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ERECHTHEUS:

A TRAGEDY.


BY

ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE


ὦ ταὶ λιπαραὶ καὶ ἰοστέφανοι καὶ ἀοίδιμοι
Ἑλλάδος ἔρεισμα, κλειναὶ Ἀθᾶναι δαιμόνιον πτολίεθρον.

PIND. _Fr._ 47.

ΑΤ. τίς δὲ ποιμάνωρ ἔπεστι κἀπιδεσπόζει στρατοῦ;
ΧΟ. οὔτινος δοῦλοι κέκληνται φωτὸς οὐδ' ὑπηκόοι.

ÆSCH. _Pers._ 241-2.


_A NEW EDITION._


London:
CHATTO AND WINDUS, PICCADILLY.
1881.


PERSONS.


ERECHTHEUS.
CHORUS OF ATHENIAN ELDERS.
PRAXITHEA.
CHTHONIA.
HERALD OF EUMOLPUS.
MESSENGER.
ATHENIAN HERALD.
ATHENA.


ERECHTHEUS.


ERECHTHEUS.

Mother of life and death and all men's days,
Earth, whom I chief of all men born would bless,
And call thee with more loving lips than theirs
Mother, for of this very body of thine
And living blood I have my breath and live,
Behold me, even thy son, me crowned of men,
Me made thy child by that strong cunning God
Who fashions fire and iron, who begat
Me for a sword and beacon-fire on thee,
Me fosterling of Pallas, in her shade 10
Reared, that I first might pay the nursing debt,
Hallowing her fame with flower of third-year feasts,
And first bow down the bridled strength of steeds
To lose the wild wont of their birth, and bear
Clasp of man's knees and steerage of his hand,
Or fourfold service of his fire-swift wheels
That whirl the four-yoked chariot; me the king
Who stand before thee naked now, and cry,
O holy and general mother of all men born,
But mother most and motherliest of mine, 20
Earth, for I ask thee rather of all the Gods,
What have we done? what word mistimed or work
Hath winged the wild feet of this timeless curse
To fall as fire upon us? Lo, I stand
Here on this brow's crown of the city's head
That crowns its lovely body, till death's hour
Waste it; but now the dew of dawn and birth
Is fresh upon it from thy womb, and we
Behold it born how beauteous; one day more
I see the world's wheel of the circling sun 30
Roll up rejoicing to regard on earth
This one thing goodliest, fair as heaven or he,
Worth a God's gaze or strife of Gods; but now
Would this day's ebb of their spent wave of strife
Sweep it to sea, wash it on wreck, and leave
A costless thing contemned; and in our stead,
Where these walls were and sounding streets of men,
Make wide a waste for tongueless water-herds
And spoil of ravening fishes; that no more
Should men say, Here was Athens. This shalt thou 40
Sustain not, nor thy son endure to see,
Nor thou to live and look on; for the womb
Bare me not base that bare me miserable,
To hear this loud brood of the Thracian foam
Break its broad strength of billowy-beating war
Here, and upon it as a blast of death
Blowing, the keen wrath of a fire-souled king,
A strange growth grafted on our natural soil,
A root of Thrace in Eleusinian earth
Set for no comfort to the kindly land, 50
Son of the sea's lord and our first-born foe,
Eumolpus; nothing sweet in ears of thine
The music of his making, nor a song
Toward hopes of ours auspicious; for the note
Rings as for death oracular to thy sons
That goes before him on the sea-wind blown
Full of this charge laid on me, to put out
The brief light kindled of mine own child's life,
Or with this helmsman hand that steers the state
Run right on the under shoal and ridge of death 60
The populous ship with all its fraughtage gone
And sails that were to take the wind of time
Rent, and the tackling that should hold out fast
In confluent surge of loud calamities
Broken, with spars of rudders and lost oars
That were to row toward harbour and find rest
In some most glorious haven of all the world
And else may never near it: such a song
The Gods have set his lips on fire withal
Who threatens now in all their names to bring 70
Ruin; but none of these, thou knowest, have I
Chid with my tongue or cursed at heart for grief,
Knowing how the soul runs reinless on sheer death
Whose grief or joy takes part against the Gods.
And what they will is more than our desire,
And their desire is more than what we will.
For no man's will and no desire of man's
Shall stand as doth a God's will. Yet, O fair
Mother, that seest me how I cast no word
Against them, plead no reason, crave no cause, 80
Boast me not blameless, nor beweep me wronged,
By this fair wreath of towers we have decked thee with,
This chaplet that we give thee woven of walls,
This girdle of gate and temple and citadel
Drawn round beneath thy bosom, and fast linked
As to thine heart's root - this dear crown of thine,
This present light, this city - be not thou
Slow to take heed nor slack to strengthen her,
Fare we so short-lived howsoe'er, and pay
What price we may to ransom thee thy town, 90
Not me my life; but thou that diest not, thou,
Though all our house die for this people's sake,
Keep thou for ours thy crown our city, guard
And give it life the lovelier that we died.


CHORUS.

Sun, that hast lightened and loosed by thy might
Ocean and Earth from the lordship of night,
Quickening with vision his eye that was veiled,
Freshening the force in her heart that had failed,
That sister fettered and blinded brother
Should have sight by thy grace and delight of each other, 100
Behold now and see
What profit is given them of thee;
What wrath has enkindled with madness of mind
Her limbs that were bounden, his face that was blind,
To be locked as in wrestle together, and lighten
With fire that shall darken thy fire in the sky,
Body to body and eye against eye
In a war against kind,
Till the bloom of her fields and her high hills whiten
With the foam of his waves more high. 110
For the sea-marks set to divide of old
The kingdoms to Ocean and Earth assigned,
The hoar sea-fields from the cornfields' gold,
His wine-bright waves from her vineyards' fold,
Frail forces we find
To bridle the spirit of Gods or bind
Till the heat of their hearts wax cold.
But the peace that was stablished between them to stand
Is rent now in twain by the strength of his hand
Who stirs up the storm of his sons overbold 120
To pluck from fight what he lost of right,
By council and judgment of Gods that spake
And gave great Pallas the strife's fair stake,
The lordship and love of the lovely land,
The grace of the town that hath on it for crown
But a headband to wear
Of violets one-hued with her hair:
For the vales and the green high places of earth
Hold nothing so fair,
And the depths of the sea bear no such birth 130
Of the manifold births they bear.
Too well, too well was the great stake worth
A strife divine for the Gods to judge,
A crowned God's triumph, a foiled God's grudge,
Though the loser be strong and the victress wise
Who played long since for so large a prize,
The fruitful immortal anointed adored
Dear city of men without master or lord,
Fair fortress and fostress of sons born free,
Who stand in her sight and in thine, O sun, 140
Slaves of no man, subjects of none;
A wonder enthroned on the hills and sea,
A maiden crowned with a fourfold glory
That none from the pride of her head may rend,
Violet and olive-leaf purple and hoary,
Song-wreath and story the fairest of fame,
Flowers that the winter can blast not or bend;
A light upon earth as the sun's own flame,
A name as his name,
Athens, a praise without end. 150

A noise is arisen against us of waters, [_Str._ 1.
A sound as of battle come up from the sea.
Strange hunters are hard on us, hearts without pity;
They have staked their nets round the fair young city,
That the sons of her strength and her virgin daughters
Should find not whither alive to flee.
And we know not yet of the word unwritten, [_Ant._ 1.
The doom of the Pythian we have not heard;
From the navel of earth and the veiled mid altar
We wait for a token with hopes that falter, 160
With fears that hang on our hearts thought-smitten
Lest her tongue be kindled with no good word.
O thou not born of the womb, nor bred [_Str._ 2.
In the bride-night's warmth of a changed God's bed,
But thy life as a lightning was flashed from the light of thy
father's head,
O chief God's child by a motherless birth,
If aught in thy sight we indeed be worth,
Keep death from us thou, that art none of the Gods of the dead
under earth.
Thou that hast power on us, save, if thou wilt; [_Ant._ 2.
Let the blind wave breach not thy wall scarce built; 170
But bless us not so as by bloodshed, impute not for grace to us
guilt,
Nor by price of pollution of blood set us free;
Let the hands be taintless that clasp thy knee,
Nor a maiden be slain to redeem for a maiden her shrine from the
sea.
O earth, O sun, turn back [_Str._ 3.
Full on his deadly track
Death, that would smite you black and mar your creatures,
And with one hand disroot
All tender flower and fruit,
With one strike blind and mute the heaven's fair features, 180
Pluck out the eyes of morn, and make
Silence in the east and blackness whence the bright songs break.
Help, earth, help, heaven, that hear [_Ant._ 3.
The song-notes of our fear,
Shrewd notes and shrill, not clear or joyful-sounding;
Hear, highest of Gods, and stay
Death on his hunter's way,
Full on his forceless prey his beagles hounding;
Break thou his bow, make short his hand,
Maim his fleet foot whose passage kills the living land. 190
Let a third wave smite not us, father, [_Str._ 4.
Long since sore smitten of twain,
Lest the house of thy son's son perish
And his name be barren on earth.
Whose race wilt thou comfort rather
If none to thy son remain?
Whose seed wilt thou choose to cherish
If his be cut off in the birth?
For the first fair graft of his graffing [_Ant._ 4.
Was rent from its maiden root 200
By the strong swift hand of a lover
Who fills the night with his breath;
On the lip of the stream low-laughing
Her green soft virginal shoot
Was plucked from the stream-side cover
By the grasp of a love like death.
For a God's was the mouth that kissed her [_Str._ 5.
Who speaks, and the leaves lie dead,
When winter awakes as at warning
To the sound of his foot from Thrace. 210
Nor happier the bed of her sister
Though Love's self laid her abed
By a bridegroom beloved of the morning
And fair as the dawn's own face.
For Procris, ensnared and ensnaring [_Ant._ 5.
By the fraud of a twofold wile,
With the point of her own spear stricken
By the gift of her own hand fell.
Oversubtle in doubts, overdaring
In deeds and devices of guile, 220
And strong to quench as to quicken,
O Love, have we named thee well?
By thee was the spear's edge whetted [_Str._ 6.
That laid her dead in the dew,
In the moist green glens of the midland
By her dear lord slain and thee.
And him at the cliff's end fretted
By the grey keen waves, him too,
Thine hand from the white-browed headland
Flung down for a spoil to the sea. 230
But enough now of griefs grey-growing [_Ant._ 6.
Have darkened the house divine,
Have flowered on its boughs and faded,
And green is the brave stock yet.
O father all-seeing and all-knowing,
Let the last fruit fall not of thine
From the tree with whose boughs we are shaded,
From the stock that thy son's hand set.


ERECHTHEUS.

O daughter of Cephisus, from all time
Wise have I found thee, wife and queen, of heart 240
Perfect; nor in the days that knew not wind
Nor days when storm blew death upon our peace
Was thine heart swoln with seed of pride, or bowed
With blasts of bitter fear that break men's souls
Who lift too high their minds toward heaven, in thought
Too godlike grown for worship; but of mood
Equal, in good time reverent of time bad,
And glad in ill days of the good that were.
Nor now too would I fear thee, now misdoubt
Lest fate should find thee lesser than thy doom, 250
Chosen if thou be to bear and to be great
Haply beyond all women; and the word
Speaks thee divine, dear queen, that speaks thee dead,
Dead being alive, or quick and dead in one
Shall not men call thee living? yet I fear
To slay thee timeless with my proper tongue,
With lips, thou knowest, that love thee; and such work
Was never laid of Gods on men, such word
No mouth of man learnt ever, as from mine
Most loth to speak thine ear most loth shall take 260
And hold it hateful as the grave to hear.


PRAXITHEA.

That word there is not in all speech of man,
King, that being spoken of the Gods and thee
I have not heart to honour, or dare hold
More than I hold thee or the Gods in hate
Hearing; but if my heart abhor it heard
Being insubmissive, hold me not thy wife
But use me like a stranger, whom thine hand
Hath fed by chance and finding thence no thanks
Flung off for shame's sake to forgetfulness. 270


ERECHTHEUS.

O, of what breath shall such a word be made,
Or from what heart find utterance? Would my tongue
Were rent forth rather from the quivering root
Than made as fire or poison thus for thee.


PRAXITHEA.

But if thou speak of blood, and I that hear
Be chosen of all for this land's love to die
And save to thee thy city, know this well,
Happiest I hold me of her seed alive.


ERECHTHEUS.

O sun that seest, what saying was this of thine,
God, that thy power has breathed into my lips? 280
For from no sunlit shrine darkling it came.


PRAXITHEA.

What portent from the mid oracular place
Hath smitten thee so like a curse that flies
Wingless, to waste men with its plagues? yet speak.


ERECHTHEUS.

Thy blood the Gods require not; take this first.


PRAXITHEA.

To me than thee more grievous this should sound.


ERECHTHEUS.

That word rang truer and bitterer than it knew.


PRAXITHEA.

This is not then thy grief, to see me die?


ERECHTHEUS.

Die shalt thou not, yet give thy blood to death.


PRAXITHEA.

If this ring worse I know not; strange it rang. 290


ERECHTHEUS.

Alas, thou knowest not; woe is me that know.


PRAXITHEA.

And woe shall mine be, knowing; yet halt not here.


ERECHTHEUS.

Guiltless of blood this state may stand no more.


PRAXITHEA.

Firm let it stand whatever bleed or fall.


ERECHTHEUS.

O Gods, that I should say it shall and weep.


PRAXITHEA.

Weep, and say this? no tears should bathe such words.


ERECHTHEUS.

Woe's me that I must weep upon them, woe.


PRAXITHEA.

What stain is on them for thy tears to cleanse?


ERECHTHEUS.

A stain of blood unpurgeable with tears.


PRAXITHEA.

Whence? for thou sayest it is and is not mine. 300


ERECHTHEUS.

Hear then and know why only of all men I
That bring such news as mine is, I alone
Must wash good words with weeping; I and thou,
Woman, must wail to hear men sing, must groan
To see their joy who love us; all our friends
Save only we, and all save we that love
This holiness of Athens, in our sight
Shall lift their hearts up, in our hearing praise
Gods whom we may not; for to these they give
Life of their children, flower of all their seed, 310
For all their travail fruit, for all their hopes
Harvest; but we for all our good things, we
Have at their hands which fill all these folk full
Death, barrenness, child-slaughter, curses, cares,
Sea-leaguer and land-shipwreck; which of these,
Which wilt thou first give thanks for? all are thine.


PRAXITHEA.

What first they give who give this city good,
For that first given to save it I give thanks
First, and thanks heartier from a happier tongue,
More than for any my peculiar grace 320
Shown me and not my country; next for this,
That none of all these but for all these I
Must bear my burden, and no eye but mine
Weep of all women's in this broad land born
Who see their land's deliverance; but much more,
But most for this I thank them most of all,
That this their edge of doom is chosen to pierce
My heart and not my country's; for the sword
Drawn to smite there and sharpened for such stroke
Should wound more deep than any turned on me. 330


CHORUS.

Well fares the land that bears such fruit, and well
The spirit that breeds such thought and speech in man.


ERECHTHEUS.

O woman, thou hast shamed my heart with thine,
To show so strong a patience; take then all;
For all shall break not nor bring down thy soul.
The word that journeying to the bright God's shrine
Who speaks askance and darkling, but his name
Hath in it slaying and ruin broad writ out,
I heard, hear thou: thus saith he; There shall die
One soul for all this people; from thy womb 340
Came forth the seed that here on dry bare ground
Death's hand must sow untimely, to bring forth
Nor blade nor shoot in season, being by name
To the under Gods made holy, who require
For this land's life her death and maiden blood
To save a maiden city. Thus I heard,
And thus with all said leave thee; for save this
No word is left us, and no hope alive.


CHORUS.

He hath uttered too surely his wrath not obscurely, nor wrapt
as in mists of his breath, [_Str._
The master that lightens not hearts he enlightens, but gives them
foreknowledge of death. 350
As a bolt from the cloud hath he sent it aloud and proclaimed
it afar,
From the darkness and height of the horror of night hath he
shown us a star.
Star may I name it and err not, or flame shall I say,
Born of the womb that was born for the tomb of the day?
O Night, whom other but thee for mother, and Death for the father,
Night, [_Ant._
Shall we dream to discover, save thee and thy lover, to bring
such a sorrow to sight?
From the slumberless bed for thy bedfellow spread and his bride
under earth
Hast thou brought forth a wild and insatiable child, an unbearable
birth.
Fierce are the fangs of his wrath, and the pangs that they give;
None is there, none that may bear them, not one that would
live. 360


CHTHONIA.

Forth of the fine-spun folds of veils that hide
My virgin chamber toward the full-faced sun
I set my foot not moved of mine own will,
Unmaidenlike, nor with unprompted speed
Turn eyes too broad or doglike unabashed
On reverend heads of men and thence on thine,
Mother, now covered from the light and bowed
As hers who mourns her brethren; but what grief
Bends thy blind head thus earthward, holds thus mute,
I know not till thy will be to lift up 370
Toward mine thy sorrow-muffled eyes and speak;
And till thy will be would I know this not.


PRAXITHEA.

Old men and childless, or if sons ye have seen
And daughters, elder-born were these than mine,
Look on this child, how young of years, how sweet,
How scant of time and green of age her life
Puts forth its flower of girlhood; and her gait
How virginal, how soft her speech, her eyes
How seemly smiling; wise should all ye be,
All honourable and kindly men of age; 380
Now give me counsel and one word to say
That I may bear to speak, and hold my peace
Henceforth for all time even as all ye now.
Dumb are ye all, bowed eyes and tongueless mouths,
Unprofitable; if this were wind that speaks,
As much its breath might move you. Thou then, child,
Set thy sweet eyes on mine; look through them well;
Take note of all the writing of my face
As of a tablet or a tomb inscribed
That bears me record; lifeless now, my life 390
Thereon that was think written; brief to read,
Yet shall the scripture sear thine eyes as fire
And leave them dark as dead men's. Nay, dear child,
Thou hast no skill, my maiden, and no sense
To take such knowledge; sweet is all thy lore,
And all this bitter; yet I charge thee learn
And love and lay this up within thine heart,
Even this my word; less ill it were to die
Than live and look upon thy mother dead,
Thy mother-land that bare thee; no man slain 400
But him who hath seen it shall men count unblest,
None blest as him who hath died and seen it not.


CHTHONIA.

That sight some God keep from me though I die.


PRAXITHEA.

A God from thee shall keep it; fear not this.


CHTHONIA.

Thanks all my life long shall he gain of mine.


PRAXITHEA.

Short gain of all yet shall he get of thee.


CHTHONIA.

Brief be my life, yet so long live my thanks.


PRAXITHEA.

So long? so little; how long shall they live?


CHTHONIA.

Even while I see the sunlight and thine eyes.


PRAXITHEA.

Would mine might shut ere thine upon the sun. 410


CHTHONIA.

For me thou prayest unkindly; change that prayer.


PRAXITHEA.

Not well for me thou sayest, and ill for thee.


CHTHONIA.

Nay, for me well, if thou shalt live, not I.


PRAXITHEA.

How live, and lose these loving looks of thine?


CHTHONIA.

It seems I too, thus praying, then, love thee not.


PRAXITHEA.

Lov'st thou not life? what wouldst thou do to die?


CHTHONIA.

Well, but not more than all things, love I life.


PRAXITHEA.

And fain wouldst keep it as thine age allows?


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