The Fall of Troy
Page: 20Then at his cry that brother's heart was stung
With bitter grief. Swift for his help drew nigh
Phereus, on whom for his great prince's fall
Came anguish. Charged these warriors twain to face
Strong Memnon in the gory strife. As when
Two hunters 'mid a forest's mountain-folds,
Eager to take the prey, rush on to meet
A wild boar or a bear, with hearts afire
To slay him, but in furious mood he leaps
On them, and holds at bay the might of men;
So swelled the heart of Memnon. Nigh drew they,
Yet vainly essayed to slay him, as they hurled
The long spears, but the lances glanced aside
Far from his flesh: the Dawn-queen turned them thence.
Yet fell their spears not vainly to the ground:
The lance of fiery-hearted Phereus, winged
With eager speed, dealt death to Meges' son,
Polymnius: Laomedon was slain
By the wrath of Nestor's son for a brother dead,
The dear one Memnon slew in battle-rout,
And whom the slayer's war-unwearied hands
Now stripped of his all-brazen battle-gear,
Nought recking, he, of Thrasymedes' might,
Nor of stout Phereus, who were unto him
But weaklings. A great lion seemed he there
Standing above a hart, as jackals they,
That, howso hungry, dare not come too nigh.
But hard thereby the father gazed thereon
In agony, and cried the rescue-cry
To other his war-comrades for their aid
Against the foe. Himself too burned to fight
From his war-car; for yearning for the dead
Goaded him to the fray beyond his strength.
Ay, and himself had been on his dear son
Laid, numbered with the dead, had not the voice
Of Memnon stayed him even in act to rush
Upon him, for he reverenced in his heart
The white hairs of an age-mate of his sire:
"Ancient," he cried, "it were my shame to fight.
With one so much mine elder: I am not
Blind unto honour. Verily I weened
That this was some young warrior, when I saw
Thee facing thus the foe. My bold heart hoped
For contest worthy of mine hand and spear.
Nay, draw thou back afar from battle-toil
And bitter death. Go, lest, how loth soe'er,
I smite thee of sore need. Nay, fall not thou
Beside thy son, against a mightier man
Fighting, lest men with folly thee should charge,
For folly it is that braves o'ermastering might."
He spake, and answered him that warrior old:
"Nay, Memnon, vain was that last word of thine.
None would name fool the father who essayed,
Battling with foes for his son's sake, to thrust
The ruthless slayer back from that dear corpse,
But ah that yet my strength were whole in me,
That thou might'st know my spear! Now canst thou vaunt
Proudly enow: a young man's heart is bold
And light his wit. Uplifted is thy soul
And vain thy speech. If in my strength of youth
Thou hadst met me—ha, thy friends had not rejoiced,
For all thy might! But me the grievous weight
Of age bows down, like an old lion whom
A cur may boldly drive back from the fold,
For that he cannot, in his wrath's despite,
Maintain his own cause, being toothless now,
And strengthless, and his strong heart tamed by time.
So well the springs of olden strength no more
Now in my breast. Yet am I stronger still
Than many men; my grey hairs yield to few
That have within them all the strength of youth."