Lityerses and the Reapers

“Lityerses, the king of Phrygia, used to make strangers try a contest with him in reaping corn, and to put them to death if he overcame them.”

’T IS the field of Lityerses: ripe and high the harvest stands;
Sickles gleam, like summer lightnings, all about the sunny lands.
’T is the field of Lityerses: he, a harvest-lord austere,
Gathers whom he will for reapers, bringing them from far and near ;
Though it be the chief of legions, or descent of princes great,
Wealthy merchant, speeding herald, none shall pass his palace gate.
Forth he comes, with churlish greeting, bids the traveler haste afield ;
Though his hand be strange and skilless, he a reaping-hook must wield,
From the morn until the shadow thrusting in the swarthy grain,
Where the keen cicada, whirring, stings with sound his dizzy brain.
Hears he not, above the clamor, what the hollow south wind saith ?
Strive no longer, yield the contest, — this swift sickleman is Death !
Reapers, what shall be the anthem, as the swath before us falls,
While in air the vision beckons of our native towers and halls ?
Reapers, what shall be the banquet, where no harvest-home is spread ?
We shall feed on endless slumber, with this alien ground our bed!
Through the sickle falls the poppy, — glowing flower and drooping bud
Fall, and scatter down the furrow, like the spilth of crimson blood :
So shall life be shorn and scattered ere the star that crowns the eve ;
They shall shudder at the harvest who shall come to bind and sheave,
One by one our faces scanning by the gleams of western sky;
Each, in passing, payeth tribute from a moist and piteous eye. . . .
Know ye not who reaps beside us ? Feel ye not his panting breath ?
Brother reapers, vain our toiling, — this swift sickleman is Death!
Lately, came Sicilian Daphnis, leaving flock and fold behind ;
Shepherd of the sheltered valley, — he to dare the wave and wind !
Love and wrong his heart have girded with a strength unknown before ;
On the robber’s track he follows, hither, to this fateful shore;
Comes he to the robber’s fastness, where the maiden lies in thrall ;
Vain the gifts he bears for ransom, vain on praying knees to fall!
Lityerses brings a sickle : Reap, O guest, with me, to-day ;
If thou conquer, take the maiden ; if thou’rt conquered, thee I slay ! . . .
Never, thou poor, cheated Daphnis, never shalt thou set her free;
Never, with thy prize, beat homeward through the high exultant sea.
Even now the sun is sinking, now the shadow lengtheneth ;
Woe to us and thee, O Shepherd, — this swift sickleman is Death !
Edith M. Thomas