During the fighting over the body of Patroclus, Prince Hector tries and fails to capture the horses that power Achilles’ chariot. Thereafter they refuse to move across the battlefield until:
   On Ida’s side
Women waist deep in twilight sit and spin.
   Within a bowshot of the dunes
Notice Achilles’ horses, still as stone.
No death; no dung; this holy pair;
Tails down; their muzzles near the sand.
And on his knees before them, soon to die,
Achilles’ charioteer, Alastor, prays:
   “Dear Lord,
I am an ordinary man.
Put aloes in my mouth, I wince; put spice
Smiles emerge from me. And if You chuck my chin,
Why, Dearest Lord, those smiles I’ll raise to laughter,
Even song.
   Pardon my hope to make these creatures run,
To stall Achilles’ hand, to keep my fame,
That since they lost Patroclus heed no word.”

Consider planes at touchdown—how they poise;
   Or palms, beneath a numbered hurricane;
   Or birds, wheeled sideways over windswept heights;
   Or burly salmon challenging a weir;
   Right-angled, dreamy fliers, as they ride
   The instep of a dying wave, or trace
   Diagonals on treacherous snowslopes:

Jump cuts like these may give
Some definition to the mind’s wild eye
That follow-spots Achilles’ pair
As they come Troyside on towards the bay,
In answer to God’s answer to that prayer:
   “Run free.”

This Issue

October 11, 1979