Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, KASSANDRA PROPHESIES, by GORDON BOTTOMLEY

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

KASSANDRA PROPHESIES, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: And yester-morn the vision burned again
Last Line: Take you and sell you to mene...Men...Menelaos....
Subject(s): Cassandra (mythology); Helen Of Troy; Mythology - Classical; Prophecy & Prophets

AND yester-morn the vision burned again
Before the rising sun could cheat my soul
With signs of an incendiary world;
And the dead sky seemed shrivelled to rags of flame,
As though the petals of the sun were scattered
By the tired hand that holds its swaying stalk.
Within the river's mouth the fungused fleet
Was busied for an unfamiliar voyage;
And all about me crawled shrinking, hooded women,
While steel-tusked men clutched us on every side
Whose feet were muffled by the dead they trod on.
Now therefore know the inevitable award;
Go out from us, and weep not before Paris --
There shall be silence, you shall not be jeered at --
And with your kindreds leave us, singing victory;
For only thus shall Troy remain unruined,
Nor heighten to a shrieking peroration,
Then sink to secular indignity.

Fear not, Kassandra: when the city falls
I'll trick my husband into mazed forgiving
By the accustomed show of hopeless tears
And sob-choked murmurs of unworthiness,
Rewakened love regretful, unavailing;
And then I'll kiss your single life from him,
And you shall be no woman's drudge but mine.
O, I will fit you with very bitter contrasts,
That you shall never leave the thought of Troy
Lest you forget what happiness was like:
So shall you be my other memory,
For I shall never leave to think of Paris,
Seeing the misery that our love has brought you.
And when your pang-white face looks feelingless,
As though you are past suffering any more,
I'll even be a little kind sometimes,
To wring you with revulsion of emotion
And make you sensitive once more to me;
Knowing that nought can finish hope within you,
And pain you, and degrade you to yourself,
So deeply as the assurance that in me
Is all your possibility of joy.

That fear is in your mind; it fills your thoughts
Until you think that fear is one with life
And out it comes, betraying that you dread
To save your lover lest your husband slay you.
You fling round me your coarse slave-garb of fear:
But I have nought of you -- the thing I fear,
The single thing I shrink from, is your mercy.
Death is the touchstone of a gallant spirit
That leaps to fill a fearful breach in life
And overshoots the mark and lets life go,
Bewildered gloriously by farther lights:
It is the bravery that is most worth doing,
Putting an irrecoverable name
Into the mouths of far and unborn peoples
Of one who topped a memoryful of days
By an unconscious simple act of greatness
In loosing hold of every firm-known good,
Sunset with rarer glory than any noon:
It dowers men briefly in the final moment
With the retreating kingdoms of the earth
Till monarchs hold but satrapies beneath them --
Filling them once with the true regal passion
In its most potent poignant mastering swell,
The high distress of abdicating kings.
And, though I never find the joy I follow,
If death comes nigh I shall be only joyful,
Yes, if it would come to-day I would greet it well,
If death can save this grey deep-founded city,
The flashing temple and primeval home
Of my ancestral consanguineous gods.
But I must die, and hate myself for dying,
For the shed music of the ruined passion
Of a wrecked queen, a splendid light o'love,
The golden strumpet of a famous tale;
Who by the strangeness of her small Greekish face
Has sent a nation mad with lyric fervour,
Herself unmoved and smiling at the thought
Of spending haughty races in her praise
To be her fire-loud crashing elegy.
But such a diapason shall not be:
In words that ring and clang like hammered iron,
That shriek as when a graver furrows brass,
I'll rouse the fighters farthest from your eyes
And fling you to your huddled herd of kings,
Your puddle of princes who flaunt farms for states,
The worthy corrosive of so much boasting;
Leaving in this healed wound once more called Troy
Mistrust of loveliness for ever more,
A crumbling tettered and macabrous name.

You think I hanker for the consort's crown
Of your upthrust hybrid and thrasonic realm;
Whose capital puts down the Hellenic vesture
That has been donned by proper deities;
And fronts the far-friezed temples of my gods
With green inscrutable Nilotic sphinxes;
And lets Astarte house with Aphrodite,
And thrones the two Demeters side by side
(Sounding delirious and neurotic sistrums
To the grave mother of ten thousand fields);
And brings the monstrous and perfervid East
Into the streets once lit by dawn-white gods,
The elder brethren of a people's thoughts,
So that my path is smeared with congealed clots
Of AEthiopians and Nubians,
Priests from Bubastis, sellers of love from Tanis
With brows like the dusk ivory long-buried
Nigh mummied queens in lands whose very names
Are silted in the crevices of time.
Nay, in my Dorian land the towns are clean;
If the deep-flowing stream Eurotas lacks
Scamander's ruby sunset insolence,
It stretches silver down long luminous nights
As though the moon had shed itself in tears
For fruitless love of that immobile land,
And falls into my wider Southern sea;
And the new day wakes unperverted rites
In crystal cities founded by their gods
For the high-hearted children of the land,
In musky cedarn groves within whose glooms
The faint grey wood-doves clap their wings for joy.
That empire lights the leaguer of my heart,
And if I tarry here it is for Paris
And old love's daily unexpected wonder.
How many Ilian women are there, think you,
Who would not sell their gold and scarlet city
And face the indelible severance of death
But once to break the silence of the years
To voice the adoration of the years,
The steady hopeless passion of the years
For the one beautiful among the captains
Who pass and shake your cracking streets with cohorts
Or grind and tear Greek horses with their own
Who ever split Achilles' brazen greave
Or smote the ringing shield of Agamemnon?
And this is he who calls me his costly girl,
The frontal of his hope of empery,
The more heart-shaking hush that follows music,
The incarnate answer to all lovers' prayers.
O, if the plague that slimes the city's knees
Shall sting me, I will call him to my chamber,
Instil the poison into him with kisses
And take him with me to the incredulous dead
To make substantial the reports of me
That surely many men have told ere now,
Of Ilians and Achaeans many men,
With unregretful joy in that steep hollow.
But if he dies amid a tumbling town
And I am hauled to Sparta soaked with fear,
We shall have loved, and we could do no more
Through an intense and close eternity:
A city is light payment for a passion
That sets the offspring of each wind in arms,
Stringing the world to the right pitch of music
To fit a score of centuries with song.

His costly girl, says she? His costly girl?
Ay, you're his costly girl in the sourest sooth;
For your worn love is like to cost his life.
But you shall never go with him past death;
For, as the spirit outstrips the body's ken,
So it is sure that where you may abide
His splendid presence will not need to pause.

O, let us leave this agony of boasting,
This wasping it with little hurting words:
Nay, both of us are sorely warped by fear --
I fear my husband and you fear his sword --
And I am sorry for my foolish threats.
Let pity breed the love you will not cede:
I'll beg from him a kiss to give to you,
And we will grovel reasonless no more.
Your visions are but swoons of a noble soul;
For in calm sooth this city cannot fall --
Its vasty van of bastions is too wide
For any army potently to grasp.

Ay, would she kiss the spot into my cheek,
The plague-spot that she saves for those she loves?
Now 'ware me as if I were Greekish too
And had a bleached face that could not conceal
The faintest flush of sudden-imagined cunning;
As if I were your equal-hearted sister.
I am so strangely singularly touched
By your sad-smiled condign humility:
You never thought that often in vast nights,
Left by the vision red too weak to sleep,
I had stood behind the curtain of your bed
Cold with the ache of wondering what to do:
All men have pity but not thou nor I....
I'll seek the streets and go among the basest;
And bring them all, the gabbling brabbling rabble;
Set them to wallow in wine, lash them with speech,
Urge them upon you until they shall waken and handle you
With worrying noises, past speaking, shuddering joyfully....
You are their woes....Wreaking the plague....Famine no more....
Take you and sell you to Mene...Men...Menelaos....

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