“Sorrow too deep to tell, your majesty,
You order me to tell and feel once more:
How the Danaans leveled in the dust
The splendor of our mourned-forever kingdom—
Heartbreaking things I saw with my own eyes
And was myself a part of. Who could tell them,
Even a Myrmidon or Dolopian
Or ruffian of Ulysses, without tears?
Now, too, the night is well along, with dewfall,
Out of heaven, and setting stars weigh down
Our heads toward sleep. But if so great desire
Moves you to hear the tale of our disasters,
Briefly recalled, the final throes of Troy,
However I may shudder at the memory
And shrink again in grief, let me begin.
Knowing their strength broken in warfare, turned
Back by the fates, and years—so many years—
Already slipped away, the Danaan captains
By the divine handicraft of Pallas built
A horse of timber, tall as a hill,
And sheathed its ribs with planking of cut pine.
This they gave out to be an offering
For a safe return by sea, and the word went round.
But on the sly they shut inside a company
Chosen from their picked soldiery by lot,
Crowding the vaulted caverns in the dark—
The horse’s belly—with men fully armed.
Offshore there’s a long island, Tenedos,
Famous and rich while Priam’s kingdom lasted,
A treacherous anchorage now, and nothing more.
They crossed to this and hid their ships behind it
On the bare shore beyond. We thought they’d gone,
Sailing home to Mycenae before the wind.
So Teucer’s town is freed of her long anguish,
Gates thrown wide! And out we go in joy
To see the Dorian campsites, all deserted,
The beach they left behind. Here the Dolopians
Pitched their tents, here cruel Achilles lodged,
There lay the ships, and there, formed up in ranks,
They came inland to fight us. Of our men
One group stood marveling, gaping up to see
The dire gift of the cold unbedded goddess,
The sheer mass of the horse.
It should be hauled inside the walls and moored
High on the citadel—whether by treason
Or just because Troy’s fate went that way now.
Capys opposed him; so did the wiser heads:
‘Into the sea with it,’ they said, ‘or burn it,
Build up a bonfire under it,
This trick of the Greeks, a gift no one can trust,
Or cut it open, search the hollow belly!’
Contrary notions pulled the crowd apart.
Next thing we knew, in front of everyone,
Laocoön with a great company
Came furiously running from the Height,
And still far off cried out: ‘O my poor people,
Men of Troy, what madness has come over you?
Can you believe the enemy truly gone?
A gift from the Danaans, and no ruse?
Is that Ulysses’ way, as you have known him?
Achaeans must be hiding in this timber,
Or it was built to get around our walls,
Peer over them into our houses, pelt
The city from the sky. Some crookedness
Is in this thing. Have no faith in the horse!
Whatever it is, even when Greeks bring gifts
I fear them, gifts and all.’
He broke off then
And rifled his big spear with all his might
Against the horse’s flank, the curve of belly.
It stuck there trembling, and the rounded hull
Reverberated groaning at the blow.
If the gods’ will had not been sinister,
If our own minds had not been crazed,
He would have made us foul that Argive den
With bloody steel, and Troy would stand today—
O citadel of Priam, towering still!”
February 7, 1980