The Argive Women

A poem by Maurice Henry Hewlett

CHTHONOË MYRTILLA
RHODOPE PASIPHASSA
GORGO SITYS

* * * * *

SCENE

The women's house in the House of Paris in Troy.

TIME.--The Tenth year of the War.

* * * * *

Helen's women are lying alone in the twilight hour. Chthonoë presently rises and throws a little incense upon the altar flame. Then she begins to speak to the Image of Aphrodite in a low and tired voice.


CHTHONOË

Goddess of burning and little rest,
By the hand swaying on thy breast,
By glancing eye and slow sweet smile
Tell me what long look or what guile
Of thine it was that like a spear
Pierced her heart, who caged me here
In this close house, to be with her
Mistress at once and prisoner!
Far from earth and her pleasant ways
I lie, whose nights are as my days
In this dim house, where on the wall
I watch the shadows rise and fall
And know not what is reckt or done
By men and horses out in the sun,
Nor heed their traffic, nor their cheer
As forth they go or back, but hear
The fountain plash into the pond,
The brooding doves, and sighs of fond
Lovers whose lips yearn as they sever
For longer joy, joy such as never
Hath man but in the mind. But what
Men do without, that I know not
Who see them but as shadows thrown
Upon a screen. I see them blown
Like clouds of flies about the plain
Where the winds sweep them and make vain
Their panoplies. They hem the verge
Of this high wall to guard us--urge
Galloping horses into war
And meet in shock of battle, far
Below us and our dreams: withal
Ten years have past us in this thrall
Since Helen came with eyes agleam
To Troy, and trod the ways of dream.


GORGO

Men came about us, crying, "The Greeks!
Ships out at sea with high-held peaks
Like questing birds!" But I lay still
Kissing, nor turned.


RHODOPE

So I, until
The herald broke into my sleep,
Crying Agamemnon on the deep
With ships from high Mykenai. Then
I minded he was King of Men--
But not of women in the arms
They loved.


MYRTILLA

I heard their shrill alarms
Faint and far off, like an old fame.
Below this guarded house men came--
Chariots and horses clasht; they cried
King Agamemnon in his pride,
Or Hector, or young Diomede;
But I was kissing, could not heed
Aught save the eyes that held mine bound.
Anon a hush--anon the sound
Of hooves resistless, pounding--a cry,
"Achilles! Save yourselves!" But I--
Clinging I lay, and sighed in sign
That love must weary at last, even mine--
Even mine, Sweetheart!


PASIPHASSA

Who watcht when flared
Lord Hector like a meteor, dared
The high stockade and fired the ships?
I watcht his lips who had had my lips.


SITYS

And when he slew Menoikios' son,
Sister, what then?


PASIPHASSA

My cheek was wan
For lack of kissing--so I blew
On slumbering lids to draw anew
The eyes of him who had loved me well,
But now was faint.


CHTHONOË

O Kypris, tell
The deeds of men, not lovers!


RHODOPE

Here
Came one all palsied in his fear,
Chattering and white, to Paris abed,
Flusht in his sleep--told Hector dead,
Dead and dishonoured, while he slept.
He sighed and turned. But Helen wept.


GORGO

Not I. I turned and felt warm draught
Of breath upon my cheek, and laught
Softly, and snuggling, slept.


CHTHONOË

Fie, fie!
Goddess, drugged in thy dreams we lie,
Logs, not women, logs in the sun!


SITYS

Thou art sated. So fretteth One,
The very fount of Love's sweet well,
The chord of Love made visible,
Sickened of her own loveliness,
Haggard as hawk too long in jess,
Aching for flight.


MYRTILLA

Recall the bout
When Paris armed him and went out
Into the lists, and all men thronged
To see----


SITYS

Lord Paris and him he wronged
Fight for her, who should have her! We stood
Upon the walls, and she with her hood
Close to her cheek. But I saw the flicker
In her blue eyes!


PASIPHASSA

But I was quicker,
And saw the man she looked upon,
And after what her blue eyes shone
Like cyanus in morning light.


GORGO

Husband and lover she saw fight,
Man to man, with death between.


RHODOPE

Hatred coucht, as long and lean
As a lone wolf, on her man's crest--


PASIPHASSA

And bit the Trojan!


CHTHONOË

Thine was the rest,
Goddess! And Helen lit the fire,
With her disdain, of his desire.


MYRTILLA

Her eyes burned like the frosty stars
Of winter midnight.


PASIPHASSA

His the scars!
Bitten in his wax-pale cheek.


CHTHONOË

Nay, in his heart----


SITYS

Nay, in his bleak
And writhen smile you see it!


GORGO

Nay!
In his sick soul.


RHODOPE

Let him go his way!
Hear my thought of a happier thing--
Sparta's trees in flood of spring
Where Eurotas' banks abrim
Drown the reeds, and foam-clots swim
Like a scattered brood of duck!


MYRTILLA

Flowers anod! White flowers to pluck,
Stiffened in the foamy curds!
Ah, the green thickets quick with birds!


SITYS

Calling Itys! Itys! Itys!


PASIPHASSA

She calls not here--her house it is
In Sparta!


RHODOPE (with a sob)

Peace!


CHTHONOË

From my heart a cry--
Send me back, Goddess, ere I die
To those dear places and clean things--
To see my people, feel the wings
Of the gray night fold over me,
And touch my mother's knees, and be
Her child, as long ago I was
Before I lay burning in Ilios!

[They hide their faces in their knees.
Then one by one they sing.]

Let me sing an old sweet air,
Mother of Argos, to Thee,
For hope in my heart is fair
As light on the hills seen from afar at sea;
And my weary eyes turn there
As to the haven where my soul would be.


RHODOPE

I will arise and make choice
The house of my tumbled breast,
For she cometh, I hear the voice
Of her wings of healing, and she shall be my guest;
And my joys shall be her joys,
And my home her home, O wind of the South West!


GORGO

As a bird that listens and thrills,
Hidden deep in the night,
For the sound of the little rills
That run musically towards the light;
As a hart to the high hills
Turneth his dying eyes, my soul takes flight.


MYRTILLA

Ah, to be folded deep
In the shade of Taygetus,
In my mother's arms to sleep
Even as a child when I lay harboured thus!
Oh, that I were as thy sheep,
Lacedaemon, my land, cradle and nurse of us!


PASIPHASSA

In Argos they sow the grain,
In Troy blood is their sowing;
There a green mantle covers the plain
Where the sweet green corn and sweet short grass are growing;
But here passion and pain--
Blood and dust upon earth, and a hot wind blowing.


SITYS

To the hold on the far red hill
From the hold on the wide green lea,
Over the running water, follow who will
Therapnae's hawk with the dove of Amyklae.
But I would lie husht and still,
And feel the new grass growing quick over me!

[The scene grows dark as they sit.
Their eyes are full of tears.
Presently one looks up, listening, then another, then another. They are all alert.]


CHTHONOË

Who prayeth peace? I feel her peace
Steal through me as a quiet air
Enters the house with sweet increase
Of light to healing, praise to prayer!


RHODOPE

What do I know of guiltiness
When she is here, and with grave eyes
Seeketh the ways of quietness
And lampeth them?


GORGO

Arise, arise!

[They all stand waiting.]


MYRTILLA

Hark! Her footfall like the dew--


PASIPHASSA

As a flower by frost made sere
Long before the sun breaks through,
Feeleth him, I know her near.

[Helen stands in the doorway.]


CHTHONOË

This is she, the source of light,
Source of light and end of it,
Argive Helen, slim and sweet,
For whose bosom and delight,
For whose eyes, those wells of peace,
Paris wrought, as well he might,
Ten years' woe for Troy and Greece.


RHODOPE

Starry wonder that she was,
Caged like sea-bird in his arms,
See her passion thrill, then pass
From him who, doting on her charms,
So became abominable.
Watch her bosom dip and swell,
See her nostrils fan and curve
At his touch who loved not well,
But loved too much, who broke the spell;
Watch her proud head stiffen and swerve.


GORGO

Upon the wall with claspt white hands
See her vigil keep intent,
Argive Helen, lo! she stands
Looking seaward where the fires
Hem the shore innumerable;
Sign of that avenging host,
All Achaia's chivalry,
Past the tongue of man to tell,
Peers and kindred of her sires
Come to win back Helen lost.


MYRTILLA

There to her in that gray hour,
That gray hour before the sun,
Cometh he she waiteth for,
Menelaus like a ghost,
Like a dry leaf tempest-tost,
Stalking restless, her reproach.


PASIPHASSA

There alone, those two, long severed been,
Eye each other, one wild heart between.


SITYS

"O thou ruinous face,
O thou fatally fair,
O the pity of thee!
What dost thou there,
Watching the madness of me?"


CHTHONOË

Him seemed her eyes were pools of dark
To drown him, yet no word she spake;
But gazing, grave as a lonely house,
All her wonder thrilled to wake.


RHODOPE

"By thy roses and snow,
By thy sun-litten hair,
By thy low bosom and slow
Pondered kisses, O hear!

"By thy glimmering eyes,
By thy burning cheek,
By thy murmuring sighs,
Speak, Helen, O speak!

"Ruinous Face, O Ruinous Face,
Art thou come so early," he said,
"So early forth from the wicked bed?"


GORGO

Him she pondered, grave and still,
Stirring not from her safe place:
He marked the glow, he felt the thrill,
He saw the dawn new in her face.


MYRTILLA

Within her low voice wailed the tone
Of one who grieves and prays for death:
"Lord, I am come to be alone,
Alone here with my sorrow," she saith.


PASIPHASSA

"False wife, what pity was thine
For hearth and altar, for man and child?
What is thy sorrow worth unto mine?"
She rocked, moaning, "I was beguiled!"


SITYS

Ten years' woe for Troy and Greece
By her begun, the slim, the sweet,
Ended by her in final peace
Of him who loved her first of all;
Nor ever swerved from his high passion,
But through misery and shame
Saw her spirit like a flame
Eloquent of her sacred fashion--
Hers whose eyes are homes of light,
To which she tends, from which she came.

1912.

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