Perseus descends on winged sandals from the clouds.
Rocks on the outland jagged with the sea,
You slumbering promontories whose huge backs
Jut into azure, and thou, O many-thundered
Enormous Ocean, hail! Whatever lands
Are ramparted with these forbidding shores,
Yet if you hold felicitous roofs of men,
Homes of delightful laughter, if you have streams
Where chattering girls dip in their pitchers cool
And dabble their white feet in the chill lapse
Of waters, trees and a green-mantled earth,
Cicalas noisy in a million boughs
Or happy cheep of common birds, I greet you,
Syria or Egypt or Ionian shores,
Perseus the son of Danaë, who long
Have sojourned only with hail-thrashed isles
Wet with cold mists and by the boreal winds
Snow-swathed. The angry voices of the surf
Are welcome to me whose ears have long been sealed
By rigorous silence in the snows. O even
The wail of mortal misery I choose
Rather than that intolerable hush;
For this at least is human. Thee I praise,
O mother Earth and thy guardian Sea, O Sun
Of the warm south nursing fair life of men.
I will go down into bee-murmuring fields
And mix with men and women in the corn
And eat again accustomed food. But first
This galley shattered on the sharp-toothed rocks
I fly to succour. You are grown dear to me,
You smiling weeping human faces, brightly
Who move, who live, not like those stony masks
And Gorgon visions of that monstrous world
Beyond the snows. I would not lose you now
In the dead surges of the inhuman flood.
He descends out of sight.
Iolaus enters with Cireas, Derecetes and soldiers.
Prepare your ambush, men, amid these boulders,
But at the signal, leave your rocky lairs
With level bristling points and gyre them in.
O Poseidon Ennosigaios, man-swallower, earth-shaker, I have swabbed thee for eighteen years. I pray thee tot up the price of those swabbings and be not dishonest with me not miserly. Eighteen by three hundred and sixty-five by two, that is the sum of them: and forget not the leap years either, O great Poseidon.
Into our ambush, for I hear them come,
They conceal themselves.
Perseus returns with Tyrnaus and Smerdas.
Chaldean merchants, would my speed to save
Had matched the hawk’s when he swoops down for slaughter.
So many beautiful bodies of strong men
Lost in the surge, so many eager hopes
Of happiness now quenched would still have gladdened
The sunlight. Yet for two delightful lives
Saved to the stir and motion of the world
I praise the Gods that help us.
Thou radiant youth
Whose face is like a joyous god’s for beauty,
Whatever worth the body’s life may have,
I thank thee that ’tis saved. Smerdas, discharge
That hapless humour from thy lids! If riches
Are lost, the body, thy strong instrument
To gather riches, is not lost, nor mind,
The provident director of its labours.
Three thousand piece of that wealthy stuff,
Full forty chests all crammed with noble gems,
All lost, all in a moment lost! We are beggars.
Smerdas, not beggared yet of arm of brain.
The toil-marred peasant has as much.
I sorrow for thy loss: all beautiful things
Were meant to shine in the bright day, and grievous
It is to know the senseless billows play with them.
Yet life, most beautiful of all, is left thee.
Is not mere sunlight something, and to breathe
A joy? Be patient with the gods; they love not
Rebellion and o’ertake it with fresh scourgings.
O that the sea had swallowed me and rolled
In my dear treasure! Tell me, Syria youth,
Are there not divers in these parts, could pluck
My wealth from the abyss?
I am not of this country, but like thyself
Hear first today the surf roar on its beaches
Cursed be the moment when we neared its shores!
O harsh sea-god, if thou wilt have my wealth,
My soul, it was a cruel mercy then to leave
This beggared empty body bared of all
That made life sweet. Take this too, and everything.
IOLAUS (stepping forward)
Thy prayer is granted thee, O Babylonian.
The soldiers appear and surround Perseus and the merchants.
All the good stuff drowned! O unlucky Cireas! O greedy Poseidon!
This is that strange inhospitable coast
Where the wrecked traveller in his own warm blood
Is given guest-bath (draws)Death’s dice are yet to throw .
Draw not in vain, strive not against the gods.
This is the shore near the temple where Poseidon
Sits ivory-limbed in his dim rock-hewn house
And nods above the bleeding mariner
His sapphire locks in gloom. You three are come,
A welcome offering to that long dry altar,
O happy voyagers. Your road is straight
An evil and harsh religion
You practise in your, stripling of Syria,
Yet since it is religion, do thy will,
If you have power no less than will. And yet
I deem that ere I visit death’s clam country,
I have far longer ways to tread.
TYRNAUS (flinging away his sword)
I will not please the gods with impotent writhing
Under the harrow of my fate.
They seize Tyrnaus.
O wicked fool!
You might have saved me with that sword. Ah youth!
Ah radiant stranger! help me! thou art mighty.
Still, merchant, thou wouldst live?
I am dead with terror
Of these bright thirsty spears. O they will carve
My frantic heart out of my living bosom
To throw it bleeding on that hideous altar.
Save me, hero!
I war not with the gods for thee.
From belching fire or the deep-mouthed abyss
Of waters to have saved the meanest thing
That wears man’s kindly semblance, is a joy.
But he is mad who for another’s ease
Incurs the implacable pursuit of heaven.
Yet since each man on earth has privilege
To battle even against the gods for life,
Sweet, lift up from earth thy fellow’s sword;
I will protect mean while thy head from onset.
Alas, you mock me! I have no skill with weapons
Nor am a fighter. Save me!
The Syrians seize Smerdas.
Help! I will give thee
The wealth of Babylon when I am safe.
My sword is heaven’s; it is not to be purchased.
Smerdas and Tyrnaus are led away.
Take too this radiance.
PERSEUS (drawing his sword)
Asian stripling, pause.
I am not weak of hand nor feeble of heart.
Thou art too young, too blithe, too beautiful;
I would not disarrange thy sunny curls
By any harsher touch than an embrace.
I too could wish to spare thy joyous body
From the black knife, whoe’er thou art, O stranger.
But grim compulsion drives and angry will
Of the sea’s lord, chafing that mortal men
Insult with their frail keels his rude strong oceans.
Therefore he built his grisly temple here,
And all who are broken in the unequal war
With surge and tempest, though they evade his rocks,
Must belch out anguished blood upon that altar
I come not from the Ocean.
There is no other way that men could come;
For this is ground forbidden to unknown feet.
unless these gaudy pinions on thy shoes.
Were wings indeed to bear thee through the void!
Are there not those who ask nor solid land
For footing nor the salt flood to buoy their motions?
Perhaps I am of these.
Of these thou art not.
The gods are sombre, terrible to gaze at,
Or, even if bright, remote, grand, formidable.
In Syria and thy radiant masculine body
Allures the eye. Yield! It may be the God
Will spare thee.
Set on thy war-dogs, Me alive
If they alive can take, I am content
To bleed a victim.
Art thou a demigod
To beat back with one blade a hundred spears?
My sword is in my hand and that shall answer.
I am tired of words.
Dercetes, wait . His face
Is beautiful as Heaven. O dark Poseidon,
What wilt thou do with him in thy dank caves
Under the grey abysms of the salt flood?
Spare him to me and sunlight.
Polydaon and Phineus enter from behind
Prince, give the order.
Let this young sun god live.
It is forbidden.
But I allow it.
POLYDAON (coming forward)
And when did lenient Heaven
Make thee a godhead, Syrian Iolaus,
To set thy proud decree against Poseidon’s?
Wilt thou rescind what Ocean’s Zeus has ordered?
Does a royal name on earth
Inflate so foolishly thy mortal pride,
Thou evenest thyself with the Olympians?
Beware, the blood of kings has dropped ere now
From the grey sacrificial knife.
Thou darest threaten me, presumptuous priest?
Back to thy blood-stained kennel! O absolve
Captain, take them both. You flinch?
Are you so fearful of the name of prince
He plays with? Fear rather dark Poseidon’s anger.
Be wise, young Iolaus. Polydaon,
Thy zeal outstrips the reverence due to kings.
I need not thy protection, Tyrian Phineus:
This is my country.
PHINEUS (aside to Polydaon)
It were well done to kill him now, his sword
Being out against the people’s gods; for then
Who blames the god’s avenger?
Will you accept,
Syrians, the burden of his sacrilege?
Upon them for Poseidon!
Seize them but slay not!
Let none dare shed the blood of Syria’s kings.
Poseidon! great Poseidon.
Rein in thy sword: I am enough for these.
He shakes his uncovered shield in the faces of the soldiers.
They stagger back covering their eyes.
Gods, what a glory lights up Syria !
Is this a god opposes us? Back, back!
Master, master skedaddle: run, run, good King of Tyre, it is scuttle or be scuttled. Zeus has come down to earth with feathered shoes and a shield made out of phosphorus.
He runs off, followed more slowly by Dercetes and the soldiers.
Whate’er thou art, yet thou shalt not outface me.
He advances with sword drawn.
Hast thou Heaven’s thunders with thee too?
POLYDAON (pulling him back)
The fiery-tasselled aegis of Athene
Shakes forth these lightnings, and an earthly sword
Were madness here.
He goes out with Phineus.
O radiant strong immortal,
Iolaus kneels to thee.
Though great Athene breathes Olympian strength
Into my arm sometimes, I am no more
Than a brief mortal.
Art thou only man?
O them be Iolau’s friend and lover,
Who com’st to me something all my own
Destined from other shores.
Give me thy hands,
O fair young child of the warm Syrian sun.
Embrace! Thou art like a springing laurel
Fed upon sunlight by the murmuring waters.
Tell me thy name. What memorable earth
Gave thee to the azure?
I am from Argolis,
Perseus my name, the son of Danaë.
Come, Perseus, friend, with me: fierce entertainment
We have given, unworthy the fair joyousness
Thou carriest like a flag, but thou shalt meet
A kinder Syria. My royal father Cepheus
Shall welcome, my mother give thee a mother’s greeting
Persuade thee of a world more full of beauty
Than thou hadst dreamed of.
I shall yet be glad with thee,
O Iolaus, in thy father’s halls,
But I would not as yet be known in Syria.
Is there no pleasant hamlet near, hedged in
With orchard walls and green with unripe corn
And washed with bright and flitting waves, where I
Can harbour with the kindly village folk
And wake to cock-crow in the morning hours,
As in my dear Seriphos?
Such a village
Lurks near our hills, – there with my kind Cydone
Thou may’st abide at ease, until thou choose,
O Perseus, reveal thyself to Syria.
Then lead me. I have a thirst for clam obscurity
And cottages and happy unambitious talk
And simple people. With these I would have rest,
Not in the laboured pomp of princely towns
Amid pent noise and purple masks of hate.
I will drink deep of pure humanity
And take the innocent smell of rain-drenched earth,
So shall I with a noble untainted mind
Rise from the strengthening soil to great adventure.
They go out.