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English Poetry II: From Collins to Fitzgerald.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

William Wordsworth

393. Laodamia

‘WITH sacrifice before the rising morn

Vows have I made by fruitless hope inspired;

And from the infernal Gods, ’mid shades forlorn

Of night, my slaughtered Lord have I required:

Celestial pity I again implore;—

Restore him to my sight—great Jove, restore!’

So speaking, and by fervent love endowed

With faith, the Suppliant heavenward lifts her hands

While, like the sun emerging from a cloud,

Her countenance brightens—and her eye expands;

Her bosom heaves and spreads, her stature grows;

And she expects the issue in repose.

O terror! what hath she perceived?—O joy!

What doth she look on?—whom doth she behold?

Her Hero slain upon the beach of Troy?

His vital presence? his corporeal mould?

It is—if sense deceive her not—’tis He!

And a God leads him, wingèd Mercury!

Mild Hermes spake—and touched her with his wand

That calms all fear; ‘Such grace hath crowned thy prayer,

Laodamia! that at Jove’s command

Thy Husband walks the paths of upper air:

He comes to tarry with thee three hours’ space;

Accept the gift, behold him face to face!’

Forth sprang the impassioned Queen her Lord to clasp:

Again that consummation she essayed;

But unsubstantial Form eludes her grasp

As often as that eager grasp was made.

The Phantom parts—but parts to reunite,

And re-assume his place before her sight.

‘Protesilàus, lo! thy guide is gone!

Confirm, I pray, the vision with thy voice:

This is our palace,—yonder is thy throne;

Speak, and the floor thou tread’st on will rejoice.

Not to appal me have the gods bestowed

This precious boon; and blest a sad abode.’

‘Great Jove, Laodamia! doth not leave

His gifts imperfect:—Spectre though I be,

I am not sent to scare thee or deceive;

But in reward of thy fidelity.

And something also did my worth obtain;

For fearless virtue bringeth boundless gain.

‘Thou knowest, the Delphic oracle foretold

That the first Greek who touched the Trojan strand

Should die; but me the threat could not withhold:

A generous cause a victim did demand;

And forth I leapt upon the sandy plain;

A self-devoted chief—by Hector slain.’

‘Supreme of Heroes—bravest, noblest, best!

Thy matchless courage I bewail no more,

Which then, when tens of thousands were deprest

By doubt, propelled thee to the fatal shore;

Thou found’st—and I forgive thee—here thou art—

A nobler counsellor than my poor heart.

‘But thou, though capable of sternest deed,

Wert kind as resolute, and good as brave;

And he, whose power restores thee, hath decreed

Thou should’st elude the malice of the grave:

Redundant are thy locks, thy lips as fair

As when their breath enriched Thessalian air.

‘No Spectre greets me,—no vain shadow this;

Come, blooming Hero, place thee by my side!

Give, on this well-known couch, one nuptial kiss

To me, this day, a second time thy bride!’

Jove frowned in heaven: the conscious Parcæ threw

Upon those roseate lips a Stygian hue.

‘This visage tells thee that my doom is past:

Nor should the change be mourned, even if the joys

Of sense were able to return as fast

And surely as they vanish. Earth destroys

Those raptures duly—Erebus disdains:

Calm pleasures there abide—majestic pains.

‘Be taught, O faithful Consort, to control

Rebellious passion: for the Gods approve

The depth, and not the tumult, of the soul;

A fervent, not ungovernable, love.

Thy transports moderate; and meekly mourn

When I depart, for brief is my sojourn—’

‘Ah, wherefore?—Did not Hercules by force

Wrest from the guardian Monster of the tomb

Alcestis, a reanimated corse,

Given back to dwell on earth in vernal bloom?

Medea’s spells dispersed the weight of years,

And &198;son stood a youth ’mid youthful peers.

‘The Gods to us are merciful—and they

Yet further may relent: for mightier far

Than strength of nerve and sinew, or the sway

Of magic potent over sun and star,

Is love, though oft to agony distrest,

And though his favourite seat be feeble woman’s breast.

‘But if thou goest, I follow—’ ‘Peace!’ he said—

She looked upon him and was calmed and cheered;

The ghastly colour from his lips had fled;

In his deportment, shape, and mien, appeared

Elysian beauty, melancholy grace,

Brought from a pensive though a happy place.

He spake of love, such love as Spirits feel

In worlds whose course is equable and pure;

No fears to beat away—no strife to heal—

The past unsighed for, and the future sure;

Spake of heroic arts in graver mood

Revived, with finer harmony pursued:

Of all that is most beauteous—imaged there

In happier beauty; more pellucid streams,

An ampler ether, a diviner air,

And fields invested with purpureal gleams;

Climes which the sun, who sheds the brightest day

Earth knows, is all unworthy to survey.

Yet there the Soul shall enter which hath earned

That privilege by virtue—‘Ill,’ said he,

‘The end of man’s existence I discerned,

Who from ignoble games and revelry

Could draw, when we had parted, vain delight

While tears were thy best pastime,—day and night:

‘And while my youthful peers, before my eyes,

(Each hero following his peculiar bent)

Prepared themselves for glorious enterprise

By martial sports,—or, seated in the tent,

Chieftains and kings in council were detained;

What time the fleet at Aulis lay enchained.

‘The wished-for wind was given:—I then revolved

The oracle, upon the silent sea;

And, if no worthier led the way, resolved

That, of a thousand vessels, mine should be

The foremost prow in pressing to the strand,—

Mine the first blood that tinged the Trojan sand.

‘Yet bitter, oft-times bitter, was the pang

When of thy loss I thought, belovèd Wife!

On thee too fondly did my memory hang,

And on the joys we shared in mortal life,—

The paths which we had trod—these fountains, flowers,

My new-planned cities, and unfinished towers.

‘But should suspense permit the Foe to cry,

‘Behold, they tremble!—haughty their array,

Yet of their number no one dares to die!’—

In soul I swept the indignity away:

Old frailties then recurred:—but lofty thought,

In act embodied, my deliverance wrought.

‘And Thou, though strong in love, art all too weak

In reason, in self-government too slow;

I counsel thee by fortitude to seek

Our blest reunion in the shades below.

The invisible world with thee hath sympathized:

Be thy affections raised and solemnized.

‘Learn, by a mortal yearning, to ascend

Seeking a higher object. Love was given,

Encouraged, sanctioned, chiefly for that end:

For this the passion to excess was driven—

That self might be annulled: her bondage prove

The fetters of a dream, opposed to love.’—

Aloud she shrieked! for Hermes reappears!

Round the dear Shade she would have clung—’tis vain:

The hours are past—too brief had they been years;

And him no mortal effort can detain:

Swift, toward the realms that know not earthly day,

He through the portal takes his silent way,

And on the palace floor a lifeless corse She lay.

Thus, all in vain exhorted and reproved,

She perished; and, as for a wilful crime,

By the just Gods whom no weak pity moved,

Was doomed to wear out her appointed time,

Apart from happy Ghosts—that gather flowers

Of blissful quiet ’mid unfading bowers.

Yet tears to human suffering are due;

And mortal hopes defeated and o’erthrown

Are mourned by man, and not by man alone,

As fondly he believes.—Upon the side

Of Hellespont (such faith was entertained)

A knot of spiry trees for ages grew

From out the tomb of him for whom she died;

And ever, when such stature they had gained

That Ilium’s walls were subject to their view,

The trees’ tall summits withered at the sight;

A constant interchange of growth and blight!