A Second Speech from Euripides’ Bacchae

Pentheus set out, and I went behind him—
sightseers, with the Stranger as our guide.
When we had left the city of Thebes behind us
and crossed the river Asopus, we went up
and marched along a spur of Mount Cithaeron.
We settled first inside a grassy hollow
and kept our feet muted, our tongues in check,
so we could see and not ourselves be seen.
There was a rocky dale where springs were flowing,
and pines spread shade, that’s where we found the Maenads—
they all just sat there busying their hands
with pleasant tasks. Some of them wound the threadbare
wreaths atop their fennel stalks with ivy;
others, like fillies loosed from fancy saddles,
were singing Bacchic songs to one another.
Since he could not make out the band of females
well enough, poor Pentheus fretted, “Stranger,
from where we are, my eyes can’t quite discern
those phony Bacchants. If I climbed the tallest
fir tree on that ridge, though, I could fully
investigate the Maenads’ shameful acts.”


Here in the strangeness you are straying through,
a citron hawk is yawping as he wheels,
fluorescent moss is yielding to your heels
and trilliums are blooming where the Sioux
lie heaped in barrows. Even death is new.
Go stroke that pine, feel how the resin feels. . .
Manhattanite, your touching awe reveals
how otherworldly nature’s been to you.

There’s no bodega, zoo or high-rise here—
a broken moldering birch, like déjà-vu;
like déjà-vu, that grove alive with deer
and squirrels, flying squirrels. Amnesiac,
why is this forest like a place you knew?
Not Central Park, but deeper, further back.