The Life and Death of Jason

10. BOOK X.

Kelmscott Edition Page 164

Page 164

Argo cut off from the straits. The entry of the river. The passage northward.

NIGHT came, but still on by the stars they sailed
Before the wind, till at the dawn it failed,
And faded soon the sunrise hue away,
Leaving the heavens all colour-less and grey,
And dull and lightless the decreasing swell
About the watery ways now rose and fell,
And Lynceus, looking back, no more beheld
The galley that so long the chase had held.
Then were all glad, and toiled on at the oar,
When now the drooping sails would help no more.
BUT soon before their way it seemed as though
A curtain hung they needs must journey through,
A low black mist so brooded o'er the sea.
Then did they hold their hands, but presently,
Moving to meet them, did it hide from sight
The dog-vane and the maintruck gilded bright,
Yea in heart-chilling waves it so enwound
The seafarers, that each man gazed around
And saw but shadows where his fellows were.
So with the windless swell did Argo fare
Two days with furled sails purposeless and blind,
And bearing heavy hearts; the third, the wind
Sprung up at daybreak, and straight drove away
That hideous mist, that after sunrise lay
A heavy purple bank down in the west.

Kelmscott Edition Page 165

Page 165

THEN by the sun his way Erginus guessed,
For on no side could they see any land;
But as upon the helm he set his hand
Such mighty light blazed out upon the prow,
That faint and yellow did the sunlight show
Beside it, and amidst it they beheld
The figure that ere now their hands had held
Anigh the Mysian shore; and now it said:
O heroes, wherefore haste ye to be dead?
Behold, while through the heart of yonder fog
I, Argo, drifted as an unsteered log,
Aeetes passed us going towards the straits,
And now is lying ready by the gates;
Nor with one ship alone, but with ten keels,
Raised from his subject kings and commonweals,
Abides your coming, hoping soon to see
Your bodies on the shore lie wretchedly,
While to the Gods he offers bulls and sheep;
But your fair helper and your joy will keep,
That she in Aea unavenged may burn.
But now the Gods, taking your swift return
Away from you, yet will not let you die;
But bid you, taking heart, turn presently
Unto the northern shore of this ill sea;
There by a mighty river shall ye be,
Along whose sides dwell the Sarmatian folk,
Knowing no arts, untaught to bear the yoke
Of equal laws; into this river’s mouth
Straight must ye enter, and forget the south;
And many unknown lands and unknown seas,
And deadly forests, vocal with no breeze,
Kelmscott Edition Page 166

Page 166

Shall ye go wandering through; but, long time past,
Unto the seas ye know shall come at last,
And sailing by the western garden fair
Toward the Italian shore, shall ye find there
Circe the wise, the wonder of all lands,
Thy father's sister, lady, at whose hands
Of late-wrought guilt shall ye be purified.
And so, by many troubles being tried,
Unto Iolchos shall ye all come back
Except some few; nor there find any lack
Of much-desired wealth and babbling praise,
And so each man depart unto such days
As the fates grant him, be they good or ill,
With death at last according to their will.
With these last words she vanished quite away,
And these, left floating on that dawn of day,
Felt severed utterly from hoped-for things;
Like some caged eagle that, with fluttering wings,
Beats at his bars, beholding far away
His windy eyrie up the mountain grey.
A while ago, and every man nigh saw
The long white walls rise sunny without flaw
From out the curled white edges of the sea;
Yea, almost felt as if they well might be
In fair Iolchos that same afternoon.
And now how many and many a glittering moon
Must fill her horns up, while their lives are spent
In unknown lands mid helpless dreariment!
BUT as his fellows, speechless and amazed,
Upon the weary sea so stood and gazed,
Spake Jason to them: Heroes, tell me where
Kelmscott Edition Page 167

Page 167

Your hearts are gone, since helpless thus ye stare
On that which helpeth not? in no such wise
A while ago, before Aeetes' eyes
Ye smote the Colchian ship; with other heart
Ye drave the dark blue clashers far apart;
No eyes I saw like these upon the day,
When with the Colchian spears on every way,
Unto Mars' acre on a doubtful quest
We passed, and dared the worst to get the best.
What will ye? Is it then so hard a thing
That we, through many countries wandering,
Shall see unheard-of things, nor fail to come
When yet our blood is warm, back to our home?
Be merry! think upon the lives of men,
And with what troubles threescore years and ten
Are crowded oft, yea, even unto him
Who sits at home, nor fears for life and limb,
But trembles the base slave unto a slave;
Or holding trifles he is fain to save,
Sits pleasureless, and wearing out his life,
Or with vain words wages disgraceful strife
That leads nowhither, till forgotten death
Seizes the babbler, choking out his breath.
But ye…forget all…get ye to the oar,
And steer rejoicing to the northern shore,
Since we shall win such glory and renown,
That, coming home again to our fair town,
Those left behind shall count us all for lords,
And tremble, gazing at our sheathed swords.
Fair is the wind, the sunny dawn is clear,
Nor are we bound for Pluto's kingdom drear,
Kelmscott Edition Page 168

Page 168

But for fair forests, plentiful of beasts,
Where, innocent of craft, with joyous feasts
The wise folk live as in the golden age,
Not reddening spears and swords in useless rage;
Nor need they houses, but in fair-wrought cave
Their bodies from the winter's cold they save;
Nor labour they at all, nor weave, nor till,
For everything the kind land bears at will.
Doubt not at all that they will welcome us
As very Gods, with all things plenteous.
SO spake he, knowing nought of that same land;
Natheless, they, noting him as he did stand
Beside Erginus with unclouded face,
Took heart again, and to the oars apace
They gat and toiled, forgetting half the word
That from great Argo's sprite ere now they heard,
Nor thinking of the ills that they might meet,
But of the day when their returning feet
Should bear them, full of knowledge, wealth, and fame,
Up to the royal hall wherefrom they came.
BUT Jason in his heart thought: Now, indeed,
Of home and fame full little is my need,
The days will change, and time will bring a day
When through my beard are sprinkled locks of grey,
And love no more shall be enough for me,
And no fair woman much delight shall be;
But little do we need when we are young,
The bended knee and flattering double tongue,
Which we, grown old, and drained of half our fire,
Knowing them false, do yet so much desire.
But for his love, she, set quite free from fear
Kelmscott Edition Page 169

Page 169

Of frightful death, held life itself so dear,
That where she went she scarcely heeded yet,
For still she seemed to see the black pile set
For her undoing by the temple-gate;
And seemed to see the thronging people wait
For her, who never now should fill the place
Amid the bale-fire: then she saw his face
So close, and with her fingers felt him toy,
And therewithal trembled for very joy,
And for that hour she cast by every care,
So sweet was love, and life so blithe and fair.
NOW northward Argo steered for two days more,
Until at last they came in sight of shore,
And creeping on, they found a river-mouth,
That a long spit of land fenced from the south,
And turned due west; and now at ebb full strong,
Turbid and yellow, rolled its stream along,
That scarce could Argo stem it; wherefore they,
It being but early, anchored till mid-day,
And as they waited, saw an eddy rise
Where sea joined river, and before their eyes
The battle of the waters did begin.
So seeing the mighty ocean best therein
Weighing their anchor, they made haste to man
Both oars and sails, and therewith plying, ran
With the first wave of the great conquering flood
Far up the stream, on whose banks forests stood,
Darkening the swirling water on each side.
And so between them swiftly did they glide,
And now no more they smelt the fresh salt sea,
Kelmscott Edition Page 170

Page 170

Or heard the steady wind pipe boisterously
Through the strained rigging, neither with their feet
Set wide the pitching of their ship to meet
Went to and fro; for all was quiet now
But gurgling of the stream beside the prow,
And flapping of the well-nigh useless sail,
And from the black woods some faint dismal wail,
Whether of man or beast they knew not well.
THEN o'er their hearts a melancholy fell,
And they began to think they might forget
The quest whereon their hearts had once been set,
Now half accomplished, and all wealth and fame,
All memory of the land wherefrom they came,
Their very names indeed, to wander on,
Unseen, unheard of till their lives were done.
In such-like thoughts they anchored for the night,
Nor slept they much, but wishing for daylight,
About the deck they paced, or sat them down
In longing thought of some fair merchant-town.
SO sadly passed the heavy night away,
That, dreary, yet was noisier than the day;
For all about them evil beasts 'gan stir
At nightfall, and great soft-winged bats would whirr
About their raiment and their armour bright.
And when the moon rose, and her crescent white
Made the woods blacker, then from either shore
They heard the thundering of the lion's roar,
Now coming nigher, dying now away;
And once or twice, as in the stream they lay
A spear-cast from the shore, could they behold
Kelmscott Edition Page 171

Page 171

The yellow beast stalk forth, and, stark and bold,
Stand in the moonlight on the muddy beach.
Then, though they doubted not their shafts could reach
His kingly heart, they held their hands, for here
All seemed as in a dream, where deadly fear
Is mingled with the most familiar thing;
And in the cup we see the serpent's sting,
And common speech we answer with a scream.
Moreover, sounds they heard they well might deem
To be men's voices; but whatso they were,
Unto the river side they drew not near,
Nor yet of aught like man did they have sight.
SO dawned the day; but like another night
Unto their wearied eyes it seemed to be,
Amid that solitude, where tree joined tree
For ever, as it seemed; and natheless, they
Ran out the oars and gat them on their way
Against the ebb, and little help the flood
Gave them that day; but yet for bad or good
They laboured on; though still with less intent
More hopeless past the changeless woods they went.
But every day, more and more sluggishly
And shorter time, the water from the sea
Ran up, and failed ere eve of the third day,
Though slower took the downward stream its way,
Grown wide and dull, and here and there the wood
Would draw away and leave some dismal rood
Of quaggy land about the river's edge,
Where 'mid the oozes and decaying sedge
These now the weary company of kings,

Kelmscott Edition Page 172

Page 172

As they passed by, could not endure to see
Unscathed of arrows, turning lazily
Blue-gleaming slimy sides up in the sun,
Whose death swift Atalanta first begun.
For as anigh the prow she chanced to stand,
Unto her bow did she set foot and hand,
And strung it, and therefrom an arrow sent
That through the belly of a monster went,
Legged like a lizard, maned with long lank hair.
He, screaming, straight arose from out his lair,
With many another of his kith and kin,
And swiftly getting to the water thin,
Made for the ship; and though upon the way
Some few amongst them lost the light of day,
Smit by Thessalian arrows, yet the most
The narrow strip of water fairly crossed,
And scaled the ship's sides, and therewith began
A fearful battle betwixt worm and man.
Not long it dured; though Ceneus through the mail
Was bitten, and one monster's iron tail
Smote down Asterion, whom Eribotes
Made shift to save; but chiefly amid these
She who had been the first to raise the strife
Was hard bested, and scarce escaped with life.
ONE worm 'twixt ship and shore her arrow slew,
But ere her amazonian axe she drew,
Another monster had got slimy hold
Of her slim ankles, and cast fold on fold
About her legs, and binding thigh to thigh,
Wrapt round her sides, enfolding mightily

Kelmscott Edition Page 173

Page 173

Her foiled right hand, then raised aloft his crest
Against her unembraced tender breast;
But she, with one unarmed hand yet left free,
Still strove to ward the blow, but giddily,
Because the deadly rings still tighter grew
About her heart; yet as she fell, there flew
A feathered javelin swiftly from the left,
By Arcas desperately cast, that cleft
The monster's head, and dulled his glittering eyes.
Then the glad Minyæ with joyous cries,
Cleared Argo's decks of all the monstrous things,
As from the maiden's limbs the slimy rings
Slacked and fell off: but she, so saved from death,
Sat weary by the mast, and drew glad breath,
And vowed the grey and deadly thing should shine,
Wrought all of gold, within Diana's shrine,
In woody fair Arcadia. But the rest,
When they with poured-out wine the Gods had blest,
And flayed the slain worms, gat them to the oar,
And 'gainst the sluggish stream slid past the shore.
BUT swifter the next day the river ran
With higher banks, and now the woods began
To be of trees that in their land they knew,
And into clumps of close-set beeches grew,
And oak-trees thinly spread, and there-between
Fair upland hillocks well beset with green;
And 'neath the trees great herds of deer and neat,
And sheep, and swine, fed on the herbage sweet,
Seeming all wild as though they knew not man,
For quite unherded, here and there they ran;
And while two great bucks raised the armed brow
Kelmscott Edition Page 174

Page 174

Each against each (since time of fight was now)
About them would the swine squeal, and the sheep
In close-drawn flock their faint republic keep,
With none to watch: nor saw they fence nor fold,
Nor any husbandry did they behold,
But the last men their wearied eyes had seen
Were those strong swimmers in the Phasis green.
SO seeing now these beasts in such plenty,
It seemed but good unto the Minyæ
To make provision thereof for their need.
And drawing Argo up through sedge and reed,
They made her fast, while divers took the land.
Arcas the hunter, Idas strong of hand,
White Atalanta, wise Eurytion,
Keen Theseus, with Pirithous his mate;
Clitius, whose swift shaft smote as sure as fate;
Aetalides, the runner of the plain;
Phocus, whose sling was seldom whirled in vain;
Cæneus the cragsman, Periclimenes,
And Apheus, haunter of the close-set trees.
So forth these set, and none of them had lack
Of spear or bow, or quiver at the back,
As through the land they went with wary mirth,
For they rejoiced once more to feel the earth
Beneath their feet, while on their heads fell down
The uncupped acorn, and the long leaves brown,
For on that land the sad mid-autumn lay,
And earlier came the sunset day by day.
But now unto their hunting gave they heed,
And of the more part happy was the speed,
Kelmscott Edition Page 175

Page 175

And soon to Argo did they turn. again,
Laden with that they had set forth to gain,
Of deer and beasts the slaughtered carcases
Upborne on interwoven boughs of trees.
WITH whom came Theseus not, nor Arcas came,
Nor yet Aetalides (who had the fame
Next Atalanta among all the rest
For swiftness, she being easily the best).
There waiting till the night, yet none the more
Came down those three unto the river's shore,
Nor through the night: but swift Aetalides
At dawn they saw come running through the trees,
With Arcas far behind, and Theseus slim
The last of all, but straining every limb
To be their equal: empty-handed they
Came back to Argo on that dawn of day,
And on being asked, a short tale had to tell.
UNTO their part to chase a great buck fell,
That led them far, and he at last being lost,
They set them down with nought to pay the cost
Of all their travail; so being set they heard
A hubbub of strange voices, and afeard
Leapt to their feet, and presently they saw
Strange folk, both men and women, toward them draw,
Who spread about them as to stop their flight
On all hands more than they durst lightly fight.
So being thus trapped they fain had spoke them fair,
But knowing not their tongue, they yet had care
To speak with smiles as though they feared not aught,
Asking for food by signs, which soon was brought;
No flesh, but roots and nuts, whereof they ate,
Kelmscott Edition Page 176

Page 176

And so by signs until the day grew late
They dealt together, making clear indeed
Each unto each but little of their need;
At last of their departure were they fain,
But, being stayed, they durst not strive in vain
For fear of worse; but now, the night being come,
The wild folk seemed to think that place their home
Just as another, and there gat to sleep,
Nor yet upon the Greeks a watch did keep
To stop their going So, said Arcas, we
An hour after midnight, warily
Stole from among them, neither gave they chase,
Being still asleep like beasts, in that same place;
And for their semblance, neither were they clad,
Nor in their hands a spear or sword they had,
Nor any brass or iron, but long slings,
And scrips of stones, and ugly stone-set things
Most like to knives, and clubs of heavy wood;
Soft-voiced they were, and gentle of their mood,
And goodly made as such wild folk may be,
But tanned with sun and wind; there did we see
Old men and young, and women old and young,
With many children scattered there among,
All naked, and with unshorn yellow hair
Blowing about; and sooth we deem they were
Houseless and lawless, without town or king,
Knowing no Gods, and lacking everything.
So said he, but Medea spoke, and said:
O heroes, surely by all likelihead
These are the folk of whom I erst heard tell
In Aea, where to me it oft befell
Kelmscott Edition Page 177

Page 177

To speak with many men from many lands,
Long ere ye crossed the Phasis' yellow sands.
Of these I learned more tongues of speaking men
Than ye might deem men spoke, who told me then
Of such as these, that ye have seen but now.
And yet indeed some Gods these folk do know,
The Sun, the Moon, the mother of the earth,
And more perchance, and days they have of mirth
When these they honour; yea, and unto these
Within their temples, groves of ancient trees,
Clad but in leaves, and crowned in solemn wise,
Which was your doom had not the Gods been kind,
Who for your bodies other graves will find.
BUT when they heard her, glad they were indeed
That they from such a bondage had been freed.
And, day being fully come, they loosed from shore,
And 'gainst the stream all bent unto the oar.
All day they toiled, and every mile of way
Still swifter grew the stream, so on that day
Few leagues they made; and still the banks were fair,
But rising into scarped cliffs here and there,
Where screamed the great ger-falcon as they passed,
And whence the sooty swifts about the mast
Went sweeping, with shrill cries at that new sight.
Nought happed that day worth record, but at night,
When they were moored, and sound of splashing oars
Had ceased, and stiller grew the upland shores,
Another sound they heard besides the stream
That gurgled past them, that to them did seem
Kelmscott Edition Page 178

Page 178

Like sound of feet of men who pass to war,
Rising and falling as the wind from far
Would bear it on, or drop it in the dark.
So, while with strained ears, they stood to hark
The murmur, as folk use, scarce sure they heard
That which already inward fear had stirred,
Erginus spoke: O heroes, fear ye nought,
This is not death, though ye to toil are brought;
This noise is but the river as it falls
Over its mountainous and iron walls,
Which, being once passed, both calm and deep will be
The pent-up stream, and Argo easily
Will stem it; but or ere we come thereto,
Needs must we heave her up and make her go
Over the hard earth, till the falls are past.
Eat therefore now, and sleep, that ye may last
Through this and other toils, and so may come
Through many labours, back unto your home.
So, landing, many a pine-torch did they light,
And made the dusky evening strange and bright,
And there a mighty feast-fire did they pile,
And set the flesh thereto, and in a while,
When all was ready, did they offer up
That which the Gods claimed, pouring out a cup
Of red wine to them from a new-pierced skin.
Then in that lonely land did they begin
Their feast, and first the flesh to Jason gave,
And next to her who all their souls did save
Far up the Phasis on that other day,
And then unto the swift Arcadian May
The guarded treasure of the trim-shod queen.

Kelmscott Edition Page 179

Page 179

Then to the godlike singer, set between
The twin Laconian stars, and then to these;
And then to Arcas, haunter of the trees,
Theseus, Pirithous, Erginus true,
The north-wind's sons, the cleavers of the blue;
And all the kings being satisfied in turn,
With vain desires 'gan their hearts to burn,
So stirred within them wine and changing speech.
But unto him his harp did Orpheus reach,
And smote the strings, and through the ancient trees
Rang the heart-piercing honied melodies:
Before the mountain men were bold
To dig up iron from the earth
Wherewith to slaughter health and mirth,
And bury hope far underground.
When all things needful did abound
In every land; nor must men toil,
Nor wear their lives in strife to foil
Each other's hands, for all was good,
And no man knew the sight of blood.
WITH all the world man had no strife,
No element against his life
Was sworn and bitter; on the sea,
Dry-shod, could all walk easily;
No fire there was but what made day,
Or hidden in the mountains grey;
No pestilience, no lightning flash,
No over-mastering wind, to dash
The roof upon some trembling head.

Kelmscott Edition Page 180

Page 180

THEN the year changed, but ne'er was dead,
Nor was the autumn-tide more sad
Than very spring; and all unclad
Folk went upon the harmless snow,
For not yet did midwinter know
The biting frost and icy wind,
The very east was soft and kind.
AND on the crown of July days,
All heedless of the mid-day blaze,
Unshaded by the rosy bowers,
Unscorched beside the tulip flowers,
The snow-white naked girl might stand;
Or fearless thrust her tender hand
Amidst the thornless rose-bushes.
THEN, 'mid the twilight of the trees
None feared the yellow beast to meet;
Smiling to feel their languid feet
Licked by the serpent's forked tongue.
For then no clattering horn had rung
Through those green glades, or made afraid
The timid dwellers in the shade.
No lust of strength, no fear of death
Had driven men, with shortened breath,
The stag's wide-open eyes to watch;
No shafts to slay, no nets to catch,
Were yet; unyoked the neat might play
On untilled meads and mountains grey;
Unshorn the silly sheep might rove.
NOR knew that world consuming love,
Mother of hate, or envy cold,
Or rage for fame, or thirst for gold,
Kelmscott Edition Page 181

Page 181

Or longing for the ways untried,
Which ravening and unsatisfied,
Draw shortened lives of men to Hell.
ALAS! what profit now to tell
The long unweary lives of men
Of past days…threescore years and ten,
Unbent, unwrinkled, beautiful,
Regarding not death's flower-crowned skull,
But with some damsel intertwined
In such love as leaves hope behind.
Alas, the vanished days of bliss!
Will no God send some dream of this,
That we may know what it has been?
Thou purple-stained, but not with blood,
Who on the edge of some cool wood
Forgettest the grim Indian plain,
And all the strife and all the pain,
While in thy sight the must foams out,
And maid and man, with cry and shout,
Toil while thou laughest, think of us,
And drive away these piteous,
Formless and wailing thoughts, that press
About our hour of happiness.
LYAEUS, King! by thee alone
To song may change our tuneless moan,
The murmur of the bitter sea
To ancient tales be changed by thee.
By thee the unnamed smouldering fire
Within our hearts turns to desire
Sweet, amorous, half satisfied;
Through thee the doubtful years untried
Kelmscott Edition Page 182

Page 182

Seem fair to us and fortunate,
In spite of death, in spite of fate.
HE ceased, and bent his head above the wine:
Then, as he raised his eyes they saw them shine
In the red torchlight with unwilling tears,
And their hearts too, with thoughts of vanished years
Were pensive, as at ending of his song
They heard the bubbling river speed along,
Nor did they miss that doubtful noise to hear
The rising night-wind through the branches bear,
Till sleep fell on them, and the watch alone
Waked in that place, and heard the distant moan
Grow louder as the dead night stiller grew,
And fuller of all fear, till daylight drew
A faint wan streak between the thinner trees,
And in their yellowing leafage the young breeze
Made a new sound, that through their waking dream
Like to the surging sea well-nigh did seem.
BUT the full day being come, all men awake,
Fresh hold upon the oars began to take,
Stemming the stream, that now at every mile
Swifter and shallower ran, and in a while
Above all noises did they hear that roar,
And saw the floating foam borne past the shore;
So but ten leagues they made upon that day,
And on the morrow, going on their way,
They went not far, for underneath their keel
Some once or twice the hard rock did they feel,
Kelmscott Edition Page 183

Page 183

And looking on ahead, the stream could see
White with the rapids: therefore warily
Some mile or two they went at a slow pace
And stayed their course where they beheld a place
Soft-sloping to the river; and there all,
Half deafened by the noises of the fall
And bickering rapids, left the ashen oar,
And spreading over the well-wooded shore
Cut rollers, laying on full many a stroke,
And made a capstan of a mighty oak,
And so drew Argo up, with hale and how,
On to the grass, turned half to mire by now.
Thence did they toil their best, in drawing her
Beyond the falls, whereto being come anear,
They trembled when they saw them; for from sight
The rocks were hidden by the spray-clouds white,
Cold, wretched, chilling, and the mighty sound
Their heavy-laden hearts did sore confound;
For parted from all men they seemed, and far
From all the world, shut out by that great bar.
Moreover, when with toil and pain, at last
Unto the torrent's head they now had passed,
They sent forth swift Aetalides to see
What further up the river there might be.
Who going some twenty leagues, another fall
Found, with great cliffs on each side, like a wall,
But 'twixt the two, another unbarred stream
Joined the main river; therefore did they deem,
When this they heard, that they perforce must try
This smoother branch; so somewhat heavily
Argo they launched again, and gat them forth
Still onward toward the winter and the north. Notes Book X



Back to top