“Fly hence, deluding Dream! and light as air,
To Agamemnon’s ample tent repair.
Bid him in arms draw forth the embattled train,
Lead all his Grecians to the dusty plain.
Declare, e’en now ’tis given him to destroy
The lofty towers of wide-extended Troy.
For now no more the gods with fate contend,
At Juno’s suit the heavenly factions end.
Destruction hangs o’er yon devoted wall,
And nodding Ilion waits the impending fall.”
Now shield with shield, with helmet helmet closed,
To armour armour, lance to lance opposed,
Host against host with shadowy squadrons drew,
The sounding darts in iron tempests flew,
Victors and vanquish’d join’d promiscuous cries,
And shrilling shouts and dying groans arise;
With streaming blood the slippery fields are dyed,
And slaughter’d heroes swell the dreadful tide.
“… Patroclus dead, Achilles hates to live.
Let me revenge it on proud Hector’s heart,
Let his last spirit smoke upon my dart;
On these conditions will I breathe: till then,
I blush to walk among the race of men.”
Such war the immortals wage; such horrors rend
The world’s vast concave, when the gods contend.
First silver-shafted Phoebus took the plain
Against blue Neptune, monarch of the main.
The god of arms his giant bulk display’d,
Opposed to Pallas, war’s triumphant maid.
Against Latona march’d the son of May.
The quiver’d Dian, sister of the day,
(Her golden arrows sounding at her side,)
Saturnia, majesty of heaven, defied.
With fiery Vulcan last in battle stands
The sacred flood that rolls on golden sands;
Xanthus his name with those of heavenly birth,
But called Scamander by the sons of earth.
While thus the gods in various league engage,
Achilles glow’d with more than mortal rage:
Hector he sought; in search of Hector turn’d
His eyes around, for Hector only burn’d;
And burst like lightning through the ranks, and vow’d
To glut the god of battles with his blood.
Where’er he moved, the goddess shone before,
And bathed his brazen lance in hostile gore.
What mortal man Achilles can sustain?
The immortals guard him through the dreadful plain,
And suffer not his dart to fall in vain.
Hector beheld his javelin fall in vain,
Nor other lance, nor other hope remain;
He calls Deiphobus, demands a spear—
In vain, for no Deiphobus was there.
All comfortless he stands: then, with a sigh;
“’Tis so—Heaven wills it, and my hour is nigh!
I deem’d Deiphobus had heard my call,
But he secure lies guarded in the wall.
A god deceived me; Pallas, ’twas thy deed,
Death and black fate approach! ’tis I must bleed.
No refuge now, no succour from above,
Great Jove deserts me, and the son of Jove,
Propitious once, and kind! Then welcome fate!
’Tis true I perish, yet I perish great:
Yet in a mighty deed I shall expire,
Let future ages hear it, and admire!”
Fierce, at the word, his weighty sword he drew,
So shone the point of great Achilles’ spear.
In his right hand he waves the weapon round,
Eyes the whole man, and meditates the wound;
But the rich mail Patroclus lately wore
Securely cased the warrior’s body o’er.
One space at length he spies, to let in fate,
Where ’twixt the neck and throat the jointed plate
Gave entrance: through that penetrable part
Furious he drove the well-directed dart:
Nor pierced the windpipe yet, nor took the power
Of speech, unhappy! from thy dying hour.
Prone on the field the bleeding warrior lies,
While, thus triumphing, stern Achilles cries:
“At last is Hector stretch’d upon the plain,
Who fear’d no vengeance for Patroclus slain:
Then, prince! you should have fear’d, what now you feel;
Achilles absent was Achilles still:
Yet a short space the great avenger stayed,
Then low in dust thy strength and glory laid.
Peaceful he sleeps, with all our rites adorn’d,
For ever honour’d, and for ever mourn’d:
While cast to all the rage of hostile power,
Thee birds shall mangle, and the gods devour.”
Then Hector, fainting at the approach of death:
“By thy own soul! by those who gave thee breath!
By all the sacred prevalence of prayer;
Ah, leave me not for Grecian dogs to tear!
The common rites of sepulture bestow,
To soothe a father’s and a mother’s woe:
Let their large gifts procure an urn at least,
And Hector’s ashes in his country rest.”
“No, wretch accursed! relentless he replies;
Then thus the chief his dying accents drew:
“Thy rage, implacable! too well I knew:
The Furies that relentless breast have steel’d,
And cursed thee with a heart that cannot yield.
Yet think, a day will come, when fate’s decree
And angry gods shall wreak this wrong on thee;
Phoebus and Paris shall avenge my fate,
And stretch thee here before the Scaean gate.”
He ceased. The Fates suppress’d his labouring breath,
And his eyes stiffen’d at the hand of death;
To the dark realm the spirit wings its way,
(The manly body left a load of clay,)
And plaintive glides along the dreary coast,
A naked, wandering, melancholy ghost!
Achilles, musing as he roll’d his eyes
O’er the dead hero, thus unheard, replies:
“Die thou the first! When Jove and heaven ordain,
I follow thee” — He said, and stripp’d the slain.
Then forcing backward from the gaping wound
The reeking javelin, cast it on the ground.
These fix’d up high behind the rolling wain,
His graceful head was trail’d along the plain.
Proud on his car the insulting victor stood,
And bore aloft his arms, distilling blood.
He smites the steeds; the rapid chariot flies;
The sudden clouds of circling dust arise.
Now lost is all that formidable air;
The face divine, and long-descending hair,
Purple the ground, and streak the sable sand;
Deform’d, dishonour’d, in his native land,
Given to the rage of an insulting throng,
And, in his parents’ sight, now dragg’d along!
Bartleby, alone upon the sands of fatal Troy. Sitting with sand chafing between buttocks and underwear. Waiting, with the ocean curling to and from his pointed toes. Bartleby, musing. Bartleby, speaking:
“I cannot stop the Evil. The ranging, restless, pointless cruelty. I cannot stop the crime, though I watch it slowly stand, pull shoulders back, stretch arms up and back, yawn and smile tall and sleepy-eyed led cheerily towards the smell of coffee, in boxers only, ready for another leather-sofa filtered-water designer-shirts and climatized-air day.”
Bartleby hears the crash and din of a mangy tiny nothing war between a few scattered bundles of short, trim, scarce-bearded youths. Bartleby hears rambling poet roll and lift their meagre bones and empty offerings, hears the rounding rhythms and flowering phrases build from splashing mud puddles a raging foaming world-invading sea of warriors grand and gods involved and implicated, until the windy plains of high-towered wide-extended gods-defended Troy flow red with heroes’ blood and black with bound-Beauty’s sullen, heart-twisting idles.
“On the one flank: An election fairly won and duly closed. Betrayed, belittled, named a lie again and again until a lie’s the truth for minds that would rather lie in lies than stand and know, and also a lie for any who, through choice or circumstance, linger too long too near the lie-machine. And then, on the opposite, simultaneous flank, local laws of local lands perverted to silence those voters who’d voted for the winner of the fair, the clear, the standard, the two-hundred years of internal-peace national election. And how now these two flanks securely, and with bellies and brows sated on processed foodstuffs and prejudice-stoking pundits amble, stroll, and offer pious oh-so-public, oh-so-oil-daubed prayers as they close proudly, tragically, strong-for-the-people-y in on hundreds of years of struggling trust.
“An election won perhaps more by luck than the people’s wise intervention. But won nonetheless. An election won perhaps only because the by turns belying and bungling of an unprecedented plague exposed the uselessness of power-for-pridesomepower corruption to a degree and in a brightness that the many could not (though with faces still sternly slanting towards those troughs wherein they swill a rich and gooey well-powdered slop) help but notice. But won nonetheless. An election whose outcome stopped the consolidation of power by an enemy of democracy who had spent a huffy four years chaotically, incompetently and yet effectively (such are the advantages of the destroyer of order, dignity, and trust!) dismantling checks on his kingship.
“And a people so divided, so absorbed by the lint of their own bellybuttons, a people so tired of each other and their shared destiny.
“But these people that you love to blame. How wrong are they? How much was the would-be king’s initial victory owing to already weakened election regulations? These people that I cannot reach. The rabble on all sides of the grist mill which they both turn and fall beneath. These people so varied in their outlooks and their life patterns. These people just people like people have always been.
“What has rotted the system and culture of democracy that used to save them from themselves?
“And the game they win or lose is not just for themselves but for a world that feels its wallows and its rolls, a world that will perhaps with melting-flesh and scorched-earth know the rise and fall of this bulky, this steel-and-info, this nuke-and-dollar, this free-and-frolic, this faith-and-fantasy empire.
“It were better that democracy were preserved, that calmer heads prevailed, that democracy proved herself here in this giant sprawling mixed affair known here and there and far and near as America, that is to say, as The US, that is to say, where we’ve 300-million found ourselves with yet fingertips in itchy-reach of frayed but not-yet-spent ropes and strings to pull and steady our own destiny and thus to some extent that of this interwoven of entangled-yearnings world.
“But I’ve no answer to this doubling-down of political evil which the US American Republicans now unfurl as their official answer to losing the election that for the good of all humankind they should have lost and which by the grace of who-knows-what?-since-God-has-allowed-arguably-worse-things-to-happen they did indeed lose. For I have no great wisdom. Nor can I even desire great wisdom. The truth is, I want only that succor that a child finds in his mother and a man in his wife. Useless, useless am I in the face of Evil.
Useless am I, sore and o’er-useless against this human, this all-to-human, this salty, this sweaty, this happy-family, this friends-and-treasures-first, this ‘they’re-the-worst’, this moonlight dancing and starbright prancing Evil.”
Author: Bartleby Willard
Editor: Amble Whistletown
Copyright: Andrew Watson (I mean, obviously, the part from The Iliad was written by Homer and translated by Alexander Pope)