Old Spookses’ Pass, Malcolm’s Katie and Other Poems

by Isabella Valancy Crawford


 

THE HELOT.


 

I.

Low the sun beat on the land,
    Red on vine and plain and wood;
With the wine-cup in his hand,
    Vast the Helot herdsman stood.

II.

Quench’d the fierce Achean gaze,
5
    Dorian foemen paus’d before,
Where cold Sparta snatch’d her bays
    At Achaea’s stubborn door.

III.

Still with thews of iron bound,
    Vastly the Achean rose,
10
Godward from the brazen ground,
    High before his Spartan foes. [Page 20]

IV.

Still the strength his fathers knew
    (Dauntless when the foe they fac’d)
Vein and muscle bounded through,
15
    Tense his Helot sinews brac’d.

V.

Still the constant womb of Earth,
    Blindly moulded all her part:
As, when to a lordly birth,
    Achean freemen left her heart.
20

VI.

Still, insensate mother, bore
    Goodly sons for Helot graves;
Iron necks that meekly wore
    Sparta’s yoke as Sparta’s slaves.

VII.

Still, O God mock’d mother! she
25
    Smil’d upon her sons of clay:
Nurs’d them on her breast and knee,
    Shameless in the shameful day.

VIII.

Knew not old Achea’s fires
    Burnt no more in souls or veins—
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Godlike hosts of high desires
    Died to clank of Spartan chains. [Page 21]

IX.

Low the sun beat on the land,
    Purple slope and olive wood;
With the wine cup in his hand,
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    Vast the Helot herdsman stood.  

X.

As long, gnarl’d roots enclasp
    Some red boulder, fierce entwine
His strong fingers, in their grasp
    Bowl of bright Caecuban wine.
40

XI.

From far Marsh of Amyclae,
    Sentried by lank poplars tall—
Thro’ the red slant of the day,
    Shrill pipes did lament and call.

XII.

Pierc’d the swaying air sharp pines,
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    Thyrsi-like, the gilded ground
Clasp’d black shadows of brown vines,
    Swallows beat their mystic round.

XIII.

Day was at her high unrest;
    Fever’d with the wine of light,
50
Loosing all her golden vest,
    Reel’d she towards the coming night. [Page 22]

XIV.

Fierce and full her pulses beat;
    Bacchic throbs the dry earth shook;
Stirr’d the hot air wild and sweet;
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    Madden’d ev’ry vine-dark brook.

XV.

Had a red grape never burst,
    All its heart of fire out;
To the red vat all athirst,
    To the treader’s song and shout:
60

XVI.

Had the red grape died a grape;
    Nor, sleek daughter of the vine,
Found her unknown soul take shape
    In the wild flow of the wine:

XVII.

Still had reel’d the yellow haze:
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    Still had puls’d the sun pierc’d sod:
Still had throbb’d the vine clad days:
    To the pulses of their God.

XVIII.

Fierce the dry lips of the earth
    Quaff’d the subtle Bacchic soul:
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Felt its rage and felt its mirth,
    Wreath’d as for the banquet bowl. [Page 23]

XIX.

Sapphire-breasted Bacchic priest
    Stood the sky above the lands;
Sun and Moon at East and West,
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    Brazen cymbals in his hands.

XX.

Temples, altars, smote no more,
    Sharply white as brows of Gods:
From the long, sleek, yellow shore,
    Oliv’d hill or dusky sod,
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XXI.

Gaz’d the anger’d Gods, while he,
    Bacchus, made their temples his;
Flush’d their marble silently
    With the red light of his kiss.

XXII.

Red the arches of his feet
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    Spann’d grape-gleaming vales; the earth
Reel’d from grove to marble street,
    Mad with echoes of his mirth.

XXIII.

Nostrils widen’d to the air,
    As above the wine brimm’d bowl:
90
Men and women everywhere
    Breath’d the fierce, sweet Bacchic soul. [Page 24]

XXIV.

Flow’d the vat and roar’d the beam,
    Laugh’d the must; while far and shrill,
Sweet as notes in Pan-born dream,
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    Loud pipes sang by vale and hill.

XXV.

Earth was full of mad unrest,
    While red Bacchus held his state;
And her brown vine-girdl’d breast
    Shook to his wild joy and hate.
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XXVI.

Strife crouch’d red ey’d in the vine;
    In its tendrils Eros strayed;
Anger rode upon the wine;
    Laughter on the cup-lip play’d.

XXVII.

Day was at her chief unrest—
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    Red the light on plain and wood:
Slavish ey’d and still of breast,
    Vast the Helot herdsman stood:

XXVIII.

Wide his hairy nostrils blew,
    Maddning incense breathing up;
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Oak to iron sinews grew,
    Round the rich Caecuban cup. [Page 25]

XXIX.

“Drink, dull slave!” the Spartan said,
    “Drink, until the Helot clod
“Feel within him subtly bred
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    “Kinship to the drunken God!

XXX.

“Drink, until the leaden blood
    “Stirs and beats about thy brain:
“Till the hot Caecuban flood
    “Drown the iron of thy chain.
120

XXXI.

“Drink, till even madness flies
    “At the nimble wine’s pursuit;
“Till the God within thee lies
    “Trampled by the earth-born brute.

XXXII.

“Helot drink—nor spare the wine;
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    “Drain the deep, the madd’ning bowl,
“Flesh and sinews, slave, are mine,
    “Now I claim thy Helot soul.

XXXIII.

“Gods! ye love our Sparta; ye
    “Gave with vine that leaps and runs
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“O’er her slopes, these slaves to be
    “Mocks and warnings to her sons!” [Page 26]

XXXIV.

“Thou, my Hermos, turn they eyes,
    “(God-touch’d still their frank, bold blue)
“On the Helot—mark the rise
135
    “Of the Bacchic riot through

XXXV.

“Knotted vein, and surging breast:
    “Mark the wild, insensate mirth:
“God-ward boast—the driv’ling jest,
    “Till he grovel to the earth.
140

XXXVI.

“Drink, dull slave,” the Spartan cried:
    Meek the Helot touch’d the brim;
Scented all the purple tide:
    Drew the Bacchic soul to him.

XXXVII.

Cold the thin lipp’d Spartan smiled:
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    Couch’d beneath the weighted vine,
Large-ey’d, gaz’d the Spartan child,
    On the Helot and the wine.

XXXVIII.

Rose pale Doric shafts behind,
    Stern and strong, and thro’ and thro’,
150
Weaving with the grape-breath’d wind,
    Restless swallows call’d and flew. [Page 27]

XXXIX.

Dropp’d the rose-flush’d doves and hung,
    On the fountains murmuring brims;
To the bronz’d vine Hermos clung—
155
    Silver-like his naked limbs

XL.

Flash’d and flush’d: rich copper’d leaves,
    Whiten’d by his ruddy hair;
Pallid as the marble eaves,
    Aw’d he met the Helot’s stare.
160

 XLI.

Clang’d the brazen goblet down;
    Marble-bred loud echoes stirr’d:
With fix’d fingers, knotted, brown,
    Dumb, the Helot grasp’d his beard.

  XLII.

Heard the far pipes mad and sweet,
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    All the ruddy hazes thrill:
Heard the loud beam crash and beat,
    In the red vat on the hill.

 XLIII.

Wide his nostrils as a stag’s
    Drew the hot wind’s fiery bliss;
170
Red his lips as river flags,
    From the strong, Caecuban kiss. [Page 28]

 XLIV.

On his swarthy temples grew,
    Purple veins like cluster’d grapes;
Past his rolling pupils blew,
175
    Wine-born, fierce, lascivious shapes.

XLV.

Cold the haughty Spartan smiled—
    His the power to knit that day,
Bacchic fires, insensate, wild,
    To the grand Achean clay.

180

 XLVI.

His the might—hence his the right!
    Who should bid him pause? nor Fate

Warning pass’d before his sight,
    Dark-robed and articulate.

XLVII. 

No black omens on his eyes,
185
    Sinistre—God-sent, darkly broke;
Nor from ruddy earth nor skies,

    Portends to him mutely spoke.

XLVIII.

“Lo,” he said, “he maddens now!
    “Flames divine do scathe the clod:
190
“Round his reeling Helot brow
    “Stings the garland of the God.” [Page 29]

XLIX.

“Mark, my Hermos—turn to steel
    The soft tendons of thy soul!
Watch the God beneath the heel
195
    Of the strong brute swooning roll!

L. 

“Shame, my Hermos! honey-dew
    Breeds not on the Spartan spear;
Steel thy mother-eyes of blue,
    Blush to death that weakling tear.

200

  LI.

“Nay, behold! breed Spartan scorn
    Of the red lust of the wine;
Watch the God himself down-borne
    By the brutish rush of swine!

LII.

“Lo, the magic of the drink!
205
    At the nimble wine’s pursuit,
See the man-half’d satyr sink
    All the human in the brute!

LIII.

“Lo, the magic of the cup!
    Watch the frothing Helot rave!
210
As great buildings labour up
    From the corpse of slaughter’d slave, [Page 30]

LIV.

“Build the Spartan virtue high
    From the Helot’s wine-dead soul;
Scorn the wild, hot flames that fly
215
    From the purple-hearted bowl!

LV.

“Helot clay! Gods! what its worth,
    Balanc’d with proud Sparta’s rock?
Ours—its force to till the earth;
    Ours—its soul to gyve and mock!
220

LVI.

“Ours, its sullen might. Ye Gods!
    Vastly build the Achean clay;
Iron-breast our slavish clods—
    Ours their Helot souls to slay!

LVII.

“Knit great thews—smite sinews vast
225
    Into steel—build Helot bones
Iron-marrowed:—such will last
    Ground by ruthless Sparta’s stones.

LVIII.

“Crown the strong brute satyr-wise!
    Narrow-wall his Helot brain;
230
Dash the soul from breast and eyes,
    Lash him toward the earth again. [Page 31]

LIX.

“Make a giant for our need,
    Weak to feel and strong to toil;
Dully-wise to dig or bleed
235
    On proud Sparta’s alien soil!  

LX.

“Gods! recall thy spark at birth,
    Lit his soul with high desire;
Blend him, grind him with the earth,
    Tread out old Achea’s fire!
240

LXI.

“Lo, my Hermos! laugh and mark,
    See the swift mock of the wine;
Faints the primal, God-born spark,
    Trodden by the rush of swine!

LXII.

“Gods! ye love our Sparta—ye
245
    Gave with vine that leaps and runs
O’er her slopes, these slaves to be
    Mocks and warnings to her sons!”

LXIII.

Cold the haughty Spartan smil’d.
    Madd’ning from the purple hills
250
Sang the far pipes, sweet and wild.
    Red as sun-pierc’d daffodils [Page 32]

LXIV.

Neck-curv’d, serpent, silent, scaled
    With lock’d rainbows, stole the sea;
On the sleek, long beaches; wail’d
255
    Doves from column and from tree.

LXV.

Reel’d the mote swarm’d haze, and thick
    Beat the hot pulse of the air;
In the Helot, fierce and quick,
    All his soul sprang from its lair.
260

LXVI.

As the drowsing tiger, deep
    In the dim cell, hears the shout
From the arena—from his sleep
    Launches to its thunders out—

LXVII.

So to fierce calls of the wine
265
    (Strong the red Caecuban bowl!)
From its slumber, deep, supine,
    Painted up the Helot soul

LXVIII.

As his blood-flush’d eye-balls rear’d,
    (Mad and sweet came pipes and songs),
270
Rous’d at last the wild soul glar’d,
    Spear-thrust with a million wrongs. [Page 33]

LXIX.

Past—the primal, senseless bliss;
    Past—the red laughter of the grapes;
Past—the wine’s first honey’d kiss;
275
    Past—the wine-born, wanton shapes!

LXX.

Still the Helot stands—his feet
    Set like oak-roots; in his gaze
Black clouds roll and lightnings meet—
    Flames from old Achean days.
280

LXXI.

Who may quench the God-born fire,
    Pulsing at the soul’d deep root?
Tyrants! grind it in the mire,
    Lo, it vivifies the brute!

LXXII.

Stings the chain-embruted clay,
285
    Senseless to his yoke-bound shame;
Goads him on to rend and slay,
    Knowing not the spurring flame.

LXXIII.

Tyrants, changeless stand the Gods!
    Nor their calm might yielded ye!
290
Not beneath thy chains and rods
    Dieds man’s God-gift, Liberty! [Page 34]

LXXIV.

Bruteward lash thy Helots—hold
    Brain and soul and clay in gyves;
Coin their blood and sweat in gold,
295
    Build thy cities on their lives.

LXXV.

Comes a day the spark divine
    Answers to the Gods who gave;
Fierce the hot flames pant and shine
    In the bruis’d breast of the slave!
300

LXXVI.

Changeless stand the Gods!—nor he
    Knows he answers their behest;
Feels the might of their decree
    In the blind rage of his breast.

LXXVII.

Tyrants! tremble when ye tread
305
    Down the sevile Helot clods;
Under despot heel is bred
    The white anger of the Gods!

LXXVIII.

Thro’ the shackle-canker’d dust,
    Thro’ the gyv’d soul, foul and dark,
310
Force they, changeless Gods and just!
    Up the bright, eternal spark. [Page 35]

LXXIX.

Till, like lightnings vast and fierce,
    On the land its terror smites;
Till its flames the tyrants pierce,
315
    Till the dust the despot bites!

LXXX.

Day was at its chief unrest,
    Stone from stone the Helot rose;
Fix’d his eyes—his naked breast
    Iron-wall’d his inner throes.
320

LXXXI.

Rose-white in the dusky leaves,
    Shone the frank-ey’d Spartan child;
Low the pale doves on the eaves,
    Made their soft moan, sweet and wild.

LXXXII.

Wand’ring winds, fire-throated, stole,
325
    Sybils whisp’ring from their books;
With the rush of wine from bowl,
    Leap’d the tendril-darken’d brooks.

LXXXIII.

As the leathern cestus binds
    Tense the boxer’s knotted hands;
330
So the strong wine round him winds,
    Binds his thews to iron bands. [Page 36]

LXXXIV.

Changless are the Gods—and bred
    All their wrath divine in him!
Bull-like fell his furious head,
335
    Swell’d vast cords on breast and limb.

LXXXV.

As loud-flaming stones are hurl’d
    From foul craters—thus the gods
Cast their just wrath on the world,
    From the mire of Helot clods.
340

LXXXVI.

Still the furious Helot stood,
    Staring thro’ the shafted space;
Dry-lipp’d for the Spartan blood,
    He of scourg’d Achea’s race.

LXXXVII.

Sprang the Helot—roar’d the vine,
345
    Rent from grey, long-wedded stones—
From pale shaft and dusky pine,
    Beat the fury of his groans.

LXXXVIII.

Thunders inarticulate:
    Wordless curses, deep and wild;
350
Reach’d the long pois’d sword of Fate,
    To the Spartan thro’ his child. [Page 37]

LXXXIX.

On his knotted hands, upflung
    O’er his low’r’d front—all white,
Fair young Hermos quiv’ring hung;
355
    As the discus flashes bright  

XC.

In the player’s hand—the boy,
    Naked—blossom-pallid lay;
Rous’d to lust of bloody joy,
    Throbb’d the slave’s embruted clay.
360

XCI.

Loud he laugh’d—the father sprang
    From the Spartan’s iron mail!
Late—the bubbling death-cry rang
    On the hot pulse of the gale!

XCII.

As the shining discus flies,
365
    From the thrower’s strong hand whirl’d;
Hermos cleft the air—his cries
    Lance-like to the Spartan hurl’d.

XCIII.

As the discus smites the ground,
    Smote his golden head the stone;
370
Of a tall shaft—burst a sound
    And but one—his dying groan! [Page 38]

XCIV.

Lo! the tyrant’s iron might!
    Lo! the Helot’s yokes and chains!
Slave-slain in the throbbing light
375
    Lay the sole child of his veins.

XCV.

Laugh’d the Helot loud and full,
    Gazing at his tyrant’s face;
Low’r’d his front like captive bull,
    Bellowing from the fields of Thrace.
380

XCVI.

Rose the pale shaft redly flush’d,
    Red with Bacchic light and blood;
On its stone the Helot rush’d—
    Stone the tyrant Spartan stood.

XCVII.

Lo! the magic of the wine
385
    From far marsh of Amyclae!
Bier’d upon the ruddy vine,
    Spartan dust and Helot lay!

XCVIII.

Spouse of Bacchus reel’d the day,
    Red track’d on the throbbing sods;
390
Dead—but free—the Helot lay,
    Just and changeless stand the Gods!
[Page 39]