The Fall of Troy

Page: 52

  So spake he, grieved to the inmost heart. The folk
  Woefully wafted all round. O'er Hellespont
  Echoes of mourning rolled: the sighing air
  Darkened around, a wide-spread sorrow-pall.
  Yea, grief laid hold on wise Odysseus' self
  For the great dead, and with remorseful soul
  To anguish-stricken Argives thus he spake:
  "O friends, there is no greater curse to men
  Than wrath, which groweth till its bitter fruit
  Is strife. Now wrath hath goaded Aias on
  To this dire issue of the rage that filled
  His soul against me. Would to God that ne'er
  Yon Trojans in the strife for Achilles' arms
  Had crowned me with that victory, for which
  Strong Telamon's brave son, in agony
  Of soul, thus perished by his own right hand!
  Yet blame not me, I pray you, for his wrath:
  Blame the dark dolorous Fate that struck him down.
  For, had mine heart foreboded aught of this,
  This desperation of a soul distraught,
  Never for victory had I striven with him,
  Nor had I suffered any Danaan else,
  Though ne'er so eager, to contend with him.
  Nay, I had taken up those arms divine
  With mine own hands, and gladly given them
  To him, ay, though himself desired it not.
  But for such mighty grief and wrath in him
  I had not looked, since not for a woman's sake
  Nor for a city, nor possessions wide,
  I then contended, but for Honour's meed,
  Which alway is for all right-hearted men
  The happy goal of all their rivalry.
  But that great-hearted man was led astray
  By Fate, the hateful fiend; for surely it is
  Unworthy a man to be made passion's fool.
  The wise man's part is, steadfast-souled to endure
  All ills, and not to rage against his lot."

  So spake Laertes' son, the far-renowned.
  But when they all were weary of grief and groan,
  Then to those sorrowing ones spake Neleus' son:
  "O friends, the pitiless-hearted Fates have laid
  Stroke after stroke of sorrow upon us,
  Sorrow for Aias dead, for mighty Achilles,
  For many an Argive, and for mine own son
  Antilochus. Yet all unmeet it is
  Day after day with passion of grief to wail
  Men slain in battle: nay, we must forget
  Laments, and turn us to the better task
  Of rendering dues beseeming to the dead,
  The dues of pyre, of tomb, of bones inurned.
  No lamentations will awake the dead;
  No note thereof he taketh, when the Fates,
  The ruthless ones, have swallowed him in night."

  So spake he words of cheer: the godlike kings
  Gathered with heavy hearts around the dead,
  And many hands upheaved the giant corpse,
  And swiftly bare him to the ships, and there
  Washed they away the blood that clotted lay
  Dust-flecked on mighty limbs and armour: then
  In linen swathed him round. From Ida's heights
  Wood without measure did the young men bring,
  And piled it round the corpse. Billets and logs
  Yet more in a wide circle heaped they round;
  And sheep they laid thereon, fair-woven vests,
  And goodly kine, and speed-triumphant steeds,
  And gleaming gold, and armour without stint,
  From slain foes by that glorious hero stripped.
  And lucent amber-drops they laid thereon,
  Years, say they, which the Daughters of the Sun,
  The Lord of Omens, shed for Phaethon slain,
  When by Eridanus' flood they mourned for him.
  These, for undying honour to his son,
  The God made amber, precious in men's eyes.
  Even this the Argives on that broad-based pyre
  Cast freely, honouring the mighty dead.
  And round him, groaning heavily, they laid
  Silver most fair and precious ivory,
  And jars of oil, and whatsoe'er beside
  They have who heap up goodly and glorious wealth.
  Then thrust they in the strength of ravening flame,
  And from the sea there breathed a wind, sent forth
  By Thetis, to consume the giant frame
  Of Aias. All the night and all the morn
  Burned 'neath the urgent stress of that great wind
  Beside the ships that giant form, as when
  Enceladus by Zeus' levin was consumed
  Beneath Thrinacia, when from all the isle
  Smoke of his burning rose—or like as when
  Hercules, trapped by Nessus' deadly guile,
  Gave to devouring fire his living limbs,
  What time he dared that awful deed, when groaned
  All Oeta as he burned alive, and passed
  His soul into the air, leaving the man
  Far-famous, to be numbered with the Gods,
  When earth closed o'er his toil-tried mortal part.
  So huge amid the flames, all-armour clad,
  Lay Aias, all the joy of fight forgot,
  While a great multitude watching thronged the sands.
  Glad were the Trojans, but the Achaeans grieved.

  But when that goodly frame by ravening fire
  Was all consumed, they quenched the pyre with wine;
  They gathered up the bones, and reverently
  Laid in a golden casket. Hard beside
  Rhoeteium's headland heaped they up a mound
  Measureless-high. Then scattered they amidst
  The long ships, heavy-hearted for the man
  Whom they had honoured even as Achilles.
  Then black night, bearing unto all men sleep,
  Upfloated: so they brake bread, and lay down
  Waiting the Child of the Mist. Short was sleep,
  Broken by fitful staring through the dark,
  Haunted by dread lest in the night the foe
  Should fall on them, now Telamon's son was dead.