The Fall of Troy

Page: 12

  So surged the wild thoughts in her; but the Gods
  Ordained it otherwise. Even now rushed on
  In terrible anger Peleus' son: he thrust
  With sudden spear, and on its shaft impaled
  The body of her tempest-footed steed,
  Even as a man in haste to sup might pierce
  Flesh with the spit, above the glowing hearth
  To roast it, or as in a mountain-glade
  A hunter sends the shaft of death clear through
  The body of a stag with such winged speed
  That the fierce dart leaps forth beyond, to plunge
  Into the tall stem of an oak or pine.
  So that death-ravening spear of Peleus' son
  Clear through the goodly steed rushed on, and pierced
  Penthesileia. Straightway fell she down
  Into the dust of earth, the arms of death,
  In grace and comeliness fell, for naught of shame
  Dishonoured her fair form. Face down she lay
  On the long spear outgasping her last breath,
  Stretched upon that fleet horse as on a couch;
  Like some tall pine snapped by the icy mace
  Of Boreas, earth's forest-fosterling
  Reared by a spring to stately height, amidst
  Long mountain-glens, a glory of mother earth;
  So from the once fleet steed low fallen lay
  Penthesileia, all her shattered strength
  Brought down to this, and all her loveliness.

  Now when the Trojans saw the Warrior-queen
  Struck down in battle, ran through all their lines
  A shiver of panic. Straightway to their walls
  Turned they in flight, heart-agonized with grief.
  As when on the wide sea, 'neath buffetings
  Of storm-blasts, castaways whose ship is wrecked
  Escape, a remnant of a crew, forspent
  With desperate conflict with the cruel sea:
  Late and at last appears the land hard by,
  Appears a city: faint and weary-limbed
  With that grim struggle, through the surf they strain
  To land, sore grieving for the good ship lost,
  And shipmates whom the terrible surge dragged down
  To nether gloom; so, Troyward as they fled
  From battle, all those Trojans wept for her,
  The Child of the resistless War-god, wept
  For friends who died in groan-resounding fight.

  Then over her with scornful laugh the son
  Of Peleus vaunted: "In the dust lie there
  A prey to teeth of dogs, to ravens' beaks,
  Thou wretched thing! Who cozened thee to come
  Forth against me? And thoughtest thou to fare
  Home from the war alive, to bear with thee
  Right royal gifts from Priam the old king,
  Thy guerdon for slain Argives? Ha, 'twas not
  The Immortals who inspired thee with this thought,
  Who know that I of heroes mightiest am,
  The Danaans' light of safety, but a woe
  To Trojans and to thee, O evil-starred!
  Nay, but it was the darkness-shrouded Fates
  And thine own folly of soul that pricked thee on
  To leave the works of women, and to fare
  To war, from which strong men shrink shuddering back."

  So spake he, and his ashen spear the son
  Of Peleus drew from that swift horse, and from
  Penthesileia in death's agony.
  Then steed and rider gasped their lives away
  Slain by one spear. Now from her head he plucked
  The helmet splendour-flashing like the beams
  Of the great sun, or Zeus' own glory-light.
  Then, there as fallen in dust and blood she lay,
  Rose, like the breaking of the dawn, to view
  'Neath dainty-pencilled brows a lovely face,
  Lovely in death. The Argives thronged around,
  And all they saw and marvelled, for she seemed
  Like an Immortal. In her armour there
  Upon the earth she lay, and seemed the Child
  Of Zeus, the tireless Huntress Artemis
  Sleeping, what time her feet forwearied are
  With following lions with her flying shafts
  Over the hills far-stretching. She was made
  A wonder of beauty even in her death
  By Aphrodite glorious-crowned, the Bride
  Of the strong War-god, to the end that he,
  The son of noble Peleus, might be pierced
  With the sharp arrow of repentant love.
  The warriors gazed, and in their hearts they prayed
  That fair and sweet like her their wives might seem,
  Laid on the bed of love, when home they won.
  Yea, and Achilles' very heart was wrung
  With love's remorse to have slain a thing so sweet,
  Who might have borne her home, his queenly bride,
  To chariot-glorious Phthia; for she was
  Flawless, a very daughter of the Gods,
  Divinely tall, and most divinely fair.