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|MODERN GREEK LITERATURE - Essays|
The Mourning Songs of Greek Women
(Translated by him)
From: "The Charioteer", number 35, 1993-1994.
The Mourning Songs of Greek Women
We must not sell the arms of our heroes,
but let them be attendant to the liturgies of death,
and hang them high in cobwebbed towers
that rust might eat the arms, as earth eats up the dead.
It's proper that the earth rejoice,
that she be filled with pride
it's proper that we plant her with bright shoots of pearl
And rake her with gold rakes, -
for she has eaten of our eagles, our virgins and their jewels,
and she has eaten of the babes of mothers,
our brothers and our sisters,
and eats the much loved husband
and the wife,
the child, as, ah, it sucks its mother's teat.
I, for your sake, had set
three loyal garrisons to guard.
I set the sun to watch the rnountains,
the eagle, to the fields,
the coolest wind,
to hover to the ships.
But quick, the sun is setting, the eagle swoops to sleep,
the sails suck up the wind, -
and Charon seizes on this moment
and takes you off with him.
I had an apple tree beside my door,
another in my garden.
My home was covered with red ribbons. I had a golden cypress tree,
and, ah, I leaned against that tree.
And yes, a silver oil lamp hung against my walls.
Now, now, my apple tree has withered,
the other tree is fallen now, uprooted, to the ground.
My brilliant ribbons have turned black.
The cypress tree, my golden one, is broken,
my holy light is stopped.
And now, I have no light, - no light to light my home.
A widow's lost upon a mountain,
and no one's there to help her, and so she cries aloud, -
Where are you, husband, lord?
If you're ahead of me,
leap from your ambush there,
if you're behind me, speak, if you are waiting for me
by the river's edge,
give me your hands, your hands.
I'm miserable, I'm weak, -
I cannot cross alone.
Sun, ah, how quickly do you, to your setting, go, -
to leave your home, to leap elsewhere to shine.
Go too, my child, with all the other children, -
and gather there, in paradise, the flowers of -her fields:
I dare you not to break.
This mourning song's
not from the mouths
of widows or of wives,
but I have heard it
from Charon's mother's lips.
Mothers, hide your children,
and guard your brothers well,
and hide your husbands, wives.
My son's a hunter, a corsair.
All night he stalks his prey
and in the evening hours,
he pounces on them, hard.
Wherever he finds three,
he takes two,
wherever he finds two, the one,
wherever he finds one,-
that one is vanished,
wholly, from the earth.
But here he comes,
mounted, and across
trailing his naked swords,
his double-edged stilettos.
Stilettos for their hearts.
The swift swords for their heads.
Three brave youths said they had no fear of Charon,
and quick, a little bird sent word of this to him, -
and he comes storming down the mountain on his horse.
His eyes flash lightning bolts,
his face is blazing fire,
his shoulders are twin mountains, his head, a mighty fort.
And he rides swiftly to the boulder where they sit, -
Great joy! Eat well, my heroes.
Great joy to you, Sir Charon. Sit here and share with us.
Here are rabbits' entrails, partridge breasts,
and here's this years-old wine that only brave men drink.
I've not come here to eat with you, to drink.
I've come to meet the brave one who has no fear of me.
And no one spoke, and no one answered him.
But Yanni rose and spoke, -
Come, Charon, let's wrestle on our marble threshing floors.
The young man leaps forty paces, and Charon, forty-five,
and Charon grabs him by the hair and flings him on his horse.
Ah, leave me, Charon, don't take me by the hair,
but take me by the hand, release me on the highest peaks,
and if I cannot fly as falcons fly away,
take me back down with you into your tent,-
and there, cut off my head.
Fool! Should you see my tent, you would go mad with fear.
Birds fooled me, birds of spring.
They told me Charon would not take me.
And I began, and built my house of marble:
gold doors and silver windows
and balconies of pearl,-
and, for a moment, stopped to breathe.
And now I see him, mounted, come.
Ah, he is black, - black horse,
and black his saber, too.
He pulls the young men by the hair,
the old men, by their beards,
ah, and the littlest ones,-
he leads them by the hand.
While he was digging up his fields,
with his fine plough of walnut wood,
his pearl-encrusted reins,
his oxen sweating to their yoke;
glistening like a golden bough, -
Charon laid eyes on him and wanted him,
and he has come to take him.
Whoever cries for such a youth will need
new eyes when he is done with weeping,
will need a heart of stone,
a lake from which to draw his tears.
Whoever cries for him will need
the reigning weeds for hair,
for in his anguish he must tear
his hair from their roots.
All morning he must cry
for his lost youth,
and in the evening, for his perfect body.
From morning into evening,
he must cry for his departure,
and then, and for the whole long night,-
oh, he must cry for all his household too.
But tell me, child, when will you come again,--
that I might light the many candles at the door,
great candles in the courtyard,
the light that lights the centre of our home.
But tell me, tell me, ah, my eyes, how Charon welcomed you.
Upon my knees I hold him, he presses to my breast,
and if for food he hungers, he eats upon my flesh,-
and if he thirsts for water, from my two eyes he drinks.
Rise up, sweet mistress, ah, rise up,
that we might go from here,-
up to the high, high mountain,
to its highest peak,
that I might build a marble fortress
for you there
where you can safely sleep.
And should dread Charon come to find you,
I'll stand before him. I'll stand,
and I will hold his horse for him,
and I will kiss his hands.
Charon, listen to my pleas,
and let me buy you off, -
let mothers come to you with gold,
and sisters with their silver,
and let the widows come,
come bearing all their jewels.
What are you saying, wretch ?
I'm not some warrior chieftain,
I'm not some tax collector,-
they call me Charon,
they call me "Closer of the Home."
Wherever I find three, I take the two,
Wherever I find two, I take the one,
and where I find but one alone,
I shut and bolt his door,-
and strangers take his keys,
and strangers take his all.
What's happened to the heroes of our world, Oh Lord,
that we no longer see them at our weddings, at our feasts?
They're building their iron fortress
that Charon might not find them.
They've built it, oh, they've built it well,
they've set their cannons and their banners on the ramparts,
and now, they've gone inside.
And Charon, mounted on his horse, rides down upon them.
He's black, his horse is black, and he is dressed in black.
And Charon greets them from afar and from up close, -
Great joy to you, my heroes.
Great joy to you, they answer.
Where have you come from, Charon, where are you going now?
The Lord has sent me down to take your souls with me.
We'll not give up our souls, for we are warriors.
We've built a mighty fortress, and we are mighty too.
And even as they spoke with him,
while all their words resounded in the air,
a darkness hovered over them, then fell on them,
and then enveloped them,
and then, they closed their eyes, -
and, oh, they could no longer see, to see.
I never thought to praise the stone,
but for your sake I'll praise her, -
Silver stone, golden stone,
don't eat his red, red lips,
don t eat his tongue,
his swallow-singing tongue,
that had been, once,
the music-master to the birds,-
that taught them how to sing.
Where do you go to hide, my amulet, my ribbon,
that all the wretched spiders
might weave their nets on you, -
where do you go, my sweet Venetian cup,
to toss down all your flowers?
I go into Black Earth, oh, to the cobwebbed tomb,-
who eats the young men and is filled with joy,
who eats the young girls, too,
and swells, as if he were a peacock.
I beg you, Charon, oh, I kiss your hands, -
Open the gates of Paradise
and let our youths see spring again and summer,
and let our babies smell the flowers of May.
however he might try, however he might force them,
the locks are rusted now, wild weeds block up the gates.
Charon announced that he would build a garden,
that he, whoever built it for him, would be free, -
The young girls ran to him with lemon trees,
the young men with tall cypresses,
the babies with their roses,
and there they laboured long and built it for him, -
and they were never freed.
Rise up, my hero,
put on your rich, red vest,
for they have brought the coffin that will carry you.
There where you go, my hero,
let meadows rise before you,
let little pots of basil
grope round your horse's legs, -
let stretch before your eyes,
a little space, and goodly,
where you' ll sleep, alone.
Now comes the evil hour, the hour of greatest pain.
They've brought the wooden horse for you to mount it, -
unreined, unsaddled and unshod.
Go tell the girl that she must now prepare it.
Tell her that she must stretch its golden reins,
that she must set the silver saddle on its back,
tell her that she must bring the silver shoes,-
and nail them to its feet.
The snake that eats the dead,
upon his pillow's coiled, two-headed, -
and, ah, the dead man cries, -
Snake, do not eat my hands,
I want them yet for greetings,
snake, do not eat my legs,
I need to walk again,
snake, do not eat my eyes,
I want to see my friends,
snake, do not eat my mouth,
I need to speak again.