Over the sea, past Crete, on the Syrian shore to the southward,
Dwells in the well-tilled lowland a dark-haired æthiop people,
Skillful with needle and loom, and the arts of the dyer and carver,
Skillful, but feeble of heart; for they know not the lords of Olympus,
Lovers of men; neither broad-browed Zeus, nor Pallas Athené,
Teacher of wisdom to heroes, bestower of might in the battle;
Share not the cunning of Hermes, nor list to the songs of Apollo.
Fearing the stars of the sky, and the roll of the blue salt water,
Fearing all things that have life in the womb of the seas and the rivers,
Eating no fish to this day, nor ploughing the main, like the Pheonics,
Manful with black-beaked ships, they abide in a sorrowful region,
Vexed with the earthquake, and flame, and the sea-floods, scourge of Poseidon.
Whelming the dwellings of men, and the toils of the slow-footed oxen,
Drowning the barley and flax, and the hard-earned gold of the harvest,
Up to the hillside vines, and the pastures skirting the woodland,
Inland the floods came yearly; and after the waters a monster,
Bred of the slime, like the worms which are bred from the slim of the Nile-bank,
Shapeless, a terror to see; and by night it swam out to the seaward,
Daily returning to feed with the dawn, and devoured of the fairest,
Cattle, and children, and maids, till the terrified people fled inland.
Fasting in sackcloth and ashes they came, both the king and his people,
Came to the mountains of oaks, top the house of the terrible sea-gods,
Hard by the gulf in the rocks, where of old the world-wide deluge
Sank to the inner abyss; and the lake where the fish of the goddess,
Holy, undying, abide; whom the priests feed daily with dainties.
There to the mystical fish, high-throned in her chamber of cedar,
Burnt they the fat of the flock; till the flame shone far to the seaward.
Three days fasting they prayed: but the fourth day the priests of the goddess,
Cunning in spells, cast lots, to discover the crime of the people.
All days long they cast, till the house of the monarch was taken,
Cepheus, king of the land; and the faces of all gathered blackness.
Then one more they cast; and Cassiopœ was taken,
Deep-bosomed wife of the king, whom oft far-seeing Apollo
Watched well-pleased from the welkin, the fairest of æthiop women:
Fairest, save only her daughter; for down to the ankle her tresses
Rolled, blue-black as the night, ambrosial, joy to beholders.
Awful and fair she arose, most like in her coming to Here,
Queen before whom the Immortals arise, as she comes on Olympus,
Out of the chamber of gold, which her son Hephætos was wrought her.
Such in her stature and eyes, and the broad white light of her forehead.
Stately she came from her place, and she spoke in the midst of the people.
‘Pure are my hands from blood: most pure this heart in my bosom.
Yet one fault I remember this day; one word have I spoken;
Rashly I spoke on the shore, and I dread lest the sea should have heard it.
Watching my child at her bath, as she plunged in the joy of her girlhood,
Fairer I called her in pride that Atergati, queen of the ocean.
Judge ye if this be my sin, for I know none other.’ She ended;
Wrapping her head in her mantle she stood, and the people were silent.
Answered the dark-browed priests, ‘No word, once spoken, returneth,
Even if uttered unwitting. Shall gods excuse our rashness?
That which is one, that abides; and the wrath of the sea is against us;
Hers, and the wrath of her brother, the Sun-god, lord of the sheepfolds.
Fairer than her hast though boasted thy daughter? Ah folly! for hateful,
Hateful are they to the gods, whoso, impious, liken a mortal,
Fair though he be, to their glory; and hateful is that which is likened,
Grieving the eyes of their pride, and abominate, doomed to their anger.
What shall be likened to gods? The unknown, who deep in the darkness
Ever abide, twyformed, many-handed, terrible, shapeless.
Woes to the queen; for the land is defiled, and the people accursed.
Take though her therefore by night, though ill-starred Cassiopœia,
Take her with us in the night, when the moon sinks low to the westward;
Bind her aloft for a victim, a prey for the gorge of the monster,
Far on the sea-girt rock, which is washed by the surges forever;
So may the goddess accept her, and so may the land make atonement,
Purged by her blood from its sin: so obey thou the doom of the rulers.’
Bitter in soul they went out, Cepheus and Cassiopœia,
Bitter in soul; and their hearts whirled round, as the leaves in the eddy.
Weak was the queen, and rebelled: but the king, like a shepherd of people,
Willed not the land should waste; so he yielded the life of his daughter.
Deep in the wane of the night, as the moon sank low to the westward,
They by the shade of the cliffs, with the horror of darkness around them,
Stole, as ashamed, to a deed which became not the light of the sunshine,
Slowly, the priests, and the queen, and the virgin bound in the galley.
Slowly they rowed to the rocks; but Cepheus far in the palace
Sate in the midst of the hall, on his throne, like a shepherd of people,
Choking his woe, dry-eyed, while the slaves wailed loudly around him.
They on the sea-girt rock, which is washed by the surges forever,
Set her in silence, the guiltless, aloft with her face to the eastward.
Under a crag of the stone, where a ledge sloped down to the water;
There they set Andromeden, most beautiful, shaped like a goddess,
Lifting her long white arms wide-spread to the walls of the basalt,
Chaining them, ruthless, with brass; and they called on the might of the Rulers.
‘Mystical fish of the seas, dread Queen whom æthiops honour,
Whelming the land in thy wrath, unavoidable, sharp as the sting-ray,
Thou, and thy brother the Sun, brain-smiting, lord of the sheepfold,
Scorching the earth all day, and then resting at night in thy bosom,
Take ye this one life for many, appeased by the blood of a maiden,
Fairest, and born of the fairest, a queen, most priceless of victims’
Thrice they spat as they went by the maid: but her mother delaying
Fondled her child to the last, heart-crushed; and the warmth of her weeping
Fell on the breast of the maid, as her woe broke forth into wailing.
‘Daughter! my daughter! forgive me! O curst not the murderess! Curst not!
How have I sinned, but in love? Do the gods grudge glory to mothers?
Loving I bore thee in vain in the fate-cursed bride-bed of Cepheus,
Loving I fed thee and tended, and loving rejoiced in they beauty,
Blessing they limbs as I bathed them, and blessing thy locks as I combed them’
Decking thee, ripening to woman, I blest thee: yet blessing I slew thee!
How have I sinned, but in love? O swear to me, swear to they mother.’
Tearless, dumb with amaze, the maid was alone in the darkness.
All through the long, long hours, she there stood helpless and hopeless,
Wide eyed, downward gazing, in vain at the black, blank darkness.
Feebly at last she began, while wild thoughts bubbled within her.
‘Guiltless am I why thus then? Are gods more ruthless than mortals?
Have they no mercy for youth? No love for the souls who have loved them?
Even as I loved thee, Dread sea, as I played by thy border,
Blessing the wave as it cooled me, the wind as it breathed on my forehead;
Bowing my head to thy tempest, and opening my heart to thy children,
Silvery fish wreathed shall and the strange lithe things of the water
Tenderly casting them back, as thy gasped on the beach in the sunshine
Home to their mother in vain while mine sits childless in anguish.’
Awed by her own rash words, she was still and her eyes to the seaward
Looked for an answer of wrath. Far off in the heart of the darkness
Bright white mists rose slowly; beneath them the wandering ocean
Glimmered and glowed to the deepest abyss, and the knees of the maiden,
Trembled and sank, as afar, like a dawn in the midnight,
Rose from their seaweed chamber, the choir of the mystical sea-maids.
Onward toward her they came, and her heart beat loud at their coming
Watching the bliss of the gods as they wakened the cliffs with their laughter.
Onward they came in their joy, and before them the roll of the surges
Sank as the breeze sank dead, into smooth green foam-flecked marble,
Awed, and the crags of the cliff and the pines of the mountains were silent.
Onward they came in their joy and around them the lamps of the sea-nymphs
Myriad fiery balls, came panting and heaving, and rainbows
Crimson and azure and emerald, were broken in star-showers lighting,
Far through the win dark-depths of the crystal the gardens of Nereus,
Coral and sea-fan and tangle, the blooms and the palms of the ocean.
Onward they came in their joy, more white than the foam which they scattered,
Laughing and singing, and tossing and twining, while eager, the Tritons
Blinded with kisses their eyes, unreproved, and above them in worship
Hovered the terns, and the seagulls swept past them on silvery pinions
Echoing softly their laughter; around them the wantoning dolphins
Sighed as they plunged, full of love; and the great sea-horses which bore them
Curved up their crests in their pride to the delicate arms of the maidens,
Pawing the spray into gems, till a fiery rainfall, unharming
Sparkled and gleamed on the limbs of the nymphs, and the coils of the mermen.
Onward they went in their joy, bathed round with the fiery coolness,
Needing nor sun nor moon, illumined self-lighted, immortal: but others,
Pitiful, floated in silence apart; in their bosoms the sea-boys,
Slain by the wrath of the seas, swept down by the anger of Nereus;
Hapless, whom never again on strand or on quay shall their mothers
Welcome with garlands and vows to the temple, but wearily pining
Gaze over island and bay for the sails of the sunken, they heedless
Sleep in soft bosoms for ever, and dream of the surge and the sea-maids.
Onward they passed in their joy; on their brows neither sorrow nor anger;
Self-sufficing, as gods, never heeding the woe of the maiden.
She would have shrieked for the mercy: but sham made her dumb; and their eyeballs
Stared on her careless and still, like the eyes in the house of the idols.
Seeing they saw not, and passed, like a dream, on the murmuring ripple.
Stunned by the wonder she gazed, wide-eyes, as the glory departed.
‘On fair shapes! far fairer than I! Too fair to be ruthless!
Gladden mine eyes once more with your splendour, unlike to my fancies;
You, then, smile in the sea-gleam, and laughed in the plash of the ripple.
Awful I deemed you and formless; inhuman, monstrous as idols;
Lo, when ye came, ye were women, more loving and lovelier, only;
Like in all else; and I blest you: why blest ye not me for my worship?
Had you no mercy for me, thus guiltless? Ye pitied the sea-boys:
Why not me, then more hapless by far? Does your sight and your knowledge
End with the marge of the waves? Is the world in which ye dwell in not our world?’
Over the mountain aloft ran a rush and a roll and a roaring;
Downward the breeze cam indignant, and leapt with a howl to the water,
Roaring in cranny and crag, till the pillars and clefts of the basalt
Rang like a god-swept lyre, and her brain grew made with the noises;
Crashing and lapping of waters, and sighing and tossing of weed-beds,
Gurgle and whisper and hiss of the foam, while thundering surges
Boomed in the waver-worn halls, as they champed at the roots of the mountain.
Hour after hour in the darkness the wind rushed fierce to the landward,
Drenching the maiden with spray; she shivering, weary and drooping,
Stood with her heart full of thoughts, till the foam-crests gleamed in the twilight,
Leaping and laughing around, and the east grew red with the dawning.
Then on the ridge of the hills rose the broad bright sun in his glory,
Hurling his arrows abroad on the glittering crests of the surges,
Gilding the soft round bosoms of wood, and the downs of the coastland;
Gilding the weeds at her feet, and the foam-laced teeth of the ledges,
Showing the maiden her home through the veil of her locks, as they floated
Glistening, damp with the spray, in the long black cloud to the landward.
High in the far-off glens rose thing blue curls from the homesteads;
Softly the low of the herds, and the pipe of the outgoing herdsman
Slid to her ear on the water, and melted her heart into weeping.
Shuddering, she tried to forger them; and straining her eyes to the seaward,
Watched for her doom, and she wailed but in vain, to the terrible Sun-god.
‘Dost though not pity me, Sun, though thy wild dark sister by ruthless;
Dost thou not pity me here, as though seest me desolate, weary,
Sickened with shame and despair, like a kid torn young from its mother?
What is my beauty insult thee, then blight it: but me – Oh spare me!
Spare me yet, ere he be here fierce, tearing, unbearable! See me,
See me, how tender and soft, and thus helpless! See how I shudder,
Fancying only my doom. Wilt though shin thus bright, when it takes me?
Are there no deaths save this, great Sun? No fiery arrow,
Lightning, or deep-mouthed wave? Why thus? What music in shrieking,
Pleasure in warm live limbs torn slowly? And dar’st thou behold them!
Oh, thou hast watched worse deeds! All sights are alike to thy brightness!
What if though waken the birds to their song, dost thou waken son sorrow;
Waken no sick to their pain; no captive to wrench at his fetters?
Smile on the garden and fold, and on maidens who sing at the milking;
Flash into tapestries chambers, and peep in the eyelids of lovers,
Showing the blissful their bliss – Dost love, then, the place where thou smiles?
Lovest thou cities aflame, fierce blows, and the shrieks of the widow?
Lovest thou corpse-strewn fields, as thou lightest the path of the vulture?
Lovest thou these, that thou gazes so gay on my tears, and my mother’s,
Laughing alike at the horror of one, and the bliss of another?
What dost thou care, in thy sky, for the joys and the sorrows of mortals?
Colder art thou than the nymphs; in they broad bright eye is no seeing.
Hadst thou a soul as much soul as the slave sin the house of my father,
Wouldst thou not save? Poor thralls! they pitied me, clung to me weeping,
Kissing my hands and my feet – What are gods, more ruthless than mortals?
Worse than the souls which they rule? Let me dies: they war not with ashes!’
Sudden she ceased, with a shriek: in the spray, like a hovering foam-bow,
Hung, more fair than the foam-bow, a boy in the bloom of his manhood,
Golden-haired, ivory-limbed, ambrosial; over his shoulder
Hung for a veil of his beauty the gold-fringed folds of the goat-skin,
Bearing the brass of his shield, as the sun flashed clear on its clearness.
Curved on his thigh lay a falchion, and under the gleam of his helmet
Eyes more blue than the main shone awful, around him Athené
Shed in her love such grace, such state, and terrible daring.
Hovering over the water he came, upon glittering pinions,
Living, a wonder, outgrown from the tight-laced gold of his sandals;
Bounding from billow to billow, and sweeping the crests like a sea-gull;
Leaping the gulfs of the surge, as he laughed in the joy of his leaping.
Fair and majestic he sprang to the rock; and the maiden in wonder
Gazed for a while, and then hid in the dark-rolling wave of her tresses,
Fearful, the light of her eyes; while the boy (for her sorrow had awed him)
Blushed at her blushes, and vanished, like mist on the cliffs at the sunrise.
Fearful at length she looked forth: he was gone: she, wild with amazement,
Wailed for her mother aloud: but the wail of the wind only answered
Sudden he flashed into sight, but her side; in his pity and anger
Moist were his eyes; and his breath like a rose-bed, as bolder and bolder,
Hovering under her brows, like a swallow that haunts by the house-eaves,
Deicate-handed, he lifted the veil of her hair; while the maiden
Motionless, frozen with fear, wept loud; till his lips unclosing
Poured from their pearl-strung portal the music wave of his wonder.
‘Ah, well spoke she, the wise one, the grey-eyed Pallas Athené, –
Known to Immortals alone are the prizes which lie for the heroes
Ready prepared at their feet; for requiring a little, the rulers
Pay back the loan tenfold to the man who, careless of pleasure,
Thirsting for honour and toil, fares forth on a perilous errance
Led by the guiding of gods, and strong in the strength of Immortals.
Thus have they led me to thee: from afar, unknowing, I marked thee,
Shining, a snow-white cross on the dark-green walls of the sea-cliff;
Carven in marble I deemed thee, a perfect work of the craftsman.
Likeness of Amphitrité, or far-famed Queen Cythereia.
Curious I came, till I saw how thy tresses streamed in the sea-wind,
Glistening, black as the night, and thy lips moved slow in thy wailing.
Speak again now – Oh speak! For my soul is stirred to avenge thee;
Tell me what barbarous horde, without law, unrighteous and heartless,
Hateful to gods and to men, thus have bound thee, a shame to the sunlight,
Scorn and prize to the sailor: but my prize now; for a coward,
Coward and shameless were he, who so finding a glorious jewel
Cast on the wayside by fools, would not win it and keep it and wear it,
Even as I will thee; for I swear by the head of my father,
Bearing thee over the sea-wave, to wed thee in Argos the fruitful,
Beautiful, meed of my toil, no less than this head which I carry,
Hidden here fearful – Oh speak!’ But the maid, still dumb with amazement,