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- The Iphigenia in Tauris - 4/17 -


We came to wash our cattle in the brine.

IPHIGENIA. Go back, and tell how they were taken; show The fashion of it, for I fain would know All.--'Tis so long a time, and never yet, Never, hath Greek blood made this altar wet.

HERDSMAN. We had brought our forest cattle where the seas Break in long tides from the Symplegades. A bay is there, deep eaten by the surge And hollowed clear, with cover by the verge Where purple-fishers camp. These twain were there When one of mine own men, a forager, Spied them, and tiptoed whispering back: "God save Us now! Two things unearthly by the wave Sitting!" We looked, and one of pious mood Raised up his hands to heaven and praying stood: "Son of the white Sea Spirit, high in rule, Storm-lord Palaemon, Oh, be merciful: Or sit ye there the warrior twins of Zeus, Or something loved of Him, from whose great thews Was-born the Nereids' fifty-fluted choir." Another, flushed with folly and the fire Of lawless daring, laughed aloud and swore 'Twas shipwrecked sailors skulking on the shore, Our rule and custom here being known, to slay All strangers. And most thought this was the way To follow, and seek out for Artemis The blood-gift of our people.

Just at this One of the strangers started from his seat, And stood, and upward, downward, with a beat His head went, and he groaned, and all his arm Trembled. Then, as a hunter gives alarm, He shrieked, stark mad and raving: "Pylades, Dost see her there?--And there--Oh, no one sees!-- A she-dragon of Hell, and all her head Agape with fanged asps, to bite me dead. She hath no face, but somewhere from her cloak Bloweth a wind of fire and bloody smoke: The wings' beat fans it: in her arms, Ah see! My mother, dead grey stone, to cast on me And crush ... Help, help! They crowd on me behind ..."

No shapes at all were there. 'Twas his sick mind Which turned the herds that lowed and barking hounds That followed, to some visionary sounds Of Furies. For ourselves, we did but sit And watch in silence, wondering if the fit Would leave him dead. When suddenly out shone His sword, and like a lion he leaped upon Our herds, to fight his Furies! Flank and side He stabbed and smote them, till the foam was dyed Red at the waves' edge. Marry, when we saw The cattle hurt and falling, no more law We gave, but sprang to arms and blew the horn For help--so strong they looked and nobly born For thralls like us to meet, that pair unknown.

Well, a throng gathered ere much time was gone; When suddenly the whirl of madness slips From off him and he falls, quite weak, his lips Dropping with foam. When once we saw him fall So timely, we were at him one and all To pelt and smite. The other watched us come, But knelt and wiped those lips all dank with foam And tended the sick body, while he held His cloak's good web above him for a shield; So cool he was to ward off every stone And all the while care for that stricken one.

Then rose the fallen man, calm now and grave, Looked, and saw battle bursting like a wave That bursts, and knew that peril close at hand Which now is come, and groaned. On every hand We stood, and stoned and stoned, and ceased not. Aye, 'Twas then we heard that fearful battle-cry: "Ho, Pylades, 'tis death! But let it be A gallant death! Draw sword and follow me."

When those two swords came flashing, up the glen Through the loose rocks we scattered back; but when One band was flying, down by rocks and trees Came others pelting: did they turn on these, Back stole the first upon them, stone on stone. 'Twas past belief: of all those shots not one Struck home. The goddess kept her fated prey Perfect. Howbeit, at last we made our way Right, left and round behind them on the sands, And rushed, and beat the swords out of their hands, So tired they scarce could stand. Then to the king We bore them both, and he, not tarrying, Sends them to thee, to touch with holy spray-- And then the blood-bowl!

I have heard thee pray, Priestess, ere now for such a draft as this. Aye, slay but these two chiefs to Artemis And Hellas shall have paid thy debt, and know What blood was spilt in Aulis long ago.

LEADER. I marvel that one mad, whoe'er he be, Should sail from Hellas to the Friendless Sea.

IPHIGENIA. 'Tis well. Let thy hand bring them, and mine own Shall falter not till here God's will be done.

[EXIT HERDSMAN.]

O suffering heart, not fierce thou wast of old To shipwrecked men. Nay, pities manifold Held thee in fancy homeward, lest thy hand At last should fall on one of thine own land. But now, for visions that have turned to stone My heart, to know Orestes sees the sun No more, a cruel woman waits you here, Whoe'er ye be, and one without a tear. 'Tis true: I know by mine own evil will: One long in pain, if things more suffering still Fall to his hand, will hate them for his own Torment ... And no great wind hath ever blown, No ship from God hath passed the Clashing Gate, To bring me Helen, who hath earned my hate, And Menelaus, till I mocked their prayers In this new Aulis, that is mine, not theirs: Where Greek hands held me lifted, like a beast For slaughter, and my throat bled. And the priest My father! ... Not one pang have I forgot. Ah me, the blind half-prisoned arms I shot This way and that, to find his beard, his knees, Groping and wondering: "Father, what are these For bridal rites? My mother even now Mid Argive women sings for me, whom thou ... What dost thou? She sings happy songs, and all Is dance and sound of piping in the hall; And here ... Is he a vampyre, is he one That fattens on the dead, thy Peleus' son-- Whose passion shaken like a torch before My leaping chariot, lured me to this shore To wed--" Ah me! And I had hid my face, Burning, behind my veil. I would not press Orestes to my arms ... who now is slain! ... I would not kiss my sister's lips again, For shame and fulness of the heart to meet My bridegroom. All my kisses, all my sweet Words were stored up and hid: I should come back So soon to Argos! And thou, too: alack, Brother, if dead thou art, from what high things Thy youth is outcast, and the pride of kings Fallen! And this the goddess deemeth good! If ever mortal hand be dark with blood; Nay, touch a new-made mother or one slain In war, her ban is on him. 'Tis a stain She driveth from her outer walls; and then Herself doth drink this blood of slaughtered men? Could ever Leto, she of the great King Beloved, be mother to so gross a thing? These tales be lies, false as those feastings wild Of Tantalus and Gods that tore a child. This land of murderers to its god hath given Its own lust; evil dwelleth not in heaven.

[SHE GOES INTO THE TEMPLE.]

CHORUS.

Dark of the sea, dark of the sea, [STROPHE 1.] Gates of the warring water, One, in the old time, conquered you, A winged passion that burst the blue, When the West was shut and the Dawn lay free To the pain of Inachus' daughter. But who be these, from where the rushes blow On pale Eurotas, from pure Dirce's flow, That turn not neither falter, Seeking Her land, where no man breaketh bread, Her without pity, round whose virgin head Blood on the pillars rusts from long ago, Blood on the ancient altar. [ANTISTROPHE 1.] A flash of the foam, a flash of the foam, A wave on the oarblade welling, And out they passed to the heart of the blue: A chariot shell that the wild winds drew. Is it for passion of gold they come, Or pride to make great their dwelling?

For sweet is Hope, yea, to much mortal woe So sweet that none may turn from it nor go, Whom once the far voice calleth, To wander through fierce peoples and the gleam


The Iphigenia in Tauris - 4/17

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