Helen of Troy

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Chapter 6

The war round Troy, and how many brave men fell, and chiefly Sarpedon, Patroclus, Hector, Memnon, and Achilles.  The coming of the Amazon, and the wounding of Paris, and his death, and concerning the good end that Œnone made.



For ten long years the Argive leaguer lay    Round Priam’s folk, and wrought them many woes, While, as a lion crouch’d above his prey,    The Trojans yet made head against their foes;    And as the swift sea-water ebbs and flows Between the Straits of Hellé and the main,    Even so the tide of battle sank and rose, And fill’d with waifs of war the Ilian plain.



And horse on horse was driven, as wave on wave;    Like rain upon the deep the arrows fell, And like the wind, the war-cry of the brave    Rang out above the battle’s ebb and swell,    And long the tale of slain, and sad to tell; Yet seem’d the end scarce nearer than of yore    When nine years pass’d and still the citadel Frown’d on the Argive huts beside the shore.



And still the watchers on the city’s crown    Afar from sacred Ilios might spy The flame from many a fallen subject town    Flare on the starry verges of the sky,    And still from rich Maeonia came the cry Of cities sack’d where’er Achilles led.    Yet none the more men deem’d the end was nigh While knightly Hector fought unvanquished.



But ever as each dawn bore grief afar,    And further back, wax’d Paris glad and gay, And on the fringes of the cloud of war    His arrows, like the lightning, still would play;    Yet fled he Menelaus on a day, And there had died, but Aphrodite’s power    Him in a golden cloud did safe convey Within the walls of Helen’s fragrant bower.



But she, in longing for her lord and home,    And scorn of her wild lover, did withdraw From all men’s eyes: but in the night would roam    Till drowsy watchmen of the city saw    A shadowy shape that chill’d the night with awe, Treading the battlements; and like a ghost,    She stretch’d her lovely arms without a flaw, In shame and longing, to the Argive host.



But all day long within her bower she wept,    Still dreaming of the dames renown’d of old, Whom hate or love of the Immortals swept    Within the toils of Atê manifold;    And most she loved the ancient tales that told How the great Gods, at length to pity stirr’d,    Changed Niobe upon the mountains cold, To a cold stone; and Procne to a bird,



And Myrrha to an incense-breathing tree;—    “And ah,” she murmur’d, “that the Gods were kind, And bade the Harpies lay their hands on me,    And bear me with the currents of the wind    To the dim end of all things, and the blind Land where the Ocean turneth in his bed:    Then should I leave mine evil days behind, And Sleep should fold his wings above my head.”



And once she heard a Trojan woman bless    The fair-haired Menelaus, her good lord, As brave among brave men, not merciless,    Not swift to slay the captives of his sword,    Nor wont was he to win the gold abhorr’d Of them that sell their captives over sea,    And Helen sighed, and bless’d her for that word, “Yet will he ne’er be merciful to me!”



In no wise found she comfort; to abide    In Ilios was to dwell with shame and fear, And if unto the Argive host she hied,    Then should she die by him that was most dear.    And still the days dragg’d on with bitter cheer, Till even the great Gods had little joy,    So fast their children fell beneath the spear, Below the windy battlements of Troy.



Yet many a prince of south lands, or of east,    For dark Cassandra’s love came trooping in, And Priam made them merry at the feast,    And all night long they dream’d of wars to win,    And with the morning hurl’d into the din, And cried their lady’s name for battle-cry,    And won no more than this: for Paris’ sin, By Diomede’s or Aias’ hand to die.



But for one hour within the night of woes    The hope of Troy burn’d steadfast as a star; When strife among the Argive lords arose,    And dread Achilles held him from the war;    Yea, and Apollo from his golden car And silver bow his shafts of evil sped,    And all the plain was darken’d, near and far, With smoke above the pyres of heroes dead.



And many a time through vapour of that smoke    The shafts of Troy fell fast; and on the plain All night the Trojan watch fires burn’d and broke    Like evil stars athwart a mist of rain.    And through the arms and blood, and through the slain, Like wolves among the fragments of the fight,    Crept spies to slay whoe’er forgat his pain One hour, and fell on slumber in the night.



And once, when wounded chiefs their tents did keep,    And only Aias might his weapons wield, Came Hector with his host, and smiting deep,    Brake bow and spear, brake axe and glaive and shield,    Bulwark and battlement must rend and yield, And by the ships he smote the foe and cast    Fire on the ships; and o’er the stricken field, The Trojans saw that flame arise at last!



But when Achilles saw the soaring flame,    And knew the ships in peril, suddenly A change upon his wrathful spirit came,    Nor will’d he that the Danaans should die:    But call’d his Myrmidons, and with a cry They follow’d where, like foam on a sea-wave    Patroclus’ crest was dancing, white and high, Above the tide that back the Trojans drave.



But like a rock amid the shifting sands,    And changing springs, and tumult of the deep, Sarpedon stood, till ’neath Patroclus’ hands,    Smitten he fell; then Death and gentle Sleep    Bare him from forth the battle to the steep Where shines his castle o’er the Lycian dell;    There hath he burial due, while all folk weep Around the kindly Prince that loved them well.



Not unavenged he fell, nor all alone    To Hades did his soul indignant fly, For soon was keen Patroclus overthrown    By Hector, and the God of archery;    And Hector stripp’d his shining panoply, Bright arms Achilles lent: ah! naked then,    Forgetful wholly of his chivalry, Patroclus lay, nor heard the strife of men.



Then Hector from the war a little space    Withdrew, and clad him in Achilles’ gear, And braced the gleaming helmet on his face,    And donn’d the corslet, and that mighty spear    He grasped—the lance that makes the boldest fear; And home his comrades bare his arms of gold,    Those Priam once had worn, his father dear, But in his father’s arms he waxed not old!



Then round Patroclus’ body, like a tide    That storms the swollen outlet of a stream When the winds blow, and the rains fall, and wide    The river runs, and white the breakers gleam,—    Trojans and Argives battled till the beam Of Helios was sinking to the wave,    And now they near’d the ships: yet few could deem That arms of Argos might the body save.



But even then the tidings sore were borne    To great Achilles, of Patroclus dead, And all his goodly raiment hath he torn,    And cast the dust upon his golden head,    And many a tear and bitter did he shed. Ay; there by his own sword had he been slain,    But swift his Goddess-mother, Thetis, sped Forth with her lovely sea-nymphs from the main.



For, as a mother when her young child calls    Hearkens to that, and hath no other care: So Thetis, from her green and windless halls    Rose, at the first word of Achilles’ prayer,    To comfort him, and promise gifts of fair New armour wrought by an immortal hand;    Then like a silver cloud she scaled the air, Where bright the dwellings of Olympus stand.



But, as a beacon from a ’leaguer’d town    Within a sea-girt isle, leaps suddenly, A cloud by day; but when the sun goes down,    The tongues of fire flash out, and soar on high,    To summon warlike men that dwell thereby And bid them bring a rescue over-seas,—    So now Athene sent a flame to fly From brow and temples of Aeacides.



Then all unarm’d he sped, and through the throng,    He pass’d to the dyke’s edge, beyond the wall, Nor leap’d the ranks of fighting men among,    But shouted clearer than the clarion’s call    When foes on a beleaguer’d city fall. Three times he cried, and terror fell on these    That heard him; and the Trojans, one and all, Fled from that shouting of Aeacides.



Backward the Trojans reel’d in headlong flight,    Chariots and men, and left their bravest slain; And the sun fell; but Troy through all the night    Watch’d by her fires upon the Ilian plain,    For Hector did the sacred walls disdain Of Ilios; nor knew that he should stand    Ere night return’d, and burial crave in vain, Unarm’d, forsaken, at Achilles’ hand.



But all that night within his chamber high    Hephaestus made his iron anvils ring; And, ere the dawn, had wrought a panoply,    The goodliest ever worn by mortal king.    This to the Argive camp did Thetis bring, And when her child had proved it, like the star    That heralds day, he went forth summoning The host Achaean to delight of war.



And as a mountain torrent leaves its bed,    And seaward sweeps the toils of men in spate, Or as a forest-fire, that overhead    Burns in the boughs, a thing insatiate,    So raged the fierce Achilles in his hate; And Xanthus, angry for his Trojans slain,    Brake forth, while fire and wind made desolate What war and wave had spared upon the plain.



Now through the fume and vapour of the smoke    Between the wind’s voice and the water’s cry, The battle shouting of the Trojans broke,    And reached the Ilian walls confusedly,    But over soon the folk that watch’d might spy Thin broken bands that fled, avoiding death,    Yet many a man beneath the spear must die, Ere by the sacred gateway they drew breath.



And as when fire doth on a forest fall    And hot winds bear it raging in its flight, And beechen boughs, and pines are ruin’d all,    So raged Achilles’ anger in that fight;    And many an empty car, with none to smite The madden’d horses, o’er the bridge of war    Was wildly whirled, and many a maid’s delight That day to the red wolves was dearer far.


* * * * *



Some Muse that loved not Troy hath done thee wrong,    Homer! who whisper’d thee that Hector fled Thrice round the sacred walls he kept so long;    Nay, when he saw his people vanquishèd    Alone he stood for Troy; alone he sped One moment, to the struggle of the spear,    And, by the Gods deserted, fell and bled, A warrior stainless of reproach and fear.



Then all the people from the battlement    Beheld what dreadful things Achilles wrought, For on the body his revenge he spent,    The anger of the high Gods heeding nought,    To whom was Hector dearest, while he fought, Of all the Trojan men that were their joy,    But now no more their favour might be bought By savour of his hecatombs in Troy.



So for twelve days rejoiced the Argive host,    And now Patroclus hath to Hades won, But Hector naked lay, and still his ghost    Must wail where waters of Cocytus run;    Till Priam did what no man born hath done, Who dared to pass among the Argive bands,    And clasp’d the knees of him that slew his son, And kiss’d his awful homicidal hands.



At such a price was Hector’s body sent    To Ilios, where the women wail’d him shrill; And Helen’s sorrow brake into lament    As bursts a lake the barriers of a hill,    For lost, lost, lost was that one friend who still Stood by her with kind speech and gentle heart,    The sword of war, pure faith, and steadfast will, That strove to keep all evil things apart.


* * * * *



And so men buried Hector.  But they came,    The Amazons, from frozen fields afar. A match for heroes in the dreadful game    Of spears, the darlings of the God of War,    Whose coming was to Priam dearer far Than light to him that is a long while blind,    When leech’s hand hath taën away the bar That vex’d him, or the healing God is kind;



And Troy was glad, and with the morning light    The Amazons went forth to slay and slay; And wondrously they drave the foe in flight,    Until the Sun had wander’d half his way;    But when he stoop’d to twilight and the grey Hour when men loose the steer beneath the yoke,    No more Achilles held him from the fray, But dreadful through the women’s ranks he broke.



Then comes eclipse upon the crescent shield,    And death on them that bear it, and they fall One here, one there, about the stricken field,    As in that art, of Love memorial,    Which moulders on the holy Carian wall. Ay, still we see, still love, still pity there    The warrior-maids, so brave, so god-like tall, In Time’s despite imperishably fair.



But, as a dove that braves a falcon, stood    Penthesilea, wrath outcasting fear, Or as a hind, that in the darkling wood    Withstands a lion for her younglings dear;    So stood the girl before Achilles’ spear; In vain, for singing from his hand it sped,    And crash’d through shield and breastplate till the sheer Cold bronze drank blood, and down the queen fell dead.



Then from her locks the helm Achilles tore    And boasted o’er the slain; but lo, the face Of her thus lying in the dust and gore    Seem’d lovelier than is the maiden grace    Of Artemis, when weary from the chase, She sleepeth in a haunted dell unknown.    And all the Argives marvell’d for a space, But most Achilles made a heavy moan:



And in his heart there came the weary thought    Of all that was, and all that might have been, Of all the sorrow that his sword had wrought,    Of Death that now drew near him: of the green    Vales of Larissa, where, with such a queen, With such a love as now his spear had slain,    He had been happy, who must wind the skein Of grievous wars, and ne’er be glad again.



Yea, now wax’d Fate half weary of her game,    And had no care but aye to kill and kill, And many young kings to the battle came,    And of that joy they quickly had their fill,    And last came Memnon: and the Trojans still Took heart, like wearied mariners that see    (Long toss’d on unknown waves at the winds’ will) Through clouds the gleaming crest of Helikê.



For Memnon was the child of the bright Dawn,    A Goddess wedded to a mortal king, Who dwells for ever on the shores withdrawn    That border on the land of sun-rising;    And he was nurtured nigh the sacred spring That is the hidden fountain of all seas,    By them that in the Gods’ own garden sing, The lily-maidens call’d Hesperides.



But him the child of Thetis in the fight    Met on a windy winter day, when high The dust was whirled, and wrapp’d them like the night    That falleth on the mountains stealthily    When the floods come, and down their courses dry The torrents roar, and lightning flasheth far:    So rang, so shone their harness terribly Beneath the blinding thunder-cloud of war.



Then the Dawn shudder’d on her golden throne,    And called unto the West Wind, and he blew And brake the cloud asunder; and alone    Achilles stood, but Memnon, smitten through,    Lay beautiful amid the dreadful dew Of battle, and a deathless heart was fain    Of tears, to Gods impossible, that drew From mortal hearts a little of their pain.



But now, their leader slain, the Trojans fled,    And fierce Achilles drove them in his hate, Avenging still his dear Patroclus dead,    Nor knew the hour with his own doom was great,    Nor trembled, standing in the Scaean gate, Where ancient prophecy foretold his fall;    Then suddenly there sped the bolt of Fate, And smote Achilles by the Ilian wall:



From Paris’ bow it sped, and even there,    Even as he grasp’d the skirts of victory, Achilles fell, nor any man might dare    From forth the Trojan gateway to draw nigh;    But, as the woodmen watch a lion die, Pierced with the hunter’s arrow, nor come near    Till Death hath veil’d his eyelids utterly, Even so the Trojans held aloof in fear.



But there his fellows on his wondrous shield    Laid the fair body of Achilles slain, And sadly bare him through the trampled field,    And lo! the deathless maidens of the main    Rose up, with Thetis, from the windy plain, And round the dead man beautiful they cried,    Lamenting, and with melancholy strain The sweet-voiced Muses mournfully replied.



Yea, Muses and Sea-maidens sang his dirge,    And mightily the chant arose and shrill, And wondrous echoes answer’d from the surge    Of the grey sea, and from the holy hill    Of Ida; and the heavy clouds and chill Were gathering like mourners, sad and slow,    And Zeus did thunder mightily, and fill The dells and glades of Ida deep with snow.



Now Paris was not sated with the fame    And rich reward Troy gave his archery; But o’er the wine he boasted that the game    That very night he deem’d to win, or die;    “For scarce their watch the tempest will defy,” He said, “and all undream’d of might we go,    And fall upon the Argives where they lie, Unseen, unheard, amid the silent snow.”



So, flush’d with wine, and clad in raiment white    Above their mail, the young men follow’d him, Their guide a fading camp-fire in the night,    And the sea’s moaning in the distance dim.    And still with eddying snow the air did swim, And darkly did they wend they knew not where,    White in that cursed night: an army grim, ’Wilder’d with wine, and blind with whirling air.



There was an outcast in the Argive host,    One Philoctetes; whom Odysseus’ wile, (For, save he help’d, the Leaguer all was lost,)    Drew from his lair within the Lemnian isle.    But him the people, as a leper vile, Hated, and drave to a lone hut afar,    For wounded sore was he, and many a while His cries would wake the host foredone with war.



Now Philoctetes was an archer wight;    But in his quiver had he little store Of arrows tipp’d with bronze, and feather’d bright;    Nay, his were blue with mould, and fretted o’er    With many a spell Melampus wrought of yore, Singing above his task a song of bane;    And they were venom’d with the Centaur’s gore, And tipp’d with bones of men a long while slain.



This wretch for very pain might seldom sleep,    And that night slept not: in the moaning blast He deem’d the dead about his hut did creep,    And silently he rose, and round him cast    His raiment foul, and from the door he pass’d, And peer’d into the night, and soothly heard    A whisper’d voice; then gripp’d his arrows fast And strung his bow, and cried a bitter word:



“Art thou a gibbering ghost with war outworn,    And thy faint life in Hades not begun? Art thou a man that holdst my grief in scorn,    And yet dost live, and look upon the sun?    If man,—methinks thy pleasant days are done, And thou shalt writhe in torment worse than mine;    If ghost,—new pain in Hades hast thou won, And there with double woe shalt surely pine.”



He spake, and drew the string, and sent a shaft    At venture through the midnight and the snow, A little while he listen’d, then he laugh’d    Within himself, a dreadful laugh and low;    For over well the answer did he know That midnight gave his message, the sharp cry    And armour rattling on a fallen foe That now was learning what it is to die.



Then Philoctetes crawl’d into his den    And hugg’d himself against the bitter cold, While round their leader came the Trojan men    And bound his wound, and bare him o’er the wold,    Back to the lights of Ilios; but the gold Of Dawn was breaking on the mountains white,    Or ere they won within the guarded fold, Long ’wilder’d in the tempest and the night.



And through the gate, and through the silent street,    And houses where men dream’d of war no more, The bearers wander’d with their weary feet,    And Paris to his high-roof’d house they bore.    But vainly leeches on his wound did pore, And vain was Argive Helen’s magic song,    Ah, vain her healing hands, and all her lore, To help the life that wrought her endless wrong.



Slow pass’d the fever’d hours, until the grey    Cold light was paling, and a sullen glow Of livid yellow crown’d the dying day,    And brooded on the wastes of mournful snow.    Then Paris whisper’d faintly, “I must go And face that wild wood-maiden of the hill;    For none but she can win from overthrow Troy’s life, and mine that guards it, if she will.”



So through the dumb white meadows, deep with snow,    They bore him on a pallet shrouded white, And sore they dreaded lest an ambush’d foe    Should hear him moan, or mark the moving light    That waved before their footsteps in the night; And much they joy’d when Ida’s knees were won,    And ’neath the pines upon an upland height, They watch’d the star that heraldeth the sun.



For under woven branches of the pine,    The soft dry needles like a carpet spread, And high above the arching boughs did shine    In frosty fret of silver, that the red    New dawn fired into gold-work overhead: Within that vale where Paris oft had been    With fair Œnone, ere the hills he fled To be the sinful lover of a Queen.



Not here they found Œnone: “Nay, not here,”    Said Paris, faint and low, “shall she be found; Nay, bear me up the mountain, where the drear    Winds walk for ever on a haunted ground.    Methinks I hear her sighing in their sound; Or some God calls me there, a dying man.    Perchance my latest journeying is bound Back where the sorrow of my life began.”



They reach’d the gateway of that highest glen    And halted, wond’ring what the end should be; But Paris whisper’d Helen, while his men    Fell back: “Here judged I Gods, here shalt thou see    What judgment mine old love will pass on me. But hide thee here; thou soon the end shalt know,    Whether the Gods at length will set thee free From that old net they wove so long ago.”



Ah, there with wide snows round her like a pall,    Œnone crouch’d in sable robes; as still As Winter brooding o’er the Summer’s fall,    Or Niobe upon her haunted hill,    A woman changed to stone by grief, where chill The rain-drops fall like tears, and the wind sighs:    And Paris deem’d he saw a deadly will Unmoved in wild Œnone’s frozen eyes.



“Nay, prayer to her were vain as prayer to Fate,”    He murmur’d, almost glad that it was so, Like some sick man that need no longer wait,    But his pain lulls as Death draws near his woe.    And Paris beckon’d to his men, and slow They bore him dying from that fatal place,    And did not turn again, and did not know The soft repentance on Œnone’s face.



But Paris spake to Helen: “Long ago,    Dear, we were glad, who never more shall be Together, where the west winds fainter blow    Round that Elysian island of the sea,    Where Zeus from evil days shall set thee free. Nay, kiss me once, it is a weary while,    Ten weary years since thou hast smiled on me, But, Helen, say good-bye, with thine old smile!”



And as the dying sunset through the rain    Will flush with rosy glow a mountain height, Even so, at his last smile, a blush again    Pass’d over Helen’s face, so changed and white;    And through her tears she smiled, his last delight, The last of pleasant life he knew, for grey    The veil of darkness gather’d, and the night Closed o’er his head, and Paris pass’d away.



Then for one hour in Helen’s heart re-born,    Awoke the fatal love that was of old, Ere she knew all, and the cold cheeks outworn,    She kiss’d, she kiss’d the hair of wasted gold,    The hands that ne’er her body should enfold; Then slow she follow’d where the bearers led,    Follow’d dead Paris through the frozen wold Back to the town where all men wish’d her dead.



Perchance it was a sin, I know not, this!    Howe’er it be, she had a woman’s heart, And not without a tear, without a kiss,    Without some strange new birth of the old smart,    From her old love of the brief days could part For ever; though the dead meet, ne’er shall they    Meet, and be glad by Aphrodite’s art, Whose souls have wander’d each its several way.


* * * * *



And now was come the day when on a pyre    Men laid fair Paris, in a broider’d pall, And fragrant spices cast into the fire,    And round the flame slew many an Argive thrall.    When, like a ghost, there came among them all, A woman, once beheld by them of yore,    When first through storm and driving rain the tall Black ships of Argos dash’d upon the shore.



Not now in wrath Œnone came; but fair    Like a young bride when nigh her bliss she knows, And in the soft night of her fallen hair    Shone flowers like stars, more white than Ida’s snows,    And scarce men dared to look on her, of those The pyre that guarded; suddenly she came,    And sprang upon the pyre, and shrill arose Her song of death, like incense through the flame.



And still the song, and still the flame went up,    But when the flame wax’d fierce, the singing died; And soon with red wine from a golden cup    Priests drench’d the pyre; but no man might divide    The ashes of the Bridegroom from the Bride. Nay, they were wedded, and at rest again,    As in those old days on the mountain-side, Before the promise of their youth was vain.

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