What a furnace! What a battle!
To this day, I tell you, down my
spine there goes an icy shiver:
how she fought beside your father –
tautening her bow – with her own sinew? –
with her own womanly will – so wondrous
was her bow its upsurge seemed, to
gods and humans both, a doubled
female breast, an airy outline,
like a wave against a galleon! –
Taking aim, not just with eye and
elbow but with every pulsing
vein, aiming her whole, aimed,
body, equal of men – no: equal
of gods (her never-used-up quiver
fuller than a horn of plenty),
radiant under the foe’s arrows,
there she stood – afraid of nothing.
Bowstring taunting tauter bowstrings,
fleshless bosom turned aside and
merging with the chest-tight bow so
close the arrows seemed to fly
not from the string but from the heart! Those
arrows passionate for destruction,
so thick and fast, in endless sequence,
that they could have been (but was it
war or thread she span?) a single
arrow flying from the string.
Was that a lion fighting beside her?
No, for in that cruel battle
even a god would have seemed timid.
Facing arrows, spurning pleasures,
thus she fought beside your father.

– Marina Tsvetaeva. excerpt from Phaedra

translated by Angela Livingstone

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