The Life and Death of Jason


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The heroes reach the northern sea: and pass unknown lands, & seas without land, till they come at last to the Pillars of Hercules.

MOST pitiless and stark the winter grew
Meanwhile beneath a sky of cloudless blue,
And sun that warmed not, till they nigh forgot
The green lush spring, the summer rich and hot,
The autumn fragrant with slow-ripening fruit;
Till each grew listless, dull to the heart's root;
For day passed day, and yet no change they saw
In the white sparkling plain without a flaw,
No cloud, no change within the sunny sky,
Or in the wind, that rose at noon, to die
Before the sunset, and no change at all
In the drear silence of the dead nightfall.
TEN weeks they bode there, longing for the spring,
And to the hearts of some the thought would cling
That thus they should be till their lives were past,
And into hopeless bonds that land was cast;
But on a day the wind, that rose at noon,
Died not at night, and the white, sharp-edged moon,
Just as the west had given it unto sight,
Was hidden from the watchers of the night
By fleecy clouds, and the next dawn of day
Broke o'er the Minyæ colourless and grey,
With gusts of fitful wind 'twixt south and east,
That with the day grew steadier and increased,
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Until a south-west gale blew o'er the snow,
And northward drove the steel-blue clouds and low.
And on that night the pattering of the rain
Roused them from sleep, and next they saw the plain
Made grey and ugly with quick-coming thaw,
And all the sky beset with fowl they saw,
Who sniffed the wind and hastened from the sea
Unto the floods now coming certainly.
For from their camp the Minyæ beheld
How the swift river from the high ground swelled,
And still tormented by the wind and rain,
Burst from the ice and covered all the plain
With breadth of turbid waters, while around
Their high-raised camp again they saw the ground
Freed from the swathing snow; nor was it long
Ere in the woods the birds began their song,
For March was come and life to everything,
NOW in few days the sun shone out again,
The waters drew from off the flooded plain,
And all was bright and soft as it might be,
Though bank-high rolled the river to the sea,
Made perilous with trees and heavy drift;
Natheless on rollers Argo did they lift,
And drew her toward the stream in spite of all
The ills they saw, and chances that might fall;
And there they launched her, being now most fain
Once more to try the green and shifting plain,
And for the praise of other men they yearned
And all the goods of life so dearly earned,
Nor failed desire and longing love to come

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That spring-tide to those rovers far from home.
Therefore with joy they shouted, when once more
They felt great Argo move, and saw the shore
Keep changing as they swept on toward the sea,
With cheerful hearts still rowing steadily;
For now the ashen oars could they thrust forth
Into the widened stream, that toward the north
Ran swiftly, and thenceforward day by day
Toiling, they made full many a league of way.
Nor did they see great hills on either hand,
When they had fairly passed the woody land
Where they abode the winter; neither heard
The sound of falls to make their hearts afeard,
But through great woods the gentle river ran,
And plains where fed the herds unowned of man;
Though sometimes in the night-time did they hear
Men's voices calling out, far-off and near,
But in some tongue not one among them knew,
No, not the Queen: but Lynceus, passing through
The woods with Idas, following up a bear,
A sudden clamour of men's tongues did hear,
And in a cleared space came upon a throng
Of naked men and women, fair and strong,
About a fire, and just at point to eat,
But at the flash of arms they to their feet
Rose suddenly, and through the thicket fled,
Nor durst the twain to follow where they led,
But coming to that fire, they laid their hands
On a brass cauldron, and three woolen bands,
That seemed like belts or fillets for their heads,
Set thick with silver knots and amber beads.
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Now round the brazen cauldron, graven well,
Were uncouth letters, that some tale might tell,
If any them could read; so when the Fleece
Was offered up unto the Gods of Greece,
This thing in fair Messene Idas hung
In the white fane where deeds of war are sung.
BUT through all this the wearied Minyæ
Were drawing nigh unto the northern sea,
And marshier grew the plain as on they went,
And eastward the still-widening river bent,
Until one day at eve, with chilling rain,
The north-wind blew across the marshy plain
Most cold and bitter, but to them as sweet
As the rose-scented zephyr those do meet
Who near the happy islands of the blest;
For as upon their eager brows it pressed,
They sniffed withal the odour of the sea,
And going on a mile, they seemed to be
Within some eddy rippling languidly,
And when the stream they tasted that went by
Their shielded bulwark, better was the draught
Than any wine o'er which a king has laughed,
For still it savoured of the bitter sea.
So fell the night, and next day joyously
They met the full flood, whose first toppling wave
Against the sturdy prow of Argo drave,
And with good heart, as 'midst the sweeping oars
It tossed and foamed, and swept the muddy shores,
They toiled, and felt no weariness that day.
But though right well they gat them on their way
They failed ere dark the open sea to reach;
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But in the night the murmur of the beach,
Tormented by the changeful dashing seas,
Came to their ears upon the fitful breeze.
Then sore they longed for dawn, and when it broke
Again the waters foamed beneath their stroke,
Till they had gained that river's utmost reach,
Which from the sea by a low sandy beach
Was guarded well, all but a little space,
Through which now rushed in headlong, foaming race,
The huddled waters of the flowing tide.
So there the Minyæ thought it good to bide
And wait the ebb, dreading some hidden bank;
And while they waited to Good-hap they drank,
And poured out wine unto the Deity
Who dwelt between the river and the sea,
Forgetting not the great Earth-shaking One,
Nor Her by whose help thus far they had run
Their happy course unto that river's mouth.
And now the wind had changed, and from the south
Blew softly, and the hot sun shining forth,
Made lovely land of that once bitter north,
And filled their hearts with longing thoughts of love,
And worship of the sea-born seed of Jove.
BUT as they waited thus, with hearts that burned
To try the sea, the tide grew high and turned,
And seaward through the deepened channel ran
In gentle ripple 'gainst the breakers wan.
Then thither gat the joyous Minyæ,
And shouting, drave out Argo to the sea.
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BUT when the first green ridge swept up her bow,
Then Jason cried: And who shall stop us now?
And who shall drive us unto other end,
Than that we will? Let whoso be our friend,
Whoso our foe, henceforth until the earth
Forgets of changeful men the death and birth,
We shall not be forgotten anywhere,
But our deeds told shall free sad folk from care.
So spake he, and his love beholding him,
Trembled for joy and love in every limb,
And inwardly she saw an ivory throne,
And Jason sitting with her there alone,
High o'er wise men and warriors worshipping.
For they were young, nor yet had felt the sting
Of poisonous fear, nor thought of coming age
And bitter death, the turning of the page
By those who quite forget what they have read,
Taking no heed of living folk or dead.
NOW hoisting sail, and labouring with the oar,
They passed along the amber-bearing shore,
A low coast, backed by pine-woods: none the less
Some days they needs must pass in idleness,
And lie-to, 'midst white rolling mist and blind,
Lest Argo on some shallow death should find;
Safely they sailed until the land rose higher,
And through a narrow strait at last they went,
Brushing the unknown coast, where, with bows bent,
They saw a skin-clad folk awaiting them,
Who stood to watch well-timbered Argo stem
The rushing tide upon the shingly beach,
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And thence, as knowing that they could not reach
The heroes with their arrows, shook their spears,
And shouted unknown threats to careless ears.
But when against the midst of them they came,
Forth strode a huge man, with red hair like flame,
And his huge bow against them strongly drew,
Wherefrom a swift shaft straight to Argo flew,
And whistling over Jason's head, stuck fast
Over the barb-points in the gleaming mast.
Then all men praised that archer; but the man
Who in Arcadian woods all beasts outran,
Straight drew his bow unto the arrow-head,
And no man doubted that wild king was dead:
Natheless, unmoved they saw the archer stand,
And toward the Arcadian arrow stretch his hand,
That midmost of his skin-clad body smote,
But bounded back as from an iron coat.
Then loud his people shouted, and all drew
Their feeble bows, but short their arrows flew,
And through the straits the wondering Minyæ
Passed out unscathed into the open sea,
While still of wizardry and charms they spoke.
BUT Jason from the mast the arrow broke,
That erewhile had so scantly missed his life,
And found it scored as by a sharp-edged knife,
From barb to notch, with what seemed written words,
In tongue unknown to aught but beasts and birds.
So when Medea saw it, straight she said:
Fair love, now praise some God thou art not dead,
For from the Cimbrian folk this arrow came,
And its sharp barbs within a wizard's flame
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Were forged with peril, and the shaft of it
Was carved by one who in great fear did sit
Within the haunted places of the wood,
And tears are on its feathers, and red blood:
Nor ask me now the name of her who taught
This wisdom to me: but two arrows brought
From this same folk to Aea have I seen,
By one whose wounds will evermore be green
While on the earth he dwells So spoke the maid,
But Jason, wondering at the words she said,
Gazed on her fair face, smiling lovingly,
Nor cared to think that he must one day die.
NOW rose a south-east gale, and Argo lost
All sight of land, and the vexed Minyæ, tost
From sea to sea, began to feel a fear
They yet might pass into some ocean drear,
Beyond the circling sea that rings the world,
And down a bottomless abyss be hurled,
To fall for ever: then the bright-winged twain,
That erst had been the loathly harpies' bane,
Came forth, and on the prow with wings spread wide,
Half stood, half floated, while aloft they cried:
What dost thou, Father? art thou sleeping then,
And does it not suffice that trading men
Float up and down, dead corpses on the sea,
While all their wealth is lying wretchedly
On Nereus' pavement; but must we too drive
Before this south wind, hopeless though alive,
Until the furthest gulfs shall suck us down,
And land our battered keel at Pluto's town?
So spake they; but still blew the south the same
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Until the starless night upon them came,
But then a little did its fury lull,
And when the rain-beat night was at its full,
Fell to a light breeze, though still many a sea
Swept Argo's deck, and still the Minyæ
Had dread of some returning hideous blast.
But when the doubtful night from them had past,
Barefoot upon the prow Medea stood,
And burning in a censer hallowed wood,
With muttered words she swung it, nor took heed
Of how the wind was dealing with her weed.
Nor with firm-planted feet one whit did reck
Of washing of the brine about the deck,
But swung her censer till a bright red flame
From out the piercings of its cover came;
Then round she turned and said: O Minyæ,
Fear not to die within the northern sea,
For on my head hither the north wind comes,
And ye some day shall surely see your homes.
But since upon us yet lies heavily
My brother's death, take heed that we must see
My father's godlike sister; no one less
May wash our souls of that blood-guiltiness.
And now, behold the sun shines through the clouds,
And ye may hear across the well-strained shrouds
The longed-for wind, therefore make no delay,
For time it is that we were on our way,
So let Erginus to the south-west steer;
But sleep to me of all things now is dear,
For with two mighty ones but for your sake
Have I contended. He who still doth shake

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The firm-set earth, and She who draws the sea
This way and that, the while in majesty
She sits, regarding little but her will;
The fear of these my heavy heart doth fill.
So said she, and with pale and languid face
And half-shut eyes, unto the guarded place,
Where was her golden bed, the maiden came.
And in her dreams at first saw blood and flame
O'er all the world, and nothing green or fair;
Then in a snowy land, with body bare,
Went wandering long, be-mocked of uncouth things:
Then stood before the judgment-seat of kings,
Knowing no crime that she was charged withal,
Until at last deep sleep on her did fall
Like death itself, wherein the troublous past
And fearsome future in one tomb are cast.
MEANWHILE the Minyæ, joyful at her tale,
Ran out the oars and hoisted up the sail,
And toward the south with good hearts 'gan to go,
While still they felt the favouring north wind blow,
And the third day again they saw the land,
That in white cliffs rose up on the right hand;
Coasting whereby, they came into a strait,
Or so they deemed; for as the day grew late,
Beneath a frosty light-blue sky and cold
Another country could they now behold
Dim o'er the glittering sea; but in the night
They by the moon past the high cliff and white
Ceased not to sail, and lost the other shore
When the day broke, nor saw it any more,

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As the first land they coasted, that changed oft
From those high cliffs to meadows green and soft,
And then to other cliffs, some red, some grey,
Till all the land at noon of the fourth day
They left astern, sailing where fate might lead,
Of sun or stars, scarce taking any heed:
Such courage in their hearts the White-armed set,
Since, clad in gold, was Pelias living yet.
BUT to the Gods now did they sacrifice
As seafarers may do, and things of price
Gave to the tumbling billows of the sea,
That for their lives still cried out hungrily;
And though for many days they saw no shore,
Yet fainted not their hearts as heretofore,
For as along the pathless plain they went,
The white-foot messenger the Goddess sent,
Who unseen whispered in the helmsman's ear,
And taught him how the goodly ship to steer;
And on a time it chanced as the day broke,
And to their life the longing Minyæ woke,
Across the risen sun the west wind blew
A thin light rain, which He, just shining through,
Showed to them all the many-coloured sign;
Then to the Goddess did they pour out wine,
Right glad at heart; but she the live-long day
By Argo's prow flew o'er the shifting way
Unseen of all, and turned them still to land;
And as they went the Thracian's cunning hand
Stole o'er the harp-strings till Arion's steeds
Gat them from 'twixt the tangled water-weeds,
And lifted listening heads above the sea,
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And sea-birds, pensive with the harmony,
About the mast, above the singer hung,
With quivering wings, as from full heart he sung:
O DEATH, that maketh life so sweet,
O fear, with mirth before thy feet,
What have ye yet in store for us,
The conquerors, the glorious?
Men say: For fear that thou shouldst die
To-morrow, let to-day pass by
Flower-crowned and singing; yet have we
Passed our to-day upon the sea,
Or in a poisonous unknown land,
With fear and death on either hand,
And listless when the day was done
Have scarcely hoped to see the sun
Dawn on the morrow of the earth,
Nor in our hearts have thought of mirth.
And while the world lasts, scarce again
Shall any sons of men bear pain
Like we have borne, yet be alive.
SO surely not in vain we strive
Like other men for our reward;
Sweet peace and deep, the chequered sward
Beneath the ancient mulberry-trees,
The smooth-paved gilded palaces,
Where the shy thin-clad damsels sweet
Make music with their gold-ringed feet.
The fountain court amidst of it,
Where the short-haired slave maidens sit,

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While on the veined pavement lie
The honied things and spicery
Their arms have borne from out the town
THE dancers on the thymy down
In summer twilight, when the earth
Is still of all things but their mirth,
And echoes borne upon the wind
Of others in like way entwined.
THE merchant town's fair market-place,
Where over many a changing face
The pigeons of the temple flit,
And still the outland merchants sit
Like kings above their merchandise,
Lying to foolish men and wise.
AH! if they heard that we were come
Into the bay, and bringing home
That which all men have talked about,
Some men with rage, and some with doubt,
Some with desire, and some with praise;
Then would the people throng the ways,
Nor heed the outland merchandise,
Nor any talk, from fools or wise,
But tales of our accomplished quest.
WHAT soul within the house shall rest
When we come home? The wily king
Shall leave his throne to see the thing;
No man shall keep the landward gate,
The hurried traveller shall wait
Until our bulwarks graze the quay,
Unslain the milk-white bull shall be
Beside the quivering altar-flame;
Scarce shall the maiden clasp for shame
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Over her breast the raiment thin
The morn that Argo cometh in.
THEN cometh happy life again
That payeth well our toil and pain
In that sweet hour, when all our woe
But as a pensive tale we know,
Nor yet remember deadly fear;
For surely now if death be near,
Unthought-of is it, and unseen
When sweet is, that hath bitter been.
THUS sung the Thracian, and the rowing-folk
Sent Argo quivering with the well-timed stroke
Over the green hills, through great clouds of spray,
And as they went upon their happy way
About the deck the longing men would stand
With wistful eyes still gazing for the land;
Which yet they saw not, till the cool fresh night
Had come upon them, with no lack of light,
For moon and stars shone brightly overhead,
Nor through the night did Iris fail to lead
The wave-tossed Argo o'er the glittering sea.
So as the moon set, did there seem to be
Upon their larboard, banks of high-piled cloud,
Which from their sight the last dark hour did shroud.
Then came the twilight, and those watchers fain
Against the eastern light beheld again
The clouds unchanged, and as the daylight grew,
Lynceus cried out: Some land we draw unto!

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Look forth, Erginus, on these mountains grey,
If thou, perchance, hast seen them ere to-day,
Therewith all turned about, and some men ran
To hear what words the God-begotten man
Would give them back, who answered thus, and said:
The man we left ere Aea's wall we made,
Might tell us this, the godlike Hercules;
Yet I myself think that the landless seas
No more shall vex us now, but that we come
Unto the gates that look into our home:
So trim the sails, for thither will I steer,
Seeking what lies beyond with little fear,
Since surely now I see the Iberian land
That 'gainst the shore of Africa doth stand,
To break these mighty billows, ever pressed
Each against each from out the landless west.
So with glad hearts all men his bidding did,
And swiftly through the water Argo slid,
Till as the sun rose were they near the strait,
At whose mouth but a little did they wait
Till they had eaten, pouring honied wine
Unto the Gods, then biding no new sign,
They cried aloud, and running out the oars,
They swept great Argo midmost 'twixt the shores
Of either land, and as her gilded prow
Cleft the new waters, clean forgotten now
Grew all the wasteful washing of the main,
And clean forgotten the dull hopeless pain,
In the great swirling river left so long,
And in all hearts was memory fresh and strong
Of the bright Grecian headlands, and the bay
They left astern upon a glorious day. Notes Book XII



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