The Life and Death of Jason

1. BOOK I.

Kelmscott Edition Page 1

Kelmscott Edition Page 1

Jason having grown up to manhood in the woods, is warned of what his life shall be.

IN Thessaly, beside the tumbling sea,
Once dwelt a folk, men called the Minyæ;
For, coming from Orchomenus the old,
Bearing their wives and children, beasts and gold,
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Through many a league of land they took their way,
And stopped at last, where in a sunny bay
The green Anaurus cleaves the white sea-sand,
And eastward inland doth Mount Pelion stand,
Where bears and wolves the centaurs' arrows find;
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And southward is a gentle sea and kind,
Nigh landlocked, peopled with all kinds of fish,
And the good land yields all that man can wish.
So there they built Iolchos great of girth,
That daily waxed till these had left the earth,
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With many another, and Cretheus the king
Had died, and left his crown and everything
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To Aeson, his own son by fair Tyro;
Whom, in unhappy days and long ago,
A God had loved, whose son was Pelias.
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And so, within a while, it came to pass
This Pelias, being both covetous and strong
And full of wiles, and deeming nought was wrong
That wrought him good, thrust Aeson from his throne,
And over all the Minyæ reigned alone;
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While Aeson, like a poor and feeble lord,
Dwelt in Iolchos still, nor was his word
Regarded much by any man therein,
Nor did men labour much his praise to win.
NOW 'mid all this a fair young son he had;
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Of whom he thought when good had fallen to bad;
Though Pelias doth to-day my life endure,
Yet may he crave to make his kingship sure
Some morrow yet by slaying sire and son:
Therefore will I send forth the little one,
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Ere Pelias feels his high seat tottering,
And gets to know the terrors of a king,
That blood alone can deaden. Therewithal
A faithful slave unto him did he call,
And bade him from his nurses take the child
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And bear him forth unto the forest wild
About the feet of Pelion: There should he
Blow loudly on a horn of ivory
That Aeson gave him; then would come to him
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A Centaur, grave of face and large of limb,
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Before whom he should fall upon his knees
And, holding forth the child, say words like these:
O my lord Chiron, Aeson sends me here
To say, if ever you have held him dear,
Take now this child, his son, and rear him up
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Till we have fully drained the bitter cup
The fates have filled for us; and if times change
While through the peaceful oakwood here you range,
And the crown comes upon the youngling's head,
Then, though a king right fair apparelled,
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Yet unto you shall he be but a slave,
Since now from fear his tender years you save.
And then, quoth Aeson, all these words being said,
Hold out this ring, set with a ruby red,
Adorned with gold and man-like images,
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And this same horn, whereon, 'twixt carven trees,
Diana follows up the flying hart;
They shall be signs of truth upon your part.
Then leave the child with him; and fear no whit
But all the Centaur saith, give ear to it
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And tell me all: now bring the child in haste;
Dusk grows the world, and day is weary-faced.
THEN went the man and came again to him
With Jason, who was strong and large of limb
As for his years, and now upon his feet
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Went firmly, and began to feel life sweet,
And longed for this and that, and on his tongue,
Bewildered, half articulate, speech hung.
But Aeson, when he saw the sturdy boy,
His bright round limbs and face lit up with joy
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Of very life, sighed deeply, and he spake:
O head beloved, I pray thou mayst not ache
With bearing of the crown; were it not good
That thou shouldst live and die within this wood
That clothes the feet of Pelion, knowing nought
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Of all the things by foolish men so sought;
For there, no doubts is everything man needs,
The quiver, with the iron-pointed reeds,
The cornel bow, the wood-knife at the side,
The garments of the spotted panther's hide,
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The bed of bear-skin in the hollow hill,
The bath within the pool of some green rill;
There shall the quick-eyed centaurs be thy friends,
Unto whose hearts such wisdom great Jove sends
They know the past and future, and fear nought
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That by the fates upon them may be brought.
And when the spring brings love, then mayst thou hap
On the kind wood-nymphs in the mountain's lap,
And choose thy mate, and with her, hand in hand,
Go wandering through the blossoming sweet land
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And nought of evil there shall come to thee,
But like the golden age shall all things be;
And when upon thee falls the fated day,
Fearless and painless shalt thou pass away.
SO spoke he foolishly, nor knew indeed
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How many hearts his son should make to bleed,
How many griefs his head, whitened with care
Long ere its time, before his death should bear.
NOW, since the moonless night and dark was come,
Time was it that the child should leave his home
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So men to Aeson's door the war-horse led

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That was to bear them from the gates of dread,
And by the godlike Aeson stood the slave,
With wallet on his back, and sharpened glaive
Girt to his side; to whom the horn and ring,
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Fit for the belt and finger of a king,
Did Aeson give, and therewith kissed the boy,
Who with his black beard played, and laughed for joy
To see the war-horse in the red torch-light.
At last, being mounted, forth into the night
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They rode, and thus hath Jason left his home.
ALL night they rode, and at the dawn, being come
Unto the outskirts of the forest wild,
They left the horse, and the still sleeping child
The slave bore in his arms, until they came
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Unto the place where, living free from blame,
Chiron the old roamed through the oaken wood;
There by a flowering thorn-bush the slave stood,
And set the little Jason on the ground;
Who, waking from sweet sleep, looked all around
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And ‘gan to prattle; but his guardian drew
The horn from off his neck, and thereon blew
A point of hunting known to two or three,
That sounded through the forest merrily,
Then waited listening. And meantime the sun,
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Come from Eubœan cliffs, had just begun
To light the high tips of the forest grass,
And in the thorn the blackbird singing was;
But ‘mid his noise the listening man could hear
The sound of hoofs, whereat a little fear
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He felt within his heart, and heeded nought
The struggling of the child, who ever sought
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To gain the horn all glittering of bright gold,
Wrought by the cunning Dædalus of old.
But louder still the noise he hearkened grew,
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Until at last in sight the Centaur drew,
A mighty grey horse, trotting down the glade,
Over whose back the long grey locks were laid,
That from his reverend head abroad did flow
For to the waist was man, but all below
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A mighty horse, once roan, now well-nigh white
With lapse of years; with oak-wreaths was he dight
Where man joined unto horse, and on his head
He wore a gold crown, set with rubies red,
And in his hand he bare a mighty bow,
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No man could bend of those that battle now.
So, when he saw him coming through the trees,
The trembling slave sunk down upon his knees
And put the child before him; but Chiron,
Who knew all things, cried: Man with Aeson’s son,
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Thou needest not to tell me who thou art,
Nor will I fail to do to him my part:
A vain thing were it, truly, if I strove,
Such as I am, against the will of Jove.
Lo now, this youngling, set ‘twixt thee and me,
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In days to come a mighty man shall be,
Well-nigh the mightiest of all those that dwell
Between Olympus and Malea; and well
Shall Juno love him till he come to die.
Now get thee to thy master presently,
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But leave with me the red ring and the horn,
That folk may know of whom this boy was born
In days to come, when he shall leave this wild.
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Lay now between my arms the noble child.
SO the slave joyful, but still half afraid,
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Within the mighty arms young Jason laid,
And gave up both the horn and the red ring
Unto the Centaur, who the horn did sling
About him; on his finger, with a smile,
Setting the ring; and in a little while
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The slave departing, reached the open plain,
And straight he mounted on his horse again,
And rode on toward Iolchos all the day,
And as the sunset darkened every way,
He reached the gates, and coming to his lord,
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Bid him rejoice, and told him every word
That Chiron said. Right glad was Aeson then
That from his loins a great man among men
Should thus have sprung; and so he passed his days
Full quietly, remote from fear or praise.
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BUT memory of the day still Pelias bore,
When from the altar's very horns he tore
Sidero's cruel hands, while Neleus smote
The golden-hilted sword into her throat,
And without fire, or barley-cake, or cup,
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No pleasing victim, she was offered up
In Juno's temple; so he feared indeed
That he, the king, the Earth-begider's seed,
Should meet an evil fate at Juno's hands:
Therefore he sent for men from many lands,
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Marble and wood, and gold and brass enow,
And day by day, with many a sounding blow,
The masons wrought, until at last was reared
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A temple to the Goddess that he feared;
A wonder among temples, for the stone
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That made it, and the gold that therein shone.
And in the midst her image Pelias set,
Wrought cunningly of purest gold, which yet
Had served him better in his treasury,
So little store the Goddess set thereby.
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Moreover to Dodona, where the doves
Amid the oak-trees murmur of their loves,
He sent a messenger to know his fate;
Who, up the temple steps, beneath the weight
Of precious things went bending; and being come
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Back from the north to his Thessalian home,
Gave forth this answer to the doubtful king:
O Pelias, fearful of so many a thing,
Sit merry o'er thy wine, sleep safe and soft,
Within thy golden bed; for surely oft
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The snows shall fall before the half-shod man
Can come upon thee through the water wan.
So at this word the king along the shore
Built many a tower, and ever more and more
Drew men unto him skilled in spear and bow;
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And through the streets full often would he go
Beset with guards: a terror to hip folk
He grew to be, and grinding was his yoke.
AND yet indeed were all these things but vain,
For at the foot of Pelion waxed his bane,
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And day by day fairer he was to sight,
And swiftly grew in manhood and in might:
Unto whom Chiron taught the worthy lore
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Of elders who the wide world filled before;
And how to forge his iron arrow-heads;
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And how to find within the marshy steads
The stoutest reeds, and from some slain bird's wing
To feather them, and make a deadly thing;
And through the woods he took him, nor would spare
To show him how the just-awakened bear
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Came hungry from his tree, or show him how
The spotted leopard's lurking-place to know;
And many a time they brought the hart to bay,
Or smote the boar at hottest of the day.
Now was his dwelling-place a fair-hewn cave,
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Facing the south; thereto the herdsmen drave
Full off to Chiron woolly sheep, and neat,
And brought him wine and garden-honey sweet,
And fruits that flourish well in the fat plain,
And cloth and linen, and would take again
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Skins of slain beasts, and little lumps of gold,
Washed from the high crags: then would Chiron hold,
Upon the sunny lawns, high feast: with them,
And garland all about the ancient stem
Of some great tree, and there do sacrifice
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Unto the Gods, and with grave words and wise
Tell them sweet tales of elders passed away:
But for some wished thing every man would pray
Or ever in their hands the steel did shine,
And or the sun lit up the bubbling wine;
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Then would they fall to meat, nor would they leave
Their joyances, until the dewy eve
Had given good heart unto the nightingale
To tell the sleepy wood-nymphs all his tale.
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MOREOVER, Chiron taught him how to cast
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His hand across the lyre, until there passed
Such sweetness through the woods, that all about
The wood-folk gathered, and the merry rout
That called on Bacchus, hearkening, stayed awhile,
And in the chase the hunter, with a smile,
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From his raised hand let fall the crooked horn,
When to his ears the sweet strange sound was borne.
BUT in the night-time once did Jason wake,
And seem to see the moonlit branches shake
With huge, unwonted clamour of the chase;
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Then up he sprung, but ere he went one pace
Unto the cave’s mouth, Chiron raised his arm
And drew him back, and said; Surely, no charm
Thou hast, my son, against Diana's sight,
Who over Pelion goes abroad this night;
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Now let those go to her that she doth call,
Because no fenced town, brazen gate or wall,
No coat of mail, or seven-folded shield,
Can guard thee from the wound that ne'er is healed,
When she is angry. Sleep again, my son,
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Nor wish to spoil great deeds not yet begun.
Then Jason lay and trembled, while the sound
Grew louder through the moonlit woods around,
And died off slowly, going toward the sea,
Leaving the fern-owl wailing mournfully.
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Thereafter wandering lonely did he meet
A maid, with girt-up gown and sandalled feet,
Who joyously through flowering grass did go,
Holding within her hand an unstrung bow;
And, setting eyes on her, he thought, indeed,
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This must be she that made Actæon bleed;
For, certes, ere that day he had not seen
Within that wild, one made so like a queen.
So, doubtful, he held back, nor dared to love
Her rosy feet, or ivory knees above,
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And, with half-lifted eyes, could scarcely dare
To gaze upon her eyes or golden hair,
Or hidden bosom: but she called aloud:
Tell me, fair youth, if thou hast seen a crowd
Of such as I go through these woods to-day?
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And when his stammering tongue no word could say,
She smiled upon him, and said, Who art thou,
Who seemest fitter from some galley's prow
To lead the heroes on the merchant-town,
Than through the wilds to hunt the poor beasts down
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Or underneath the canopy to sit,
Than by the beech to watch the cushat flit?
Speak out, and fear not. O, my queen ! said he,
Fair Goddess, as thou seemest well to be,
Give me good days and peace, and maiden's love,
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And let great kings send out their sons to rove;
But as for me, my name is little known,
I am but Jason, who dwell here alone
With Chiron in the hollow mountain-side,
Wishful for happy days, whate'er betide.
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Jason, she said, all folk shall know thy name,
For verily the Gods shall give thee fame,
Whatever they keep back from thee: behold
Restless thou shalt be, as thou now art bold;
And cunning, as thou now art skilled to watch
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The crafty bear, and in the toils to catch

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The grey-maned yellow lion; and now see
Thou doest my commands, for certainly
I am no mortal; so to Chiron tell
No longer is it fitting thou shouldst dwell
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Here in the wilds, but in a day or two,
Clad in Magnesian garments, shalt thou go
Unto Iolchos, and there claim thine own.
And unto thee shall Chiron first make known
The story of thy father and thy kin,
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That thou mayst know what right thou hast herein.
And say to him, I bid him do this thing,
By this same token, that the silver ring
Upon mine altar, with Sidero's blood
Is spotted still, and that the half-charred wood
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My priests had lighted early on that day,
Yet lies thereon, by no flame burnt away.
THEN Jason fell a-trembling, and to him
The tall green stems grew wavering, faint, and dim;
And when a fresh gust of the morning breeze
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Came murmuring along the forest trees,
And woke him as from dreaming, all alone
He stood, and with no farewell she was gone,
Leaving no traces of her dainty feet.
But through the leaves ambrosial odours sweet
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Yet floated as he turned to leave the place,
And with slow steps, and thinking on his case,
Went back to Chiron, whom at rest he found,
Half sleeping on the sunny thyme-strewn ground,
To whom he told the things that he had heard,
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With flushed and eager face, for they had stirred
New thoughts within him of the days to come;
So that he longed to leave his woodland home.
THEN Chiron said: O, fair son, thou shalt go,
Since now, at last, the Gods will have it so:
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And know that till thou comest to the end
Of thy loved life, shall Juno be thy friend,
Because the lovely huntress thou didst see.
Late in the greenwood certainly was she
Who sits in heaven beside Almighty Jove,
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And noble things they do that have her love.
Now son, to-day I rede thee not to go,
Nor yet to-morrow, for clouds great and slow
Are gathering round the hill-tops, and I think
The thirsty fields full many a draught will drink;
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Therefore to-day our cups shall not be dry,
But we will sit together, thou and I,
And tales of thy forefathers shalt thou hear,
And many another, till the heavens are clear.
SO was it as the Centaur said; for soon
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The woods grew dark, as though they knew no noon;
The thunder growled about the high brown hills,
And the thin, wasted, shining summer rills
Grew joyful with the coming of the rain,
And doubtfully was shifting every vane
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On the town spires, with changing gusts of wind;
Till came the storm-blast, sudden, cold, and blind,
‘Twixt gorges of the mountains, and drove back
The light sea breeze; then waxed the heavens coal-black,
Until the lightning leapt from cloud to cloud,
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With clattering thunder, and the piled-up crowd
Began to turn from steely blue to grey,
And toward the sea the thunder drew away,
Leaving the north-wind blowing steadily
The rain clouds from Olympus; while the sea
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Seemed mingled with the low clouds and the rain;
And one might think that never now again
The sunny grass could make a pleasant bed
For the spent limbs, and dreamy, languid head
Of sandalled nymph, forewearied with the chase.
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Meanwhile, within a pleasant lighted place,
Stretched upon warm skins, did the Centaur lie.
And nigh him Jason, listening eagerly
The tales he told him, asking, now and then,
Strange questions of the race of vanished men:
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Nor were the wine-cups idle; till at last
Desire of sleep over their bodies passed,
And in their dreamless rest the wind in vain
Howled round about, with washing of the rain. Notes Book I


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