John Denham Poems >>
The Destruction Of Troy
AN ESSAY ON THE SECOND BOOK OF VIRGIL'S AENEIS,
The first book speaks of Aeneas's voyage by sea, and how, being cast by
tempest upon the coast of Carthage, he was received by Queen Dido, who,
after the feast, desires him to make the relation of the destruction of
Troy; which is the argument of this book.
While all with silence and attention wait,
Thus speaks Aeneas from the bed of state:--
Madam, when you command us to review
Our fate, you make our old wounds bleed anew,
And all those sorrows to my sense restore,
Whereof none saw so much, none suffer'd more.
Not the most cruel of our conqu'ring foes
So unconcern'dly can relate our woes,
As not to lend a tear; then how can I
Repress the horror of my thoughts, which fly
The sad remembrance? Now th'expiring night
And the declining stars to rest invite;
Yet since 'tis your command, what you so well
Are pleased to hear, I cannot grieve to tell.
By fate repell'd and with repulses tired,
The Greeks, so many lives and years expired,
A fabric like a moving mountain frame,
Pretending vows for their return; this Fame
Divulges; then within the beast's vast womb
The choice and flower of all their troops entomb;
In view the isle of Tenedos, once high,
In fame and wealth, while Troy remain'd, doth lie;
(Now but an unsecure and open bay)
Thither by stealth the Greeks their fleet convey.
We gave them gone, and to Mycenae sail'd,
And Troy reviv'd, her mourning face unveil'd;
All through th'unguarded gates with joy resort
To see the slighted camp, the vacant port;
Here lay Ulysses, there Achilles; here
The battles join'd; the Grecian fleet rode there;
But the vast pile th'amazed vulgar views,
Till they their reason in their wonder lose.
And first Thymoetes moves (urged by the power
Of fate, or fraud) to place it in the tower;
But Capys and the graver sort thought fit
The Greeks' suspected present to commit
To seas or flames, at least to search and bore
The sides, and what that space contains, t'explore.
Th' uncertain multitude with both engaged,
Divided stands, till from the tower, enraged
Laocoon ran, whom all the crowd attends,
Crying, 'What desp'rate frenzy's this, O friends!
To think them gone? Judge rather their retreat
But a design; their gifts but a deceit;
For our destruction 'twas contrived no doubt,
Or from within by fraud, or from without
By force. Yet know ye not Ulysses' shifts?
Their swords less danger carry than their gifts.'
(This said) against the horse's side his spear
He throws, which trembles with enclosed fear,
Whilst from the hollows of his womb proceed
Groans, not his own; and had not Fate decreed
Our ruin, we had fill'd with Grecian blood
The place; then Troy and Priam's throne had stood.
Meanwhile a fetter'd pris'ner to the king
With joyful shouts the Dardan shepherds bring,
Who to betray us did himself betray,
At once the taker, and at once the prey;
Firmly prepared, of one event secured,
Or of his death or his design assured.
The Trojan youth about the captive flock,
To wonder, or to pity, or to mock.
Now hear the Grecian fraud, and from this one
Conjecture all the rest.
Disarm'd, disorder'd, casting round his eyes
On all the troops that guarded him, he cries,
'What land, what sea, for me what fate attends?
Caught by my foes, condemned by my friends,
Incensed Troy a wretched captive seeks
To sacrifice; a fugitive the Greeks.'--
To pity this complaint our former rage
Converts; we now inquire his parentage;
What of their counsels or affairs he knew
Then fearless he replies, 'Great king! to you
All truth I shall relate: nor first can I
Myself to be of Grecian birth deny;
And though my outward state misfortune hath
Depress'd thus low, it cannot reach my faith.
You may by chance have heard the famous name
Of Palamede, who from old Belus came,
Whom, but for voting peace, the Greeks pursue,
Accus'd unjustly, then unjustly slew,
Yet mourn'd his death. My father was his friend,
And me to his commands did recommend,
While laws and councils did his throne support;
I but a youth, yet some esteem and port
We then did bear, till by Ulysses' craft
(Things known I speak) he was of life bereft:
Since, in dark sorrow I my days did spend,
Till now, disdaining his unworthy end,
I could not silence my complaints, but vow'd
Revenge, if ever fate or chance allow'd
My wish'd return to Greece; from hence his hate,
From thence my crimes, and all my ills bear date:
Old guilt fresh malice gives; the people's ears
He fills with rumours, and their hearts with fears,
And then the prophet to his party drew.
But why do I those thankless truths pursue,
Or why defer your rage? on me, for all
The Greeks, let your revenging fury fall.
Ulysses this, th'Atridae this desire
At any rate.'--We straight are set on fire
(Unpractised in such myst'ries) to inquire
The manner and the cause: which thus he told,
With gestures humble, as his tale was bold.
'Oft have the Greeks (the siege detesting) tired
With tedious war, a stolen retreat desired,
And would to Heaven they'd gone! but still dismay'd
By seas or skies, unwillingly they stay'd.
Chiefly when this stupendous pile was raised,
Strange noises filled the air; we, all amazed,
Despatch Eurypylus t'inquire our fates,
Who thus the sentence of the gods relates:
"A virgin's slaughter did the storm appease,
When first t'wards Troy the Grecians took the seas;
Their safe retreat another Grecian's blood
Must purchase." All at this confounded stood;
Each thinks himself the man, the fear on all
Of what the mischief but on one can fall.
Then Calchas (by Ulysses first inspired)
Was urged to name whom th'angry god required;
Yet was I warn'd (for many were as well
Inspired as he) and did my fate foretell.
Ten days the prophet in suspense remain'd,
Would no man's fate pronounce; at last constrain'd
By Ithacus, he solemnly design'd
Me for the sacrifice; the people join'd
In glad consent, and all their common fear
Determine in my fate. The day drew near,
The sacred rites prepared, my temples crown'd
With holy wreaths; then I confess I found
The means to my escape; my bonds I brake,
Fled from my guards, and in a muddy lake
Amongst the sedges all the night lay hid,
Till they their sails had hoist (if so they did).
And now, alas! no hope remains for me
My home, my father, and my sons to see,
Whom they, enraged, will kill for my offence,
And punish, for my guilt, their innocence.
Those gods who know the truths I now relate,
That faith which yet remains inviolate
By mortal men, by these I beg; redress
My causeless wrongs, and pity such distress.'--
And now true pity in exchange he finds
For his false tears, his tongue his hands unbinds.
Then spake the king, 'Be ours, whoe'er thou art;
Forget the Greeks. But first the truth impart,
Why did they raise, or to what use intend
This pile? to a warlike or religious end?'
Skilful in fraud (his native art) his hands
T'ward heaven he raised, deliver'd now from bands.
'Ye pure ethereal flames! ye powers adored
By mortal men! ye altars, and the sword
I 'scaped! ye sacred fillets that involved
My destined head! grant I may stand absolved
From all their laws and rights, renounce all name
Of faith or love, their secret thoughts proclaim;
Only, O Troy! preserve thy faith to me,
If what I shall relate preserveth thee.
From Pallas' favour all our hopes, and all
Counsels and actions took original,
Till Diomed (for such attempts made fit
By dire conjunction with Ulysses' wit)
Assails the sacred tower, the guards they slay,
Defile with bloody hands, and thence convey
The fatal image; straight with our success
Our hopes fell back, whilst prodigies express
Her just disdain, her flaming eyes did throw
Flashes of lightning, from each part did flow
A briny sweat; thrice brandishing her spear,
Her statue from the ground itself did rear;
Then, that we should our sacrilege restore,
And re-convey their gods from Argos' shore,
Calchas persuades, till then we urge in vain
The fate of Troy. To measure back the main
They all consent, but to return again,
When reinforced with aids of gods and men.
Thus Calchas; then instead of that, this pile
To Pallas was design'd; to reconcile
Th' offended power, and expiate our guilt;
To this vast height and monstrous stature built,
Lest through your gates received, it might renew
Your vows to her, and her defence to you.
But if this sacred gift you disesteem,
Then cruel plagues (which Heaven divert on them!)
Shall fall on Priam's state: but if the horse
Your walls ascend, assisted by your force,
A league 'gainst Greece all Asia shall contract;
Our sons then suff'ring what their sires would act.'
Thus by his fraud and our own faith o'ercome,
A feigned tear destroys us, against whom
Tydides nor Achilles could prevail,
Nor ten years' conflict, nor a thousand sail.
This seconded by a most sad portent,
Which credit to the first imposture lent;
Laocoon, Neptune's priest, upon the day
Devoted to that god, a bull did slay;
When two prodigious serpents were descried,
Whose circling strokes the sea's smooth face divide;
Above the deep they raise their scaly crests,
And stem the flood with their erected breasts,
Their winding tails advance and steer their course,
And 'gainst the shore the breaking billows force.
Now landing, from their brandish'd tongues there came
A dreadful hiss, and from their eyes a flame.
Amazed we fly, directly in a line
Laocoon they pursue, and first entwine
(Each preying upon one) his tender sons;
Then him, who armed to their rescue runs,
They seized, and with entangling folds embraced,
His neck twice compassing, and twice his waist:
Their pois'nous knots he strives to break and tear,
While slime and blood his sacred wreaths besmear;
Then loudly roars, as when th'enraged bull
From th'altar flies, and from his wounded skull
Shakes the huge axe; the conqu'ring serpents fly
To cruel Pallas' altar, and there lie
Under her feet, within her shield's extent.
We, in our fears, conclude this fate was sent
Justly on him, who struck the sacred oak
With his accursed lance. Then to invoke
The goddess, and let in the fatal horse,
We all consent.
A spacious breach we make, and Troy's proud wall
Built by the gods, by our own hands doth fall;
Thus, all their help to their own ruin give,
Some draw with cords, and some the monster drive
With rolls and levers: thus our works it climbs
Big with our fate; the youth with songs and rhymes,
Some dance, some hale the rope; at last let down
It enters with a thund'ring noise the town.
Oh Troy! the seat of gods, in war renown'd!
Three times it struck; as oft the clashing sound
Of arms was heard; yet blinded by the power
Of Fate, we place it in the sacred tower.
Cassandra then foretells th'event, but she
Finds no belief (such was the gods' decree).
The altars with fresh flowers we crown, and waste
In feasts that day, which was (alas!) our last.
Now by the revolution of the skies
Night's sable shadows from the ocean rise,
Which heaven and earth, and the Greek frauds involved,
The city in secure repose dissolved,
When from the admiral's high poop appears
A light, by which the Argive squadron steers
Their silent course to Ilium's well-known shore,
When Sinon (saved by the gods' partial power)
Opens the horse, and through the unlock'd doors
To the free air the armed freight restores:
Ulysses, Stheneleus, Tisander slide
Down by a rope, Machaon was their guide;
Atrides, Pyrrhus, Thoas, Athamas,
And Epeus who the fraud's contriver was.
The gates they seize; the guards, with sleep and wine
Oppress'd, surprise, and then their forces join.
'Twas then, when the first sweets of sleep repair
Our bodies spent with toil, our minds with care,
(The gods' best gift), when, bathed in tears and blood,
Before my face lamenting Hector stood,
His aspect such when, soil'd with bloody dust,
Dragg'd by the cords which through his feet were thrust
By his insulting foe; oh, how transform'd,
How much unlike that Hector, who return'd
Clad in Achilles' spoils! when he, among
A thousand ships (like Jove) his lightning flung!
His horrid beard and knotted tresses stood
Stiff with his gore, and all his wounds ran blood:
Entranced I lay, then (weeping) said, 'The joy,
The hope and stay of thy declining Troy!
What region held thee? whence, so much desired,
Art thou restored to us, consumed and tired
With toils and deaths? But what sad cause confounds
Thy once fair looks, or why appear those wounds?'
Regardless of my words, he no reply
Returns, but with a dreadful groan doth cry,
'Fly from the flame, O goddess-born! our walls
The Greeks possess, and Troy confounded falls
From all her glories; if it might have stood
By any power, by this right hand it should.
What man could do, by me for Troy was done.
Take here her relics and her gods, to run
With them thy fate, with them new walls expect,
Which, toss'd on seas, thou shalt at last erect;'--
Then brings old Vesta from her sacred choir,
Her holy wreaths, and her eternal fire.
Meanwhile the walls with doubtful cries resound
From far (for shady coverts did surround
My father's house); approaching still more near,
The clash of arms, and voice of men we hear:
Roused from my bed, I speedily ascend
The houses' tops, and listening there attend.
As flames roll'd by the winds' conspiring force,
O'er full-ear'd corn, or torrent's raging course
Bears down th'opposing oaks, the fields destroys,
And mocks the ploughman's toil, th'unlook'd for noise
From neighb'ring hills th'amazed shepherd hears;
Such my surprise, and such their rage appears.
First fell thy house, Ucalegon! then thine
Deiphobus! Sigaean seas did shine
Bright with Troy's flames; the trumpets' dreadful sound
The louder groans of dying men confound.
Give me my arms, I cried, resolved to throw
Myself 'mong any that opposed the foe:
Rage, anger, and despair at once suggest,
That of all deaths, to die in arms was best.
The first I met was Pantheus, Phoebus' priest,
Who, 'scaping with his gods and relics, fled,
And t'wards the shore his little grandchild led;
'Pantheus, what hope remains? what force, what place
Made good? But, sighing, he replies, 'Alas!
Trojans we were, and mighty Ilium was;
But the last period and the fatal hour
Of Troy is come: our glory and our power
Incensed Jove transfers to Grecian hands;
The foe within the burning town commands;
And (like a smother'd fire) an unseen force
Breaks from the bowels of the fatal horse:
Insulting Sinon flings about the flame,
And thousands more than e'er from Argos came
Possess the gates, the passes, and the streets,
And these the sword o'ertakes, and those it meets.
The guard nor fights nor flies; their fate so near
At once suspends their courage and their fear.'--
Thus by the gods, and by Atrides' words
Inspir'd, I make my way through fire, through swords,
Where noises, tumults, outcries, and alarms
I heard; first Iphitus, renown'd for arms,
We meet, who knew us (for the moon did shine)
Then Ripheus, Hypanis, and Dymas join
Their force, and young Choroebus, Mygdon's son,
Who, by the love of fair Cassandra won,
Arrived but lately in her father's aid;
Unhappy, whom the threats could not dissuade
Of his prophetic spouse;
Whom when I saw, yet daring to maintain
The fight, I said, 'Brave spirits! (but in vain)
Are you resolv'd to follow one who dares
Tempt all extremes? The state of our affairs
You see: the gods have left us, by whose aid
Our empire stood; nor can the flame be stay'd:
Then let us fall amidst our foes; this one
Relief the vanquish'd have, to hope for none.'
Then reinforced, as in a stormy night
Wolves urged by their raging appetite
Forage for prey, which their neglected young
With greedy jaws expect, even so among
Foes, fire, and swords, t'assured death we pass;
Darkness our guide, Despair our leader was.
Who can relate that evening's woes and spoils,
Or can his tears proportion to our toils?
The city, which so long had flourish'd, falls;
Death triumphs o'er the houses, temples, walls.
Nor only on the Trojans fell this doom,
Their hearts at last the vanquish'd reassume;
And now the victors fall: on all sides fears,
Groans, and pale Death in all her shapes appears!
Androgeus first with his whole troop was cast
Upon us, with civility misplaced
Thus greeting us, 'You lose, by your delay,
Your share, both of the honour and the prey;
Others the spoils of burning Troy convey
Back to those ships which you but now forsake.'
We making no return, his sad mistake
Too late he finds; as when an unseen snake
A traveller's unwary foot hath press'd,
Who trembling starts, when the snake's azure crest,
Swoll'n with his rising anger, he espies,
So from our view surprised Androgeus flies.
But here an easy victory we meet:
Fear binds their hands and ignorance their feet.
Whilst fortune our first enterprise did aid,
Encouraged with success, Choroebus said,
'O friends! we now by better fates are led,
And the fair path they lead us, let us tread.
First change your arms, and their distinctions bear;
The same, in foes, deceit and virtue are.'
Then of his arms Androgeus he divests,
His sword, his shield he takes, and plumed crests;
Then Ripheus, Dymas, and the rest, all glad
Of the occasion, in fresh spoils are clad.
Thus mix'd with Greeks, as if their fortune still
Follow'd their swords, we fight, pursue, and kill.
Some re-ascend the horse, and he whose sides
Let forth the valiant, now the coward hides.
Some to their safer guard, their ships, retire;
But vain's that hope 'gainst which the gods conspire;
Behold the royal virgin, the divine
Cassandra, from Minerva's fatal shrine
Dragg'd by the hair, casting t'wards heaven, in vain,
Her eyes; for cords her tender hands did strain;
Choroebus at the spectacle enraged,
Flies in amidst the foes: we thus engaged,
To second him, among the thickest ran;
Here first our ruin from our friends began,
Who from the temple's battlements a shower
Of darts and arrows on our heads did pour:
They us for Greeks, and now the Greeks (who knew
Cassandra's rescue) us for Trojans slew.
Then from all parts Ulysses, Ajax then,
And then th'Atridae rally all their men;
As winds, that meet from sev'ral coasts, contest,
Their prisons being broke, the south and west,
And Eurus on his winged coursers borne,
Triumphing in their speed, the woods are torn,
And chasing Nereus with his trident throws
The billows from their bottom; then all those
Who in the dark our fury did escape,
Returning, know our borrow'd arms and shape,
And diff'ring dialect: then their numbers swell
And grow upon us; first Choroebus fell
Before Minerva's altar, next did bleed
Just Ripheus, whom no Trojan did exceed
In virtue, yet the gods his fate decreed.
Then Hypanis and Dymas, wounded by
Their friends; nor thee, Pantheus! thy piety,
Nor consecrated mitre, from the same
Ill fate could save. My country's fun'ral flame
And Troy's cold ashes I attest, and call
To witness for myself, that in their fall
No foes, no death, nor danger I declin'd,
Did, and deserv'd no less, my fate to find.
Now Iphitus with me, and Pelias
Slowly retire; the one retarded was
By feeble age, the other by a wound;
To court the cry directs us, where we found
Th' assault so hot, as if 'twere only there,
And all the rest secure from foes or fear:
The Greeks the gates approach'd, their targets cast
Over their heads; some scaling ladders placed
Against the walls, the rest the steps ascend,
And with their shields on their left arms defend
Arrows and darts, and with their right hold fast
The battlement; on them the Trojans cast
Stones, rafters, pillars, beams; such arms as these,
Now hopeless, for their last defence they seize.
The gilded roofs, the marks of ancient state,
They tumble down; and now against the gate
Of th'inner court their growing force they bring;
Now was our last effort to save the king,
Relieve the fainting, and succeed the dead.
A private gallery 'twixt th'apartments led,
Not to the foe yet known, or not observed,
(The way for Hector's hapless wife reserved,
When to the aged king her little son
She would present); through this we pass, and run
Up to the highest battlement, from whence
The Trojans threw their darts without offence,
A tower so high, it seem'd to reach the sky,
Stood on the roof, from whence we could descry,
All Ilium--both the camps, the Grecian fleet;
This, where the beams upon the columns meet,
We loosen, which like thunder from the cloud
Breaks on their heads, as sudden and as loud.
But others still succeed: meantime, nor stones
Nor any kind of weapons cease.
Before the gate in gilded armour shone
Young Pyrrhus, like a snake, his skin new grown,
Who, fed on pois'nous herbs, all winter lay
Under the ground, and now reviews the day,
Fresh in his new apparel, proud and young,
Rolls up his back, and brandishes his tongue,
And lifts his scaly breast against the sun;
With him his father's squire, Automedon,
And Peripas who drove his winged steeds,
Enter the court; whom all the youth succeeds
Of Scyros' isle, who naming firebrands flung
Up to the roof; Pyrrhus himself among
The foremost with an axe an entrance hews
Through beams of solid oak, then freely views
The chambers, galleries, and rooms of state,
Where Priam and the ancient monarchs sate.
At the first gate an armed guard appears;
But th'inner court with horror, noise and tears,
Confus'dly fill'd, the women's shrieks and cries
The arched vaults re-echo to the skies;
Sad matrons wand'ring through the spacious rooms
Embrace and kiss the posts; then Pyrrhus comes;
Full of his father, neither men nor walls
His force sustain; the torn portcullis falls;
Then from the hinge their strokes the gates divorce,
And where the way they cannot find, they force.
Not with such rage a swelling torrent flows
Above his banks, th'opposing dams o'erthrows,
Depopulates the fields, the cattle, sheep,
Shepherds and folds, the foaming surges sweep.
And now between two sad extremes I stood,
Here Pyrrhus and th'Atridae drunk with blood,
There th'hapless queen amongst an hundred dames,
And Priam quenching from his wounds those flames
Which his own hands had on the altar laid;
Then they the secret cabinets invade,
Where stood the fifty nuptial beds, the hopes
Of that great race; the golden posts, whose tops
Old hostile spoils adorn'd, demolished lay,
Or to the foe, or to the fire a prey.
Now Priam's fate perhaps you may inquire:
Seeing his empire lost, his Troy on fire,
And his own palace by the Greeks possess'd,
Arms long disused his trembling limbs invest;
Thus on his foes he throws himself alone,
Not for their fate, but to provoke his own:
There stood an altar open to the view
Of heaven, near which an aged laurel grew,
Whose shady arms the household gods embraced,
Before whose feet the queen herself had cast
With all her daughters, and the Trojan wives,
As doves whom an approaching tempest drives
And frights into one flock; but having spied
Old Priam clad in youthful arms, she cried,
'Alas! my wretched husband! what pretence
To bear those arms? and in them what defence?
Such aid such times require not, when again
If Hector were alive, he lived in vain;
Or here we shall a sanctuary find,
Or as in life, we shall in death be join'd.'
Then, weeping, with kind force held and embraced,
And on the secret seat the king she placed.
Meanwhile Polites, one of Priam's sons,
Flying the rage of bloody Pyrrhus, runs
Through foes and swords, and ranges all the court
And empty galleries, amazed and hurt;
Pyrrhus pursues him, now o'ertakes, now kills,
And his last blood in Priam's presence spills.
The king (though him so many deaths enclose)
Nor fear, nor grief, but indignation shows;
'The gods requite thee (if within the care
Of those above th'affairs of mortals are),
Whose fury on the son but lost had been,
Had not his parents' eyes his murder seen:
Not that Achilles (whom thou feign'st to be
Thy father) so inhuman was to me;
He blush'd, when I the rights of arms implored;
To me my Hector, me to Troy, restored.'
This said, his feeble arm a jav'lin flung,
Which on the sounding shield, scarce ent'ring, rung.
Then Pyrrhus; 'Go a messenger to hell
Of my black deeds, and to my father tell
The acts of his degen'rate race.' So through
His son's warm blood the trembling king he drew
To th'altar; in his hair one hand he wreathes;
His sword the other in his bosom sheaths.
Thus fell the king, who yet surviv'd the state,
With such a signal and peculiar fate,
Under so vast a ruin, not a grave,
Nor in such flames a fun'ral fire to have:
He whom such titles swell'd, such power made proud,
To whom the sceptres of all Asia bow'd,
On the cold earth lies th'unregarded king,
A headless carcase, and a nameless thing.
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