Augusta Davies Webster

Here you will find the Long Poem Medea in Athens of poet Augusta Davies Webster

Medea in Athens

Dead is he? Yes, our stranger guest said dead- 
said it by noonday, when it seemed a thing 
most natural and so indifferent 
as if the tale ran that a while ago 
there died a man I talked with a chance hour 
when he by chance was near me. If I spoke 
'Good news for us but ill news for the dead 
when the gods sweep a villain down to them,' 
'twas the prompt trick of words, like a pat phrase 
from some one other's song, found on the lips 
and used because 'tis there: for through all day 
the news seemed neither good nor ill to me. 

And now, when day with all its useless talk 
and useless smiles and idiots' prying eyes 
that impotently peer into one's life, 
when day with all its seemly lying shows 
has gone its way and left pleased fools to sleep, 
while weary mummers, taking off the mask, 
discern that face themselves forgot anon 
and, sitting in the lap of sheltering night, 
learn their own secrets from her-even now 
does it seem either good or ill to me? 
No, but mere strange. 

And this most strange of all 
that I care nothing. 

Nay, how wild thought grows. 
Me seems one came and told of Jason's death: 
but 'twas a dream. Else should I, wondering thus, 
reck not of him, nor with the virulent hate 
that should be mine against mine enemy, 
nor with that weakness which sometimes I feared 
should this day make me, not remembering Glaucè, 
envy him to death as though he had died mine? 

Can he be dead? It were so strange a world 
with him not in it. 

Dimly I recall 
some prophecy a god breathed by my mouth. 
It could not err. What was it? For I think;- 
it told his death¹. 

Has a god come to me? 
Is it thou, my Hecate? How know I all? 
For I know all as if from long ago: 
and I know all beholding instantly. 
Is not that he, arisen through the mists?- 
a lean and haggard man, rough round the eyes, 
dull and with no scorn left upon his lip, 
decayed out of his goodliness and strength; 
a wanned and broken image of a god; 
dim counterfeit of Jason, heavily 
wearing the name of him and memories. 

And lo, he rests with lax and careless limbs 
on the loose sandbed wind-heaped round his ship 
that rots in sloth like him, and props his head 
on a half-buried fallen spar. The sea, 
climbing the beach towards him, seethes and frets, 
and on the verge two sunned and shadowed clouds 
take shapes of notched rock-islands; and his thoughts 
drift languid to the steep Symplegades 
and the sound of waters crashing at their base. 

And now he speaks out to his loneliness 
'I was afraid and careful, but she laughed: 
'Love steers' she said: and when the rocks were far, 
grey twinkling spots in distance, suddenly 
her face grew white, and, looking back to them, 
she said, 'Oh love, a god has whispered me 
'twere well had we died there, for strange mad woes 
are waiting for us in your Greece': and then 
she tossed her head back, while her brown hair streamed 
gold in the wind and sun, and her face glowed 
with daring beauty, 'What of woes', she cried, 
'if only they leave time for love enough?' 
But what a fire and flush! It took one's breath!' 
And then he lay half musing, half adoze, 
shadows of me went misty through his sight. 

And bye and bye he roused and cried 'Oh dolt! 
Glaucè was never half so beautiful.' 
Then under part-closed lids remembering her, 
'Poor Glaucè, a sweet face, and yet methinks 
she might have wearied me:' and suddenly, 
smiting the sand awhirl with his angry hand, 
scorned at himself 'What god befooled my wits 
to dream my fancy for her yellow curls 
and milk-white softness subtle policy? 

Wealth and a royal bride: but what beyond? 
Medea, with her skills, her presciences, 
man's wisdom, woman's craft, her rage of love 
that gave her to serve me strength next divine, 
Medea would have made me what I would; 
Glaucè but what she could. I schemed amiss 
and earned the curses the gods send on fools. 
Ruined, ruined! A laughing stock to foes! 
No man so mean but he may pity me; 
no man so wretched but will keep aloof 
lest the curse upon me make him wretcheder. 

And lo I see him hide his face 
like a man who'll weep with passion: but to him 
the passion comes not, only slow few tears 
of one too weary. And from the great field 
where the boys race he hears their jubilant shout 
hum through the distance, and he sighs 'Ah me! 
she might have spared the children, left me them:- 
no sons, no sons to stand about me now 
and prosper me, and tend me bye and bye 
in faltering age, and keep my name on earth 
when I shall be departed out of sight.' 

And the shout hummed louder forth: and whirring past 
a screaming sea-bird flapped out to the bay