The Rose of Ilium
Young Pelides, whose hands yet reeked with death,
Having purloined Troy's finest son of breath,
Beheld Patroclus' husk in flames consumed,
His dearest comrade in Fate's hands entombed.
No lover nor the river Peneus
Would greet the valiant son of Peleus
In Phthia, where his noble father stayed,
For, to home's shores he would not be conveyed,
His doom to fall upon the Trojan field
By will Divine and by the Fates being sealed.
His spleen, at equal blows with his remorse,
Wrested within him to attain full force
And drive him towards the plains, more war to wage,
To break limbs and to open veins in rage,
And though this wrath on Hector had been wroken,
The Dardan soldiery had not been broken;
Priam the King surveys still from his height;
Æneas keeps the Trojan men from flight;
Proud Paris prances still in am'rous pomp,
And Helen shows no wish t'eschew her romp.
Not til the very embers cooled and crumbled
Did great Achilles stir, his visage, humbled
By grief, a cloud made ponderous with rain,
Sought to relieve its load in solemn bain.
The ashes in an urn does he now put,
Expecting soon to add his own soft soot
When Thanatos inexorably demands
To have the warrior's shade placed in his hands.
Unto his mistress now retires the Prince,
Hoping she gentle comfort can evince.
Meanwhile, within the halls of maudlin Troy,
Dirges and elegies were in employ
T'assuage the sorrow of a weary land
Having been cruelly robbed of her right hand.
Yet in this doleful hour a blessing came,
For Queen Penthesilea, of the fame
Of the wild Amazones, with her train
Arrived at Troy to prove a Danàän bane.
The Queen herself, austere, fearless and proud
By Ares' fiercer graces was endowed,
For he unto that formidable Queen was sire:
She was conceived amidst a flash of fire.
This vehemence within her breast abode
And shone forth as into the hall she strode
Dight in her glossy bronzéd plates of toil,
Anticipating now the martial moil
Where she would mount her chariot of war
And stain her spearhead with Hellene gore.
Lord Priam crossed his hall and met with glee
The towering monarch in her pedigree;
She saw that tene had roiled his Kingly eye,
Whilst hardship had his stature turned awry.
In an enfeebled voice he gave his thanks:
“O, regal Queen, thou and thy mighty ranks
Cause this old sovereign's heart now to exult!
For nine relentless years this dire assault
Resounded has upon our hallowed wall;
The Gods, at last, would all this wreak forestall,
For they have sent ye unto us this day!”
Now she in plummy tones replied this way:
“Reverèd Priam, 'tis our honour so
To march thus in an amiable show
Before the denizens of lofty Troy,
The orgulous Achaeans to annoy.
Upon mine honour I intend to free
Thy sacred city of thine enemy.”
Now tears within his eyes began to well,
Which he with agèd hands conspired to quell.
Here Hecuba stepped forth, her visage dure:
“Dread Queen, if thou canst offer us recure,
Name what thou wilt possess, it shalt be thine.”
“Glory, much more than gold, is what is fine,
For honour can ascend the mount of time:
While gold will plummet, dignity will climb.
My Amazons and I will crush your foes,
And heap upon their shoulders bloody woes.
Not one Achaean shall survive our press;
Not one Hellene shall escape duress;
We'll burn their fleet and push them from the strand:
That's how we will disperse that plundering band!”
Her voice, like a reboant horn, intoned
As she her victory o'er the foe deponed.
Andromache, made mild by Hector's fall,
Responded to the monarch's war-like call:
“Penthesilea, we doubt not thy might,
Yet, wary be of Argives in the fight,
For they have champions of high repute
Who have brought Troy into bitt'rest dispute.
Walk proudly, sure, yet do not vainly vaunt.”
The Queen laughed heartily and aimed to daunt
The spirits of the widow, then spoke thus:
“Sweet lady, prithee, have no fear for us!
Reared in the arts belligerent are we,
Not soft, effeminate practices like ye.”
This peroration stifled the exchange;
Then Priam: “Come, a supper I'll arrange:
A feast of splendour in thy honour held!
This night our misery shall be dispelled,
For crowned with promises of victory
The Amazons proceed audaciously!”
From thence the noble company retires
To merry drinking by the festal fires.
Selene o'er the welkin then held sway:
Apollo's sheen to dusky shade gave way.
The Phthian Prince lay waking in his bed
Whilst th'Amazon in Troy was flatterèd,
Convinced of her inevitable win;
Such pride th'immortal Gods accounted sin,
Especially those Gods who scorned with zeal
The propagation of the city's weal:
Pallas and Hera, and lord Zeus himself
Who does not care at all for Ilium's pelf.
Anon the tocsin sounds the call to arms,
For Eos o'er the cope now spreads her charms;
The soldiers from their silent slumber leap,
Thinking of glory as they shake off sleep.
Bright armour is applied with eager haste,
That mortal parts in bronze may be encased;
Sharp shafts in martial hands are graspèd straight;
Lines of hale soldiers boast a warlike gait;
Chariots, drawn by stately horses, loom,
Ablaze in roseate Dawn's effulgent bloom.
The Trojans, by Penthesilea spurred,
In inexpugnable courage were immured;
Greater still was their pluck when they beheld
That great Achilles' presence was withheld,
For nowhere could that bastion be seen,
Who for the battle always was most keen.
No parley nor negotiation passed
Between the armies who had now amassed,
As they for bloody slaughter were voracious;
No less were they for glory's crown edacious.
King Agamemnon, present in the lines,
With his royal hand unto his herald signs:
At once brash Stentor gives his deafening cry
And all the Danai their efforts ply
Into a charge of rage incontinent;
The Dardan answer is as violent,
And in the midst of old Scamander plain
Translated now into a deathly fane,
The rivals clash with a resounding shock,
The sounds of which resemble stone on rock,
Only a hundred-thousand times more dire:
Unto the heavens did the bruit aspire!
Shields were transpierced and armour puncturèd,
And groans arose from those who death-ward sped.
The Queen, like Pallas in her bronze array,
Atop her chariot raced unto the fray
Where with a mighty heft she cast her spear
And strake a hapless foe beneath the ear.
Her soldiers wrought their bows to Danàän pain,
Showering them with arrows as with rain;
Nor could those men endure the ghastly sight
Of raucous, raving women in the fight,
And from the Amazons turned round and fled,
Incuring censures from stout Diomed:
“Execrable cowards! Dost thou turn and fly?
From feeble limbed viragos dost thou shy?
Adhere! See how they crumple to the ground
When my great spear within their hearts is wound!”
Now launches Diomedes his attack,
Which strikes and palls his foe's wide eyes in black;
Unto the earth that Amazon is cast,
Constrainèd by the power of the blast.
The men, inspired by his example, turn
And join the fray: all former dread they spurn.
Though all th'Achaean Captains battled well,
The lesser wights by th'Amazones fell,
Penthesilea the foremost in the slaughter,
Proving herself indeed of War a daughter.
Foaming with rage, dread Hera cursed the day
And bade Night start her course without delay.
The sun retreats; dust settles on the field;
The contest to impending dark must yield.
The pained Hellenes to their camp retired,
And each the awesome Queen feared and admired
For her stupendous feats of arms that day,
As she inspired into the ranks dismay.
Like a wild lion rampaging was that Queen,
On luckless men expending all her spleen.
King Agamemnon, hoping to forestall
Recalling dour Achilles to the brawl,
Commanded that he be allowed to mourn
Until he was prepared his frame t'adorn
With the renownèd plates of Gods' design,
Wrought with the ores from the empyreal mine.
Each day the crashing mélée was renewed;
Each day Penthesilea, crazed, hallooed,
As calling forth her hounds unto the hunt,
Hoping th'elusive quarry to confront.
None could repulse her; none her charge withstand;
Ajax alone the Queen could reprimand:
His giant stature and his hugy brawn
Combined could stifle her immense élan.
Once in the field she dared encounter him,
And soon repented of her foolish whim
When he rebuffed her and made a riposte,
Wherein she would have yielded up the ghost
Had not she leapt away from his wild thrust,
Made more tumultuous by battle lust.
This did not serve to daunt her majesty,
Nor did she shrink from bellicosity,
But preyed on others of a lesser bulk,
Averting still the Telamonian hulk.
For days the Danàäns were put to rout,
Being unable to occlude the spout
From which the Dardan doughtiness derived:
The Amazons, by which the Trojans thrived.
Hera and Pallas in the heavens raged
At how unjustly the affray was waged,
And sued to father Zeus for remedy,
Who vowed to grant it with alacrity.
At once he summoned Iris to his side,
And to appease his wish the goddess hied
To hear his will, which he imparted thus:
“Iris, despatch and rouse the dolorous
Achilles from his torpor; go to him
And the sad state of his compatriots limn,
Omitting no description of their sorrow,
That he shall raise his spear again tomorrow.”
The rainbow bowed her sylven, sparkling head
And from Olympos rapidly she sped
To execute great Zeus' immortal will,
Streaming down over land and tree and rill.
In a mere trice she makes her bright advent
Near to the Phthian Prince's ships and tent,
And now as Automedon, (charioteer
Of great Achilles' car and comrade dear,)
Requests an audience with the mighty youth,
Aiming to press him to the fray for ruth:
“Renownèd Prince, thy friend admittance craves;”
Thus she; Achilles then his dictate waives
And lets the soldier in his tent to talk,
From whom the fair Briseis did not balk.
When fleet Achilles saw his visitor,
His noble mind could not help but infer
That in his presence stood a deity,
And thus he spoke in kind humility:
“Thy features are too fair for mortal make;
That thou art Iris, I my honour stake.”
“Shrewd Pelides, 'tis so; from Zeus come I
Who bids thee offer Troy a stout reply
To their rampaging Amazonian Queen,
Who heaps upon thy countrymen great tene.
Take up thy Pelian spear and godly shield;
Constrain the adversarial tribe to yield.”
From the profoundest pocket of his soul
Achilles sighed, reflecting on his dole:
Having relinquished life for deathless pomp,
Grim Death awaited him upon the champ.
Briseis, lachrymosal now, implored
Him with her eyes t'avoid the stour abhorred.
These pitiable oeillades could not avail,
Nor could they o'er the will divine prevail.
“Unto my lord in heaven I defer:
I will assay that monarch to deter.”
Her deputation done, the goddess flies;
Achilles sees his mistress' gleaming eyes,
And seeks to comfort her in his embrace;
Dismayed, on his chest couches she her face.
“How long is it until thou com'st to me
Upon a litter carried solemnly?”
Whispered the girl; “and then what shall I do?
And then how much thy absence shall I rue?”
Achilles knew that day would come indeed,
And to this quandary he gave no rede,
But only softly kissed her gentle brow,
Whilst utt'ring to himself a silent vow
That he would come to her tomorrow night
And that he would not perish in the fight.
The cynosure that the Hellenes boast
And terror to th'assembled Dardan host,
Achilles, armed, upon his chariot glows
As Eos stretches out her fingers rose;
The bristling plumes upon his helmet's crest
Bleed freely over blustery Zephyr's breast,
As shadowy Death upon his countenance perches,
Who all the while for his first victim searches.
Tremors now thrill through Ilium's soldiery
As they behold the lord of butchery;
Paris recoils; Æneas prays aloud:
Only the mighty Amazon stands proud.
Achilles' beauty and his thewy frame
Ran so contrary to his fearful fame,
That great Penthesilea was in wonder
How one so fair could be so apt to plunder;
Likewise the Prince perused her pristine charms
And was amazed such beauty took up arms.
Th'alarums sound with direful clarion
And forward races the bright Danàän,
Whose coursers, both bread of immortal stock,
Cause all the lesser steeds therewith to baulk;
Nor Amazon nor Dardan faced the youth,
Fearing an execution too uncouth;
Yet, this did not forestall their bloody fate,
As he with spear sought foes to extirpate:
One caught his javelin beneath the arm;
Another from his blade took mortal harm,
As head from neck was rashly severèd;
His spear recovered, to the fray he sped,
His ruby chariot thundering as he went.
A surly Amazon from life he rent,
Smiting her brains out with his weighty shield,
Her viscid claret plashing red the field.
His prey, like paltry ships upon the sea
Who strive in vain the tempest's rage to flee,
Or, like the jackdaw flying from the hawk,
Could find no haven from the deadly shock.
Penthesilea cuts herself a path,
Voracious to expunge Achilles' wrath,
Whereon he sees his adversary fume
And smiles grimly at the chance of doom.
Automedon his master's manner knows,
And from a solemn nod, begins to close;
Likewise the Amazon her driver guides,
Who o'er the corpses of the fallen rides.
As this redoubtable twain prepared to meet,
The gathered armies stopped t'adhere the feat,
As though the Gods themselves strove on the plain,
Who to exchange life reaving blows were fain.
First she her javelin pitches through the broil
Expecting her fair quarry's looks to spoil:
A rav'nous hawk could not so swiftly speed
As her sharp spear, careening with blood greed.
But lo! That mordant prong, so oft unerring,
Was thwarted by his shield, not even tearing
The third bronze layer; now his stout reply,
Which her broad scutcheon cannot stultify,
But from her supple arm is wrenched away,
Transpiercéd by his javelin's assay.
The Queen now marvels at his martial might
Whilst he propels another dart in flight:
Screaming, the pointed tip cuts through the air,
And would have rent her flesh all smooth and fair
But for the valour of her charioteer,
Who placed herself within the point's career.
The savage blow her eyes enclosed in night,
And in the earth both point and soldier pight.
Penthesilea seized the vacant reigns
And sought to vindicate her comrade's pains
By drawing out her ringing, bronze-cast blade,
Vengeance to visit as she hoarsely bayed.
Achilles from this conflict did not shy,
But towards the Queen he bade his driver fly.
As two contestant rams in wrath will rush,
So those two champions plied the brutal crush;
Towards his chariot she tilts her course,
Meaning to capsize his war-car perforce.
He swings his weighty sword and she evades:
Unto the sullied earth the troop cascades,
As battlecar with battlecar collides;
Automedon rolls clear and battle chides,
Whilst Queen and Prince rejoin the seething fray,
Their scalpels flashing in warlike display.
Soon, a respite their skirmishes divided;
“Dread Queen, thou art not with thy shield provided,”
Began Achilles; “give o'er this dire strife,
And though thou triumph'st not, thou keep'st thy life.”
His voice, majestic, deep like thunder, awed
Her senses and in her heart kindled laud
That blossomed into blazing love anon,
Which she to thwart pugnacity put on:
“Impudent Argive! Staunch thy charity,
For I'm a scion of divinity!
Had I but naked hands with which to rend,
Thou would'st have need thy welfare to defend;
Speak not to me of shield's or armour's care,
But for thy quietus do thou prepare!”
The youth, amazed at her illustrious tone,
Found that his heart to lover's thoughts had grown;
Yet honour banished this soft sentiment,
And he applied him to the argument.
In fairness yet, his scutcheon he forgot,
And without let or lenity he fought.
The Queen, despite her great armipotence,
Could not return an adequate defence:
The fierce Achilles plunged his point in deep,
Consigning th'Amazon t' immortal sleep.
A marvelous gasp thrills through the viewing crowd:
Some smile at Fortune; others cry aloud.
Penthesilea sees her claret stream:
First down her lacteal thigh it runs agleam,
Then down the sword and down her butcher's arm,
Whose visage is distorted with alarm.
Their eyes embrace: his gaping for his plight,
Hers soft and bleary for her dimming light.
Her knees give way: she crumbles to the earth:
The Prince encloses her in his arms' girth.
Her helm he doffs, from which a flaxen mane,
Like golden liquor, flows out on the plain.
Her eyes, cerulean, search his souciant face;
Her hand she lifts, his visage to embrace,
Tracing her fond caress with ruby ink.
Achilles then from weeping could not shrink,
But laved his leman with his briny dew,
Which wrought like tears of woe from those in view.
Her shade, agog on collied Styx to sail,
Craved yet one boon before her grim travail:
A kiss to grace her lips, her death to seal.
Her vow t'abstain from love she did repeal
And raised her sweet aspect with trembling lips;
His plushy mouth she traced with fingertips,
Which, scout-like, mapped the course of her emprise;
A vigorous resolve illumed her eyes,
For never kisses had her lips traversed.
Her paling folds in his she then immersed,
Tasting of love her first, and final time,
Inwardly glad to know such sense sublime.
Enrapt, her last breath in him she consigns,
The which to keep forever he designs,
Not daring to exhale the charmed perfume:
Within his soul his love he would entomb.
Alas! though Pelides surpassed the best
In prowess, son unto a mother blest,
The Gods decree that man must take in breath,
And thus the youth suspired his love to death.
Now stoops the conqueror the conquerèd;
Now droops his brow o'er the expirèd.
In pity, Zeus dims day and his bright fires,
Whereon Achilles with the Queen retires:
No Trojan durst oppose Achilles' tread,
They of his rage redoubtable adread.
Penthesilea, betimes plucked from her stalk
As a fresh rose by shears receives Death's shock,
Passed to Elysium a valiant soul,
Who, like so many, fell nigh Troad's shoal.
Winning Writers asked Mr. McDonald if he might make an audio recording of his poem. Not only did he do that, he provided us with this fabulous multimedia dramatization. Mr. McDonald is joined by Carin Lowerison as the voice of Andromache and Penthesilea, and Kate Kernaghan as the voice of Briseis and Iris.