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The Tower Beyond Tragedy

Robinson Jeffers 1887 (Allegheny) – 1962 (Carmel-by-the-Sea)

I
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
clarions
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?
CLYTEMNESTRA
They're making it hot. Come, my lord. My hands will pour it.
(They enter the palace.)
CASSANDRA
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
Ca
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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Robinson Jeffers

John Robinson Jeffers was an American poet, known for his work about the central California coast. more…

All Robinson Jeffers poems | Robinson Jeffers Books

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