Laertes, Homer, Agatha. Third Day


Laertes . And now, Maeonides, the sun hath risen
These many spans above the awaken'd earth,
Sing me that hymn, which thou hast call'd thy best,
In glory to the God who gives it light.
First I will call the child to hear thee sing,
For girls remember well and soon repeat
What they have heard of sacred more or less.
I must forbear to join in it, although
That blessed God hath helpt to rear my grain
High as my knee, and made it green and strong.
Alas! I cackle when I aim to sing,
Which I have sometimes done at festivals,
But, ere a word were out, methought I felt
A beard of barley sticking in my throat.
( Agatha enters .)
Now, with a trail of honey down the cup
(Agatha, drop it in), commence thy chaunt.
(About the 500th verse Laertes falls asleep: awakening he finds Agatha in the same state, and chides her.)
Hast thou no reverence for a song inspired?
Agatha (in a whisper) . Hush! O my king and lord, or he may hear.
You were asleep the first: I kept my eyes
Wide open, opener than they ever were,
While I do think I could have counted more
Than half a thousand of those words divine,
Had both my hands not dropt upon my lap.
Laertes . Another time beware of drowsiness
When reverend men discourse about the Gods.
Now lead him forth into the cooler porch,
Entreating him that he will soon renew
His praises of Apollo.
Agatha . I will bear
Your words to him; he might care less for mine,
And, sooth to say, I would much rather hear
Some other story, where more men than Gods
Shine on the field.
Laertes . Of men thou know'st enough.
Agatha . Too much: then why show Gods almost as bad?
They can not be . . least of all Artemis;
'Twas she directed and preserved Odysseus.
Laertes . Blessings upon thee! While thou wast a babe
He fondled thee, nor saw when thou couldst walk.
Few love so early or so long: We say
We love the Gods: we lie; the seen alone
We love, to those unseen we may be grateful.
Agatha . But when they are no more before our eyes . . .
Laertes . That never is, altho' earth come between.
Perplex not thou thy simple little head
With what the wise were wiser to let be.
Agatha . I go, and will not be again perplext.
( Aside .)
He has been dozing while we have converst.
Maeonides! rise and take this arm
To lead thee where is freshness in the porch.
My master tells me thou another time
Wilt finish that grand hymn about Apollo.
Hast thou no shorter one for Artemis?
Homer . Such thou shalt have for her, but not to-day.
Agatha . O, I can wait, so (I am sure) can she.
Homer . Faint are the breezes here, less faint above;
Gladly then would I mount that central peak
Which overlooks the whole of Ithaca,
That peak I well remember I once clomb
(What few could do) without the help of beast.
Agatha . Here are sure-footed ones, who weed our thistles,
And give us milk, grey dappled as the dawn:
Their large and placid eyes well know that path,
And they will safely bring us to the top
And back again, treading more warily
Than up the ascent.
I will call forth two boys
To lead them, without switches in the fist.
These two can lift thee up; I at thy side
Require no help, and can whisk off the flies.
Homer . I know not what impels me to retrace
Scenes I can see no more: but so it is
Thro' life.
If thou art able, lead me forth,
And let none follow; we are best alone.
Agatha . Come forward ye.
Now lift up carefully
The noblest guest that ever king received
And the Gods favor most.
Well done! now rest,
Nor sing nor whistle til we all return,
And reach the chestnut and enjoy the shade.
Homer (at the summit) . I think we must be near the highest point,
For now the creatures stop, who struggled hard,
And the boys neither cheer 'em, nor upbraid.
'Tis somewhat to have mounted up so high,
Profitless as it is, nor without toil.
Agatha . Dost thou feel weary?
Homer . Short as was the way
It shook my aged bones at every step;
My shoulders ache, my head whirls round and round.
Agatha . Lean on my shoulder, place thy head on mine,
'Tis low enough.
What were those words? . . I heard
Imperfectly . . . shame on me! Dost thou smile?
Homer . Child! hast thou ever seen an old man die?
Agatha . The Gods defend me from so sad a sight!
Homer . Sad if he die in agony, but blest
If friend be nigh him, only one true friend.
Agatha . Tho' most of thine be absent, one remains;
Is not Laertes worthy of the name?
Homer . And Agatha, who tends me to the last.
Agatha . I will, I will indeed, when comes that hour.
Homer . That hour is come.
Let me lay down my head
On the cool turf; there I am sure to rest.
Agatha (after a pause) . How softly old men sigh! Sleep, gentle soul!
He turns his face to me. Ah how composed!
Surely he sleeps already . . . hand and cheek
Are colder than such feeble breeze could make 'em.
Maeonides! hearest thou Agatha?
He hears me not . . . Can it . . . can it be . . . death?
Impossible . . . 'tis death . . . 'tis death indeed . . .
Then, O ye Gods of heaven! who would not die,
If thus to rest eternal, he descend?
O, my dear lord! how shall I comfort thee?
How look unto thy face and tell my tale,
And kneeling clasp thy knee? to be repulst
Were hard, but harder to behold thy grief.
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