Sara Coleridge

Peter Swaab (ed.), Sara Coleridge: Collected Poems

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pg 190Editor’s NoteFirst chorus in 'The Agamemnon' of Æschylus

  •           'Tis the tenth year since adversaries dread
  •           To Priam, they who from high Jove obtain
  •           Twin-sceptred and twin-throned to reign,
  •           Great Sons of Atreus, famed for hardyhead,
  •           A military force for vengeance led,
  •           Freight of a thousand vessels, from this shore
  •           Pouring from their bold breasts a mighty shout of war;
  •           Like Vultures that around their nest on high
  •           Smit by the loss of young with sharpest pain
  •                   In agitated circles fly,
  •           And, whilst they ply aloft the plumy oar,
  •           With their shrill sorrows pierce the quiet sky
  •           For long long brooding cares and labour spent in vain.
  •                   But from his high domain
  •                Some retributive Pow'r that dwells above,
  •                Apollo, Pan, or all perfecting Jove
  •                   Struck by the clamorous lament
  •                Of these wild wanderers from a plundered home,
  •                'Gainst the transgressors, wheresoe'er they roam,
  •                Sends an avenging Fury, sure though late.
  •           Thus against Paris in his ire
  •           Jove, God of hospitable rites, hath sent
  •           Th'Atridæ to be ministers of Fate: –
  •                   Wrestlings many and dire
  •                All for a double-mated woman,
  •                Both on Greek and Trojan foeman
  •                Imposing – ah! how many a knee
  •                Propped on the dust! what snapping, shivering
  •                Of spears in the crash of onset! – what a quivering
  •                   Of limbs o'erlaboured in death's agony!
  •                But come what may, beneath the sun
  •                All that on high is destined shall be done:
  •                For not by streams of sacrifice
  •                Nor tears that gush from downcast eyes,
  •                Nor hands upraised, mid supplicating cries,
  •                   A mortal man's impiety
  •                The wrath of righteous Heaven may ever hope to shun.
  • pg 191          But we, from that great armament omitted,
  •                Alas! unfitted
  •           For battle deeds, must here abide
  •                To second childhood grown
  •           Leaning upon a staff our weary gait to guide.
  •                For when glad youth is flown,
  •           Its fires extinct, its vigorous juices dried,
  •           Ah! then how perishes the pride
  •           Of our green summer foliage! – then we feebly stray
  •           On three feet weeping, and with waste of years
  •                Frail as a child the man appears –
  •           A pale and fleeting dream by the sun's light espied.
  •           But say, O child of Tyndarus, our Queen,
  •           What may this sudden splendour mean?
  •           What message coming to thine ears this day
  •           Has stirred thy spirit with a glad surprise
  •           That thus in joy's triumphant way
  •           Thou sendest all about to sacrifice?
  •           What, Clytemnestra, hast thou heard, what fame
  •           Has caused thee to light up this general flame?
  •                See all around
  •           Of every guardian Deity
  •           That rules within the city's bound,
  •           Earthly or heavenly, which soe'er he be,
  •           Yea and of each bright company
  •                O'er the Forum here presiding,
  •                Or in realms above residing,
  •                  With gifts the hallowed altars blaze.
  •                On this side and on that a torch of fire,
  •                 glittering torch the sacred hearths upraise;
  •                  Behold what unctuous fomentations,
  •                  With fragrant incense fraught,
  •                  What masses from the inner chambers brought
  •                    Of clotted oil, rich royal preparations,
  •                    Feed those keen flames that to the skies aspire!
  •                  Speak and of these things tell us whatsoe'er
  •                    Thou canst and mayst declare:
  •                  O be the healer of solicitude,
  •                  Which now o'erclouds our hearts with sadness
  • pg 192                 Now, while those fires, around us shining,
  •                    Betoken gladness
  •                  Gives place to Hope that hastes in joyous mood
  •                    To banish soul-consuming Care,
  •                    Of grief insatiate, with her blest divining.

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Editor’s Note
Page 190. 'First chorus in "The Agamemnon" of Æschylus' (RB, 1848). This is the only poem in a section headed 'Translations from the Classics', to which SC prefaces the following statement:

I think it was in February 1848, or early that year, that my brother-in-law J.T.C put me upon writing an article for the Quarterly. John's proposal was well meant and kind, and I gained a little sum by the article which led to my producing another on Dyce's Beaumont and Fletcher. I was at that time intent upon translating the Agamemnon of Æschylus into verse. I have since thought my time would have been better employed in the mere attempt at an Æschylean translation, than in criticising Tennyson's 'Princess', respecting which my opinion was of that intermediate cast, which disgusts parties on both sides. Some of my friends thought the piece scarce deserving a detailed examination: while the Poet's young enthusiastic admirers would endure no censure of it, and thought all criticism poor and inadequate, which did not represent the Poem as a sublime and pregnant allegory. How an allegory so obscure as this must be if it be an allegory at all, the sense of which never presented itself to readers in general, and was reserved for the discovery of a favoured few, is in my judgment, no successful product of the Muse of Poetry, and I cannot think The Princess will ever hold a higher rank amongst the works of genius than I assigned it in consequence of the explanation that Lilia means the Spirit of the Age, and Ida – I protest I know not what she was said to personify. Perhaps she was the Spirit of the Age and Lilia that of the Age gone by. But I talk in the dark and it matters not. What I meant to record only was that, as the critique of the Princess appeared in the Quarterly of March 1848, I broke off my Agamemnon attempt just before, and never afterwards had leisure to resume it. Over leaf I shall give the fragment of the Translation.

SC had for some time been interested in the problems of presenting Greek drama in the nineteenth century. In some diary pages from 1835 she criticised Thomas Talfourd's Ion, a success of the day: 'the spirit of the piece is exclusively modern. People did not "sleep and brood o'er their own hearts" in the days of Sophocles and Æschylus. But what could an imitation of a Greek Play by a modern Englishman be good for [. . .] A story really like the Oedipus Tyrannus or Antigone written at this time of day would be like an Automaton Venus made in leather; and moved by springs'.
At the end of the RB translation SC writes 'caetera desunt – eheu!' ('the rest is wanting – alas!'). On the following pages are transcribed 70 lines of variant readings, headed 'Variations'.
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