Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, PENELOPE, by ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN

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PENELOPE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Whither, ulysses, whither dost thou roam
Last Line: Thou comest not, and I am tired and old.
Alternate Author Name(s): Maitland, Thomas
Subject(s): Mythology - Classical; Penelope (mythology); Ulysses; Odysseus

WHITHER, Ulysses, whither dost thou roam,
Rolled round with wind-led waves that render dark
The smoothly-spinning circle of the sea?
Lo! Troy has fallen, fallen like a tower,
And the mild sunshine of degenerate days
Drops faintly on its ruins. One by one,
Swift as the sparkle of a star, the ships
Have dipped up moistly from the under-world,
And plumed warriors, standing in their prows,
Stretching out arms to wives and little ones
That crowd with seaward faces on the beach,
Have flung their armor off, and leaped and swum
Ere yet the homeward keels could graze the sand,
And these -- the gaunt survivors of thy peers --
Have landed, shone upon by those they love,
And faded into happy, happy homes;
While I, the lonely woman, hugging close
The comfort of thine individual fame,
Still wait and yearn and wish towards the sea;
And all the air is hollow of my joy:
The seasons come and go, the hour-glass runs,
The day and night come punctual as of old;
But thy deep strength is in the solemn dawn,
And thy proud step is in the plumed noon,
And thy grave voice is in the whispering eve;
And all the while, amid this dream of thee,
In restless resolution oceanward,
I sit and ply my sedentary task,
And fear that I am lonelier than I know.
Yea, love, I am alone in all the world;
The past grows dark upon me where I wait,
With eyes that hunger seaward, and a cheek
Grown like the sampler, coarse-complexioned.
For in the shadow of thy coming home
I sit and weave a weary housewife's web,
Pale as the silkworm in the cone; all day
I sit and weave this weary housewife's web,
And in the night, with fingers swift as frost,
Unweave the weary labor of the day.
Behold how I am mocked! -- Suspicion
Mumbles my name between his toothless gums;
And while I ply my sedentary task
They come to me, mere men of hollow clay,
Gross-mouthed and stained with wine they come to me,
And whisper odious comfort, and upbraid
The love that follows thee where'er thou art,
That follows, and, perchance, with thy moist cheek,
Dips on the watery bottom of the world.
They come, Ulysses, and they seek to rob
Thy glory of its weaker, wearier half.
They tell me thou art dead; nay, they have brought
To these cold ears that bend above the web
Whispers that thou, no wiser than thy peers,
Hast plucked upon the windy plain of Troy
A flower thou shrinest in a distant land,
A chambered delicacy, drowsy-eyed,
Pink-lidded wanton, like the queen who witched
The fatal apple out of Paris' palm.
And I -- and I -- ah me! I rise my height,
In matron majesty that melts in tears,
And chide them from me with a tongue that long
Hath lost the trick of chiding: what avails?
They heed me not, rude men, they heed me not
And he thou leftest here to guard me well,
He, the old man, is helpless, and his eyes
Are yellow with the money-minting lie
That thou are dead. O husband, what avails?
They gather on me, till the sense grows cold
And huddles in upon the steadfast heart;
And they have dragged a promise from my lips
To choose a murderer of my love for thee,
To choose at will from out the rest one man
To slay me with his kisses in the dark,
Whene'er the weary web at which I work
Be woven: so, all day, I weave the web;
And in the night, with fingers like a thief's,
Unweave the silken sorrow of the day.
The years wear on. Telemachus, thy son,
Grows sweetly to the height of all thy hope:
More woman-like than thee, less strong of limb,
Yet worthy thee; and likest thy grave mood,
When, in old time, among these fields, thine eye
Would kindle on a battle far away,
And thy proud nostrils, drinking the mild breath
Of tanned haycocks and of slanted sheaves,
Swell suddenly, as if a trumpet spake.
Hast thou forgotten how of old he loved
To toy with thy great beard, and sport with thee,
And how, in thy strong grasp, he leaped, and seemed
A lambkin dandled in a lion's paw?
But change hath come; Troy is an old wife's tale,
And sorrow stealeth early on thy son,
Whom sojourn with my weeping womanhood
Hath taught too soon a young man's gentleness.
Behold now how his burning boy-face turns
With impotent words beyond all blows of arm
On those rude men that rack thy weary wife!
Then turns to put his comfort on my cheek,
While sorrow brightens round him -- as the gray
Of heaven melts to silver round a star!
Return, Ulysses, ere too late, too late:
Return, immortal warrior, return:
Return, return, and end the weary web!
For day by day I look upon the sea,
And watch each ship that dippeth like a gull
Across the long straight line afar away
Where heaven and ocean meet; and when the winds
Swoop to the waves, and lift them by the hair,
And the long storm-roar gathers, on my knees
I pray for thee. Lo, even now, the deep
Is garrulous of thy vessel tempest-tossed;
And on the treeless upland gray-eyed March,
With blue and humid mantle backward blown,
Plucks the first primrose in a blustering wind.
The keels are wheeled unto the ocean-sand,
And eyes look outward for the homeward-bound.
And not a marinere, or man, or boy,
Scummed and salt-blooded from the boisterous sea,
Touches these shores, but straight I summon him,
And bribe with meat and drink to tell good news,
And question him of thee. But what avails?
Thou wanderest; and my love sits all alone.
Upon the threshold of an empty hall.
My very heart has grown a timid mouse,
Peeping out, fearful, when the house is still.
Breathless I listen through the breathless dark,
And hear the cock counting the leaden hours,
And, in the pauses of his cry, the deep
Swings on the flat sand with a hollow clang;
And, pale and burning-eyed, I fall asleep
When, with wild hair, across the weary wave
Stares the sick Dawn that brings thee not to me.
Ulysses, come! Ere traitors leave the mark
Of spread wine-dripping fingers on the smooth
And decent shoulders that now stoop for thee!
I am not young and happy as of old,
When, awed by thy male strength, my face grew dark
At thy grave footfall, with a serious joy,
Or when, with blushing, backward-looking face,
I came a bride to thine inclement realm,
Trembling and treading fearfully on flowers.
I am not young and beauteous as of old;
And much I fear that when we meet, thy face
May startle darkly at the work of years,
And turn to hide a disappointed pang,
And then, with thy grave pride, subdue itself
Into such pity as is love stone-dead.
But thou, thou too, art old, dear lord -- thy hair
Is threaded with the silver foam, thy heart
Is weary from the blows of cruel years;
And there is many a task thy wife can do
To soothe thy sunset season, and make calm
Thy journey down the slow descent to Sleep.
Return, return, Ulysses, ere I die!
Upon this desolate, desolate strand I wait,
Wearily stooping o'er the weary web --
An alabaster woman, whose fixed eyes
Stare seaward, whether it be storm or calm.
And ever, evermore, as in a dream,
I see thee gazing hither from thy ship
In sunset regions, where the still seas rot,
And stretching out great arms, whose shadows fall
Gigantic on the glassy, purple sea;
And ever, evermore, thou comest slow,
And evermore thy coming far away
Aches on the burning heart-strings, -- evermore
Thou comest not, and I am tired and old.

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