Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ELECTRA: A CHARIOT-RACE, by SOPHOCLES

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ELECTRA: A CHARIOT-RACE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: To delphi, to apollo's festal games
Last Line: It was a sight sadder than I have seen.
Subject(s): Chariot Racing

TO Delphi, to Apollo's festal games,
The pride and glory of assembled Greece,
He came. He heard the herald's thrilling cry
Summon the runners: for the race came first.
He rose in beauty, radiant: all the throng
Was hush'd in wonder: so he ran the course
From first to last victorious, crowned at length
With perfect honour. Oh, the tale were long
If I should tell you all. I have not known
A man so valiant, so victorious,
Fast as the judges order'd each event,
Winning, and winning yet again. At last
He was acclaim'd by all, an Argive born,
His name Orestes, son of that great prince
Who gather'd Greece for war, King Agamemnon.
So fell these things. But when a god intends
Destruction, even the strong may not escape.
Next day at sunrise, when the lists were set
For the racing of swift-footed steeds and cars,
In a throng of charioteers he also enter'd.
One was Achaean: one from Sparta: two
From Africa, well-skilled in horsemanship:
And he was fifth, driving a team of mares
From Thessaly: then an AEtolian
With chestnut steeds: next a Magnesian,
And after him an AEnian, with white horses,
The eighth: from god-built Athens came the ninth,
And from Boeotia the tenth and last.
They took their places where the judges, set
To do that office, by the lot assign'd them.
The trumpet sounds! They start, with a shake of the reins
And a shout to the horses. All the course is fill'd
With noise of rattling cars and rising clouds
Of dust and racers struggling in close pack --
No stinting of the goad -- on, on, to pass
The hurrying rival wheels, the flying foam
Of panting steeds, whose labour'd breath bedews
The track of the car, the back of the charioteer.
Boldly he drove close by the stone that marks
The turning, to the trace-horse on his right
Giving free rein, but pulling on the left;
And all the cars drove safely on and on
For six completed courses. Suddenly,
At the seventh course, just as they made the turn,
The AEnian's colts refused the curb, and bolted,
Colliding with a car from Africa,
And from that first mishap, car after car
Crash'd and was overturn'd, and filled the plain
Of Crisa with confusion and with wreckage.
The man of Athens understood. He wrench'd
His horses from their course, and cunningly
Drove clear of all that surging sea of trouble.
Last came Orestes, holding back his team,
And trusting for the victory to the end.
Now, now he saw no rivals left but one!
He rous'd his horses with a sharp shrill cry,
Hotly pursuing. Neck and neck they drove,
First one and then the other, as the cars
Sped on together, leading by a head,
Course after course: and all this while the youth
Unfortunate drove safely and drove well.
At last the moment came when thoughtlessly
He slack'd his left rein as he took the corner,
And struck the pillar, and his axle snapp'd;
He fell back from the car, a prisoner,
Caught in the leathern reins, and, as he fell,
His horses left the track and bolted madly:
Upon which sight, the assembled multitude
With one great shout of wonder and of grief
Acclaim'd a youth, so nobly valiant,
So greatly suffering. High in the air
His madden'd horses flung him, then to earth
Dash'd him again and yet again. At last
His comrades brought the horses to a stand
And loos'd the blood-stain'd body, now so changed
That those who loved him best would not have known him.
They gave him to the fire. Their messengers
Are on their way to bring you what is left
Of all that greatness, ashes and an urn,
For the last honours in his father's realm.
This is my tale, and it is pitiful,
Even to tell. For us who witness'd all,
It was a sight sadder than I have seen.

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