The Battle of Marathon, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Book II

WHEN from the briny deep, the orient morn

Exalts her purple light, and beams unshorn;

And when the flaming orb of infant day

Glares o’er the earth, and re-illumes the sky;

The twelve deceived, with souls on fire arose,

While the false vision fresh in memory glows;

The Senate first they sought, whose lofty wall

Midst Athens rises, and o’ershadows all;

The pride of Greece, it lifts its front sublime

Unhurt amidst the ravages of time:

High on their towering seats, the heroes found

The Chiefs of Athens solemn ranged around;

One of the twelve the great Clombrotus then,

Renowned for piety, and loved by men;

“Assembled heroes, Chiefs to Pallas dear

All great in battle, and in virtue, hear!

When night with sable wings extended rose

And wrapt our weary limbs in sweet repose,

I and my friends, Cydoon famed in song,

Thelon the valiant, Herocles the strong,

Cleon and Thermosites, in battle great

By Pallas loved, and blest by partial fate.

To us and other six, while day toils steep

Our eyes in happy dreams, and grateful sleep.

The Pylian Sage appeared, but not as when

On Troy’s last dust he stood, the pride of men;

Driven from the shore of Acheron he came

From lower realms to point the path to fame,

Oh glorious Chiefs, the sacred hero said

For you and for your fame, all Troy has bled;

Hither for you, my shivering shade is driv’n

From Pluto’s dreary realms by urgent heav’n;

Then oh be wise, nor tempt th’ unequal fight

In open field, 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 he said, and melted into air.

Leave us not thus I cried, Oh Pylian Sage

Experienced Nestor, famed for reverend age,

Say first, great hero, shall the trump of fame

Our glory publish, or disclose our shame?

Oh what are Athens fates? in vain I said

E’en as I spoke the shadowy Chief had fled.

Then here we flew, to own the visions sway

And heaven’s decrees to adore and to obey.”

He thus — and as before the blackened skies,

Sound the hoarse breezes, murmuring as they rise

So thro’ th’ assembled Greeks, one murmur rose

One long dull echo lengthening as it goes.

Then all was hushed in silence — breathless awe

Opprest each tongue, and trembling they adore.

But now uprising from th’ astonished Chiefs,

Divine Miltiades exposed his griefs,

For well the godlike warrior Sage had seen,

The frauds deceitful of the Paphian Queen,

And feared for Greece, for Greece to whom is give

Eternal fame, the purest gift of heaven.

And yet he feared — the pious hero rose

Majestic in his sufferings in his woes;

Grief clammed his tongue, but soon his spirit woke,

Words burst aloft, and all the Patriot spoke.

“Oh Athens, Athens! all the snares I view

Thus shalt thou fall, and fall inglorious too!

Are all thy boasted dignities no more?

Is all thy might, are all thy glories o’er?

Oh woe on woe, unutterable grief

Not Nestor’s shade, that cursed phantom chief,

But in that reverend air that lofty mien

Behold the frauds of love’s revengeful Queen,

Not yet, her thoughts does vengeance cease t’ employ.

Her Son Aeneas’ wrongs, and burning Troy

Not yet forgotten lie within her breast,

Nor soothed by time, nor by despair deprest.

Greeks still extolled by glory, and by fame

For yet, oh Chiefs! ye bare a Grecian name.

If in these walls, these sacred walls we wait

The might of Persia, and the will of fate,

Before superior force, will Athens fall

And one o’erwhelming ruin bury all.

Then in the open plain your might essay,

Rush on to battle, crush Darius’ sway;

The frauds of Venus, warrior Greeks beware,

Disdain the Persian foes, nor stoop to fear.”

This said, Clombrotus, him indignant heard

Nor felt his wisdom, nor his wrath he feared,

With rage the Chief, the godlike Sage beheld.

And passion in his stubborn soul rebelled.

“Tliricc impious man, th’ infuriate Chieftain cries,

(Flames black and fearful, flashing from his eyes,)

Where lies your spirit Greeks? and can ye bow

To this proud upstart of your power so low?

What! does his aspect awe ye? is his eye

So full of haughtiness and majesty?

Behold the impious soul, that dares defy

The power of Gods and Sovereign of the sky!

And can your hands no sacred weapon wield,

To crush the tyrant, and your country shield?

On Greeks! — your sons, your homes, your country free

From such usurping Chiefs and tyranny!”

He said, and grasped his weapon — at his words

Beneath the horizon gleamed ten thousand swords,

Ten thousand swords e’en in one instant raised,

Sublime they danced aloft, and midst the Senate blazed.

Nor wisdom checked, nor gratitude represt,

They rose, and flashed before the Sage’s breast.

With pride undaunted, greatness unsubdued,

’Gainst him in arms, the impetuous Greeks he viewed

Unarmed, unawed, before th’ infuriate bands,

Nor begged for life, nor stretched his suppliant hands.

He stood astounded, rivetted, oppressed.

By grief unspeakable, which swelled his breast,

Life, feeling, being, sense forgotten lie,

Buried in one wide waste of misery;

Can this be Athens! this her Senates pride?

He asked but gratitude, — was this denied?

Tho’ Europe’s homage at his feet were hurled

Athens forsakes him — Athens was his world.

Unutterable woe! by anguish stung

All his full soul, rushed heaving to his tongue,

And thoughts of power, of fame, of greatness o’er

He cried “Athenians!” and he could no more.

Awed by that voice of agony, that word,

Hushed were the Greeks, and sheathed the obedient sword.

They stood abashed — to them the ancient Chief,

Began — and thus relieved his swelling grief.

“Athenians! warrior Greeks! my words revere

Strike me, but listen — bid me die, but hear!

Hear not Clombrotus, when he bids you wait,

In Athens’ walls, Darius and your fate;

I feel that Pallas’ self, my soul inspires

My mind she strengthens, and my bosom fires;

Strike Greeks! but hear me; think not to this heart

Yon thirsty swords, one breath of fear impart;

Such slavish, low born thoughts, to Greeks unknown

A Persian feels, and cherishes alone!

Hear me Athenians! hear me, and believe,

See Greece mistaken! e’en the Gods deceive;

But fate yet wavers — yet may wisdom move

These threatening woes and thwart the Queen of Love.

Obey my counsels, and invoke for aid

The cloud compelling God, and blue eyed maid;

I fear not for myself the silent tomb,

Death lies in every shape, and death must come.

But ah! ye mock my truth, traduce my fame,

Ye blast my honor, stigmatize my name!

Ye call me tyrant when I wish thee free,

Usurper, when I live but Greece, for thee!”

And thus the Chief — and boding silence drowned

Each clam’rous tongue, and sullen reigned around,

“Oh Chief!” great Aristides first began

“Mortal yet perfect, godlike and yet man!

Boast of ungrateful Greece I my prayer attend,

Oh I be my Chieftain, Guardian, Father, Friend!

And ye, oh Greeks! impetuous and abhorred,

Again presumptuous, lift the rebel sword,

Again your weapons raise, in hateful ire,

To crush the Leader, Hero, Patriot, Sire!

Not such was Greece, when Greeks united stood

To bathe perfidious Troy in hostile blood,

Not such were Greeks inspired by glory, then

As Gods they conquered, now they’re less than men!

Degenerate race! now lost to once loved fame

Traitors to Greece, and to the Grecian name.

Who now your honors, who your praise will seek

Who now shall glory in the name of Greek!

But since such discords your base souls divide

Procure the lots, let Jove and Heaven decide.”

To him Clombrotus thus admiring cries

“Thy thoughts how wondrous, and thy words how wise!

So let it be, avert, the threatened w oes.

And Jove be present, and the right disclose;

But give me. Sire of Gods and powers above.

The heavenly vision, and my truth to prove!

Give me t’ avenge the breach of all thy laws

T’ avenge myself, then aid my righteous cause!

If this thou wilt, I’ll to thine altars lead

Twelve bulls which to thy sacred name shall bleed,

Six snow white heifers of a race divine

Prostrate shall fall, and heap the groaning shrine,

Nor this the most — six rams that fearless stray

Untouched by man, for thee this arm shall slay.”

Thus prayed the Chief, with shouts the heavens resound

Jove weighs the balance and the lots go round!

Declare oh muse! for to thy piercing eyes

The book of fate irrevocably lies;

What lots leapt forth, on that eventful day

Who won, who lost, all seeing Goddess say!

First great Clonibrotus, all his fortune tried

And strove with fate, but Jove his prayer denied

Infuriate to the skies his arms are driven,

And raging thus upbraids the King of heaven.

“Is this the virtue of the blest abodes.

And this the justice of the God of Gods?

Can he who hurls the bolt, and shakes the sky

The prayer of truth, unblemished truth deny.

Has he no faith by whom the clouds are riven

Who sits superior on the throne of Heaven?

No wonder earth born men are prone to fall

In sin, or listen to dishonor’s call

When Gods, th’ immortal Gods, transgress the laws

Of truth, and sin against a righteous cause.”

Furious he said, by anger’s spirit fired

Then sullen from the Senate walls retired.

’Tis now Miltiades’ stern fate to dare

But first he lifts his pious soul in prayer.

“Daughter of Jove! the mighty Chief began.

Without thy wisdom, frail and weak is man

A phantom Greece adores, oh show thy power,

And prove thy love in this eventful hour!

Crown all thy glory, all thy might declare!”

The Chieftain prayed, and Pallas heard his prayer.

Swayed by the presence of the power divine

The fated lot Miltiades was thine!

That hour the swelling trump of partial fame

Diffused eternal glory on thy name!

“Daughter of Jove, he cries, unconquered maid!

Thy power I own, and I confess thy aid,

For this twelve ewes upon thy shrine shall smoke

Of milk white fleece, the comeliest of their flock.

While hecatombs and generous sacrifice

Shall fume and blacken half th’ astonished skies.”

And thus the Chief — the shouting Greeks admire

While truth’s bright spirit, sets their souls on fire:

Then thus Themistocles, “Ye Grecian host

Not now the time for triumph or for boast,

Now Greeks! for graver toils your minds prepare

Not for the strife, but council of the war.

Behold the sacred herald! sent by Greece

To Sparta’s vales now hushed in leagues of peace;

Her Chiefs, to aid the common cause, t’ implore

And bid Darius shun the Argive shore;

Behold liiiii here! then let the leader Greek

Command the bearer of our hopes to speak.”

And thus the Sage, “Where’er the herald stands

Bid him come forth, ’tis Athens Chief commands.

And bid him speak with freedom uncontrolled,

His thoughts deliver and his charge unfold.”

He said and sat — the Greeks impatient wait

The will of Sparta, and Athena’s fate.

Silent they sat — so ere the whirlwinds rise,

Ere billows foam and thunder to the skies,

Nature in death-like calm her breath suspends.

And hushed in silent awe, th’ approaching storm attends.

Now midst the Senate’s walls the herald stands:

“Ye Greeks,” he said, and stretched his sacred hands

“Assembled heroes, ye Athenian bands.

And thou beloved of Jove, our Chief, oh Sage,

Renowned for wisdom, as renowned for age,

And all ye Chiefs in battles rank divine!

No joyful mission swayed by Pallas mine,

The hardy Spartans, with one voice declare

Their will to aid our freedom and the war,

Instant they armed, by zeal and impulse driven

But on the plains of the mysterious heaven

Comets and fires were writ — an awful sign,

And dreadful omen of the wrath divine

While threatened plagues upon their shores appear

They curb their valor, all subdued by fear;

The oracles declare the will above,

And of the sister and the wife of Jove,

That not until the moons bright course was o’er

The Spartan warriors should desert their shore

Threats following threats succeed the mandate dire

Plagues to themselves, and to their harvests fire.

The Spartan Chiefs desist, their march delay

To wait th’ appointed hour and heaven obey.

Grief smote my heart, my hopes and mission vain.

Their town I quitted for my native plain,

And when an eminence I gained, in woe

I gazed upon the verdant fields below,

Where nature’s ample reign extending wide,

Displays her graces with commanding pride.

Where cool Eurotas, winds her limpid floods

Thro’ verdant valleys, and thro’ shady woods.

And crowned in majesty o’ertowering all

In bright effulgence, Sparta’s lofty wall.

To these I looked farewell, and humbled, bowed

In chastened sorrow, to the thundering God.

’Twas thus I mused, when from a verdant grove

That wafts delicious perfume from above

The monster Pan, his form gigantic reared

And dreadful, to my awe struck sight appeared.

I hailed the God who reigns supreme below,

Known by the horns that started from his brow;

Up to the hips a goat, but man’s his face

Tho’ grim, and stranger to celestial grace.

Within his hand a shepherd’s crook he bore

The gift of Dian, on th’ Arcadian shore;

Before th’ immortal power I, fearing, bowed

Congealed with dread, and thus addressed the God.

“Comes Hermes Son, as awful as his Sire,

To vent upon the Greeks immortal ire!

Is’t not enough the mandate stern I bring

From Sparta’s Chiefs, and Sparta’s royal King,

That heaven enjoins them to refrain from fight

Till Dian fills again her horns with light?

Then vain their aid, ere then may Athens fall

And Persia’s haughty Chiefs invest her wall.

I said and sighed, the God in accents mild

My sorrow thus, and rigid griefs beguiled.

Not to destroy I come, oh chosen Greek

Not Athens fall, but Athens fame I seek,

Then give again to honor and to fame

My power despised, and my forgotten name.

At Sparta’s doom, no longer Chief repine,

But learn submission to the will divine;

Behold e’en now, within this fated hour

On Marathonian plains, the Persian power?

E’en Hippias self inspires th’ embattled host

Th’ Athenian’s terror, as the Persian’s boast;

Bid Athens rise and glory’s powers attest

Enough — no more — the fates conceal the rest.

He said, his visage burned with heavenly light

He spoke and speaking, vanished from my sight

And awed, I sought where these loved walls invite

But think not, warrior Greeks, the fault is mine,

If Athens fall — it is by wrath divine.

I vainly vainly grieve, the evil springs

From him — the God of Gods, the King of Kings!”

The Herald said, and bent his sacred head

While cherished hope from every bosom fled.

Each dauntless hero, by despair deprest

Felt the deep sorrow, swelling in his breast.

They mourn for Athens, friendless and alone.

Cries followed cries, and groan succeeded groan.

Th’ Athenian matrons, startled at the sound

Rush from their looms and anxious crowd around,

They ask the cause, the fatal cause is known

By each fond sigh, and each renewing groan,

While ill their arms some infant love they bear

At once for which they joy, for which they fear

Hushed on its mother’s breast, the cherished child

Unconscious midst the scene of terror smiled;

On rush the matrons, they despairing seek

Miltiades adored by every Greek;

Him found at length, his counsels they entreat

Hang on his knees, and clasp his sacred feet.

Their babes before him on the ground they throw

In all the maddening listlessness of woe.

First Delopeia of the matrons chief

Thus vents her bursting soul in frantic grief

While her fond babe she holds aloft in air

Thus her roused breast, prefers a mother’s prayer.

“Oh Son of Cimon for the Grecian’s raise

To heaven, thy fame, thy honor, and thy praise.

Thus — thus — shall Athens and her heroes fall

Shall thus one ruin seize and bury all!

Say, shall these babes be strangers then to fame

And be but Greeks in spirit and in name?

Oh first ye Gods! and hear a mother’s prayer.

First let them glorious fall in ranks of war!

If Asia triumph, then shall Hippias reign

And Athens free born Sons be slaves again!

Oh Son of Cimon! let thy influence call

The souls of Greeks to triumph or to fall!

And guard their own, their children’s, country’s name,

From foul dishonor, and eternal shame!”

Thus thro’ her griefs, the love of glory broke.

The mother wept, but ’twas the Patriot spoke.

And as before the Greek, she bowed with grace.

The lucid drops, bedewed her lovely face.

Their shrieks, and frantic cries, the matrons cease

And death-like silence awes the Sons of Greece.

Thrice did the mighty Chief of Athens seek

To curb his feelings and essay to speak,

’Twas vain — the ruthless sorrow wrung his breast

His mind disheartened, and his soul opprest

He thus — while o’er his cheek the moisture stole

“Retire ye matrons, nor unman my soul,

Tho’ little strength this aged arm retains

My swelling soul Athena’s foe disdains;

Hushed be your griefs, to heav’n for victory cry

Assured we’ll triumph, or with freedom die.

And ye oh Chiefs, when night disowns her sway

And pensive Dian yields her power to day,

To quit these towers for Marathon prepare

And brave Darius in the ranks of war.

For yet may Jove protect the Grecian name

And crown in unborn ages, Athens fame.”

He said — and glowing with the warlike fire,

And cheered by hope, the godlike Chiefs retire.

Now Cynthia rules the earth, the flaming God

In oceans sinks, green Neptune’s old abode

Black Erebus on drowsy pinions, springs

And o’er Athena cowers his sable wings.

End of Book II

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50