Eastwards the summer breezes softly bore
Atreides' time-worn galleys--and the king
Leant by the bulwarks of the foremost ship
And peered into the starlit, southern night,
And lulled by lap and lave of summer seas
Thought dreamily of many things, and dreamt
Of things unutterable, beyond all seas,
And sad, and sweet, and many-toned as night,
Nor heeded how with pensive, queenly tread,
And eyes fire-flashing through surrounding haze
A woman shape sheeny and weird as night
Glided beside him, nestled close, and soon
Ruffled the stillness with her deep sad voice,
"Are we so near Mycenœ then, my king?
And seek you omens, and first sight of shore?"
Whereat, not turning, he still dreamily,
"Look you, the Argive shore is fair, most fair."
"So 'tis," she said, "Lo! I can see where now
A little way inland, from out the mists
That mark a wayward winding river's course
Rises a great white city, glistening
With marble glories, gates of brass, and crowned
With citadel set on a climbing rock
High over all the sleeping city's cares:
And fir trees with their silver frosted fronds
Hide sky and stars from palace halls from which
The tinkling of the dancing girls' glad feet
And wrack of feasting taunt the quiet night.
And you Atreides, sit in chiefest seat
Long-robed, unarmed, with armour all done off,
Your grizzled beard all perfumed, this dear head
Crowned with a chaplet--for the sacrifice!
And as you life a cup of wine to drink
A woman with Argeian Helen's look,
Rippled from wavy hair to dimpled chin
With one great wave of seeming gladsomeness,
Smiling towards you, gives a sign to one
Who stealing from behind with lifted blade
Strikes, and with one good blow gives death--and I--
Alas! I cannot see if afterwards
I may be with you in the dreary shades.
Ah! Will you leave me so, my lord, my life?"
Sobbing she threw herself about his feet,
Nor would be comforted with loving words,
Nor could the great king's kisses stay her sobs.
"Why will you go to meet such doom halfway?"
Was her ever hysteric, hapless wail.
"If fates ordain, then how avoid the dead?
But why should dreams come true?" Atreides said.
"Nay, there is not such stern necessity;
Men scorn, and so provoke the fates," she sighed.
"And what I tell you is no dream. For sure,
Full often I have told you. Do you doubt
That in my girlhood great Apollo's self,
Sun-crowned Apollo, whose are oracles
Would have my love, and I, poor silly fool!
As wishing to exalt myself for aye
Above the rest of womankind must crave
This cursëd gift of prophecy from him,
And how, when pitiful the god refused
To grant the boon, I, young, presumptuous
And ignorant, slighted and scorned his love.
My sin! my sin! for in his anger then
Rising portentous bent he over me
In Godhead all aflame. And burning lips
Touched mine and froze them, and a voice that seemed
Far off and fearful, said "Be prophetess."
And all the earth swam round, and all the air
Was full of anger, coruscating lights,
And I fell faint--and lifeless as I thought.
Thenceforth I had this gift of prophecy,
And knew what was to happen, and could see
The sorrow and the shame before they came,
The future as the past. For sure you know
How I, unhappy I! foresaw and told
The ruin imminent upon our house,
And how my kindred jeered and laughed at me,
And how the wise men all proclaimed me mad.
For never yet have men believed the thing
They wish not to believe: nor will I fear--
Full well you know! Then wherefore mock at me?
"Nay love, I mock you not," rejoined the king,
And caught her in his brawny arms and sought
With babble of his love to still her fears,
But this availing nought, "your words," he said
"I know for loving words. They move me much
Cassandra, but shall I allow men say
That I, the mightiest of all the chiefs
Who in the breadth of Argos rule brave men,
For fear of one weak woman and a boy
Dare not return into my kingdom, and--
Nay! 'tis preposterous, impossible--
Truth have you told in many prophecies:
Now I dare swear those self same prophecies
Being the echoes of a God's full voice
Carried conviction in their very tones,
But this of Clytemnestra and the boy
You speak about, sounds foreign, strange, absurd,
And finds nor home nor echo in my heart.
My wife--aha! I see it now. The jade
Is jealous. There's the secret of my doom."
Cassandra's sobs were choked. She shrank away
And cowered down; and ere the time was ripe
Or fate fulfilled, again must feel the wrench
Alone taste all that bitterness of death
The bloughty king, hoarse chuckling at his joke
So little recked of, or could understand.
With that next morning's light the land appeared
Bright with a new day's glory on the bows,
And in the afternoon the long last fleet
Rowed up the wayward winding river of
Cassandra's night-born and most doleful dream,
Rowed up with cymbal clash and shout and song,
Each man therein glad to be home again.
And man and wife and child, and all the town
Went running down to meet and welcome them;
And soon the masts were lowered, soon the keels
Touched on the shore; and such a shout went up
Into the sweltering skies as startled them,
And made wide welkin all reverberate
The name of Agamemnon.
And the king
Feeling his heart swell at the sight of home
And all his people's loyalty and love
Smiled at poor fond Cassandra's idle fears
While from his golden chariot graciously
Acknowledging the homage of the crowd.
That fond Cassandra, blinded by her tears,
Saw nothing of the scene, nor heeded it,
Helpless, and hopeless and despised--her curse
That never from the tragedy to come
Her eyes might be averted till she found
Haply some rest and peace in quiet death.
Ere that soft summer night was half-way spent
The death that she foretold had stolen on
The credulous incredulous old king
As in his own fair house he sat at feast:
And but a little while had she to wait
Before her soul was free to follow his
Into the shades that seemed so fair to her.
And Clytemnestra and her paramour
Sat till the sun surprised them, scheming out
The story of the great king's death that they
Had best present unto the populace.