LORD of the Pythian treasure ,
What meaneth the word thou hast spoken?
The strange and wondrous word,
Which Thebes has heard,
Oh! it hath shaken our hearts to a faltering measure!
A token, O Paian, a token!
What is thy boon to us?
Shall it come soon to us,
Shall it be long e’er the circle bend
Full round to the fatal end?
Answer us, daughter of Hope,
Voice born Immortal of golden Hope!
First therefore thou be entreated,
Divine unapproachable maiden ,
And Artemis with thee, our aid to be,
In the mid mart of our city majestical seated,
And Phoebus the archer death-laden!
By your affinity
Help us. And as in the time gone by
Ye have bowed to our plaintive cry,
Bowed to our misery sore:
So come to us now as ye came before.
Ah me! it is a world, a world of woe,
Plague upon the height and plague below!
And they mow us with murderous glaive,
And never a shield to save!
Never a fruit of the earth comes to the birth,
And in vain, in vain
Is the cry and the labor of mothers, and all for a fruitless pain.
Ghost upon ghost they are wafted away:
One with another they die,
Swifter than flame do they fly
From life, from light, from day.
Ah me! it is a world, a world of dead,
Feverous and foul, with corpses spread:
And they lie as they lie, unbefriended.
Where are the mothers, and where are the wives?
They are fled, fled for their lives,
To the alters to pray,
There to lie, to sigh,
And to pray, and to pray unattended,
With choir and cry
Lamentation and litany blended.
And only, O Maiden, by thee may our marred estate be mended.
The fiend of plague, whose swordless hand
Burns like battle through the land,
With wild tempestuous wailing all about him,–
O cross his track and turn him back
O meet him, thou, and rout him!
Let him sink again
Deep in the deepest main!
Let him mingle in horrible motion
With the wildest ocean!
(For still what ‘scapes the cruel night,
Cruel day destroys it quite.)
But oh! with thunder-stroke
Let our enemy and thine be broke,–
O Zeus! –
Father! — let him know thy wrath, thy wrath divine!
O God of light, from lightsome bow
Cast abroad thy fiery snow,
Like morsels cast thine arrowy, fiery snow!
And thou, O mountain maiden pure,
His sister, stand our champion sure,
Stand and strow
Arrows, as fire, below!
Thou too — thou art Theban — O Bacchus,
Thou — art thou not Theban? — O Bacchus,
In rosy bloom, elate and strong,
Lead thy madding train along,
Until thy fiery chase
Hunt the demon from the place
O follow, follow him far, afar!
This English translation, by Arthur Woolgar Verrall, of ‘Prayer for Deliverance from the Pestilence’ is reprinted from Greek Poets in English Verse. Ed. William Hyde Appleton. Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1893.