The collected poems of James Elroy Flecker/Aeneid, Book 6

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The collected poems of James Elroy Flecker
Virgil's Aeneid: Book VI
Flecker's translation of the sixth book of the Aeneid

Virgil's Æneid, Book VI [1]


(ll. 1-19)

Tearful he spake: then drave the fleet along:
At length to Cumæ, by Eubœans raised,
They gliding came: set prows to face the sea,
Struck deep the anchor’s stubborn tooth, festooned
Its harbour with the sweep of curved array.
Then leap the young ashore with flashing souls
(Are not the sands Hesperian?): they strike
Flints for their veins’ hot secret, or they stray
With cleavesome axe unhoming furry beasts
Or shew on what tracks water may be found.
  But this meanwhile god-fearing Æneas
Seeks the gapped cave where high Apollo reigns
And his dire Sybil murmurs truth of doom,
Mind and soul breathed on by the god-inspired
To flash out prophecies. They have come near
Diana’s garden and her golden fane.
  Dædalus once, Minoan realms to flee

–Brave with great swooping wings to swim the sky
Steered a blind journey to the windy North
Till his strange shadows darkened Cumæ's rock.
He, there alighting, there to Earth returned,
To Phœbus sacrificed those oars, his wings.

• • • •
(ll 264-547)

Gods of the ghostly Empire and ye shades
So still, Chaos and Phlegethon so still
With leagues of night around you, me empower
Heard tales to tell: me with high aid empower
Earth’s deep—embowelled secret to betray!
  They went obscure in lowering lone night
Through lodges of King Dis, untenanted,–
Featureless lands. Thus goes a forest pathway
Beneath the curst light of the wav’ring moon,
When Jove has gloomed the sky, and pitchy dark
Uncoloured all the world. In Hell’s first reach
Fronting the very vestibule of Orcus
Griefs and the Cares have set their couches down–
The vengeful Cares. There pale Diseases dwell,
Sad Eld and Fear and loathsome Poverty
And Hunger, that bad counsellor,–dire shapes–
And Death and Toil, and Sleep brother of Death
And soul-corrupting joys. Opposed he viewed
War the great murderer, and those steel bowers
The Furies deck for bridal, and Discord
Daft, with blood-ribbons on her serpent hair.
  But straight in front a huge black knotted elm

Stood branching: here, they say, the Vain Dreams roost;—
There’s not a leaf without one stuck behind!
Next he saw twisted beasts of the old tales:
Centaurs were stabled at the gates: Scyllas
Spread their twin shapes, Briareus his hundred arms
And Lerna’s beast behold hissing out fear,
Chimæra too, who fights with fire, and Gorgons
And Harpies, and a shade with a triple form!
Such was the horror seized Æneas then
He made to meet their onset with cold steel,
And had th’ instructed Sybil not advised
That these were gossamer vitalities
Flitting in stuffless mockery of form,
He’d have leapt on and lashed the empty air.
  Hence leads a road to Acheron, vast flood
Of thick and restless slime: all that foul ooze
It belches in Cocytus. Here keeps watch
That wild and filthy pilot of the marsh
Charon, from whose rugged old chin trails down
The hoary beard of centuries: his eyes
Are Fixed, but flame. His grimy cloak hangs loose
Rough-knotted at the shoulder : his own hands
Pole on the boat, or tend the sail that wafts
His dismal skiff and its fell freight along.
Ah, he is old, but with that toughening eld
That speaks his godhead! To the bank and him
All a great multitude came pouring down,
Brothers and husbands, and the proud-souled heroes,
Life’s labour done: and boys and unwed maidens
And the young men by whose flame-funeral

Parents had wept. Many as leaves that fall
Gently in autumn when the sharp cold comes
Or all the birds that flock at the turn o' the year
Over the ocean to the lands of light.
They stood and prayed each one to be first taken:
They stretched their hands for love of the other side,
But the grim sailor takes now these, now those:
And some he drives a distance from the shore,
Æneas, moved and marvelling at this stir
Cried—-" O chaste Sibyl tell me why this throng
That rushes to the river? What desire
Have all these phantoms? and what rule’s award
Drives these back from the marge, let those go over
Sweeping the livid shallows with the oar?"
The old priestess replied in a few words,
"Son of Anchises of true blood divine,
Behold the deep Cocytus and dim Styx
By whom the high gods fear to swear in vain.
This shiftless crowd all is unsepulchred:
The boatman there is Charon : those who embark
The buried. None may leave this beach of horror
To cross the growling stream before that hour
That hides their white bones in a quiet tomb.
A hundred years they flutter round these shores:
Then they may cross the waters long desired."
  Æneas stopped and stood there heavily
Thoughtful and sad for this unfair decree.
Wretched for lack of sepulchre he saw
Leucaspis and the Lycian convoy's chief
Orontes. They left Troy with rough sea

And lost their ships and crew to the south-west wind.
 There too did roam the pilot Palinurus,
Who steering up from Libya by the stars
Had fallen from the stern a few days since
Deep in the wave. So girt with gloom stood he
The hero scarce could see–but seeing, he cried:–
"Thee, Palinurus, what relentless god
Tore from our love to drown thee in mid main!
Say, for Apollo never yet found false
Deceived me here, in mystic song foretelling
That safe across the waters thou shouldst come
To tread Italian soil. Is this kept promise?"
But he:—"Captain, the Tripod sang no lies
Nor was’t a god that Hung me to the waves,
But whilst I steered, the chance of a sharp shock
So wrenched the gear entrusted to my hands
That clinging fast I was swept overboard
Tiller and all. Witness, O passionate waves,
Less did I fear my peril than the ship’s
Which now dismantled and its pilot gone
Rode at the mercy of the bristling swell. We
Three winter nights across the infinite sea;
The strong South bore me, piling up the waves;
But the fourth morning from a billow’s crest,
I saw the cliffs of Italy and swam
Landwards slowly. For now was danger past
Had not a cruel folk come on with swords,
As weighted by my dripping clothes I clutched
A broken rock’s summit with crooked hand,
And deemed me–brutes–a prize. Sport of the waves

Is Palinurus now, and the winds whirl him
All up and down the shore. By the kind light
And spacious air I pray thee : by thy Sire
And young Iulus growing fair and tall
Defeat my woes, unconquerable man!
Either cast earth upon me—as thou mayst
To Veline harbour steering, or maybe
If there’s a way–thy mother was divine
And much it needeth the god’s help to float;
On such grand rivers and the Stygian mere–
Hold out thy hand to one who is in sorrow,
Bear me across the wave! So shall I know
At least of Death the quiet and the home."
He spake: the Sibyl answered: "Palinurus,
What dread desire is thine? Wouldst thou attempt,
Unburied, waves of Styx and that stem stream
The Furies haunt? Wouldst thou approach that shore
And have no mandate? Dost thou hope to melt
Fate with a prayer? But listen and take heart
For all the people of the cities round
Driven forth by omens dire from the high heaven
Shall honour thy remains and raise a tomb
And on thy tomb shall all due rites perform
And all that place for evermore shall keep
The name of Palinurus." As she spake
His trouble ceased: a while from his sad heart
Grief flies. He is glad the land should beat his name.
Set path pursuing they approached the stream
Whom soon the sailor of the Stygian wave
Saw pass the silent wood and seek the marge

And hailed censorious:–"Thou who walkest down
Clashing thy armour by our streams of Hell,
Speak thy intent : there on thy road stand still!
Here lies the land of shadow dream and night,
And no warm flesh may ride on Stygian keel,
Small joy had I admitting to this mere
Hercules or those victor sons of Heaven
Peirithoos and Theseus. Hercules
Chained with bare hands the dog of Tartarus
And dragged him from the throne quaking: they came
To rape our mistress from the bed of Dis."
"We spin no snares," the Amphrysian sharp replied:
"Be soothed, no violence these arms portend.
Let the huge Janitor’s eternal cry
Still from his cave confound the bloodless ghosts,
And Proserpine unravished still attend
Her kinsman’s threshold. Æneas of Troy,
Famed dutiful and fearless, here descends"
To embrace his father in your pits of gloom.
If high devotion spells thee nought, this bough,
(She drew it from her breast) may move thee still."
   Calm sank the heart but now swoln out with rage:
With no word more, eyeing that ancient bough,
Doom’s symbol, after ages seen again,
Turned he his cærule prow and made the shore.
Thence other souls who sat along the dunes
He drave, and let his gangway down, and took
The huge Æneas in his patchèd punt,
Which groaned o’ercargoed; and through many a crack
Oozed up the mere: yet safe across the stream

Sybil and soldier did he row, and beached
On the green formless slime of the other side.
   Cerberus here sends ringing through his realm
A triple-throated howling, couched, immune,
With cavern for a kennel. The Priestess,
Seeing his dragon necks stiffen to strike,
A cake of honey and bemusing herbs
Tossed him. Three maws the ravening monster spread,
Snapped it in air, and all his hugesome bulk
Uncoiled and sprawled and stretched across the cave.
Æneas down the brute-unwardened path
Quick pace pursues. Behind him lies the stream
Whose waves whisper no whisper of return.
   Now cries are heard, and thin abundant wind
All down Hell’s forecourt weep the Infant Souls,
Whom shareless of life’s shining dower, Doom
Tore from the breast and whelmed in Death’s sharp wave,
Near, men judged out of life by false decree.
They have their urn, their Umpire, these abodes:
'Tis Minos draws the lots, he who may call
The council of the silent : he who reads,
Grand arbiter, the histories of men.
And next them flt the Sad Ones who prepared
With their rash hands their own extinction’s cup
And flung their souls on dark to spite the day.
Ah could they, could they back to the bright sky
What years would they not bear of toil or pain!
Law bars them fast: the mere’s grim loveless wave
Bounds their domain : Styx nine times interfused
Imprisons. Here the Broken-hearted Fields

Roll out to the horizon. Such their name.
Here those whom Love remorseless and unkind
Devoured by dissolution, walk in peace
Down secret byways of a myrtle forest.
Here Phædra, Procris and sad Eriphyle
He saw, whom her fierce son had wounded sore,
Pasiphæ, Evadne: in their train
Laodamia, and that once a boy
Now woman, Cæneus, thus reshaped by doom.
Among them one love-pierced not long ago,–
Dido of Carthage roamed the tall grove through
Whom when Troy’s hero drawing near beheld,
Gliding through murk and shadow, as one sees
Or dreams to see through clouds the thin new moon,
He wept, calling her with a lover’s cry:–
"Dido ill-starred, but was it truth they told me,
Thy fate-—the self—sought ending by the sword?
To death I brought thee. O by the stars I swear
By the high gods and by all faith that holds
In Earth’s black core, unwilling, O my queen,
Sailed I away from Carthage. But the gods
They who now send me through this shadow world,
These lands so far, this oceanic night,
Drave me with uncharitable command
Nor could I dream sorrow as sharp as that
Should wait on my departure. But stay, stay!
I do not pass so soon: whom dost thou flee ?
Fate grants me thus to hail thee the last time!"
So tried Æneas through his tears to assuage
That shy wild spirit glancing round in fear:

But she looked, down, turning her face aside,
A face as unresponsive to appeal
As a hard flint or a high marble mountain.
Then darting back, down the dark grove she flies
Unfriendly, where Sichæus, her old spouse,
His gentleness love’s proxy, tends her still.
Æneas, victim of a chance unfair
Still follows, weeps, and pities as she flies.
   But now, their journey’s settled path pursuing,
On to the ultimate secret fields they move,
Where walk the mighty Captains. Tydeus here
He saw, and Parthenopæus, warrior bold,
And one that seemed Adrastus, and so pale,
And all the war-mown Trojans, for whose fate
Such tears had been shed in the face of heaven.
Rank upon rank he, sorrowful, saw them,–
Glaucus and Medon and Thersilochus,
Antenor’s son and Polyphuates, vowed
Demeter’s, and still armed, still charioted
Idaeus. Right and left the Spirits crowd
To their eyes’ festival, to dally pleased,
Or step beside, or ask him all his tale.
But when the Danaan phalanx and great hosts
Of Agamemnon saw a Man and Arms
That flashed among the shadows, terrible fear
Set them aquiver: as to the ships of old,
Some turned to flee: some raised a little cry,
So thin its echoes mocked their gaping mouths.
   Here saw he Priam’s son, Deiphobus,
With all his body rent, all his face torn

And both his hands, and ravaged earless head,
And cut nostrils–dishonourable wounds.
Yet could he recognize the quaking ghost
That strove to veil the horror of its face
And called him in the voice he could well know:–
"Deiphobus, Hero of old Trojan blood,
Who willed you this vile punishment? To whom
Was power against you given. Rumour told me
On that last night how on a tower of dead,
Weary with slaughter of the Greeks, you lay
Prone. It was I then raised on Rhætian shore
The empty mound and thrice with a loud cry
Summoned thy wraith. Arms and a name preserve
That place–but thee, dear friend, I could not find
To bury e'er I left my native land."
But Priam’s son:—"Friend, what couldst thou do more?
Thou hast paid every due to death and me.
But me my destiny true the sin
Of that She-murderess of Spartan brood
Whelmed in these woes: these are her monuments.
How in deceitful pleasure that last night
We spent, well dost thou know, too well must know,
When with a leap o’er steep-stoned Pergamon
Pregnant with soldiery, the fatal horse
Its bristling burden flung. She, she it was
With traitor dance led round our Phrygian dames
The wild Evoe proclaiming! A huge torch
She shook above the revel, which did call
The Danaans from Troy Tower. I heavily
Slept the meanwhile on couch of doom, and me

Deep honied quiet, miming Death's own peace,
Thralled. And my dear spouse, busy all the while
Strips the house bare of arms: and my good sword's
No longer at my pillow. 'Ready now!
In Menelaus! Every door’s ajar!'
This was her great gift to her old lover,
And this her scheme for hushing up old tales!
Quick to the end now! They break in my door,
With them Ulysses, Crime’s High Advocate.
Gods, load this on the Greeks,–if the good man
Who cries down vengeance be a good man still!
But thee alive what hap–tell in thy turn–
Brought here? Dost come a plaything of the wave
By trave1ler’s chance? Or at the hest divine?
What fate’s oppression draws thee to these homes
Where no sun shines nor any view stands clear?
   But while they talked, across the pole of heaven.
Had swept the Charioteer who drives from Dawn,
And dalliance had soon eaten up the dole
Of time allotted: so the Sybil warned–
"Down comes the night, Æneas: all too fast,
We weep the hours away. Here splits the road,
Right, to the foot of the big walls of Dis,
But the left leads the damned to their deserts
In impious Tartary." " But chide no more;"
Replied Deiphobus : "I will return
My place is in the roll-call of the Dead,
Go, Splendour of our Story: grace be thine
Beyond our measure." And he turned away.

1914

  1. Authors Note.—I have of course tried to translate the sound of the thing rather than the text–cf. my translation of "armatus" l. 388, and of " noctemque profundam," l. 462.