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HELLENICS: THE ESPOUSALS OF POLYXENA, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Thy blood, o pious maiden! Shall remain
Last Line: "seen above others in the foremost dust."

"THY blood, O pious maiden! shall remain
In thy own city; and thou shalt survive
Its foe who now espouses thee."
The song
Of the three Sisters in three voices sang
These words, so comforting a mother's heart
To her Polyxena; and from the shrine
Of Thymbra, from Apollo's mouth the same
When she had led her thither.
"Future days
Of peace and happiness," said she, "expand
Before thee, and thou seest them not, O child!
Pious, yet even by that God's voice unmoved.
Behold! how bright the sky! how sweet the air
Breathes round about us! sweet when we came forth,
But how much balmier now! the flowers arise
Under the spring's first dust, as if no foot
Of foe had trampled them, and sip the dew
Joyous as if they felt thy wedding-day.
Continuous heaps extend along the plain,
Heaps where one briar binds more than one below,
Foes lately, now united evermore."
"I see the flowers, I see the sepultures,"
Polyxena said sighing, "and I feel
The breeze, no balmier than it breath'd before:
That tepid moisture which the plants inhale
Was theirs; and ah! those flowers were Trojan blood.
Not other now shines forth thy light, O sun,
Than when the Achaian anchors graspt our strand
Amid the clamour of the host, amid
Cars rattling on the stony beach, and shields
Struck in defiance. Ah! nor otherwise
When every God left Hector."
Here she wept,
Here wept the mother too.
"But why thus break
Silence, if only to make way for grief?
I had ceast almost so deeply to bemoan
My children when Achilles was defence,
Not terror, to us all. Canst thou refuse
To see the Gods now with him, friends to Troy?
King above kings, rich with ancestral stores,
And now about to bring all Asia bound
Into Mycenai, and, despite of Mars,
Polyxena, thee now doth he prefer
To all these glories: ere they yet were won,
Iphigeneia never had declined
His proffer'd hand while yet his shield was white,
Nor had the Nereid, she from whom he sprang,
Brought the Vulcanian armour he now bears.
Him born of Gods and worthy to beget
Their semblances, rejectest thou? She shed
Her blood upon the altar that thy hand
Might rescue Troy. Thou fearest the wild wail
Of our Cassandra; if there must be fear,
Is not Achilles what thou mightest dread?"
Briefly the yielding daughter thus replied.
"Whether the Gods command me, as they do,
To wed, or whether to be bound a slave,
I follow the behest: where no disgrace
No hardship is .. but let me weep awhile.
I will, O mother! yes, I will obey
A parent .. for this also they command,
Hoping they may recall or may remit
This one decree. Must I be given up
To him behind whose wheels my brother's corse
Was drag'd along, drag'd while his breast yet heaved
And plowed and fill'd the furrow with his blood.
Oh! on this very ground our feet now press
Plighted are nuptial vows! are Gods invoked!
Thanksgivings offered them! Oh! pardon grief
That nothing can abate: what can the Gods
Do now to lighten it?
Ye mouldering heaps
Which friendly hands heapt up and covered o'er
With turf, not solid yet; where cypresses,
Green lately, drop their hard and withered leaves;
And ye that cover corses numberless
In happier union, ye but separate
The resting soul from soul that knows not rest.
I gave my promise; thus Apollo will'd;
Let then his oracles, by me observ'd,
Bring (to me never!) to my country peace."
Hecuba gaspt for breath, tears gushing down,
"O my last child! my only hope in life!"
Cried she, "unmerited unhoped-for weal
Restorest thou: not what thy terror feigns
Wilt thou soon find him: his stern heart relents
At Priam's sad reverses; he beholds
A house the Gods have visited and deign'd
To share its hospitality; he looks
With pity and with fondness on thy youth
And beauty; else he never would hold out
His hand in amity, nor blandly take
What he could tear away: beside, he fears
That thou, beyond the reach of his revenge
(Unlike Briseis whom his sword reclaim'd)
Shouldst be by equal lot another's prey.
For long ago he saw our certain fate,
Deriding the Palladion, nor afraid
Of any Gods, when Gods saw Hector fall."
Another, not a happier, morn arose.
Under the walls of Dardanos a plain
Lies open: it was covered now with crowds
Even to the root of Ida, past the banks
Of those two stony rivers, since alike
Rendered immortal by immortal song.
Unwearied, tho' grown hoary under arms,
And from the omen fondly hoping peace,
Commingled with the Trojans, in the fane
Of their Apollo, the Achaians held
Stern silence, or in whispers a discourse
That varied. Some regretted the delay
Of the doom'd city; some dared blame the king,
And some Peleides; others muttered words
On treachery, then on bribes, and knew the tent
That covered them stow'd carefully from sight.
Hither came Priam; slower came behind
His aged consort, and her sons, not few;
Prodigal had the rest been of their blood.
The wives of the survivors hither came,
All deeply veil'd and all with brow abased.
Hither they once had come led joyfully
Mid hymenaeal song, by hands now cold:
Alone at home remain'd, and tried to wear
Away with restless spindle the sad hour,
Andromache, oft chided by her child.
In every street of the wide city, throngs
Rusht forth impatiently to see the shields
So long opposed to them, and helmets caught
Before by glimpses only thro' the dust.
Close to the altar of the placid God
Polyxena held tightly by the arm
Achilles, and scarce knew it; beautiful
Above her sister, beautiful almost
As Helena herself; so white that brow,
So pure the lustre of those gentle eyes.
Cassandra suddenly with horrid scream
Rushes beyond the congregated host ..
All tremble, all are stricken mute, as when
Enters some Deity. She speaks, alone,
And not her words speaks she, but words compell'd.
"Sister, believest thou the Destinies
Are friendly to thee? Sister! turn thine eyes
Back from this temple, turn them on the walls
Poseidon aided by Apollo rais'd.
In vain hath Pallas dwelt within .. I see
Prodigies, I see arms and flames o'er-ride
The ancient towers; Xanthos and Simoeis
I see run swifter now with streams of blood,
And heroes rising heavily from wounds,
And ruin following when the battles cease.
O flower! upon what altar art thou laid,
Cull'd by Thessalian hand! why, ere the torch
Be lighted, flames so the Sigaean shore
And Tenedos the level ray prolongs?
Fly! let us fly! Citheron calls aloud;
Sound the Chaonian towers, resound the horns
Of Acheloos, and, high up above,
The thunder-rent Keraunian rocks reply.
Hearest thou not the marble manger crack
Under the monster's jaw? it scales our walls
And human voices issue from its bulk?
Why then delay? why idle words? Arise
My parents! .. turn, ah! turn away the sight
From those Bistonian, those betraying realms.
Why, Polydoros, callest thou? why waves
A barren cornel o'er a recent tomb
While the loose pebbles tinkle down the base?
Me neither tears nor madness are vouchsafed;
Do thou, devoted sister! now thy chains
Are taken off that thy pure blood may flow
More readily, step back one little step
From where thou sittest on the fagot; come
And give me, all I hope, one last embrace.
Oh spare her thou! And thee too I implore,
Pyrrhos! Oh, by the manes of thy sire!
Haste forward. She deserves it not, no crime
Is hers. This only my last breath implores."
Uttering such words her maidens drew her home.
Another noise was heard within the fane.
Silent and dark an arrow from across
Amid the tumult struck the hero's heel,
And, passing thro' and thro', the brazen point
Rang on the marble floor. The chiefs around
Wonder to see the weapon and small bead
Of blood: they seize their spears, and tear away
The olive and verbena from their crests
And stamp them underfoot: not Priam's voice
Was heard, who gathering dust with desperate grasp
Strew'd with it his grey hairs; nor was the bride
Heeded, tho' sinking as if into death.
Achilles neither helpt her nor required
Help for himself; aware the day was come,
Foretold him: he with failing voice represt
The wrath of his compeers, yet strong enough
Thus to command.
"Lay ye your arms aside;
Let not none avenge Achilles but his son.
Alkimos and Automedon! detain
Within our tent the Myrmidons: my voice
They might no longer mind who see me now,
Fallen ignobly .. Ajax! Diomed!
Leave here a corse not worth a beast alive,
Or hide it where no Trojan may rejoice.
Ah! must his herds then graze upon my grave!
Let not thy tears drop over me, who e'er
Thou art upon my left! my eyes of iron
See none, see nothing .. take those friendly arms
From off my shoulder .. they now weary me
And weary you with their too vain support.
Not that Larissa in a quiet tomb
Holds my brave ancestors grieve I, O Death,
Not that my mother will lament my loss,
Lone in the bower of Tethys, for a while;
I grieve that Troy should ever thus exult
Without more slaughter of her faithless race.
Open the turf, remove the blackened boughs,
And let the urn of Menaetiades
Take my bones too.
Launch from this hateful strand
The bark that bore us hither.
With the leave
Of your Atreides .. send for .. now at play
In Phthia, and expecting the return
Of playmate .. my own Pyrrhos, my brave boy ..
To bring destruction with the Pelian spear.
Hear ye my voice? or with its pants and gasps
Expires it, and deceives me?
I forget ..
Such is the mist of mind that hangs on me ..
What are the orders I have given, and what
My wishes yet unspoken: be not ye
Forgetful of me as I am of these;
Sure, although Orcos drags my wounded limbs
Beneath, the Shades shall know and fear me there.
Pyrrhos! my child, my far-off child, farewell!
Whose care shall train thy youth? What Cheiron stoop
To teach thee wisdom? what parental hands
Be loud in the applauses thou shalt win
For lyre, for javelin, for Thessalian car
Seen above others in the foremost dust."

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