The Fall of Troy

Page: 16

  So spake the old king; but Polydamas,
  The prudent-hearted, thought not good to war
  Thus endlessly, and spake his patriot rede:
  "If Memnon have beyond all shadow of doubt
  Pledged him to thrust dire ruin far from us,
  Then do I gainsay not that we await
  The coming of that godlike man within
  Our walls—yet, ah, mine heart misgives me, lest,
  Though he with all his warriors come, he come
  But to his death, and unto thousands more,
  Our people, nought but misery come thereof;
  For terribly against us leaps the storm
  Of the Achaeans' might. But now, go to,
  Let us not flee afar from this our Troy
  To wander to some alien land, and there,
  In the exile's pitiful helplessness, endure
  All flouts and outrage; nor in our own land
  Abide we till the storm of Argive war
  O'erwhelm us. Nay, even now, late though it be,
  Better it were for us to render back
  Unto the Danaans Helen and her wealth,
  Even all that glory of women brought with her
  From Sparta, and add other treasure—yea,
  Repay it twofold, so to save our Troy
  And our own souls, while yet the spoiler's hand
  Is laid not on our substance, and while yet
  Troy hath not sunk in gulfs of ravening flame.
  I pray you, take to heart my counsel! None
  Shall, well I wot, be given to Trojan men
  Better than this. Ah, would that long ago
  Hector had hearkened to my pleading, when
  I fain had kept him in the ancient home!"

  So spake Polydamas the noble and strong,
  And all the listening Trojans in their hearts
  Approved; yet none dared utter openly
  The word, for all with trembling held in awe
  Their prince and Helen, though for her sole sake
  Daily they died. But on that noble man
  Turned Paris, and reviled him to his face:
  "Thou dastard battle-blencher Polydamas!
  Not in thy craven bosom beats a heart
  That bides the fight, but only fear and panic.
  Yet dost thou vaunt thee—quotha!—still our best
  In counsel!—no man's soul is base as thine!
  Go to, thyself shrink shivering from the strife!
  Cower, coward, in thine halls! But all the rest,
  We men, will still go armour-girt, until
  We wrest from this our truceless war a peace
  That shall not shame us! 'Tis with travail and toil
  Of strenuous war that brave men win renown;
  But flight?—weak women choose it, and young babes!
  Thy spirit is like to theirs. No whit I trust
  Thee in the day of battle—thee, the man
  Who maketh faint the hearts of all the host!"

  So fiercely he reviled: Polydamas
  Wrathfully answered; for he shrank not, he,
  From answering to his face. A caitiff hound,
  A reptile fool, is he who fawns on men
  Before their faces, while his heart is black
  With malice, and, when they be gone, his tongue
  Backbites them. Openly Polydamas
  Flung back upon the prince his taunt and scoff:
  "O thou of living men most mischievous!
  Thy valour—quotha!—brings us misery!
  Thine heart endures, and will endure, that strife
  Should have no limit, save in utter ruin
  Of fatherland and people for thy sake!
  Ne'er may such wantwit valour craze my soul!
  Be mine to cherish wise discretion aye,
  A warder that shall keep mine house in peace."