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Agamemnon
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Part II

AGAMEMNON (still standing in the chariot) First, as is meet, a king's
All-hail be said
To Argos, and the gods that guard the land-
Gods who with me availed to speed us home,
With me availed to wring from Priam's town
The due of justice. In the court of heaven
The gods in conclave sat and judged the cause,
Not from a pleader's tongue, and at the close,
Unanimous into the urn of doom
This sentence gave, On Ilion and her men,
Death: and where hope drew nigh to pardon's urn
No hand there was to cast a vote therein.
And still the smoke of fallen Ilion
Rises in sight of all men, and the flame
Of Ate's hecatomb is living yet,
And where the towers in dusty ashes sink,
Rise the rich fumes of pomp and wealth consumed
For this must all men pay unto the gods
The meed of mindful hearts and gratitude:
For by our hands the meshes of revenge
Closed on the prey, and for one woman's sake
Troy trodden by the Argive monster lies-
The foal, the shielded band that leapt the wall,
What time with autumn sank the Pleiades.
Yea, o'er the fencing wall a lion sprang
Ravening, and lapped his fill of blood of kings.
Such prelude spoken to the gods in full,
To you I turn, and to the hidden thing
Whereof ye spake but now: and in that thought
I am as you, and what ye say, say I.
For few are they who have such inborn grace,
As to look up with love, and envy not,
When stands another on the height of weal.
Deep in his heart, whom jealousy hath seized,
Her poison lurking doth enhance his load;
For now beneath his proper woes he chafes,
And sighs withal to see another's weal.
I speak not idly, but from knowledge sure-
There be who vaunt an utter loyalty,
That is but as the ghost of friendship dead,
A shadow in a glass, of faith gone by.
One only-he who went reluctant forth
Across the seas with me-Odysseus-he
Was loyal unto me with strength and will,
A trusty trace-horse bound unto my car.
Thus-be he yet beneath the light of day,
Or dead, as well I fear-I speak his praise.
Lastly, whate'er be due to men or gods,
With joint debate, in public council held,
We will decide, and warily contrive
That all which now is well may so abide:
For that which haply needs the healer's art,
That will we medicine, discerning well
If cautery or knife befit the time.
Now, to my palace and the shrines of home,
I will pass in, and greet you first and fair,
Ye gods, who bade me forth, and home again-
And long may Victory tarry in my train! (CLYTEMNESTRA enters from
the palace, followed by maidens bearing crimson robes.)
CLYTEMNESTRA Old men of Argos, lieges of our realm,
Shame shall not bid me shrink lest ye should see
The love I bear my lord. Such blushing fear
Dies at the last from hearts of human kind.
From mine own soul and from no alien lips,
I know and will reveal the life I bore.
Reluctant, through the lingering livelong years,
The while my lord beleaguered Ilion's wall.
First, that a wife sat sundered from her lord,
In widowed solitude, was utter woe
And woe, to hear how rumour's many tongues
All boded evil-woe, when he who came
And he who followed spake of ill on ill,
Keening Lost, lost, all lost! thro' hall and bower.
Had this my husband met so many wounds,
As by a thousand channels rumour told,
No network e'er was full of holes as he.
Had he been slain, as oft as tidings came
That he was dead, he well might boast him now
A second Geryon of triple frame,
With triple robe of earth above him laid-
For that below, no matter-triply dead,
Dead by one death for every form he bore.
And thus distraught by news of wrath and woe,
Oft for self-slaughter had I slung the noose,
But others wrenched it from my neck away.
Hence haps it that Orestes, thine and mine,
The pledge and symbol of our wedded troth,
Stands not beside us now, as he should stand.
Nor marvel thou at this: he dwells with one
Who guards him loyally; 'tis Phocis' king,
Strophius, who warned me erst, Bethink thee, queen,
What woes of doubtful issue well may fall
Thy lord in daily jeopardy at Troy,
While here a populace uncurbed may cry,
"Down witk the council, down!" bethink thee too,
'Tis the world's way to set a harder heel
On fallen power.
For thy child's absence then
Such mine excuse, no wily afterthought.
For me, long since the gushing fount of tears
Is wept away; no drop is left to shed.
Dim are the eyes that ever watched till dawn,
Weeping, the bale-fires, piled for thy return,
Night after night unkindled. If I slept,
Each sound-the tiny humming of a gnat,
Roused me again, again, from fitful dreams
Wherein I felt thee smitten, saw thee slain,
Thrice for each moment of mine hour of sleep.
All this I bore, and now, released from woe,
I hail my lord as watch-dog of a fold,
As saving stay-rope of a storm-tossed ship,
As column stout that holds the roof aloft,
As only child unto a sire bereaved,
As land beheld, past hope, by crews forlorn,
As sunshine fair when tempest's wrath is past,
As gushing spring to thirsty wayfarer.
So sweet it is to 'scape the press of pain.
With such salute I bid my husband hail
Nor heaven be wroth therewith! for long and hard
I bore that ire of old.
Sweet lord, step forth,
Step from thy car, I pray-nay, not on earth
Plant the proud foot, O king, that trod down Troy!
Women! why tarry ye, whose task it is
To spread your monarch's path with tapestry?
Swift, swift, with purple strew his passage fair,
That justice lead him to a home, at last,
He scarcely looked to see. (The attendant women spread the tapestry.)
For what remains,
Zeal unsubdued by sleep shall nerve my hand
To work as right and as the gods command.
AGAMEMNON (still in the chariot) Daughter of Leda, watcher o'er
my home,
Thy greeting well befits mine absence long,
For late and hardly has it reached its end.
Know, that the praise which honour bids us crave,
Must come from others' lips, not from our own:
See too that not in fashion feminine
Thou make a warrior's pathway delicate;
Not unto me, as to some Eastern lord,
Bowing thyself to earth, make homage loud.
Strew not this purple that shall make each step
An arrogance; such pomp beseems the gods,
Not me. A mortal man to set his foot
On these rich dyes? I hold such pride in fear,
And bid thee honour me as man, not god.
Fear not-such footcloths and all gauds apart,
Loud from the trump of Fame my name is blown;
Best gift of heaven it is, in glory's hour,
To think thereon with soberness: and thou-
Bethink thee of the adage, Call none blest
Till peaceful death have crowned a life of weal.
'Tis said: I fain would fare unvexed by fear.
CLYTEMNESTRA Nay, but unsay it-thwart not thou my will!
AGAMEMNON Know, I have said, and will not mar my word.
CLYTEMNESTRA Was it fear made this meekness to the gods?
AGAMEMNON If cause be cause, 'tis mine for this resolve.
CLYTEMNESTRA What, think'st thou, in thy place had Priam done?
AGAMEMNON He surely would have walked on broidered robes.
CLYTEMNESTRA Then fear not thou the voice of human blame.
AGAMEMNON Yet mighty is the murmur of a crowd.
CLYTEMNESTRA Shrink not from envy, appanage of bliss.
AGAMEMNON War is not woman's part, nor war of words.
CLYTEMNESTRA Yet happy victors well may yield therein.
AGAMEMNON Dost crave for triumph in this petty strife?
CLYTEMNESTRA Yield; of thy grace permit me to prevail!
AGAMEMNON Then, if thou wilt, let some one stoop to loose
Swiftly these sandals, slaves beneath my foot;
And stepping thus upon the sea's rich dye,
I pray, Let none among the gods look down
With jealous eye on me-reluctant all,
To trample thus and mar a thing of price,
Wasting the wealth of garments silver-worth.
Enough hereof: and, for the stranger maid,
Lead her within, but gently: God on high
Looks graciously on him whom triumph's hour
Has made not pitiless. None willingly
Wear the slave's yoke-and she, the prize and flower
Of all we won, comes hither in my train,
Gift of the army to its chief and lord.
-Now, since in this my will bows down to thine,
I will pass in on purples to my home. (He descends from the chariot,
and moves towards the palace.)
CLYTEMNESTRA A Sea there is-and who shall stay its springs?
And deep within its breast, a mighty store,
Precious as silver, of the purple dye,
Whereby the dipped robe doth its tint renew.
Enough of such, O king, within thy halls
There lies, a store that cannot fail; but I-
I would have gladly vowed unto the gods
Cost of a thousand garments trodden thus,
(Had once the oracle such gift required)
Contriving ransom for thy life preserved.
For while the stock is firm the foliage climbs,
Spreading a shade, what time the dog-star glows;
And thou, returning to thine hearth and home,
Art as a genial warmth in winter hours,
Or as a coolness, when the lord of heaven
Mellows the juice within the bitter grape.
Such boons and more doth bring into a home
The present footstep of its proper lord.
Zeus, Zeus, Fulfilment's lord! my vows fulfil,
And whatsoe'er it be, work forth thy will! (She follows AGAMEMNON
into the palace.)
CHORUS (singing, strophe 1)
Wherefore for ever on the wings of fear
Hovers a vision drear
Before my boding heart? a strain,
Unbidden and unwelcome, thrills mine ear,
Oracular of pain.
Not as of old upon my bosom's throne
Sits Confidence, to spurn
Such fears, like dreams we know not to discern.
Old, old and grey long since the time has grown,
Which saw the linked cables moor
The fleet, when erst it came to Ilion's sandy shore;
(antistrophe 1)
And now mine eyes and not another's see
Their safe return.
Yet none the less in me
The inner spirit sings a boding song,
Self-prompted, sings the Furies' strain-
And seeks, and seeks in vain,
To hope and to be strong!
Ah! to some end of Fate, unseen, unguessed,
Are these wild throbbings of my heart and breast-
Yea, of some doom they tell-
Each pulse, a knell.
Lief, lief I were, that all
To unfulfilment's hidden realm might fall.
(strophe 2)
Too far, too far our mortal spirits strive,
Grasping at utter weal, unsatisfied-
Till the fell curse, that dwelleth hard beside,
Thrust down the sundering wall. Too fair they blow,
The gales that waft our bark on Fortune's tide!
Swiftly we sail, the sooner an to drive
Upon the hidden rock, the reef of woe.
Then if the hand of caution warily
Sling forth into the sea
Part of the freight, lest all should sink below,
From the deep death it saves the bark: even so,
Doom-laden though it be, once more may rise
His household, who is timely wise.
How oft the famine-stricken field
Is saved by God's large gift, the new year's yield!
(antistrophe 2)
But blood of man once spilled,
Once at his feet shed forth, and darkening the plain,-
Nor chant nor charm can call it back again.
So Zeus hath willed:
Else had he spared the leech Asclepius, skilled
To bring man from the dead: the hand divine
Did smite himself with death-a warning and a sign-
Ah me! if Fate, ordained of old,
Held not the will of gods constrained, controlled,
Helpless to us-ward, and apart-
Swifter than speech my heart
Had poured its presage out!
Now, fretting, chafing in the dark of doubt,
'Tis hopeless to unfold
Truth, from fear's tangled skein; and, yearning to proclaim
Its thought, my soul is prophecy and flame. (CLYTEMNESTRA comes out
of the palace and addresses CASSANDRA, who has remained motionless
in her chariot.)
CLYTEMNESTRA Get thee within thou too, Cassandra, go!
For Zeus to thee in gracious mercy grants
To share the sprinklings of the lustral bowl,
Beside the altar of his guardianship,
Slave among many slaves. What, haughty still?
Step from the car; Alcmena's son, 'tis said,
Was sold perforce and bore the yoke of old.
Ay, hard it is, but, if such fate befall,
'Tis a fair chance to serve within a home
Of ancient wealth and power. An upstart lord,
To whom wealth's harvest came beyond his hope,
Is as a lion to his slaves, in all
Exceeding fierce, immoderate in sway.
Pass in: thou hearest what our ways will be.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS Clear unto thee, O maid, is her command,
But thou-within the toils of Fate thou art-
If such thy will, I urge thee to obey;
Yet I misdoubt thou dost nor hear nor heed.
CLYTEMNESTRA I wot-unless like swallows she doth use
Some strange barbarian tongue from oversea-
My words must speak persuasion to her soul.
LEADER Obey: there is no gentler way than this.
Step from the car's high seat and follow her.
CLYTEMNESTRA Truce to this bootless waiting here without!
I will not stay: beside the central shrine
The victims stand, prepared for knife and fire-
Offerings from hearts beyond all hope made glad.
Thou-if thou reckest aught of my command,
'Twere well done soon: but if thy sense be shut
From these my words, let thy barbarian hand
Fulfil by gesture the default of speech.
LEADER No native is she, thus to read thy words
Unaided: like some wild thing of the wood,
New-trapped, behold! she shrinks and glares on thee.
CLYTEMNESTRA 'Tis madness and the rule of mind distraught,
Since she beheld her city sink in fire,
And hither comes, nor brooks the bit, until
In foam and blood her wrath be champed away.
See ye to her; unqueenly 'tis for me,
Unheeded thus to cast away my words. (CLYTEMNESTRA enters the palace.)
LEADER But with me pity sits in anger's place.
Poor maiden, come thou from the car; no way
There is but this-take up thy servitude.
CASSANDRA (chanting) Woe, woe, alas! Earth, Mother Earth! and thou
Apollo, Apollo!
LEADER Peace! shriek not to the bright prophetic god,
Who will not brook the suppliance of woe.
CASSANDRA (chanting) Woe, woe, alas! Earth, Mother Earth! and thou
Apollo, Apollo!
LEADER Hark, with wild curse she calls anew on him,
Who stands far off and loathes the voice of wail.
CASSANDRA (chanting) Apollo, Apollo!
God of all ways, but only Death's to me,
Once and again, O thou, Destroyer named,
Thou hast destroyed me, thou, my love of old!
LEADER She grows presageful of her woes to come,
Slave tho' she be, instinct with prophecy.
CASSANDRA (chanting) Apollo, Apollo!
God of all ways, but only Death's to me,
O thou Apollo, thou Destroyer named!
What way hast led me, to what evil home?
LEADER Know'st thou it not? The home of Atreus' race:
Take these my words for sooth and ask no more.
CASSANDRA (chanting) Home cursed of God! Bear witness unto me,
Ye visioned woes within-
The blood-stained hands of them that smite their kin-
The strangling noose, and, spattered o'er
With human blood, the reeking floor!
LEADER How like a sleuth-hound questing on the track,
Keen-scented unto blood and death she hies!
CASSANDRA (chanting) Ah! can the ghostly guidance fail,
Whereby my prophet-soul is onwards led?
Look! for their flesh the spectre-children wail,
Their sodden limbs on which their father fed!
LEADER Long since we knew of thy prophetic fame,-
But for those deeds we seek no prophet's tongue-
CASSANDRA (chanting) God! 'tis another crime-
Worse than the storied woe of olden time,
Cureless, abhorred, that one is plotting here-
A shaming death, for those that should be dear
Alas! and far away, in foreign land,
He that should help doth stand!
LEADER I knew th' old tales, the city rings withal-
But now thy speech is dark, beyond my ken.
CASSANDRA (chanting) O wretch, O purpose fell!
Thou for thy wedded lord
The cleansing wave hast poured-
A treacherous welcome
How the sequel tell?
Too soon 'twill come, too soon, for now, even now,
She smites him, blow on blow!
LEADER Riddles bcyond my rede—I peer in vain
Thro' the dim films that screen the prophecy
CASSANDRA (chanting) God! a new sight! a net, a snare of hell,
Set by her hand—herself a snare more fell
A wedded wife, she slays her lord,
Helped by another hand!
Ye powers, whose hate
Of Atreus' home no blood can satiate,
Raise the wild cry above the sacrifice abhorred!
CHORUS (chanting) Why biddest thou some hend, I know not whom,
Shriek o'er the house? Thine is no cheering word.
Back to my heart in frozen fear I feel
My wanning life-blood run—The blood that round the wounding steel
Ebbs slow, as sinks life's parting sun—
Swift, swift and sure, some woe comes pressing on.
CASSANDRA (chanting) Away, away—keep him away—
The monarch of the herd, the pasture's pride,
Far from his mate! In treach'rous wrath,
Muffling his swarthy horns, with secret scathe
She gores his fenceless side! Hark ! in the brimming bath,
The heavy plash—the dying cry—
Hark—in the laver—hark, he falls by treachery!
CHORUS (chanting) I read amiss dark sayings such as thine,
Yet something warns me that they tell of ill,
O dark prophetic speech, Ill tidings dost thou teach
Ever, to mortals here below! Ever some tale of awe and woe
Thro' all thy windings manifold Do we unriddle and unfold!
CASSANDRA (chanting) Ah well-a-day! the cup of agony,
Whereof I chant, foams with a draught for me
Ah lord, ah leader, thou hast led me here—
Was't but to die with thee whose doom is near?
CHORUS (chanting) Distraught thou art, divinely stirred,
And wailest for thyself a tuneless lay,
As piteous as the ceaseless tale
Wherewith the brown melodious bird
Doth ever Itys! Itys! wail,
Deep-bowered in sorrow, all its little life-time's day!
CASSANDRA (chanting) Ah for thy fate, O shrill-voiced nightingale!
Some solace for thy woes did Heaven afford,
Clothed thee with soft brown plumes, and life apart from wail—
But for my death is edged the double-biting sword!
CHORUS (chanting) What pangs are these, what fruitless pain,
Sent on thee from on high?
Thou chantest terror's frantic strain,
Yet in shrill measured melody.
How thus unerring canst thou sweep along
The prophet's path of boding song?
CASSANDRA (chanting) Woe, Paris, woe on thee! thy bridal joy
Was death and fire upon thy race and Troy!
And woe for thee, Scamander's flood!
Beside thy banks, O river fair,
I grew in tender nursing care
From childhood unto maidenhood!
Now not by thine, but by Cocytus' stream
And Acheron's banks shall ring my boding scream.
CHORUS (chanting) Too plain is all, too plain!
A child might read aright thy fateful strain.
Deep in my heart their piercing fang
Terror and sorrow set, the while I heard
That piteous, low, tender word,
Yet to mine ear and heart a crushing pang.
CASSANDRA (chanting) Woe for my city, woe for Ilion's fall!
Father, how oft with sanguine stain
Streamed on thine altar-stone the blood of cattle, slain
That heaven might guard our wall!
But all was shed in vain.
Low lie the shattered towers whereas they fell,
And I—ah burning heart!—shall soon lie low as well.
CHORUS (chanting) Of sorrow is thy song, of sorrow still!
Alas, what power of ill
Sits heavy on thy heart and bids thee tell
In tears of perfect moan thy deadly tale?
Some woe—I know not what—must close thy pious wail.
CASSANDRA (more calmly) List! for no more the presage of my soul,
Bride-like, shall peer from its secluding veil;
But as the morning wind blows clear the east,
More bright shall blow the wind of prophecy,
And as against the low bright line of dawn
Heaves high and higher yet the rolling wave,
So in the clearing skies of prescience
Dawns on my soul a further, deadlier woe,
And I will speak, but in dark speech no more.
Bear witness, ye, and follow at my side—
I scent the trail of blood, shed long ago.
Within this house a choir abidingly
Chants in harsh unison the chant of ill;
Yea, and they drink, for more enhardened joy,
Man's blood for wine, and revel in the halls,
Departing never, Furies of the home.
They sit within, they chant the primal curse,
Each spitting hatred on that crime of old,
The brother's couch, the love incestuous
That brought forth hatred to the ravisher.
Say, is my speech or wild and erring now,
Or doth its arrow cleave the mark indeed?
They called me once, The prophetess of lies,
The wandering hag, the pest of every door—
Attest ye now, She knows in very sooth
The house's curse, the storied infamy.
LEADER Yet how should oath—how loyally soe'er
I swear it—aught avail thee? In good sooth,
My wonder meets thy claim: I stand amazed
That thou, a maiden born beyond the seas,
Dost as a native know and tell aright
Tales of a city of an alien tongue.
CASSANDRA That is my power—a boon Apollo gave.
LEADER God though he were, yearning for mortal maid?
CASSANDRA Ay! what seemed shame of old is shame no more.
LEADER Such finer sense suits not with slavery.
CASSANDRA He strove to win me, panting for my love.
LEADER Came ye by compact unto bridal joys?
CASSANDRA Nay—for I plighted troth, then foiled the god.
LEADER Wert thou already dowered with prescience?
CASSANDRA Yea—prophetess to Troy of all her doom.
LEADER How left thee then Apollo's wrath unscathed?
CASSANDRA I, false to him, seemed prophet false to all.
LEADER Not so—to us at least thy words seem sooth.
CASSANDRA Woe for me, woe! Again the agony—
Dread pain that sees the future all too well
With ghastly preludes whirls and racks my soul.
Behold ye—yonder on the palace roof
The spectre-children sitting—look, such things
As dreams are made on, phantoms as of babes,
Horrible shadows, that a kinsman's hand
Hath marked with murder, and their arms are full—
A rueful burden—see, they hold them up,
The entrails upon which their father fed!
For this, for this, I say there plots revenge
A coward lion, couching in the lair—
Guarding the gate against my master's foot—
My master—mine—I bear the slave's yoke now,
And he, the lord of ships, who trod down Troy,
Knows not the fawning treachery of tongue
Of this thing false and dog-like—how her speech
Glozes and sleeks her purpose, till she win
By ill fate's favour the desired chance,
Moving like Ate to a secret end.
O aweless soul! the woman slays her lord—
Woman? what loathsome monster of the earth
Were fit comparison? The double snake—
Or Scylla, where she dwells, the seaman s bane,
Girt round about with rocks? some hag of hell,
Raving a truceless curse upon her kin?
Hark even now she cries exultingly
The vengeful cry that tells of battle turned—
How fain, forsooth, to greet her chief restored!
Nay then, believe me not: what skills belief
Or disbelief ? Fate works its will—and thou
Wilt see and say in ruth, Her tale was true.
LEADER Ah—'tis Thyestes' feast on kindred flesh—
I guess her meaning and with horror thrill,
Hearing no shadow'd hint of th' o'er-true tale,
But its full hatefulness: yet, for the rest,
Far from the track I roam, and know no more.
CASSANDRA 'Tis Agamemnon's doom thou shalt behold.
LEADER Peace hapless woman, to thy boding words!
CASSANDRA Far from my speech stands he who sains and saves.
LEADER Ay—were such a doom at hand—which God forbid!
CASSANDRA Thou prayest idly—these move swift to slay.
LEADER What man prepares a deed of such despite?
CASSANDRA Fool! thus to read amiss mine oracles.
LEADER Deviser and device are dark to me.
CASSANDRA Dark! all too well I speak the Grecian tongue.
LEADER Ay—but in thine, as in Apollo's strains,
Familiar is the tongue, but dark the thought.
CASSANDRA Ah, ah the fire! it waxes, nears me now—
Woe, woe for me, Apollo of the dawn!
Lo, how the woman-thing, the lioness
Couched with the wolf—her noble mate afar—
Will slay me, slave forlorn! Yea, like some witch,
She drugs the cup of wrath, that slays her lord,
With double death—his recompense for me!
Ay, 'tis for me, the prey he bore from Troy,
That she hath sworn his death, and edged the steel!
Ye wands, ye wreaths that cling around my neck,
Ye showed me prophetess yet scorned of all—
I stamp you into death, or e'er I die—
Down, to destruction! Thus I stand revenged—
Go, crown some other with a prophet's woe.
Lookl it is he, it is Apollo's self
Rending from me the prophet-robe he gave.
God! while I wore it yet, thou saw'st me mocked
There at my home by each malicious mouth—
To all and each, an undivided scorn.
The name alike and fate of witch and cheat—
Woe, poverty, and famine—all I bore;
And at this last the god hath brought me here
Into death's toils, and what his love had made,
His hate unmakes me now: and I shall stand
Not now before the altar of my home,
But me a slaughter-house and block of blood
Shall see hewn down, a reeking sacrifice.
Yet shall the gods have heed of me who die,
For by their will shall one requite my doom.
He, to avenge his father's blood outpoured,
Shall smite and slay with matricidal hand.
Ay, he shall come—tho' far away he roam,
A banished wanderer in a stranger's land—
To crown his kindred's edifice of ill,
Called home to vengeance by his father's fall:
Thus have the high gods sworn, and shall fulfil.
And now why mourn I, tarrying on earth,
Since first mine Ilion has found its fate
And I beheld, and those who won the wall
Pass to such issue as the gods ordain?
I too will pass and like them dare to die! (She turns and looks upon
the palace door.) Portal of Hades, thus I bid thee hail!
Grant me one boon—a swift and mortal stroke,
That all unwrung by pain, with ebbing blood
Shed forth in quiet death, I close mine eyes.
LEADER Maid of mysterious woes, mysterious lore,
Long was thy prophecy: but if aright
Thou readest all thy fate, how, thus unscared,
Dost thou approach the altar of thy doom,
As fronts the knife some victim, heaven controlled?
CASSANDRA Friends, there is no avoidance in delay.
LEADER Yet who delays the longest, his the gain.
CASSANDRA The day is come—flight were small gain to me!
LEADER O brave endurance of a soul resolved!
CASSANDRA That were ill praise, for those of happier doom.
LEADER All fame is happy, even famous death.
CASSANDRA Ah sire, ah brethren, famous once were ye! (She moves
to enter the house, then starts back.)
LEADER What fear is this that scares thee from the house?
CASSANDRA Pah!
LEADER What is this cry? some dark despair of soul?
CASSANDRA Pah! the house fumes with stench and spilth of blood.
LEADER How? 'tis the smell of household offerings.
CASSANDRA 'Tis rank as charnel-scent from open graves.
LEADER Thou canst not mean this scented Syrian nard?
CASSANDRA Nay, let me pass within to cry aloud
The monarch's fate and mine—enough of life.
Ah friends!
Bear to me witness, since I fall in death,
That not as birds that shun the bush and scream
I moan in idle terror. This attest
When for my death's revenge another dies,
A woman for a woman, and a man
Falls, for a man ill-wedded to his curse.
Grant me this boon—the last before I die.
LEADER Brave to the last! I mourn thy doom foreseen.
CASSANDRA Once more one utterance, but not of wail,
Though for my death—and then I speak no more.
Sun! thou whose beam I shall not see again,
To thee I cry, Let those whom vengeance calls
To slay their kindred's slayers, quit withal
The death of me, the slave, the fenceless prey.
Ah state of mortal man! in time of weal,
A line, a shadow! and if ill fate fall,
One wet sponge-sweep wipes all our trace away—
And this I deem less piteous, of the twain. (She enters the palace.)
CHORUS (singing) Too true it is! our mortal state
With bliss is never satiate,
And none, before the palace high
And stately of prosperity,
Cries to us with a voice of fear,
Away! 'tis ill to enter here!
Lo! this our lord hath trodden down,
By grace of heaven, old Priam's town,
And praised as god he stands once more
On Argos' shore!
Yet now—if blood shed long ago
Cries out that other blood shall flow—
His life-blood, his, to pay again
The stern requital of the slain—
Peace to that braggart's vaunting vain,
Who, having heard the chieftain's tale,
Yet boasts of bliss untouched by bale! (A loud cry is heard from
within.)
VOICE OF AGAMEMNON O I am sped—a deep, a mortal blow.
LEADER Listen, listen! who is screaming as in mortal agony?
VOICE OF AGAMEMNON O! O! again, another, another blow!
LEADER The bloody act is over—I have heard the monarch's cry—
Let us swiftly take some counsel, lest we too be doomed to die.
ONE OF THE CHORUS 'Tis best, I judge, aloud for aid to call,
"Ho! loyal Argives! to the palace, all!"
ANOTHER Better, I deem, ourselves to bear the aid,
And drag the deed to light, while drips the blade.
ANOTHER Such will is mine, and what thou say'st I say:
Swiftly to act! the time brooks no delay.
ANOTHER Ay, for tis plain, this prelude of their song
Foretells its close in tyranny and wrong.
ANOTHER Behold, we tarry—but thy name, Delay,
They spurn, and press with sleepless hand to slay.
ANOTHER I know not what 'twere well to counsel now—
Who wills to act, 'tis his to counsel how.
ANOTHER Thy doubt is mine: for when a man is slain,
I have no words to bring his life again.
ANOTHER What? e'en for life's sake, bow us to obey
These house-defilers and their tyrant sway ?
ANOTHER Unmanly doom! 'twere better far to die—
Death is a gentler lord than tyranny.
ANOTHER Think well—must cry or sign of woe or pain
Fix our conclusion that the chief is slain?
ANOTHER Such talk befits us when the deed we see—
Conjecture dwells afar from certainty.
LEADER I read one will from many a diverse word,
To know aright, how stands it with our lord! (The central doors of
the palace open, disclosing CLYTEMNESTRA, who comes forward. She has
blood smeared upon her forehead. The body of AGAMEMNON lies, muffled
in a long robe, within a silver-sided laver; the corpse of CASSANDRA
is laid beside him.)
CLYTEMNESTRA Ho, ye who heard me speak so long and oft
The glozing word that led me to my will—
Hear how I shrink not to unsay it all!
How else should one who willeth to requite
Evil for evil to an enemy
Disguised as friend, weave the mesh straitly round him,
Not to be overleaped, a net of doom?
This is the sum and issue of old strife,
Of me deep-pondered and at length fulfilled.
All is avowed, and as I smote I stand
With foot set firm upon a finished thing!
I turn not to denial: thus I wrought
So that he could nor flee nor ward his doom.
Even as the trammel hems the scaly shoal,
I trapped him with inextricable toils,
The ill abundance of a baffling robe;
Then smote him, once, again—and at each wound
He cried aloud, then as in death relaxed
Each limb and sank to earth; and as he lay,
Once more I smote him, with the last third blow,
Sacred to Hades, saviour of the dead.
And thus he fell, and as he passed away,
Spirit with body chafed; each dying breath
Flung from his breast swift bubbling jets of gore,
And the dark sprinklings of the rain of blood
Fell upon me; and I was fain to feel
That dew—not sweeter is the rain of heaven
To cornland, when the green sheath teems with grain.
Elders of Argos—since the thing stands so,
I bid you to rejoice, if such your will:
Rejoice or not, I vaunt and praise the deed,
And well I ween, if seemly it could be,
'Twere not ill done to pour libations here,
Justly—ay, more than justly—on his corpse
Who filled his home with curses as with wine,
And thus returned to drain the cup he filled.
LEADER I marvel at thy tongue's audacity,
To vaunt thus loudly o'er a husband slain.
CLYTEMNESTRA Ye hold me as a woman, weak of will,
And strive to sway me: but my heart is stout,
Nor fears to speak its uttermost to you,
Albeit ye know its message. Praise or blame,
Even as ye list,—I reck not of your words.
Lo! at my feet lies Agamemnon slain,
My husband once—and him this hand of mine,
A right contriver, fashioned for his death.
Behold the deed!
CHORUS (chanting) Woman, what deadly birth,
What venomed essence of the earth
Or dark distilment of the wave,
To thee such passion gave,
Nerving thine hand
To set upon thy brow this burning crown,
The curses of thy land?
Our king by thee cut off, hewn down!
Go forth—they cry—accurscd and forlorn,
To hate and scorn!
CLYTEMNESTRA O ye just men, who speak my sentence now,
The city's hate, the ban of all my realm!
Ye had no voice of old to launch such doom
On him, my husband, when he held as light
My daughter's life as that of sheep or goat,
One victim from the thronging fleecy fold!
Yea, slew in sacrifice his child and mine,
The well-loved issue of my travail-pangs,
To lull and lay the gales that blew from Thrace.
That deed of his, I say, that stain and shame,
Had rightly been atoned by banishment;
But ye. who then were dumb, are stern to judge
This deed of mine that doth afront your ears.
Storm out your threats, yet knowing this for sooth,
That I am ready, if your hand prevail
As mine now doth, to bow beneath your sway:
If God say nay, it shall be yours to learn
By chastisement a late humility.
CHORUS (chanting) Bold is thy craft, and proud
Thy confidence, thy vaunting loud;
Thy soul, that chose a murd'ress' fate,
Is all with blood elate—
Maddened to know
The blood not yet avenged, the damn'ed spot
Crimson upon thy brow.
But Fate prepares for thee thy lot—
Smitten as thou didst smite, without a friend,
To meet thine end!
CLYTEMNESTRA Hear then the sanction of the oath I swear—
By the great vengeance for my murdered child,
By Ate, by the Fury unto whom
This man lies sacrificed by hand of mine,
I do not look to tread the hall of Fear,
While in this hearth and home of mine there burns
The light of love—Aegisthus—as of old
Loyal, a stalwart shield of confidence—
As true to me as this slain man was false,
Wronging his wife with paramours at Troy,
Fresh from the kiss of each Chryseis there!
Behold him dead—behold his captive prize,
Seeress and harlot—comfort of his bed,
True prophetess, true paramour—I wot
The sea-bench was not closer to the flesh,
Full oft, of every rower, than was she.
See, ill they did, and ill requites them now.
His death ye know: she as a dying swan
Sang her last dirge, and lies, as erst she lay,
Close to his side, and to my couch has left
A sweet new taste of joys that know no fear.
(strophe 1)
CHORUS (singing) Ah woe and well-a-day! I would that Fate—
Not bearing agony too great,
Nor stretching me too long on couch of pain—
Would bid mine eyelids keep
The morningless and unawakening sleep!
For life is weary, now my lord is slain,
The gracious among kings!
Hard fate of old he bore and many grievous things,
And for a woman's sake, on Ilian land—
Now is his life hewn down, and by a woman's hand.
O Helen, O infatuate soul,
Who bad'st the tides of battle roll,
O'erwhelming thousands, life on life,
'Neath Ilion's wall!
And now lies dead the lord of all.
The blossom of thy storied sin
Bears blood's inexpiable stain,
O thou that erst, these halls within,
Wert unto all a rock of strife,
A husband's bane!
CLYTEMNESTRA (chanting) Peace! pray not thou for death as though
Thine heart was whelmed beneath this woe,
Nor turn thy wrath aside to ban
The name of Helen, nor recall
How she, one bane of many a man,
Sent down to death the Danaan lords,
To sleep at Troy the sleep of swords,
And wrought the woe that shattered all.
(antistrophe 1)
CHORUS Fiend of the race! that swoopest fell
Upon the double stock of Tantalus,
Lording it o'er me by a woman's will,
Stern, manful, and imperious—
A bitter sway to me!
Thy very form I see,
Like some grim raven, perched upon thc slain,
Exulting o'er the crime, aloud, in tuneless strain!
CLYTEMNESTRA (chanting) Right was that word—thou namest well
The brooding race-fiend, triply fell!
From him it is that murder's thirst,
Blood-lapping, inwardly is nursed—
Ere time the ancient scar can sain,
New blood comes welling forth again.
(strophe 2)
CHORUS Grim is his wrath and heavy on our home,
That fiend of whom thv voice has cried,
Alas, an omened cry of woe unsatisfied,
An all-devouring doom!
Ah woe, ah Zeus! from Zeus all things befall—
Zeus the high cause and finisher of all!—
Lord of our mortal state, by him are willed
All things, by him fulfilled!
(refrain 1)
Yet ah my king, my king no more!
What words to say, what tears to pour
Can tell my love for thee?
The spider-web of treachery
She wove and wound, thy life around,
And lo! I see thee lie,
And thro' a coward, impious wound
Pant forth thv life and die!
A death of shame—ah woe on woe!
A treach'rous hand, a cleaving blow!
CLYTEMNESTRA (chanting) My guilt thou harpest, o'er and o'er!
I bid thee reckon me no more
As Agamemnon's spouse.
The old Avenger, stern of mood
For Atreus and his feast of blood,
Hath struck the lord of Atreus' house,
And in the semblance of his wife
The king hath slain.—
Yea, for the murdered children's life,
A chieftain's in requital ta'en.
(antistrophe 2)
CHORUS Thou guiltless of this murder, thou!
Who dares such thought avow?
Yet it may be, wroth for the parent's deed,
The fiend hath holpen thee to slay the son.
Dark Ares, god of death, is pressing on
Thro' streams of blood by kindred shed,
Exacting the accompt for children dead,
For clotted blood, for flesh on which their sire did feed.
(refrain 2)
Yet ah my king, my king no more!
What words to say, what tears to pour
Can tell my love for thee?
The spider-web of treachery
She wove and wound, thy life around,
And lo! I see thee lie,
And thro' a coward, impious wound
Pant forth thy life and die!
A death of shame—ah woe on woe!
A treach'rous hand, a cleaving blow!
CLYTEMNESTRA (chanting) I deem not that the death he died
Had overmuch of shame:
For this was he who did provide
Foul wrong unto his house and name:
His daughter, blossom of my womb,
He gave unto a deadly doom,
Iphigenia, child of tears!
And as he wrought, even so he fares.
Nor be his vaunt too loud in hell;
For by the sword his sin he wrought,
And by the sword himself is brought
Among the dead to dwell.
(strophe 3)
CHORUS Ah whither shall I fly?
For all in ruin sinks the kingly hall;
Nor swift device nor shift of thought have I,
To 'scape its fall.
A little while the gentler rain-drops fail;
I stand distraught—a ghastly interval,
Till on the roof-tree rings the bursting hail
Of blood and doom. Even now fate whets the steel
On whetstone new and deadlier than of old,
The steel that smites, in Justice' hold,
Another death to deal.
O Earth! that I had lain at rest
And lapped for ever in thy breast,
Ere I had seen my chieftain fall
Within the laver's silver wall,
Low-lying on dishonoured bier!
And who shall give him sepulchre,
And who the wail of sorrow pour?
Woman, 'tis thine no more!
A graceless gift unto his shade
Such tribute, by his murd'ress paid!
Strive not thus wrongly to atone
The impious deed thy hand hath done.
Ah, who above the god-like chief
Shall weep the tears of loyal grief?
Who speak above his lowly grave
The last sad praises of the brave?
CLYTEMNESTRA (chanting) Peace! for such task is none of thine
By me he fell, by me he died,
And now his burial rites be mine!
Yet from these halls no mourners' train
Shall celebrate his obsequies;
Only by Acheron's rolling tide
His child shall spring unto his side,
And in a daughter's loving wise
Shall clasp and kiss him once again!
CHORUS Lo! sin by sin and sorrow dogg'd by sorrow—
And who the end can know?
The slayer of to-day shall die to-morrow—
The wage of wrong is woe.
While Time shall be, while Zeus in heaven is lord,
His law is fixed and stern;
On him that wrought shall vengeance be outpoured—
The tides of doom return.
The children of the curse abide within
These halls of high estate—
And none can wrench from off the home of sin
The clinging grasp of fate.
CLYTEMNESTRA (chanting) Now walks thy word aright, to tell
This ancient truth of oracle;
But I with vows of sooth will pray
To him, the power that holdeth sway
O'er all the race of Pleisthenes—
Tho' dark the deed and deep the guilt,
With this last blood, my hands have split,
I pray thee let thine anger cease!
I pray thee pass from us away
To some new race in other lands,
There, if thou wilt, to wrong and slay
The lives of men by kindred hands.
For me 'tis all sufficient meed,
Tho' little wealth or power were won,
So I can say, 'Tis past and done.
The bloody lust and murderous,
The inborn frenzy of our house,
Is ended, by my deed! (AEGISTHUS and his armed attendants enter.)
AEGISTHUS Dawn of the day of rightful vengeance, hail!
I dare at length aver that gods above
Have care of men and heed of earthly wrongs.
I, I who stand and thus exult to see
This man lie wound in robes the Furies wove,
Slain in the requital of his father's craft.
Take ye the truth, that Atreus, this man's sire,
The lord and monarch of this land of old,
Held with my sire Thyestes deep dispute,
Brother with brother, for the prize of sway,
And drave him from his home to banishment.
Thereafter, the lorn exile homeward stole
And clung a suppliant to the hearth divine,
And for himself won this immunity—
Not with his own blood to defile the land
That gave him birth. But Atreus, godless sire
Of him who here lies dead, this welcome planned—
With zeal that was not love he feigned to hold
In loyal joy a day of festal cheer,
And bade my father to his board, and set
Before him flesh that was his children once.
First, sitting at the upper board alone,
He hid the fingers and the feet, but gave
The rest—and readily Thyestes took
What to his ignorance no semblance wore
Of human flesh, and ate: behold what curse
That eating brought upon our race and name!
For when he knew what all unhallowed thing
He thus had wrought, with horror's bitter cry
Back-starting, spewing forth the fragments foul,
On Pelops' house a deadly curse he spake—
As darkly as I spurn this damned food,
So perish all the race of Pleisthenes!
Thus by that curse fell he whom here ye see,
And I—who else?—this murder wove and planned;
For me, an infant yet in swaddling bands,
Of the three children youngest, Atreus sent
To banishment by my sad father's side:
But Justice brought me home once more, grown now
To manhood's years; and stranger tho' I was,
My right hand reached unto the chieftain's life,
Plotting and planning all that malice bade.
And death itself were honour now to me,
Beholding him in Justice' ambush ta'en.
LEADER Aegisthus, for this insolence of thine
That vaunts itself in evil, take my scorn.
Of thine own will, thou sayest, thou hast slain
The chieftain, by thine own unaided plot
Devised the piteous death: I rede thee well,
Think not thy head shall 'scape, when right prevails,
The people's ban, the stones of death and doom.
AEGISTHUS This word frcm thee, this word from one who rows
Low at the oars beneath, what time we rule,
We of the upper tier ? Thou'lt know anon,
'Tis bitter to be taught again in age,
By one so young, submission at the word.
But iron of the chain and hunger's throes
Can minister unto an o'erswoln pride
Marvellous well, ay, even in the old.
Hast eyes and seest not this? Peace—kick not thus
Against the pricks, unto thy proper pain!
LEADER Thou womanish man, waiting till war did cease,
Home-watcher and defiler of the couch,
And arch-deviser of the chieftain's doom!
AEGISTHUS Bold words again! but they shall end in tears.
'The very converse, thine, of Orpheus' tongue:
He roused and led in ecstasy of joy
All things that heard his voice melodious;
But thou as with the futile cry of curs
Wilt draw men wrathfully upon thee. Peace!
Or strong subjection soon shall tame thy tongue.
LEADER Ay, thou art one to hold an Argive down—
Thou, skilled to plan the murder of the king,
But not with thine own hand to smite the blow!
AEGISTHUS That fraudful force was woman's very part,
Not mine, whom deep suspicion from of old
Would have debarred. Now by his treasure's aid
My purpose holds to rule the citizens.
But whoso will not bear mv guiding hand,
Him for his corn-fed mettle I will drive
Not as a trace-horse, light-caparisoned,
But to the shafts with heaviest harness bound.
Famine, the grim mate of the dungeon dark,
Shall look on him and shall behold him tame.
LEADER Thou losel soul, was then thy strength too slight
To deal in murder, while a woman's hand,
Staining and shaming Argos and its gods,
Availed to slay him? Ho, if anywhere
The light of life smite on Orestes' eyes,
Let him, returning by some guardian fate,
Hew down with force her paramour and her!
AEGISTHUS How thy word and act shall issue, thou shalt shortly understand.
LEADER Up to action, O my comrades! for the fight is hard at hand.
Swift, your right hands to the sword hilt! bare the weapon as for
strife—
AEGISTHUS Lo! I too am standing ready, hand on hilt for death or
life.
LEADER 'Twas thy word and we accept it: onward to the chance of war!
CLYTEMNESTRA Nay, enough, enough, my champion! we will smite and
slay no more.
Already have we reaped enough the harvest-field of guilt:
Enough of wrong and murder, let no other blood be spilt.
Peace, old men! and pass away unto the homes by Fate decreed,
Lest ill valour meet our vengeance—'twas a necessary deed.
But enough of toils and troubles—be the end, if ever, now,
Ere thy talon, O Avenger, deal another deadly blow.
'Tis a woman's word of warning, and let who will list thereto.
AEGISTHUS But that these should loose and lavish reckless blossoms
of the tongue,
And in hazard of their fortune cast upon me words of wrong,
And forget the law of subjects, and revile their ruler's word—
LEADER Ruler? but 'tis not for Argives, thus to own a dastard lord!
AEGISTHUS I will follow to chastise thee in my coming days of sway.
LEADER Not if Fortune guide Orestes safely on his homeward way.
AEGISTHUS Ah, well I know how exiles feed on hopes of their return.
LEADER Fare and batten on pollution of the right, while 'tis thy
turn.
AEGISTHUS Thou shalt pay, be w ell assured, heavy quittance for thy
pride.
LEADER Crow and strut, with her to watch thee, like a cock, his mate
beside!
CLYTEMNESTRA Heed not thou too highly of them—let the cur-pack growl
and yell:
I and thou will rule the palace and will order all things well. (AEGISTHUS
and CLYTEMNESTRA move towards the palace, as the CHORUS sullenly withdraws.)
THE END
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