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The Odyssey


Books 23–24

Quotes Books 23–24

Woman—your words, they cut me to the core!
Who could move my bed?

There was a branching olive-tree inside our court,
grown to its full prime, the bole like a column, thickset.
Around it I built my bedroom, finished off the walls
with good tight stonework, roofed it over soundly
and added doors, hung well and snugly wedged.
Then I lopped the leafy crown of the olive,
clean-cutting the stump bare from roots up,
planing it round with a bronze smoothing-adze—
I had the skill—I shaped it plumb to the line to make
my bedpost, bored the holes it needed with an auger.
Working from there I built my bed, start to finish,
I gave it ivory inlays, gold and silver fittings,
wove the straps across it, oxhide gleaming red.

There’s our secret sign, I tell you, our life story!
Does the bed, my lady, still stand planted firm?—
I don’t know—or has someone chopped away
that olive-trunk and hauled our bedstead off?

At those words
a black cloud of grief came shrouding over Laertes.
Both hands clawing the ground for dirt and grime,
he poured it over his grizzled head, sobbing, in spasms.
Odysseus’s heart shuddered, a sudden twinge went shooting up
through his nostrils, watching his dear father struggle . . .