HELENA (who has left the folded doors open, excited)
No vulgar fear beseems the daughter of high Zeus,
And her no lightly-fleeting terror-hand may touch;
But that dire horror which, from womb of ancient Night,
In time primeval rising, still in divers shapes,
Like lurid clouds, from out the mountain’s fiery gorge,
Whirls itself forth, may shake even the hero’s breast.
Thus have the Stygian Gods, with horror fraught, today
Mine entrance to the house so marked, that fain I am,
Back from the oft-time trod, long-yearned-for threshold now,
Like to a guest dismissed, departing, to retire.
Yet no, retreated have I hither to the light;
No further shall ye drive me, Powers, who’er ye be!
Some expiation, I’ll devise, then purified,
The hearth-flame welcome may the consort as the lord.
Discover, noble queen, to us thy handmaidens,
Devotedly who serve thee, what hath come to pass!
What I have seen ye, too, with your own eyes, shall
If ancient Night, within her wonder-teeming womb,
Hath not forthwith engulfed, once more, her ghastly birth;
But yet, that ye may know, with words I’ll tell it you:—
What time the royal mansion’s gloomy inner court,
Upon my task intent, with solemn step I trod,
I wondered at the drear and silent corridors.
Fell on mine ear no sound of busy servitors,
No stir of rapid haste, officious, met my gaze;
Before me there appeared no maid, no stewardess,
Who every stranger erst, with friendly greeting, hailed.
But when I neared at length the bosom of the hearth,
There saw I, by the light of dimly smouldering fire,
Crouched on the ground, a crone, close-veiled, of stature huge,
Not like to one asleep, but as absorbed in thought!
With accent of command I summon her to work,
The stewardess in her surmising, who perchance
My spouse, departing hence, with foresight there had placed;
Yet, closely muted up, still sits she, motionless;
At length, upon my threat, up-lifts she her right arm,
As though from hearth and hall she motioned me away.
Wrathful from her I turn, and forthwith hasten out,
Toward the steps, whereon aloft the Thalamos
Rises adorned, thereto the treasure-house hard by;
When, on a sudden, starts the wonder from the floor;
Barring with lordly mien my passage, she herself
In haggard height displays, with hollow eyes, blood-grimed,
An aspect weird and strange, confounding eye and thought.
Yet speak I to the winds; for language all in vain
Creatively essays to body forth such shapes.
There see herself! The light she ventures to confront!
Here are we master, till the lord and monarch comes;
The ghastly brood of Night doth Phoebus, beauty’s friend,
Back to their caverns drive, or them he subjugates.