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Thus spake the hag
And through redoubled night, a squalid veil
Swathing her pallid features, stole among
Unburied carcases. Fast fled the wolves,
The carrion birds with maw unsatisfied
Relaxed their talons, as with creeping step
She sought her prophet. Firm must be the flesh
As yet, though cold in death, and firm the lungs
Untouched by wound. Now in the balance hung
The fates of slain unnumbered; had she striven
Armies to raise and order back to life
Whole ranks of warriors, the laws had failed
Of Erebus; and, summoned up from Styx,
Its ghostly tenants had obeyed her call,
And rising fought once more. At length the witch
Picks out her victim with pierced throat agape
Fit for her purpose. Gripped by pitiless hook
O'er rocks she drags him to the mountain cave
Accursed by her fell rites, that shall restore
The dead man's life. Close to the hidden brink
The land that girds the precipice of hell
Sinks towards the depths: with ever falling leaves
A wood o'ershadows, and a spreading yew
Casts shade impenetrable. Foul decay
Fills all the space, and in the deep recess
Darkness unbroken, save by chanted spells,
Reigns ever. Not where gape the misty jaws
Of caverned Taenarus, the gloomy bound
Of either world, through which the nether kings
Permit the passage of the dead to earth,
So poisonous, mephitic, hangs the air.
Nay, though the witch had power to call the shades
Forth from the depths, 'twas doubtful if the cave
Were not a part of hell. Discordant hues
Flamed on her garb as by a fury worn;
Bare was her visage, and upon her brow
Dread vipers hissed, beneath her streaming locks
In sable coils entwined. But when she saw
The youth's companions trembling, and himself
With eyes cast down, with visage as of death,
Thus spake the witch: ' Forbid your craven souls
'These fears to cherish: soon returning life
'This frame shall quicken, and in tones which reach
Even the timorous ear shall speak the man.
'If I have power the Stygian lakes to show,
The bank that sounds with fire, the fury band,
'And giants fettered, and the hound that shakes
'Bristling with heads of snakes his triple head,
What fear is this that cringes at the sight
Of timid shivering shades? '
Then to her prayer.
First through his gaping bosom blood she pours
Still fervent, washing from his wounds the gore.
Then copious poisons from the moon distils
Mixed with all monstrous things which Nature's pangs
Bring to untimely birth; the froth from dogs
Stricken with madness, foaming at the stream;
A lynx's entrails: and the knot that grows
Upon the fell hyaena; flesh of stags
Fed upon serpents; and the sucking fish
Which holds the vessel back1 though eastern winds
Make bend the canvas; dragon's eyes; and stones
That sound beneath the brooding eagle's wings.
Nor Araby's viper, nor the ocean snake
Who in the Red Sea waters guards the shell,
Are wanting; nor the slough on Libyan sands
By horned reptile cast; nor ashes fail
Snatched from an altar where the Phoenix died.
And viler poisons many, which herself
Has made, she adds, whereto no name is given:
Pestiferous leaves pregnant with magic chants
And blades of grass which in their primal growth
Her cursed mouth had slimed. Last came her voice
More potent than all herbs to charm the gods
Who rule in Lethe. Dissonant murmurs first
And sounds discordant from the tongues of men
She utters, scarce articulate: the bay
Of wolves, and barking as of dogs, were mixed
With that fell chant; the screech of nightly owl
Raising her hoarse complaint; the howl of beast
And sibilant hiss of snake-all these were there;
And more-the wail of waters on the rock,
The sound of forests and the thunder peal.
Such was her voice; but soon in clearer tones
Reaching to Tartarus, she raised her song:
' Ye awful goddesses, avenging power
' Of Hell upon the damned, and Chaos huge
' Who striv'st to mix innumerable worlds,
' And Pluto, king of earth, whose weary soul
' Grieves at his godhead; Styx; and plains of bliss
' We may not enter: and thou, Proserpine,
' Hating thy mother and the skies above,
' My patron goddess, last and lowest form2
' Of Hecate, through whom the shades and I
' Hold silent converse; warder of the gate
' Who castest human offal to the dog:
' Ye sisters who shall spin the threads again; 3
' And thou, O boatman of the burning wave,
' Now wearied of the shades from hell to me
' Returning, hear me if with voice I cry
' Abhorred, polluted; if the flesh of man
' Hath ne'er been absent from my proffered song,
Flesh washed with brains still quivering; if the child
Whose severed head I placed upon the dish
But for this hand had lived-a listening ear
Lend to my supplication! From the caves
'Hid in the innermost recess of hell
' I claim no soul long banished from the light.
' For one but now departed, lingering still
' Upon the brink of Orcus, is my prayer.
Grant (for ye may) that listening to the spell
'Once more he seek his dust; and let the shade
Of this our soldier perished (if the war
Well at your hands has merited), proclaim
The destiny of Magnus to his son.'
Such prayers she uttered; then upraised her head
And foaming lips, and present saw the ghost.
Hard by he stood, beside the hated corpse
His ancient prison, and loathed to enter in.
There was the yawning chest where fell the blow
That was his death; and yet the gift supreme
Of death, his right, (Ah, wretch! ) was reft away.
Angered at Death the witch, and at the pause
Conceded by the fates, with living snake
Scourges the nerveless corse; and on the dead
She barks through fissures gaping to her song,
Breaking the silence of their gloomy home:
' Tisiphone, Megaera, heed ye not?
Flies not this wretched soul before your whips
' The void of Erebus? By your very names,
' She-dogs of hell, I'll call you to the day,
Not to return; through sepulchres and death
Your gaoler: from funereal urns and tombs
I'll chase you forth. And thou, too, Hecate,
Who to the gods in comely shape and mien,
Not that of Erebus, appear'st, henceforth
Wasted and pallid as thou art in hell
'At my command shalt come. I'll noise abroad
The banquet that beneath the solid earth
Holds thee, thou maid of Enna; by what bond
'Thou lov'st night's King, by what mysterious stain
Infected, so that Ceres fears from hell
'To call her daughter. And for thee, base king,
'Titan shall pierce thy caverns with his rays
And sudden day shall smite thee. Do ye hear?
'Or shall I summon to mine aid that god
'At whose dread name earth trembles; who can look
Unflinching on the Gorgon's head, and drive
'The Furies with his scourge, who holds the depths
' Ye cannot fathom, and above whose haunts
Ye dwell supernal; who by waves of Styx
Forswears himself unpunished? '
3 That is, for the second life of her victim.
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