The Life and Death of Jason


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The taming of the brazen bulls -- The quelling of the Earth-born.

NOW when she woke again the bright sun glared
In at the window, and the trumpets blared,
Shattering the sluggish air of that hot day,
For fain the king would be upon his way.
Then straight she called her maidens, who forthright
Did due observance to her body white,
And clad her in the raiment of a queen,
And round her crown they set a wreath of green.
But she descending, came into the hall,
And found her father clad in royal pall,
Holding the king's staff, and with red gold crowned,
And by him Jason and his folk around.
Now was AEetes saying: Minyæ,
And you, my people, who are here by me,
Take heed, that by his wilful act to-day
This man will perish, neither will I slay
One man among you. Nay, Prince, if ye will,
A safe return I give unto you still.
But Jason answered, smiling in his joy:--
Once more AEetes, nay. Against this toy
My life is pledged, let all go to the end.
Then, lifting up his eyes, he saw his friend,
Made fresh and lovelier by her quiet rest,
And set his hand upon his mailed breast,
Where in its covering lay the crystal ball.

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But the king said: Then let what will fall, fall!
Since time it is that we were on the way;
And thou, O daughter, shall be there to-day,
And see thy father's glory once more shown
Before our folk and those the wind has blown
From many lands to see this play played out.
Then raised the Colchian folk a mighty shout,
And doubtful of the end the Minyæ grew,
Unwitting of their faithful friend and true.
But down the hall the king passed, who did hold
Medea's hand, and on a car of gold
They mounted, drawn anigh the carven door,
And spearmen of the Colchians went before
And followed after, and the Minyæ
Set close together followed solemnly,
Headed by Jason, at the heels of these.
So passed they through the streets and palaces
Thronged with much folk, and o'er the bridges passed,
And to the open country came at last,
Nor there went far, but turning to the right,
Came to a close where round about were dight
Long galleries to hedge the fateful stead,
Built all of marble fair and roofed with lead,
And carven well with stories of old time,
Framed all about with golden lines of rhyme.
Moreover, midmost was an image made
Of mighty Mars who maketh kings afraid,
That looked down on an altar builded fair,
Wherefrom already did a bright fire glare
And made the hot air glassy with its heat.

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So in the gallery did the king take seat
With fair Medea, and the Colchians stood
Hedging the twain in with a mighty wood
Of spears and axes, while the Minyæ
Stood off a space the fated things to see.
Ugly and rugged was that spot of ground,
And with an iron wall was closed around,
And at the further end a monstrous cage
Of iron bars, shut in the stupid rage
Of those two beasts, and therefrom ever came
The flashing and the scent of sulphurous flame,
As with their brazen clangorous bellowing
They hailed the coming of the Colchian king;
Nor was there one of the seafaring men
But trembled, gazing on the deadly pen,
But Jason only, who before the rest
Shone like a star, and bore upon his breast
A golden corslet from the treasury
Of wise King Phineus by the doubtful sea,
By an Egyptian wrought who would not stay
At Salmydessa more than for a day,
But on that day the wondrous breast-plate wrought,
Which with good will and strong help Jason bought;
And from that treasury his golden shoe
Came, and his thighs the king's gift covered too;
But on his head his father's helm was set
Wreathed round with bay leaves, and his sword lay yet
Within the scabbard, while his ungloved hand
Bore nought within it but an olive wand.
Now King AEetes well beholding him,
Fearless of mien and so unmatched of limb,
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Trembled a little in his heart as now
He bade the horn-blowers the challenge blow,
But thought, What strength can help him, or what art,
Or which of all the Gods be on his part?
Impious, who knew not through what doubtful days,
E'en from his birth, and perilous rough ways
Juno had brought him safely, nor indeed
Of his own daughter's quivering lips took heed,
And restless hands wherein the God so wrought,
The wise man seeing her had known her thought.
Now Jason, when he heard the challenge blow,
Across the evil fallow 'gan to go
With face beyond its wont in nowise pale,
Nor footstep faltering, if that might avail
The doomed man aught; so to the cage he came,
Whose bars now glowed red hot with spouted flame,
In many a place; nor doubted any one
Who there beheld him that his days were done,
Except his love alone; and even she,
Sickening with doubt and terror, scarce could see
The hero draw the brazen bolt aside
And throw the glowing wicket open wide.
But he alone, apart from his desire,
Stood unarmed, facing those two founts of fire,
Yet feared not aught, for hope and fear were dead
Within his heart, and utter hardihead
Had Juno set there; but the awful beasts
Beholding now the best of all their feasts,
Roared in their joy and fury, till from sight
They and the prince were hidden by the white
Thick-rolling clouds of sulphurous pungent smoke,
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Through which upon the blinded man they broke.
But when within a yard of him they came,
Baffled they stopped, still bellowing, and the flame
Still spouting out from nostril and from mouth;
As from some island mountain in the south
The trembling mariners behold it cast;
But still to right and left of him it passed,
Breaking upon him as cool water might,
Nor harming more, except that from his sight
All corners of the cage were hidden now,
Nor knew he where to seek the brazen plough;
As to and fro about the quivering cage
The monsters rushed in blind and helpless rage.
But as he doubted, to his eyes alone
Within the place a golden light outshone,
Scattering the clouds of smoke, and he beheld
Once more the Goddess who his head upheld
In rough Anaurus on that other tide;
She, smiling on him, beckoned and 'gan glide
With rosy feet across the fearful floor,
Breathing cool odours round her, till a door
She opened to him in the iron wall,
Through which he passed, and found a grisly stall
Of iron still, and at one end of it,
By glimmering lamps with greenish flame half lit,
Beheld the yoke and shining plough he sought;
Which, seizing straight, by mighty strength he brought
Unto the door, nor found the Goddess there;
But she in likeness of a damsel fair,
Colchian Metharma, through the spearmen passed,
Bearing them wine, and causeless terror cast
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Into their foolish hearts, nor spared to go
And 'mid the dose seafaring ranks to sow
Good hope of joyful ending, and then stood
Behind the maid, unseen, and brought the blood
Back to her cheeks and trembling lips and wan,
With thoughts of things unknown to maid or man.
Meanwhile upon the foreheads of the twain
Had Jason cast the yoke with little pain,
And now loud shouting drove them through the door
Which in such guise ne'er had they passed before:
For never were they made the earth to till,
But rather, feeding fat, to work the will
Of some all-knowing man; but now they went
Like any peasant's beasts, tamed by the scent
Of those new herbs Medea's hand had plucked,
Whose roots from evil earth strange power had sucked.
Now in the open field did Jason stand
And to the plough-stilts set his unused hand,
And down betwixt them lustily he bent;
Then the bulls drew, and the bright ploughshare sent
The loathly fallow up on the right side,
Whilst o'er their bellowing shrilly Jason cried:--
Draw nigh, O King, and thy new ploughman see,
Then mayst thou make me shepherd-lad to thee;
Nor doubt thou, doing so, from out thy flock
To lose but one, who ne'er shall bring thee stock,
Of ram or ewe; nor doubt the grey wolf, King,
Wood-haunting bear, dragon, or such like thing.
Ah the straight furrow! how it mindeth me
Of the smooth parting of the land-locked sea
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Over against Euboea, and this fire
Of the fair altar where my joyful sire
Will pour out wine to Neptune when I come
Not empty-handed back unto my home.
Such mocks he said; but when the sunlight broke
Upon his armour through the sulphurous smoke,
And showed the lengthening furrow cutting through
The ugly farrow as anigh they drew,
The joyful Minyæ gave a mighty shout;
But pale the king sat frowning in his doubt,
Muttering: Whose counsel hast thou taken, then,
To do this thing, which not the best of men
Could do unholpen of some sorcery?
Whoso it is, wise were he now to die
Ere yet I know him, since for many a day
Vainly for death I hope to hear him pray.
Meanwhile, askance Medea eyed the king,
Thinking nought safe until that everything
Was finished in the Colchian land, and she
No more beheld its shores across the sea;
But he, beholding her pale visage, thought
Grief like to his such paleness on her brought,
And turning to her, said: How pale thou art !
Let not this first foil go unto thine heart
Too deeply, since thou knowest certainly,
One way or other this vain fool must die.
Father, she said, a doubt is on me still,
Some God this is come here our wealth to spill:
Nor is this first thing easier than the rest.
Then stammering, she said: Were it not best
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To give him that which he at last must have,
Before he slay us? But AEetes gave
A sharp glance at her, and a pang shot through
His weary heart as half the truth he knew.
But for one moment, and he made reply
In passionate words: Then, daughter, let me die!
And, ere I die, beheld thee led along
A wretched slave to suffer grief and wrong
In far-off lands, and AEa at thy back
Nought but a huge flame hiding woe and wrack,
Before from out my willing open hand
This wonder, and the safeguard of my land
A God shall take; and such this man is not.
What! dost thou think because his eyes are hot
On tender maidens he must be a God?
Or that because firmly this field he trod
Well-fenced with magic? Were he like to me,
Grey-haired and lean, what Godhead wouldst thou see
In such an one? Hold, then, thy peace of this,
And thou shalt see thy God full widely miss
The mark he aims at, when from out the earth
Spring up those brothers of an evil birth.
And therewithal he gazed at her, and thought
To see the rosy flush by such words brought
Across her face; as in the autumn eve,
Just as the sun's last half begins to leave
The shivering world, both east and west are red.
But calm and pale she turned about her head,
And spake: My father, neither were these words
My words, nor would I struggle with my lords;
Thou art full wise; whatso thine heart would have
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That do, and heed me not, who fain would save
This glory of thy kingdom and of thee.
But now look up, and soothly thou shall see
Mars' acre tilled: the field is ready then,
Bid them bring forth the seed that beareth men.
Again with her last words the shouts out-broke
From the seafarers, for, beside the yoke,
Before Mars' altar did their Jason stand,
Holding the wand of olive in his hand,
And on the new-turned furrow shone the sun
Behind him, and his half-day's work was done.
And now another marvel: for, behold,
As at the furrow's end he slacked his hold
Upon the plough-stilts, all the bellowing
Wherewith the beasts had made the grim close ring,
Fell suddenly, and all the wild-fire died
That they were wont erewhile to scatter wide
From mouth and nostril; and their loins and knees
Stiffened, and they grew nought but images
Lifelike but lifeless, wonderful but dead;
Such as he makes, who many a day hath fed
His furnace with the beechwood, when the clay
Has grown beneath his deft hands day by day
And all is ready for the casting; then
Such things as these he makes for royal men.
But 'mid the shouts turned Jason to the king,
And said: Fair sir, behold a wondrous thing,
And since these beasts have been content to stay
Before Mars' altar, from this very day
His should they be if they were mine to give.
O Jason, said the king, well mayst thou live

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For many a day, since thou this deed hast done,
But for the Gods, not unto any one
Will I give gifts; but let them take from me
What once they gave, if so the thing must be.
But do thou take this sack from out my hand
And cast its seed about the new-tilled land,
And watch the issue; and keep words till then,
I counsel thee, O luckiest man of men.
Then Jason took the sack, and with it went
About that field new turned, and broadcast sent
The white teeth scattering, but or ere he came
Back to the altar and the flickering flame,
He heard from 'neath the earth a muttered sound
Ttat grew and grew, till all that piece of ground
Swelled into little hillocks, like as where
A stricken field was foughten, but that there
Quiet the heroes' bones lie underneath
The quivering grasses and the dusky heath;
But now these heaps which labouring Earth upthrew
About Mars' acre, ever greater grew,
And still increased the noise, till none could hear
His fellow speak, and paleness and great fear
Fell upon all; and Jason only stood
As stands the stout oak in the poplar wood
When winds are blowing.
Then he saw the mounds
Bursten asunder, and the muttered sounds
Changed into loud strange shouts and warlike clang,
As with freed feet at last the earth-born sprang
On to the tumbling earth, and day and light
Shone on bright arms dean ready for the fight.
But terribly they showed, for through the place
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Not one there was but had his staring face,
With great wide eyes, and lips in a set smile,
Turned full on Jason, who, for a short while,
Forgot indeed Medea's warning word
And from its golden sheath half drew his sword,
But then, remembering all, cried valiantly:
New born ye are--new slain too shall ye be,
Take this, and round about it read your doom,
And bid them make new dwellings in the tomb,
Wherefrom ye came, nor ever should have passed.
Therewith the ball among the host he cast,
Standing to watch what next that folk would do.
But he the ball had smitten turned unto
The one who stood by him and like a cup
Shattered his head; then the next lifted up
His axe and slew the slayer, and straightway
Among the rest began a deadly fray.
No man gave back a foot, no breathing space
One took or gave within that dreadful place,
But where the vanquished stood there was he slain,
And straight the conquering arm was raised again
To meet its match and in its turn to fall.
No tide was there of fainting and recall,
No quivering pennon o'er their heads to flit,
Nor name or eager shout called over it,
No groan of pain, and no despairing cry
From him who knows his time has come to die;
But passionless each bore him in that fight,
Scarce otherwise than as a smith might smite
On sounding iron or bright glittering brass.
So, little by little, did the clamour pass
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As one by one each fell down in his place,
Until at last, midmost the bloody space,
One man was left, alive but wounded sore,
Who, staring round about and seeing no more
His brothers' spears against him, fixed his eyes
Upon the queller of those mysteries.
Then dreadfully they gleamed, and with no word,
He tottered towards him with uplifted sword.
But scarce he made three paces down the field,
Ere chill death reached his heart, and on his shield
Clattering he fell. So satiate of fight
Quickly the earth-born were, and their delight
With what it fed on perished, and one hour
Ripened the deadly fruit of that fell flower.
Then, Jason, mocking, cried unto the king:--
O wonderful, indeed, must be the thing
Thou guardest with such wondrous guards as these;
Make no delay therefore, but bring the keys
That I may see this dear delight of all.
But on AEetes' face a change did fall,
As though a mask had been set over it,
And smiles of little meaning 'gan to flit
O'er his thin lips, as he spake out at last:--
No haste, dear guest, for surely now is passed
All enmity between us, since I know
How like a God thou art; and thou shalt go
To-morrow to thy ship, to make for Greece;
And with no trial more, bear back the Fleece
Along our streets, and like no conquered thing,
But with much scattered flowers and tabouring,
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Bearing with it great gifts and all my love;
And in return, I pray thee, pray to Jove,
That I may have a few more years of life,
And end at last in honour, free from strife.
And now to-night be merry, and let time
Be clean forgotten, and bring Saturn's clime
And golden days upon our flower-crowned brows,
For of the unseen future what man knows?
O King, said Jason, for these words I praise
Thy wisdom much, and wish thee happy days.
And I will give thee honour as I can,
Naming thee ever as a noble man
Through all the lands I come to: and will take
Thy gifts, indeed, and thou, for Jason's sake,
Shalt have gifts too, whatso thy soul may wish,
From out our keel that has escaped the fish.
So spake those wary foes, fair friends in look,
And so in words great gifts they gave and took,
And had small profit, and small loss thereby.
Nor less Medea feigned, but angrily
Regarded Jason, and across her brow
Drew close her veil, nor doubted the king now
Her faith and loyalty.
So from the place
Back toward the town they turned at a soft pace,
In guise of folk that hold high festival,
Since straightly had AEetes bid that all
Should do the strangers pleasure on that day.
But warily went Jason on the way,
And through his folk spread words, to take good heed
Of what might come, and ready be at need,
Nor yet to take AEetes for their friend,

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Since even then he plotted how to end
Their quest and lives: therefore he bade them spare
The wine that night, nor look on damsels fair;
But that, the feast done, all should stealthily
Get to the quay, and round about to sea
Turn Argo's head, and wait like hounds in slip,
Holding the oars, within the hollow ship.
Nor doubt, said he, that good and glorious
The end shall be, since all the Gods for us
Are fighting certainly: but should death come
Upon me in this land, then turn back home,
Nor wait till they shall lay your bones with mine,
Since now I think to go unto the shrine,
The while ye wait, and take therefrom the Fleece,
Not all unholpen, and depart in peace,
While yet the barbarous king beholds us dead
In dreams alone, or through his waking head
The vile plots chase each other for our death.
These things he said, but scarce above his breath,
Unto wise Nestor, who beside him went,
Who unto Butes straight the message sent,
And he to Phlias, so the words at last
Throughout the wondering seafarers had passed,
And so were all made ready for the night.
But on that eve, with manifold delight,
AEetes feasted them in his fair hall;
And they, well knowing what might chance to fall,
Sat saying little, nor drank deep of wine;
Until at last the old king gave the sign
To break the feast up, and within a while
All seemed asleep throughout the mighty pile.
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All seemed asleep, but now Medea went
With beating heart to work out her intent,
Scarce doubtful of the end, since only two
In all the world, she and AEetes, knew
Where dwelt the keys, far from the light of day,
Beneath the palace. So, in garments grey,
Like the soft creeping twilight did she go,
Until she reached a passage far below
The river, past whose oozing walls of stone
Nought living save the king and she had gone.
Now she, who thus far had come through the dark,
Stopped, and in haste striking a little spark
From something in her hand, lit up a lamp,
Whose light fell on an iron door, with damp
All rusted red, which with a key of brass
She opened, and there-through made haste to pass,
Shuddering a little, as her feet 'gan tread
Upon a dank cold floor, though overhead
High-arched the place was, fairly built enow.
But she across the slippery floor did go
Unto the other wall, wherein was built
A little aumbrye, with a door o'ergilt,
That with the story of King Athamas,
And Phryxus, and the ram all carven was.
There did she draw forth from her balmy breast
A yellow flowering herb, that straight she pressed
Upon the lock, low muttering all the while;
But soon across her face there passed a smile,
As backward in the lock the bolts did turn,
And the door opened; then a golden urn
She saw within the aumbrye, whereon she
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Drew out the thing she sought for eagerly,
The seven keys with sere-cloth done about.
Then through the dreary door did she pass out,
And made it fast, and went her way once more
Through the black darkness on from floor to floor.
And so, being come to Jason, him she found
All armed, and ready; therefore, with no sound,
She beckoned him to follow, and the twain
Passed through the brazen doors, locked all in vain,
Such virtue had the herb Medea bore,
And passing, did they leave ajar each door,
To give more ease unto the Minyæ.
So out into the fresh night silently
The lovers passed, the loveliest of the land;
But as they went, neither did hand touch hand,
Or face seek face; for, gladsome as they were,
Trembling with joy to be at last so near
The wished-for day, some God yet seemed to be
'Twixt the hard past and their felicity. Notes Book VIII



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