I crossed sand-hills

1

I crossed sand-hills
I stand among the sea-drift before Aulis
I crossed Euripos' strait—
Foam hissed after my boat

I left Chalkis,
My city and the rock-ledges.
Arethusa twists among the boulders,
Increases—cuts into the surf.

I come to see the battle-line
And the ships rowed here
By these spirits—
The Greeks are but half-man.

Golden Menelaus
And Agamemnon of proud birth
Direct the thousand ships
They have cut pine-trees
For their oars
They have gathered the ships for one purpose:
Helen shall return

There are clumps of marsh-reed
And spear-grass about the strait.
Paris the herdsman passed through them
When he took Helen—Aphrodite's girt

For he had judged the goddess
More beautiful than Hera.
Pallas was no longer radiant
As the three stood
Among the fresh-shallows of the strait

2

I crept through the woods
Between the altars:
Artemis haunts the place
Shame, scarlet, fresh-opened—a flower;
Strikes across my face
And sudden—light upon shields,
Low huts—the armed Greeks,
Circles of horses

I have longed for this.
I have seen Ajax
I have known Protesilaos
And that other Ajax—Salamis' light
They counted ivory-discs
They moved them—they laughed
They were seated together
On the sand-ridges.

I have seen Palamed,
Child of Poseidon's child:
Diomed, radiant discobolus:
Divine Merion, a war-god,
Startling to men:
Island Odysseus from the sea-rocks:

And Nircos, most beautiful
Of beautiful Greeks.
A flash—
Achilles passed across the beach.
(He is the sea-woman's child
Chiron instructed)

Achilles had strapped the wind
About his ankles,
He brushed rocks
The waves had flung.
He ran in armour
He led the four-yoked chariot
He had challenged to the foot-race.
Emelos steered
And touched each horse with pointed goad

I saw the horses:
Each beautiful head was clamped with gold

Silver streaked the centre horses.
They were fastened to the pole
The outriders swayed to the road-stead
Colour spread up from ankle and steel-hoof
Bronze flashed.

And Achilles, set with brass,
Bent forward,
Level with the chariot-rail

4

If a god should stand here
He could not speak
At the sight of ships
Circled with ships.

This beauty is too much
For any woman.
It is burnt across my eyes.
The line is an ivory-horn.
The Myrmidons in fifty quivering ships
Are stationed on the right.

These are Achilles' ships.
On the prow of each
A goddess sheds gold:
Sea-spirits are cut in tiers of gold.

5

Next, equal-oared ships
Were steered from the port of Argos
By one of the Mekistians.
Sthenelos was with him.

Then the son of Theseus
Led out sixty ships,
Prow to prow from Attica.
A great spirit keeps them—
Pallas, graved above each ship.

6

Wings bear her
And horses, iron of hoof:
The phantom and chariot
Appear to men slashed with waves.

Fifty Bœotian ships,
Heavy with bright arms,
Floated next:
The earth-god stood at the prow
With golden-headed serpent.

Leitos, born of earth,
Guided this group of ships.
Ships had gathered
From ports of Phokis:
The Lokrians sent as many.
Ajax left beautiful Thronion
To lead both fleets.

7

From Mykenae's unhewn rock,
Men, led out by Agamemnon,
Served beyond the breakwater
In one hundred ships.
His brother went with him—
Lover to lover.

Insult was thrown upon both.
Helen, possessed,
Followed a stranger
From the Greek courtyard.
They would avenge this.

Nestor brought ships from Pylos.
They are stamped
With Alpheus' bull-hoof.

8

There were twelve Æman sails:
Gouneos led the twelve ships.
He is the tribe-king.
Near him were Elis petty-chiefs—
The common people call Epians—
And Eurytos, their great chief.

Meges brought white-wood oars
From island Taphos.
He left Echinades—
Sailors find no entrance
Across the narrow rocks.
Ajax of Salamis
Finished the great arc;
He joined both branches
To the far border
With twelve ships,
Strung of flexible planks.

9

I have heard all this
I have looked too
Upon this people of ships
You could never count the Greek sails
Nor the flat keels of the foreign boats.

I have heard—
I myself have seen the floating ships
And nothing will ever be the same—
The shouts,
The harrowing voices within the house
I stand apart with an army
My mind is graven with ships.
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