Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ARISTOPHANES' APOLOGY; BEING THE LAST ADVENTURE OF BALAUSTION: PART 1, by ROBERT BROWNING



Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

Rhyming Dictionary Search
ARISTOPHANES' APOLOGY; BEING THE LAST ADVENTURE OF BALAUSTION: PART 1, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Wind, wave, and bark, bear euthukles and me
Last Line: Accordingly I read the perfect piece.
Subject(s): Greece; Greeks


(INCLUDING A TRANSCRIPT FROM EURIPIDES)

WIND, wave, and bark, bear Euthukles and me,
Balaustion, from -- not sorrow but despair,
Not memory but the present and its pang!
Athenai, live thou hearted in my heart:
Never, while I live, may I see thee more,
Never again may these repugnant orbs
Ache themselves blind before the hideous pomp,
The ghastly mirth which mocked thine overthrow
-- Death's entry, Haides' outrage!
Doomed to die, --
Fire should have flung a passion of embrace
About thee till, resplendently inarmed,
(Temple by temple folded to his breast,
All thy white wonder fainting out in ash,)
Lightly some vaporous sigh of soul escaped
And so the Immortals bade Athenai back!
Or earth might sunder and absorb thee, save,
Buried below Olumpos and its gods,
Akropolis to dominate her realm
For Kore, and console the ghosts; or, sea,
What if thy watery plural vastitude,
Rolling unanimous advance, had rushed,
Might upon might, a moment, -- stood, one stare,
Sea-face to city-face, thy glaucous wave
Glassing that marbled last magnificence, --
Till fate's pale tremulous foam-flower tipped the gray,
And when wave broke and overswarmed, and, sucked
To bounds back, multitudinously ceased,
Let land again breathe unconfused with sea,
Attike was, Athenai was not now!

Such end I could have borne, for I had shared.
But this which, glanced at, aches within my orbs
To blinding, -- bear me thence, bark, wind and wave!
Me, Euthukles, and, hearted in each heart,
Athenai, undisgraced as Pallas' self,
Bear to my birthplace, Helios' island-bride,
Zeus' darling: thither speed us, homeward-bound,
Wafted already twelve hours' sail away
From horror, nearer by one sunset Rhodes!

Why should despair be? Since, distinct above
Man's wickedness and folly, flies the wind
And floats the cloud, free transport for our soul
Out of its fleshly durance dim and low, --
Since disembodied soul anticipates
(Thought-borne as now in rapturous unrestraint)
Above all crowding, crystal silentness,
Above all noise, a silver solitude: --
Surely, where thought so bears soul, soul in time
May permanently bide, "assert the wise,"
There live in peace, there work in hope once more --
Oh, nothing doubt, Philemon! Greed and strife,
Hatred and cark and care, what place have they
In you blue liberality of heaven?
How the sea helps! How rose-smit earth will rise
Breast-high thence, some bright morning, and be Rhodes!
Heaven, earth and sea, my warrant -- in their name,
Believe -- o'er falsehood, truth is surely sphered,
O'er ugliness beams beauty, o'er this world
Extends that realm where "as the wise assert,"
Philemon, thou shalt see Euripides
Clearer than mortal sense perceived the man!

A sunset nearer Rhodes, by twelve hours' sweep
Of surge secured from horror? Rather say,
Quieted out of weakness into strength.
I dare invite, survey the scene my sense
Staggered to apprehend: for, disenvolved
From the mere outside anguish and contempt,
Slowly a justice centred in a doom
Reveals itself. Ay, pride succumbed to pride,
Oppression met the oppressor and was matched.
Athenai's vaunt braved Sparte's violence
Till, in the shock, prone fell Peiraios, low
Rampart and bulwark lay, as -- timing stroke
Of hammer, axe, and beam hoist, poised and swung --
The very flute-girls blew their laughing best,
In dance about the conqueror while he bade
Music and merriment help enginery
Batter down, break to pieces all the trust
Of citizens once, slaves now. See what walls
Play substitute for the long double range
Themistoklean, heralding a guest
From harbor on to citadel! Each side
Their senseless walls demolished stone by stone,
See, -- outer wall as stonelike, heads and hearts, --
Athenai's terror-stricken populace!
Prattlers, tongue-tied in crouching abjectness, --
Braggarts, who wring hands wont to flourish swords --
Sophist and rhetorician, demagogue,
(Argument dumb, authority a jest,)
Dikast and heliast, pleader, litigant,
Quack-priest, sham-prophecy-retailer, scout
O' the customs, sycophant, whate'er the style,
Altar-scrap-snatcher, pimp and parasite, --
Rivalities at truce now each with each,
Stupefied mud-banks, -- such an use they serve!
While the one order which performs exact
To promise, functions faithful last as first,
What is it but the city's lyric troop,
Chantress and psaltress, flute-girl, dancing-girl?
Athenai's harlotry takes laughing care
Their patron miss no pipings, late she loved,
But deathward tread at least the kordax-step.

Die then, who pulled such glory on your heads!
There let it grind to powder! Perikles!
The living are the dead now: death be life!
Why should the sunset yonder waste its wealth?
Prove thee Olumpian! If my heart supply
Inviolate the structure, -- true to type,
Build me some spirit-place no flesh shall find,
As Pheidias may inspire thee; slab on slab,
Renew Athenai, quarry out the cloud,
Convert to gold yon west extravagance!
'Neath Propulaia, from Akropolis
By vapory grade and grade, gold all the way,
Step to thy snow-Pnux, mount thy Bema-cloud,
Thunder and lighten thence a Hellas through
That shall be better and more beautiful
And too august for Sparte's foot to spurn!
Chasmed in the crag, again our Theatre
Predominates, one purple: Staghunt-month,
Brings it not Dionusia? Hail, the Three!
Aischulos, Sophokles, Euripides
Compete, gain prize or lose prize, godlike still.
Nay, lest they lack the old god-exercise --
Their noble want the unworthy, -- as of old,
(How otherwise should patience crown their might?)
What if each find his ape promoted man,
His censor raised for antic service still?
Some new Hermippos to pelt Perikles,
Kratinos to swear Pheidias robbed a shrine,
Eruxis -- I suspect, Euripides,
No brow will ache because with mop and mow
He gibes my poet! There's a dog-faced dwarf
That gets to godship somehow, yet retains
His apehood in the Egyptian hierarchy,
More decent, indecorous just enough:
Why should not dog-ape, graced in due degree,
Grow Momos as thou Zeus? Or didst thou sigh
Rightly with thy Makaria? "After life,
Better no sentiency than turbulence;
Death cures the low contention." Be it so!
Yet progress means contention, to my mind.

Euthukles, who, except for love that speaks,
Art silent by my side while words of mine
Provoke that foe from which escape is vain
Henceforward, wake Athenai's fate and fall, --
Memories asleep as, at the altar-foot,
Those Furies in the Oresteian song, --
Do I amiss, who wanting strength use craft,
Advance upon the foe I cannot fly,
Nor feign a snake is dormant though it gnaw?
That fate and fall, once bedded in our brain,
Roots itself past upwrenching; but coaxed forth,
Encouraged out to practise fork and fang, --
Perhaps, when satiate with prompt sustenance,
It may pine, likelier die than if left swell
In peace by our pretension to ignore,
Or pricked to threefold fury, should our stamp
Bruise and not brain the pest.

A middle course!
What hinders that we treat this tragic theme
As the Three taught when either woke some woe,
-- How Klutaimnestra hated, what the pride
Of Iokaste, why Medeia clove
Nature asunder. Small rebuked by large,
We felt our puny hates refine to air,
Our poor prides sink, prevent the humbling hand,
Our petty passions purify their tide.
So, Euthukles, permit the tragedy
To re-enact itself, this voyage through,
Till sunsets end and sunrise brighten Rhodes!
Majestic on the stage of memory,
Peplosed and kothorned, let Athenai fall
Once more, nay, oft again till life conclude,
Lent for the lesson: Choros, I and thou!
What else in life seems piteous any more
After such pity, or proves terrible
Beside such terror?

Still -- since Phrunichos
Offended, by too premature a touch
Of that Milesian smart-place freshly frayed --
(Ah, my poor people, whose prompt remedy
Was -- fine the poet, not reform thyself!)
Beware precipitate approach! Rehearse
Rather the prologue, well a year away,
Than the main misery, a sunset old.
What else but fitting prologue to the piece
Style an adventure, stranger than my first
By so much as the issue it enwombed
Lurked big beyond Balaustion's littleness?
Second supreme adventure! O that Spring,
That eve I told the earlier to my friends!
Where are the four now, with each red-ripe mouth
Crumpled so close, no quickest breath it fetched
Could disengage the lip-flower furled to bud
For fear Admetos -- shivering head and foot,
As with sick soul and blind averted face
He trusted hand forth to obey his friend --
Should find no wife in her cold hand's response,
Nor see the disenshrouded statue start
Alkestis, live the life and love the love!
I wonder, does the streamlet ripple still,
Out-smoothing galingale and watermint
Its mat-floor? while at brim, 'twixt sedge and sedge,
What bubblings past Baccheion, broadened much,
Pricked by the reed and fretted by the fly,
Oared by the boatman-spider's pair of arms!
Lenaia was a gladsome month ago --
Euripides had taught "Andromede:"
Next month, would teach "Kresphontes" -- which same month
Some one from Phokis, who companioned me
Since all that happened on those temple-steps,
Would marry me and turn Athenian too.
Now! if next year the masters let the slaves
Do Bacchic service and restore mankind
That trilogy whereof, 't is noised, one play
Presents the Bacchai, -- no Euripides
Will teach the choros, nor shall we be tinged
By any such grand sunset of his soul,
Exiles from dead Athenai, -- not the live
That's in the cloud there with the new-born star!

Speak to the infinite intelligence,
Sing to the everlasting sympathy!
Winds belly sail, and drench of dancing brine
Buffet our boat-side, so the prore bound free!
Condense our voyage into one great day
Made up of sunset-closes: eve by eve,
Resume that memorable night-discourse
When -- like some meteor-brilliance, fire and filth,
Or say, his own Amphitheos, deity
And dung, who, bound on the gods' embassage,
Got men's acknowledgement in kick and cuff --
We made acquaintance with a visitor
Ominous, apparitional, who went
Strange as he came, but shall not pass away.
Let us attempt that memorable talk,
Clothe the adventure's every incident
With due expression: may not looks be told,
Gesture made speak, and speech so amplified
That words find blood-warmth which, cold writ, they lose?

Recall the night we heard the news from Thrace,
One year ago, Athenai still herself.

We two were sitting silent in the house,
Yet cheerless hardly. Euthukles, forgive!
I somehow speak to unseen auditors.
Not you, but -- Euthukles had entered, grave,
Grand, may I say, as who brings laurel-branch
And message from the tripod: such it proved.

He first removed the garland from his brow,
Then took my hand and looked into my face.

"Speak good words!" much misgiving faltered I.

"Good words, the best, Balaustion! He is crowned,
Gone with his Attic ivy home to feast,
Since Aischulos required companionship.
Pour a libation for Euripides!"

When we had sat the heavier silence out --
"Dead and triumphant still!" began reply
To my eye's question. "As he willed, he worked:
And, as he worked, he wanted not, be sure,
Triumph his whole life through, submitting work
To work's right judges, never to the wrong,
To competency, not ineptitude.
When he had run life's proper race and worked
Quite to the stade's end, there remained to try
The stade's turn, should strength dare the double course.
Half the diaulos reached, the hundred plays
Accomplished, force in its rebound sufficed
To lift along the athlete and ensure
A second wreath, proposed by fools for first,
The statist's olive as the poet's bay.
Wiselier, he suffered not a twofold aim
Retard his pace, confuse his sight; at once
Poet and statist; though the multitude
Girded him ever 'All thine aim thine art?
The idle poet only? No regard
For civic duty, public service, here?
We drop our ballot-bean for Sophokles!
Not only could he write "Antigone,"
But -- since (we argued) whoso penned that piece
Might just as well conduct a squadron, -- straight
Good-naturedly he took on him command,
Got laughed at, and went back to making plays,
Having allowed us our experiment
Respecting the fit use of faculty.'
No whit the more did athlete slacken pace.
Soon the jeers grew: 'Cold hater of his kind,
A sea-cave suits him, not the vulgar hearth!
What need of tongue-talk, with a bookish store
Would stock ten cities?' Shadow of an ass!
No whit the worse did athlete touch the mark
And, at the turning-point, consign his scorn
O' the scorners to that final trilogy
'Hupsipule,' 'Phoinissai,' and the Match
Of Life Contemplative with Active Life,
Zethos against Amphion. Ended so?
Nowise! -- began again; for heroes rest
Dropping shield's oval o'er the entire man,
And he who thus took Contemplation's prize
Turned stade-point but to face Activity.
Out of all shadowy hands extending help
For life's decline pledged to youth's labor still,
Whatever renovation flatter age, --
Society with pastime, solitude
With peace, -- he chose the hand that gave the heart,
Bade Macedonian Archelaos take
The leavings of Athenai, ash once flame.
For fifty politicians' frosty work,
One poet's ash proved ample and to spare:
He propped the state and filled the treasury,
Counselled the king as might a meaner soul,
Furnished the friend with what shall stand in stead
Of crown and sceptre, star his name about
When these are dust; for him, Euripides
Last the old hand on the old phorminx flung,
Clashed thence 'Alkaion,' maddened 'Pentheus' up;
Then music sighed itself away, one moan
Iphigeneia made by Aulis' strand;
With her and music died Euripides.

"The poet-friend who followed him to Thrace,
Agathon, writes thus much: the merchantship
Moreover brings a message from the king
To young Euripides, who went on board
This morning at Mounuchia: all is true."

I said "Thank Zeus for the great news and good!"

"Nay, the report is running in brief fire
Through the town's stubbly furrow," he resumed:
-- "Entertains brightly what their favorite styles
'The City of Gapers' for a week perhaps,
Supplants three luminous tales, but yesterday
Pronounced sufficient lamps to last the month:
How Glauketes, outbidding Morsimos,
Paid market-price for one Kopaic eel
A thousand drachmai, and then cooked his prize
Not proper conger-fashion but in oil
And nettles, as man fries the foam-fish-kind;
How all the captains of the triremes, late
Victors at Arginousai, on return
Will, for return, be straightway put to death;
How Mikon wagered a Thessalian mime
Trained him by Lais, looked on as complete,
Against Leogoras' blood-mare koppa-marked,
Valued six talents, -- swore, accomplished so,
The girl could swallow at a draught, nor breathe,
A choinix of unmixed Mendesian wine;
And having lost the match will -- dine on herbs!
Three stories late aflame, at once extinct,
Outblazed by just 'Euripides is dead'!

"I met the concourse from the Theatre,
The audience flocking homeward: victory
Again awarded Aristophanes
Precisely for his old play chopped and changed,
'The Female Celebrators of the Feast' --
That Thesmophoria, tried a second time.
'Never such full success!' -- assured the folk,
Who yet stopped praising to have word of mouth
With 'Euthukles, the bard's own intimate,
Balaustion's husband, the right man to ask.'

"'Dead, yes, but how dead, may acquaintance know?
You were the couple constant at his cave:
Tell us now, is it true that women, moved
By reason of his liking Krateros' ...

"I answered 'He was loved by Sokrates.'

"'Nay,' said another, 'envy did the work!
For, emulating poets of the place,
One Arridaios, one Krateues, both
Established in the royal favor, these' ...

"'Protagoras instructed him,' said I.

"'Phu,' whistled Comic Platon, 'hear the fact!
'T was well said of your friend by Sophokles,
"He hate our women? In his verse, belike.
But when it comes to prose-work, -- ha, ha, ha!"
New climes don't change old manners: so, it chanced,
Pursuing an intrigue one moonless night
With Arethousian Nikodikos' wife,
(Come now, his years were simply seventy-five,)
Crossing the palace-court, what haps he on
But Archelaos' pack of hungry hounds?
Who tore him piecemeal ere his cry brought help.'

"I asked: Did not you write 'The Festivals'?
You best know what dog tore him when alive.
You others, who now make a ring to hear,
Have not you just enjoyed a second treat,
Proclaimed that ne'er was play more worthy prize
Than this, myself assisted at, last year,
And gave its worth to, -- spitting on the same?
Appraise no poetry, -- price cuttlefish,
Or that seaweed-alphestes, scorpion-sort,
Much famed for mixing mud with fantasy
On midnights! I interpret no foul dreams,"
If so said Euthukles, so could not I,
Balaustion, say. After "Lusistrate"
No more for me of "people's privilege,"
No witnessing "the Grand old Comedy
Coeval with our freedom, which, curtailed,
Were freedom's deathblow: relic of the past,
When Virtue laughingly told truth to Vice,
Uncensured, since the stern mouth, stuffed with flowers,
Through poetry breathed satire, perfumed blast
Which sense snuffed up while searched unto the bone!"
I was a stranger: "For first joy," urged friends,
"Go hear our Comedy, some patriot piece
That plies the selfish advocates of war
With argument so unevadable
That crash fall Kleons whom the finer play
Of reason, tickling, deeper wounds no whit
Than would a spear-thrust from a savory-stalk!
No: you hear knave and fool told crime and fault,
And see each scourged his quantity of stripes.
Rough dealing, awkward language,' whine our fops:
The world's too squeamish now to bear plain words
Concerning deeds it acts with gust enough:
But, thanks to wine-lees and democracy,
We've still our stage where truth calls spade a spade!
Ashamed? Phuromachos' decree provides
The sex may sit discreetly, witness all,
Sorted, the good with good, the gay with gay,
Themselves unseen, no need to force a blush.
A Rhodian wife and ignorant so long?
Go hear next play!"

I heard "Lusistrate."
Waves, said to wash pollution from the world,
Take that plague-memory, cure that pustule caught
As, past escape, I sat and saw the piece
By one appalled at Phaidra's fate, -- the chaste,
Whom, because chaste, the wicked goddess chained
To that same serpent of unchastity
She loathed most, and who, coiled so, died distraught
Rather than make submission, loose one limb
Love-wards, at lambency of honeyed tongue,
Or torture of the scales which scraped her snow
-- I say, the piece by him who charged this piece
(Because Euripides shrank not to teach,
If gods be strong and wicked, man, though weak,
May prove their match by willing to be good)
With infamies the Scythian's whip should cure --
"Such outrage done the public -- Phaidra named!
Such purpose to corrupt ingenuous youth,
Such insult cast on female character!" --
Why, when I saw that bestiality --
So beyond all brute-beast imagining,
That when, to point the moral at the close,
Poor Salabaccho, just to show how fair
Was "Reconciliation," stripped her charms,
That exhibition simply bade us breathe,
Seemed something healthy and commendable
After obscenity grotesqued so much
It slunk away revolted at itself.
Henceforth I had my answer when our sage
Pattern-proposing seniors pleaded grave,
"You fail to fathom here the deep design!
All's acted in the interest of truth,
Religion, and those manners old and dear
Which made our city great when citizens
Like Aristeides and like Miltiades
Wore each a golden tettix in his hair."
What do they wear now under -- Kleophon?

Well, for such reasons, -- I am out of breath,
But loathsomeness we needs must hurry past,
I did not go to see, nor then nor now,
The "Thesmophoriazousai." But, since males
Choose to brave first, blame afterward, not brand
Without fair taste of what they stigmatize,
Euthukles had not missed the first display,
Original portrait of Euripides
By "Virtue laughingly reproving Vice:"
"Virtue," -- the author, Aristophanes,
Who mixed an image out of his own depths,
Ticketed as I tell you. Oh, this time
No more pretension to recondite worth!
No joke in aid of Peace, no demagogue
Pun-pelleted from Pnux, no kordax-dance
Overt helped covertly the Ancient Faith!
All now was muck, home-produce, honestman
The author's soul secreted to a play
Which gained the prize that day we heard the death.

I thought "How thoroughly death alters things!
Where is the wrong now, done our dead and great?
How natural seems grandeur in relief,
Cliff-base with frothy spites against its calm!"

Euthukles interposed -- he read my thought --

"O'er them, too, in a moment came the change.
The crowd's enthusiastic, to a man:
Since, rake as such may please the ordure-heap
Because of certain sparkles presumed ore,
At first flash of true lightning overhead,
They look up, nor resume their search too soon.
The insect-scattering sign is evident,
And nowhere winks a firefly rival now,
Nor bustles any beetle of the brood
With trundled dung-ball meant to menace heaven.
Contrariwise, the cry is 'Honor him!'
'A statue in the theatre!' wants one;
Another 'Bring the poet's body back,
Bury him in Peiraios: o'er his tomb
Let Alkamenes carve the music-witch,
The songstress-siren, meed of melody:
Thoukudides invent his epitaph!'
To-night the whole town pays its tribute thus."

Our tribute should not be the same, my friend!
Statue? Within our heart he stood, he stands!
As for the vest outgrown now by the form,
Low flesh that clothed high soul, -- a vesture's fate --
Why, let it fade, mix with the elements
There where it, falling, freed Euripides!
But for the soul that's tutelary now
Till time end, o'er the world to teach and bless --
How better hail its freedom than by first
Singing, we two, its own song back again,
Up to that face from which flowed beauty -- face
Now abler to see triumph and take love
Than when it glorified Athenai once?

The sweet and strange Alkestis, which saved me,
Secured me -- you, ends nowise, to my mind,
In pardon of Admetos. Hearts are fain
To follow cheerful weary Herakles
Striding away from the huge gratitude,
Club shouldered, lion-fleece round loin and flank,
Bound on the next new labor "height o'er height
Ever surmounting, -- destiny's decree!"
Thither He helps us: that's the story's end;
He smiling said so, when I told him mine --
My great adventure, how Alkestis helped.
Afterward, when the time for parting fell,
He gave me, with two other precious gifts,
This third and best, consummating the grace,
"Herakles," writ by his own hand, each line.

"If it have worth, reward is still to seek.
Somebody, I forget who, gained the prize
And proved arch-poet: time must show!" he smiled:
"Take this, and, when the noise tires out, judge me --
Some day, not slow to dawn, when somebody --
Who? I forget -- proves nobody at all!"

Is not that day come? What if you and I
Re-sing the song, inaugurate the fame?
We have not waited to acquaint ourselves
With song and subject; we can prologize
How, at Eurustheus' bidding, -- hate strained hard, --
Herakles had departed, one time more,
On his last labor, worst of all the twelve;
Descended into Haides, thence to drag
The triple-headed hound, which sun should see
Spite of the god whose darkness whelped the Fear.
Down went the hero, "back -- how should he come?"
So laughed King Lukos, an old enemy,
Who judged that absence testified defeat
Of the land's loved one, -- since he saved the land
And for that service wedded Megara
Daughter of Thebai, realm her child should rule.
Ambition, greed and malice seized their prey,
The Heracleian House, defenceless left,
Father and wife and child, to trample out
Trace of its hearth-fire: since extreme old age
Wakes pity, woman's wrong wins championship,
And child may grow up man and take revenge.
Hence see we that, from out their palace-home
Hunted, for last resource they cluster now
Couched on the cold ground, hapless supplicants
About their court-yard altar, -- Household Zeus
It is, the Three in funeral garb beseech,
Delaying death so, till deliverance come --
When did it ever? -- from the deep and dark.
And thus breaks silence old Amphitruon's voice....
Say I not true thus far, my Euthukles?

Suddenly, torch-light! knocking at the door,
Loud, quick, "Admittance for the revels' lord!"
Some unintelligible Komos-cry --
Raw-flesh red, no cap upon his head,
Dionusos, Bacchos, Phales, Iacchos,
In let him reel with the kid-skin at his heel,
Where it buries in the spread of the bushy myrtle-bed!
(Our Rhodian Jackdaw-song was sense to that!)
Then laughter, outbursts ruder and more rude,
Through which, with silver point, a fluting pierced,
And ever "Open, open, Bacchos bids!"

But at last -- one authoritative word,
One name of an immense significance:
For Euthukles rose up, threw wide the door.

There trooped the Choros of the Comedy
Crowned and triumphant; first, those flushed Fifteen,
Men that wore women's garb, grotesque disguise.
Then marched the Three, -- who played Mnesilochos,
Who, Toxotes, and who, robed right, masked rare,
Monkeyed our Great and Dead to heart's content
That morning in Athenai. Masks were down
And robes doffed now; the sole disguise was drink.

Mixing with these -- I know not what gay crowd,
Girl-dancers, flute-boys, and pre-eminent
Among them, -- doubtless draped with such reserve
As stopped fear of the fifty-drachma fine
(Beside one's name on public fig-tree nailed)
Which women pay who in the streets walk bare, --
Behold Elaphion of the Persic dance!
Who lately had frisked fawn-foot, and the rest,
-- All for the Patriot Cause, the Antique Faith,
The Conservation of True Poesy --
Could I but penetrate the deep design!
Elaphion, more Peiraios-known as "Phaps,"
Tripped at the head of the whole banquet-band
Who came in front now, as the first fell back;
And foremost -- the authoritative voice,
The revels-leader, he who gained the prize,
And got the glory of the Archon's feast --
There stood in person Aristophanes.

And no ignoble presence! On the bulge
Of the clear baldness, -- all his head one brow, --
True, the veins swelled, blue network, and there surged
A red from cheek to temple, -- then retired
As if the dark-leaved chaplet damped a flame, --
Was never nursed by temperance or health.
But huge the eyeballs rolled back native fire,
Imperiously triumphant: nostrils wide
Waited their incense; while the pursed mouth's pout
Aggressive, while the beak supreme above,
While the head, face, nay, pillared throat thrown back,
Beard whitening under like a vinous foam,
These made a glory, of such insolence --
I thought, -- such domineering deity
Hephaistos might have carved to cut the brine
For his gay brother's prow, imbrue that path
Which, purpling, recognized the conqueror.
Impudent and majestic: drunk, perhaps,
But that's religion; sense too plainly snuffed:
Still, sensuality was grown a rite.

What I had disbelieved most proved most true.
There was a mind here, mind a-wantoning
At ease of undisputed mastery
Over the body's brood, those appetites.
Oh, but he grasped them grandly, as the god
His either struggling handful, -- hurtless snakes
Held deep down, strained hard off from side and side!
Mastery his, theirs simply servitude,
So well could firm fist help intrepid eye.
Fawning and fulsome, had they licked and hissed?
At mandate of one muscle, order reigned.
They had been wreathing much familiar now
About him on his entry; but a squeeze
Choked down the pests to place: their lord stood free.

Forward he stepped: I rose and fronted him.

"Hail, house, the friendly to Euripides!"
(So he began) "Hail, each inhabitant!
You, lady? What, the Rhodian? Form and face,
Victory's self upsoaring to receive
The poet? Right they named you ... some rich name,
Vowel-buds thorned about with consonants,
Fragrant, felicitous, rose-glow enriched
By the Isle's unguent: some diminished end
In ion, Kallistion? delicater still,
Kubelion or Melittion, -- or, suppose
(Less vulgar love than bee or violet)
Phibalion, for the mouth split red-fig-wise,
Korakinidion for the coal-black hair,
Nettarion, Phabion for the darlingness?
But no, it was some fruit-flower, Rhoidion ... ha,
We near the balsam-bloom -- Balaustion!
Thanks,
Rhodes! Folk have called me Rhodian, do you know?
Not fools so far! Because, if Helios wived,
As Pindaros sings somewhere prettily,
Here blooms his offspring, earth-flesh with sun-fire,
Rhodes' blood and Helios' gold. My phorminx, boy!
Why does the boy hang back and balk an ode
Tiptoe at spread of wing? But like enough,
Sunshine frays torchlight. Witness whom you scare,
Superb Balaustion! Look outside the house!
Pho, you have quenched my Komos by first frown,
Struck dead all joyance: not a fluting puffs
From idle cheekband! Ah, my Choros too?
You've eaten cuckoo-apple? Dumb, you dogs?
So much good Thasian wasted on your throats
And out of them not one Threttanelo?
Neblaretai! Because this earth-and-sun
Product looks wormwood and all bitter herbs?
Well, do I blench, though me she hates the most
Of mortals? By the cabbage, off they slink!
You, too, my Chrusomelolonthion-Phaps,
Girl-goldling-beetle-beauty? You, abashed,
Who late, supremely unabashable,
Propped up my play at that important point
When Artamouxia tricks the Toxotes?
Ha, ha, -- thank Hermes for the lucky throw, --
We came last comedy of the whole seven,
So went all fresh to judgment well-disposed
For who should fatly feast them, eye and ear,
We two between us! What, you fail your friend?
Away then, free me of your cowardice!
Go, get you the goat's breakfast! Fare afield,
Ye circumcised of Egypt, pigs to sow,
Back to the Priest's or forward to the crows,
So you but rid me of such company!
Once left alone, I can protect myself
From statuesque Balaustion pedestalled
On much disapprobation and mistake!
She dares not beat the sacred brow, beside!
Bacchos' equipment, ivy safeguards well
As Phoibos' bay.

"They take me at my word!
One comfort is, I shall not want them long,
The Archon's cry creaks, creaks, 'Curtail expense!'
The war wants money, year the twenty-sixth!
Cut down our Choros number, clip costume,
Save birds' wings, beetles' armor, spend the cash
In three-crest skull-caps, three days' salt-fish-slice,
Three-banked-ships for these sham-ambassadors,
And what not: any cost but Comedy's!
'No Choros' -- soon will follow; what care I?
Archinos and Agurrhios, scrape your flint,
Flay your dead dog, and curry favor so!
Choros in rags, with loss of leather next,
We lose the boys' vote, lose the song and dance,
Lose my Elaphion! Still, the actor stays.
Save but my acting, and the baldhead bard
Kudathenaian and Pandionid,
Son of Philippos, Aristophanes
Surmounts his rivals now as heretofore,
Though stinted to mere sober prosy verse --
'Manners and men,' so squeamish gets the world!
No more 'Step forward, strip for anapaests!'
No calling naughty people by their names,
No tickling audience into gratitude
With chickpease, barleygroats and nuts and plums,
No setting Salabaccho" ...
As I turned --

"True, lady, I am tolerably drunk:
The proper inspiration! Otherwise, --
Phrunichos, Choirilos! -- had Aischulos
So foiled you at the goat-song? Drink's a god.
How else did that old doating driveller
Kratinos foil me, match my masterpiece
The 'Clouds'? I swallowed cloud-distilment -- dew
Undimmed by any grape-blush, knit my brow
And gnawed my style and laughed my learnedest;
While he worked at his 'Willow-wicker-flask,'
Swigging at that same flask by which he swore,
Till, sing and empty, sing and fill again,
Somehow result was -- what it should not be
Next time, I promised him and kept my word!
Hence, brimful now of Thasian ... I'll be bound,
Mendesian, merely: triumph-night, you know,
The High Priest entertains the conqueror,
And, since war worsens all things, stingily
The rascal starves whom he is bound to stuff,
Choros and actors and their lord and king
The poet: supper, still he needs must spread --
And this time all was conscientious fare:
He knew his man, his match, his master -- made
Amends, spared neither fish, flesh, fowl nor wine:
So merriment increased, I promise you,
Till -- something happened."

Here he strangely paused,

"After that, -- Well, it either was the cup
To the Good Genius, our concluding pledge,
That wrought me mischief, decently unmixed, --
Or, what if, when that happened, need arose
Of new libation? Did you only know
What happened! Little wonder I am drunk."

Euthukles, o'er the boat-side, quick, what change,
Watch, in the water! But a second since,
It laughed a ripply spread of sun and sea,
Ray fused with wave, to never disunite.
Now, sudden all the surface, hard and black,
Lies a quenched light, dead motion: What the cause?
Look up and lo, the menace of a cloud
Has solemnized the sparkling, spoil the sport!
Just so, some overshadow, some new care
Stopped all the mirth and mocking on his face
And left there only such a dark surmise
-- No wonder if the revel disappeared,
So did his face shed silence every side!
I recognized a new man fronting me.

"So!" he smiled, piercing to my thought at once,
"You see myself? Balaustion's fixed regard
Can strip the proper Aristophanes
Of what our sophists, in their jargon, style
His accidents? My soul sped forth but now
To meet your hostile survey, -- soul unseen,
Yet veritably cinct for soul-defence
With satyr sportive quips, cranks, boss and spike,
Just as my visible body paced the street,
Environed by a boon companionship
Your apparition also puts to flight.
Well, what care I, if, unaccoutred twice,
I front my foe -- no comicality
Round soul, and body-guard in banishment?
Thank your eyes' searching, undisguised I stand:
The merest female child may question me.
Spare not, speak bold, Balaustion!"

I did speak:

"Bold speech be -- welcome to this honored hearth,
Good Genius! Glory of the poet, glow
O' the humorist who castigates his kind,
Suave summer-lightning lambency which plays
On stag-horned tree, misshapen crag askew,
Then vanishes with unvindictive smile
After a moment's laying black earth bare.
Splendor of wit that springs a thunderball --
Satire -- to burn and purify the world,
True aim, fair purpose: just wit justly strikes
Injustice, -- right, as rightly quells the wrong,
Finds out in knaves', fools', cowards' armory
The tricky tinselled place fire flashes through,
No damage else, sagacious of true ore;
Wit, learned in the laurel, leaves each wreath
O'er lyric shell or tragic barbiton, --
Though alien gauds be singed, -- undesecrate,
The genuine solace of the sacred brow.
Ay, and how pulses flame a patriot-star
Steadfast athwart our country's night of things,
To beacon, would she trust no meteor-blaze,
Athenai from the rock she steers for straight!
O light, light, light, I hail light everywhere,
No matter for the murk that was, -- perchance,
That will be, -- certes, never should have been
Such orb's associate!

"Aristophanes!
'The merest female child may question you?'
Once, in my Rhodes, a portent of the wave
Appalled our coast: for many a darkened day,
Intolerable mystery and fear.
Who snatched a furtive glance through crannied peak,
Could but report of snake-scale, lizard-limb, --
So swam what, making whirlpools as it went,
Madded the brine with wrath or monstrous sport.
''T is Tuphon, loose, unmanacled from mount.'
Declared the priests, 'no way appeasable
Unless perchance by virgin-sacrifice!'
Thus grew the terror and o'erhung the doom --
Until one eve a certain female-child
Strayed in safe ignorance to seacoast edge,
And there sat down and sang to please herself.
When all at once, large-looming from his wave,
Out leaned, chin hand-propped, pensive on the ledge,
A sea-worn face, sad as mortality,
Divine with yearning after fellowship.
He rose but breast-high. So much god she saw;
So much she sees now, and does reverence!"

Ah, but there followed tail-splash, frisk of fin!
Let cloud pass, the sea's ready laugh outbreaks.
No very godlike trace retained the mouth
Which mocked with --

"So, He taught you tragedy!
I always asked 'Why may not women act?'
Nay, wear the comic visor just as well;
Or, better, quite cast off the face-disguise
And voice-distortion, simply look and speak,
Real women playing women as men -- men!
I shall not wonder if things come to that,
Some day when I am distant far enough.
Do you conceive the quite new Comedy
When laws allow? laws only let girls dance,
Pipe, posture, -- above all, Elaphionize,
Provided they keep decent -- that is, dumb.
Ay, and, conceiving, I would execute,
Had I but two lives: one were overworked!
How penetrate encrusted prejudice,
Pierce ignorance three generations thick
Since first Sousarion crossed our boundary?
He battered with a big Megaric stone;
Chionides felled oak and rough-hewed thence
This club I wield now, having spent my life
In planing knobs and sticking studs to shine;
Somebody else must try mere polished steel!"

Emboldened by the sober mood's return,
"Meanwhile," said I, "since planed and studded club
Once more has pashed competitors to dust,
And poet proves triumphant with that play
Euthukles found last year unfortunate, --
Does triumph spring from smoothness still more smoothed,
Fresh studs sown thick and threefold? In plain words,
Have you exchanged brute-blows, -- which teach the brute
Man may surpass him in brutality, --
For human fighting, or true god-like force
Which breathes persuasion nor needs fight at all?
Have you essayed attacking ignorance,
Convicting folly, by their opposites,
Knowledge and wisdom? not by yours for ours,
Fresh ignorance and folly, new for old,
Greater for less, your crime for our mistake!
If so success at last have crowned desert,
Bringing surprise (dashed haply by concern
At your discovery such wild waste of strength
-- And what strength! -- went so long to keep in vogue
Such warfare -- and what warfare! -- shamed so fast,
So soon made obsolete, as fell their foe
By the first arrow native to the orb,
First onslaught worthy Aristophanes) --
Was this conviction's entry that same strange
'Something that happened' to confound your feast?"

"Ah, did he witness then my play that failed,
First 'Thesmophoriazousai'? Well and good!
But did he also see -- your Euthukles --
My 'Grasshoppers,' which followed and failed too,
Three months since, at the 'Little-in-the-Fields'?"

"To say that he did see that First -- should say
He never cared to see its following."

"There happens to be reason why I wrote
First play and second also. Ask the cause!
I warrant you receive, ere talk be done,
Fit answer, authorizing either act.
But here's the point: as Euthukles made vow
Never again to taste my quality,
So I was minded next experiment
Should tickle palate -- yea, of Euthukles!
Not by such utter change, such absolute
A topsyturvy of stage-habitude
As you and he want, -- Comedy built fresh,
By novel brick and mortar, base to roof, --
No, for I stand too near and look too close!
Pleasure and pastime yours, spectators brave,
Should I turn art's fixed fabric upside down!
Little you guess how such tough work tasks soul!
Not overtasks, though: give fit strength fair play,
And strength's a demiourgos! Art renewed?
Ay, in some closet where strength shuts out -- first
The friendly faces, sympathetic cheer:
'More of the old provision, none supplies
So bounteously as thou, -- our love, our pride,
Our author of the many a perfect piece!
Stick to that standard, change were decadence!'
Next, the unfriendly: 'This time, strain will tire,
He's fresh, Ameipsias thy antagonist!'
-- Or better, in some Salaminian cave
Where sky and sea and solitude make earth
And man and noise one insignificance,
Let strength propose itself, -- behind the world, --
Sole prize worth winning, work that satisfies
Strength it has dared and done strength's uttermost!
After which, -- clap-to closet and quit cave, --
Strength may conclude in Archelaos' court,
And yet esteem the silken company
So much sky-scud, sea-froth, earth-thistledown,
For aught their praise or blame should joy or grieve.
Strength amid crowds as late in solitude
May lead the still life, ply the wordless task:
Then only, when seems need to move or speak,
Moving -- for due respect, when statesmen pass,
(Strength, in the closet, watched how spiders spin!)
Speaking -- when fashion shows intelligence,
(Strength, in the cave, oft whistled to the gulls!)
In short, has learnt first, practised afterwards!
Despise the world and reverence yourself, --
Why, you may unmake things and remake things,
And throw behind you, unconcerned enough,
What's made or marred: 'you teach men, are not taught!'
So marches off the stage Euripides!

"No such thin fare feeds flesh and blood like mine,
No such faint fume of fancy sates my soul,
No such seclusion, closet, cave or court,
Suits either: give me Iostephanos
Worth making happy what coarse way she will --
O happy-maker, when her cries increase
About the favorite! 'Aristophanes!
More grist to mill, here's Kleophon to grind!
He's for refusing peace, though Sparte cede
Even Dekeleia! Here's Kleonumos
Declaring -- though he threw away his shield,
He'll thrash you till you lay your lyre aside!
Orestes bids mind where you walk of nights --
He wants your cloak as you his cudgelling.
Here's, finally, Melanthios fat with fish,
The gormandizer-spendthrift-dramatist!
So, bustle! Pounce on opportunity!
Let fun a-screaming in Parabasis,
Find food for folk agape at either end,
Mad for amusement! Times grow better too,
And should they worsen, why, who laughs, forgets.
In no case, venture boy-experiments!
Old wine's the wine: new poetry drinks raw:
Two plays a season is your pledge, beside;
So, give us "Wasps" again, grown hornets now!'"

Then he changed.

"Do you so detect in me --
Brow-bald, chin-bearded, me, curved cheek, carved lip,
Or where soul sits and reigns in either eye --
What suits the -- stigma, I say, -- style say you,
Of 'Wine-lees-poet'? Bravest of buffoons,
Less blunt than Telekleides, less obscene
Than Murtilos, Hermippos: quite a match
In elegance for Eupolis himself,
Yet pungent as Kratinos at his best?
Graced with traditional immunity
Ever since, much about my grandsire's time,
Some funny village-man in Megara,
Lout-lord and clown-king, used a privilege,
As due religious drinking-bouts came round,
To daub his phiz, -- no, that was afterward, --
He merely mounted cart with mates of choice
And traversed country, taking house by house,
At night, -- because of danger in the freak, --
Then hollaed 'Skin-flint starves his laborers!
Clench-fist stows figs away, cheats government!
Such an one likes to kiss his neighbor's wife,
And beat his own; while such another ... Boh!'
Soon came the broad day, circumstantial tale,
Dancing and verse, and there's our Comedy,
There's Mullos, there's Euetes, there's the stock
I shall be proud to graft my powers upon!
Protected? Punished quite as certainly
When Archons pleased to lay down each his law, --
Your Morucheides-Surakosios sort, --
Each season, 'No more naming citizens,
Only abuse the vice, the vicious spare!
Observe, henceforth no Areopagite
Demean his rank by writing Comedy!'
(They one and all could write the 'Clouds' of course.)
"Needs must we nick expenditure, allow
Comedy half a choros, supper -- none,
Times being hard, while applicants increase
For, what costs cash, the Tragic Trilogy.'
Lofty Tragedians! How they lounge aloof
Each with his Triad, three plays to my one,
Not counting the contemptuous fourth, the frank
Concession to mere mortal levity,
Satyric pittance tossed our beggar-world!
Your proud Euripides from first to last
Doled out some five such, never deigned us more!
And these -- what curds and whey for marrowy wine!
That same Alkestis you so rave about
Passed muster with him for a Satyr-play,
The prig! -- why trifle time with toys and skits
When he could stuff four ragbags sausage-wise
With sophistry, with bookish odds and ends,
Sokrates, meteors, moonshine, 'Life's not Life,'
'The tongue swore, but unsworn the mind remains,'
And fifty such concoctions, crabtree-fruit
Digested while, head low and heels in heaven,
He lay, let Comics laugh -- for privilege!
Looked puzzled on, or pityingly off,
But never dreamed of paying gibe by jeer,
Buffet by blow: plenty of proverb-pokes
At vice and folly, wicked kings, mad mobs!
No sign of wincing at my Comic lash,
No protest against infamous abuse,
Malignant censure, -- naught to prove I scourged
With tougher thong than leek-and-onion-plait!
If ever he glanced gloom, aggrieved at all,
The aggriever must be -- Aischulos perhaps:
Or Sophokles he'd take exception to.
-- Do you detect in me -- in me, I ask,
The man like to accept this measurement
Of faculty, contentedly sit classed
Mere Comic Poet -- since I wrote 'The Birds'?"

I thought there might lurk truth in jest's disguise.

"Thanks!" he resumed, so quick to construe smile!
"I answered -- in my mind -- these gapers thus:
Since old wine's ripe and new verse raw, you judge --
What if I vary vintage-mode and mix
Blossom with must, give nosegay to the brew,
Fining, refining, gently, surely, till
The educated taste turns unawares
From customary dregs to draught divine?
Then answered -- with my lips: More 'Wasps you want?
Come next year and I give you 'Grasshoppers'!
And 'Grasshoppers' I gave them, -- last month's play.
They formed the Choros. Alkibiades,
No longer Triphales but Trilophos,
(Whom I called Darling-of-the-Summertime,
Born to be nothing else but beautiful
And brave, to eat, drink, love his life away)
Persuades the Tettix (our Autochthon-brood,
That sip the dew and sing on olive-branch
Above the ant-and-emmet populace)
To summon all who meadow, hill and dale
Inhabit -- bee, wasp, woodlouse, dragonfly --
To band themselves against red nipper-nose
Stagbeetle, huge Taugetan (you guess --
Sparte) Athenai needs must battle with,
Because her sons are grown effeminate
To that degree -- so morbifies their flesh
The poison-drama of Euripides,
Morals and music -- there's no antidote
Occurs save warfare which inspirits blood,
And brings us back perchance the blessed time
When (Choros takes up tale) our commonalty
Firm in primeval virtue, antique faith,
Ere earwig-sophist plagued or pismire-sage,
Cockered no noddle up with A, b, g,
Book-learning, logic-chopping, and the moon,
But just employed their brains on 'Ruppapai,
Row, boys, munch barley-bread, and take your ease --
Mindful, however, of the tier beneath!'
Ah, golden epoch! while the nobler sort
(Such needs must study, no contesting that!)
Wore no long curls but used to crop their hair,
Gathered the tunic well about the ham,
Remembering 't was soft sand they used for seat
At school-time, while -- mark this -- the lesson long,
No learner ever dared to cross his legs!
Then, if you bade him take the myrtle-bough
And sing for supper -- 't was some grave romaunt
How man of Mitulene, wondrous wise,
Jumped into hedge, by mortals quickset called,
And there, anticipating Oidipous,
Scratched out his eyes and scratched them in again.
None of your Phaidras, Auges, Kanakes,
To mincing music, turn, trill, tweedle-trash,
Whence comes that Marathon is obsolete!
Next, my Antistrophe was -- praise of Peace:
Ah, could our people know what Peace implies!
Home to the farm and furrow! Grub one's vine,
Romp with one's Thratta, pretty serving-girl,
When wifie's busy bathing! Eat and drink,
And drink and eat, what else is good in life?
Slice hare, toss pancake, gayly gurgle down
The Thasian grape in celebration due
Of Bacchos! Welcome, dear domestic rite,
When wife and sons and daughters, Thratta too,
Pour pea-soup as we chant delectably
In Bacchos reels, his tunic at his heels!
Enough, you comprehend, -- I do at least!
Then, -- be but patient, -- the Parabasis!
Pray! For in that I also pushed reform.
None of the self-laudation, vulgar brag,
Vainglorious rivals cultivate so much!
No! If some merest word in Art's defence
Justice demanded of me, -- never fear!
Claim was preferred, but dignifiedly.
A cricket asked a locust (winged, you know)
What he had seen most rare in foreign parts?
'I have flown far,' chirped he, 'North, East, South, West,
And nowhere heard of poet worth a fig
If matched with Bald-head here, Aigina's boast,
Who in this play bids rivalry despair
Past, present, and to come, so marvellous
His Tragic, Comic, Lyric excellence!
Whereof the fit reward were (not to speak
Of dinner every day at public cost
I' the Prutaneion) supper with yourselves,
My Public, best dish offered bravest bard!'
No more! no sort of sin against good taste!
Then, satire, -- Oh, a plain necessity!
But I won't tell you: for -- could I dispense
With one more gird at old Ariphrades?
How scorpion-like he feeds on human flesh --
Ever finds out some novel infamy
Unutterable, inconceivable,
Which all the greater need was to describe
Minutely, each tail-twist at ink-shed time ...
Now, what's your gesture caused by? What you loathe,
Don't I loathe doubly, else why take such pains
To tell it you? But keep your prejudice!
My audience justified you! Housebreakers!
This pattern-purity was played and failed
Last Rural Dionusia -- failed! for why?
Ameipsias followed with the genuine stuff.
He had been mindful to engage the Four --
Karkinos and his dwarf-crab-family --
Father and sons, they whirled like spinning-tops,
Choros gigantically poked his fun,
The boys' frank laugh relaxed the seniors' brow,
The skies re-echoed victory's acclaim,
Ameipsias gained his due, I got my dose
Of wisdom for the future. Purity?
No more of that next month, Athenai mine!
Contrive new cut of robe who will, -- I patch
The old exomis, add no purple sleeve!
The Thesmophoriazousai, smartened up
With certain plaits, shall please, I promise you!

"Yes, I took up the play that failed last year,
And re-arranged things; threw adroitly in --
No Parachoregema -- men to match
My women there already; and when these
(I had a hit at Aristullos here,
His plan how womankind should rule the roast)
Drove men to plough -- 'A-field, ye cribbed of cape!'
Men showed themselves exempt from service straight
Stupendously, till all the boys cried 'Brave!'
Then for the elders, I bethought me too,
Improved upon Mnesilochos' release
From the old bowman, board and binding-strap
I made his son-in-law Euripides
Engage to put both shrewish wives away --
'Gravity,' one, the other 'Sophist-lore' --
And mate with the Bald Bard's hetairai twain --
Goodhumor' and 'Indulgence:' on they tripped,
Murrhine, Akalanthis, -- 'beautiful
Their whole belongings' -- crowd joined choros there!
And while the Toxotes wound up his part
By shower of nuts and sweetmeats on the mob,
The woman-choros celebrated New
Kalligeneia, the frank last-day rite.
Brief, I was chaired and caressed and crowned
And the whole theatre broke out a-roar,
Echoed my admonition -- choros-cap --
Rivals of mine, your hands to your faces!
Summon no more the Muses, the Graces,
Since here by my side they have chosen their places!
And so we all flocked merrily to feast, --
I, my choragos, choros, actors, mutes
And flutes aforesaid, friends in crowd, no fear,
At the Priest's supper; and hilarity
Grew none the less that, early in the piece,
Ran a report, from row to row close-packed,
Of messenger's arrival at the Port
With weighty tidings, 'Of Lusandros' flight,'
Opined one; 'That Euboia penitent
Sends the Confederation fifty ships,'
Preferred another; while 'The Great King's Eye
Has brought a present for Elaphion here,
That rarest peacock Kompolakuthes!'
Such was the supposition of a third.
'No matter what the news,' friend Strattis laughed,
'It won't be worse for waiting: while each click
Of the klepsudra sets a shaking grave
Resentment in our shark's-head, boiled and spoiled
By this time: dished in Sphettian vinegar,
Silphion and honey, served with cocks'-brain-sauce!
So, swift to supper, Poet! No mistake,
This play; nor, like the unflavored "Grass-hoppers,"
Salt without thyme!' Right merrily we supped,
Till -- something happened.

"Out it shall, at last!

"Mirth drew to ending, for the cup was crowned
To the Triumphant! 'Kleonclapper erst,
Now, Plier of a scourge Euripides
Fairly turns tail from, flying Attike
For Makedonia's rocks and frosts and bears,
Where, furry grown, he growls to match the squeak
Of girl-voiced, crocus-vested Agathon!
Ha ha, he he!' When suddenly a knock --
Sharp, solitary, cold, authoritative.

"'Babaiax! Sokrates a-passing by,
A-peering in, for Aristullos' sake,
To put a question touching Comic Law?'
"No! Enters an old pale-swathed majesty,
Makes slow mute passage through two ranks as mute,
(Strattis stood up with all the rest, the sneak!)
Gray brow still bent on ground, upraised at length
When, our Priest reached, full front the vision paused.

"'Priest!' -- the deep tone succeeded the fixed gaze --
'Thou carest that thy god have spectacle
Decent and seemly; wherefore, I announce
That, since Euripides is dead to-day,
My Choros, at the Greater Feast, next month,
Shall, clothed in black, appear ungarlanded!'

"Then the gray brow sank low, and Sophokles
Re-swathed him, sweeping doorward: mutely passed
'Twixt rows as mute, to mingle possibly
With certain gods who convoy age to port;
And night resumed him.

"When our stupor broke,
Chirpings took courage, and grew audible.

"'Dead -- so one speaks now of Euripides!'
'Ungarlanded dance Choros, did he say?
I guess the reason: in extreme old age
No doubt such have the gods for visitants.
Why did he dedicate to Herakles
An altar else, but that the god, turned Judge,
Told him in dream who took the crown of gold?
He who restored Akropolis the theft,
Himself may feel perhaps a timely twinge
At thought of certain other crowns he filched
From -- who now visits Herakles the Judge.
Instance "Medeia"! that play yielded palm
To Sophokles; and he again -- to whom?
Euphorion! Why? Ask Herakles the Judge!'
'Ungarlanded, just means -- economy!
Suppress robes, chaplets, everything suppress
Except the poet's present! An old tale
Put capitally by Trugaios -- eh?
News from the world of transformation strange!
How Sophokles is grown Simonides,
And -- aged, rotten -- all the same, for greed
Would venture on a hurdle out to sea!
So jokes Philonides. Kallistratos
Retorts, Mistake! Instead of stinginess --
The fact is, in extreme decrepitude,
He has discarded poet and turned priest,
Priest of Half-Hero Alkon: visited
In his own house too by Asklepios' self,
So he avers. Meanwhile, his own estate
Lies fallow; Iophon's the manager, --
Nay, touches up a play, brings out the same,
Asserts true sonship. See to what you sink
After your dozen-dozen prodigies!
Looking so old -- Euripides seems young,
Born ten years later.'

"'Just his tricky style!
Since, stealing first away, he wins first word
Out of good-natured rival Sophokles,
Procures himself no bad panegyric.
Had fate willed otherwise, himself were taxed
To pay survivor's-tribute, -- harder squeezed
From anybody beaten first to last,
Than one who, steadily a conqueror,
Finds that his magnanimity is tasked
To merely make pretence and -- beat itself!'

"So chirped the feasters though suppressedly.

"But I -- what else do you suppose? -- had pierced
Quite through friends' outside-straining, foes' mock-praise,
And reached conviction hearted under all.
Death's rapid line had closed a life's account,
And cut off, left unalterably clear
The summed-up value of Euripides.

"Well, it might be the Thasian! Certainly
There sang suggestive music in my ears;
And, through -- what sophists style -- the wall of sense
My eyes pierced: death seemed life and life seemed death,
Envisaged that way, now, which I, before,
Conceived was just a moon-struck mood.
Quite plain
There re-insisted, -- ay, each prim stiff phrase
Of each old play, my still-new laughing-stock,
Had meaning, well worth poet's pains to state,
Should life prove half true life's term, -- death, the rest.
As for the other question, late so large,
Now all at once so little, -- he or I, --
Which better comprehended playwright craft, --
There, too, old admonition took fresh point.
As clear recurred our last word-interchange
Two years since, when I tried with 'Ploutos.'
'Vain!'
Saluted me the cold grave-bearded bard --
'Vain, this late trial, Aristophanes!
None balks the genius with impunity!
You know what kind's the nobler, what makes grave
Or what makes grin: there's yet a nobler still,
Possibly, -- what makes wise, not grave, -- and glad,
Not grinning: whereby laughter joins with tears,
Tragic and Comic Poet prove one power,
And Aristophanes becomes our Fourth --
Nay, greatest! Never needs the Art stand still,
But those Art leans on lag, and none like you,
Her strongest of supports, whose step aside
Undoes the march: defection checks advance
Too late adventured! See the "Ploutos" here!
This step decides your foot from old to new --
Proves you relinquish song and dance and jest,
Discard the beast, and, rising from all-fours,
Fain would paint, manlike, actual human life,
Make veritable men think, say and do.
Here's the conception: which to execute,
Where's force? Spent! Ere the race began, was breath
O' the runner squandered on each friendly fool --
Wit-fireworks fizzed off while day craved no flame:
How should the night receive her due of fire
Flared out in Wasps and Horses, Clouds and Birds,
Prodigiously a-crackle? Rest content!
The new adventure for the novel man
Born to that next success myself foresee
In right of where I reach before I rest.
At end of a long course, straight all the way,
Well may there tremble somewhat into ken
The untrod path, clouds veiled from earlier gaze!
None may live two lives: I have lived mine through,
Die where I first stand still. You retrograde.
I leave my life's work. I compete with you,
My last with your last, my "Antiope" --
"Phoinissai" -- with this "Ploutos"? No, I think!
Ever shall great and awful Victory
Accompany my life -- in Maketis
If not Athenai. Take my farewell, friend!
Friend, -- for from no consummate excellence
Like yours, whatever fault may countervail,
Do I profess estrangement: murk the marsh,
Yet where a solitary marble block
Blanches the gloom, there let the eagle perch!
You show -- what splinters of Pentelikos,
Islanded by what ordure! Eagles fly,
Rest on the right place, thence depart as free;
But 'ware man's footstep, would it traverse mire
Untainted! Mire is safe for worms that crawl.'

"Balaustion! Here are very many words,
All to portray one moment's rush of thought, --
And much they do it! Still, you understand.
The Archon, the Feast-master, read their sum
And substance, judged the banquet-glow extinct,
So rose, discreetly if abruptly, crowned
The parting cup, -- 'To the Good Genius, then!'

"Up starts young Strattis for a final flash:
'Ay, the Good Genius! To the Comic Muse,
She who evolves superiority,
Triumph and joy from sorrow, unsuccess
And all that's incomplete in human life;
Who proves such actual failure transient wrong
Since out of body uncouth, halt and maimed --
Since out of soul grotesque, corrupt or blank --
Fancy, uplifted by the Muse, can flit
To soul and body, reinstate them Man:
Beside which perfect man, how clear we see
Divergency from type was earth's effect!
Escaping whence by laughter, -- Fancy's feat, --
We right man's wrong, establish true for false, --
Above misshapen body, uncouth soul,
Reach the fine form, the clear intelligence --
Above unseemliness, reach decent law, --
By laughter: attestation of the Muse
That low-and-ugsome is not signed and sealed
Incontrovertibly man's portion here,
Or, if here, -- why, still high-and-fair exists
In that ethereal realm where laughs our soul
Lift by the Muse. Hail thou her ministrant!
Hail who accepted no deformity
In man as normal and remediless,
But rather pushed it to such gross extreme
That, outraged, we protest by eye's recoil
The opposite proves somewhere rule and law!
Hail who implied, by limning Lamachos,
Plenty and pastime wait on peace, not war!
Philokleon -- better bear a wrong than plead,
Play the litigious fool to stuff the mouth
Of dikast with the due three-obol fee!
The Paphlagonian -- stick to the old sway
Of few and wise, not rabble-government!
Trugaios, Pisthetairos, Strepsiades, --
Why multiply examples? Hail, in fine,
The hero of each painted monster -- so
Suggesting the unpictured perfect shape!
Pour out! A laugh to Aristophanes!'

"'Stay, my fine Strattis' -- and I stopped applause --
'To the Good Genius -- but the Tragic Muse!
She who instructs her poet, bids man's soul
Play man's part merely nor attempt the gods'
Ill-guessed of! Task humanity to height,
Put passion to prime use, urge will, unshamed
When will's last effort breaks in impotence!
No power forego, elude: no weakness, -- plied
Fairly by power and will, -- renounce, deny!
Acknowledge, in such miscalled weakness, strength
Latent: and substitute thus things for words!
Make man run life's race fairly, -- legs and feet,
Craving no false wings to o'erfly its length!
Trust on, trust ever, trust to end -- in truth!
By truth of extreme passion, utmost will,
Shame back all false display of either force --
Barrier about such strenuous heat and glow,
That cowardice shall shirk contending, -- cant,
Pretension, shrivel at truth's first approach!
Pour to the Tragic Muse's ministrant
Who, as he pictured pure Hippolutos,
Abolished our earth's blot Ariphrades;
Who, as he drew Bellerophon the bold,
Proclaimed Kleonumos incredible;
Who, as his Theseus towered up man once more,
Made Alkibiades shrink boy again!
A tear -- no woman's tribute, weak exchange
For action, water spent and heart's-blood saved --
No man's regret for greatness gone, ungraced
Perchance by even that poor meed, man's praise --
But some god's superabundance of desire,
Yearning of will to 'scape necessity, --
Love's overbrimming for self-sacrifice,
Whence good might be, which never else may be,
By power displayed, forbidden this strait sphere, --
Effort expressible one only way --
Such tear from me fall to Euripides!'

"The Thasian! -- All, the Thasian. I account!
"Whereupon outburst the whole company
Into applause and -- laughter, would you think?

"'The unrivalled one! How, never at a loss,
He turns the Tragic on its Comic side
Else imperceptible! Here's death itself --
Death of a rival, of an enemy, --
Scarce seen as Comic till the master-touch
Made it acknowledge Aristophanes!
Lo, that Euripidean laurel-tree
Struck to the heart by lightning! Sokrates
Would question us, with buzz of "how" and "why,"
Wherefore the berry's virtue, the bloom's vice,
Till we all wished him quiet with his friend;
Agathon would compose an elegy,
Lyric bewailment fit to move a stone,
And, stones responsive, we might wince, 't is like;
Nay, with most cause of all to weep the least,
Sophokles ordains mourning for his sake
While we confess to a remorseful twinge: --
Suddenly, who but Aristophanes,
Prompt to the rescue, puts forth solemn hand,
Singles us out the tragic tree's best branch,
Persuades it groundward and, at tip, appends,
For votive-visor, Faun's goat-grinning face!
Back it flies, evermore with jest a-top,
And we recover the true mood, and laugh!'

"I felt as when some Nikias, -- ninny-like
Troubled by sunspot-portent, moon-eclipse, --
At fault a little, sees no choice but sound
Retreat from foeman; and his troops mistake
The signal, and hail onset in the blast,
And at their joyous answer, alale,
Back the old courage brings the scattered wits;
He wonders what his doubt meant, quick confirms
The happy error, blows the charge amain.
So I repaired things.

"'Both be praised,' thanked I.
'You who have laughed with Aristophanes,
You who wept rather with the Lord of Tears!
Priest, do thou, president alike o'er each,
Tragic and Comic function of the god,
Help with libation to the blended twain!
Either of which who serving, only serves --
Proclaims himself disqualified to pour
To that Good Genius -- complex Poetry,
Uniting each god-grace, including both:
Which, operant for body as for soul,
Masters alike the laughter and the tears,
Supreme in lowliest earth, sublimest sky.
Who dares disjoin these, -- whether he ignores
Body or soul, whichever half destroys, --
Maims the else perfect manhood, perpetrates
Again the inexpiable crime we curse --
Hacks at the Hermai, halves each guardian shape
Combining, nowise vainly, prominence
Of august head and enthroned intellect,
With homelier symbol of asserted sense, --
Nature's prime impulse, earthly appetite.
For, when our folly ventures on the freak,
Would fain abolish joy and fruitfulness,
Mutilate nature -- what avails the Head
Left solitarily predominant, --
Unbodied soul, -- not Hermes, both in one?
I, no more than our City, acquiesce
In such a desecration, but defend
Man's double nature -- ay, wert thou its foe!
Could I once more, thou cold Euripides,
Encounter thee, in naught would I abate
My warfare, nor subdue my worst attack
On thee whose life-work preached "Raise soul, sink sense!
Evirate Hermes!" -- would avenge the god,
And justify myself. Once face to face,
Thou, the argute and tricksy, shouldst not wrap,
As thine old fashion was, in silent scorn
The breast that quickened at the sting of truth,
Nor turn from me, as, if the tale be true,
From Lais when she met thee in thy walks,
And questioned why she had no rights as thou.
Not so shouldst thou betake thee, be assured,
To book and pencil, deign me no reply!
I would extract an answer from those lips
So closed and cold, were mine the garden-chance!
Gone from the world! Does none remain to take
Thy part and ply me with thy sophist-skill?
No sun makes proof of his whole potency
For gold and purple in that orb we view:
The apparent orb does little but leave blind
The audacious, and confused the worshipping;
But, close on orb's departure, must succeed
The serviceable cloud, -- must intervene,
Induce expenditure of rose and blue,
Reveal what lay in him was lost to us.
So, friends, what hinders, as we homeward go,
If, privileged by triumph gained to-day,
We clasp that cloud our sun left saturate,
The Rhodian rosy with Euripides?
Not of my audience on my triumph-day,
She nor her husband! After the night's news
Neither will sleep but watch; I know the mood.
Accompany! my crown declares my right!'

"And here you stand with those warm golden eyes!

"In honest language, I am scarce too sure
Whether I really felt, indeed expressed
Then, in that presence, things I now repeat:
Nor half, nor any one word, -- will that do?
Maybe, such eyes must strike conviction, turn
One's nature bottom upwards, show the base --
The live rock latent under wave and foam:
Superimposure these! Yet solid stuff
Will ever and anon, obeying star,
(And what star reaches rock-nerve like an eye?)
Swim up to surface, spout or mud or flame,
And find no more to do than sink as fast.

"Anyhow, I have followed happily
The impulse, pledged my Genius with effect,
Since, come to see you, I am shown -- myself!"

I answered:

"One of us declared for both
'Welcome the glory of Aristophanes.'
The other adds: and, -- if that glory last,
Nor marsh-born vapor creep to veil the same, --
Once entered, share in our solemnity!
Commemorate, as we, Euripides!"

"What?" he looked round, "I darken the bright house?
Profane the temple of your deity?
That's true! Else wherefore does he stand portrayed?
What Rhodian paint and pencil saved so much,
Beard, freckled face, brow -- all but breath, I hope!
Come, that's unfair: myself am somebody,
Yet my pictorial fame's just potter's work, --
I merely figure on men's drinking-mugs!
I and the Flat-nose, Sophroniskos' son,
Oft make a pair. But what's this lies below?
His table-book and graver, playwright's tool!
And lo, the sweet psalterion, strung and screwed,
Whereon he tried those le-e-e-e-es
And ke-e-e-e-es and turns and trills,
Lovely lark's tirra-lirra, lad's delight!
Aischulos' bronze-throat eagle-bark at blood
Has somehow spoiled my taste for twitterings!
With ... what, and did he leave you 'Herakles'?
The 'Frenzied Hero,' one unfractured sheet,
No pine-wood tablets smeared with treacherous wax --
Papuros perfect as e'er tempted pen!
This sacred twist of bay-leaves dead and sere
Must be that crown the fine work failed to catch, --
No wonder! This might crown 'Antiope.'
'Herakles' triumph? In your heart perhaps!
But elsewhere? Come now, I'll explain the case,
Show you the main mistake. Give me the sheet!"

I interrupted:

"Aristophanes!
The stranger-woman sues in her abode --
'Be honored as our guest!' But, call it -- shrine,
Then 'No dishonor to the Daimon!' bids
The priestess 'or expect dishonor's due!'
You enter fresh from your worst infamy,
Last instance of long outrage; yet I pause,
Withhold the word a-tremble on my lip,
Incline me, rather, yearn to reverence, --
So you but suffer that I see the blaze
And not the bolt, -- the splendid fancy-fling,
Not the cold iron malice, the launched lie
Whence heavenly fire has withered; impotent,
Yet execrable, leave it 'neath the look
Of yon impassive presence! What he scorned,
His life long, need I touch, offend my foot,
To prove that malice missed its mark, that lie
Cumbers the ground, returns to whence it came?
I marvel, I deplore, -- the rest be mute!
But, throw off hate's celestiality, --
Show me, apart from song-flash and wit-flame,
A mere man's hand ignobly clenched against
Yon supreme calmness, -- and I interpose,
Such as you see me! Silk breaks lightning's blow!"
He seemed to scarce so much as notice me,
Aught I had spoken, save the final phrase:
Arrested there.

"Euripides grown calm!
Calmness supreme means dead and therefore safe,"
He muttered; then more audibly began --

"Dead! Such must die! Could people comprehend!
There's the unfairness of it! So obtuse
Are all: from Solon downward with his saw,
'Let none revile the dead, -- no, though the son,
Nay, far descendant, should revile thyself!' --
To him who made Elektra, in the act
Of wreaking vengeance on her worst of foes,
Scruple to blame, since speech that blames insults
Too much the very villain life-released.
Now, I say, only after death, begins
That formidable claim, -- immunity
Of faultiness from fault's due punishment!
The living, who defame me, -- why, they live:
Fools, -- I best prove them foolish by their life,
Will they but work on, lay their work by mine,
And wait a little, one Olympiad, say!
Then, where's the vital force, mine froze beside?
The sturdy fibre, shamed my brittle stuff?
The school-correctness, sure of wise award
When my vagaries cease to tickle taste?
Where's censure that must sink me, judgment big
Awaiting just the word posterity
Pants to pronounce? Time's wave breaks, buries -- whom,
Fools, when myself confronts you four years hence?
But die, ere next Lenaia, -- safely so
You 'scape me, slink with all your ignorance,
Stupidity and malice, to that hole
O'er which survivors croak 'Respect the dead!'
Ay, for I needs must! But allow me clutch
Only a carrion-handful, lend it sense,
(Mine, not its own, or could it answer me?)
And question, 'You, I pluck from hiding-place,
Whose cant was, certain years ago, my "Clouds"
Might last until the swallows came with Spring --
Whose chatter, "Birds" are unintelligible,
Mere psychologic puzzling: poetry?
List, the true lay to rock a cradle with!
O man of Mitulene, wondrous wise!'
-- Would not I rub each face in its own filth
To tune of 'Now that years have come and gone,
How does the fact stand? What's demonstrable
By time, that tries things? -- your own test, not mine
Who think men are, were, ever will be fools,
Though somehow fools confute fools, -- as these, you!
Don't mumble to the sheepish twos and threes
You cornered and called "audience!" face this me
Who know, and can, and -- helped by fifty years --
Do pulverize you pygmies, then as now!'

"Ay, now as then, I pulverize the brood,
Balaustion! Mindful, from the first, where foe
Would hide head safe when hand had flung its stone,
I did not turn cheek and take pleasantry,
But flogged while skin could purple and flesh start,
To teach fools whom they tried conclusions with.
First face a-splutter at me got such splotch
Of prompt slab mud as, filling mouth to maw,
Made its concern thenceforward not so much
To criticise me as go cleanse itself.
The only drawback to which huge delight, --
(He saw it, how he saw it, that calm cold
Sagacity you call Euripides!)
-- Why, 't is that, make a muckheap of a man,
There, pillared by your prowess, he remains,
Immortally immerded. Not so he!
Men pelted him but got no pellet back.
He reasoned, I'll engage, -- 'Acquaint the world
Certain minuteness butted at my knee?
Dogface Eruxis, the small satirist, --
What better would the manikin desire
Than to strut forth on tiptoe, notable
As who so far up fouled me in the flank?'
So dealt he with the dwarfs: we giants, too,
Why must we emulate their pin-point play?
Render imperishable -- impotence,
For mud throw mountains? Zeus, by mud unreached, --
Well, 't was no dwarf he heaved Olumpos at!"

My heart burned up within me to my tongue.

"And why must men remember, ages hence,
Who it was rolled down rocks, but refuse too --
Strattis might steal from! mixture-monument,
Recording what? 'I, Aristophanes,
Who boast me much inventive in my art,
Against Euripides thus volleyed muck
Because, in art, he too extended bounds.
I -- patriot, loving peace and hating war, --
Choosing the rule of few, but wise and good,
Rather than mob-dictature, fools and knaves
However multiplied their mastery, --
Despising most of all the demagogue,
(Noisome air-bubble, buoyed up, borne along
By kindred breath of knave and fool below,
Whose hearts swell proudly as each puffing face
Grows big, reflected in that glassy ball,
Vacuity, just bellied out to break
And righteously bespatter friends the first,)
I loathing, -- beyond less puissant speech
Than my own god-grand language to declare, --
The fawning, cozenage and calumny
Wherewith such favorite feeds the populace
That fan and set him flying for reward: --
I who, detecting what vice underlies
Thought's superstructure, -- fancy's sludge and slime
'Twixt fact's sound floor and thought's mere surface-growth
Of hopes and fears which root no deeplier down
Than where all such mere fungi breed and bloat --
Namely, man's misconception of the God: --
I, loving, hating, wishful from my soul
That truth should triumph, falsehood have defeat,
-- Why, all my soul's supremacy of power
Did I pour out in volley just on him
Who, his whole life long, championed every cause
I called my heart's cause, loving as I loved,
Hating my hates, spurned falsehood, championed truth, --
Championed truth not by flagellating foe
With simple rose and lily, gibe and jeer,
Sly wink of boon-companion o'er the bowze
Who, while he blames the liquor, smacks the lip,
Blames, doubtless, but leers condonation too, --
No, the balled fist broke brow like thunder-bolt,
Battered till brain flew! Seeing which descent,
None questioned that was first acquaintance-ship,
The avenger's with the vice he crashed through bone.
Still, he displeased me; and I turned from foe
To fellow-fighter, flung much stone, more mud, --
But missed him, since he lives aloof, I see.'
Pah! stop more shame, deep-cutting glory through,
Nor add, this poet, learned, -- found no taunt
Tell like 'That other poet studies books!'
Wise, -- cried 'At each attempt to move our hearts,
He uses the mere phrase of daily life!'
Witty, -- 'His mother was a herb-woman!'
Veracious, honest, loyal, fair and good, --
'It was Kephisophon who helped him write!'

"Whence, -- oh the tragic end of Comedy! --
Balaustion pities Aristophanes.
For, who believed him? Those who laughed so loud?
They heard him call the sun Sicilian cheese!
Had he called true cheese -- curd, would muscle move?
What made them laugh but the enormous lie?
'Kephisophon wrote "Herakles"? ha, ha,
What can have stirred the wine-dregs, soured the soul,
And set a-lying Aristophanes?
Some accident at which he took offence!
The Tragic Master in a moody muse
Passed him unhailing, and it hurts -- it hurts!
Beside, there's license for the Wine-leessong!'"

Blood burnt the cheekbone, each black eye flashed fierce.

"But this exceeds our license! Stay awhile --
That's the solution! both are foreigners,
The fresh-come Rhodian lady, and her spouse
The man of Phokis: newly resident,
Nowise instructed -- that explains it all!
No born and bred Athenian but would smile,
Unless frown seemed more fit for ignorance.
These strangers have a privilege!

"You blame"
(Presently he resumed with milder mien)
"Both theory and practice -- Comedy:
Blame her from altitudes the Tragic friend
Rose to, and upraised friends along with him,
No matter how. Once there, all's cold and fine,
Passionless, rational; our world beneath
Shows (should you condescend to grace so much
As glance at poor Athenai) grimly gross --
A population which, mere flesh and blood,
Eats, drinks, and kisses, falls to fisticuffs,
Then hugs as hugely: speaks too as it acts,
Prodigiously talks nonsense, -- townsmen needs
Must parley in their town's vernacular.
Such world has, of two courses, one to choose:
Unworld itself, -- or else go blackening off
To its crow-kindred, leave philosophy
Her heights serene, fit perch for owls like you.
Now, since the world demurs to either course,
Permit me, -- in default of boy or girl,
So they be reared Athenian, good and true, --
To praise what you most blame! Hear Art's defence!
I'll prove our institution, Comedy,
Coeval with the birth of freedom, matched
So nice with our Republic, that its growth
Measures each greatness, just as its decline
Would signalize the downfall of the pair.
Our Art began when Bacchos ... never mind!
You and your master don't acknowledge gods:
'They are not, no, they are not!' well, -- began
When the rude instinct of our race outspoke,
Found, -- on recurrence of festivity
Occasioned by black mother-earth's good will
To children, as they took her vintage-gifts, --
Found -- not the least of many benefits --
That wine unlocked the stiffest lip, and loosed
The tongue late dry and reticent of joke,
Through custom's gripe which gladness thrusts aside.
So, emulating liberalities,
Heaven joined with earth for that god's day at least,
Renewed man's privilege, grown obsolete,
Of telling truth nor dreading punishment,
Whereon the joyous band disguised their forms
With skins, beast-fashion, daubed each phiz with dregs,
Then hollaed 'Neighbor, you are fool, you -- knave,
You -- hard to serve, you -- stingy to reward!'
The guiltless crowed, the guilty sunk their crest,
And good folk gained thereby, 't was evident.
Whence, by degrees, a birth of happier thought,
The notion came -- not simply this to say,
But this to do -- prove, put in evidence,
And act the fool, the knave, the harsh, the hunks,
Who did prate, cheat, shake fist, draw purse-string tight,
As crowd might see, which only heard before,
"So played the Poet, with his man of parts;
And all the others, found unqualified
To mount cart and be persons, made the mob,
Joined choros, fortified their fellow's fun,
Anticipated the community,
Gave judgment which the public ratified.
Suiting rough weapon doubtless to plain truth,
They flung, for word-artillery, why -- filth;
Still, folks who wiped the unsavory salute
From visage, would prefer the mess, to wit --
Steel, poked through midriff with a civil speech,
As now the way is: then, the kindlier mode
Was -- drub not stab, rib-roast not scarify!
So did Sousarion introduce, and so
Did I, acceding, find the Comic Art:
Club, -- if I call it, -- notice what's implied!
An engine proper for rough chastisement,
No downright slaying: with impunity --
Provided crabtree, steeped in oily joke,
Deal only such a bruise as laughter cures.
I kept the gained advantage: stickled still
For club - law -- stout fun and allowanced thumps:
Knocked in each knob a crevice to hold joke
As fig-leaf holds the fat-fry.

"Next, whom thrash?
Only the coarse fool and the clownish knave?
Higher, more artificial, composite
Offence should prove my prowess, eye and arm!
Not who robs henroost, tells of untaxed figs,
Spends all his substance on stewed ellops-fish,
Or gives a pheasant to his neighbor's wife:
No! strike malpractice that affects the State,
The common weal -- intriguer or poltroon,
Venality, corruption, what care I
If shrewd or witless merely? -- so the thing
Lay sap to aught that made Athenai bright
And happy, change her customs, lead astray
Youth or age, play the demagogue at Pnux,
The sophist in Palaistra, or -- what's worst,
As widest mischief, -- from the Theatre
Preach innovation, bring contempt on oaths,
Adorn licentiousness, despise the Cult.
Are such to be my game? Why, then there wants
Quite other cunning than a cudgel-sweep!
Grasp the old stout stock, but new tip with steel
Each boss, if I would bray -- no callous hide
Simply, but Lamachos in coat of proof,
Or Kleon cased about with impudence!
Shaft pushed no worse while point pierced sparkling so
That none smiled 'Sportive, what seems savagest,
-- Innocuous anger, spiteless rustic mirth!'
Yet spiteless in a sort, considered well,
Since I pursued my warfare till each wound
Went through the mere man, reached the principle
Worth purging from Athenai. Lamachos?
No, I attacked war's representative;
Kleon? No, flattery of the populace;
Sokrates? No, but that pernicious seed
Of sophists whereby hopeful youth is taught
To jabber argument, chop logic, pore
On sun and moon, and worship Whirligig.
Oh, your tragedian, with the lofty grace,
Aims at no other and effects as much?
Candidly: what's a polished period worth,
Filed curt sententiousness of loaded line,
When he who deals out doctrine, primly steps
From just that selfsame moon he maunders of,
And, blood-thinned by his pallid nutriment,
Proposes to rich earth-blood -- purity?
In me, 't was equal-balanced flesh rebuked
Excess alike in stuff-guts Glauketes
Or starveling Chairephon; I challenged both, --
Strong understander of our common life,
I urged sustainment of humanity.
Whereas when your tragedian cries up Peace --
He's silent as to cheese-cakes Peace may chew;
Seeing through rabble-rule, he shuts his eye
To what were better done than crowding Pnux --
That's dance 'Threttanelo, the Kuklops drunk!'

"My power has hardly need to vaunt itself!
Opposers peep and mutter, or speak plain:
'No naming names in Comedy!' votes one,
'Nor vilifying live folk!' legislates
Another, 'urge amendment on the dead!'
'Don't throw away hard cash,' supplies a third,
'But crib from actor's dresses, choros-treats!'
Then Kleon did his best to bully me:
Called me before the Law Court: 'Such a play
Satirized citizens with strangers there,
Such other,' -- why, its fault was in myself!
I was, this time, the stranger, privileged
To act no play at all, -- Egyptian, I --
Rhodian or Kameirensian, Aiginete,
Lindian, or any foreigner he liked --
Because I can't write Attic, probably!
Go ask my rivals, -- how they roughed my fleece,
And how, shorn pink themselves, the huddled sheep
Shiver at distance from the snapping shears!
Why must they needs provoke me?

"All the same,
No matter for my triumph, I foretell
Subsidence of the day-star: quench his beams?
No Aias e'er was equal to the feat
By throw of shield, tough-hided seven times seven,
'Twixt sky and earth! 't is dullards soft and sure
Who breathe against his brightest, here a sigh
And there a 'So let be, we pardon you!'
Till the minute mist hangs a block, has tamed
Noonblaze to 'twilight mild and equable,'
Vote the old women spinning out of doors.
Give me the earth-spasm, when the lion ramped
And the bull gendered in the brave gold flare!
Oh, you shall have amusement, -- better still,
Instruction! no more horse-play, naming names,
Taxing the fancy when plain sense will serve!
Thearion, now, my friend who bakes you bread,
What's worthier limning than his household life?
His whims and ways, his quarrels with the spouse,
And how the son, instead of learning knead
Kilikian loaves, brings heartbreak on his sire
By buying horseflesh branded San, each flank,
From shrewd Menippos who imports the ware:
While pretty daughter Kepphe too much haunts
The shop of Sporgilos the barber! brave!
Out with Thearion's meal-tub politics
In lieu of Pisthetairos, Strepsiades!
That's your exchange? O Muse of Megara!
Advise the fools 'Feed babe on weasel-lap
For wild-boar's marrow, Cheiron's hero-pap,
And rear, for man -- Ariphrades, mayhap!'
Yes, my Balaustion, yes, my Euthukles,
That's your exchange, -- who, foreigners in fact
And fancy, would impose your squeamishness
On sturdy health, and substitute such brat
For the right offspring of us Rocky Ones,
Because babe kicks the cradle, -- crows, not mewls!

"Which brings me to the prime fault, poison-speck
Whence all the plague springs -- that first feud of all
'Twixt me and you and your Euripides.
'Unworld the world,' frowns he, my opposite.
I cry, 'Life!' 'Death,' he groans, 'our better Life!'
Despise what is -- the good and graspable,
Prefer the out of sight and in at mind,
To village-joy, the well-side violet-patch,
The jolly club-feast when our field's in soak,
Roast thrushes, hare-soup, pea-soup, deep washed down
With Peparethian; the prompt paying off
That black-eyed brown-skinned country-flavored wench
We caught among our brushwood foraging:
On these look fig-juice, curdle up life's cream,
And fall to magnifying misery!
Or, if you condescend to happiness,
Why, talk, talk, talk about the empty name
While thing's self lies neglected 'neath your nose!
I need particular discourtesy
And private insult from Euripides
To render contest with him credible?
Say, all of me is outraged! one stretched sense,
I represent the whole Republic, -- gods,
Heroes, priests, legislators, poets, -- prone,
And pummelled into insignificance,
If will in him were matched with power of stroke.
For see what he has changed or hoped to change!
How few years since, when he began the fight,
Did there beat life indeed Athenai through!
Plenty and peace, then! Hellas thundersmote
The Persian. He himself had birth, you say,
That morn salvation broke at Salamis,
And heroes still walked earth. Themistokles --
Surely his mere back-stretch of hand could still
Find, not so lost in dark, Odusseus? -- he
Holding as surely on to Herakles, --
Who touched Zeus, link by link, the unruptured chain!
Were poets absent? Aischulos might hail --
With Pindaros, Theognis, -- whom for sire?
Homeros' self, departed yesterday!
While Hellas, saved and sung to, then and thus, --
Ah, people, -- ah, lost antique liberty!
We lived, ourselves, undoubted lords of earth:
Wherever olives flourish, corn yields crop
To constitute our title -- ours such land!
Outside of oil and breadstuff, -- barbarism!
What need of conquest? Let barbarians starve!
Devote our whole strength to our sole defence,
Content with peerless native products, home,
Beauty profuse in earth's mere sights and sounds,
Such men, such women, and such gods their guard!
The gods? he worshipped best who feared them most,
And left their nature uninquired into,
-- Nature? their very names! pay reverence,
Do sacrifice for our part, theirs would be
To prove benignantest of playfellows.
With kindly humanism they countenanced
Our emulation of divine escapes
Through sense and soul: soul, sense are made to use;
Use each, acknowledging its god the while!
Crush grape, dance, drink, indulge, for Bacchos' sake!
'T is Aphrodite's feast-day -- frisk and fling,
Provided we observe our oaths, and house
Duly the stranger: Zeus takes umbrage else!
Ah, the great time -- had I been there to taste!
Perikles, right Olumpian, -- occupied
As yet with getting an Olumpos reared
Marble and gold above Akropolis, --
Wisely so spends what thrifty fools amassed
For cut-throat projects. Who carves Promachos?
Who writes the Oresteia?

"Ah, the time!
For, all at once, a cloud has blanched the blue,
A cold wind creeps through the close vineyard-rank,
The olive-leaves curl, violets crisp and close
Like a nymph's wrinkling at the bath's first splash
On breast. (Your pardon!) There's a restless change,
Deterioration. Larks and nightingales
Are silenced, here and there a gor-crow grim
Flaps past, as scenting opportunity.
Where Kimon passaged to the Boule once,
A starveling crew, unkempt, unshorn, unwashed,
Occupy altar-base and temple-step,
Are minded to indoctrinate our youth!
How call these carrion kill-joys that intrude?
'Wise men,' their nomenclature! Prodikos --
Who scarce could, unassisted, pick his steps
From way Theseia to the Tripods' way, --
This empty noddle comprehends the sun, --
How he's Aigina's bigness, wheels no whit
His way from east to west, nor wants a steed!
And here's Protagoras sets wrongheads right,
Explains what virtue, vice, truth, falsehood mean,
Makes all we seemed to know prove ignorance
Yet knowledge also, since, on either side
Of any question, something is to say,
Nothing to 'stablish, all things to disturb!
And shall youth go and play at kottabos,
Leaving unsettled whether moon-spots breed?
Or dare keep Chose ere the problem's solved --
Why should I like my wife who dislikes me?
'But sure the gods permit this, censure that?'
So tell them! straight the answer's in your teeth:
'You relegate these points, then, to the gods?
What and where are they?' What my sire supposed,
And where yon cloud conceals them! 'Till they 'scape,
And scramble down to Leda, as a swan,
Europa, as a bull! why not as -- ass
To somebody? Your sire was Zeus perhaps!
Either -- away with such ineptitude!
Or, wanting energy to break your bonds,
Stick to the good old stories, think the rain
Is -- Zeus distilling pickle through a sieve!
Think thunder's thrown to break Theoros' head
For breaking oaths first! Meanwhile let ourselves
Instruct your progeny you prate like fools
Of father Zeus, who's but the atmosphere,
Brother Poseidon, otherwise called -- sea,
And son Hephaistos -- fire and nothing else!
Over which nothings there's a something still,
"Necessity," that rules the universe
And cares as much about your Choes-feast
Performed or intermitted, as you care
Whether gnats sound their trump from head or tail!'
When, stupefied at such philosophy,
We cry, 'Arrest the madmen, governor!
Pound hemlock and pour bull's-blood, Perikles!'
Would you believe? The Olumpian bends his brow,
Scarce pauses from his building! 'Say they thus?
Then, they say wisely. Anaxagoras,
I had not known how simple proves eclipse
But for thy teaching! Go, fools, learn like me!'

"Well, Zeus nods: man must reconcile himself,
So, let the Charon's-company harangue,
And Anaxagoras be -- as we wish!
A comfort is in nature: while grass grows
And water runs, and sesame pricks tongue,
And honey from Brilesian hollow melts
On mouth, and Bacchis' flavorous lip beats both,
You will not be untaught life's use, young man?
Pho! My young man just proves that panniered ass
Said to have borne Youth strapped on his stout back,
With whom a serpent bargained, bade him swap
The priceless boon for -- water to quench thirst!
What's youth to my young man? In love with age,
He Spartanizes, argues, fasts and frowns,
Denies the plainest rules of life, long since
Proved sound; sets all authority aside,
Must simply recommence things, learn ere act,
And think out thoroughly how youth should pass --
Just as if youth stops passing, all the same!

"One last resource is left us -- poetry!
"Vindicate nature, prove Plataian help,
Turn out, a thousand strong, all right and tight,
To save Sense, poet! Bang the sophist-brood
Would cheat man out of wholesome sustenance
By swearing wine is water, honey -- gall,
Saperdion -- the Empousa! Panic-smit,
Our juveniles abstain from Sense and starve:
Be yours to disenchant them! Change things back!
Or better, strain a point the other way
And handsomely exaggerate wronged truth!
Lend wine a glory never gained from grape,
Help honey with a snatch of him we style
The Muses' Bee, baybloom-fed Sophokles,
And give Saperdion a Kimberic robe!'

"'I, his successor,' gruff the answer grunts,
'Incline to poetize philosophy,
Extend it rather than restrain; as thus --
Are heroes men? No more, and scarce as much,
Shall mine be represented. Are men poor?
Behold them ragged, sick, lame, halt and blind!
Do they use speech? Ay, street-terms, market-phrase!
Having thus drawn sky earthwards, what comes next
But dare the opposite, lift earth to sky?
Mere puppets once, I now make womankind,
For thinking, saying, doing, match the male.
Lift earth? I drop to, dally with, earth's dung!
-- Recognize in the very slave -- man's mate,
Declare him brave and honest, kind and true,
And reasonable as his lord, in brief.
I paint men as they are -- so runs my boast --
Not as they should be: paint -- what's part of man,
-- Women and slaves, -- not as, to please your pride,
They should be, but your equals, as they are.
Oh, and the Gods! Instead of abject mien,
Submissive whisper, while my Choros cants,
"Zeus, -- with thy cubit's length of attributes, --
May, I, the ephemeral, ne'er scrutinize
Who made the heaven and earth and all things there!"
Myself shall say ... Ay, 'Herakles' may help!
Give me, -- I want the very words, -- attend!"

He read. Then -- "Murder's out, -- 'There are no gods,'
Man has no master, owns, by consequence,
No right, no wrong, except to please or plague!
His nature: what man likes be man's sole law
Still, since he likes Saperdion, honey, figs,
Man may reach freedom by your roundabout!
'Never believe yourselves the freer thence!
There are no gods, but there's "Necessity," --
Duty enjoined you, fact in figment's place,
Throned on no mountain, native to the mind!
Therefore deny yourselves Saperdion, figs
And honey, for the sake of -- what I dream,
A-sitting with my legs up!'

"Infamy!
The poet casts in clam his lot with these
Assailants of Apollon! Sworn to serve
Each Grace, the Furies call him minister --
He, who was born for just that roseate world
Renounced so madly, where what's false is fact,
Where he makes beauty out of ugliness,
Where he lives, life itself disguised for him
As immortality -- so works the spell,
The enthusiastic mood which marks a man
Muse-mad, dream-drunken, wrapt around by verse,
Encircled with poetic atmosphere,
As lark emballed by its own crystal song,
Or rose enmisted by that scent it makes!
No, this were unreality! the real
He wants, not falsehood, -- truth alone he seeks,
Truth, for all beauty! Beauty, in all truth --
That's certain somehow! Must the eagle lilt
Lark-like, needs fir-tree blossom rose-like?
NO!
Strength and utility charm more than grace,
And what's most ugly proves most beautiful.
So much assistance from Euripides!

"Whereupon I betake me, since needs must,
To a concluding -- 'Go and feed the crows!
Do! Spoil your art as you renounce your life,
Poetize your so precious system, do,
Degrade the hero, nullify the god,
Exhibit women, slaves and men as peers, --
Your castigation follows prompt enough!
When all's concocted upstairs, heels o'erhead,
Down must submissive drop the masterpiece
For public praise or blame: so, praise away,
Friend Sokrates, wife's-friend Kephisophon!
Boast innovations, cramp phrase, uncouth song,
Hard matter and harsh manner, gods, men, slaves
And women jumbled to a laughing-stock
Which Hellas shall hold sides at lest she split!
Hellas, on these, shall have her word to say!'

"She has it and she says it -- there's the curse! --
She finds he makes the shag-rag hero-race,
The noble slaves, wise women, move as much
Pity and terror as true tragic types:
Applauds inventiveness -- the plot so new,
The turn and trick subsidiary so strange!
She relishes that homely phrase of life,
That common town-talk, more than trumpet-blasts;
Accords him right to chop and change a myth:
What better right had he, who told the tale
In the first instance, to embellish fact?
This last may disembellish yet improve!
Both find a block: this man carves back to bull
What first his predecessor cut to sphinx:
Such genuine actual roarer, nature's brute,
Intelligible to our time, was sure
The old-world artist's purpose, had he worked
To mind; this both means and makes the thing!
If, past dispute, the verse slips oily-bathed
In unctuous music -- say, effeminate --
We also say, like Kuthereia's self,
A lulling effluence which enswathes some isle
Where hides a nymph, not seen but felt the more.
That's Hellas' verdict!

"Does Euripides
Even so far absolved, remain content?
Nowise! His task is to refine, refine,
Divide, distinguish, subtilize away
Whatever seemed a solid planting-place
For footfall, -- not in that phantasmal sphere
Proper to poet, but on vulgar earth
Where people used to tread with confidence.
There's left no longer one plain positive
Enunciation incontestable
Of what is good, right, decent here on earth.
Nobody now can say, 'This plot is mine,
Though but a plethron square, -- my duty!' -- 'Yours?
Mine, or at least not yours,' snaps somebody!
And, whether the dispute be parent-right
Or children's service, husband's privilege
Or wife's submission, there's a snarling straight,
Smart passage of opposing 'yea' and 'nay,'
'Should,' 'should not,' till, howe'er the contest end,
Spectators go off sighing 'Clever thrust!
Why was I so much hurried to pay debt,
Attend my mother, sacrifice an ox,
And set my name down "for a trireme, good"?
Something I might have urged on t' other side!
No doubt, Chresphontes or Bellerophon
We don't meet every day; but Stab-and-stitch
The tailor -- ere I turn the drachmas o'er
I owe him for a chiton, as he thinks,
I'll pose the blockhead with an argument!'

"So has he triumphed, your Euripides!
Oh, I concede, he rarely gained a prize:
That's quite another matter! cause for that!
Still, when 't was got by Ions, Iophons,
Off he would pace confoundedly superb,
Supreme, no smile at movement on his mouth
Till Sokrates winked, whispered: out it broke!
And Aristullos jotted down the jest,
While Iophons or Ions, bay on brow,
Looked queerly, and the foreigners -- like you --
Asked o'er the border with a puzzled smile,
-- 'And so, you value Ions, Iophons,
Euphorions! How about Euripides?'
(Eh, brave bard's-champion? Does the anger boil?
Keep within bounds a moment, -- eye and lip
Shall loose their doom on me, their fiery worst
What strangers? Archelaos heads the file!
He sympathizes, he concerns himself,
He pens epistle, each successless play:
'Athenai sinks effete; there's younger blood
In Makedonia. Visit where I rule!
Do honor to me and take gratitude!
Live the guest's life, or work the poet's way,
Which also means the statesman's: he who wrote
"Erechtheus" may seem rawly politic
At home where Kleophon is ripe; but here
My council-board permits him choice of seats.'

"Now, this was operating, -- what should prove
A poison-tree, had flowered far on to fruit
For many a year, -- when I was moved, first man,
To dare the adventure, down with root and branch.
So, from its sheath I drew my Comic steel,
And dared what I am now to justify.
A serious question first, though!

"Once again!
Do you believe, when I aspired in youth,
I made no estimate of power at all,
Nor paused long, nor considered much, what class
Of fighters I might claim to join, beside
That class wherewith I cast in company?
Say, you -- profuse of praise no less than blame --
Could not I have competed -- franker phrase
Might trulier correspond to meaning -- still,
Competed with your Tragic paragon?
Suppose me minded simply to make verse,
To fabricate, parade resplendent arms,
Flourish and sparkle out a Trilogy, --
Where was the hindrance? But my soul bade 'Fight!
Leave flourishing for mock-foe, pleasure-time;
Prove arms efficient on real heads and hearts!'
How? With degeneracy sapping fast
The Marathonian muscle, nerved of old
To maul the Mede, now strung at best to help
-- How did I fable? -- War and Hubbub mash
To mincemeat Fatherland and Brotherhood,
Pound in their mortar Hellas, State by State,
That greed might gorge, the while frivolity
Rubbed hands and smacked lips o'er the dainty dish!
Authority, experience -- pushed aside
By any upstart who pleads throng and press,
O' the people! 'Think, say, do thus!' Wherefore, pray?
'We are the people: who impugns our right
Of choosing Kleon that tans hide so well,
Huperbolos that turns out lamps so trim,
Hemp-seller Eukrates or Lusikles
Sheep-dealer, Kephalos the potter's son,
Diitriphes who weaves the willow-work
To go round bottles, and Nausikudes
The meal-man? Such we choose and more, their mates,
To think and say and do in our behalf!'
While sophistry wagged tongue, emboldened still,
Found matter to propose, contest, defend,
'Stablish, turn topsyturvy, -- all the same,
No matter what, provided the result
Were something new in place of something old, --
Set wagging by pure insolence of soul
Which needs must pry into, have warrant for
Each right, each privilege good policy
Protects from curious eye and prating mouth!
Everywhere lust to shape the world anew,
Spurn this Athenai as we find her, build
A new impossible Cloudcuckooburg
For feather-headed birds, once solid men,
Where rules, discarding jolly habitude,
Nourished on myrtle-berries and stray ants,
King Tereus who, turned Hoopoe Triple-Crest,
Shall terrify and bring the gods to terms!

"Where was I? Oh! Things ailing thus -- I ask,
What cure? Cut, thrust, hack, hew at heap-on-heaped
Abomination with the exquisite
Palaistra-tool of polished Tragedy?
Erechtheus shall harangue Amphiktuon,
And incidentally drop word of weight
On justice, righteousness, so turn aside
The audience from attacking Sicily! --
The more that Choros, after he recounts
How Phrixos rode the ram, the far-famed Fleece,
Shall add -- at last fall of grave dancing-foot --
'Aggression never yet was helped by Zeus!'
That helps or hinders Alkibiades?
As well expect, should Pheidias carve Zeus' self
And set him up, some half a mile away,
His frown would frighten sparrows from your field!
Eagles may recognize their lord, belike,
But as for vulgar sparrows, -- change the god,
And plant some big Priapos with a pole!
I wield the Comic weapon rather -- hate!
Hate! honest, earnest, and directest hate --
Warfare wherein I close with enemy,
Call him one name and fifty epithets,
Remind you his great-grandfather sold bran,
Describe the new exomion, sleeveless coat
He knocked me down last night and robbed me of,
Protest he voted for a tax on air!
And all this hate -- if I write Comedy --
Finds tolerance, most like -- applause, perhaps
True veneration; for I praise the god
Present in person of his minister,
And pay -- the wilder my extravagance --
The more appropriate worship to the Power
Adulterous, night-roaming, and the rest:
Otherwise, -- that originative force
Of nature, impulse stirring death to life,
Which, underlying law, seems lawlessness,
Yet is the outbreak which, ere order be,
Must thrill creation through, warm stocks and stones,
Phales Iacchos.

"Comedy for me!
Why not for you, my Tragic masters? Sneaks
Whose art is mere desertion of a trust!
Such weapons lay to hand, the ready club,
The clay - ball, on the ground a stone to snatch, --
Arms fit to bruise the boar's neck, break the chine
O' the wolf, -- and you must impiously -- despise?
No, I'll say, furtively let fall that trust
Consigned you! 'T was not 'take or leave alone,'
But 'take and, wielding, recognize your god
In his prime attributes!' And though full soon
You sneaked, subsided into poetry,
Nor met your due reward, still, -- heroize
And speechify and sing-song and forego
Far as you may your function, -- still its pact
Endures, one piece of early homage still
Exacted of you; after your three bouts
At hoitytoity, great men with long words,
And so forth, -- at the end, must tack itself
The genuine sample, the Satyric Play,
Concession, with its wood-boys' fun and freak,
To the true taste of the mere multitude.
Yet, there again! What does your Still-at-itch,
Always-the-innovator? Shrugs and shirks!
Out of his fifty Trilogies, some five
Are somehow suited: Satyrs dance and sing,
Try merriment, a grimly prank or two,
Sour joke squeezed through pursed lips and teeth on edge,
Then quick on top of toe to pastoral sport,
Goat-tending and sheep-herding, cheese and cream,
Soft grass and silver rillets, country-fare --
When throats were promised Thasian! Five such feats, --
Then frankly off he threw the yoke: next Droll,
Next festive drama, covenanted fun,
Decent reversion to indecency,
Proved -- your 'Alkestis'! There's quite fun enough.
Herakles drunk! From out fate's blackening wave
Calamitous, just zigzags some shot star,
Poor promise of faint joy, and turns the laugh
On dupes whose fears and tears were all in waste!

"For which sufficient reasons, in truth's name,
I closed with whom you count the Meaner Muse,
Classed me with Comic Poets who should weld
Dark with bright metal, show their blade may keep
Its adamantine birthright though ablaze
With poetry, the gold, and wit, the gem,
And strike mere gold, unstiffened out by steel,
Or gem, no iron joints its strength around,
From hand of -- posturer, not combatant!

"Such was my purpose: it succeeds, I say!
Have not we beaten Kallikratidas,
Not humbled Sparte? Peace awaits our word,
Spite of Theramenes, and fools his like.
Since my previsions -- warranted too well
By the long war now waged and worn to end --
Had spared such heritage of misery,
My after-counsels scarce need fear repulse.
Athenai, taught prosperity has wings,
Cages the glad recapture. Demos, see,
From folly's premature decrepitude
Boiled young again, emerges from the stew
Of twenty-five years' trouble, sits and sways,
One brilliance and one balsam, -- sways and sits
Monarch of Hellas! ay, and, sage again,
No longer jeopardizes chieftainship,
No longer loves the brutish demagogue
Appointed by a bestial multitude,
But seeks out sound advisers. Who are they?
Ourselves, of parentage proved wise and good!
To such may hap strains thwarting quality,
(As where shall want its flaw mere human stuff?)
Still, the right grain is proper to right race;
What's contrary, call curious accident!
Hold by the usual! Orchard-grafted tree,
Not wilding, racehorse-sired, not rouncey-born
Aristocrat, no sausage-selling snob!
Nay, why not Alkibiades, come back
Filled by the Genius, freed of petulance,
Frailty, -- mere youthfulness that's all at fault, --
Advanced to Perikles and something more?
-- Being at least our duly born and bred, --
Curse on what chaunoprockt first gained his ear
And got his ... well, once true man in right place,
Our commonalty soon content themselves
With doing just what they are born to do,
Eat, drink, make merry, mind their own affairs
And leave state-business to the larger brain!
I do not stickle for their punishment;
But certain culprits have a cloak to twitch,
A purse to pay the piper: flog, say I,
Your fine fantastics, paragons of parts,
Who choose to play the important! Far from side
With us, their natural supports, allies, --
And, best by brain, help who are best by birth
To fortify each weak point in the wall
Built broad and wide and deep for permanence
Between what's high and low, what's rare and vile, --
They cast their lot perversely in with low
And vile. lay flat the barrier, lift the mob
To dizzy heights where Privilege stood firm.
And then, simplicity become conceit, --
Woman, slave, common soldier, artisan,
Crazy with new - found worth, new - fangled claims, --
These must be taught next how to use their heads
And hands in driving man's right to mob's rule!
What fellows thus inflame the multitude?
Your Sokrates, still crying 'Understand!'
Your Aristullos, -- 'Argue!' Last and worst,
Should, by good fortune, mob still hesitate,
Remember there's degree in heaven and earth,
Cry 'Aischulos enjoined us fear the gods,
And Sophokles advised respect the kings!'
Why, your Euripides informs them -- Gods?
They are not! Kings? They are, but ... do not I,
In 'Suppliants,' make my Theseus, -- yours no more, --
Fire up at insult of who styles him King?
Play off that Herald, I despise the most,
As patronizing kings' prerogative
Against a Theseus proud to dare no step
Till he consult the people?

"Such as these --
Ah, you expect I am for strangling straight?
Nowise, Balaustion! All my roundabout
Ends at beginning, with my own defence!
I dose each culprit just with -- Comedy.
Let each be doctored in exact the mode
Himself prescribes: by words, the word-monger --
My words to his words, -- my lies, if you like,
To his lies. Sokrates I nickname thief,
Quack, necromancer; Aristullos, -- say,
Male Kirke who bewitches and bewrays
And changes folk to swine; Euripides, --
Well, I acknowledge! Every word is false,
Looked close at; but stand distant and stare through,
All's absolute indubitable truth
behind lies, truth which only lies declare!
For come, concede me truth's in thing not word,
Meaning not manner! Love smiles 'rogue' and 'wretch'
When 'sweet' and 'dear' seem vapid; Hate adopts
Love's 'sweet' and 'dear,' when 'rogue' and 'wretch' fall flat;
Love, Hate -- are truths, then, each, in sense not sound.
Further: if Love, remaining Love, fell back
On 'sweet' and 'dear,' -- if Hate, though Hate the same,
Dropped down to 'rogue' and 'wretch,' -- each phrase were false.
Good! and now grant I hate no matter whom
With reason: I must therefore fight my foe,
Finish the mischief which made enmity.
How? By employing means to most hurt him
Who much harmed me. What way did he do harm?
Through word or deed? Through word? with word, wage war!
Word with myself directly? As direct
Reply shall follow: word to you, the wise,
Whence indirectly came the harm to me?
What wisdom I can muster waits on such!
Word to the populace which, misconceived
By ignorance and incapacity,
Ends in no such effect as follows cause
When I, or you the wise, are reasoned with,
So damages what I and you hold dear?
In that event, I ply the populace
With just such word as leavens their whole lump
To the right ferment for my purpose. They
Arbitrate properly between us both?
They weigh my answer with his argument,
Match quip with quibble, wit with eloquence?
All they attain to understand is -- blank!
Two adversaries differ; which is right
And which is wrong, none takes on him to say,
Since both are unintelligible. Pooh!
Swear my foe's mother vended herbs she stole,
They fall a-laughing! Add, -- his household drudge
Of all-work justifies that office well,
Kisses the wife, composing him the play, --
They grin at whom they gaped in wonderment,
And go off -- 'Was he such a sorry scrub?
This other seems to know! we praised too fast!'
When then, my lies have done the work of truth,
Since 'scrub,' improper designation, means
Exactly what the proper argument
-- Had such been comprehensible -- proposed
To proper audience -- were I graced with such --
Would properly result in; so your friend
Gets an impartial verdict on his verse,
'The tongue swears, but the soul remains unsworn!'

"There, my Balaustion! All is summed and said.
No other cause of quarrel with yourself!
Euripides and Aristophanes
Differ: he needs must round our difference
Into the mob's ear; with the mob I plead.
You angrily start forward 'This to me?'
No speck of this on you the thrice refined!
Could parley be restricted to us two,
My first of duties were to clear up doubt
As to our true divergence each from each.
Does my opinion so diverge from yours?
Probably less than little -- not at all!
To know a matter, for my very self
And intimates -- that's one thing: to imply
By 'knowledge' -- loosing whatsoe'er I know
Among the vulgar who, by mere mistake,
May brain themselves and me in consequence, --
That's quite another. 'O the daring flight!
This only bard maintains the exalted brow,
Nor grovels in the slime nor fears the gods!'
Did I fear -- I play superstitious fool,
Who, with the due proviso, introduced,
Active and passive, their whole company
As creatures too absurd for scorn itself?
Zeus? I have styled him -- 'salve, mere thrashing-block!'
I'll tell you: in my very next of plays,
At Bacchos' feast, in Bacchos' honor, full
In front of Bacchos' representative.
I mean to make main-actor -- Bacchos' self!
Forth shall he strut, apparent, first to last,
A blockhead, coward, braggart, liar, thief,
Demonstrated all these by his own mere
Xanthias the man-slave: such man shows such god
Shamed to brute-beastship by comparison!
And when ears have their fill of his abuse,
And eyes are sated with his pummelling, --
My Choros taking care, by, all the while
Singing his glory, that men recognize
A god in the abused and pummelled beast, --
Then, should one ear be stopped of auditor,
Should one spectator shut revolted eye, --
Why, the Priest's self will first raise outraged voice:
'Back, thou barbarian, thou ineptitude!
Does not most license hallow best our day,
And least decorum prove its strictest rite?
Since Bacchos bids his followers play the fool,
And there's no fooling like a majesty
Mocked at, -- who mocks the god, obeys the law --
Law which, impute but indiscretion to,
And ... why, the spirit of Euripides
Is evidently active in the world!'
Do I stop here? No! feat of flightier force!
See Hermes! what commotion raged, -- reflect! --
When imaged god alone got injury
By drunkards' frolic! How Athenai stared
Aghast, then fell to frenzy, fit on fit, --
Ever the last, the longest! At this hour,
The craze abates a little: so, my Play
Shall have up Hermes: and a Karion, slave,
(Since there's no getting lower) calls our friend
The profitable god, we honor so,
Whatever contumely fouls the mouth --
Bids him go earn more honest livelihood
By washing tripe in well - trough -- wash he does,
Duly obedient! Have I dared my best?
Asklepios, answer! -- deity in vogue,
Who visits Sophokles familiarly,
If you believe the old man, -- at his age,
Living is dreaming, and strange guests haunt door
Of house, belike, peep through and tap at times
When a friend yawns there, waiting to be fetched, --
At any rate, to memorize the fact,
He has spent money, set an altar up
In the god's temple, now in much repute.
That temple-service trust me to describe --
Cheaters and choused, the god, his brace of girls,
Their snake, and how they manage to snap gifts
'And consecrate the same into a bag.'
For whimsies done away with in the dark!
As if, a stone's throw from that theatre
Whereon I thus unmask their dupery,
The thing were not religious and august!

"Of Sophokles himself -- nor word nor sign
Beyond a harmless parody or so!
He founds no anti-school, upsets no faith,
But, living, lets live, the good easy soul
Who, -- if he saves his cash, unpoetlike,
Loves wine and -- never mind what other sport,
Boasts for his father just a swordblade-smith,
Proves but queer captain when the people claim,
For one who conquered with 'Antigone,'
The right to undertake a squadron's charge, --
And needs the son's help now to finish plays,
Seeing his dotage calls for governance
And Iophon to share his property, --
Why, of all this, reported true, I breathe
Not one word -- true or false, I like the man!
Sophokles lives and lets live: long live he!
Otherwise, -- sharp the scourge and hard the blow!
"And what's my teaching but -- accept the old,
Contest the strange! acknowledge work that's done,
Misdoubt men who have still their work to do!
Religions, laws and customs, poetries,
Are old? So much achieved victorious truth!
Each work was product of a lifetime, wrung
From each man by an adverse world: for why?
He worked, destroying other older work
Which the world loved and so was loth to lose.
Whom the world beat in battle -- dust and ash!
Who beat the world, left work in evidence,
And wears its crown till new men live new lives,
And fight new fights, and triumph in their turn.
I mean to show you on the stage! you'll see
My Just Judge only venture to decide
Between two suitors, which is god, which man,
By thrashing both of them as flesh can bear.
You shall agree, -- whichever bellows first,
He's human; who holds longest out, divine:
That is the only equitable test!
Cruelty? Pray, who pricked them on to court
My thong's award? Must they needs dominate?
Then I -- rebel! Their instinct grasps the new?
Mine bids retain the old: a fight must be,
And which is stronger the event will show.
Oh, but the pain! Your proved divinity
Still smarts all reddened? And the rightlier served!
Was not some man's-flesh in him, after all?
Do let us lack no frank acknowledgment
There's nature common to both gods and men!
All of them -- spirit? What so winced was clay!
Away pretence to some exclusive sphere
Cloud-nourishing a sole selected few
Fume-fed with self-superiority!
I stand up for the common coarse-as-clay
Existence, -- stamp and ramp with heel and hoof
On solid vulgar life, you fools disown!
Make haste from your unreal eminence,
And measure lengths with me upon that ground
Whence this mud-pellet sings and summons you!
I know the soul, too, how the spark ascends
And how it drops apace and dies away.
I am your poet-peer, man thrice your match!
I too can lead an airy life when dead,
Fly like Kinesias when I'm cloud-ward bound;
But here, no death shall mix with life it mars!

"So, my old enemy who caused the fight,
Own I have beaten you, Euripides!
Or, -- if your advocate would contravene, --
Help him, Balaustion! Use the rosy strength!
I have not done my utmost, -- treated you
As I might Aristullos, mint-perfumed, --
Still, let the whole rage burst in brave attack!
Don't pay the poor ambiguous compliment
Of fearing any pearl-white knuckled fist
Will damage this broad buttress of a brow!
Fancy yourself my Aristonumos,
Ameipsias or Sannurion: punch and pound!
Three cuckoos who cry 'cuckoo'! much I care!
They boil a stone! Neblaretai! Rattei!"

Cannot your task have end here, Euthukles?
Day by day glides our galley on its path:
Still sunrise and still sunset, Rhodes half-reached,
And still, my patient scribe! no sunset's peace
Descends more punctual than that brow's incline
O'er tablets which your serviceable hand
Prepares to trace. Why treasure up, forsooth,
These relics of a night that make me rich,
But, half-remembered merely, leave so poor
Each stranger to Athenai and her past?
For -- how remembered! As some greedy hind
Persuades a honeycomb, beyond the due,
To yield its hoarding, -- heedless what alloy
Of the poor bee's own substance taints the gold
Which, unforced, yields few drops, but purity, --
So would you fain relieve of load this brain,
Though the hived thoughts must bring away, with strength,
What words and weakness, strength's receptacle --
Wax from the store! Yet, -- aching soothed away, --
Accept the compound! No suspected scent
But proves some rose was rifled, though its ghost
Scarce lingers with what promised musk and myrrh.
No need of farther squeezing! What remains
Can only be Balaustion, just her speech!

Ah, but -- because speech serves a purpose still! --

He ended with that flourish. I replied:

"Fancy myself your Aristonumos?
Advise me, rather, to remain myself,
Balaustion, -- mindful what mere mouse confronts
The forest-monarch Aristophanes!
I who, a woman, claim no quality
Beside the love of all things lovable
Created by a power pre-eminent
In knowledge, as in love I stand perchance,
-- You, the consummately-creative! How
Should I, then, dare deny submissive trust
To any process aiming at result
Such as you say your songs are pregnant with?
Result, all judge: means, let none scrutinize
Save those aware how glory best is gained
By daring means to end, ashamed of shame,
Constant in faith that only good works good,
While evil yields no fruit but impotence!
Graced with such plain good, I accept the means!
Nay, if result itself in turn become
Means, -- who shall say? -- to ends still loftier yet, --
Though still the good prove hard to understand,
The bad still seemingly predominate, --
Never may I forget which order bears
The burden, toils to win the great reward,
And finds, in failure, the grave punishment,
So, meantime, claims of me a faith I yield!
Moreover, a mere woman, I recoil
From what may prove man's-work permissible,
Imperative. Rough strokes surprise: what then?
Some lusty armsweep needs must cause the crash
Of thorn and bramble, ere those shrubs, those flowers,
We fain would have earth yield exclusively,
Are sown, matured and garlanded for boys
And girls, who know not how the growth was gained.
Finally, am I not a foreigner?
No born and bred Athenian, -- isled about,
I scarce can drink, like you, at every breath,
Just some particular doctrine which may best
Explain the strange thing I revolt against --
How -- by involvement, who may extricate? --
Religion perks up through impiety,
Law leers with license, folly wise-like frowns,
The seemly lurks inside the abominable.
But opposites, -- each neutralizes each
Haply by mixture: what should promise death,
May haply give the good ingredient force,
Disperse in fume the antagonistic ill.
This institution, therefore, -- Comedy, --
By origin, a rite; by exercise,
Proved an achievement tasking poet's power
To utmost, eking legislation out
Beyond the legislator's faculty,
Playing the censor where the moralist
Declines his function, far too dignified
For dealing with minute absurdities;
By efficacy, -- virtue's guard, the scourge
Of vice, each folly's fly-flap, arm in aid
Of all that's righteous, customary, sound
And wholesome; sanctioned therefore, -- better say,
Prescribed for fit acceptance of this age
By, not alone the long recorded roll
Of earlier triumphs, but, success to-day --
(The multitude as prompt recipient still
Of good gay teaching from that monitor
They crowned this morning -- Aristophanes --
As when Sousarion's car first traversed street) --
This product of Athenai -- I dispute,
Impugn? There's just one only circumstance
Explains that! I, poor critic, see, hear, feel;
But eyes, ears, senses prove me -- foreigner!
Who shall gainsay that the raw new-come guest
Blames oft, too sensitive? On every side
Of -- larger than your stage -- life's spectacle,
Convention here permits and there forbids
Impulse and action, nor alleges more
Than some mysterious 'So do all, and so
Does no one:' which the hasty stranger blames
Because, who bends the head unquestioning,
Transgresses, turns to wrong what else were right,
By failure of a reference to law
Beyond convention; blames unjustly, too --
As if, through that defect, all gained were lost
And slave-brand set on brow indelibly; --
Blames unobservant or experienceless
That men, like trees, if stout and sound and sane,
Show stem no more affected at the root
By bough's exceptional submissive dip
Of leaf and bell, light danced at end of spray
To windy fitfulness in wayward sport, --
No more lie prostrate, -- than low files of flower
Which, when the blast goes by, unruffled raise
Each head again o'er ruder meadow-wreck
Of thorn and thistle that refractory
Demurred to cower at passing wind's caprice.
Why shall not guest extend like charity,
Conceive how, -- even when astounded most
That natives seem to acquiesce in muck
Changed by prescription, they affirm, to gold, --
Such may still bring to test, still bear away
Safely and surely much of good and true
Though latent ore, themselves unspecked, unspoiled?
Fresh bathed i' the icebrook, any hand may pass
A placid moment through the lamp's fierce flame:
And who has read your 'Lemnians,' seen 'The Hours,'
Heard 'Female-Playhouse-seat-Preoccupants,'
May feel no worse effect than, once a year,
Those who leave decent vesture, dress in rags
And play the mendicant, conform thereby
To country's rite, and then, no beggar-taint
Retained, don vesture due next morrow-day.
What if I share the stranger's weakness then?
Well, could I also show his strength, his sense
Untutored, ay! -- but then untampered with!

"I fancy, though the world seems old enough,
Though Hellas be the sole unbarbarous land,
Years may conduct to such extreme of age,
And outside Hellas so isles new may lurk,
That haply, -- when and where remain a dream! --
In fresh days when no Hellas fills the world,
In novel lands as strange where, all the same,
Their men and women yet behold, as we,
Blue heaven, black earth, and love, hate, hope and fear,
Over again, unhelped by Attike --
Haply some philanthropic god steers bark,
Gift-laden, to the lonely ignorance
Islanded, say, where mist and snow mass hard
To metal -- ay, those Kassiterides!
Then asks: 'Ye apprehend the human form.
What of this statue, made to Pheidias' mind,
This picture, as it pleased our Zeuxis paint?
Ye too feel truth, love beauty: judge of these!'
Such strangers may judge feebly, stranger-like:
'Each hair too indistinct -- for, see our own!
Hands, not skin-colored as these hands we have,
And lo, the want of due decorum here!
A citizen, arrayed in civic garb,
Just as he walked your streets apparently,
Yet wears no sword by side, adventures thus,
In thronged Athenai! foolish painter's-freak!
While here's his brother-sculptor found at fault
Still more egregiously, who shames the world,
Shows wrestler, wrestling at the public games,
Atrociously exposed from head to foot!'
Sure, the Immortal would impart at once
Our slow-stored knowledge, how small truths suppressed
Conduce to the far greater truth's display, --
Would replace simple by instructed sense,
And teach them how Athenai first so tamed
The natural fierceness that her progeny
Discarded arms nor feared the beast in man:
Wherefore at games, where earth's wise gratitude,
Proved by responsive culture, claimed the prize
For man's mind, body, each in excellence, --
When mind had bared itself, came body's turn,
And only irreligion grudged the gods
One naked glory of their master-work
Where all is glorious rightly understood, --
The human frame; enough that man mistakes:
Let him not think the gods mistaken too!

"But, peradventure, if the stranger's eye
Detected ... Ah, too high my fancy-flight!
Pheidias, forgive, and Zeuxis bear with me --
How on your faultless should I fasten fault
Of my own framing, even? Only say, --
Suppose the impossible were realized,
And some as patent incongruity,
Unseemliness, -- of no more warrant, there
And then, than now and here, whate'er the time
And place, -- I say, the Immortal, -- who can doubt? --
Would never shrink, but own, 'The blot escaped
Our artist: thus he shows humanity!'

"May stranger tax one peccant part in thee,
Poet, three-parts divine! May I proceed?

"'Comedy is prescription and a rite.'
Since when? No growth of the blind antique time,
'It rose in Attike with liberty;
When freedom falls, it too will fall.' Scarce so!
Your games, -- the Olumpian, Zeus gave birth to these;
Your Puthian, -- these were Phoibos' institute.
Isthmian, Nemeian, -- Theseus, Herakles
Appointed each, the boys and barbers say!
Earth's day is growing late: where's Comedy?
'Oh, that commenced an age since, -- two, be like, --
In Megara, whence here they brought the thing!'
Or I misunderstand, or here's the fact --
Your grandsire could recall that rustic song,
How such-an-one was thief, and miser such,
And how, -- immunity from chastisement
Once promised to bold singers of the same
By daylight on the drunkard's holiday, --
The clever fellow of the joyous troop
Tried acting what before he sang about,
Acted and stole, or hoarded, acting too:
While his companions ranged a-row, closed up
For Choros, -- bade the general rabblement
Sit, see, hear, laugh, -- not join the dance themselves
Soon, the same clever fellow found a mate,
And these two did the whole stage-mimicking,
Still closer in approach to Tragedy, --
So led the way to Aristophanes,
Whose grandsire saw Sousarion, and whose sire --
Chionides; yourself wrote 'Banqueters'
When Aischulos had made 'Prometheus,' nay,
All of the marvels; Sophokles, -- I'll cite,
'Oidipous' -- and Euripides -- I bend
The head -- 'Medeia' henceforth awed the world!
'Banqueters,' 'Babylonians' -- next come you!
Surely the great days that left Hellas free
Happened before such advent of huge help,
Eighty-years-late assistance? Marathon,
Plataia, Salamis were fought, I think,
Before new educators stood reproved,
Or foreign legates blushed, excepted to!
Where did the helpful rite pretend its rise?
Did it break forth, as gifts divine are wont,
Plainly authentic, incontestably
Adequate to the helpful ordinance?
Founts, dowered with virtue, pulse out pure from source;
'T is there we taste the god's benign intent:
Not when, -- fatigued away by journey, foul
With brutish trampling, -- crystal sinks to slime,
And lymph forgets the first salubriousness.
Sprang Comedy to light thus crystal-pure?
'Nowise!' yourself protest with vehemence;
'Gross, bestial, did the clowns' diversion break;
Every successor paddled in the slush;
Nay, my contemporaries one and all
Gay played the mudlark till I joined their game;
Then was I first to change buffoonery
For wit, and stupid filth for cleanly sense,
Transforming pointless joke to purpose fine,
Transfusing rude enforcement of home-law --
"Drop knave's-tricks, deal more neighbor-like, ye boors!" --
With such new glory of poetic breath
As, lifting application far past use
O' the present, launched it o'er men's lowly heads
To future time, when high and low alike
Are dead and done with, while my airy power
Flies disengaged, as vapor from what stuff
It -- say not, dwelt in -- fitlier, dallied with
To forward work, which done, -- deliverance brave, --
It soars away, and mud subsides to dust.
Say then, myself invented Comedy!'

"So mouths full many a famed Parabasis!
Agreed! No more, then, of prescriptive use,
Authorization by antiquity,
For what offends our judgment! 'T is your work,
Performed your way: not work delivered you
Intact, intact producible in turn.
Everywhere have you altered old to new --
Your will, your warrant: therefore, work must stand
Or stumble by intrinsic worth. What worth?
Its aim and object! Peace you advocate,
And war would fain abolish from the land:
Support religion, lash irreverence,
Yet laughingly administer rebuke
To superstitious folly, -- equal fault!
While innovating rashness, lust of change,
New laws, new habits, manners, men and things,
Make your main quarry, -- 'oldest' meaning 'best.'
You check the fretful litigation-itch,
Withstand mob-rule, expose mob-flattery,
Punish mob-favorites; most of all press hard
On sophists who assist the demagogue,
And poets their accomplices in crime.
Such your main quarry, -- by the way, you strike
Ignobler game, mere miscreants, snob or scamp,
Cowardly, gluttonous, effeminate:
Still with a bolt to spare when dramatist
Proves haply unproficient in his art,
Such aims -- alone, no matter for the means --
Declare the unexampled excellence
Of their first author -- Aristophanes!

"Whereat -- Euripides, oh, not thyself --
Augustlier than the need! -- thy century
Of subjects dreamed and dared and done, before
'Banqueters' gave dark earth enlightenment,
Or 'Babylonians' played Prometheus here, --
These let me summon to defend thy cause!
Lo, as indignantly took life and shape
Labor by labor, all of Herakles, --
Palpably fronting some o'erbold pretence
'Eurustheus slew the monsters, purged the world!'
So shall each poem pass you and imprint
Shame on the strange assurance. You praised Peace?
Sing him full-face, Kresphontes! 'Peace' the theme?
'Peace, in whom depths of wealth lie, -- of the blest
Immortals beauteousest, --
Come! for the heart within me dies away,
So long dost thou delay!
Oh, I have feared lest old age, much annoy,
Conquer me, quite outstrip the tardy joy,
Thy gracious triumph-season I would see,
The song, the dance, the sport, profuse of crowns to be.
But come! for my sake, goddess great and dear,
Come to the city here!
Hateful Sedition drive thou from our homes,
With Her who madly roams
Rejoicing in the steel against the life
That's whetted -- banish Strife!'

"Shall I proceed? No need of next and next!
That were too easy, play so presses play,
Trooping tumultuous, each with instance apt,
Each eager to confute the idle boast!
What virtue but stands forth panegyrized,
What vice, unburned by stigma, in the books
Which bettered Hellas, -- beyond graven gold
Or gem-indenture, sung by Phoibos' self
And saved in Kunthia's mountain treasure-house --
Ere you, man, moralist, were youth or boy?
-- Not praise which, in the proffer, mocks the praised
By sly admixture of the blameworthy
And enforced coupling of base fellowship, --
Not blame which gloats the while it frowning laughs,
'Allow one glance on horrors -- laughable!' --
This man's entire of heart and soul, discharged
Its love or hate, each unalloyed by each,
On objects worthy either; earnestness,
Attribute him, and power! but novelty?
Nor his nor yours a doctrine -- all the world's!
What man of full-grown sense and sanity
Holds other than the truth, -- wide Hellas through, --
Though truth he acts discredit truth he holds?
What imbecile has dared to formulate
'Love war, hate peace, become a litigant!' --
And so preach on, reverse each rule of right
Because he quarrels, combats, goes to law?
No, for his comment runs, with smile or sigh
According to heart's temper, 'Peace were best,
Except occasions when we put aside
Peace, and bid all the blessings in her gift
Quick join the crows, for sake of Marathon!'

"'Nay,' you reply; for one, whose mind withstands
His heart, and, loving peace, for conscience' sake
Wants war, -- you find a crowd of hypocrites
Whose conscience means ambition, grudge and greed.
On such, reproof, sonorous doctrine, melts
Distilled like universal but thin dew
Which all too sparsely covers country: dear,
No doubt, to universal crop and clown,
Still, each bedewed keeps his own head-gear dry
With upthrust skiadeion, shakes adroit
The droppings to his neighbor. No! collect
All of the moisture, leave unhurt the heads
Which nowise need a washing, save and store
And dash the whole condensed to one fierce spout
On some one evil-doer, sheltered close, --
The fool supposed, -- till you beat guard away,
And showed your audience, not that war was wrong,
But Lamachos absurd, -- case, crests and all, --
Not that democracy was blind of choice,
But Kleon and Huperbolos were shams:
Not superstition vile, but Nikias crazed, --
The concrete for the abstract; that's the way!
What matters Choros crying 'Hence, impure!'
You cried 'Ariphrades does thus and thus!'
Now, earnestness seems never earnest more
Than when it dons for garb -- indifference;
So, there's much laughing: but, compensative,
When frowning follows laughter, then indeed
Scout innuendo, sarcasm, irony! --
Wit's polished warfare glancing at first graze
From off hard headpiece, coarsely-coated brain
O' the commonalty -- whom, unless you prick
To purpose, what avails that finer pates
Succumb to simple scratching? Those -- not these --
'T is Multitude, which, moved, fines Lamachos,
Banishes Kleon and burns Sokrates,
House over head, or, better, poisons him.
Therefore in dealing with King Multitude,
Club-drub the callous numskulls! In and in
Beat this essential consequential fact
That here they have a hater of the three,
Who hates in word, phrase, nickname, epithet
And illustration, beyond doubt at all!
And similarly, would you win assent
To -- Peace, suppose? You tickle the tough hide
With good plain pleasure her concomitant --
And, past mistake again, exhibit Peace --
Peace, vintager and festive, cheesecake-time,
Hare-slice-and-peasoup-season, household-joy;
Theoria's beautiful belongings match
Opora's lavish condescendings: brief,
Since here the people are to judge, you press
Such argument as people understand:
If with exaggeration -- what care you?

"Have I misunderstood you in the main?
No! then must answer be, such argument,
Such policy, no matter what good love
Or hate it help, in practice proves absurd,
Useless and null: henceforward intercepts
Sober effective blow at what you blame,
And renders nugatory rightful praise
Of thing or person. The coarse brush has daubed --
What room for the finer limner's pencil-mark?
Blame? You curse, rather, till who blames must blush --
Lean to apology or praise, more like!
Does garment, simpered o'er as white, prove gray?
'Black, blacker than Acharnian charcoal, black
Beyond Kimmerian, Stugian blackness black,'
You bawl, till men sigh 'nearer snowiness!'
What follows? What one faint-rewarding fall
Of foe belabored ne'er so lustily?
Laugh Lamachos from out the people's heart?
He died, commanding, 'hero,' say yourself!
Gibe Nikias into privacy? -- nay, shake
Kleon a little from his arrogance
By cutting him to shoe-sole-shreds? I think,
He ruled his life long, and, when time was ripe,
Died fighting for amusement, -- good tough hide!
Sokrates still goes up and down the streets,
And Aristullos puts his speech in book,
When both should be abolished long ago.
Nay, wretchedest of rags, Ariphrades --
You have been fouling that redoubtable
Harp-player, twenty years, with what effect?
Still he strums on, strums ever cheerily,
And earns his wage, -- 'Who minds a joke?' men say.
No, friend! The statues stand -- mud-stained at most --
Titan or pygmy: what achieves their fall
Will be, long after mud is flung and spent,
Some clear thin spirit-thrust of lightning -- truth!

"Your praise, then -- honey-smearing helps your friend,
More than blame's ordure-smirch hurts foe, perhaps?
Peace, now, misunderstood, ne'er prized enough,
You have interpreted to ignorance
Till ignorance opes eye, bat-blind before,
And for the first time knows Peace means the power
On maw of pancake, cheese-cake, barley-cake,
No stop nor stint to stuffing. While, in camp,
Who fights chews rancid tunny, onions raw,
Peace sits at cosy feast with lamp and fire,
Complaisant smooth-sleeked flute-girls giggling gay.
How thick and fast the snow falls, freezing War
Who shrugs, campaigns it, and may break a shin
Or twist an ankle! come, who hesitates
To give Peace, over War, the preference?
Ah, friend -- had this indubitable fact
Haply occurred to poor Leonidas,
How had he turned tail on Thermopulai!
It cannot be that even his few wits
Were addled to the point that, so advised,
Preposterous he had answered -- 'Cakes are prime,
Hearth-sides are snug, sleek dancing-girls have worth,
And yet -- for country's sake, to save our gods
Their temples, save our ancestors their tombs,
Save wife and child and home and liberty, --
I would chew sliced salt-fish, bear snow -- nay, starve,
If need were, -- and by much prefer the choice!'
Why, friend, your genuine hero, all the while,
Has been -- who served precisely for your butt --
Kleonumos that, wise, cast shield away
On battle-ground; cried 'Cake my buckler be,
Embossed with cream-clot! peace, not war, I choose,
Holding with Dikaiopolis!' Comedy
Shall triumph, Dikaiopolis win assent,
When Miltiades shall next shirk Marathon,
Themistokles swap Salamis for -- cake,
And Kimon grunt 'Peace, grant me dancing-girls!'
But sooner, hardly! twenty-five years since,
The war began, -- such pleas for Peace have reached
A reasonable age. The end shows all!
And so with all the rest you advocate!
'Wise folk leave litigation! 'ware the wasps!
Whoso loves law and lawyers, heliast-like,
Wants hemlock!' None shows that so funnily.
But, once cure madness, how comports himself
Your sane exemplar, what's our gain thereby?
Philokleon turns Bdelukleon! just this change, --
New sanity gets straightway drunk as sow,
Cheats baker-wives, brawls, kicks, cuffs, curses folk,
Parades a shameless flute-girl, bandies filth
With his own son who cured his father's cold
By making him catch fever -- funnily!
But as for curing love of lawsuits -- faugh!

"And how does new improve upon the old
-- Your boast -- in even abusing? Rough, may be --
Still, honest was the old mode. 'Call thief -- thief!'
But never call thief even -- murderer!
Much less call fop and fribble, worse one whit
Than fribble and fop! Spare neither! beat your brains
For adequate invective, -- cut the life
Clean out each quality, -- but load your lash
With no least lie, or we pluck scourge from hand!
Does poet want a whipping, write bad verse,
Inculcate foul deeds? There's the fault to flog!
You vow, 'The rascal cannot read nor write,
Spends more in buying fish than Morsimos,
Somebody helps his Muse and courts his wife,
His uncle deals in crockery, and last --
Himself's a stranger!' That's the cap and crown
Of stinging-nettle, that's the master-stroke!
What poet-rival, -- after 'housebreaker,'
'Fish-gorging,' 'midnight footpad,' and so forth, --
Proves not, beside, 'a stranger'? Chased from charge
To charge, and, lie by lie, laughed out of court, --
Lo, wit's sure refuge, satire's grand resource --
All, from Kratinos downward -- 'strangers' they!
Pity the trick's too facile! None so raw
Among your playmates but have caught the ball
And sent it back as briskly to -- yourself!
You too, my Attic, are styled 'stranger' -- Rhodes,
Aigina, Lindos or Kameiros, -- nay,
'T was Egypt reared (if Eupolis be right)
Who wrote the comedy (Kratinos vows)
Kratinos helped a little! Kleon's self
Was nigh promoted Comic, when he haled
My poet into court, and o'er the coals
Hauled and re-hauled 'the stranger, -- insolent,
Who brought out plays, usurped our privilege!
Why must you Comics one and all take stand
On lower ground than truth from first to last?
Why all agree to let folk disbelieve,
So laughter but reward a funny lie?
Repel such onslaughts -- answer, sad and grave,
Your fancy-fleerings -- who would stoop so low?
Your own adherents whisper, -- when disgust
Too menacingly thrills Logeion through
At -- Perikles invents this present war
Because men robbed his mistress of three maids --
Or -- Sokrates wants burning, house o'er head, --
'What, so obtuse, not read between the lines?
Our poet means no mischief! All should know --
Ribaldry here implies a compliment!
He deals with things, not men, -- his men are things --
Each represents a class, plays figure-head
And names the ship: no meaner than the first
Would serve; he styles a trireme "Sokrates" --
Fears "Sokrates" may prove unseaworthy,
(That's merely -- "Sophists are the bane of boys")
Rat-riddled ("they are capable of theft")
Rotten or whatsoe'er shows ship-disease,
("They war with gods and worship whirligig.")
You never took the joke for earnest? scarce
Supposed mere figure-head meant entire ship,
And Sokrates -- the whole fraternity?'

"This then is Comedy, our sacred song,
Censor of vice, and virtue's guard as sure:
Manners-instructing, morals' stop-estray,
Which, born a twin with public liberty,
Thrives with its welfare, dwindles with its wane!
Liberty? what so exquisitely framed
And fitted to such dry its life of life
To last faint fibre? -- since that life is truth.
You who profess your indignation swells
At sophistry, when specious words confuse
Deeds right and wrong, distinct before, you say --
(Though all that's done is -- dare veracity,
Show that the true conception of each deed
Affirmed, in vulgar parlance, 'wrong' or 'right,'
Proves to be neither, as the hasty hold,
But, change your side, shoots light, where dark alone
Was apprehended by the vulgar sense) --
You who put sophistry to shame, and shout
'There's but a single side to man and thing;
A side so much more big than thing or man
Possibly can be, that -- believe 't is true?
Such were too marvellous simplicity!' --
Confess, those sophists whom yourself depict,
(-- Abide by your own painting!) what they teach,
They wish at least their pupil to believe,
And, what believe, to practise! Did you wish
Hellas should haste, as taught, with torch in hand,
And fire the horrid Speculation-shop?
Straight the shop's master rose and showed the mob
What man was your so monstrous Sokrates;
Himself received amusement, why not they?
Just as did Kleon first play magistrate
And bid you put your birth in evidence --
Since no unbadged buffoon is licensed here
To shame us all when foreign guests may mock --
Then, -- birth established, fooling licensed you, --
He, duty done, resumed mere auditor.
Laughed with the loudest at his Lamia-shape,
Kukloboros-roaring, and the camel-rest.
Nay, Aristullos, -- once your volley spent
On the male-Kirke and her swinish crew, --
PLATON, -- so others call the youth we love, --
Sends your performance to the curious king --
'Do you desire to know Athenai's knack
At turning seriousness to pleasantry?
Read this! One Aristullos means myself.
The author is indeed a merry grig!'
Nay, it would seem as if yourself were bent
On laying down the law, 'Tell lies I must --
Aforethought and of purpose, no mistake!'
When forth yourself step, tell us from the stage,
'Here you behold the King of Comedy --
Me, who, the first, have purged my every piece
From each and all my predecessors' filth,
Abjured those satyr-adjuncts sewn to bid
The boys laugh, satyr-jokes whereof not one
Least sample but would make my hair turn gray
Beyond a twelvemonth's ravage! I renounce
Mountebank-claptrap, such as firework-fizz
And torchflare, or else nuts and barleycorns
Scattered among the crowd, to scramble for
And stop their mouths with; no such stuff shames me!
Who -- what's more serious -- know both when to strike
And when to stay my hand: once dead, my foe,
Why, done, my fighting! I attack a corpse?
I spare the corpse-like even! punish age?
I pity from my soul that sad effete
Toothless old mumbler called Kratinos! once
My rival, -- now, alack, the dotard slinks
Ragged and hungry to what hole's his home;
Ay, slinks through by ways where no passenger
Flings him a bone to pick. You formerly
Adored the Muses' darling: dotard now,
Why, he may starve! O mob most mutable!'
So you harangued in person; while, -- to point
Precisely out, these were but lies you launched, --
Prompt, a play followed primed with satyr-frisks,
No spice spared of the stomach-turning stew,
Full-fraught with torch-display, and barley-throw,
And Kleon, dead enough, bedaubed afresh;
While daft Kratinos -- home to hole trudged he,
Wrung dry his wit to the last vinous dregs,
Decanted them to 'Bottle,' -- beat, next year, --
'Bottle' and dregs -- your best of 'Clouds' and dew!
Where, Comic King, may keenest eye detect
Improvement on your predecessors' work
Except in lying more audaciously?

"Why -- genius! That's the grandeur, that's the gold --
That's you -- superlatively true to touch --
Gold, leaf or lump -- gold, anyhow the mass
Takes manufacture and proves Pallas' casque
Or, at your choice, simply a cask to keep
Corruption from decay. Your rivals' hoard
May ooze forth, lacking such preservative:
Yours cannot -- gold plays guardian far too well!
Genius, I call you: dross, your rivals share;
Ay, share and share alike, too! says the world,
However you pretend supremacy
In aught beside that gold, your very own.
Satire? 'Kratinos for our satirist!'
The world cries. Elegance? 'Who elegant
As Eupolis?' resounds as noisily.
Artistic fancy? Choros-creatures quaint?
Magnes invented 'Birds' and 'Frogs' enough,
Archippos punned, Hegemon parodied,
To heart's content, before you stepped on stage.
Moral invective? Eupolis exposed
'That prating beggar, he who stole the cup,'
Before your 'Clouds' rained grime on Sokrates;
Nay, what beat 'Clouds' but 'Konnos,' muck for mud?
Courage? How long before, well-masked, you poured
Abuse on Eukrates and Lusikles,
Did Telekleides and Hermippos pelt
Their Perikles and Kumon? standing forth,
Bareheaded, not safe crouched behind a name, --
Philonides or else Kallistratos,
Put forth, when danger threatened, -- mask for face,
To bear the brunt, -- if blame fell, take the blame, --
If praise ... why, frank laughed Aristophanes
'They write such rare stuff? No, I promise you!'
Rather, I see all true improvements, made
Or making, go against you -- tooth and nail
Contended with; 't is still Moruchides,
'T is Euthumenes, Surakosios, nay,
Argurrhios and Kinesias, -- common sense
And public shame, these only cleanse your sty!
Coerced, prohibited, -- you grin and bear,
And, soon as may be, hug to heart again
The banished nastiness too dear to drop!
Krates could teach and practise festive song
Yet scorn scurrility; as gay and good,
Pherekrates could follow. Who loosed hold,
Must let fall rose-wreath, stoop to muck once more?
Did your particular self advance in aught,
Task the sad genius -- steady slave the while --
To further -- say, the patriotic aim?
No, there's deterioration manifest
Year by year, play by play! survey them all,
From that boy's-triumph when 'Acharnes' dawned,
To 'Thesmophoriazousai,' -- this man's-shame!
There, truly, patriot zeal so prominent
Allowed friends' plea perhaps: the baser stuff
Was but the nobler spirit's vehicle.
Who would imprison, unvolatilize
A violet's perfume, blends with fatty oils
Essence too fugitive in flower alone;
So, calling unguent -- violet, call the play --
Obscenity impregnated with 'Peace'!
But here's the boy grown bald, and here's the play
With twenty years' experience: where's one spice
Of odor in the hogs'-lard? what pretends
To aught except a grease-pot's quality?
Friend, sophist-hating! know, -- worst sophistry
Is when man's own soul plays its own self false,
Reasons a vice into a virtue, pleads
'I detail sin to shame its author' -- not
'I shame Ariphrades for sin's display!'
'I show Opora to commend Sweet Home' --
Not 'I show Bacchis for the striplings' sake!'

"Yet all the same -- O genius and O gold --
Had genius ne'er diverted gold from use
Worthy the temple, to do copper's work
And coat a swine's trough -- which abundantly
Might furnish Phoibos' tripod, Pallas' throne!
Had you, I dream, discarding all the base,
The brutish, spurned alone convention's watch
And ward against invading decency
Disguised as license, law in lawlessness,
And so, re-ordinating outworn rule,
Made Comedy and Tragedy combine,
Prove some new Both-yet-neither, all one bard,
Euripides with Aristophanes
Co-operant! this, reproducing Now
As that gave Then existence: Life to-day,
This, as that other -- Life dead long ago!
The mob decrees such feat no crown, perchance,
But -- why call crowning the reward of quest?
Tell him, my other poet, -- where thou walk'st
Some rarer world than e'er Ilissos washed!

"But dream goes idly in the air. To earth!
Earth's question just amounts to -- which succeeds,
Which fails of two life-long antagonists?
Suppose my charges all mistake! assume
Your end, despite ambiguous means, the best --
The only! you and he, a patriot-pair,
Have striven alike for one result -- say, Peace!
You spoke your best straight to the arbiters --
Our people: have you made them end this war
By dint of laughter and abuse and lies
And postures of Opora? Sadly -- No!
This war, despite your twenty-five years' work,
May yet endure until Athenai falls,
And freedom falls with her. So much for you!
Now, the antagonist Euripides --
Has he succeeded better? Who shall say?
He spoke quite o'er the heads of Kleon's crowd
To a dim future, and if there he fail,
Why, you are fellows in adversity.
But that's unlike the fate of wise words launched
By music on their voyage. Hail, Depart,
Arrive, Glad Welcome! Not my single wish --
Yours also wafts the white sail on its way,
Your nature too is kingly. All beside
I call pretension, -- no true potentate,
Whatever intermediary be crowned,
Zeus or Poseidon, where the vulgar sky
Lacks not Triballos to complete the group.
I recognize -- behind such phantom-crew --
Necessity, Creation, Poet's Power,
Else never had I dared approach, appeal
To poetry, power, Aristophanes!
But I trust truth's inherent kingliness,
Trust who, by reason of much truth, shall reign
More or less royally -- may prayer but push
His sway past limit, purge the false from true!
Nor, even so, had boldness nerved my tongue
But that the other king stands suddenly,
In all the grand investiture of death,
Bowing your knee beside my lowly head --
Equals one moment!

"Now, arise and go!
Both have done homage to Euripides!"

Silence pursued the words: till he broke out --

"Scarce so! This constitutes, I may believe,
Sufficient homage done by who defames
Your poet's foe, since you account me such;
But homage-proper, -- pay it by defence
Of him, direct defence and not oblique,
Not by mere mild admonishment of me!"

"Defence? The best, the only!" I replied.
"A story goes -- When Sophokles, last year,
Cited before tribunal by his son
(A poet -- to complete the parallel),
Was certified unsound of intellect,
And claimed as only fit for tutelage,
Since old and doting and incompetent
To carry on this world's work, -- the defence
Consisted just in his reciting (calm
As the verse bore, which sets our heart a-swell
And voice a-heaving too tempestuously)
That choros-chant 'The station of the steed,
Stranger! thou comest to, -- Kolonos white!'
Then he looked round and all revolt was dead.
You know the one adventure of my life --
What made Euripides Balaustion's friend.
When I last saw him, as he bade farewell,
'I sang another "Herakles,"' smiled he;
'It gained no prize: your love be prize I gain!
Take it -- the tablets also where I traced
The story first with stulos pendent still --
Nay, the psalterion may complete the gift,
So, should you croon the ode bewailing Age,
Yourself shall modulate -- same notes, same strings --
With the old friend who loved Balaustion once.'
There they lie! When you broke our solitude,
We were about to honor him once more
By reading the consummate Tragedy.
Night is advanced; I have small mind to sleep;
May I go on, and read, -- so make defence,
So test true godship? You affirm, not I,
-- Beating the god, affords such test: I hold
That when rash hands but touch divinity,
The chains drop off, the prison-walls dispart,
And -- fire -- he fronts mad Pentheus! Dare we try?"

Accordingly I read the perfect piece.





Other Poems of Interest...



Home: PoetryExplorer.net