Hecuba's Testament

A tower, no ivy, I. The wind was powerless,
horns lunging round and round me like a bull’s.
It stirred up clouds of dust to north and south
and in quarters I’ve forgotten or never knew.
But I endured, foundations deep in earth,
walls broad, heart strong
and warm within, defending my own brood.
Sorrow was closer kin than any of those.
Not the favorite; not the eldest. But a kinsman
agreeable in the chores, humble at table,
a shadowy teller of tales beside the fire.
There were times he went off hunting far away
at the masculine call
of his steady pulse, his eye sharp on the target.
He returned with game, consigned it
to a helper shrewd with the kniie
and the zealous care of women.
On retiring I’d say: What a fine
piece of work my hands are weaving out of the
From girlhood on I kept before my eyes
a handsome sampler;
was ambitious to copy its figure; wished no more.
Unmarried, I lived chaste while that was right;
later was loyal to one, to my own husband.
Never a dawn that found me still asleep,
never a night that overtook me till
the beehive hum of my home had sunk to rest.
The house of my lord was rich with works of my
his lands stretched out to horizons.
And so that his name would not die
when his body died,
he had sons of me; they were valiant sons; had
Of me he had virtuous girls
that all made a suitable match
(except for one, a virgin, that held aloof,
as offering, it well may be, to a god himself).
Those who knew me called me fortunate.
Not satisfied with receiving
the happy praise of my equals,
I leaned to the little ones,
to sow in these a harvest of gratitude.
When the lightning bolt came probing
that tree of the conversations.
he who was struck by it raged about injustice.
I said not a word, for my way is
to listen to one thing only: bounden duty.
Disaster spoke; I obeyed:
a widow without reproach, a queen made slave
without loss to her queenly pride,
and mother, ah. and mother
orphaned of all her brood.
I dragged along old age like a tunic
too heavy to wear.
I was blind with years and weeping
and in my blindness saw
the vision that sustained my soul at its post.
Helplessness came, the cold, the cold,
and I had to surrender myself to the charity
of those alive. As before I had
surrendered myself to love, and to misfortune.
Someone cares for me in my final sufferings.
Makes me drink down a harsh docility,
which I more and more learn to accept
so that all be fulfilled in me: those ultimate

Transtated by John Frederick Nims.