The Bacchae

Lines 520-774


Some Maidens

Achelous' roaming daughter,

Holy Dirce, virgin water,

Bathed he not of old in thee,

The Babe of God, the Mystery?

When from out the fire immortal

To himself his God did take him,

To his own flesh, and bespake him:

"Enter now life's second portal,

Motherless Mystery; lo, I break

Mine own body for thy sake,

Thou of the Twofold Door, and seal thee

Mine, O Bromios," - thus he spake -

"And to this thy land reveal thee."


Still my prayer toward thee quivers,

Dirce, still to thee I hie me;

Why, O Blessed among Rivers,

Wilt thou fly me and deny me?

By His own joy I vow,

By the grape upon the bough,

Thou shalt seek Him in the midnight, thou shalt love Him, even now!

Other Maidens

Dark and of the dark impassioned

Is this Pentheus' blood; yea, fashioned

Of the Dragon, and his birth

From Echion, child of Earth.

He is no man, but a wonder;

Did the Earth-Child not beget him,

As a red Giant, to set him

Against God, against the Thunder?

He will bind me for his prize,

Me, the Bride of Dionyse;

And my priest, my friend, is taken

Even now, and buried lies;

In the dark he lies forsaken!


Lo, we race with death, we perish,

Dionysus, here before thee!

Dost thou mark us not, nor cherish,

Who implore thee, and adore thee?

Hither down Olympus' side,

Come, O Holy One defied,

Be thy golden wand uplifted o'er the tyrant in his pride!

A Maiden

Oh, where art thou? In thine own

Nysa, thou our help alone?

O'er fierce beasts in orient lands

Doth thy thronging thyrsus wave,

By the high Corycian Cave,

Or where stern Olympus stands;

In the elm-woods and the oaken,

There where Orpheus harped of old,

And the trees awoke and knew him,

And the wild things gathered to him,

As he sang amid the broken

Glens his music manifold?

Dionysus loveth thee;

Blessed Land of Pierie,

He will come to thee with dancing,

Come with joy and mystery;

With the Maenads at his hest

Winding, winding to the West;

Cross the flood of swiftly glancing

Axios in majesty;

Cross the Lydias, the giver

Of good gifts and waving green;

Cross that Father-Stream of story,

Through a land of steeds and glory

Rolling, bravest, fairest River

E'er of mortals seen!


Io! Io!

Awake, ye damsels; hear my cry,

Calling my Chosen; hearken ye!


Who speaketh? Oh, what echoes thus?


A Voice, a Voice, that calleth us!


Be of good cheer! Lo, it is I,

The Child of Zeus and Semele.


O Master, Master, it is Thou!


O Holy Voice, be with us now!


Spirit of the Chained Earthquake,

Hear my word; awake, awake!

[An Earthquake suddenly shakes the pillars of the Castle.]


Ha! what is coming? Shall the hall

Of Pentheus racked in ruin fall?


Our God is in the house! Ye maids adore Him!


We adore Him all!


Unveil the Lightning's eye; arouse

The fire that sleeps, against this house!

[Fire leaps upon the Tomb of Semele.]


Ah, saw ye, marked ye there the flame

From Semele's enhallowed sod

Awakened? Yea, the Death that came

Ablaze from heaven of old, the same

Hot splendour of the shaft of God?


Oh cast ye, cast ye, to the earth! The Lord

Cometh against this house! Oh, cast ye down,

Ye trembling damsels; He, our own adored,

God's Child hath come, and all is overthrown!

[The Maidens cast themselves upon the ground, their eyes earthward.

DIONYSUS, alone and unbound, enters from the Castle.]


Ye Damsels of the Morning Hills, why lie ye thus dismayed?

Ye marked him, then, our Master, and the mighty hand he laid

On tower and rock, shaking the house of Pentheus? - But arise,

And cast the trembling from your flesh, and lift untroubled eyes.


O Light in Darkness, is it thou? O Priest, is this thy face?

My heart leaps out to greet thee from the deep of loneliness.


Fell ye so quick despairing, when beneath the Gate I passed?

Should the gates of Pentheus quell me, or his darkness make me fast?


Oh, what was left if thou wert gone? What could I but despair?

How hast thou 'scaped the man of sin? Who freed thee from the snare?


I had no pain nor peril; 'twas mine own hand set me free.


Thine arms were gyved!


Nay, no gyve, no touch, was laid on me!

'Twas there I mocked him, in his gyves, and gave him dreams for food.

For when he laid me down, behold, before the stall there stood

A Bull of Offering. And this King, he bit his lips and straight

Fell on and bound it, hoof and limb, with gasping wrath and sweat.

And I sat watching! - Then a Voice; and lo, our Lord was come,

And the house shook, and a great flame stood o'er his mother's tomb.

And Pentheus hied this way and that, and called his thralls amain

For water, lest his roof-tree burn; and all toiled, all in vain.

Then deemed a-sudden I was gone; and left his fire, and sped

Back to the prison portals, and his lifted sword shone red.

But there, methinks, the God had wrought - I speak but as I guess -

Some dream-shape in mine image; for he smote at emptiness,

Stabbed in the air, and strove in wrath, as though 'twere me he slew.

Then 'mid his dreams God smote him yet again! He overthrew

All that high house. And there in wreck for evermore it lies,

That the day of this my bondage may be sore in Pentheus' eyes!

And now his sword is fallen, and he lies outworn and wan

Who dared to rise against his God in wrath, being but man.

And I uprose and left him, and in all peace took my path

Force to my Chosen, recking light of Pentheus and his wrath.

But soft, methinks a footstep sounds even now within the hall;

'Tis he; how think ye he will stand, and what words speak withal?

I will endure him gently, though he come in fury hot.

For still are the ways of Wisdom, and her temper trembleth not!

[Enter PENTHEUS in fury]


It is too much! This Eastern knave hath slipped

His prison, whom I held but now, hard gripped

In bondage. - Ha! 'Tis he! - What, sirrah, how

Show'st thou before my portals?

[He advances furiously upon him.]


And set a quiet carriage to thy rage.


How comest thou here? How didst thou break thy cage?



Said I not, or didst thou mark not me,

There was One living that should set me free?


Who? Ever wilder are these tales of thine.


He who first made for man the clustered vine.


I scorn him and his vines.


For Dionyse

'Tis well; for in thy scorn his glory lies.

PENTHEUS (to his guard)

Go swift to all the towers, and bar withal

Each gate!


What, cannot God o'erleap a wall?


Oh, wit thou hast, save where thou needest it!


Whereso it most imports, there is my wit! -

Nay, peace! Abide till he who hasteth from

The mountain side with news for thee, be come.

We will not fly, but wait on thy command.

[Enter suddenly and in haste a Messenger from the Mountain.]


Great Pentheus, Lord of all this Theban land,

I come from high Kithaeron, where the frore

Snow spangles gleam and cease not evermore....


And what of import may thy coming bring?


I have seen the Wild White Women there, O King,

Whose fleet limbs darted arrow-like but now

From Thebes away, and come to tell thee how

They work strange deeds and passing marvel. Yet

I first would learn thy pleasure. Shall I set

My whole tale forth, or veil the stranger part?

Yea Lord, I fear the swiftness of thy heart,

Thine edged wrath and more than royal soul.


Thy tale shall nothing scathe thee. - Tell the whole.

It skills not to be wroth with honesty.

Nay, if thy news of them be dark, 'tis he

Shall pay it, who bewitched and led them on.


Our herded kine were moving in the dawn

Up to the peaks, the greyest, coldest time,

When the first rays steal earthward, and the rime

Yields, when I saw three bands of them. The one

Autonoe led, one Ino, one thine own

Mother, Agave. There beneath the trees

Sleeping they lay, like wild things flung at ease

In the forest; one half sinking on a bed

Of deep pine greenery; one with careless head

Amid the fallen oak leaves; all most cold

In purity - not as thy tale was told

Of wine-cups and wild music and the chase

For love amid the forest's loneliness.

Then rose the Queen Agave suddenly

Amid her band, and gave the God's wild cry,

"Awake, ye Bacchanals! I hear the sound

Of horned kine. Awake ye!" - Then, all round,

Alert, the warm sleep fallen from their eyes,

A marvel of swift ranks I saw them rise,

Dames young and old, and gentle maids unwed

Among them. O'er their shoulders first they shed

Their tresses, and caught up the fallen fold

Of mantles where some clasp had loosened hold,

And girt the dappled fawn-skins in with long

Quick snakes that hissed and writhed with quivering tongue.

And one a young fawn held, and one a wild

Wolf cub, and fed them with white milk, and smiled

In love, young mothers with a mother's breast

And babes at home forgotten! Then they pressed

Wreathed ivy round their brows, and oaken sprays

And flowering bryony. And one would raise

Her wand and smite the rock, and straight a jet

Of quick bright water came. Another set

Her thyrsus in the bosomed earth, and there

Was red wine that the God sent up to her,

A darkling fountain. And if any lips

Sought whiter draughts, with dipping finger-tips

They pressed the sod, and gushing from the ground

Came springs of milk. And reed-wands ivy-crowned

Ran with sweet honey, drop by drop. - O King,

Hadst thou been there, as I, and seen this thing,

With prayer and most high wonder hadst thou gone

To adore this God whom now thou rail'st upon!

Howbeit, the kine-wardens and shepherds straight

Came to one place, amazed, and held debate;

And one being there who walked the streets and scanned

The ways of speech, took lead of them whose hand

Knew but the slow soil and the solemn hill,

And flattering spoke, and asked: "Is it your will,

Masters, we stay the mother of the King,

Agave, from her lawless worshipping,

And win us royal thanks?" - And this seemed good

To all; and through the branching underwood

We hid us, cowering in the leaves. And there

Through the appointed hour they made their prayer

And worship of the Wand, with one accord

Of heart and cry - "Iacchos, Bromios, Lord,

God of God born!" - And all the mountain felt,

And worshipped with them; and the wild things knelt

And ramped and gloried, and the wilderness

Was filled with moving voices and dim stress.

Soon, as it chanced, beside my thicket-close

The Queen herself passed dancing, and I rose

And sprang to seize her. But she turned her face

Upon me: "Ho, my rovers of the chase,

My wild White Hounds, we are hunted! Up, each rod

And follow, follow, for our Lord and God!"

Thereat, for fear they tear us, all we fled

Amazed; and on, with hand unweaponed

They swept toward our herds that browsed the green

Hill grass. Great uddered kine then hadst thou seen

Bellowing in sword-like hands that cleave and tear,

A live steer riven asunder, and the air

Tossed with rent ribs or limbs of cloven tread,

And flesh upon the branches, and a red

Rain from the deep green pines. Yea, bulls of pride,

Horns swift to rage, were fronted and aside

Flung stumbling, by those multitudinous hands

Dragged pitilessly. And swifter were the bands

Of garbed flesh and bone unbound withal

Than on thy royal eyes the lids may fall.

Then on like birds, by their own speed upborne,

They swept toward the plains of waving corn

That lie beside Asopus' banks, and bring

To Thebes the rich fruit of her harvesting.

On Hysiae and Erythrae that lie nursed

Amid Kithaeron's bowering rocks, they burst

Destroying, as a foeman's army comes.

They caught up little children from their homes,

High on their shoulders, babes unheld, that swayed

And laughed and fell not; all a wreck they made;

Yea, bronze and iron did shatter, and in play

Struck hither and thither, yet no wound had they;

Caught fire from out the hearths, yea, carried hot

Flames in their tresses and were scorched not!

The village folk in wrath took spear and sword,

And turned upon the Bacchae. Then, dread Lord,

The wonder was. For spear nor barbed brand

Could scathe nor touch the damsels; but the Wand,

The soft and wreathed wand their white hands sped,

Blasted those men and quelled them, and they fled

Dizzily. Sure some God was in these things!

And the holy women back to those strange springs

Returned, that God had sent them when the day

Dawned, on the upper heights; and washed away

The stain of battle. And those girdling snakes

Hissed out to lap the waterdrops from cheeks

And hair and breast.

Therefore I counsel thee

O King, receive this Spirit, whoe'er he be,

To Thebes in glory. Greatness manifold

Is all about him; and the tale is told

That this is he who first to man did give

The grief-assuaging vine. Oh, let him live;

For if he die, then Love herself is slain,

And nothing joyous in the world again!