The Battle of Marathon, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Book I.

THE war of Greece with Persia’s haughty King,

No vulgar strain, eternal Goddess, sing!

What dreary ghosts to glutted Pluto fled.

What nations suffered, and what heroes bled:

Sing Asia’s powerful Prince, who envious saw

The fame of Athens, and her might in war;

And scorns her power, at Cytherea’s call

Her ruin plans and meditates her fall;

How Athens blinded, to the approaching chains

By Vulcan’s artful spouse, unmoved remains;

Deceived by Venus thus, unconquered Greece

Forgot her glories in the lap of peace;

While Asia’s realms, and Asia’s lord prepare

T’ensnare her freedom, by the wiles of war:

Hippias t’ exalt upon th’ Athenian throne,

Where once Pisistratus his father shone.

For yet her son Aeneas’ wrongs impart

Revenge and grief to Cytherea’s heart;

And still from smoking Troy’s once sacred wall,

Does Priam’s reeking shade for vengeance call,

Minerva saw, and Paphia’s Queen defied,

A boon she begored, nor Jove the boon denied:

That Greece should rise, triumphant o’er her foe

Disarm th’ invaders, and their power o’erthrow;

Her prayer obtained, the blue eyed Goddess flies

As the fierce eagle, thro’ the radiant skies.

To Aristides then she stood confessed,

Shews Persia’s arts, and fires his warlike breast:

Then pours celestial ardour o’er his frame

And points the way to glory and to fame.

Awe struck the Chief, and swells his troubled soul.

In pride and wonder thoughts progressive roll.

He inly groaned, and smote his labouring breast.

At once by Pallas, and by care opprest.

Inspired he moved, earth echoed where he trod.

All full of Heaven, all burning with the God.

Th’ x\Athenians viewed with awe the mighty man.

To whom the Chief impassioned thus began.

“Hear, all ye Sons of Greece! Friends, Fathers, hear!

The Gods command it, and the Gods revere!

No madness mine, for mark, oh favored Greeks!

That by my month the martial Goddess speaks!

This, know Athenians, that proud Persia now

Prepares to twme thy laurels on her brow;

Behold her princely Chiefs, their weapons wield

By Venus fired, and shake the brazen shield.

I hear their shouts that echo to the skies,

I see their lances blaze, their banners rise,

I hear the clash of arms, the battle’s roar,

And all the din, and thunder of the war!

I know that Greeks shall purchase just renown,

And fame impartial, shall Athena crown.

Then Greeks, prepare your arms! award the yoke,

Thus Jove commands” — sublime the hero spoke;

The Greeks assent with shouts, and rend the skies

With martial clamour, and tumultuous cries.

So struggling winds with rage indignant sweep

The azure waters of the silent deep,

Sudden the seas rebellowino:, frightful rise,

And dash their foaming surges to the skies;

Burst the firm sand, and boil with dreadful roar,

Lift their black waves, and combat with the shore.

So each brave Greek, in thought aspires to fame,

Stung by his words, and dread of future shame;

Glory’s own fires, within their bosom rise

And shouts tumultuous, thunder to the skies.

But Love’s celestial Queen, resentful saw

The Greeks (by Pallas warned) prepare for war;

Th’ indignant Goddess of the paphian bower

Deceives Themistocles with heavenly power;

The hero rising spoke, “Oh rashly blind,

What sudden fury thus has seized thy mind,

Boy as thou art, such empty dreams beware

Shall we, for griefs and wars unsought, prepare?

The will of mighty Jove, whate’er it be

Obey, and own th’ Omnipotent decree.

If our disgrace and fall the fates employ.

Why did we triumph o’er perfidious Troy?

Why say, oh Chief, in that eventful hour

Did Grecian heroes crush Dardanian power?”

Him eyeing sternly, thus the Greek replies,

Renowned for truth, and as Minerva wise,

“Oh Son of Greece, no heedless boy am I

Despised in battle’s toils, nor first to fly,

Nor dreams, or phrenzy call my words astray,

The heaven sent mandate pious I obey.

If Pallas did not all my words inspire,

May heaven pursue me with unceasing ire!

But if (oh grant my prayer almighty Jove)

I bear a mandate from the Courts above,

Then thro’ yon heaven, let awful thunder roar

Till Greeks believe my mission, and adore!”

He ceased — and thro’ the host one murmur ran,

With eyes transfixed, upon the godlike man.

But hark! o’er earth expands the solemn sound,

It lengthening grows — heaven’s azure vaults resound,

While peals of thunder beat the echoing ground.

Prostrate, convinc’d divine Themistocles

Embraced the hero’s hands, and clasped his knees:

“Behold me here, (the awe struck Chieftain cries

While tears repentant glisten in his eyes,)

“Behold me here, thy friendship to entreat

Themistocles, a suppliant at thy feet.

Before no haughty despot’s royal throne

This knee has bent — it bends to thee alone

Thy mission to adore, thy truth to own.

Behold me Jove, and witness what I swear

By all on earth I love, by all in heav’n I fear,

Some fiend inspired my words, of dark design,

Some fiend concealed beneath a robe divine;

Then aid me in my prayer ye Gods above

Bid Aristides give me back his love!”

He spake and wept; benign the godlike man

Felt tears descend and paused, then thus began,

“Thrice worthy Greek for this shall we contend

Ah no! I feel thy worth, thou more than friend,

Pardon sincere Themistocles receive

The heart declares ’tis easy to forgive.”

He spake divine, his eye with Pallas bums

He spoke and sighed, and sighed and wept by turns.

Themistocles beheld the Chief opprest,

Awe struck he paused, then rushed upon his breast,

Whom sage Miltiades with joy addressed.

“Hero of Greece, worthy a hero’s name

Adored by Athens, fav’rite child of fame!

Glory’s own spirit does with tiiith combine

To form a soul, so godlike, so divine!

Oh Aristides rise, our Chief! to save

The fame, the might of Athens from the grave.

Nor then refuse thy noble arm to lend

To guard Athena, and her state defend.

First I obedient, ’customed homage pay

To own a hero’s and a leader’s sway”

He said, and would have knelt; the man divine

Perceiv’d his will, and stayed the Sire’s design.

“Not mine, oh Sage, to lead this gallant band

He generous said, and grasped his aged hand,

“Proud as I am in glory’s arms to rise

Athenian Greeks, to shield your liberties,

Yet ’tis not mine to lead your powerful state,

Enough it is, to tempt you to be great;

Be’t for Miltiades experienced sage

To curb your ardour and restrain your rage,

Your souls to temper — by his skill prepare

To succour Athens, and conduct the war.

More fits my early youth to purchase fame,

By deeds in arms t’ immortalize my name.”

Firmly he spake, his words the Greek inspire.

And all were hushed to listen and admire.

The Sage thus — “Most Allied to Gods! the fame

The pride, the glory of the Grecian name

E’en by thee, Chief, I swear, to whom is given

The sacred mandate of yon marble heaven —

To lead, not undeserving of thy love

T’ avert the yoke, if so determines Jove.”

Amidst the host imagination rose

And paints the combat, but disdains the woes.

And heaven born fancy, with dishevelled hair,

Points to the ensanguined field, and victory there.

But soon, too soon, these empty dreams are driven

Forth from their breasts — but soothing hope is given

Hope sprung from Jove, man’s sole, and envied heav’n.

Then all his glory, Aristides felt

And begged the Chieftain’s blessing as he knelt:

Miltiades his pious arms out spread

Called Jove’s high spirit on the hero’s head,

Nor called unheard — sublime in upper air

The bird of Jove appeared to bless his prayer.

Lightning he breathed, not harsh, not fiercely bright,

But one pure stream of heaven collected light:

Jove’s sacred smile lulls every care to rest,

Calms every woe, and gladdens every breast.

But what shrill blast thus bursts upon the ear;

What banners rise, what heralds forms appear;

That haughty mien, and that commanding face

Bespeak them Persians, and of noble race;

One on whose hand Darius signet beamed,

Superior to the rest, a leader seemed,

With brow contracted, and with flashing eye

Thus threatening spoke, in scornful majesty;

“Know Greeks that I, a sacred herald, bring

The awful mandate of the Persian King,

To force allegiance from the Sons of Greece,

Then earth and water give, nor scorn his peace.

For, if for homage, back reproof I bear.

To meet his wrath his vengeful wrath prepare,

For not ill vain ye scorn his dread command

When Asia’s might comes thundering in his hand.”

To whom Miltiades with kindling eye,

“We scorn Darius, and his threats defy;

And now, proud herald, shall we stoop to shame?

Shall Athens tremble at a tyrant’s name?

Persian away! such idle dreams forbear,

And shun our anger and our vengeance fear.”

“Oh! vain thy words, the herald fierce began;

Thrice vain thy dotaged words, oh powerless man,

Sons of a desert, hoping to withstand

All the joint forces of Darius’ hand,

Fools, fools, the King of millions to defy

For freedom’s empty name, to ask to die!

Yet stay, till Persia’s powers their banners rear,

Then shall ye learn our forces to revere

And ye, oh impotent, shall deign to fear!”

To whom great Aristides: rising ire

Boiled in his breast, and set his soul on fire:

“Oh wretch accurst, the hero cried, to seek

T’ insult experienced age, t’ insult a Greek!

Inglorious slave! Whom truth and heaven deny

Unfit to live, yet more unfit to die:

But, trained to pass the goblet at the board

And servile kiss the footsteps of thy lord,

Whose wretched life no glorious deeds beguile

Who lives upon the semblance of a smile,

Die! thy base shade to gloomy regions fled,

Join there, the shivering phantoms of the dead.

Base slave, return to dust” — his victim then

In fearful accents cried, “Oh best of men

Most loved of Gods, most merciful, most just,

Behold me humbled, grovelling in the dust:

Not mine th’ offence, the mandate stern I bring

From great Darius, Asia’s tyrant King.

Oh strike not Chief, not mine the guilt, not mine,

Ah o’er those brows severe, let mercy shine

So dear to heav’n, of origin divine!

Tributes, lands, gold, shall wealthy Persia give

All, and yet more, but bid me, wretched, live!”

He trembling, thus persuades with fond entreat

And nearer prest, and clasped the hero’s feet,

Forth from the Grecian breast, all rage is driv’n.

He lifts his arms, his eyes, his soul to heav’n.

“Hear, Jove omnipotent, all wise, all great

To whom all fate is known; whose will is fate.

Hear thou all-seeing one, hear Sire divine.

Teach me thy will, and be thy wisdom mine!

Behold this suppliant! life or death decree

Be thine the judgment, for I bend to thee.”

And thus the Sire of Gods, and men replies,

While pealing thunder shakes the groaning skies,

The awful voice, thro’ spheres unknown was driv’n

Resounding thro’ the darkning realms of heaven.

Aloft in air sublime the echo rode

And earth resounds the glory of the God:

“Son of Athena, let the coward die,

And his pale ghost, to Pluto’s empire fly,

Son of Athena, our command obey,

Know thou our might, and then adore our sway.”

Th’ Almighty spake — the heavens convulsive start

From the black clouds, the whizzing lightnings dart

And dreadful dance along the troubled sky

Struggling with fate in awful mystery.

The hero heard, and Jove his breast inspired

Nor now by pity touched, but anger fired;

While his big heart within his bosom burns,

Oft from his feet the clinging slave he spurns.

Vain were his cries, his prayers ’gainst fate above,

Jove wills his fall, and who can strive with Jove?

To whom the hero — “Hence to Pluto’s sway

To realms of night, ne’er lit by Cynthia’s ray,

Hence from yon gulph, the earth and water bring

And crown with victory your mighty King.”

He said — and where the gulph of death appeared

Where raging waves, with rocks sublimely reared

He hurled the wretch at once of hope bereaved,

Struggling he fell, the roaring flood received.

E’en now for life his shrieks, his groans implore,

And now death’s latent agony is o’er,

He struggling sinks, and sinks to rise no more.

The train amaz’d, behold their herald die

And Greece in arms — they tremble and they fly;

So some fair herd, upon the verdant mead

See by the lion’s jaws their foremost bleed,

Fearful they fly, lest what revolving fate

Had doomed their leader, should themselves await.

Then shouts of glorious war, and fame resound,

Athena’s brazen gates receive the lofty sound.

But she whom Paphia’s radiant climes adore

From her own bower the work of Pallas saw:

Tumultuous thoughts, within her bosom rise

She calls her car, and at her will it flies.

Th’ eternal car with gold celestial burns,

Its polished wheel on brazen axle turns:

This to his spouse by Vulcan’s self was given

An off’ering worthy of the forge of heav’n.

The Goddess mounts the seat, and seized the reins

The doves celestial cut the aerial plains,

Before the sacred birds and car of gold

Self moved the radiant gates of heav’n unfold.

She then dismounts, and thus to mighty Jove

Begins the Mother and Queen of love.

“And is it thus, oh Sire, that fraud shall spring

From the pure breast of heaven’s eternal King?

Was it for this, Saturnius’ word was given

That Greece should fall ’mong nations curst of heaven,

Thou swore by hell’s black flood, and heaven above.

Is this, oh say, is this the faith of Jove?

Behold stern Pallas, Athens’ Sons alarms

Darius’ herald crushed, and Greece in arms.

E’en now behold her crested streamers fly

Each Greek resolved to triumph or to die:

Ah me unhappy! when shall sorrow cease;

Too well I know the fatal might of Greece;

Was’t not enough, imperial Troy should fall,

That Argive hands should raze the god built wall?

Was’t not enough Anchises’ Son should roam

Far from his native shore and much loved home?

All this unconscious of thy fraud I bore

For thou, oh Sire, t’ allay my vengeance, swore

That Athens towering in her might should fall

And Rome should triumph on her prostrate wall;

But oil, if haughty Greece, should captive bring

The great Darius, Persia’s mighty King,

What power her pride what power her might shall move

Not e’en the Thunderer, not eternal Jove,

E’en to thy heav’n shall rise her towering fame,

And prostrate nations will adore her name.

Rather on me thy instant vengeance take

Than all should fall for Cytherea’s sake

Oh I hurl me flaming in the burning lake.

Transfix me there unknown to Olympian calm

Launch thy red bolt, and bare thy crimson arm.

I’d suffer all — more — bid my woes increase

To hear but one sad groan from haughty Greece.”

She thus her grief with fruitless rage expressed

And pride and anger swelled within her breast.

But he whose thunders awe the troubled sky

Thus mournful spake, and curbed the rising sigh:

“And is it thus celestial pleasures flow

E’en here shall sorrow reach and mortal woe!

Shall strife the heavenly powers for ever move

And e’en insult the sacred ear of Jove?

Know, oh rebellious, Greece shall rise sublime

In fame the first, nor daughter, mine the crime,

In valor foremost, and in virtue great

Fame’s highest glories shall attend her state.

So fate ordains, nor all my boasted power

Can raise those virtues, or those glories low’r:

But rest secure, destroying time must come

And Athens self must own imperial Rome.

Thus the great Thunderer, and with visage mild

Shook his ambrosial curls before his child

And bending awful gave the eternal nod,

Heav’n quaked, and fate adored the parent God.

Joy seized the Goddess of the smiles and loves

Nor longer, care, her heavenly bosom moves.

Hope rose, and o’er her soul its powers displayed,

Nor checked by sorrow, nor by grief dismayed.

She thus — “Oh thou, whose awful thunders roll

Thro’ heaven’s etherial vaults, and shake the pole,

Eternal Sire, so wonderfully great.

To whom is known the secret page of fate.

Say, shall great Persia, next to Rome most dear

To Venus breast, shall Persia learn to fear?

Say, shall her fame, and princely glories cease

Shall Persia servile, own the sway of Greece?”

To whom the Thunderer bent his brow divine

And thus in accents heavenly and benign,

“Daughter, not mine the secrets to relate

The mysteries of all revolving fate,

But ease thy breast, enough for thee to know,

What powerful fate decrees, will Jove bestow..

He then her griefs, and anxious woes beguiled,

And in his sacred arms embraced his child.

Doubt clouds the Goddess’ breast — she calls her car,

And lightly sweeps the liquid fields of air.

When sable night midst silent nature springs,

And o’er Athena shakes her drowsy wings.

The Paphian Goddess from Olympus flies

And leaves the starry senate of the skies;

To Athens heaven’s blest towers, the Queen repairs

To raise more sufferings, and to cause more cares;

The Pylian Sage she moved so loved by fame

In face, in wisdom, and in voice the same.

Twelve Chiefs in sleep absorbed and grateful rest

She first beheld, and them she thus addrest.

“Immortal Chiefs, the fraudful Goddess cries,

While all the hero, kindled in her eyes.

For you, these aged arms did I employ

For you, we razed the sacred walls of Troy,

And now for you, my shivering shade is driven

From Pluto’s dreary realms by urgent heaven;

Then, oh be wise, nor tempt th’ unequal tight

In open fields, but wait superior might

Within immortal Athens’ sacred wall,

There strive, there triumph, nor there fear to fall;

To own the Thunderer’s sway, then Greeks prepare.”

Benign she said, and melted into air.

End of Book I.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32