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The Fall of Troy

Page: 30

  So hurled he forth a vain word, knowing not
  How far in might above him was the man
  Whom his spear threatened. Battle-bider Aias
  Darkly and scornfully glaring on him, said
  "Thou craven wretch, and knowest thou not this,
  How much was Hector mightier than thou
  In war-craft? yet before my might, my spear,
  He shrank. Ay, with his valour was there blent
  Discretion. Thou thy thoughts are deathward set,
  Who dar'st defy me to the battle, me,
  A mightier far than thou! Thou canst not say
  That friendship of our fathers thee shall screen;
  Nor me thy gifts shall wile to let thee pass
  Scatheless from war, as once did Tydeus' son.
  Though thou didst 'scape his fury, will not I
  Suffer thee to return alive from war.
  Ha, in thy many helpers dost thou trust
  Who with thee, like so many worthless flies,
  Flit round the noble Achilles' corpse? To these
  Death and black doom shall my swift onset deal."

  Then on the Trojans this way and that he turned,
  As mid long forest-glens a lion turns
  On hounds, and Trojans many and Lycians slew
  That came for honour hungry, till he stood
  Mid a wide ring of flinchers; like a shoal
  Of darting fish when sails into their midst
  Dolphin or shark, a huge sea-fosterling;
  So shrank they from the might of Telamon's son,
  As aye he charged amidst the rout. But still
  Swarmed fighters up, till round Achilles' corse
  To right, to left, lay in the dust the slain
  Countless, as boars around a lion at bay;
  And evermore the strife waxed deadlier.
  Then too Hippolochus' war-wise son was slain
  By Aias of the heart of fire. He fell
  Backward upon Achilles, even as falls
  A sapling on a sturdy mountain-oak;
  So quelled by the spear on Peleus' son he fell.
  But for his rescue Anchises' stalwart son
  Strove hard, with all his comrades battle-fain,
  And haled the corse forth, and to sorrowing friends
  Gave it, to bear to Ilium's hallowed burg.
  Himself to spoil Achilles still fought on,
  Till warrior Aias pierced him with the spear
  Through the right forearm. Swiftly leapt he back
  From murderous war, and hasted thence to Troy.
  There for his healing cunning leeches wrought,
  Who stanched the blood-rush, and laid on the gash
  Balms, such as salve war-stricken warriors' pangs.

  But Aias still fought on: here, there he slew
  With thrusts like lightning-flashes. His great heart
  Ached sorely for his mighty cousin slain.
  And now the warrior-king Laertes' son
  Fought at his side: before him blenched the foe,
  As he smote down Peisander's fleetfoot son,
  The warrior Maenalus, who left his home
  In far-renowned Abydos: down on him
  He hurled Atymnius, the goodly son
  Whom Pegasis the bright-haired Nymph had borne
  To strong Emathion by Granicus' stream.
  Dead by his side he laid Orestius' son,
  Proteus, who dwelt 'neath lofty Ida's folds.
  Ah, never did his mother welcome home
  That son from war, Panaceia beauty-famed!
  He fell by Odysseus' hands, who spilt the lives
  Of many more whom his death-hungering spear
  Reached in that fight around the mighty dead.
  Yet Alcon, son of Megacles battle-swift,
  Hard by Odysseus' right knee drave the spear
  Home, and about the glittering greave the blood
  Dark-crimson welled. He recked not of the wound,
  But was unto his smiter sudden death;
  For clear through his shield he stabbed him with his spear
  Amidst his battle-fury: to the earth
  Backward he dashed him by his giant might
  And strength of hand: clashed round him in the dust
  His armour, and his corslet was distained
  With crimson life-blood. Forth from flesh and shield
  The hero plucked the spear of death: the soul
  Followed the lance-head from the body forth,
  And life forsook its mortal mansion. Then
  Rushed on his comrades, in his wound's despite,
  Odysseus, nor from that stern battle-toil
  Refrained him. And by this a mingled host
  Of Danaans eager-hearted fought around
  The mighty dead, and many and many a foe
  Slew they with those smooth-shafted ashen spears.
  Even as the winds strew down upon the ground
  The flying leaves, when through the forest-glades
  Sweep the wild gusts, as waneth autumn-tide,
  And the old year is dying; so the spears
  Of dauntless Danaans strewed the earth with slain,
  For loyal to dead Achilles were they all,
  And loyal to hero Aias to the death.
  For like black Doom he blasted the ranks of Troy.
  Then against Aias Paris strained his bow;
  But he was ware thereof, and sped a stone
  Swift to the archer's head: that bolt of death
  Crashed through his crested helm, and darkness closed
  Round him. In dust down fell he: naught availed
  His shafts their eager lord, this way and that
  Scattered in dust: empty his quiver lay,
  Flew from his hand the bow. In haste his friends
  Upcaught him from the earth, and Hector's steeds
  Hurried him thence to Troy, scarce drawing breath,
  And moaning in his pain. Nor left his men
  The weapons of their lord, but gathered up
  All from the plain, and bare them to the prince;
  While Aias after him sent a wrathful shout:
  "Dog, thou hast 'scaped the heavy hand of death
  To-day! But swiftly thy last hour shall come
  By some strong Argive's hands, or by mine own,
  But now have I a nobler task in hand,
  From murder's grip to rescue Achilles' corse."
  Then turned he on the foe, hurling swift doom
  On such as fought around Peleides yet.
  'These saw how many yielded up the ghost
  Neath his strong hands, and, with hearts failing them
  For fear, against him could they stand no more.
  As rascal vultures were they, which the swoop
  Of an eagle, king of birds, scares far away
  From carcasses of sheep that wolves have torn;
  So this way, that way scattered they before
  The hurtling stones, the sword, the might of Aias.
  In utter panic from the war they fled,
  In huddled rout, like starlings from the swoop
  Of a death-dealing hawk, when, fleeing bane,
  One drives against another, as they dart
  All terror-huddled in tumultuous flight.
  So from the war to Priam's burg they fled
  Wretchedly clad with terror as a cloak,
  Quailing from mighty Aias' battle-shout,
  As with hands dripping blood-gouts he pursued.
  Yea, all, one after other, had he slain,
  Had they not streamed through city-gates flung wide
  Hard-panting, pierced to the very heart with fear.
  Pent therewithin he left them, as a shepherd
  Leaves folded sheep, and strode back o'er the plain;
  Yet never touched he with his feet the ground,
  But aye he trod on dead men, arms, and blood;
  For countless corpses lay o'er that wide stretch
  Even from broad-wayed Troy to Hellespont,
  Bodies of strong men slain, the spoil of Doom.
  As when the dense stalks of sun-ripened corn
  Fall 'neath the reapers' hands, and the long swaths,
  Heavy with full ears, overspread the field,
  And joys the heart of him who oversees
  The toil, lord of the harvest; even so,
  By baleful havoc overmastered, lay
  All round face-downward men remembering not
  The death-denouncing war-shout. But the sons
  Of fair Achaea left their slaughtered foes
  In dust and blood unstripped of arms awhile
  Till they should lay upon the pyre the son
  Of Peleus, who in battle-shock had been
  Their banner of victory, charging in his might.
  So the kings drew him from that stricken field
  Straining beneath the weight of giant limbs,
  And with all loving care they bore him on,
  And laid him in his tent before the ships.
  And round him gathered that great host, and wailed
  Heart-anguished him who had been the Achaeans' strength,
  And now, forgotten all the splendour of spears,
  Lay mid the tents by moaning Hellespont,
  In stature more than human, even as lay
  Tityos, who sought to force Queen Leto, when
  She fared to Pytho: swiftly in his wrath
  Apollo shot, and laid him low, who seemed
  Invincible: in a foul lake of gore
  There lay he, covering many a rood of ground,
  On the broad earth, his mother; and she moaned
  Over her son, of blessed Gods abhorred;
  But Lady Leto laughed. So grand of mould
  There in the foemen's land lay Aeacus' son,
  For joy to Trojans, but for endless grief
  To Achaean men lamenting. Moaned the air
  With sighing from the abysses of the sea;
  And passing heavy grew the hearts of all,
  Thinking: "Now shall we perish by the hands
  Of Trojans!" Then by those dark ships they thought
  Of white-haired fathers left in halls afar,
  Of wives new-wedded, who by couches cold
  Mourned, waiting, waiting, with their tender babes
  For husbands unreturning; and they groaned
  In bitterness of soul. A passion of grief
  Came o'er their hearts; they fell upon their faces
  On the deep sand flung down, and wept as men
  All comfortless round Peleus' mighty son,
  And clutched and plucked out by the roots their hair,
  And east upon their heads defiling sand.
  Their cry was like the cry that goeth up
  From folk that after battle by their walls
  Are slaughtered, when their maddened foes set fire
  To a great city, and slay in heaps on heaps
  Her people, and make spoil of all her wealth;
  So wild and high they wailed beside the sea,
  Because the Danaans' champion, Aeacus' son,
  Lay, grand in death, by a God's arrow slain,
  As Ares lay, when She of the Mighty Father
  With that huge stone down dashed him on Troy's plain.


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