"The Story of Aristomenes"

An unpublished tale from The Earthly Paradise,
edited by David Latham

The Text


This story tells of the life of Aristomenes the
Messenian; and how he strove to the utmost of his

power to make his people and nation free, and,
failing herein, nevertheless won a great name then
and for ever afterwards.


How they came to Laconia

Nigh twenty years had the Messenian folk
Striven to free them from the Spartan yoke,
And fought in godlike wise, yet all in vain;
For as bright days amid the year’s sure wane

At end of autumn had their victories been,
And twixt the bay boughs had their wise ones seen
The shadow of the end a drawingnigh:
After each battle won must they ask why
Their fields grew narrower;helpful man on man
Failed from their triumph: ably plotted plan,
Great hearted strenuous stroke mere winds & waves
Made nought before their foemen; their own graves
Their own swords dug; in their most glorious fields
The foes once beaten hung their fallen shields;
For ever in this woefullest of wars
Against them in their courses fought the stars.

So is Messenia now a Spartan farm;
Scarce are their men indeed grudged lying warm,
In winter or the shade in summer days,
Or corn or wine, so that their hands may raise
Fat crops to block the Spartan market-place;
Their women surely may grow fair of face
And delicate of limb that they may be
Well praised by men fresh come from over sea
When in the Spartan feast they pour the wine;
Their craftsmen still may fashion ivory fine,
And unstained marble, into Gods, to stand.
With Spartan bay leaves decking head & hand;
Their poets yet in thin sweet voice may sing,
So they will quite forget the axes' ring
Amidst the battle song: nay sometimes still
Their men-at-arms may show their wonted skill
Amid the Spartan spears – ’gainst Spartan foes,
Where nought there is to gain and all to lose.

Ah evil days! for surely may ye wot
That such as erewhile had cast in their lot
With King Aristodemus, Euphaes
Damis, all dead and deathless memories
In joys of slaves would have but small delight;
For them no morn of May was e'er so bright,
No eve of June so soft, that they forgat
Oaths sworn long time agone, while their king sat,
Smiling with hope of battle, in his tent,
Whereto the fresh wind, laden with scent
Of trodden grass bore with it therewithal
The tumult of the far off foeman's call:
For them all eyes of women seemed grown sad,
All songs within them a lamenting had,
All children's glee reproached them with the day
When these too needs must learn what weight there lay
Upon all life in that sad land of theirs.

So passed over the land the heavy years,
Wherein none looked on daughter or fair wife
With any joy, and none but fools deemed life
To have much hope in it; but ye must know
That there were some who bode not the last blow
But fled away when hope was quite outworn;
One house amid these, ere the folk forlorn
And leaderless and 'wildered, at the last
Ithome’s war-beat gates wide open cast,
Since fate compelled them not to bide the end
Into Arcadia made a shift to wend,
Since in that land dwelt others of their kin;
So they were counted worthy folk therein,
And there in honour did their old folk die
Their young folk grow to eld, while longingly
They thought and told of the great hapless war.
Amid these days of restlessness and care
Twenty three years after Ithome’s fall
Unto the exiles latest wed of all
A child was born named Aristomenes,
Who grew up little caring folk to please
And little loved of all; dull in the school
Careless but rough in boys games, half a fool
Half dangerous folk deemed him; as he grew
Amid the fellowship of those poor few
Sons of the exiles of Ithome they
Would mock him often, and yet day by day
Grew more to fear, casting, all the same
Upon his shoulders more than half the blame
Of their wild deeds; for certes most of these
In that fair land were as a north east breeze
Amid a poppy field – so oft enow
He learned that birch-twigs in Arcadia grow
Nor heeded much the knowledge: for the rest
Not over big he was, but deep of chest,
Long-armed beyond most lads, swift-foot & light,
Well-knit and lithe, full-lipped, with even bright
And grey as a hawks; and ever would he be
In his attire be rough & slovenly;
Silent he was and patient of all jeers
And hating feasts. So unto nineteen years
Did he attain, still deemed of all, as one
By whom would nought of any note be done;
For no least deed e’en of their rioting
Had he once led, or counselled anything;
Though he had oft been trusty instrument
To carry out some pushing fools intent.

Now at this tide oft whiles would it befal
That these same youths would cross the mountain wall
Into AEtolia and thenceforth would take
Such things as folk not too much moan would make
Over the loss of – but on such-like days
Would Aristomenes no least voice raise
For or against; whiles would he seem to lack
Courage indeed, yea and would oft hold back
When there was most to do: – Of this it came
That of these deeds was somewhat too much fame,
And for a while it scarce was good to bide
At the city for these youths, who wandering wide
Fared so, that at the last it fell their way
By the head-waters of Alpheus lay,
And high amid the goat-browsed hills they were
Mid which the homesteads were but small & rare.
So on a night with certain shepherd-folk
They guested; and arising when day broke
Fell to their food in glee; – nineteen of these
Messenian youths with Aristomenes
And four Arcadian shepherds; – ye may wot
That everyone of them some arms had got
And were rough players for their years; sixteen
Of summers had the youngest of them seen,
The eldest three and twenty.
Now they fell
To asking these same shepherd-folk to tell
About the land south of the mountain ridge,
Where goat & thorn-bush looked like fly & midge
From the rough vale wherein they breakfasted.
Laconia lay beyond, the shepherds said,
The springs of the Eurotas rose up there
On the other side; a country good and fair
For folk, they said, and grinned, if only one
Were sprung from Hercules of yore agone.
All laughed thereat save Aristomenes,
Who by the porridge-pot was on his knees,
The steam wherefrom now well nigh hid his face.
But presently he rose up in his place,
Stammering and blushing een as he would speak
But found the words a long way off to seek;

“Lo I have heard,” quoth he, “my grandsire tell,
How these folk, these same thieves upon him fell
And had away ten horses from his field,
And from his house nine brass bowls, a gilt shield
Given to Pallas, and two handmaids fair;
Too many years agone to find them there
Did that befall; yet since we needs this tide
Must be away from our own country side
Good pastime should I find it for my part
To bring him somewhat thence to glad his heart
Instead of these when we go back again:
That might he deem he had not lived in vain,
If I, – if his son’s son should grow to be
All unafraid the light of spears to see.”

Loud they laughed out; his grandsire sooth to say
Had been but doting for this many a day,
Remembering nought that in his time went on
Forgetting nought of old fields lost & won:
So they were merry, mocking him a while
Who paid no heed a space, but with a smile,
And grey eyes staring dreamily, looked out
Onto the misty mountain; till at last
As they beheld him o’er them all was cast
A sense of something going to befall,
Nor did they laugh more, when around on all
He turned and in their midst three paces made
And in a changed voice grave & solemn said.
“Ye laugh; but I shall laugh not till it comes
The day that sees us in our ancient homes
Or till I am a-dying; if ye deem
My grandsire dozes through a wavering dream
Yet has he held the sword, and good methinks
It is for one who into grey eld sinks
To mind the great life that has passed away
Rather than little matters of today,
When we, being smitten durst not een cry out.”

They looked at one another as in doubt
If this were even he, Aristomenes
And their hearts swelled; for few amidst of these
Knew aught of fear, only too far away
And great had Sparta seemed until today.
And therewithal he spake again & said:

“A fool ye deem me, and my words ill-weighed,
And the life good enow, ye live in yet;
So may it be and ye may well forget
If so ye will, for life lasts no great while

Nor will it skill if we lived base or vile,
Once we are dead: but are ye then so safe?
What if the Spartans one day ’gin to chafe
At this small heart of the old land living free
Or seeming free anigh them – Certainly
Ye are not soft or tame, well ye wot
If the Arcadians love you much or not
Or if they fear Laconia: sooth to say
Our friends spears even now may block the way
Behind us; at the worst of all a space
Of merry days shall pass ere Sparta raise
Her force against us – nay now, I behold
No faint-hearts here, but sturdy men & bold,
And my heart tells me whatso comes at last
That many an hour in fair hope shall be past;
And many an eve of victory shall we know;
And many a time our mere names whispered low
Down in wind-gathering hollows of the hills
Shall quell our foes e’en as the thunder stills
The babble of the summer afternoon –
O fair Gods lead us unto battle soon!”

He felt their gathering voices as he went
With great strides leading oer the heathery bent,
Sword clashing against shield, till suddenly
Their shout went echoing up the valley
beat back from hill to hill as they a rose
As men the God drives blind against their foes,
And recking nought, swift followed after him,
Watched by the shepherds till they grew all dim
In shifting haze of morning; to their sheep,
Their well-known day of toil, their dreamless sleep
These turned, half scornful, yet half longing still
For something more their empty lives to fill.

On toiled the sons of the exiles up the steep,
And early that same night were laid to sleep
Far down the southern slope; then with the day
Rose up and gazed adown, and there it lay,
The land that bred their tyrants; homestead fair,
Pasture and wood and cornland gathered there
About the hid Eurotas: orderly
And rich seemed all, and these were young to die,
Yet young to think of dying or of fear
Or what the slow revenge of time might bear.

So downward did they pass, till the slopes grew
Wooded and tilled, and here and there a few
Of early-stirring folk they met, who fled
As though Arcadian hill-thieves they did dread;
But none made question to them, till at noon,
They passed an oak-wood heavy with the June,
And came upon a great man’s house, whereby
There stood the shrine of some divinity:
Plenteous the place was, orchard, garden-close
Rick-yard and barn spread round, & high o’er those
The pillared house, through whose court gates flung wide
Came sound of folk at meal in hot noontide.
Great looked the place and lordly, the young men
Gazed each on each, and certainly by then
The morn’s vague rashness had grown somewhat dull;
Poor seemed they in a place so plentiful,
Beardless and light-limbed by the ponderous gate.
But in their leader did the heart wax great,
Fair visions passed before him, as he said,
Like one who knew their thoughts:
“Let nought be weighed
But all be dared today! – time later on
When with the Gods’ help great things we have won
will we be wise. – not hard now to be brave,
For in each Spartan house good friends we have,
If not our kin, yet foes of our kin's foes;
And this shall be no woeful day to those;
Men torn from home and fair life, having nought
Save the one hope to vengeance to be brought.
No words, but follow swift unto the hall!”

Into the court they passed then; down did fall
The brazen jar from off a maiden's head,
And flashed in the hot sun; a boy who led
A horse from hall to stable stopped and stared,
And durst not flee, while restless unafeared,
The lustred doves before their swift feet brushed,
The peacock twixt the close-set yew-stems pushed;
Nought looked like war, as all doors round about
The band beset; but tumult and great doubt
Rose in the hall, when in the doorway there
Stood Aristomenes, his golden hair
Bright with the sun, and through the locks of it
Might men behold the noonday sunbeams flit
From spear to spear behind; great fear fell then
Upon those half-armed, and unwary men;
Till over all his loud clear voice was heard.

“Men in this hall, be ye no more afeard
Than if the Gods, who sent us here, were come!
Behold we have a will to get us home
Unto Messenia; from the Arcadian land
We come last bearing little wealth in hand,
For ye Laconian folk our stewards are made
This many a year: so when ye down have laid
The increase of our own store, harmless we
Will go our ways; who yet this side the sea,
Yea in our fathers’ fields, have mind to dwell;
Moreover on this day methinks ’twere well
If here abide perchance folk of our kin,
Or strangers, who have found it hard to win
From out this house, that with this company
They now should wend more fields of Greece to see.
– Nay let your weapons be! – we are enough
To slay all here, if once the play wax rough;
Take life, and meet us on another day!
And whoso goeth to Sparta, let him say
That Aristomenes his eyes have seen,
Wending his way to what of old hath been
A happy land, that either he may live
Some joy to folk down-trodden there to give,
Or at the least die not without good fame!
– Now, master of this house, speak forth thy name,
And once more, if here be Messenian folk
Or strangers bowed down neath the Spartan yoke
Now let them come with us, either to die
As the Gods meant them, or live happily!”

A sullen hush, mid scowl of angry brows
And clenching of hard hands, and then uprose
Glad clamour from the many bondmen there,
midst whom no stroke the Spartans nought might dare
Then spake the master of the house
“O youth,
Beardless unknown thou art; and yet in sooth
One good day hast thou won in thy life-days,
While I, Cleombrotus must lose the praise
That once I had, of being victorious –
– But you, scourged slaves, get forth from this my house
Where no more meat ye gorge from this day forth,
Dogs bought with money! beasts of little worth,
Dragged from our fee-farm of Messenia, go,
Lest ye tomorn the stocks and whip cord know!
– Take them, bold youth, and blame thyself, when they
From the first clash of steel shall flee away.
But for my wealth, if thou indeed take all
Thou takest not more than the Gods one day shall;
Lo thou, my daughter! wilt thou take her then?
One day I deem she shall bear warlike men
To fail at last, and come to misery!”

And as he spake he drew forth from his knee
A growing maiden, some twelve winters old
Who with great eyes the stranger did behold,
Trembling, and clinging to her father s knees,
Who smiled upon her. Aristomenes
Would fain have spoken, and a threatening sound
Rose from the slaves who gathered close around;
But the lord cried;
“Thou hast begun a war
Knowing but little who thy foemen are;
And if thou thinkest thou hast gained great things
This day from me, the seed and friend of kings,
Yet shalt thou think ere thou hast gained the end
How many joys thou from the world didst send,
– My joy the first, and thine perchance the last.”
Therewith back to the wall behind he cast
His right hand suddenly, and caught adown
A hunting knife, thin bladed sharp & brown,
And to his own heart thrust it with sure stroke,
And fell down, dead and silent: from the folk
A mingled murmur rose, and pale & wan
The little one stood gazing on the man
Greater than was the greatest man she knew.
But Aristomenes unto him drew,
Smiling, but pale, and somewhat sick at heart,
And said;
“In brave wise has he played his part,
Yet better had he lived to hinder ours!
But go ye freed Messenians to the bowers
Where arms are stored, and raiment & good grain,
And gather from the home-fields the best gain
Of neat and sheep and horses, nor delay
Our setting forth three hours; because this day
I fain would tread on the Messenian soil.
But here shall sit these Spartans free from toil
Till we are on our way.”
So here and there
Ransacked the slaves just freed, of whom there were
Some thirty men, but the Messenians stayed
Guarding the sullen home-folk: the young maid
Stood by her mother and some women, late
Come from their chambers in most sad estate,
And she wept too; but mid her sobs, no less
Gazed on the strange and new-born stateliness
Of the rough-clad Messenian, as he passed
To and fro through the hall.
And so at last
In the very hottest of that day of June,
While the great brazen trumpet’s clattering tune,
And clash of arms broke through the drowsy hum
Of scarce seen things of summer, did they come
Into the courtyard, armed now gloriously,
All save their leader; therewith could they see
Out in the highway waggons tilted o’er
The victuals and the goodly things that bore
And further on steeds sheep & lowing neat;
Forth went they joyous; yet with lingering feet
Out of the hall passed Aristomenes
Half sad at heart the very last of these,
And as he passed the sun-scorched threshold o’er
Still were the maiden’s eyes upon the door,
And she forgat to weep till he was gone.

Bright on the temple now the hot sun shone
As through the gates the little army went,
And Aristomenes with fresh intent
Cried out to halt, and asked one of the stead
Who dwelt therein; who with a glad face said
It was the God of War; then did they take
A black bull for the hopeful omen’s sake
And as they might they sacrificed him there.
Well dight the pillared shrine was, and most fair,
And just before the image of the God
There hung upon a fair wrought brazen rod
A goodly helm bedight with silver wings,
A mail-coat wrought as for the best of kings,
And a great shield, thereon an eagle made
Whose wings outspread the golden ground did shade.
Then told a homeman how these arms were won
At Stenyclerus in the days agone;
In that last fight when the Messenians broke
And fled away a feeble hopeless folk:
So therewithal cried Aristomenes;

“O thou great God, if thou wilt give me these
Somewhat I deem I yet may give to thee;
Yet will I wear them not, until I see
My foemen’s backs, when sevenfold more than mine
I count them.”
Either the June sun did shine
Brighter than erst, or else the altar fire
Red flickering in the white sun shot up higher,
Or Ares’ face gleamed, answering the face
Of Aristomenes, who from its place
Took down that gear, and bore it to a wain
And cast it in. Then sang the horn again,
Men leaped to saddle creaked the wain-wheels, lowed
The sullen herd, and from the thirsty road
Into the green trees rolled the cloud of dust
As westward went that handful, in fair trust
Of Aristomenes, new breathed upon
By that old spirit that great fields had won –
– And he in trust that Fate would make no end
Till oer the world some tale his name should send.

How They Came To Messenia

So rose the little cloud like a man’s hand
Upon Laconia, spreading, till the land
Was wet with drenching of that evil shower.

Down sank the great sun now from hour to hour
As steadily they went unto the west,
Showing no force ’gainst any for the rest,
Nor seeming aught if any drew anear
But Spartans by their riding and their gear:
Good speed they made, for they had some who knew
How best to pierce the tangled valleys through
And so before the ending of the day
They gat them through a certain narrow way
Betwixt the hills, and, coming out of it,
Beheld the kites sweep and the swallows flit
Against the grey cliffs with the sun still bright,
And down below a land of all delight
Green with June not yet weary: then the guide,
Who ever went by the young leader’s side,
Turned to his smooth fresh face his care worn eyes,
And said,
“O godlike youth, the Gods are wise
To dull our memory, since they will that we
Should live on still: so has it fared with me
That mid my daily pain and daily fear,
I had forgotten what we gaze on there,
The sweet land of Messenia.”
Then that word
Said low in the soft eve their hearts so stirred,
That sounds without a meaning and strange tears
Broke from them, amid thoughts of all the years
Wherein alternate hope and fear had played
With their dead fathers, and the deeds now made
Songs for the Spartan children: there a space
They lingered, gazing on the pleasant place
From the grey pass; till Aristomenes
Cast up his sword into the evening breeze,
And caught it falling, and cried;
“Praise to you,
O Gods that ye have given me deeds to do,
And days to do them in, and for an end
No dream of vain things whatso fate may send!”
Then all cried out for joy, and down they went
Unto the lower land, till neath a bent
They saw where lay a homestead grey-roofed long;
Thither they turned, and still the herdsman’s song
Going to fold at day’s end, or the voice
Of youths and maids who ever must rejoice
With the mere joy of living, sank and died
As, turning, they beheld these fellows ride
In Spartan wargear; close shrank child & maid
Unto the grey stone well-shaft as afraid,
When nigher still they drew, by the garth gate
The unarmed doorwards scowled with helpless hate,
And as their spears the trim wall overtopped
The piper mid the light-limbed dancers stopped
His pipe as pleasant as the morning bees
Within the limes: but Aristomenes
Smiled as if glad and much they wondered then
To see the rough lad leading steel-clad men
With such proud mien, and some folk murmured low
‘What mumming will the cursed thieves make now
To grind us lower yet?’ but on he rode
And smote upon the door of that abode;
That opened almost even ere his blow,
And there an old man stood, with hair of snow
Flushed face and wrathful eyes who cried:
Why then
Come ye to shear the shorn, O Spartan men?
These are your own fields that we dwell upon,
When all is wasted then is your wealth gone
As well as our poor lives.”
The youth leapt down
Unto the earth, and neath the Elder’s frown
Smiled joyously, and scarce for joy could cry:
“Help for Messenia, father ere thou die! –
Come now and tell me what young men are here
Who with stout heart may carry sword or spear
Nor faint when foes are many!”
The old man
Stood there with open mouth & cheeks grown wan
And stared at him a while, then stammering said
What is thy name then? Come ye from the dead
That ye must name Messenia as a thing
To help or fight for? as of a great king
Thy voice is and thine eyes, despite thy gear;
Mock not an old man in his last ill year!”

“Well, like a mock it seems that I should strive
Een with this handful happy days to give
Unto the beat-down land,” he said, “yet sooth
So dying shall I crown a happy youth
With no ill end – yea, but I will prevail
Beseems it not a god-helped man to fail;
And such as ye behold me in this place
I spring from AEpitus of ancient days.”

Then mid the ring of spears the old man cried;
“Ah is it so that my dream hath not lied?
Now may the rest come after – Come ye in,
And if your cheer tonight be poor and thin
Yet may we look to mend it on a tide
When neath us lies the Spartan country-side:
Since of your tidings somewhat do I guess.”

Then through the door in did the young men press,
The home folk gathered round much wondering,
While still the old man cried for many a thing,
To spread the boards, to fold the new-come neat,
To bring the strangers water for their feet
And garlands for their heads, and so at last
Into the hall both guests & home-folk passed
And feasted as they might with plenteous glee,
Though small wealth there indeed there was to see
Of aught but roughest things; but maidens eyes
Made the bright blood to many a cheek arise
Mid the new comers, sweet it seemed to give
New hope of life, new hope for love to live
To such as these; like very Gods they felt
As though to a great world weal and woe they dealt.

But now the good man did for silence cry,
And Aristomenes spoke out on high
And told the hope and good hap of that morn,
Saying moreover;
“Lo, into the corn
The hook is thrust, but further than our eyes
May see the unshorn field before us lies.
Surely I think that we shall one day rest
And look behind, those who have not been blest
With death before the victory; yet meanwhile
With no soft words will I your hearts beguile,
Hard are the years wherein we have to deal
With a proud folk, an unbowed commonweal;
Ye who draw swords now, for no holiday
I lead you forth, nor for a while to play
That ye may sleep the sounder, that your loves
May kiss you sweeter in the olive groves.

Nay amid ruin a God must each be come
With stern face watching wrack within his home;
Unthought-of horrors must he look to find,
A fresh pain drifting nigher on each wind,
Fresh fear, if he could fear, in every breath
Made into words; no love but such as death
May make not pale, unto his lips shall stoop,
No hope but such as hopeth against hope:
Is it too great to bear? – Yet shame & scorn
Ye slay so bearing this – but yestermorn
I, who speak this as if the fire of Jove
The boys heart in my breast did verily move,
Knew nought whereat I aimed, why I did yearn,
And now within me such a light doth burn
As shall light up in Sparta faces pale
With listening to a still increasing tale –
– A flame to last till death comes – yea in sooth
Een this same morn was I a hot head youth
Who thought to do my deed and get away
Laughing an hour at all the disarray
Of Spartan grey-beards – now I know that I
Am driven on by some divinity
To free the land, and none shall stay me now!”

So Godlike did the visage of him grow
As thus he spake, that mens hearts in them swelled
And when he made an end from out them welled
A great cry glad and strong and terrible,
And on all folk a God like courage fell.
But the old man called mid the noise & stir
His five sons to him, and said;
“Lo ye hear
How the Gods have remembered us; haste now
And get to saddle, and these tidings show
Wide through the land to every trusty man,
And bid none loiter if so be he can
Set foot before foot, but be here ere noon
Tomorrow, for doubt not that over soon
Shall Sparta be upon us.”
  There withal
To one or two more did his kinsmen call
And went their ways, and then the goodman said:

“Hearken fair friends; last night: upon my bed
I slept and dreamed, and lo a dead friend came
Unto me and said, ‘Damis, name the name
Most famous amid all Messenian folk.’
A sigh methought from out my heart there broke
As I named Euphaes: ‘Nay long agone,’
He said, ‘he went with many another one
Unto the dead; seest thou my face, how bright
It is now; shall a beaten ghost delight
This heart that loves Messenia mid the dead.’
Methought I fell a-trembling then, and said;
Nay, by the holy things that thou and I
Buried in Ira's midmost secretly
Ere the last fight, tell me what thing is this!’

He said, ‘Een now an eagle flying is
From out Arcadia, let him not fly lone;’
And into the dimness straightway was he gone
Leaving the name unspoken; but I woke
Struggling with memories of the bygone folk,
The last hours of Ithome; and how he
The prophet bade that man and me
Bury the holy things of Jove deep down
Amid the dusk of Ira’s woods unsown:
‘Which things once hid,’ quoth he, ‘ye shall not stir,
Till of the living from the dead ye hear,
And from the eyrie of Arcadia fly
Joves bird to bring our people victory. – ’
And now meseems I am not grown too old
To go to Ira: yea a fair stronghold
Meet for our purpose shall ye find the same,
A place where a great host need scare think shame
Een by a band like thine to be long stayd.
Moreover thither may we well have aid
From out Arcadia, lying close indeed
Unto its marches: good for every need
The country is around, nor may ye face
The hosts of Sparta save in such a place;
Until we gather force that may avail;
Yea and get arms too, for a weary tale
It is to tell of all the ransacking
In every stead for any warlike thing;
Yet is there left indeed a spear and sword
In this my house; because my well hid hoard
Has scaped the thieves of Sparta: now one cup
Unto our first fight, and then stand we up
And for departing all things here array;
Glad shall I be to see the winding way
Dimmed by the dust-cloud that our hoofs shall raise,
And though I see not one of all those days
When in this house unfeared my kin shall sit
Yet doubt I nought about the end of it.”

Amid the clatter and the joyous sound
That rose up as the cup of oaths went round
Sat Aristomenes, as though a dream
Had come on him unwares; all things did seem
Too little and too hopeless for a while
A wise man into striving to beguile;
But then, remembering what great toil there lay
Betwixt him and the coming of the day
When all attained should leave him nought to hope,
With what a world of troubles he must cope
Ere he could turn about to weigh the worth
Of all the deeds men do upon the earth,
He smiled and stretched his hand out for the cup
And as amid the clamour he stood up,
And drank in silence, to his eyes there came
A kind grave look as though he knew no shame
And mid the day’s work had no time to scoff;
All querulous curses and all all dreams fell off
From his fair soul, that great his name might grow.

So in the fair eve were they busy now
By wain and byre, nor slept they much that night,
And long ere the first breaking of the light
Men gan to gather to the stead, and when
The sun was fully up, on many men,
Full-flushed with hope, his rays fell: then a band
Of chosen youths pushed onward through the land
Toward Ira for the clearing of the way;
And ere the midmost of the troubled day
Old Damis the main body of them led
From out the cleared deserted ancient stead,
Nor once turned back his cheery face to gaze
Upon the ruin of the well-loved place,
For still behind stayed Aristomenes
Watching the dust-cloud float above the trees
As through the vale they wound; now a great train
Where wife and child and beast & laden wain
Made the spears seem but scanty: so when he
No more mid that moving cloud could see
The steel a glittering, round he turned and bade
His men to work, who, falling to there, made
Such wrack of the empty stead as might be done
Without fire-raising.
Low had fallen the sun
Before he cried to horse; then with grave face,
As one grown old untimely, from that place
He turned the last of all men, and his heart,
Brave as it was, scarce seemed to have a part
In all the eager hopes of yestermorn,
So sad a courage in his soul was born
As swiftly through the oerworn windless day
He and his folk toward Ira went their way.

How They Made A Stronghold On The Hill Of Ira.

In a great hollow of the mountain slopes,
Where toward the south the woodland country droops,
This hog-backed spur of Ira lies, that falls
On every side save toward the mountain walls

Whereto a ridge there runneth; thick thereon
The unsown pine-woods stand, & scarce had shone
The sun upon the soil there, till the sound
Of the shrill pipe pierced the dim dusk around
This morn, and midst its eager melody
Broad axe and glittering bill were swung on high.
A little way as you go lower down
With oak woods are the hillsides overgrown,
And then begins the tillage; fair enow
Among the orchards doth the barley grow
Now yellowing for the scythe; on terraces
The vine is trellised, and grey olive-trees
Spread cloudlike oer the slopes – A noble land,
A happy place, if still mans grasping hand
Itched not for more and more, and een when full
Of rest and life, found not the days grow dull
Without he made some story for the folk
Who, his days past, are writhing neath the yoke
Of sorrows that they may not understand.
Ah, a good place, a fair & hopeful land
1 For these new-comers! – fast now falls the axe
No blast of horn the swine-filled forest lacks,
And Aristomenes rides far and wide,
And gathers up from all the country side
Both men and goods; and from Arcadia come
Wild men, and run aways to make their home
On Ira; but the Arcadian common wealth
Will make nor meddle yett, although by stealth
Some great men send their arms & such-like gear.
Nor camplike dwelt these long, for you may hear
The hammers and the saws at work day-long,
And sill and strut and upright rising strong
E’en in the places where as trees they grew
A while agone. And still though the year drew
Round unto autumn & the fields were shorn,
Unto the place no tidings were there borne
Of Sparta stirring; yea though twice or thrice
In the Laconian fields did flame arise
From homesteads plundered. And yet no less grave
Or watchful were the leaders. “We shall have
The heavier storm,” quoth Damis, “when it breaks
For these folk play for nought but heavy stakes,
And care not for a plundered farm or twain
To risk an army beaten home again.”

So it befell on a fair autumn day,
While yet in hollows of the mountains lay
The white mist, and the apple fell adown
Through the still air, amidmost their new town
Folk gathered round about the fane new wrought,
And unto Jove the best they might do brought,
Fruit flowers and worthy beasts; but midst of these
By Damis led and Aristomenes
There came a company of maidens fair
Fresh-clad and flower-crowned, who aloft did bear
Shut in a brazen ark the holy things;
Few men were there who then felt less than kings,
As pressing after these, whom hope did move
Amid the flutter of their hearts to love,
Een though they knew it not, through the wide door
They went into their temple rude & poor,
And twixt bright heads and well wrought shoulders saw
The old man's quivering eager thin hands draw
From out the ark Joves image silver-wrought,
Black with the damp of years but harmed in nought;
And other twain of Helen’s brothers bright
And thin gold plates figured with words of might
Few men could read now; and the empty car
Of the Mighty Mother wrought with gem & star.
Yea their hearts swelled, for these they knew indeed
Had heard the crying of their fathers’ need
While yet Ithome stood.
Back now a space
The maidens fell, and their young leaders face
Bright and yet solemn they beheld now turn
To Where the new-lit altar flame did burn;
Clad still he was in his rough peasant gear,
Yet a world’s weal his shoulders seemed to bear
So noble was he, as he cried;
“O Jove,
If anywise a mortal man may move
Thy heart that rules all, grant to us who bring
These holy things here, that so longed-for thing
They erst heard prayed for, victory & good peace
For this their land, new weal and fresh increase.
This second thing some folk of thee might pray,
And yet not I, because I know today,
It shall not fail us at the worst to die
Unshamed and striving still for victory:
Hearken the third thing then, and grant that soon
I and all these may learn with what a tune
The Spartan spears clash on the Spartan shields,
When their king's tents rise fair above the fields!

Loudly the people shouted as he spake,
And through the press therewith the priests did break,
Leading the gilt-horned milk white wreathed bull;
But ere the echo of that shout grew dull,
Ere the priest’s axe fell, came another sound
Of horse-hoofs beating on the stony ground;
Then on all men, and wherefore they knew not,
Great awe and silence fell; and they forgot
Their very lives and what they came to do,
As the press fell asunder, and there drew
Up to the altar two men great of growth,
Fair with the fairness of the prime of youth,
Bright-haired, gold-clad, and wonderful, alike
As coins just minted one same die doth strike,
Who in one voice sent forth a mighty cry, –
Aweful but sweet with untold melody:

“What do ye here, Messenians, when your foes
Are treading down fair meadows and green close
About Andania, laughing as they tell
The woes that to their slaves of old befell,
Portioning out your women to the great
Of their great men? Be swift, and they shall wait
Your coming, for a lost and feeble folk
They deem you waiting tamely for the stroke!
Be swift, for surely on this autumn night
The waxing moon shall give enow of light
To guide your feet twixt dying men and dead!”

Some were there who heard not the words they said
Amidst their awe, but said the thunder crashed
Through the soft cloudless sky, and weapons clashed
A long way off; but Aristomenes
Stood with flushed cheeks, and bright eyes facing these
As one who hearkens, till they turned them round
And down the street again the hoofs did sound
Then he cried out;
“Heard ye their promise then,
Shall not this evening make us more than men?
Fair hope sweet life! whatever comes henceforth
Surely our lives shall seem now something worth!
Out, out and arm! Let us be swiftly gone,
For they do well on whom these twain have shone,
The Dioscuri – O, fellows, arm and out!”

All folk gave answer with a joyous shout
As their hearts came again, and, all being done
That they must needs do to the Highest One,
Men cast away their garlands & soft gear,
And from their loves hands took the shield & spear,
And soon with few words & in fair array
Were wending down the leaf-strewn woodland way,
A little band indeed, but well knit, strong
In hardy hearts and memories of all wrong.

Of Their First Battle

No long tale of that fight there is to tell;
Through byways led most secretly and well
Upon the Spartan camp unwares they came
Just as the sun set, and a night of shame
Was that for Sparta: scarcely here and there
A few brave men had heart to raise a spear
Gainst their old slaves, the dregs of the Great War.
A down the valley fled they fast & far
Long after all pursuit of them was stayed:
Short of Laconia might they have no aid,
For Stenyclerus shut her gates, when they
A drifting route drew thither in the grey
Of the autumn dawn, and ere their rearward passed
They heard upon the haze the old cry cast
From her high towers, and saw the just risen sun
Light the old banners from the temples won;
So on they slunk, to have rude greeting, when
They met the women and the ancient men
Of that proud Sparta.
Abode that night among the cut-down trees,
And trampled fields wherein the gained camp lay,
But sent a messenger at break of day
To make all Ira joyful, and withal
Led his few folk within Andania’s wall,
Not knowing that the rout was all so great:
But ere the sun had come to his full heat
True tidings had he, and from many a place
Poured in the folk, flushed & in joyous case
To tell him of the freeing of the land,
And praying for some weapon to their hand.
Amidst the Council-hall he sat, & heard
Their wild joy, and within his heart there stirred
Strange pity for the blind delight of men,
And he bethought him of the old days, when
Een such-like hope, such joy in war filled hearts
That long ago played to an end their parts,
Nor ere the last rest failed to know despair.
Yet since the present day was e’en so fair
He was glad too, nor trembled at his gain
E’en as he feared no whit the utmost pain
His life might chance to bring.
Now soon was come
Glad message back from Ira, that the home
Of the old valour of their folk, the hill
Of dear Ithome, would be better still
As meeting-place for folk made free & glad
Than any stead the fair land had;
And men from Stenyclerus came to say
The selfsame words; whereon he sent that day
Wide through the land, and bade come thereinto
Whoso might deem that he had aught to do
With ruling of the land, upon a tide
He and his named; nor did he bide
Long idle at Andania: the next morn
He rose up ere the dark was quite outworn,
And bearing with him those fair arms that he
Won in Laconia went full silently
Unto a shrine of Mars upon the wall,
And silent mid the warders slow footfall
There he arrayed himself in these; then said:

“O dreadful God, if ever I had prayed
For happy life, or quiet days, or e’en
Short life and peaceful death, then had it been
But mockery on my body these to bear
Wrought in thine honour so exceeding fair:
But when they lay a man on his last bed
With fairest raiment do they deck the dead,
And even so it fares with me today:
Scarce were I lonelier now, if far away
My soul were gone, my body laid at rest:
Yet do I deem well I have chosen the best
When I look round upon the lives of men
And the vain dreams, dreamed o’er & oer again,
Waked from with anguish, blindly sought for still;
No need to ask thee if I do thy will,
No need to ask thee to abide by me
To look upon my doings that shall be,
Since fate has marked me body & soul to bear
The loneliness, the sternness and the care
That do these deeds, the failure and the shame,
And – when my soul can feel no more – the fame
That men must needs desire – See I go
In a few hours e’en such a deed to do
As thou, O God shalt think me marked thereby
To be thine own.”
He turned and pensively
Paced up and down the rampart for a space,
Till others gan to stir about the place
Besides the warders: then he bade to horse,
And, leaving there the more part of the force
Gathered about Andania, rode his ways
With a chosen band.
Old folk in after days,
When all was fallen unto nought again,
Telling the story of their struggle vain,
Would feel their hearts beat quicker as they told
Of his grey eyes beneath his hair of gold
That dreamy morn; then like a tale come true
Told of the Gods it seemed, that one should do
Such deeds and be so fair, so strong to save,
And yet so kind-eyed, smiling and yet grave
As though with deep insight, as round about
Rang the glad voices of folk free from doubt
And soft with new found bliss; as wife or maid
Went on their way rejoicing to have laid
Hand on the skirts of him or to have touched,
It might be, the brown hand that erewhile clutched
The pitiless sword that woke anew that strife
Amid whose clashing failed so many a life.

How Aristomenes Saw Sparta And Came To Ithome.

Throughout the countryside that day he rode
And stayed awhile at every fair abode
He passed that he might know how the land fared,
And to give arms and counsel: still he heard

Of no foes nigh, and all the people seemed
As though the end now fully gained they deemed;
Feasting and joy he looked on everywhere;
For now the maiden might be slim and fair
Nor make her lover tremble and look round,
When in the wood they walked, at every sound
He did not know: the good-man now might praise
His sleek-skinned herd nor fear his voice to raise,
Folk drank from silver now, nor feared to dine
With their halls done about with hangings fine.
On all of whom would Aristomenes
Cast neither doubt nor fear to break their ease
But praised what arms they had & gave them more
And bade them give good heed unto the lore
Their fathers had in such things, and to deem
That women loved the clatter & the gleam
Of sword & shield, and bade them still to strive
As free men ready for the fight to live:
And unto all he seemed a god indeed,
A man to help them at their utmost need.

About the ending of the second day
He stayed his band anigh the mountain-way
That threading rough Taygetus cometh down
Upon Eurotas and the lordly town
Where dwelt the Spartans; just in Spartan land:
They pitched their tents, and there he gave command
That they till noon of the next day should bide
And do no hurt unto the country-side;
“But me,” he said, “the Gods call otherwhere;
And if so be that I should chance to fare
The longest and the latest road of all;
Think no great harm thereof; for that shall fall
That the Fates will: and verily I think
If all our folk ’neath fire and steel should sink,
Of these dry straws ye gather for a bed
The Fates would fashion warriors in their stead
To quell Laconia. Have no care for me
But rest in peace, for good days shall ye see!”

Therewith from off him his fair helm he did,
And with a homespun coat his armour hid
And took an ill-wrought and rough-shafted spear
Such as a shepherd gainst the wolf might bear
And pulled a hood over his face, then went
Unto the gear that lay before his tent
And took a bundle from it, that might be
Some wicked thing for all that folk could see,
Then backed a horse rough-groomed but strong & tall,
And as the shadows of the hills gan fall
Their longest jogged on slowly up the pass
That led to Sparta. A soft eve it was,
But from the south the clouds were gathering now
Neath a light wind, and as the dark did grow,
So grew they till a drizzling undersky
Hid moon and stars, and all the wind did die,
Though rather grey than black the night was still
As slowly onward, betwixt hill & hill,
Amid the noises of the night, he passed
Meeting few folk at first and none at last
For a long while: once on the silence broke

From somewhere nigh the noise of feasting folk,
And blurred lights gleaming wide could he espy.
Once heard he cows low, from some shed, so nigh
That trampling of the horses too he heard;
And once a shepherd, mocking some night-bird
And answered by his dog; and on he rode
Through the dank drizzling night with little load
Upon his heart, thinking of matters great.

And now he deemed indeed the night grew late,
And once or twice he drew rein for it seemed
That somewhat glimmered far off, that he deemed
The water whereof did his foemen drink,
The white Eurotas, till the dream would shrink
And all be grey and empty; till at last
When down-hill sleepily he long had passed
Close by a sudden light broke on his eyes
And a black gable shadow-like did rise
In the grey night, and in the road nearby
Were other shadows moving silently
Whence here and there steel glimmered: the long street
Dimly he saw beyond, as he did meet
The watch of Sparta: for belike ye know
Their glory and their might the more to show
Unwalled the town was of this haughty folk.

So from the watch the word of challenge broke
As they his horse-hoofs heard; with clownish shout
He answered them, and now with little doubt
They dealt with him when in their midst he came,
Making small question of his place or name,
But of the tidings from the west would know:
God wot he did not spare therewith to show
Strange things enough to them and portents dire;
Saying moreover he had seen the fire
Spread oer Laconia, that a mighty band
Of the Messenians harried all the land,
That the Arcadian and the Elian kings

Were come to help, and many such-like things;
The which in surly wrath they took: then he
Asked them in turn where might the dwelling be
Of Jove’s priest, for thereunto would he wend;
They bade him go unto the great street’s end
Where he should see the temple, and nearby
The priest dwelt in the marble house on high.

So forth he passed, and coming to the place
Its mighty pillars through the dusk could trace
And all was silent round: no stay at all
He made but gat him oer the boundary wall
Struggling with hand and knee; then looking round
Slowly he passed the tree-set holy ground
Nor yet saw aught; so going on again
He passed the hushed porch of the mighty fane,
And came to the inner place, where burned aloft
A glimmering lamp: again with footsteps soft
He went about, but there was no one there.
Then to the feet of great Jove’s image fair

He went, and gazed on His dim face awhile,
Then stooping down he undid with a smile
The bundle he had brought, and therefrom drew
A mail-coat, glittering & well-wrought & new
But stained with blood; a crested helm cleft down,
And a fair shield whereon a lion brown
Was wrought upon a ground of ruddy gold:
And therewithal a scroll did he unfold
Whereon was written;
O Dweller mid the Spartans, gives thee these;
Since little gifts henceforward shall they have
Of such to give thee, O thou strong to save:
Take the first-fruits of these Messenian sword,
And spare thou not to be a gracious lord
To those who fear not aught, and hate not thee!

So then the arms he bare up reverently
And laid them at Jove’s feet, and thereupon
The scroll well writ; then turning gat him gone
And out into the street, and found his beast,
And went his ways again. Down in the East
The light spread now; day dawned, the rain was oer
When to the warders post he came once more,
Shifting his sword in such a wise that he
Might come unto the handle easily,
And smiling as a man that makes a jest
Unto himself: but now unto their rest
The more part of the guard was gone, but four
Were there on foot; who stood his path before
And bade him stand, wherewith the foremost said:
“Thy debts in the good town are swiftly paid;
Where goest thou churl?”
“Spartan fool, stand off,”
Said he, “more business hast thou than to scoff
Good men and true!”
“What business,” said he, “then?”
Handling his spear:
“To stand and fight like men,”
Said Aristomenes, “not flee away,
As the tale goes ye fled the other day.”

Another drew nigh; “Speak thy name out thou
That we may tell whom we are slaying now.”

He laughed, but ugly eyes were in his head
And “pull him down the other warders said.

Swiftly the hero with his left hand smote
The man before him, drawing from his coat
This naked sword, that, whirled about him now,
Dread & srange in the dripping morn did show,
As his freed horse sprang forward; low he bent
Laughing aloud, as o’er his head there went
The streak of the white spear; then he turned about
In his saddle crying midst their wrathful shout:

“Heed well the name of Aristomenes;

Because in vain ye pray the Gods for ease
Till he is but a name, though unforgot.”

Tumult there was and scattering arrow shot
That harmed him nought; the echo of his name
Like an ill dream to folk just wakened came,
As in hot haste half-armed the Spartans ran
To horse; but saw no more the godlike man
Till they had fain not seen him.
On he sped
Through the fresh morn, and scarce knew more of dread
Than the light clouds above him, wondering still,
As swiftly he pressed on twixt hill and hill,
Passing a homestead here, and there a bridge,
And here a turret marked grey mountain-ridge,
What he was thinking of when yesternight
He passed these same things hidden from his sight.
Good will and heart he had to turn about
Fair word unto the staring hind to shout,

Good will to smile on the short-kirtled maid
Who shrank with shaded eyes and half afraid
Against the rock that hedged the narrow road;
Good will to snatch from off the waggon’s load
A handful of the sweet close-lying hay;
Good heart to rise in stirrups when the way
Grew dark with the oak-bows and to snatch adown
Acorn and deep-cut leaf a-growing brown;
Good heart to sing a snatch of some old song
Learned in the days before he thought of wrong.

And so at last his pace he needs must slack,
And, drawing rein high up, he looked aback
And saw none following him; then on he passed
At slower pace, and reached his folk at last
Who with great joy made tremulous with fear
Received him, as he cried that all might hear:

“Ill-built is Sparta for a great abode,
Amid their chiefest street, God wot, the road

Is roughly paved: small houses and therein;
Eurotas bridge is ugly, old and thin:
When we have won the place, mid days of ease
There will we build us nobler palaces
And fairer temples than this morn I saw.”

Then laughing, as about him they did draw
With wondering faces, did he tell them all,
And trembling triumph on their hearts did fall
And trust in such a man their hosts to lead.

In fair wise did his careful journey speed
Throughout the land now; to the sea he came
The second day, and there he heard the fame
Of his last deed: whereby the merchants said
The Spartan folk were smitten with strange dread
More than men might have looked for; wide about
He went thence through the land, & met no doubt,
Or hanging-back as yet: and on the day
Appointed reached Ithome; tents there lay
Before it on the plain, both rich and rude,

For there was come so great a multitude,
That the burg, dwindling for this many a year
Fell short of house-room for their lodging there.

But when the rumour spread that he was come
Unto the entry of their Kings’ old home,
How did folk run together in his way,
And there with tears that nought of shame would stay,
And cries like sobs, and words they never knew
That they could speak, worship the strong & true,
As up the steep his folk wound to the gate
Broke open in the days made desolate
Despite of such as he: – he turned about
And twixt the spears gazed back upon that rout
When neath the shadow of the gate he was,
And far below he saw the light clouds pass
Over a quiet land, made ready now
For winter’s rest: then to his broad high brow
There came a troubled look, and he grew pale,
Either with memory of the long-past tale,
Or wild forebodings of the tale to come –
– And there withal Ithome had him home.

How They Would Have Made Aristomenes A King

Ithome hath an ancient counsel-hall,
Where you might now see places on the wall

Reft of their carven work by hammers long
Made rust themselves, and quiet from all wrong;
In its walls’ compass ghosts of hopes & fears
Stood thick if one might see them; and past years,
That seemed once as they neer would pass away
Because of all the woe that on them lay
Made it a solemn place for all the sun
That lit it now when there in morn half done
Stood Aristomenes, mid grey-beards, who
The sweet from bitter now no longer knew,
Yet, knew that they were glad; amid their sons,
Who long ago, as frightened little-ones

Had hearkened talk of all despair, and came
In after years to know what meant the shame
And wretchedness they then heard talked about;
Amid their sons’ sons, youths without a doubt
That nought they needed now but new-forged steel
To beat adown the Spartan common-weal
Once and for ever: o’er the breath of joy
High up he stood: but like a glittering toy
Made for the hour that tide unto him seemed
A full half of their courage: his eye gleamed
With fire of deeds to do, as he unrolled
Their chances, like a tale that has been told
Already: as one reading from a book
Of certain fate he spake, and bade them look
On each side of the glittering height whereon
They stood now, deeming everything well won,
And note how black the worst was, & how grey
The very best, chequered with evil day
Repulse and hope deferred: Yet even so
Stronger and brighter seemed their hope to glow;
Belike his voice more than his words they heard
Seeing him standing there so unafeared,
So strong so far above them, and must think
How can it be that we shall ever sink
To drag him down. Silent at last he smiled
And to himself he said; ‘Joy hath beguiled
Their blind hearts that they look not to the end,
And that indeed I pray the Gods to send
Kindly upon them, that they may not rue
The day they trusted me; for kind and true
The hearts of these are, neither do I think
That that folk shall come to hate me, though they shrink
As I shall shrink not.
But e’en therewithal
A messenger there came into the hall
Who cried aloud, that, come unto the gate

Folk from Arcadia for their will did wait
To wot if they might have good hearing now
Of the chief men, for great things would they show;
So they were bidden in, and straightway came,
A great train; many of them known by name
To the young chief, whom now they did behold
With no small marvel; fair gleamed out the gold
On robe and head of them, for they were clad
As though great dealings with great Kings they had,
Not with the unruly shockhead youth, that they
Awhile ago would pass by in the way
Warily in good sooth and yet with scorn:
Since certes then tomorrow was unborn.
Amidst all these and with a strange sharp gleam
Of the past days that so far off did seem,
The chief’s eyes met the bright eyes of a youth

Who smiled up at him, e’en as if in truth
Those days had been no dream; slim and right fair
He was to look on; eager-faced, his hair
Twixt brown and golden, and his eyes brown too;
Too great a mans son was he erst to do
Much in the worst deeds that those youths had done
Yet in their company did he count one,
And was much honoured his name
And of a great Arcadian house he came.
Ever he seemed a youth of gentle ways
And kindly, and would go about to praise
Rough Aristomenes e’en as he might,
And do his utmost, wrongs of his to right,
And as one pained would put off mocks from him.
A little while the heroe’s eyes waxed dim,
As though regret had not all left his soul;
But upward then a mighty shout did roll
Shaking the dusty beams to welcome these,
For sure folk deemed they brought their cause increase.
Then spake the first man of them:
“Friends made free
Good men of fair Messenia, here with me,
I bear a message from the Arcadian land,
So tell me prithee to whose ear or hand
I shall deliver it; which saith no less
Than, that our folk behold your happiness
With joy for you, and knowing therewithal
That Sparta doth but wait her time to fall
Upon Arcadia, fain the time would take
Ere it is flown, and with your stout hearts make
Trusty alliance both in fold and field
That each to each may be fair sword & shield
Gainst Sparta: If ye deem the offer good,
Not long we grey-beards shall rub hood gainst hood
And talk of what shall be: certes I think
In the good town I heard the hammers clink
On other gear than cooking-pots; and sooth
About the streets was many a likely youth
Who in his sister’s hands had left the crook.”
Again in answer the old rooftree shook
And then old Damis stood forth & did cry
For silence, and a little company
Of elders was behind him; in his hand
Somewhat he held silk-covered, and a wand
Silk-covered too: he said
“Arcadian friends
With great strides in these later days time wends;
For your good will, O neighbours certainly
We looked, but wotted not when we should see
The word ye bring: so are we met today
The greatest weight upon one head to lay
And are the gladder ye are witnesses
To this our will. O Aristomenes,
Too full the days are filled with weighty things
That we should beat about to find us kings
If no one here were by so much the best
That we a kingless company might rest;
But now nought have we got to choose at all
For on thine head the power of Jove doth fall
Will we or will we not: of royal seed
Thou art; stretch forth thine hand then in our need
O child of Aepitus, and take this crown,
And staff that neath the moon I dug deep down
In Ira on that night of all despair!
Nought is it that the things are rich and fair,
Little that they are hallowed by the touch
Of brave men dead; nay hardly is it much
That with them go the worship & the trust
Of all our hearts: we do but as we must.”

Amid the thundering shout that followed then
He raised aloft before the eyes of men
A gemmed crown glistening, and an ivory rod
Gold-bound and meet it seemed for any God,
That once had swayed Messenia; felt
His heart beat quick and high, as his friend dwelt
Smiling a moment, with and unchanged cheek
And merry eye waiting till he might speak;
At last he stooped adown and from his feet
Lifted his bright steel helm & cried:
“O sweet,
To think that I this day am well beloved,
To think that through me this great folk is moved
To freedom and to glory! nor say I
But I may hold this sceptre verily
In days to come: if ye shall need me then
When ye are living free and peaceful men
With nought to fear; as surely as I deem
That in those days to most folk I shall seem
Worth no reward but love for that wherein
I loved my folk – but now is all to win –
Look you, that headpiece that ye show me now,
Is it as meet a thing to ward the blow
Of Sparta, as thing, that glitters too
When dint of sword shakes off the morning dew?
This ivory staff ye offer, will it hold
Nor fall atwain when rank gainst rank is rolled,
Like this? – that no unhandy smith hath made,
Pommel and hilts and guard and shapely blade!”

The helm was on his head now and the sword
Gleamed in his right hand as he spake the word,
A God new-born he seemed to all that tide,
As from amid the tumult a voice cried;

“Name thine own name then; we are nought but thine
Whateer folk call thee shalt thou be divine!
How shall we speak against thee?”
“O fair friends,”
He said, “till all the war and trouble ends,
Till my life ends – if so be while I live
Aught for your need these hands this heart may give –
Call me the Captain of your Hosts; and gaze
With such looks on me in those other days
When all seems tottering – that we may not part
Save by the stroke of death!”
From every heart
Forth leapt the cry, “Hail Captain of our Host!,”
And oer the upturned faces, weapons tossed
Gleamed in the white sun. Then the Captain turned
Unto the guests;
“Sirs,” said he, “ye have learned
How this folk trusts my youth – but for your part
Doubt not that ye are dear unto our heart
And that we hope great things from this your aid.
Now by my counsel were all due things paid
Unto the Gods, the oaths ye came to swear
Sworn fittingly: then to speech fall we here

That we know all wisdom that ye have,
Since mighty things, meseems, there are to save.”

So to Jove’s temple through the press they went
In solemn wise; but on the way he leant
Towards and said softly:
“Art thou glad,
Or dost thou deem the world and I are mad,
And that I sell my youth and bliss too cheap;
What sayst thou fellow; wilt thou laugh or weep?”

For cheek was flushed and to his eyes
Somewhat like tears there seemed indeed to rise
And his lip quivered; yet he smiled withal
As now he answered; “Surely may I call
Thy lot the happiest lot eer told in tale;
And if it might be that I could avail
To share it somewhat, what wouldst thou say then?”

The Captain’s face grew grave: “Among all men
I should choose thee belike – yet scarce know why –
Though thou art kind; and thine heart aimeth high
And thou art fain a life of fame to live –
Come now, if so thou willest, we will strive
To hold together till the end of all;
Belike as into loneliness we fall
Each to the other through dull days shall be
The glimmering light whereby we each may see
The joy and promise of the bygone days
Ere into many dark & doubtful doubtful ways
The broad way sundered – what an untold pain
That yet may be before the end we gain!”

They parted mid the press as thus he spake
But into bloom in heart did break
A great delight; full of things sweet to win
The world seemed; good it was to dwell therein,
And yet a fair thing ’twixt glad day and day
To risk the sweeping of all this away
To win a little more.
Now so it fell
That with the Arcadians went things more than well
And back again they went in two days space,
But had good leave in that same place
Yet to abide: full word the envoys gave
That in a week an army would they have
Afoot and hot for fight: but ere that tide
Fluttered with fear the land was far and wide
For Sparta was afield again: wild tales
Of horror came from all the nighest vales
Unto Laconia, of man wife and child
Slain with sharp torments; holy maids defiled
Before the altar; steads with salt strewn,
All hate and fury loose: and more & more
Each hour did folk upon the Captain gaze
As though it lay in him to give good days
So at the last, he, thinking of the thing,
’Gan deem it best the dice once more to fling
In desperate wise, nor wait the coming there
Of the Arcadian folk, lest swift despair
Should quench the unreasoning joy his folk erst had.
So he rode forth, and who but he was glad
That day at least, as out of gates he went;
Firm looked his band, bright-faced and confident,
Until all folk, the foe being unseen yet
They and their close array, gan to forget
That this was but a handful; for be sure
The Captain had but those who might endure
Hard brunt and long, nor cared to eke
His line out with poor hearted folk and weak
Or half-armed lads; so sullen silence broke
And the gates shut upon a shouting folk,
And most thus left behind were of good cheer
But those belike whose loves or children were
Marching on proud enough, nor thinking much
Whose hearts but theirs the coming fight might touch.

But who beside the Captain rode
Looked grave and pale, as one who knew what load
Upon the smiling Captain’s heart might lie
For he though he should hold it good to die
In such fair fellowship, yet in good sooth
Deemed life a lovely thing amidst of youth
And with a sickening of the soul still thought
Of the world going on while he was nought
And heeding little of his life or death.

Not far from Steny clerus, the tale saith
On certain Spartan plunderers did they come
And slaying many drave the others home
Unto their camp: then, it being end of day
Upon a little knoll side they made stay
And till the dying moon the daylight brought
A rampart of felled trees about them wrought
And waited there with good heart, till they heard
An hour ere sunrise how the Spartans stirred;
Merry were all, but, who as yet
No point of mortal steel had ever met
Felt as in some wild dream; all flushed he was
And thwart his spirit changing clouds did pass
And minutes seemed grown hours; and all the while
He watched the Captain pass with quiet smile
About the ranks, even as one who felt
But little hope or fear, but deftly dealt
With a great engine, understood indeed,
Yet but half trusted, asking for all heed:
His mien to most men there give heart enow
Strange fear to: all things seemed to grow
So changed and hard to cope with. But the sun
Oertopped the hills and suddenly outshone
Oer a grey world, and down below, where lay
The tents of Sparta midst the olives grey
On a great shifting coil of steel gan flame,
As from the camp the dreadful spear wood came,
Silent of words, but in the morning still
Sending dull tramp and clash from hill to hill.
A pain grew breath, and hard to draw,
Colours of things kept changing, like a straw
His great spear felt within the hand of him;
But as he looked about, with eyes now dim,
Now passing clear of sight, he saw his friend
Rub from his sword-blade with his gown-skirts end
A speck of rust, een as a dreadful shout
Rang from the hill side; then he turned about,
And from his lips a word came, sharp & clear
But nowise loud; and from the hope & fear
Of many hearts a cry came, bowstrings’ twang
And dull sounds answering and the changing clang
Of armour smitten followed, and a sound
As though of thunder prisoned underground
A wild cry and a flash, and face to face
Amid the tangled spears for a short space
Stood with the wild-eyed men of war
With life and death no more to him a care
And no more feeling hopeless or alone
Or wondering aught at aught that might be done,
For fallen dead the Spartan fury was
Before the hopeless wall they might not pass
Whence man on man fell back, as the line swayed
This way and that, as little knots there made
Wild rushes and gave back again; at last
Drawn back a little way beyond spear-cast
To arrow-shot they turned them, till a man
Armed gloriously from out their midmost ran
And cast away his shield; then at his cry
Down went the spears of all that company
And dying men beneath the wall turned round
With hopeless eyes as the feet shook the ground:
But ere their spears could surge against the wall,
The Captain from the top thereof did call
In a great voice; “O fellows come ye forth
Lest they should think our spear-staves of less worth
Than these green boughs. too far apart are we
Too far apart those cruel eyes to see!”

Clashing he leapt adown amid their shout
Up went the spears, and soon were most without
The piled-up trees, and running ’gainst the foe
Foremost of whom the gold-clad man did go,
Big made and open-mouthed and fiery eyed
Who, setting eyes upon the Captain cried,
“I see the man!” nor spake another word
For swift ran; forth and ere the sword
Whirled wild about smote Aristomenes
Fallen beneath an axe. Cast to his knees,
The Arcadian’s blade let out the Spartan soul
Through his pierced brawny throat; down did he roll
And over him clashed spear & axe & shield
As the ranks met together; swayed and reeled
Amid wild clamour there the Spartan folk
Then gave back slowly, and then turned & broke
Adown the hill, and with all death behind
All shame before them, scattered wildered blind
Fled toward their camp; and little did it lack,
The story tells, but none of them went back
Unto the camp or Sparta; but it fell
That the high Gods, who love great men too well
To let them work their work out over soon,
Cast oer the world two hours before the noon
Thick mist and clouds low drifting; so the rout
Of beaten men escaped through dark and doubt;
And when the next day dawned serene & clear
The Spartan leaguer was no longer there.

Now when the man had beat down there
Was borne forth in his golden armour fair
Known was he for a man of royal kin,
And for his slaying did the young man win
Thanks in few words from Aristomenes,
And from all men such praise as well did please
His eager heart, and still for more he yearned,
And down the dusk of coming life there burned
Bright shows of life & death made sweet by fame.

And now to make Messenia's joy complete
The Arcadian help the Captain’s band did meet,
And a great host they were, who wended now
Their might unto the countryside to show
That lay anigh Laconia; there they found
Great signs of ravage every where around,
And many a tale of Spartan wrath they heard,
So in the Spartan marches flock & herd
And plenteous wealth they swept up, nor might hear
Of men-at-arms to meet them anywhere
Nigher than Sparta: but the Gods once more
Would not that all too quickly should be o’er;
For when the host was ready to set on
For very Sparta that all men deemed won,
The Arcadian prophets put forth omens dire
Nor would their folk move forth a furlong nigher
Despite the Captain;s prayers, toward the foe.
Then first gan Aristomenes to know
How one man fights against the world and dies
Winning great fame and many miseries.
Yet did the host with plenteous joy wend back
And in the Captain was there little lack
Of smiles for all, and sweet words: why should he
He thought foretell the coming misery
To such as these, a many would die first,
Though he should live to see his life accurst.
So at Ithome was there joyful day
At their returning.
Now would ____ stay
Beside the Captain, and things turned out so
That he had leave his will herein to do,
And thereat glad his friend was for his part;
The young man’s eagerness rejoiced his heart
Old ere its time, in sombre manhood steeped
Its freshness with so many cares oerheaped,
Where day by day some bliss long cherished died
Some hope that once seemed fashioned long to bide.

Truce with Sparta: The Years Get Over.

Fair bloomed meanwhile Messenia’s hap brought back
No fortune now the freed land seemed to lack
For a long space: with the Arcadian aid
And a great host of men right well arrayed

Fared Aristomenes to meet again
The gathered might of these most stubborn men,
Whose good heart at the last did fail them now
When ugly omens did their prophets show
Upon the eve of battle; wherefore they
Made truce until three years should pass away;
And so to rest may all Messenia turn
And it may be before long come to learn
How wealth dulls courage.
But this time of peace
Brought little rest to Aristomenes
Who now must turn his eager heart to deal
with daily troubles of the commonweal;
Wherein, God wot, his heart would sicken oft,
So hard it seemed to bear the head aloft
Mid dull recurring waves of faithlessness,
And cruel folly; young he was no less,
Strong-hearted, and as day passed over day
No added weight he on his soul did lay
That he might scape; so he lived on his life
With calm heart waiting for the coming strife
Nor ill content that not too swift it came.

There dwelt ____ too greedy after fame
Splendid of speech, devouring eagerly
Life as it passed lest too young he should die,
Hot-hearted, longing sorely for all praise
And amorous as the first of April days
Beloved in turn amid his youth's fresh flower
By many a maid from sweet hour unto hour;
Deeming his friend scarce worser than a God.

And so the days each on the other trod
And months rolled into years: not over well
The truce was kept, and at the last men fell
To open war ere the three years were o’er
As though full fain to make peace never more;
Fierce fights there were, and it fell oft enow;
That neither side much glory had to show;
Defeats borne up against; sad victories
Where dead men lay as thick as autumn flies
For little gain; treachery, faint-heartedness
When courage most was needed – And no less
Than in the first flushed days of glorious strife
Was Aristomenes with all hope rife
In outward seeming; and in sooth, the land,
However buffetted on either hand,
Had still a name and place.
More years passed on
And from all people now had won
The good name Pthat he yearned for; brave and kind
He was, and in his presence would men find
Help against hard things; women loved him well
Of all his happy days twere hard to tell
And how sweet life still seemed to him: most men
Would turn a little grave and silent, when
The eyes or speech of Aristomenes
Came thwart their life; but unto all of these
Did ____ seem most meet for every need;
Folk feared the Captain now; deemed him indeed
Wise, just, but hard; yea ready it might be
As the years changed, for needful cruelty,
Dark-souled they deemed him: but the other one
Across the dull path of the world had shone
A very light from heaven, so brave and true,
So soft e’en when the worst of folk he knew.
So of all men was ____ well beloved
And many hearts of women had he moved
Een as I said; yet was it even so
That Aristomenes still failed to know
Amid his wisdom one thing strange to tell,
That scarcely ever when his feared glance fell
Upon fair women, did it fail to move
Their inmost hearts with thoughts of a sweet love
That brought no shame with it, and it was true
That children well the heart within him knew
Nor feared him though no smile should light his face:
Thrice it befell that in some open place
Mid a wild storm he was, then to the knees
Of this so dreaded Aristomenes
Trusting, unchid, the homely children crept
And unscared watched the lightning as it leapt
From heaven to earth, thinking that surely there
No need there was the Godmade threat to fear.

Men deemed it fair that ____ clung so close
To Aristomenes, who yet might lose
The people's love, they said, ere all was told;
So did keen eyes and clear the end behold!

The Dream of Glauce

Say that five years are worn by since the day

When Aristomenes first reft away
Peace from Laconia; at the very stead
Where those first wild defiant words were said
My tale deals now; there dwelt the widow still
Of the slain man: her barns the year did fill
With plenteous increase now, and rich she was
For ever had it chanced all war to pass
This side or that of her fair fruitful lands;
Nor had she had a trouble on her hands
Since that ill day long bygone. Still waxed there
That daughter, now a woman wondrous fair
Great-hearted by folks deeming, and most wise,
And yet a trouble to mens hearts and eyes.

So on this summer morn behold her go
About a garden-alley to and fro;

Fresher than are the daisies swept aside
By the fair wrought hem that her feet doth hide
Has she been wont to walk there; but today,
Yea for a many days, her eyen grey
Show heavy thoughts, and her fair brow is drawn
With memories of the slow-foot leaden dawn
When weary with wild longings of the night,
Empty of thought, she chid the lingering light.
She stayeth now, and with a languid hand
Plucks at the raspberry bramble & doth stand
Gazing with listless eyes upon the wealth
Of the full garden, till at last by stealth
Come through unnoted sound and scent & sight
Dear memories of her childhood’s fresh delight,
Which little by little draw her on to see
That summer morn, when, somewhat wearied, she
From out the murmuring scented place had turned
Into the court wherein the hot sun burned,
And so with slow feet reached the peopled hall,
Amid its coolness into dreams to fall,
That were dreams still, when those Messenian folk
With woe and wrong across her young life broke.

So now she stood awhile, and scarce, I deem,
Could have told out what things were in her dream
If one had asked her; yet therein indeed
Were images of war, and days of need,
Sick-hearted striving, utter loneliness,
That may not ask for any heart to bless
Its gain and loss; all this borne in such wise,
For such a glorious end, that men's cleared eyes
When the worn heart rest’s, lonely still at last.
Behold a dead God from amidst them past,
And make long tales of it – her dream saw then
Another life apart from striving men
Listless and self-despising and alone
Till death should find it out with nothing done,
– What if a third dream swept in with the breeze,
That bore the scent of blossomed linden trees,
And fruits full ripe, unto her weary face,
Sometimes within her heart with these had place
A dream of eager life and happy rest
Lonely no more, still striving for the best?
– Whate’er she dreamed like dreams of sleep it was,
Unmastered by her, as her feet ’gan pass
Once more between the lilies.
So she came
Unto a yew set place, and her own name
Seemed in the throbbing air, as dreamily
She sat her down beneath the darkest tree
And heavy with unrest sank back at last
Against the trunk and into real sleep past
And still in sleep her name she seemed to hear
Each time called louder, yet she might not stir,
Till like a shrieck throughout the place it rang
‘Glauce O Glauce!’ and she heard a clang
As of an armed man fallen, and upright
She stood awake again, the sudden light
Making the sweet place dreadful; but withal
She heard one close anigh her name out call,
And turning pale and trembling still she saw
Her fostermother through the dark boughs draw;
A woman old and wise, and somewhat feared,
Because men deemed that from the Fates she heard
More than the most of folk: with anxious eyes
She gazed at Glauce, till there gan to rise
A great dread in her heart, and she cried out:
“O mother, hast thou given me then this doubt
Of what today shall bring?”
She set her hand
Upon her breast, and panting there did stand,
Till the old woman came to her, and laid
A kind hand on her slender hand & said:
Fear not, my child, sure nought goes wrong with thee,
Though thou and I belike somewhat may see
This morn of what is coming.”
She sat down
As one o’er-weary on the bench of stone
Beneath the tree, but the maid stood a space
Gazing upon her with an anxious face,
Then sank adown upon the grass beside
And, while her lashes her deep eyes did hide
Spake out:
“Thou knowest. mother, time agone
While I was yet a child, thou deemd’st me one
Who knew of unseen things; myself I knew
As one who cast all heart and hope unto
Great things and far off: but time passed and I
Waxed, and at last, was somewhat womanly,
Then gloomy dreaming left me clean, and thou,
As well beseemed, thereat wert glad enow;
For I grew lithe therewith and strong and fair
Glad with my life alone and the world's air
And common sights and sounds – wise as a man,
Thou calledst me once, and a pain through me ran,
As thou saidst that – yet surely with good days
My life went by along those pleasant ways,
Too happy to need hope or passion aught.
But now a long while something has been brougt
Anigh my eyes that I may see not clear
Yet know that change and trouble doth it bear
For me and for my life.”
Her hand fell down
From off her gown’s hem to the grass, as she
Spake these words; but the old dame curiously
Gazed on her, yet said nought; until she saw
A rising pain her fair lips downward draw
And down her cheeks slow tears began to fall;
Yet she spake on:
“Nor mother is that all;
Behold me; has not my bright face grown wan
These days past – those wise words as of a man,
Hast thou heard aught of them for long? scarce now
I heed in what wise the fair flowers may blow
In this desired summer-tide; my eyes
See and see not; scarce have I will to rise
In the sweet morn, although I loathe my bed;
Night comes and I am weary, yet my head
May have no rest upon the pillow there;
And yet I dream, and wild eyes seem to stare
On my unhappy face, that once would smile
So frankly upon all things; and meanwhile
Nought know I why these things should fall on me
For I ail nought; in fair estate are we,
And all the trouble of this dragging war
Is but a murmur to us heard afar.”

She stopped, and her head fell, her eyes did meet
In empty wise the gems upon her feet
And her fair-broidered hem: but the nurse spake:

“Some little while, belike, thou didst not wake
Last night, O dear one; for I mind me well
That years agone when weighty dreaming fell
On me, thy night was dreamful too, and now
A dream I hold of import could I show.”

Glauce turned not to her, but wearily
Made answer; “Yea I dreamed last night; for I
Thought I abode with hunters in the wood,
And wove a wreath of flowers as red as blood,
The while they told of all their cares & foils,
And how the King-beast had escaped their toils;
Nor did I think that ill; but midst of this
Things changed without surprise, as still it is
The wont of dreams; amid grey wolves I sat
Who snarled and whined in hungry wise; with that
From out the dusk came other dog wolves ten,
Marshalled indeed after the guise of men
About a mighty lion, who me thought
Nobler than all beasts; but his claws were gone
And his jaws bound: well, so my dream went on
That well I knew these wolves had done the thing,
And long they snarled about the yellow king
Rejoicing, till at last they lay down there

And fell asleep: then was I full of care
For that great beast, and rose and went about
To rend his bonds; and then without a doubt
Of aught of folly, as in dreams it goes,
I gave him other claws in place of those
That they had had from him, and glad at heart,
Roaring like thunder, then did he depart
Into the waste, and I – I cowered down
Among the brake, for grass-green was my gown,
And from the wakening wolves I strove to hide,
But now my gown at first full long & wide
Grew short and strait, and therewith did I seem
To see my bare limbs in the moonlight gleam,
And knew the grey beasts, white-toothed red of tongue
Beheld them too – but through the air there rung
Great sound of trumpets as my terror grew
Unto its height, nor more of dream I knew,
But in the moonlight lay awake and cold.”
“E’en such a dream I looked thou wouldsPt have told”
The crone said, “but upon a hill of grass
Amid my dream last night methought I was
And saw an eagle struggling in a gin,
And would have told thee, but might nowise win
Away from where I stood, till presently
Lo, even thy very self came hurrying by
And freed the noble bird, then didst thou reach
Thy white wrist out, and seemed fain to beseech
That he would perch there, neither did he fail
To do thy will, then did thine arm avail
To bear him up, and thou didst turn to me,
And I came to thee, and we went all three
Through pleasant meads until I woke to day.”

Sidelong upon the grass fair Glauce lay
As the nurse spake, nor seemed to heed at all;
Nay mid her own tale the words seemed to fall
From out her lips, as though she scarce knew aught
Of what she said: clear now the soft wind brought
The throstles song from the deep wood-side near
And mingled sweet scents with that sound did bear;
Short grew the shadows, and the conduit noise
Was a fair sound to make parched lips rejoice,
For not a cloud there was in all the sky;
Silent were both there, until suddenly
Unto her feet leapt Glauce, and the sun
White with the noon adown her side did run
As she cried out;
“Is there no more than this
In such a life as folk call full of bliss?
The daily rising to soft words of slaves,
The flute a-babbling while the bath’s cool waves
Lap one about; the scented essences,
The lordly loitering neath the blossomed trees,
Hearkening the hum of working maids anigh;
The word scarce uttered that one’s will may fly
To folk that fear us; then the harp-soothed meal
The talk of little things while sleep doth steal
Over the weary soul; the lingering sun
So weary hot een with day well nigh done,
And then the night, with change & hope shut out,

And within yearning vain and ravelled doubt –
– And all this oer and oer and oer again!
Ah is there one who has not deemed it vain
A life like this? who has not cried to live
Some fairer life, with hope and fear to strive,
That dying they might leave a little done,
Nor while they lived be utterly alone?”

The nurse smiled on her, and said; “Fair my child,
Een such a life as folk hath oft beguiled
To thinking hopeful yet may come to thee:
When thou wert little often might I see
Glimpses of this thy coming life; but now
Misty do all foreshadowings to me grow,
Because perchance the things that they foretell
Are nigh at hand now.”
                                           Een therewith there fell
Upon their ears the sound of a great horn,
And either started with new thoughts halfborn
From anxious hearts, and the nurse said;
 “Woe’s me
Shall our stead at the last war’s ruin see?
This was a blast of war that we have heard.”

But some fresh hope within the maid’s heart stirred;
“Come,” said she, and fear not, nought will it save
Of harm if here the meeting we shall have

And catching up her skirts she hurried on
Into the paved court flooded with the sun,
Where ’bove a crowd of men newcome field
Raised high on a great spear shone forth a shield
Wherein on golden ground wrought cunningly
With outstretched wings an eagle seemed to fly,
And well the nurse deemed that that shield of yore
Had hung in their own shrine the God before;
But midst the knot of home folk they could see
Were men at arms, and one spoke eagerly,
As one who tells a fair tale; “Well,” he said,
As they drew nigh, “not ill the trap was laid,
This man – behold him, a mere man he is! –
Works hard, God wot, to win his people bliss,
And mad things must he do to make them think
That he no more than Hercules would shrink
From dealing with a host – that he is God –
Whereby it came that in the springe he trod:
He fell Upon the chapmen, as I say
And with his spoil he followed up the way
To where the pass makes dusk at the noontide
And there we bode him by the highway side;
No need to make long tale for there were we
With bows and spears, sixscore in company
And when the whistle let the shafts fly forth
And they were sped, but ten of his were worth
Touching with edge or point, and he fled not
And sooth to say was nowise over hot
In handy blows, so here without a wound
We have him, a fair sight thus safe & sound
For the old town – ah your dame is here,
Stand by my masters leave a good space clear.”

Indeed the good wife came from out the hall
Fair clad, and back fell serving-man & thrall,
And midst the men those twain could now behold
A goodly one in armour dight with gold
But swordless and fast bound, who in calm wise
Now turned his sunburned face & light grey eyes
Toward Glauce, and a faint smile crossed his face
As though her fairness pleased him; neath his gaze
She changed and trembled sore, and the hot blood
Seemed stayed about her heart, as there she stood
Twitching her hands as though to reach to him,
And feeling faint and weak of heart and limb,
Yet ever counting oer and oer again
Those men-at-arms and muttering, ‘Ten, yea ten.’

But now whereas the goodwife was come forth
The spokesman said; “A thing once deemed of worth
We bring you, lady, though perchance tomorn
It shall but be a thing of all to scorn,
And the next day an ass-load of worm’s meat,
Though once indeed it went on eager feet
And had the name of Aristomenes

“Welcome,” she said, “in what thing may I please
Thee and thy fellows? all is not enow
Some honour to this happy hour to show.”
“Lady,” he said, “here would we lie tonight;
Our company shall come back with the light
Tomorrow morn, & with them shall they have
Enow to meet whoso shall try to save
This treasure here, when they shall hear of it,
How it is vanished.”
A light smile did flit
Across the Captain’s face; but the dame cried
Be welcome here as long as ye will bide,
And sooth I hope to make you say henceforth
That This is a fair stead of plenteous worth.
Ah I am glad to day – for thou, for thou
Didst speak thy name here once – cried far enow
Since that tide now some five years past away.
How sayst thou, art thou glad yet of that day?
Speak is thy tongue bound too?”
A murmur ran
With chuckling laughter on from man to man
But Glauce flushed blood-red and new strength came
Into her heart as he spake out;
“Nay dame,
Gladness and sorrow for a long time past
Are grown mere words to me; if life shall last
Beyond tomorrow I shall hope again,
As I hope now, yet not for loss of pain,
Nay I scarce know for what. But now behold
If any tale of this thine house is told
This shall it be, that Aristomenes
Guested here twice.”
“Nay, bondsman, hold thy peace.”
The goodwife cried, a long tale dost thou make,
Thou needst not weep belike for thy life’s sake;
I deem not they will slay thee; rather thou
In some barred cage shall be full-fed enow,
And children shall be brought to see thee eat
And laugh because thou thinkst a beasts life sweet.”

But Aristomenes laughed out and said;
Well, when the turf upon my breast is laid
I shall lie still perchance, nor heed mocks aught;
But more fools are the Spartans than I thought
Unless they lay me in that strait abode.”

Then from the homefolk one unto him strode
And smote him with a rake-staff from behind
And the rest laughed and jeered; but deaf & blind
Grew Glauce now, and well nigh had cried out,
But the nurse whispered low; “Have thou no doubt
That the Gods need us; strive then with thine heart
Till the time come for us to play our part!”

But now the goodwife led into the hall
And there was good cheer dealt out unto all,
And men were merry; mocking at their prize,
Who sat amid their jeers with unchanged eyes
And ate the meat they brought him, though indeed
For that they mocked him more & said;
“Small need For thee to eat, Messenian, unless thou
Deem’st thou hast not yet wasted us enow!
wilt thou die drunk then?
Nought at all he said
Nor changed his colour, nor abased his head
Whatso they spake; but Glauce sat all pale
And quivering, till she, fearing for the tale
Her face might tell said;
“Mother, dost thou see,
What an ill face I bear about with me?
Scarce now this place, this man s eyes may I bear,
Because methinks I see my father here,
And those eyes glaring on him.”
But with that
Must her face turn to where in bonds he sat
With a strange look that did belie her speech
For pardon rather did that look beseech
As her eyes met his solemn eyes, wherein
Through wonder did a troubled pity win
As of a seer who seeth the end so well
Yet nought to any man thereof may tell.
Sick yearning took her soul amid that gaze,
She strove her hand to failing eyes to raise
And might not, but sank backward fainting there,
Whom to her bower the maids did straightly bear
While spake her mother;
“Ah poor maid, she grows
Changed now ailing and dreamy, but who knows
But a man’s love might somewhat change her dream.
Love-Psick without a lover doth she seem.”

But Aristomenes as one whom death
Made clear of vision muttered neath his breath;
“Woes me, that yet my dying face should make
The heart of such a lovely thing to ache;
My face, that living had no power to move
The heart of any woman unto love!
Ah if my soul shrinks from the coming end
God wot that from great troubles do I wend
Wherewith I Pthought full surely once to strive
Yet were I fain a little while to live –
Well a few hours proves all for good or ill.”

“What bondsman,” wilt thou mutter at us still?”
A homeman cried, “hast thou some magic then
To cast oer us, the best of the world’s men
And so oercome us vilely? deemest thou

Perchance that thou wilt scape us even now?”

Then with a smile said Aristomenes;
“Fair fellow nay, I dreamed I was at peace,
For that a God had taken me by the hand
Een at the entrance of a flowery land,
Fairer than my Messenia.”
His calm voice
Thrilled through the hearts of men mid all the noise
And something like a dread across them crept,
As though they doubted that some vengeance slept
Anigh them, and no man spake to him more,
But from the hall to a strong room they bore
Their Terror soon, and there they guarded him
Nor durst do off the bonds on hand and limb.

Day waned and died, and with the first night fall
Again gan men make merry in the hall
And drank deep, but five men at arms bode still
With Aristomenes and ate their fill,
And drank, but sparingly. Now ye shall wot
That the nurse ____ that night had got
Charge o er the drink; according to their need
Unto the maids she dealt out; and indeed
There ever would the drink be clear and good,
And strong enow, and midst their joyous mood
Small marvel if they deemed it best that eer
Their lips had touched, and the feast wondrous fair

So into deep night did the first dark pass,
And dreadful all that noise of feasting was
To Glauce, as she lay awake and clad
Within her bower, and in her mind still had
Through yearning, and confused grief, a doubt
Of something great at hand, that should lead out
Her feet from that dull maze of fear and woe.
But where the Captain bounden lay alow
More muffled came the noise, that still he heard
Twixt harsh laughter and loud scornful word
His guards raised, as he watched them at some game,
Till over him a gentle slumber came
Bearing soft dreams, that vague and meaningless
Did yet with some familiar happiness
Float round his rest,
In such wise the night grew
But as close unto midnight now it drew
The noise of feasting somewhat suddenly
Seemed to fade out, till on the house did lie
Dead silence; then fair Glauce, sunk ere now
Into a half dream broad awake did grow
With heart that beat quick and a sudden fear
At that deep stillness, midst which did she hear
Footsteps a-drawing nigh; the moon’s grey light
Wherein she trembled seemed to grow o’er bright,
Panting she waited till some fearful scream
Should break the silence: then a sudden stream
Of red light through the half shut door did fall,
And then it opened – and she knew it all
What was to do, when on the threshold there
The old nurse stood and beckoned; strange & fair
Showed Glauce, bright her face flushed, as she went
Up to her nurse and whispered, “Thine intent
Methinks I know, so no more need for words
Among the edges of the poisoned swords.”

The nurse smiled and led straight into the hall
Through whose high windows didP the moonlight fall
Upon the feasters sunken as they sat
Blind motionless and rigid; and thereat
Somewhat did Glauce start, and whispered: “Yea
Have we then slain them, are they passed away?”
She smiled and said, “Nay, surely they will wake
Sometime morrow angry for our sake,
They have but had a sleepy draught of me.”
And therewithal she led on speedily
Unto the hall’s end by the high-seat fair
And held aloft her taper, in whose glare
Did Glauce see the helm and erne-wrought eagle shield
Hung up beside the sword that he did wield;
Old trophies new come back unto that house.
Which things on tiptoe, with her tremulous
White fingers straight she took adown and bore
After the nurse, who hastened toward the door
That led unto the dungeon; weight enow
That gear was of, but if she went oer-slow
Beneath it, she but stayed to set her lip
Unto the well-worn silver of the grip
Of that good sword.
And so they reached the place
Wherein she knew was hidden the dear face
That had changed all her life; she hung aback
As the door opened now, and seemed to lack
All strength at once; strange noises seemed astir
About the dank walls and the prisoned air;

Strange doubts came oer her of the days to be,
Of those grey eyes that she so longed to see,
Of the brave life, and great and glorious heart
Wherein she longed so sore to have a part;
But the nurse drew her in, and she must gaze
Despite herself upon his solemn face
Calm in the depths of sleep: then down she knelt
And all the joy of utter love she felt
Sweep oer her heart, as, like a wandering bird
Her mouth stole o’er his face, and her ears heard
His light breath from the lips that sleep did part
A moment, and the beating of her heart
Stopped as her burning lips were pressed to his
And all her soul went from her in a kiss;
Then his eyes opened slowly, and his hands
Moved somewhat underneath the iron bands,
And sweet his smile was, and a bright flush ran
Across his face; but, even as a man
Who wakes up to a well-expected fate,
He started not, but silent there did wait,
While from a guards belt a small fetter-key
The soft-foot nurse had stolen silently
Which into Glauce’s trembling hand she slid;
Who took it and scarce knowing what she did
Unlocked the bonds on foot and hand: but he
Waited for that last clicking of the key,
Watching her slender hand, then to his feet
He rose up stiffly, and his hand did meet
Her hand outstretched; but as they stood there close
Each to the other, on his prostrate foes
His eyes he cast, a moment did he stand
Unsteadily, while her deserted hand
Fell down, and felt no love left there with it,
And o’er her heart a great pain did there flit.
But he knelt down, and smiled & neath his breath
Muttered a word, then drew from each sheath
Each sword of those his guards, & the bare blade
Across the throat of each dull sleeper laid,
Then rose and saw her standing with the sword
And shield and helm, and took them with no word
But followed as the old nurse led the way,
But when they had passed through the hall where lay
Broad stripes of moonlight yet, & all about
The sleepers wallowed, as a man in doubt
He paused beside the door, as though he thought
No further on his way he should be brought
By those who led him, and he made as though
He would have spoken there, his heart to show;
But the old woman, who had laid adown
Her taper quenched muttered, “Haste haste, pass on,
Who knows when vengeance will awake tonight”
And forth she led out into the grey light
That flooded half the court: you might have deemed
For the great silence twas some city dreamed
In olden tales, where fast as sleep the dead
All people sleep; but onward still she led
And after her white gleamed the Captain’s helm,
And fluttered Glauces gown; in some strange realm
She seemed to be where none should know her more;
The kindness of old days, a burden sore
Lay on her soul; a many images
Seemed sweeping past her in the fitful breeze,
A many hopes of unregarded years,
And on her feet fast fell adown the tears:
Once or twice he looked back: and then she turned
Her face away; ’twas as the moonlight burned,
Burned as her tears burned.
Groaned the heavy key
In the outer gate now, and the silent three
Drew close by its great leaves; then back they swung,
But still her feet upon the threshold hung
A little while, and dreadful thoughts did rise
Within her heart, as there with close shut eyes
She dealt with fear and thrust regret aside,
Until with greater fear her heart nigh died
As presently she found herself alone –
– A short space only, for the two were gone
Into the oak-wood; with a smothered cry
She ran to join them, and there presently
They stood together by three horses tied
Unto the trees their coming there to bide.
Then in a low voice did the Captain say:

“This life of mine late ebbing fast away
Ye twain have given me – wherefore I know not –
And if in turn aught is there I have got
To call mine own – as verily my life,
Made by the Gods a weapon for this strife
Is not mine own – if aught ye eer shall ask
Well may ye deem t’will be no heavy task
To give it you – One word yet, short as is
Our time together here – What meaneth this,
These horses dight for three – will ye, – wilt thou
Flee from this place so rich and happy now?
Maiden, thou know’st me not; shalt thou so fair
Cast all thy soul and love on empty air?
Forgive my rude words, for full sure I see
Some cruel God drives thee to loving me
Woes me therefore! Where are the words to tell
How great a burden on my spirit fell
Those first days of the strife! I smile, I talk,
And like a dead man mid the living walk
Because I have this deed that I must do.
Where are the words wherewith to tell to you
How I desire Death if it might be?
How shall ye then have part or lot in me?
Think of the burden of our miseries
When I shall be all changed unto thine eyes!
And that shall be as surely as I live,
For how should such as I have love to give?”

Now when she understood that well he knew
The heart in her, strong in her love she grew,
Nor did she falter as she said to him;
“Hearken a little ere my thought wax dim!
Needs must I pray for all that I desire,
Needs must all right and wrong burn in the fire
That burneth me: yet ever do thy will,
So am I better led, nor less thine still!
And yet howso thine heart or mine shall ache
Whate’er thou givest me, that will I take
Nor count the cost – Wilt thou that I return,
Amid dull life and hopelessness to yearn,
To think thee cruel and bitter cold, to say
‘A fool I was to cast my weal away,
I should have won him ere the end was oer.’
– Behold now, never will I speak word more
Hereof, however close to thee I live.”

Something within his heart there seemed to strive,
But while he stood as if he pondered there,
The nurse, who while they spake on both did stare
Said in great wrath, “Nay for thy manlihood
Needs must thou do whatso she deemeth good,
Since she for thee is made her country’s foe;
And know ye not to what fate she shall go
If she go back? Thou who hast dealt with these
Knowst with what tender mercies they shall ease
Their hearts for luckless losing of thine head;
Nay rather draw thy sword & strike us dead
Before thou goest safe home unto thy place!”

But while she spake a bright look crossed his face,
Most kind his eyes grew. “Dame, as young folk will,
We dream,” he said but there is good time still.
Hasten and mount! and thou O kind & sweet,
Let me but kneel adown to kiss thy feet
That brought me life and healing, & then come
For I would know thy deeming of the home
That waits thee there; where surely shalt thou be
Worshipped by all folk that set eyes on thee.”

She trembled for in very deed he knelt
And on her throbbing feet his lips she felt,
And stooped to touch him, and no more debate
Her soul held now with coming days and fate;
Then with kind arms he set her on the steed,
And mounted, and the ancient nurse gan lead
Through the blind woodways onward to his land
Until the wood grew thin on either hand
The noon of moonlight streamed upon his face
Whereon with longing eyes did Glauce gaze
Half happy now – O unforgotten night
Of bitter grief of passion and delight!


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