Helen of Troy

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Chapter 4

The flight of Helen and Paris from Lacedaemon, and of what things befell them in their voyaging, and how they came to Troy.

 

I.

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.

 

II.

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.

 

III.

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.

 

IV.

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young day knows not of an elder dawn,    Joys of old noons, old sorrows of the night, And so from Helen was the past withdrawn,    Her lord, her child, her home forgotten quite,    Lost in the marvel of a new delight: She was as one who knows he shall not die,    When earthly colours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.

 

V.

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.

 

VI.

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.

 

VII.

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.

 

VIII.

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.

 

IX.

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.

 

X.

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.

 

XI.

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.

 

XII.

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.

 

XIII.

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.

 

XIV.

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.

 

XV.

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.

 

XVI.

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.

 

XVII.

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.

 

XVIII.

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.

 

XIX.

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 Cranaë!

 

XX.

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 Amphithoë;    And their shrill bridal song of love and shame Made music in the silence of the sea.

 

XXI.

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.

 

* * * * *

 

XXII.

Now when the golden-thronèd 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.

 

XXIII.

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.

 

XXIV.

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.

 

XXV.

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.

 

XXVI.

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.

 

XXVII.

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.

 

XXVIII.

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.

 

XXIX.

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.

 

XXX.

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,

 

XXXI.

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.

 

XXXII.

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.

 

XXXIII.

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.

 

XXXIV.

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.

 

XXXV.

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.

 

XXXVI.

Then while the happy people cried “Well done,”    And Priam’s heart was melted by the tale— For Paris was his best-belovèd 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.

 

XXXVII.

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!

 

XXXVIII.

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.

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