This etext was produced from the 1882 George Bell and Sons edition by David Price, email email@example.com
HELEN OF TROY
by Andrew Lang
“Le joyeulx temps passe souloit estre occasion que je faisoie de plaisants diz et gracieuses chanconnetes et ballades. Mais je me suis mis a faire cette traittie d’affliction contre ma droite nature . . . et suis content de l’avoir prinse, car mes douleurs me semblent en estre allegees.”–Le Romant de Troilus.
To all old Friends; to all who dwell
Where Avon dhu and Avon gel
Down to the western waters flow
Through valleys dear from long ago; To all who hear the whisper’d spell
Of Ken; and Tweed like music swell
Hard by the Land Debatable,
Or gleaming Shannon seaward go, – To all old Friends!
To all that yet remember well
What secrets Isis had to tell,
How lazy Cherwell loiter’d slow
Sweet aisles of blossom’d May below – Whate’er befall, whate’er befell,
To ALL old Friends.
BOOK I–THE COMING OF PARIS
Of the coming of Paris to the house of Menelaus, King of Lacedaemon, and of the tale Paris told concerning his past life.
All day within the palace of the King In Lacedaemon, was there revelry,
Since Menelaus with the dawn did spring Forth from his carven couch, and, climbing high The tower of outlook, gazed along the dry White road that runs to Pylos through the plain, And mark’d thin clouds of dust against the sky, And gleaming bronze, and robes of purple stain.
Then cried he to his serving men, and all Obey’d him, and their labour did not spare, And women set out tables through the hall, Light polish’d tables, with the linen fair. And water from the well did others bear, And the good house-wife busily brought forth Meats from her store, and stinted not the rare Wine from Ismarian vineyards of the North.
The men drave up a heifer from the field For sacrifice, and sheath’d her horns with gold; And strong Boethous the axe did wield
And smote her; on the fruitful earth she roll’d, And they her limbs divided; fold on fold They laid the fat, and cast upon the fire The barley grain. Such rites were wrought of old When all was order’d as the Gods desire.
And now the chariots came beneath the trees Hard by the palace portals, in the shade, And Menelaus knew King Diocles
Of Pherae, sprung of an unhappy maid Whom the great Elian River God betray’d In the still watches of a summer night,
When by his deep green water-course she stray’d And lean’d to pluck his water-lilies white.
Besides King Diocles there sat a man
Of all men mortal sure the fairest far, For o’er his purple robe Sidonian
His yellow hair shone brighter than the star Of the long golden locks that bodeth war; His face was like the sunshine, and his blue Glad eyes no sorrow had the spell to mar Were clear as skies the storm hath thunder’d through.
Then Menelaus spake unto his folk,
And eager at his word they ran amain, And loosed the sweating horses from the yoke, And cast before them spelt, and barley grain. And lean’d the polish’d car, with golden rein, Against the shining spaces of the wall;
And called the sea-rovers who follow’d fain Within the pillar’d fore-courts of the hall.
The stranger-prince was follow’d by a band Of men, all clad like rovers of the sea, And brown’d were they as is the desert sand, Loud in their mirth, and of their bearing free; And gifts they bore, from the deep treasury And forests of some far-off Eastern lord, Vases of gold, and bronze, and ivory,
That might the Pythian fane have over-stored.
Now when the King had greeted Diocles And him that seem’d his guest, the twain were led To the dim polish’d baths, where, for their ease, Cool water o’er their lustrous limbs was shed; With oil anointed was each goodly head By Asteris and Phylo fair of face;
Next, like two gods for loveliness, they sped To Menelaus in the banquet-place.
There were they seated at the King’s right hand, And maidens bare them bread, and meat, and wine, Within that fair hall of the Argive land Whose doors and roof with gold and silver shine As doth the dwelling-place of Zeus divine. And Helen came from forth her fragrant bower The fairest lady of immortal line,
Like morning, when the rosy dawn doth flower.
Adraste set for her a shining chair,
Well-wrought of cedar-wood and ivory; And beautiful Alcippe led the fair,
The well-beloved child, Hermione, – A little maiden of long summers three – Her star-like head on Helen’s breast she laid, And peep’d out at the strangers wistfully As is the wont of children half afraid.
Now when desire of meat and drink was done, And ended was the joy of minstrelsy,
Queen Helen spake, beholding how the sun Within the heaven of bronze was riding high: “Truly, my friends, methinks the hour is nigh When men may crave to know what need doth bring To Lacedaemon, o’er wet ways and dry,
This prince that bears the sceptre of a king?
“Yea, or perchance a God is he, for still The great Gods wander on our mortal ways, And watch their altars upon mead or hill And taste our sacrifice, and hear our lays, And now, perchance, will heed if any prays, And now will vex us with unkind control, But anywise must man live out his days, For Fate hath given him an enduring soul.
“Then tell us, prithee, all that may be told, And if thou art a mortal, joy be thine! And if thou art a God, then rich with gold Thine altar in our palace court shall shine, With roses garlanded and wet with wine, And we shall praise thee with unceasing breath; Ah, then be gentle as thou art divine, And bring not on us baneful Love or Death!”
Then spake the stranger,–as when to a maid A young man speaks, his voice was soft and low, – “Alas, no God am I; be not afraid,
For even now the nodding daisies grow Whose seed above my grassy cairn shall blow, When I am nothing but a drift of white
Dust in a cruse of gold; and nothing know But darkness, and immeasurable Night.
“The dawn, or noon, or twilight, draweth near When one shall smite me on the bridge of war, Or with the ruthless sword, or with the spear, Or with the bitter arrow flying far.
But as a man’s heart, so his good days are, That Zeus, the Lord of Thunder, giveth him, Wherefore I follow Fortune, like a star, Whate’er may wait me in the distance dim.
“Now all men call me PARIS, Priam’s son, Who widely rules a peaceful folk and still. Nay, though ye dwell afar off, there is none But hears of Ilios on the windy hill,
And of the plain that the two rivers fill With murmuring sweet streams the whole year long, And walls the Gods have wrought with wondrous skill Where cometh never man to do us wrong.
“Wherefore I sail’d not here for help in war, Though well the Argives in such need can aid. The force that comes on me is other far; One that on all men comes: I seek the maid Whom golden Aphrodite shall persuade
To lay her hand in mine, and follow me, To my white halls within the cedar shade Beyond the waters of the barren sea.”
Then at the Goddess’ name grew Helen pale, Like golden stars that flicker in the dawn, Or like a child that hears a dreadful tale, Or like the roses on a rich man’s lawn, When now the suns of Summer are withdrawn, And the loose leaves with a sad wind are stirr’d, Till the wet grass is strewn with petals wan, – So paled the golden Helen at his word.
But swift the rose into her cheek return’d And for a little moment, like a flame, The perfect face of Argive Helen burn’d, As doth a woman’s, when some spoken name Brings back to mind some ancient love or shame, But none save Paris mark’d the thing, who said, “My tale no more must weary this fair dame, With telling why I wander all unwed.”
But Helen, bending on him gracious brows, Besought him for the story of his quest, “For sultry is the summer, that allows
To mortal men no sweeter boon than rest; And surely such a tale as thine is best To make the dainty-footed hours go by,
Till sinks the sun in darkness and the West, And soft stars lead the Night along the sky.”
Then at the word of Helen Paris spoke, “My tale is shorter than a summer day, – My mother, ere I saw the light, awoke,
At dawn, in Ilios, shrieking in dismay, Who dream’d that ‘twixt her feet there fell and lay A flaming brand, that utterly burn’d down To dust of crumbling ashes red and grey, The coronal of towers and all Troy town.
“Then the interpretation of this dream My father sought at many priestly hands, Where the white temple doth in Pytho gleam, And at the fane of Ammon in the sands, And where the oak tree of Dodona stands With boughs oracular against the sky, –
And with one voice the Gods from all the lands, Cried out, ‘The child must die, the child must die.’
“Then was I born to sorrow; and in fear The dark priest took me from my sire, and bore A wailing child through beech and pinewood drear, Up to the knees of Ida, and the hoar
Rocks whence a fountain breaketh evermore, And leaps with shining waters to the sea, Through black and rock-wall’d pools without a shore, – And there they deem’d they took farewell of me.
“But round my neck they tied a golden ring That fell from Ganymedes when he soar’d High over Ida on the eagle’s wing,
To dwell for ever with the Gods adored, To be the cup-bearer beside the board
Of Zeus, and kneel at the eternal throne, – A jewel ’twas from old King Tros’s hoard, That ruled in Ilios ages long agone.
“And there they left me in that dell untrod, – Shepherd nor huntsman ever wanders there, For dread of Pan, that is a jealous God, – Yea, and the ladies of the streams forbear The Naiad nymphs, to weave their dances fair, Or twine their yellow tresses with the shy Fronds of forget-me-not and maiden-hair, – There had the priests appointed me to die.
“But vainly doth a man contend with Fate! My father had less pity on his son
Than wild things of the woodland desolate. ‘Tis said that ere the Autumn day was done A great she-bear, that in these rocks did wonn, Beheld a sleeping babe she did convey
Down to a den beheld not of the sun, The cavern where her own soft litter lay.
“And therein was I nurtured wondrously, So Rumour saith: I know not of these things, For mortal men are ever wont to lie,
Whene’er they speak of sceptre-bearing kings: I tell what I was told, for memory brings No record of those days, that are as deep Lost as the lullaby a mother sings
In ears of children that are fallen on sleep.
“Men say that now five autumn days had pass’d, When Agelaus, following a hurt deer,
Trod soft on crackling acorns, and the mast That lay beneath the oak and beech-wood sere, In dread lest angry Pan were sleeping near, Then heard a cry from forth a cavern grey, And peeping round the fallen rocks in fear, Beheld where in the wild beast’s tracks I lay.
“So Agelaus bore me from the wild,
Down to his hut; and with his children I Was nurtured, being, as was deem’d, the child Of Hermes, or some mountain deity;
For these with the wild nymphs are wont to lie Within the holy caverns, where the bee
Can scarcely find a darkling path to fly Through veils of bracken and the ivy-tree.
“So with the shepherds on the hills I stray’d, And drave the kine to feed where rivers run, And play’d upon the reed-pipe in the shade, And scarcely knew my manhood was begun, The pleasant years still passing one by one, Till I was chiefest of the mountain men, And clomb the peaks that take the snow and sun, And braved the anger’d lion in his den.
“Now in my herd of kine was one more dear By far than all the rest, and fairer far; A milkwhite bull, the captive of my spear, And all the wondering shepherds called him STAR: And still he led his fellows to the war, When the lean wolves against the herds came down, Then would he charge, and drive their hosts afar Beyond the pastures to the forests brown.
“Now so it chanced that on an autumn morn, King Priam sought a goodly bull to slay In memory of his child, no sooner born
Than midst the lonely mountains cast away, To die ere scarce he had beheld the day; And Priam’s men came wandering afar
To that green pool where by the flocks I lay, And straight they coveted the goodly STAR,
“And drave him, no word spoken, to the town: One man mine arrow lit on, and he fell; His comrades held me off, and down and down, Through golden windings of the autumn dell, They spurr’d along the beast that loved me well, Till red were his white sides; I following, Wrath in my heart, their evil deeds to tell In Ilios, at the footstool of the King.
“But ere they came to the God-builded wall, They spied a meadow by the water-side, And there the men of Troy were gathered all For joust and play; and Priam’s sons defied All other men in all Maeonia wide
To strive with them in boxing and in speed. Victorious with the shepherds had I vied, So boldly followed to that flowery mead.
“Maeonia, Phrygia, Troia there were met, And there the King, child of Laomedon, Rich prizes for the vanquishers had set, Damsels, and robes, and cups that like the sun Shone, but the white bull was the chiefest one; And him the victor in the games should slay To Zeus, the King of Gods, when all was done, And so with sacrifice should crown the day.
“Now it were over long, methinks, to tell The contest of the heady charioteers,
Of them the goal that turn’d, and them that fell. But I outran the young men of my years, And with the bow did I out-do my peers, And wrestling; and in boxing, over-bold, I strove with Hector of the ashen spears, Yea, till the deep-voiced Heralds bade us hold.
“Then Priam hail’d me winner of the day; Mine were the maid, the cup, and chiefest prize, Mine own fair milkwhite bull was mine to slay; But then the murmurs wax’d to angry cries, And hard men set on me in deadly wise, My brethren, though they knew it not; I turn’d, And fled unto the place of sacrifice,
Where altars to the God of strangers burn’d.
“At mine own funeral feast, had I been slain, But, fearing Zeus, they halted for a space, And lo, Apollo’s priestess with a train
Of holy maidens came into that place, And far did she outshine the rest in grace, But in her eyes such dread was frozen then As glares eternal from the Gorgon’s face Wherewith Athene quells the ranks of men.
“She was old Priam’s daughter, long ago Apollo loved her, and did not deny
His gifts,–the things that are to be to know, The tongue of sooth-saying that cannot lie, And knowledge gave he of all birds that fly ‘Neath heaven; and yet his prayer did she disdain. So he his gifts confounded utterly,
And sooth she saith, but evermore in vain.
“She, when her dark eyes fell on me, did stand At gaze a while, with wan lips murmuring, And then came nigh to me, and took my hand, And led me to the footstool of the King, And call’d me ‘brother,’ and drew forth the ring That men had found upon me in the wild,
For still I bore it as a precious thing, The token of a father to his child.
“This sign Cassandra show’d to Priam: straight The King wax’d pale, and ask’d what this might be? And she made answer, ‘Sir, and King, thy fate That comes to all men born hath come on thee; This shepherd is thine own child verily: How like to thine his shape, his brow, his hands! Nay there is none but hath the eyes to see That here the child long lost to Troia stands.’
“Then the King bare me to his lofty hall, And there we feasted in much love and mirth, And Priam to the mountain sent for all
That knew me, and the manner of my birth: And now among the great ones of the earth In royal robe and state behold me set,
And one fell thing I fear not; even dearth, Whate’er the Gods remember or forget.
“My new rich life had grown a common thing, The pleasant years still passing one by one, When deep in Ida was I wandering
The glare of well-built Ilios to shun, In summer, ere the day was wholly done, When I beheld a goodly prince,–the hair To bloom upon his lip had scarce begun, – The season when the flower of youth is fair.
“Then knew I Hermes by his golden wand Wherewith he lulls the eyes of men to sleep; But, nodding with his brows, he bade me stand, And spake, ‘To-night thou hast a tryst to keep, With Goddesses within the forest deep; And Paris, lovely things shalt thou behold, More fair than they for which men war and weep, Kingdoms, and fame, and victories, and gold.
“‘For, lo! to-night within the forest dim Do Aphrodite and Athene meet,
And Hera, who to thee shall bare each limb, Each grace from golden head to ivory feet, And thee, fair shepherd Paris, they entreat As thou ‘mongst men art beauteous, to declare Which Queen of Queens immortal is most sweet, And doth deserve the meed of the most fair.
“‘For late between them rose a bitter strife In Peleus’ halls upon his wedding day, When Peleus took him an immortal wife,
And there was bidden all the God’s array, Save Discord only; yet she brought dismay, And cast an apple on the bridal board,
With “Let the fairest bear the prize away” Deep on its golden rind and gleaming scored.
“‘Now in the sudden night, whenas the sun In Tethys’ silver arms hath slept an hour, Shalt thou be had into the forest dun,
And brought unto a dark enchanted bower, And there of Goddesses behold the flower With very beauty burning in the night,
And these will offer Wisdom, Love, and Power; Then, Paris, be thou wise, and choose aright!’
“He spake, and pass’d, and Night without a breath, Without a star drew on; and now I heard The voice that in the springtime wandereth, The crying of Dame Hera’s shadowy bird; And soon the silence of the trees was stirred By the wise fowl of Pallas; and anigh,
More sweet than is a girl’s first loving word, The doves of Aphrodite made reply.
“These voices did I follow through the trees, Threading the coppice ‘neath a starless sky, When, lo! the very Queen of Goddesses,
In golden beauty gleaming wondrously, Even she that hath the Heaven for canopy, And in the arms of mighty Zeus doth sleep, – And then for dread methought that I must die, But Hera called me with soft voice and deep:
“‘Paris, give me the prize, and thou shalt reign O’er many lordly peoples, far and wide, From them that till the black and crumbling plain, Where the sweet waters of Aegyptus glide, To those that on the Northern marches ride, And the Ceteians, and the blameless men
That round the rising-place of Morn abide, And all the dwellers in the Asian fen.
“‘And I will love fair Ilios as I love Argos and rich Mycenae, that doth hoard Deep wealth; and I will make thee king above A hundred peoples; men shall call thee lord In tongues thou know’st not; thou shalt be adored With sacrifice, as are the Gods divine,
If only thou wilt speak a little word, And say the prize of loveliness is mine.’
“Then, as I doubted, like a sudden flame Of silver came Athene, and methought
Beholding her, how stately, as she came, That dim wood to a fragrant fane was wrought; So pure the warlike maiden seem’d, that nought But her own voice commanding made me raise Mine eyes to see her beauty, who besought In briefest words the guerdon of all praise.
“She spake: ‘Nor wealth nor crowns are in my gift; But wisdom, but the eyes that glance afar, But courage, and the spirit that is swift To cleave her path through all the waves of war; Endurance that the Fates can never mar; These, and my loving friendship,–these are thine, And these shall guide thee, steadfast as a star, If thou hast eyes to know the prize is mine.’
“Last, in a lovely mist of rosy fire, Came Aphrodite through the forest glade, The queen of all delight and all desire, More fair than when her naked foot she laid On the blind mere’s wild wave that sank dismay’d, What time the sea grew smoother than a lake; I was too happy to be sore afraid.
And like a song her voice was when she spake:
“‘Oh Paris, what is power? Tantalus
And Sisyphus were kings long time ago, But now they lie in the Lake Dolorous,
The hills of hell are noisy with their woe; Ay, swift the tides of Empire ebb and flow, And that is quickly lost was hardly won, As Ilios herself o’erwell did know
When high walls help’d not King Laomedon.
“‘And what are strength and courage? for the child Of mighty Zeus, the strong man Herakles, Knew many days and evil, ere men piled
The pyre in Oeta, where he got his ease In death, where all the ills of brave men cease. Nay, Love I proffer thee; beyond the brine Of all the currents of the Western seas, The fairest woman in the world is thine!’
“She spake, and touched the prize, and all grew dim I heard no voice of anger’d Deity,
But round me did the night air swoon and swim, And, when I waken’d, lo! the sun was high, And in that place accursed did I lie,
Where Agelaus found the naked child; Then with swift foot I did arise and fly Forth from the deeps of that enchanted wild.
“And down I sped to Ilios, down the dell Where, years agone, the white bull guided me, And through green boughs beheld where foam’d and fell The merry waters of the Western sea;
Of Love the sweet birds sang from sky and tree, And swift I reach’d the haven and the shore, And call’d my mariners, and follow’d free Where Love might lead across the waters hoar.
“Three days with fair winds ran we, then we drave Before the North that made the long waves swell Round Malea; but hardly from the wave
We ‘scaped at Pylos, Nestor’s citadel; And there the son of Neleus loved us well, And brought us to the high prince, Diocles, Who led us hither, and it thus befell
That here, below thy roof, we sit at ease.”
Then all men gave the stranger thanks and praise, And Menelaus for red wine bade call;
And the sun fell, and dark were all the ways; Then maidens set forth braziers in the hall, And heap’d them high with lighted brands withal; But Helen pass’d, as doth the fading day Pass from the world, and softly left them all Loud o’er their wine amid the twilight grey.
So night drew on with rain, nor yet they ceased Within the hall to drink the gleaming wine, And late they pour’d the last cup of the feast, To Argus-bane, the Messenger divine;
And last, ‘neath torches tall that smoke and shine, The maidens strew’d the beds with purple o’er, That Diocles and Paris might recline
All night, beneath the echoing corridor.
BOOK II–THE SPELL OF APHRODITE
The coming of Aphrodite, and how she told Helen that she must depart in company with Paris, but promised withal that Helen, having fallen into a deep sleep, should awake forgetful of her old life, and ignorant of her shame, and blameless of those evil deeds that the Goddess thrust upon her.
Now in the upper chamber o’er the gate Lay Menelaus on his carven bed,
And swift and sudden as the stroke of Fate A deep sleep fell upon his weary head. But the soft-winged God with wand of lead Came not near Helen; wistful did she lie, Till dark should change to grey, and grey to red, And golden throned Morn sweep o’er the sky.
Slow pass’d the heavy night: like one who fears The step of murder, she lies quivering, If any cry of the night bird she hears;
And strains her eyes to mark some dreadful thing, If but the curtains of the window swing, Stirr’d by the breath of night, and still she wept As she were not the daughter of a king, And no strong king, her lord, beside her slept.
Now in that hour, the folk who watch the night, Shepherds and fishermen, and they that ply Strange arts and seek their spells in the star-light, Beheld a marvel in the sea and sky,
For all the waves of all the seas that sigh Between the straits of Helle and the Nile, Flush’d with a flame of silver suddenly, From soft Cythera to the Cyprian isle.
And Hesperus, the kindest star of heaven, That bringeth all things good, wax’d pale, and straight There fell a flash of white malignant levin Among the gleaming waters desolate;
The lights of sea and sky did mix and mate And change to rosy flame, and thence did fly The lovely Queen of Love that turns to hate, Like summer lightnings ‘twixt the sea and sky.
And now the bower of Helen fill’d with light, And now she knew the thing that she did fear Was close upon her (for the black of night Doth burn like fire, whene’er the Gods are near); Then shone like flame each helm and shield and spear That hung within the chamber of the King, But he,–though all the bower as day was clear, – Slept as they sleep that know no wakening.
But Helen leap’d from her fair carven bed As some tormented thing that fear makes bold, And on the ground she beat her golden head And pray’d with bitter moanings manifold. Yet knew that she could never move the cold Heart of the lovely Goddess, standing there, Her feet upon a little cloud, a fold
Of silver cloud about her bosom bare.
So stood Queen Aphrodite, as she stands Unmoved in her bright mansion, when in vain Some naked maiden stretches helpless hands And shifts the magic wheel, and burns the grain, And cannot win her lover back again,
Nor her old heart of quiet any more, Where moonlight floods the dim Sicilian main, And the cool wavelets break along the shore.
Then Helen ceased from unavailing prayer, And rose and faced the Goddess steadily, Till even the laughter-loving lady fair
Half shrank before the anger of her eye, And Helen cried with an exceeding cry, “Why does Zeus live, if we indeed must be No more than sullen spoils of destiny, And slaves of an adulteress like thee?
“What wilt thou with me, mistress of all woe? Say, wilt thou bear me to another land Where thou hast other lovers? Rise and go Where dark the pine trees upon Ida stand, For there did one unloose thy girdle band; Or seek the forest where Adonis bled,
Or wander, wander on the yellow sand, Where thy first lover strew’d thy bridal bed.
“Ah, thy first lover! who is first or last Of men and gods, unnumber’d and unnamed? Lover by lover in the race is pass’d,
Lover by lover, outcast and ashamed. Oh, thou of many names, and evil famed! What wilt thou with me? What must I endure Whose soul, for all thy craft, is never tamed? Whose heart, for all thy wiles, is ever pure?
“Behold, my heart is purer than the plume Upon the stainless pinions of the swan, And thou wilt smirch and stain it with the fume Of all thy hateful lusts Idalian.
My name shall be a hissing that a man Shall smile to speak, and women curse and hate, And on my little child shall come a ban, And all my lofty home be desolate.
“Is it thy will that like a golden cup From lip to lip of heroes I must go,
And be but as a banner lifted up,
To beckon where the winds of war may blow? Have I not seen fair Athens in her woe, And all her homes aflame from sea to sea, When my fierce brothers wrought her overthrow Because Athenian Theseus carried me –
“Me, in my bloomless youth, a maiden child, From Artemis’ pure altars and her fane, And bare me, with Pirithous the wild
To rich Aphidna? Many a man was slain, And wet with blood the fair Athenian plain, And fired was many a goodly temple then, But fire nor blood can purify the stain Nor make my name reproachless among men.”
Then Helen ceased, her passion like a flame That slays the thing it lives by, blazed and fell, As faint as waves at dawn, though fierce they came, By night to storm some rocky citadel;
For Aphrodite answer’d,–like a spell Her voice makes strength of mortals pass away, – “Dost thou not know that I have loved thee well, And never loved thee better than to-day?
“Behold, thine eyes are wet, thy cheeks are wan, Yet art thou born of an immortal sire, The child of Nemesis and of the Swan;
Thy veins should run with ichor and with fire. Yet this is thy delight and thy desire, To love a mortal lord, a mortal child,
To live, unpraised of lute, unhymn’d of lyre, As any woman pure and undefiled.
“Thou art the toy of Gods, an instrument Wherewith all mortals shall be plagued or blest, Even at my pleasure; yea, thou shalt be bent This way and that, howe’er it like me best: And following thee, as tides the moon, the West Shall flood the Eastern coasts with waves of war, And thy vex’d soul shall scarcely be at rest, Even in the havens where the deathless are.
“The instruments of men are blind and dumb, And this one gift I give thee, to be blind And heedless of the thing that is to come, And ignorant of that which is behind;
Bearing an innocent forgetful mind In each new fortune till I visit thee
And stir thy heart, as lightning and the wind Bear fire and tumult through a sleeping sea.
“Thou shalt forget Hermione; forget
Thy lord, thy lofty palace, and thy kin; Thy hand within a stranger’s shalt thou set, And follow him, nor deem it any sin;
And many a strange land wand’ring shalt thou win, And thou shalt come to an unhappy town,
And twenty long years shalt thou dwell therein, Before the Argives mar its towery crown.
“And of thine end I speak not, but thy name, – Thy name which thou lamentest,–that shall be A song in all men’s speech, a tongue of flame Between the burning lips of Poesy;
And the nine daughters of Mnemosyne, With Prince Apollo, leader of the nine,
Shall make thee deathless in their minstrelsy! Yea, for thou shalt outlive the race divine,
“The race of Gods, for like the sons of men We Gods have but our season, and go by; And Cronos pass’d, and Uranus, and then
Shall Zeus and all his children utterly Pass, and new Gods be born, and reign, and die, – But thee shall lovers worship evermore
What Gods soe’er usurp the changeful sky, Or flit to the irremeable shore.
“Now sleep and dream not, sleep the long day through, And the brief watches of the summer night, And then go forth amid the flowers and dew, Where the red rose of Dawn outburns the white. Then shalt thou learn my mercy and my might Between the drowsy lily and the rose;
There shalt thou spell the meaning of delight, And know such gladness as a Goddess knows!”
Then Sleep came floating from the Lemnian isle, And over Helen crush’d his poppy crown, Her soft lids waver’d for a little while, Then on her carven bed she laid her down, And Sleep, the comforter of king and clown, Kind Sleep the sweetest, near akin to Death, Held her as close as Death doth men that drown, So close that none might hear her inward breath –
So close no man might tell she was not dead! And then the Goddess took her zone,–where lies All her enchantment, love and lustihead, And the glad converse that beguiles the wise, And grace the very Gods may not despise, And sweet Desire that doth the whole world move, – And therewith touch’d she Helen’s sleeping eyes And made her lovely as the Queen of Love.
Then laughter-loving Aphrodite went
To far Idalia, over land and sea, And scarce the fragrant cedar-branches bent Beneath her footsteps, faring daintily; And in Idalia the Graces three
Anointed her with oil ambrosial, –
So to her house in Sidon wended she To mock the prayers of lovers when they call.
And all day long the incense and the smoke Lifted, and fell, and soft and slowly roll’d, And many a hymn and musical awoke
Between the pillars of her house of gold, And rose-crown’d girls, and fair boys linen-stoled, Did sacrifice her fragrant courts within, And in dark chapels wrought rites manifold The loving favour of the Queen to win.
But Menelaus, waking suddenly,
Beheld the dawn was white, the day was near, And rose, and kiss’d fair Helen; no good-bye He spake, and never mark’d a fallen tear, – Men know not when they part for many a year, – He grasp’d a bronze-shod lance in either hand, And merrily went forth to drive the deer, With Paris, through the dewy morning land.
So up the steep sides of Taygetus
They fared, and to the windy hollows came, While from the streams of deep Oceanus
The sun arose, and on the fields did flame; And through wet glades the huntsmen drave the game, And with them Paris sway’d an ashen spear, Heavy, and long, and shod with bronze to tame The mountain-dwelling goats and forest deer.
Now in a copse a mighty boar there lay, For through the boughs the wet winds never blew, Nor lit the bright sun on it with his ray, Nor rain might pierce the woven branches through, But leaves had fallen deep the lair to strew: Then questing of the hounds and men’s foot-fall Aroused the boar, and forth he sprang to view, With eyes that burn’d, at bay, before them all.
Then Paris was the first to rush on him, With spear aloft in his strong hand to smite, And through the monster pierced the point; and dim The flame fell in his eyes, and all his might With his last cry went forth; forgetting fight, Forgetting strength, he fell, and gladly then They gather’d round, and dealt with him aright; Then left his body with the serving men.
Now birds were long awake, that with their cry Were wont to waken Helen; and the dew
Where fell the sun upon the lawn was dry, And all the summer land was glad anew; And maidens’ footsteps rang the palace through, And with their footsteps chimed their happy song, And one to other cried, “A marvel new
That soft-wing’d Sleep hath held the Queen so long!”
Then Phylo brought the child Hermione, And close unto her mother’s side she crept, And o’er her god-like beauty tumbled she, Chiding her sweetly that so late she slept, And babbling still a merry coil she kept; But like a woman stiff beneath her shroud Lay Helen; till the young child fear’d and wept, And ran, and to her nurses cried aloud.
Then came the women quickly, and in dread Gather’d round Helen, but might naught avail To wake her; moveless as a maiden dead
That Artemis hath slain, yet nowise pale, She lay; but Aethra did begin the wail, And all the women with sad voice replied, Who deem’d her pass’d unto the poplar vale Wherein doth dread Persephone abide.
Ah! slowly pass’d the miserable day
In the rich house that late was full of pride; Then the sun fell, and all the paths were grey, And Menelaus from the mountain-side
Came, and through palace doors all open wide Rang the wild dirge that told him of the thing That Helen, that the Queen had strangely died. Then on his threshold fell he grovelling,
And cast the dust upon his yellow hair, And, but that Paris leap’d and held his hand, His hunter’s knife would he have clutch’d, and there Had slain himself, to follow to that land Where flit the ghosts of men, a shadowy band That have no more delight, no more desire, When once the flesh hath burn’d down like a brand, Drench’d by the dark wine on the funeral pyre:
So on the ashen threshold lay the king, And all within the house was chill and drear; The women watchers gather’d in a ring
About the bed of Helen and her bier; And much had they to tell, and much to hear, Of happy queens and fair, untimely dead, – Such joy they took amid their evil cheer, – While the low thunder muttered overhead.
BOOK III–THE FLIGHT OF HELEN
The flight of Helen and Paris from Lacedaemon, and of what things befell them in their voyaging, and how they came to Troy.
The grey Dawn’s daughter, rosy Morn awoke In old Tithonus’ arms, and suddenly
Let harness her swift steeds beneath the yoke, And drave her shining chariot through the sky. Then men might see the flocks of Thunder fly, All gold and rose, the azure pastures through, What time the lark was carolling on high Above the gardens drench’d with rainy dew.
But Aphrodite sent a slumber deep
On all in the King’s palace, young and old, And one by one the women fell asleep, –
Their lamentable tales left half untold, – Before the dawn, when folk wax weak and cold, But Helen waken’d with the shining morn, Forgetting quite her sorrows manifold, And light of heart as was the day new-born.
She had no memory of unhappy things,
She knew not of the evil days to come, Forgotten were her ancient wanderings,
And as Lethaean waters wholly numb The sense of spirits in Elysium,
That no remembrance may their bliss alloy, Even so the rumour of her days was dumb, And all her heart was ready for new joy.
The young day knows not of an elder dawn, Joys of old noons, old sorrows of the night, And so from Helen was the past withdrawn, Her lord, her child, her home forgotten quite, Lost in the marvel of a new delight:
She was as one who knows he shall not die, When earthly colours melt into the bright Pure splendour of his immortality.
Then Helen rose, and all her body fair She bath’d in the spring water, pure and cold, And with her hand bound up her shining hair And clothed her in the raiment that of old Athene wrought with marvels manifold,
A bridal gift from an immortal hand, And all the front was clasp’d with clasps of gold, And for the girdle was a golden band.
Next from her upper chamber silently
Went Helen, moving like a morning dream. She did not know the golden roof, the high Walls, and the shields that on the pillars gleam, Only she heard the murmur of the stream That waters all the garden’s wide expanse, This song, and cry of singing birds, did seem To guide her feet as music guides the dance.
The music drew her on to the glad air From forth the chamber of enchanted death, And lo! the world was waking everywhere; The wind went by, a cool delicious breath, Like that which in the gardens wandereth, The golden gardens of the Hesperides,
And in its song unheard of things it saith, The myriad marvels of the fairy seas.
So through the courtyard to the garden close Went Helen, where she heard the murmuring Of water ‘twixt the lily and the rose;
For thereby doth a double fountain spring. To one stream do the women pitchers bring By Menelaus’ gates, at close of day;
The other through the close doth shine and sing, Then to the swift Eurotas fleets away.
And Helen sat her down upon the grass, And pluck’d the little daisies white and red, And toss’d them where the running waters pass, To watch them racing from the fountain-head, And whirl’d about where little streams dispread; And still with merry birds the garden rang, And, MARRY, MARRY, in their song they said, Or so do maids interpret that they sang.
Then stoop’d she down, and watch’d the crystal stream, And fishes poising where the waters ran, And lo! upon the glass a golden gleam,
And purple as of robes Sidonian,
Then, sudden turning, she beheld a man, That knelt beside her; as her own face fair Was his, and o’er his shoulders for a span Fell the bright tresses of his yellow hair.
Then either look’d on other with amaze As each had seen a God; for no long while They marvell’d, but as in the first of days, The first of men and maids did meet and smile, And Aphrodite did their hearts beguile, So hands met hands, lips lips, with no word said Were they enchanted ‘neath that leafy aisle, And silently were woo’d, betroth’d, and wed.
Ah, slowly did their silence wake to words That scarce had more of meaning than the song Pour’d forth of the innumerable birds
That fill the palace gardens all day long; So innocent, so ignorant of wrong,
Was she, so happy each in other’s eyes, Thus wrought the mighty Goddess that is strong, Even to make naught the wisdom of the wise.
Now in the midst of that enchanted place Right gladly had they linger’d all day through, And fed their love upon each other’s face, But Aphrodite had a counsel new,
And silently to Paris’ side she drew, In guise of Aethra, whispering that the day Pass’d on, while his ship waited, and his crew Impatient, in the narrow Gythian bay.
For thither had she brought them by her skill; But Helen saw her not,–nay, who can see A Goddess come or go against her will?
Then Paris whisper’d, “Come, ah, Love, with me! Come to a shore beyond the barren sea; There doth the bridal crown await thy head, And there shall all the land be glad of thee!” Then, like a child, she follow’d where he led.
For, like a child’s her gentle heart was glad. So through the courtyard pass’d they to the gate; And even there, as Aphrodite bade,
The steeds of Paris and the chariots wait; Then to the well-wrought car he led her straight, And grasped the shining whip and golden rein, And swift they drave until the day was late By clear Eurotas through the fruitful plain.
But now within the halls the magic sleep Was broken, and men sought them everywhere; Yet Aphrodite cast a cloud so deep
About their chariot none might see them there. And strangely did they hear the trumpets blare, And noise of racing wheels; yet saw they nought: Then died the sounds upon the distant air, And safe they won the haven that they sought.
Beneath a grassy cliff, beneath the down, Where swift Eurotas mingles with the sea, There climb’d the grey walls of a little town, The sleepy waters wash’d it languidly, For tempests in that haven might not be. The isle across the inlet guarded all,
And the shrill winds that roam the ocean free Broke and were broken on the rocky wall.
Then Paris did a point of hunting blow, Nor yet the sound had died upon the hill When round the isle they spied a scarlet prow, And oars that flash’d into that haven still, The oarsmen bending forward with a will, And swift their black ship to the haven-side They brought, and steer’d her in with goodly skill, And bare on board the strange Achaean bride.
Now while the swift ship through the waters clave, All happy things that in the waters dwell, Arose and gamboll’d on the glassy wave,
And Nereus led them with his sounding shell: Yea, the sea-nymphs, their dances weaving well, In the green water gave them greeting free. Ah, long light linger’d, late the darkness fell, That night, upon the isle of Cranae!
And Hymen shook his fragrant torch on high, Till all its waves of smoke and tongues of flame, Like clouds of rosy gold fulfill’d the sky; And all the Nereids from the waters came, Each maiden with a musical sweet name; Doris, and Doto, and Amphithoe;
And their shrill bridal song of love and shame Made music in the silence of the sea.
For this was like that night of summer weather, When mortal men and maidens without fear, And forest-nymphs, and forest-gods together, Do worship Pan in the long twilight clear. And Artemis this one night spares the deer, And every cave and dell, and every grove Is glad with singing soft and happy cheer, With laughter, and with dalliance, and with love.
* * * * *
Now when the golden-throned Dawn arose To waken gods and mortals out of sleep, Queen Aphrodite sent the wind that blows From fairy gardens of the Western deep. The sails are spread, the oars of Paris leap Past many a headland, many a haunted fane: And, merrily all from isle to isle they sweep O’er the wet ways across the barren plain.
By many an island fort, and many a haven They sped, and many a crowded arsenal: They saw the loves of Gods and men engraven On friezes of Astarte’s temple wall.
They heard that ancient shepherd Proteus call His flock from forth the green and tumbling lea, And saw white Thetis with her maidens all Sweep up to high Olympus from the sea.
They saw the vain and weary toil of men, The ships that win the rich man all he craves; They pass’d the red-prow’d barks Egyptian, And heard afar the moaning of the slaves Pent in the dark hot hold beneath the waves; And scatheless the Sardanian fleets among They sail’d; by men that sow the sea with graves, Bearing black fate to folk of alien tongue.
Then all day long a rolling cloud of smoke Would hang on the sea-limits, faint and far, But through the night the beacon-flame upbroke From some rich island-town begirt with war; And all these things could neither make nor mar The joy of lovers wandering, but they
Sped happily, and heedless of the star That hung o’er their glad haven, far away.
The fisher-sentinel upon the height
Watch’d them with vacant eyes, and little knew They bore the fate of Troy; to him the bright Plashed waters, with the silver shining through When tunny shoals came cruising in the blue, Was more than Love that doth the world unmake; And listless gazed he as the gulls that flew And shriek’d and chatter’d in the vessel’s wake.
So the wind drave them, and the waters bare Across the great green plain unharvested, Till through an after-glow they knew the fair Faint rose of snow on distant Ida’s head. And swifter then the joyous oarsmen sped; But night was ended, and the waves were fire Beneath the fleet feet of a dawning red Or ere they won the land of their desire.
Now when the folk about the haven knew The scarlet prow of Paris, swift they ran And the good ship within the haven drew, And merrily their welcoming began.
But none the face of Helen dared to scan; Their bold eyes fell before they had their fill, For all men deem’d her that Idalian
Who loved Anchises on the lonely hill.
But when her sweet smile and her gentleness And her kind speech had won them from dismay, They changed their minds, and ‘gan the Gods to bless Who brought to Ilios that happy day.
And all the folk fair Helen must convey, Crown’d like a bride, and clad with flame-hued pall, Through the rich plain, along the water-way Right to the great gates of the Ilian wall.
And through the vines they pass’d, where old and young Had no more heed of the glad vintaging, But all unpluck’d the purple clusters hung, Nor more of Linus did the minstrel sing, For he and all the folk were following, Wine-stain’d and garlanded, in merry bands, Like men when Dionysus came as king,
And led his revel from the sun-burnt lands,
So from afar the music and the shout
Roll’d up to Ilios and the Scaean gate, And at the sound the city folk came out
And bore sweet Helen–such a fairy weight As none might deem the burden of Troy’s fate – Across the threshold of the town, and all Flock’d with her, where King Priam sat in state, Girt by his elders, on the Ilian wall.
No man but knew him by his crown of gold, And golden-studded sceptre, and his throne; Ay, strong he seem’d as those great kings of old, Whose image is eternal on the stone
Won from the dust that once was Babylon; But kind of mood was he withal, and mild, And when his eyes on Argive Helen shone, He loved her as a father doth a child.
Round him were set his peers, as Panthous, Antenor, and Agenor, hardly grey,
Scarce touch’d as yet with age, nor garrulous As are cicalas on a sunny day:
Such might they be when years had slipp’d away, And made them over-weak for war or joy,
Content to watch the Leaguer as it lay Beside the ships, beneath the walls of Troy.
Then Paris had an easy tale to tell,
Which then might win upon men’s wond’ring ears, Who deem’d that Gods with mortals deign to dwell, And that the water of the West enspheres The happy Isles that know not Death nor tears; Yea, and though monsters do these islands guard, Yet men within their coasts had dwelt for years Uncounted, with a strange love for reward.
And there had Paris ventured: so said he, – Had known the Sirens’ song, and Circe’s wile; And in a cove of that Hesperian sea
Had found a maiden on a lonely isle; A sacrifice, if so men might beguile
The wrath of some beast-god they worshipp’d there, But Paris, ‘twixt the sea and strait defile, Had slain the beast, and won the woman fair.
Then while the happy people cried “Well done,” And Priam’s heart was melted by the tale – For Paris was his best-beloved son –
Came a wild woman, with wet eyes, and pale Sad face, men look’d on when she cast her veil, Not gladly; and none mark’d the thing she said, Yet must they hear her long and boding wail That follow’d still, however fleet they fled.
She was the priestess of Apollo’s fane, Cassandra, and the God of prophecy
Spurr’d her to speak and rent her! but in vain She toss’d her wasted arms against the sky, And brake her golden circlet angrily,
And shriek’d that they had brought within the gate Helen, a serpent at their hearts to lie! Helen, a hell of people, king, and state!
But ere the God had left her; ere she fell And foam’d among her maidens on the ground, The air was ringing with a merry swell
Of flute, and pipe, and every sweetest sound, In Aphrodite’s fane, and all around
Were roses toss’d beneath the glimmering green Of that high roof, and Helen there was crown’d The Goddess of the Trojans, and their Queen.
BOOK IV–THE DEATH OF CORYTHUS
How Helen was made an outcast by the Trojan women, and how OEnone, the old love of Paris, sent her son Corythus to him as her messenger, and how Paris slew him unwittingly; and of the curses of OEnone, and the coming of the Argive host against Troy.
For long in Troia was there peace and mirth, The pleasant hours still passing one by one; And Helen joy’d at each fresh morning’s birth, And almost wept at setting of the sun, For sorrow that the happy day was done; Nor dream’d of years when she should hate the light, And mourn afresh for every day begun,
Nor fare abroad save shamefully by night.
And Paris was not one to backward cast A fearful glance; nor pluck sour fruits of sin, Half ripe; but seized all pleasures while they last, Nor boded evil ere ill days begin.
Nay, nor lamented much when caught therein, In each adventure always finding joy,
And hopeful still through waves of war to win By strength of Hector, and the star of Troy.
Now as the storms drive white sea-birds afar Within green upland glens to seek for rest, So rumours pale of an approaching war
Were blown across the islands from the west: For Agamemnon summon’d all the best
From towns and tribes he ruled, and gave command That free men all should gather at his hest Through coasts and islets of the Argive land.
Sidonian merchant-men had seen the fleet Black war-galleys that sped from town to town; Had heard the hammers of the bronze-smiths beat The long day through, and when the sun went down; And thin, said they, would show the leafy crown On many a sacred mountain-peak in spring, For men had fell’d the pine-trees tall and brown To fashion them curved ships for seafaring.
And still the rumour grew; for heralds came, Old men from Argos, bearing holy boughs, Demanding great atonement for the shame
And sore despite done Menelaus’ house; But homeward soon they turn’d their scarlet prows, And all their weary voyaging was vain;
For Troy had bound herself with awful vows To cleave to Helen till the walls were ta’en.
And now, like swallows ere the winter weather, The women in shrill groups were gathering, With eager tongues still communing together, And many a taunt at Helen would they fling, Ay, through her innocence she felt the sting, And shamed was now her gentle face and sweet, For e’en the children evil songs would sing To mock her as she hasted down the street.
Also the men who worshipp’d her of old As she had been a goddess from above,
Gazed at her now with lustful eyes and bold, As she were naught but Paris’ light-o’-love; And though in truth they still were proud enough, Of that fair gem in their old city set,
Yet well she knew that wanton word and scoff Went round the camp-fire when the warriors met.
There came a certain holiday when Troy Was wont to send her noble matrons all, Young wives and old, with clamour and with joy, To clothe Athene in her temple hall,
And robe her in a stately broider’d pall. But now they drove fair Helen from their train, “Better,” they scream’d, “to cast her from the wall, Than mock the Gods with offerings in vain.”
One joy she had, that Paris yet was true, Ay, fickle Paris, true unto the end;
And in the court of Ilios were two
Kind hearts, still eager Helen to defend, And help and comfort in all need to lend:- The gentle Hector with soft speech and mild, And the old king that ever was her friend, And loved her as a father doth his child.
These, though they knew not all, these blamed her not, But cast the heavy burden on the God,
Whose wrath, they deem’d, had verily waxed hot Against the painful race on earth that trod, And in God’s hand was Helen but the rod To scourge a people that, in unknown wise, Had vex’d the far Olympian abode
With secret sin or stinted sacrifice.
* * * * * *
The days grew into months, and months to years, And still the Argive army did delay,
Till folk in Troia half forgot their fears, And almost as of old were glad and gay; And men and maids on Ida dared to stray, But Helen dwelt within her inmost room,
And there from dawning to declining day, Wrought at the patient marvels of her loom.
Yet even there in peace she might not be: There was a nymph, OEnone, in the hills, The daughter of a River-God was she,
Of Cebren,–that the mountain silence fills With murmur’d music, for the countless rills Of Ida meet him, dancing to the plain, – Her Paris wooed, yet ignorant of ills, Among the shepherd’s huts, nor wooed in vain.
Nay, Summer often found them by the fold In these glad days, ere Paris was a king, And oft the Autumn, in his car of gold,
Had pass’d them, merry at the vintaging: And scarce they felt the breath of the white wing Of Winter, in the cave where they would lie On beds of heather by the fire, till Spring Should crown them with her buds in passing by.
For elbow-deep their flowery bed was strown With fragrant leaves and with crush’d asphodel, And sweetly still the shepherd-pipe made moan, And many a tale of Love they had to tell, – How Daphnis loved the strange, shy maiden well, And how she loved him not, and how he died, And oak-trees moan’d his dirge, and blossoms fell Like tears from lindens by the water-side!
But colder, fleeter than the Winter’s wing, Time pass’d; and Paris changed, and now no more OEnone heard him on the mountain sing,
Not now she met him in the forest hoar. Nay, but she knew that on an alien shore An alien love he sought; yet was she strong To live, who deem’d that even as of yore In days to come might Paris love her long.
For dark OEnone from her Father drew
A power beyond all price; the gift to deal With wounded men, though now the dreadful dew Of Death anoint them, and the secret seal Of Fate be set on them; these might she heal; And thus OEnone trusted still to save
Her lover at the point of death, and steal His life from Helen, and the amorous grave.
And she had borne, though Paris knew it not, A child, fair Corythus, to be her shame, And still she mused, whenas her heart was hot, “He hath no child by that Achaean dame:” But when her boy unto his manhood came, Then sorer yet OEnone did repine,
And bade him “fare to Ilios, and claim Thy father’s love, and all that should be thine!”
Therewith a golden bodkin from her hair She drew, and from a green-tress’d birchen tree She pluck’d a strip of smooth white bark and fair, And many signs and woful graved she,
A message of the evil things to be. Then deftly closed the birch-bark, fold on fold, And bound the tokens well and cunningly, Three times and four times, with a thread of gold.
“Give these to Argive Helen’s hand,” she cried: And so embraced her child, and with no fear Beheld him leaping down the mountain-side, Like a king’s son that goes to hunt the deer, Clad softly, and in either hand a spear, With two swift-footed hounds that follow’d him, So leap’d he down the grassy slopes and sheer, And won the precinct of the forest dim.
He trod that ancient path his sire had trod, Far, far below he saw the sea, the town; He moved as light as an immortal god,
For mansions in Olympus gliding down. He left the shadow of the forest brown, And through the shallow waters did he cross, And stood, ere twilight fell, within the crown Of towers, the sacred keep of Ilios.
Now folk that mark’d him hasting deem’d that he Had come to tell the host was on its way, As one that from the hills had seen the sea Beclouded with the Danaan array,
So straight to Paris’ house with no delay They led him, and did eagerly await
Within the forecourt, in the twilight grey, To hear some certain message of their fate.
Now Paris was asleep upon his bed
Tired with a listless day; but all along The palace chambers Corythus was led,
And still he heard a music, shrill and strong, That seem’d to clamour of an old-world wrong, And hearts a long time broken; last they came To Helen’s bower, the fountain of the song That cried so loud against an ancient shame.
And Helen fared before a mighty loom, And sang, and cast her shuttle wrought of gold, And forth unto the utmost secret room
The wave of her wild melody was roll’d; And still she fashion’d marvels manifold, Strange shapes of fish and serpent, bear and swan, The loves of the immortal Gods of old, Wherefrom the peoples of the world began.
Now Helen met the stranger graciously With gentle speech, and bade set forth a chair Well wrought of cedar wood and ivory
That wise Icmalius had fashion’d fair. But when young Corythus had drunk the rare Wine of the princes, and had broken bread, Then Helen took the word, and bade declare His instant tidings; and he spake and said,
“Lady and Queen, I have a secret word, And bear a token sent to none but thee, Also I bring message to my Lord
That spoken to another may not be.” Then Helen gave a sign unto her three
Bower-maidens, and they went forth from that place, Silent they went; and all forebodingly, They left the man and woman face to face.
Then from his breast the birchen scroll he took And gave to Helen; and she read therein: “Oh thou that on those hidden runes dost look, Hast thou forgotten quite thine ancient sin, Thy Lord, thy lofty palace, and thy kin, Even as thy Love forgets the words he spoke The strong oath broken one weak heart to win, The lips that kiss’d him, and the heart that broke?
“Nay, but methinks thou shalt not quite forget The curse wherewith I curse thee till I die; The tears that on the wood-nymph’s cheeks are wet, Shall burn thy hateful beauty deathlessly, Nor shall God raise up seed to thee; but I Have borne thy love this messenger: my son, Who yet shall make him glad, for Time goes by And soon shall thine enchantments all be done:
“Ay, soon ‘twixt me and Death must be his choice, And little in that hour will Paris care For thy sweet lips, and for thy singing voice, Thine arms of ivory, thy golden hair.
Nay, me will he embrace, and will not spare, But bid the folk that hate thee have their joy, And give thee to the mountain beasts to tear, Or burn thy body on a tower of Troy.”
Even as she read, by Aphrodite’s will The cloud roll’d back from Helen’s memory: She saw the city of the rifted hill,
Fair Lacedaemon, ‘neath her mountain high; She knew the swift Eurotas running by
To mix his sacred waters with the sea, And from the garden close she heard the cry Of her beloved child, Hermione.
Then instantly the horror of her shame Fell on her, and she saw the coming years; Famine, and fire, and plague, and all men’s blame, The wounds of warriors and the women’s fears; And through her heart her sorrow smote like spears, And in her soul she knew the utmost smart Of wives left lonely, sires bereaved, the tears Of maidens desolate, of loves that part.
She drain’d the dregs out of the cup of hate; The bitterness of sorrow, shame, and scorn; Where’er the tongues of mortals curse their fate, She saw herself an outcast and forlorn; And hating sore the day that she was born, Down in the dust she cast her golden head, There with rent raiment and fair tresses torn, At feet of Corythus she lay for dead.
But Corythus, beholding her sweet face, And her most lovely body lying low,
Had pity on her grief and on her grace, Nor heeded now she was his mother’s foe, But did what might be done to ease her woe, While, as he thought, with death for life she strove, And loosed the necklet round her neck of snow, As who that saw had deem’d, with hands of love.
And there was one that saw: for Paris woke Half-deeming and half-dreaming that the van Of the great Argive host had scared the folk, And down the echoing corridor he ran
To Helen’s bower, and there beheld the man That kneel’d beside his lady lying there: No word he spake, but drove his sword a span Through Corythus’ fair neck and cluster’d hair.
Then fell fair Corythus, as falls the tower An earthquake shaketh from a city’s crown, Or as a tall white fragrant lily-flower
A child hath in the garden trampled down, Or as a pine-tree in the forest brown, Fell’d by the sea-rovers on mountain lands, When they to harry foreign folk are boune, Taking their own lives in their reckless hands.
But still in Paris did his anger burn, And still his sword was lifted up to slay, When, like a lot leap’d forth of Fate’s own urn, He mark’d the graven tokens where they lay, ‘Mid Helen’s hair in golden disarray,
And looking on them, knew what he had done, Knew what dire thing had fallen on that day, Knew how a father’s hand had slain a son.
Then Paris on his face fell grovelling, And the night gather’d, and the silence grew Within the darkened chamber of the king. But Helen rose, and a sad breath she drew, And her new woes came back to her anew: Ah, where is he but knows the bitter pain To wake from dreams, and find his sorrow true, And his ill life returned to him again!
She needed none to tell her whence it fell, The thick red rain upon the marble floor: She knew that in her bower she might not dwell, Alone with her own heart for ever more; No sacrifice, no spell, no priestly lore Could banish quite the melancholy ghost
Of Corythus; a herald sent before Them that should die for her, a dreadful host.
But slowly Paris raised him from the earth, And read her face, and knew that she knew all, No more her eyes, in tenderness or mirth, Should answer his, in bower or in hall. Nay, Love had fallen when his child did fall, The stream Love cannot cross ran ‘twixt them red; No more was Helen his, whate’er befall, Not though the Goddess drove her to his bed.
This word he spake, “the Fates are hard on us” – Then bade the women do what must be done To the fair body of dead Corythus.
And then he hurl’d into the night alone, Wailing unto the spirit of his son,
That somewhere in dark mist and sighing wind Must dwell, nor yet to Hades had it won, Nor quite had left the world of men behind.
But wild OEnone by the mountain-path
Saw not her son returning to the wold, And now was she in fear, and now in wrath She cried, “He hath forgot the mountain fold, And goes in Ilios with a crown of gold:” But even then she heard men’s axes smite Against the beeches slim and ash-trees old, These ancient trees wherein she did delight.