Taught to behold with fearless eyes
The whitening billows foam beneath the gale,
They bid the naval forests rise,
Mount the slight bark, unfurl the flying sail,
And o’er the angry ocean bear
To distant realms the storm of war.
For this with many a sad and gloomy thought
My tortured breast is fraught:
Ah me! for Persia’s absent sons I sigh;
For while in foreign fields they fight,
Our towns exposed to wild affright
An easy prey to the invader lie:
Where, mighty Susa, where thy powers,
To wield the warrior’s arms, and guard thy regal towers?
Crush’d beneath the assailing foe
Her golden head must Cissia bend;
While her pale virgins, frantic with despair,
Through all her streets awake the voice of wo;
And flying with their bosoms bare,
Their purfled stoles in anguish rend:
For all her youth in martial pride,
Like bees that, clust’ring round their king,
Their dark imbodied squadrons bring,
Attend their sceptred monarch’s side,
And stretch across the watery way
From shore to shore their long array.
The Persian dames, with many a tender fear,
In grief’s sad vigils keep the midnight hour;
Shed on the widow’d couch the streaming tear,
And the long absence of their loves deplore.
Each lonely matron feels her pensive breast
Throb with desire, with aching fondness glow,
Since in bright arms her daring warrior dress’d
Left her to languish in her love-lorn wo.
Now, ye grave Persians, that your honour’d seats
Hold in this ancient house, with prudent care
And deep deliberation, so the state
Requires, consult we, pond’ring the event
Of this great war, which our imperial lord,
The mighty Xerxes from Darius sprung,
The stream of whose rich blood flows in our veins,
Leads against Greece; whether his arrowy shower
Shot from the strong-braced bow, or the huge spear
High brandish’d, in the deathful field prevails.
But see, the monarch’s mother: like the gods
Her lustre blazes on our eyes: my queen,
Prostrate I fall before her: all advance
With reverence, and in duteous phrase address her,
Hail, queen, of Persia’s high-zoned dames supreme,
Age-honour’d mother of the potent Xerxes,
Imperial consort of Darius, hail!
The wife, the mother of the Persians’ god,
If yet our former glories fade not from us.
And therefore am I come, leaving my house
That shines with gorgeous ornaments and gold,
Where in past days Darius held with me
His royal residence. With anxious care
My heart is tortured: I will tell you, friends,
My thoughts, not otherwise devoid of fear,
Lest mighty wealth with haughty foot o’erturn
And trample in the dust that happiness,
Which, not unbless’d by Heaven, Darius raised.
For this with double force unquiet thoughts
Past utterance fill my soul; that neither wealth
With all its golden stores, where men are wanting,
Claims reverence; nor the light, that beams from power,
Shines on the man whom wealth disdains to grace.
The golden stores of wealth indeed are ours;
But for the light (such in the house I deem
The presence of its lord) there I have fears.
Advise me then, you whose experienced age
Supports the state of Persia: prudence guides
Your councils, always kind and faithful to me.
Oft, since my son hath march’d his mighty host
Against the lonians, warring to subdue
Their country, have my slumbers been disturb’d
With dreams of dread portent; but most last night,
With marks of plainest proof. I’ll tell thee then:
Alethought two women stood before my eyes
Gorgeously vested, one in Persian robes
Adorn’d, the other in the Doric garb.
With more than mortal majesty they moved,
Of peerless beauty; sisters too they seem’d,
Though distant each from each they chanced to dwell,
In Greece the one, on the barbaric coast
The other. ‘Twixt them soon dissension rose:
My son then hasted to compose their strife,
Soothed them to fair accord, beneath his car
Yokes them, and reins their harness’d necks. The one,
Exulting in her rich array, with pride
Arching her stately neck, obey’d the reins;
The other with indignant fury spurn’d
The car, and dash’d it piecemeal, rent the reins,
And tore the yoke asunder; down my son
Fell from the seat, and instant at his side
His father stands, Darius, at his fall
Impress’d with pity: him when Xerxes saw,
Glowing with grief and shame he rends his robes.
This was the dreadful vision of the night.
When I arose, in the sweet-flowing stream
I bathed my hands, and on the incensed altars
Presenting my oblations to the gods
To avert these ills, an eagle I behold
Fly to the altar of the sun; aghast
I stood, my friends, and speechless; when a hawk
With eager speed runs thither, furious cuffs
The eagle with his wings, and with his talons
Unplumes his head; meantime the imperial bird
Cowers to the blows defenceless. Dreadful this
To me that saw it, and to you that hear.
My son, let conquest crown his arms, would shine
With dazzling glory; but should Fortune frown,
The state indeed presumes not to arraign
His sovereignty; yet how, his honour lost,
How shall he sway the sceptre of this land?
We would not, royal lady, sink thy soul
With fear in the excess, nor raise it high
With confidence. Go then, address the gods;
If thou hast seen aught ill, entreat their power
To avert that ill, and perfect ev’ry good
To thee, thy sons, the state, and all thy friends.
Then to the earth, and to the mighty dead
Behooves thee pour libations; gently cal
Him that was once thy husband, whom thou saw’st
In visions of the night; entreat his shade
From the deep realms beneath to send to light
Triumph to thee and to thy son; whate’er
Bears other import, to inwrap, to hide it
Close in the covering earth’s profoundest gloom.
This, in the presage of my thoughts that flow
Benevolent to thee, have I proposed;
And all, we trust, shall be successful to thee.
The Persians By Aeschylus