The Bacchae

Lines 775-1024


Albeit I tremble, and scarce may speak my thought

To a king's face, yet will I hide it not.

Dionyse is God, no God more true nor higher!


It bursts hard by us, like a smothered fire,

This frenzy of Bacchic women! All my land

Is made their mock. - This needs an iron hand!

Ho, Captain! Quick to the Electran Gate;

Bid gather all my men-at-arms thereat;

Call all that spur the charger, all who know

To wield the orbed targe or bend the bow;

We march to war - 'Fore God, shall women dare

Such deeds against us? 'Tis too much to bear!


Thou mark'st me not, O King, and holdest light

My solemn words; yet, in thine own despite,

I warn thee still. Lift thou not up thy spear

Against a God, but hold thy peace, and fear

His wrath! He will not brook it, if thou fright

His Chosen from the hills of their delight.


Peace, thou! And if for once thou hast slipped chain,

Give thanks! - Or shall I knot thine arms again?


Better to yield him prayer and sacrifice

Than kick against the pricks, since Dionyse

Is God, and thou but mortal.


That will I!

Yea, sacrifice of women's blood, to cry

His name through all Kithaeron!


Ye shall fly,

All, and abase your shields of bronzen rim

Before their wands.


There is no way with him,

This stranger that so dogs us! Well or ill

I may entreat him, he must babble still!


Wait, good my friend! These crooked matters may

Even yet be straightened.

[PENTHEUS has started as though to seek his army at the gate.]


Aye, if I obey

Mine own slaves' will; how else?


Myself will lead

The damsels hither, without sword or steed.


How now? - This is some plot against me!



Dost fear? Only to save thee do I plot.


It is some compact ye have made, whereby

To dance these hills for ever!



That is my compact, plighted with my Lord!

PENTHEUS (turning from him)

Ho, armourers! Bring forth my shield and sword! -

And thou, be silent!

DIONYSUS (after regarding him fixedly, speaks with resignation)

Ah! - Have then thy will!

[He fixes his eyes upon PENTHEUS again, while the armourers bring out

his armour; then speaks in a tone of command.]

Man, thou wouldst fain behold them on the hill


PENTHEUS (who during the rest of this scene, with a few exceptions,

simply speaks the thoughts that DIONYSUS puts into him, losing power

over his own mind)

That would I, though it cost me all

The gold of Thebes!


So much? Thou art quick to fall

To such great longing.

PENTHEUS (somewhat bewildered at what he has said)

Aye; 'twould grieve me much

To see them flown with wine.


Yet cravest thou such

A sight as would much grieve thee?


Yes; I fain

Would watch, ambushed among the pines.


'Twere vain

To hide. They soon will track thee out.


Well said!

'Twere best done openly.


Wilt thou be led

By me, and try the venture?


Aye, indeed!

Lead on. Why should we tarry?


First we need

A rich and trailing robe of fine-linen

To gird thee.


Nay; am I a woman, then,

And no man more.


Wouldst have them slay thee dead?

No man may see their mysteries.


Well said' -

I marked thy subtle temper long ere now.


'Tis Dionyse that prompteth me.


And how

Mean'st thou the further plan?


First take thy way

Within. I will array thee.


What array!

The woman's? Nay, I will not.


Doth it change

So soon, all thy desire to see this strange



Wait! What garb wilt thou bestow

About me?


First a long tress dangling low

Beneath thy shoulders.


Aye, and next?


The same red

Robe, falling to thy feet; and on thine head

A snood.


And after? Hast thou aught beyond?


Surely; the dappled fawn-skin and the wand.

PENTHEUS (after a struggle with himself)

Enough! I cannot wear a robe and snood.


Wouldst liefer draw the sword and spill men's blood?

PENTHEUS (again doubting)

True, that were evil. - Aye; 'tis best to go

First to some place of watch.


Far wiser so,

Than seek by wrath wrath's bitter recompense.


What of the city streets? Canst lead me hence

Unseen of any?


Lonely and untried

Thy path from hence shall be, and I thy guide!


I care for nothing, so these Bacchanals

Triumph not against me! ...Forward to my halls

Within! - I will ordain what seemeth best.


So be it, O King! 'Tis mine to obey thine hest,

Whate'er it be.

PENTHEUS (after hesitating once more and waiting)

Well, I will go - perchance

To march and scatter them with serried lance.

Perchance to take thy plan.... I know not yet.

[Exit PENTHEUS into the Castle.]


Damsels, the lion walketh to the net!

He finds his Bacchae now, and sees and dies,

And pays for all his sin! - O Dionyse,

This is thine hour and thou not far away.

Grant us our vengeance! - First, O Master, stay

The course of reason in him, and instil

A foam of madness. Let his seeing will,

Which ne'er had stooped to put thy vesture on,

Be darkened, till the deed is lightly done.

Grant likewise that he find through all his streets

Loud scorn, this man of wrath and bitter threats

That made Thebes tremble, led in woman's guise.

I go to fold that robe of sacrifice

On Pentheus, that shall deck him to the dark.

His mother's gift! - So shall he learn and mark

God's true Son, Dionyse, in fulness God,

Most fearful, yet to man most soft of mood.

[Exit DIONYSUS, following PENTHEUS into Castle.]


Some Maidens

Will they ever come to me, ever again,

The long long dances,

On through the dark till the dim stars wane?

Shall I feel the dew on my throat, and the stream

Of wind in my hair? Shall our white feet gleam

In the dim expanses?

Oh, feet of a fawn to the greenwood fled,

Alone in the grass and the loveliness;

Leap of the hunted, no more in dread,

Beyond the snares and the deadly press:

Yet a voice still in the distance sounds,

A voice and a fear and a haste of hounds;

O wildly labouring, fiercely fleet,

Onward yet by river and glen ...

Is it joy or terror, ye storm-swift feet? ...

To the dear lone lands untroubled of men,

Where no voice sounds, and amid the shadowy green

The little things of the woodland live unseen.

What else is Wisdom? What of man's endeavour

Or God's high grace, so lovely and so great?

To stand from fear set free, to breathe and wait;

To hold a hand uplifted over Hate;

And shall not Loveliness be loved for ever?


O Strength of God, slow art thou and still,

Yet failest never!

On them that worship the Ruthless Will,

On them that dream, doth His judgment wait.

Dreams of the proud man, making great

And greater ever,

Things which are not of God. In wide

And devious coverts, hunter-wise,

He coucheth Time's unhasting stride,

Following, following, him whose eyes

Look not to Heaven. For all is vain,

The pulse of the heart, the plot of the brain,

That striveth beyond the laws that live.

And is thy Fate so much to give,

Is it so hard a thing to see,

That the Spirit of God, whate'er it be,

The Law that abides and changes not, ages long,

The Eternal and Nature-born - these things be strong?

What else is Wisdom? What of man's endeavour

Or God's high grace so lovely and so great?

To stand from fear set free, to breathe and wait;

To hold a hand uplifted over Hate;

And shall not Loveliness be loved for ever?


Happy he, on the weary sea

Who hath fled the tempest and won the haven.

Happy whoso hath risen, free,

Above his striving. For strangely graven

Is the orb of life, that one and another

In gold and power may outpass his brother,

And men in their millions float and flow

And seethe with a million hopes as leaven;

And they win their Will, or they miss their Will,

And the hopes are dead or are pined for still,

But whoe'er can know,

As the long days go,

That To Live is happy, hath found his Heaven!

[Re-enter DIONYSUS, from the Castle]


O eye that cravest sights thou must not see,

O heart athirst for that which slakes not! Thee,

Pentheus, I call; forth and be seen, in guise

Of woman, Maenad, saint of Dionyse,

To spy upon His Chosen and thine own


[Enter PENTHEUS, clad like a Bacchanal, and strangely excited,

a spirit of Bacchic madness overshadowing him.]

Thy shape, methinks, is like to one

Of Cadmus' royal maids!


Yea; and mine eye

Is bright! Yon sun shines twofold in the sky,

Thebes twofold and the Wall of Seven Gates....

And is it a Wild Bull this, that walks and waits

Before me? There are horns upon thy brow!

What art thou, man or beast! For surely now

The Bull is on thee!


He who erst was wrath,

Goes with us now in gentleness. He hath

Unsealed thine eyes to see what thou shouldst see.


Say; stand I not as Ino stands, or she

Who bore me?


When I look on thee, it seems

I see their very selves! - But stay; why streams

That lock abroad, not where I laid it, crossed

Under the coif?


I did it, as I tossed

My head in dancing, to and fro, and cried

His holy music!

DIONYSUS (tending him)

It shall soon be tied

Aright. 'Tis mine to tend thee. . . .Nay, but stand

With head straight.


In the hollow of thine hand

I lay me. Deck me as thou wilt.


Thy zone

Is loosened likewise; and the folded gown

Not evenly falling to the feet.


'Tis so,

By the right foot. But here methinks, they flow

In one straight line to the heel.

DIONYSUS (while tending him)

And if thou prove

Their madness true, aye, more than true, what love

And thanks hast thou for me?

PENTHEUS (not listening to him)

In my right hand

Is it, or thus, that I should bear the wand

To be most like to them?


Up let it swing

In the right hand, timed with the right foot's spring....

'Tis well thy heart is changed!

PENTHEUS (more wildly)

What strength is this!

Kithaeron's steeps and all that in them is -

How say'st thou? - Could my shoulders lift the whole?


Surely thou canst, and if thou wilt! Thy soul,

Being once so sick, now stands as it should stand.


Shall it be bars of iron? Or this bare hand

And shoulder to the crags, to wrench them down?


Wouldst wreck the Nymphs' wild temples, and the brown

Rocks, where Pan pipes at noonday?


Nay; not I!

Force is not well with women. I will lie

Hid in the pine-brake.


Even as fits a spy

On holy and fearful things, so shalt thou lie!

PENTHEUS (with a laugh)

They lie there now, methinks - the wild birds, caught

By love among the leaves, and fluttering not!


It may be. That is what thou goest to see,

Aye, and to trap them - so they trap not thee!


Forth through the Thebans' town! I am their king,

Aye, their one Man, seeing I dare this thing!


Yea, thou shalt bear their burden, thou alone;

Therefore thy trial awaiteth thee! - But on;

With me into thine ambush shalt thou come

Unscathed; then let another bear thee home!


The Queen, my mother.


Marked of every eye.


For that I go!


Thou shalt be borne on high!


That were like pride!


Thy mother's hands shall share

Thy carrying.


Nay; I need not such soft care!


So soft?


Whate'er it be, I have earned it well!

[Exit PENTHEUS towards the Mountain.]


Fell, fell art thou; and to a doom so fell

Thou walkest, that thy name from South to North

Shall shine, a sign for ever! - Reach thou forth

Thine arms, Agave, now, and ye dark-browed

Cadmeian sisters! Greet this prince so proud

To the high ordeal, where save God and me,

None walks unscathed! - The rest this day shall see.

[Exit DIONYSUS following PENTHEUS.]


Some Maidens

O hounds raging and blind,

Up by the mountain road,

Sprites of the maddened mind,

To the wild Maids of God;

Fill with your rage their eyes,

Rage at the rage unblest,

Watching in woman's guise,

The spy upon God's Possessed.

A Bacchanal

Who shall be first, to mark

Eyes in the rock that spy,

Eyes in the pine-tree dark -

Is it his mother? - and cry:

"Lo, what is this that comes,

Haunting, troubling still,

Even in our heights, our homes,

The wild Maids of the Hill?

What flesh bare this child?

Never on woman's breast

Changeling so evil smiled;

Man is he not, but Beast!

Loin-shape of the wild,

Gorgon-breed of the waste!"

All the Chorus

Hither, for doom and deed!

Hither with lifted sword,

Justice, Wrath of the Lord,

Come in our visible need!

Smite till the throat shall bleed,

Smite till the heart shall bleed,

Him the tyrannous, lawless, Godless, Echion's earthborn seed!

Other Maidens

Tyrannously hath he trod;

Marched him, in Law's despite,

Against thy Light, O God,

Yea, and thy Mother's Light;

Girded him, falsely bold,

Blinded in craft, to quell

And by man's violence hold,

Things unconquerable

A Bacchanal

A strait pitiless mind

Is death unto godliness;

And to feel in human kind

Life, and a pain the less.

Knowledge, we are not foes!

I seek thee diligently;

But the world with a great wind blows,

Shining, and not from thee;

Blowing to beautiful things,

On, amid dark and light,

Till Life, through the trammellings

Of Laws that are not the Right,

Breaks, clean and pure, and sings

Glorying to God in the height!

All the Chorus

Hither for doom and deed!

Hither with lifted sword,

Justice, Wrath of the Lord,

Come in our visible need!

Smite till the throat shall bleed,

Smite till the heart shall bleed,

Him the tyrannous, lawless, Godless, Echion's earthborn seed!


Appear, appear, whatso thy shape or name

O Mountain Bull, Snake of the Hundred Heads,

Lion of Burning Flame!

O God, Beast, Mystery, come! Thy mystic maids

Are hunted! - Blast their hunter with thy breath,

Cast o'er his head thy snare;

And laugh aloud and drag him to his death,

Who stalks thy herded madness in its lair!