James Elroy Flecker

The Ballad of Zacho

(a Greek legend)

Zacho the King rode out of old
    (And truth is what I tell)
With saddle and spurs and a rein of gold
    To find the door of Hell.

And round around him surged the dead
    With soft and lustrous eyes.
"Why came you here, old friend?" they said:
    "Unwise ... unwise ... unwise!

"You should have left to the prince your son
    Spurs and saddle and rein:
Your bright and morning days are done;
    You ride not out again."

"I came to greet my friends who fell
    Sword-scattered from my side;
And when I've drunk the wine of Hell
    I'll out again and ride!"

But Charon rose and caught his hair
    In fingers sharp and long.
"Loose me, old ferryman: play fair:
    Try if my arm be strong."

Thrice drave he hard on Charon's breast,
    And struck him thrice to ground,
Till stranger ghosts came out o' the west
    And sat like stars around.

And thrice old Charon rose up high
    And seized him as before.
"Loose me! a broken man am I,
    And fight with you no more."

"Zacho, arise, my home is near;
    I pray you walk with me:
I've hung my tent so full of fear
    You well may shake to see.

"Home to my home come they who fight,
    Who fight but not to win:
Without, my tent is black as night,
    And red as fire within.

"Though winds blow cold and I grow old,
    My tent is fast and fair:
The pegs are dead men's stout right arms,
    The cords, their golden hair."