Jul 082020

Poetic versioning of Aeschelus’ powerful visionary drama.

We have slid a long way down, to earth's end.
Now we are in an arid gorge, close rocks
Hem our freedoms and our bruised feet have reached
The lowest place. Hephastos, turn your mind
That forged the golden playthings of the gods
To harsher endeavors; let invention
Wither, and let love's meaningless surplus
Be dried up. Have your ire flare again 
In residence where he's made your flames vanish,
Putting out the light of goldenest craft
To help sprouting man, who rankly weeds
A gardened globe. Forge in violent fires
Bellowed large again by your oppressed heart
Thorned chains to lay him against these hard stones
In unmoving misery.

                    I do not
Have a muscled heart to bind my brother
In these abandoned crags, or close in stirrups of iron
Feet equal to my feather.

                              Do not let
Filial affection unleash what you must bind.

The commandment of Zeus has found its voice
In you, Power and Violence. In me,
Its uncertain hand, that which would rather break
Against itself that harm any dead hair
Of Prometheus else.--- Here he comes dragged.
[Enter Prometheus, dragged]

I have come commanded to bind in pain
His mobile spirit, which moves as a ductile flame
In each instant of the wind, following icy shocks
Of the chafing air with hot nuances of a mind
All on fire with itself. See how slow now
He comes to the cold lead of these chill slopes.
[To Prometheus] Brother, my love is all by whetted
 sorrow nursed            
And throws large shadows over this stale work.
When would it have been fresh? It stinks of old crime.
What has fallen to our days and hands? Like
Neglected fruit our poor duties lie rotting,
Which, had they been picked fresh, and shared, and ate,
Might have bulked us fat in feast, fat in love,
Fat in everything that sifts in tenderest rains
From Zeus' puffed perfection. Supine duty
Now inhabits the ditch, and in grim famine bears
All its teeth in hunger, none in love.

Generosity is not the want
Of prerogative, which chooses what it gives.
Prometheus betrayed your artist's trick
Of shaping fire to those who kept the dark
For all their light, and crept in dreams to day,
Mere moles who nosed their barren track in dirt
Without the bright aid of your rigorous flame.

Neglected good has led us to these barren times
Where larders stand disgorged of multiplicity
And nature's rich display of choices shrinks,
Winnowed thin by too strict conservation.

Your one secret now shifts shafts of day
Into any peasant cave where two straws
Are not yet rank with urine. Does it not offend?

That which drew perfect Venus like a moth
To your cloven love and questioning shape
All hunched above the blazon of you art
As limping earth shadows the central sun
Stealing its various greens from one white,
He stole from you.

Do not make such use of him.

Fear you not Zeus, who casts him in his state?
Fear not that such anger overborne may spill
And like the solitary volcano cracked 
Drown the least rat with the greatest vole,
And so grant you a current way to death,
Bedded in the pit with Prometheus?

Now shape your craft to the need; bind him close.

It is done. The free man bound that was free.
I've gone a long way to come round to hate.

False prophecy has assigned its name to you
Falsely. Portent of nothing, stale omen,
You refuse to hear the bear's warning rustle
In the bushes at your back. Freedom's telling lark
Chained by enticing art to rock cannot bark.

[Enter the Daughters of Ocean, soaked]

Egregious terror trines our ocean-hearts!

Anemones all are drooped, and coral blanched
That once held quiet communication
With the soundless sea breeze. Swift sharks stood still
That must die in pauses, and far above
Came the venomed sound of iron beaten.
And now we see how your restless hands are bound!

How I long to comfort that brow, grief-distraught.

Manta Rays flared in stillness with wantless mouths,
Whales hung like sad mountains overhead,
And all the ceaseless activity of the
Yearning sea did to a remote slowness thud,
Forced by a forged means. Hephastos' hammer,
For what other ring of doom could charm waves,
Bent our ears to silence--- Save the one sound.
Sorrow has hung thick syrups on our eyes.

And those restless hand wringing whirlwinds
From the idealess dust, now warming short chains!

Tell us why you have been punished, for you
Have been punished.

                     Tell us Zeus' reasons.

Name the heedless crime.

                          Tell us.

Tell us.

Do not think my penitential silence pride
Or arrogant stubbornness. It is not.
No, it is a consuming meditation
That works in me when my mind considers
The subtle hurts that load my outcast state,
And of how in past time my estimation
Showered ignorant honors on my jailers,
Gilding their crimes before their doing of them.
But enough; of what your hearts know how should 
I speak?          
Listen to mortal suffering,-- how I
Spied them fumbling with their helpless wits, and helped.
It is a tale briefly told. Not to scold
Erring man, but to show how much his stature's grown.
In their uncounciled sight first spread vain webs
Of woven pride that gave far-seeing judgment
Close cataracts, obscuring heinous crimes.
And into their young hearing they had poured
Not mellow summer songs gathered from the air,
But stuffed deaf ears with brays of their own praises.
They were not men, but instead resembled
The shapes we see in dreams, mingling all.
To their burrowing lives I broke some light
That had been darker else. Like timid ants
They lived and ate, and kept house in foul caves.
Neither stars of winter nor the presaging scent
Of springtime did they know by counting moons,
Nor was laden summer by signs revealed.
But every matter was pursued in ignorance,
Full of wrong causes, false heads and false tails,
Inverting logic until I came and gave
Risen stars names and mapped their difficult settings.
I ferreted out the art of numbers
That put in the simple scope of man's discretion
The control of nature, and lettered rude mouths
With speech that made but oohs and ahs before,
 giving thus          
Discursive memory its mothering talk
That nursed the nine. By my gentle bough
Beasts came lowing to the yoke and plow
To perform with docile thanks hard labor
Men laid idly by. I made them love the rein
Who move lordly chariots with prideful steps.
And from the burning tongues of gods brought down
Stolen fire.
All these fool's arts I made for man alone
Who can't glue together some salvation for himself.
But when gods threat, saving devices perish
And cleverness holds up stumps, not hands, to pluck
This downcast body from its tortured state.

[Enter OKEANOS on a winged beast]

Enough of your hovering comforting!
Brother, you cling to the heaving rock
Of your own willfulness, but I have come
Taming this dread beast by my thoughts alone
To break you of bad habits. Come, let me help
Who has no more dearly watered a love
In all his submerged dominions than that love
I have borne down these darkening airs to you.

You have come to watch a vaulted heart crack
That has not renewing waters' suavities
To bear faults harmlessly, and repel
Sinewed attacks like the geysering behemoth,
Swallowing all. I am made of earth,
A counter-realm to your own ocean,
And must crumble, or blow like willess sand
When weeded from the compacting rain
That moistens all, lashing independence down.
Dry frictions of the upper air tear me
Apart at last, for I'll suck no more
From Zeus' tap, whose bitter dregs swell contempt.
You've come to watch and dive home to your conchs.

It strains my spongelike affections to see
You in such torture. Let me talk to Zeus.
It was by right reason as much as force
That he hurled Kronos from the throne. 
You must at least, since all do chorus it,
Applaud his generalship.

                         I'd rather laud
The humidest dung with reeking laurel wreaths
Than crown him thus.

                     Ungrateful god, to say so!

I have been his companion in these wars.
I knocked Kronos to his knees that Zeus ascend
To his present height on the conquered back.
Now let him from that crooked pedestal survey
Pestilent fields blacked by my bitterness;
He shall find no edge to that horizon
That commands all space, for my poor heart,
Like a coal used and burst, has swollen
Acres by his ingratitude. O, I've sopped
Millions of hurts in his service
Silent as a maid.

                   Your jeweled wit
Which was in Thetis' rich womb in-treasured
Does but some gleam of His lightnings redirect
And is not the cause of all.

                              That's hard talk;
And hard words make poor entreaty.
[Aside] Perhaps he comes in good conscience and not
As Zeus' spy to view my wreck, or pry
My hidden prophecy from its safe place.
Either way, if he's come to help or hurt
I must whip him hence, for his own good
And mine... Go, dog! Fly my anger!
Your love is dust and advice a scourge
That must lash like feathers against adamant,
Uselessly. Go! I'll treat with you no more! 

That's hard talk.
Have you all your gentle manner abandoned,
And like the skulking cur beaten from its house
Bark kind hands back, to spike me with such speech?

O, yes, you're the one spiked and chained, not I.

Do you make a tenant of your reason
To throw him out thus when there's rent to pay?
Your diamond arguments were once arrayed
By a blazing mind. Now my substance weeps
To see noble wits like paupers dressed
And set stumbling in the streets.

[Aside] Brother god!
Your lashes sting me for my betterment.
[To Okeanos] Nevertheless, if it is not your desire
To see my frissioned death, it is your fate.
For what other design could pepper hearts
With a love that calls them from their rest to see
That love's destruction, besides blank-eyed Fate
Who, like the lanternfish, but with a fruit of mirrors,
Gazes in herself to find our dates?
Hopeful seeds must witness the vanquished
 flower's fall.             
[Aside] So you, who seeded friendship in my heart,
Must watch cold roots break what nourished them.

Beg sustenance from Zeus and all will be well;
For he brews such stuff as will raise titans
From discarded dolls. You know I love you well--

These words feed me well, who teems on discontent.
Sway on, ocean.

                 To move with the marrow
Of a great strength shows no weakness in yourself.
Brilliance is not all in solitary
Leisure consummated, nor is obedience
Any bodiless thing but a substance
Of affection stuffed into a man
Makes him loyal to God's descending prayer;
For only those below have this power:
To lift what's sacred higher than themselves.

What's this? One god still loyal as a dog?
[Aside ] Those below have this power... does he hint
At overthrow? Surely what's tacked
In the sky may be by good carpenters
And what's Zeus but an uplifted image?

The mightiest sword-hand that ever lived
But obeyed its bones. Do the same yourself
And thrive when times are direst. I'll talk
Zeus out of his sternness; it is an affect
Frowned upon him by your dark broods.

[Aside] Whatever else you are, or yet may be,
Your eye lies waterlogged by surging sleep
To see me thus; you are not yet awake
From Zeus' sea-dream of the perfect state.

I'll talk, and with oceans of arguments
Subdue his silhouetted heights to one calm.
I'll talk, and let such a sea of speech
Subsume his reason, he'll welcome back with banquets
The despised prodigal, who banished found
His way home to true love in foreign fields.
And if all this does not settle him
I'll infect his dreams with loving whispers
That transform all the wild fancy of his mind
To your belated praises. This I swear.
And if with his lightnings he'll try the waves
We'll dodge 'em!

Brave Okeanos! O brave!
Now my heart cracks in truth, to be so loved.
Now shall I endure my trial as much
In comfort as in terror; you've cozied
My jolts with your gentleness. Look, my guards
[Shaking chains] Shiver to behold a countenance
So alive with friend's love. The stones are friendly 
For me by your example, and nearly
Melt for my release, they are so deeply moved.
You'll contest his trined lightnings with your own
Thrown up by splashing water? Good brave god!
But do not throw yourself in the chasm
Of my cause. No, rather let me suffer
My ordained ignominy as I must.
For then will the mute chords of nature break
And the stars like mourners torches be cast
In deep waters; all order unhinge
And the chaos that lies in things flow loosed
Over the whole earth, to see such injustice!

But let me speak what your countenance conveys---

If you'll not by Zeus' command be bound
As this brave embassy proves, then be bound
By mine to silence. Untongue yourself here
And issue not your honest thoughts to Zeus
---He'll carve dwarves of them. Its God's firm habit
To batter after what cannot be bartered for
By threats and faces. Instead stand silent
And stare high clouds down with that dignity
Which does my soul soldier's service thus.

But let me talk...

                      Do not.
A prophecy I hold close keeps me warm.
Hold your teeming tongue. Do not speak, but go.
[Exit Okeanos]
I loved him ever.

                   You say prophecy
And then say silence.

                      What's the mystery
That feathers stone beds?

Tell us.

         I know my immortal story.
It was a gift beguiled before my birth---
[Enter IO, stumbling, beautiful]

What loveliness is this that astounds the stage?
Silence, ladies, it is my heart that stumbles.
Her glance heals me all. She carries soft looks
That sit cased in the face of Patience
Who gazes miseries past their durance
And makes my suffering small by looking on it.
Who are you, soft creature? Why have you come?

In truth, sir, I run from my troubles
And am hunted by my own frailties,
Which bay me to your company.

Sweet girl,
What are your troubles, who must not suffer
Or prove the world too cruel to live upon
That sweetens its hard tooth on such fresh life?
Or, if true hurt, but suffer as the lamb
Made sad by want of playmates. Say, innocence,
What song you brother angels sing to catch you;
Teach me those notes, and, by life, I'll lung them 
Back to heaven! Say, dear, what is your name.

Oh, heavens that have cursed me with such a one!
I had rather been blanked of hearing all
Than know my name.

                    Even so, you have one.

Even so do spiteful breaths that say it
Make me sail away, by their puffed impulse
Repulsed. Do you still require my badge of me?
Your silence implores it, which speaks you well.
I have ever loved a quiet moping look.
Even so came Zeus to my father's fields,
Crowned by that affection eyes alone may speak.
I knew him a king, and myself a woman
Equal to a king's desires, and anon
We joined while the hay shuffled; anon loved.

Bickered to sin by jealous Hera's tongue?

He lugged an obscure grudge from Hera's bed
Into our talk, and I gave God my pity...
Even so, to escape her haughty hate
Was I stuffed into this rough cow-skin suit,
Fenced with her beasts, and by Argus guarded
Whose thousand eyes were trained on my disgrace
Until Hermes in one swat shut them up.
Since then I'm followed by this stumbling bug
Who stings me fresh to new misfortunes.
Now you've heard my story do you know my name?

Even so.

          Even so, I am Io.

Io! Sorrows ravens hover near you still.
In truth, you're legended among gossips,
And no ear escapes the buzz of your troubles.

If I could drown disaster with a flood of tears
Or tear vengeful Hera from her watchful post
By cries inflicting lightnings like those
Her husband owns, I'd do it. Though Nature swoon
To be so usurped and have its queen
Plummeted from still stars to the churning mud
I'd do it. Zeus himself was the first strong arm
To bruise the celestial order, which runs
Corrected by his divine direction.
Cannot a woman do it, whose swollen loins
Drop kings into their kingdoms, and whose breasts
Milk tyrants? To be so stung and beaten
Makes me, like the dog caught in a hailstorm,
Hate all that's above.

You shall not do it.
Although you make a nation's millions march
Against the skies, you shall not do it.
Although you stalk his crimson heart
From the ladder of his ribs, and with a cannonade
Of brass take aim, you shall not do it.
Nothing in the empery of man or god would prove
Arsenal enough for your objective;
Sooner should grass crown kings and legions bear
Feathers for their killing swords, than you should win.
Almanac of all absurd desires,
Pinnacle of impossibilities!

But why? Why?

My dreams herald against it.

Then Zeus shall reign forever, and Hera
Forever be his surmounting queen.

Come here; let me whisper to you the truth.
[She goes to him]

[Breaking away]
I can't stand it! I cannot stay.

Sweet girl.
So truth drives beauty out, or mad with its stings.
Perhaps I must lay me at fortune's foot
Which rolls over all, and not from this mount
Rehearse my troubles to the earless air
That can no further than a coffin's silks
Carry dead men's prayers. I'll lie quiet.
Here in the dust, father and mother, 
Our indignities end. Let me lie simple as a butterfly,
Pinned and grinning. Dulcet air invades these crags
And must each enmity suffuse until its joy.
The ground is not adverse, and harshness lessens.
In his black mouth, the fox has brought a berry
For the unkilled bird. Look, she dabbles in its gauds.
Oh, I'll die singing now, seeing portents live.
Every creature knows its secret brother
In such sights, and by such seeing blessed.
Let opposition perish. All must love. I'll rest.
[Daughters of Ocean make a noise]
Who's this stalks upon my meditation?

Still, tell us how Zeus will be brought down,
How by patient fate unpinned from the stars.

Zeus amid his lusts will marry trammeled Io,
And get my vengeance on her fertility.

Zeus' son will undo him!

                         Zeus will fall.

I will outwit death. When pasturage gloms
His blades, and the mower's skis are tongued in green,
I will worm from my putrid root, shed death,
And groan in glory toward the sun again.

We must keep silent.

                      Pray Zeus does not hear.

It will be hard for Zeus to outrun
My whispering words. He shall fall fated.

Don't you tremble at your own daring?

Bound down and roaring like the freest lion!

My mouth speaks graves where Zeus plows
 but dead ground.        

Oh, quiet. Even blind gods can hear such curses.

Then let him windmill daggers at my voice,
Naught will drown it. Let him rage his white skies
An eternal red, and it shall stain me
No more than colored glass in the chapel
May pierce  a baby's sleeping cheek. I'm not fated.

[Enter Hephastos]

Zeus has heard everything. You must now say
What will come dismembering Zeus as night
The softest yellow body of day consumes.

You come bearing the vengeful cup of Zeus
All muddy now with blood. Dictatorship
Speaks weak words through confident megaphones
That boom the shouting opposition down
And drowns the quiet censure of its victims.

Unlock your prophecy.

                      Never, never
Will I go throwing gold to my starving foes
That they may banquet fatly at my defeat.

Have you nothing for you father then?

I stand wounded in his debt, who has taught
Such tough lessons that I can only wish
To answer with repayment.

                          Do not mock
You last hope out of hearing, Prometheus.
Wise words tell wise acts what to do.

Then why
Have your parrot words not puffed you upwards
To out-size Zeus? Are they not his swelled thoughts,
His din of instructions, that you sound here?
Is it any other voice that carps aloud
His squeaking pleas? "O, Prometheus, say
What is in your mind that we cannot guess."
Say what you cannot guess? Surely my thought
Is less wise than that you high gods possess.
Say my mind? It would gainsay all you have
Pronounced, and be most unholy.

None of this helps.
Will you go against God and rave forever?
What sweetness can be heard in one's own voice
Dropped in an unechoing void?

My case
was looked into and verdict passed long ago.

But frame your answers to your miseries
And you can go as free as any prideless bird.

Your words crest and break against me lightly.
They beat in vain against decided stone
That shall not loosen. No small moss of fear
Creeps into my heart to dislodge courage
From determination. I was not made
To shatter at any asking, or turn
Bound hands up begging mutinous mercy
To release pensive chains from straining wrists.

I do not love a hot rebuke. But show
Some contrite design in the words you use,
Saying "Pardon..." or "I forgot myself..."
---But let your tongue display some modest flavor
As when a strutting peacock nods to get
Progeny on his mistress, relaxing
In the sweet summer air his strenuous song
And I will melt. Zeus withholds judgment yet;
Remain untoward and our contrasts must yield
As a furious star into the thick
Ocean fallen, nothing but blind fogs and steams.

This world passes like a prayer in the dark.

I do not wish my ill success in this, or wish
My prayers to crawl like a crying worm
Into deaf ears that feel only the nearest trumpet,
Insensible to all else. But you are hard...

Chop and prate with me as you wish to will,
You shall not hew my meaning to your ends.

Unless fierce interchange swap gods and men
And men show more of gratitude than sharp nature
Points them to already, you are eternally cursed.

Then hear how you shall suffer. Hurricanes
Of God's ill will shall come dashing lights
Against these hard rocks in hungry strokes
And eat up their solidity. But that
Won't lard our Zeus whose righteous anger
Keeps him trim as the vital viper. For then
He'll throw such thunders at the earth
Every stony crag shall abate its toughness
And obedient tons of earth liquefy
To drown rebellion. Then... Then you will fall
More black years than you have already lived
Recounting your crimes in meditation
Until you crash to the appointed place.

Shall the sinner there have hope of rest?

But, after a while, light will come circling back,
Though you will not see Zeus come reproaching you
With blows, he will send his loyal dog to feast
On your chained liver. Out of the dawn sky
Each day His loved vulture's abhorrent head
Will slide thirstily down on buffeting wings
And tap you to the marrow. When painful night
Stitches up your severest wounds to
Fresh bruises once again, and you sit plumped
Like a rich raspberry in the sun
That bleeds its virgin ripe to the first hand,
God's bald vulture, renewed by hunger, will return
With his fingering beak.

Will you show no mercy for this perfect
Creature? Prometheus, bow down your head.
Haughtiest power forgives such obedience.

Do not dream that this will ever end.
No god will change his bracelets for your chains.
No man will trade his own disasters
For another's. God's mouth cannot say
Other than what is, and His every word must break
In action, or have no living meaning.
Decide how best to unwind your brash fate
Before the dizzy clock must terminate.

Prometheus, repent! We must go.


Words at last have made the earth convulse.
Thunder shivers the dust from these rocks,
Light flashes out, as if the thought
Of some terrible mind issued itself in fire.
Air shreds. Boulders leap like hares from the sling.
Sea and earth are confounded to black mud.
See him, a tongue of tinfoil in his
Tiny chariot, raised by obedient winds
Above the argument of the storm? Fire licks the wheels.
I think, when my heart stops for a minute,
I can make out the pinched shadow of his frown.
[Disappearing beneath stage]
O blue earth, O blue mother, love me
And see me suffer.


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