Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, AGAMEMNON: THE SACRIFICE OF IPHIGENIA. CHORUS, by AESCHYLUS



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AGAMEMNON: THE SACRIFICE OF IPHIGENIA. CHORUS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: I call on zeus, whoever zeus may be
Last Line: Clear truth will meet us with dawn's clearing rays.


I CALL on Zeus, whoever Zeus may be.
If thus he wishes to be known,
I call him Zeus obediently.
He, the unequalled, reigns alone.
I've weighed all things from first to last
and see in Zeus my only stay,
if from my mind I'm yet to cast
these shadowy crushing fears away.

There was another mighty one of old
sapful of high defiant strength:
now in one word his tale is told.
The next god measured out his length
and took the final wrestler's fall.
One course alone is never wrong,
one course brings wisdom: gladly call
on Zeus and sing his Triumph Song!

He guides us on the road of right,
stating for law this one sure thing:
Knowledge is won by suffering.
O, pain can drip before the heart in sleep,
anguish of memory; and men can reap
much wisdom in their own despite.
The gods who sit on glorious thrones above
at times chastise us with their love.

The elder king who led the host
was mute. No word of blame he said.
He bowed his unavailing head.
He floated with the tides of destiny.
The army, scourged by the forbidding sea,
lay hunger-pinched on Aulis' coast,
across from Calchis where the surges roar
and eddy back along the shore.

Winds from the Strymon baffled ship and crew,
making a starved and ruinous holiday,
drifting the men away,
rotting the timbers and the cables through;
and time, twice-told, with gnawing of delay

raked off the Argive youth. So at the last
Calchas gave bitter counsel -- to assuage
the bitter wintry blast
sent by the goddess in her rage;
and both the kings, hearing the prophet's cries,
dashed staff to earth, and tears stood in their eyes.

The elder brother rose to make reply:
'Hard is my lot if now I disobey,
and harder yet if I
agree upon the altar-block to slay
my darling girl, my house's pride: to dye
my hands with blood of hers and do her hurt . . .
Both acts are wrong. Which may I choose?
Yet how can I desert
my gathered friends and break our cruise?
They're clamorous, desiring righteously
the wind-appeasing victim. Let it be.'

He took the yoke of claimed necessity
and in his head the bad winds changed again.
His tugging conflicts ceased to veer,
he set one course for bold-faced villainy.
For frenzy with base reasoning will sear
the conscience, prodigal of after-pain.
He dared to take his daughter's life
in sacrificial infamy,
to battle for a stolen wife
and gain his fleet good luck at sea.

Her sobs of Father passed the judges by.
They met her virgin youth with ruthless frown.
Their thought was war. The father prayed,
then bade the attendants stoutly swing her high
above the altar like a kid. Dismayed
she drooped, her raiment flowing loosely down.
And while they lifted her and dragged,
he bade them tie some ragged strips
with muffling might, until they gagged
the curses on her lovely lips.

Down to the ground her yellow raiment poured.
To each and all, before they bared the steel,
shot forth her arrows of appeal,
and pity pity her wild eyes implored:
bright as a picture, fain to speak, but dumb --
not as at home, when friends were come,
beside her father she would take her place
and sing, or at his loving invitation
would virginally grace
his luck-chant given at the third libation.

And then -- I saw no more. No more I say.
But Calchas deals in no deceptive fates.
We suffer. Justice compensates
with knowledge. We'll unveil the future day
when it arrives. Till then, give it goodbye!
We meet pangs half-way when we pry.
Clear truth will meet us with dawn's clearing rays.






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