Helen Redeemed

A poem by Maurice Henry Hewlett

PROEM

Sing of the end of Troy, and of that flood
Of passion by the blood
Of heroes consecrate, by poet's craft
Hallowed, if that thin waft
Of godhead blown upon thee stretch thy song
To span such store of strong
And splendid vision of immortal themes
Late harvested in dreams,
Albeit long years laid up in tilth. Most meet
Thou sing that slim and sweet
Fair woman for whose bosom and delight
Paris, as well he might,
Wrought all the woe, and held her to his cost
And Troy's, and won and lost
Perforce; for who could look on her or feel
Her near and not dare steal
One hour of her, or hope to hold in bars
Such wonder of the stars
Undimmed? As soon expect to cage the rose
Of dawn which comes and goes
Fitful, or leash the shadows of the hills,
Or music of upland rills
As Helen's beauty and not tarnish it
With thy poor market wit,
Adept to hue the wanton in the wild,
Defile the undefiled!
Yet by the oath thou swearedst, standing high
Where piled rocks testify
The holy dust, and from Therapnai's hold
Over the rippling wold
Didst look upon Amyklai's, where sunrise
First dawned in Helen's eyes,
Take up thy tale, good poet, strain thine art
To sing her rendered heart,
Given last to him who loved her first, nor swerved
From loving, but was nerved
To see through years of robbery and shame
Her spirit, a clear flame,
Eloquent of her birthright. Tell his peace,
And hers who at last found ease

In white-arm'd Heré, holy husbander
Of purer fire than e'er
To wife gave Kypris. Helen, and Thee sing
In whom her beauties ring,
Fair body of fair mind fair acolyte,
Star of my day and night!

18th September 1912.


FIRST STAVE

THE DEATH OF ACHILLES

Where Simoeis and Xanthos, holy streams,
Flow brimming on the level, and chance gleams
Betray far Ida through a rended cloud
And hint the awful home of Zeus, whose shroud
The thunder is--'twixt Ida and the main
Behold gray Ilios, Priam's fee, the plain
About her like a carpet; from whose height
The watchman, ten years watching, every night
Counteth the beacon fires and sees no less
Their number as the years wax and duress
Of hunger thins the townsmen day by day--
More than the Greeks kill plague and famine slay.
Here in their wind-swept city, ten long years
Beset and in this tenth in blood and tears
And havocry to fall, old Priam's sons
Guard still their gods, their wives and little ones,
Guard Helen still, for whose fair womanhood
The sin was done, woe wrought, and all the blood
Of Danaan and Dardan in their pride
Shed; nor yet so the end, for Heré cried
Shrill on the heights more vengeance on wrong done,
And Greek or Trojan paid it. Late or soon
By sword or bitter arrow they went hence,
Each with their goodliest paying one man's offence.
Goodliest in Troy fell Hector; back to Greek
Then swung the doomstroke, and to Dis the bleak
Must pass great Hector's slayer. Zeus on high,
Hidden from men, held up the scales; the sky
Told Thetis that her son must go the way
He sent Queen Hecuba's--himself must pay,
Himself though young, splendid Achilles' self,
The price of manslaying, with blood for pelf.
A grief immortal took her, and she grieved
Deep in sea-cave, whereover restless heaved
The wine-dark ocean--silently, not moving,
Tearless, a god. O Gods, however loving,
That is a lonely grief that must go dry
About the graves where the beloved lie,
And knows too much to doubt if death ends all
Pleasure in strength of limb, joy musical,
Mother-love, maiden-love, which never more
Must the dead look for on the further shore
Of Acheron, and past the willow-wood
Of Proserpine!
But when he understood,
Achilles, that his end was near at hand,
Darkling he heard the news, and on the strand
Beyond the ships he stood awhile, then cried
The Sea-God that high-hearted and clear-eyed
He might go down; and this for utmost grace
He asked, that not by battle might his face
Be marred, nor fighting might some Dardan best
Him who had conquered ever. For the rest,
Fate, which had given, might take, as fate should be.
So prayed he, and Poseidon out of the sea,
There where the deep blue into sand doth fade
And the long wave rolls in, a bar of jade,
Sent him a portent in that sea-blue bird
Swifter than light, the halcyon; and men heard
The trumpet of his praise: "Shaker of Earth,
Hail to thee! Now I fare to death in mirth,
As to a banquet!"
So when day was come
Lightly arose the prince to meet his doom,
And kissed Briseïs where she lay abed
And never more by hers might rest his head:
"Farewell, my dear, farewell, my joy," said he;
"Farewell to all delights 'twixt thee and me!
For now I take a road whose harsh alarms
Forbid so sweet a burden to my arms."
Then his clean limbs his weeping squires bedight
In all the mail Hephaistos served his might
Withal, of breastplate shining like the sun
Upon flood-water, three-topped helm whereon
Gleamed the gold basilisk, and goodly greaves.
These bore he without word; but when from sheaves
Of spears they picked the great ash Pelian
Poseidon gave to Peleus, God to a man,
For no man's manège else--than all men's fear:
"Dry and cold fighting for thee this day, my spear,"
Quoth he. And so when one the golden shield
Immortal, daedal, for no one else to wield,
Cast o'er his head, he frowned: "On thy bright face
Let me see who shall dare a dint," he says,
And stood in thought full-armed; thereafter poured
Libation at the tent-door to the Lord
Of earth and sky, and prayed, saying: "O Thou
That hauntest dark Dodona, hear me now,
Since that the shadowing arm of Time is flung
Far over me, but cloudeth me full young.
Scatheless I vow them. Let one Trojan cast
His spear and loose my spirit. Rage is past
Though I go forth my most provocative
Adventure: 'tis not I that seek. Receive
My prayer Thou as I have earned it--lo,
Dying I stand, and hail Thee as I go
Lord of the Ægis, wonderful, most great!"
Which done, he took his stand, and bid his mate
Urge on the steeds; and all the Achaian host
Followed him, not with outcry or loud boast
Of deeds to do or done, but silent, grim
As to a shambles--so they followed him,
Eyeing that nodding crest and swaying spear
Shake with the chariot. Solemn thus they near
The Trojan walls, slow-moving, as by a Fate
Driven; and thus before the Skaian Gate
Stands he in pomp of dreadful calm, to die,
As once in dreadful haste to slay.
Thereby
The walls were thick with men, and in the towers
Women stood gazing, clustered close as flowers
That blur the rocks in some high mountain pass
With delicate hues; but like the gray hill-grass
Which the wind sweepeth, till in waves of light
It tideth backwards--so all gray or white
Showed they, as sudden surges moved them cloak
Their heads, or bare their faces. And none spoke
Among them, for there stood not woman there
But mourned her dead, or sensed not in the air
Her pendent doom of death, or worse than death.
Frail as flowers were their faces, and all breath
Came short and quick, as on this dreadful show
Staring, they pondered it done far below
As on a stage where the thin players seem
Unkith to them who watch, the stuff of dream.
Nor else about the plain showed living thing
Save high in the blue where sailed on outspread wing
A vulture bird intent, with mighty span
Of pinion.
In the hush spake the dead man,
Hollow-voiced, terrible: "Ye tribes of Troy,
Here stand I out for death, and ye for joy
Of killing as ye will, by cast of spear,
By bowshot or with sword. If any peer
Of Hector or Sarpedon care the bout
Which they both tried aforetime let him out
With speed, and bring his many against one,
Fearing no treachery, for there shall be none
To aid me, God nor man; nor yet will I
Stir finger in the business, but will die
By murder sooner than in battle fall
Under some Trojan hand."
Breathless stood all,
Not moving out; but Paris on the roof
Of his high house, where snug he sat aloof,
Drew taut the bowstring home, and notched a shaft,
Soft whistling to himself, what time with craft
Of peering eyes and narrow twisted face
He sought an aim.
Swift from her hiding-place
Came burning Helen then, in her blue eyes
A fire unquenchable, but cold as ice
That scorcheth ere it strike a mortal chill
Upon the heart. "Darest thou...?"
Smiling still,
He heeded not her warning, nor he read
The terror of her eyes, but drew and sped
A screaming arrow, deadly, swerving not--
Then stood to watch the ruin he had wrought.
He heard the sob of breath o'er all the host
Of hushing men; he marked, but then he lost,
The blood-spurt at the shaft-head; for the crest
Upheaved, the shoulders stiffen'd, ere to the breast
Bent down the head, as though the glazing sight
Curious would mark the death-spot. Still upright
Stood he; but as a tree that on the side
Of Ida yields to axe her soaring pride
And lightlier waves her leafy crown, and swings
From side to side--so on his crest the wings
Erect seemed shaking upwards, and to sag
The spear's point, and the burden'd head to wag
Before the stricken body felt the stroke,
Or the strong knees grew lax, or the heart broke.
Breathless they waited; then the failing man
Stiffened anew his neck, and changed and wan
Looked for the last time in the face of day,
And seemed to dare the Gods such might to slay
As this, the sanguine splendid thing he was,
Withal now gray of face and pinched. Alas,
For pride of life! Now he had heard his knell.
His spirit passed, and crashing down he fell,
Mighty Achilles, and struck the earth, and lay
A huddled mass, a bulk of bronze and clay
Bestuck with gilt and glitter, like a toy.
There dropt a forest hush on watching Troy,
Upon the plain and watching ranks of men;
And from a tower some woman keened him then
With long thin cry that wavered in the air--
As once before one wailed her Hector there.


SECOND STAVE

MENELAUS' DREAM: HELEN ON THE WALL

So he who wore his honour like a wreath
About his brows went the dark way of death;
Which being done, that deed of ruth and doom
Gave breath to Troy; but on the Achaians gloom
Settled like pall of cloud upon a land
That swoons beneath it. Desperate they scanned
Each other, saying: "Now we are left by God,"
And in the huts behind the wall abode,
Heeding not Diomede, Idomeneus,
Nor keen Odysseus, nor that friend of Zeus
Mykenai's king, nor that robbed Menelaus,
Nor bowman Teukros, Nestor wise, nor Aias--
Huge Aias, cursed in death! Peleides bare
Himself with pride, but he went raving there.
For in the high assembly Thetis made
In honour of her son, to waft his shade
In peace to Hades' house, after the fire
Twice a man's height for him who did suspire
Twice a man's heart and render it to Heaven
Who gave it, after offerings paid and given,
And games of men and horses, she brought forth
His regal arms for hero of most worth
In the broad Danaan host, who was adjudged
Odysseus by all voices. Aias grudged
The vote and wandered brooding, drawn apart
From his room-fellows, seeding in his heart
Envy, which biting inwards did corrode
His mettle, and his ill blood plied the goad
Upon his brain, until the wretch made mad
Went muttering his wrongs, ill-trimmed, ill-clad,
Sightless and careless, with slack mouth awry,
And working tongue, and danger in the eye;
And oft would stare at Heaven and laugh his scorn:
"O fools, think not to trick me!" then forlorn
Would gaze about green earth or out to sea:
"This is the end of man in his degree"--
Thus would he moralise in those bare lands
With hopeless brows and tossing up of hands--
"To sow in sweat and see another reap!"
Then, pitying himself, he'd fall to weep
His desolation, scorned by Gods, by men
Slighted; but in a flash he'd rage again
And shake his naked sword at unseen foes,
And dare them bring Odysseus to his blows:
Or let the man but flaunt himself in arms...!
So threatening God knows what of savage harms,
On him the oxen patient in the marsh,
Knee-deep in rushes, gazed to hear his harsh
Outcry; and them his madness taught for Greeks,
So on their dumb immensity he wreaks
His vengeance, driving in the press with shout
Of "Aias! Aias!" hurtling, carving out
A way with mighty swordstroke, cut and thrust,
And makes a shambles in his witless lust;
And in the midst, bloodshot, with blank wild eyes
Stands frothing at the lips, and after lies
All reeking in his madman's battlefield,
And sleeps nightlong. But with the dawn's revealed
The pity of his folly; then he sees
Himself at his fool's work. With shaking knees
He stands amid his slaughter, and his own
Adds to the wreck, plunging without a groan
Upon his planted sword. So Aias died
Lonely; and he who, never from his side
Removed, had shared his fame, the Lokrian,
Abode the fate foreordered in the plan
Which the Blind Women ignorantly weave.

But think not on the dead, who die and leave
A memory more fragrant than their deeds,
But to the remnant rather and their needs
Give thought with me. What comfort in their swords
Have they, robbed of the might of two such lords
As Peleus' son and Telamon's? What art
Can drive the blood back to the stricken heart?
Like huddled sheep cowed obstinate, as dull
As oxen impotent the wain to pull
Out of a rut, which, failing at first lunge,
Answer not voice nor goad, but sideways plunge
Or backward urge with lowered heads, or stand
Dumb monuments of sufferance--so unmanned
The Achaians brooded, nor their chiefs had care
To drive them forth, since they too knew despair,
And neither saw in battle nor retreat
A way of honour.
And the plain grew sweet
Again with living green; the spring o' the year
Came in with flush of flower and bird-call clear;
And Nature, for whom nothing wrought is vain,
Out of shed blood caused grass to spring amain,
And seemed with tender irony to flout
Man's folly and pain when twixt dead spears sprang out
The crocus-point and pied the plain with fires
More gracious than his beacons; and from pyres
Of burnt dead men the asphodel uprose
Like fleecy clouds flushed with the morning rose,
A holy pall to hide his folly and pain.
Thus upon earth hope fell like a new rain,
And by and by the pent folk within walls
Took heart and ploughed the glebe and from the stalls
Led out their kine to pasture. Goats and sheep
Cropt at their ease, and herd-boys now did keep
Watch, where before stood armèd sentinels;
And battle-grounds were musical with bells
Of feeding beasts. Afar, high-beacht, the ships
Loomed through the tender mist, their prows--like lips
Of thirsty birds which, lacking water, cry
Salvation out of Heaven--flung on high:
Which marking, Ilios deemed her worst of road
Was travelled, and held Paris for a God
Who winged the shaft that brought them all this peace.

He in their love went sunning, took his ease
In house and hall, at council or at feast,
Careless of what was greatest or what least
Of all his deeds, so only by his side
She lay, the blush-rose Helen, stolen bride,
The lovely harbour of his arms. But she,
A thrall, now her own thralldom plain could see,
And sick of dalliance, loathed herself, and him
Who had beguiled her. Now through eyes made dim
With tears she looked towards the salt sea-beach
Where stood the ships, and sought for sign in each
If it might be her people's, and so hers,
Poor alien!--Argive now herself she avers
And proudly slave of Paris and no wife:
Minion she calls herself; and when to strife
Of love he claims her, secret her heart surges
Back to her lord; and when to kiss he urges,
And when to play he woos her with soft words,
Secret her fond heart calleth, like a bird's,
Towards that honoured mate who honoured her,
Making her wife indeed, not paramour,
Mother, and sharer of his hearth and all
His gear. Thus every night: and on the wall
She watches every dawn for what dawn brings.
And the strong spirit of her took new wings
And left her lovely body in the arms
Of him who doted, conning o'er her charms,
And witless held a shell; but forth as light
As the first sigh of dawn her spirit took flight
Across the dusky plain to where fires gleamed
And muffled guards stood sentry; and it streamed
Within the hut, and hovered like a wraith,
A presence felt, not seen, as when gray Death
Seems to the dying man a bedside guest,
But to the watchers cannot be exprest.
So hovered Helen in a dream, and yearned
Over the sleeper as he moaned and turned,
Renewing his day's torment in his sleep;
Who presently starts up and sighing deep,
Searches the entry, if haply in the skies
The day begin to stir. Lo there, her eyes
Like waning stars! Lo there, her pale sad face
Becurtained in loose hair! Now he can trace
Athwart that gleaming moon her mouth's droopt bow
To tell all truth about her, and her woe
And dreadful store of knowledge. As one shockt
To worse than death lookt she, with horror lockt
Behind her tremulous tragic-moving lips:
"O love, O love," saith he, and saying, slips
Out of the bed: "Who hath dared do thee wrong?"
No answer hath she, but she looks him long
And deep, and looking, fades. He sleeps no more,
But up and down he pads the beaten floor,
And all that day his heart's wild crying hears,
And can thank God for gracious dew of tears
And tender thoughts of her, not thoughts of shame.
So came the next night, and with night she came,
Dream-Helen; and he knew then he must go
Whence she had come. His need would have it so--
And her need. Never must she call in vain.
Now takes he way alone over the plain
Where dark yet hovers like a catafalque
And all life swoons, and only dead thing walk,
Uneasy sprites denied a resting space,
That shudder as they flit from place to place,
Like bats of flaggy wing that make night blink
With endless quest: so do those dead, men think,
Who fall and are unserved by funeral rite.
These passes he, and nears the walls of might
Which Godhead built for proud Laomedon,
And knows the house of Paris built thereon,
Terraced and set with gadding vines and trees
And ever falling water, for the ease
Of that sweet indweller he held in store.
Thither he turns him quaking, but before
Him dares not look, lest he should see her there
Aglimmer through the dusk and, unaware,
Discover her fill some mere homely part
Intolerably familiar to his heart,
And deeply there enshrined and glorified,
Laid up with bygone bliss. Yet on he hied,
Being called, and ever closer on he came
As if no wrong nor misery nor shame
Could harder be than not to see her--Nay,
Even if within that smooth thief's arms she lay
Besmothered in his kisses--rather so
Had he stood stabbed to see, than on to go
His round of lonely exile!
Now he stands
Beneath her house, and on his spear his hands
Rest, and upon his hands he grounds his chin,
And motionless abides till day come in;
Pure of his vice, that he might ease her woe,
Not brand her with his own. Not yet the glow
Of false dawn throbbed, nor yet the silent town
Stood washt in light, clear-printed to the crown
In the cold upper air. Dark loomed the walls,
Ghostly the trees, and still shuddered the calls
Of owl to owl from unseen towers. Afar
A dog barked. High and hidden in the haar
Which blew in from the sea a heron cried
Honk! and he heard his wings, but not espied
The heavy flight. Slow, slow the orb was filled
With light, and with the light his heart was thrilled
With opening music, faint, expectant, sharp
As the first chords one picks out from the harp
To prelude paean. Venturing all, he lift
His eyes, and there encurtained in a drift
Of sea-blue mantle close-drawn, he espies
Helen above him watching, her grave eyes
Upon him fixt, blue homes of mystery
Unfathomable, eternal as the sea,
And as unresting.
So in that still place,
In that still hour stood those two face to face.


THIRD STAVE

MENELAUS SPEAKS WITH HELEN

But when he had her there, sharp root of ill
To him and his, safeguarded from him still,
Too sweet to be forgotten, too much marred
By usage to be what she seemed, bescarred,
Behandled, too much lost and too much won,
Mock image making horrible the sun
That once had shown her pure for his demesne,
And still revealed her lovely, and unclean--
Despair turned into stone what had been kind,
And bitter surged his griefs, to flood his mind.
"O ruinous face," said he, "O evil head,
Art thou so early from the wicked bed?
So prompt to slough the snugness of thy vice?
Or is it that in luxury thou art nice
Become, and dalliest?" Low her head she hung
And moved her lips. As when the night is young
The hollow wind presages storm, his moan
Came wailing at her. "Ten years here, alone,
And in that time to have seen thee thrice!"
But she:
"Often and often have I chanced to see
My lord pass."
His heart leapt, as leaps the child
Enwombed: "Hast thou--?"
Faintly her quick eyes smiled:
"At this time my house sleepeth, but I wake;
So have time to myself when I can take
New air, and old thought."
As a man who skills
To read high hope out of dark oracles,
So gleamed his eyes; so fierce and quick said he:
"Lady, O God! Now would that I could be
Beside thee there, breathing thy breath, thy thought
Gathering!" Silent stood she, memory-fraught,
Nor looked his way. But he must know her soul,
So harpt upon her heart. "Is this the whole
That thou wouldst have me think, that thou com'st here
Alone to be?"
She blushed and dared to peer
Downward. "Is it so wonderful," she said,
"If I desire it?" He: "Nay, by my head,
Not so; but wonderful I think it is
In any man to suffer it." The hiss
Of passion stript all vesture from his tones
And showed the King man naked to the bones,
Man naked to the body's utterance.
She turned her head, but felt his burning glance
Scorch, and his words leap up. "Dost thou desire
I leave thee then? Answer me that."
"Nay, sire,
Not so." And he: "Bid me to stay while sleeps
Thy house," he said, "so stay I." Her eyes' deeps
Flooded his soul and drowned him in despair,
Despair and rage. "Behold now, ten years' wear
Between us and our love! Now if I cast
My spear and rove the snow-mound of thy breast,
Were that a marvel?"
Long she lookt and grave,
Pondering his face and searching. "Not so brave
My lord as that would prove him. Nay, and I know
He would not do it." And the truth was so;
And well he knew the reason: better she.
Yet for a little in that vacancy
Of silence and unshadowing light they stood,
Those long-divided, speechless. His first mood
With bitter grudge was choked, but hers was mild,
As fearing his. At last she named the child,
Asking, Was all well? Short he told her, Yes,
The child was well. She fingered in her dress
And watched her hand at play there.
"Here," she said,
"There is no child," and sighed. Into his dead
And wasted heart there leaped a flame and caught
His hollow eyes. "Rememberest thou naught,
Nothing regrettest, nothing holdst in grief
Of all our joy together ere that thief
Came rifling in?" For all her answer she
Lookt long upon him, long and earnestly;
And misty grew her eyes, and slowly filled.
Slowly the great tears brimmed, and slowly rilled
Adown her cheeks. So presently she hid
Those wells of grief, and hung her lovely head;
And he had no more words, but only a cry
At heart too deep for utterance, and too high
For tears.

And now came Paris from the house
Into the sun, rosy and amorous,
As when the sun himself from the sea-rim
Lifteth, and gloweth on the earth grown dim
With waiting; and he piped a low clear call
As mellow as the thrush's at the fall
Of day from some near thicket. At whose sound
Rose up caught Helen and blushing turned her round
To face him; but in going, ere she met
The prince, her hand along the parapet
She trailed, palm out, for sign to who below
Rent at himself, nor had the wit to know
In that dumb signal eloquence, and hope
Therein beyond his sick heart's utmost scope.
Throbbing he stood as when a quick-blown peat,
Now white, now red, burns inly--O wild heat,
O ravenous race of men, who'd barter Space
And Time for one short snatch of instant grace!
Withal, next day, drawn by his dear desire,
When as the young green burned like emerald fire
In the cold light, back to the tryst he came;
But she was sooner there, and called his name
Softly as cooing dove her bosom's mate;
And showed her eyes to him, which half sedate
To be so sought revealed her, half in doubt
Lest he should deem her bold to meet the bout
With too much readiness. But high he flaunted
Her name towards the sky. "Thou God-enchanted,
Thou miracle of dawn, thou Heart of the Rose,
Hail thou!" On his own eloquence he grows
The lover he proclaims. "O love," he saith,
"I would not leave thee for a moment's breath,
Nor once these ten long years had left thy side
Had it been possible to stay!"
She sighed,
She wondered o'er his face, she looked her fill,
Museful, still doubting, smiling half, athrill,
All virgin to his praise. "O wonderful,"
She said, "Such store of love for one so foul
As I am now!"
O fatal hot-and-cold,
O love, whose iris wings not long can hold
The upper air! Sudden her thought smote hot
On him. "Thou sayest! True it is, God wot!
Warm from his bed, and tears for thy unworth;
Warm from his bed, and tears to meet my mirth;
Then back to his bed ere yet thy tears be dry!"
She heard not, but she knew his agony
Of burning vision, and kept back her tears
Until his pity moved in tune with hers
Towards herself. But he from thunderous brows
Frowned on. "No more I see thee by this house,
Except to slay thee when the hour decree
An end to this vile nest of cuckoldry
And holy vows made hateful, save thou speak
To each my question sooth. Keep dry thy cheek
From tears, hide up thy beauty with thy grief--
Or let him have his joy of them, thy thief,
What time he may. Answer me thou, or vain
Till thine hour strike to look for me again."
With hanging head and quiet hanging hands,
With lip atremble, as caught in fault she stands,
Scarce might he hear her whispered message:
"Ask,
Lord, and I answer thee."
Strung to his task:
"Tell me now all," he said, "from that far day
Whenas embracing thee, I stood to pray,
And poured forth wine unto the thirsty earth
To Zeus and to Poseidon, in whose girth
Lie sea and land; to Gaia next, their spouse,
And next to Heré, mistress of my house,
Traitress, and thine, for grace upon my faring:
For thou wert by to hear me, false arm bearing
Upon my shoulder, glowing, lying cheek
Next unto mine. Ay, and thou prayedst, with meek
Fair seeming, prosperous send-off and return.
Tell me what then, tell all, and let me learn
With what pretence that dog-souled slaked his thirst
In thy sweet liquor. Tell me that the first."
Then Helen lifted up her head, and beamed
Clear light upon him from her eyes, which seemed
That blue which, lying on the white sea-bed
And gazing up, the sunbeam overhead
Would show, with green entinctured, and the warp
Inwoven of golden shafts, blended yet sharp;
So that a glory mild and radiant
Transfigured them. Upon him fell aslant
That lovely light, while in her cheeks the hue
Of throbbing dawn came sudden. So he knew
Her best before she spoke; for when she spoke
It was as if the nightingale should croak
In April midst the first young leaves, so bleak,
So harsh she schooled her throat, that it should speak
Dry matter and hard logic--as if she
Were careful lest self-pity urged a plea
Which was not hers to make; or as one faint
And desperate lays down all his argument
Like bricks upon a field, let who will make
A house of them; so drily Helen spake
With a flat voice. "Thou hadst been nine days gone,
Came my lord Alexandros, Priam's son,
And hailed me in the hall whereas I sat,
And claimed his guest-right, which not wondering at
I gave as fitting was. Then came the day
I was beguiled. What more is there to say?"
Fixt on her fingers playing on the wall
Her eyes were. But the King said: "Tell me all.
Thou wert beguiled: by his desire beguiled,
Or by thine own?" She shook her head and smiled
Most sadly, pitying herself. "Who knoweth
The ways of Love, whence cometh, whither goeth
The heart's low whimper? This I know, he loved
Me then, and pleasured only where I moved
About the house. And I had pleasure too
To know of me he had it. Then we knew
The day at hand when he must take the road
And leave me; and its eve we close abode
Within the house, and spake not. But I wept."
She stayed, and whispering down her next word crept:
"I was beguiled, beguiled." And then her lip
She bit, and rueful showed her partnership
In sinful dealing.
But he, in his esteem
Bleeding and raw, urged on. "To Kranai's deme
He took thee then?"
Speechless she bent her head
Towards her tender breasts whereon, soft shed
As upon low quiet hills, the dawn light played,
And limned their gentle curves or sank in shade.
So gazing, stood she silent, but the King
Urged on. "From thence to Ilios, thou willing,
He took thee?"
Then, "I was beguiled," again
She said; and he, who felt a worthier strain
Stir in his gall compassion, and uplift
Him out of knowledge, saw a blessed rift
Upon his dark horizon, as tow'rds night
The low clouds break and shafted shows the light.
"Ten years beguiled!" he said, "but now it seems
Thou art----" She shook her head. "Nay, now come dreams;
Nay, now I think, remember, now I see."
"What callest thou to mind?" "Hermione,"
She said, "our child, and Sparta my own land,
And all the honour that lay to my hand
Had I but chosen it, as now I would"--
And sudden hid her face up in her hood,
Her courage ebbed in grief, all hardness drowned
In bitter weeping.
Noble pity crowned
The greater man in him; so for a space
They wept together, she for loss; for grace
Of gain wept he. "No more," he said, "my sweet,
Tell me no more."
"Ah, hear the whole of it
Before my hour is gone," she cried. But he
Groaning, "I dare not stay here lest I see
Him take thee again."
Both hands to fold her breast,
She shook her head; like as the sun through mist
Shone triumph in her eyes. "Have no more fear
Of him or any----" Then, hearing a stir
Within the house, her finger toucht her lip,
And one fixt look she gave of fellowship
Assured--then turned and quickly went her way;
And his light vanisht with her for that day.


FOURTH STAVE

THE APOLOGY OF HELEN

O singing heart, O twice-undaunted lover!
O ever to be blest, twice blest moreover!
Twice over win the world in one girl's eyes,
Twice over lift her name up to the skies;
Twice to hope all things, so to be twice born--
For he lives not who cannot front the morn
Saying, "This day I live as never yet
Lived striving man on earth!" What if the fret
Of loss and ten years' agonizing snow
Thy hairs or leave their tracery on thy brow,
Each line beslotted by the demon hounds
Hunting thee down o' nights? Laugh at thy wounds,
Laugh at thy eld, strong lover, whose blood flows
Clear from the fountain, singing as it goes,
"She loves, and so I live and shall not die!
Love on, love her: 'tis immortality."
Once more before the sun he greeted her:
She glowed her joy; her mood was calm and clear
As mellow evening's whenas, like a priest,
Rain has absolved the world, and golden mist
Hangs over all like benediction.
In her proud eyes sat triumph on a throne,
To know herself beloved, her lover by,
So near the consummation. Womanly
She dallied with the moment when, all wife,
Upon his breast she'd lie and cast her life,
Cast body, soul and spirit in one gest
Supreme of giving. Glorying in his quest
Of her, now let her hide what he must glean,
But not know yet. Ah, sweet to feel his keen
Long eye-search, like the touch of eager fingers,
And sweet to thrill beneath such hot blush-bringers;
To fence with such a swordsman hazardous
And sweet. "Belov'd, thou art glad of me!" Then thus
Antiphonal to him she breathes, "Thou sayest!"
"I see thy light and hail it!"
"Thou begayest
My poor light."
"Knowest thou not that thou art loved?"
"And am I loved then?"
"If thou'ldst have it proved,
Look in my eyes. Would thine were open book!"
"Palimpsest I," she said, and would not look.
But he was grappling now with truth, would have it,
What though it cost him all his gain. She gave it,
Looking him along. "O lady mine," he said,
"Now are my clouds disperséd every shred;
For thou art mine; I think thou lovest me.
Speak, is that true?"
She could not, or may be
She would not hold her gaze, but let it fall,
And watched her fingers idling on the wall,
And so remained; but urged to it by the spell
He cast, she whispered down, "I cannot tell
Thee here, and thus apart"--which when he had
In its full import drove him well-nigh mad
With longing. "Call me and I come!"
But fear
Flamed in her eyes: "No, no, 'tis death! He's here
At hand. 'Tis death for thee, and worse than death--"
She ended so--"for both of us."
And breath
Failed him, for well he knew now what she meant,
And sighed his thanks to Gods beneficent.
Thereafter in sweet use of lovers' talk,
In boon spring weather, whenas lovers walk
Handfasted through the meadows pied, and wet
With dew from flower and leaf, these lovers met--
Two bodies separate, one wild heart between,
Day after day, these two long-severed been;
And of this mating of the eye and tongue
There grew desire passionate and strong
For body's mating and its testimony,
Hearts' intimacy, perfect, full and free.
And Helen for her heart's ease did deny
Her girdled Goddess of the beamy eye,
Saying, "Come you down, Mistress of sleek loves
And panting nights: your service of bought doves
And honey-hearted wine may cost too dear.
What hast thou done for me since first my ear
With thy sly music thou didst sign and seal
Apprentice to thy mystery, teach me feel
Thy fierce divinity in the trembling touch
Of open lips? Served I not thee too much
In Kranai and in Sparta my demesne,
Too much in wide-wayed Ilios, Eastern Queen?
Yes, but it was too much a thousandfold,
For what was I but leman bought and sold?
"For woman craved what mercy hath man brought,
What face a woman for a woman sought?
What mercy or what face? And what saith she,
The hunted, scornéd wretch? Boast that she be
Coveted, hankered, spat on? One to gloat,
The rest to snarl without! If man play goat,
What must she play? Her glory is it to draw
On greedy eye, sting greedy lip and paw,
And find the crown of her desire therein?
Hath she no rarer bliss than all this sin,
Is she for dandling, kissing, hidden up
For hungry hands to stroke or lips to sup?
Hath she then nothing of her own, no mirth
In honesty, nor eyes to worship worth,
Nor pride except in that which makes men dogs,
Nor loathing for the vice wherein, like logs
That float beneath the sun, lie fair women
Submiss, inert receptacles for sin?
Is this her all? Hath she no heart, nor care
Therefor? No womb, nor hope therein to bear
Fruit of her heart's insurgence? Is her face,
Are these her breasts for fondling, not to grace
Her heart's high honour, swell to nurture it,
That it too grow? Hath she no mother-wit,
Nor sense for living things and innocent,
Nor leap of joy for this good world's content
Of sun and wind, of flower and leaf, and song
Of bird, or shout of children as they throng
The world of mated men and women? Nay,
Persuade me not, O Kypris; but I say
Evil hath been the lore which thou hast taught--
For many have loved my face, and many sought
My breast, and thought it joy supping thereat
Sweetness and dear delight; but out of that
What hath there come to them, to me and all
Mine but hot shame? Not milk, but bitter gall."

So in her high passion she rent herself
And rocked, or hid her face upon the shelf
Of the grim wall, lest he should see the whole
Inexpiable sorrow of her soul.
But he by pity pure made bountiful
Lent her excuse, by every means to lull
Her agony. Said he, "Of mortals who
Can e'er withstand the way she wills them to,
Kypris the forceful Goddess? Nay, dear child,
Thou wert constrained."
She said, "I was beguiled
And clung to him until the day-dawn broke
When I could read as in the roll of a book
His open heart. And then my own heart reeled
To know him craven, dog, not man, revealed
A panting drudge of lust, who held me here
Caged vessel. Nay, come close. I loved him dear,
Too dear, I know; but never till he came
Had known the leap of joy, the fire of flame
Upon the heart he gave me, Paris the bright,
Whose memory was music and his sight
Fragrance, whose nearness made my footfall dance,
Whose touch was fever, and his burning glance
Faintness and blindness; in whose light my life
Centred; who was the sun, and I, false wife,
The foolish flower that turns whereso he wheels
Over the broad earth's canopy, and steals
Colour from his strong beam, but at the last
Whenas the night comes and the day is past
Droops, burnt at the heart. So loved I him, and so
Waxed bold to dare the deed that brought this woe."
And there she changed, and bitter was her cry:
"Ah, lord, far better had it been to die
Ere I had cast this pain on thee, and shame
On me, and wrought such outrage on our name.
Natheless I live----"
"Ay, and give life!" he said;
"Yet this thing more I'd have thee tell--what led
Thy thought to me? From him, what turned thy troth--
Such troth as there could be?"
She cried, "The oath!
The oath ye sware before the Lords of Heaven,
The sacrifice, the pledges taken and given
When thou and Paris met upon the plain,
And all the host sat down to watch you twain
Do battle, which should have me. For my part,
They took me forth to watch; as in the mart
A heifer feels the giver of the feast
Pinch in her flank, and hears the chaffer twist
This way and that for so much fat or lean--
Even so was I, a queen, child of a queen."
She bit her lip until the blood ran free,
And in her eyes he markt deep injury
Scald as the salt tears welled; but "Listen yet,"
She said: "Ye fought, and Paris fell beset
Under thy spurning heel, yet felt no whit
The bitterness as I must come to it;
For she, his Goddess, hid him up in mists
And brought him beat and broken from the lists
Here to his chamber. But I stood and burned,
Shameful to be by one lost, by one earned,
A prize for games, a slave, a bandied thing--
Since as the oath was made so must I swing
From bed to bed. But while I stood and wept,
Melted in fruitless sorrow, up she crept
For me, his Goddess, gliding like a snake,
Who wreathed her arms and whispering me go make
The nuptial couch, 'What oath binds love?' did say.
Loathing him, I must go. He had his way,
As well he might who paid that goodly price,
Honour, truth, courage, all, to have his vice:
The which forsook him when those fair things fled;
For though my body hath lain in his bed,
My heart abhors it. And now in truth I wis
My lord's true heart is where my own heart is,
The two together welded and made whole;
And I will go to him and give my soul
And shamed and faded body to his nod,
To spurn or take; and he shall be my God."
Whereat made virgin, as all women are
By love's white purging fire which leaves no scar
Where all was soiled and seamed before the torch
Of Eros toucht the heart, and the keen scorch
Lickt up the foul misuse of vase so fair
As woman's body, Helen flusht and fair
Leaned from the wall a fire-hued seraph's face
And in one rapt long look gave and took Grace.
Deep in her eyes he saw the light divine,
Quick in him ran fierce joy of it like wine:
Light unto light made answer, as a flag
Answers when men tell tidings from one crag
Unto another, and from peak to peak
The good news flashes. Scarcely could he speak
Measurable words, so high his wild thought whirled:
"Bride, Goddess, Helen, O Wonder of the World,
Shall I come for thee?"
Her tender words came soft
As dropping rose petals on garden croft
Down from the wall's sheer height--"Come soon, come soon."
And homing to the lines those drummed his tune.


FIFTH STAVE

A COUNCIL OF THE ACHAIANS: THE EMBASSY OF ODYSSEUS

Now calleth he assembly of the chiefs,
Princes and kings and captains, them whose griefs
To ease his own like treasure had been lent;
Who came and sat at board within the tent
Of him they hailed host-father and their lord
For this adventure, in aught else abhorred
Of all true men. He sits above the rest,
The fox-red Agamemnon, round his crest
The circlet of his kingship over kings,
And at his thigh the sword gold-hilted swings
Which Zeus gave Atreus once; and in his heart
That gnawing doubt which twice had checkt his start
For high emprise, having twice egged him to it,
As stout Odysseus knew who had to rue it.
Beside him Nestor sat, Nestor the old,
White as the winter moon, with logic cold
Instilled, as if the blood in him had fled
And in his veins clear spirit ran instead,
Which made men reasons and not fired their sprites.
And next Idomeneus of countless fights,
Shrewd leader of the Cretans; by his side
Keen-flashing Diomedes in his pride,
The young, the wild in onset, whose war-shrill,
Next after Peleus' son's, held all Troy still,
And stayed the gray crows at their ravelling
Of dead men's bones. Into debate full fling
Went he, adone with tapping of the foot
And drumming on the board. Had but his suit
Been granted--so he said--the war were done
And Troy a name ere full three years had gone:
For as for Helen and her daintiness,
Troy held a mort of women who no less
Than she could pleasure night when work was over
And men came home ready to play the lover;
And in housework would better her. Let Helen
Be laid by Paris, villain, and dead villain--
Dead long ago if he had taken the field
Instead of Menelaus. Then no shield
Had Kypris' golden body been, acquist
With his sword-arm already, near the wrist!
So Diomedes. Next him sat a man
With all his woe to come, the Lokrian
Aias, son of Oïleus, bearded swart,
Pale, with his little eyes, and legs too short
And arms too long, a giant when he sat,
Dwarf else, and in the fight a tiger-cat.
But mark his neighbour, mark him well: to him
Falleth the lot to lay a charge more grim
On woman fair than even Althaia felt
Like lead upon her heartstrings, when she knelt
And blew to flame the brand that held the life
Of her own son; or Procne with the knife,
Who slew and dressed her child to be a meal
To his own father. But this man's thews were steel,
And steely were the nerves about his heart,
As they had need. Mark him, and mark the part
He plays hereafter. Odysseus is his name,
The wily Ithacan, deathless in his fame
And in his substance deathless, since he goes
Immortal forth and back wherever blows
The thunder of thy rhythm, O blind King,
First of the tribe of them with songs to sing,
Fountain of storied music and its end--
For who the poet since who doth not tend
To essay thy leaping measure, or call down
Thy nodded approbation for his crown
And all his wages?
Other chiefs sat there
In order due: as Pyrrhos, very fair
And young, with high bright colour, and the hue
Of evening in his eyes of violet-blue--
Son of Achilles he, and new to war.
Then Antiklos and Teukros, best by far
Of all the bowmen in the host. And last
Menestheus the Athenian dikast,
Who led the folk from Pallas's fair home.
To them spake Menelaus, being come
Into assembly last, and taken in hand
The spokesman's staff: "Ye princes of our land,
Adventurous Achaians, stout of heart,
Good news I bring, that now we may depart
Each to his home and kindred, each to his hearth
And wife and children dear and well-tilled garth,
Contented with the honour he has brought
To me and mine, since I have what we've sought
With bitter pain and loss. Yea, even now
Hath Heré crowned your strife and earned my vow
Made these ten years come harvest, having drawn
The veil from off those eyes than which not dawn
Holds sweeter light nor holier, once they see.
Yea, chieftains, Helen's heart comes back to me;
And fast she watches now hard by the wall
Of the wicked house, and ere the cock shall call
Another morn I have her in my arms
Redeemed for Sparta, pure of Trojan harms,
Whole-hearted and clean-hearted as she came
First, before Paris and his deed of shame
Threatened my house with wreck, and on his own
Have brought no joy. This night, disguised, alone,
I stand within the city, waiting day;
Then when men sleep, all in the shadowless gray,
Robbing the robber, I drop down with her
Over the wall--and lo! the end of the war!"
Thus great of heart and high of heart he spake,
And trembling ceased. Awhile none cared to break
The silence, like unto that breathless hush
That holds a forest ere the great winds rush
Up from the sea-gulf, bringing furious rain
Like mist to drown all nature, blot the plain
In one great sheet of water without form.
So held the chiefs. Then Diomede brake in storm.
Ever the first he was to fling his spear
Into the press of battle; dread his cheer,
Like the long howling of a wolf at eve
Or clamour of the sea-birds when they grieve
And hanker the out-scouring of the net
Hidden behind the darkness and the wet
Of tempest-ridden nights. "Princes," he cried,
"What say ye to this wooer of his bride,
For whom it seems ten nations and their best
Have fought ten years to bring her back to nest?
Is this your meed of honour? Was it for this
You flung forth fortune--to ensure him his?
And he made snug at home, we seek our lands
Barer than we left them, with emptier hands,
And some with fewer members, shed that he
Might fare as soft and trim as formerly!
Not so went I adventuring, good friend;
Not so look I this business to have end:
Nay, but I fight to live, not live to fight,
And so will live by day as thou by night,
Sating my eyes with havoc on this race
Of robbers of the hearth; see their strong place
Brought level with the herbage and the weed,
That where they revelled once shrew-mice may feed,
And moles make palaces, and bats keep house.
And if thou art of spleen so slow to rouse
As quit thy score by thieving from a thief
And leave him scatheless else, thou art no chief
For Tydeus' son, who sees no end of strife
But in his own or in his foeman's life."
So he. Then Pyrrhos spake: "By that great shade
Wherein I stand, which thy false Paris made
Who slew my father, think not so to have done
With Troy and Priam; for Peleides' son
Must slake the sword that cries, and still the ghost
Of him that haunts the ingles of this coast,
Murdered and unacquit while that man's father
Liveth."
Then leapt up two, and both together
Cried, "Give us Troy to sack, give us our fill
Of gold and bronze; give us to burn and kill!"
And Aias said, "Are there no women then
In Troy, but only her? And are we men
Or virgins of Athené?" And the dream
Of her who served that dauntless One made gleam
His shifting eyes, and stretcht his fleshy lips
Behind his beard.
Then stood that prince of ships
And shipmen, great Odysseus; with one hand
He held the staff, with one he took command;
And thus in measured tones, with word intent
Upon the deed, fierce but not vehement,
Drave in his dreadful message. At his sight
Clamour died down, even as the wind at night
Falls and is husht at rising of the moon.
"Ye chieftains of Achaia, not so soon
Is strife of ten years rounded to a close,
Neither so are men seated, friends or foes.
For say thus lightly we renounced the meed
Of our long travail, gave so little heed
To our great dead as find in one man's joy
Full recompense for all we've sunk in Troy--
Wives desolate, children fatherless, lands, gear,
Stock without master, wasting year by year;
Youth past, age creeping on, friends, brothers, sons
Lost in the void, gone where no respite runs
For sorrow, but the darkness covers all--
What name should we bequeath our sons but thrall,
Or what beside a name, who let go by
Ilios the rich for others' usury?
And have the blessed Gods no say in this?
Think you they be won over by a kiss--
Heré the Queen, she, the unwearied aid
Of all our striving, Pallas the war-maid?
Have they not vowed, and will ye scant their hate,
Havoc on Ilios from gate to gate,
And for her towers abasement to the dust?
Behold, O King, lust shall be paid with lust,
And treachery with treachery, and for blood
Blood shall be shed. Therefore let loose the flood
Of our pent passion; break her gates in, raze
The walls of her, cumber her pleasant ways
With dead men; set on havoc, sate with spoil
Men ravening; get corn and wine and oil,
Women to clasp in love, gold, silken things,
Harness of flashing bronze, swords, meed of kings,
Chariots and horses swifter than the wind
Which, coursing Ida, leaves ruin behind
Of snapt tall trees: not faster shall they fall
Than Trojan spears once we are on the wall.
So only shall ye close this agelong strife,
Nor by redemption of a too fair wife,
Now smiling, now averse, now hot, now cold,
O Menelaus, may the tale be told!
Nay, but by slaying of Achilles' slayer,
By the betrayal of the bed-betrayer,
By not withholding from the spoils of war
Men freeborn, nor from them that beaten are
Their rueful wages. Ilios must fall."
He said, and sat, and heard the acclaim of all,
Save of the sons of Atreus, who sat glum,
One flusht, one white as parchment, and both dumb;
One raging to be contraried, one torn
By those two passions wherewith he was born,
The lust for body's ease and lust of gain.
Then slow he rose, Mykenai's king of men,
Gentle his voice to hear. "Laertes' son,"
He said, but 'twas Nestor he looked upon,
The wise old man who sat beside his chair,
Mild now who once, a lion, kept his lair
Untoucht of any, or if e'er he left it,
Left it for prey, and held that when he reft it
From foe, or over friend made stronger claim:
"Laertes' son," the king said, "all men's fame
Reports thee just and fertile in device;
And as the friend of God great is thy price
To us of Argos; for without the Gods
How should we look to trace the limitless roads
That weave a criss-cross 'twixt us and our home?
Go to now, some will stay and other some
Take to the sea-ways, hasty to depart,
Not warfaring as men fare to the mart,
To best a neighbour in some chaffering bout;
But honour is the prize wherefor they go out,
And having that, dishonoured are content
To leave the foe--that is best punishment.
Natheless since men there be, Argives of worth,
Who needs must shed more blood ere they go forth--
As if of blood enough had not been spilt!--
Devise thou with my brother if thou wilt,
Noble Odysseus, seeking how compose
His honour with thy judgment. Well he knows
Thy singleness of heart, deep ponderer,
Lover of a fair wife, and sure of her.
Come, let this be the sum of our debate."
"Content you," Menelaus said, "I wait
Upon thy word, thou fosterling of Zeus."
Then said Odysseus, "Be it as you choose,
Ye sons of Atreus. Then, advised, I say
Let me win into Troy as best I may,
Seek out the lovely lady of our land
And learn of her the watchwords, see how stand
The sentries, how the warders of the gates;
The strength, how much it is; what prize awaits
To crown our long endeavour. These things learned,
Back to the ships I come ere yet are burned
The watch-fires of the night, before the sun
Hath urged his steeds the course they are to run
Out of the golden gateways of the East."
Which all agreed, and Helen's lord not least.


SIXTH STAVE

HELEN AND PARIS; ODYSSEUS AND HELEN

Like as the sweet free air, when maids the doors
And windows open wide, wanders the floors
And all the passage ways about the house,
Keen marshal of the sun, or serious
The cool gray light of morning 'gins to peer
Ere yet the household stirs, or chanticlere
Calls hinds to labour but hints not the glee
Nor full-flood glory of the day to be
When round about the hill the sun shall swim
And burn a sea-path--so demure and slim
Went Helen on her business with swift feet
And light, yet recollected, and her sweet
Secret held hid, that she was loved where need
Called her to mate, and that she loved indeed--
Ah, sacred calm of wedlock, passion white
Of lovers knit in Heré's holy light!
But while in early morn she wonned alone
And Paris slept, shrill rose her singing tone,
And brave the light on kindled cheeks and eyes:
Brave as her hope is, brave the flag she flies.
Then, as the hour drew on when the sun's rim
Should burn a sheet of gold to herald him
On Ida's snowy crest, lithe as a pard
For some lord's pleasuring encaged and barred
She paced the hall soft-footed up and down,
Lightly and feverishly with quick frown
Peered shrewdly this way, that way, like a bird
That on the winter grass is aye deterred
His food-searching by hint of unknown snare
In thicket, holt or bush, or lawn too bare;
Anon stopped, lip to finger, while the tide
Beat from her heart against her shielded side--
Now closely girdled went she like a maid--
And then slipt to the window, where she stayed
But minutes three or four; for soon she past
Out to the terrace, there to be at last
Downgazing on her glory, which her king
Reflected up in every motioning
And flux of his high passion. Only here
She triumphed, nor cared she to ask how near
The end of Troy, nor hazarded a guess
What deeds must do ere that could come to pass.
To her the instant homage held all joy--
And what to her was Sparta, or what Troy
Beside the bliss of that?
Or Paris, what
Was he, who daily, nightly plained his lot
To have risked all the world and ten years loved
This woman, now to find her nothing moved
By what he had done with her, what desired
To do? And more she chilled the less he tired,
And more he ventured less she cared recall
What was to her of nothing worth, or all:
All if the King required it of her, nought
If he who now could take it. It was bought,
And his by bargain: let him have it then;
But let it be for giving once again,
And all the rubies in the world's deep heart
Could fetch no price beside it.
Yet apart
She brooded on the man who held her chained,
Minister to his pleasure, and disdained
Him more the more herself she must disparage,
Reflecting on him all her hateful carriage,
So old, incredible, so flat, so stale,
No more to be recalled than old wife's tale;
And scorned him, saw him neither high nor low,
Not villain and not hero, who would go
Midway 'twixt baseness and nobility,
And not be fierce, if fierceness hurt a flea
Before his eyes. The man loved one thing more
Than all the world, and made his mind a whore
To minister his heart's need, for a price.
All which she loathed, yet chose not to be nice
With the snug-revelling wretch, her master yet,
Whose leaguer, though she scorned it, was no fret;
But lift on wings of her exalted mood,
She let him touch and finger what he would,
Unconscious of his being--as he saw,
And with a groan, whipt sharp upon the raw
Of his esteem, "Ah, cruel art thou turned,"
Would cry, "Ah, frosty fire, where I am burned,
Yet dying bless the flame that is my bane!"
With which to clasp her closer was he fain,
To touch in love, and feast his eyes to see
Her quiver at his touch, and laugh to be
The plucker of such chords of such a rote;
And laughing stoop and kiss her milky throat,
Then see her shut eyes hide what he had done.
"Nay, shut them not upon me, nay, nor shun
My worship!" So he said; but she, "They fade,
But are not yet so old as thou hast made
The soul thou pinnest here beneath my breasts
Which you have loved too well." His hand he rests
Over one fair white bosom like a cup,
And leaning, of her lips his own must sup;
But she will not, but gently doth refuse it,
Without a reason, save she doth not choose it.
Then when he flung away, she sat alone
And nursed her hope and sorrow, both in one
Perturbéd bosom; and her fingers wove
White webs as far afield her wits did rove
Perpending and perpending. So frail, so fair,
So faint she seemed, a wraith you had said there,
A woman dead, and not in lovely flesh.
But all the while she writhed within the mesh
Of circumstance, and fiercely flamed her rage:
"O slave, O minion, thing kept in a cage
For this sleek master's handling!" So she fumed
What time her wide eyes sought all ways, or loomed
Like winter lakes dark in a field of snow,
And still; nor lifted they their pall of woe
Responsive to her heart, nor flashed the thrill
That knew, which said, "A true man loveth me still."

That same night, as she used, fair Helen went
Among the suppliants in the hall, and lent
To each who craved the bounty of her grace,
Her gentle touch on wounds, her pitiful face
To beaten eyes' dumb eloquence, that art
She above all could use, to stroke the heart
And plead compassion in bestowing it.
So with her handmaids busy did she flit
From man to man, 'mid outlaws, broken blades,
Robbed husbandmen, their robbers, phantoms, shades
Of what were men till hunger made them less
Than man can be and still know uprightness;
And whom she spake with kindly words and cheer
In him the light of hope began to peer
And glimmer in his eyes; and him she fed
And nourisht, then sent homeward comforted
A little, to endure a little more.
Now among these, hard by the outer door,
She marked a man unbent whose sturdy look
Never left hers for long, whose shepherd's hook
Seemed not a staff to prop him, whose bright eyes
Burned steadily, as fire when the wind dies.
Great in the girth was he, but not so tall
By a full hand as many whom the wall
Showed like gaunt channel-posts by an ebb tide
Left stranded in a world of ooze. Beside
His knees she kneeled, and to his wounded feet
Applied her balms; but he, from his low seat
Against the wall, leaned out and in her ear
Whispered, but so that no one else could hear,
"Other than my wounds are there for thy pains,
Lady, and deeper. One, a grievous, drains
The great heart of a king, and one is fresh,
Though ten years old, in the sweet innocent flesh
Of a young child."
Nothing said she, but stoopt
The closer to her task. He thought she droopt
Her head, he knew she trembled, that her shoulder
Twitcht as she wrought her task; so he grew bolder,
Saying, "But thou art pitiful! I know
That thou wilt wash their wounds."
She whispered "Oh,
Be sure of me!"
Then he, "Let us have speech
Secret together out of range or reach
Of prying ears, if such a chance may be."
Then she said, "Towards morning look for me
Here, when the city sleeps, before the sun."
So till the glimmer of dawn this hardy one
Keepeth the watch in Paris' house. All night
With hard unwinking eyes he sat upright,
While all about the sleepers lay, like stones
Littered upon a hill-top, save that moans,
Sighings and "Gods, have pity!" showed that they
By night rehearsed the miseries of day,
And by bread lived not but by hope deferred.
Grimly he suffered till such time he heard
Helen's light foot and faint and gray in the mist
Descried her slim veiled outline, saw her twist
And slip between the sleepers on the ground,
Atiptoe coming, swift, with scarce a sound,
Not faltering in fear. No fear she had.
From head to foot a sea-blue mantle clad
Her lovely shape, from which her pale keen face
Shone like the moon in frosty sky. No case
Was his to waver, for her eyes spake true
As Heaven upon the world. Him then she drew
To follow her, out of the house, to where
The ilex trees

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