The following is the opening of Ted Hughes’s translation of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, which he completed before his death on October 29.
You Gods in Heaven—
You have watched me here on this tower
All night, every night for twelve months
Tethered on the roof of this palace
Like a dog.
It is time to release me.
I’ve stared long enough into this darkness
For what never emerges.
I’m tired of the constellations—
That glittering parade of lofty rulers
Night after night a little bit earlier
Withholding the thing I wait for—
Slow as torture.
And the moon, coming and going—
Wearisome, like watching the sea
From a death-bed. Like watching the tide
In its prison yard, with its two turns
In out in out.
I’m sick of the heavens, sick of the darkness.
The one light I wait for never comes.
Maybe it never will come—
A beacon-flare that leaps from peak to peak
Bringing the news from Troy—
“Victory! After ten years, Victory!”
The one word that Clytemnestra prays for.
Queen Clytemnestra—who wears
A man’s heart in a woman’s breast,
A man’s dreadful will in the scabbard of her body
Like a polished blade. A hidden blade.
Clytemnestra reigns over fear.
I get up sodden with dew.
I walk about, to shift my aches.
I lie down—the aches harden worse,
No dreams. No sleep. Only fear—
Fear like a solid lump of indigestion
Here, high in my belly—a seething.
Singing’s good for fear
But when I try to sing—weeping comes.
I weep. There’s no keeping it down.
Everything’s changed in this palace.
The old days,
The rightful King, order, safety, splendor
A splendor that lifted the heart—
Let that flame come leaping out of the East
To release me.
December 3, 1998