Charioteer

Only the priest
of the inmost house
has such height
only the faun
in the glade
such light, strong ankles,
only the shade of the bay-tree
such rare dark
as the darkness
caught under the fillet
that covers your brow,
only the blade
of the ash-tree
such length, such beauty
as thou,
O my brother;
and only the gods
have such love
as I bring you;
but now,
taut with love,
more than any bright lover,
I vowed
to the innermost
god of the temple,
this vow

God of beauty, I cried,
as the four stood alert,
awaiting the shout
at the goal
to be off;
god of beauty,
I cried to that god,
if he merit the laurel,
I dedicate all of my soul
to you; to you
all my strength and my power;
if he merit the bay,
I will fashion a statue
of him, of my brother,
out of thought,
and the strength of my wrist
and the fire of my brain;
I will strive night and day
till I mould from the clay,
till I strike from the bronze,
till I conjure the rock,
the chisel, the tool,
to embody this image;
an image to startle
to capture men's hearts,
to make all other bronze,
all art to come after,
a mock,
all beauty to follow,
a shell that is empty;
I'll stake all my soul
on that beauty,
till God shall awake
again in men's hearts,
who have said he is dead,
our King and our Lover.

Then the start,
ah the sight,
ah but dim, veiled with tears,
(so Achilles must weep
who finds his friend dead,)
will he win?
then the ring of the steel.
as two met at the goal,
entangled and foul,
misplaced at the start,
who, who blunders? not you?
what omens are set?
alas, gods of the track,
what ill wreaks its hate,
speak it clear,
let me know
what evil, what fate?
for the ring of sharp steel
told two were in peril,
two, two, one is you,
already involved
with the fears of defeat;
two grazed;
which must go?

As the wind,
Althaia's beauty came;
as one after a cruel march,
catches sight,
toward the cold dusk,
of the flower
that's her name-sake,
strayed apart
toward the road-dust,
from the stream
in the wood-depth,
so I in that darkness,
my mouth bitter
with sheer loss,
took courage,
my heart spoke,
remembering how she spoke:
" I will seek hour by hour
fresh cones, resin
and pine-flowers,
flower of pine,
laurel flower;
I will pray:
" let him come
back to us,
to our home,
with the trophy of zeal,
with the love and the proof
of the favour of god;
let him merit the bay"
(I expect it,)
I myself on earth pray
that our father may pray;
his voice nearer the gods
must carry beyond
my mere mortal prayer:
" O my father beyond,
look down, and be proud,
ask this thing
that we win,
ask it straight of the gods."

Was he glad,
did he know?
for the strength
of his prayer and her prayer
met me now
in one flame,
all my head, all my brow
was one flame,
taut and beaten
and faintly aglow,
as the wine-cup
encrusted and beaten and fine
with the pattern of leaves,
(so my brow,)
yet metallic and cool,
as the gold of the frigid metal
that circles the heat
of the wine

Then the axle-tree cleft,
not ours, gods be blest;
now but three of you left
three alert and abreast,
three — one streak of what fire?
three straight for the goal:
ah defeat,
ah despair,
still fate tricked our mares,
for they swerved,
flanks quivering and wet,
as the wind
at the mid-stretch
caught and fluttered a white scarf;
a veil shivering,
only the fluttering
of a white band,
yet unnerved and champing,
they turned,
(only knowing the swards of Achaea)
and he, O my love,
that stranger,
his stallions
stark frenzied and black,
had taken the inmost course,
overtook,
overcame,
overleapt,
and crowded you back

O those horses
we loved and we prized;
I had gathered Alea mint
and soft branch
of the vine-stock in flower,
I had stroked Elaphia;
as one prays to a woman
" be kind, "
I had prayed Daphnaia;
I had threatened Orea
for her trick
of out-pacing the three,
even these,
I had almost despaired
at her fleet, proud pace,
O the four,
O swift mares of Achaea

Should I pray them again?
or the gods of the track?
or Althaia at home?
or our father who died for Achaea?
or our fathers beyond
who had vanquished the east?
should I threaten or pray?

The sun struck the ridge of white marble
before me:
white sun on white marble
was black:
the day was of ash,
blind, unrepentant, despoiled,
my soul cursed the race and the track,
you had lost

You , lost at the last?

Ah fools,
so you threatened to win?
ah fools,
so you knew my brother?
Greeks all,
all crafty and feckless,
even so, had you guessed
what ran in his veins and mine,
what blood of Achaea,
had you dared,
dared enter the contest,
dared aspire with the rest?

You had gained,
you outleapt them;
a sudden, swift lift of the reins,
a sudden, swift, taut grip of the reins,
as suddenly loosed,
you had gained
When death comes
I will see
no vision of after,
(as some count
there may be an hereafter,)
no thought of old lover,
no girl, no woman,
neither mother,
nor yet my father
who died for Achaea,
neither God with the harp
and the sun on His brow,
but thou,
O my brother

When death comes,
instead of a vision,
(I will catch it in bronze)
you will stand
as you stood at the end,
(as the herald announced it,
proclaiming aloud,
" Achaea has won, " )
in-reining them now,
so quiet,
not turning to answer
the shout of the crowd.
Rate this poem: 

Reviews

No reviews yet.