-- from "Helen" by George Seferis
on a night like this, by the shore of Proteus,
the Spartan slave girls heard you and began their lament,
and among them- who would have believed it? -Helen!
She whom we hunted so many years by the banks of the Scamander.
She was there, at the desert's lip; I touched her; she spoke to me:
"It isn't true, it isn't true," she cried.
"I didn't board the blue-bowed ship.
I never went to valiant Troy."
Breasts girded high, the sun in her hair, and that stature
shadows and smiles everywhere,
on shoulders, thighs, and knees;
the skin alive, and her eyes
with the large eyelids,
she was there, on the banks of a Delta.
And at Troy?
At Troy, nothing: just a phantom image.
The gods wanted it so.
And Paris, Paris lay with a shadow as though it were a solid being;
and for ten whole years we slaughtered ourselves for Helen.
Paris railed against Hermes Trismegistus saying:
For ten years, I lay with a shadow as if it were a solid being. Ten years I stared at her over the breakfast table, trying to get a rise out of her, trying to get some show of emotion besides lowered eyes and a quiet voice.
"I love you."
"I tricked you."
"I took you from your home."
"I need your touch, your smile."
"Your children should be grown by now."
For ten years I lay with a shadow of a woman as if she were a solid being; my prize, my satisfaction stolen from me.
Menelaus railed against Hermes Trismegistus saying:
For ten years, we slaughtered ourselves for a phantom image! Ten years I ordered the best and brightest men of my country to their deaths to avenge a shadow, squandered the resources of my homeland and my house on nothing.
Ten years I strove to crush Paris.
Ten years I strove to punish Priam for protecting them.
Ten years it took me to avenge the dishonor they placed upon my house.
For ten years I sacrificed every ship, every man, every coin in my possession just to lay my hands once more upon a shadow, to wring the treacherous life from her neck as if she were a solid being; my pride, my satisfaction stolen from me.
Rameses railed against Hermes Trismegistus, saying:
For ten years, I've watched perfection in flesh and blood as she moves through the temple of Hathor at Memphis. Ten years I have grown into a man, always watching, always wanting the wife of another man -- men?
"I love you."
"I need you."
"Let me make you my queen."
For ten years, I've watched flesh and life and laughter while outside the temple, men seek to own, to destroy a shadow. I've been teased, toyed with, tricked and tossed aside while Helen consummates a destiny in which I have no place.
Why couldn't you have given me her shadow instead?