Fragment of a Greek Tragedy

CHORUS: O suitably-attired-in-leather-boots
  Head of a traveller, wherefore seeking whom
  Whence by what way how purposed art thou come
  To this well-nightingaled vicinity?
  My object in inquiring is to know.
  But if you happen to be deaf and dumb
  And do not understand a word I say,
  Then wave your hand, to signify as much.

  ALCMAEON: I journeyed hither a Boetian road.
  CHORUS: Sailing on horseback, or with feet for oars?
  ALCMAEON: Plying with speed my partnership of legs.
  CHORUS: Beneath a shining or a rainy Zeus?
  ALCMAEON: Mud's sister, not himself, adorns my shoes.
  CHORUS: To learn your name would not displease me much.
  ALCMAEON: Not all that men desire do they obtain.
  CHORUS: Might I then hear at what thy presence shoots.
  ALCMAEON: A shepherd's questioned mouth informed me that--
  CHORUS: What? for I know not yet what you will say.
  ALCMAEON: Nor will you ever, if you interrupt.
  CHORUS: Proceed, and I will hold my speechless tongue.
  ALCMAEON: This house was Eriphyle's, no one else's.
  CHORUS: Nor did he shame his throat with shameful lies.
  ALCMAEON: May I then enter, passing through the door?
  CHORUS: Go chase into the house a lucky foot.
  And, O my son, be, on the one hand, good,
  And do not, on the other hand, be bad;
  For that is much the safest plan.
  ALCMAEON: I go into the house with heels and speed.

  CHORUS

  Strophe

  In speculation
  I would not willingly acquire a name
  For ill-digested thought;
  But after pondering much
  To this conclusion I at last have come:
  LIFE IS UNCERTAIN.
  This truth I have written deep
  In my reflective midriff
  On tablets not of wax,
  Nor with a pen did I inscribe it there,
  For many reasons: LIFE, I say, IS NOT
  A STRANGER TO UNCERTAINTY.
  Not from the flight of omen-yelling fowls
  This fact did I discover,
  Nor did the Delphine tripod bark it out,
  Nor yet Dodona.
  Its native ingunuity sufficed
  My self-taught diaphragm.

  Antistrophe

  Why should I mention
  The Inachean daughter, loved of Zeus?
  Her whom of old the gods,
  More provident than kind,
  Provided with four hoofs, two horns, one tail,
  A gift not asked for,
  And sent her forth to learn
  The unfamiliar science
  Of how to chew the cud.
  She therefore, all about the Argive fields,
  Went cropping pale green grass and nettle-tops,
  Nor did they disagree with her.
  But yet, howe'er nutritious, such repasts
  I do not hanker after:
  Never may Cypris for her seat select
  My dappled liver!
  Why should I mention Io? Why indeed?
  I have no notion why.

  Epode

  But now does my boding heart,
  Unhired, unaccompanied, sing
  A strain not meet for the dance.
  Yes even the palace appears
  To my yoke of circular eyes
  (The right, nor omit I the left)
  Like a slaughterhouse, so to speak,
  Garnished with woolly deaths
  And many sphipwrecks of cows.
  I therefore in a Cissian strain lament:
  And to the rapid
  Loud, linen-tattering thumps upon my chest
  Resounds in concert
  The battering of my unlucky head.

  ERIPHYLE (within): O, I am smitten with a hatchet's jaw;
  And that in deed and not in word alone.
  CHORUS: I thought I heard a sound within the house
  Unlike the voice of one that jumps for joy.
  ERIPHYLE: He splits my skull, not in a friendly way,
  Once more: he purposes to kill me dead.
  CHORUS: I would not be reputed rash, but yet
  I doubt if all be gay within the house.
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Alfred Edward Housman

Alfred Edward Housman, usually known as A. E. Housman, was an English classical scholar and poet, best known to the general public for his cycle of poems A Shropshire Lad.  more…

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"Fragment of a Greek Tragedy" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2020. Web. 25 Feb. 2020. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/878/fragment-of-a-greek-tragedy>.

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