Maurice Hewlett

(1861-1923 / England)

Prologue To The Argive Women - Poem by Maurice Hewlett

(Odysseus before the House of Paris.)

OD. About this wicked house ten years
The strife 'twixt Troy and Greece has surged
Since rifling Paris, thief and traitor,
Drew all men to the hue and cry
Menelaus made after him ;
And me, Laertes' son, my lands
And wife and child forsook, he drew
Into the weary insatiable years
Of slaughter, man to man, and Doom
Long-gathered, palsying heart and heart,
And Valour pent in little room—
Ten years abrim, but in this tenth,
Now at the last, within this hour,
To drown the city and the sin
In one great well of blood, hence flooding
Where Paris keeps her his delight,
Soon to prove bane of Troy—and his.
His, for her heart is changed ; she now
Longs for her husband, for her child,
For Lacedaemon, where she was born
And wooed, and learned her shameful lore,
The which now loathing, him her teacher,
Him her sleek thief she scorns, being all
Virgin for him who loved her first,
Nor ever swerved through years denied ;
And he, at last in sight
Of his reward, kneels for the crown,
He for the crown, a crowned king,
Of his high heart and purpose.
Not he alone, nor Greece alone
Made war in this high quarrel. Nay,
The gods themselves flung into it
Their pomp and panoply of storm,
Terrors of sky and sea, great winds,
Thunder and blown fire, and flood tides
And irresistible surge of the main,
Some to uphold the Dardan house,
And some the wile of Kypris even
Whose sweet poison made Helen sinner ;
And some, as raving Ares, thus
Fulfill'd their natures, to whom men
Are as a tilth to weed, with spear
In visible hand, and battle shout
In terrible mouth ; and met in shock
Other celestial forms, and them
Highest of all and most to us—
Nearer to us for our more need—
Who cried upon the sin : faith broke,
Troth-plight made mockery, oath in vain,
Shameful things shameless done—and them
I serve, and with them plot the end
Of Troy and of the war.
So here
Enwombed in wood, we wait the yeaning
Of that great Horse, the which by wit
Athene-given Epeios made
And I conceived, hid up in arms,
The greatest of us and the best
Hidden here within the walls,
Within the heart of obdurate Troy,
Ready to issue forth,
Seize gates and open, that the tide
Even now girding at the walls
Surge in and cleanse the iniquity
Which to high Heaven has bared so long
A braggart blasphemous head.
But first
There is a deed for her to do,
Who by one wrong inuring wrong
Must now requite it, she alone
Before she can anoint the knees
Of her offended with her tears,
Before he dare to lift her up
To his fair bed and board ; for Zeus
Who set our world, set it in law
Which not himself can break. Ye men
Who live by labour, what ye sow

That ye shall eat, and what ye eat
That ye shall win again by sowing.
Therefore let Helen sow in tears
And reap her joy, and eat with rue
That which she shameful sowed. Thus she
I serve, the gray-eyed Goddess, bids,
And thus her messenger I await
Helen within the wicked house
In this last throw of Troy with Doom.
(He hides himself. The curtains part and
disclose the women's house in the House of
Paris. The play begins.)

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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, October 5, 2010

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