Spreadeth in Hellas?
Dionysus oped to me, the Child of Zeus.
Is there a Zeus there, that can still beget
Here in thy Thebes on Semelê.
Descended he upon thee? In full day
Or vision of night?
My soul, and gave his emblems to mine hand.
Reveal, nor know, save his Elect alone.
To seek them out!
The touch of sin-lovers.
Saw this God plain; what guise had he?
It liked him. ‘Twas not I ordained his shape.
And nothing answered!
To blinded eyes will seem as things of nought.
His dance ere this.
Beside our Hellenes!
In this thing, though their ways are not thy way.
‘Tis craft and rottenness!
Whoso will seek may find unholiness.
Blindness of heart, and for blaspheming God!
My doom; what dire thing wilt thou do to me?
[He beckons to the soldiers, who approach Dionysus.]
[The soldiers cut off the tress.]
To take it. This is Dionysus’ wand.
[Pentheus takes the staff.]
God will unloose me, when I speak the word.
Of saints he hears thy voice!
Close here, and sees all that I suffer.
Where is he? For mine eyes discern him not.
That veils him from thee.
At me and Thebes! Bind him!
[The soldiers begin to bind him.]
Me not! I having vision and ye blind!
[The soldiers obey.]
What deed thou doest, nor what man thou art!
Agâvê’s son, and on the father’s part
Echîon’s, hight Pentheus!
A name fore-written to calamity!
Aye, let him lie in the manger!—There abide
And stare into the darkness!—And this rout
Of womankind that clusters thee about,
Thy ministers of worship, are my slaves!
It may be I will sell them o’er the waves,
Hither and thither; else they shall be set
To labour at my distaffs, and forget
Their timbrel and their songs of dawning day!
Not suffer! Yet for this thy sin, lo, He
Whom thou deniest cometh after thee
For recompense. Yea, in thy wrong to us,
Thou hast cast Him into thy prison-house!
[Dionysus, without his wand, his hair shorn, and his arms tightly bound, is led off by the guards to his dungeon. Pentheus returns into the Palace.]
Holy Dircê, virgin water,
Bathed he not of old in thee,
The Babe of God, the Mystery?
When from out the fire immortal
To himself his God did take him,
To his own flesh, and bespake him:
“Enter now life’s second portal,
Motherless Mystery; lo, I break
Mine own body for thy sake,
Thou of the Twofold Door, and seal thee
Mine, O Bromios,”—thus he spake—
“And to this thy land reveal thee.”
Dircê, still to thee I hie me;
Why, O Blessèd among Rivers,
Wilt thou fly me and deny me?
By His own joy I vow,
By the grape upon the bough,
Thou shalt seek Him in the midnight, thou shalt love
Him, even now!
Dark and of the dark impassioned
Is this Pentheus’ blood; yea, fashioned
Of the Dragon, and his birth
From Echîon, child of Earth.
He is no man, but a wonder;
Did the Earth-Child not beget him,
As a red Giant, to set him
Against God, against the Thunder?
He will bind me for his prize,
Me, the Bride of Dionyse;
And my priest, my friend, is taken
Even now, and buried lies;
In the dark he lies forsaken!
Dionysus, here before thee!
Dost thou mark us not, nor cherish,
Who implore thee, and adore thee?
Hither down Olympus’ side,
Come, O Holy One defied,
Be thy golden wand uplifted o’er the tyrant in his pride!
Nysa, thou our help alone?
O’er fierce beasts in orient lands
Doth thy thronging thyrsus wave,
By the high Corycian Cave,
Or where stern Olympus stands;
In the elm-woods and the oaken,
There where Orpheus harped of old,
And the trees awoke and knew him,
And the wild things gathered to him,
As he sang amid the broken
Glens his music manifold?
Blessed Land of Piërie,
Dionysus loveth thee;
He will come to thee with dancing,
Come with joy and mystery;
With the Maenads at his hest
Winding, winding to the West;
Cross the flood of swiftly glancing
Axios in majesty;
Cross the Lydias, the giver
Of good gifts and waving green;
Cross that Father-Stream of story,
Through a land of steeds and glory
Rolling, bravest, fairest River
E’er of mortals seen!
A Voice Within
Calling my Chosen; hearken ye!
The Child of Zeus and Semelê.
Hear my word; awake, awake!
[An Earthquake suddenly shakes the pillars of the Castle.]
Of Pentheus racked in ruin fall?
The fire that sleeps, against this house!
[Fire leaps up on the Tomb of Semelê.]
From Semelê’s enhallowed sod
Awakened? Yea, the Death that came
Ablaze from heaven of old, the same
Hot splendour of the shaft of God?
Cometh against this house! Oh, cast ye down,
Ye trembling damsels; He, our own adored,
God’s Child hath come, and all is overthrown!
[The Maidens cast themselves upon the ground, their eyes earthward. Dionysus, alone and unbound, enters from the Castle.]
Ye marked him, then, our Master, and the mighty hand he laid
On tower and rock, shaking the house of Pentheus?—But arise,
And cast the trembling from your flesh, and lift untroubled eyes.
My heart leaps out to greet thee from the deep of loneliness.
Should the gates of Pentheus quell me, or his darkness make me fast?
How hast thou ‘scaped the man of sin? Who freed thee from the snare?
‘Twas there I mocked him, in his gyves, and gave him dreams for food.
For when he led me down, behold, before the stall there stood
A Bull of Offering. And this King, he bit his lips, and straight
Fell on and bound it, hoof and limb, with gasping wrath and sweat.
And I sat watching!—Then a Voice; and lo, our Lord was come,
And the house shook, and a great flame stood o’er his mother’s tomb.
And Pentheus hied this way and that, and called his thralls amain
For water, lest his roof-tree burn; and all toiled, all in vain.
Then deemed a-sudden I was gone; and left his fire, and sped
Back to the prison portals, and his lifted sword shone red.
But there, methinks, the God had wrought—I speak but as I guess—
Some dream-shape in mine image; for he smote at emptiness,
Stabbed in the air, and strove in wrath, as though ’twere me he slew.
Then ‘mid his dreams God smote him yet again! He overthrew
All that high house. And there in wreck for evermore it lies,
That the day of this my bondage may be sore in Pentheus’ eyes!
And now his sword is fallen, and he lies outworn and wan
Who dared to rise against his God in wrath, being but man.
And I uprose and left him, and in all peace took my path
Forth to my Chosen, recking light of Pentheus and his wrath.
But soft, methinks a footstep sounds even now within the hall;
‘Tis he; how think ye he will stand, and what words speak withal?
I will endure him gently, though he come in fury hot.
For still are the ways of Wisdom, and her temper trembleth not!
[Enter Pentheus in fury.]
His prison, whom I held but now, hard gripped
In bondage.—Ha! ‘Tis he!—What, sirrah, how
Show’st thou before my portals?
[He advances furiously upon him.]
And set a quiet carriage to thy rage.
There was One living that should set me free?
‘Tis well; for in thy scorn his glory lies.
(to his guard)
Nay, peace! Abide till he who hasteth from
The mountain side with news for thee, be come.
We will not fly, but wait on thy command.
[Enter suddenly and in haste a Messenger from the Mountain.]
I come from high Kithaeron, where the frore
Snow spangles gleam and cease not evermore. . .
Whose fleet limbs darted arrow-like but now
From Thebes away, and come to tell thee how
They work strange deeds and passing marvel. Yet
I first would learn thy pleasure. Shall I set
My whole tale forth, or veil the stranger part?
Yea, Lord, I fear the swiftness of thy heart,
Thine edgèd wrath and more than royal soul.
It skills not to be wroth with honesty.
Nay, if thy news of them be dark, ’tis he
Shall pay it, who bewitched and led them on.
Up to the peaks, the greyest, coldest time,
When the first rays steal earthward, and the rime
Yields, when I saw three bands of them. The one
Autonoë led, one Ino, one thine own
Mother, Agâvê. There beneath the trees
Sleeping they lay, like wild things flung at ease
In the forest; one half sinking on a bed
Of deep pine greenery; one with careless head
Amid the fallen oak leaves; all most cold
In purity—not as thy tale was told
Of wine-cups and wild music and the chase
For love amid the forest’s loneliness.
Then rose the Queen Agâvê suddenly
Amid her band, and gave the God’s wild cry,
“Awake, ye Bacchanals! I hear the sound
Of hornèd kine. Awake ye!”—Then, all round,
Alert, the warm sleep fallen from their eyes,
A marvel of swift ranks I saw them rise,
Dames young and old, and gentle maids unwed
Among them. O’er their shoulders first they shed
Their tresses, and caught up the fallen fold
Of mantles where some clasp had loosened hold,
And girt the dappled fawn-skins in with long
Quick snakes that hissed and writhed with quivering tongue.
And one a young fawn held, and one a wild
Wolf cub, and fed them with white milk, and smiled
In love, young mothers with a mother’s breast
And babes at home forgotten! Then they pressed
Wreathed ivy round their brows, and oaken sprays
And flowering bryony. And one would raise
Her wand and smite the rock, and straight a jet
Of quick bright water came. Another set
Her thyrsus in the bosomed earth, and there
Was red wine that the God sent up to her,
A darkling fountain. And if any lips
Sought whiter draughts, with dipping finger-tips
They pressed the sod, and gushing from the ground
Came springs of milk. And reed-wands ivy-crowned
Ran with sweet honey, drop by drop.—O King,
Hadst thou been there, as I, and seen this thing,
With prayer and most high wonder hadst thou gone
To adore this God whom now thou rail’st upon!
Howbeit, the kine-wardens and shepherds straight
Came to one place, amazed, and held debate;
And one being there who walked the streets and scanned
The ways of speech, took lead of them whose hand
Knew but the slow soil and the solemn hill,
And flattering spoke, and asked: “Is it your will,
Masters, we stay the mother of the King,
Agâvê, from her lawless worshipping,
And win us royal thanks?”—And this seemed good
To all; and through the branching underwood
We hid us, cowering in the leaves. And there
Through the appointed hour they made their prayer
And worship of the Wand, with one accord
Of heart and cry—”Iacchos, Bromios, Lord,
God of God born!”—And all the mountain felt,
And worshipped with them; and the wild things knelt
And ramped and gloried, and the wilderness
Was filled with moving voices and dim stress.
Soon, as it chanced, beside my thicket-close
The Queen herself passed dancing, and I rose
And sprang to seize her. But she turned her face
Upon me: “Ho, my rovers of the chase,
My wild White Hounds, we are hunted! Up, each rod
And follow, follow, for our Lord and God!”
Thereat, for fear they tear us, all we fled
Amazed; and on, with hand unweaponèd
They swept toward our herds that browsed the green
Hill grass. Great uddered kine then hadst thou seen
Bellowing in sword-like hands that cleave and tear,
A live steer riven asunder, and the air
Tossed with rent ribs or limbs of cloven tread,
And flesh upon the branches, and a red
Rain from the deep green pines. Yea, bulls of pride,
Horns swift to rage, were fronted and aside
Flung stumbling, by those multitudinous hands
Dragged pitilessly. And swifter were the bands
Of garbèd flesh and bone unbound withal
Than on thy royal eyes the lids may fall.
Then on like birds, by their own speed upborne,
They swept toward the plains of waving corn
That lie beside Asopus’ banks, and bring
To Thebes the rich fruit of her harvesting.
On Hysiae and Erythrae that lie nursed
Amid Kithaeron’s bowering rocks, they burst
Destroying, as a foeman’s army comes.
They caught up little children from their homes,
High on their shoulders, babes unheld, that swayed
And laughed and fell not; all a wreck they made;
Yea, bronze and iron did shatter, and in play
Struck hither and thither, yet no wound had they;
Caught fire from out the hearths, yea, carried hot
Flames in their tresses and were scorchèd not!
The village folk in wrath took spear and sword,
And turned upon the Bacchae. Then, dread Lord,
The wonder was. For spear nor barbèd brand
Could scathe nor touch the damsels; but the Wand,
The soft and wreathèd wand their white hands sped,
Blasted those men and quelled them, and they fled
Dizzily. Sure some God was in these things!
And the holy women back to those strange springs
Returned, that God had sent them when the day
Dawned, on the upper heights; and washed away
The stain of battle. And those girdling snakes
Hissed out to lap the waterdrops from cheeks
And hair and breast.
Therefore I counsel thee,
O King, receive this Spirit, whoe’er he be,
To Thebes in glory. Greatness manifold
Is all about him; and the tale is told
That this is he who first to man did give
The grief-assuaging vine. Oh, let him live;
For if he die, then Love herself is slain,
And nothing joyous in the world again!
To a king’s face, yet will I hide it not.
Dionyse is God, no God more true nor higher!
This frenzy of Bacchic women! All my land
Is made their mock.—This needs an iron hand!
Ho, Captain! Quick to the Electran Gate;
Bid gather all my men-at-arms thereat;
Call all that spur the charger, all who know
To wield the orbèd targe or bend the bow;
We march to war!—’Fore God, shall women dare
Such deeds against us? ‘Tis too much to bear!
My solemn words; yet, in thine own despite,
I warn thee still. Lift thou not up thy spear
Against a God, but hold thy peace, and fear
His wrath! He will not brook it, if thou fright
His Chosen from the hills of their delight.
Give thanks!—Or shall I knot thine arms again?
Than kick against the pricks, since Dionyse
Is God, and thou but mortal.
Yea, sacrifice of women’s blood, to cry
His name through all Kithaeron!
All, and abase your shields of bronzen rim
Before their wands.
This stranger that so dogs us! Well or ill
I may entreat him, he must babble still!
Even yet be straightened.
[Pentheus has started as though to seek his army at the gate.]
Mine own slaves’ will; how else?
The damsels hither, without sword or steed.
Dost fear? Only to save thee do I plot.
To dance these hills for ever!
That is my compact, plighted with my Lord!
(turning from him)
And thou, be silent!
(after regarding him fixedly, speaks with resignation)
[He fixes his eyes upon Pentheus again, while the armourers bring out his armour; then speaks in a tone of command.]
(who during the rest of this scene, with a few exceptions, simply speaks the thoughts that Dionysus puts into him, losing power over his own mind)
The gold of Thebes!
To such great longing.
(somewhat bewildered at what he has said)
To see them flown with wine.
A sight as would much grieve thee?
Would watch, ambushed among the pines.