AM I waking ? Was I sleeping ?
Dearest, are you watching yet ?
Traces on your cheeks of weeping
Glitter, ’tis in vain you fret ;
Drifting ever ! drifting onward !
In the glass the bright sand runs
Steadily and slowly downward ;
Hushed are all the Myrmidons.
Has Automedon been banish’d
From his post beside my bed ?
Where has Agamemnon vanished ?
Where is warlike Diomed ?
Where is Nestor ? where Ulysses ?
Menelaus, where is he ?
Call them not, more dear your kisses
Than their prosings are to me.
Daylight fades and night must follow,
Low, where sea and sky combine,
Droops the orb of great Apollo,
Hostile god to me and mine.
Through the tent’s wide entrance streaming,
In a flood of glory rare,
Glides the golden sunset, gleaming
On your golden, gleaming hair.
Chide him not, the leech who tarries,
Surest aid were all too late ;
Surer far the shaft of Paris,
Winged by Phoebus and by fate ;
When he crouch’d behind the gable,
Had I once his features scann’d,
Phoebus’ self had scarce been able
To have nerved his trembling hand.
Blue-eyed maiden ! dear Athena !
Goddess chaste, and wise, and brave,
From the snares of Polyxena
Thou wouldst fain thy favourite save.
Tell me, is it not far better
That it should be as it is ?
Jove’s behest we cannot fetter,
Fate’s decrees are always his.
Many seek for peace and riches,
Length of days and life of ease ;
I have sought for one thing, which is
Fairer unto me than these.
Often, too, I’ve heard the story,
In my boyhood, of the doom
Which the fates assigned me—Glory,
Coupled with an early tomb.
Swift assault and sudden sally
Underneath the Trojan wall ;
Charge, and countercharge, and rally,
War-cry loud, and trumpet call ;
Doubtful strain of desp’rate battle,
Cut and thrust and grapple fierce
Swords that ring on shields that rattle,
Blades that gash and darts that pierce ;—
I have done with these for ever ;
By the loud resounding sea,
Where the reedy jav’lins quiver,
There is now no place for me.
Day by day our ranks diminish,
We are falling day by day ;
But our sons the strife will finish,
Where man tarries man must slay.
Life, ’tis said, to all men sweet is,
Death to all must bitter be ;
Wherefore thus, oh, mother Thetis ?
None can baffle Jove’s decree ?
I am ready, I am willing,
To resign my stormy life ;
Weary of this long blood-spilling,
Sated with this ceaseless strife.
Shorter doom I’ve pictured dimly,
On a bed of crimson sand ;
Fighting hard and dying grimly,
Silent lips, and striking hand ;
But the toughest lives are brittle,
And the bravest and the best
Lightly fall—it matters little ;
Now I only long for rest.
I have seen enough of slaughter,
Seen Scamander’s torrent red,
Seen hot blood poured out like water,
Seen the champaign heaped with dead.
Men will call me unrelenting,
Pitiless, vindictive, stern ;
Few will raise a voice dissenting,
Few will better things discern.
Speak ! the fires of life are reeling,
Like the wildfires on the marsh,
Was I to a friend unfeeling ?
Was I to a mistress harsh ?
Was there naught save bloodshed throbbing
In this heart and on this brow ?
Whisper ! girl, in silence sobbing !
Dead Patroclus ! answer thou !
Dry those violet orbs that glisten,
Darling, I have had my day ;
Place your hand in mine and listen,
Ere the strong soul cleaves its way
Through the death mist hovering o’er me,
As the stout ship cleaves the wave,
To my fathers gone before me,
To the gods who love the brave !
Courage, we must part for certain ;
Shades that sink and shades that rise,
Blending in a shroud-like curtain,
Gather o’er these weary eyes.
O’er the fields we used to roam, in
Brighter days and lighter cheer,
Gathers thus the quiet gloaming—
Now, I ween, the end is near.
For the hand that clasps your fingers,
Closing in the death-grip tight,
Scarcely feels the warmth that lingers,
Scarcely heeds the pressure light ;
While the failing pulse that alters,
Changing ‘neath a death chill damp,
Flickers, flutters, flags, and falters,
Feebly, like a waning lamp.
Think’st thou, love, ’twill chafe my ghost in
Hades’ realm, where heroes shine,
Should I hear the shepherd boasting
To his Argive concubine ?
Let him boast, the girlish victor
Let him brag ; not thus, I trow,
Were the laurels torn from Hector,
Not so very long ago.
Does my voice sound thick and husky ?
Is my hand no longer warm ?
Round that neck where pearls look dusky
Let me once more wind my arm ;
Rest my head upon that shoulder,
Where it rested oft of yore ;
Warm and white, yet seeming colder
Now than e’er it seem’d before.
‘Twas the fraud of Priam’s daughter,
Not the force of Priam’s son,
Slew me—ask not why I sought her,
‘Twas my doom—her work is done !
Fairer far than she, and dearer,
By a thousand-fold thou art ;
Come, my own one, nestle nearer,
Cheating death of half his smart.
Slowly, while your amber tresses
Shower down their golden rain,
Let me drink those last caresses,
Never to be felt again ;
Yet th’ Elysian halls are spacious,
Somewhere near me I may keep
Room—who knows ?—The gods are gracious ;
Lay me lower—let me sleep !
Lower yet, my senses wander,
And my spirit seems to roll
With the tide of swift Scamander
Rushing to a viewless goal.
In my ears, like distant washing
Of the surf upon the shore,
Drones a murmur, faintly splashing,
‘Tis the splash of Charon’s oar.
Lower yet, my own Briseis,
Denser shadows veil the light ;
Hush, what is to be, to be is,
Close my eyes, and say good-night.
Lightly lay your red lips, kissing,
On this cold mouth, while your thumbs
Lie on these cold eyelids pressing—
Pallas ! thus thy soldier comes.
Published in ‘Sea Spray and Smoke Drift’ (1867).