Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Georgian Verse
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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Georgian Verse.  1909.
 
Laodamia
By William Wordsworth (1770–1850)
 
‘WITH 1 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;—        5
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;        10
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?        15
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,        20
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:        25
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.        30
 
‘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        35
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.        40
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:        45
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,        50
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,        55
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.        60
 
‘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 2 threw        65
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        70
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;        75
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        80
Alcestis, a reanimated corse,
Given back to dwell on earth in vernal bloom?
Medea’s spells 3 dispersed the weight of years,
And Æson stood a youth ’mid youthful peers.
 
‘The Gods to us are merciful—and they        85
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.        90
 
‘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,        95
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;        100
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,        105
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,        110
‘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,        115
(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 4 lay enchained.        120
 
‘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,—        125
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,—        130
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!’—        135
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;        140
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        145
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.’—        150
 
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,        155
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,        160
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        165
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;        170
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!
 
Note 1. Laodamia, or Laodameia, was the daughter of Acastus, one of the Argonauts, and wife of Protesilaus, a Thessalian chief who sacrificed himself to the death predicted by the Delphic oracle for him who should be the first to set foot upon the Trojan shore. When Laodamia learned of his fate she implored the gods that he might be allowed to return to the upper world. The prayer was granted, but he was permitted to remain with her but three hours. When the short reunion was over she died broken-hearted. Tradition says that the nymphs planted elms around the grave of Protesilaus which grew high enough to command a view of Troy, and then withered away, and again growing and withering, a “constant interchange of growth and blight.” See the sixth Book of the Æneid. [back]
Note 2. Parcae: the Fates. [back]
Note 3. Medea’s spells: Jason’s father Æson, was restored to youth by the magic of Medea. [back]
Note 4. Aulis: a port at the mouth of the Euripus in Boeotia: the Greek fleet gathered here before sailing for Troy. [back]
 
 
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