Sara Teasdale: Helen of Troy



    WILD flight on flight against the fading dawn
    The flames' red wings soar upward duskily.
    This is the funeral pyre and Troy is dead
    That sparkled so the day I saw it first,
    And darkened slowly after. I am she
    Who loves all beauty -- yet I wither it.
    Why have the high gods made me wreak their wrath --
    Forever since my maidenhood to sow
    Sorrow and blood about me? Lo, they keep
    Their bitter care above me even now.
    It was the gods who led me to this lair,
    That tho' the burning winds should make me weak,
    They should not snatch the life from out my lips.
    Olympus let the other women die;
    They shall be quiet when the day is done
    And have no care to-morrow. Yet for me
    There is no rest. The gods are not so kind
    To her made half immortal like themselves.
    It is to you I owe the cruel gift,
    Leda, my mother, and the Swan, my sire,
    To you the beauty and to you the bale;
    For never woman born of man and maid
    Had wrought such havoc on the earth as I,
    Or troubled heaven with a sea of flame
    That climbed to touch the silent whirling stars
    And blotted out their brightness ere the dawn.
    Have I not made the world to weep enough?
    Give death to me. Yet life is more than death;
    How could I leave the sound of singing winds,
    The strong sweet scent that breathes from off the sea,
    Or shut my eyes forever to the spring?
    I will not give the grave my hands to hold,
    My shining hair to light oblivion.
    Have those who wander through the ways of death,
    The still wan fields Elysian, any love
    To lift their breasts with longing, any lips
    To thirst against the quiver of a kiss?
    Lo, I shall live to conquer Greece again,
    To make the people love, who hate me now.
    My dreams are over, I have ceased to cry
    Against the fate that made men love my mouth
    And left their spirits all too deaf to hear
    The little songs that echoed through my soul.
    I have no anger now. The dreams are done;
    Yet since the Greeks and Trojans would not see
    Aught but my body's fairness, till the end,
    In all the islands set in all the seas,
    And all the lands that lie beneath the sun,
    Till light turn darkness, and till time shall sleep,
    Men's lives shall waste with longing after me,
    For I shall be the sum of their desire,
    The whole of beauty, never seen again.
    And they shall stretch their arms and starting, wake
    With "Helen!" on their lips, and in their eyes
    The vision of me. Always I shall be
    Limned on the darkness like a shaft of light
    That glimmers and is gone. They shall behold
    Each one his dream that fashions me anew; --
    With hair like lakes that glint beneath the stars
    Dark as sweet midnight, or with hair aglow
    Like burnished gold that still retains the fire.
    Yea, I shall haunt until the dusk of time
    The heavy eyelids filled with fleeting dreams.
    I wait for one who comes with sword to slay --
    The king I wronged who searches for me now;
    And yet he shall not slay me. I shall stand
    With lifted head and look within his eyes,
    Baring my breast to him and to the sun.
    He shall not have the power to stain with blood
    That whiteness -- for the thirsty sword shall fall
    And he shall cry and catch me in his arms,
    Bearing me back to Sparta on his breast.
    Lo, I shall live to conquer Greece again!

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