The Fall of Troy

Page: 20

  Then 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."