Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, AGAMEMNON: HELEN. CHORUS, by AESCHYLUS

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

AGAMEMNON: HELEN. CHORUS, by                 Poet's Biography
First Line: The bow of zeus has twanged. All must confess
Last Line: A war-slave herded cruelly.

THE bow of Zeus has twanged. All must confess
his power is put to angry proof,
his will has measured out their due distress.
One said the high gods stand aloof
and men may tread the holy things in dust.
Who spoke it was a godless man,
for here we all may clearly see
that Zeus demands a penalty.
He curbs the reckless leaders who began
a war to please their panting lust,
though wealth had crammed their store-rooms to excess.
O let me live unscathed by guilt!
So will the wise folk pray;
since gold has no defence
for him that spurns away
in trampling insolence
the shrine that Justice built.

Temptation leads him forward wretchedly,
the child of his deliberate curse.
Nothing can save him. Sin burns plain to see,
mad in his eyes; no glare is worse.
For if you rub and buffet worthless brass
you find the dark and blotchy grain;
and thus we learn the man's true face.
'A boy goes on a sparrow-chase,'
but light-winged hopes bring heavy hurt to pass,
and Troy has felt the shock of pain.
The gods are deaf to every moaning plea;
they let the prayer-wise sinner pray.
Then retribution falls.
A guest, young Paris came
into these friendly halls:
he stained the hearth with shame
and filched a wife away.

Helen has gone, and left us for our share
spear clang, shield clang,
and clatter as the docks awaken.
Sure Ruin for her dowry she has taken
while passing lightly through the gate,
daring what no one well may dare;
and thus the home's lamenting prophets sang:
'Woe for the home, the man left desolate,
her yielding body dinted on the bed!
Behold the silence scorned yet uncomplaining
of him that sits apart with care.
He yearns, but still the sundering sea denies --
Queen of his house, a ghost is reigning.
He looks with grudging hate
on graceful statues there,
and in his cheated eyes
all love is dead.

'O, shapes appear in flattering dreams and sway
across his night,
bringing a vain delirium;
for vain it is when limbs desired will come
yet through the clutching fingers drain,
plucked in an ebbing flash away,
flurrying the paths of sleep with wings of flight.'
His hearth is thus embittered with his pain,
he's sadder still whichever way he turns . . .
But every Grecian home sent volunteers,
though brooding thoughts of misery stay.
And time has many a thrust to shatter strength,
piercing the heart that waits and fears.
They sent out lads to fight
with faces known and gay;
and they get back at length
ashes in urns.

The war-god is a broker, flesh his gold.
He holds his scale above the wavering spears.
Instead of men, burnt from Scamandros' banks
a little pinch of dust he sends
to unconsoled and weeping friends:
a row of vases for the warrior-ranks.
Men sigh, 'This lad was young and bold,
and he had trained for years;
and nobly in the shambles that one died
to fetch another's gadding bride.'
Hoarsely the men complain beneath their breath;
and wrath against the Atridae, sadly stern,
shrugs through the town on every side.
But many comely lads in death
lie under walls of Trojan stone.
The enemy-earth now takes in turn
the lads that took it as their own.

A heavy thing is rumour fiercely spread,
a curse denounced by the exacting town.
Inward my hopes and fears are straining hard
to catch some tidings from the dark.
The gods have set a murder-mark
on all who make the earth a slaughter-yard;
and dark-stoled Furies, by the heavens led,
in time bring tumbling down
the man unrighteously entitled great.
With sad eclipse of shining state
forsaken quite, among the unknown he lies.
The noise of glory hems a man with hate:
down on his eyes Zeus' bolts will blaze.
The unenvied life delights the wise.
No city-sacker would I be,
nor do I wish to end my days
a war-slave herded cruelly.

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