The Battle of Marathon, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Book IV.

AND now the morn by Jove to mortals given,

With rosy fingers opes the gates of heaven,

The Persian Princes and their haughty Lord,

Gird on their arms, and seize the flaming sword:

Forth, forth they rush to tempt the battle’s roar,

Earth groans, and shouts rebellowing, shake the shore

As when the storm the heavenly azure shrouds,

With sable night, and heaps on clouds, the clouds.

The Persians rose, and croud th’ embattl’d plain

And stretch their warlike millions to the main;

And now th’ Athenians throng the fatal field

By fame inspired, and swords and bucklers wield;

In air sublime their floating banners rise,

The lances blaze; the trumpets rend the skies.

And then Miltiades — “Athenians, hear,

Behold the Persians, on the field appear

Dreadful in arms, remember Greeks your fame,

Rush to the war, and vindicate your name;

Forward! till low in death the Persians lie,

For freedom triumph or for freedom die.”

He said, his visage glows with heavenly light;

He spoke sublime, and rush’d into the fight.

And now the fury of the war began —

Lance combats lance, and man’s opposed to man,

Beneath their footsteps, groans the laboring plain

And shouts re-echoing bellow to the main.

Mars rages fierce, by heroes, heroes die,

Earth rocks, Jove thunders, and the wounded cry.

What mighty Chiefs by Aristides fell,

What heroes perished, heavenly Goddess tell.

First thou, oh Feleus, felt his conquering hand,

Stretched in the dust and weltering in the sand.

Thro’ thy bright shield the forceful weapon went,

Thy self in arms o’erthrown, thy corslet rent;

Next rash Antennes met an early fate,

And feared, alas! th’ unequal foe too late.

And Delucus the sage, and Philo fell,

And Crotan sought the dreary gates of hell,

And Mnemons self with wealth and honor crowned,

Igvered for virtue, and for fame renowned.

He, great in battle, feared the hero’s hand,

Groaning lie fell, and spurned the reeking sand:

But what bold chief thus rashly dares advance,

Tho’ not in youth, he shakes the dreadful lance.

Proudly, the earth the haughty warrior trod

He looked a Monarch and he moved a God:

Then on the Greek, with rage intrepid flew

And with one blow th’ unwary Greek o’erthrew;

That hour, oh Chief, and that eventful day

Had bade thee pass a shivering ghost away.

But Pallas, fearful for her fav’rite’s life.

Sudden upraised thee to renew the strife;

Then Aristides with fresh vigour rose.

Shame fired his breast, his soul with anger slows,

With all his force he rushes on the foe,

The warrior bending disappoints the blow,

And thus with rage contemptuous, “Chieftain know

Hippias the loved of heaven, thine eyes behold.

Renowned for strength of arm, in battle bold,

But tell thy race, and who the man whose might

Dares cope with rebel Athens’ King in fight;”

Stung to the soul, “Oh Slave, the Greek returns,

While his big heart, within his bosom burns.

Perfidious Prince, to faith and truth unknown;

On Athens’ ashes, raise thy tyrant throne,

When Grecia’s chiefs, and Grecia’s heroes fall,

When Persia’s fires, invest her lofty wall,

When nought but slaves, within her towers remain,

Then, nor till then, shalt thou, oh Hippias, reign,

Then, nor till then, will Athens yield her fame

To foul dishonor, and eternal shame;

Come on! no matter what my race or name;

For this, oh Prince, this truth unerring know

That in a Greek, you meet a noble foe.”

Furious he said, and on the Prince he sprung

With all his force; the meeting armour rung.

Struggling they raged, and both together fell,

That hour the tyrant’s ghost had entered hell.

But partial fate prolonged the Prince’s breath.

Renewed the combat, and forbad the death.

Meanwhile the hosts, the present war suspend.

Silent they stand, and heaven’s decree attend.

First the bright lance majestic Hippias threw

But erringly the missile weapon flew;

Then Aristides hurled the thirsty dart

Struck the round shield, and nearly pierced his heart.

But the bright arms, that shone with conscious pride.

Received the blow, and turned the point aside.

And thus, the Greek, “Whom your enquiring eyes

Behold, oh Prince,” th’ Athenian hero cries.

“Is Aristides, called the just, a name

By Athens honored, nor unknown to fame.”

Scared at the sound, and seized by sudden fright,

The Prince starts back, in mean, inglorious flight.

And now Bellona rages o’er the field

All strive elated, all disdain to yield;

And great Themistocles in arms renowned.

Stretched heaps of heroes on the groaning ground;

First by his hand, fell Delos self, divine

The last loved offspring of a noble line.

Straight thro’ his neck the reeking dart was driven,

Prostrate he sinks, and vainly calls on heaven.

Next godlike Phanes, midst the Persians just,

Leucon and mighty Caudos bit the dust;

And now the Greek, with pride imprudent, dares

Victorious Mandrocles renowned in wars.

The agile Persian swift avoids the blow

Furious disarms and grasps th’ unequal foe!

Th’ intrepid Greek, with godlike calm awaits

His instant fall, and dares th’ impending fates,

But great Cynoegirus his danger spies

And lashed his steeds, the ponderous chariot flies,

Then from its brazen bulk, he leaps to ground

Beneath his clanging arms, the plains resound.

And on the Persian rushes fierce, and raised

The clattering axe on high, which threatening blazed,

And lopped his head; out spouts the smoking gore

And the huge trunk, rolled bleeding on the shore.

And then Cynoegirus, “Thus Persian go

And boast thy victory in the shades below,

A headless form, and tell who bade thee bleed,

For know a Greek performed the wonderous deed:

But thou, Themistocles, oh hero! say

Who bade thee rush, to tempt the unequal fray?

But learn from this, thy daring to restrain,

And seek less mighty foes upon the plain.”

With secret wrath, the youthful hero burned

And thus impetuous to the Chief returned;

“Such thoughts as these, unworthy those who dare

The battle’s rage, and tempt the toils of war;

Heedless of death, and by no fears opprest.

Conquest my aim, I leave to heaven the rest.”

He said, and glowed with an immortal light.

Plunged ’midst the foes, and mingled in the fight.

Zeno the bravest of the Persian youth

Renowned for filial piety and truth;

His mother’s only joy; she loved to trace

His father’s features in his youthful face;

That Sire in fight o’erwhelmed, mid seas of gore

Slept unentombed, and cared for fame no more.

And now as youth in opening manhood glows

All his loved father in his visage rose,

Like him, regardful of his future fame

Resolved like him, to immortalize his name,

At glory’s call, he quits his native shore

And feeble parent, to return no more;

Oh! what prophetic griefs her bosom wrung

When on his neck in agony she hung!

When on that breast, she hid her sorrowing face,

And feared to take, or shun, the last embrace!

Unhappy youth! the fates decree thy doom,

Those flowers prepared for joy, shall deck thy tomb.

Thy mother now no more shall hail thy name

So high enrolled upon the lists of fame,

Nor check the widow’s tear, the widow’s sigh

For e’en her son, her Zeno’s doom’d to die.

Zeno, e’en thou! for so the Gods decree,

A parents threshold opes no more for thee!

On him the hero turned his eye severe

Nor on his visage saw one mark of fear;

There manly grace improved each separate part

And joined by ties of truth, the face and heart.

The supple javelin then the Grecian tries

With might gigantic, and the youth defies.

Its point impetuous, at his breast he flung,

The brazen shield received, and mocking rung;

Then Zeno seized the lance, the Chief defied

And scoffing, thus begun, in youthful pride;

“Go, mighty Greek! to weaker warriors go.

And fear this arm, and an unequal foe;

A mother gave the mighty arms I bear,

Nor think with such a gift, I cherish fear.”

He hurled the lance, but Pallas self was there,

And turned the point, it passed in empty air.

With hope renewed, again the hero tries

His boasted might, the thirsty weapon flies

In Zeno’s breast it sinks, and drank the gore,

And stretched the hero, vanquished on the shore;

Gasping for utterance, and life, and breath.

For fame he sighs, nor fears approaching death.

Themistocles perceived, and bending low.

Thought of his friends, and tears began to flow

That washed the bleeding bosom of his foe.

Young Zeno then, the Grecian hero eyed

Rejects his offered aid, and all defied,

Breathed one disdainful sigh, and turned his head and died.

Such Persians did the godlike warrior slay,

And bad their groaning spirits pass away.

Epizelus the valiant, and the strong,

Thundered in fight, and carried death along;

Him not a Greek, in strength of arms surpassed,

In battle foremost, but in virtue last.

He, impious man, to combat dared defy

The Gods themselves, and senate of the sky,

E’en earth and heaven, and heaven’s eternal sire,

He mocks his thunders, and disdains his ire.

But now the retributive hour is come.

And rigid justice seals the Boaster’s doom.

Theseus he sees, within the fight, revealed

To him alone — to all the rest concealed.

To punish guilt, he leaves the shades below

And quits the seat of never ending woe.

Pale as in death, upon his hands he bore

Th’ infernal serpent of the dreadful shore,

To stay his progress should he strive to fly

From Tart’rus far, and gain the upper sky.

This (dreadful sight!) with slippery sinews now

Wreathed round his form, and clasped his ghastly brow;

With horror struck, and seized with sudden awe

The Greek beheld, nor mingled in the war.

Withheld from combat by the force of fear

He trembling thus — “Oh say, what God draws near?

But speak thy will, if ’tis a God, oh speak!

Nor vent thy vengeance on a single Greek.”

Vainly he suppliant said — o’erpowered with fright,

And instant from his eye-balls fled the sight;

Confused, distracted, to the skies he throws

His frantic arms, and thus bewails his woes.

“Almighty! thou by whom the bolts are driven!”

He said, and cast his sightless balls to heav’n

“Restore my sight, unhappy me, restore

My own loved offspring, to behold once more!

So will I honor thy divine abodes.

And learn how dreadful th’ avenging Gods!

And if — but oh forbid! you mock my prayer

And cruel fates me ever cursed declare.

Give me, to yield to fame alone my life

And fall immortalized, — in glorious strife!”

He said — the God who thunders thro’ the air,

Frowns on his sufferings and rejects his prayer.

Around his form the dreadful aegis spread

And darts fall harmless on his wretched head;

Condemned by fate, in ceaseless pain to groan,

Friendless, in grief, in agony alone.

Now Mars and death pervade on every side

And heroes fall, and swell the crimson tide.

Not with less force th’ Athenian leader shone

In strife conspicuous, nor to fame unknown,

Advanced in wisdom, and in honored years,

He not for life, but for the battle fears.

Borne swift as winds within the flying car

Now here, now there, directs the swelling war.

On every side, the foaming coursers guides.

Here praises valour, and there rashness chides;

While from his lips persuasive accents flow

T’ inspire th’ Athenians, or unman the foe.

The glorious Greeks rush on, with daring might

And shout and thunder, and encrease the fight.

Nor yet inglorious, do the Persians shine.

In battle’s ranks, they strength and valour join.

Datis himself, impels the ponderous car.

Thro’ broken ranks, conspicuous in the war,

In armour sheathed, and terror round him spread

He whirls his chariot, over heaps of dead;

Where’er he dreadful rushes, warriors fly,

Ghosts seek their hell, and chiefs and heroes die.

All pale with rage he ranks on ranks o’erthrows,

For blood he gasps, and thunders midst his foes.

Callimachus, the mighty leader found

In fight conspicuous, bearing death around.

The lance wheeled instant from the Persian’s hand

Transfixed the glorious Grecian in the sand.

Fate ends the hero’s life, and stays his breath

And clouds his eye balls with the shades of death:

Erect in air the cruel javelin stood,

Peirced thro’ his breast, and drank the spouting blood

Released from life’s impending woes and care,

The soul immerges in the fields of air:

Then, crowned with laurels, seeks the blest abodes,

Of awful Pluto, and the Stygian floods.

And now with joy great Aristides saw

Again proud Hippias thundering thro’ the war,

And mocking thus, “Oh tyrant, now await

The destined blow, behold thy promised fate!

Thrice mighty King, obey my javelins call

For e’en thy godlike self’s decreed to fall;”

He said, and hurled the glittering spear on high

The destined weapon hissed along the sky

Winged by the hero’s all destroying hand,

It pierced the Prince, and stretched him on the sand.

Then thro’ the air the awful peals were driven

And lightnings blazed along the vast of heaven.

The Persian hosts, behold their bulwark die

Fear chills their hearts, and all their numbers fly,

And reached the fleet, the shouting Greeks pursue

All Asia’s millions, flying in their view.

On, on, they glorious rush, and side by side

Yet red with gore, they plunge into the tide;

For injured freedom’s sake, th’ indignant main

With swelling pride receives the crimson stain;

The Persians spread the sail, nor dare delay.

And suppliant call upon the King of day.

But vainly to their Gods the cowards pray.

Some of the ships th’ Athenian warriors stay

And fire their bulks; the flames destroying rise

Rushing they swell, and mount into the skies.

Foremost Cynoegirus with might divine

While midst the waves, his arms majestic shine.

With blood stained hand, a Persian ship he seized

The vessel vainly strove to be released;

With fear the crew, the godlike man beheld,

And pride and shame, their troubled bosoms swelled,

They lop his limb, then Pallas fires his frame

With scorn of death, and hope of future fame:

Then with the hand remaining seized the prize

A glorious spirit kindling in his eyes.

Again the Persians wield the unmanly blow

And wreak their vengeance on a single foe.

The fainting Greek by loss of blood opprest

Still feels the patriot rise within his breast.

Within his teeth the shattered ship he held

Nor in his soul, one wish for life rebelled.

But strength decaying, fate supprest his breath

And o’er his brows, expand the dews of death;

The Elysium plains his generous spirit trod

“He lived a Hero and he died a God”

By vengeance fired, the Grecians from the deep

With rage and shouting, scale the lofty ship,

Then in the briny bosom of the main

They hurl in heaps the living and the slain.

Thro’ the wide shore resound, triumphant cries,

Fill all the seas, and thunder thro’ the skies.

The End.

This web edition published by:

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

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