The Life and Death of Jason

11. BOOK XI.

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The passage northward continued. Argo drawn over-land. The winter by the northern river.

NOW might the Minyæ hoist up to the breeze
Their well-wrought sail, for barren of all trees
The banks were now become, not rising high
Above the deep green stream that sluggishly
Strove with the strenuous Argo's cleaving stem.
So after all their toil was rest to them
A little while, and on the deck they sat,
Not wholly sad, and talked of this and that,
Or watched the fish flit from the ship-side blind,
Or the slim kestrel hanging in the wind,
Or the wild cattle scouring here and there
About the plain; for in a plain they were,
Edged round with hills, with quaggy brooks cleft through,
That 'mid their sedges toward the river drew,
And harboured noisome things, and death to man.
But looking up stream, the green river ran
Unto their eyes, from out the mountains high,
For 'twixt no pass could they behold the sky,
Though at the mountain's foot, far through the plain,
They saw the wandering water shine again,
Then vanish wholly, therefore through their ease,
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NATHLESS, for two days did they speed along,
Not toiling aught, and cheered with tale and song;
But the third noonday, bringing them anear
The mountains, turned to certain grief their fear;
For now they saw the stream grown swift but deep
Come from a cavern in the mountain steep,
Nor would it help them aught upon that tide
To heave the swift ship out on either side,
For all that plain the mountain ridge bestrode,
And scarcely could a horseman find a road
Through any pass into the further land.
Then 'mid the downcast men did Jason stand,
And lifting up his voice, said: Minyæ,
Why right and left upon this plain look ye,
Where dwell but beasts or beast-like men alone?
Look rather to that heap of rugged stone,
Pierced with the road that leadeth to the north.
Yea, if from very hell this stream run forth,
Let us go thither, bearing in our hands
This golden hard-won marvel of all lands.
Yet, since not death it bears, but living things,
Shall we not reach thereby the sea that rings
The whole world round, and so make shift to reach
Sunny Eubœa, and fair Argo beach
Before Iolchos, having lost no whit
Of all our gains? Or else here must we sit
Till hunger slays us on some evil day,
Or wander till our raiment falls away
From off our bodies, and we, too, become
Like those ye saw, not knowing any home,
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Voiceless, desiring nought but daily food,
And seeking that like beasts within the wood,
Each for himself. And all our glory gone,
Our names but left upon some carven stone
In Greece, still growing fainter day by day.
And this work wrought within the sunny bay,
Nor yet without the help of Gods, shall lie
A wonder to the wild beasts passing by,
While on her fallen masts the sedge-birds sing,
Unseen of men, a clean forgotten thing.
So spake he, setting courage in their hearts
To try the unknown dark, and to their parts
All gat them swiftly, and they struck the mast,
And deftly steered from out the sunlight passed
Into the cold bat-haunted cavern low,
And thrusting out with poles, made shift to go
Against the stream, that with a hollow sound
Smote Argo's stem. Then Jason, looking round.
Trembled himself, for now, indeed, he thought,
Though to the toiling heroes he said nought:
What do we, if this cavern narrows now,
Or over fails these burrowing waters flow,
And drive us back again into the sun,
Cursing the day this quest was first begun,
Or somewhat traps us here, as well it may,
And ends us all, far from the light of day?
THEREWITH he bade them light the torches up,
And to the mountain Gods to pour a cup,
And one unto the river Gods, and each
For the new daylight every God beseech,
And speedily to pierce the mountain through.
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So from the torches trains of sparkles flew,
And strangely flashed their arms in that dark place,
And white and haggard showed each anxious face
Against those dripping walls of unknown stone.
But now in Jason's hand the cup outshone,
Full of red wine, pressed by the Grecian sea,
And lifting high his hand, he cried: O ye,
Both Gods and nymphs who in this wild land dwell,
In hill or river, henceforth may ye tell
How through your midst have passed the Minyæ;
And if, ye helping, the cold northern sea
We safely reach, and our desired home,
Thither the fame and fear of you shall come,
And there a golden-pillared house shall stand,
Unto our helpers in this savage land.
Nor when we reach the other side of this
Grim cavern, due observance shall ye miss,
For whatso on the teeming plain we snare,
Slain with due rites shall smoke before you there.
So spake he, and twice poured the fragrant wine;
But they, well-pleased to have the gift divine,
And noting well his promises, took heed
Unto his prayers, and gave the heroes speed.
Then Jason straightway bade more torches light,
And Argo pushed along, flared through the night
Of the dank cavern, and the dull place rang
With Grecian names, as loud the heroes sang,
For hope had come into their hearts at last.
SO through the winding cave three days they passed.
But on the fourth day Lynceus gave a cry,
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Smiting his palms together, who could spy,
Far off, a little white speck through the dark,
As when the lated traveller sees the spark
Of some fair-lighted homestead glitter bright.
But soon to all men's eyes the joyous sight
Showed clear, and with redoubled force they pushed
Swift Argo forth; who through the water rushed
As though she longed for daylight too and air.
And so within an hour they brought her there,
And on the outer world the sun shone high,
For it was noon; so mooring presently,
On the green earth they clean forgot their pain,
For joy to feel the sweet soft grass again,
And see the fair things of the world, and feel
The joyous sunlight that the sick can heal,
And soft tormenting of the western wind.
AND there for joy about their heads they twined
The yellow autumn flowers of the field,
And of untimely sorrow were they healed
By godlike conquering wine; nor there forgot
Their promise to the Gods, but on that spot,
Of turf and stones they built up altars twain,
And sent the hunters forth, and not in vain;
For Atalanta, swifter than a man,
Arcas, and mighty Theseus, overran
A white high-crested bull, and tough cords threw
About his horns, and so by main force drew
The great beast to the altars, where the knife
Of wise Asclepius ended his hot life.
And there they feasted far into the night.
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BUT when their toil the next returning light
Brought back to them, they gat unto the oar,
While Jason anxiously scanned either shore;
For now the stream was narrowing apace,
And little more than just enough of space
Was left the oars; but deep it ran and slow,
And through a like flat grassy plain did go
As that which ere its burrowing it had cleft;
But lower were the hills, and on the left
So low they grew, they melted quite away
To woody swells before the end of day.
Full many a league upon that day they made,
And the next day the long oars down they laid,
For at their back the steady south-west blew,
And low anigh their heads the rain-clouds flew;
Therefore they hoisted up their sail to it,
And idle by the useless oars did sit,
Watching the long wave from their swift sea-plough
Sweep up the low green bank, for soothly now,
A pebble ill-thrown by a stripling's hand
From Argo's deck, had lighted on the land;
And yet far inland still they seemed to be,
Nor noted aught to tell them of the sea.
SO on that night, for thought of many things,
Full little sleep fell on the troubled kings;
But Argus slept, and at the dawn he dreamed,
Not wholly sleeping, and to him it seemed
That one said to him: Where is now become
The cunning that thou learnedst in thine home,
O wise artificer? What dost thou here,
While in thy fellows' hearts is gathering fear?
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Now from the north thou seest this river flow,
Why doubtest thou to find another go
Into the cold green icy northern sea?
Lo! if thou willest well to trust in me,
About the noontide of this very day,
At the woods' end I bid thee Argo stay,
And from her straightway let the Minyæ land
And take the adze and wood-axe in the hand,
And let them labour hard, with thee to guide,
Until on wheels thy well-built keel shall glide;
And this being done as pleases thy wise mind,
Doubt not a northern-flowing stream to find,
For certainly some God shall show it thee.
And if thou wishest now to ask of me,
No dream I am, but lovely and divine,
Whereof let this be unto thee a sign,
That when thou wak'st the many-coloured bow
Across the world the morning sun shall throw,
But me indeed thine eyes shall not behold.
Then he, awaking in the morning cold,
A sprinkle of fine rain felt on his face,
And leaping to his feet, in that wild place,
Looked round and saw the morning sunlight throwd
Across the world the many-coloured bow,
And trembling knew that the high Gods indeed
Had sent the Messenger unto their need.
And when the Minyæ, running out the oars
That windless morning, found them touch the shores
On either side, then ere one said a word,
He cried, and said: O Jason, chief and lord,
And ye, fair fellows, to no bitter end

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Our quest is come; but this sharp keel shall send
A glittering foam-heap up in the wide sea,
If ye will hear my words and trust in me.
Therewith he told them of that dream divine,
And of the many-coloured high-arched sign,
And gladdened all their hearts, that knew at last
How a God helped them: so straightway they cast
Hawsers ashore, wherewith their keel to tow,
And swiftly through the water made her go,
Until they reached the ending of the wood,
Just at the noonday, and there thought it good
To rest till morning: but at dawn of day
Gat forth, and mighty blows began to lay
On many a tree, making the tall trunks reel,
That ne'er before had felt the woodman's steel.
SO many days they laboured, cutting down
The smooth grey beeches, and the pine-trees brown,
And cleft them into planks and beams foursquare.
And so, with Argus guiding all things there,
A stage with broad wheels nigh the stream they made,
And then from out the water Argo weighed
Little by little, dealing cunningly,
Till on the stage the great black ship did lie,
And all things waited for the setting forth
Unto some river flowing toward the north.
BUT midst all this, as painfully they wrought,
Passed twenty days, and on their heads was brought
The first beginning of the winter cold;
For now the wind-beat twigs had lost their hold
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Of the faint yellow leaves, and thin and light
The forest grew, and colder night by night,
Or soaked with rain, and swept with bitter wind,
Or with white creeping mist made deaf and blind.
Meanwhile for long there came no sign at all,
Nor yet did sight of man to them befall,
To guide them on their way, though through the trees,
Singly at times, at times in twos and threes,
Both for their daily flesh they hunted oft,
And also fain of fells to clad them soft,
And guard their bodies from the coming cold;
Yet never any man did they behold,
Though underneath the shaft and hunting-spear,
Fell many a stag, and shuffling crafty bear,
And strange the Minyæ showed in shaggy spoil.
But now, at ending of their woodwright's toil,
It chanced to Argus all alone to go,
One bitter day, when the first dusty snow
Was driven through the bare boughs from the east:
He chased the bee-thief, and the shaggy beast
Led him aloof and turned at last to bay
Nigh to the dusk of that quick-darkening day,
Deep in the forest 'mid a clump of yews:
There Argus, ere the red-eyed beast could choose
To fight or flee, ran in, and thrust his spear
Into his heart; then fell the shaggy bear,
As falls a landslip by the mining sea,
With grass and bracken, and wind-bitten tree,
And Argus, drawing out his two-edged knife,
Let out the last spark of his savage life;
But as he arose, he heard a voice that said:

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Good luck, O huntsman, to thine hardihead,
Well met thou art to me, who wander far
On this first winter night that shows no star.
Then looking up, he saw a maid draw nigh,
Like those who by Thermodon live and die;
Her legs and arms with brazen scales were clad,
Well-plated shoes upon her feet she had,
And fur-lined gold-wrought raiment to the knee,
And on her head a helm wrought royally;
In her slim hand a mighty bow she bore,
And at her back well-feathered shafts good store,
And in her belt a two-edged cutting sword.
Then straightly answered Argus to her word:
Lady, not far hence are my fellows stayed,
But on hard earth this night will they be laid,
And eat the flesh of beasts their hands have slain.
For from the sea we come, to meet again
The ocean that the round world rings about,
Still wandering on, in trouble and in doubt.
Nay, said she, let us set on through the wood,
For food and fire alone to me are good,
And guarded sleep among such folk as thee,
For being alone, I fear the enemy,
The savage men our bands are wont to chase
Through these wild woods, from tangled place to place.
THEN Argus swiftly flayed off the bear's hide,
And through the wood went with her side by side;
But long ere they could reach the skirts of it,
Across the world the wings of night 'gan flit;
Then blindly had he stumbled through the place,
But still the damsel went before a pace,
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Leading him on; and as she went, she shed
A faint light round, but no word Argus said,
Because he deemed she was a thing divine,
And in his heart still thought upon the sign.
SO went the twain till nigh the woods were past,
And now the new-risen moon slim shadows cast
Upon the thin snow, and the windless sky
Was cleared, and all the stars shone frostily.
Therewith she stopped, and turned about on him,
And with the sight his dazzled eyes did swim
So was she changed; for from her raiment light
Her rosy limbs showed 'gainst the wintry white,
Not shrinking from the snow; her arms were bare,
Her head unarmed set round with yellow hair,
And starred with unnamed dainty glimmering things;
From her two shoulders many-coloured wings
Rose up, and fanning in the frosty night,
Shone as they moved with sparkles of strange light;
And on an ivory rod within her hand
A letter bound round by a golden band
He saw. Then to the wondering man she said:
Argus, be glad, and lifting up thine head,
Look through these few last trees upon the plain,
Smooth and unseamed, though never crossed by wain,
And thank the Gods that led you here at last,
For in no long time shall the leagues be passed
'Twixt you and a swift river running north.
But now next morn at daybreak get ye forth,
And labour all ye may, for see the sky
How clear it is the few light clouds are high,
And from the east light blows the frosty wind;
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Firm will the way be now, nor ill to find,
But surely in few days will come the snow,
And all the plain, so smooth and even now,
Shall wave, wind-drifted, all impassable.
And now I bid thee heed the great downs well
Which yonder bar the northern way to thee;
Left of the moon a wide pass mayst thou see;
Look, where the yew-trees o'er the whitened grass
Mix with the dark sky: make ye for that pass,
While yet endures the east wind and the frost,
And in your journey shall ten days be lost,
If that ye labour hard: but coming there,
Shall ye behold a dear green river fair,
Unfrozen yet, swift-running, that will hold
Great Argo well: now at my word be bold,
And set her therein, and the black ship tow
Adown the stream, though not far shall ye go,
But reach a great wild wood and tarry there,
The coming unknown winter-tide to bear.
The days shall darken, the north-wind shall blow,
And all about shall swirl the drifting snow,
And your astonished eyes shall soon behold
Firm earth and river one with binding cold,
And in mid-winter then shall ye be shut;
But ere that haps shall ye build many an hut,
And dwell there as ye may, until the spring
Unchains the streams, and quickens everything.
Then get ye down the river to the sea.
Nor doubt thou aught: since thou beholdest me,
For I indeed am Iris; but farewell,
For of my finished message must I tell
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To her that sent me to this dreary place.
THUS spake she, and straightway before his face
She spread her fair wings wide, and from the earth
Rose upwards toward the place that gave her birth,
Still growing faint and fainter 'neath the moon,
Till from his wondering eyes she vanished soon.
But she being gone, he gat him straight away
Unto his fellows, bidding them 'gainst day
Be ready to set forth, and told his tale.
And they, not fearing that his word should fail,
Gat them to sleep, and ere the late dawn came,
By the faint starlight, and the flickering flame
Of their own watch-fires were upon the way.
SO at the cables toiled all men that day
In bands of twenty, and strong shoulders bore
The unused yoke, and laboured very sore,
And yet with all their toil few miles they made,
Though 'gainst that bitter labour sweet hope weighed
Was found the heavier, and their hearts were cheered
With wine and food ere the high noon they neared;
Nor as they laboured did the Thracian spare
To cast his music on the frosty air,
That therewith ringing gladdened every heart.
So till the evening did each man his part,
When all that night they slept, and at daybreak
The twisted cables in strong hands did take
And laboured on, not earning warriors' meed,
But like some carl's unkempt and rugged steed,
That to the town drags his corn-laden wain.
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BUT neither was the heavenly word in vain,
For as the yew-clad hill they drew anear
The grey-eyed keen Messenian could see clear,
From the bare top of a great ashen-tree,
The river running to the northern sea,
Showing all dull and heavy 'gainst the snow;
And when the joyful tidings they did know,
Light grew their hearts indeed, and scarcely less
They joyed than he who, lying all helpless
In dreary prison, sees his door ope wide,
And half-forgotten friends stand by his side.
So on the tenth day through the pass they drew
Their strange ship-laden wain, and came unto
A deep dark river, their long promised road;
Then from the car they slipped its heavy load,
And when safe in the stream the keel had slid,
They with strong axes their own work undid,
And to the Goddess a great altar made
Of planks and beams foursquare, and thereon laid
A white wild bull, and barley cakes, and spice,
Not sparing gold and goodly things of price;
And fire being-set thereto, and all things done
That they should do, by a faint mid-day sun,
Seaward they turned, and some along the shore,
With lightened hearts, the hempen tow-ropes bore,
And some on Argo's deck abode their turn.
BUT now did Jason's heart within him burn
To show his deeds to other men than these,
Nor did he quite forget the palaces
Of golden Aea, long left, as a dream,
Or Aeson's beauteous house, whose oaken beam
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Cleft the dark wintry river, as they went
With longing eyes and hearts still northward bent;
And fain he was to see his dainty bride,
Who wrapt in muffling furs sat by his side,
Sit 'neath some heavy rustling summer tree,
Thin clad, to drink the breezes from the sea.
NOW the next day the great oak-wood they reached,
And as the Goddess bade them, there they beached
Their sea-beat ship, on which from side to side
They built a roof against the snowy tide,
And round about her, huts wherein to dwell,
When on their heads the full midwinter fell,
And round the camp a wooden wall they made,
That by no men or beasts they might be frayed.
Meanwhile, the frost increased, and the thin snow
From off the iron ground the wind did blow,
And in the cold dark stream, from either bank
The ice stretched forth; at last, ere the sun sank,
One bitter day, low grew the clouds and dun
A little northward of the setting sun,
Wherefrom; at nightfall, sprung a furious blast,
That, ere the middle of the night was past,
Brought up the snow from some untrodden land,
Joyless and sunless, where in twilight stand,
Amid the fleecy drift with faces wan,
Giants inmmovable by God or man.
So 'mid the many changes of the night,
The silent snow fell till the world was white,
And to those southland folk entrapped, forlorn
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The waking was upon the morrow morn,
And few were light of foot enough to go
Henceforth about the woods their darts to throw
At bird or beast, though, as the wild-fowl passed
South o'er their camp, yet flew they not so fast
As Arcas' arrows, and the elk at bay
Deep in the forest, seldom found a way
To 'scape from Jason's mighty well-steeled spear,
And Atalanta's feet outran the deer
And slew him, tangled in the wreathed drift.
Nor for the rest, did they yet lack the gift
Of sunny Bacchus, but by night and day,
By firelight passed the snowy time away,
Forgetting not their fathers, or the time
When all the world still dwelt in equal clime.
But each to each amid the wine-cups told
Unwritten, half-forgotten tales of old. Notes Book XI



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