Algernon Charles Swinburne.

Erechtheus A Tragedy (New Edition) online

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More hapless born by far [_Str._
Beneath some wintrier star,
One sits in stone among high Lydian snows,
The tomb of her own woes:
Yet happiest was once of the daughters of Gods, and divine by
her sire and her lord,
Ere her tongue was a shaft for the hearts of her sons, for the
heart of her husband a sword.
For she, too great of mind, [_Ant._
Grown through her good things blind.
With godless lips and fire of her own breath
Spake all her house to death; 1250
But thou, no mother unmothered, nor kindled in spirit with
pride of thy seed,
Thou hast hallowed thy child for a blameless blood-offering,
and ransomed thy race by thy deed.


MESSENGER.

As flower is graffed on flower, so grief on grief
Engraffed brings forth new blossoms of strange tears,
Fresh buds and green fruits of an alien pain;
For now flies rumour on a dark wide wing,
Murmuring of woes more than ye knew, most like
Hers whom ye hailed most wretched; for the twain
Last left of all this house that wore last night
A threefold crown of maidens, and to-day 1260
Should let but one fall dead out of the wreath,
If mad with grief we know not and sore love
For this their sister, or with shame soul-stung
To outlive her dead or doubt lest their lives too
The Gods require to seal their country safe
And bring the oracular doom to perfect end,
Have slain themselves, and fallen at the altar-foot
Lie by their own hands done to death; and fear
Shakes all the city as winds a wintering tree,
And as dead leaves are men's hearts blown about 1270
And shrunken with ill thoughts, and flowerless hopes
Parched up with presage, lest the piteous blood
Shed of these maidens guiltless fall and fix
On this land's forehead like a curse that cleaves
To the unclean soul's inexpiate hunted head
Whom his own crime tracks hotlier than a hound
To life's veiled end unsleeping; and this hour
Now blackens toward the battle that must close
All gates of hope and fear on all their hearts
Who tremble toward its issue, knowing not yet 1280
If blood may buy them surety, cleanse or soil
The helpless hands men raise and reach no stay.


CHORUS.

Ill thoughts breed fear, and fear ill words; but these
The Gods turn from us that have kept their law.
Let us lift up the strength of our hearts in song, [_Str._ 1.
And our souls to the height of the darkling day.
If the wind in our eyes blow blood for spray,
Be the spirit that breathes in us life more strong,
Though the prow reel round and the helm point wrong,
And sharp reefs whiten the shoreward way. 1290
For the steersman time sits hidden astern, [_Ant._ 1.
With dark hand plying the rudder of doom,
And the surf-smoke under it flies like fume
As the blast shears off and the oar-blades churn
The foam of our lives that to death return,
Blown back as they break to the gulfing gloom.
What cloud upon heaven is arisen, what shadow, what
sound, [_Str._ 2.
From the world beyond earth, from the night underground,
That scatters from wings unbeholden the weight of its darkness
around?
For the sense of my spirit is broken, and blinded
its eye, [_Ant._ 2. 1300
As the soul of a sick man ready to die,
With fear of the hour that is on me, with dread if an end be
not nigh.
O Earth, O Gods of the land, have ye heart now to see and
to hear [_Str._ 3.
What slays with terror mine eyesight and seals mine ear?
O fountains of streams everlasting, are all ye not shrunk up and
withered for fear?
Lo, night is arisen on the noon, and her hounds are in quest
by day, [_Ant._ 3.
And the world is fulfilled of the noise of them crying
for their prey,
And the sun's self stricken in heaven, and cast out of his
course as a blind man astray.
From east to west of the south sea-line [_Str._ 4.
Glitters the lightning of spears that shine; 1310
As a storm-cloud swoln that comes up from the skirts of the sea
By the wind for helmsman to shoreward ferried,
So black behind them the live storm serried
Shakes earth with the tramp of its foot, and the terror to be.
Shall the sea give death whom the land gave birth? [_Ant._ 4.
O Earth, fair mother, O sweet live Earth,
Hide us again in thy womb from the waves of it, help us or hide.
As a sword is the heart of the God thy brother,
But thine as the heart of a new-made mother,
To deliver thy sons from his ravin, and rage of his tide. 1320
O strong north wind, the pilot of cloud and rain, [_Str._ 5.
For the gift we gave thee what gift hast thou given us again?
O God dark-winged, deep-throated, a terror to forth-faring ships
by night,
What bride-song is this that is blown on the blast of thy breath?
A gift but of grief to thy kinsmen, a song but of death,
For the bride's folk weeping, and woe for her father, who finds
thee against him in fight.
Turn back from us, turn thy battle, take heed of our
cry; [_Ant._ 5.
Let thy dread breath sound, and the waters of war be dry;
Let thy strong wrath shatter the strength of our foemen, the
sword of their strength and the shield;
As vapours in heaven, or as waves or the wrecks of ships, 1330
So break thou the ranks of their spears with the breath of
thy lips,
Till their corpses have covered and clothed as with raiment the
face of the sword-ploughed field.
O son of the rose-red morning, O God twin-born with the
day, [_Str._ 6.
O wind with the young sun waking, and winged for the
same wide way,
Give up not the house of thy kin to the host thou hast marshalled
from northward for prey.
From the cold of thy cradle in Thrace, from the mists of the
fountains of night, [_Ant._ 6.
From the bride-bed of dawn whence day leaps laughing, on
fire for his flight,
Come down with their doom in thine hand on the ships thou hast
brought up against us to fight.
For now not in word but in deed is the harvest of spears
begun, [_Str._ 7.
And its clamour outbellows the thunder, its lightning outlightens
the sun. 1340
From the springs of the morning it thunders and lightens across
and afar
To the wave where the moonset ends and the fall of the last
low star.
With a trampling of drenched red hoofs and an earthquake of men
that meet,
Strong war sets hand to the scythe, and the furrows take fire
from his feet.
Earth groans from her great rent heart, and the hollows of rocks
are afraid,
And the mountains are moved, and the valleys as waves in a
storm-wind swayed.
From the roots of the hills to the plain's dim verge and the dark
loud shore,
Air shudders with shrill spears crossing, and hurtling of wheels
that roar.
As the grinding of teeth in the jaws of a lion that foam as
they gnash
Is the shriek of the axles that loosen, the shock of the poles
that crash. 1350
The dense manes darken and glitter, the mouths of the mad
steeds champ,
Their heads flash blind through the battle, and death's foot
rings in their tramp.
For a fourfold host upon earth and in heaven is arrayed for
the fight,
Clouds ruining in thunder and armies encountering as clouds in
the night.
Mine ears are amazed with the terror of trumpets, with darkness
mine eyes,
At the sound of the sea's host charging that deafens the roar of
the sky's.
White frontlet is dashed upon frontlet, and horse against horse
reels hurled,
And the gorge of the gulfs of the battle is wide for the spoil
of the world.
And the meadows are cumbered with shipwreck of chariots that
founder on land, [_Ant._ 7.
And the horsemen are broken with breach as of breakers, and
scattered as sand. 1360
Through the roar and recoil of the charges that mingle their
cries and confound,
Like fire are the notes of the trumpets that flash through the
darkness of sound.
As the swing of the sea churned yellow that sways with the wind
as it swells
Is the lift and relapse of the wave of the chargers that clash
with their bells;
And the clang of the sharp shrill brass through the burst of the
wave as it shocks
Rings clean as the clear wind's cry through the roar of the surge
on the rocks:
And the heads of the steeds in their headgear of war, and their
corsleted breasts,
Gleam broad as the brows of the billows that brighten the storm
with their crests,
Gleam dread as their bosoms that heave to the shipwrecking wind
as they rise,
Filled full of the terror and thunder of water, that slays as
it dies. 1370
So dire is the glare of their foreheads, so fearful the fire of
their breath,
And the light of their eyeballs enkindled so bright with the
lightnings of death;
And the foam of their mouths as the sea's when the jaws of its
gulf are as graves,
And the ridge of their necks as the wind-shaken mane on the
ridges of waves:
And their fetlocks afire as they rear drip thick with a dewfall
of blood
As the lips of the rearing breaker with froth of the manslaying
flood.
And the whole plain reels and resounds as the fields of the sea
by night
When the stroke of the wind falls darkling, and death is the
seafarer's light.

But thou, fair beauty of heaven, dear face of the day nigh
dead, [_Epode._
What horror hath hidden thy glory, what hand hath muffled thine
head? 1380
O sun, with what song shall we call thee, or ward off thy
wrath by what name,
With what prayer shall we seek to thee, soothe with what
incense, assuage with what gift,
If thy light be such only as lightens to deathward the seaman adrift
With the fire of his house for a beacon, that foemen have
wasted with flame?
Arise now, lift up thy light; give ear to us, put forth thine hand,
Reach toward us thy torch of deliverance, a lamp for the night
of the land.
Thine eye is the light of the living, no lamp for the dead;
O, lift up the light of thine eye on the dark of our dread.
Who hath blinded thee? who hath prevailed on thee? who hath
ensnared?
Who hath broken thy bow, and the shafts for thy battle
prepared? 1390
Have they found out a fetter to bind thee, a chain for thine
arm that was bared?
Be the name of thy conqueror set forth, and the might of thy
master declared.
O God, fair God of the morning, O glory of day,
What ails thee to cast from thy forehead its garland away?
To pluck from thy temples their chaplet enwreathed of the light,
And bind on the brows of thy godhead a frontlet of night?
Thou hast loosened the necks of thine horses, and goaded their
flanks with affright,
To the race of a course that we know not on ways that are hid from
our sight.
As a wind through the darkness the wheels of their chariot
are whirled,
And the light of its passage is night on the face of the
world. 1400
And there falls from the wings of thy glory no help from on high,
But a shadow that smites us with fear and desire of thine eye.
For our hearts are as reeds that a wind on the water bows down
and goes by,
To behold not thy comfort in heaven that hath left us untimely
to die.
But what light is it now leaps forth on the land
Enkindling the waters and ways of the air
From thy forehead made bare,
From the gleam of thy bow-bearing hand?
Hast thou set not thy right hand again to the string,
With the back-bowed horns bent sharp for a spring 1410
And the barbed shaft drawn,
Till the shrill steel sing and the tense nerve ring
That pierces the heart of the dark with dawn,
O huntsman, O king,
When the flame of thy face hath twilight in chase
As a hound hath a blood-mottled fawn?
He has glanced into golden the grey sea-strands,
And the clouds are shot through with the fires of his hands,
And the height of the hollow of heaven that he fills
As the heart of a strong man is quickened and thrills; 1420
High over the folds of the low-lying lands,
On the shadowless hills
As a guard on his watchtower he stands.
All earth and all ocean, all depth and all height,
At the flash of an eyebeam are filled with his might:
The sea roars backward, the storm drops dumb,
And silence as dew on the fire of the fight
Falls kind in our ears as his face in our sight
With presage of peace to come.
Fresh hope in my heart from the ashes of dread 1430
Leaps clear as a flame from the pyres of the dead,
That joy out of woe
May arise as the spring out of tempest and snow,
With the flower-feasted month in her hands rose-red
Borne soft as a babe from the bearing-bed.
Yet it knows not indeed if a God be friend,
If rescue may be from the rage of the sea,
Or the wrath of its lord have end.
For the season is full now of death or of birth,
To bring forth life, or an end of all; 1440
And we know not if anything stand or fall
That is girdled about with the round sea's girth
As a town with its wall;
But thou that art highest of the Gods most high,
That art lord if we live, that art lord though we die,
Have heed of the tongues of our terror that cry
For a grace to the children of Earth.


ATHENIAN HERALD.

Sons of Athens, heavy-laden with the holy weight of years,
Be your hearts as young men's lightened of their loathlier load
of fears;
For the wave is sunk whose thunder shoreward shook the shuddering
lands, 1450
And unbreached of warring waters Athens like a sea-rock stands.


CHORUS.

Well thy word has cheered us, well thy face and glittering eyes,
that spake
Ere thy tongue spake words of comfort: yet no pause, behoves it make
Till the whole good hap find utterance that the Gods have given at
length.


ATHENIAN HERALD.

All is this, that yet the city stands unforced by stranger strength.


CHORUS.

Sweeter sound might no mouth utter in man's ear than this thy word.


ATHENIAN HERALD.

Feed thy soul then full of sweetness till some bitterer note be
heard.


CHORUS.

None, if this ring sure, can mar the music fallen from heaven as
rain.


ATHENIAN HERALD.

If no fire of sun or star untimely sear the tender grain.


CHORUS.

Fresh the dewfall of thy tidings on our hopes reflowering lies. 1460


ATHENIAN HERALD.

Till a joyless shower and fruitless blight them, raining from
thine eyes.


CHORUS.

Bitter springs have barren issues; these bedew grief's arid sands.


ATHENIAN HERALD.

Such thank-offerings ask such altars as expect thy suppliant hands.


CHORUS.

Tears for triumph, wail for welfare, what strange godhead's shrine
requires?


ATHENIAN HERALD.

Death's or victory's be it, a funeral torch feeds all its festal
fires.


CHORUS.

Like a star should burn the beacon flaming from our city's head.


ATHENIAN HERALD.

Like a balefire should the flame go up that says the king is dead.


CHORUS.

Out of heaven, a wild-haired meteor, shoots this new sign,
scattering fear.


ATHENIAN HERALD.

Yea, the word has wings of fire that hovered, loth to burn thine
ear.


CHORUS.

From thy lips it leapt forth loosened on a shrill and shadowy
wing. 1470


ATHENIAN HERALD.

Long they faltered, fain to hide it deep as death that hides
the king.


CHORUS.

Dead with him blind hope lies blasted by the lightning of one sword.


ATHENIAN HERALD.

On thy tongue truth wars with error; no man's edge hath touched
thy lord.


CHORUS.

False was thine then, jangling menace like a war-steed's
brow-bound bell?


ATHENIAN HERALD.

False it rang not joy nor sorrow; but by no man's hand he fell.


CHORUS.

Vainly then good news and evil through so faint a trumpet spake.


ATHENIAN HERALD.

All too long thy soul yet labours, as who sleeping fain would wake,
Waking, fain would fall on sleep again; the woe thou knowest
not yet,
When thou knowest, shall make thy memory thirst and hunger to
forget.


CHORUS.

Long my heart has hearkened, hanging on thy clamorous ominous
cry, 1480
Fain yet fearful of the knowledge whence it looks to live or die;
Now to take the perfect presage of thy dark and sidelong flight
Comes a surer soothsayer sorrowing, sable-stoled as birds of night.


PRAXITHEA.

Man, what thy mother bare thee born to say
Speak; for no word yet wavering on thy lip
Can wound me worse than thought forestalls or fear.


ATHENIAN HERALD.

I have no will to weave too fine or far,
O queen, the weft of sweet with bitter speech,
Bright words with darkling; but the brief truth shown
Shall plead my pardon for a lingering tongue, 1490
Loth yet to strike hope through the heart and slay.
The sun's light still was lordly housed in heaven
When the twain fronts of war encountering smote
First fire out of the battle; but not long
Had the fresh wave of windy fight begun
Heaving, and all the surge of swords to sway,
When timeless night laid hold of heaven, and took
With its great gorge the noon as in a gulf,
Strangled; and thicker than the shrill-winged shafts
Flew the fleet lightnings, held in chase through heaven 1500
By headlong heat of thunders on their trail
Loosed as on quest of quarry; that our host
Smit with sick presage of some wrathful God
Quailed, but the foe as from one iron throat
With one great sheer sole thousand-throated cry
Shook earth, heart-staggered from their shout, and clove
The eyeless hollow of heaven; and breached therewith
As with an onset of strength-shattering sound
The rent vault of the roaring noon of night
From her throned seat of usurpation rang 1510
Reverberate answer; such response there pealed
As though the tide's charge of a storming sea
Had burst the sky's wall, and made broad a breach
In the ambient girth and bastion flanked with stars
Guarding the fortress of the Gods, and all
Crashed now together on ruin; and through that cry
And higher above it ceasing one man's note
Tore its way like a trumpet: _Charge, make end,
Charge, halt not, strike, rend up their strength by the roots,
Strike, break them, make your birthright's promise sure, 1520
Show your hearts hardier than the fenced land breeds
And souls breathed in you from no spirit of earth,
Sons of the sea's waves_; and all ears that heard
Rang with that fiery cry, that the fine air
Thereat was fired, and kindling filled the plain
Full of that fierce and trumpet-quenching breath
That spake the clarions silent; no glad song
For folk to hear that wist how dire a God
Begat this peril to them, what strong race
Fathered the sea-born tongue that sang them death, 1530
Threatening; so raged through the red foam of fight
Poseidon's son Eumolpus; and the war
Quailed round him coming, and our side bore back,
As a stream thwarted by the wind and sea
That meet it midway mouth to mouth, and beat
The flood back of its issue; but the king
Shouted against them, crying, _O Father-God,
Source of the God my father, from thine hand
Send me what end seems good now in thy sight,
But death from mine to this man_; and the word 1540
Quick on his lips yet like a blast of fire
Blew them together; and round its lords that met
Paused all the reeling battle; two main waves
Meeting, one hurled sheer from the sea-wall back
That shocks it sideways, one right in from sea
Charging, that full in face takes at one blow
That whole recoil and ruin, with less fear
Startle men's eyes late shipwrecked; for a breath
Crest fronting crest hung, wave to wave rose poised,
Then clashed, breaker to breaker; cloud with cloud 1550
In heaven, chariot with chariot closed on earth,
One fourfold flash and thunder; yet a breath,
And with the king's spear through his red heart's root
Driven, like a rock split from its hill-side, fell
Hurled under his own horsehoofs dead on earth
The sea-beast that made war on earth from sea,
Dumb, with no shrill note left of storming song,
Eumolpus; and his whole host with one stroke
Spear-stricken through its dense deep iron heart
Fell hurtling from us, and in fierce recoil 1560
Drew seaward as with one wide wail of waves,
Resorbed with reluctation; such a groan
Rose from the fluctuant refluence of its ranks,
Sucked sullen back and strengthless; but scarce yet
The steeds had sprung and wheels had bruised their lord
Fallen, when from highest height of the sundering heaven
The Father for his brother's son's sake slain
Sent a sheer shaft of lightning writhen and smote
Right on his son's son's forehead, that unhelmed
Shone like the star that shines down storm, and gave 1570
Light to men's eyes that saw thy lord their king
Stand and take breath from battle; then too soon
Saw sink down as a sunset in sea-mist
The high bright head that here in van of the earth
Rose like a headland, and through storm and night
Took all the sea's wrath on it; and now dead
They bring thee back by war-forsaken ways
The strength called once thy husband, the great guard
That was of all men, stay of all men's lives,
They bear him slain of no man but a God, 1580
Godlike; and toward him dead the city's gates
Fling their arms open mother-like, through him


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Online LibraryAlgernon Charles SwinburneErechtheus A Tragedy (New Edition) → online text (page 4 of 5)