As though forever


At this moment that unmanning thunder cloud,
the aegis, Athena’s shield
took form aloft in the great hall.

And the suitors mad with fear
at her great sign stampeded like stung cattle by a river
when the dread shimmering gadfly strikes in summer,
in the flowering season, in the long-drawn days.
After them the attackers wheeled, terrible as falcons
from eyries in the mountains veering over and diving down
with talons wide unsheathed on flights of birds,
who cower down the sky in chutes and bursts along the valley —
but the pouncing falcons grip their prey, no frantic wing avails,
and farmers love to watch those beaked hunters.
So these now fell upon the suitors in the hall,
turning, turning to strike again and strike again,
while torn men moaned at earth, and blood ran smoking
over the whole floor.

– Book XXII, Death in the Great Hall, lines 330-347.

In blood and dust
he saw that crowd all fallen, many and many slain.
Think of a catch that fishermen haul in to a halfmoon bay
in a fine-meshed net from the white-caps of the sea:
how all are poured out in the sand, in throes for the salt sea,
twitching their cold lives away in Helio’s fiery air:
so lay the suitors heaped on one another.

– Book XXII, Death in the Great Hall, lines 432- 439.


Now from his breast into his eyes the ache
of longing mounted, and he wept at last,
his dear wife, clear and faithful, in his arms,
longed for
as the sunwarmed earth is longed for by a swimmer
spent in rough water where his ship went down
under Poseidon’s blows, gale winds and tons of sea.
Few men can keep alive through a big surf
to crawl, clotted with brine, on kindly beaches
in joy, in joy, knowing the abyss behind:
and so she too rejoiced, her gaze upon her husband,
her white arms around him pressed as though forever.

– Book XIII, The Trunk of the Olive Tree, lines 260 – 270


Meanwhile the suitor’s ghosts were called away
by Hermes of Kyllkene, bearing the golden wand
with which he charms the eyes of men or wakens
whom he wills.
He waved them on, all squeeking
as bats will in a cavern’s underworld,
all flitting, flitting criss-cross in the dark
if one falls and the rock-hung chain is broken.
So with faint cries the shades trailed after Hermes,
pure Deliverer.
He led them down dank ways,
over grey Ocean tides, the Snowy Rock,
past shores of Dream and narrows of the sunset,
in swift flight to where the Dead inhabit
wastes of asphodel at the word’s end.

– Book XXIV, Warriors, Farewell, lines 1 – 15.


Robert Fitzgerald translation. Farrar, Straus, Gixoux; New York, New York: 1998.