DER BOTE in «Die Perser»

    Act III 

    The Messenger and Atossa. 


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    MESSENGER: 
    All our disaster, Queen! from spirit of ill
    Or vengeful power, none knoweth whence, began.
    For a Hellene from out the Athenian host
    Came to thy son, to Xerxes, with this tale,
    That when the gloom of dusky night set in,
    The Hellenès would not stay, but, springing straight
    On to the benches of their ships, would seek, ⁠
    Some here, some there, safety by secret flight.
    But he, when he had heard, perceiving not
    The Hellenic guile, or envy of the gods,
    To all his captains issues this command;
    When with his beams the sun to scorch the earth
    Should cease, and darkness hold the expanse of sky,
    Their squadrons they should marshal in three lines,
    Guarding the outlets and the billowy straits,
    And others station around Aias' isle:— ⁠
    For did the Hellenès 'scape a wretched fate,
    Finding by stealth an outlet for their ships,
    Stern was the warning,—every head should fall.
    Such words he spake from mind infatuate,
    For what impended from the gods he knew not.
    And they, without disorder, but with minds
    Obedient to command, their meal prepared,
    And round true-fitting lock each mariner
    Strapp'd well his oar. But when the sunlight waned
    And night came on, each master of an oar
    Went to his ship, and each one versed in arms;
    Of the long galleys line still cheering line,
    Forth sail they, as to each had been prescribed.
    And through the live-long night the admirals,
    With naval force entire, cruised to and fro.
    Darkness advanced, yet not in secret flight
    Ionia's host was minded to escape;
    But when white-steeded Day, bright to behold,
    Held the wide earth, from the Hellenès first,
    Like joyous chant, rang out their battle-cry, ⁠
    And forthwith Echo, from the island rocks,
    Sent back responsive an inspiring shout.
    On all the Persians, cheated in their hopes,
    Fell terror; for by no means as in flight
    Their solemn pæan did th' Hellenès sing,
    But with stout courage speeding to the fray.
    The trumpet's blare fired all their ranks, and straight,
    With simultaneous dip of sounding oar,
    They at the signal smote the surging brine,
    And instant all conspicuous were to sight. ⁠
    First the right wing, well marshall'd, took the lead:
    Then their whole naval force in fair array
    Bore down against us. All at once was heard
    A mighty shout: "Sons of Hellenès, on,
    Your country free, your children free, your wives,
    The temples of your fathers' deities,
    Your tombs ancestral; for your all ye fight."
    And from our side clamour of Persian speech
    In answer rose; no time was then for pause,
    But instant galley against galley dashed ⁠
    Her armature of brass. A ship of Hellas
    Led the encounter, and from Punic barque
    Sheared her high crest. Thereon as fortune led,
    Ship drave on ship; at first the Persian host,
    A mighty flood, made head; but soon their ships
    Thronged in the strait, of mutual aid bereft,
    Each against other dashed with brazen beak,
    Crushing the oar-banks of their proper fleet;
    While the Hellenès ships, not without skill,
    Circling around them smote: dead hulks of ships ⁠
    Floated keel-upwards, and, with wrecks o'erstrewn
    And slaughtered men, lost was the sea from sight,
    Ay, shores and reefs were crowded with the dead.
    In flight disordered every ship was rowed,
    Poor remnant of the Persian armament.
    Then as men strike at tunnies, or a haul
    Of captured fishes, the Hellenès, armed
    With splint of oar, or fragment from the wreck,
    Batter'd, and clave with dislocating blows.
    Shrieks and loud wailing filled the ocean brine,
    Till all 'neath eye of swarthy night was lost.
    But all our losses, though for ten whole days
    I told them over, could I not recount.
    Of this be sure, that never in one day
    Perished of men so vast a multitude.

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