Lord Byron's Poems

Early Poems: The Episode of Nisus and Euryalus


Nisus, the guardian of the portal, stood,

Eager to gild his arms with hostile blood;

Well skill'd, in fight, the quivering lance to wield,

Or pour his arrows thro' th' embattled field:

From Ida torn, he left his sylvan cave, i

And sought a foreign home, a distant grave.

To watch the movements of the Daunian host,

With him Euryalus sustains the post;

No lovelier mien adorn'd the ranks of Troy,

And beardless bloom yet grac'd the gallant boy;10

Though few the seasons of his youthful life,

As yet a novice in the martial strife,

'Twas his, with beauty, Valour's gifts to share -

A soul heroic, as his form was fair:

These burn with one pure flame of generous love;

In peace, in war, united still they move;

Friendship and Glory form their joint reward;

And, now, combin'd they hold their nightly guard. ii

"What God," exclaim'd the first, "instils this fire?

Or, in itself a God, what great desire?20

My lab'ring soul, with anxious thought oppress'd,

Abhors this station of inglorious rest;

The love of fame with this can ill accord,

Be't mine to seek for glory with my sword.

See'st thou yon camp, with torches twinkling dim,

Where drunken slumbers wrap each lazy limb?

Where confidence and ease the watch disdain,

And drowsy Silence holds her sable reign?

Then hear my thought: - In deep and sullen grief

Our troops and leaders mourn their absent chief: 30

Now could the gifts and promised prize be thine,

(The deed, the danger, and the fame be mine,)

Were this decreed, beneath yon rising mound,

Methinks, an easy path, perchance, were found;

Which past, I speed my way to Pallas' walls,

And lead AEneas from Evander's halls."

With equal ardour fir'd, and warlike joy,

His glowing friend address'd the Dardan boy: -

"These deeds, my Nisus, shalt thou dare alone?

Must all the fame, the peril, be thine own?40

Am I by thee despis'd, and left afar,

As one unfit to share the toils of war?

Not thus his son the great Opheltes taught:

Not thus my sire in Argive combats fought;

Not thus, when Ilion fell by heavenly hate,

I track'd AEneas through the walks of fate:

Thou know'st my deeds, my breast devoid of fear,

And hostile life-drops dim my gory spear.

Here is a soul with hope immortal burns,

And 'life', ignoble 'life', for 'Glory' spurns. iii50

Fame, fame is cheaply earn'd by fleeting breath:

The price of honour, is the sleep of death."

Then Nisus: - "Calm thy bosom's fond alarms: iv

Thy heart beats fiercely to the din of arms.

More dear thy worth, and valour than my own,

I swear by him, who fills Olympus' throne!

So may I triumph, as I speak the truth,

And clasp again the comrade of my youth!

But should I fall, - and he, who dares advance

Through hostile legions, must abide by chance, -60

If some Rutulian arm, with adverse blow,

Should lay the friend, who ever lov'd thee, low,

Live thou - such beauties I would fain preserve -

Thy budding years a lengthen'd term deserve;

When humbled in the dust, let some one be,

Whose gentle eyes will shed one tear for me;

Whose manly arm may snatch me back by force,

Or wealth redeem, from foes, my captive corse;

Or, if my destiny these last deny,

If, in the spoiler's power, my ashes lie; 70

Thy pious care may raise a simple tomb,

To mark thy love, and signalise my doom.

Why should thy doating wretched mother weep

Her only boy, reclin'd in endless sleep?

Who, for thy sake, the tempest's fury dar'd,

Who, for thy sake, war's deadly peril shar'd;

Who brav'd what woman never brav'd before,

And left her native, for the Latian shore."

"In vain you damp the ardour of my soul,"

Replied Euryalus; "it scorns controul;80

Hence, let us haste!" - their brother guards arose,

Rous'd by their call, nor court again repose;

The pair, buoy'd up on Hope's exulting wing,

Their stations leave, and speed to seek the king.

Now, o'er the earth a solemn stillness ran,

And lull'd alike the cares of brute and man;

Save where the Dardan leaders, nightly, hold

Alternate converse, and their plans unfold.

On one great point the council are agreed,

An instant message to their prince decreed; 90

Each lean'd upon the lance he well could wield,

And pois'd with easy arm his ancient shield;

When Nisus and his friend their leave request,

To offer something to their high behest.

With anxious tremors, yet unaw'd by fear, v

The faithful pair before the throne appear;

Iulus greets them; at his kind command,

The elder, first, address'd the hoary band.

"With patience" (thus Hyrtacides began)

"Attend, nor judge, from youth, our humble plan.100

Where yonder beacons half-expiring beam,

Our slumbering foes of future conquest dream, vi

Nor heed that we a secret path have trac'd,

Between the ocean and the portal plac'd;

Beneath the covert of the blackening smoke,

Whose shade, securely, our design will cloak!

If you, ye Chiefs, and Fortune will allow,

We'll bend our course to yonder mountain's brow,

Where Pallas' walls, at distance, meet the sight,

Seen o'er the glade, when not obscur'd by night:110

Then shall AEneas in his pride return,

While hostile matrons raise their offspring's urn;

And Latian spoils, and purpled heaps of dead

Shall mark the havoc of our Hero's tread;

Such is our purpose, not unknown the way,

Where yonder torrent's devious waters stray;

Oft have we seen, when hunting by the stream,

The distant spires above the valleys gleam."

Mature in years, for sober wisdom fam'd,

Mov'd by the speech, Alethes here exclaim'd, -120

"Ye parent gods! who rule the fate of Troy,

Still dwells the Dardan spirit in the boy;

When minds, like these, in striplings thus ye raise,

Yours is the godlike act, be yours the praise;

In gallant youth, my fainting hopes revive,

And Ilion's wonted glories still survive."

Then in his warm embrace the boys he press'd,

And, quivering, strain'd them to his aged breast;

With tears the burning cheek of each bedew'd,

And, sobbing, thus his first discourse renew'd: - 130

"What gift, my countrymen, what martial prize,

Can we bestow, which you may not despise?

Our Deities the first best boon have given -

Internal virtues are the gift of Heaven.

What poor rewards can bless your deeds on earth,

Doubtless await such young, exalted worth;

AEneas and Ascanius shall combine

To yield applause far, far surpassing mine."

Iulus then: - "By all the powers above!

By those Penates, who my country love!140

By hoary Vesta's sacred Fane, I swear,

My hopes are all in you, ye generous pair!

Restore my father, to my grateful sight,

And all my sorrows, yield to one delight.

Nisus! two silver goblets are thine own,

Sav'd from Arisba's stately domes o'erthrown;

My sire secured them on that fatal day,

Nor left such bowls an Argive robber's prey.

Two massy tripods, also, shall be thine,

Two talents polish'd from the glittering mine;150

An ancient cup, which Tyrian Dido gave,

While yet our vessels press'd the Punic wave:

But when the hostile chiefs at length bow down,

When great AEneas wears Hesperia's crown,

The casque, the buckler, and the fiery steed

Which Turnus guides with more than mortal speed,

Are thine; no envious lot shall then be cast,

I pledge my word, irrevocably past:

Nay more, twelve slaves, and twice six captive dames,

To soothe thy softer hours with amorous flames, 160

And all the realms, which now the Latins sway,

The labours of to-night shall well repay.

But thou, my generous youth, whose tender years

Are near my own, whose worth my heart reveres,

Henceforth, affection, sweetly thus begun,

Shall join our bosoms and our souls in one;

Without thy aid, no glory shall be mine,

Without thy dear advice, no great design;

Alike, through life, esteem'd, thou godlike boy,

In war my bulwark, and in peace my joy."170

To him Euryalus: - "No day shall shame

The rising glories which from this I claim.

Fortune may favour, or the skies may frown,

But valour, spite of fate, obtains renown.

Yet, ere from hence our eager steps depart,

One boon I beg, the nearest to my heart:

My mother, sprung from Priam's royal line,

Like thine ennobled, hardly less divine,

Nor Troy nor king Acestes' realms restrain

Her feeble age from dangers of the main;180

Alone she came, all selfish fears above, vii

A bright example of maternal love.

Unknown, the secret enterprise I brave,

Lest grief should bend my parent to the grave;

From this alone no fond adieus I seek,

No fainting mother's lips have press'd my cheek;

By gloomy Night and thy right hand I vow,

Her parting tears would shake my purpose now: viii

Do thou, my prince, her failing age sustain,

In thee her much-lov'd child may live again;190

Her dying hours with pious conduct bless,

Assist her wants, relieve her fond distress:

So dear a hope must all my soul enflame, ix

To rise in glory, or to fall in fame."

Struck with a filial care so deeply felt,

In tears at once the Trojan warriors melt;

Faster than all, Iulus' eyes o'erflow!

Such love was his, and such had been his woe.

"All thou hast ask'd, receive," the Prince replied;

"Nor this alone, but many a gift beside.200

To cheer thy mother's years shall be my aim,

Creusa's 2 style but wanting to the dame;

Fortune an adverse wayward course may run,

But bless'd thy mother in so dear a son.

Now, by my life! - my Sire's most sacred oath -

To thee I pledge my full, my firmest troth,

All the rewards which once to thee were vow'd, x

If thou should'st fall, on her shall be bestow'd."

Thus spoke the weeping Prince, then forth to view

A gleaming falchion from the sheath he drew;210

Lycaon's utmost skill had grac'd the steel,

For friends to envy and for foes to feel:

A tawny hide, the Moorish lion's spoil, xi

Slain 'midst the forest in the hunter's toil,

Mnestheus to guard the elder youth bestows, xii

And old Alethes' casque defends his brows;

Arm'd, thence they go, while all th' assembl'd train,

To aid their cause, implore the gods in vain. xiii

More than a boy, in wisdom and in grace,

Iulus holds amidst the chiefs his place:220

His prayer he sends; but what can prayers avail,

Lost in the murmurs of the sighing gale? xiv

The trench is pass'd, and favour'd by the night,

Through sleeping foes, they wheel their wary flight.

When shall the sleep of many a foe be o'er?

Alas! some slumber, who shall wake no more!

Chariots and bridles, mix'd with arms, are seen,

And flowing flasks, and scatter'd troops between:

Bacchus and Mars, to rule the camp, combine;

A mingled Chaos this of war and wine. 230

"Now," cries the first, "for deeds of blood prepare,

With me the conquest and the labour share:

Here lies our path; lest any hand arise,

Watch thou, while many a dreaming chieftain dies;

I'll carve our passage, through the heedless foe,

And clear thy road, with many a deadly blow."

His whispering accents then the youth repress'd,

And pierced proud Rhamnes through his panting breast:

Stretch'd at his ease, th' incautious king repos'd;

Debauch, and not fatigue, his eyes had clos'd;240

To Turnus dear, a prophet and a prince,

His omens more than augur's skill evince;

But he, who thus foretold the fate of all,

Could not avert his own untimely fall.

Next Remus' armour-bearer, hapless, fell,

And three unhappy slaves the carnage swell;

The charioteer along his courser's sides

Expires, the steel his sever'd neck divides;

And, last, his Lord is number'd with the dead:

Bounding convulsive, flies the gasping head;250

From the swol'n veins the blackening torrents pour;

Stain'd is the couch and earth with clotting gore.

Young Lamyrus and Lamus next expire,

And gay Serranus, fill'd with youthful fire;

Half the long night in childish games was pass'd; xv

Lull'd by the potent grape, he slept at last:

Ah! happier far, had he the morn survey'd,

And, till Aurora's dawn, his skill display'd. xvi

In slaughter'd folds, the keepers lost in sleep, xvii

His hungry fangs a lion thus may steep; 260

'Mid the sad flock, at dead of night he prowls,

With murder glutted, and in carnage rolls

Insatiate still, through teeming herds he roams; xviii

In seas of gore, the lordly tyrant foams.

Nor less the other's deadly vengeance came,

But falls on feeble crowds without a name;

His wound unconscious Fadus scarce can feel,

Yet wakeful Rhaesus sees the threatening steel;

His coward breast behind a jar he hides,

And, vainly, in the weak defence confides;270

Full in his heart, the falchion search'd his veins,

The reeking weapon bears alternate stains;

Through wine and blood, commingling as they flow,

One feeble spirit seeks the shades below.

Now where Messapus dwelt they bend their way,

Whose fires emit a faint and trembling ray;

There, unconfin'd, behold each grazing steed,

Unwatch'd, unheeded, on the herbage feed: xix

Brave Nisus here arrests his comrade's arm,

Too flush'd with carnage, and with conquest warm: 280

"Hence let us haste, the dangerous path is pass'd;

Full foes enough, to-night, have breath'd their last:

Soon will the Day those Eastern clouds adorn;

Now let us speed, nor tempt the rising morn."

What silver arms, with various art emboss'd,

What bowls and mantles, in confusion toss'd,

They leave regardless! yet one glittering prize

Attracts the younger Hero's wandering eyes;

The gilded harness Rhamnes' coursers felt,

The gems which stud the monarch's golden belt:290

This from the pallid corse was quickly torn,

Once by a line of former chieftains worn.

Th' exulting boy the studded girdle wears,

Messapus' helm his head, in triumph, bears;

Then from the tents their cautious steps they bend,

To seek the vale, where safer paths extend.

Just at this hour, a band of Latian horse

To Turnus' camp pursue their destin'd course:

While the slow foot their tardy march delay,

The knights, impatient, spur along the way: 300

Three hundred mail-clad men, by Volscens led,

To Turnus with their master's promise sped:

Now they approach the trench, and view the walls,

When, on the left, a light reflection falls;

The plunder'd helmet, through the waning night,

Sheds forth a silver radiance, glancing bright;

Volscens, with question loud, the pair alarms: -

"Stand, Stragglers! stand! why early thus in arms?

From whence? to whom?" - He meets with no reply;

Trusting the covert of the night, they fly: 310

The thicket's depth, with hurried pace, they tread,

While round the wood the hostile squadron spread.

With brakes entangled, scarce a path between,

Dreary and dark appears the sylvan scene:

Euryalus his heavy spoils impede,

The boughs and winding turns his steps mislead;

But Nisus scours along the forest's maze,

To where Latinus' steeds in safety graze,

Then backward o'er the plain his eyes extend,

On every side they seek his absent friend.320

"O God! my boy," he cries, "of me bereft, xx

In what impending perils art thou left!"

Listening he runs - above the waving trees,

Tumultuous voices swell the passing breeze;

The war-cry rises, thundering hoofs around

Wake the dark echoes of the trembling ground.

Again he turns - of footsteps hears the noise -

The sound elates - the sight his hope destroys:

The hapless boy a ruffian train surround, xxi

While lengthening shades his weary way confound;330

Him, with loud shouts, the furious knights pursue,

Struggling in vain, a captive to the crew. xxii

What can his friend 'gainst thronging numbers dare?

Ah! must he rush, his comrade's fate to share?

What force, what aid, what stratagem essay,

Back to redeem the Latian spoiler's prey?

His life a votive ransom nobly give,

Or die with him, for whom he wish'd to live?

Poising with strength his lifted lance on high,

On Luna's orb he cast his frenzied eye: - 340

"Goddess serene, transcending every star! xxiii

Queen of the sky, whose beams are seen afar!

By night Heaven owns thy sway, by day the grove,

When, as chaste Dian, here thou deign'st to rove;

If e'er myself, or Sire, have sought to grace

Thine altars, with the produce of the chase,

Speed, speed my dart to pierce yon vaunting crowd,

To free my friend, and scatter far the proud."

Thus having said, the hissing dart he flung;

Through parted shades the hurtling weapon sung; 350

The thirsty point in Sulmo's entrails lay,

Transfix'd his heart, and stretch'd him on the clay:

He sobs, he dies, - the troop in wild amaze,

Unconscious whence the death, with horror gaze;

While pale they stare, thro' Tagus' temples riven,

A second shaft, with equal force is driven:

Fierce Volscens rolls around his lowering eyes;

Veil'd by the night, secure the Trojan lies. xxiv

Burning with wrath, he view'd his soldiers fall.

"Thou youth accurst, thy life shall pay for all!" 360

Quick from the sheath his flaming glaive he drew,

And, raging, on the boy defenceless flew.

Nisus, no more the blackening shade conceals,

Forth, forth he starts, and all his love reveals;

Aghast, confus'd, his fears to madness rise,

And pour these accents, shrieking as he flies;

"Me, me, - your vengeance hurl on me alone;

Here sheathe the steel, my blood is all your own;

Ye starry Spheres! thou conscious Heaven! attest!

He could not - durst not - lo! the guile confest! 370

All, all was mine, - his early fate suspend;

He only lov'd, too well, his hapless friend:

Spare, spare, ye Chiefs! from him your rage remove;

His fault was friendship, all his crime was love."

He pray'd in vain; the dark assassin's sword

Pierced the fair side, the snowy bosom gor'd;

Lowly to earth inclines his plume-clad crest,

And sanguine torrents mantle o'er his breast:

As some young rose whose blossom scents the air,

Languid in death, expires beneath the share;380

Or crimson poppy, sinking with the shower,

Declining gently, falls a fading flower;

Thus, sweetly drooping, bends his lovely head,

And lingering Beauty hovers round the dead.

But fiery Nisus stems the battle's tide,

Revenge his leader, and Despair his guide; xxv

Volscens he seeks amidst the gathering host,

Volscens must soon appease his comrade's ghost;

Steel, flashing, pours on steel, foe crowds on foe;

Rage nerves his arm, Fate gleams in every blow; 390

In vain beneath unnumber'd wounds he bleeds,

Nor wounds, nor death, distracted Nisus heeds;

In viewless circles wheel'd his falchion flies,

Nor quits the hero's grasp till Volscens dies;

Deep in his throat its end the weapon found,

The tyrant's soul fled groaning through the wound. xxvi

Thus Nisus all his fond affection prov'd -

Dying, revenged the fate of him he lov'd;

Then on his bosom sought his wonted place, xxvii

And death was heavenly, in his friend's embrace!400

Celestial pair! if aught my verse can claim,

Wafted on Time's broad pinion, yours is fame! xxviii

Ages on ages shall your fate admire,

No future day shall see your names expire,

While stands the Capitol, immortal dome!

And vanquished millions hail their Empress, Rome!

Footnote 1: Lines 1-18 were first published in 'P. on V. Occasions', under the title of "Fragment of a Translation from the 9th Book of Virgil's 'AEneid'."

Footnote 2: The mother of Iulus, lost on the night when Troy was taken.

Footnote i:

'Him Ida sent, a hunter, now no more,

To combat foes, upon a foreign shore;

Near him, the loveliest of the Trojan band,

Did fair Euryalus, his comrade, stand;

Few are the seasons of his youthful life,

As yet a novice in the martial strife:

The Gods to him unwonted gifts impart,

A female's beatify, with a hero's heart.

'P. on V. Occasions.'

From Ida torn he left his native grove,

Through distant climes, and trackless seas to rove.'

'Hours of Idleness.'

Footnote ii:

'And now combin'd, the massy gate they guard'.

'P. on V. Occasions'.

- they hold the nightly guard'.

'Hours of Idleness'.

Footnote iii:

And Love, and Life alike the glory spurned.

'MS. Newstead'.

Footnote iv:

Then Nisus, "Ah, my friend - why thus suspect

Thy youthful breast admits of no defect."

'MS. Newstead'.

Footnote v:

Trembling with diffidence not awed by fear.

'MS. Newstead'.

Footnote vi:

The vain Rutulians lost in slumber dream.

'MS. Newstead'.

Footnote vii:

'Hither she came --- .

'Hours of Idleness.'

Footnote viii:

'Her falling tears --- .

'MS. Newstead'.

Footnote ix:

'With this assurance Fate's attempts are vain;

Fearless I dare the foes of yonder plain.

'MS. Newstead'.

Footnote x:

'That all the gifts which once to thee were vowed.

'MS. Newstead'.

Footnote xi:

'A tawny skin the furious lion's spoil.

'MS. Newstead'.

Footnote xii:

'Mnestheus presented, and the Warrior's mask

Alethes gave a doubly temper'd casque.

'MS. Newstead'.

Footnote xiii:

'To glad their journey, follow them in vain.

'MS. Newstead'.

Footnote xiv:

'Dispersed and scattered on the sighing gale.

'MS. Newstead'.

Footnote xv:

'By Bacchus' potent draught weigh'd down at last

Half the long night in childish games was past.

'MS. Newstead'.

Footnote xvi:

' - disportive play'd.

'MS. Newstead'.

Footnote xvii:

By hunger prest, the keeper lull'd to sleep

In slaughter thus a Lyon's fangs may steep.

'MS. Newstead'.

Footnote xviii:

Through teeming herds unchecked, unawed, he roams.

'MS. Newstead'.

Footnote xix:

Heedless of danger on the herbage feed.

'MS. Newstead'.

Footnote xx:

-- 'of thee bereft

In what dire perils is my brother left.'

'MS. Newstead'.

Footnote xxi:

Then his lov'd boy the ruffian band surround

Entangled in the tufted Forest ground.

'MS. Newstead'.

Footnote xxii:

'At length a captive to the hostile crew'.

'MS. Newstead'.

Footnote xxiii:

'The Goddess bright transcending every star'.

'MS. Newstead'.

Footnote xxiv:

'No object meets them but the earth and skies.

He burns for vengeance, rising in his wrath -

Then you, accursed, thy life shall pay for both;

Then from the sheath his flaming brand he drew,

And on the raging boy defenceless flew.

Nisus no more the blackening shade conceals,

Forth forth he rushed and all his love reveals;

Pale and confused his fear to madness grows,

And thus in accents mild he greets his Foes.

"On me, on me, direct your impious steel,

Let me and me alone your vengeance feel -

Let not a stripling's blood by Chiefs be spilt,

Be mine the Death, as mine was all the guilt.

By Heaven and Hell, the powers of Earth and Air.

Yon guiltless stripling neither could nor dare:

Spare him, oh! spare by all the Gods above,

A hapless boy whose only crime was Love."

He prayed in vain; the fierce assassin's sword

Pierced the fair side, the snowy bosom gored;

Drooping to earth inclines his lovely head,

O'er his fair curls, the purpling stream is spread.

As some sweet lily, by the ploughshare broke

Languid in Death, sinks down beneath the stroke;

Or, as some poppy, bending with the shower,

Gently declining falls a waning flower'.

'MS. Newstead'.

Footnote xxv:

'Revenge his object'.

'MS. Newstead'.

Footnote xxvi:

'The assassin's soul'.

'MS. Newstead'.

Footnote xxvii:

'Then on his breast he sought his wonted place,

And Death was lovely in his Friend's embrace'.

'MS. Newstead'.

Footnote xxviii:

'Yours are the fairest wreaths of endless Fame.'

'MS. Newstead'.