Religion and Literature
At about the same time as Homer, if he lived around 720-700, another
poet was composing verses, this time in mainland Greece, on Mount
Helicon near Delphi. Hesiod is the other founder of Western
Literature. While the poet called Homer tells us nothing of
himself in his works, Hesiod is the first poet in history to introduce
himself into his poems and to make his biography a central feature.
Hesiod composed two works that are preserved; he too could probably not
write, he shows oral features in his Theogony and his Works and
Days. The former tells the theological history of the cosmos,
introducing stories about some 300 gods in a poem that begins with a
hymn to the Muses. Hesiod does not explain how things arose, but brings
together anthropomorphic Olympian gods and more abstract, personalized
forces such as Strife (Eris), Love (Eros), and Fate in a confused
mixture not unlike that found in Homer. It was precisely this
confusion, and the impossibility of taking the Olympians seriously,
which provoked the later reflections of the philosophers.
From the Theogony
Hail, daughters of Zeus! Give me sweet song,
To celebrate the holy race of gods
who live forever, sons of starry Heaven
and Earth, and gloomy Night, and salty Sea.
Tell how the gods and earth arose at first,
and rivers and the boundless swollen sea
and shining stars, and the broad heaven above,
and how the gods divided up their wealth
and how they shared their honours, how they first
captured Olympus with its many folds.
Tell me these things, Olympian Muses, tell
from the beginning, which first came to be?
Chaos was first of all, but next appeared
broad-bosomed Earth, sure standing-place for all
the gods who live on snowy Olympus' peak,
and misty Tartarus, in a recess
of broad-pathed earth, and Love, most beautiful
of all the deathless gods. He makes men weak,
he overpowers the clever mind, and tames
the spirit in the breasts of men and gods.
From Chaos came black Night and Erebos.
And Earth bore starry Heaven, first, to be
an equal to herself, to cover her
all over, and to be a resting-place,
always secure, for the blessed gods.
Then she brought forth long hills, the lovely homes
of goddesses, the Nymphs who live among
the mountain-clefts. Then, without pleasant love,
she bore the barren sea with its swollen waves...
Night bore frightful Doom and the black Horror,
and Death, and Sleep, and the whole tribe of Dreams.
Again, though she slept with none of the gods,
dark Night gave birth to Blame and sad Distress,
and the Hesperides, who, out beyond
the famous stream of Oceanus, tend
the lovely golden apples, and their trees.
She bore the Destinies and ruthless Fates,
goddesses who track down the sins of men
and gods, and never cease from awful rage
until they give the sinner punishment.
Then deadly Night gave birth to Nemesis,
that pain to gods and men, and then she bore
Deceit and Love, sad Age, and strong-willed Strife.
And hateful Strife gave birth to wretched Work,
Forgetfulness, and Famine, tearful Pains,
Battles and Fights, Murders, Killings of men,
Quarrels and Lies and Stories and Disputes,
and Lawlessness and Ruin, both allied...
(Translated by Dorothea Wender)
The Creation of the World (Ovid: Metamorphoses)
Of bodies chang'd to various forms, I sing:
Ye Gods, from whom these miracles did spring,
Inspire my numbers with celestial heat;
'Till I my long laborious work compleat:
And add perpetual tenour to my rhimes,
Deduc'd from Nature's birth, to Caesar's times.
Before the seas, and this terrestrial ball,
And Heav'n's high canopy, that covers all,
One was the face of Nature; if a face:
Rather a rude and indigested mass:
A lifeless lump, unfashion'd, and unfram'd,
Of jarring seeds; and justly Chaos nam'd.
No sun was lighted up, the world to view;
No moon did yet her blunted horns renew:
Nor yet was Earth suspended in the sky,
Nor pois'd, did on her own foundations lye:
Nor seas about the shores their arms had thrown;
But earth, and air, and water, were in one.
Thus air was void of light, and earth unstable,
And water's dark abyss unnavigable.
No certain form on any was imprest;
All were confus'd, and each disturb'd the rest.
For hot and cold were in one body fixt;
And soft with hard, and light with heavy mixt.
But God, or Nature, while they thus contend,
To these intestine discords put an end:
Then earth from air, and seas from earth were driv'n,
And grosser air sunk from aetherial Heav'n.
Thus disembroil'd, they take their proper place;
The next of kin, contiguously embrace;
And foes are sunder'd, by a larger space.
The force of fire ascended first on high,
And took its dwelling in the vaulted sky:
Then air succeeds, in lightness next to fire;
Whose atoms from unactive earth retire.
Earth sinks beneath, and draws a num'rous throng
Of pondrous, thick, unwieldy seeds along.
About her coasts, unruly waters roar;
And rising, on a ridge, insult the shore.
Thus when the God, whatever God was he,
Had form'd the whole, and made the parts agree,
That no unequal portions might be found,
He moulded Earth into a spacious round:
Then with a breath, he gave the winds to blow;
And bade the congregated waters flow.
He adds the running springs, and standing lakes;
And bounding banks for winding rivers makes.
Some part, in Earth are swallow'd up, the most
In ample oceans, disembogu'd, are lost.
He shades the woods, the vallies he restrains
With rocky mountains, and extends the plains.
And as five zones th' aetherial regions bind,
Five, correspondent, are to Earth assign'd:
The sun with rays, directly darting down,
Fires all beneath, and fries the middle zone:
The two beneath the distant poles, complain
Of endless winter, and perpetual rain.
Betwixt th' extreams, two happier climates hold
The temper that partakes of hot, and cold.
The fields of liquid air, inclosing all,
Surround the compass of this earthly ball:
The lighter parts lie next the fires above;
The grosser near the watry surface move:
Thick clouds are spread, and storms engender there,
And thunder's voice, which wretched mortals fear,
And winds that on their wings cold winter bear.
Nor were those blustring brethren left at large,
On seas, and shores, their fury to discharge:
Bound as they are, and circumscrib'd in place,
They rend the world, resistless, where they pass;
And mighty marks of mischief leave behind;
Such is the rage of their tempestuous kind.
High o'er the clouds, and empty realms of wind,
The God a clearer space for Heav'n design'd;
Where fields of light, and liquid aether flow;
Purg'd from the pondrous dregs of Earth below.
Scarce had the Pow'r distinguish'd these, when streight
The stars, no longer overlaid with weight,
Exert their heads, from underneath the mass;
And upward shoot, and kindle as they pass,
And with diffusive light adorn their heav'nly place.
Then, every void of Nature to supply,
With forms of gods he fills the vacant sky:
New herds of beasts he sends, the plains to share:
New colonies of birds, to people air:
And to their oozy beds, the finny fish repair.
A creature of a more exalted kind
Was wanting yet, and then was Man design'd:
Conscious of thought, of more capacious breast,
For empire form'd, and fit to rule the rest:
Whether with particles of heav'nly fire
The God of Nature did his soul inspire,
Or Earth, but new divided from the sky,
And, pliant, still retain'd th' aetherial energy:
Which wise Prometheus temper'd into paste,
And, mixt with living streams, the godlike image cast.
Thus, while the mute creation downward bend
Their sight, and to their earthly mother tend,
Man looks aloft; and with erected eyes
Beholds his own hereditary skies.
From such rude principles our form began;
And earth was metamorphos'd into Man.
Chapter 1:1-2:3 offers a formal, theological narrative of the Creation
of all things, all creatures, by God, an expression of the unity of
creation and of the universal power of God. The basic structure of the
narrative is that of the seven-day week. Seven was a sacred number for
the Jews, and the week was the fundamental unit of the Hebrew calendar.
The story is clearly designed to be a 'scientific' account, in the
Aristotelian manner, emphasizing the unity of the Many by grouping
things within broad general categories. The living creatures are
introduced in a hierarchy determined by the way in which they
reproduce; first come plants with seeds and fruit, then the egg-laying
fish and birds, then the mammals, and finally humans, who are
recognized as mammals by being created on the sixth day. The Creation
ends on the Sabbath, the resting from work on the seventh day (i.e. our
Saturday, Sunday is the "first day of the week" celebrated by
Christians as the day of Jesus's resurrection, the start of a new
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Now the earth was formless and empty,
darkness was over the surface of the deep,
and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, "Let there be light"
and there was light.
God saw that the light was good
and he separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light "day"
and the darkness he called "night".
And there was evening, and there was morning
the first day.
And God said, "Let there be an expanse between the waters
to separate water from water."
So God made the expanse
and separated the water below from the water above.
And it was so.
God called the expanse "sky."
And there was evening, and there was morning the second day.
And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered together
and let dry ground appear."
And it was so.
God called the dry ground "land"
and the gathered waters he called "seas "
And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation:
seed-bearing plants, and trees on the land
that bear fruit with seeds in it, according to their various kinds."
And it was so.
The land produced vegetation:
plants bearing seeds according to their kinds.
And trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.
And God saw that it was good.
And there was evening and there was morning
the third day.
And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky
to separate the day from the night;
and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years,
and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky
to give light on the earth."
And it was so.
God made two great lights,
the greater light to govern the day
and the lesser light to govern the night.
He also made the stars.
God set them in the expanse of the sky
to give light on the earth to govern the day and the night,
and to separate light from darkness.
And God saw that it was good.
And there was evening and there was morning
the fourth day.
And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures,
and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky."
So God created the great creatures of the sea
and every living, moving thing with which the water teems,
according to their kinds,
and every winged bird according to its kind.
And God saw that it was good.
God blessed them and said,
"Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas,
and let the birds increase on the earth."
And there was evening and there was morning
the fifth day.
And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures
according to their kinds:
livestock, creatures that move along the ground,
and wild animals, each according to its kind."
And it was so.
God made the wild animals according to their kinds,
the livestock according to their kinds,
and all the creatures that move along the ground
according to their kinds.
And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness,
and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air,
over the livestock, over all the wild animals of the earth,
and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him,
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them,
"Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.
Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air,
and over every living creature that moves on the ground."
Then God said,
I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth
and every tree that has fruit with seed in it.
They will be yours for food.
And to all the beasts of the earth
and all the birds of the air
and all the creatures that move on the ground,
everything that has the breath of life in it
I give every green plant for food." And it was so.
God saw all that he had made
and it was very good.
And there was evening and there was morning
the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing;
so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.
And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy,
because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
How great is your name, O
Lord our God,
how glorious your name!
Set high over all the earth,
majestic to highest heaven;
you fashion the praises of
you silence the boasts of
When I see the moon and the
the sky which your hand has
what is man, then, that you
the children of men, that
Less than an angel you made
you crowned him with honour
all things created are his:
'Take charge of the world I
Both sheep and cattle you
and even the wildest
birds flying, the fish of
with all that dwells in the
How great is
your name, O Lord our God,
how glorious your name!
Song of Songs 2
I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.
Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the maidens.
Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the
young men. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my
He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love.
Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love.
His left arm is under my head, and his right arm embraces me.
Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of
the field: Do not arouse or awaken my love until she so desires.
Listen! My lover! Look! Here he comes, leaping across the mountains, bounding over the hills.
My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look! There he stands
behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the
My lover spoke and said to me, "Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.
See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.
The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their
fragrance. Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me."
My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the
mountainside, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice
is sweet, and your face is lovely.
Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.
My lover is mine and I am his; he browses among the lilies.
Until the day breaks and the shadows flee, turn, my lover, and be like a gazelle or like a young stag on the rugged hills.
words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:
Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is
What does man gain from all
his labor at which he toils under the sun?
Generations come and
generations go, but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun
sets, and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the
sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill
What has been will be
again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the
Is there anything of which
one can say, "Look! This is something new"? It was here already, long
ago; it was here before our time.
There is no remembrance of
men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those
the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I
devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven.
What a heavy burden God has laid on men! 14 I have seen
all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a
chasing after the wind.
What is twisted cannot be
straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.
I thought to myself,
"Look, I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled
over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and
knowledge." 17 Then I applied myself to the
understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that
this, too, is a chasing after the wind.
For with much wisdom comes
much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.
is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a
time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time
to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time
to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones
and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time
to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time
to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time
to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
What does the worker gain
from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made
everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of
men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know
that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they
live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his
toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure
forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so
that men will revere him.
Whatever is has already
been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account.
And I saw something else
under the sun: In the place of judgment—wickedness was there, in the place of
justice—wickedness was there.
I thought in my heart,
"God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there
will be a time for every activity, a time for every deed."
I also thought, "As
for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Man's
fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies,
so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the
animal. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from
dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and
if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?"
So I saw that there is
nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot. For
who can bring him to see what will happen after him?
older story of the creation of humanity, with the symbolic names Adam (Man) and
Eve (Living), their life in "Paradise" (garden) with visits from YHWH
(the name is not used in Chapter 1), the story of the Tree of the knowledge of
good and evil, the temptation of Eve, the Fall, the punishment and the
Expulsion from the Garden. A mysterious story, combining many elements,
not at all a "full explanation" or a "myth" in the usual
sense. It stands at the beginning of the Bible as an expression of a
truth about humanity: people do not do what they know to be God's will, and the
result is unhappiness, suffering, hardship.
is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When
the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, no shrub of the field had yet
appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up; the LORD God
had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground, but
streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the
ground. And the LORD God formed a man (Adam) from the dust of the ground
and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living
the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the
man he had formed. And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of
the ground, trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the
middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of
good and evil ....
The LORD God took Adam and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take
care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat
from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the
knowledge of good and evil for when you eat of it you will surely die."
LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make
a helper suitable for him....... So the Lord God caused the man to fall
into a deep sleep, and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and
closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the
rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man ....
The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
3: The Fall
the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had
made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say You must not eat
from any tree in the garden?"
woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,
but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of
the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'"
will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows
that when you eat it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing
good and evil."
the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the
eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it She also
gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of
both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked; so they sewed
fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his
wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the
cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the
garden. But the LORD God called to the man, "Adam, where are
you?" He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid
because I was naked; so I hid."
he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the
tree that -1 commanded you not to eat from?"
said, "The woman you put here with me, she gave me some fruit from the
tree, and I ate it." Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is
this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I
the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which
he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side
of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to
guard the way to the tree of life.
Genesis Chapter 4:1-16 Cain and Abel
kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time, Cain
brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But
Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The
LORD looked with favour on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering
he did not look with favour. So Cain was very angry, and his face was
the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face
downcast? If you do what is right will you not be accepted? But if
you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have
you, but you must master it."
Cain said to his brother, "Let us go out to the field." And while
they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
the LORD said to Cain, "Where is your brother, Abel?
don't know," he replied, "Am I my brother's keeper?"
Lord said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood
cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven
from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from
your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops
for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth."
6 Noah's flood
This is the account of Noah. Noah
was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his
time, and he walked with God. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. Now
the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence. God saw how
corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their
So God said to Noah, "I am going to put an end to all
people, for the earth is filled with violence
because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make
yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside
and out. ( . . . .) I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all
life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it.
Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and
you will enter the ark‑‑you and your sons and your wife and your sons' wives
with you. You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and
female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind
of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come
to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten
and store it away as food for youand for them."
Noah did everything just as God commanded him.
The LORD then said to Noah, "Go into the
ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this
generation. Take with you seven of every kind of clean animal, a male and
its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and
also seven of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds
alive throughout the earth. Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth
for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth
every living creature I have made."
And Noah did all that the LORD commanded him. Noah was six
hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. And Noah and his sons
and his wife and his sons' wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the
flood. Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that
move along the ground, 9male and female, came to Noah and entered the
ark, as God had commanded Noah. And after the seven days the floodwaters came
on the earth.
In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, on the seventeenth
day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst
forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the
earth forty days and forty nights. (. . . .) For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as
the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. The waters rose
and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of
the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains
under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the
mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet. Every living thing that moved on
the earth perished‑‑birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that
swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had
the breath of life in its nostrils died. Every living thing on the face
of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that move along
the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was
left, and those with him in the ark. The waters flooded the earth for a hundred
and fifty days.
But God remembered Noah and all the wild
animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind
over the earth, and the waters receded. Now the springs of the deep and the
floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling
from the sky. The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of
the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, and on the
seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of
Ararat. The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the
first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.
After forty days Noah opened the window he had made in the
ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had
dried up from the earth. Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had
receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove could find no place
to set its feet because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so
it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and
brought it back to himself in the ark. He waited seven more days and again sent
out the dove from the ark. When the dove returned to him in the evening,
there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the
water had receded from the earth. He waited seven more days and sent the dove
out again, but this time it did not return to him.
By the first day of the first month of Noah's six hundred
and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the
covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. By
the twenty‑seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry. Then God said to Noah, "Come out of the ark, you
and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of
living creature that is with you‑‑the birds, the animals, and all the creatures
that move along the ground‑‑so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful
and increase in number upon it."
So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and
his sons' wives. All the animals and all the creatures that move along
the ground and all the birds‑‑everything that moves on the earth‑‑came out of
the ark, one kind after another. Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and,
taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt
offerings on it. The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart:
"Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every
inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy
all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime
and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never
of Joseph and his brothers
Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was
tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of
Zilpah, his father's wives, and he brought their father a bad report about
them. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had
been born to him in his old age; and he made a many-colored robe for him. When
his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated
him and could not speak a kind word to him.
Joseph had a dream, and
when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them,
"Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the
field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves
gathered around mine and bowed down to it."
His brothers said to
him, "Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?" And
they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.
Then he had another
dream, and he told it to his brothers. "Listen," he said, "I had
another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down
When he told his
father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, "What is
this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and
bow down to the ground before you?" His brothers
were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
Joseph Sold by His Brothers
his brothers had gone to graze their father's flocks near Shechem, and Israel said to Joseph, "As you know, your brothers
are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to
"Very well," he replied.
So he said to him,
"Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and
bring word back to me." Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron.
When Joseph arrived at Shechem, a man found
him wandering around in the fields and asked him, "What are you looking
He replied, "I'm
looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their
"They have moved
on from here," the man answered. "I heard them say, 'Let's go to
So Joseph went after his brothers and found
them near Dothan. But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them,
they plotted to kill him.
"Here comes that
dreamer!" they said to each other. "Come now, let's kill him and
throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured
him. Then we'll see what comes of his dreams."
When Reuben heard
this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. "Let's not take his
life," he said. "Don't shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern
here in the desert, but don't lay a hand on him." Reuben said this to
rescue him from them and take him back to his father.
So when Joseph came
to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the many-colored robe he was
wearing- and they took him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was
empty; there was no water in it. As they sat down to eat their meal, they
looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels
were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take
them down to Egypt.
Judah said to his
brothers, "What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his
blood? Come, let's sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him;
after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood." His brothers
agreed. So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up
out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him
When Reuben returned
to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. He went back to his brothers and said, "The boy isn't
there! Where can I turn now?"
Then they got
Joseph's robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. They took
the robe back to their father and said, "We found this. Examine it to see
whether it is your son's robe. He recognized it and said,
"It is my son's robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has
surely been torn to pieces."
Then Jacob tore his
clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and
daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. "No,"
he said, "in mourning will I go down to the grave to my son." So his
father wept for him.
Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh's officials, the
captain of the guard. The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived
in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw
that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he
did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his
attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his
care everything he owned. From the time he put him in
charge of his household and of all that he owned, the LORD blessed the
household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on
everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. So he left in Joseph's care everything he had; with Joseph in
charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.
Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his
master's wife took notice of Joseph and said, "Come to bed with me!"
he refused. "With me in charge," he told her, "my master does
not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has
entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than
I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his
wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?" And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go
to bed with her or even be with her.
day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household
servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said,
"Come to bed with me!" But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out
of the house. When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run
out of the house, she called her household servants.
"Look," she said to them, "this Hebrew has been brought to us to
make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. 15 When he heard me scream for
help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house."
kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. Then
she told him this story: "That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to
make sport of me. But as soon as I screamed for help, he
left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house." When his master heard
the story his wife told him, saying, "This is how your slave treated
me," he burned with anger. Joseph's master took him
and put him in prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined. But
while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with
him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison
warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those
held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there.
the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and
upright; he feared God and shunned evil. He had seven sons and three daughters,
and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of
oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the
greatest man among all the people of the East. His sons used to take turns
holding feasts in their homes, and they would invite their three sisters to eat
and drink with them. When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would
send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt
offering for each of them, thinking, "Perhaps my children have sinned and
cursed God in their hearts." This was Job's regular custom.
day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came
with them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, "Where have
you come from?" Satan answered the LORD, "From roaming through the
earth and going back and forth in it."
Then the LORD said to
Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like
him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil."
"Does Job fear
God for nothing?" Satan replied. "Have you not put a hedge around him
and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his
hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch
out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to
The LORD said to
Satan, "Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the
man himself do not lay a finger." Then Satan went out from the presence of
One day when Job's
sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother's
house, a messenger came to Job and said, "The
oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby,
and the Sabeans attacked and carried them off. They put the servants to the
sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!"
While he was still
speaking, another messenger came and said, "The fire of God fell from the
sky and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has
escaped to tell you!"
While he was still
speaking, another messenger came and said, "The Chaldeans formed three
raiding parties and swept down on your camels and carried them off. They put
the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell
While he was still
speaking, yet another messenger came and said, "Your sons and daughters
were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother's house, when suddenly a
mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house.
It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped
to tell you!"
At this, Job got up
and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship
and said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be
In all this, Job did
not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
Then Job replied:
long will you torment me and crush me with words? Ten times now you have
reproached me; shamelessly you attack me. If it is true that I have gone
astray, my error remains my concern alone. If indeed you would exalt yourselves
above me and use my humiliation against me, then know that God has wronged me
and drawn his net around me. Though I cry, 'I've been wronged!' I get no
response; though I call for help, there is no justice. He has blocked my way so
I cannot pass; he has shrouded my paths in darkness. He has stripped me of my
honor and removed the crown from my head. He tears me down on every side till I
am gone; he uproots my hope like a tree. His anger burns against me; he counts
me among his enemies. His troops advance in force; they build a siege ramp
against me and encamp around my tent.
has alienated my brothers from me; my acquaintances are completely estranged
from me. My kinsmen have gone away; my friends have forgotten me. My guests and
my maidservants count me a stranger; they look upon me as an alien. I summon my
servant, but he does not answer, though I beg him with my own mouth. My breath
is offensive to my wife; I am loathsome to my own brothers. Even the little
boys scorn me; when I appear, they ridicule me. All my intimate friends detest
me; those I love have turned against me. I am nothing but skin and bones; I
have escaped with only the skin of my teeth.
"Have pity on me, my friends, have pity, for the hand of God
has struck me. Why do you pursue me as God does? Will
you never get enough of my flesh?
that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll, that they were
inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock forever!
I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand
upon the earth.
And after my skin has
been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my
own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!
Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm.
"Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without
knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer
were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who
marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line
across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its
cornerstone- while the morning stars sang together and all the angels
shouted for joy?
shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the
clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, 'This far you may come and no
farther; here is where your proud waves halt'?
you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it
might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? The earth
takes shape like clay under a seal; its features stand out like those of a
garment. The wicked are denied their light, and their upraised arm is broken.
"Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in
the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you
seen the gates of the shadow of death? Have you comprehended the vast expanses
of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.
"What is the way to the abode of light? And where does
darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to
their dwellings? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so
"Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the
storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war
and battle? What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or
the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? Who cuts a channel
for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land
where no man lives, a desert with no one in it, to satisfy a desolate wasteland
and make it sprout with grass? Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the
drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from
the heavens when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep
"Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords
of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out
the Bear with its cubs? Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up
God's dominion over the earth?
"Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself
with a flood of water? Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they
report to you, 'Here we are'? Who endowed the heart with wisdom or gave understanding
to the mind ? Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? Who can tip over the
water jars of the heavens when the dust becomes hard and the clods of earth
"Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger
of the lions when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket? Who
provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for
lack of food?
Then Job replied to the LORD :
"I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You
asked, 'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?' Surely I spoke
of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. "You
said, 'Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer
me.' My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I
despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."
After Job had prayed
for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much
as he had before. All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him
before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over
all the trouble the LORD had brought upon him, and each one gave him a piece of
silver and a gold ring.
The LORD blessed the
latter part of Job's life more than the first. He had fourteen thousand sheep,
six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. And he
also had seven sons and three daughters. The first daughter he named Jemimah,
the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. Nowhere in all the land were
there found women as beautiful as Job's daughters, and their father granted
them an inheritance along with their brothers.
After this, Job lived
a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth
generation. And so he died, old and full of years.
From Homer's Illiad
Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus,
that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans.
Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades,
and many a hero did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures,
for so were the counsels of Jove fulfilled
from the day on which Agamemnon the son of Atreus, king of men,
and great Achilles, first fell out with one another.
And which of the gods was it that set them on to quarrel?
It was Apollo, the son of Jove and Leto; for he was angry with the king
and sent a pestilence upon the host to plague the people,
because Agamemnon had dishonoured Chryses his priest.
Chryses had come to the ships of the Achaeans to free his daughter,
and had brought with him a great ransom: moreover he bore in his hand the sceptre of Apollo
wreathed with a suppliant's wreath, and he besought the Achaeans,
but most of all the two sons of Atreus, who were their chiefs.
"Sons of Atreus," he cried, "and all other Achaeans, may the gods who dwell in Olympus
grant you to sack the city of Priam, and to reach your homes in safety;
but free my daughter, and accept a ransom for her, in reverence to Apollo, son of Jove."
On this the rest of the Achaeans with one voice were for respecting the priest
and taking the ransom that he offered; but not so Agamemnon, who spoke fiercely to him and sent him roughly away.
"Old man," said he, "let me not find you tarrying about our ships, nor yet coming hereafter.
Your sceptre of the god and your wreath shall profit you nothing. I will not free her.
She shall grow old in my house at Argos far from her own home,
busying herself with her loom and visiting my couch; so go, and do not provoke me or it shall be the worse for you."
The old man feared him and obeyed.
Not a word he spoke, but went by the shore of the sounding sea and prayed apart to King Apollo
whom lovely Leto had borne. "Hear me," he cried, "O god of the silver bow,
that protectest Chryse and holy Cilla and rulest Tenedos with thy might, hear me oh thou of Sminthe.
If I have ever decked your temple with garlands, or burned your thigh-bones in fat of bulls or goats,
grant my prayer, and let your arrows avenge these my tears upon the Danaans."
Thus did he pray, and Apollo heard his prayer.
He came down furious from the summits of Olympus, with his bow
and his quiver upon his shoulder, and the arrows rattled on his back
with the rage that trembled within him.
He sat himself down away from the ships with a face as dark as night,
and his silver bow rang death as he shot his arrow in the midst of them.
First he smote their mules and their hounds, but presently he aimed his shafts at the people themselves,
and all day long the pyres of the dead were burning.
For nine whole days he shot his arrows among the people,
but upon the tenth day Achilles called them in assembly--moved thereto by Juno,
who saw the Achaeans in their death-throes and had compassion upon them.
Then, when they were got together, he rose and spoke among them.
(Achilles loses the girl and withdraws into his tent, refusing to fight in protest)
.......... ................ ................ ..................
................. .................. ..................... ........
Achilles abode at his ships and nursed his anger.
He went not to the honourable assembly, and sallied not forth to fight,
but gnawed at his own heart, pining for battle and the war-cry.
Now after twelve days the immortal gods came back in a body to Olympus,
and Jove led the way. Thetis was not unmindful of the charge her son had laid upon her,
so she rose from under the sea and went through great heaven with early morning to Olympus,
where she found the mighty son of Saturn sitting all alone upon its topmost ridges.
She sat herself down before him, and with her left hand seized his knees,
while with her right she caught him under the chin, and besought him, saying-
"Father Jove, if I ever did you service in word or deed among the immortals,
hear my prayer, and do honour to my son, whose life is to be cut short so early.
King Agamemnon has dishonoured him by taking his prize and keeping her.
Honour him then yourself, Olympian lord of counsel, and grant victory to the Trojans,
till the Achaeans give my son his due and load him with riches in requital."
Jove sat for a while silent, and without a word, but Thetis still kept firm hold of his knees,
and besought him a second time. "Incline your head," said she, "and promise me surely,
or else deny me- for you have nothing to fear- that I may learn how greatly you disdain me."
At this Jove was much troubled and answered,
"I shall have trouble if you set me quarrelling with Juno, for she will provoke me with her taunting speeches;
even now she is always railing at me before the other gods and accusing me of giving aid to the Trojans.
Go back now, lest she should find out. I will consider the matter, and will bring it about as you wish.
See, I incline my head that you believe me. This is the most solemn that I can give to any god.
I never recall my word, or deceive, or fail to do what I say, when I have nodded my head."
As he spoke the son of Saturn bowed his dark brows,
and the ambrosial locks swayed on his immortal head, till vast Olympus reeled.
When the pair had thus laid their plans, they parted, Jove to his house,
while the goddess quitted the splendour of Olympus, and plunged into the depths of the sea.
The gods rose from their seats, before the coming of their sire.
Not one of them dared to remain sitting, but all stood up as he came among them. There, then, he took his seat.
But Juno, when she saw him, knew that he and the old merman's daughter, silver-footed Thetis,
had been hatching mischief, so she at once began to upbraid him.
"Trickster," she cried, "which of the gods have you been taking into your counsels now?
You are always settling matters in secret behind my back, and have never yet told me,
if you could help it, one word of your intentions."
"Juno," replied the sire of gods and men, "you must not expect to be informed of all my counsels.
You are my wife, but you would find it hard to understand them.
When it is proper for you to hear, there is no one, god or man, who will be told sooner,
but when I mean to keep a matter to myself, you must not pry nor ask questions."
"Dread son of Saturn," answered Juno, "what are you talking about?
I? Pry and ask questions? Never. I let you have your own way in everything.
Still, I have a strong misgiving that the old merman's daughter Thetis has been talking you over,
for she was with you and had hold of your knees this self-same morning.
I believe, therefore, that you have been promising her to give glory to Achilles,
and to kill much people at the ships of the Achaeans."
"Wife," said Jove, "I can do nothing but you suspect me and find it out.
You will take nothing by it, for I shall only dislike you the more, and it will go harder with you.
Granted that it is as you say; I mean to have it so; sit down and hold your tongue as I bid you
for if I once begin to lay my hands about you, though all heaven were on your side
it would profit you nothing."
On this Juno was frightened, so she curbed her stubborn will and sat down in silence.
But the heavenly beings were disquieted throughout the house of Jove,
till the cunning workman Vulcan began to try and pacify his mother Juno.
"It will be intolerable," said he, "if you two fall to wrangling and setting heaven in an uproar
about a pack of mortals. If such ill counsels are to prevail, we shall have no pleasure at our banquet.
Let me then advise my mother- and she must herself know that it will be better-
to make friends with my dear father Jove, lest he again scold her and disturb our feast.
If the Olympian Thunderer wants to hurl us all from our seats, he can do so,
for he is far the strongest, so give him fair words,
and he will then soon be in a good humour with us."
As he spoke, he took a double cup of nectar, and placed it in his mother's hand.
"Cheer up, my dear mother," said he, "and make the best of it.
I love you dearly, and should be very sorry to see you get a thrashing;
however grieved I might be, I could not help for there is no standing against Jove.
Once before when I was trying to help you, he caught me by the foot
and flung me from the heavenly threshold. All day long from morn till eve, was I falling,
till at sunset I came to ground in the island of Lemnos, and there I lay,
with very little life left in me, till the Sintians came and tended me."
Juno smiled at this, and as she smiled she took the cup from her son's hands.
Then Vulcan drew sweet nectar from the mixing-bowl, and served it round among the gods,
going from left to right; and the blessed gods laughed out a loud applause
as they saw him bustling about the heavenly mansion.
Thus through the livelong day to the going down of the sun they feasted,
and every one had his full share, so that all were satisfied.
Apollo struck his lyre, and the Muses lifted up their sweet voices, calling and answering one another.
But when the sun's glorious light had faded, they went home to bed,
each in his own abode, which lame Vulcan with his consummate skill had fashioned for them.
So Jove, the Olympian Lord of Thunder, hied him to the bed in which he always slept;
and when he had got on to it he went to sleep, with Juno of the golden throne by his side.
The Greeks would now have taken Troy by the hands of Patroclus,
for his spear flew in all directions,
had not Phoebus Apollo taken his stand upon the wall to defeat his purpose and to aid the Trojans.
Thrice did Patroclus charge at an angle of the high wall, and thrice did Apollo beat him back,
striking his shield with his own immortal hands.
When Patroclus was coming on like a god for yet a fourth time,
Apollo shouted to him with an awful voice and said,
"Draw back, noble Patroclus, it is not your lot to sack the city of the Trojan chieftains,
nor yet will it be that of Achilles who is a far better man than you are."
On hearing this, Patroclus withdrew to some distance and avoided the anger of Apollo.
Meanwhile Hector was waiting with his horses inside the Scaean gates of Troy,
in doubt whether to drive out again and go on fighting, or to call the army inside the gates.
As he was thus doubting Phoebus Apollo drew near him
in the likeness of a young and lusty warrior Asius, who was Hector's uncle,
being own brother to Hecuba, and son of Dymas who lived in Phrygia by the waters of the river Sangarius;
in his likeness Jove's son Apollo now spoke to Hector saying,
"Hector, why have you left off fighting? It is ill done of you. If I were as much better a man than you,
as I am worse, you should soon rue your slackness. Drive straight towards Patroclus,
if so be that Apollo may grant you a triumph over him, and you may rule him."
With this the god went back into the hurly-burly,
and Hector bade Cebriones drive again into the fight.
Apollo passed in among them, and struck panic into the Greeks,
while he gave triumph to Hector and the Trojans.
Hector let the others alone and killed no man, but drove straight at Patroclus.
Patroclus then sprang from his chariot to the ground, with a spear in his left hand,
and in his right a jagged stone as large as his hand could hold.
He stood still and threw it, nor did it go far without hitting some one;
the cast was not in vain, for the stone struck Cebriones, Hector's charioteer,
a bastard son of Priam, as he held the reins in his hands.
The stone hit him on the forehead and drove his brows into his head
for the bone was smashed, and his eyes fell to the ground at his feet.
He dropped dead from his chariot as though he were diving, and there was no more life left in him.
Over him did you then vaunt, O knight Patroclus, saying,
"Bless my heart, how active he is, and how well he dives.
If we had been at sea this fellow would have dived from the ship's side
and brought up as many oysters as the whole crew could stomach, even in rough water,
for he has dived beautifully off his chariot on to the ground.
It seems, then, that there are divers also among the Trojans."
As he spoke he flung himself on Cebriones with the spring, as it were,
of a lion that while attacking a stockyard is himself struck in the chest,
and his courage is his own bane-
even so furiously, O Patroclus, did you then spring upon Cebriones.
Hector sprang also from his chariot to the ground.
The pair then fought over the body of Cebriones.
As two lions fight fiercely on some high mountain over the body of a stag
that they have killed, even so did these two mighty warriors, Patroclus son of Menoetius
and brave Hector, hack and hew at one another over the corpse of Cebriones.
Hector would not let him go when he had once got him by the head,
while Patroclus kept fast hold of his feet,
and a fierce fight raged between the other Danaans and Trojans.
As the east and south wind buffet one another when they beat upon some dense forest on the mountains-
there is beech and ash and spreading cornel;
the tops of the trees roar as they beat on one another,
and one can hear the boughs cracking and breaking-
even so did the Trojans and Achaeans spring upon one another and lay about each other,
and neither side would give way. Many a pointed spear fell to ground
and many a winged arrow sped from its bow-string about the body of Cebriones;
many a great stone, moreover, beat on many a shield as they fought around his body,
but there he lay in the whirling clouds of dust, all huge and hugely, heedless of his driving now.
Then Patroclus sprang like Mars with fierce intent and a terrific shout upon the Trojans,
and thrice did he kill nine men; but as he was coming on like a god for a fourth time,
then, O Patroclus, was the hour of your end approaching,
for Phoebus Apollo fought you in fell earnest.
Patroclus did not see him as he moved about in the crush,
for he was enshrouded in thick darkness,
and the god struck him from behind on his back and his broad shoulders with the flat of his hand,
so that his eyes turned dizzy.
Phoebus Apollo beat the helmet from off his head, and it rolled rattling off under the horses' feet,
where its horse-hair plumes were all begrimed with dust and blood.
Never indeed had that helmet fared so before,
for it had served to protect the head and comely forehead of the godlike hero Achilles.
Now, however, Zeus delivered it over to be worn by Hector.
Nevertheless the end of Hector also was near.
The bronze-shod spear, so great and so strong, was broken in the hand of Patroclus,
while his shield that covered him from head to foot fell to the ground
as did also the band that held it, and Apollo undid the fastenings of his corslet.
On this his mind became clouded; his limbs failed him, and he stood as one dazed;
whereon Euphorbus son of Panthous a Dardanian, the best spearman of his time,
as also the finest horseman and fleetest runner,
came behind him and struck him in the back with a spear, midway between the shoulders.
This man as soon as ever he had come up with his chariot had dismounted twenty men,
so proficient was he in all the arts of war-
he it was, O knight Patroclus, that first drove a weapon into you,
but he did not quite overpower you.
Euphorbus then ran back into the crowd, after drawing his ashen spear out of the wound;
he would not stand firm and wait for Patroclus, unarmed though he now was, to attack him;
but Patroclus unnerved, alike by the blow the god had given him and by the spear-wound,
drew back under cover of his men in fear for his life.
Hector on this, seeing him to be wounded and giving ground,
forced his way through the ranks, and when close up with him
struck him in the lower part of the belly with a spear,
driving the bronze point right through it, so that he fell heavily to the ground
to the great woe of the Achaeans.
As when a lion has fought some fierce wild-boar and worsted him-
the two fight furiously upon the mountains over some little fountain
at which they would both drink, and the lion has beaten the boar till he can hardly breathe-
even so did Hector son of Priam take the life of the brave son of Menoetius
who had killed so many, striking him from close at hand, and vaunting over him the while.
"Patroclus," said he, "you deemed that you should sack our city,
rob our Trojan women of their freedom, and carry them off in your ships to your own country.
Fool; Hector and his fleet horses were ever straining their utmost to defend them.
I am foremost of all the Trojan warriors to stave the day of bondage from off them;
as for you, vultures shall devour you here.
Poor wretch, Achilles with all his bravery availed you nothing;
and yet I ween when you left him he charged you straitly saying,
'Come not back to the ships, knight Patroclus,
till you have rent the bloodstained shirt of murderous Hector about his body.
Thus I ween did he charge you, and your fool's heart answered him 'yea' within you."
Then, as the life ebbed out of you, you answered, O knight Patroclus:
"Hector, vaunt as you will, for Jove the son of Saturn and Apollo have vouchsafed you victory;
it is they who have vanquished me so easily,
and they who have stripped the armour from my shoulders;
had twenty such men as you attacked me, all of them would have fallen before my spear.
Fate and the son of Leto have overpowered me, and among mortal men Euphorbus;
you are yourself third only in the killing of me.
I say further, and lay my saying to your heart, you too shall live but for a little season;
death and the day of your doom are close upon you,
and they will lay you low by the hand of Achilles son of Aeacus."
When he had thus spoken his eyes were closed in death,
his soul left his body and flitted down to the house of Hades,
mourning its sad fate and bidding farewell to the youth and vigor of its manhood.
Dead though he was, Hector still spoke to him saying,
"Patroclus, why should you thus foretell my doom?
Who knows but Achilles, son of lovely Thetis,
may be smitten by my spear and die before me?"
As he spoke he drew the bronze spear from the wound,
planting his foot upon the body, which he thrust off and let lie on its back.
From Homer’s Odyssey Book 8
Presently the servant came back with Demodocus's lyre, and he took his
place in the midst of them, whereon the best young dancers in the town
began to foot and trip it so nimbly that Ulysses was delighted with the
merry twinkling of their feet.
Meanwhile the bard began to sing the loves of Mars and Venus, and how
they first began their intrigue in the house of Vulcan. Mars made Venus
many presents, and defiled King Vulcan's marriage bed, so the sun, who
saw what they were about, told Vulcan. Vulcan was very angry when he
heard such dreadful news, so he went to his smithy brooding mischief,
got his great anvil into its place, and began to forge some chains
which none could either unloose or break, so that they might stay there
in that place. When he had finished his snare he went into his bedroom
and festooned the bed-posts all over with chains like cobwebs; he also
let many hang down from the great beam of the ceiling. Not even a god
could see them, so fine and subtle were they. As soon as he had spread
the chains all over the bed, he made as though he were setting out for
the fair state of Lemnos, which of all places in the world was the one
he was most fond of. But Mars kept no blind look out, and as soon as he
saw him start, hurried off to his house, burning with love for Venus.
Now Venus was just come in from a visit to her father Jove, and was
about sitting down when Mars came inside the house, an said as he took
her hand in his own, "Let us go to the couch of Vulcan: he is not at
home, but is gone off to Lemnos among the Sintians, whose speech is
She was nothing loth, so they went to the couch to take their rest,
whereon they were caught in the toils which cunning Vulcan had spread
for them, and could neither get up nor stir hand or foot, but found too
late that they were in a trap. Then Vulcan came up to them, for he had
turned back before reaching Lemnos, when his scout the sun told him
what was going on. He was in a furious passion, and stood in the
vestibule making a dreadful noise as he shouted to all the gods.
"Father Jove," he cried, "and all you other blessed gods who live for
ever, come here and see the ridiculous and disgraceful sight that I
will show you. Jove's daughter Venus is always dishonouring me because
I am lame. She is in love with Mars, who is handsome and clean built,
whereas I am a cripple- but my parents are to blame for that, not I;
they ought never to have begotten me. Come and see the pair together
asleep on my bed. It makes me furious to look at them. They are very
fond of one another, but I do not think they will lie there longer than
they can help, nor do I think that they will sleep much; there,
however, they shall stay till her father has repaid me the sum I gave
him for his baggage of a daughter, who is fair but not honest."
On this the gods gathered to the house of Vulcan. Earth-encircling
Neptune came, and Mercury the bringer of luck, and King Apollo, but the
goddesses stayed at home all of them for shame. Then the givers of all
good things stood in the doorway, and the blessed gods roared with
inextinguishable laughter, as they saw how cunning Vulcan had been,
whereon one would turn towards his neighbour saying:
"Ill deeds do not prosper, and the weak confound the strong. See how
limping Vulcan, lame as he is, has caught Mars who is the fleetest god
in heaven; and now Mars will be cast in heavy damages."
Thus did they converse, but King Apollo said to Mercury, "Messenger
Mercury, giver of good things, you would not care how strong the chains
were, would you, if you could sleep with Venus?"
"King Apollo," answered Mercury, "I only wish I might get the chance,
though there were three times as many chains- and you might look on,
all of you, gods and goddesses, but would sleep with her if I could."
The immortal gods burst out laughing as they heard him, but Neptune
took it all seriously, and kept on imploring Vulcan to set Mars free
again. "Let him go," he cried, "and I will undertake, as you require,
that he shall pay you all the damages that are held reasonable among
the immortal gods."
"Do not," replied Vulcan, "ask me to do this; a bad man's bond is bad
security; what remedy could I enforce against you if Mars should go
away and leave his debts behind him along with his chains?"
"Vulcan," said Neptune, "if Mars goes away without paying his damages,
I will pay you myself." So Vulcan answered, "In this case I cannot and
must not refuse you."
Thereon he loosed the bonds that bound them, and as soon as they were
free they scampered off, Mars to Thrace and laughter-loving Venus to
Cyprus and to Paphos, where is her grove and her altar fragrant with
burnt offerings. Here the Graces bathed her, and anointed her with oil
of ambrosia such as the immortal gods make use of, and they clothed her
in raiment of the most enchanting beauty.
Thus sang the bard, and both Ulysses and the seafaring Phaeacians were charmed as they heard him.
Sophocles: Oedipus the King (c. 427 B.C.)
As a youth, Laius should have become ruler of
Thebes. But usurpers forced the young boy to run away to Olympia. After
he grew to manhood, Laius returned to Thebes to reclaim the throne.
Before he left Olympia, Laius betrayed King Pelops by raping the
beautiful boy Chrysippus, Pelops's illegitimate son whom Pelops loved
better than his legal sons Atreus and Thyestes. Chrysippus killed
himself in shame. Pelops cursed Laius, demanding that he should be
killed by his son in revenge. Pelops himself was the inheritor of a
curse imposed on his father Tantalus (who had tried to deceive the gods
into eating a stew made with Pelop’s flesh; the gods restored the boy
to life and cursed his descendants) which brought disaster on his sons
Atreus and Thyestes, then on his grandson, Agamemnon, who was killed by
his wife Clytemnestra when he returned from Troy.
The play opens in front of the palace of Oedipus at Thebes.
OEDIPUS: My children, latest generation born from Cadmus,
why are you sitting here with wreathed sticks
in supplication to me, while the city
fills with incense, chants, and cries of pain?
Children, it would not be appropriate for me
to learn of this from any other source,
so I have come in person—I, Oedipus,
whose fame all men acknowledge. But you there,
old man, tell me—you seem to be the one
who ought to speak for those assembled
What feeling brings you to me—fear or desire?
You can be confident that I will help.
I shall assist you willingly in every way.
I would be a hard-hearted man indeed,
if I did not pity suppliants like these.
Oedipus asks an approaching priest and his supplicants what they
want. The priest thanks him for saving them from the Sphinx, but
tells him that the city needs saving again from a plague that has
descended. Oedipus says that he has sent a messenger to Apollo's
shrine to find out what he must do to save the city. The
messenger, Jocasta’s brother Creon, arrives and says that Apollo told
him that the man who murdered former King Laius must be discovered and
driven from the land.
OEDIPUS: Then I will start afresh, and once again
shed light on darkness. It is most
that Apollo demonstrates his care
for the dead man, and worthy of you, too.
And so, as is right, you will see how I
work with you, seeking vengeance for this land,
as well as for the god. This polluting stain
I will remove, not for some distant friend,
but for myself. For whoever killed this man
may soon enough desire to turn his
in the same way against me, too, and kill me.
Thus, in avenging Laius, I serve
But now, my children, as quickly as you can
stand up from these altar steps and take
your suppliant branches. Someone must call
the Theban people to assemble here.
I’ll do everything I can. With the god’s help
this will all come to light successfully,
or else it will prove our common ruin.
[OEDIPUS and CREON go into the palace]
PRIEST: Let us get up, children. For this man
has willingly declared just what we came for.
And may Phoebus, who sent this
come as our saviour and end our
CHORUS: Oh sweet speaking voice of Zeus,
you have come to glorious Thebes from golden Pytho—
but what is your intent?
My fearful heart twists on the rack and shakes with fear.
O Delian healer, for whom we cry aloud
in holy awe, what obligation
will you demand from me, a thing unknown
or now renewed with the revolving years?
Immortal voice, O child of golden
speak to me!
First I call on you, Athena the immortal,
daughter of Zeus, and on your sister, too,
Artemis, who guards our land and sits
on her glorious round throne in our market place,
and on Phoebus, who shoots from far away.
O you three guardians against death,
appear to me!
If before now you have ever driven off
a fiery plague to keep away
from the city and have banished it,
then come to
us this time as well!
Alas, the pains I bear are numberless—
my people now all sick with plague,
our minds can find no weapons
to serve as our defence. Now the offspring
of our splendid earth no longer grow,
nor do our women crying out in labour
get their relief from a living new-born child.
As you can
see—one by one they swoop
off to the shores of the evening god, like birds
faster than fire which no one can resist.
Our city dies—we’ve lost count of all the dead.
lie in the dirt unpitied, unlamented.
Corpses spread the pestilence, while youthful wives
and grey-haired mothers on the altar steps
wail everywhere and cry in supplication,
seeking to relieve their agonizing pain.
Their solemn chants ring out—
they mingle with the voices of
O Zeus’ golden daughter,
send your support and strength,
And that ravenous Ares, god of killing,
who now consumes me as he charges on
with no bronze shield but howling battle cries,
let him turn his back and quickly leave this land,
with a fair following wind to carry him
to the great chambers of Neptune
or inhospitable waves of
For if destruction does not come at night,
then day arrives to see it does its work.
you who wield that mighty flash of fire,
O father Zeus, with your lighting blast
let Ares be destroyed!
O Phoebus Apollo, how I wish those arrows
from the golden string of your bent bow
with their all-conquering force would wing out
to champion us against our enemy,
the blazing fires of Artemis, as
with which she races through the Lycian hills.
I call the god who binds his hair with gold,
the one whose name our country shares,
the one to whom the Maenads shout their cries,
Dionysus with his radiant face—
may he come to us with his flaming torchlight,
our ally against Ares,
a god dishonoured among gods.
Oedipus asks anyone knowing the identity of the murderer to step
forward without fear of harm. He curses those who have knowledge
and do not step forth. The chorus says he should ask the prophet
Teiresias. Teiresias enters. He says he knows something but
refuses to speak. Oedipus accuses Teiresias of having a part in
the murder. Teiresias accuses Oedipus of being the
murderer. Oedipus concludes that (the former king) Creon must
have put Teiresias up to making the accusations. Teiresias tells
Oedipus that his downfall will come when he learns the secret of his
marriage, and asks him if he knows who his parents are. Oedipus
orders him out of the house. Teiresias tells him that the
murderer will be proved both father and brother to his children.
Teiresias and Oedipus leave separately. The Chorus sings:
Sore perplexed am I by the words of the master seer.
Are they true, are they false? I know not and bridle my tongue for fear,
Fluttered with vague surmise; nor present nor future is clear.
Quarrel of ancient date or in days still near know I none
Twixt the Labdacidan house and our ruler, Polybus' son.
Proof is there none: how then can I challenge our King's good name,
How in a bloodfeud join for an untracked deed of shame?
All wise are Zeus and Apollo, and nothing is hid from their ken;
They are gods; and in wits a man may surpass his fellow men;
But that a mortal seer knows more than I knowwhere
Hath this been proven? Or how without sign assured, can I blame
Him who saved our State when the winged songstress came,
Tested and tried in the light of us all, like gold assayed?
How can I now assent when a crime is on Oedipus laid?
Creon enters, denying the allegations that he has heard Oedipus
made. Oedipus enters and accuses Creon of being the murderer and
trying to take the throne. Creon denies this. Oedipus
proposes to kill Creon. Oedipus' wife, Jocasta, enters.
Everyone, including Jocasta, begs Oedipus to spare Creon on the
strength of Creon's oath that he is innocent. Oedipus consents,
but pledges to forever hate Creon. Creon exits. Oedipus tells
Jocasta that Creon had sent the prophet to accuse him of the murder.
JOCASTA: All right, forget about those things you’ve said. 850
Listen to me, and ease your mind with this—
no human being has skill in prophecy.
I’ll show you why with this example
King Laius once received a prophecy.
I won’t say it came straight from Apollo,
but it was from those who do assist the god.
It said Laius was fated to be killed
by a child conceived by him and me.
Now, at least according to the story,
one day Laius was killed by
by robbers, at a place where three roads meet.
Besides, before our child was three days old,
Laius fused his ankles tight together
and ordered other men to throw him out
on a mountain rock where no one ever goes.
And so Apollo’s plan that he’d be
the one who killed his father didn’t work,
and Laius never suffered what he feared,
that his own son would be his murderer,
although that’s what the oracle had
So don’t concern yourself with prophecies.
Whatever the gods intend to bring about
they themselves make known quite easily.
OEDIPUS: Lady, as I listen to these words of yours,
my soul is shaken, my mind confused . . .
JOCASTA: Why do you say that? What’s worrying you?
OEDIPUS: I thought I heard you say that Laius
was murdered at a place where three roads meet
JOCASTA: That’s what was said and people still believe.
OEDIPUS: Where is this place? Where did it
JOCASTA: In a land called Phocis. Two roads lead there—
one from Delphi and one from Daulia.
OEDIPUS: How long is it since these events took place?
JOCASTA: The story was reported in the city
just before you took over royal power
here in Thebes.
Oh Zeus, what have you done?
What have you planned for me?
What is it,
Oedipus? Why is your spirit so troubled?
no questions yet. Tell me this—Laius,
how tall was he? How old a
JOCASTA: He was big—his hair was turning white.
In shape he was not all that unlike you.
OEDIPUS: The worse for me! I may have just set myself
under a dreadful curse without my knowledge!
JOCASTA: What do you mean? As I look at you, my king,
I start to tremble.
I am afraid,
full of terrible fears the prophet sees.
But you can reveal this better if you now
will tell me one thing more.
but if you ask me, I will answer
OEDIPUS: Did Laius have a small escort with him
or a troop of soldiers, like a royal king?
JOCASTA: Five men, including a herald, went with him.
A carriage carried Laius.
It’s all too clear! Lady, who told you this?
JOCASTA: A servant—the only one who got away.
He came back here.
Is there any chance
he’s in our household now?
Once he returned and understood that you
had now assumed the power of slaughtered
he clasped my hands, begged me to send him off
to where our animals graze out in the fields,
so he could be as far away as possible
from the sight of town. And so I sent him.
He was a slave but he'd earned my gratitude.
He deserved an even greater favour.
OEDIPUS: I’d like him to return back here to us,
and quickly, too.
That can be arranged—
but why’s that something you would want to do?
OEDIPUS: Lady, I’m afraid I may have said too
That’s why I want to see him here in front of me.
JOCASTA: Then he will be here. But now, my lord,
I deserve to learn why you are so distressed.
OEDIPUS: My forebodings now have grown so great
I will not keep them from you, for who is there
I should confide in rather than in you
about such a twisted turn of fortune.
My father was Polybus of Corinth,
my mother Merope, a Dorian.
There I was regarded as the finest
in all the city, until, as chance would have it,
something really astonishing took place,
though it was not worth what it caused me to do.
At a dinner there a man who was quite drunk
from too much wine began to shout at me,
claiming I was not my father’s real son.
That troubled me, but for a day at least
I said nothing, though it was difficult.
The next day I went to ask my parents,
my father and my mother. They were
at the man who had insulted them this way,
so I was reassured. But nonetheless,
the accusation always troubled me—
the story had become well known all over.
And so I went in secret off to Delphi.
I didn’t tell my mother or my father.
Apollo sent me back without an answer,
so I didn’t learn what I had come to find.
But when he spoke he uttered monstrous things,
strange terrors and horrific
it was my fate to defile my mother’s bed,
to bring forth a human family
that people could not bear to look upon,
to murder the father who engendered me.
When I heard that, I ran away from Corinth.
From then on I thought of it just as a place
beneath the stars. I went to other lands,
so I would never see that prophecy fulfilled,
the abomination of my evil fate.
In my travelling I came across that
in which you say your king was murdered.
And now, lady, I will tell you the truth.
As I was on the move, I passed close by
a spot where three roads meet, and in that place
I met a herald and a horse-drawn carriage.
Inside there was a man like you described.
The guide there tried to force me off the road—
and the old man, too, got personally involved.
In my rage, I lashed out at the driver,
who was shoving me aside. The old
seeing me walking past him in the carriage,
kept his eye on me, and with his double whip
struck me on my head, right here on top.
Well, I retaliated in good
I hit him a quick blow with the staff I held
and knocked him from his carriage to the road.
He lay there on his back. Then I killed them all.
If that stranger was somehow linked to Laius,
who is now more unfortunate than me?
What man could be more hateful to the
No stranger and no citizen can welcome him
into their lives or speak to him. Instead,
they must keep him from their doors, a curse
I laid upon myself. With these hands of mine
these killer’s hands, I now contaminate
the dead man’s bed. Am I not depraved?
Am I not utterly abhorrent?
Now I must fly into exile and there,
a fugitive, never see my people,
never set foot in my native land
or else I must get married to my mother
and kill my father, Polybus, who raised me,
the man who gave me life. If anyone
claimed this came from some malevolent god,
would he not be right? O you gods,
you pure, blessed gods, may I not see that day!
Let me rather vanish from the sight of men,
before I see a fate like that roll over me.
CHORUS LEADER: My lord, to us these things are ominous.
But you must sustain your hope until you
the servant who was present at the time.
OEDIPUS: I do have some hope left, at least enough
to wait for the man we’ve summoned from the fields.
JOCASTA: Once he comes, what do you hope to hear?
OEDIPUS: I’ll tell you. If we discover what he says
matches what you say, then I’ll escape disaster.
JOCASTA: What was so remarkable in what I said?
OEDIPUS: You said that in his story the man claimed
Laius was murdered by a band of thieves.
If he still says that there were several
then I was not the killer, since one man
could never be mistaken for a crowd.
But if he says it was a single man,
then I’m the one responsible for this.
JOCASTA: Well, that’s certainly what he reported then.
He cannot now withdraw what he once said.
The whole city heard him, not just me alone.
But even if he changes that old news,
he cannot ever demonstrate, my lord,
that Laius’ murder fits the
For Apollo clearly said the man would die
at the hands of an infant born from me.
Now, how did that unhappy son of ours
kill Laius, when he’d perished long before?
So as far as these oracular sayings go,
I would not look for confirmation anywhere.
OEDIPUS: You’re right in what you say. But nonetheless,
send for that peasant. Don’t fail to do that.
JOCASTA: I’ll call him here as quickly as I can.
Let’s go inside. I’ll not do
which does not meet with your approval.
A messenger arrives and tells Jocasta that
Oedipus' father Polybus has died and the Corinthians want Oedipus as
their king now. Jocasta sends for Oedipus and tells him the good
news his father is dead, and it is not at Oedipus' hand.
Apparently his death
was from an illness?
Yes, and from old age.
OEDIPUS: Alas! Indeed, lady, why should any man
pay due reverence to Apollo’s shrine,
where his prophet lives, or to those birds
which scream out overhead? For they foretold
that I was going to murder my own father.
But now he’s dead and lies beneath the earth,
and I am here. I never touched my
Perhaps he died from a desire to see me—
so in that sense I brought about his death.
But as for those prophetic oracles,
they’re worthless. Polybus has taken them
to Hades, where he lies.
Was I not the one
who predicted this some time ago?
but then I was misguided by my fears.
JOCASTA: You must not keep on filling up your heart
with all these things.
But my mother’s bed—
I am afraid of that. And surely I should
JOCASTA: Why should a man whose life seems ruled by chance
live in fear—a man who never looks ahead,
who has no certain vision of his future?
It’s best to live haphazardly, as best one can.
Do not worry you will wed your mother.
It’s true that in their dreams a lot of men
have slept with their own mothers, but someone
who ignores all this bears life more easily.
OEDIPUS: Everything you say would be commendable,
if my mother were not still
But since she is, I must remain afraid,
although what you are saying is right.
your father’s death is a great comfort to us.
OEDIPUS: Yes, it is good, I know. But I do fear
that lady—she is still alive.
This one you fear,
what kind of woman is she?
her name is Merope, wife to Polybus.
MESSENGER: And what in her makes you so fearful?
a dreadful prophecy sent from the god.
MESSENGER: Is it well known? Or something
which another person has no right to know?
OEDIPUS: No, no. It’s public knowledge. Loxias*
once said it was my fate that I would marry
my own mother and shed my father’s blood
with my own hands. That’s why, many years ago,
I left my home in Corinth. Things turned out well,
but nonetheless it gives the sweetest joy
to look into the eyes of one’s own parents.
MESSENGER: And because you were afraid of her
you stayed away from Corinth?
I did not want to be my father’s killer.
MESSENGER: My lord, since I came to make you happy,
why don’t I relieve you of this fear?
OEDIPUS: You would receive from me a worthy thanks.
MESSENGER: That’s really why I came—so your return
might prove a benefit to me back home.
OEDIPUS: But I will never go back to my parents.
MESSENGER: My son, it is so clear you have no idea
what you are doing . . .
OEDIPUS: [interrupting] What do you mean, old man?
In the name of all the gods, tell
MESSENGER: . . . if that’s the reason you’re a fugitive
and won’t go home.
I feared Apollo’s prophecy
might reveal itself in me.
You were afraid
you might become corrupted through your parents?
OEDIPUS: That’s right, old man. That was my constant fear.
MESSENGER: Are you aware these fears of yours are groundless?
OEDIPUS: And why is that? If I was born their child . . .
MESSENGER: Because you and Polybus were not related.
OEDIPUS: What do you mean? Was not Polybus my father?
MESSENGER: He was as much your father as this man here, 1210
no more, no less.
But how can any man
who means nothing to me be the same
as my own father?
was not your father, no more than I am.
OEDIPUS: Then why did he call me his son?
If you must know,
he received you many years ago as a gift.
I gave you to him.
He really loved me.
How could he if I came from someone else?
MESSENGER: Well, before you came, he had no children—
that made him love you.
When you gave me to
had you bought me or found me by accident?
MESSENGER: I found you in Cithaeron’s forest valleys.
OEDIPUS: What were you doing wandering up there?
MESSENGER: I was looking after flocks of sheep.
OEDIPUS: You were a shepherd, just a hired servant
roaming here and there?
Yes, my son, I was.
But at that time I was the one who saved
OEDIPUS: When you picked me up and took me off,
what sort of suffering was I going through?
MESSENGER: The ankles on your feet could tell you that. 1230
OEDIPUS: Ah, my old misfortune. Why mention that?
MESSENGER: Your ankles had been pierced and tied together.
I set them free.
My dreadful mark of shame—
I’ve had that scar there since I was a child.
MESSENGER: That’s why fortune gave you your very name,
the one which you still carry.
in the name of heaven, why did my parents,
my father or my mother, do this to me?
MESSENGER: I don’t know. The man who gave you to me
knows more of that than I do.
You mean to
you got me from someone else? It wasn’t you
who stumbled on me?
No, it wasn’t me.
Another shepherd gave you to me.
Who was he? Do you know? Can you tell me
any details, ones you know for certain?
MESSENGER: Well, I think he was one of Laius’ servants—
that’s what people said.
You mean king Laius,
the one who ruled this country years ago?
MESSENGER: That’s right. He was one of the king’s shepherds.
OEDIPUS: Is he still alive? Can I still see
MESSENGER: You people live here. You’d best answer that.
OEDIPUS: [turning to the Chorus] Do any of you here now know the man,
this shepherd he describes? Have you seen him,
either in the fields or here in Thebes?
Answer me. It’s critical, time at last
to find out what this
The man he mentioned
is, I think, the very peasant from the fields
you wanted to see earlier. But of this
Jocasta could tell more than anyone.
OEDIPUS: Lady, do you know the man we sent
just minutes ago—the one we summoned here?
Is he the one this messenger refers to?
JOCASTA: Why ask me what he means? Forget all that.
There’s no point in trying to sort out what he said.
OEDIPUS: With all these indications of the truth
here in my grasp, I cannot end this now.
I must reveal the details of my birth.
JOCASTA: In the name of the gods, no! If you have
some concern for your own life, then stop!
Do not keep investigating
I will suffer—that will be enough.
OEDIPUS: Be brave. Even if I should turn out to be
born from a shameful mother, whose family
for three generations have been slaves,
you will still have your noble lineage.
JOCASTA: Listen to me, I beg you. Do not do this.
OEDIPUS: I will not be convinced I should not learn
the whole truth of what these facts amount to.
JOCASTA: But I care about your own well being—
what I tell you is for your
OEDIPUS: What you’re telling me for my own good
just brings me more distress.
Oh, you unhappy man!
May you never find out who you really are!
OEDIPUS: [to Chorus] Go, one of you, and bring that shepherd here.
Leave the lady to enjoy her noble family.
JOCASTA: Alas, you poor miserable man!
There’s nothing more that I can say to you.
And now I’ll never speak again.
The old shepherd enters. The messenger asks if he remembers giving him
a child. The shepherd remembers, but doesn't want to tell the
tale. Oedipus has his men twist the shepherd's arm and threatens
him with death if he does not tell all. He tells of how Laius'
wife gave him the child to do away with.
OEDIPUS: That wretched woman was the mother?
She was afraid of dreadful prophecies.
OEDIPUS: What sort of prophecies?
The story went
that he would kill his father.
If that was
why did you give the child to this old man?
SERVANT: I pitied the boy, master, and I thought
he’d take the child off to a foreign land
where he was from. But he rescued him,
only to save him for the greatest grief of all.
For if you’re the one this man says you
you know your birth carried an awful fate.
OEDIPUS: Ah, so it all came true. It’s so clear now.
O light, let me look at you one final time,
a man who stands revealed as cursed by
cursed by my own family, and cursed
by murder where I should not kill.
OEDIPUS walks into the palace. The Chorus, understanding the whole
story, meditates on the changes of human fortune. A Messenger brings
news of the dreadful result.
SECOND MESSENGER: She killed herself. You did not see it,
so you'll be spared the worst of what went on.
But from what I recall of what I saw
you’ll learn how that poor woman
She left here frantic and rushed inside,
fingers on both hands clenched in her hair.
She ran through the hall straight to her marriage bed.
She went in, slamming both doors shut behind her
and crying out to Laius, who’s been a corpse
a long time now. She was remembering
that child of theirs born many years ago—
the one who killed his father, who left her
to conceive cursed children with that son.
She lay moaning by the bed, where
poor woman, had given birth twice over—
a husband from a husband, children from a child.
How she died after that I don’t fully know.
With a scream Oedipus came bursting in.
He would not let us see her suffering,
her final pain. We watched him charge around,
back and forth. As he moved, he kept asking us
to give him a sword, as he tried to find
that wife who was no wife—whose mother’s womb
had given birth to him and to his
As he raved, some immortal power led him on—
no human in the room came close to him.
With a dreadful howl, as if
had pushed him, he leapt at the double doors,
bent the bolts by force out of their sockets,
and burst into the room. Then we saw her.
She was hanging there, swaying, with twisted cords
roped round her neck. When Oedipus saw her,
with a dreadful groan he took her body
out of the noose in which she hung, and
when the poor woman was lying on the ground—
what happened next was a horrific sight—
from her clothes he ripped the golden brooches
she wore as ornaments, raised them high,
and drove them deep into his eyeballs,
crying as he did so: "You will no longer see
all those atrocious things I suffered,
the dreadful things I did! No. You have seen
those you never should have looked upon,
and those I wished to know you did not
So now and for all future time be dark!"
With these words he raised his hand and struck,
not once, but many times, right in the sockets.
With every blow blood spurted from his eyes
down on his beard, and not in single drops,
but showers of dark blood spattered like hail.
So what these two have done has overwhelmed
not one alone—this disaster swallows up
a man and wife together. That old happiness
they had before in their rich
was truly joy, but now lament and ruin,
death and shame, and all calamities
which men can name are theirs to keep.
CHORUS LEADER: And has that suffering man found some relief
to ease his pain?
SECOND MESSENGER: He shouts at everyone
to open up the gates and thus reveal
to all Cadmeians his father’s killer,
his mother’s . . . but I must not say those words.
He wants them to cast him out of Thebes,
so the curse he laid will not come on
if he still lives inside. But he is weak
and needs someone to lead him on his way.
His agony is more than he can bear—
as he will show you—for on the palace doors
the bolts are being pulled back. Soon you will see
a sight which even a man filled with disgust
would have to pity.
The doors open, and blind Oedipus enters. The chorus expresses
their pity. Oedipus cries out about his evil deeds and asks the
chorus to lead him away from the city or kill him. Creon enters.
Oedipus asks Creon to drive him from the city. Creon wants to
wait for the gods to tell him what to do. Oedipus tells Creon to
bury his wife, to let him live on the mountain where he was left as a
child, and to take care of Oedipus' daughters. Oedipus' two
daughters enter. Oedipus laments the difficult life they will
lead now that their ancestry is revealed. Oedipus says that the
gods hate him. Creon and Oedipus leave together.
CHORUS: You residents of Thebes, our native land,
look on this man, this Oedipus, the one
who understood that celebrated riddle.
He was the most powerful of men.
All citizens who witnessed this man’s wealth
were envious. Now what a surging
of terrible disaster sweeps around him.
So while we wait to see that final day,
we cannot call a mortal being happy
before he’s passed beyond life free from
Aeschylus : Prometheus Bound
The strange, isolated play about Prometheus is one of the greatest
works of literature that exist. The unbowed dignity of the
(immortal) Titan Prometheus, bound to a rock and tormented by Zeus, is
equalled by some of the cries of Job in the Old Testament. Our
sympathy for Prometheus is required by his role of benefactor to
humanity, it is he who has given fire and many other skills to men.
At the start of the play Hephaestus binds the silent Prometheus to a
rock in the Scythian wilderness for having defied Zeus and given fire
and hope to men, after helping Zeus overthrow his father Cronos. He
speaks alone before the arrival of the Chorus composed of the
Oceanides, daughters of the Titan Oceanus.
O divine air Breezes on swift birdwings,
You river fountains, and of ocean waves
The multitudinous laughter Mother Earth!
And you all-seeing circle of the sun,
Behold what I, a God, from Gods endure!
Look down upon my shame,
The cruel wrong that racks my frame,
The grinding anguish that shall waste my strength,
Till time's ten thousand years have measured out their length!
He has devised these chains,
The new throned potentate who reigns,
Chief of the chieftains of the Blest. Ah me!
The woe which is and that which yet shall be
I wail; and question make of these wide skies
When shall the star of my deliverance rise.
And yet-and yet-exactly I foresee
All that shall come to pass; no sharp surprise
Of pain shall overtake me; what's determined
Bear, as I can, I must, knowing the might
Of strong Necessity is unconquerable.
But touching my fate silence and speech alike
Are insupportable. For gifts bestowed
On mortal men I am in these bonds.
I sought the fount of fire in a hollow reed
Hid it privily, a measureless resource
For man, and mighty teacher of all arts.
This is the crime that I must expiate
Hung here in chains, nailed beneath the open sky. Ha! Ha!
What echo, what odour floats by with no sound?
God-wafted or mortal or mingled its strain?
Comes there one to this world's end, this mountain-girt ground,
To have sight of my torment? Or of what is he fain?
A god you behold in bondage and pain,
The foe of Zeus and one at feud with all
The deities that find
Submissive entry to the tyrant's hall;
His fault, too great a love of humankind.
Ah me! Ah me! what wafting wings
As of great birds of prey, is this I hear?
The bright air fanned
Whistles and shrills with rapid beat of wings.
There cometh nought but to my spirit brings
Horror and fear.
The Chorus enters, Prometheus tells of Zeus' anger.
I took from man expectancy of death.
What medicine found you for this malady?
I planted blind hope in his heart
A mighty boon you gave there to man.
Moreover, I conferred the gift of fire.
And have frail mortals now the flame-bright fire?
Yes, and shall master many arts thereby.
And Zeus with such misbehavior charging you?
Torments me with extremity of woe.
Oceanus himself comes,
and tries to convince Prometheus that he should submit to Zeus. He
refuses, then tells the Chorus how he brought civilization to humanity:
In the beginning, seeing they saw amiss,
And hearing heard not, but, like phantoms huddled
In dreams, the perplexed story of their days
Confounded; knowing neither timberwork
Nor brick-built dwellings basking in the light,
But dug for themselves holes, wherein like ants,
That hardly may contend against a breath,
They dwelt in burrows of their unsunned caves.
Neither of winter's cold had they fixed sign,
Nor of the spring when she comes decked with flowers,
Nor yet of summer's heat with melting fruits
Sure token: but utterly without knowledge
Toiled, until I the rising of the stars
Showed them, and when they set, that much obscure.
Moreover, number, the most excellent
Of all inventions, I for them devised,
And gave them writing that retains all,
The serviceable mother of the Muse.
I was the first that yoked unmanaged beasts,
To serve as slaves with collar and with pack,
And take upon themselves, to man's relief,
The heaviest labour of his hands: and
Tamed to the rein and drove in wheeled cars
The horse, of sumptuous pride the ornament.
And those sea wanderers with the wings of cloth,
The shipman's waggons, none but I contrived.
These manifold inventions for mankind
I perfected, who, out upon't, have none
No, not one shift to rid me of this shame.
Your sufferings have been shameful, and your mind
Strays at a loss: like to a bad physician
Fallen sick, you are out of heart: nor can you prescribe
For your own case the draught to make you sound.
But hear the sequel and the more admire
What arts, what aids I cleverly evolved.
The chiefest that, if any man fell sick,
There was no help for him, comestible,
Lotion or potion; but for lack of drugs
They dwindled quite away; until I taught them
To compound draughts and healing mixtures
Wherewith they now are armed against disease.
I staked the winding path of divination
And was the first distinguisher of dreams,
The true from false; and voices ominous
Of meaning dark interpreted; and tokens
Seen when men take the road; and augury
By flight of all the greater crook-clawed birds
With nice discrimination I defined;
These by their nature fair and favourable,
Those, flattered with fair name. And of each sort
The habits I described; their mutual feuds
And friendships and the assemblies they hold.
And of the plumpness of the inward parts
What colour is acceptable to the Gods,
The well streaked liver lobe and gall bladder.
Also by roasting limbs well wrapped in fat
And the long chine, I led men on the road
Of dark and riddling knowledge; and I purged
The glancing eye of fire, dim before,
And made its meaning plain. These are my works.
Then, things beneath the earth, aids hid from man,
Brass, iron, silver, gold, who dares to say
He was before me in discovering?
None, I know well, unless he loves to babble.
And in a single word to sum the whole
All manner of arts men from Prometheus learned.
Shoot not beyond the mark in succouring man
While you yourself are comfortless: for
I am of good hope that from these bonds escaped
you shall one day be mightier than Zeus.
Fate, that brings all things to an end, not thus
Apportions my lot: ten thousand pangs
Must bow, ten thousand miseries afflict me
Before from these bonds I freedom find, for Art
Is by much weaker than Necessity.
Prometheus knows the secret of a threat to Zeus, but refuses to reveal
it, although Zeus will set him free if he does. Io enters, pursued by
flies and ghosts, transformed into a cow by Hera's jealousy for having
been loved by Zeus. Prometheus tells her of her future destiny, of long
journeys and immense suffering; at the same time he hints at the secret
he knows, that if Zeus marries the wrong person, the child of that
marriage will overthrow him. Io pursues her journey, maddened.
Hermes comes to demand Prometheus's submission, in vain. He warns of
Zeus's increased punishment but Prometheus remains adamant:
These are stale tidings I foreknew;
Therefore, since suffering is the due
A foe must pay his foes,
Let curled lightnings clasp and clash
And close upon my limbs: loud crash
The thunder, and fierce throes
Of savage winds convulse calm air:
The embowelled blast earth's roots uptear
And toss beyond its bars,
The rough surge, till the roaring deep
In one devouring deluge sweep
The pathway of the stars
Finally, let him fling my form
Down whirling gulfs, the central storm
Of being; let me lie
Plunged in the black Tartarean gloom;
Yet - yet - his sentence shall not doom
This deathless self to die!
As the play ends, he sinks into the ground to endure the punishment
ordained, together with the Oceanides. It seems that in the lost later
plays of the trilogy he was free and had told Zeus how to avoid the
danger threatening him, but no story tells how his punishment was
brought to an end.
The Story of Pandora
(from Hesiod, Works and
Then Zeus who gathers clouds
addressed him angrily,
"You, Iapetos' Son
(Prometheus), knowing cunning more than all,
with glee you stole the fire and
deceived my mind;
for you will be great sorrow,
and for future men.
As fire's price I'll give an
evil thing, which all
shall cherish in their hearts,
embracing their own scourge."
Thus spoke the sire of gods and
men, and laughed aloud.
He bade Hephaistos,
well-renowned, to wet the earth
with water speedily, to add both
and strength, to make a face
like deathless goddesses',
a maiden's lovely, charming
shape; Athena was
to teach the crafts and weaving
on the well-wrought loom;
and Aphrodite was to bathe her
head with grace
and difficult desire and
to add a dog-like, shameless
mind and thieving ways
he charged Hermes, the guide.
He spoke, and they obeyed Lord
Zeus, the Son of Kronos.
Forthwith from earth the famous
Doubly-lame Hephaistos formed
a modest maiden's shape, as
Kronos' Son had planned;
Bright-eyed Athene then arrayed
and girded her;
The goddess Graces and august
the golden necklaces upon her
skin; and then
the fair-tressed Hours crowned
her head with spring-time flowers;
Athene draped her frame with
The Argos-slaying guide
implanted in her breast
deceits and wheedling words, the
habits of a thief,
according to loud-thundering
Zeus's plans. And speech
the herald of the gods put in,
and named the maid
Pandora (All Gifts), since all those who
hold Olympian homes
had given gifts to her, sorrows
for hard-working men.
But when the god had made the
hopeless, towering trap,
he sent the Argus-slaying, famed
of gods to bring the gift to
forgot Prometheus told him to
accept no gift
from Zeus Olympian, but to send
it back in case
it be, perhaps, some evil thing
for mortal men.
But when he took and kept the
scourge, he understood.
At first the tribes of men had
lived upon the earth
apart and free of evils and of
and hard diseases, which have
brought to men their dooms,
because by hardship mortal men
are quickly aged.
But with her hands the woman
raised the jar's great lid,
released all these, devising grievous
cares for men.
Alone there, Elpis (Hope), in
her indestructible home,
remained within, beneath the
lip, nor by the door
escaped, because the vessel's
lid had stopped her first,
by will of aegis-bearing,
Among the people wander
the earth is full of evils, and
the sea is full;
diseases come by day to people,
and by night,
spontaneous, rushing, bringing
mortals evil things
in silence, since contriving
Zeus removed their voice.
And thus from Zeus's mind there
can be no escape.
Boethius : The Consolation of Philosophy
Boethius, miserable in prison, is visited by the Lady Philosophy. He complains to her that life is unjust because he was once
so rich, powerful, successful in society, then suddenly he has lost his power and privileges.
In former times, to pleasant songs my work was given, and bright were all my labours then;
but now in tears to sad melodies I am compelled to turn.
Thus my maimed Muses guide my pen,
and gloomy songs make real tears bedew my face.
Then could no fear so overcome me
as to leave me companionless upon my way.
They were the pride of my earlier bright-lived days:
in my later gloomy days they are the comfort of my fate;
for hastened by unhappiness age has come upon me without warning,
and grief has set within me the old age of her gloom.
White hairs are scattered untimely on my head,
and the skin hangs loosely from my worn-out limbs.
Happy is that death which thrusts not itself upon men in their pleasant years,
yet comes to them at the oft-repeated cry of their sorrow.
Sad is it how death turns away from the unhappy with so deaf an ear,
and will not close the eyes that weep.
Ill it is to trust to Fortune's fickle bounty, and while yet she smiled upon me,
the hour of gloom had nearly overwhelmed my head.
Now has the cloud put off its alluring face,
wherefore without scruple my life drags out its wearying delays.
Why, O my friends, did ye so often puff me up, telling me that I was fortunate?
For he that is fallen low never did firmly stand.
Philosophy said: "The loss of your former good fortune has so affected
you that you are being consumed by longing for it. The change in her
favors alone has overturned your peace of mind through your own
imagination. I know how Fortune is ever most friendly and alluring to
those whom she strives to deceive, until she overwhelms them with grief
beyond bearing, by deserting them when least expected. If you recall
her nature, her ways, or her deserts, you will see that you never had
in her, nor have lost with her, anything that was lovely.
`What is it, mortal man, that has cast you down into grief and
mourning? You have seen something unusual, it would seem, something
strange to you. But if you think that Fortune has changed towards you,
you are wrong. These are always her ways: this is her real nature. She
has with you preserved her own constancy by her very change. She was
ever changeable, even at the time when she smiled upon you, when she
was mocking you with the allurements of false good fortune. You have
discovered both the different faces of the blind goddess. To the eyes
of others she is veiled in part: to you she has made herself wholly
known. If you find her welcome, make use of her ways, and so make no
complaining. If she fills you with horror by her treachery, treat her
with despite; thrust her away from you, for she tempts you to your
ruin. For though she is the cause of this great trouble for you, she
ought to have been the subject of calmness and peace. For no man can
ever make himself sure that she will never desert him, and so has she
Do you reckon such happiness to be prized, which is sure to pass away?
Is good fortune dear to you, which is with you for a time and is not
sure to stay, and which is sure to bring you unhappiness when it is
gone? But seeing that it cannot be retained at will, and that when it
flees away it leaves misery behind, what is such a fleeting thing but a
sign of coming misery? Nor should it ever satisfy any man to look only
at that which is placed before his eyes. Prudence takes measure of the
results to come from all things. The very changeableness of good and
bad makes Fortune's threats no more fearful, nor her smiles to be
desired. And lastly, when you have once put your neck beneath the yoke
of Fortune, you must with steadfast heart bear whatever comes within
But if you would dictate the law by which she whom you have
chosen to be your mistress must stay or go, surely you will be acting
without justification; and your very impatience will make more bitter a
lot which you cannot change. If you set your sails before the
will you not move forward whither the wind drives you, not whither your
will may choose to go? You have given yourself over to Fortune's
and you must bow yourself to your mistress's ways. Are you trying
stay the force of her turning wheel? Ah! dull-witted mortal, if Fortune
begins to stay still, she is no longer Fortune."
As thus she turns her wheel of chance with haughty hand,
`Now I will argue with you by these words which
Fortune herself might use: and you must consider whether her demands
are fair. "Why, O man," she might say, "do you daily accuse me with
your complainings? What injustice have I wrought upon you? Of what good
things have I robbed you? Choose your judge whom you will, and before
him strive with me for the right to hold your wealth and honours. If
you can prove that any one of these truly belongs to any mortal man,
readily will I grant that these you seek to regain were yours.
and presses on like the surge of the ocean tides,
Fortune now tramples fiercely on a fearsome king,
and now deceives no less a conquered man by raising from the ground his humbled face.
She hears no wretch's cry, she heeds no tears,
but wantonly she mocks the sorrow which her cruelty has made.
This is her sport: thus she proves her power;
if in the selfsame hour one man is raised to happiness, and cast down in despair,
'tis thus she shews her might.
"When nature brought you forth from your mother's womb, I received you
in my arms naked and bare of all things; I cherished you with my gifts,
and I brought you up all too kindly with my favouring care, wherefore
now you cannot bear with me, and I surrounded you with glory and all
the abundance that was mine to give. Now it pleases me to withdraw my
hand: be thankful, as though you had lived upon my loans. You have no
just cause of complaint, as though you had really lost what was once
"Why do you rail against me? I have wrought no violence towards you.
Wealth, honours, and all such are within my rights. They are my
handmaids; they know their mistress; they come with me and go when I
depart. Boldly will I say that if these, of whose loss you complain,
were ever yours, you would never have lost them at all. Am I alone to
be prevented from using my rightful power? The heavens may grant bright
sunlit days, and hide the same beneath the shade of night. The year may
deck the earth's countenance with flowers and fruits, and again wrap it
with chilling clouds. The sea may charm with its smoothed surface, but
no less justly it may soon bristle in storms with rough waves. Is the
insatiate discontent of man to bind me to a constancy which belongs not
to my ways?
"Herein lies my very strength; this is my unchanging sport. I turn my
wheel that spins its circle fairly; I delight to make the lowest turn
to the top, the highest to the bottom. Come to the top if you will,
but on this condition, that you think it no unfairness to sink when the
rule of my game demands it.
"Do you not know my ways? Have you not heard how Crœsus, king of Lydia,
who filled even Cyrus with fear but a little earlier, was miserably put
upon a pyre of burning faggots, but then was saved by rain sent down
from heaven? For what else is the crying and the weeping in tragedies
but for the happiness of kings overturned by the random blow of
fortune? Have you never learnt in your youth the ancient allegory that
in the threshold of Jove's hall there stand two vessels, one full of
evil, and one of good? What if you have received more richly of the
good? What if I have not ever withheld myself from you? What if my
changing nature is itself a reason that you should hope for better
things? In any way, let not your spirit eat itself away: you are set in
the sphere that is common to all, let your desire therefore be to live
with your own lot of life, a subject of the kingdom of the world."
Then I answered her, `Cherisher of all the virtues, you tell me but the
truth: I cannot deny my rapid successes and my prosperity. But it is
such remembrances that torment me more than others. For of all
suffering from Fortune, the unhappiest misfortune is to have known a
`But,' said Philosophy, `you are paying the penalty for your mistaken expectations, and with this you cannot justly
charge your life's circumstances. If you are affected by this empty
name of Fortune's gift of happiness, you must listen while I recall how
many and how great are your sources of happiness: and thus, if you
have possessed that which is the most precious among all Fortune's
gifts, and if that is still safe and unharmed in your possession, you
will never, while you keep these better gifts, be able to justly charge
Fortune with unkindness.'
`Does the beauty of landscape delight you?' `Surely, for it is a
beautiful part of a beautiful creation: and in like manner we rejoice
at times in the appearance of a calm sea, and we admire the sky, the
stars, the sun, and the moon. `Does any one of these,' said she,
`concern you? Dare you boast yourself of the splendid beauty of any one
of such things? Are you yourself adorned by the flowers of spring? Is
it your richness that swells the fruits of autumn? Why are you carried
away by empty rejoicing. Why do you embrace as your own the good things
which are outside yourself? Fortune will never make yours what Nature
has made to belong to other things. The fruits of the earth should
doubtless serve as nourishment for living beings, but if you would
satisfy your need as fully as Nature needs, you need not the abundance
of Fortune. Nature is content with very little, and if you seek to
thrust upon her more than is enough, then what you cast in will become
either unpleasing or even harmful.
`O happy was that early age of men,
contented with their trusted and unfailing fields,
nor ruined by the wealth that enervates.
Easily was the acorn got
that used to satisfy their longwhile fast.
They knew not Bacchus' gifts,
nor honey mixed therewith.
They knew not how to tinge with Tyre's purple dyes
the sheen of China's silks.
Their sleep kept health on rush and grass;
the stream gave them to drink as it flowed by:
the lofty pine to them gave shade.
Not one of them yet clave the ocean's depths,
nor, carrying stores of merchandise,
had visited new shores.
Then was not heard the battle's trump,
nor had blood made red with bitter hate
the bristling swords of war.
For why should any madness urge
to take up first their arms upon an enemy
such ones as knew no sight of cruel wounds
nor knew rewards that could be reaped in blood?
Would that our times could but return
to those old ways!
but love of gain and greed of holding burn
more fiercely far than Etna's fires.
Ah! who was the wretch
who first unearthed the mass of hidden gold,
the gems that only longed to lie unfound?
For full of danger was the prize he found.
Philosophy continued: 'I think that ill fortune is of greater advantage
to men than good fortune. Good fortune is ever lying when she seems to
favour by an appearance of happiness. Ill fortune is ever true when by
her changes she shews herself inconstant. The one deceives; the other
edifies. The one by a deceitful appearance of good things enchains the
minds of those who enjoy them: the other frees them by a knowledge that
happiness is so fragile. You see, then, that the one is blown about by
winds, is ever moving and ever ignorant of its own self; the other is
sober, ever prepared and ever made provident by the undergoing of its
Lastly, good fortune draws men from the straight path of true good by
her fawning: ill fortune draws most men to the true good, and holds
them back by her curved staff. And do you think that this should be
reckoned among the least benefits of this rough, unkind, and terrible
ill fortune, that she has uncovered to you the minds of your faithful
friends? Fortune has distinguished for you your sure and your doubtful
friends; her departure has taken away her friends and left you yours.
At what price could you have bought this benefit if you had been
untouched and, as you thought, fortunate? Cease then to seek the wealth
you have lost. You have found your friends, and they are the most
precious of all riches.
Through Love the universe with constancy
makes changes all without discord:
earth's elements, though contrary,
abide in treaty bound:
Phœbus in his golden car
leads up the glowing day;
his sister rules the night
that Hesperus brought:
the greedy sea
confines its waves in bounds,
lest the earth's borders
be changed by its beating on them:
all these are firmly bound by Love,
which rules both earth and sea,
and has its empire in the heavens too.
If Love should slacken this its hold,
all mutual love
would change to war;
and these would strive to undo the scheme
which now their glorious movements carry out
with trust and with accord.
By Love are peoples too kept bound together
by a treaty which they may not break.
Love binds with pure affection
the sacred tie of wedlock,
and speaks its bidding
to all trusty friends.
O happy race of mortals,
if your hearts were only ruled
as is the universe, by Love!
Conclusion of the Consolation of Philosophy:
The freedom of man's will stands unshaken, and laws are not
unrighteous, since their rewards and punishments are offered to wills
unbound by any necessity. God, who foreknows all things, ever looks
down from above, and the ever-present eternity of His vision concurs
with the future character of all our acts, and dispenses rewards to the good , punishments to
the bad . Our hopes and prayers also are not fixed on God in vain, and
when they are rightly directed cannot fail to have an effect.
Therefore, withstand vice, practise virtue, lift up your souls to right
hopes, offer humble prayers to Heaven. Great is the necessity of
righteousness laid upon you if you will not hide it from yourselves,
seeing that all your actions are done before the eyes of a Judge who
sees all things.
Dante : Commedia
The start of Dante's journey
When I had journeyed half of our life's way,
I found myself within a shadowed forest,
I had lost the path that does not stray.
Ah, it is hard to speak of what it was,
that savage forest, dense and difficult,
even in recall renews my fear:
so bitter-death is hardly more severe!
But to retell the good discovered there,
also tell the other things I saw.
I cannot clearly say how I had entered
the wood; I was so full of sleep just at
point where I abandoned the true path.
But when I'd reached the bottom of a hill-
it rose along the boundary of the valley
had harassed my heart with so much fear-
I looked on high and I saw its shoulders clothed
already by the rays of that same planet
which serves to lead men straight along all roads. 18
At this my fear was somewhat quieted,
for through the night of sorrow I had spent,
lake within my heart felt terror present.
And just as he who, with exhausted breath,
having escaped from sea to shore, turns back
watch the dangerous waters he has quit,
so did my spirit, still a fugitive,
turn back to look intently at the pass
never has let any man survive.
I let my tired body rest awhile.
Moving again, I tried the lonely slope-
firm foot always was the one below.
And almost where the hillside starts to rise-
Look there!-a leopard, very quick and lithe,
leopard covered with a spotted hide.
He did not disappear from sight, but stayed;
indeed, he so impeded my ascent
I had often to turn back again.
Dante meets his guide to Inferno, Virgil (as a pagan, he is unable to continue on into Purgatory or Paradise, where the guide is Beatrice)
While I retreated down to lower ground,
before my eyes there suddenly appeared
one who seemed faint because of the long silence. 63
When I saw him in that vast wilderness,
"Have pity on me," were the words I cried,
you may be- a shade, a man."
He answered me: "Not man; I once was man.
Both of my parents came from Lombardy,
both claimed Mantua as native city.
And I was born, though late, sub julio,
and lived in Rome under the good Augustus-
season of the false and lying gods.
I was a poet, and I sang the righteous
son of Anchises who had come from Troy
flames destroyed the pride of Ilium.
But why do you return to wretchedness?
Why not climb up the mountain of delight,
origin and cause of every joy?"
"And are you then that Virgil, you the fountain
that freely pours so rich a stream of speech?"
answered him with shame upon my brow.
"O light and honour of all other poets,
may my long study and the intense love
made me search your volume serve me now.
You are my master and my author, you-
the only one from whom my writing drew
noble style for which I had been honored.
The story of Paolo and Francesca
Now notes of desperation have begun
to overtake my hearing; now I come
where mighty lamentation beats against me.
I reached a place where every light is muted,
which bellows like the sea beneath a tempest,
when it is battered by opposing winds.
The hellish hurricane, which never rests,
drives on the spirits with its violence:
wheeling and pounding, it harasses them.
When they come up against the ruined slope,
then there are cries and wailing and lament,
and there they curse the force of the divine.
I learned that those who undergo this torment
are damned because they sinned within the flesh,
subjecting reason to the rule of lust.
And as, in the cold season, starlings' wings
bear them along in broad and crowded ranks,
so does that blast bear on the guilty spirits:
now here, now there, now down, now up, it drives them.
There is no hope that ever comforts them-
no hope for rest and none for lesser pain.
And just as cranes in flight will chant their lays,
arraying their long file across the air,
so did the shades I saw approaching, borne
by that assailing wind, lament and moan;
so that I asked him: "Master, who are those
who suffer punishment in this dark air?"
"The first of those about whose history
you want to know", my master then told me,
"once ruled as empress over many nations.
Her vice of lust became so customary
that she made license licit in her laws
to free her from the scandal she had caused.
She is Semiramis, of whom we read
that she was Ninus' wife and his successor:
she held the land the Sultan now commands.
That other spirit killed herself for love,
and she betrayed the ashes of Sychaeus;
the wanton Cleopatra follows next.
See Helen, for whose sake so many years
of evil had to pass; see great Achilles,
who finally met love-in his last battle.
See Paris, Tristan . . ."-and he pointed out
and named to me more than a thousand shades
departed from our life because of love.
No sooner had I heard my teacher name
the ancient ladies and the knights, than pity
seized me, and I was like a man astray.
My first words: "Poet, I should willingly
speak with those two who go together there
and seem so lightly carried by the wind."
And he to me: "You'll see when they draw closer
to us, and then you may appeal to them
by that love which impels them. They will come."
No sooner had the wind bent them toward us
than I urged on my voice: "O battered souls,
if One does not forbid it, speak with us."
Even as doves when summoned by desire,
borne forward by their will, move through the air
with wings uplifted, still, to their sweet nest,
those spirits left the ranks where Dido suffers,
approaching us through the malignant air;
so powerful had been my loving cry.
"O living being, gracious and benign,
who through the darkened air have come to visit
our souls that stained the world with blood, if He
who rules the universe were friend to us,
then we should pray to Him to give you peace,
for you have pitied our atrocious state.
Whatever pleases you to hear and speak
will please us, too, to hear and speak with you,
now while the wind is silent, in this place.
The land where I was born lies on that shore
to which the Po together with the waters
that follow it descends to final rest.
Love, that can quickly seize the gentle heart,
took hold of him because of the fair body
taken from me-how that was done still wounds me.
Love, that releases no beloved from loving,
took hold of me so strongly through his beauty
that, as you see, it has not left me yet.
Love led the two of us unto one death.
Caina waits for him who took our life."
These words were borne across from them to us,
When I had listened to those injured souls,
I bent my head and held it low until
the poet asked of me: "What are you thinking?"
When I replied, my words began: "Alas,
how many gentle thoughts, how deep a longing,
had led them to the agonizing pass!"
Then I addressed my speech again to them,
and I began: "Francesca, your afflictions
move me to tears of sorrow and of pity.
But tell me, in the time of gentle sighs,
with what and in what way did Love allow you
to recognize your still uncertain longings?"
And she to me: "There is no greater sorrow
than thinking back upon a happy time
in misery-and this your teacher knows.
Yet if you long so much to understand
the first root of our love, then I shall tell
my tale to you as one who weeps and speaks.
One day, to pass the time away, we read
of Lancelot-how love had overcome him.
We were alone, and we suspected nothing.
And time and time again that reading led
our eyes to meet, and made our faces pale,
and yet one point alone defeated us.
When we had read how the desired smile
was kissed by one who was so true a lover,
this one, who never shall be parted from me,
while all his body trembled, kissed my mouth.
A Gallehault indeed, that book and he
who wrote it, too; that day we read no more."
And while one spirit said these words to me,
the other wept, so that-because of pity-
I fainted, as if I had met my death.
And then I fell as a dead body falls.
Dante approaches the vision of God
. . . love compelled
my eyes to turn again to Beatrice.
If that which has been said of her so far
were all contained within a single praise,
it would be much too scant to serve me now.
The loveliness I saw surpassed not only
our human measure-and I think that, surely,
only its Maker can enjoy it fully.
I yield: I am defeated at this passage
more than a comic or a tragic poet
has ever been by a barrier in his theme;
for like the sun that strikes the frailest eyes,
so does the memory of her sweet smile
deprive me of the use of my own mind.
From that first day when, in this life, I saw
her face, until I had this vision, no
thing ever cut the sequence of my song,
but now I must desist from this pursuit,
in verses, of her loveliness, just as
each artist who has reached his limit must.
So she, in beauty (as I leave her to
a herald that is greater than my trumpet,
which nears the end of its hard theme), with voice
and bearing of a guide whose work is done,
began again: "From matter's largest sphere,
we now have reached the heaven of pure light,
light of the intellect, light filled with love,
love of true good, love filled with happiness,
a happiness surpassing every sweetness.
Here you will see both ranks of Paradise
and see one of them wearing that same aspect
which you will see again at Judgment Day."
Like sudden lightning scattering the spirits
of sight so that the eye is then too weak
to act on other things it would perceive,
such was the living light encircling me,
leaving me so enveloped by its veil
of radiance that I could see no thing.
"The Love that calms this heaven always welcomes
into Itself with such a salutation,
to make the candle ready for its flame."
No sooner had these few words entered me
than I became aware that I was rising
beyond the power that was mine; and such
new vision kindled me again, that even
the purest light would not have been so bright
as to defeat my eyes, deny my sight;
and I saw light that took a river's form-
light flashing, reddish-gold, between two banks
painted with wonderful spring flowerings.
Out of that stream there issued living sparks,
which settled on the flowers on all sides,
like rubies set in gold; and then, as if
intoxicated with the odors, they
again plunged into the amazing flood:
as one spark sank, another spark emerged.
(. . .)
O radiance of God, through which I saw
the noble triumph of the true realm, give
to me the power to speak of what I saw!
Above, on high, there is a light that makes
apparent the Creator to the creature.
whose only peace lies in his seeing Him.
The shape which that light takes as it expands
is circular, and its circumference
would be too great a girdle for the sun.
All that one sees of it derives from one
light-ray reflected from the summit of
the Primum Mobile, which from it draws
power and life. And as a hill is mirrored
in waters at its base, as if to see
itself-when rich with grass and flowers-graced,
so, in a thousand tiers that towered above
the light, encircling it, I saw, mirrored,
all of us who have won return above.
And if the lowest rank ingathers such
vast light, then what must be the measure of
this Rose where it has reached its highest leaves!
Within that breadth and height I did not find
my vision gone astray, for it took in
that joy in all its quality and kind.
There, near and far do not subtract or add;
for where God governs with no mediator,
no thing depends upon the laws of nature.
Into the yellow of the eternal Rose
that slopes and stretches and diffuses fragrance
of praise unto the Sun of endless spring,
now Beatrice drew me as one who, though
he would speak out, is silent. And she said:
"See how great is this council of white robes!
Beatrice is replaced by Bernard
By now my gaze had taken in the whole
of Paradise-its form in general-
but without looking hard at any part;
and I, my will rekindled, turning toward
my lady, was prepared to ask about
those matters that inclined my mind to doubt.
Where I expected her, another answered:
I thought I should see Beatrice, and saw
an elder dressed like those who are in glory.
His gracious gladness filled his eyes, suffused
his cheeks; his manner had that kindliness
which suits a tender father. "Where is she?"
I asked him instantly. And he replied:
"That all your longings may be satisfied,
Beatrice urged me from my place. If you
look up and to the circle that is third
from that rank which is highest, you will see
her on the throne her merits have assigned her."
I, without answering, then looked on high
and saw that round her now a crown took shape
as she reflected the eternal rays.
I lifted up my eyes; and as, at morning,
the eastern side of the horizon shows
more splendor than the side where the sun sets,
so, as if climbing with my eyes from valley
to summit, I saw one part of the farthest
rank of the Rose more bright than all the rest.
And as, on earth, the point where we await
the shaft that Phaethon had misguided glows
brightest, while to each side, the light shades off,
so did the peaceful oriflamme appear
brightest at its midpoint, so did its flame,
on each side, taper off at equal pace.
I saw, around that midpoint, festive angels-
more than a thousand-with their wings outspread;
each was distinct in splendor and in skill.
And there I saw a loveliness that when
it smiled at the angelic songs and games
made glad the eyes of all the other saints.
And even if my speech were rich as my
imagination is, I should not try
to tell the very least of her delights.
Bernard-when he had seen my eyes intent,
fixed on the object of his burning fervor-
turned his own eyes to her with such affection
that he made mine gaze still more ardently.
From Paradise 33
Bernard was signaling-he smiled-to me
to turn my eyes on high; but I already
was doing what he wanted me to do,
because my sight, becoming pure, was able
to penetrate the ray of Light more deeply-
that Light, sublime, which in Itself is true.
From that point on, what I could see was greater
than speech can show: at such a sight, it fails-
and memory fails when faced with such excess.
As one who sees within a dream, and, later,
the passion that had been imprinted stays,
but nothing of the rest returns to mind,
such am I, for my vision almost fades
completely, yet it still distills within
my heart the sweetness that was born of it.
So is the snow, beneath the sun, unsealed;
and so, on the light leaves, beneath the wind,
the oracles the Sibyl wrote were lost.
O Highest Light, You, raised so far above
the minds of mortals, to my memory
give back something of Your epiphany,
and make my tongue so powerful that I
may leave to people of the future one
gleam of the glory that is Yours, for by
returning somewhat to my memory
and echoing awhile within these lines,
Your victory will be more understood.
The living ray that I endured was so
acute that I believe I should have gone
astray had my eyes turned away from it.
I can recall that I, because of this,
was bolder in sustaining it until
my vision reached the Infinite Goodness.
What little I recall is to be told,
from this point on, in words more weak than those
of one whose infant tongue still bathes at the breast.
And not because more than one simple semblance
was in the Living Light at which I gazed-
for It is always what It was before-
but through my sight, which as I gazed grew stronger,
that sole appearance, even as I altered,
seemed to be changing. In the deep and bright
essence of that exalted Light, three circles
appeared to me; they had three different colors,
but all of them were of the same dimension;
one circle seemed reflected by the second,
as rainbow is by rainbow, and the third
seemed fire breathed equally by those two circles.
How incomplete is speech, how weak, when set
against my thought! And this, to what I saw
is such-to call it little is too much.
Eternal Light, You only dwell within
Yourself, and only You know You; Self-knowing,
Self-known, You love and smile upon Yourself!
That circle-which, begotten so, appeared
in You as light reflected-when my eyes
had watched it with attention for some time,
within itself and colored like itself,
to me seemed painted with our effigy,
so that my sight was set on it completely.
As the geometer intently seeks
to square the circle, but he cannot reach,
through thought on thought, the principle he needs,
so I searched that strange sight: I wished to see
the way in which our human effigy
suited the circle and found place in it-
and my own wings were far too weak for that.
But then my mind was struck by light that flashed
and, with this light, received what it had asked.
Here force failed my high fantasy; but my
desire and will were moved already-like
a wheel revolving uniformly-by
the Love that moves the sun and the others stars.
Thou hast made me, and shall Thy work decay ?
now, for now mine end doth haste ;
I run to death, and Death meets me as
And all my pleasures are like yesterday.
I dare not move my dim eyes
any way ;
Despair behind, and Death before doth cast
Such terror, and my
feeble flesh doth waste
By sin in it, which it towards hell doth
Only Thou art above, and when towards Thee
By Thy leave I can look,
I rise again ;
But our old subtle foe so tempteth me,
That not one hour
myself I can sustain.
Thy grace may wing me to prevent his art
like adamant draw mine iron heart.
At the round earth's imagined corners blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise,
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your
scattered bodies go ;
All whom the flood did, and fire shall
All whom war, dea[r]th, age, agues, tyrannies,
chance hath slain, and you, whose eyes
Shall behold God, and never taste
But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space ;
above all these my sins abound,
'Tis late to ask abundance of Thy
When we are there. Here on this lowly ground,
Teach me how to
repent, for that's as good
As if Thou hadst seal'd my pardon with Thy blood.
Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe,
shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd
town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd
unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to
you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
ever chaste, except you ravish me.
A Hymn to God the Father
forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done
Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run
still, though still I do deplore?
When thou hast done, thou hast not
For I have more.
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt thou forgive
that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have
I have a sin of fear, that when I
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore ;
But swear by
Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and
And having done that, Thou hast done ;
I fear no more.
When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing
"Let us," said he, "pour on him all we can;
Let the world's
riches, which dispersed lie,
Contract into a span."
So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flow'd, then wisdom,
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that alone of all his treasure,
Rest in the bottom lay.
"For if I should," said he,
"Bestow this jewel also on my
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature,
not the God of Nature:
So both should losers be.
"Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast."
A broken A L T A R, Lord, thy servant reares,
Made of a heart,
and cemented with teares:
Whose parts are as thy hand did frame;
No workmans tool hath touch'd the same.
A H E A R T alone
Is such a stone,
As nothing but
Thy pow'r doth
Wherefore each part
Of my hard heart
Meets in this
To praise thy Name;
That, if I chance to hold my
These stones to praise thee may not cease.
O let thy
blessed S A C R I F I C E be mine,
And sanctifie this A L
T A R to be thine.
Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
though foolishly he lost the
Decaying more and more
Till he became
O let me rise
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day thy
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.
My tender age in sorrow did begin:
And still with sicknesses and shame
Thou didst so punish sin,
That I became
Let me combine,
And feel this day thy victory;
For, if I imp my wing
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.
Prayer : the Churches banquet, Angels' age,
God's breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heaven and earth;
Engine against the Almighty, sinners' tower,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-day's world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted Manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well dressed,
The Milky Way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the souls blood,
The land of spices; something understood.
I Struck the board, and cried, "No more.
I will abroad.
What? shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free; free as the road,
Loose as the wind, as large as store.
Shall I be still in suit?
Have I no harvest but a thorn
To let me blood, and not restore
What I have lost with cordiall fruit?
Sure there was wine
Before my sighs did dry it: there was corn
Before my tears did drown it.
Is the year only lost to me?
Have I no bays to crown it?
No flowers, no garlands gay? all blasted?
Not so, my heart: but there is fruit,
And thou hast hands.
Recover all thy sigh-blown age
On double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute
Of what is fit, and not. Forsake thy cage,
Thy rope of sands,
Which petty thoughts have made, and made to thee
Good cable, to enforce and draw,
And be thy law,
While thou didst wink and wouldst not see.
Away; take heed:
I will abroad.
Call in thy death's head there: tie up thy fears.
He that forbears
To suit and serve his need,
Deserves his load."
But as I rav’d and grew more fierce and wild
At every word,
Me thought I heard one calling, Child:
And I replied, My Lord.
How Fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean
Are thy returns! even as the flowers in spring;
To which, besides their own demean,
The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring.
Grief melts away
Like snow in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.
Who would have thought my shrivel’d heart
Could have recover’d greennesse? It was gone
Quite under ground; as flowers depart
To see their mother-root, when they have blown;
Where they together
All the hard weather,
Dead to the world, keep house unknown.
These are thy wonders, Lord of power,
Killing and quickning, bringing down to hell
And up to heaven in an houre;
Making a chiming of a passing-bell,
We say amisse,
This or that is:
Thy word is all, if we could spell.
O that I once past changing were;
Fast in thy Paradise, where no flower can wither!
Many a spring I shoot up fair,
Offring at heav’n, growing and groning thither:
Nor doth my flower
Want a spring-showre,
My sinnes and I joining together;
But while I grow to a straight line;
Still upwards bent, as if heav’n were mine own,
Thy anger comes, and I decline:
What frost to that? what pole is not the zone,
Where all things burn,
When thou dost turn,
And the least frown of thine is shown?
And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing: O my onely light,
It cannot be
That I am he
On whom thy tempests fell all night.
These are thy wonders, Lord of love,
To make us see we are but flowers that glide:
Which when we once can finde and prove,
Thou hast a garden for us, where to bide.
Who would be more,
Swelling through store,
Forfeit their Paradise by their pride.
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack'd anything.
A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
From Paradise Lost, Book 4
Satan, leaving Hell, visits the newly-created world where he finds Adam and Eve in Paradise
Beneath him with new wonder now he views,
To all delight of human sense exposed,
In narrow room, Nature's whole wealth, yea more,
A Heaven on Earth: For blissful Paradise
Of God the garden was, by him in the east
Of Eden planted; Eden stretched her line
From Auran eastward to the royal towers
Of great Seleucia, built by Grecian kings,
Of where the sons of Eden long before
Dwelt in Telassar: In this pleasant soil
His far more pleasant garden God ordained;
Out of the fertile ground he caused to grow
All trees of noblest kind for sight, smell, taste;
And all amid them stood the tree of life,
High eminent, blooming ambrosial fruit
Of vegetable gold; and next to life,
Our death, the tree of knowledge, grew fast by,
Knowledge of good bought dear by knowing ill.
Southward through Eden went a river large,
Nor changed his course, but through the shaggy hill
Passed underneath ingulfed; for God had thrown
That mountain as his garden-mould high raised
Upon the rapid current, which, through veins
Of porous earth with kindly thirst up-drawn,
Rose a fresh fountain, and with many a rill
Watered the garden; thence united fell
Down the steep glade, and met the nether flood,
Which from his darksome passage now appears,
And now, divided into four main streams,
Runs diverse, wandering many a famous realm
And country, whereof here needs no account;
But rather to tell how, if Art could tell,
How from that sapphire fount the crisped brooks,
Rolling on orient pearl and sands of gold,
With mazy errour under pendant shades
Ran nectar, visiting each plant, and fed
Flowers worthy of Paradise, which not nice Art
In beds and curious knots, but Nature boon
Poured forth profuse on hill, and dale, and plain,
Both where the morning sun first warmly smote
The open field, and where the unpierced shade
Imbrowned the noontide bowers: Thus was this place
A happy rural seat of various view;
Groves whose rich trees wept odorous gums and balm,
Others whose fruit, burnished with golden rind,
Hung amiable, Hesperian fables true,
If true, here only, and of delicious taste:
Betwixt them lawns, or level downs, and flocks
Grazing the tender herb, were interposed,
Or palmy hillock; or the flowery lap
Of some irriguous valley spread her store,
Flowers of all hue, and without thorn the rose:
Another side, umbrageous grots and caves
Of cool recess, o'er which the mantling vine
Lays forth her purple grape, and gently creeps
Luxuriant; mean while murmuring waters fall
Down the slope hills, dispersed, or in a lake,
That to the fringed bank with myrtle crowned
Her crystal mirrour holds, unite their streams.
The birds their quire apply; airs, vernal airs,
Breathing the smell of field and grove, attune
The trembling leaves, while universal Pan,
Knit with the Graces and the Hours in dance,
Led on the eternal Spring.
(. . . . .)
Saw, undelighted, all delight, all kind
Of living creatures, new to sight, and strange
Two of far nobler shape, erect and tall,
Godlike erect, with native honour clad
In naked majesty seemed lords of all:
And worthy seemed; for in their looks divine
The image of their glorious Maker shone,
Truth, wisdom, sanctitude severe and pure,
(Severe, but in true filial freedom placed,)
Whence true authority in men; though both
Not equal, as their sex not equal seemed;
For contemplation he and valour formed;
For softness she and sweet attractive grace;
He for God only, she for God in him:
His fair large front and eye sublime declared
Absolute rule; and hyacinthine locks
Round from his parted forelock manly hung
Clustering, but not beneath his shoulders broad:
She, as a veil, down to the slender waist
Her unadorned golden tresses wore
Dishevelled, but in wanton ringlets waved
As the vine curls her tendrils, which implied
Subjection, but required with gentle sway,
And by her yielded, by him best received,
Yielded with coy submission, modest pride,
And sweet, reluctant, amorous delay.
Nor those mysterious parts were then concealed;
Then was not guilty shame, dishonest shame
Of nature's works, honour dishonourable,
Sin-bred, how have ye troubled all mankind
With shows instead, mere shows of seeming pure,
And banished from man's life his happiest life,
Simplicity and spotless innocence!
So passed they naked on, nor shunned the sight
Of God or Angel; for they thought no ill:
So hand in hand they passed, the loveliest pair,
That ever since in love's embraces met;
Adam the goodliest man of men since born
His sons, the fairest of her daughters Eve.
Under a tuft of shade that on a green
Stood whispering soft, by a fresh fountain side
They sat them down; and, after no more toil
Of their sweet gardening labour than sufficed
To recommend cool Zephyr, and made ease
More easy, wholesome thirst and appetite
More grateful, to their supper-fruits they fell,
Nectarine fruits which the compliant boughs
Yielded them, side-long as they sat recline
On the soft downy bank damasked with flowers:
The savoury pulp they chew, and in the rind,
Still as they thirsted, scoop the brimming stream;
Nor gentle purpose, nor endearing smiles
Wanted, nor youthful dalliance, as beseems
Fair couple, linked in happy nuptial league,
Alone as they. About them frisking played
All beasts of the earth, since wild, and of all chase
In wood or wilderness, forest or den;
Sporting the lion ramped, and in his paw
Dandled the kid; bears, tigers, ounces, pards,
Gambolled before them; the unwieldy elephant,
To make them mirth, used all his might, and wreathed
His lithe proboscis; close the serpent sly,
Insinuating, wove with Gordian twine
His braided train, and of his fatal guile
Gave proof unheeded; others on the grass
Couched, and now filled with pasture gazing sat,
Or bedward ruminating; for the sun,
Declined, was hasting now with prone career
To the ocean isles, and in the ascending scale
Of Heaven the stars that usher evening rose:
When Satan still in gaze, as first he stood,
Scarce thus at length failed speech recovered sad.
O Hell! what do mine eyes with grief behold!
Into our room of bliss thus high advanced
Creatures of other mould, earth-born perhaps,
Not Spirits, yet to heavenly Spirits bright
Little inferiour; whom my thoughts pursue
With wonder, and could love, so lively shines
In them divine resemblance, and such grace
The hand that formed them on their shape hath poured.
Ah! gentle pair, ye little think how nigh
Your change approaches, when all these delights
Will vanish, and deliver ye to woe;
More woe, the more your taste is now of joy;
Happy, but for so happy ill secured
Long to continue, and this high seat your Heaven
Ill fenced for Heaven to keep out such a foe
As now is entered; yet no purposed foe
To you, whom I could pity thus forlorn,
Though I unpitied: League with you I seek,
And mutual amity, so strait, so close,
That I with you must dwell, or you with me
Henceforth; my dwelling haply may not please,
Like this fair Paradise, your sense; yet such
Accept your Maker's work; he gave it me,
Which I as freely give: Hell shall unfold,
To entertain you two, her widest gates,
And send forth all her kings; there will be room,
Not like these narrow limits, to receive
Your numerous offspring; if no better place,
Thank him who puts me loth to this revenge
On you who wrong me not for him who wronged.
And should I at your harmless innocence
Melt, as I do, yet publick reason just,
Honour and empire with revenge enlarged,
By conquering this new world, compels me now
To do what else, though damned, I should abhor.
So spake the Fiend, and with necessity,
The tyrant's plea, excused his devilish deeds.
Then from his lofty stand on that high tree
Down he alights among the sportful herd
Of those four-footed kinds, himself now one,
Now other, as their shape served best his end
Nearer to view his prey, and, unespied,
To mark what of their state he more might learn,
By word or action marked. About them round
A lion now he stalks with fiery glare;
Then as a tiger, who by chance hath spied
In some purlieu two gentle fawns at play,
Straight couches close, then, rising, changes oft
His couchant watch, as one who chose his ground,
Whence rushing, he might surest seize them both,
Griped in each paw: when, Adam first of men
To first of women Eve thus moving speech,
Turned him, all ear to hear new utterance flow.
Sole partner, and sole part, of all these joys,
Dearer thyself than all; needs must the Power
That made us, and for us this ample world,
Be infinitely good, and of his good
As liberal and free as infinite;
That raised us from the dust, and placed us here
In all this happiness, who at his hand
Have nothing merited, nor can perform
Aught whereof he hath need; he who requires
From us no other service than to keep
This one, this easy charge, of all the trees
In Paradise that bear delicious fruit
So various, not to taste that only tree
Of knowledge, planted by the tree of life;
So near grows death to life, whate'er death is,
Some dreadful thing no doubt; for well thou knowest
God hath pronounced it death to taste that tree,
The only sign of our obedience left,
Among so many signs of power and rule
Conferred upon us, and dominion given
Over all other creatures that possess
Earth, air, and sea. Then let us not think hard
One easy prohibition, who enjoy
Free leave so large to all things else, and choice
Unlimited of manifold delights:
But let us ever praise him, and extol
His bounty, following our delightful task,
To prune these growing plants, and tend these flowers,
Which were it toilsome, yet with thee were sweet.
To whom thus Eve replied. O thou for whom
And from whom I was formed, flesh of thy flesh,
And without whom am to no end, my guide
And head! what thou hast said is just and right.
For we to him indeed all praises owe,
And daily thanks; I chiefly, who enjoy
So far the happier lot, enjoying thee
Pre-eminent by so much odds, while thou
Like consort to thyself canst no where find.
That day I oft remember, when from sleep
I first awaked, and found myself reposed
Under a shade on flowers, much wondering where
And what I was, whence thither brought, and how.
Not distant far from thence a murmuring sound
Of waters issued from a cave, and spread
Into a liquid plain, then stood unmoved
Pure as the expanse of Heaven; I thither went
With unexperienced thought, and laid me down
On the green bank, to look into the clear
Smooth lake, that to me seemed another sky.
As I bent down to look, just opposite
A shape within the watery gleam appeared,
Bending to look on me: I started back,
It started back; but pleased I soon returned,
Pleased it returned as soon with answering looks
Of sympathy and love: There I had fixed
Mine eyes till now, and pined with vain desire,
Had not a voice thus warned me; 'What thou seest,
What there thou seest, fair Creature, is thyself;
With thee it came and goes: but follow me,
And I will bring thee where no shadow stays
Thy coming, and thy soft embraces -- he
Whose image thou art; him thou shalt enjoy
Inseparably thine, to him shalt bear
Multitudes like thyself, and thence be called
Mother of human race.' What could I do,
But follow straight, invisibly thus led?
Till I espied thee, fair indeed and tall,
Under a platane; yet methought less fair,
Less winning soft, less amiably mild,
Than that smooth watery image: Back I turned;
Thou following cryedst aloud, 'Return, fair Eve;
Whom flyest thou? whom thou flyest, of him thou art,
His flesh, his bone; to give thee being I lent
Out of my side to thee, nearest my heart,
Substantial life, to have thee by my side
Henceforth an individual solace dear;
Part of my soul I seek thee, and thee claim
My other half:' With that thy gentle hand
Seised mine: I yielded, and from that time see
How beauty is excelled by manly grace,
And wisdom, which alone is truly fair.
So spake our general mother, and with eyes
Of conjugal attraction unreproved,
And meek surrender, half-embracing leaned
On our first father; half her swelling breast
Naked met his, under the flowing gold
Of her loose tresses hid: he in delight
Both of her beauty, and submissive charms,
Smiled with superiour love, as Jupiter
On Juno smiles, when he impregns the clouds
That shed Mayflowers; and pressed her matron lip
With kisses pure:
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89)
After becoming a Catholic at Oxford in 1866, under
the influence of John Henry Newman, Hopkins decided to become a Jesuit
in 1868. He had already written some poems but felt that writing poetry
was not suitable for someone intending to become a priest. In 1876 he
returned to poetry-writing and many of his best poems were written in
1877 while he was preparing to be ordained a priest. He found life in
the poor areas of Liverpool in 1880 a great challenge. In 1884 he was
sent to Dublin as professor of Greek and Latin at University College.
He fell into deep depression, and wrote some very dark sonnets. This
passed and he was able to write some more positive poems before dying
suddenly of typhoid. In his lifetime he published almost nothing. His
friend, the poet Robert Bridges, preserved his papers and it was only
in 1918 that he finally published a collection of Hopkins’ poems. He
had not been sure that the English public could accept such “oddity”!
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
The Windhover: To Christ our Lord
I CAUGHT this morning morning's minion, king-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,--the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.
GLORY be to God for dappled things--
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Spring and Fall: to a young child
MÁRGARÉT, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, líke the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Áh! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow's spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
FELIX Randal the farrier, O he is dead then? my duty all ended,
Who have watched his mould of man, big-boned and hardy-handsome
Pining, pining, till time when reason rambled in it and some
Fatal four disorders, fleshed there, all contended?
Sickness broke him. Impatient he cursed at first, but mended
Being anointed and all; though a heavenlier heart began some
Months earlier, since I had our sweet reprieve and ransom
Tendered to him. Ah well, God rest him all road ever he offended!
This seeing the sick endears them to us, us too it endears.
My tongue had taught thee comfort, touch had quenched thy tears,
Thy tears that touched my heart, child, Felix, poor Felix Randal;
How far from then forethought of, all thy more boisterous years,
When you at the random grim forge, powerful amidst peers,
Didst fettle for the great grey drayhorse his bright and battering sandal!
MY aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
All felled, felled, are all felled;
Of a fresh and following folded rank
Not spared, not one
That dandled a sandalled
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow and river and wind-wandering weed-winding bank.
O if we but knew what we do
When we delve or hew—
Hack and rack the growing green!
Since country is so tender
To touch, her being só slender,
That, like this sleek and seeing ball
But a prick will make no eye at all,
Where we, even where we mean
To mend her we end her,
When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
Strokes of havoc únselve
The sweet especial scene,
Rural scene, a rural scene,
Sweet especial rural scene.
T. S. Eliot
Four Quartets: Little Gidding
Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
Whem the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart's heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul's sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
But not in time's covenant. Now the hedgerow
Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable
If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade
And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places
Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city?
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and in England.
If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.
Ash on an old man's sleeve
Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.
Dust in the air suspended
Marks the place where a story ended.
Dust inbreathed was a house-
The walls, the wainscot and the mouse,
The death of hope and despair,
This is the death of air.
There are flood and drouth
Over the eyes and in the mouth,
Dead water and dead sand
Contending for the upper hand.
The parched eviscerate soil
Gapes at the vanity of toil,
Laughs without mirth.
This is the death of earth.
Water and fire succeed
The town, the pasture and the weed.
Water and fire deride
The sacrifice that we denied.
Water and fire shall rot
The marred foundations we forgot,
Of sanctuary and choir.
This is the death of water and fire.
In the uncertain hour before the morning
Near the ending of interminable night
At the recurrent end of the unending
After the dark dove with the flickering tongue
Had passed below the horizon of his homing
While the dead leaves still rattled on like tin
Over the asphalt where no other sound was
Between three districts whence the smoke arose
I met one walking, loitering and hurried
As if blown towards me like the metal leaves
Before the urban dawn wind unresisting.
And as I fixed upon the down-turned face
That pointed scrutiny with which we challenge
The first-met stranger in the waning dusk
I caught the sudden look of some dead master
Whom I had known, forgotten, half recalled
Both one and many; in the brown baked features
The eyes of a familiar compound ghost
Both intimate and unidentifiable.
So I assumed a double part, and cried
And heard another's voice cry: "What! are you here?"
Although we were not. I was still the same,
Knowing myself yet being someone other?
And he a face still forming; yet the words sufficed
To compel the recognition they preceded.
And so, compliant to the common wind,
Too strange to each other for misunderstanding,
In concord at this intersection time
Of meeting nowhere, no before and after,
We trod the pavement in a dead patrol.
I said: "The wonder that I feel is easy,
Yet ease is cause of wonder. Therefore speak:
I may not comprehend, may not remember."
And he: "I am not eager to rehearse
My thoughts and theory which you have forgotten.
These things have served their purpose: let them be.
So with your own, and pray they be forgiven
By others, as I pray you to forgive
Both bad and good. Last season's fruit is eaten
And the fullfed beast shall kick the empty pail.
For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
But, as the passage now presents no hindrance
To the spirit unappeased and peregrine
Between two worlds become much like each other,
So I find words I never thought to speak
In streets I never thought I should revisit
When I left my body on a distant shore.
Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us
To purify the dialect of the tribe
And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight,
Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
To set a crown upon your lifetime's effort.
First, the cold fricton of expiring sense
Without enchantment, offering no promise
But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
As body and sould begin to fall asunder.
Second, the conscious impotence of rage
At human folly, and the laceration
Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.
And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
Of things ill done and done to others' harm
Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
Then fools' approval stings, and honour stains.
From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
Where you must move in measure, like a dancer."
The day was breaking. In the disfigured street
He left me, with a kind of valediction,
And faded on the blowing of the horn.
There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
Being between two lives - unflowering, between
The live and the dead nettle. This is the use of memory:
For liberation - not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
From the future as well as the past. Thus, love of a country
Begins as an attachment to our own field of action
And comes to find that action of little importance
Though never indifferent. History may be servitude,
History may be freedom. See, now they vanish,
The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,
To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.
Sin is Behovely, but
All shall be well, and
All manner of thing shall be well.
If I think, again, of this place,
And of people, not wholly commendable,
Of not immediate kin or kindness,
But of some peculiar genius,
All touched by a common genius,
United in the strife which divided them;
If I think of a king at nightfall,
Of three men, and more, on the scaffold
And a few who died forgotten
In other places, here and abroad,
And of one who died blind and quiet,
Why should we celebrate
These dead men more than the dying?
It is not to ring the bell backward
Nor is it an incantation
To summon the spectre of a Rose.
We cannot revive old factions
We cannot restore old policies
Or follow an antique drum.
These men, and those who opposed them
And those whom they opposed
Accept the constitution of silence
And are folded in a single party.
Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated
What they had to leave us - a symbol:
A symbol perfected in death.
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching.
The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one dischage from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.
With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always?
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
R. S Thomas
I praise you because
you are artist and scientist
in one. When I am somewhat
fearful of your power,
your ability to work miracles
with a set-square, I hear
you murmuring to yourself
in a notation Beethoven
dreamed of but never achieved.
You run off your scales of
rain water and sea water, play
the chords of the morning
and evening light, sculpture
with shadow, join together leaf
by leaf, when spring
comes, the stanzas of
an immense poem. You speak
all languages and none,
answering our most complex
prayers with the simplicity
of a flower, confronting
us, when we would domesticate you
to our uses, with the rioting
viruses under our lens.
And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows: a bright
Serpent, A river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. many People
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.
Why no! I never thought other than
That God is that great absence
In our lives, the empty silence
Within, the place where we go
Seeking, not in hope to
Arrive or find. He keeps the interstices
In our knowledge, the darkness
Between stars. His are the echoes
We follow, the footprints he has just
Left. We put our hands in
His side hoping to find
It warm. We look at people
And places as though he had looked
At them, too; but miss the reflection.
It was a hand. God looked at it
and looked away. There was a coldness
about his heart, as though the hand
clasped it. As at the end
of a dark tunnel, he saw cities
the hand would build, engines
that it would raze them with. His sight
dimmed. Tempted to undo the joints
of the fingers, he picked it up.
But the hand wrestled with him. 'Tell
me your name' it cried, 'and I will write it
in bright gold. Are there not deeds
to be done, children to make, poems
to be written? The world
is without meaning, awaiting
my coming.' But God, feeling the nails
in his side, the unnerving warmth
of the contact, fought on in
silence. This was the long war with himself
always foreseen, the question not
to be answered. What is the hand
for? The immaculate conception
preceeding the delivery
of the first tool? 'I let you go,'
he said, 'but without blessing.
Messenger to the mixed things
of your making, tell them I AM"
The White Tiger
It was beautiful as God
must be beautiful; glacial
eyes that had looked on
violence and come to terms
with it; a body too huge
and majestic for the cage in which
it had been put; up
and down in the shadow
of its own bulk it went,
lifting, as it turned,
the crumpled flower of its face
to look into my own
face without seeing me. It
was the colour of the moonlight
on snow and as quiet
as moonlight, but breathing
as you can imagine that
God breathes within the confines
of our definition of him, agonising
over immensities that will not return.
Against the burly air I strode
Crying the miracles of God.
And first I brought the sea to bear
Upon the dead weight of the land;
And the waves flourished at my prayer,
The rivers spawned their sand.
And where the streams were salt and full
The tough pig-headed salmon strove,
Ramming the ebb, in the tide's pull,
To reach the steady hills above.
The second day I stood and saw
The osprey plunge with triggered claw,
Feathering blood along the shore,
To lay the living sinew bare.
And the third day I cried: "Beware
The soft-voiced owl, the ferret's smile,
The hawk's deliberate stoop in air,
Cold eyes, and bodies hooped in steel,
Forever bent upon the kill."
And I renounced, on the fourth day,
This fierce and unregenerate clay,
Building as a huge myth for man
The watery Leviathan,
And made the long-winged albatross
Scour the ashes of the sea
Where Capricorn and Zero cross,
A brooding immortality -
Such as the charmed phoenix had
In the unwithering tree.
The phoenix burns as cold as frost;
And, like a legendary ghost,
The phantom-bird goes wild and lost,
Upon a pointless ocean tossed.
So, the fifth day, I turned again
To flesh and blood and the world's pain.
On the sixth day, as I rode
In haste about the works of God,
With spurs I plucked the horse's blood.
By blood we live, the hot, the cold,
To ravage and redeem the world:
There is no bloodless myth will hold.
And by Christ's blood are men made free
Though in close shrouds their bodies lie
Under the rough pelt of the sea;
Though Earth has rolled beneath her weight
The bones that cannot bear the light.
Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.
Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new -
Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.
Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches will fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?
Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,
A shape less recognisable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,
Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation - marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these - for which was built
This special shell? For, though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;
A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.