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Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

Œnone


              1There lies a vale in Ida, lovelier
              2Than all the valleys of Ionian hills.
              3The swimming vapour slopes athwart the glen,
              4Puts forth an arm, and creeps from pine to pine,
              5And loiters, slowly drawn. On either hand
              6The lawns and meadow-ledges midway down
              7Hang rich in flowers, and far below them roars
              8The long brook falling thro' the clov'n ravine
              9In cataract after cataract to the sea.
            10Behind the valley topmost Gargarus
            11Stands up and takes the morning: but in front
            12The gorges, opening wide apart, reveal
            13Troas and Ilion's column'd citadel,
            14The crown of Troas.

            14                                    Hither came at noon
            15Mournful Œnone, wandering forlorn
            16Of Paris, once her playmate on the hills.
            17Her cheek had lost the rose, and round her neck
            18Floated her hair or seem'd to float in rest.
            19She, leaning on a fragment twined with vine,
            20Sang to the stillness, till the mountain-shade
            21Sloped downward to her seat from the upper cliff.

            22"O mother Ida, many-fountain'd Ida,
            23Dear mother Ida, harken ere I die.
            24For now the noonday quiet holds the hill:
            25The grasshopper is silent in the grass:
            26The lizard, with his shadow on the stone,
            27Rests like a shadow, and the winds are dead.
            28The purple flower droops: the golden bee
            29Is lily-cradled: I alone awake.
            30My eyes are full of tears, my heart of love,
            31My heart is breaking, and my eyes are dim,
            32And I am all aweary of my life.

            33"O mother Ida, many-fountain'd Ida,
            34Dear mother Ida, harken ere I die.
            35Hear me, O Earth, hear me, O Hills, O Caves
            36That house the cold crown'd snake! O mountain brooks,
            37I am the daughter of a River-God,
            38Hear me, for I will speak, and build up all
            39My sorrow with my song, as yonder walls
            40Rose slowly to a music slowly breathed,
            41A cloud that gather'd shape: for it may be
            42That, while I speak of it, a little while
            43My heart may wander from its deeper woe.

            44    "O mother Ida, many-fountain'd Ida,
            45Dear mother Ida, harken ere I die.
            46I waited underneath the dawning hills,
            47Aloft the mountain lawn was dewy-dark,
            48And dewy-dark aloft the mountain pine:
            49Beautiful Paris, evil-hearted Paris,
            50Leading a jet-black goat white-horn'd, white-hooved,
            51Came up from reedy Simois all alone.

            52    "O mother Ida, harken ere I die.
            53Far-off the torrent call'd me from the cleft:
            54Far up the solitary morning smote
            55The streaks of virgin snow. With down-dropt eyes
            56I sat alone: white-breasted like a star
            57Fronting the dawn he moved; a leopard skin
            58Droop'd from his shoulder, but his sunny hair
            59Cluster'd about his temples like a God's:
            60And his cheek brighten'd as the foam-bow brightens
            61When the wind blows the foam, and all my heart
            62Went forth to embrace him coming ere he came.

            63    "Dear mother Ida, harken ere I die.
            64He smiled, and opening out his milk-white palm
            65Disclosed a fruit of pure Hesperian gold,
            66That smelt ambrosially, and while I look'd
            67And listen'd, the full-flowing river of speech
            68Came down upon my heart.

            68                                           `My own Œnone,
            69Beautiful-brow'd Œnone, my own soul,
            70Behold this fruit, whose gleaming rind ingrav'n
            71"For the most fair," would seem to award it thine,
            72As lovelier than whatever Oread haunt
            73The knolls of Ida, loveliest in all grace
            74Of movement, and the charm of married brows.'

            75    "Dear mother Ida, harken ere I die.
            76He prest the blossom of his lips to mine,
            77And added 'This was cast upon the board,
            78When all the full-faced presence of the Gods
            79Ranged in the halls of Peleus; whereupon
            80Rose feud, with question unto whom 'twere due:
            81But light-foot Iris brought it yester-eve,
            82Delivering that to me, by common voice
            83Elected umpire, Herè comes to-day,
            84Pallas and Aphroditè, claiming each
            85This meed of fairest. Thou, within the cave
            86Behind yon whispering tuft of oldest pine,
            87Mayst well behold them unbeheld, unheard
            88Hear all, and see thy Paris judge of Gods.'

            89"Dear mother Ida, harken ere I die.
            90It was the deep midnoon: one silvery cloud
            91Had lost his way between the piney sides
            92Of this long glen. Then to the bower they came,
            93Naked they came to that smooth-swarded bower,
            94And at their feet the crocus brake like fire,
            95Violet, amaracus, and asphodel,
            96Lotos and lilies: and a wind arose,
            97And overhead the wandering ivy and vine,
            98This way and that, in many a wild festoon
            99Ran riot, garlanding the gnarled boughs
          100With bunch and berry and flower thro' and thro'.

          101    "O mother Ida, harken ere I die.
          102On the tree-tops a crested peacock lit,
          103And o'er him flow'd a golden cloud, and lean'd
          104Upon him, slowly dropping fragrant dew.
          105Then first I heard the voice of her, to whom
          106Coming thro' Heaven, like a light that grows
          107Larger and clearer, with one mind the Gods
          108Rise up for reverence. She to Paris made
          109Proffer of royal power, ample rule
          110Unquestion'd, overflowing revenue
          111Wherewith to embellish state, 'from many a vale
          112And river-sunder'd champaign clothed with corn,
          113Or labour'd mine undrainable of ore.
          114Honour,' she said, 'and homage, tax and toll,
          115From many an inland town and haven large,
          116Mast-throng'd beneath her shadowing citadel
          117In glassy bays among her tallest towers.'

          118    "O mother Ida, harken ere I die.
          119Still she spake on and still she spake of power,
          120'Which in all action is the end of all;
          121Power fitted to the season; wisdom-bred
          122And throned of wisdom--from all neighbour crowns
          123Alliance and allegiance, till thy hand
          124Fail from the sceptre-staff. Such boon from me,
          125From me, Heaven's Queen, Paris, to thee king-born,
          126A shepherd all thy life but yet king-born,
          127Should come most welcome, seeing men, in power
          128Only, are likest Gods, who have attain'd
          129Rest in a happy place and quiet seats
          130Above the thunder, with undying bliss
          131In knowledge of their own supremacy.'

          132    "Dear mother Ida, harken ere I die.
          133She ceased, and Paris held the costly fruit
          134Out at arm's-length, so much the thought of power
          135Flatter'd his spirit; but Pallas where she stood
          136Somewhat apart, her clear and bared limbs
          137O'erthwarted with the brazen-headed spear
          138Upon her pearly shoulder leaning cold,
          139The while, above, her full and earnest eye
          140Over her snow-cold breast and angry cheek
          141Kept watch, waiting decision, made reply.

          142    "`Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control,
          143These three alone lead life to sovereign power.
          144Yet not for power (power of herself
          145Would come uncall'd for) but to live by law,
          146Acting the law we live by without fear;
          147And, because right is right, to follow right
          148Were wisdom in the scorn of consequence.'

          149    "Dear mother Ida, harken ere I die.
          150Again she said: 'I woo thee not with gifts.
          151Sequel of guerdon could not alter me
          152To fairer. Judge thou me by what I am,
          153So shalt thou find me fairest.

          153                                             Yet, indeed,
          154If gazing on divinity disrobed
          155Thy mortal eyes are frail to judge of fair,
          156Unbias'd by self-profit, oh! rest thee sure
          157That I shall love thee well and cleave to thee,
          158So that my vigour, wedded to thy blood,
          159Shall strike within thy pulses, like a God's,
          160To push thee forward thro' a life of shocks,
          161Dangers, and deeds, until endurance grow
          162Sinew'd with action, and the full-grown will,
          163Circled thro' all experiences, pure law,
          164Commeasure perfect freedom.'

          164                                                Here she ceas'd
          165And Paris ponder'd, and I cried, 'O Paris,
          166Give it to Pallas!' but he heard me not,
          167Or hearing would not hear me, woe is me!

          168    "O mother Ida, many-fountain'd Ida,
          169Dear mother Ida, harken ere I die.
          170Idalian Aphroditè beautiful,
          171Fresh as the foam, new-bathed in Paphian wells,
          172With rosy slender fingers backward drew
          173From her warm brows and bosom her deep hair
          174Ambrosial, golden round her lucid throat
          175And shoulder: from the violets her light foot
          176Shone rosy-white, and o'er her rounded form
          177Between the shadows of the vine-bunches
          178Floated the glowing sunlights, as she moved.

          179    "Dear mother Ida, harken ere I die.
          180She with a subtle smile in her mild eyes,
          181The herald of her triumph, drawing nigh
          182Half-whisper'd in his ear, 'I promise thee
          183The fairest and most loving wife in Greece.'
          184She spoke and laugh'd: I shut my sight for fear:
          185But when I look'd, Paris had raised his arm,
          186And I beheld great Herè's angry eyes,
          187As she withdrew into the golden cloud,
          188And I was left alone within the bower;
          189And from that time to this I am alone,
          190And I shall be alone until I die.

          191    "Yet, mother Ida, harken ere I die.
          192Fairest--why fairest wife? am I not fair?
          193My love hath told me so a thousand times.
          194Methinks I must be fair, for yesterday,
          195When I past by, a wild and wanton pard,
          196Eyed like the evening star, with playful tail
          197Crouch'd fawning in the weed. Most loving is she?
          198Ah me, my mountain shepherd, that my arms
          199Were wound about thee, and my hot lips prest
          200Close, close to thine in that quick-falling dew
          201Of fruitful kisses, thick as Autumn rains
          202Flash in the pools of whirling Simois!

          203    "O mother, hear me yet before I die.
          204They came, they cut away my tallest pines,
          205My tall dark pines, that plumed the craggy ledge
          206High over the blue gorge, and all between
          207The snowy peak and snow-white cataract
          208Foster'd the callow eaglet--from beneath
          209Whose thick mysterious boughs in the dark morn
          210The panther's roar came muffled, while I sat
          211Low in the valley. Never, never more
          212Shall lone Œnone see the morning mist
          213Sweep thro' them; never see them overlaid
          214With narrow moon-lit slips of silver cloud,
          215Between the loud stream and the trembling stars.

          216    "O mother, hear me yet before I die.
          217I wish that somewhere in the ruin'd folds,
          218Among the fragments tumbled from the glens,
          219Or the dry thickets, I could meet with her
          220The Abominable, that uninvited came
          221Into the fair Pele{:i}an banquet-hall,
          222And cast the golden fruit upon the board,
          223And bred this change; that I might speak my mind,
          224And tell her to her face how much I hate
          225Her presence, hated both of Gods and men.

          226    "O mother, hear me yet before I die.
          227Hath he not sworn his love a thousand times,
          228In this green valley, under this green hill,
          229Ev'n on this hand, and sitting on this stone?
          230Seal'd it with kisses? water'd it with tears?
          231O happy tears, and how unlike to these!
          232O happy Heaven, how canst thou see my face?
          233O happy earth, how canst thou bear my weight?
          234O death, death, death, thou ever-floating cloud,
          235There are enough unhappy on this earth,
          236Pass by the happy souls, that love to live:
          237I pray thee, pass before my light of life,
          238And shadow all my soul, that I may die.
          239Thou weighest heavy on the heart within,
          240Weigh heavy on my eyelids: let me die.

          241    "O mother, hear me yet before I die.
          242I will not die alone, for fiery thoughts
          243Do shape themselves within me, more and more,
          244Whereof I catch the issue, as I hear
          245Dead sounds at night come from the inmost hills,
          246Like footsteps upon wool. I dimly see
          247My far-off doubtful purpose, as a mother
          248Conjectures of the features of her child
          249Ere it is born: her child!--a shudder comes
          250Across me: never child be born of me,
          251Unblest, to vex me with his father's eyes!

          252    "O mother, hear me yet before I die.
          253Hear me, O earth. I will not die alone,
          254Lest their shrill happy laughter come to me
          255Walking the cold and starless road of death
          256Uncomforted, leaving my ancient love
          257With the Greek woman. I will rise and go
          258Down into Troy, and ere the stars come forth
          259Talk with the wild Cassandra, for she says
          260A fire dances before her, and a sound
          261Rings ever in her ears of armed men.
          262What this may be I know not, but I know
          263That, wheresoe'er I am by night and day,
          264All earth and air seem only burning fire."

Notes

1] The first of Tennyson's poems to treat classical myths, it is based chiefly on Ovid's Heroides V. The classical legend tells of the nymph Œnone, daughter of Mt. Ida and the river-god Simois, who laments her desertion by her husband Paris, son of King Priam of Troy. Paris has left to seek out Helen.
Ida: mountain range near ancient Troy.

10] Gargarus: highest peak of Mt. Ida.

40] Rose slowly to a music: Troy was said to have been reared to music.

51] Simois: a river near Troy.

65] Hesperian gold: the golden apples guarded by the Hesperides in the gardens of the West.

72] Oread: a mountam nymph.

74] married brows: eyebrows that meet, considered a mark of beauty.

79] Peleus: King of Thessaly, who invited all the gods to attend his wedding to the sea-nymph Thetis, except Eris, the goddess of discord. In anger and revenge, Eris cast upon the table a golden apple bearing the label, "For the fairest." The resultant quarrel among the goddesses led to the Trojan war.

81] Iris: messenger of the gods.

83] Heré: Juno, wife of Jupiter.

84] Pallas: Minerva, goddess of wisdom.
Aphrodite: Venus, goddess of love and beauty.

95] amaracus: marjoram.

102] peacock: sacred to Heré, or Juno.

126] king-born: Paris, son of King Priam, lived as a shepherd. At his birth it had been prophesied that he would bring ruin to Troy. Left on Mt. Ida to perish, he had been rescued and brought up by a shepherd.

170] Idalian: Idalium in Cyprus was a favorite haunt of Aphrodite.

171] Paphian wells. It was to Paphos in Cyprus that Aphrodite came after her birth from the foam of the sea.

183] Helen: wife of Menelaus, King of Lacedaemon. Her elopement with Paris, son of Priam, was the cause of the Trojan war.

204] They came: Trojan ship-builders in search of timber.

220] The Abominable: Eris, the goddess of strife.

259] Cassandra: daughter of Priam, endowed with prophetic powers by Apollo, but fated never to be believed.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Alfred lord Tennyson, Poems (London: E. Moxon, 1833). B-11 3233 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto). Revised heavily for Poems (Boston: W. D. Ticknor, 1842). PR 5550 E42a Victoria College Library (Toronto). Alfred lord Tennyson, Works (London: Macmillan, 1891). tenn T366 A1 1891a Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
First publication date: 1833
RPO poem editor: H. M. McLuhan
RP edition: 3RP 3.34.
Recent editing: 2:2002/3/6

Rhyme: unrhyming


Other poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson