The Life and Death of Jason


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The landing of the heroes. Jason is made king in Iolchos, and the Argonauts go to their own homes.

BUT other watchers were there on that night,
Who saw the birth of that desired light
From nigh green Cicynethus' woody shore.
For in mid-channel there, with every oar
Run out, and cable ready for the slip,
Did Jason hold his glorious storm-tossed ship,
While in the top did keen-eyed Lynceus stand,
And every man had ready to his hand
Sharp spear, and painted shield, and grinded sword.
Thus as they waited, suddenly the word
Rang out from Jason's mouth, and in the sea
The cable splashed, and straight the Minyæ
Unto their breasts the shaven ash-trees brought,
And, as the quivering blades the water caught,
Shouted for joy, and quickly passed the edge
Of Cicynethus, green with reed and sedge,
And whitening the dark waters of the bay,
Unto Iolchos did they take their way.
MEANWHILE the Colchian woman nursed her gain,
And watched the grey dawn quicken o'er the main,
Still murmuring softly in the Colchian tongue,
While o'er her head the flickering fire yet hung,
And in the brazen caldron's lips did gleam,
Wherefrom went up a great white cloud of steam,
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To die above their heads in that flesh air.
But Pelias’ daughters, writhing in despair,
Silent for dread of her, she noted nought,
Nor of the dead man laid thereby she thought.
AT last came forward tall Amphinome,
And said: O Queen, look o'er the whitening sea,
And tell us now what thing it is we lack
To bring our father's vanished breathing back
With that new life, whereof thou spak'st to us.
So in a broken voice and piteous
She spoke; but when no answer came at all,
Nor did Medea's grey eyes on her fall,
She cried again: O, art thou pitiless?
Wilt thou not note our measureless distress?
Wilt thou not finish that thou hast begun?
Lo, in a little while the piercing sun
Shall find us slayers of our father here.
Then if thou hast no pity, hast thou fear?
We are king's daughters still, and with us still
Are men whose hearts are set, to do our will;
And if thou fall'st into the hands of these,
Thou shalt lament the gloomy northern trees
And painless death of threescore years and ten,
And little shall thy beauty help thee then.
So cried she shrilly in her gathering ire;
But when Medea answered not, the fire
Burnt out within her heart, and on her knees
She fell, and cried: O crown of Goddesses,
Forgive these impious words, and answer me,
Else shall I try if the green heaving sea
Will hide from all these impious blood-stained hands,

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Or bear them far away to savage lands,
That know no good nor evil; O speak, speak!
How can I pray thee when all words are weak?
What gifts, what worship, shall we give to thee?
E'EN as she spoke, Medea seemed to see
A twinkling light far off amidst the bay,
Then from the suppliant hand she drew away,
Nor turned to her; but looking seaward still,
She cried: O love! yet shalt thou have thy fill
Of wealth, and power, and much desired fame,
Nor shall the Grecian folk forget my name
Who dearly bought these for thee; therefore come,
And with the sun behold thy wished-for home.
So spoke she, and no less the wretched three
Beheld that light grow greater o'er the sea,
And therewithal the grey dawn coming fast,
And from them now well-nigh all hope had passed.
But fair Alcestis, grovelling on the ground,
And crying out, cast both her arms around
Medea's knees, and panting and half-dead,
Poured forth wild words, nor knew the words she said.
While the two others, mad with their despair,
Ran wailing through the pillars here and there,
Nor knew indeed what thing had come on them,
FOR now, at last, fair Argo's plunging stem
Medea saw in the still gathering light,
And round about her the sea beaten white
With steady oars; then she looked down, and said:
What! art thou praying for the newly dead,
For him who yesterday beheld the sun?
And dost thou think that I am such an one
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That what the Gods have unmade I can make?
Lo! with the dead shall Pelias too awake,
And see such things as dead men's eyes may see.
Then as Alcestis, moaning wretchedly,
Fell back upon the pavement, thus she said:
Take comfort yet, and lift again thine head,
O foolish woman! Dost thou think that fate
Has yet been stopped by any love or hate,
Or fear of death, or man's far-shouted fame?
And still doubt not that I, who have to name
The wise Medea, in such ways as this
Have long been struggling for a life of bliss
I shall not gain; and thus shall all men do,
And win such wages as have happed to you.
Rise up and gaze at what the fates have wrought,
And all the counsels they have brought to nought
On this same morn. Hearken the dash of oars
That never more ye thought would brush these shores;
Behold the man stand on the high-raised prow
That this dead man so surely dead did know.
See how he raises in his conquering hand
The guarded marvel of the Colchian land,
Which this dead king deemed Jason's death and woe;
See how his folk ashore the grapnels throw;
And see, and see! beneath the rising sun,
How fair a day for this land is begun.
And let king Pelias rise if now he can,
And stop the coming of the half-shod man.
E'EN as she spoke, the keel had touched the sand,
And catching up her raiment in her hand,
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She ran with speed, and gained the temple-close,
Made fragrant with that many-flowered white rose,
And o'er its daisied grass sped toward the beach;
But when her feet the wrinkled sand did reach,
There, nigh the ship, stood Jason all alone,
With spear-point turned from off the field unsown
As right and left he peered forth warily,
As though he thought some looked-for thing to see.
But when he saw her hurrying him to meet,
With wild wind-tingled hair, and naked feet,
And outstretched hands, and scanty raiment black,
But for one moment did he start aback,
As if some guardian spirit of the land
Had come upon him; but the next, his hand
Had caught her slim wrist, and his mouth cried out:
Ashore, O heroes! and no more have doubt
That all is well done which we wished were done
By this my love, by this the glorious one,
The saviour of my life, the Queen of Love,
To whom alone of all who are above,
Or on the earth, will I pour wine, or give
The life of anything that once did live.
THEN all men leapt upon the green earth's rim,
And clashed the shield and spear round her and him,
Rejoicing that their mighty task was done;
But as he saw the newly-risen sun
Shine on the town upon their left that lay,
Then smiling joyously, did Jason say:
O heroes, tell me, is the day not won?
Look how the sun's rays now are stealing on,
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And soon will touch that temple's marble feet
Where stood the king our parting keel to greet.
But the great golden image of the God
Holds up, unlighted yet, his crystal rod,
And surely ere the noon shall gleam on it
Upon my father's throne his son shall sit,
Hedged round with spears of loyal men and true,
And all be done that we went forth to do.
BUT, 'midst their shouting, spoke the queen again:
Jason, behold hereby this ancient fane;
Amidst its pillars let the heroes go
Until a marble stair they come unto,
And thereby mount into a pillared place,
At end whereof, upon an open space
Hung o'er the beach, that beacon shall they see
That lighted you to finish gloriously
Your glorious journey; and beside the fire
There shall they find the slayer of thy sire,
Who, soothly, shall not flee from them to-day,
Nor curse the men who carry him away.
Then forth Menoetius and Nauphius stood,
Lynceus the keen, and Apheus of the wood,
To do the thing that she would have them do,
While unto Argo did Medea go,
And for the last time scaled the sea-beat side;
There 'midst her silken curtains did she hide,
And clad her in the daintiest and the best
Of all she had stored up in fragrant chest,
And on her feet bound.golden sandals fair,
And set a golden garland on her hair.
But when again she reached the shell-strewn sand
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She saw the shielded heroes wondering stand
About the new-slain body of the king,
Not knowing yet whose hands had wrought the thing.
For, scared amid their woe and misery,
By clash of arms, the wretched sisters three
Were lurking still within the undercroft,
Amongst the close-set pillars, thinking oft
That now the whole round world should be undone.
BUT while they trembled, Aeson's glorious son
Bade men make onward toward the market-place,
That there he might the wondering townsfolk face
For war or peace whichever it might be;
But first upon a great oar carefully
They bound a spar crosswise, and hung thereon
That guarded marvel which their arms had won,
And as a banner bore it well aloft,
And fair Medea, upon cushions soft,
Laid upon spear-staves did they bear along,
Hedged round with glittering spears and bucklers strong,
And unarmed, fearless, mighty Jason led
Their joyous march, next whom, the man just dead,
The strong-armed heroes upon spear-shafts bore,
With dark blue sea-cloaks deftly covered o'er.
So, following up the poor unkingly bier
Of him who erst for love of gain and fear
Had sent them forth to what he deemed their end,
They through the palace courts began to wend,
Not stayed of any, since the guards indeed
Still slept, made heavy by the drowsy weed
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Eradne in their wine erewhile did steep.
And other folk, just risen from out their sleep,
Looked from the windows 'mazed; and like a dream
The queen, enthroned on golden cloths did seem,
And like a dream the high-raised, glittering Fleece,
And that new-slain, long-hated pest of Greece.
And some indeed there were who saw full well
What wondrous tale there would be now to tell;
These the glad setting forth did not forget,
But to their eyes more fair, more glorious yet
The heroes showed, than when the sunny bay
First felt their keel upon a happy day;
So now they shouted to behold the Fleece,
And that fair Helper who had saved for Greece
The godlike heroes, and amidst of these
Seemed not the least of heavenly Goddesses.
WITHAL they reached at last the brazen gate
Of Aeson's house, outside of which did wait
Men armed and loud-voiced; for that dawn a man
Unknown, a fisher on the water wan,
From house to house among the folk had passed,
Who said, that all alone his nets he cast
Amid the bay a little time before
The dawn, and heard the sound of many an oar,
And looking round, beheld a glittering prow
That well he knew for Argo's tyned sea-plough;
And as he gazed, her many-coloured side
Dashed past him like a dream with flood of tide,
As toward the far-off ancient fane she drave:
That then no more he drifted on the wave,
But made good haste the landing-place to gain.
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For certes, said he, Pelias now is slain,
And we are free once more. So saying, he passed
From house to house, and reached the gates at last;
Nor any saw him more on land or sea,
And, certes, none but clear-voiced Mercury
Spoke in that man by helpful Juno made,
No body soothly, but a hollow shade.
NOW therefore when the gates were open wide
Shouting the folk drew back on either side,
All wild with joy; but when they did behold
The high-raised Fleece of curling ruddy gold,
And the glad heroes' mighty heads beneath,
And throned Medea, with her golden wreath,
And folded hands, and chiefest thing of all,
The godlike man who went beside the pall,
Whereon the body of their tyrant lay,
Then did their voices fail them on that day,
And many a man of weeping there was fain.
AT last did Jason set his foot again
Upon the steps of that same ivory throne
Where once he fronted Pelias all alone,
And bare of friends: but now he turned about,
And, 'mid the thunder of the people's shout,
Scarce heard his fellows' spears: and by his side
There stood his gold-adorned Colchian bride,
With glad tears glistening in her sweet grey eyes:
And dead at end of foiled treacheries,
There lay his foe, the slayer of his kin.
Then did he clasp the hand that lay within
His mighty and sword-hardened fingers brown,
And cried aloud above the shouting town:
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Tell me, O people of my father's land,
Before whose ivory well-wrought throne I stand,
And whose fair-towered house mine eyes behold,
Glittering with brazen pillars, rich with gold?
AWHILE ago we sailed across the sea,
To meet our deaths, if so the thing must be,
And there had died, had not the kind Gods been,
Who sent to us this lovely Colchian queen
To be our helper: many a land we saw
That knoweth neither tongue of man, nor law
Of God or man: oft most things did we lack
That most men have, as still we struggled back
Unto the soft wind and the Grecian sea;
Until this morn our keel triumphantly
Furrowed the green waves of the well-known bay.
There to yon palace did I take my way,
As one who thought to see his father's face;
Yet landing wary of a doubtful place,
(Since times may change, and friendship come to nought)
To this dead man straightway my feet were brought,
Whose face I knew, the face of Pelias.
Then still more warily thence did we pass,
Till we met folk who told us everything,
Both of the slaying of the godlike king,
Aeson my father, and of other folk,
And how the whole land groaned beneath the yoke
Of this dead man; whom sure the Gods have slain
That all our labour might not be in vain,
Nor we, safe passing through the deadly land,
Lie slain in our own country at his hand.
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So have the Gods wrought; therefore am I here,
No shield upon mine arm, no glittering spear
In my right hand, but by my unarmed side
This Colchian Queen, by many, sorrows tried.
Therefore, no fear of you is in my heart,
And if ye will, henceforth will I depart,
Nor take mine own: or if it please this town
To slay me, let them lay my dead corpse down,
As on his tomb my father's image lies,
Like what he was before these miseries
Fell on his head. But in no wise will I
Take seat beneath this golden canopy,
Before ye tell me, people of this land,
Whose throne this is before the which I stand,
Whose towered house is this mine eyes behold,
Girt round with brazen pillars, bright with gold.
THEN, ere he ceased, the people's shouts broke in
Upon his speech: Most glorious of thy kin!
Be thou our king be thou our king alone,
That we may think the age of iron gone,
And Saturn come with every peaceful thing:
Jason for king! the Conqueror for king!
Therewith the heroes clashed their spears and shields,
And as within the many-flowered fresh fields
This way and that the slim-stalked flowers do bend,
When sweeping gusts the soft west wind doth send
Among their hosts, so moved the people then,
When ceased the shouting of the armed men.
For each unto the other 'gan to speak,
And o’er the tall men's head a dame would seek
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To raise her child to look upon the king.
And as with smiles and laughter many a thing
They chattered through the great square joyously,
Each careless what his neighbour's words might be,
It sounded like some February mead,
Where thick the lustred starlings creep and feed,
And each his own song sings unto his mate,
Chiding the fickle spring so cold and late.
BUT through the happy clamour of the folk,
At Jason's bidding, the great trumpet broke,
And great Echion's voice rang clear and strong,
As he cried silence; then across the throng,
Did Jason cry: O people, thanked be ye,
That in such wise ye give yourselves to me.
And now, O friends, what more is there to say
But this? Be glad, and feast this happy day,
Nor spend one coin of all your store for this;
Nor shall the altars of the high Gods miss
Their due thankoffering: and She chief of all,
Who caused that this same happy time should fall,
Shall have a tithe of all that 'longs to me.
And ye, O loved companions o'er the sea,
Come to my golden house, and let us feast,
Nor let time weary us this night at least;
O! be so glad that this our happy day
For all times past, all times to come may pay.
HE ceased, and one more shout the people sent
Up to the heavens, as he descending went
With the fair Colchian through the joyous folk,
From whose well-ordered lane at times there broke
Some little child, thrust forward well to see
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The godlike leader of the Minyæ:
Or here and there forth would some young man lean
To gaze upon the beauty of the queen
A little nearer, as they passed him by.
THEN in such guise, they went triumphantly
To all the temples of that city fair,
And royal gifts they gave the great Gods there,
But chiefest from the Queen of Heaven's own close
The clouds of incense in the air uprose,
And chiefly thither were the white lambs led,
And there the longest, Jason bowed the head
Well garlanded with lily blossoms white.
But She, when all these things were done aright,
And Jason now had turned to go away,
In midmost of that cloudless sunny day
Bade Iris build her many-coloured bow;
That She her favour to the king might show.
Then still more did the royal man rejoice,
And o'er the people, lifting up his voice,
Cried: See, Thessalians, who is on my side,
Nor fear ye now but plenty will abide
In your fair land, and all the folk speak of it,
From places whence the wavering swallows flit,
That they may live with us the sweet half year,
To earth where dwells the sluggish white-felled bear.
SO spake he, glad past words; and for the rest
Did Juno love him well since his great quest
Had brought home bitter death on Pelias,
And his love's words had brought the thing to pass,
That o'er that head was hanging, since the day
When from Sidero dead he turned away,

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And as with Neleus down the steps he trod,
Thought things that fitted some undying God.
THENCE to his father's tomb did Jason go,
And found the old man's body laid alow,
Within a lone, unkingly grave, and bade
That straightway should a royal tomb be made
To lay him in, anigh the murmuring sea,
Where, celebrating their great victory,
They might do honour to his head recrowned,
And 'mid their shouts all mourning might be drowned,
Nor would they gladden Pelias' lonely shade
By weeping o'er the slaughter he had made.
THEREFROM unto his own house Jason came,
Which had not seen him since his new-cried name
Rang 'twixt the marble walls triumphantly,
And all folk set their hearts upon the sea.
So, now again, when shadows 'gan to fall
Still longer from the west, within that hall
Once more the heroes sat above their wine,
Once more they hearkened music nigh divine,
Once more the maidens' flower-scattering hands
Seemed better prizes than well-peopled lands.
GLORIOUS and royal, now the deed was done,
Seemed in that hall the face of every one,
Who, 'twixt the thin plank and the bubbling sea,
Had pulled the smooth oar-handle past his knee.
Tuneful each voice seemed as the heroes told
The marvels that their eyes did erst behold,
Unto some merchant of the goodly town,
Or some rich man who on the thymy down
Fed store of sheep, and in whose deep-green mead
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The heavy-uddered cows were wont to feed.
AND she who all this world of joy had made,
And dared so many things-all unafraid,
Now sat a Queen beside her crowned King.
And as his love increased with everything
She did or said, forgot her happy state
In Aea of old times, ere mighty fate
Brought Argo's side from out the Clashers twain,
Betwixt the rainbow and the briny rain.
Yet in the midst of her felicity
She trembled lest another day should see
Another fate, and other deeds for these,
Who hailed her not the least of Goddesses.
Yet surely now, if never more again,
Had she and all these folk forgotten pain,
And idle words to them were Death and Fear
For in the gathering evening could they hear
The carols of the glad folk through the town,
The song of birds within the garden drown;
And when the golden sun had gone away,
Still little darker was the night than day
Without the windows of the goodly hall.
BUT many an hour after the night did fall,
Though outside silence fell on man and beast,
There still they sat, nor wearied of the feast
Yea, ere they parted glimmering light had come
From the far mountains near the Colchian's home,
And in the twilight birds began to wake.
BUT the next morn, for slaughtered Aeson's sake
The games began, with many a sacrifice,
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And, these being all accomplished, gifts of price
The heroes took at Jason's open hands,
And, going homewards, unto many lands
They bore the story of their wandering.
And now is Jason mighty lord and king,
And wedded to the fairest queen on earth,
And with no trouble now to break his mirth;
And, loved by all, lives happy free from blame,
Nor less has won the promised meed of fame.
So, having everything he once desired
Within the wild, ere yet his heart was fired
By Juno's word, he lives an envied man,
Holding these things that scarce another can,
Ease, love, and fame, and youth that knows no dread
Of any horrors lurking far ahead
Across the sunny fair-flowered fields of life:
Youth seeing no end unto the joyous strife.
And thus in happy days, and rest, and peace,
Endeth the Winning of the Golden Fleece. Notes Book XVI



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