Robert Laurence Binyon

(1869-1943 / England)

The Bacchanal Of Alexander - Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon

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I
A wondrous rumour fills and stirs
The wide Carmanian Vale;
On leafy hills the sunburnt vintagers
Stand listening; silent is the echoing flail
Upon the threshing--floors:
Girls in the orchards one another hail
Over their golden stores.
``Leave the dewy apples hanging flushed,
Ripe to drop
In our baskets! Leave the heavy grapes uncrushed,
Leave the darkened figs, a half--pulled crop,
Olive--boughs by staves unbeaten, come,
All our hills be hushed!
For a Conqueror, nay a God,
Comes into our land this day,
From the Eastern desert dumb,
That no mortal ever trod:
Come we down to meet him on his way!''

From reddening vineyards steeped in sun,
Trees that with riches droop,
Down the green upland men and maidens run
Or under the low leaves with laughter stoop.
But now they pause, they hear
Far trampling sounds; and many a soft--eyed troop
Murmurs a wondering fear.
``Wherefore hast thou summoned us afar,
Voice so proud?
Who are ye that so imperious are?
Is it he to whom all India bowed,
Bacchus, and the great host that pursue
Triumphing, his car;
Whom our fathers long foretold?
O if it be he, the God indeed,
May his power our vines endue
With prosperity fourfold.
Bring we all ripe offerings for his need!''

Slowly along the vine--robed vale move on,
Like those that walk in dream,
The ranks of Macedon.
O much--proved men, why doubt ye truth so sweet?
This is that fair Carmania, that did seem
So far to gain, yet now is at your feet.
'Tis no Circean magic greenly crowds
This vale of elms, the laden vines uprearing,
The small flowers in the grass, the illumined clouds,
Trembling streams with rushes lined,
All in strangeness reappearing
Like a blue morn to the blind!
Worn feet go happy, and parched throats may laugh,
Or blissful cold drops from dipt helmets quaff;
Dear comrades, flinging spears down, stand embraced
And heap this rich oblivion on the waste
Of torment whence they came;
That land of salt sand vaulted o'er with flame,
That furnace, which for sixty days they pierced,
Wrapt in a hot slow cloud of pricking grains,
On ever crumbling mounds, through endless plains,
And ravening hands scooped fire, not water, for their thirst.
Streams of Carmania, never have ye seen
Such mirrored rapture of strong limbs unclad,
Lips pressing, lover--like, delicious green
Of leaves, or breaking into laughter mad;
Out--wearied ranks, that couched in gloom serene,
Let idle memory toy
With torment past whose pangs enrich the gust of joy.


II
O peerless Alexander! Still
From his kindling words they glow.
Like a straight shaft to a bow
Is their strength unto his will.
He hath done what no man ever dared:
That fierce desert, where great Cyrus lost
All save seven of his unnumbered host,
Where the proud Semiramis despaired,
He hath brought his thousands through.
Vainly, vainly Wind and Fire
Stormed against the way of his desire:
They at last their tamer knew.
O'er mile--broad rivers, like young brooks, he stept,
Walls of unconquered cities overleapt.
And now Earth yields, for storm and strife and heat,
Her greenest valley to his feet.

But lo! the soft Carmanian folk,
Round these warriors gathering nigh,
Down the slopes with murmur shy
The benignant God invoke.
While they stand in wonder and in doubt,
Comes a throng in leaves their heads arraying,
Some on pipes and some on tabors playing,
``Bacchus, Bacchus is our king,'' they shout,
``Magic mirth into our blood he pours;
Join us, strangers, in our feast!
All our parching toil hath ceased.
Give us of your fruitful valley's stores!''
Apples they heap on shields in golden domes,
And spearpoints bear the dripping honeycombs.
``Our Bacchus bids you to his joy,'' they sing;
``Lo, where he comes, the king!''

Two massy ivory cars, together bound,
Roll through the parting throng;
A whole uprooted vine enwreathes them round;
Long tendrils over the gold axles trail,
While jubilant pipe and chanted song
The cars' oncoming hail.
By the dark bunches idle helms and greaves
Are hung, and swords that on Hydaspes shone;
Heroic shoulders gleam betwixt the leaves!
There sits reclined on rugs of Susa spread,
Throned amid his Seven of Macedon,
Alexander! his victorious head
Bound with ivy and pale autumn flowers.
Ah, what a sunny redolence of showers
The wind wafts round him from this promised land!
Over Hephaestion's neck is laid one hand,
Lightly the other holds a spear; but now
No passion fires his eye, nor deep thought knots his brow.
Like his own Pella breathes this upland air;
A joy--born beauty flushes up his face,
O'ersmoothing old fell rages, to replace
Youth in lost lines most indolently fair.
Remembrance is at peace, desire forgone,
And those winged brows their watchful menace ease
In languor proud as a storm--sailing swan
New lighted on a mere from the wild seas.
Beat, thrilling drums, beat low, and pipes sound on,
While his full soul doth gaze
From this the topmost hour of all his glorious days.


III
The shy Carmanians awed
Gaze on that sun--like head.
``Is it he,'' they murmur, ``who led
The mirth of the vineyard abroad?
Surely none else may bear
So regal a beauty; yet why
On us turns not his eye?
We have heard that he loves not care,
But the dance and idle glee
Of the laughing Satyr tribe.
Could toil those brows inscribe?
Is it he? is it surely he?
Are these the revellers of his train?
Yet surely these have passed through fire, through pain!
Can the Gods also suffer throes,
Nor crave to conquer, but repose?''
The king uplifts his bowl.
Peucestas stoops, pours in
From a brown fawn's swelling skin
The ripe grape's rosy soul.
``Pledge us,'' he cries, and smiles,
``Lord of Nysa, to--day!
Have we not toiled our way
To a valley of the Blessed Isles?
Drink of a richer boon
Than the water we brought thee to taste
In the fiery Gedrosian waste
When we halted our host at noon,
And thou in the sight of all didst spill
Those longed--for drops on the darkened sand,--O fill,
Remembering how our hearts drank wine
From thy refusing deed divine.''

What hath the king so stirred?
What grief of a great desire
Stung by that spoken word?
Sudden as storm his thoughts tumultuous run
Back into peril, Indus, Issus, Tyre,
And the famed gates of Babylon yet unwon.
Far, far those mighty days in glory tower!
A valley keeps him, while the great peaks call.
O for that supreme exultant hour,
When alone, Achilles--like, he sprang
'Mid the astonished Indians o'er the wall,
And a hundred arrows round him rang!
O Alexander, all these thousands own
Thy pleasure, but thy throes were thine alone.
Dulled is the joy that hath no need to dare;
Match thy great self, and breed another heir
To those high deeds, from which thy kindled fame
Runs, as the world's hope runs from youth to youth aflame.
Climb, climb again to those lone eagle skies,
Where ocean's unadventured circle bends
And dragon ignorance girdles the world's ends!--
As fire leaps up a tower, that thought leaps to his eyes.
``Off, Maenad mummery,'' he cries; his brow
Strips of its garland with indignant hands,
Starts up, and plants his ringing spear; and now
Soul--flushed through radiant limbs, a man transfigured stands.
With joy the marvelling Carmanians bow,
From their long doubting freed:
``It is the God,'' they cry, ``the enraptured God indeed!''


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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, September 1, 2010



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