ACHILLES IN ORCUS.
From thy translucent waves, great Thetis,
Mother divine, hear, and take back the gift
Thou gavest me of valor and renown,
And then seek Zeus, but not with loosened zone
For dalliance; entreat him to restore
Me, Achilles, to the earth, to the black earth,
The nourisher of men, not these pale shades,
Whose shapes have learned the presage of thy doom;
They flit between me and the wind-swept plain
Of Troy, the banners over Ilion’s walls,
The zenith of my prowess, and my fate.
Give me again the breath of life, not death.
Would I could tarry in the timbered tent,
As when I wept Patroclus, when, by night,
Old Priam crept, kissing my knees with tears
For Hector’s corse, the hero I laid low.
My panoply was like the gleam of fire
When in the dust I dragged him at my wheels,
My heart was iron,—he despoiled my friend.
Cast on these borders of eternal gloom,
Now comes Odysseus with his wandering crew;
He pours libations in the deep-dug trench,
While airy forms in multitudes press near,
And listen to the echoes of my praise.
His consolation vain, he hails me, “Prince!”
Vain is his speech: “No man before thy time,
Achilles, lived more honored; here thou art
Supreme, the ruler in these dread abodes.”
Speak not so easily to me of death,
Great Odysseus! Rather would I be
The meanest hind, and bring the bleating lambs
From down the grassy hills, or with a goad
To prod the hungry swine in beechen woods,
Than over the departed to bear sway.
Then from the clouds to note the warning cry
Of the harsh crane; to see the Pleiads rise,
The vine and fig-tree shoot, the olive bud;
To hear the chirping swallows in the dawn,
The thieving cuckoo laughing in the leaves!
So, may Achilles pass his palace gate,
And later heroes strike Achilles’ lyre!
Why should I tarry here, to be but one
To eke out doubt, and suffer with the rest?
Why should I labor to become a name,
And vaunt, as did Ulysses to his mates,
“I am a part of all that I have met.”
A wily seeker to suffice myself!
As when the oak’s young leaves push off the old,
So from this tree of life man drops away,
And all the boughs are peopled quick by spring
Above the furrows of forgotten graves.
The one we thought had made the nation’s creed,
Whose death would rive us like a thunderbolt,
Dropped down—a sudden rustling in the leaves,
A knowledge of the gap, and that was all!
The robin flitting on his frozen mound
Is more than he. Whoever dies, gives up
Unfinished work, which others, tempted, claim
And carry on. I would go free, and change
Into a star above the multitude,
To shine afar, and penetrate where those
Who in the darkling boughs are prisoned close,
But when they catch my rays, will borrow light,
Believing it their own, and it will serve.