Hecuba Transformed

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“I’m mad! I’m mad! Burnt on my brain
I see the bodies of the slain!
The corpses of: father, my son,
My husband! Soon they’ll be no-one
Left me! To live is but a curse!
What can the gods do to me worse?
I die? And so? Life is but bad!
My burning brain! I’m going mad!

The Greeks in battle cut them down
Before, without our Trojan town.
By blade, with arrows, one by one
I lost me yet another son!
Neither the first – nor yet my last
Was Hector slain and then downcast
Behind the victor’s chariot wheels.
The agony! My memory reels!
Achilles! Curse his bloodied blade!
Yet by my Paris was he slayed –
Who’s slain in turn by archers Greek
Before even elapsed a week!

My senses drown in mounting grief!
My suffering is beyond belief!
King Priam near the altar lies
His life-blood dripping. His last cries –
A plea for mercy – never heard
For death denies his final word!
I clasp his body to my breast.
His life bleeds out. I him addressed
With gentle words. Upon my hands
His blood. He no more understands –
For Hades took his noble soul.
Why not mine too? No longer whole
My mind fragments along its seams
Recalling myriad might-have-beens…

Polyxena – sacrificed
Because no winds present sufficed
To waft the Grecian ships back home!
She’s dead! She’s dead! Now I’m alone!
She’s sacrificed to Achilles.
I begged her life! But to my pleas
All hearts turned stone, all ears were dumb.
My sorrow grows. My heart is numb!
I’m drowning in a flood of tears
And dead are all my former fears.

Polydorus – my young boy
We sent outside beleaguered Troy
To Thrace. But did this save him? No!
For Thrace’s king would have it so:
He slays his guest! Butchers my son!
I saw myself what he had done:
The body washed up on our sand –
My son’s corpse slashed by murderers’ hand!
I beat my breast! I tore my hair!
My soul is darkened by despair…

Someone told me the lots were cast.
Some Greeks now drag me to the mast.
What ship? Belongs to Ulysses?
I am his bond-slave? I must please
The man who built the Trojan horse?
Whose ruse succeeding, turned the course
Of war to our Trojan defeat?
This shame my reason will unseat-”

The transformation happens fast
As Hecuba succumbs at last
To heavy griefs, darkest despair.
A shimmer on the beach-side air
Before she can be dragged aboard
The Grecian ship: Hecuba roared!
See what Hecuba is become:
A pitch-black beast under the sun!
Hecuba tears with tooth and claw
Out-fights her captors, bonds up-tore
And battles her way through the men
To freedom: she is free again!
The black hellhound then streaks away –
For old Hecuba died that day.

The hellhound, though, is well I trow.
She hunts amongst the Furies now:
Bloodthirsty, savage, thing of dread
Longing to feast on Grecian dead!

Devil Dog

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Legends of Queen Genevieve – The Burning

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Borne from flames of hot desire:
From the bedroom – to the fire!
Ignominy doth ill beseem –
As stands forth shamed: King Arthur’s Queen!
“Adulteress!” the angry crowd
Shouts out. The air is growing loud
With imprecations. Genevieve –
Near fainting – hardly can believe
Her fortune’s revolutions. Here
The piled faggots upwards rear.
Up ladders to the very top
The queen is led. What power can stop
Her execution? King’s decree
Her death has signed reluctantly.
King Arthur sees. King Arthur weeps.
He knows the law. His justice keeps.

Queen Genevieve – no longer queen –
Stands forth alone. Composed. Serene.
If then today she dies – she dies!
The crowd’s abuse and angry cries
She does not hear. Her glance she raises
‘bove the walls. Intently gazes –
Listening. What can she hear?
The sounds of horsemen drawing near!

Sharp arrows whirr. Ring clashing swords.
Stern mailed knights riding towards
Her burning-place. Swords swinging, red
With blood! The panicked crowd is fled!
Kings’ men-at-arms seize pike and shield
Shouting at knights to instant yield!
But knights ignore them, riding hard
They quickly clear the burning-yard
By trampling down, thrusting to slay
Whoever dares obstruct their way!

Queen Genevieve is clasped and seized
By the knights’ leader. He her frees
They for her rescue fast retreat
To gallop down the emptied street.
Their speed secures their getaway.
Behind them strewn corpses lay
Around the burning stake unlit.
Dire mischiefs will result from it!

“’Twas Lancelot,” all murmured low.
“Who saved the queen!” Gawain should know:
He saw the crest upon his shield.
He knew his kinsmen from the field.
He hoped that they might get away
Although the King they disobey.

“Gawain!” an anguished cry of dread
Is heard. So Gawain turns his head.
“Your brothers both – the well-loved twain
Are dead! By Lancelot both slain!”
Fierce shock intense. Gawain slow moves
To stand, to see himself. He proves
The bleeding cuts with his own hand.
Gaheris, Gareth – like spilled sand
Both lie stretched, limbs splayed in death.
Gawain moans deep and sobs for breath
As on his knees he rocks and falls.
His memories that morn recalls:
His brothers twain, smiling, carefree,
And laughing! Now: they’re dead! Thus he
Acknowledges a bitter hate
Against the blind and erstwhile fate
That saw these innocents run through:
Unarmed, unweaponed. Is it true
Sir Lancelot has rescued her –
The queen, a foul adulterer
By killing brothers in cold blood
As both amongst the crowd they stood?

It’s true! Sir Gawain’s wild keening loud
Upon his knees. He fiercely vowed
To bring on Lancelot grim war
And fire and devastation sore:
To slay his men, to burn his lands,
To kill Du Lake with his own hands!
Thus Gawain swears. Last he is found
All spent with sorrow on the ground
Beside his brothers’ corpses lying
Some afraid: he too is dying.
Their fears prove vain. Gawain is well:
His love-turned-hate ’twill unleash hell
As kingdoms crumble, burn and fall:
Gawain’s hate will unleash it all!

Ajax

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The madman came to his senses. For his massive, giant strength
Had slaughtered those who had come too near. All along the hollow’s length
Where the army kept their livestock, were the corpses strewn round
While their dying groans, and dismembered limbs, made a hideous sight and sound.
The frenzy fades from his eyesight, while his senses slow return
And he looks around. Ajax groans aloud – as the stark truth does he learn.
A clenched fist he shakes at the heavens, as he curses loud and long:
“Ulysses – fox! You sly venomed snake! Against you did my hate grow strong
‘Till it overthrew my senses. Did the gods subvert my wit?
Though my cause was best – the Mycenaean king awards you the right of it!
I was stronger ‘gainst the Trojans – which I fought by strength of arm!
‘Twas my shield’s bulwark – that sure rampart – why you escaped from harm!
I had come to reclaim Achilles – the corpse of my dear friend.
But you came along – you usurped my claim! Is this how that this thing must end?
I alone withstood mighty Hector! You can fight but with wordy tongue!
With your woman’s guile, and your feignéd smile, with sly words we matched wits: you won!
Oh – Achilles’ goodly armour, that which god Hephaestus made,
It was mine by right! You have stolen it! Scurvy trick, that the Fates have played!”

When his eyes surveyed the slaughter, the carcasses of the sheep,
And the sacred geese – holy to the gods – which as Grecians they did keep:
He’s aghast at the profanation. Though the madness gripped his mind
Ajax greatly fears what the gods will do: they will punish him whom they find.
For what god could forgive this slaughter? Could his madness make excuse?
Do the Furies care once in grim pursuit who they smite why they are set loose?
Now a fear stronger than his madness – both comprised of guilt and shame
Overthrows Ajax – that unconquered man – fearing to protect his fame.

Ajax runs to the sea unarmoured – clutching still Hector’s sharp sword:
‘Twas a battle-gift from the Trojan prince – given him, as a hero’s reward.
There between the rocks he fixed it, threw himself on the blade.
So Great Ajax died by his matchless strength: in despair he himself hath slayed.

Grecian Warrior

Legends of Queen Genevieve – Discovery

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The heart aflutter. Passion. Lust.
The breaking of the marriage-trust.
When all is done, and all is said –
Her knight is welcomed to her bed!
Both best friends of their mutual king.
He is his champion. The sting
Of betrayal is not far off.
Sly rumours circle. Buffoons scoff
And mock the cuckold. Mordred plans
How best this plays into his hands.

Yet Genevieve and Lancelot
Enjoy each tryst with passion hot!
Each fatal step leads to mishap
As Mordred springs his deadly trap.
Lancelot is lured into the bower
Of Genevieve – into the power
Of those whom Arthur would undo.
Exposing Genevieve untrue
Would see her burnt, and Arthur fall –
Such treasons kings must judge it all:
To slay his friend and burn his wife!
Thus Modred hopes and foments strife
To catch the lovers in his net.
His enmity he’ll not forget:
A bastard, disinherited
From Arthur’s royal wealthy bed
He lives upon his wits and guile:
For sweet revenge he’ll wait awhile.

The tower stair is thronged with men.
Sir Modred challenges again:
“Sir Lancelot! You have been seen!
You’re taken bedding with the queen!
Come out and face the music, man!”
But Lancelot concocts his plan:
A paladin of mickle might
Sir Lancelot his foes shall smite!
But first he needs: armour and sword,
Else strength is vain. While keeping ward
The men outside beat at the door
Which Lancelot is waiting for.
The door springs open. Now at last!
One knight dragged in – the door shut fast!
The other men are outside still.
Sir Lancelot the knight does kill
Arrays himself in borrowed arms
Opens the door. With war’s alarms
Now sounding all throughout the keep
As men-at-arms wake from their sleep:
Sir Lancelot, like lion proud
Alone strides down into the crowd
To lop off limbs, and sever heads,
As onwards he unhurried treads.
Sir Mordred, stationed at the rear
Chooses this time to disappear.

Sir Lancelot escapes by horse
Intending to return in force:
Defend the queen, deny the shame,
By combat to restore her name.

Mordred is quicker: his own crowd
Tomorrow will demand aloud
The faithless body of the queen
Be dragged before her bower’s screen
And burnt upon a public pyre!
Glutting thence the mob’s desire:
Justice served on high and low!

She’s no doubts how judgement will go.
O that she undiscovered still
Lay in his arms to drink her fill
Of love!
Next morning whirls her thought.
Mordred knows all. She has been caught!
The king’s been told by Modred. Then:
She hears the tramp of Arthur’s men
Approaching to her women’s bower:
Quick they remove her to a tower
Into a cell, bare stones swept clean.
Too late, she regrets she is the queen.

What happens now? What is her fate?
Will rescue come, or be too late?
Will king decree her death as doom?
These questions in the queen’s mind loom
Awhile, until exhausted she
In sleep escapes her misery.

Penthesilea

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I marched as a queen of my warriors, coming to defense of Troy
I would expiate my manslaughter – by the Greeks which I’d destroy.
For I’d slain dear Hippolyta – we had been out hunting deer
But a cast I’d flung at a fleeing hind had impaled her on my spear.
So I shrieked and cried my sorrow, but our death can’t be reversed.
So I rode away to the battle-plain: to escape what the Furies cursed.
‘Tis no shame to be killed in battle, this I eagerly embraced.
Noble death in war, and my guilty blood would wash clean my life disgraced.

With my kinswomen to King Priam, we brought succor to their need
For the Greeks came on in battalions strong – causing Trojan youths to bleed.
Priam told me that Greek Achilles, was the soul of the Greek war host
If I wanted fame for Amazonian name, to kill him would aid Troy the most.

The next day out amidst the battle, we plunged straight into fight
But I cared not for whom I slew in war – Where’s Achilles? Left? Or right?
By my spear and by fleeting arrow, and my double-bladed axe
We hewed Grecians down, ’till came to their aid the redoubtable Ajax.
We exchanged the swinging sword-blows, for I loved the battle-cheer
But Ajax moved on – him I followed not – for Achilles had drawn near.
He was tall for a Grecian warrior. And I thought him a goodly man –
But I’d sworn to die on the battle-plain: I would not renounce my plan.
I incited him with insults – he waxed greater in his wrath
And in deadly earnest came he on – then I called my ardour forth.

He was glorious in the contest – while we hacked and tried to slay
But the gods had granted my final prayer – to appoint this my dying day.
In the end he proved the stronger, and he smashed me to the ground
And the pointed steel drank my grateful blood through my fatal battle wound.
He cried out when he loosed my helmet – but too late to restore my life
Perhaps in another age – and time – I had made him a faithful wife.
But I died a virgin shield-maid, in my pride as a warrior queen
As Amazon warriors all should die: where the battle’s deadly keen.
Though my enemy mourned my falling, I cared nought as my soul sped by
Expiation done – I embraced my tomb. It was time for me to die.

Penthesilea