The Death Of Œnone

by


Œnone sat within the cave from out
Whose ivy-matted mouth she used to gaze
Down at the Troad; but the goodly view
Was now one blank, and all the serpent vines
Which on the touch of heavenly feet had risen,
And gliding thro’ the branches over-bower’d
The naked Three, were wither’d long ago,
And thro’ the sunless winter morning-mist
In silence wept upon the flowerless earth.
And while she stared at those dead cords that ran
Dark thro’ the mist, and linking tree to tree,
But once were gayer than a dawning sky
With many a pendent bell and fragrant star,
Her Past became her Present, and she saw
Him, climbing toward her with the golden fruit,
Him, happy to be chosen judge of Gods,
Her husband in the flush of youth and dawn,
Paris, himself as beauteous as a God.
Anon from out the long ravine below,
She heard a wailing cry, that seem’d at first
Thin as the bat like shrillings of the Dead
When driven to Hades, but, in coming near,
Across the downward thunder of the brook
Sounded ‘Œnone’; and on a sudden he,
Paris, no longer beauteous as a God,
Struck by a poison’d arrow in the fight,
Lame, crooked, reeling, livid, thro’ the mist
Rose, like the wraith of his dead self, and moan’d
‘Œnone, my Œnone, while we dwelt
Together in this valley—happy then—
Too happy had I died within thine arms,
Before the feud of Gods had marr’d our peace,
And sunder’d each from each. I am dying now
Pierced by a poison’d dart. Save me. Thou knowest,
Taught by some God, whatever herb or balm
May clear the blood from poison, and thy fame
Is blown thro’ all the Troad, and to thee
The shepherd brings his adder-bitten lamb,
The wounded warrior climbs from Troy to thee.
My life and death are in thy hand. The Gods
Avenge on stony hearts a fruitless prayer
For pity. Let me owe my life to thee.
I wrought thee bitter wrong, but thou forgive,
Forget it. Man is but the slave of Fate.
Œnone, by thy love which once was mine,
Help, heal me. I am poison’d to the heart.’
‘And I to mine’ she said ‘ Adulterer,
Go back to thine adulteress and die!’
He groan’d, he turn’d, and in the mist at once
Became a shadow, sank and disappear’d,
But, ere the mountain rolls into the plain,
Fell headlong dead; and of the shepherds one
Their oldest, and the same who first had found
Paris, a naked babe, among the woods
Of Ida, following lighted on him there,
And shouted, and the shepherds heard and came.
One raised the Prince, one sleek’d the squalid hair,
One kiss’d his hand, another closed his eyes,
And then, remembering the gay playmate rear’d
Among them, and forgetful of the man,
Whose crime had half unpeopled Ilion, these
All that day long labour’d, hewing the pines,
And built their shepherd-prince a funeral pile;
And, while the star of eve was drawing light
From the dead sun, kindled the pyre, and all
Stood round it, hush’d, or calling on his name.
But when the white fog vanish’d like a ghost
Before the day, and every topmost pine
Spired into bluest heaven, still in her cave,
Amazed, and ever seeming stared upon
By ghastlier than the Gorgon head, a face,—
His face deform’d by lurid blotch and blain—
There, like a creature frozen to the heart
Beyond all hope of warmth, Œnone sat
Not moving, till in front of that ravine
Which drowsed in gloom, self-darken’d from the west,
The sunset blazed along the wall of Troy.
Then her head sank, she slept, and thro’ her dream
A ghostly murmur floated, ‘Come to me,
Œnone! I can wrong thee now no more,
Œnone, my Œnone,’ and the dream
Wail’d in her, when she woke beneath the stars.
What star eould burn so low? not Ilion yet.
What light was there? She rose and slowly down,
By the long torrent’s ever-deepen’d roar,
Paced, following, as in trance, the silent cry.
She waked a bird of prey that scream’d and past
She roused a snake that hissing writhed away;
A panther sprang across her path, she heard
The shriek of some lost life among the pines,
But when she gain’d the broader vale, and saw
The ring of faces redden’d by the flames
Enfolding that dark body which had lain
Of old in her embrace, paused—and then ask’d
Falteringly, ‘Who lies on yonder pyre?’
But every man was mute for reverence.
Then moving quickly forward till the heat
Smote on her brow, she lifted up a voice
Of shrill command, ‘Who burns upon the pyre?’
Whereon their oldest and their boldest said,
‘He, whom thou wouldst not heal!’ and all at once
The morning light of happy marriage broke
Thro’ all the clouded years of widowhood,
And muffling up her comely head, and crying
‘Husband!’ she leapt upon the funeral pile,
And mixt herself with him and past in fire.

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