Laodamia

Original Text: 
William Wordsworth, Poems (London: Longman, 1815). PR 5850 E15 (Victoria College Library, Toronto).
2Vows have I made by fruitless hope inspired;
3And from the infernal Gods, 'mid shades forlorn
4Of night, my slaughtered Lord have I required:
5Celestial pity I again implore;--
6Restore him to my sight--great Jove, restore!"
7So speaking, and by fervent love endowed
8With faith, the Suppliant heavenward lifts her hands;
9While, like the sun emerging from a cloud,
10Her countenance brightens--and her eye expands;
11Her bosom heaves and spreads, her stature grows;
12As she expects the issue in repose.
13O terror! what hath she perceived?--O joy!
14What doth she look on?--whom doth she behold?
15Her Hero slain upon the beach of Troy?
16His vital presence? his corporeal mould?
17It is--if sense deceive her not--'tis He!
18And a God leads him, wingèd Mercury!
19Mild Hermes spake--and touched her with his wand
20That calms all fear; "Such grace hath crowned thy prayer,
21Laodamía! that at Jove's command
22Thy husband walks the paths of upper air:
23He comes to tarry with thee three hours' space;
24Accept the gift, behold him face to face!"
25Forth sprang the impassioned Queen her Lord to clasp;
26Again that consummation she essayed;
27But unsubstantial Form eludes her grasp
28As often as that eager grasp was made.
29The Phantom parts--but parts to re-unite,
30And re-assume his place before her sight.
31"Protesiláus, lo! thy guide is gone!
32Confirm, I pray, the vision with thy voice:
33This is our palace,--yonder is thy throne;
34Speak, and the floor thou tread'st on will rejoice.
35Not to appal me have the gods bestowed
36This precious boon; and blest a sad abode."
37"Great Jove, Laodamía! doth not leave
38His gifts imperfect:--Spectre though I be,
39I am not sent to scare thee or deceive;
40But in reward of thy fidelity.
41And something also did my worth obtain;
42For fearless virtue bringeth boundless gain.
43"Thou knowest, the Delphic oracle foretold
44That the first Greek who touched the Trojan strand
45Should die; but me the threat could not withhold:
46A generous cause a victim did demand;
47And forth I leapt upon the sandy plain;
48A self-devoted chief--by Hector slain."
49"Supreme of Heroes--bravest, noblest, best!
50Thy matchless courage I bewail no more,
51Which then, when tens of thousands were deprest
52By doubt, propelled thee to the fatal shore;
53Thou found'st--and I forgive thee--here thou art--
54A nobler counsellor than my poor heart.
55"But thou, though capable of sternest deed,
56Wert kind as resolute, and good as brave;
57And he, whose power restores thee, hath decreed
58Thou should'st elude the malice of the grave:
60As when their breath enriched Thessalian air.
61"No spectre greets me,--no vain Shadow this;
62Come, blooming Hero, place thee by my side!
63Give, on this well-known couch, one nuptial kiss
64To me, this day a second time thy bride!"
66Upon those roseate lips a Stygian hue.
67"This visage tells thee that my doom is past:
68Nor should the change be mourned, even if the joys
69Of sense were able to return as fast
70And surely as they vanish. Earth destroys
72Calm pleasures there abide--majestic pains.
73"Be taught, O faithful Consort, to control
74Rebellious passion: for the Gods approve
75The depth, and not the tumult, of the soul;
76A fervent, not ungovernable love.
77Thy transports moderate; and meekly mourn
78When I depart, for brief is my sojourn--"
80Wrest from the guardian monster of the tomb
81Alcestis, a reanimated corse,
82Given back to dwell on earth in vernal bloom?
84And Æson stood a youth 'mid youthful peers.
85"The Gods to us are merciful--and they
86Yet further may relent: for mightier far
87Than strength of nerve and sinew, or the sway
88Of magic potent over sun and star,
89Is love, though oft to agony distrest,
90And though his favourite seat be feeble woman's breast.
91"But if thou goest, I follow--" "Peace!" he said,--
92She looked upon him and was calmed and cheered;
93The ghastly colour from his lips had fled;
94In his deportment, shape, and mien, appeared
95Elysian beauty, melancholy grace,
96Brought from a pensive though a happy place.
97He spake of love, such love as Spirits feel
98In worlds whose course is equable and pure;
99No fears to beat away--no strife to heal--
100The past unsighed for, and the future sure;
101Spake of heroic arts in graver mood
102Revived, with finer harmony pursued;
103Of all that is most beauteous--imaged there
104In happier beauty; more pellucid streams,
105An ampler ether, a diviner air,
106And fields invested with purpureal gleams;
107Climes which the sun, who sheds the brightest day
108Earth knows, is all unworthy to survey.
109Yet there the Soul shall enter which hath earned
110That privilege by virtue.--"Ill," said he,
111"The end of man's existence I discerned,
112Who from ignoble games and revelry
113Could draw, when we had parted, vain delight,
114While tears were thy best pastime, day and night;
115"And while my youthful peers before my eyes
116(Each hero following his peculiar bent)
117Prepared themselves for glorious enterprise
118By martial sports,--or, seated in the tent,
119Chieftains and kings in council were detained;
121"The wished-for wind was given:--I then revolved
122The oracle, upon the silent sea;
123And, if no worthier led the way, resolved
124That, of a thousand vessels, mine should be
125The foremost prow in pressing to the strand,--
126Mine the first blood that tinged the Trojan sand.
127"Yet bitter, oft-times bitter, was the pang
128When of thy loss I thought, belovèd Wife!
129On thee too fondly did my memory hang,
130And on the joys we shared in mortal life,--
131The paths which we had trod--these fountains, flowers:
132My new-planned cities, and unfinished towers.
133"But should suspense permit the Foe to cry,
134'Behold they tremble!--haughty their array,
135Yet of their numbers no one dares to die?'
136In soul I swept the indignity away:
137Old frailties then recurred:--but lofty thought,
138In act embodied, my deliverance wrought.
139"And Thou, though strong in love, art all too weak
140In reason, in self-government too slow;
141I counsel thee by fortitude to seek
142Our blest re-union in the shades below.
143The invisible world with thee hath sympathised;
144Be thy affections raised and solemnised.
145"Learn, by a mortal yearning, to ascend--
146Seeking a higher object. Love was given,
147Encouraged, sanctioned, chiefly for that end;
148For this the passion to excess was driven--
149That self might be annulled: her bondage prove
150The fetters of a dream opposed to love.--
151Aloud she shrieked! for Hermes re-appears!
152Round the dear Shade she would have clung--'tis vain:
153The hours are past--too brief had they been years;
154And him no mortal effort can detain:
155Swift, toward the realms that know not earthly day,
156He through the portal takes his silent way,
157And on the palace-floor a lifeless corse She lay.
158Thus, all in vain exhorted and reproved,
159She perished; and, as for a wilful crime,
160By the just Gods whom no weak pity moved,
161Was doomed to wear out her appointed time,
162Apart from happy Ghosts, that gather flowers
163Of blissful quiet 'mid unfading bowers.
164--Yet tears to human suffering are due;
165And mortal hopes defeated and o'erthrown
166Are mourned by man, and not by man alone,
167As fondly he believes.--Upon the side
168Of Hellespont (such faith was entertained)
169A knot of spiry trees for ages grew
170From out the tomb of him for whom she died;
171And ever, when such stature they had gained
172That Ilium's walls were subject to their view,
173The trees' tall summits withered at the sight;
174A constant interchange of growth and blight!

Notes

1] Laodamia was the wife of Protesilaus, a Thessalian king, who sailed with the Greeks against Troy. He was the first to land on the Trojan shore, and in accordance with the Delphic oracle, was slain by Hector. His wife showed such constancy in her grief that the gods allowed Protesilaus to revisit her under the guidance of Hermes. When her husband was recalled to the Lower World, she died of her misery. Pliny in his Natural History says that opposite Ilium and close to the Hellespont there was to that day on Protesilaus' tomb, trees, which ever as soon as they had grown high enough to have Ilium in view, withered away and again shot up. "The incident of the trees growing and withering," says Wordsworth, "put the subject into my thoughts, and I wrote with the hope of giving it a loftier tone than, so far as I know, has been given to it by any of the Ancients who have treated of it. It cost me more trouble than almost anything of equal length I have ever written." In the first form of the poem, Laodamia was dismissed to Elysium. Back to Line
59] Redundant: profuse. Back to Line
65] Parcæ Fates. Back to Line
71] Erebus: Hades. Back to Line
79] This is the subject of the Alcestis of Euripides. Back to Line
83] Æson: the father of Jason, who was restored to youth by the spells of Medea (see Ovid's Metamorphoses, VII, 159 ff.). Back to Line
120] The Greek hosts were unable to sail for Troy, owing to unfavourable winds, until Artemis had been appeased by the sacrifice of Iphigenia. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1815
RPO poem Editors: 
J. R. MacGillivray
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.393.
Rhyme: