Homer, Laertes, Agatha

Homer . Is this Laertes who embraces me
Ere a word spoken? his the hand I grasp?
Laertes . Zeus help thee, and restore to thee thy sight,
My guest of old! I am of years as many,
And of calamities, as thou thyself,
I, wretched man! who have outlived my son
Odysseus, him thou knewest in this house,
A stripling fond of quoits and archery,
Thence to be call'd for counsel mid the chiefs
Who storm'd that city past the farther sea,
Built by two Gods, by more than two defended.
Homer . He rests, and to the many toils endur'd
There was not added the worse weight of age.
Laertes . He would be growing old had he remain'd
Until this day, tho' scarcely three-score years
Had he completed; old I seem'd to him
For youth is fanciful, yet here am I,
Stout, a full twenty summers after him:
But one of the three sisters snapt that thread
Which was the shortest, and my boy went down
When no light shines upon the dreary way.
Homer . Hither I came to visit thee, and sing
His wanderings and his wisdom, tho' my voice
Be not the voice it was; yet thoughts come up,
And words to thoughts, which others may recite
When I am mute, and deaf as is my grave,
If any grave in any land be mine.
Laertes . Men will contend for it in after times,
And cities claim it as the ground whereon
A temple stood, and worshippers yet stand.
Long hast thou travell'd since we met, and far.
Homer . I have seen many cities, and the best
And wisest of the men who dwelt therein,
The children and their children now adult,
Nor childless they. Some have I chided, some
Would soothe, who, mounted on the higher sod,
Wept as the pebbles tinkled, dropping o'er
A form outstretcht below; they would not hear
Story of mine, which told them there were fields
Fresher, and brighter skies, but slapping me,
Cried worse, and ran away.
Laertes . Here sits aside thee
A child grey-headed who will hear thee out.
Here shalt thou arm my son again, in mail
No enemy, no time, can strip from him,
But first I counsel thee to try the strength
Of my old prisoner in the cave below:
The wine will sparkle at the sight of thee,
If there be any virtue left in it.
Bread there is, fitter for younger teeth than ours,
But wine can soften its obduracy.
At hand is honey in the honeycomb,
And melon, and those blushing pouting buds
That fain would hide them under crisped leaves.
Soon the blue dove and particolor'd hen
Shall quit the stable-rafter, caught at roost,
And goat shall miss her suckling in the morn;
Supper will want them ere the day decline.
Homer . So be it: I sing best when hearty cheer
Refreshes me, and hearty friend beside.
Laertes . Voyagers, who have heard thee, carried home
Strange stories; whether all be thy device
I know not: surely thou hadst been afraid
Some God or Goddess would have twitcht thine ear.
Homer . They often came about me while I slept,
And brought me dreams, and never lookt morose.
They loved thy son and for his sake loved me.
Laertes . Apollo, I well know, was much thy friend.
Homer . He never harried me as Marsyas
Was harried by him; lest he should, I sang
His praise in my best hymn: the Gods love praise.
Laertes . I should have thought the Gods would more approve
Good works than glossy words, for well they know
All we can tell them of themselves or us.
Have they enricht thee? for I see thy cloak
Is ragged.
Homer . Ragged cloak is songster's garb.
Laertes . I have two better; one of them for thee.
Penelope, who died five years ago,
Spun it, her husband wore it only once,
And 'twas upon the anniversary
Of their espousal.
Homer . Wear it I will not,
But I will hang it on the brightest nail
Of the first temple where Apollo sits,
Golden hair'd, in his glory.
Laertes . So thou shalt
If so it please thee: yet we first will quaff
The gifts of Bakkos, for methinks his gifts
Are quite as welcome to the sons of song
And cheer them oftener.
[A GATHA enters with a cup of wine .]
Maiden! come thou nigh,
And seat thee there, and thou shalt hear him sing,
After a while, what Gods might listen to:
But place that cup upon the board, and wait
Until the stranger hath assuaged his thirst,
For songmen, grasshoppers, and nightingales
Sing cheerily but when the throat is moist.
Homer . I sang to maidens in my prime; again,
But not before the morrow, will I sing;
Let me repose this noontide, since in sooth
Wine, a sweet solacer of weariness,
Helps to unload the burden.
Laertes . Lie then down
Along yon mat bestrown with rosemary,
Basil, and mint, and thyme.
She knows them all
And has her names for them, some strange enough.
Sound and refreshing then be thy repose!
Well may weak mortal seek the balm of sleep
When even the Gods require it, when the stars
Droop in their courses, and the Sun himself
Sinks on the swelling bosom of the sea.
Take heed there be no knot on any sprig;
After, bring store of rushes and long leaves
Of cane sweet-smelling from the inland bank
Of yon wide-wandering river over-sea
Famed for its swans; then open and take out
From the black chest the linen, never used
These many years, which thou (or one before)
Spreadst for the Sun to bleach it; and be sure,
Be sure, thou smoothen with both hands his couch
Who has the power to make both young and old
Live throughout ages.
Agatha . And look well through all?
Laertes . Aye, and look better than they lookt before.
Agatha . I wish he would make me so, and without
My going for it anywhere below.
I am content to stay in Ithaca,
Where the dogs know me, and the ferryman
Asks nothing from me, and the rills are full
After the rain, and flowers grow everywhere,
And bees grudge not their honey, and the grape
Grows within reach, and figs, blue, yellow, green,
Without my climbing; boys, too, come at call;
And, if they hide the ripest, I know where
To find it, twist and struggle as they may;
Impudent boys! to make me bring it out,
Saying I shall not have it if I don't!
Laertes . How the child babbles! pardon her! behold
Her strength and stature have outgrown her wits!
In fourteen years thou thyself wast not wise.
Homer . My heart is freshen'd by a fount so pure
At its springhead; let it run on in light.
Most girls are wing'd with wishes, and can ill
Keep on their feet against the early gale
That blows impetuous on unguarded breast;
But this young maiden, I can prophecy,
Will be thy staff when other staff hath fail'd.
Agatha . May the Gods grant it! but not grant it yet!
Blessings upon thy head!
Homer . May they bestow
Their choicest upon thine! may they preserve
Thy comeliness of virtue many years
For him whose hand thy master joins to thine!
Agatha . O might I smoothen that mild wrinkled brow
With but one kiss!
Laertes . Take it. Now leave us, child,
And bid our good Melampos to prepare
That brazen bath wherein my rampant boy
Each morning lay full-length, struggling at first,
Then laughing as he splasht the water up
Against his mother's face bent over him.
Is this the Odysseus first at quoit and bar?
Is this the Odysseus call'd to counsel kings,
He whose name sounds beyond our narrow sea?
Agatha . O how I always love to hear that name!
Laertes . But linger not; pursue the task at hand:
Bethink thee 'tis for one who has the power
To give thee many days beyond old-age.
Agatha . O tell him not to do it if he can:
He cannot make youth stay: the swallows come
And go, youth goes, but never comes again.
Laertes . He can make heroes greater than they were.
Agatha . By making them lay by the wicked sword?
How I shall love him when he has done that!
Laertes . No, but he gives them strength by magic song.
Agatha . The strength of constancy to love but one?
As did Odysseus while he lived on earth,
And when he waited for her in the shades.
Laertes . The little jay! go, chatterer.
Agatha to Homer . Do not think
O stranger, he is wroth; he never is
With Agatha, albeit he stamps and frowns
And shakes three fingers at her, and forbears
To do the like to any one beside.
Hark! the brass sounds, the bath is now prepared.
Laertes . More than the water shall her hand assuage
Thy weary feet, and lead thee back, now late.
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