain and flaw of driven

Hail, and a whirling darkness blown from heaven;

To me his levin-light he promiseth

O'er ships and men, for scourging and hot death:

Do thou make wild the roads of the sea, and steep

With war of waves and yawning of the deep,

Till dead men choke Euboea's curling bay.

So Greece shall dread even in an after day

My house, nor scorn the Watchers of strange lands!


I give thy boon unbartered. These mine hands

Shall stir the waste Aegean; reefs that cross

The Delian pathways, jag-torn Myconos,

Scyros and Lemnos, yea, and storm-driven

Caphêreus with the bones of drownèd men

Shall glut him.—Go thy ways, and bid the Sire

Yield to thine hand the arrows of his fire.

Then wait thine hour, when the last ship shall wind

Her cable coil for home!

[Exit PALLAS.]

How are ye blind,

Ye treaders down of cities, ye that cast

Temples to desolation, and lay waste

Tombs, the untrodden sanctuaries where lie

The ancient dead; yourselves so soon to die!


  • * * * *

The day slowly dawns: HECUBA wakes.


Up from the earth, O weary head!

This is not Troy, about, above—

Not Troy, nor we the lords thereof.

Thou breaking neck, be strengthenèd!

Endure and chafe not. The winds rave

And falter. Down the world's wide road,

Float, float where streams the breath of God;

Nor turn thy prow to breast the wave.

Ah woe! For what woe lacketh here?

My children lost, my land, my lord.

O thou great wealth of glory, stored

Of old in Ilion, year by year

We watched...and wert thou nothingness?

What is there that I fear to say?

And yet, what help?… Ah, well-a-day,

This ache of lying, comfortless

And haunted! Ah, my side, my brow

And temples! All with changeful pain

My body rocketh, and would fain

Move to the tune of tears that flow:

For tears are music too, and keep

A song unheard in hearts that weep.

[She rises and gazes towards the Greek ships far off on the shore.]

O ships, O crowding faces

Of ships, O hurrying beat

Of oars as of crawling feet,

How found ye our holy places?

Threading the narrows through,

Out from the gulfs of the Greek,

Out to the clear dark blue,

With hate ye came and with joy,

And the noise of your music flew,

Clarion and pipe did shriek,

As the coilèd cords ye threw,

Held in the heart of Troy!

What sought ye then that ye came?

A woman, a thing abhorred:

A King's wife that her lord

Hateth: and Castor's shame

Is hot for her sake, and the reeds

Of old Eurôtas stir

With the noise of the name of her.

She slew mine ancient King,

The Sower of fifty Seeds,

And cast forth mine and me,

As shipwrecked men, that cling

To a reef in an empty sea.

Who am I that I sit

Here at a Greek king's door,

Yea, in the dust of it?

A slave that men drive before,

A woman that hath no home,

Weeping alone for her dead;

A low and bruisèd head,

And the glory struck therefrom.

[She starts up from her solitary brooding, and calls to the other Trojan Women in the huts.]

O Mothers of the Brazen Spear,

And maidens, maidens, brides of shame,

Troy is a smoke, a dying flame;

Together we will weep for her:

I call ye as a wide-wing'd bird

Calleth the children of her fold,

To cry, ah, not the cry men heard

In Ilion, not the songs of old,

That echoed when my hand was true

On Priam's sceptre, and my feet

Touched on the stone one signal beat,

And out the Dardan music rolled;

And Troy's great Gods gave ear thereto.

[The door of one of the huts on the right opens, and the Women steal out severally, startled and afraid.]


[Strophe I.]

How say'st thou? Whither moves thy cry,

Thy bitter cry? Behind our door

We heard thy heavy heart outpour

Its sorrow: and there shivered by

Fear and a quick sob shaken

From prisoned hearts that shall be free no more!


Child, 'tis the ships that stir upon the shore.


The ships, the ships awaken!


Dear God, what would they? Overseas

Bear me afar to strange cities?


Nay, child, I know not. Dreams are these,

Fears of the hope-forsaken.


Awake, O daughters of affliction, wake

And learn your lots! Even now the Argives break

Their camp for sailing!


Ah, not Cassandra! Wake not her

Whom God hath maddened, lest the foe

Mock at her dreaming. Leave me clear

From that one edge of woe.

O Troy, my Troy, thou diest here

Most lonely; and most lonely we

The living wander forth from thee,

And the dead leave thee wailing!

[One of the huts on the left is now open, and the rest of the CHORUS come out severally. Their number eventually amounts to fifteen.]


[Antistrophe I.]

Out of the tent of the Greek king

I steal, my Queen, with trembling breath:

What means thy call? Not death; not death!

They would not slay so low a thing!


O, 'tis the ship-folk crying

To deck the galleys: and we part, we part!


Nay, daughter: take the morning to thine heart.


My heart with dread is dying!


An herald from the Greek hath come!


How have they cast me, and to whom

A bondmaid?


Peace, child: wait thy doom.

Our lots are near the trying.


Argos, belike, or Phthia shall it be,

Or some lone island of the tossing sea,

Far, far from Troy?


And I the agèd, where go I,

A winter-frozen bee, a slave

Death-shapen, as the stones that lie

Hewn on a dead man's grave:

The children of mine enemy

To foster, or keep watch before

The threshold of a master's door,

I that was Queen in Troy!


[Strophe 2.]

And thou, what tears can tell thy doom?


The shuttle still shall flit and change

Beneath my fingers, but the loom,

Sister, be strange.

ANOTHER (wildly).

Look, my dead child! My child, my love,

The last look.


Oh, there cometh worse.

A Greek's bed in the dark.


God curse

That night and all the powers thereof!


Or pitchers to and fro to bear

To some Pirênê on the hill,

Where the proud water craveth still

Its broken-hearted minister.


God guide me yet to Theseus' land,

The gentle land, the famed afar.


But not the hungry foam—Ah, never!—

Of fierce Eurotas, Helen's river,

To bow to Menelaus' hand,

That wasted Troy with war!


[Antistrophe 2.]

They told us of a land high-born,

Where glimmers round Olympus' roots

A lordly river, red with corn

And burdened fruits.


Aye, that were next in my desire

To Athens, where good spirits dwell.


Or Aetna's breast, the deeps of fire

That front the Tyrian's Citadel:

First mother, she, of Sicily

And mighty mountains: fame hath told

Their crowns of goodness manifold.


And, close beyond the narrowing sea,

A sister land, where float enchanted

Ionian summits, wave on wave,

And Crathis of the burning tresses

Makes red the happy vale, and blesses

With gold of fountains spirit-haunted

Homes of true men and brave!


But lo, who cometh: and his lips

Grave with the weight of dooms unknown:

A Herald from the Grecian ships.

Swift comes he, hot-foot to be done

And finished. Ah, what bringeth he

Of news or judgment? Slaves are we,

Spoils that the Greek hath won!

[TALTHYBIUS, followed by some Soldiers, enters from the left.]


Thou know'st me, Hecuba. Often have I crossed

Thy plain with tidings from the Hellene host.

'Tis I, Talthybius…. Nay, of ancient use

Thou know'st me. And I come to bear thee news.


Ah me, 'tis here, 'tis here,

Women of Troy, our long embosomed fear!


The lots are cast, if that it was ye feared.


What lord, what land…. Ah me,

Phthia or Thebes, or sea-worn Thessaly?


Each hath her own. Ye go not in one herd.


Say then what lot hath any? What of joy

Falls, or can fall on any child of Troy?


I know: but make thy questions severally.


My stricken one must be

Still first. Say how Cassandra's portion lies.


Chosen from all for Agamemnon's prize!


How, for his Spartan bride

A tirewoman? For Helen's sister's pride?


Nay, nay: a bride herself, for the King's bed.


The sainted of Apollo? And her own

Prize that God promised

Out of the golden clouds, her virgin crown?…


He loved her for that same strange holiness.


Daughter, away, away,

Cast all away,

The haunted Key, the lonely stole's array

That kept thy body like a sacred place!


Is't not rare fortune that the King hath smiled

On such a maid?


What of that other child

Ye reft from me but now?

TALTHYBIUS (speaking with some constraint).

Polyxena? Or what child meanest thou?


The same. What man now hath her, or what doom?


She rests apart, to watch Achilles' tomb.


To watch a tomb? My daughter? What is this?

Speak, Friend? What fashion of the laws of Greece?


Count thy maid happy! She hath naught of ill

To fear.


What meanest thou? She liveth still?


I mean, she hath one toil that holds her free

From all toil else.


What of Andromache,

Wife of mine iron-hearted Hector, where

Journeyeth she?


Pyrrhus, Achilles' son, hath taken her.


And I, whose slave am I,

The shaken head, the arm that creepeth by,

Staff-crutchèd, like to fall?


Odysseus, Ithaca's king, hath thee for thrall.


Beat, beat the crownless head:

Rend the cheek till the tears run red!

A lying man and a pitiless

Shall be lord of me, a heart full-flown

With scorn of righteousness:

O heart of a beast where law is none,

Where all things change so that lust be fed,

The oath and the deed, the right and the wrong,

Even the hate of the forked tongue:

Even the hate turns and is cold,

False as the love that was false of old!

O Women of Troy, weep for me!

Yea, I am gone: I am gone my ways.

Mine is the crown of misery,

The bitterest day of all our days.


Thy fate thou knowest, Queen: but I know not

What lord of South or North has won my lot.


Go, seek Cassandra, men! Make your best speed,

That I may leave her with the King, and lead

These others to their divers lords…. Ha, there!

What means that sudden light? Is it the flare

Of torches?

[Light is seen shining through the crevices of the second hut on the right. He moves towards it.]

Would they fire their prison rooms,

Or how, these dames of Troy?—'Fore God, the dooms

Are known, and now they burn themselves and die

Rather than sail with us! How savagely

In days like these a free neck chafes beneath

Its burden!… Open! Open quick! Such death

Were bliss to them, it may be: but 'twill bring

Much wrath, and leave me shamed before the King!


There is no fire, no peril: 'tis my child,

Cassandra, by the breath of God made wild.

[The door opens from within and CASSANDRA enters, white-robed and wreathed like a Priestess, a great torch in her hand. She is singing softly to herself and does not see the Herald or the scene before her.]


Lift, lift it high:


Give it to mine hand!

Lo, I bear a flame

Unto God! I praise his name.

I light with a burning brand

This sanctuary.

Blessèd is he that shall wed,

And blessèd, blessèd am I

In Argos: a bride to lie

With a king in a king's bed.

Hail, O Hymen red,

O Torch that makest one!

Weepest thou, Mother mine own?

Surely thy cheek is pale

With tears, tears that wail

For a land and a father dead.

But I go garlanded:

I am the Bride of Desire:

Therefore my torch is borne—

Lo, the lifting of morn,

Lo, the leaping of fire!—

For thee, O Hymen bright,

For thee, O Moon of the Deep,

So Law hath charged, for the light

Of a maid's last sleep.

Awake, O my feet, awake:


Our father's hope is won!

Dance as the dancing skies

Over him, where he lies

Happy beneath the sun!

Lo, the Ring that I make.

[She makes a circle round her with a torch, and visions appear to her.]

Apollo!… Ah, is it thou?

O shrine in the laurels cold,

I bear thee still, as of old,

Mine incense! Be near to me now.

[She waves the torch as though bearing incense.]

O Hymen, Hymen fleet:

Quick torch that makest one!

How? Am I still alone?

Laugh as I laugh, and twine

In the dance, O Mother mine:

Dear feet, be near my feet!

Come, greet ye Hymen, greet

Hymen with songs of pride:

Sing to him loud and long,

Cry, cry, when the song

Faileth, for joy of the bride!

O Damsels girt in the gold

Of Ilion, cry, cry ye,

For him that is doomed of old

To be lord of me!


O hold the damsel, lest her trancèd feet

Lift her afar, Queen, toward the Hellene fleet!


O Fire, Fire, where men make marriages

Surely thou hast thy lot; but what are these

Thou bringest flashing? Torches savage-wild

And far from mine old dreams.—Alas, my child,

How little dreamed I then of wars or red

Spears of the Greek to lay thy bridal bed!

Give me thy brand; it hath no holy blaze

Thus in thy frenzy flung. Nor all thy days

Nor all thy griefs have changed them yet, nor learned

Wisdom.—Ye women, bear the pine half burned

To the chamber back; and let your drownèd eyes

Answer the music of these bridal cries!

[She takes the torch and gives it to one of the women.]


O Mother, fill mine hair with happy flowers,

And speed me forth. Yea, if my spirit cowers,

Drive me with wrath! So liveth Loxias,

A bloodier bride than ever Helen was

Go I to Agamemnon, Lord most high

Of Hellas!… I shall kill him, mother; I

Shall kill him, and lay waste his house with fire

As he laid ours. My brethren and my sire

Shall win again.

(Checking herself) But part I must let be,

And speak not. Not the axe that craveth me,

And more than me; not the dark wanderings

Of mother-murder that my bridal brings,

And all the House of Atreus down, down, down.

Nay, I will show thee. Even now this town

Is happier than the Greeks. I know the power

Of God is on me: but this little hour,

Wilt thou but listen, I will hold him back!

One love, one woman's beauty, o'er the track

Of hunted Helen, made their myriads fall.

And this their King so wise, who ruleth all,

What wrought he? Cast out Love that Hate might feed:

Gave to his brother his own child, his seed

Of gladness, that a woman fled, and fain

To fly for ever, should be turned again!

So the days waned, and armies on the shore

Of Simois stood and strove and died. Wherefore?

No man had moved their landmarks; none had shook

Their wallèd towns.—And they whom Ares took,

Had never seen their children: no wife came

With gentle arms to shroud the limbs of them

For burial, in a strange and angry earth

Laid dead. And there at home, the same long dearth:

Women that lonely died, and aged men

Waiting for sons that ne'er should turn again,

Nor know their graves, nor pour drink-offerings,

To still the unslakèd dust. These be the things

The conquering Greek hath won!

But we—what pride,

What praise of men were sweeter?—fighting died

To save our people. And when war was red

Around us, friends upbore the gentle dead

Home, and dear women's heads about them wound

White shrouds, and here they sleep in the old ground

Belovèd. And the rest long days fought on,

Dwelling with wives and children, not alone

And joyless, like these Greeks.

And Hector's woe,

What is it? He is gone, and all men know

His glory, and how true a heart he bore.

It is the gift the Greek hath brought! Of yore

Men saw him not, nor knew him. Yea, and even

Paris hath loved withal a child of heaven:

Else had his love but been as others are.

Would ye be wise, ye Cities, fly from war!

Yet if war come, there is a crown in death

For her that striveth well and perisheth

Unstained: to die in evil were the stain!

Therefore, O Mother, pity not thy slain,

Nor Troy, nor me, the bride. Thy direst foe

And mine by this my wooing is brought low.

TALTHYBIUS (at last breaking through the spell that has held him).

I swear, had not Apollo made thee mad,

Not lightly hadst thou flung this shower of bad

Bodings, to speed my General o'er the seas!

'Fore God, the wisdoms and the greatnesses

Of seeming, are they hollow all, as things

Of naught? This son of Atreus, of all kings

Most mighty, hath so bowed him to the love

Of this mad maid, and chooseth her above

All women! By the Gods, rude though I be,

I would not touch her hand!

Look thou; I see

Thy lips are blind, and whatso words they speak,

Praises of Troy or shamings of the Greek,

I cast to the four winds! Walk at my side

In peace!… And heaven content him of his bride!

[He moves as though to go, but turns to HECUBA, and speaks more gently.]

And thou shalt follow to Odysseus' host

When the word comes. 'Tis a wise queen[24] thou go'st

To serve, and gentle: so the Ithacans say.

CASSANDRA (seeing for the first time the Herald and all the scene).

How fierce a slave!… O Heralds, Heralds!


Voices of Death; and mists are over them

Of dead men's anguish, like a diadem,

These weak abhorred things that serve the hate

Of kings and peoples!…

To Odysseus' gate

My mother goeth, say'st thou? Is God's word

As naught, to me in silence ministered,

That in this place she dies? (To herself) No more; no more!

Why should I speak the shame of them, before

They come?… Little he knows, that hard-beset

Spirit, what deeps of woe await him yet;

Till all these tears of ours and harrowings

Of Troy, by his, shall be as golden things.

Ten years behind ten years athwart his way

Waiting: and home, lost and unfriended.


Why should Odysseus' labours vex my breath?

On; hasten; guide me to the house of Death,

To lie beside my bridegroom!

Thou Greek King,

Who deem'st thy fortune now so high a thing,

Thou dust of the earth, a lowlier bed I see,

In darkness, not in light, awaiting thee:

And with thee, with thee … there, where yawneth plain

A rift of the hills, raging with winter rain,

Dead..and out-cast...and naked. It is I

Beside my bridegroom: and the wild beasts cry,

And ravin on God's chosen!

[She clasps her hands to her brow and feels the wreaths.]

O, ye wreaths!

Ye garlands of my God, whose love yet breathes

About me, shapes of joyance mystical,

Begone! I have forgot the festival,

Forgot the joy. Begone! I tear ye, so,

From off me!… Out on the swift winds they go.

With flesh still clean I give them back to thee,

Still white, O God, O light that leadest me!

[Turning upon the Herald.]

Where lies the galley? Whither shall I tread?

See that your watch be set, your sail be spread

The wind comes quick! Three Powers—mark me, thou!—

There be in Hell, and one walks with thee now!

Mother, farewell, and weep not! O my sweet

City, my earth-clad brethren, and thou great

Sire that begat us, but a space, ye Dead,

And I am with you, yea, with crowned head

I come, and shining from the fires that feed

On these that slay us now, and all their seed!

[She goes out, followed by Talthybius and the Soldiers Hecuba, after waiting for an instant motionless, falls to the ground.]


The Queen, ye Watchers! See, she falls, she falls,

Rigid without a word! O sorry thralls,

Too late! And will ye leave her downstricken,

A woman, and so old? Raise her again!

[Some women go to HECUBA, but she refuses their aid and speaks without rising.]


Let lie...the love we seek not is no love.

This ruined body! Is the fall thereof

Too deep for all that now is over me

Of anguish, and hath been, and yet shall be?

Ye Gods. Alas! Why call on things so weak

For aid? Yet there is something that doth seek,

Crying, for God, when one of us hath woe.

O, I will think of things gone long ago

And weave them to a song, like one more tear

In the heart of misery…. All kings we were;

And I must wed a king. And sons I brought

My lord King, many sons … nay, that were naught;

But high strong princes, of all Troy the best.

Hellas nor Troäs nor the garnered East

Held such a mother! And all these things beneath

The Argive spear I saw cast down in death,

And shore these tresses at the dead men's feet.

Yea, and the gardener of my garden great,

It was not any noise of him nor tale

I wept for; these eyes saw him, when the pale

Was broke, and there at the altar Priam fell

Murdered, and round him all his citadel

Sacked. And my daughters, virgins of the fold,

Meet to be brides of mighty kings, behold,

'Twas for the Greek I bred them! All are gone;

And no hope left, that I shall look upon

Their faces any more, nor they on mine.

And now my feet tread on the utmost line:

An old, old slave-woman, I pass below

Mine enemies' gates; and whatso task they know

For this age basest, shall be mine; the door,

Bowing, to shut and open…. I that bore

Hector!… and meal to grind, and this racked head

Bend to the stones after a royal bed;

Tom rags about me, aye, and under them

Tom flesh; 'twill make a woman sick for shame!

Woe's me; and all that one man's arms might hold

One woman, what long seas have o'er me rolled

And roll for ever!… O my child, whose white

Soul laughed amid the laughter of God's light,

Cassandra, what hands and how strange a day

Have loosed thy zone! And thou, Polyxena,

Where art thou? And my sons? Not any seed

Of man nor woman now shall help my need.

Why raise me any more? What hope have I

To hold me? Take this slave that once trod high

In Ilion; cast her on her bed of clay

Rock-pillowed, to lie down, and pass away

Wasted with tears. And whatso man they call

Happy, believe not ere the last day fall!

  • * * * *



O Muse, be near me now, and make

A strange song for Ilion's sake,

Till a tone of tears be about mine ears

And out of my lips a music break

For Troy, Troy, and the end of the years:

When the wheels of the Greek above me pressed,

And the mighty horse-hoofs beat my breast;

And all around were the Argive spears

A towering Steed of golden rein—

O gold without, dark steel within!—

Ramped in our gates; and all the plain

Lay silent where the Greeks had been.

And a cry broke from all the folk

Gathered above on Ilion's rock:

"Up, up, O fear is over now!

To Pallas, who hath saved us living,

To Pallas bear this victory-vow!"

Then rose the old man from his room,

The merry damsel left her loom,

And each bound death about his brow

With minstrelsy and high thanksgiving!


O, swift were all in Troy that day,

And girt them to the portal-way,

Marvelling at that mountain Thing

Smooth-carven, where the Argives lay,

And wrath, and Ilion's vanquishing:

Meet gift for her that spareth not,

Heaven's yokeless Rider. Up they brought

Through the steep gates her offering:

Like some dark ship that climbs the shore

On straining cables, up, where stood

Her marble throne, her hallowed floor,

Who lusted for her people's blood.

A very weariness of joy

Fell with the evening over Troy:

And lutes of Afric mingled there

With Phrygian songs: and many a maiden,

With white feet glancing light as air,

Made happy music through the gloom:

And fires on many an inward room

All night broad-flashing, flung their glare

On laughing eyes and slumber-laden.


I was among the dancers there

To Artemis, and glorying sang

Her of the Hills, the Maid most fair,

Daughter of Zeus: and, lo, there rang

A shout out of the dark, and fell

Deathlike from street to street, and made

A silence in the citadel:

And a child cried, as if afraid,

And hid him in his mother's veil.

Then stalked the Slayer from his den,

The hand of Pallas served her well!

O blood, blood of Troy was deep

About the streets and altars then:

And in the wedded rooms of sleep,

Lo, the desolate dark alone,

And headless things, men stumbled on.

And forth, lo, the women go,

The crown of War, the crown of Woe,

To bear the children of the foe

And weep, weep, for Ilion!

  • * * * *

[As the song ceases a chariot is seen approaching from the town, laden with spoils. On it sits a mourning Woman with a child in her arms.]


Lo, yonder on the heapèd crest

Of a Greek wain, Andromachê,

As one that o'er an unknown sea

Tosseth; and on her wave-borne breast

Her loved one clingeth, Hector's child,

Astyanax…. O most forlorn

Of women, whither go'st thou, borne

'Mid Hector's bronzen arms, and piled

Spoils of the dead, and pageantry

Of them that hunted Ilion down?

Aye, richly thy new lord shall crown

The mountain shrines of Thessaly!


[Strophe I.]

Forth to the Greek I go,

Driven as a beast is driven.

HEC. Woe, woe!

AND. Nay, mine is woe:

Woe to none other given,

And the song and the crown therefor!

HEC. O Zeus!

AND. He hates thee sore!

HEC. Children!

AND. No more, no more

To aid thee: their strife is striven!


[Antistrophe I.]

Troy, Troy is gone!

AND. Yea, and her treasure parted.

HEC. Gone, gone, mine own

Children, the noble-hearted!

AND. Sing sorrow….

HEC. For me, for me!

AND. Sing for the Great City,

That falleth, falleth to be

A shadow, a fire departed.


[Strophe II.]

Come to me, O my lover!

HEC. The dark shroudeth him over,

My flesh, woman, not thine, not thine!

AND. Make of thine arms my cover!


[Antistrophe II.]

O thou whose wound was deepest,

Thou that my children keepest,

Priam, Priam, O age-worn King,

Gather me where thou sleepest.

ANDROMACHE (her hands upon her heart).

[Strophe III.]

O here is the deep of desire,

HEC. (How? And is this not woe?)

AND. For a city burned with fire;

HEC. (It beateth, blow on blow.)

AND. God's wrath for Paris, thy son, that he died not long ago:

Who sold for his evil love

Troy and the towers thereof:

Therefore the dead men lie

Naked, beneath the eye

Of Pallas, and vultures croak

And flap for joy:

So Love hath laid his yoke

On the neck of Troy!


[Antistrophe III.]

O mine own land, my home,

AND. (I weep for thee, left forlorn,)

HEC. See'st thou what end is come?

AND. (And the house where my babes were born.)

HEC. A desolate Mother we leave, O children, a City of scorn:

Even as the sound of a song

Left by the way, but long

Remembered, a tune of tears

Falling where no man hears,

In the old house, as rain,

For things loved of yore:

But the dead hath lost his pain

And weeps no more.


How sweet are tears to them in bitter stress,

And sorrow, and all the songs of heaviness.


Mother of him of old, whose mighty spear Smote Greeks like chaff, see'st thou what things are here?


I see God's hand, that buildeth a great crown

For littleness, and hath cast the mighty down.


I and my babe are driven among the droves

Of plundered cattle. O, when fortune moves

So swift, the high heart like a slave beats low.


'Tis fearful to be helpless. Men but now

Have taken Cassandra, and I strove in vain.


Ah, woe is me; hath Ajax come again?

But other evil yet is at thy gate.


Nay, Daughter, beyond number, beyond weight

My evils are! Doom raceth against doom.


Polyxena across Achilles' tomb

Lies slain, a gift flung to the dreamless dead.


My sorrow!... 'Tis but what Talthybius said:

So plain a riddle, and I read it not.


I saw her lie, and stayed this chariot;

And raiment wrapt on her dead limbs, and beat

My breast for her.

HECUBA (to herself).

O the foul sin of it!

The wickedness! My child. My child! Again

I cry to thee. How cruelly art thou slain!


She hath died her death, and howso dark it be,

Her death is sweeter than my misery.


Death cannot be what Life is, Child; the cup

Of Death is empty, and Life hath always hope.


O Mother, having ears, hear thou this word

Fear-conquering, till thy heart as mine be stirred

With joy. To die is only not to be;

And better to be dead than grievously

Living. They have no pain, they ponder not

Their own wrong. But the living that is brought

From joy to heaviness, his soul doth roam,

As in a desert, lost, from its old home.

Thy daughter lieth now as one unborn,

Dead, and naught knowing of the lust and scorn

That slew her. And I...long since I drew my bow

Straight at the heart of good fame; and I know

My shaft hit; and for that am I the more

Fallen from peace. All that men praise us for,

I loved for Hector's sake, and sought to win.

I knew that alway, be there hurt therein

Or utter innocence, to roam abroad

Hath ill report for women; so I trod

Down the desire thereof, and walked my way

In mine own garden. And light words and gay

Parley of women never passed my door.

The thoughts of mine own heart...I craved no more.

Spoke with me, and I was happy. Constantly

I brought fair silence and a tranquil eye

For Hector's greeting, and watched well the way

Of living, where to guide and where obey.

And, lo! some rumour of this peace, being gone

Forth to the Greek, hath cursed me. Achilles' son,

So soon as I was taken, for his thrall

Chose me. I shall do service in the hall

Of them that slew…. How? Shall I thrust aside

Hector's beloved face, and open wide

My heart to this new lord? Oh, I should stand

A traitor to the dead! And if my hand

And flesh shrink from him … lo, wrath and despite

O'er all the house, and I a slave!

One night,

One night...aye, men have said it...maketh tame

A woman in a man's arms. O shame, shame!

What woman's lips can so forswear her dead,

And give strange kisses in another's bed?

Why, not a dumb beast, not a colt will run

In the yoke untroubled, when her mate is gone—

A thing not in God's image, dull, unmoved

Of reason. O my Hector! best beloved,

That, being mine, wast all in all to me,

My prince, my wise one, O my majesty

Of valiance! No man's touch had ever come

Near me, when thou from out my father's home

Didst lead me and make me thine. And thou art dead,

And I war-flung to slavery and the bread

Of shame in Hellas, over bitter seas!

What knoweth she of evils like to these,

That dead Polyxena, thou weepest for?

There liveth not in my life any more

The hope that others have. Nor will I tell

The lie to mine own heart, that aught is well

Or shall be well…. Yet, O, to dream were sweet!


Thy feet have trod the pathway of my feet,

And thy clear sorrow teacheth me mine own.


Lo, yonder ships: I ne'er set foot on one,

But tales and pictures tell, when over them

Breaketh a storm not all too strong to stem,

Each man strives hard, the tiller gripped, the mast

Manned, the hull baled, to face it: till at last

Too strong breaks the o'erwhelming sea: lo, then

They cease, and yield them up as broken men

To fate and the wild waters. Even so

I in my many sorrows bear me low,

Nor curse, nor strive that other things may be.

The great wave rolled from God hath conquered me.

But, O, let Hector and the fates that fell

On Hector, sleep. Weep for him ne'er so well,

Thy weeping shall not wake him. Honour thou

The new lord that is set above thee now,

And make of thine own gentle piety

A prize to lure his heart. So shalt thou be

A strength to them that love us, and—God knows,

It may be—rear this babe among his foes,

My Hector's child, to manhood and great aid

For Ilion. So her stones may yet be laid

One on another, if God will, and wrought

Again to a city! Ah, how thought to thought

Still beckons!… But what minion of the Greek

Is this that cometh, with new words to speak?

[Enter TALTHYBIUS with a band of Soldiers. He comes forward slowly and with evident disquiet.]


Spouse of the noblest heart that beat in Troy,

Andromache, hate me not! 'Tis not in joy

I tell thee. But the people and the Kings

Have with one voice.


What is it? Evil things

Are on thy lips!


Tis ordered, this child. Oh,

How can I tell her of it?


Doth he not go

With me, to the same master?


There is none

In Greece, shall e'er be master of thy son.


How? Will they leave him here to build again

The wreck?...


I know not how to tell thee plain!


Thou hast a gentle heart … if it be ill,

And not good, news thou hidest!


'Tis their will

Thy son shall die. The whole vile thing is said



Oh, I could have borne mine enemy's bed!


And speaking in the council of the host

Odysseus hath prevailed—


O lost! lost! lost!...

Forgive me! It is not easy.


That the son

Of one so perilous be not fostered on

To manhood—


God; may his own counsel fall

On his own sons!


But from this crested wall

Of Troy be dashed, and die.... Nay, let the thing

Be done. Thou shalt be wiser so. Nor cling

So fiercely to him. Suffer as a brave

Woman in bitter pain; nor think to have

Strength which thou hast not. Look about thee here!

Canst thou see help, or refuge anywhere?

Thy land is fallen and thy lord, and thou

A prisoner and alone, one woman; how

Canst battle against us? For thine own good

I would not have thee strive, nor make ill blood

And shame about thee…. Ah, nor move thy lips

In silence there, to cast upon the ships

Thy curse! One word of evil to the host,

This babe shall have no burial, but be tossed

Naked…. Ah, peace! And bear as best thou may,

War's fortune. So thou shalt not go thy way

Leaving this child unburied; nor the Greek

Be stern against thee, if thy heart be meek!

ANDROMACHE (to the child).

Go, die, my best-beloved, my cherished one,

In fierce men's hands, leaving me here alone.

Thy father was too valiant; that is why

They slay thee! Other children, like to die,

Might have been spared for that. But on thy head

His good is turned to evil.

O thou bed

And bridal; O the joining of the hand,

That led me long ago to Hector's land

To bear, O not a lamb for Grecian swords

To slaughter, but a Prince o'er all the hordes

Enthroned of wide-flung Asia…. Weepest thou?

Nay, why, my little one? Thou canst not know.

And Father will not come; he will not come;

Not once, the great spear flashing, and the tomb

Riven to set thee free! Not one of all

His brethren, nor the might of Ilion's wall.

How shall it be? One horrible spring...deep, deep

Down. And thy neck…. Ah God, so cometh sleep!...

And none to pity thee!… Thou little thing

That curlest in my arms, what sweet scents cling

All round thy neck! Belovèd; can it be

All nothing, that this bosom cradled thee

And fostered; all the weary nights, wherethrough

I watched upon thy sickness, till I grew

Wasted with watching? Kiss me. This one time;

Not ever again. Put up thine arms, and climb

About my neck: now, kiss me, lips to lips.

O, ye have found an anguish that outstrips

All tortures of the East, ye gentle Greeks!

Why will ye slay this innocent, that seeks

No wrong?… O Helen, Helen, thou ill tree

That Tyndareus planted, who shall deem of thee

As child of Zeus? O, thou hast drawn thy breath

From many fathers, Madness, Hate, red Death,

And every rotting poison of the sky!

Zeus knows thee not, thou vampire, draining dry.

Greece and the world! God hate thee and destroy,

That with those beautiful eyes hast blasted Troy,

And made the far-famed plains a waste withal.

Quick! take him: drag him: cast him from the wall,

If cast ye will! Tear him, ye beasts, be swift!

God hath undone me, and I cannot lift

One hand, one hand, to save my child from death....

O, hide my head for shame: fling me beneath

Your galleys' benches!…

[She swoons: then half-rising.]

Quick: I must begone

To the bridal.... I have lost my child, my own!

[The Soldiers close round her.]' ' LEADER.

O Troy ill-starred; for one strange woman, one

Abhorrèd kiss, how are thine hosts undone!

TALTHYBIUS (bending over ANDROMACHE and gradually taking the Child from her).

Come, Child: let be that clasp of love

Outwearied! Walk thy ways with me,

Up to the crested tower, above

Thy father's wall…. Where they decree

Thy soul shall perish.—Hold him: hold!—

Would God some other man might ply

These charges, one of duller mould,

And nearer to the iron than I!


O Child, they rob us of our own,

Child of my Mighty One outworn:

Ours, ours thou art!—Can aught be done

Of deeds, can aught of pain be borne,

To aid thee?—Lo, this beaten head,

This bleeding bosom! These I spread

As gifts to thee. I can thus much.

Woe, woe for Troy, and woe for thee!

What fall yet lacketh, ere we touch

The last dead deep of misery?

[The Child, who has started back from TALTHYBIUS, is taken up by one of the Soldiers and borne back towards the city, while ANDROMACHE is set again on the Chariot and driven off towards the ships. TALTHYBIUS goes with the Child.]

  • * * * *


[Strophe I.]

In Salamis, filled with the foaming[34]

Of billows and murmur of bees,

Old Telamon stayed from his roaming,

Long ago, on a throne of the seas;

Looking out on the hills olive-laden,

Enchanted, where first from the earth

The grey-gleaming fruit of the Maiden

Athena had birth;

A soft grey crown for a city

Belovèd a City of Light:

Yet he rested not there, nor had pity,

But went forth in his might,

Where Heracles wandered, the lonely

Bow-bearer, and lent him his hands

For the wrecking of one land only,

Of Ilion, Ilion only,

Most hated of lands!

[Antistrophe I.]

Of the bravest of Hellas he made him

A ship-folk, in wrath for the Steeds,

And sailed the wide waters, and stayed him

At last amid Simoïs' reeds;

And the oars beat slow in the river,

And the long ropes held in the strand,

And he felt for his bow and his quiver,

The wrath of his hand.

And the old king died; and the towers

That Phoebus had builded did fall,

And his wrath, as a flame that devours,

Ran red over all;

And the fields and the woodlands lay blasted,

Long ago. Yea, twice hath the Sire

Uplifted his hand and downcast it

On the wall of the Dardan, downcast it

As a sword and as fire.

[Strophe 2.]

In vain, all in vain,

O thou 'mid the wine-jars golden

That movest in delicate joy,

Ganymêdês, child of Troy,

The lips of the Highest drain

The cup in thine hand upholden:

And thy mother, thy mother that bore thee,

Is wasted with fire and torn;

And the voice of her shores is heard,

Wild, as the voice of a bird,

For lovers and children before thee

Crying, and mothers outworn.

And the pools of thy bathing are perished,

And the wind-strewn ways of thy feet:

Yet thy face as aforetime is cherished

Of Zeus, and the breath of it sweet;

Yea, the beauty of Calm is upon it

In houses at rest and afar.

But thy land, He hath wrecked and o'erthrown it

In the wailing of war.

[Antistrophe 2.]

O Love, ancient Love,

Of old to the Dardan given;

Love of the Lords of the Sky;

How didst thou lift us high

In Ilion, yea, and above

All cities, as wed with heaven!

For Zeus—O leave it unspoken:

But alas for the love of the Morn;

Morn of the milk-white wing,

The gentle, the earth-loving,

That shineth on battlements broken

In Troy, and a people forlorn!

And, lo, in her bowers Tithônus,

Our brother, yet sleeps as of old:

O, she too hath loved us and known us,

And the Steeds of her star, flashing gold,

Stooped hither and bore him above us;

Then blessed we the Gods in our joy.

But all that made them to love us

Hath perished from Troy.

  • * * * *

[As the song ceases, the King MENELAUS enters, richly armed and followed by a bodyguard of Soldiers. He is a prey to violent and conflicting emotions. MENELAUS.]

How bright the face of heaven, and how sweet

The air this day, that layeth at my feet

The woman that I…. Nay: 'twas not for her

I came. 'Twas for the man, the cozener

And thief, that ate with me and stole away

My bride. But Paris lieth, this long day,

By God's grace, under the horse-hoofs of the Greek,

And round him all his land. And now I seek.

Curse her! I scarce can speak the name she bears,

That was my wife. Here with the prisoners

They keep her, in these huts, among the hordes

Of numbered slaves.—The host whose labouring swords

Won her, have given her up to me, to fill

My pleasure; perchance kill her, or not kill,

But lead her home.—Methinks I have foregone

The slaying of Helen here in Ilion.

Over the long seas I will bear her back,

And there, there, cast her out to whatso wrack

Of angry death they may devise, who know

Their dearest dead for her in Ilion.—Ho!

Ye soldiers! Up into the chambers where

She croucheth! Grip the long blood-reeking hair,

And drag her to mine eyes...[Controlling himself.]

And when there come

Fair breezes, my long ships shall bear her home.

[The Soldiers go to force open the door of the second hut on the left.]


Thou deep Base of the World, and thou high Throne

Above the World, whoe'er thou art, unknown

And hard of surmise, Chain of Things that be,

Or Reason of our Reason; God, to thee

I lift my praise, seeing the silent road

That bringeth justice ere the end be trod

To all that breathes and dies.

MENELAUS (turning).

Ha! who is there

That prayeth heaven, and in so strange a prayer?


I bless thee, Menelaus, I bless thee, If thou wilt slay her! Only fear to see Her visage, lest she snare thee and thou fall! She snareth strong men's eyes; she snareth tall Cities; and fire from out her eateth up Houses. Such magic hath she, as a cup Of death!… Do I not know her? Yea, and thou, And these that lie around, do they not know?

[The Soldiers return from the hut and stand aside to let HELEN pass between them. She comes through them, gentle and unafraid; there is no disorder in her raiment.]


King Menelaus, thy first deed might make

A woman fear. Into my chamber brake

Thine armèd men, and lead me wrathfully.

Methinks, almost, I know thou hatest me.

Yet I would ask thee, what decree is gone

Forth for my life or death?

MENELAUS (struggling with his emotion).

There was not one

That scrupled for thee. All, all with one will

Gave thee to me, whom thou hast wronged, to kill!


And is it granted that I speak, or no,

In answer to them ere I die, to show

I die most wronged and innocent?


I seek

To kill thee, woman; not to hear thee speak!


O hear her! She must never die unheard,

King Menelaus! And give me the word

To speak in answer! All the wrong she wrought

Away from thee, in Troy, thou knowest not.

The whole tale set together is a death

Too sure; she shall not 'scape thee!


'Tis but breath

And time. For thy sake, Hecuba, if she need

To speak, I grant the prayer. I have no heed

Nor mercy—let her know it well—for her!


It may be that, how false or true soe'er

Thou deem me, I shall win no word from thee.

So sore thou holdest me thine enemy.

Yet I will take what words I think thy heart

Holdeth of anger: and in even part

Set my wrong and thy wrong, and all that fell.

[Pointing to HECUBA.]

She cometh first, who bare the seed and well

Of springing sorrow, when to life she brought

Paris: and that old King, who quenched not

Quick in the spark, ere yet he woke to slay,

The fire-brand's image.—But enough: a day

Came, and this Paris judged beneath the trees

Three Crowns of Life, three diverse Goddesses.

The gift of Pallas was of War, to lead

His East in conquering battles, and make bleed

The hearths of Hellas. Hera held a Throne—

If majesties he craved—to reign alone

From Phrygia to the last realm of the West.

And Cypris, if he deemed her loveliest,

Beyond all heaven, made dreams about my face

And for her grace gave me. And, lo! her grace

Was judged the fairest, and she stood above

Those twain.—Thus was I loved, and thus my love

Hath holpen Hellas. No fierce Eastern crown

Is o'er your lands, no spear hath cast them down.

O, it was well for Hellas! But for me

Most ill; caught up and sold across the sea

For this my beauty; yea, dishonourèd

For that which else had been about my head

A crown of honour…. Ah, I see thy thought;

The first plain deed, 'tis that I answer not,

How in the dark out of thy house I fled.

There came the Seed of Fire, this woman's seed;

Came—O, a Goddess great walked with him then—

This Alexander, Breaker-down-of-Men,

This Paris, Strength-is-with-him; whom thou, whom—

O false and light of heart—thou in thy room

Didst leave, and spreadest sail for Cretan seas,

Far, far from me!… And yet, how strange it is!

I ask not thee; I ask my own sad thought,

What was there in my heart, that I forgot

My home and land and all I loved, to fly

With a strange man? Surely it was not I,

But Cypris, there! Lay thou thy rod on her,

And be more high than Zeus and bitterer,

Who o'er all other spirits hath his throne,

But knows her chain must bind him. My wrong done

Hath its own pardon.

One word yet thou hast,

Methinks, of righteous seeming. When at last

The earth for Paris oped and all was o'er,

And her strange magic bound my feet no more,

Why kept I still his house, why fled not I

To the Argive ships?… Ah, how I strove to fly!

The old Gate-Warden could have told thee all,

My husband, and the watchers from the wall;

It was not once they took me, with the rope

Tied, and this body swung in the air, to grope

Its way toward thee, from that dim battlement.

Ah, husband still, how shall thy hand be bent

To slay me? Nay, if Right be come at last,

What shalt thou bring but comfort for pains past,

And harbour for a woman storm-driven:

A woman borne away by violent men:

And this one birthright of my beauty, this

That might have been my glory, lo, it is

A stamp that God hath burned, of slavery!

Alas! and if thou cravest still to be

As one set above gods, inviolate,

'Tis but a fruitless longing holds thee yet.


O Queen, think of thy children and thy land,

And break her spell! The sweet soft speech, the hand

And heart so fell: it maketh me afraid.


Meseems her goddesses first cry mine aid

Against these lying lips!… Not Hera, nay,

Nor virgin Pallas deem I such low clay,

To barter their own folk, Argos and brave

Athens, to be trod down, the Phrygian's slave,

All for vain glory and a shepherd's prize

On Ida! Wherefore should great Hera's eyes

So hunger to be fair? She doth not use

To seek for other loves, being wed with Zeus.

And maiden Pallas … did some strange god's face

Beguile her, that she craved for loveliness,

Who chose from God one virgin gift above

All gifts, and fleeth from the lips of love?

Ah, deck not out thine own heart's evil springs

By making spirits of heaven as brutish things

And cruel. The wise may hear thee, and guess all!

And Cypris must take ship-fantastical!

Sail with my son and enter at the gate

To seek thee! Had she willed it, she had sate

At peace in heaven, and wafted thee, and all

Amyclae with thee, under Ilion's wall.

My son was passing beautiful, beyond

His peers; and thine own heart, that saw and conned

His face, became a spirit enchanting thee.

For all wild things that in mortality

Have being, are Aphroditê; and the name

She bears in heaven is born and writ of them.

Thou sawest him in gold and orient vest

Shining, and lo, a fire about thy breast

Leapt! Thou hadst fed upon such little things,

Pacing thy ways in Argos. But now wings

Were come! Once free from Sparta, and there rolled

The Ilian glory, like broad streams of gold,

To steep thine arms and splash the towers! How small,

How cold that day was Menelaus' hall!

Enough of that. It was by force my son

Took thee, thou sayst, and striving. Yet not one

In Sparta knew! No cry, no sudden prayer

Rang from thy rooms that night. Castor was there

To hear thee, and his brother: both true men,

Not yet among the stars! And after, when

Thou camest here to Troy, and in thy track

Argos and all its anguish and the rack

Of war—Ah God!—perchance men told thee 'Now

The Greek prevails in battle': then wouldst thou

Praise Menelaus, that my son might smart,

Striving with that old image in a heart

Uncertain still. Then Troy had victories:

And this Greek was as naught! Alway thine eyes

Watched Fortune's eyes, to follow hot where she

Led first. Thou wouldst not follow Honesty.

Thy secret ropes, thy body swung to fall

Far, like a desperate prisoner, from the wall!

Who found thee so? When wast thou taken? Nay,

Hadst thou no surer rope, no sudden way

Of the sword, that any woman honest-souled

Had sought long since, loving her lord of old?

Often and often did I charge thee; 'Go,

My daughter; go thy ways. My sons will know

New loves. I will give aid, and steal thee past

The Argive watch. O give us peace at last,

Us and our foes!' But out thy spirit cried

As at a bitter word. Thou hadst thy pride

In Alexander's house, and O, 'twas sweet

To hold proud Easterns bowing at thy feet.

They were great things to thee!… And comest thou now

Forth, and hast decked thy bosom and thy brow,

And breathest with thy lord the same blue air,

Thou evil heart? Low, low, with ravaged hair,

Rent raiment, and flesh shuddering, and within—

O shame at last, not glory for thy sin;

So face him if thou canst! Lo, I have done.

Be true, O King; let Hellas bear her crown

Of Justice. Slay this woman, and upraise

The law for evermore: she that betrays

Her husband's bed, let her be judged and die.


Be strong, O King; give judgment worthily

For thee and thy great house. Shake off thy long

Reproach; not weak, but iron against the wrong!


Thy thought doth walk with mine in one intent.

'Tis sure; her heart was willing, when she went

Forth to a stranger's bed. And all her fair

Tale of enchantment, 'tis a thing of air!

[Turning furiously upon HELEN.]

Out, woman! There be those that seek thee yet

With stones! Go, meet them. So shall thy long debt

Be paid at last. And ere this night is o'er

Thy dead face shall dishonour me no more!

HELEN (kneeling before him and embracing him).

Behold, mine arms are wreathed about thy knees;

Lay not upon my head the phantasies

Of Heaven. Remember all, and slay me not!


Remember them she murdered, them that fought

Beside thee, and their children! Hear that prayer!


Peace, agèd woman, peace! 'Tis not for her;

She is as naught to me.

(To the Soldiers) ...March on before,

Ye ministers, and tend her to the shore...

And have some chambered galley set for her,

Where she may sail the seas.


If thou be there,

I charge thee, let not her set foot therein!


How? Shall the ship go heavier for her sin?


A lover once, will alway love again.


If that he loved be evil, he will fain

Hate it!… Howbeit, thy pleasure shall be done.

Some other ship shall bear her, not mine own.

Thou counsellest very well. And when we come

To Argos, the...O then some pitiless doom

Well-earned, black as her heart! One that shall bind

Once for all time the law on womankind

Of faithfulness!… 'Twill be no easy thing,

God knoweth. But the thought thereof shall fling

A chill on the dreams of women, though they be

Wilder of wing and loathèd more than she!

[Exit, following HELEN, who is escorted by the Soldiers.

  • * * * *



[Strophe I.]

And hast thou turned from the Altar of frankincense,

And given to the Greek thy temple of Ilion?

The flame of the cakes of corn, is it gone from hence,

The myrrh on the air and the wreathèd towers gone?

And Ida, dark Ida, where the wild ivy grows,

The glens that run as rivers from the summer-broken snows,

And the Rock, is it forgotten, where the first sunbeam glows,

The lit house most holy of the Dawn?



[Antistrophe I.]

The sacrifice is gone and the sound of joy,

The dancing under the stars and the night-long prayer:

The Golden Images and the Moons of Troy,

The twelve Moons and the mighty names they bear:

My heart, my heart crieth, O Lord Zeus on high,

Were they all to thee as nothing, thou thronèd in the sky,

Thronèd in the fire-cloud, where a City, near to die,

Passeth in the wind and the flare?


[Strophe 2.]

Dear one, O husband mine,

Thou in the dim dominions

Driftest with waterless lips,

Unburied; and me the ships

Shall bear o'er the bitter brine,

Storm-birds upon angry pinions,

Where the towers of the Giants shine

O'er Argos cloudily,

And the riders ride by the sea.


And children still in the Gate

Crowd and cry,

A multitude desolate,

Voices that float and wait

As the tears run dry:

'Mother, alone on the shore

They drive me, far from thee:

Lo, the dip of the oar,

The black hull on the sea!

Is it the Isle Immortal,

Salamis, waits for me?

Is it the Rock that broods

Over the sundered floods

Of Corinth, the ancient portal

Of Pelops' sovranty?'


[Antistrophe 2.]

Out in the waste of foam,

Where rideth dark Menelaus,

Come to us there, O white

And jagged, with wild sea-light

And crashing of oar-blades, come,

O thunder of God, and slay us:

While our tears are wet for home,

While out in the storm go we,

Slaves of our enemy!


And, God, may Helen be there,

With mirror of gold,

Decking her face so fair,

Girl-like; and hear, and stare,

And turn death-cold:

Never, ah, never more

The hearth of her home to see,

Nor sand of the Spartan shore,

Nor tombs where her fathers be,

Nor Athena's bronzen Dwelling,

Nor the towers of Pitanê

For her face was a dark desire

Upon Greece, and shame like fire,

And her dead are welling, welling,

From red Simoïs to the sea!

  • * * * *

[TALTHYBIUS, followed by one or two Soldiers and bearing the child ASTYANAX dead, is seen approaching.]


Ah, change on change! Yet each one racks

This land with evil manifold;

Unhappy wives of Troy, behold,

They bear the dead Astyanax,

Our prince, whom bitter Greeks this hour

Have hurled to death from Ilion's tower.


One galley, Hecuba, there lingereth yet,

Lapping the wave, to gather the last freight

Of Pyrrhus' spoils for Thessaly. The chief

Himself long since hath parted, much in grief

For Pêleus' sake, his grandsire, whom, men say,

Acastus, Pelias' son, in war array

Hath driven to exile. Loath enough before

Was he to linger, and now goes the more

In haste, bearing Andromache, his prize.

'Tis she hath charmed these tears into mine eyes,

Weeping her fatherland, as o'er the wave

She gazed, and speaking words to Hector's grave.

Howbeit, she prayed us that due rites be done

For burial of this babe, thine Hector's son,

That now from Ilion's tower is fallen and dead.

And, lo! this great bronze-fronted shield, the dread

Of many a Greek, that Hector held in fray,

O never in God's name—so did she pray—

Be this borne forth to hang in Pêleus' hall

Or that dark bridal chamber, that the wall

May hurt her eyes; but here, in Troy o'erthrown,

Instead of cedar wood and vaulted stone,

Be this her child's last house…. And in thine hands

She bade me lay him, to be swathed in bands

Of death and garments, such as rest to thee

In these thy fallen fortunes; seeing that she

Hath gone her ways, and, for her master's haste,

May no more fold the babe unto his rest.

Howbeit, so soon as he is garlanded

And robed, we will heap earth above his head

And lift our sails…. See all be swiftly done,

As thou art bidden. I have saved thee one

Labour. For as I passed Scamander's stream

Hard by, I let the waters run on him,

And cleansed his wounds.—See, I will go forth now

And break the hard earth for his grave: so thou

And I will haste together, to set free

Our oars at last to beat the homeward sea!

[He goes out with his Soldiers, leaving the body of the Child in HECUBA'S arms. HECUBA.]

Set the great orb of Hector's shield to lie

Here on the ground. 'Tis bitter that mine eye

Should see it…. O ye Argives, was your spear

Keen, and your hearts so low and cold, to fear

This babe? 'Twas a strange murder for brave men!

For fear this babe some day might raise again

His fallen land! Had ye so little pride?

While Hector fought, and thousands at his side,

Ye smote us, and we perished; and now, now,

When all are dead and Ilion lieth low,

Ye dread this innocent! I deem it not

Wisdom, that rage of fear that hath no thought.

Ah, what a death hath found thee, little one!

Hadst thou but fallen fighting, hadst thou known

Strong youth and love and all the majesty

Of godlike kings, then had we spoken of thee

As of one blessed...could in any wise

These days know blessedness. But now thine eyes

Have seen, thy lips have tasted, but thy soul

No knowledge had nor usage of the whole

Rich life that lapt thee round. Poor little child!

Was it our ancient wall, the circuit piled

By loving Gods, so savagely hath rent

Thy curls, these little flowers innocent

That were thy mother's garden, where she laid

Her kisses; here, just where the bone-edge frayed

Grins white above—Ah heaven, I will not see!

Ye tender arms, the same dear mould have ye

As his; how from the shoulder loose ye drop

And weak! And dear proud lips, so full of hope

And closed for ever! What false words ye said

At daybreak, when he crept into my bed,

Called me kind names, and promised: 'Grandmother,

When thou art dead, I will cut close my hair

And lead out all the captains to ride by

Thy tomb.' Why didst thou cheat me so? 'Tis I,

Old, homeless, childless, that for thee must shed

Cold tears, so young, so miserably dead.

Dear God, the pattering welcomes of thy feet,

The nursing in my lap; and O, the sweet

Falling asleep together! All is gone.

How should a poet carve the funeral stone

To tell thy story true? 'There lieth here

A babe whom the Greeks feared, and in their fear

Slew him.' Aye, Greece will bless the tale it tells!

Child, they have left thee beggared of all else

In Hector's house; but one thing shalt thou keep,

This war-shield bronzen-barred, wherein to sleep.

Alas, thou guardian true of Hector's fair

Left arm, how art thou masterless! And there

I see his handgrip printed on thy hold;

And deep stains of the precious sweat, that rolled

In battle from the brows and beard of him,

Drop after drop, are writ about thy rim.

Go, bring them—such poor garments hazardous

As these days leave. God hath not granted us

Wherewith to make much pride. But all I can,

I give thee, Child of Troy.—O vain is man,

Who glorieth in his joy and hath no fears:

While to and fro the chances of the years

Dance like an idiot in the wind! And none

By any strength hath his own fortune won.

[During these lines several Women are seen approaching with garlands and raiment in their hands. LEADER.]

Lo these, who bear thee raiment harvested

From Ilion's slain, to fold upon the dead.

[During the following scene HECUBA gradually takes the garments and wraps them about the Child. HECUBA.]

O not in pride for speeding of the car

Beyond thy peers, not for the shaft of war

True aimed, as Phrygians use; not any prize

Of joy for thee, nor splendour in men's eyes,

Thy father's mother lays these offerings

About thee, from the many fragrant things

That were all thine of old. But now no more.

One woman, loathed of God, hath broke the door

And robbed thy treasure-house, and thy warm breath

Made cold, and trod thy people down to death!


Deep in the heart of me

I feel thine hand,

Mother: and is it he

Dead here, our prince to be,

And lord of the land?


Glory of Phrygian raiment, which my thought

Kept for thy bridal day with some far-sought

Queen of the East, folds thee for evermore.

And thou, grey Mother, Mother-Shield that bore


A thousand days of glory, thy last crown

Is here. Dear Hector's shield! Thou shalt lie down

Undying with the dead, and lordlier there

Than all the gold Odysseus' breast can bear,

The evil and the strong!

CHORUS. Some Women.

Child of the Shield-bearer,

Alas, Hector's child!

Great Earth, the All-mother,

Taketh thee unto her

With wailing wild!


Mother of misery,

Give Death his song!

(HEC. Woe!) Aye and bitterly

(HEC. Woe!) We too weep for thee,

And the infinite wrong!

[During these lines HECUBA, kneeling by the body, has been performing a funeral rite, symbolically staunching the dead Child's wounds. HECUBA.]

I make thee whole;

I bind thy wounds, O little vanished soul.

This wound and this I heal with linen white:

O emptiness of aid!… Yet let the rite

Be spoken. This and…. Nay, not I, but he,

Thy father far away shall comfort thee!

[She bows her head to the ground and remains motionless and unseeing.]


Beat, beat thine head:

Beat with the wailing chime

Of hands lifted in time:

Beat and bleed for the dead.

Woe is me for the dead!


O Women! Ye, mine own.

[She rises bewildered, as though she had seen a vision.]


Hecuba, speak!

Oh, ere thy bosom break.


Lo, I have seen the open hand of God;

And in it nothing, nothing, save the rod

Of mine affliction, and the eternal hate,

Beyond all lands, chosen and lifted great

For Troy! Vain, vain were prayer and incense-swell

And bulls' blood on the altars!… All is well.

Had He not turned us in His hand, and thrust

Our high things low and shook our hills as dust,

We had not been this splendour, and our wrong

An everlasting music for the song

Of earth and heaven!

Go, women: lay our dead

In his low sepulchre. He hath his meed

Of robing. And, methinks, but little care

Toucheth the tomb, if they that moulder there

Have rich encerement. 'Tis we, 'tis we,

That dream, we living and our vanity!

[The Women bear out the dead Child upon the shield, singing, when presently flames of fire and dim forms are seen among the ruins of the City.]

CHORUS. Some Women.

Woe for the mother that bare thee, child,

Thread so frail of a hope so high,

That Time hath broken: and all men smiled

About thy cradle, and, passing by,

Spoke of thy father's majesty.

Low, low, thou liest!


Ha! Who be these on the crested rock?

Fiery hands in the dusk, and a shock

Of torches flung! What lingereth still,

O wounded City, of unknown ill,

Ere yet thou diest?

TALTHYBIUS (coming out through the ruined Wall).

Ye Captains that have charge to wreck this keep

Of Priam's City, let your torches sleep

No more! Up, fling the fire into her heart!

Then have we done with Ilion, and may part

In joy to Hellas from this evil land.

And ye—so hath one word two faces—stand,

Daughters of Troy, till on your ruined wall

The echo of my master's trumpet call

In signal breaks: then, forward to the sea,

Where the long ships lie waiting.

And for thee,

O ancient woman most unfortunate,

Follow: Odysseus' men be here, and wait

To guide thee…. 'Tis to him thou go'st for thrall.


Ah, me! and is it come, the end of all,

The very crest and summit of my days?

I go forth from my land, and all its ways

Are filled with fire! Bear me, O aged feet,

A little nearer: I must gaze, and greet

My poor town ere she fall.

Farewell, farewell!

O thou whose breath was mighty on the swell

Of orient winds, my Troy! Even thy name

Shall soon be taken from thee. Lo, the flame

Hath thee, and we, thy children, pass away

To slavery…. God! O God of mercy! Nay:

Why call I on the Gods? They know, they know,

My prayers, and would not hear them long ago.

Quick, to the flames! O, in thine agony,

My Troy, mine own, take me to die with thee!

[She springs toward the flames, but is seized and held by the Soldiers.]


Back! Thou art drunken with thy miseries,

Poor woman!—Hold her fast, men, till it please

Odysseus that she come. She was his lot

Chosen from all and portioned. Lose her not!

[He goes to watch over the burning of the City. The dusk deepens.]

CHORUS. Divers Women.

Woe, woe, woe!

Thou of the Ages, O wherefore fleëst thou,

Lord of the Phrygian, Father that made us?

'Tis we, thy children; shall no man aid us?

'Tis we, thy children! Seëst thou, seëst thou?


He seëth, only his heart is pitiless;

And the land dies: yea, she,

She of the Mighty Cities perisheth citiless!

Troy shall no more be!


Woe, woe, woe!

Ilion shineth afar!

Fire in the deeps thereof,

Fire in the heights above,

And crested walls of War!


As smoke on the wing of heaven

Climbeth and scattereth,

Torn of the spear and driven,

The land crieth for death:

O stormy battlements that red fire hath riven,

And the sword's angry breath!

[A new thought comes to HECUBA; she kneels and beats the earth with her hands.]



O Earth, Earth of my children; hearken! and O mine own,

Ye have hearts and forget not, ye in the darkness lying!


Now hast thou found thy prayer, crying to them that are gone.


Surely my knees are weary, but I kneel above your head;

Hearken, O ye so silent! My hands beat your bed!


I, I am near thee;

I kneel to thy dead to hear thee,

Kneel to mine own in the darkness; O husband, hear my crying!


Even as the beasts they drive, even as the loads they bear,


(Pain; O pain!)


We go to the house of bondage. Hear, ye dead, O hear!


(Go, and come not again!)


Priam, mine own Priam,

Lying so lowly,

Thou in thy nothingness,

Shelterless, comfortless,

See'st thou the thing I am?

Know'st thou my bitter stress?


Nay, thou art naught to him!

Out of the strife there came,

Out of the noise and shame,

Making his eyelids dim,

Death, the Most Holy!

[The fire and smoke rise constantly higher.]



O high houses of Gods, beloved streets of my birth,

Ye have found the way of the sword, the fiery and blood-red river!


Fall, and men shall forget you! Ye shall lie in the gentle earth.


The dust as smoke riseth; it spreadeth wide its wing; It maketh me as a shadow, and my City a vanished thing!


Out on the smoke she goeth,

And her name no man knoweth;

And the cloud is northward, southward; Troy is gone for ever!

[A great crash is heard, and the Wall is lost in smoke and darkness.]


Ha! Marked ye? Heard ye? The crash of the towers that fall!


All is gone!


Wrath in the earth and quaking and a flood that sweepeth all,


And passeth on!

[The Greek trumpet sounds.]


Farewell!—O spirit grey,

Whatso is coming,

Fail not from under me.

Weak limbs, why tremble ye?

Forth where the new long day

Dawneth to slavery!


Farewell from parting lips,

Farewell!—Come, I and thou,

Whatso may wait us now,

Forth to the long Greek ships

And the sea's foaming.

[The trumpet sounds again, and the Women go out in the darkness.]

    This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.

This work was published before January 1, 1925, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1925. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).