PARIS the son of Priam was wounded by one of the poisoned arrows of Hercules that Philoctetes bore to the siege of Troy; wherefore he had himself borne up into Ida that he might see the nymph Œnone, whom he once had loved, because she, who knew many secret things, alone could heal him: but when he had seen her and spoken with her, she would deal with the matter in no wise, wherefore Paris died of that hurt.
IN the last month of Troy’s beleaguerment,
When both sides, waiting for some God’s great hand,
But seldom o’er the meads the war-shout sent,
Yet idle rage would sometimes drive a band
From town or tent about Troy-gate to stand
All armed, and there to bicker aimlessly;
And so at least the weary time wore by.
In such a fight, when wide the arrows flew,
And little glory fell to any there,
And nought there seemed for a stout man to do,
Rose Philoctetes from the ill-roofed lair
That hid his rage, and crept out into air,
And strung his bow, and slunk down to the fight,
’Twixt rusty helms, and, shields that once were bright.
And even as he reached the foremost rank,
A glimmer as of polished steel and gold
Amid the war-worn Trojan folk, that shrank
To right and left, his fierce eyes could behold;
He heard a shout, as if one man were bold
About the streams of Simoeis that day —
One heart still ready to play out the play.
Therewith he heard a mighty bowstring twang,
And a shaft screamed ’twixt hostile band and band,
And close beside him fell, with clash and clang,
A well-tried warrior from the Cretan land,
And rolled in dust, clutching with desperate hand
At the gay feathers of the shaft that lay
Deep in his heart, well silenced from that day.
Then of the Greeks did man look upon man,
While Philoctetes from his quiver drew
A dreadful shaft, and through his fingers ran
The dull-red feathers; of strange steel and blue
The barbs were, such as archer never knew,
But black as death the thin-forged bitter point,
That with the worm’s blood fate did erst anoint.
He shook the shaft, and notched it, and therewith
Forth from the Trojans rang that shout again,
Whistled the arrow, and a Greek did writhe
Once more upon the earth in his last pain;
While the grey clouds, big with the threat of rain,
Parted a space, and on the Trojans shone,
And struck a glory from that shining one.
Then Philoctetes scowled, and cried, “O Fate,
I give thee this, thy strong man gave to me.
Do with it as thou wilt! — let small or great
E’en as thou wilt before its black point be!
Late grows the year, and stormy is the sea,
The oars lie rotten by the gunwales now
That nevermore a Grecian surf shall know.”
He spake and drew the string with careless eyes,
And, as the shaft flew forth, he turned about
And tramped back slowly, noting in no wise
How from the Greeks uprose a joyous shout,
And from the Trojan host therewith brake out
Confused clamour, and folk cried the name
Of him wherethrough the weary struggle came,
Paris the son of Priam! then once more
O’erhead of leaguer and beleaguered town
Grey grew the sky, a cold sea-wind swept o’er
The ruined plain, and the small rain drove down,
While slowly underneath that chilling frown
Parted the hosts; sad Troy into its gates,
Greece to its tents, and waiting on the fates.
NEXT day the seaward-looking gates none swung
Back on their hinges, whatso Greek might fare,
With seeming-careless mien, and bow unstrung,
Anigh them; whatso rough-voiced horn might dare
With well-known notes, the war-worn warders there;
Troy slept amid its nightmares through the day,
And dull with waking dreams the leaguer lay.
Yet in the streets did man say unto man,
“Hector is dead, and Troilus is dead;
Æneas turneth toward the waters wan;
In his fair house Antenor hides his head;
Fast from the tree of Troy the boughs are shred;
And now this Paris, now this joyous one,
Is the cry cried that biddeth him begone?”
But on the morrow’s dawn, ere yet the sun
Had shone athwart the mists of last night’s rain,
And shown the image of the Spotless One
Unto the tents and hovels of the plain
Whose girth of war she long had made all vain,
From out a postern looking towards the north
A little band of silent men went forth.
And in their midst a litter did they bear
Whereon lay one with linen wrapped around,
Whose wan face turned unto the fresher air
As though a little pleasure he had found
Amidst of pain; some dreadful, torturing wound
The man endured belike, and as a balm
Was the fresh morn, with all its rest and calm,
After the weary tossing of the night
And close dim-litten chamber, whose dusk seemed
Labouring with whispers fearful of the light,
Confused with images of dreams long dreamed,
Come back again, now that the lone torch gleamed
Dim before eyes that saw nought real as true
To vex the heart that nought of purpose knew.
Upon the late-passed night in e’en such wise
Had Paris lain. What time, like years of life,
Had passed before his weary heart and eyes!
What hopeless, nameless longings! what wild strife
’Gainst nought for nought, with wearying changes rife,
Had he gone through, till in the twilight grey
They bore him through the cold deserted way.
Mocking and strange the streets looked now, most meet
For a dream’s ending, for a vain life’s end;
While sounded his strong litter-bearers’ feet,
Like feet of men who through Death’s country wend
Silent, for fear lest they should yet offend
The grim King satisfied to let them go,
Hope bids them hurry, fear’s chain makes them slow.
In feverish doze he thought of bygone days,
When love was soft, life strong, and a sweet name,
The first sweet name that led him down love’s ways,
Unbidden ever to his fresh lips came;
Half witting would he speak it, and for shame
Flush red, and think what folk would deem thereof
If they might know Œnone was his love.
And now, Œnone no more love of his,
He worn with war and passion — must he pray,
“O thou, I loved and love not, life and bliss
Lie in thine hands to give or take away;
O heal me, hate me not! think of the day
When as thou thinkest still, e’en so I thought,
That all the world without thy love was nought.”
Yea, he was borne forth such a prayer to make,
For she alone of all the world, they said,
The thirst of that dread poison now might slake,
For midst the ancient wise ones nurtured
On peaceful Ida, in the lore long dead,
Lost to the hurrying world, right wise she was,
Mighty to bring most wondrous things to pass.
Was the world worth the minute of that prayer
If yet her love, despised and cast aside,
Should so shine forth that she should heal him there?
He knew not and he recked not; fear and pride
’Neath Helen’s kiss and Helen’s tears had died,
And life was love, and love too strong that he
Should catch at Death to save him misery.
So, with soul drifting down the stream of love,
He let them bear him through the fresh fair morn,
From out Troy-gates; and no more now he strove
To battle with the wild dreams, newly born
From that past night of toil and pain forlorn;
No farewell did he mutter ’neath his breath
To failing Troy, no eyes he turned toward death.
Troy dwindled now behind them, and the way
That round about the feet of Ida wound,
They left; and up a narrow vale, that lay,
Grassy and soft betwixt the pine-woods bound,
‘They went, and ever gained the higher ground,
For as a trench the little valley was
To catch the runnels that made green its grass.
Now ere that green vale narrowed to an end,
Blocked by a shaly slip thrust bleak and bare
From the dark pine-wood’s edge, as men who wend
Upon a well-known way, they turned them there;
And through the pine-wood’s dusk began to fare
By blind ways, till all noise of bird and wind
Amid that odorous night was left behind.
And in meanwhile deepened the languid doze
That lay on Paris into slumber deep,
O’er his unconscious heart, and eyes shut close,
The image of that very place ’gan creep,
And twelve years younger in his dreamful sleep,
Light-footed, through the awful wood he went,
With beating heart, on lovesome thoughts intent.
Dreaming, he went, till thinner and more thin,
And bright with growing day, the pine-wood grew,
Then to an open, rugged space did win;
Whence a close beech-wood was he passing through,
Whose every tall white stem full well he knew;
Then seemed to stay awhile for loving shame,
When to the brow of the steep bank he came,
Where still the beech-trunks o’er the mast-strewn ground
Stood close, and slim and tall, but hid not quite
A level grassy space they did surround
On every side save one, that to the light
Of the clear western sky, cold now, but bright,
Was open, and the thought of the far sea,
Toward which a small brook tinkled merrily.
Him seemed he lingered there, then stepped adown
With troubled heart into the soft green place,
And up the eastmost of the beech-slopes brown
He turned about a lonesome, anxious face,
And stood to listen for a little space
If any came, but nought he seemed to hear
Save the brook’s babble, and the beech-leaves’ stir.
And then he dreamed great longing o’er him came;
Too great, too bitter of those days to be
Long past, when love was born amidst of shame;
He dreamed that, as he gazed full eagerly
Into the green dusk between tree and tree,
His trembling hand slid down the horn to take
Wherewith he erst was wont his herd to wake.
Trembling, he set it to his lips, and first
Breathed gently through it; then strained hard to blow,
For dumb, dumb was it grown, and no note burst
From its smooth throat; and ill thoughts poisoned now
The sweetness of his dream; he murmured low,
“Ah! dead and gone, and ne’er to come again;
Ah, past away! ah, longed for long in vain!
“Lost love, sweet Helen, come again to me!”
Therewith he dreamed he fell upon the ground
And hid his face, and wept out bitterly,
But woke with fall and torturing tears, and found
He lay upon his litter, and the sound
Of feet departing from him did he hear,
And rustling of the last year’s leaves anear.
But in the self-same place he lay indeed,
Weeping and sobbing, and scarce knowing why;
His hand clutched hard the horn that erst did lead
The dew-lapped neat round Ida merrily;
He strove to raise himself, he strove to cry
That name of Helen once, but then withal
Upon him did the load of memory fall.
Quiet he lay a space, while o’er him drew
The dull, chill cloud of doubt and sordid fear,
As now he thought of what he came to do,
And what a dreadful minute drew anear;
He shut his eyes, and now no more could hear
His litter-bearers’ feet; as lone he felt
As though amid the outer wastes he dwelt.
Amid that fear most feeble, nought and vain
His life and love seemed; with a dreadful sigh
He raised his arm, and soul’s and body’s pain
Tore at his heart with new-born agony
As a thin quavering note; a ghost-like cry
Rang from the long unused lips of the horn,
Spoiling the sweetness of the happy morn.
He let the horn fall down upon his breast
And lie there, and his hand fell to his side;
And there indeed his body seemed to rest,
But restless was his soul, and wandered wide
Through a dim maze of lusts unsatisfied;
Thoughts half thought out, and words half said, and deeds
Half done, unfruitful, like o’er-shadowed weeds.
His eyes were shut now, and his dream’s hot tears
Were dry upon his cheek; the sun grown high
Had slain the wind, when smote upon his ears
A sudden rustling in the beech-leaves dry;
Then came a pause; then footsteps drew anigh
O’er the deep grass; he shuddered, and in vain
He strove to turn, despite his burning pain.
Then through his half-shut eyes he seemed to see
A woman drawing near, and held his breath,
And clutched at the white linen eagerly,
And felt a greater fear than fear of death,
A greater pain than that love threateneth,
As soft low breathing o’er his head he heard,
And thin fine linen raiment gently stirred.
Then spoke a sweet voice close, ah, close to him!
“Thou sleepest, Paris? would that I could sleep!
On the hill-side do I lay limb to limb,
And lie day-long watching the shadows creep
And change, till day is gone, and night is deep,
Yet sleep not ever, wearied with the thought
Of all a little lapse of time has brought.
“Sleep, though thou calledst me! yet ’mid thy dream
Hearken, the while I tell about my life,
The life I led, while ’mid the steely gleam
Thou wert made happy with the joyous strife;
Or in the soft arms of the Greek king’s wife
Wouldst still moan out that day had come too soon,
Calling the dawn the glimmer of the moon.
“Wake not, wake not, before the tale is told!
Not long to tell, the tale of those ten years!
A gnawing pain that never groweth old,
A pain that shall not be washed out by tears;
A dreary road the weary foot-sole wears,
Knowing no rest, but going to and fro,
Treading it harder ’neath the weight of woe.
“No middle, no beginning, and no end;
No staying place, no thought of anything,
Bitter or sweet, with that one thought to blend;
No least joy left that I away might fling
And deem myself grown great; no hope to cling
About me, nought but dull, unresting pain,
That made all memory sick, all striving vain.
“Thou — hast thou thought thereof, perchance anights
— In early dawn, and shuddered, and then said,
‘Alas, poor soul! yet bath she had delights,
For none are wholly hapless but the dead.’
Liar! O liar! my woe upon thine head,
My agony that nought can take away!
Awake, arise, O traitor, unto day!”
Her voice rose as she spoke, till loud and shrill
It rang about the place; but when at last
She ended, and the echoes from the hill,
Woeful and wild, back o’er the place were cast
From her lost love a little way she passed
Trembling, and looking round as if afeared
At those ill sounds that through the morn she heard.
Then still she stood, her clenched hands slim and white
Relaxed, her drawn brow smoothed; with a great sigh
Her breast heaved, and she muttered: “Ere the light
Of yesterday had faded from the sky
I knew that he would seek me certainly;
And, knowing it, yet feigned I knew it not,
Or with what hope, what hope my heart was hot.
“That tumult in my breast I might not name —
Love should I call it? — nay, my life was love
And pain these ten years — should I call it shame?
What shame my weary waiting might reprove
After ten years? — or pride? — what pride could move
After ten years this heart within my breast?
Alas! I lied — I lied, and called it rest.
“I called it rest, and wandered through the night;
Upon my river’s flowery bank I stood,
And thought its hurrying changing black and white
Stood still beneath the moon, that hill and wood
Were moving round me, and I deemed it good
The world should change so, deemed it good, that day
For ever into night had passed away.
“And still I wandered through the night, and still
Things changed, and changed not round me, and the day —
This day wherein I am, had little will
With dreadful truth to drive the night away —
God knows if for its coming I did pray!
God knows if at the last in twilight-tide
My hope — my hope undone I more might hide.”
Then looked she toward the litter as she spake,
And slowly drew anigh it once again,
And from her worn tried heart there did outbreak
Wild sobs and weeping, shameless of its pain,
Till as the storm of passion ’gan to wane
She looked and saw the shuddering misery
Wherein her love of the old days did lie.
Still she wept on, but gentler now withal,
And passed on till above the bier she stood,
Watching the well-wrought linen rise and fall
Beneath his faltering breath, and still her blood
Ran fiery hot with thoughts of ill and good,
Pity and scorn, and love and hate, as she,
Half dead herself, gazed on his misery.
At last she spake: “This tale I told e’en now,
Know’st thou ’mid dreams what woman suffered this?
Canst thou not dream of the old days, and how
Full oft thy lips would say ’twixt kiss and kiss
That all of bliss was not enough of bliss
My loveliness and kindness to reward,
That for thy Love the sweetest life was hard?
“Yea, Paris, have I not been kind to thee?
Did I not live thy wishes to fulfil?
Wert thou not happy when thou lovedst me,
What dream then did we have of change or ill?
Why must thou needs change? I am unchanged still;
I need no more than thee — what needest thou
But that we might be happy, yea e’en now?”
He opened hollow eyes and looked on her,
And stretched a trembling hand out; ah, who knows
With what strange mingled look of hope and fear,
Of hate and love, their eyes met! Come so close
Once more, that everything they now might lose
Amid the flashing out of that old fire,
The short-lived uttermost of all desire.
He spake not, shame and other love there lay
Too heavy on him; but she spake again:
“E’en now at the beginning of the day,
Weary with hope and fear and restless pain,
I said — Alas, I said, if all be vain
And he will have no pity, yet will I
Have pity — how shall kindness e’er pass by?”
He drew his hand aback, and laid it now
Upon the swathings of his wound, but she
Set her slim hand upon her knitted brow
And gazed on him with bright eyes eagerly;
Nor cruel looked her lips that once would be
So kind, so longed for: neither spake awhile,
Till in her face there shone a sweet strange smile.
She touched him not, but yet so near she came
That on his very face he felt her breath;
She whispered, “Speak! thou wilt not speak for shame,
I will not grant for love, and grey-winged Death
Meanwhile above our folly hovereth;
Speak! was it not all false? is it not done?
Is not the dream dreamed out, the dull night gone?
“Hearkenest thou, Paris? O look kind on me!
I hope no more indeed, but couldst thou turn
Kind eyes to me, then much for me and thee
Might love do yet. Doth not the old fire burn?
Doth not thine heart for words of old days yearn?
Canst thou not say — Alas, what wilt thou say,
Since I have put by hope for many a day?
“Paris, I hope no more, yet while ago —
Take it not ill if I must needs say this —
A while ago I cried; Ah! no, no, no!
It is no love at all, this love of his,
He loves her not, I it was had the bliss
Of being the well-beloved — dead is his love,
For surely none but I his heart may move.”
She wept still; but his eyes grew wild and strange
With that last word, and harder his face grew
Though her tear-blinded eyes saw not the change.
Long beat about his heart false words and true,
A veil of strange thought he might not pierce through,
Of hope he might not name, clung round about
His wavering heart, perplexed with death and doubt.
Then trembling did he speak: “I love thee still,
Surely I love thee.” But a dreadful pain
Shot through his heart, and strange presage of ill,
As like the ceasing of the summer rain
Her tears stopped, and she drew aback again,
Silent a moment, till a bitter cry
Burst from her lips grown white with agony.
A look of pity came across his face
Despite his pain and horror, and her eyes
Saw it, and changed, and for a little space
Panting she stood, as one checked by surprise
Amidst of passion; then in tender wise,
Kneeling, she ’gan the bandages undo
That hid the place the bitter shaft tore through.
Then when the wound and his still face and white
Lay there before her, she ’gan tremble sore,
For images of hope and past delight,
Not to be named once, ’gan her heart flit o’er;
Blossomed the longing in her heart, and bore
A dreadful thought of uttermost despair,
That all if gained would be no longer fair.
In dull low words she spake: “Yea, so it is,
That thou art near thy death, and this thy wound
I yet may heal, and give thee back what bliss
The ending of thy life may yet surround:
Mock not thyself with hope! the Trojan ground
Holds tombs, not houses now, all Gods are gone
From out your temples but cold Death alone.
“Lo, if I heal thee, and thou goest again
Back unto Troy, and she, thy new love, sees
Thy lovesome body freed from all its pain,
And yet awhile amid the miseries
Of Troy ye twain lie loving, well at ease,
Yet ’midst of this while she is asking thee
What kind soul made thee whole and well to be,
“And thou art holding back my name with lies,
And thinking, maybe, Paris, of this face
E’en then the Greekish flame shall sear your eyes,
The clatter of the Greeks fill all the place,
While she, my woe, the ruin of thy race,
Looking toward changed days, a new crown, shall stand,
Her fingers trembling in her husband’s hand.
Thou I called love once, wilt thou die e’en thus,
Ruined ’midst ruin, ruining, bereft
Of name and honour? O love, piteous
That but for this were all the hard things cleft
That lay ’twixt us and love; till nought was left
’Twixt thy lips and my lips! O hard that we
Were once so full of all felicity!
“O love, O Paris, know’st thou this of me
That in these hills e’en such a name I have
As being akin to a divinity;
And lightly may I slay and lightly save;
Nor know I surely if the peaceful grave
Shall ever hide my body dead — behold,
Have ten long years of misery made me old?”
Sadly she laughed; and rising wearily
Stood by him in the fresh and sunny morn;
The image of his youth and faith gone by
She seemed to be, for one short minute born
To make his shamed lost life seem more forlorn;
He shut his eyes and moaned, but once again
She knelt beside him, and the weary pain
Deepened upon her face. “Hearken!” she said,
“Death is anear thee; is then death so ill
With me anigh thee — since Troy is as dead,
Ere many tides the Xanthus’ mouth shall fill,
And thou art reft of her that harmed me still,
Whatso may change — shall I heal thee for this,
That thou may’st die more mad for her last kiss?”
She gazed at him with straining eyes; and he —
Despite himself love touched his dying heart,
And from his eyes desire flashed suddenly,
And o’er his wan face the last blood did start
As with soft love his close-shut lips ’gan part.
She laughed out bitterly, and said, “Why then
Must I needs call thee falsest of all men,
“Seeing thou liest not to save thy life? —
Yee listen once again — fair is this place
That knew not the beginning of the strife
And recks not of its end — and this my face,
This body thou wouldst day-long once embrace
And deem thyself right happy — thine it is,
Thine only, Paris, shouldst thou deem it bliss.”
He looked into her eyes, and deemed he saw
A strange and awful look a-gathering there,
And sick scorn at her quivering fine lip draw;
Yet trembling he stretched out his hand to her,
Although self-loathing and strange hate did tear
His heart that Death made cold, e’en as he said,
“Whatso thou wilt shall be remembered;
“Whatso thou wilt, O love, shall be forgot —
It may be I shall love thee as of old.”
As thunder laughs she laughed —“Nay, touch me not!
Touch me not, fool!” she cried, “Thou grow’st a-cold,
And I am Death, Death, Death! — the tale is told
Of all thy days! of all those joyous days
When thinking nought of me thou garneredst praise.
“Turn back again, and think no more of me!
I am thy Death! woe for thy happy days!
For I must slay thee; ah, my misery!
Woe for the God-like wisdom thou wouldst praise!
Else I my love to life again might raise
A minute, ah, a minute! and be glad
While on my lips thy blessing lips I had!
“Would God that it were yesterday again;
Would God the red sun had died yester-eve,
And I were no more hapless now than then!
Would God that I could say, and not believe,
As yesterday, that years past hope did leave
My cold heart — that I lived a death in life —
Ah! then within my heart was yet a strife!
“But now, but now, is all come to an end —
Nay, speak not; think not of me! think of her
Who made me this; and back unto her wend,
Lest her lot, too, should be yet heavier!
I will depart for fear thou diest here,
Lest I should see thy woeful ghost forlorn
Here wandering ever ’twixt the night and morn.
“— O heart grown wise, wilt thou not let me go?
Will ye be never satisfied, O eyes,
With gazing on my misery and my woe?
O foolish, quivering heart, now grown so wise,
What folly is it that from out thee cries
To be all close to him once more, once more
Ere yet the dark stream cleaveth shore from shore?”
Her voice was a wail now, with quivering hand
At her white raiment did she clutch and tear
Unwitting, as she rose up and did stand
Bent over his wide eyes and pale face, where
No torturing hope was left, no pain, or fear;
For Death’s cold rest was gathering fast on him,
And toward his heart crept over foot and limb.
A little while she stood, and spake no word,
But hung above him, with white heaving breast,
And moaning still as moans the grey-winged bird
In autumn-tide o’er his forgotten nest;
And then her hands about her throat she pressed,
As though to keep a cry back, then stooped down
And set her face to his, while spake her moan:
“O love, O cherished more than I can tell,
Through years of woe, O love, my life and bane,
My joy and grief, farewell, farewell, farewell!
Forgetfulness of grief I yet may gain;
In some wise may come ending to my pain;
It may be yet the Gods will have me glad!
Yet, love, I would that thee and pain I had!
“Alas! it may not be, it may not be,
The falling blossom of the late spring-tide
Shall hang a golden globe upon the tree
When through the vale the mists of autumn glide:
Yet would, O Love, with thee I might abide.
Now, now that restful death is drawing nigh —
Farewell, farewell, how good it is to die!”
O strange, O strange, when on his lips once more
Her lips were laid! O strange that he must die
Now, when so clear a vision had come o’er
His failing heart, and keenest memory
Had shown him all his changing life passed by;
And what he was, and what he might have been,
Yea, and should be, perchance, so clear were seen!
Yea, then were all things laid within the scale,
Pleasure and lust, love and desire of fame,
Kindness, and hope, and folly — all the tale
Told in a moment, as across him came
That sudden flash, bright as the lightning-flame,
Showing the wanderer on the waste how he
Has gone astray ’mid dark and misery.
Ah, and her face upon his dying face
That the sun warmed no more! that agony
Of dying love, wild with the tale of days
Long past, and strange with hope that might not be —
All was gone now, and what least part had he
In Love at all, and why was life all gone?
Why must he meet the eyes of death alone?
Alone, for she and ruth had left him there;
Alone, because the ending of the strife
He knew, well taught by death, drew surely near;
Alone, for all those years with pleasure rife
Should be a tale ’mid Helen’s coming life,
And she and all the world should go its ways,
’Midst other troubles, other happy days.
And yet how was it with him? As if death
Strove yet with struggling life and love in vain,
With eyes grown deadly bright and rattling breathy
He raised himself; while wide his blood did stain
The linen fair, and seized the horn again,
And blew thereon a wild and shattering blast
Ere from his hand afar the thing he cast.
Then, as a man who in a failing fight
For a last onset gathers suddenly
All soul and strength, he faced the summer light,
And from his lips broke forth a mighty cry
Of “Helen, Helen, Helen!"— yet the sky
Changed not above his cast-back golden head,
And merry was the world though he was dead.
BUT now when every echo was as still
As were the lips of Paris, once more came
The litter-bearers down the beech-clad hill
And stood about him crying out his name,
Lamenting for his beauty and his fame,
His love, his kindness, and his merry heart,
That still would thrust ill days and thoughts apart.
Homeward they bore him through the dark woods’ gloom
With heavy hearts presaging nothing good;
And when they entered Troy again, a tomb
For them and theirs it seemed. — Long has it stood,
But now indeed the labour and the blood,
The love, the patience, and good-heart are vain —
The Greeks may have what yet is left to gain.
I CANNOT tell what crop may clothe the hills,
The merry hills Troy whitened long ago —
Belike the sheaves, wherewith the reaper fills
His yellow wain, no whit the weaker grow
For that past harvest-tide of wrong and woe;
Belike the tale, wept over otherwhere,
Of those old days is clean forgotten there.
ALAS too short seemed to those ancient men
The little span of threescore years and ten,
Too hard, too bitter, the dull years of life
Beset at best with many a care and strife
To bear withal Love’s torment, and the toils
Wherewith the days of youth and joy he spoils;
Since e’en so God makes equal Eld and Youth
Tormenting Youth with lies and Eld with truth;
Well-nigh they blamed the singer too, that he
Must needs draw pleasure from men’s misery;
Nathless a little even they must feel
How time and tale a long-past woe will heal,
And make a melody of grief, and give
Joy to the world that whoso dies shall live.
Moreover, good it was for them to note
The slim hand set unto the changing throat,
The lids down drooped to hide the passionate eyes
Whereto the sweet thoughts all unbid would rise;
The bright-cheeked shame, the conscious mouth as love
Within the half-hid gentle breast ’gan move,
Like a swift-opening flower beneath the sun;
The sigh and half frown as the tale was done,
And thoughts uncertain, hard to grasp, did flit
’Twixt the beginning and the end of it —
And to their ancient eyes it well might seem.
Lay tale in tale, as dream within a dream,
Untold now the beginning, and the end
Not to be heard by those whose feet should wend
Long ere that tide through the dim ways of death.
But now the sun grew dull, the south wind’s breath
Ruffled the stream, and spake within the trees
Of rain beyond the hills; the images
The tale wrought changed with the changed deadening day,
Till dim they grew and vanished quite away.
NOW when September drew unto its end,
Unto the self-same place those men did wend
Where last they feasted; and the autumn day
Was so alike to that one passed away,
That, but for silence of the close stripped bare,
And absence of the merry folk and fair,
Whose feet the deep grass, making haste to grow
Before the winter, minded nothing now
But for the thinned and straightened boughs, well freed
Of golden fruit; the vine-stocks that did need
No pruning more, ere eager man and maid
Brown fingers on the dusty bunches laid —
But for these matters, they might even deem
That they had slept awhile and dreamed a dream,
And woke up weary in the self-same place.
And now as each man saw his fellow’s face
They ’gan to smile, beholding this same thought
Each in the other’s eyes:
“Or all is nought
Whereof I think,” at last a wanderer said,
“Or of my tale shall ye be well apaid;
Meet is it for this silent company
Sitting here musing, well content to see
The shadows changing, as the sun goes by:
A dream it is, friends, and no history
Of men who ever lived; so blame me nought
If wondrous things together there are brought,
Strange to our waking world — yet as in dreams
Of known things still we dream, whatever gleams
Of unknown light may make them strange, so here
Our dreamland story holdeth such things dear
And such things loathed, as we do; else, indeed,
Were all its marvels nought to help our need.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58