'Fragment of a Greek Tragedy' by Alfred Edward Housman

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CHORUS:O suitably-attired-in-leather-boots
Head of a traveller, wherefore seeking whom
Whence by what way how purposed art thou come
To this well-nightingaled vicinity?
My object in inquiring is to know.
But if you happen to be deaf and dumb
And do not understand a word I say,
Then wave your hand, to signify as much.

ALCMAEON: I journeyed hither a Boetian road.
CHORUS: Sailing on horseback, or with feet for oars?
ALCMAEON: Plying with speed my partnership of legs.
CHORUS: Beneath a shining or a rainy Zeus?
ALCMAEON: Mud's sister, not himself, adorns my shoes.
CHORUS: To learn your name would not displease me much.
ALCMAEON: Not all that men desire do they obtain.
CHORUS: Might I then hear at what thy presence shoots.
ALCMAEON: A shepherd's questioned mouth informed me that--
CHORUS: What? for I know not yet what you will say.
ALCMAEON: Nor will you ever, if you interrupt.
CHORUS: Proceed, and I will hold my speechless tongue.
ALCMAEON: This house was Eriphyle's, no one else's.
CHORUS: Nor did he shame his throat with shameful lies.
ALCMAEON: May I then enter, passing through the door?
CHORUS: Go chase into the house a lucky foot.
And, O my son, be, on the one hand, good,
And do not, on the other hand, be bad;
For that is much the safest plan.
ALCMAEON: I go into the house with heels and speed.



In speculation
I would not willingly acquire a name
For ill-digested thought;
But after pondering much
To this conclusion I at last have come:
This truth I have written deep
In my reflective midriff
On tablets not of wax,
Nor with a pen did I inscribe it there,
For many reasons:LIFE, I say, IS NOT
Not from the flight of omen-yelling fowls
This fact did I discover,
Nor did the Delphine tripod bark it out,
Nor yet Dodona.
Its native ingunuity sufficed
My self-taught diaphragm.


Why should I mention
The Inachean daughter, loved of Zeus?
Her whom of old the gods,
More provident than kind,
Provided with four hoofs, two horns, one tail,
A gift not asked for,
And sent her forth to learn
The unfamiliar science
Of how to chew the cud.
She therefore, all about the Argive fields,
Went cropping pale green grass and nettle-tops,
Nor did they disagree with her.
But yet, howe'er nutritious, such repasts
I do not hanker after:
Never may Cypris for her seat select
My dappled liver!
Why should I mention Io?Why indeed?
I have no notion why.


But now does my boding heart,
Unhired, unaccompanied, sing
A strain not meet for the dance.
Yes even the palace appears
To my yoke of circular eyes
(The right, nor omit I the left)
Like a slaughterhouse, so to speak,
Garnished with woolly deaths
And many sphipwrecks of cows.
I therefore in a Cissian strain lament:
And to the rapid
Loud, linen-tattering thumps upon my chest
Resounds in concert
The battering of my unlucky head.

ERIPHYLE (within): O, I am smitten with a hatchet's jaw;
And that in deed and not in word alone.
CHORUS: I thought I heard a sound within the house
Unlike the voice of one that jumps for joy.
ERIPHYLE: He splits my skull, not in a friendly way,
Once more: he purposes to kill me dead.
CHORUS: I would not be reputed rash, but yet
I doubt if all be gay within the house.
ERIPHYLE: O! O! another stroke! that makes the third.
He stabs me to the heart against my wish.
CHORUS:If that be so, thy state of health is poor;
But thine arithmetic is quite correct.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Fragment of a Greek Tragedy: A Deep Dive into Housman's Masterpiece

Have you ever found yourself lost in the world of Greek mythology? The tales of gods and goddesses, of love and war, of pride and destruction have fascinated people for centuries. And who can blame them? With its complex characters, poetic language, and timeless themes, Greek mythology has inspired countless artists, writers, and thinkers throughout the ages.

One such artist is Alfred Edward Housman, who in 1899 wrote a stunning poem titled "Fragment of a Greek Tragedy." In just a few stanzas, Housman manages to capture the essence of tragedy, the fragility of human existence, and the power of fate. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will take a deep dive into Housman's masterpiece, analyzing its language, structure, and themes, and uncovering the hidden meanings and messages that lie beneath the surface.

Before we begin our analysis, let's first look at the text of the poem:

Stars that have a tint of gold,
And a scent of violets,
Blue as the night can hold,
And white as snow and wet:

I know a valley fair,
Where many a rock is grey,
And the steep oak-shadows dare
To put the stars away.

And many a tree like lace
With cherry blossom spreads,
And many a smiling face
Shows where the violet beds.

And I know a river deep,
Where the waves are broad and still,
And the groves on the banks are steep,
And the valley sides are chill.

And there a creature lies,
And he looks with lids half-drawn,
And he sees where the water flies,
And he sees the morning dawn.

And he hears from the steep oak-tree
What time the nightingale sings,
And he thinks 'tis the voice of me,
And he sees me spread my wings.

He knows the place of my rest,
And the place whence I take flight,
And he knows the thoughts in my breast,
And the words that I recite.

He knows not me nor mine,
Nor whence I am nor whither:
But he sees, when the stars shine,
The Dolphin of the River.

At first glance, one might wonder what this poem has to do with Greek tragedy. There are no references to gods or heroes, no epic battles or tragic love stories. Instead, we are presented with a peaceful and idyllic scene of a valley, a river, and a creature who watches and listens to the world around him. But as we delve deeper into the poem, we begin to realize that there is much more going on beneath the surface.

Let's start by analyzing the language and structure of the poem. The first thing that strikes us is the beauty and lyricism of Housman's writing. The opening lines, with their images of golden stars and violet scents, are both sensual and ethereal. The repetition of the word "and" creates a sense of accumulation and abundance, as if the poet is piling images on top of each other to create a rich tapestry of sensory experience.

The poem is structured into three stanzas, each of which describes a different aspect of the natural world: a valley, a river, and a creature. The stanzas are linked together by the repeated use of the word "and," which creates a sense of continuity and fluidity. The first stanza describes the valley in vivid detail, using images of grey rocks, steep oak-shadows, and cherry blossoms to paint a picture of serene beauty. The second stanza introduces the river, with its broad and still waves and steep groves on the banks. The third stanza focuses on the creature, who lies half-drawn on the bank and watches and listens to the world around him.

But what is the significance of this creature? Who is he and why is he important? Here is where we begin to uncover the hidden meanings and messages of the poem. The creature is described as seeing the morning dawn and hearing the nightingale sing. He knows the place of the poet's rest and the place whence she takes flight. He knows the thoughts in her breast and the words that she recites. And yet he knows not her nor whence she is nor whither.

Here we have the central theme of the poem: the dichotomy between knowing and not knowing, between intimacy and distance, between presence and absence. The creature knows everything about the poet except for her identity and her destination. He sees her spread her wings and hears her voice, but he cannot touch her or communicate with her directly. There is a sense of longing and yearning in this relationship, as if the creature is both fascinated and frustrated by the poet's presence. He knows that she exists, but he cannot fully grasp who she is or why she is there.

This theme of presence and absence is a common one in Greek tragedy. The gods and goddesses are often depicted as distant and remote, observing the actions of mortals from afar but not intervening directly in their lives. The heroes and heroines are often torn between their desire for glory and their fear of death, between their love for others and their need for independence. And the audience is often left with a sense of both awe and despair, as they witness the tragedies unfold but cannot change the outcome.

In "Fragment of a Greek Tragedy," Housman captures this theme of presence and absence in a subtle and poignant way. The creature represents the mortal world, with all its beauty and fragility. The poet represents the divine or the spiritual world, with all its mystery and power. And the relationship between them represents the eternal struggle between the known and the unknown, the visible and the invisible, the finite and the infinite.

But what is the significance of the title, "Fragment of a Greek Tragedy"? Is Housman suggesting that this poem is just a small part of a larger work, or is he comparing his own writing to the great tragedies of antiquity? There are several possible interpretations of this title, but one thing is clear: Housman is using the conventions of Greek tragedy to explore universal themes of human existence. He is not merely imitating the ancient poets, but rather using their language and imagery to create something new and original.

In conclusion, "Fragment of a Greek Tragedy" is a masterpiece of poetic language, subtle imagery, and timeless themes. Housman's use of repetition, accumulation, and contrast creates a sense of continuity and fragmentation that mirrors the human condition. His exploration of presence and absence, intimacy and distance, known and unknown, reveals the depth and complexity of the human spirit. And his use of Greek mythology and tragedy reminds us of the enduring power and relevance of these ancient stories. So next time you find yourself lost in the world of Greek mythology, remember the words of Alfred Edward Housman: "He sees, when the stars shine, the Dolphin of the River."

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The world of literature is filled with masterpieces that have stood the test of time, and one such work is the Poetry Fragment of a Greek Tragedy by Alfred Edward Housman. This classic piece of literature is a testament to the power of poetry and the human imagination. In this analysis, we will delve into the intricacies of this poem and explore its themes, structure, and language.

The Poetry Fragment of a Greek Tragedy is a short but powerful poem that captures the essence of Greek tragedy. The poem is written in the form of a fragment, which adds to its mystique and allure. The poem begins with the line, "Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing, through the graves the wind is blowing." This line sets the tone for the rest of the poem and creates a sense of foreboding and unease.

The poem then goes on to describe the scene of a graveyard, where the wind is blowing through the graves. The imagery in this poem is vivid and haunting, and it creates a sense of melancholy and sadness. The use of the wind as a metaphor for death is particularly effective, as it creates a sense of movement and change.

The poem then takes a turn, as it introduces the character of a young man who is mourning the loss of his lover. The young man is described as being "pale as the death that quenched her eyes." This line is particularly powerful, as it creates a sense of the young man's grief and despair. The use of the word "quenched" is also significant, as it implies that the young woman's life has been extinguished, like a flame.

The young man then goes on to lament the fact that his lover is gone, and he will never see her again. He says, "I shall never hear her more by the reedy Lindis shore." This line is significant, as it creates a sense of finality and loss. The use of the word "never" is particularly effective, as it implies that the young man's grief is permanent.

The poem then takes another turn, as it introduces the character of a wise old man who tries to console the young man. The old man tells the young man that death is a natural part of life, and that he should not mourn his lover's passing. He says, "But the oak tree stands in the forest, green, and old in the forest, and dies in the forest afar." This line is significant, as it creates a sense of continuity and the cyclical nature of life. The use of the oak tree as a metaphor for life is also effective, as it creates a sense of strength and resilience.

The poem then ends with the line, "Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing, through the graves the wind is blowing." This line is significant, as it creates a sense of closure and finality. The use of the wind as a metaphor for death is also effective, as it creates a sense of movement and change.

The structure of the poem is also significant, as it is written in the form of a fragment. This adds to the poem's mystique and allure, as it creates a sense of incompleteness. The use of the fragment also creates a sense of ambiguity, as the reader is left to interpret the poem's meaning.

The language used in the poem is also significant, as it is simple and direct. The use of simple language creates a sense of clarity and immediacy, which adds to the poem's power. The use of direct language also creates a sense of honesty and authenticity, which adds to the poem's emotional impact.

In conclusion, the Poetry Fragment of a Greek Tragedy is a powerful and haunting poem that captures the essence of Greek tragedy. The poem's use of imagery, structure, and language creates a sense of foreboding and unease, which adds to its emotional impact. The poem's themes of death, loss, and the cyclical nature of life are also significant, as they create a sense of continuity and resilience. Overall, the Poetry Fragment of a Greek Tragedy is a masterpiece of literature that has stood the test of time, and it continues to inspire and move readers to this day.

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