Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, A SONG OF THERMOPYLAE (HERODOTUS), by RHYS CARPENTER



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A SONG OF THERMOPYLAE (HERODOTUS), by             Poet's Biography
First Line: In olden days when there were other gods
Last Line: And all thy golden visions sink.
Subject(s): Greece; Leonidas, King Of Sparta (D. 480 B.c.); Thermopylae, Battle Of; War; Greeks


IN olden days when there were other gods,
When men renewed
Their heritage of beauty, and, imbued
With love of freedom, broke the Persian rods
Of conquest and of servitude,
Came myriad forces of the sun
From farthest land
Of Parthia and of Samarcand
And where the eastern rivers run
Unto a northern strand.

From Susa, east of ancient Babylon,
King Xerxes came
To Sardis, risen from devouring flame,
And through the windy plain of Troy passed on
In pride that augured not its shame.
Medes, Cissians, and Hyrcanians
In mail-wrought coats,
And Caspians with skin of goats,
Sarangians, Colchians, Lycians,
Phoenicians, Carians, Cypriotes,
These came; Assyrians with brazen helm,
And Thracians thin,
And Ethiopians clad in leopard-skin,
Sacae, and Bactrians, to overwhelm
The battle-riot and the din:
These gathered from the utmost land,
From hill and font,
While Xerxes, raised in regal wont,
From lofty throne beheld the band
Crossing the Thracian Hellespont.

Through wilds of Thrace, o'er hills of Macedon,
The march went by,
And in its wake all rivers were made dry,
All harvest-fields were reaped and trodden on;
Behind them swept the hunger-cry.
Then southward wheeled the Persian horde
Through Thessaly,
Where no man staid their savagery
Of pressing feet and wanton sword,
Until they reached Thermopylae.

Four days the great barbarian host lay spread
Within the plain,
Four days the Grecian army dared remain
And of the motley Persian had no dread,
For he attacked its strength in vain,
Till treachery revealed the road
O'er mountain height,
And all the Grecian bands took flight,
Save that Leonidas abode
To check the twofold Persian might,

And with him Spartan, Theban, Thespian,
Stood firm his ground
While with fierce onrush and far clamourous sound
The Persian flood broke on them and each man
Saw only hostile mail around,
When from the bow-men hindermost
The shaft-heads spun,
And, while the bitter work was done,
The arrows of the Persian host
Stood as a cloud against the sun.

Stout hearts for war the smiting Spartans had;
All undismayed
They fought and jested and were unafraid,
Like that Diénekes who was right glad
To fight within the Persian shade.
Leonidas the Brave was slain,
And man by man
The life-blood of the Grecians ran
Till but a handful might remain
To hold the battle for a span.

Behind, before, the ranks around them drawn
Pressed hard and slew,
And now upon a hillock stood a few
To battle bravely, and now these were gone,
And now the biting shafts went through.
Thermopylae, Thermopylae,
The Medes have won,
And now the fearful fight is done;
The king moves onward to the sea,
The arrows cease against the sun.

O Persian Xerxes, this is not the end;
Thine eyes shall see
At Salamis a Grecian victory,
Thy cheek shall pale, thy trembling hand shall rend
The garment of thine empery;
Thy ships shall scatter to the wind,
The deep shall drink
Thy thousands, at the grey sea's brink
Thou shalt behold thy legions thinned
And all thy golden visions sink.





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