WHEN that enchanted tapestry unrolls
The pictures wrought in old Homeric song,
Where heroes wrestle with their dual souls
Who, born of gods, do yet to earth belong;
Where white-armed women ply the wondrous looms,
While long-haired Greek or crested Trojan falls;
Where desolation sits in lofty rooms,
And old men weep upon the fated walls;
Where skies are red with glare of burning pile,
Of cities sacked, of beakëd ships aflame;
Where gods insatiate bend with awful smile,
Above the countless hecatombs of slain ;
Where that superb procession of the past
Sweeps through the ages and with noiseless tread
Marches and counter-marches, till at last
I seem myself to stand among the dead ;
Then two young faces, vivid and intense,
Enthrall my spirit wheresoe’er I turn;
Two visions sweet of girlish innocence,
Of eyes that shine, of cheeks that pale and burn.
And them I follow through the fitful light
That weirdly shifts o’er human grief and joy,
E’en as they follow, from her chamber white,
The Argive Helen to the walls of Troy.
Silent they watch, with widely wondering eyes,
Her tender tears at Menelaus’ name,
Discerning there that olden sad surprise,
Immortal beauty and immortal shame.
Silent they wait, these maids-in-waiting sweet:
What sudden thoughts within your bosoms stir,
O mute companions, as at Helen’s feet
Ye watch the life-tide ebb and flow for her?
What part have ye in jealousy and hate,
In love and loss and sin’s unseemly woe?
Alas ! Of all the mysteries of fate,
There is not one ye shall not live to know!
Across life’s web the shuttle rainbow-hued
No more henceforth can send its stainless thread ;
A dull red seam, with this day’s blight imbued,
Marks woman’s faith despoiled and lying dead.
And no dread picture on the ancient page
So moves my being, — ah ! not even he,
The great Achilles, awful in his rage,
Nursing his wrath beside the wailing sea ;
Nor fair Andromache, who through her tears
Holds up her boy again and yet again
For that farewell which, ringing through the years, Makes women weep and men once more be men :
Nor, where the fount of swift Scamander runs,
The glorious Hector falters for relief ;
Not aged Priam, spoiled of many sons;
Not Hecuba, still royal in her grief ;
But, uneclipsed by all the mighty shades, Your faces haunt me, threatened by the Fates, Æthra and Clymene, — O silent maids, Who stand with Helen at the Scaean gates !
Emma Huntington Nason.