The Life and Death of Jason


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Medea sees Circe, and has good counsel from her.

ALONG the shore next day their way they went,
And many a headland passed and many a bent
Known of Erginus: in that land there were
No towns, said he, but still from year to year
Well-nigh untilled the earth her produce gave,
And many a herd the houseless people drave,
And using neither roof nor sheltering wall,
Dwelt but in tents, and knew no need at all.
With that he bade them trim the bellying sail,
For from the land now blew a gentle gale,
Spice-laden, warm, that made their full hearts yearn
For unseen things; but soon they left astern
That fruitful place, the lion-haunted land,
Nor saw but tumbling seas on either hand.
Three days they sailed, and passed on the third day
A rock-bound coast upon their left that lay,
But on the morrow eve made land again,
Stretched right ahead across the watery plain,
Whereto ere nightfall did they draw anear,
And so lay-to till dawn with little fear;
For from the shore a light, soft land-wind blew.
BUT as the dead night round about them drew,
The ceaseless roar of savage beasts they heard,
Mingled with sounds like cries of men afeard,
And blare of horns, and clank of heavy chains,
And noise of bells, such as in moonlit lanes
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Rings from the grey team on the market-night.
And with these noises did they see a light,
That seemed to light some crown of palaces,
Shining from out a grove of thick-set trees.
Then did the Minyæ doubt if they were come
Unto some great king's well-adorned home,
Or if some temple of a God were there,
Or if, indeed, the spirits of the air
Haunted that place: so slowly passed away
The sleepless night, and at the dawn of day
Their longing eyes beheld a lovely land,
Green meadows rising o'er a yellow strand,
Well-set with fair fruit-bearing trees, and groves
Of thick-leaved elms all populous of doves;
And watered by a wandering clear green stream;
And through the trees they saw a palace gleam
Of polished marble, fair beyond man's thought.
There as they lay, the sweetest scents were brought
By sighing winds across the bitter sea,
And languid music breathed melodiously,
Steeping their souls in such unmixed delight,
That all their hearts grew soft, and dim of sight
They grew, and scarce their hands could grip the oar,
And as they slowly neared the happy shore
The young men well-nigh wept, and e'en the wise
Thought they had reached the gate of Paradise.
BUT 'midst them all Medea thoughtfully
Gazed landward o'er the ripple of the sea,
And said no word, till from her precious things
She drew a casket full of chains and rings,
And took therefrom a chaplet brown and sere,
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And set it on her head: and now being near
The yellow strand, high on the poop she stood,
And said: O heroes, what has chilled your blood,
That in such wise ye gaze upon this land
With tearful eye, and nerveless, languid hand,
And heaving breast, and measureless desire?
Be wise, for here the never-dying fire,
The God-begotten wonder, Circe, lights,
The wise of women, framer of delights
That being of man once felt, he ne'er shall cease
To long for vainly, as the years increase
On his dulled soul, shut in some bestial form.
And good it had been that some bitter storm
Were tossing Argo's planks from sea to sea,
Than ye had reached this fair land, but for me,
Who amid tears and prayers, and nameless pain,
Some little wisdom have made shift to gain:
Look forth upon the green shore, and behold
Those many beasts, all collared with fine gold,
Lions and pards, and small-eyed restless bears,
And tusked boars, who from uneasy lairs
Are just come forth; nor is there 'mongst them one
But once walked upright underneath the sun,
And had the name of man: such shall ye be,
If from the ship ye wander heedlessly,
But safely I my kinswoman may meet,
And learn from her the bitter and the sweet
That waits us ere ye come to Greece again,
And see the wind-swept green Thesalian plain.
Meanwhile, let nothing tempt you to the land,
Nor unto anything stretch forth the hand
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That comes from shore, for all that wander there
Are but lost men and their undoers fair.
BUT with that word they furrowed the wet sand,
And straight they ran the gangway out to land,
O'er which, with girded raiment, passed the queen;
But now another marvel was there seen,
For to the shore, from many a glade and lawn,
The golden-collared sad-eyed beasts were drawn
In close-set ranks above the sea-beat shore,
And open-mouthed, with varying moan and roar,
White-foot Medea did they seem to threat;
Whereat the Minyæ on their bow-strings set
The notches of their arrows, but the maid
Turned round about, with calm face unafraid,
And said: O Minyæ, lay your weapons down,
Nor fear for me; behold this chaplet brown,
Whose withered leaves rest lightly on my head,
This is the herb that Gods and mortals dread,
The Pontic Moly, the unchanging charm.
Then up the beach she passed, and her white arm
This way and that the leopards thrust aside,
And 'mid the grisly swine her limbs did glide,
And on a lion's mane her hand she laid;
But still with moans they thronged about the maid,
As she passed onward to the palace white,
Until the elm-groves hid her from the sight.
Then they with fearful hearts did sacrifice
Unto the Gods in their seafaring wise,
But of the lovely land were they so fain
That their return they scarcely counted gain,
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Unto the green plain dotted o'er with folds
And that fair bay that Pelion beholds.
MEANWHILE Medea through the thick-leaved grove
Passed underneath the moaning of the dove,
Not left by those strange beasts; until at last
Her feet from off the thin long herbage passed
Unto a sunny space of daisied sward,
From which a strange-wrought silver grate did guard
A lovely pleasance, set with flowers, foursquare,
On three sides ending in a cloister fair
That hid the fair feet of a marble house,
Carved thick with flowers and stories amorous:
And midmost of the slender garden-trees
A gilded shrine stood set with images,
Wherefrom the never-dying fire rose up
Into the sky, and a great jewelled cup
Ran over ever from a runlet red
Of fragrant wine, that 'mid the blossoms shed
Strange scent that grapes yield not to any man,
While round about the shrine four streamlets ran
From golden founts to freshen that green place.
So there Medea stayed a little space,
Gazing in wonder through the silver rail
That fenced that garden from the wooded vale;
For damsels wandered there in languid wise
As though they wearied of that Paradise,
Their jewelled raiment dragging from its stalk
The harmless daisy in their listless walk.
But though from rosy heel to golden head
Most fair they were and wrought with white and red,
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Like to the casket-bearer who beguiled
The hapless one, and though their lips still smiled,
Yet to the Colchian heavy-eyed they seemed,
And each at other gazed as though she dreamed;
Not noting aught of all the glorious show
She joined herself, nor seeming more to know
What words she spoke nor what her fellows sung,
Nor feeling arms that haply round her clung.
For here and there the Colchian maid could see
Some browned seafarer kissing eagerly
White feet or half-bared bosom, and could hear
A rough voice stammering low 'twixt love and fear
Amid the dreamy murmur of the place,
As on his knees, with eager upturned face,
Some man would pour forth many a fruitless word,
That did but sound like song of a wild bird
Unto his love; while she for all reply,
Still gazing on his flushed face wearily,
Would undo clasp and belt, and show to him
Undreamed-of loveliness of side or limb.
And in such guise of half-stripped jewelled weed,
The men entrapped, Medea saw them lead
Into the dark cool cloister, whence again
They came not forth, but four-foot, rough of mane,
Uncouth with spots, baneful of tooth and claw.
BUT when the sad-eyed beasts about her saw
These coming towards them and beheld the gate
Open and shut, and fellows to that state
New come, they whined, and brushing round her feet
Prayed for return unto that garden sweet,
Their own undoing once, that yet shall be
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Death unto many a toiler of the sea;
Because all these outside the wicket white
Were men though speechless; and in all despite
Of what they seemed to be, none otherwise,
Did longing torture them, than when in guise
Of men they stood before that garden green,
And first their eyes the baneful place had seen.
But now the queen grew wrath, for in her way,
Before the gate a yellow lion lay,
A tiger-cat her raiment brushed aside,
And o'er her feet she felt a serpent glide,
The swine screamed loud about her, and a pard
Her shining shoulder of its raiment bared
With light swift clutch; then she from off her head
Took the sere moly wreath, and therewith said:
What do ye, wretches? know ye not this sign,
That whoso wears is as a thing divine?
Get from this place, for never more can ye
Become partakers of the majesty
That from man's soul looks through his eager eyes.
Go; wail that ever ye were made so wise
As men are made; who chase through smooth and rough
Their own undoing, nor can have enough
Of bitter trouble and entangling woe.
Then slowly from her did those monsters go,
In varied voices mourning for their lot
And that sweet poison ne'er to be forgot.
BUT straight with serious face the Colchian maid
Her slender fingers on the latchet laid
That held the silver gate, and entered in;
Nor did those weary images of sin
Take any heed of her as she passed by,
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But, if they met her eyes, stared listlessly,
Like those who walk in sleep, and as they dream
Turn empty faces to the lightning's gleam,
And murmur softly while the thunder rolls.
SWIFTLY she passed those bodies void of souls,
And through the darkling corridor she passed,
And reached a huge adorned hall at last,
Where sat alone the undying sorceress,
Upon whose knees an open book did press,
Wherein strange things unknown of Gods she read;
A golden vine-bough wreathed her golden head,
And her fair body a thin robe did touch
With silken folds, but hid it not so much
As the cool ripple hides Diana's feet,
When through the brook the roe-deer, slim and fleet,
She follows at the dawning of the day.
Smiling, she put the wondrous book away
As the light footsteps fell upon her ear,
She raised her head, and when the queen drew near,
She said: O wanderer from dark sea to sea,
I greet thee well, and dear thou art to me;
Though verily if I could wish for aught,
I could have wished thou hadst been hither brought
Ere that had happed to thee that haps to all,
Into the troublous sea of love to fall;
Then like unto the Gods shouldst thou have been,
Nor ever died, but sitting here have seen
The fashion of the foolish world go by,
And drunk the cup of power and majesty.
But now it may not be, and thou must come
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With him thou boughtest, to a troublous home.
But since indeed the fates will have it so,
Take heed thou dost the things I bid thee do.
Whereas thou here wouldst cleanse thy soul of blood,
The kindred stream that reddened the wild flood
Behold, this is not possible to me,
Nor ever must another altar stand
In this green nook of the Italian land,
To aught but me, no, not unto my Sire;
But unto him shall ye light ruddy fire,
When drawing nigh to your desired home
Unto the headland of Malea ye come;
And then, indeed, I bid you not to spare
Spices and golden things and raiment fair,
But to the country folk give things of price,
And from them take wherewith to sacrifice,
A hundred milkwhite bulls, a hundred kine,
And many a jar of unmixed honied wine,
And, crowned with olive, round the altars sing
Unto the God who gladdens everything,
Thy father's father, the all-seeing Sun.
And then the deed thy Jason's spear has done
Mayst thou forget, it shall not visit thee.
Moreover, sailing hence across the sea,
A waste of yellow sand shall ye pass by
'Neath the Trinacrian cliffs, whereon shall lie
Fair women, fairer than thine eyes have seen.
And if thou still wouldst be a Grecian queen,
When to that deadly place ye draw anear,
And sweetest music ye begin to hear,
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Bid your bold love steer Argo from the land,
While Thracian Orpheus takes his harp in hand,
And sings thereto some God-delighting strain.
And surely else shall all your toil be vain,
For deadlier than my gardens are those sands;
And when the mariner's toil-hardened hands
Reach out unto those bodies fair and white,
They clasp but death instead of their delight.
But, doing as I bid, Malea reach,
And after, nigh Iolchos Argo beach,
Yet at the city haste ye not to land,
For still the sceptre presses Pelias' hand,
And Aeson is at rest for evermore;
Bid then thy folk lurk by some wooded shore,
And to the white-walled city straightly wend
Thyself alone, and safely there make end
Of the King's life; nor need I teach thee how,
For deep unfailing wiles thy soul doth know.
What more? what more ? I see thy grey eyes ask,
What course, what ending to the tangled task
The Gods have set before me, ere I die?
O child, I know all things, indeed, but why
Shouldst thou know all, nor yet be wise therefor?
Me knowledge grieves not, thee should it grieve sore;
Nor knowing, shouldst thou cease to hope or fear.
What! do men think of death ere it draws near?
Not so, else surely would they stint their strife,
For lengthening out their little span of life,
But where each found himself there should he sit,
Not moving hand or foot for thought of it.
Wherefore the Gods, wishing the earth to teem
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With living wills like theirs, nor as a dream
To hold but beauty and the lives of beasts,
That they may have fair stories for their feasts,
Have given them all forgetfulness of death,
Longings and hopes, and joy in drawing breath,
And they live happy, knowing nought at all,
Nor what death is, when that shall chance to fall.
For while he lives, few minutes certainly
Does any man believe that he shall die.
Ah, what? thou hang'st thine head, and on thy feet
Down rain the tears from thy grey eyes and sweet;
Weep not, nor pity thine own life too much:
Not painless shall it be, indeed, nor such
As the Gods live in their unchanged abode,
And yet not joyless; no unmeasured load
Of sorrows shall thy dull soul learn to bear,
With nought to keep thee back from death but fear,
Of what thou know'st not, knowing nought but pain.
But though full oft thou shall lift hands in vain,
Crying to what thou know'st not in thy need,
And blind with agony, yet oft, indeed,
Shalt thou go nigh to think thyself divine,
For love of what. thou deemest to be thine,
For joy of what thou dreamest cannot die.
Live then thy life, nor ask for misery,
Most certain if thou knewest what must be,
And then, at least, this shall not hap to thee,
To be like those who people my sad groves,
Beneath the moaning of the grey-winged doves.
And midst all pain and joy, and right and wrong,
Thy name shall be a solace and a song
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While the world lasts, if this avail thee aught.
FAREWELL, O child, whose feet alone have brought
An earthly damsel to my house of gold,
For surely those thou didst erewhile behold
These hands have made, and can unmake again,
Nor know they aught of love, or fear, or pain.
Go, loiter not, this place befits thee nought,
Thou knowest many things full dearly bought,
And well I love thee, being so wise and fair,
But what is knowledge in this deadly air,
That floats about thee, poisoning hearts of man?
Behold I see thy cheeks, that erst were wan,
Flaming with new desire, and in thine eyes
Shine out new thoughts that from thine heart arise;
Gird up thy raiment, nor run slower now
Once Daphne ran; nor yet forget the word
That thou from deadly lips this day hast heard.
SO said she, and thereat the Colchian maid
Turned from her fair face shuddering and afraid,
With beating heart, and flushed face like the rose
That in the garden of Damascus grows,
And catching up her raiment, hurried through
The mighty hall, where thick the pillars blue
Stood like a dream to hold the roof aloft;
But as she left it, musky odours soft
Were cast about her by the dallying breeze,
That through the heavy-fruited garden-trees
Blew o'er those golden heads and bodies white,
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And limbs well made for manifold delight,
From 'twixt whose fingers and the strings, did flow
Sweet music such as Helicon might know.
But dizzied, hurrying through the place she past,
Nor any look upon their beauty cast,
Nor any thought unto the music gave,
But set herself her own vext soul to save
From that dread place; beginning now to run
Who oft from twilight unto twilight goes
Through still dark woods, where never rough wind blows.
So, the grove passed, she made good speed to reach
The edges of the sea, the wind-swept beach;
But as she ran, afar the heroes saw
Her raiment fluttering, and made haste to draw
Their two-edged swords, and their strong bows to string,
Doubting that she was chased of some dread thing;
And Jason leapt ashore, and toward her ran,
And with him went the arrow-loving man,
The wise Arcadian, and the Minyæ
Got ready shielded Argo for the sea.
But ere these met her, with uplifted hand,
She cried: Turn back, nor deeper in this land
Thrust ye your souls; nought chases me but fear,
And all is well if on the sea we were;
Yea, if we once were free from fear and spell,
Then, truly, better were all things than well.
Thereat they stayed, but onward still she ran
Until she reached them, and the godlike man
Took by the arm, and hurrying him along,
Stayed not until their feet were set among
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The last faint ripples of the gentle sea,
Wherefrom they boarded Argo speedily,
And Jason bid all men unto the oar.
WITH that they left the fair death-bearing shore,
Not gladlier than some fair young man may leave
His love, upon the odorous summer eve,
When she turns sighing to her father's house,
And leaves him there alone and amorous,
Heartsick with all that shame has let him see,
Grieved that no bolder he has dared to be. Notes Book XIII



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