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The Fall of Troy

Page: 84

  To hallowed Lemnos came those heroes twain;
  They marked the rocky cave where lay the son
  Of princely Poeas. Horror came on them
  When they beheld the hero of their quest
  Groaning with bitter pangs, on the hard earth
  Lying, with many feathers round him strewn,
  And others round his body, rudely sewn
  Into a cloak, a screen from winter's cold.
  For, oft as famine stung him, would he shoot
  The shaft that missed no fowl his aim had doomed.
  Their flesh he ate, their feathers vestured him.
  And there lay herbs and healing leaves, the which,
  Spread on his deadly wound, assuaged its pangs.
  Wild tangled elf-locks hung about his head.
  He seemed a wild beast, that hath set its foot,
  Prowling by night, upon a hidden trap,
  And so hath been constrained in agony
  To bite with fierce teeth through the prisoned limb
  Ere it could win back to its cave, and there
  In hunger and torturing pains it languisheth.
  So in that wide cave suffering crushed the man;
  And all his frame was wasted: naught but skin
  Covered his bones. Unwashen there he crouched
  With famine-haggard cheeks, with sunken eyes
  Glaring his misery 'neath cavernous brows.
  Never his groaning ceased, for evermore
  The ulcerous black wound, eating to the bone,
  Festered with thrills of agonizing pain.
  As when a beetling cliff, by seething seas
  Aye buffeted, is carved and underscooped,
  For all its stubborn strength, by tireless waves,
  Till, scourged by winds and lashed by tempest-flails,
  The sea into deep caves hath gnawed its base;
  So greater 'neath his foot grew evermore
  The festering wound, dealt when the envenomed fangs
  Tare him of that fell water-snake, which men
  Say dealeth ghastly wounds incurable,
  When the hot sun hath parched it as it crawls
  Over the sands; and so that mightiest man
  Lay faint and wasted with his cureless pain;
  And from the ulcerous wound aye streamed to earth
  Fetid corruption fouling all the floor
  Of that wide cave, a marvel to be heard
  Of men unborn. Beside his stony bed
  Lay a long quiver full of arrows, some
  For hunting, some to smite his foes withal;
  With deadly venom of that fell water-snake
  Were these besmeared. Before it, nigh to his hand,
  Lay the great bow, with curving tips of horn,
  Wrought by the mighty hands of Hercules.

  Now when that solitary spied these twain
  Draw nigh his cave, he sprang to his bow, he laid
  The deadly arrow on the string; for now
  Fierce memory of his wrongs awoke against
  These, who had left him years agone, in pain
  Groaning upon the desolate sea-shore.
  Yea, and his heart's stem will he had swiftly wrought,
  But, even as upon that godlike twain
  He gazed, Athena caused his bitter wrath
  To melt away. Then drew they nigh to him
  With looks of sad compassion, and sat down
  On either hand beside him in the cave,
  And of his deadly wound and grievous pangs
  Asked; and he told them all his sufferings.
  And they spake hope and comfort; and they said:
  "Thy woeful wound, thine anguish, shall be healed,
  If thou but come with us to Achaea's host—
  The host that now is sorrowing after thee
  With all its kings. And no man of them all
  Was cause of thine affliction, but the Fates,
  The cruel ones, whom none that walk the earth
  Escape, but aye they visit hapless men
  Unseen; and day by day with pitiless hearts
  Now they afflict men, now again exalt
  To honour—none knows why; for all the woes
  And all the joys of men do these devise
  After their pleasure." Hearkening he sat
  To Odysseus and to godlike Diomede;
  And all the hoarded wrath for olden wrongs
  And all the torturing rage, melted away.


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