Homer, Laertes, Agatha. In the Morning

In the Morning

Homer . Whose is the soft and pulpy hand that lies
Athwart the ridges of my craggy one
Out of the bed? can it be Agatha's?
Agatha . I come to bring thee, while yet warm and frothy,
A draught of milk. Rise now, rise just half-up,
And drink it. Hark! the birds, two at a time,
Are singing in the terebinth. Our king
Hath taken down his staff and gone afield
To see the men begin their daily work.
Homer . Go thou to thine: I will arise. How sweet
Was that goat's milk!
Agatha . We have eleven below,
All milchers. Wouldst thou now the tepid bath?
Homer . Rather when thou hast laid on the left-hand
My sandals within reach; bring colder lymph
To freshen more the frame-work of mine eyes,
For eyes there are, altho their orbs be dark.
Agatha . 'Tis here; let me apply it.
Homer . Bravely done!
Why standest thou so still and taciturn?
Agatha . The king my master hath forbidden me
Ever to ask a question: if I might,
And were not disobedience such a sin,
I would ask thee , so gentle and so wise,
Whether the story of that bad Calypso
Can be all true, for it would grieve me sorely
To think thou wouldst repeat it were it false,
And some ill-natured God (such Gods there are)
Would punish thee, already too afflicted.
Homer . My child! the Muses sang the tale I told,
And they know more about that wanton Nymph
Than they have uttered into mortal ear.
I do rejoice to find thee fond of truth.
Agatha . I was not always truthful. I have smarted
For falsehood, under Queen Penelope,
When I was little. I should hate to hear
More of that wicked creature who detain'd
Her lord from her, and tried to win his love.
I knew 'twas very wrong of me to listen.
Homer . A pardonable fault: we wish for listeners
Whether we speak or sing, the young and old
Alike are weak in this, unwise and wise,
Cheerful and sorrowful.
Agatha . O! look up yonder!
Why dost thou smile? everything makes thee smile
At silly Agatha, but why just now?
Homer . What was the sight?
Agatha . O inconsiderate
O worse than inconsiderate! cruel! cruel!
Homer . Tell me, what was it? I can see thro' speech.
Agatha . A tawny bird above; he prowls for hours,
Sailing on wilful wings that never flag
Until they drop headlong to seize the prey.
The hinds shout after him and make him soar
Eastward: our little birds are safe from kites
And idler boys.
'Tis said (can it be true?)
In other parts men catch the nightingale
To make it food.
Homer . Nay, men eat men.
Agatha . Ye Gods!
But men hurt one another, nightingales
Console the weary with unwearied song,
Until soft slumber on the couch descends.
The king my master and Penelope
Forbade the slaughter or captivity
Of the poor innocents who trusted them,
Nor robbed them even of the tiniest grain.
Homer . Generous and tender is thy master's heart,
Warm as the summer, open as the sky.
Agatha . How true! how I do love thee for these words!
Stranger, didst thou not hear him wail aloud,
Groan after groan, broken, but ill supprest,
When thou recitedst in that plaintive tone
How Anticleia met her son again
Amid the shades below?
Thou shouldst have stopt
Before that tale was told by thee; that one
At least was true, if none were true before.
In vain, O how in vain, I smote my breast
To keep more quiet what would beat within!
Never were words so sweet, so sad, as those.
I sobb'd apart, I could not check my tears:
Laertes too, tho' stronger, could not his,
They glistened in their channels and would run,
Nor could he stop them with both hands: he heard
My sobs, and call'd me little fool for them;
Then did he catch and hold me to his bosom,
And bid me never do the like again.
Homer . The rains in their due season will descend,
And so will tears; they sink into the heart
To soften, not to hurt it. The best men
Have most to weep for, whether foren lands
Receive them (or stil worse!) a home estranged.
Agatha . Listen. I hear the merry yelp of dogs,
And now the ferrel'd staff drops in the hall,
And now the master's short and hurried step
Advances: here he is: turn round, turn round.
Laertes . Hast thou slept well, Maeonides?
Homer . I slept
Three hours ere sunrise, 'tis my wont, at night
I lie awake for nearly twice as long.
Laertes . Ay; singing birds wake early, shake their plumes,
And carol ere they feed. Sound was thy sleep?
Homer . I felt again, but felt it undisturb'd,
The pelting of the little curly waves,
The slow and heavy stretch of rising billows,
And the rapidity of their descent.
I thought I heard a Triton's shell, a song
Of sylvan Nymph, and laughter from behind
Trees not too close for voices to come thro',
Or beauty, if Nymph will'd it, to be seen;
And then a graver and a grander sound
Came from the sky, and last a long applause.
Laertes . Marvellous things are dreams! methinks we live
An age in one of them, we traverse lands
A lifetime could not reach, bring from the grave
Inhabitants who never met before,
And vow we will not leave an absent friend
We long have left, and who leaves us ere morn.
Homer . Dreams are among the blessings Heaven bestows
On weary mortals; nor are they least
Altho' they disappoint us and are gone
When we awake! 'Tis pleasant to have caught
The clap of hands below us from the many,
Amid the kisses of the envious few.
There is a pride thou knowest not, Laertes,
In carrying the best strung and loudest harp.
That vibrates to deserving hearts alone.
Laertes . Apollo, who deprived thee of thy light
When youth was fresh and nature bloom'd around,
Bestowed on thee gifts never dim with age,
And rarely granted to impatient youth.
The crown thou wearest reddens not the brow
Of him who wears it worthily; but some
Are snatcht by violence, some purloin'd by fraud,
Some dripping blood, not by the Gods unseen.
To thee, O wise Maeonides, to thee
Worthless is all that glitters and attracts
The buzzing insects of a summer hour.
The Gods have given thee what themselves enjoy,
And they alone, glory through endless days.
The Lydian king Sarpedon never swayed
Such sceptre, nor did Glaucos his compeer,
Nor Priam. Priam was about my age,
He had more sorrows than I ever had;
I lost one son, some fifty Priam lost;
This is a comfort, I may rub my palms
Thinking of this, and bless the Powers above.
Homer . One wicked son brought down their vengeance on him,
And his wide realms invited numerous foes.
Laertes . Alas! alas! are there not cares enow
In ruling nearly those five thousand heads,
Men, women, children; arbitrating right
And wrong, and hearing maids and mothers wail
For flax blown off the cliff when almost bleacht,
And curlew tamed in vain and fled away,
Albeit one wing was shortened; then approach
To royal ear the whisper that the bird
Might peradventure have alighted nigh,
And hist upon the charcoal, skinn'd and split.
Bounteous as are the Gods, where is the wealth
To stop these lamentations with a gift
Adequate to such losses? words are light,
And words come opposite, with heavy groans.
Homer . The pastor of the people may keep watch,
Yet cares as wakeful creep into the fold.
Laertes . Beside these city griefs, what mortal knows
The anxieties about my scattered sheep?
Some bleeting for lost offspring, some for food,
Scanty in winter, scantier in the drought
Of Sirius; then again the shrubs in spring;
Cropt close, ere barely budded, by the goats.
Methinks these animals are over-nice
About their food, else might they pick sea-weeds,
But these foresooth they trample on, nor deign
To taste even samphire, which their betters cull.
There also are some less solicitudes
About those rocks, when plunderers from abroad
Would pilfer eggs and nestlings; my own folk
Are abstinent, without their king's decree.
Homer . To help thee in such troubles, and in worse,
Where is thy brave Telemakos?
Laertes . That youth
Is gone to rule Dulikeon, where the soil
Tho' fitter than our Ithaca for tilth,
Bears only turbulence and idleness.
He with his gentle voice and his strong arm,
Will bring into due train the restive race.
Homer . Few will contend with gentleness and youth,
Even of those who strive against the Laws,
But some subvert them who could best defend,
And in whose hands the Gods have placed the sword.
On the mainland there are, unless report
Belie them, princes who, possessing realms
Wider than sight from mountain-head can reach,
Would yet invade a neighbour's stony croft,
Pretending danger to their citadels
From fishermen ashore, and shepherd boys
Who work for daily and but scanty bread,
And wax the reeds to pipe at festivals,
Where the dogs snarl at them above the bones.
Laertes . What! would the cloth'd in purple, as are some,
Rip off the selvage from a ragged coat?
Accursed be the wretch, and whosoe'er
Upholds him, or connives at his misdeeds.
Away with thoughts that sadden even this hour.
Homer . I would indeed away with 'em, but wrath
Rings on the lyre and swells above the song.
It shall be heard by those who stand on high,
But shall not rouse the lowlier, long opprest,
Who might be madden'd at his broken sleep,
And wrenching out the timbers of his gate
Batter the prince's down.
Laertes . Ye Gods forbid!
Thou makest the skin creep upon my flesh,
Albeit the danger lies from me afar.
Now surely this is but a songman's tale,
Yet songman never here discourst like thee,
Or whispered in low voice what thou hast sung,
Striking the lyre so that the strings all trembled.
Are people anywhere grown thus unruly?
Homer . More are they who would rule than would be ruled,
Yet one must govern, else all run astray.
The strongest are the calm and equitable,
And kings at best are men, nor always that.
Laertes . I have known many who have call'd me friend,
Yet would not warn me tho' they saw ten skiffs
Grating the strand with three score thieves in each.
Curse on that chief across the narrow sea,
Who drives whole herds and flocks innumerable,
And whose huge presses groan with oil and wine
Year after year, yet fain would carry off
The crying kid, and strangle it for crying.
Alas, Maeonides, the weakest find
Strength enough to inflict deep injuries.
Much have I borne, but 'twas from those below;
Thou knowest not the gross indignities
From goat-herd and from swine-herd I endur'd
When my Odysseus had gone far away;
How they consumed my substance, how the proud
Divided my fat kine in this my house,
And wooed before mine eyes Penelope,
Reluctant and absconding til return'd
Her lawful lord, true, chaste, as she herself.
Homer . I know it, and remotest men shall know.
If we must suffer wrong, 'tis from the vile
The least intolerable.
Laertes . True, my son
Avenged me: more than one God aided him,
But one above the rest; the Deity
Of wisdom, stronger even than him of war,
Guided the wanderer back, and gave the arms
And will and prowess to subdue our foes,
And their own dogs lapt up the lustful blood
Of the proud suitors. Sweet, sweet is revenge;
Her very shadow, running on before,
Quickens our pace until we hold her fast.
Homer . Rather would I sit quiet than pursue.
Laertes . Now art thou not, from such long talk, athirst?
Split this pomegranate then, and stoop the jar.
Hold! I can stoop it: take this cup . . 'tis fill'd.
Homer . Zeus! God of hospitality! vouchsafe
To hear my prayer, as thou hast often done,
That, when thy lightnings spring athwart the sea,
And when thy thunders shake from brow to base
The Acrokerauneans, thy right hand protect
This Ithaca, this people, and this king!
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