The Tower Beyond Tragedy - Poem by Robinson Jeffers
You'd never have thought the Queen was Helen's sister- Troy's
burning-flower from Sparta, the beautiful sea-flower
Cut in clear stone, crowned with the fragrant golden mane, she
the ageless, the uncontaminable-
This Clytemnestra was her sister, low-statured, fierce-lipped, not
dark nor blonde, greenish-gray-eyed,
Sinewed with strength, you saw, under the purple folds of the
queen-cloak, but craftier than queenly,
Standing between the gilded wooden porch-pillars, great steps of
stone above the steep street,
Awaiting the King.
Most of his men were quartered on the town;
he, clanking bronze, with fifty
And certain captives, came to the stair. The Queen's men were
a hundred in the street and a hundred
Lining the ramp, eighty on the great flags of the porch; she
raising her white arms the spear-butts
Thundered on the stone, and the shields clashed; eight shining
Let fly from the wide window over the entrance the wildbirds of
their metal throats, air-cleaving
Over the King come home. He raised his thick burnt-colored
beard and smiled; then Clytemnestra,
Gathering the robe, setting the golden-sandaled feet carefully,
stone by stone, descended
One half the stair. But one of the captives marred the comeliness
of that embrace with a cry
Gull-shrill, blade-sharp, cutting between the purple cloak and
the bronze plates, then Clytemnestra:
Who was it? The King answered: A piece of our goods out of
the snatch of Asia, a daughter of the king,
So treat her kindly and she may come into her wits again. Eh,
you keep state here my queen.
You've not been the poorer for me.- In heart, in the widowed
chamber, dear, she pale replied, though the slaves
Toiled, the spearmen were faithful. What's her name, the slavegirl's?
AGAMEMNON Come up the stair. They tell me my kinsman's
Lodged himself on you.
CLYTEMNESTRA Your cousin Aegisthus? He was out of refuge,
flits between here and Tiryns.
Dear: the girl's name?
AGAMEMNON Cassandra. We've a hundred or so other
captives; besides two hundred
Rotted in the hulls, they tell odd stories about you and your
guest: eh? no matter: the ships
Ooze pitch and the August road smokes dirt, I smell like an
old shepherd's goatskin, you'll have bath-water?
They're making it hot. Come, my lord. My hands will pour it.
(They enter the palace.)
In the holy city,
In Troy, when the stone was standing walls and the ash
Was painted and carved wood and pictured curtains,
And those lived that are dead, they had caged a den
Of wolves out of the mountain, and I a maiden
Was led to see them: it stank and snarled,
The smell was the smell here, the eyes were the eyes
Of steep Mycenae: O God guardian of wanderers
Let me die easily.
So cried Cassandra the daughter of King Priam, treading the steps
of the palace at Mycenae.
Swaying like a drunken woman, drunk with the rolling of the
ship, and with tears, and with prophecy.
The stair may yet be seen, among the old stones that are Mycenae;
tall dark Cassandra, the prophetess,
The beautiful girl with whom a God bargained for love, high-nurtured,
captive, shamefully stained
With the ship's filth and the sea's, rolled her dark head upon her
shoulders like a drunken woman
And trod the great stones of the stair. The captives, she among
them, were ranked into a file
On the flagged porch, between the parapet and the spearmen.
The people below shouted for the King,
King Agamemnon, returned conqueror, after the ten years of
battle and death in Asia.
Then cried Cassandra:
Good spearmen you did not kill my father, not you
Violated my mother with the piercing
That makes no life in the womb, not you defiled
My tall blond brothers with the masculine lust
That strikes its loved one standing,
And leaves him what no man again nor a girl
Ever will gaze upon with the eyes of desire:
Therefore you'll tell me
Whether it's an old custom in the Greek country
The cow goring the bull, break the inner door back
And see in what red water how cloaked your King
Bathes, and my brothers are avenged a little.
One said: Captive be quiet. And she: What have I to be quiet for,
you will not believe me.
Such wings my heart spreads when the red runs out of any
Greek, I must let the bird fly. O soldiers
He that mishandled me dies! The first, one of your two brute
Aj axes, that threw me backward
On the temple flagstones, a hard bride-bed, I enduring him
heard the roofs of my city breaking,
The roar of flames and spearmen: what came to Ajax? Out of a
cloud the loud-winged falcon lightning
Came on him shipwrecked, clapped its wings about him, clung
to him, the violent flesh burned and the bones
Broke from each other in that passion; and now this one, returned
safe, the Queen is his lightning.
While she yet spoke a slave with haggard eyes darted from the
door; there were hushed cries and motions
In the inner dark of the great hall. Then the Queen Clytemnestra
issued, smiling. She drew
Her cloak up, for the brooch on the left shoulder was broken; the
fillet of her hair had come unbound;
Yet now she was queenly at length; and standing at the stair-head
spoke: Men of Mycenae, I have made
Sacrifice for the joy this day has brought to us, the King come
home, the enemy fallen, fallen,
In the ashes of Asia. I have made sacrifice. I made the prayer
with my own lips, and struck the bullock
With my own hand. The people murmured together, She's not
a priestess, the Queen is not a priestess,
What has she done there, what wild sayings
Make wing in the Queen's throat?
CLYTEMNESTRA I have something to tell you.
Too much joy is a message-bearer of misery.
A little is good; but come too much and it devours us. Therefore
we give of a great harvest
Sheaves to the smiling Gods; and therefore out of a full cup we
pour the quarter. No man
Dare take all that God sends him, whom God favors, or destruction
Rides into the house in the last basket. I have been twelve years
your shepherdess, I the Queen have ruled you
And I am accountable for you.
Why should a man kill his own mother?
The cub of the lion being grown
Will fight with the lion, but neither lion nor wolf
Nor the unclean jackal
Bares tooth against the womb that he dropped out of:
Yet I have seen
Strike that captive woman with your hand, spearman; and then
if the spirit
Of the she-wolf in her will not quiet, with the butt of the spear.
CASSANDRA -the blade in the child's hand
Enter the breast that the child sucked-that woman's-
The left breast that the robe has dropped from, for the brooch is
That very hillock of whiteness, and she crying, she kneeling
(The spearman 'who is nearest CASSANDRA covers her mouth
twith his hand.)
My sister's beauty entered Troy with too much gladness. They
forgot to make sacrifice.
Therefore destruction entered; therefore the daughters of Troy
cry out in strange dispersals, and this one
Grief has turned mad. I will not have that horror march under
the Lion-gate of Mycenae
That split the citadel of Priam. Therefore I say I have made
sacrifice; I have subtracted
A fraction from immoderate joy. For consider, my people,
How unaccountably God has favored the city and brought home
the army. King Agamemnon,
My dear, my husband, my lord and yours,
Is yet not such a man as the Gods love; but insolent, fierce, overbearing,
Brought many times many great evils
On all the heads and fighting hopes of the Greek force. Why,
even before the fleet made sail,
While yet it gathered on Boeotian Aulis, this man offended. He
slew one of the deer
Of the sacred herd of Artemis, out of pure impudence, hunter's
pride that froths in a young boy
Laying nock to string of his first bow: this man, grown, a grave
king, leader of the Greeks.
The angry Goddess
Blew therefore from the horn of the Trojan shore storm without
end, no slackening, no turn, no slumber
Of the eagle bound to break the oars of the fleet and split the
hulls venturing: you know what answer
Calchas the priest gave: his flesh must pay whose hand did the
evil-his flesh! mine also. His? My daughter.
They knew that of my three there was one that I loved.
Blameless white maid, my Iphigenia, whose throat the knife,
Whose delicate soft throat the thing that cuts sheep open was
drawn across by a priest's hand
And the soft-colored lips drained bloodless
That had clung here-here- Oh!
(Drawing the robe from her breasts.)
These feel soft, townsmen; these are red at the tips, they have
neither blackened nor turned marble.
King Agamemnon hoped to pillow his black-haired breast upon
them, my husband, that mighty conqueror,
Come home with glory. He thought they were still a woman's,
they appear a woman's. I'll tell you something.
Since fawn slaughtered for slaughtered fawn evened the debt
these that feel soft and warm are wounding ice,
They ache with their hardness . . .
Shall I go on and count the other follies of the King? The
insolences to God and man
That brought down plague, and brought Achilles' anger against
the army? Yet God brought home a remnant
Against all hope: therefore rejoice.
But lest too much rejoicing slay us I have made sacrifice. A little
girl's brought you over the sea.
What could be great enough for safe return? A sheep's death?
A bull's? What thank-offering?
All these captives, battered from the ships, bruised with captivity,
damaged flesh and forlorn minds?
God requires wholeness in the victim. You dare not think what
he demands. I dared. I, I,
Men of the Argolis, you that went over the sea and you that
guarded the home coasts
And high stone war-belts of the cities: remember how many
spearmen these twelve years have called me
Queen, and have loved me, and been faithful, and remain faithful.
What I bring you is accomplished.
King Agamemnon. The King. We will hear the King.
CLYTEMNESTRA What I bring you is accomplished.
Accept it, the cities are at peace, the ways are safe between
them, the Gods favor us. Refuse it ...
You will not refuse it ...
VOICES The King. We will hear the King. Let
us see the King.
You will not refuse it; I have my faithful They would run, the
From the gate and by the graves through every crooked street
of the great city, they would run in the pasture
Outside the walls: and on this stair: stemmed at this entrance-
Ah, sister, do you also behold visions? I was watching red
Be wise, townsmen. As for the King: slaves will bring him to you
when he has bathed; you will see him.
The slaves will carry him on a litter, he has learned Asian ways in
Asia, too great a ruler
To walk, like common spearmen.
CASSANDRA Who is that, standing behind
you, Clytemnestra? What God
Dark in the doorway?
CLYTEMNESTRA Deal you with your own demons. You
know what I have done, captive. You know
I am holding lions with my two eyes: if I turn and loose
them . . .
CASSANDRA It is . . . the King. There! There! Ah!
Or of I should make any move to increase confusion. If I should
say for example, Spearman
Kill that woman. I cannot say it this moment; so little as from
one spear wound in your body
A trickle would loose them on us.
CASSANDRA Yet he stands behind you.
A-ah! I can bear it. I have seen much lately
A CAPTAIN (down the stair; standing forward from his men)
O Queen, there is no man in the world, but one (if that one
lives), may ask you to speak
Otherwise than you will. You have spoken in riddles to the
people . . .
CASSANDRA Not me! Why will you choose
Me! I submitted to you living, I was forced, you entered me . . .
THE CAPTAIN Also there was a slave here,
Whose eyes stood out from his chalk face, came buzzing from
the palace postern gate, whimpering
A horrible thing. I killed him. But the men have heard it.
CASSANDRA You were the king, I was your slave.
Here you see, here, I took the black-haired breast of the bull,
I endured it, I opened my thighs, I suffered
The other thing besides death that you Greeks have to give
THE CAPTAIN Though this one raves and you are silent,
Queen, terrible-eyed . . .
CASSANDRA That was the slave's part: but this
time . . . dead King . . .
I ... will . . . not submit. Ah! Ah! No!
If you will steal the body of someone living take your wife's,
take that soldier's there
I pray you Queen command the captive woman be quieted in a
stone chamber; she increases confusion,
The soldiers cannot know some terrible thing may not have
happened; you men and the King's grin
Like wolves over the kill, the whole city totters on a swordedge
Drive him off me! Pity, pity!
I have no power; I thought when he was dead another man would
use me, your Greek custom,
Not he, he, newly slain.
He is driving me out, he enters, he possesses, this is my last defilement.
Ah . . . Greeks . . .
With the voice the spirit seemed to fly out.
She upflung her shining
Arms with the dreadful and sweet gesture of a woman surrendering
utterly to force and love,
She in the eyes of the people, like a shameless woman, and fell
writhing, and the dead King's soul
Entered her body. In that respite the Queen:
Captain: and you,
soldiers, that shift unsoldierly
The weapons that should be upright, at attention, like stiff
grass-blades: and you, people of Mycenae:
While this one maddened, and you muttered, echoing together,
and you, soldier, with anxious questions
Increased confusion: who was it that stood firm, who was it that
stood silent, who was it that held
With her two eyes the whole city from splitting wide asunder?
Your Queen was it? I am your Queen,
And now I will answer what you asked. ... It is true. . . . He
has died. ... I am the Queen.
My little son Orestes will grow up and govern you.
spoke the body of Cassandra
Arose among the shaken spears, taller than the spears, and stood
among the waving spears
Stone-quiet, like a high war-tower in a windy pinewood, but
deadly to look at, with blind and tyrannous
Eyes; and the Queen: All is accomplished; and if you are wise,
people of Mycenae: quietness is wisdom.
No tumult will call home a dead man out of judgment. The end
is the end. Ah, soldiers! Down spears!
What, now Troy's fallen you think there's not a foreigner in
the world bronze may quench thirst on? Lion-cubs,
If you will tear each other in the lair happy the wolves, happy
the hook-nose vultures.
Call the eaters of carrion? I am your Queen, I am speaking to
you, you will hear me out before you whistle
The foul beaks from the mountain nest. I tell you I will forget
mercy if one man moves now.
I rule you, I.
The Gods have satisfied themselves in this man's death; there
shall not one drop of the blood of the city
Be shed further. I say the high Gods are content; as for the
And the great ghost of the King: my slaves will bring out the
King's body decently before you
And set it here, in the eyes of the city: spices the ships bring from
the south will comfort his spirit;
Mycenae and Tiryns and the shores will mourn him aloud; sheep
will be slain for him; a hundred beeves
Spill their thick blood into the trenches; captives and slaves go
down to serve him, yes all these captives
Burn in the ten-day fire with him, unmeasured wine quench it,
urned in pure gold the gathered ashes
Rest forever in the sacred rock; honored; a conqueror. . . .
Slaves, bring the King out of the house.
Alas my husband! she cried, clutching the brown strands of her
hair in both her hands, you have left me
A woman among lions! Ah, the King's power, ah the King's
victories! Weep for me, Mycenae!
Widowed of the King!
The people stood amazed, like sheep that
snuff at their dead shepherd, some hunter's
Ill-handled arrow having struck him from the covert, all by
mischance; he is fallen on the hillside
Between the oak-shadow and the stream; the sun burns his dead
face, his staff lies by him, his dog
Licks his hand, whining. So, like sheep, the people
Regarded that dead majesty whom the slaves brought out of the
house on a gold bed, and set it
Between the pillars of the porch. His royal robe covered his
wounds, there was no stain
Then that captain who had spoken before:
O Queen, before the mourning
The punishment: tell us who has done this. She raised her head,
and not a woman but a lioness
Blazed at him from her eyes: Dog, she answered, dog of the
Who said Speak dog, and you dared speak? Justice is mine.
Then he was silent; but Cassandra's
Body standing tall among the spears, over the parapet, her body
but not her spirit
Cried with a man's voice: Shall not even the stones of the stair,
shall not the stones under the columns
Speak, and the towers of the great wall of my city come down
against the murderess? O Mycenae
I yearned to night and day under the tents by Troy, O Tiryns,
O Mycenae, the door
Of death, and the gate before the door!
CLYTEMNESTRA That woman lies, or the
spirit of a lie cries from her. Spearman,
Kill that woman!
But Cassandra's body set its back against the
parapet, its face
Terribly fronting the raised knife; and called the soldier by his
name, in the King's voice, saying
Sheathe it; and the knife lowered, and the soldier
Fell on his knees before the King in the woman's body; and the
body of Cassandra cried from the parapet:
Horrible things, horrible things this house has witnessed: but here
is the most vile, that hundreds
Of spears are idle while the murderess, Clytemnestra the murderess,
the snake that came upon me
Naked and bathing, the death that lay with me in bed, the death
that has borne children to me,
Stands there unslain.
CLYTEMNESTRA Cowards, if the bawling of that bewildered
heifer from Troy fields has frightened you
How did you bear the horns of her brothers? Bring her to me.
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA
Let no man doubt, men of Mycenae,
She has yet the knife hid in her clothes, the very blade that
stabbed her husband and the blood is on it.
Look, she handles it now. Look, fellows. The hand under the
robe. Slay her not easily, that she-wolf.
Do her no honor with a spear! Ah! If I could find the word, if
I could find it,
The name of her, to say husband-slayer and bed-defiler, bitch
and wolf-bitch, king's assassin
And beast, beast, beast, all in one breath, in one word: spearmen
You would heap your shields over this woman and crush her
slowly, slowly, while she choked and screamed,
No, you would peel her bare and on the pavement for a bridebed
with a spear-butt for husband
Dig the lewd womb until it burst: this for Agamemnon, this for
Aegisthus Agh, cowards of the city
Do you stand quiet?
CLYTEMNESTRA Truly, soldiers,
I think it is he verily. No one could invent the abominable voice,
the unspeakable gesture,
The actual raging insolence of the tyrant. I am the hand ridded
the Argolis of him.
I here, I killed him, I, justly.
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA You have heard her, you have
heard her, she has made confession.
Now if she'll show you the knife too
CLYTEMNESTRA Here. I kept it for safety.
And, as that beast said, his blood's yet on it.
Look at it, with so little a key I unlocked the kingdom of destruction.
Stand firm, till a God
Lead home this ghost to the dark country
So many Greeks have peopled, through his crimes, his violence,
his insolence, stand firm till that moment
And through the act of this hand and of this point no man shall
suffer anything again forever
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA
I say if you let this woman live, this crime go
unpunished, what man among you
Will be safe in his bed? The woman ever envies the man, his
strength, his freedom, his loves.
Her envy is like a snake beside him, all his life through, her envy
and hatred: law tames that viper:
Law dies if the Queen die not: the viper is free then.
It will be poison in your meat or a knife to bleed you sleeping.
They fawn and slaver over us
And then we are slain.
CLYTEMNESTRA (to one of the slaves that carried the King’s
Is my lord Aegisthus
Slain on the way? How long? How long?
(To the people) He
came, fat with his crimes.
Greek valor broke down Troy, your valor, soldiers, and the brain
of Odysseus, the battle-fury of Achilles,
The stubborn strength of Menelaus, the excellence of you all:
this dead man here, his pride
Ruined you a hundred times: he helped nowise, he brought bitter
destruction: but he gathered your glory
For the cloak of his shoulders. I saw him come up the stair, I saw
my child Iphigenia
Killed for his crime; I saw his harlot, the captive woman there,
crying out behind him, I saw . . .
I saw ... I saw . . . how can I speak what crowd of the dead
faces of the faithful Greeks,
Your brothers, dead of his crimes; those that perished of plague
and those that died in the lost battles
After he had soured the help of Achilles for another harlot
those dead faces of your brothers,
Some black with the death-blood, many trampled under the
hooves of horses, many spotted with pestilence,
Flew all about him, all lamenting, all crying out against him,
horrible horrible I gave them
Vengeance; and you freedom.
(To the slave) Go up and look,
for God's sake, go up to the parapets,
Look toward the mountain. Bring me word quickly, my strength
How can I hold all the Argolis with my eyes forever? I alone?
Hell cannot hold her dead men,
Keep watch there-send me word by others-go, go!
(To the people) He
Magnificent, abominable, all in bronze.
I brought him to the bath; my hands undid the armor;
My hands poured out the water;
Dead faces like flies buzzed all about us;
He stripped himself before me, loathsome, unclean, with laughter;
The labors of the Greeks had made him fat, the deaths of the
faithful had swelled his belly;
I threw a cloak over him for a net and struck, struck, struck,
Blindly, in the steam of the bath; he bellowed, netted,
And bubbled in the water;
All the stone vault asweat with steam bellowed;
And I undid the net and the beast was dead, and the broad vessel
Stank with his blood.
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA
The word! The word! O burning mind of Godr
If ever I gave you bulls teach me that word, the name for her,
the name for her!
A SLAVE (running from the door; to CLYTEMNESTRA)
My lord. Aegisthus has come down the mountain, Queen, he
approaches the Lion-gate.
CLYTEMNESTRA It is time. I am tired now.
Meet him and tell him to come in the postern doorway.
THE CAPTAIN (on the stair: addressing the soldiers and the people
Companions: before God, hating the smell of crimes, crushes the
city into gray ashes
We must make haste. Judge now and act. For the husband-slayer
I say she must die, let her pay forfeit. And for the great ghost
of the King, let all these captives,
But chiefly the woman Cassandra, the crier in a man's voice there,
be slain upon his pyre to quiet him.
He will go down to his dark place and God will spare the city.
(To the soldiers above, on the ramp and the porch)
Comrades: Mycenae is greater
Than the Queen of Mycenae. The King is dead: let the Queen
die: let the city live. Comrades,
We suffered something in Asia, on the stranger's coast, laboring
for you. We dreamed of home there
In the bleak wind and drift of battle; we continued ten years,
laboring and dying; we accomplished
The task set us; we gathered what will make all the Greek cities
glorious, a name forever;
We shared the spoil, taking our share to enrich Mycenae. O but
our hearts burned then, O comrades
But our hearts melted when the great oars moved the ships, the
water carried us, the blue sea-waves
Slid under the black keel; I could not see them, I was blind with
tears, thinking of Mycenae.
We have come home. Behold the dear streets of our longing,
The stones that we desired, the steep ways of the city and the
Reek and steam with pollution, the accursed vessel
Spills a red flood over the floors.
The fountain of it stands there and calls herself the Queen. No
Queen, no Queen, that husband-slayer,
A common murderess. Comrades join us
We will make clean the city and sweeten it before God. We
will mourn together at the King's burying,
And a good year will come, we will rejoice together.
CLYTEMNESTRA Dog, you dare
something. Fling no spear, soldiers,
He has a few fools back of him would attempt the stair if the
dog were slain: I will have no one
Killed out of need.
ONE OF HER MEN ON THE PORCH (flinging his spear)
Not at him: at you
But some God, no lover of justice, turned it; the
great bronze tip grazing her shoulder
Clanged on the stones behind: the gong of a change in the dance:
now Clytemnestra, none to help her,
One against all, swayed raging by the King's corpse, over the
golden bed: it is said that a fire
Stood visibly over her head, mixed in the hair, pale flames and
CLYTEMNESTRA Here am I, thieves, thieves,
Drunkards, here is my breast, a deep white mark for cowards to
aim at: kings have lain on it.
No spear yet, heroes, heroes?
See, I have no blemish: the arms are white, the breasts are deep
and white, the whole body is blemishless:
You are tired of your brown wives, draw lots for me, rabble,
thieves, there is loot here, shake the dice, thieves, a game yet!
One of you will take the bronze and one the silver,
One the gold, and one me,
Me Clytemnestra a spoil worth having:
Kings have kissed me, this dead dog was a king, there is another
King at the gate: thieves, thieves, would not this shining
Breast brighten a sad thief's hut, roll in his bed's filth
Shiningly? You could teach me to draw water at the fountain,
A dirty child on the other hip: where are the dice? Let me
throw first, if I throw sixes
I choose my masters: closer you rabble, let me smell you.
Don't fear the knife, it has king's blood on it, I keep it for an
It has shot its sting.
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA Fools, fools, Strike!
Are your hands dead?
CLYTEMNESTRA You Would see all of me
Before you choose whether to kill or dirtily cherish? If what
the King's used needs commending
To the eyes of thieves for thieves' use: give me room, give me
room, fellows, you'll see it is faultless.
The dress . . . there . . .
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA Fools this wide whore played wife
When she was going about to murder me the King; you, will
you let her trip you
With the harlot's trick? Strike! Make an end!
CLYTEMNESTRA I have not my
sister's, Troy's flame's beauty, but I have something.
This arm, round, firm, skin without hair, polished like marble:
the supple-jointed shoulders:
Men have praised the smooth neck, too,
The strong clear throat over the deep wide breasts . . .
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA She is
buying an hour: sheep: it may be Aegisthus
Is at the Lion-gate.
CLYTEMNESTRA If he were here, Aegisthus,
I’d not be the pedlar of what trifling charms I have for an
hour of life yet. You have wolves' eyes:
Yet there is something kindly about the blue ones there yours,
young soldier, young soldier. . . . The last,
The under-garment? You won't buy me yet? This dead dog,
The King here, never saw me naked: I had the night for nurse:
turn his head sideways, the eyes
Are only half shut. If I should touch him, and the blood came,
you'd say I had killed him. Nobody, nobody,
Killed him: his pride burst.
Ah, no one has pity!
I can serve well, I have always envied your women, the public ones.
Who takes me first? Tip that burnt log onto the flagstones,
This will be in a king's bed then. Your eyes are wolves' eyes:
So many, so many, so famishing
I will undo it, handle me not yet, I can undo it ...
Or I will tear it.
And when it is off me then I will be delivered to you beasts . . .
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA
Then strip her and use her to the bones, wear her through, kill
her with it.
When it is torn
You'll say I am lovely: no one has seen before . . .
It won't tear: I'll slit it with this knife
(Aegisthus, with many spearmen, issues from the great door.
CLYTEMNESTRA stabs right and left with the knife; the
men are too close to strike her with their long spears.)
It's time. Cowards, goats, goats. Here! Aegisthus!
I am here. What have they done?
Nothing: clear the porch: I have done something. Drive them
on the stair!
Three of them I've scarred for life: a rough bridegroom, the
rabble, met a fierce bride.
(She catches up her robe.)
I held them with my eyes, hours, hours. I am not tired. . . .
My lord, my lover:
I have killed a twelve-point stag for a present for you: with my
own hands: look, on the golden litter.
You arrive timely.
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA
Tricked, stabbed, shamed, mocked at, the spoil of a lewd woman,
I lie there ready for her back-stairs darling to spit on. Tricked,
stabbed, sunk in the drain
And gutter of time. I that thundered the assault, I that mustered
the Achaeans. Cast out of my kingdom,
Cast out of time, out of the light.
CLYTEMNESTRA One of the captives, dear.
It left its poor wits
Over the sea. If it annoys you I'll quiet it. But post your sentinels.
All's not safe yet, though I am burning with joy now.
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA O single-eyed
glare of the sky
Flying southwest to the mountain: sun, through a slave's eyes,
My own broken, I see you this last day; my own darkened, no
dawn forever; the adulterers
Will swim in your warm gold, day after day; the eyes of the
murderess will possess you;
And I have gone away down: knowing that no God in the earth
nor sky loves justice; and having tasted
The toad that serves women for heart. From now on may all
Marry them with swords. Those that have borne children
Their sons rape them with spears.
CLYTEMNESTRA More yet, more, more, more,
while my hand's in? It's not a little
You easily living lords of the sky require of who'd be like you,
who'd take time in the triumph,
Build joy solid. Do we have to do everything? I have killed
what I hated:
Kill what I love? The prophetess said it, this dead man says it:
my little son, the small soft image
That squirmed in my arms be an avenger? Love, from your loins
Seed: I begin new, I will be childless for you. The child my son,
the child my daughter!
Though I cry I feel nothing.
AEGISTHUS O strongest spirit in the world.
We have dared enough, there is an end to it.
We may pass nature a little, an arrow-flight,
But two shots over the wall you come in a cloud upon the feasting
Gods, lightning and madness.
Dear: make them safe. They may try to run away, the children.
Set spears to watch them: no harm, no harm,
But stab the nurse if they go near a door. Watch them, keep the
gates, order the sentinels,
While I make myself Queen over this people again. I can do it.
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA The sun's gone; that glimmer's
The moon of the dead. The dark God calls me. Yes, God,
I'll come in a moment.
CLYTEMNESTRA (at the head of the great stairs)
Soldiers: townsmen: it seems
I am not at the end delivered to you: dogs, for the lion came:
the poor brown and spotted women
Will have to suffice you. But is it nothing to have come within
handling distance of the clear heaven
This dead man knew when he was young and God endured him?
Is it nothing to you?
It is something to me to have felt the fury
And concentration of you: I will not say I am grateful: I am
not angry: to be desired
Is wine even to a queen. You bathed me in it, from brow to foot-sole,
I had nearly enough.
But now remember that the dream is over. I am the Queen:
Mycenae is my city. If you grin at me
I have spears: also Tiryns and all the country people of the
Argolis will come against you and swallow you,
Empty out these ways and walls, stock them with better subjects.
A rock nest for new birds here, townsfolk:
You are not essential.
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA. I hear him calling through the shewolf's
noise, Agamemnon, Agamemnon,
The dark God calls. Some old king in a fable is it?
CLYTEMNESTRA So choose.
What choices? To reenter my service
Unpunished, no thought of things past, free of conditions . . .
Or dine at this man's table, have new mouths made in you to
eat bronze with.
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA Who is Agamemnon?
You letting go of the sun: is it dark the land you are running
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA It is dark.
CLYTEMNESTRA IS it Sorrowful?
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA
There is nothing but misery.
CLYTEMNESTRA Has any man ever come back thence?
Hear me, not the dark God.
THE BODY OF CASSANDRA No man has ever.
Go then, go, go down. You will not choose to follow him, people
of the rock-city? No one
Will choose to follow him. I have killed: it is easy: it may be
I shall kill nearer than this yet:
But not you, townsfolk, you will give me no cause; I want
security; I want service, not blood.
I have been desired of the whole city, publicly; I want service,
not lust. You will make no sign
Of your submission; you will not give up your weapons; neither
shall your leaders be slain;
And he that flung the spear, I have forgotten his face.
AEGISTHUS (entering) Dearest,
they have gone, the nurse and the children,
No one knows where.
CLYTEMNESTRA I am taming this people: send men after
them. If any harm comes to the children
Bring me tokens. I will not be in doubt, I will not have the arch
fall on us. I dare
What no one dares. I envy a little the dirty mothers of the city.
Nothing in me hurts. I have animal waters in my eyes, but the
spirit is not wounded. Electra and Orestes
Are not to live when they are caught. Bring me sure tokens.
CASSANDRA Who is this woman like a beacon
Lit on the stair, who are these men with dogs' heads?
I have ranged time and seen no sight like this one.
Have you returned, Cassandra? . . . The dead king has gone
down to his place, we may bury his leavings.
I have witnessed all the wars to be; I am not sorrowful
For one drop from the pail of desolation
Spilt on my father's city; they were carrying it forward
To water the world under the latter starlight.
CLYTEMNESTRA (to her slaves)
Take up the poles of the bed; reverently; careful on the stair;
give him to the people. (To the people) O soldiers
This was your leader; lay him with honor in the burial-chapel;
guard him with the spears of victory;
Mourn him until to-morrow, when the pyre shall be built.
Ah, King of men, sleep, sleep, sleep!
. . . But when shall I? ... They are after their corpse, like
dogs after the butcher's cart. Cleomenes, that captain
With the big voice: Neobulus was the boy who flung the spear
and missed. I shall not miss
When spear-flinging-time comes. . . . Captive woman, you have
seen the future, tell me my fortune.
(Aegisthus comes from the doorway.)
Have your hounds got them?
AEGISTHUS I've covered every escape with men,
they'll not slip through me. But commanded
To bring them here living.
CLYTEMNESTRA That's hard: tigresses don't do it: I
have some strength yet: don't speak of it
And I shall do it.
AEGISTHUS It is a thing not to be done: we'll guard them
closely: but mere madness
Lies over the wall of too-much.
CLYTEMNESTRA King of Mycenae, new-crowned
king, who was your mother?
What mark do you aim at?
CLYTEMNESTRA And your father?
CLYTEMNESTRA And her father?
same man, Thyestes.
See, dearest, dearest? They love what men call crime, they have
taken her crime to be the king of Mycenae.
Here is the stone garden of the plants that pass nature: there is
no too-much here: the monstrous
Old rocks want monstrous roots to serpent among them. I will
have security. I'd burn the standing world
Up to this hour and begin new. You think I am too much used
for a new brood? Ah, lover,
I have fountains in me. I had a fondness for the brown cheek
of that boy, the curl of his
The widening blue of the doomed eyes ... I will be spared
nothing. Come in, come in, they'll have news for us.
If anywhere in the world
Were a tower with foundations, or a treasure-chamber
With a firm vault, or a walled fortress
That stood on the years, not staggering, not moving
As the mortar were mixed with wine for water
And poppy for lime: they reel, they are all drunkards,
The piled strengths of the world: no pyramid
In bitter Egypt in the desert
But skips at moonrise; no mountain
Over the Black Sea in awful Caucasus
But whirls like a young kid, like a bud of the herd,
Under the hundredth star: I am sick after steadfastness
Watching the world cataractlike
Pour screaming onto steep ruins: for the wings of prophecy
God once my lover give me stone sandals
Planted on stone: he hates me, the God, he will never
Take home the gift of the bridleless horse
The stallion, the unbitted stallion: the bed
Naked to the sky on Mount Ida,
The soft clear grass there,
Be blackened forever, may vipers and Greeks
In that glen breed
Twisting together, where the God
Come golden from the sun
Gave me for a bride-gift prophecy and I took it for a treasure:
I a fool, I a maiden,
I would not let him touch me though love of him maddened me
Till he fed me that poison, till he planted that fire in me,
The girdle flew loose then.
The Queen considered this rock, she gazed on the great stone
blocks of Mycenae's acropolis;
Monstrous they seemed to her, solid they appeared to her, safe
rootage for monstrous deeds: Ah fierce one
Who knows who laid them for a snare? What people in the
world's dawn breathed on chill air and the vapor
Of their breath seemed stone and has stood and you dream it is
established? These also are a foam on the stream
Of the falling of the world: there is nothing to lay hold on:
No crime is a crime, the slaying of the King was a meeting of
two bubbles on the lip of the cataract,
One winked . . . and the killing of your children would be
nothing: I tell you for a marvel that the earth is a dancer,
The grave dark earth is less quiet than a fool's fingers,
That old one, spinning in the emptiness, blown by no wind in
vain circles, light-witted and a dancer.
You are prophesying: prophesy to a purpose, captive woman.
My children, the boy and the girl,
Have wandered astray, no one can find them.
CASSANDRA Shall I tell the lioness
Where meat is, or the she-wolf where the lambs wander astray?
CLYTEMNESTRA But look into the darkness
And foam of the world: the boy has great tender blue eyes,
brown hair, disdainful lips, you'll know him
By the gold stripe bordering his garments; the girl's eyes are
my color, white her clothing
Of shining bubbles burst and wander
On the stream of the world falling . . .
CLYTEMNESTRA These are my children!
CASSANDRA I see
mountains, I see no faces.
Tell me and I make you free; conceal it from me and a soldier's
spear finishes the matter.
I am the spear's bride, I have been waiting, waiting for that
CLYTEMNESTRA (striking her) Live then. It will not be unpainful.
(CLYTEMNESTRA goes in.)
O fair roads north where the land narrows
Over the mountains between the great gulfs,
that I too with the King's children
Might wander northward hand in hand.
Mine are worse wanderings:
They will shelter on Mount Parnassus,
For me there is no mountain firm enough,
The storms of light beating on the headlands,
The storms of music undermine the mountains, they stumble
and fall inward,
Such music the stars
Make in their courses, the vast vibration
Plucks the iron heart of the earth like a harp-string.
Iron and stone core, O stubborn axle of the earth, you also
Dissolving in a little time like salt in water,
What does it matter that I have seen Macedon
Roll all the Greek cities into one billow and strand in Asia
The anthers and bracts of the flower of the world?
That I have seen Egypt and Nineveh
Crumble, and a Latian village
Plant the earth with javelins? It made laws for all men, it dissolved
like a cloud.
I have also stood watching a storm of wild swans
Rise from one river-mouth . . . O force of the earth rising,
O fallings of the earth: forever no rest, not forever
From the wave and the trough, from the stream and the slack,
from growth and decay: O vulture-
Pinioned, my spirit, one flight yet, last, longest, unguided,
Try into the gulf,
Over Greece, over Rome, you have space O my spirit for the
Are not few of captivity: how many have I stood here
Among the great stones, while the Queen's people
Go in and out of the gate, wearing light linen
For summer and the wet spoils of wild beasts
In the season of storms: and the stars have changed, I have
The grievous and unprayed-to constellations
Pile steaming spring and patient autumn
Over the enduring walls: but you over the walls of the world,
Over the unquieted centuries, over the darkness-hearted
Millenniums wailing thinly to be born, O vulture-pinioned
Try into the dark,
Watch the north spawn white bodies and red-gold hair,
Race after race of beastlike warriors; and the cities
Burn, and the cities build, and new lands be uncovered
In the way of the sun to his setting ... go on farther, what
In the wars and the toils? but I say
Where are prosperous people my enemies are, as you pass them
O my spirit
Curse Athens for the joy and the marble, curse Corinth
For the wine and the purple, and Syracuse
For the gold and the ships; but Rome, Rome,
With many destructions for the corn and the laws and the javelins,
the insolence, the threefold
Abominable power: pass the humble
And the lordships of darkness, but far down
Smite Spain for the blood on the sunset gold, curse France
For the fields abounding and the running rivers, the lights in the
cities, the laughter, curse England
For the meat on the tables and the terrible gray ships, for old
laws, far dominions, there remains
A mightier to be cursed and a higher for malediction
When America has eaten Europe and takes tribute of Asia, when
the ends of the world grow aware of each other
And are dogs in one kennel, they will tear
The master of the hunt with the mouths of the pack: new fallings,
new risings, O winged one
No end of the fallings and risings? An end shall be surely,
Though unnatural things are accomplished, they breathe in the
They swim in the air, they bridle the cloud-leaper lightning to
carry their messages:
Though the eagles of the east and the west and the falcons of
the north were not quieted, you have seen a white cloth
Cover the lands from the north and the eyes of the lands and the
claws of the hunters,
The mouths of the hungry with snow
Were filled, and their claws
Took hold upon ice in the pasture, a morsel of ice was their
catch in the rivers,
That pure white quietness
Waits on the heads of the mountains, not sleep but death, will
Of burnt cities and ships in that year warm you my enemies?
The frost, the old frost,
Like a cat with a broken-winged bird it will play with you,
It will nip and let go; you will say it is gone, but the next
Season it increases: O clean, clean,
White and most clean, colorless quietness,
Without trace, without trail, without stain in the garment, drawn
From the poles to the girdle. ... I have known one Godhead
To my sore hurt: I am growing to come to another: O grave
Last of the lords of the earth, I pray you lead my substance
Speedily into another shape, make me grass, Death, make me
Make me air to wander free between the stars and the peaks;
but cut humanity
Out of my being, that is the wound that festers in me,
Not captivity, not my enemies: you will heal the earth also,
Death, in your time; but speedily Cassandra.
You rock-fleas hopping in the clefts of Mycenae,
Suckers of blood, you carrying the scepter farther, Persian,
Roman and Mongol and American, and you half-gods
Indian and Syrian and the third, emperors of peace, I have seen
on what stage
You sing the little tragedy; the column of the ice that was before
on one side flanks it,
The column of the ice to come closes it up on the other: audience
I have never seen yet: I have heard the silence: it is I Cassandra,
Eight years the bitter watchdog of these doors,
Have watched a vision
And now approach to my end. Eight years I have seen the
Walk up and down this stair; and the rocks groan in the night,
the great stones move when no man sees them.
And I have forgotten the fine ashlar masonry of the courts of my
father. I am not Cassandra
But a counter of sunrises, permitted to live because I am crying
to die; three thousand,
Pale and red, have flowed over the towers in the wall since I was
here watching; the deep east widens,
The cold wind blows, the deep earth sighs, the dim gray finger
of light crooks at the morning star.
The palace feasted late and sleeps with its locked doors; the last
drunkard from the alleys of the city
Long has reeled home. Whose foot is this then, what phantom
Toils on the stair?
A VOICE BELOW Is someone watching above? Good sentinel I
am only a girl beggar.
I would sit on the stair and hold my bowl.
CASSANDRA I here eight years have
begged for a thing and not received it.
You are not a sentinel? You have been asking some great boon,
out of all reason.
CASSANDRA No: what the meanest
Beggar disdains to take.
THE GIRL BEGGAR Beggars disdain nothing: what is it that
they refuse you?
CASSANDRA What's given
Even to the sheep and to the bullock.
THE GIRL Men give them salt, grass
they find out for themselves.
CASSANDRA Men give them
The gift that you though a beggar have brought down from the
north to give my mistress.
THE GIRL You speak riddles.
I am starving, a crust is my desire.
CASSANDRA Your voice is young though
winds have hoarsened it, your body appears
Flexible under the rags: have you some hidden sickness, the
young men will not give you silver?
I have a sickness: I will hide it until I am cured. You are not
a Greek woman?
CASSANDRA But you
Born in Mycenae return home. And you bring gifts from Phocis:
for my once master who's dead
Vengeance; and for my mistress peace, for my master the King
peace, and, by-shot of the doom's day,
Peace for me also. But I have prayed for it.
THE GIRL I know you, I knew
you before you spoke to me, captive woman,
And I unarmed will kill you with my hands if you babble
That peace you have prayed for, I will bring it to you
If you utter warnings.
CASSANDRA To-day I shall have peace, you cannot
tempt me, daughter of the Queen, Electra.
Eight years ago I watched you and your brother going north
to Phocis: the Queen saw knowledge of you
Move in my eyes: I would not tell her where you were when
she commanded me: I will not betray you
To-day either: it is not doleful to me
To see before I die generations of destruction enter the doors
Where is your brother?
ELECTRA Prophetess: you see all: I will tell you
CASSANDRA He has well chosen his ambush,
It is true Aegisthus passes under that house to-day, to hunt in
ELECTRA Now I remember
Your name. Cassandra.
CASSANDRA Hush: the gray has turned yellow, the
Stream up from the east; they stir there in the palace; strange,
is it not, the dawn of one's last day's
Like all the others? Your brother would be fortunate if to-day
The last of his.
ELECTRA He will endure his destinies; and Cassandra hers;
and Electra mine.
He has been for years like one tortured with fire: this day will
CASSANDRA They are opening the gates: beg now.
To your trade, beggar-woman.
THE PORTER (coming out) Eh, pillar of miseries,
You still on guard there? Like a mare in a tight stall, never lying
down. What's this then?
A second ragged one? This at least can bend in the middle and
sit on a stone.
ELECTRA Dear gentleman
I am not used to it, my father is dead and hunger forces me to
beg, a crust or a penny.
This tall one's licensed in a manner. I think they'll not let two
bundles of rag
Camp on the stair: but if you'd come to the back door and please
me nicely: with a little washing
It'd do for pastime.
ELECTRA I was reared gently: I will sit here, the King
will see me,
And none mishandle me.
THE PORTER I bear no blame for you.
I have not seen you: you came after the gates were opened.
(He goes in.)
O blossom of fire, bitter to men,
Watchdog of the woeful days,
How many sleepers
Bathing in peace, dreaming themselves delight,
All over the city, all over the Argolid plain, all over the dark
(Not me, a deeper draught of peace
And darker waters alone may wash me)
Do you, terrible star, star without pity,
Wolf of the east, waken to misery.
To the wants unaccomplished, to the eating desires,
To unanswered love, to hunger, to the hard edges
And mold of reality, to the whips of their masters.
They had flown away home to the happy darkness,
They were safe until sunrise.
(King Aegisthus, with his retinue, comes from the great
Even here, in the midst of the city, the early day
Has a clear savor. (To ELECTRA) What, are you miserable, holding
the bowl out?
We'll hear the lark to-day in the wide hills and smell the mountain.
I'd share happiness with you.
What's your best wish, girl beggar?
ELECTRA It is covered, my lord, how
should a beggar
Know what to wish for beyond a crust and a dark corner and a
AEGISTHUS Why do you tremble?
I was reared gently; my father is dead.
AEGISTHUS Stand up: will you take
service here in the house? What country
Bred you gently and proved ungentle to you?
ELECTRA I have wandered
north from the Eurotas, my lord,
Begging at farmsteads.
AEGISTHUS The Queen's countrywoman then, she'll
use you kindly. She'll be coming
In a moment, then I'll speak for you. -Did you bid them yoke
the roans into my chariot, Menalcas,
The two from Orchomenus?
ONE OF THE RETINUE Yesterday evening, my lord,
I sent to the stable.
AEGISTHUS They cost a pretty penny, we'll see how they
carry it. She's coming: hold up your head, girl.
(CLYTEMNESTRA, with two serving-women, comes from
Good hunt, dearest. Here's a long idle day for me to look to.
Kill early, come home early.
There's a poor creature on the step who's been reared nicely
and slipped into misery. I said you'd feed her,
And maybe find her a service. Farewell, sweet one.
CLYTEMNESTRA Where did she come from? How long have you
AEGISTHUS She says she has begged her way up from Sparta.
The horses are stamping on the cobbles, good-by, good-by.
(He goes down the stair with his huntsmen.)
CLYTEMNESTRA Good-by, dearest. Well. Let me see your face.
ELECTRA It is filthy to look at. I am ashamed.
CLYTEMNESTRA (to one of her serving-women) Leucippe do
you think this is a gayety of my lord's, he's not used to be
so kindly to beggars?
-Let me see your face.
LEUCIPPE She is very dirty, my lady. It is possible one of the
house-boys . . .
CLYTEMNESTRA I say draw that rag back, let me see your face.
I'd have him whipped then.
ELECTRA It was only in hope that someone would put a crust
in the bowl, your majesty, for I am starving. I didn't think
your majesty would see me.
CLYTEMNESTRA Draw back the rag.
ELECTRA I am very faint and starving but I will go down; I am
CLYTEMNESTRA Stop her, Corinna. Fetch the porter, Leucippe.
You will not go so easily. (ELECTRA sinks down on the steps
and lies prone, her head covered.) I am aging out of queenship
indeed, when even the beggars refuse my bidding.
(LEUCIPPE comes in 'with the porter.) You have a dirty stair,
porter. How long has this been here?
THE PORTER O my lady it has crept up since I opened the doors,
it was not here when I opened the doors.
CLYTEMNESTRA Lift it up and uncover its face. What is that
cry in the city? Stop: silent: I heard a cry . . .
Prophetess, your nostrils move like a dog's, what is that shouting?
. . .
I have grown weak, I am exhausted, things frighten me ...
Tell her to be gone, Leucippe, I don't wish to see her, I don't
wish to see her.
ELECTRA Ah, Queen, I will show you my face.
CLYTEMNESTRA No ... no ... be gone.
ELECTRA (uncovering her face)
Mother: I have come home: I am humbled. This house keeps
a dark welcome
For those coming home out of far countries.
CLYTEMNESTRA I Won't look: how
could I know anyone? I am old and shaking.
He said, Over the wall beyond nature
Lightning, and the laughter of the Gods. I did not cross it,
I will not kill what I gave life to.
Whoever you are, go, go, let me grow downward to the grave
ELECTRA I cannot
Go: I have no other refuge. Mother! Will you not kiss me, will
you not take me into the house,
Your child once, long a wanderer? Electra my name. I have
begged my way from Phocis, my brother is dead there,
Who used to care for me.
CLYTEMNESTRA Who is dead, who?
ELECTRA My brother Orestes,
Killed in a court quarrel
CLYTEMNESTRA (weeping) Oh, you lie! The widening blue
The little voice of the child . . . Liar.
ELECTRA It is true. I have wept
long, on every mountain. You, mother,
Have only begun weeping. Far off, in a far country, no fit
burial . . .
CLYTEMNESTRA And do you bringing
Bitterness ... or lies . . . look for a welcome? I have only
killed my daughter for a lamb on a stone and now
you say the boy too . . . dead, dead?
The world's full of it, a shoreless lake of lies and floating rumors
. . . pack up your wares, peddler,
Too false for a queen. Why, no, if I believed you . . . Beast,
treacherous beast, that shouting comes nearer,
What's in the city?
ELECTRA I am a stranger, I know nothing of the city,
I know only
My mother hates me, and Orestes my brother
Died pitifully, far off.
CLYTEMNESTRA Too many things, too many things call
me, what shall I do? Electra,
Electra help me. This comes of living softly, I had a lion's
ELECTRA Me for help? I am utterly helpless, I had help in my
brother and he is dead in Phocis.
Give me refuge: but each of us two must weep for herself, one
sorrow. An end of the world were on us
What would it matter to us weeping? Do you remember him,
CLYTEMNESTRA I have dared too much: never dare anything,
Electra, the ache is afterward,
At the hour it hurts nothing. Prophetess, you lied.
You said he would come with vengeance on me: but now he is
dead, this girl says: and because he was lovely, blue-eyed,
And born in a most unhappy house I will believe it. But the
world's fogged with the breath of liars,
And if she has laid a net for me . . .
I'll call up the old lioness lives yet in my body, I have dared,
I have dared, and tooth and talon
Carve a way through. Lie to me?
ELECTRA Have I endured for months,
with feet bleeding, among the mountains,
Between the great gulfs alone and starving, to bring you a lie
now? I know the worst of you, I looked for the worst,
Mother, mother, and have expected nothing but to die of this
home-coming: but Orestes
Has entered the cave before; he is gathered up in a lonely mountain
quietness, he is guarded from angers
In the tough cloud that spears fall back from.
CLYTEMNESTRA Was he still beautiful?
The brown mothers down in the city
Keep their brats about them; what it is to live high! Oh!
Tell them down there, tell them in Tiryns,
Tell them in Sparta,
That water drips through the Queen's fingers and trickles down
her wrists, for the boy, for the boy
Born of her body, whom she, fool, fool, fool,
Drove out of the world. Electra,
Make peace with me.
Oh, Oh, Oh!
I have labored violently all the days of my life for nothing--
nothing-worse than anything- this death
Was a thing I wished. See how they make fools of us.
Amusement for them, to watch us labor after the thing that will
tear us in
pieces. . . . Well, strength's good.
I am the Queen; I will gather up my fragments
And not go mad now.
ELECTRA Mother, what are the men
With spears gathering at the stair's foot? Not of Mycenae by
their armor, have you mercenaries
Wanting pay? Do they serve . . . Aegisthus?
CLYTEMNESTRA What men? I seem
not to know . . .
Who has laid a net for me, what fool
For me, me? Porter, by me.
Leucippe, my guards; into the house, rouse them. I am sorry
I am best in storm. You, Electra?
The death you'll die, my daughter. Guards, out! Was it a lie?
No matter, no matter, no matter,
Here's peace. Spears, out, out! They bungled the job making
me a woman. Here's youth come back to me,
And all the days of gladness.
LEUCIPPE (running back from the door) O, Queen, strangers ...
ORESTES (a sword in his hand, 'with spearmen following, comes
from the door) Where is that woman
The Gods utterly hate?
ELECTRA Brother: let her not speak, kill quickly.
Is the other one safe now?
ORESTES That dog
Fell under his chariot, we made sure of him between the wheels
and the hooves, squealing. Now for this one.
Wait. I was weeping, Electra will tell you, my hands are wet
For your blue eyes that death had closed she said away up in
Phocis. I die now, justly or not
Is out of the story, before I die I'd tell you wait, child, wait.
Did I quiver
Or pale at the blade? I say, caught in a net, netted in by my
enemies, my husband murdered,
Myself to die, I am joyful knowing she lied, you live, the only
Under all the spread and arch of daylight
That I love, lives.
ELECTRA The great fangs drawn fear craftiness now,
CLYTEMNESTRA As for her, the wife of a shepherd
Suckled her, but you
These very breasts nourished: rather one of your northern
spearmen do what's needful; not you
Draw blood where you drew milk. The Gods endure much, but
ORESTES This, a God in his temple
CLYTEMNESTRA Ah, child, child, who has mistaught you and
who has betrayed you? What voice had the God?
How was it different from a man's and did you see him? Who
sent the priest presents? They fool us,
And the Gods let them. No doubt also the envious King of
Phocis has lent you counsel as he lent you
Men: let one of them do it. Life's not jewel enough
That I should plead for it: this much I pray, for your sake, not
with your hand, not with your hand, or the memory
Will so mother you, so glue to you, so embracing you,
Not the deep sea's green day, no cleft of a rock in the bed of
the deep sea, no ocean of darkness
Outside the stars, will hide nor wash you. What is it to me that
I have rejoiced knowing you alive,
child, O precious to me, O alone loved, if now dying by my
manner of death
I make nightmare the heir, nightmare, horror, in all I have of
And you haunted forever, never to sleep dreamless again, never
to see blue cloth
But the red runs over it; fugitive of dreams, madman at length,
the memory of a scream following you houndlike,
Inherit Mycenae? Child, for this has not been done before, there
is no old fable, no whisper
Out of the foundation, among the people that were before our
people, no echo has ever
Moved among these most ancient stones, the monsters here, nor
stirred under any mountain, nor fluttered
Under any sky, of a man slaying his mother. Sons have killed
ORESTES And a woman her son's father
O many times: and these old stones have seen horrors: a house
of madness and blood
I married into: and worse was done on this rock among the older
people before: but not this,
Not the son his mother; this the silent ones,
The old hard ones, the great bearers of burden have not seen yet,
Nor shall, to-day nor yet to-morrow, nor ever in the world.
Let her do it, it is not unnatural,
The daughter the mother; the little liar there,
Electra do it. Lend her the blade.
ELECTRA Brother though the great house
is silent hark the city,
That buzzes like the hive one has dipped a wand in. End this.
Then look to our safety.
ORESTES Dip in my sword
Into my fountain? Did I truly, little and helpless,
Lie in the arms, feed on the breast there?
ELECTRA Another, a greater, lay
in them, another kissed the breast there,
You forget easily, the breaker of Asia, the over-shadower, the
great memory, under whose greatness
We have hung like hawks under a storm, from the beginning,
and he when this poison destroyed him
Was given no room to plead in.
ORESTES Dip my wand into my fountain?
CLYTEMNESTRA Men do not kill the meanest
Without defence heard
CLYTEMNESTRA But you, O my son, my son,
Moulded in me, made of me, made of my flesh, built with my
blood, fed with my milk, my child
I here, I and no other, labored to bear, groaning-
ELECTRA This that
makes beastlike lamentation
Hunted us to slay us, we starving in the thicket above the stream
three days and nights watched always
Her hunters with spears beating the field: prophetess was it for
love that she looked after us?
CASSANDRA That love
The King had tasted; that was her love.
ELECTRA And mourning for our
father on the mountain we judged her;
And the God condemned her, what more, what more? Strike.
ORESTES If they'd give me time, the pack there how can I
And all the whelps of Mycenae yelling at the stair-foot? Decision:
a thing to be decided:
The arm's lame, dip in, dip in? Shut your mouths, rabble.
CLYTEMNESTRA There is one thing no man can do.
ORESTES What, enter
ORESTES I will be passive, I'm blunted. She's not this fellow's
ELECTRA O spearman, spearman, do it!
One stroke: it is just.
THE SPEARMAN As for me, my lord . . .
CLYTEMNESTRA (calling loudly) Help, help, men
of Mycenae, to your Queen. Break them.
Rush the stair, there are only ten hold it. Up, up, kill.
ORESTES I will kill.
CLYTEMNESTRA (falling on her knees) Child,
Spare me, let me live! Child! Ai! . . .
ELECTRA You have done well.
ORESTES I have done ... I have done . . .
Who ever saw such a flow . . . was I made out of this, I'm not
red, am I?
It was someone else did it but I told him to. Drink, drink, dog.
He reaches up a tongue between the stones, lapping it. So thirsty
old dog, uh?
Rich and sticky.
CLYTEMNESTRA (raising herself a little) Sleep ... for me ...
Not you . . . any more . . . Orestes ... I shall be there. You
will beg death . . . vainly as I have begged . . . life. Ah
. . . beast that I unkennelled! (She dies.)
ORESTES (crouching by her) Ooh . . . Ooh . . .
The face is lean and terrible. Orestes!
They are fighting on the stair. Man yourself. Come. Pick up the
Let her be, two of ours are down, they yield on the stair. Stand
up, speak or fight, speak to the people
Or we go where she is.
ORESTES There's a red and sticky sky that you
can touch here.
And though it's unpleasant we are at peace.
ELECTRA (catching up the sword) Agamemnon failed
here. Not in me. Hear, Mycenaeans.
I am Agamemnon's daughter, we have avenged him, the crime's
You have not forgotten the great King what, in eight years?
I am Electra, I am his daughter.
My brother is Orestes. My brother is your King and has killed
his murderers. The dog Aegisthus is dead,
And the Queen is dead: the city is at peace.
ORESTES (standing up) Must I dip my wand
into my fountain, give it to me.
The male plaything. (He catches ELECTRA'S army snatching at
ELECTRA For what? Be quiet, they have heard me.
ORESTES You said I must do it, I will do it.
ELECTRA It is done!
Brother, brother? (ORESTES takes the sword from her by force.)
With this sword he did justice, he let it fall, he has retaken it,
He is your King.
ORESTES Whom must I pierce, the girl that plotted with
me in the mountain? There was someone to kill . . .
ELECTRA It is done, it is finished!
CASSANDRA The nearest, the most
loved, her, truly. Strike! Electra,
My father has wanted vengeance longer.
THE PEOPLE BELOW Orestes, Orestes!
ELECTRA (pointing to CASSANDRA) Her
your mother she killed him.
ORESTES (turning and striking) How tall you have grown,
CASSANDRA (falling) I ... waited long for it ...
I have killed my mother and my mother-two mothers-see,
there they lie-I have gone home twice. You put it in
And the flesh yields to it ... (He goes down the stair.) Now,
to find her again
All through the forest . . .
ELECTRA Let him pass, Mycenaeans. Avoid his
sword. Let him pass, pass. The madness of the house
Perches on him.
A LEADER OF THE MYCENAEANS Daughter of Agamemnon,
You with constancy and force
In the issueless thing have found an issue. Now it is for us the
To find a ruler. Rest in the house. As for the young man,
Though he has done justice, and no hand in Mycenae is raised
against him, for him there is no issue.
We let him go on; and if he does not slay himself with the red
sword he will die in the mountain.
With us be peace. Rest in the house, daughter of Agamemnon.
The old madness, with your brother,
Go out of our gates.
ELECTRA A house to rest in! ... Gather up the
dead: I will go in; I have learned strength.
They carried the dead down the great stair; the slaves with pails
of water and sand scoured the dark stains.
The people meeting in another place to settle the troubled city
the stair was left vacant,
The porch untrampled, and about twilight one of the great
stones: the world is younger than we are,
Yet now drawing to an end, now that the seasons falter. Then
another, that had been spared the blood-bath:
What way do they falter? There fell warm rain, the first answered,
in the midst of summer. A little afterward
Cold rain came down; and sand was rubbed over me as when the
winds blow. This in the midst of summer.
I did not feel it, said the second sleepily. And a third: The
noisy and very mobile creatures
Will be quieted long before the world's end. What creatures?
The active ones, that have two ends let downward,
A mongrel race, mixed of soft stone with fugitive water. The
night deepened, the dull old stones
Droned at each other, the summer stars wheeled over above them.
Before dawn the son of Agamemnon
Came to the stair-foot in the darkness.
ORESTES O stones of the house:
I entreat hardness: I did not live with you
Long enough in my youth. ... I will go up to where I killed
her. . . . We must face things down, mother,
Or they'd devour us. ... Nobody? . . . Even the stones have
been scrubbed. A keen housekeeper, sweet Electra.
... It would be childish to forget it; the woman has certainly
been killed, and I think it was I
Her son did it. Something not done before in the world. Here is
You gather up all your forces to the act, and afterward
Silence, no voice, no ghost, vacancy, but all's not expended.
Those powers want bitter action. No object.
Deeds are too easy. Our victims are too fragile, they ought to have
thousands of lives, you strike out once only
The sky breaks like a bubble. . . . No, wife of Aegisthus, why
should I mask it? mother, my mother,
The one soft fiber that went mad yesterday's
Burnt out of me now, there is nothing you could touch if you
should come; but you have no power, you dead
Are a weak people. This is the very spot: I was here, she here:
and I walk over it not trembling,
Over the scrubbed stones to the door. (He knocks with the
sword-hilt.) They sleep well. But my sister having all her
Better than any. (He knocks again.)
THE PORTER (through the door) Who is there?
ORESTES The owner of the house. Orestes.
THE PORTER Go away, drunkard.
ORESTES Shall I tell my servants to break in the door and whip
THE PORTER Oh, Oh! You men from Phocis, stand by me while
I speak to the door. (Having opened the door, holding a
torch.) Is it you truly, my lord? We thought, we thought
... we pray you to enter the house, my lord Orestes.
ORESTES You are to waken my sister.
I'll speak with her here.
ELECTRA (at the door) Oh! You are safe, you are well! Did you
think I could be sleeping? But it is true,
I have slept soundly. Come, come.
ORESTES A fellow in the forest
Told me you'd had the stone scrubbed ... I mean, that you'd
entered the house, received as Agamemnon's daughter
In the honor of the city. So I free to go traveling have come with
what's the word, Electra? farewell.
Have come to bid you farewell.
ELECTRA It means you are going somewhere?
Come into the house, Orestes, tell me ...
The cape's rounded. I have not shipwrecked.
ELECTRA Around the rock
we have passed safely is the hall of this house,
The throne in the hall, the shining lordship of Mycenae.
the open world, the sea and its wonders.
You thought the oars raked the headland in the great storm
what, for Mycenae?
ELECTRA Not meanest of the Greek cities:
Whose king captained the world into Asia. Have you suddenly
become ... a God, brother, to over-vault
Agamemnon's royalty? O come in, come in. I am cold, cold.
I pray you.
ORESTES Fetch a cloak, porter.
If I have outgrown the city a littleI have earned it. Did you
notice, Electra, she caught at the sword
As the point entered: the palm of her right hand was slashed to
the bone before the mercy of the point
Slept in her breast: the laid-open palm it was that undermined
me . . . Oh, the cloak. It's a blond night,
Well walk on the stones: no chill, the stars are mellow. If I dare
Yesterday . . . because I have conquered, the soft fiber's burnt
ELECTRA You have conquered: possess: enter the house,
Take up the royalty.
ORESTES You were in my vision to-night in the
forest, Electra, I thought I embraced you
More than brotherwise . . . possessed, you call it ... entered
ELECTRA Oh, hush. Therefore you would not kill her!
I killed. It is foolish to darken things with words. I was here, she
there, screaming. Who if not I?
The hidden reason: the bitter kernel of your mind that has made
you mad: I that learned strength
Yesterday, I have no fear.
ORESTES Fear? The city is friendly and took
you home with honor, they'll pay
Phocis his wage, you will be quiet.
ELECTRA Are you resolved to understand
I am not Agamemnon, only his daughter. You are Agamemnon.
Beggars and the sons of beggars
May wander at will over the world, but Agamemnon has his
honor and high Mycenae
Is not to be cast.
ORESTES Mycenae for a ship: who will buy kingdom
And sell me a ship with oars?
ELECTRA Dear: listen. Come to the parapet
where it hangs over the night:
The ears at the door hinder me. Now, let the arrow-eyed stars
hear, the night, not men, as for the Gods
No one can know them, whether they be angry or pleased, tall
and terrible, standing apart,
When they make signs out of the darkness. ... I cannot tell you.
. . . You will stay here, brother?
ORESTES I'll go
To the edge and over it. Sweet sister, if you've got a message for
them, the dark ones?
ELECTRA You do not mean
Death; but a wandering; what does it matter what you mean?
I know two ways and one will quiet you.
You shall choose either.
ORESTES But I am quiet. It is more regular than
a sleeping child's: be untroubled,
Yours burns, it is you trembling.
ELECTRA Should I not tremble? It is only
a little to offer,
But all that I have.
ELECTRA It is accomplished: my father is
avenged: the fates and the body of Electra
Are nothing. But for Agamemnon to rule in Mycenae: that is not
nothing. O my brother
You are Agamemnon: rule: take all you will: nothing is denied
you. The Gods have redressed evil
And clamped the balance.
ORESTES No doubt they have done what they desired.
ELECTRA And yours,
yours? I will not suffer her
Justly punished to dog you over the end of the world. Your desire?
Speak it openly, Orestes.
She is to be conquered: if her ghost were present on the stones
let it hear you. I will make war on her
With my life, or with my body.
ORESTES What strange martyrdom, Electra,
what madness for sacrifice
Makes your eyes burn like two fires on a watch-tower, though
the night darkens?
ELECTRA What you want you shall have:
And rule in Mycenae. Nothing, nothing is denied you. If I knew
which of the two choices
Would quiet you, I would do and not speak, not ask you. Tell
me, tell me. Must I bear all the burden,
I weaker, and a woman? You and I were two hawks quartering
the field for living flesh Orestes
Under the storm of the memory
Of Agamemnon: we struck: we tore the prey, that dog and that
woman. Suddenly since yesterday
You have shot up over me and left me,
You are Agamemnon, you are the storm of the living presence,
the very King, and I, lost wings
Under the storm, would die for you. . , . You do not speak yet?
. . . Mine to say it all? . . . You know me a maiden, Orestes,
You have always been with me, no man has even touched my
cheek. It is not easy for one unmarried
And chaste, to name both choices. The first is easy. That terrible
dream in the forest: if fear of desire
Drives you away: it is easy for me not to be. I never have known
Sweetness in life: all my young days were given
ORESTES I thought to
be silent was better,
And understand you: afterwards I'll speak.
ELECTRA to the noise of
blood crying for blood, a crime to be punished,
A house to be emptied: these things are done: and now I am
lonely, and what becomes of me is not important.
There's water, and there are points and edges, pain's only a
moment: I'd do it and not speak, but nobody knows
Whether it would give you peace or madden you again, I'd not
be leagued with that bad woman against you,
And these great walls sit by the crater, terrible desires blow
through them. O brother I'll never blame you,
I share the motherhood and the fatherhood, I can conceive the
madness, if you desire too near
The fountain: tell me: I also love you: not that way, but enough
to suffer. What needs to be done
To make peace for you, tell me. I shall so gladly die to make it
for you: or so gladly yield you
What you know is maiden. You are the King; have all your will:
only remain in steep Mycenae,
In the honor of our father. Not yet: do not speak yet. You have
said it is not
Remorse drives you away: monsters require monsters, to have
let her live a moment longer
Would have been the crime: therefore it cannot be but desire
drives you: or the fear of desire: dearest,
It is known horror unlocks the heart, a shower of things hidden:
if that which happened yesterday unmasked
A beautiful brother's love and showed more awful eyes in it: all
that our Gods require is courage.
Let me see the face, let the eyes pierce me. What, dearest? Here
in the stiff cloth of the sacred darkness
Fold over fold hidden, above the sleeping city,
By the great stones of the door, under the little golden falcons
that swarm before dawn up yonder,
In the silence . . . must I dare to woo you,
I whom man never wooed? to let my hand glide under the cloak.
. . . O you will stay! these arms
Making so soft and white a bond around you ... I also begin
to love that way, Orestes,
Feeling the hot hard flesh move under the loose cloth, shudder
against me. . . . Ah, your mouth, Ah,
The burning-kiss me-
ORESTES We shall never ascend this mountain.
So it might come true: we have to be tough against them,
Our dreams and visions, or they true themselves into flesh. It is
sweet: I faint for it: the old stones here
Have seen more and not moved. A custom of the house. To
accept you, little Electra, and go my journey
To-morrow: you'd call cheating. Therefore: we shall not go up
this mountain dearest, dearest,
To-night nor ever. It's Clytemnestra in you. But the dead are a
weak tribe. If I had Agamemnon's
We'd live happily sister and lord it in Mycenae-be a king like
the others royalty and incest
Run both in the stream of the blood. Who scrubbed the stones
ELECTRA Slaves. O fire burn me! Enter and lay waste,
Deflower, trample, break down, pillage the little city,
Make what breach you will, with flesh or a spear, give it to the
spoiler. See, as I tear the garment.
What if I called it cheating? Be cruel and treacherous: I'll run
On the bitter mercies of to-morrow.
ORESTES Bitter they would be. No.
ELECTRA It's clear
that for this reason
You'd sneak out of Mycenae and be lost outward. Taste first, bite
the apple, once dared and tried
Desire will be not terrible. It's doglike to run off whining. Remember
it was I that urged
Yesterday's triumph. You: life was enough: let them live. I drove
on, burning; your mind, reluctant metal,
I dipped it in fire and forged it sharp, day after day I beat and
burned against you, and forged
A sword: I the arm. Are you sorry it's done? Now again with
hammer and burning heat I beat against you,
You will not be sorry. We two of all the world, we alone,
Are fit for each other, we have so wrought . . . O eyes scorning
the world, storm-feathered hawk my hands
Caught out of the air and made you a king over this rock, O axe
with the gold helve, O star
Alone over the storm, beacon to men over blown seas, you will
not flee fate, you will take
What the Gods give. What is a man not ruling? An ant in the hill:
ruler or slave the choice is,
Or a runaway slave, your pilgrim portion, buffeted over the
borders of the lands, publicly
Whipped in the cities. But you, you will bind the north-star on
your forehead, you will stand up in Mycenae
Stone, and a king.
ORESTES I am stone enough not to be changed by
words, nor by the sweet and burning flame of you,
ELECTRA Well then: we've wasted our night. See, there's
the morning star
I might have draggled into a metaphor of you. A fool: a boy:
ORESTES It would have been better
To have parted kindlier, for it is likely
We shall have no future meeting.
ELECTRA You will let this crime (the
God commanded) that dirtied the old stones here
Make division forever?
ORESTES Not the crime, the wakening. That deed is
past, it is finished, things past
Make no division afterward, they have no power, they have become
nothing at all: this much
I have learned at a crime's knees.
ELECTRA Yet we are divided.
ORESTES Because I
have suddenly awakened, I will not waste inward
Upon humanity, having found a fairer object.
ELECTRA Some nymph of
the field? I knew this coldness
Had a sick root: a girl in the north told me about the hill-shepherds
who living in solitude
Turn beast with the ewes, their oreads baa to them through the
matted fleece and they run mad, what madness
Met you in the night and sticks to you?
ORESTES I left the madness of the
house, to-night in the dark, with you it walks yet.
How shall I tell you what I have learned? Your mind is like a
hawk's or like a lion's, this knowledge
Is out of the order of your mind, a stranger language. To wild
beasts and the blood of kings
A verse blind in the book.
ELECTRA At least my eyes can see dawn graying:
tell and not mock me, our moment
Dies in a moment.
ORESTES Here is the last labor
To spend on humanity. I saw a vision of us move in the dark:
all that we did or dreamed of
Regarded each other, the man pursued the woman, the woman
clung to the man, warriors and kings
Strained at each other in the darkness, all loved or fought inward,
each one of the lost people
Sought the eyes of another that another should praise him; sought
never his own but another's; the net of desire
Had every nerve drawn to the center, so that they writhed like a
full draught of fishes, all matted
In the one mesh; when they look backward they see only a man
standing at the beginning,
Or forward, a man at the end; or if upward, men in the shining
bitter sky striding and feasting,
Whom you call Gods . . .
It is all turned inward, all your desires incestuous, the woman the
serpent, the man the rose-red cavern,
Both human, worship forever . . .
ELECTRA You have dreamed wretchedly.
ORESTES I have
seen the dreams of the people and not dreamed them.
As for me, I have slain my mother.
ELECTRA No more?
ORESTES And the gate's open,
the gray boils over the mountain, I have greater
Kindred than dwell under a roof. Didn't I say this would be dark
to you? I have cut the meshes
And fly like a freed falcon. To-night, lying on the hillside, sick
with those visions, I remembered
The knife in the stalk of my humanity; I drew and it broke;
I entered the life of the brown forest
And the great life of the ancient peaks, the patience of stone,
I felt the changes in the veins
In the throat of the mountain, a grain in many centuries, we have
our own time, not yours; and I was the stream
Draining the mountain wood; and I the stag drinking; and I was
Boiling with light, wandering alone, each one the lord of his own
summit; and I was the darkness
Outside the stars, I included them, they were a part of me. I was
mankind also, a moving lichen
On the cheek of the round stone . . . they have not made words
for it, to go behind things, beyond hours and ages,
And be all things in all time, in their returns and passages, in the
motionless and timeless center,
In the white of the fire . . . how can I express the excellence
I have found, that has no color but clearness;
No honey but ecstasy; nothing wrought nor remembered; no
undertone nor silver second murmur
That rings in love's voice, I and my loved are one; no desire but
fulfilled; no passion but peace,
The pure flame and the white, fierier than any passion; no time
but spheral eternity: Electra,
Was that your name before this life dawned
ELECTRA Here is mere death.
Death like a triumph I'd have paid to keep you
A king in high Mycenae: but here is shameful death, to die because
I have lost you. They'll say
Having done justice Agamemnon’s son ran mad and was lost in
the mountain; but Agamemnon's daughter
Hanged herself from a beam of the house: O bountiful hands of
justice! This horror draws upon me
Like stone walking.
ORESTES What fills men's mouths is nothing; and your
threat is nothing; I have fallen in love outward.
If I believed you it is I that am like stone walking.
ELECTRA I can endure
even to hate you,
But that's no matter. Strength's good. You are lost. I here remember
the honor of the house, and Agamemnon's.
She turned and entered the ancient house. Orestes walked in the
clear dawn; men say that a serpent
Killed him in high Arcadia. But young or old, few years or many,
signified less than nothing
To him who had climbed the tower beyond time, consciously,
and cast humanity, entered the earlier fountain.
Comments about The Tower Beyond Tragedy by Robinson Jeffers
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