The Fall of Troy

Page: 9

  So cried she, and with passion for stern war
  Thrilled all those women; and with eager speed
  They hasted to go forth without the wall
  Mail-clad, afire to battle for their town
  And people: all their spirit was aflame.
  As when within a hive, when winter-tide
  Is over and gone, loud hum the swarming bees
  What time they make them ready forth to fare
  To bright flower-pastures, and no more endure
  To linger therewithin, but each to other
  Crieth the challenge-cry to sally forth;
  Even so bestirred themselves the women of Troy,
  And kindled each her sister to the fray.
  The weaving-wool, the distaff far they flung,
  And to grim weapons stretched their eager hands.

  And now without the city these had died
  In that wild battle, as their husbands died
  And the strong Amazons died, had not one voice
  Of wisdom cried to stay their maddened feet,
  When with dissuading words Theano spake:
  "Wherefore, ah wherefore for the toil and strain
  Of battle's fearful tumult do ye yearn,
  Infatuate ones? Never your limbs have toiled
  In conflict yet. In utter ignorance
  Panting for labour unendurable,
  Ye rush on all-unthinking; for your strength
  Can never be as that of Danaan men,
  Men trained in daily battle. Amazons
  Have joyed in ruthless fight, in charging steeds,
  From the beginning: all the toil of men
  Do they endure; and therefore evermore
  The spirit of the War-god thrills them through.
  'They fall not short of men in anything:
  Their labour-hardened frames make great their hearts
  For all achievement: never faint their knees
  Nor tremble. Rumour speaks their queen to be
  A daughter of the mighty Lord of War.
  Therefore no woman may compare with her
  In prowess—if she be a woman, not
  A God come down in answer to our prayers.
  Yea, of one blood be all the race of men,
  Yet unto diverse labours still they turn;
  And that for each is evermore the best
  Whereto he bringeth skill of use and wont.
  Therefore do ye from tumult of the fray
  Hold you aloof, and in your women's bowers
  Before the loom still pace ye to and fro;
  And war shall be the business of our lords.
  Lo, of fair issue is there hope: we see
  The Achaeans falling fast: we see the might
  Of our men waxing ever: fear is none
  Of evil issue now: the pitiless foe
  Beleaguer not the town: no desperate need
  There is that women should go forth to war."

  So cried she, and they hearkened to the words
  Of her who had garnered wisdom from the years;
  So from afar they watched the fight. But still
  Penthesileia brake the ranks, and still
  Before her quailed the Achaeans: still they found
  Nor screen nor hiding-place from imminent death.
  As bleating goats are by the blood-stained jaws
  Of a grim panther torn, so slain were they.
  In each man's heart all lust of battle died,
  And fear alone lived. This way, that way fled
  The panic-stricken: some to earth had flung
  The armour from their shoulders; some in dust
  Grovelled in terror 'neath their shields: the steeds
  Fled through the rout unreined of charioteers.
  In rapture of triumph charged the Amazons,
  With groan and scream of agony died the Greeks.
  Withered their manhood was in that sore strait;
  Brief was the span of all whom that fierce maid
  Mid the grim jaws of battle overtook.
  As when with mighty roaring bursteth down
  A storm upon the forest-trees, and some
  Uprendeth by the roots, and on the earth
  Dashes them down, the tail stems blossom-crowned,
  And snappeth some athwart the trunk, and high
  Whirls them through air, till all confused they lie
  A ruin of splintered stems and shattered sprays;
  So the great Danaan host lay, dashed to dust
  By doom of Fate, by Penthesileia's spear.