Son of Cresphontes, we have reach’d the goal
Of our night journey, and thou see’st thy home.
Behold thy heritage, thy father’s realm!
This is that fruitful, fam’d Messenian land,
Wealthy in corn and flocks, which, when at last
The late-relenting Gods with victory brought
The Heracleidae back to Pelops’ isle,
Fell to thy father’s lot, the second prize.
Before thy feet this recent city spreads
Of Stenyclaros, which he built, and made
Of his fresh-conquer’d realm the royal seat,
Degrading Pylos from its ancient rule.
There stands the temple of thine ancestor,
Great Hercules; and, in that public place,
Zeus hath his altar, where thy father fell.
Thence to the south, behold those snowy peaks,
Taygetus, Laconia’s border-wall:
And, on this side, those confluent streams which make
Pamisus watering the Messenian plain:
Then to the north, Lycaeus and the hills
Of pastoral Arcadia, where, a babe
Snatch’d from the slaughter of thy father’s house,
Thy mother’s kin receiv’d thee, and rear’d up.—
Our journey is well made, the work remains
Which to perform we made it; means for that
Let us consult, before this palace sends
Its inmates on their daily tasks abroad.
Haste and advise, for day comes on apace.
O brother of my mother, guardian true,
And second father from that hour when first
My mother’s faithful servant laid me down,
An infant, at the hearth of Cypselus,
My grandfather, the good Arcadian king—
Thy part it were to advise, and mine to obey.
But let us keep that purpose, which, at home,
We judg’d the best; chance finds no better way.
Go thou into the city, and seek out
Whate’er in the Messenian city stirs
Of faithful fondness towards their former king
Or hatred to their present; in this last
Will lie, my grandsire said, our fairest chance.
For tyrants make man good beyond himself;
Irate to their rule, which else would die away,
Their daily-practis’d chafings keep alive.
Seek this; revive, unite it, give it hope;
Bid it rise boldly at the signal given.
Meanwhile within my father’s palace I,
An unknown guest, will enter, bringing word
Of my own death; but, Laias, well I hope
Through that pretended death to live and reign.
[THE CHORUS comes forth.
Softly, stand back!—see, tow’rd the palace gates
What black procession slowly makes approach?—
Sad-chanting maidens clad in mourning robes,
With pitchers in their hands, and fresh-pull’d flowers:
Doubtless, they bear them to my father’s tomb.—
[MEROPE comes forth.
And see, to meet them, that one, grief-plung’d Form,
Severer, paler, statelier than they all,
A golden circlet on her queenly brow.—
O Laias, Laias, let the heart speak here!
Shall I not greet her? shall I not leap forth?
[POLYPHONTES comes forth, following MEROPE.
Not so: thy heart would pay its moment’s speech
By silence ever after; for, behold!
The King (I know him, even through many years)
Follows the issuing Queen, who stops, as call’d.
No lingering now! straight to the city I:
Do thou, till for thine entrance to this house
The happy moment comes, lurk here unseen
Behind the shelter of thy father’s tomb:
Remove yet further off, if aught comes near.
But, here while harbouring, on its margin lay,
Sole offering that thou hast, locks from thy head:
And fill thy leisure with an earnest prayer
To his avenging Shade, and to the Gods
Who under earth watch guilty deeds of men,
To guide our effort to a prosperous close.
[LAIAS goes out. POLYPHONTES, MEROPE, and|
THE CHORUS come forward. As they advance,
AEPYTUS, who at first conceals himself behind
the tomb, moves off the stage.
POLYPHONTES (To THE CHORUS)
Set down your pitchers, maidens! and fall back;
Suspend your melancholy rites awhile:
Shortly ye shall resume them with your Queen.—
I sought thee, Merope; I find thee thus,
As I have ever found thee; bent to keep,
By sad observances and public grief,
A mournful feud alive, which else would die.
I blame thee not, I do thy heart no wrong:
Thy deep seclusion, thine unyielding gloom,
Thine attitude of cold, estrang’d reproach,
These punctual funeral honours, year by year
Repeated, are in thee, I well believe,
Courageous, faithful actions, nobly dar’d.
But, Merope, the eyes of other men
Read in these actions, innocent in thee,
Perpetual promptings to rebellious hope,
War-cries to faction, year by year renew’d,
Beacons of vengeance, not to be let die.
And me, believe it, wise men gravely blame,
And ignorant men despise me, that I stand
Passive, permitting thee what course thou wilt.
Yes, the crowd mutters that remorseful fear
And paralysing conscience stop my arm,
When it should pluck thee from thy hostile way.
All this I bear, for, what I seek, I know;
Peace, peace is what I seek, and public calm:
Endless extinction of unhappy hates:
Union cemented for this nation’s weal.
And even now, if to behold me here,
This day, amid these rites, this black-rob’d train,
Wakens, O Queen! remembrance in thy heart
Too wide at variance with the peace I seek—
I will not violate thy noble grief,
The prayer I came to urge I will defer.
This day, to-morrow, yesterday, alike
I am, I shall be, have been, in my mind
Tow’rds thee; towards thy silence as thy speech.
Speak, therefore, or keep silence, which thou wilt.
Hear me, then, speak; and let this mournful day,
The twentieth anniversary of strife,
Henceforth be honour’d as the date of peace.
Yes, twenty years ago this day beheld
The king Cresphontes, thy great husband, fall:
It needs no yearly offerings at his tomb
To keep alive that memory in my heart;
It lives, and, while I see the light, will live.
For we were kinsmen—more than kinsmen—friends:
Together we had sprang, together liv’d;
Together to this isle of Pelops came
To take the inheritance of Hercules;
Together won this fair Messenian land—
Alas, that, how to rule it, was our broil!
He had his counsel, party, friends—I mine;
He stood by what he wish’d for—I the same;
I smote him, when our wishes clash’d in arms;
He had smit me, had he been swift as I.
But while I smote him, Queen, I honour’d him;
Me, too, had he prevail’d, he had not scorn’d.
Enough of this!—since then, I have maintain’d
The sceptre—not remissly let it fall—
And I am seated on a prosperous throne:
Yet still, for I conceal it not, ferments
In the Messenian people what remains
Of thy dead husband’s faction; vigorous once,
Now crush’d but not quite lifeless by his fall.
And these men look to thee, and from thy grief—
Something too studiously, forgive me, shown—
Infer thee their accomplice; and they say
That thou in secret nurturest up thy son,
Him whom thou hiddest when thy husband fell,
To avenge that fall, and bring them back to power.
Such are their hopes—I ask not if by thee
Willingly fed or no—their most vain hopes;
For I have kept conspiracy fast-chain’d
Till now, and I have strength to chain it still.
But, Merope, the years advance;—I stand
Upon the threshold of old age, alone,
Always in arms, always in face of foes.
The long repressive attitude of rule .
Leaves me austerer, sterner, than I would;
Old age is more suspicious than the free
And valiant heart of youth, or manhood’s firm,
Unclouded reason; I would not decline
Into a jealous tyrant, scourg’d with fears,
Closing, in blood and gloom, his sullen reign.
The cares which might in me with time, I feel,
Beget a cruel temper, help me quell;
The breach between our parties help me close;
Assist me to rule mildly: let us join
Our hands in solemn union, making friends
Our factions with the friendship of their chiefs.
Let us in marriage, King and Queen, unite
Claims ever hostile else; and set thy son—
No more an exile fed on empty hopes,
And to an unsubstantial title heir,
But prince adopted by the will of power,
And future king—before this people’s eyes.
Consider him; consider not old hates:
Consider, too, this people, who were dear
To their dead king, thy husband—yea, too dear,
For that destroy’d him. Give them peace; thou can’st.
O Merope, how many noble thoughts,
How many precious feelings of man’s heart,
How many loves, how many gratitudes,
Do twenty years wear out, and see expire!
Shall they not wear one hatred out as well?
Thou hast forgot, then, who I am who hear,
And who thou art who speakest to me? I
Am Merope, thy murder’d master’s wife . . .
And thou art Polyphontes, first his friend,
And then . . . his murderer. These offending tears
That murder draws . . . this breach that thou would’st close
Was by that murder open’d . . . that one child
(If still, indeed, lie lives) whom thou would’st seat
Upon a throne not thine to give, is heir
Because thou slew’st his brothers with their father . . .
Who can patch union here? . . . What can there be
But everlasting horror ’twixt us two,
Gulfs of estranging blood? . . . Across that chasm
Who can extend their hands? . . . Maidens, take back
These offerings home! our rites are spoil’d to-day.
Not so: let these Messenian maidens mark
The fear’d and blacken’d ruler of their race,
Albeit with lips unapt to self-excuse,
Blow off the spot of murder from his name.—
Murder!—but what is murder? When a wretch
For private gain or hatred takes a life,
We call it murder, crush him, brand his name:
But when, for some great public cause, an arm
Is, without love or hate, austerely rais’d
Against a Power exempt from common checks,
Dangerous to all, to be but thus annull’d—
Ranks any man with murder such an act?
With grievous deeds, perhaps; with murder—no!
Find then such cause, the charge of murder falls:
Be judge thyself if it abound not here.—
All know how weak the Eagle, Hercules,
Soaring from his death-pile on Oeta, left
His puny, callow Eaglets; and what trials—
Infirm protectors, dubious oracles
Construed awry, misplann’d invasions—us’d
Two generations of his offspring up;
Hardly the third, with grievous loss, regain’d
Their fathers’ realm, this isle, from Pelops nam’d.—
Who made that triumph, though deferr’d, secure?
Who, but the kinsmen of the royal brood
Of Hercules, scarce Heracleidae less
Than they? these, and the Dorian lords, whose king
Aegimius gave our outcast house a home
When Thebes, when Athens dar’d not; who in arms
Thrice issued with us from their pastoral vales,
And shed their blood like water in our cause?—
Such were the dispossessors: of what stamp
Were they we dispossessed?—of us I speak,
Who to Messenia with thy husband came—
I speak not now of Argos, where his brother,
Not now of Sparta, where his nephews reign’d:—
What we found here were tribes of fame obscure,
Much turbulence, and little constancy,
Precariously rul’d by foreign lords
From the Aeolian stock of Neleus sprung,
A house once great, now dwindling in its sons.
Such were the conquor’d, such the conquerors: who
Had most thy husband’s confidence? Consult
His acts; the wife he chose was—full of virtues—
But an Arcadian princess, more akin
To his new subjects than to us; his friends
Were the Messenian chiefs; the laws he fram’d
Were aim’d at their promotion, our decline;
And, finally, this land, then half-subdued,
Which from one central city’s guarded seat
As from a fastness in the rocks our scant
Handful of Dorian conquerors might have curb’d,
He parcell’d out in five confederate states,
Sowing his victors thinly through them all,
Mere prisoners, meant or not, among our foes.
If this was fear of them, it sham’d the king:
If jealousy of us, it sham’d the man.—
Long we refain’d ourselves, submitted long,
Construed his acts indulgently, rever’d,
Though found perverse, the blood of Hercules:
Reluctantly the rest; but, against all,
One voice preach’d patience, and that voice was mine.
At last it reach’d us, that he, still mistrustful,
Deeming, as tyrants deem, our silence hate,
Unadulating grief conspiracy,
Had to this city, Stenyclaros, call’d
A general assemblage of the realm,
With compact in that concourse to deliver,
For death, his ancient to his new-made friends.
Patience was thenceforth self-destruction. I,
I his chief kinsman, I his pioneer
And champion to the throne, I honouring most
Of men the line of Hercules, preferr’d
The many of that lineage to the one:
What his foes dar’d not, I, his lover, dar’d:
I, at that altar, where mid shouting crowds
He sacrific’d, our ruin in his heart,
To Zeus, before he struck his blow, struck mine:
Struck once, and aw’d his mob, and sav’d this realm.
Murder let others call this, if they will;
I, self-defence and righteous execution.
Alas, how fair a colour can his tongue,
Who self-exculpates, lend to foulest deeds.
Thy trusting lord didst thou, his servant, slay;
Kinsman, thou slew’st thy kinsman; friend, thy friend:
This were enough; but let me tell thee, too,
Thou hadst no cause, as feign’d, in his misrule.
For ask at Argos, ask in Lacedaemon,
Whose people, when the Heracleidae came,
Were hunted out, and to Achaia fled,
Whether is better, to abide alone,
A wolfish band, in a dispeopled realm,
Or conquerors with conquer’d to unite
Into one puissant folk, as he design’d?
These sturdy and unworn Messenian tribes,
Who shook the fierce Neleidae on their throne,
Who to the invading Dorians stretch’d a hand,
And half bestow’d, half yielded up their soil—
He would not let his savage chiefs alight,
A cloud of vultures, on this vigorous race;
Ravin a little while in spoil and blood,
Then, gorg’d and helpless, be assail’d and slain.
He would have sav’d you from your furious selves,
Not in abhorr’d estrangement let you stand;
He would have mix’d you with your friendly foes,
Foes dazzled with your prowess, well inclin’d
To reverence your lineage, more, to obey:
So would have built you, in a few short years,
A just, therefore a safe, supremacy.
For well he knew, what you, his chiefs, did not—
How of all human rules the over-tense
Are apt to snap; the easy-stretch’d endure.—
O gentle wisdom, little understood!
O arts, above the vulgar tyrant’s reach!
O policy too subtle far for sense
Of heady, masterful, injurious men!
This good he meant you, and for this he died.
Yet not for this—else might thy crime in part
Be error deem’d—but that pretence is vain.
For, if ye slew him for suppos’d misrule,
Injustice to his kin and Dorian friends,
Why with the offending father did ye slay
Two unoffending babes, his innocent sons?
Why not on them have plac’d the forfeit crown.
Rul’d in their name, and train’d them to your will?
Had they misrul’d? had they forgot their friends
Forsworn their blood? ungratefully had they
Preferr’d Messenian serfs to Dorian lords?
No: but to thy ambition their poor lives
Were bar; and this, too, was their father’s crime.
That thou might’st reign he died, not for his fault
Even fancied; and his death thou wroughtest chief.
For, if the other lords desir’d his fall
Hotlier than thou, and were by thee kept back,
Why dost thou only profit by his death?
Thy crown condemns thee, while thy tongue absolves.
And now to me thou tenderest friendly league,
And to my son reversion to thy throne
Short answer is sufficient; league with thee,
For me I deem such impious; and for him,
Exile abroad more safe than heirship here.
I ask thee not to approve thy husband’s death,
No, nor expect thee to admit the grounds,
In reason good, which justified my deed:
With women the heart argues, not the mind.
But, for thy children’s death, I stand assoil’d:
I sav’d them, meant them honour: but thy friends
Rose, and with fire and sword assailed my house
By night; in that blind tumult they were slain.
To chance impute their deaths, then, not to me.
Such chance as kill’d the father, kill’d the sons.
One son at least I spar’d, for still he lives.
Tyrants think him they murder not they spare.
Not much a tyrant thy free speech displays me.
Thy shame secures my freedom, not thy will.
Shame rarely checks the genuine tyrant’s will.
One merit, then, thou hast: exult in that.
Thou standest out, I see, repellest peace.
Thy sword repell’d it long ago, not I.
Doubtless thou reckonest on the hope of friends.
Not help of men, although, perhaps, of Gods.
What Gods? the Gods of concord, civil weal?
No: the avenging Gods, who punish crime.
Beware! from thee upbraidings I receive
With pity, nay, with reverence; yet, beware!
I know, I know how hard it is to think
That right, that conscience pointed to a deed,
Where interest seems to have enjoin’d it too.
Most men are led by interest; and the few
Who are not, expiate the general sin,
Involv’d in one suspicion with the base.
Dizzy the path and perilous the way
Which in a deed like mine a just man treads,
But it is sometimes trodden. oh! believe it.
Yet how canst thou believe it? therefore thou
Hast all impunity. Yet, lest thy friends,
Embolden’d by my lenience, think it fear,
And count on like impunity, and rise,
And have to thank thee for a fall, beware!
To rule this kingdom I intend: with sway
Clement, if may be, but to rule it: there
Expect no wavering, no retreat, no change.—
And now I leave thee to these rites, esteem’d
Pious, but impious, surely, if their scope
Be to foment old memories of wrath.
Pray, as thou pour’st libations on this tomb,
To be delivered from thy foster’d hate,
Unjust suspicion, and erroneous fear.
[POLYPHONTES goes into the palace. THE CHORUS and|
MEROPE approach the tomb with their offerings.
Draw, draw near to the tomb. strophe.
Lay honey-cakes on its mange,
Pour the libation of milk,
Deck it with garlands of flowers.
Tears fall thickly the while!
Behold, O King, from the dark
House of the grave, what we do.
O Arcadian hills, antistrophe.
Send us the Youth whom ye hide,
Girt with his coat for the chase,
With the low broad hat of the tann’d
Hunter o’ershadowing his brow:
Grasping firm, in his hand
Advanc’d, two javelins, not now
Dangerous alone to the deer.
What shall I bear, O lost sir. 1.
Husband and King, to thy grave?—
Pure libations, and fresh
Flowers? But thou, in the gloom,
Demandest vengeance, not grief?
Sternly requirest a man,
Light to spring up to thy race?
Vengeance, O Queen, is his due, str. 2.
His most just prayer: yet his race—
If that might soothe him below—
Prosperous, mighty, came back
In the third generation, the way
Order’d by Fate, to their home.
And now, glorious, secure,
Fill the wealth-giving thrones
Of their heritage, Pelops’ isle.
Suffering sent them, Death ant. 1.
March’d with them, Hatred and Strife
Met them entering their halls.
For from the day when the first
That Delphic hest to return,
What hath involv’d then but blind
Error on error, and blood?
Truly I hear of a Maid ant. 2
Of that stock born, who bestow’d
Her blood that so she might make
Victory sure to her race,
When the fight hung in doubt: but she now,
Honour’d and sung of by all,
Far on Marathon plain
Gives her name to the spring
Macaria, blessed Child.
She led the way of death. str. 3.
And the plain of Tegea,
And the grave of Orestes—
Where, in secret seclusion
Of his unreveal’d tomb,
Sleeps Agamemnon’s unhappy,
Sent forth Echemus, the victor, the king,
By whose hand, at the Isthmus,
At the Fate-denied Straits,
Fell the eldest of the sons of Hercules,
Hyllus, the chief of his house.—
Brother follow’d sister
The all-wept way.
Yes; but his son’s seed, wiser-counsell’d,
Sail’d by the Fate-meant Gulf to their conquest;
Slew their enemies’ king, Tisamenus.
Wherefore accept that happier omen!
Yet shall restorers appear to the race.
Three brothers won the field, ant. 3.
And to two did Destiny
Give the thrones that they conquer’d.
But the third, what delays him
From his unattain’d crown? . . .
Ah Pylades and Electra,
Ever faithful, untir’d,
Jealous, blood-exacting friends!
Ye lie watching for the foe of your kin,
In the passes of Delphi,
In the temple-built gorge.—
There the youngest of the band of conquerors
Perish’d, in sight of the goal.
Grandson follow’d sire
The all-wept way.
Thou tellest the fate of the last str. 4.
Of the three Heracleidae.
Not of him, of Cresphontes thou shared’st the lot.
A king, a king was he while he liv’d,
Swaying the sceptre with predestin’d hand.
And now, minister lov’d,
Ah me . . . Ah . . .
For the awful Monarchs below.
Thou touchest the worst of my ills. stn 5.
Oh had he fallen of old
At the Isthmus, in fight with his foes,
By Achaian, Arcadian spear!
Then had his sepulchre risen
On the high sea-bank, in the sight
Of either Gulf, and remain’d
Noble memorial of worth
Of a valiant Chief, to his own.
There rose up a cry in the streets ant. 4.
From the terrified people.
From the altar of Zeus, from the crowd, came a wail.
A blow, a blow was struck, and he fell.
Sullying his garment with dark-streaming blood
While stood o’er him a Form—
Ah me . . . Ah . . .
Of a dreadful Presence of fear.
More piercing the second cry rang, ant. 5.
Wail’d from the palace within,
From the Children. . . . The Fury to them.
Fresh from their father, draws near.
Ah bloody axe! dizzy blows!
In these ears, they thunder, they ring.
These poor ears, still:—and these eyes
Night and day see them fall,
Fiery phantoms of death,
On the fair, curl’d heads of my sons.
Not to thee only hath come str 6.
Sorrow, O Queen, of mankind.
Had not Electra to haunt
A palace defil’d by a death unaveng’d,
For years, in silence, devouring her heart?
But her nursling, her hope, came at last.
Thou, too, rearest in joy,
Far ’mid Arcadian hills,
Somewhere, in safety, a nursling, a light.
Yet, yet shall Zeus bring him home!
Yet shall he dawn on this land!
Him in secret, in tears, str. 7.
Month after month, through the slow-dragging year,
Longing, listening, I wait, I implore.
But he comes not. What dell,
O Erymanthus! from sight
Of his mother, which of thy glades,
O Lycaeus! conceals
The happy hunter? He basks
In youth’s pure morning, nor thinks
On the blood-stain’d home of his birth.
Give not thy heart to despair. ant. 6.
No lamentation can loose
Prisoners of death from the grave:
But Zeus, who accounteth thy quarrel his own,
Still rules, still watches, and numbers the hours
Till the sinner, the vengeance, be ripe.
Still, by Acheron stream,
Terrible Deities thron’d
Sit, and make ready the serpent, the scourge.
Still, still the Dorian boy,
Exil’d, remembers his home.
Him if high-ruling Zeus ant. 7.
Bring to his mother, the rest I commit,
Willing, patient, to Zeus, to his care.
Blood I ask not. Enough
Sated, and more than enough,
Are mine eyes with blood. But if this,
O my comforters! strays
Amiss from Justice, the Gods
Forgive my folly, and work
What they will!—but to me give my son!
Hear us and help us, Shade of our King! str. 8.
A return, O Father! give to thy boy! stn 9.
Send an avenger, Gods of the dead! ant. 8.
An avenger I ask not: send me my son! ant. 9.
O Queen, for an avenger to appear,
Thinking that so I pray’d aright, I pray’d:
If I pray’d wrongly, I revoke the prayer.
Forgive me, maidens, if I seem too slack
In calling vengeance on a murderer’s head.
Impious I deem the alliance which he asks;
Requite him words severe, for seeming kind;
And righteous, if he falls, I count his fall.
With this, to those unbrib’d inquisitors,
Who in man’s inmost bosom sit and judge,
The true avengers these, I leave his deed,
By him shown fair, but, I believe, most foul.
If these condemn him, let them pass his doom!
That doom obtain effect, from Gods or men!
So be it! yet will that more solace bring
To the chaf’d heart of Justice than to mine.—
To hear another tumult in these streets,
To have another murder in these halls,
To see another mighty victim bleed—
There is small comfort for a woman here.
A woman, O my friends. has one desire—
To see secure, to live with, those she loves.
Can Vengeance give me back the murdered? no!
Can it bring home my child? Ah, if it can,
I pray the Furies’ ever-restless band,
And pray the Gods, land pray the all-seeing Sun—
‘Sun, who careerest through the height of Heaven,
When o’er the Arcadian forests thou art come,
And seest my stripling hunter there afield,
Put tightness in thy gold-embossèd rein,
And check thy fiery steeds, and, leaning back,
Throw him a pealing word of summons down,
To come, a late avenger, to the aid
Of this poor soul who bore him, and his sire.’
If this will bring him back, be this my prayer!—
But Vengeance travels in a dangerous way,
Double of issue, full of pits and snares
For all who pass, pursuers and pursued—
That way is dubious for a mother’s prayer.
Rather on thee I call, Husband belov’d!—
May Hermes, herald of the dead, convey
My words below to thee, and make thee hear.—
Bring back our son! if may be, without blood!
Install him in thy throne, still without blood!
Grant him to reign there wise and just like thee,
More fortunate than thee, more fairly judg’d!
This for our son: and for myself I pray,
Soon, having once beheld him, to descend
Into the quiet gloom, where thou art now.
These words to thine indulgent ear, thy wife,
I send, and these libations pour the while.
[They make their offerings at the tomb.
MEROPE then goes towards the palace.
The dead hath now his offerings duly paid.
But whither go’st thou hence, O Queen, away?
To receive Arcas. who to-day should come,
Bringing me of my boy the annual news.
No certain news if like the rest it run.
Certain in this, that ’tis uncertain still.
What keeps him in Arcadia from return?
His grandsire and his uncles fear the risk.
Of what? it lies with them to make risk none.
Discovery of a visit made by stealth.
With arms then they should send him, not by stealth.
With arms they dare not, and by stealth they fear.
I doubt their caution little suits their ward.
The heart of youth I know; that most I fear.
I augur thou wilt hear some bold resolve.
I dare not wish it; but, at least, to hear
That my son still survives, in health, in bloom;
To hear that still he loves, still longs for, me;
Yet, with a light uncareworn spirit, turns
Quick from distressful thought, and floats in joy—
Thus much from Arcas, my old servant true.
Who sav’d him from these murderous halls a babe,
And since has fondly watch’d him night and day
Save for this annual charge, I hope to hear.
If this be all, I know not; but I know,
These many years I live for this alone.
[MEROPE goes in.
Much is there which the Sea str. 1.
Conceals from man, who cannot plumb its depths.
Air to his unwing’d form denies a way,
And keeps its liquid solitudes unscal’d.
Even Earth, whereon he treads,
So feeble is his march, so slow,
Holds countless tracts untrod.
But, more than all unplumb’d, ant. 1.
Unscal’d, untrodden, is the heart of Man.
More than all secrets hid, the way it keeps.
Nor any of our organs so obtuse,
Inaccurate, and frail,
As those with which we try to test
Feelings and motives there.
Yea, and not only have we not explor’d stn 2.
That wide and various world, the heart of others,
But even our own heart, that narrow world
Bounded in our own breast, we hardly know,
Of our own actions dimly trace the causes.
Whether a natural obscureness, hiding
That region in perpetual cloud,
Or our own want of effort, be the bar.
Therefore—while acts are from their motives judg’d, ant. 2.
And to one act many most unlike motives,
This pure, that guilty, may have each impell’d—
Power fails us to try clearly if that cause
Assign’d us by the actor be the true one
Power fails the man himself to fix distinctly
The cause which drew him to his deed,
And stamp himself, thereafter, bad or good.
The most are bad, wise men have said. str. 3.
Let the best rule, they say again.
The best, then, to dominion have the right.
Rights unconceded and denied,
Surely, if rights, may be by force asserted—
May be, nay should, if for the general weal.
The best, then, to the throne may carve his way,
And hew opposers down,
Free from all guilt of lawlessness,
Or selfish lust of personal power:
Bent only to serve Virtue,
Bent to diminish wrong.
And truly, in this ill-rul’d world, ant. 3.
Well sometimes may the good desire
To give to Virtue her dominion due.
Well may they long to interrupt
The reign of Folly, usurpation ever,
Though fenc’d by sanction of a thousand years.
Well thirst to drag the wrongful ruler down.
Well purpose to pen back
Into the narrow path of right,
The ignorant, headlong multitude,
Who blindly follow ever
Blind leaders, to their bane.
But who can say. without a fear, str. 4.
That best, who ought to rule, am I;
The mob, who ought to obey, are these;
I the one righteous, they the many bad?—
Who, without check of conscience, can aver
That he to power makes way by arms,
Sheds blood, imprisons, banishes, attaints,
Commits all deeds the guilty oftenest do,
Without a single guilty thought,
Arm’d for right only, and the general good?
Therefore, with censure unallay’d, ant. 4.
Therefore, with unexcepting ban,
Zeus and pure-thoughted Justice brand
Imperious self-asserting Violence.
Sternly condemn the too bold man, who dares
Elect himself Heaven’s destin’d arm.
And, knowing well man’s inmost heart infirm,
However noble the committer be,
His grounds however specious shown,
Turn with averted eyes from deeds of blood.
Thus, though a woman, I was school’d epode.
By those whom I revere.
Whether I learnt their lessons well,
Or, having learnt them, well apply
To what hath in this house befall’n,
If in the event be any proof,
The event will quickly show.
[AEPYTUS comes in.
Maidens, assure me if they told me true
Who told me that the royal house was here.
Rightly they told thee, and thou art arriv’d.
Here, then, it is, where Polyphontes dwells
He doth: thou hast both house and master right.
Might some one straight inform him he is sought?
Inform him that thyself, for here he comes.
[POLYPHONTES comes forth, with
ATTENDANTS and GUARDS.
O King, all hail! I come with weighty news
Most likely, grateful; but, in all case, sure.
Speak them, that I may judge their kind myself.
Accept them in one word, for good or bad
Aepytus, the Messenian prince, is dead!
Dead!—and when died he? where? and by what hand?
And who art thou, who bringest me such news?
He perish’d in Arcadia, where he liv’d
With Cypselus; and two days since he died.
One of the train of Cypselus am I.
Instruct me of the manner of his death.
That will I do, and to this end I came.
For, being of like age, of birth not mean,
The son of an Arcadian noble, I
Was chosen his companion from a boy;
And on the hunting-rambles which his heart,
Unquiet, drove him ever to pursue,
Through all the lordships of the Arcadian dales,
From chief to chief, I wander’d at his side,
The captain of his squires, and his guard.
On such a hunting-journey, three morns since,
With beaters, hounds, and huntsmen, he and I
Set forth from Tegea, the royal town.
The prince at start seem’d sad, but his regard
Clear’d with blithe travel and the morning air.
We rode from Tegea, through the woods of oaks,
Past Arnê spring, where Rhea gave the babe
Poseidon to the shepherd-boys to hide
From Saturn’s search among the new-yean’d lambs,
To Mantinea, with its unbak’d walls;
Thence, by the Sea-God’s Sanctuary, and the tomb
Whither from wintry Maenalus were brought
The bones of Arcas, whence our race is nam’d,
On, to the marshy Orchomenian plain,
And the Stone Coffins;—then, by Caphyae Cliffs,
To Pheneos with its craggy citadel.
There, with the chief of that hill-town, we lodg’d
One night; and the next day, at dawn, far’d on
By the Three Fountains and the Adder’s Hill
To the Stymphalian Lake, our journey’s end,
To draw the coverts on Cyllene’s side.
There, on a grassy spur which bathes its root
Far in the liquid lake, we sate, and drew
Cates from our hunters’ pouch, Arcadian fare,
Sweet chestnuts, barley-cakes, and boar’s-flesh dried:
And as we ate, and rested there, we talk’d
Of places we had pass’d, sport we had had,
Of beasts of chase that haunt the Arcadian hills,
Wild hog, and bear, and mountain-deer, and roe:
Last, of our quarters with the Arcadian chiefs.
For courteous entertainment, welcome warm,
Sad, reverential homage, had our prince
From all, for his great lineage and his woes
All which he own’d, and prais’d with grateful mind.
But still over his speech a gloom there hung,
As of one shadow’d by impending death;
And strangely, as we talk’d, he would apply
The story of spots mention’d to his own:
Telling us, Arnê minded him, he too
Was sav’d a babe, but to a life obscure,
Which he, the seed of Hercules, dragg’d on
Inglorious, and should drop at last unknown,
Even as those dead unepitaph’d, who lie
In the stone coffins at Orchomenus.
And, then, he bade remember how we pass’d
The Mantinean Sanctuary, forbid
To foot of mortal, where his ancestor,
Nam’d Aepytus like him, having gone in,
Was blinded by the outgushing springs of brine.
Then, turning westward to the Adder’s Hill—
Another ancestor, nam’d, too, like me,
Died of a snake-bite, said he, on that brow:
Still at his mountain tomb men marvel, built
Where, as life ebb’d, his bearers laid him down.
So he play’d on; then ended, with a smile—
This region is not happy for my race.
We cheer’d him; but, that moment, from the copse
By the lake-edge, broke the sharp cry of hounds;
The prickers shouted that the stag was gone
We sprang upon our feet, we snatch’d our spears,
We bounded down the swarded slope, we plung’d
Through the dense ilex-thickets to the dogs.
Far in the woods ahead their music rang;
And many times that morn we cours’d in ring
The forests round which belt Cyllene’s side;
Till I, thrown out and tired, came to halt
On the same spur where we had sate at morn.
And resting there to breathe, I saw below
Rare, straggling hunters, foil’d by brake and crag,
And the prince, single, pressing on the rear
Of that unflagging quarry and the hounds.
Now, in the woods far down, I saw them cross
An open glade; now he was high aloft
On some tall scar fring’d with dark feathery pines,
Peering to spy a goat-track down the cliff,
Cheering with hand, and voice, and horn his dogs.
At last the cry drew to the water’s edge—
And through the brushwood, to the pebbly strand,
Broke, black with sweat, the antler’d mountain stag,
And took the lake: two hounds alone pursued;
Then came the prince—he shouted and plung’d in.—
There is a chasm rifted in the base
Of that unfooted precipice, whose rock
Walls on one side the deep Stymphalian Lake:
There the lake-waters, which in ages gone
Wash’d, as the marks upon the hills still show,
All the Stymphalian plain, are now suck’d down.
A headland, with one agèd plane-tree crown’d,
Parts from the cave-pierc’d cliff the shelving bay
Where first the chase plung’d in: the bay is smooth,
But round the headland’s point a current sets,
Strong, black, tempestuous, to the cavern-mouth.
Stoutly, under the headland’s lee, they swam
But when they cane abreast the point, the race
Caught them, as wind takes feathers, whirl’d them round
Struggling in vain to cross it, swept them on,
Stag, dogs, and hunter, to the yawning gulph.
All this, O King, not piecemeal, as to thee
Now told, but in one flashing instant pass’d:
While from the turf whereon I lay I sprang,
And took three strides, quarry and dogs were gone;
A moment more—I saw the prince turn round
Once in the black and arrowy race, and cast
One arm aloft for help; then sweep beneath
The low-brow’d cavern-arch, and disappear.
And what I could, I did—to call by cries
Some straggling hunters to my aid, to rouse
Fishers who live on the lake-side, to launch
Boats, and approach, near as we dar’d, the chasm.
But of the prince nothing remain’d, save this,
His boar-spear’s broken shaft, back on the lake
Cast by the rumbling subterranean stream;
And this, at landing spied by us and sav’d,
His broad-brimm’d hunter’s hat, which, in the bay,
Where first the stag took water, floated still.
And I across the mountains brought with haste
To Cypselus, at Basilis, this news:
Basilis, his new city, which he now
Near Lycosura builds, Lycaon’s town,
First city founded on the earth by men.
He to thee sends me on, in one thing glad
While all else grieves him, that his grandchild’s death
Extinguishes distrust ’twist him and thee.
But I from our deplor’d mischance learn this—
The man who to untimely death is doom’d,
Vainly you hedge him from the assault of harm;
He bears the seed of ruin in himself.
So dies the last shoot of our royal tree
Who shall tell Merope this heavy news
Stranger, the news thou bringest is too great
For instant comment, having many sides
Of import, and in silence best receiv’d,
Whether it turn at last to joy or woe.
But thou, the zealous bearer, hast no part
In what it has of painful, whether now,
First heard, or in its future issue shown.
Thou for thy labour hast deserv’d our best
Refreshment, needed by thee, as I judge,
With mountain-travel and night-watching spent.—
To the guest-chamber lead him, some one! give
All entertainment which a traveller needs,
And such as fits a royal house to show:
To friends, still more, and labourers in our cause.
[ATTENDANTS conduct AEPYTUS within the palace.
The youth is gone within; alas! he bears
A presence sad for some one through those doors.
Admire then, maidens, how in one short hour
The schemes, pursued in vain for twenty years,
Are by a stroke, though undesir’d, complete,
Crown’d with success, not in my way, but Heaven’s!
This at a moment, too, when I had urg’d
A last, long-cherish’d project, in my aim
Of concord, and been baffled with disdain.
Fair terms of reconcilement, equal rule,
I offer’d to my foes, and they refus’d
Worse terms than mine they have obtain’d from Heaven.
Dire is this blow for Merope; and I
Wish’d, truly wishd, solution to our broil
Other than by this death: but it hath come!
I speak no word of boast, but this I say,
A private loss here founds a nation’s peace.
[POLYPHONTES goes out.
Peace, who tarriest too long; strophe.
Peace, with Delight in thy train;
Come, come back to our prayer!
Then shall the revel again
Visit our streets, and the sound
Of the harp be heard with the pipe,
When the flashing torches appear
In the marriage-train coming on.
With dancing maidens and boys:
While the matrons come to the doors.
And the old men rise from their bench,
When the youths bring home the bride.
Not decried by my voice antistrophe.
He who restores thee shall be,
Not unfavour’d by Heaven.
Surely no sinner the man,
Dread though his acts, to whose hand
Such a boon to bring hath been given.
Let her come, fair Peace! let her come!
But the demons long nourish’d here,
Murder, Discord, and Hate,
In the stormy desolate waves
Of the Thracian Sea let her leave.
Or the howling outermost Main.
[MEROPE comes, forth.
A whisper through the palace flies of one
Arriv’d from Tegea with weighty news;
And I came, thinking to find Arcas here.
Ye have not left this gate, which he must pass
Tell me—hath one not come? or, worse mischance,
Come, but been intercepted by the King?
A messenger, sent from Arcadia here.
Arriv’d, and of the King had speech but now.
Ah me! the wrong expectant got his news.
The message brought was for the King design’d.
How so? was Arcas not the messenger?
A younger man, and of a different name.
And what Arcadian news had he to tell?
Learn that from other lips, O Queen, than mine.
He kept his tale, then, for the King alone?
His tale was meeter for that ear than thine.
Why dost thou falter, and make half reply?
O thrice unhappy, how I groan thy fate
Thou frightenest and confound’st me by thy words.
O were but Arcas come, all would be well!
If so, all’s well: for look, the Old man speeds
Up from the city tow’rds this gated hill.
[ARCAS comes in.
Not with the failing breath and foot of age
My faithful follower comes. Welcome, old friend!
Faithful, not welcome, when my tale is told.
O that my over-speed and bursting grief
Had on the journey chok’d my labouring breath,
And lock’d my speech for ever in my breast!
Yet then another man would bring this news.—
O honour’d Queen, thy son, my charge, is gone.
Too suddenly thou tellest such a loss.
Look up, O Queen! look up, O mistress dear!
Look up, and see thy friends who comfort thee.
Ah . . . Ah . . . Ah me!
And I, too, say, ah me!
Forgive, forgive the bringer of such news!
Better from thine than from an enemy’s tongue.
And yet no enemy did this, O Queen:
But the wit-baffling will and hand of Heaven.
No enemy! and what hast thou, then, heard?
Swift as I came, hath Falsehood been before?
A youth arriv’d but now, the son, he said,
Of an Arcadian lord, our prince’s friend,
Jaded with travel, clad in hunter’s garb.
He brought report that his own eyes had seen
The prince, in chase after a swimming stag,
Swept down a chasm broken in the cliff
Which hangs o’er the Stymphalian Lake, and drown’d.
Ah me! with what a foot doth Treason post,
While Loyalty, with all her speed, is slow!
Another tale, I trove, thy messenger
For the King’s private ear reserves, like this
In one thing only, that the prince is dead.
And how then runs this true and private tale?
As much to the King’s wish, more to his shame.
This young Arcadian noble, guard and mate
To Aepytus, the king seduc’d with gold,
And had him at the prince’s side in leash,
Ready to slip on his unconscious prey.
He on a hunting party three days since,
Among the forests on Cyllene’s side,
Perform’d good service for his bloody wage;
The prince, his uncle Laias, whom his ward
Had in a father’s place, he basely murder’d.
Take this for true, the other tale for feign’d.
And this perfidious murder who reveal’d?
The faithless murderer’s own, no other tongue.
Did conscience goad him to denounce himself?
To Cypselus at Basilis he brought
This strange unlikely tale, the prince was drown’d.
But not a word appears of murder here.
Examin’d close, he own’d this story false.
Then evidence came—his comrades of the hunt,
Who saw the prince and Laias last with him,
Never again in life—next, agents, fee’d
To ply ’twixt the Messenian king and him,
Spoke, and reveal’d that traffic, and the traitor.
So charg’d, he stood dumb-founder’d: Cypselus,
On this suspicion, cast him into chains.
Thence he escap’d—and next I find him here.
His presence with the King, thou mean’st, implies——
He comes to tell his prompter he hath sped.
Still he repeats the drowning story here.
To thee—that needs no Oedipus to explain.
Interpret, then; for we, it seems, are dull.
Your King desir’d the profit of his death,
Not the black credit of his murderer.
That stern word ‘murder’ had too dread a sound
For the Messenian hearts, who lov’d the prince.
Suspicion grave I see, but no clear proof.
Peace! peace! all ’s clear.—The wicked watch and work
While the good sleep: the workers have the day.
He who was sent hath sped, and now comes back,
To chuckle with his sender o’er the game
Which foolish innocence plays with subtle guilt.
Ah! now I comprehend the liberal grace
Of this far-scheming tyrant, and his boon
Of heirship to his kingdom for my son:
He had his murderer ready, and the sword
Lifted, and that unwish’d-for heirship void—
A tale, meanwhile, forg’d for his subjects’ ears:
And me, henceforth sole rival with himself
In their allegiance, me, in my son’s death-hour,
When all turn’d tow’rds me, me he would have shown
To my Messenians, dup’d, disarm’d, despis’d,
The willing sharer of his guilty rule.
All claim to succour forfeit, to myself
Hateful, by each Messenian heart abhorr’d.—
His offers I repelled—but what of that?
If with no rage, no fire of righteous hate,
Such as ere now hath spurr’d to fearful deeds
Weak women with a thousandth part my wrongs,
But calm, but unresentful. I endur’d
His offers, coldly heard them, cold repell’d?
While all this time I bear to linger on
In this blood-delug’d palace, in whose halls
Either a vengeful Fury I should stalk,
Or else not live at all—but here I haunt,
A pale, unmeaning ghost, powerless to fright
Or harm, and nurse my longing for my son,
A helpless one, I know it:—but the Gods
Have temper’d me e’en thus; and, in some souls,
Misery, which rouses others, breaks the spring.
And even now, my son, ah me! my son,
Fain would I fade away, as I have liv’d,
Without a cry, a struggle, or a blow,
All vengeance unattempted. and descend
To the invisible plains, to roam with thee,
Fit denizen, the lampless under-world——
But with what eyes should I encounter there
My husband, wandering with his stern compeers,
Amphiaraos, or Mycenae’s king,
Who led the Greeks to Ilium, Agamemnon,
Betray’d like him, but, not like him, aveng’d?
Or with what voice shall I the questions meet
Of my two elder sons, slain long ago,
Who sadly ask me, what, if not revenge,
Kept me, their mother, from their side so long?
Or how reply to thee, my child, last-born,
Last-murder’d, who reproachfully wilt say—
Mother, I well believ’d thou lived’st on
In the detested palace of thy foe,
With patience on thy face, death in thy heart,
Counting, till I grew up, the laggard years,
That our joint hands might then together pay
To one unhappy house the debt we owe.
My death makes my debt void, and doubles thine—
But down thou fleest here, and leav’st our scourge
Triumphant, and condemnest all our race
To lie in gloom for ever unappeas’d.
What shall I have to answer to such words?—
No, something must be dar’d; and great as erst
Our dastard patience, be our daring now!
Come, ye swift Furies, who to him ye haunt
Permit no peace till your behests are done;
Come Hermes, who dost watch the unjustly kill’d,
And can’st teach simple ones to plot and feign;
Come, lightning Passion, that with foot of fire
Advancest to the middle of a deed
Almost before ’tis plann’d; come, glowing Hate;
Come, baneful Mischief, from thy murky den
Under the dripping black Tartarean cliff
Which Styx’s awful waters trickle down—
Inspire this coward heart, this flagging arm!
How say ye, maidens, do ye know these prayers?
Are these words Merope’s—is this voice mine?
Old man, old man, thou had’st my boy in charge,
And he is lost, and thou hast that to atone.
Fly, find me on the instant where confer
The murderer and his impious setter-on:
And ye, keep faithful silence, friends, and mark
What one weak woman can achieve alone.
O mistress, by the Gods, do nothing rash!
Unfaithful servant, dost thou, too, desert me?
I go! I go!—yet, Queen, take this one word:
Attempting deeds beyond thy power to do.
Thou nothing profitest thy friends, but mak’st
Our misery more, and thine own ruin sure.
[ARCAS goes out.
I have heard, O Queen, how a prince, str. 1.
Agamemnon’s son, in Mycenae,
Orestes, died but in name,
Liv’d for the death of his foes.
What is it?
Thou destroyest me!
Whispering hope of a life
Which no stranger unknown,
But the faithful servant and guard,
Whose tears warrant his truth,
Bears sad witness is lost.
Wheresoe’er men are, there is grief. ant. 1.
In a thousand countries, a thousand
Homes, e’en now is there wail;
Mothers lamenting their sons.
Thou knowest it?
Who lives, witnesses.
But, is it only a fate
Sure, all-common, to lose
In a land of friends, by a friend.
One last, murder-sav’d child?
Ah me! str. 2.
Thou confessest the prize
In the rushing. thundering, mad,
Race of calamity, mine?
None can truly claim that
Mournful pre-eminence, not
Fate gives it, ah me
Not, above all, in the doubts,
Double and clashing, that hang——
What then? ant. 2.
Seems it lighter, my loss,
If, perhaps, unpierc’d by the sword,
My child lies in a jagg’d
Sunless prison of rocks,
On the black wave borne to and fro?
Worse, far worse, if his friend,
If the Arcadian within,
MEROPE (with a start)
How say’st thou? within? . . .
He in the guest-chamber now,
Faithlessly Murder’d his friend.
Ye, too, ye, too, join to betray, then,
What is this?
O false friends! into what
Haven the murderer had dropp’d?
Ye kept silence?
O lov’d mistress! in fear,
Dreading thine over-wrought mood,
What I knew, I conceal’d.
Swear by the Gods henceforth to obey me!
Unhappy one, what deed
Purposes thy despair?
I promise; but I fear.
From the altar, the unaveng’d tomb,
Fetch me the sacrifice-axe!——
O Husband, O cloth’d
[THE CHORUS goes towards the tomb of|
CRESPHONTES, and their leader brings back the axe.
With the grave’s everlasting,
All-covering darkness! O King,
Well mourn’d, but ill-aveng’d’.
Approv’st thou thy wife now’?—
The axe!—who brings it?
But thy gesture, thy look,
Appals me, shakes me with awe.
Thrust back now the bolt of that door!
Behold the fastenings withdrawn
Of the guest-chamber door!—
Ah! I beseech thee—with tears—
Throw the door open!
’Tis done! . . .
[The door of the house is thrown open: the interior|
of the guest-chamber is discovered, with AEPYTUS
asleep on a couch.
He sleeps—sleeps calm. O ye all-seeing Gods!
Thus peacefully do ye let sinners sleep,
While troubled innocents toss, and lie awake?
What sweeter sleep than this could I desire
For thee, my child, if thou went yet alive?
How often have I dream’d of thee like this,
With thy soil’d hunting-coat, and sandals torn,
Asleep in the Arcadian glens at noon,
Thy head drooped softly, and the golden curls
Clustering o’er thy white forehead, like a girl’s
The short proud lip showing thy race, thy cheeks
Brown’d with thine open-air, free, hunter’s life.
Ah me! . . .
And where dost thou sleep now, my innocent boy?—
In some dark fir-tree’s shadow, amid rocks
Untrodden, on Cyllene’s desolate side;
Where travellers never pass, where only come
Wild beasts, and vultures sailing overhead.
There, there thou liest now, my hapless child!
Stretch’d among briers and stones, the slow, black gore
Oozing through thy soak’d hunting-shirt, with limbs
Yet stark from the death-struggle, tight-clench’d hands,
And eyeballs staring for revenge in vain.
Ah miserable! . . .
And thou, thou fair-skinn’d Serpent! thou art laid
In a rich chamber, on a happy bed,
In a king’s house, thy victim’s heritage;
And drink’st untroubled slumber, to sleep off
The toils of thy foul service, till thou wake
Refresh’d, and claim thy master’s thanks and gold.—
Wake up in hell from thine unhallow’d sleep,
Thou smiling Fiend, and claim thy guerdon there!
Wake amid gloom, and howling, and the noise
Of sinners pinion’d on the torturing wheel,
And the stanch Furies’ never-silent scourge.
And bid the chief-tormentors there provide
For a grand culprit shortly coming down.
Go thou the first, and usher in thy lord!
A more just stroke than that thou gav’st my son,
[MEROPE advances towards the sleeping AEPYTUS,|
with the axe uplifted. At the same moment ARCAS
ARCAS (to the Chorus)
Not with him to council did the King
Carry his messenger, but left him here.
[Sees MEROPE and AEPYTUS.
O Gods! . . .
Foolish old man, thou spoil’st my blow!
What do I see? . . .
A murderer at death’s door.
Therefore no words!
A murderer? . . .
And a captive
To the dear next-of-kin of him he murder’d.
Stand, and let vengeance pass!
Hold, O Queen, hold!
Thou know’st not whom thou strik’st. . . .
I know his crime.
Unhappy one! thou strik’st——
A most just blow.
No, by the Gods, thou slay’st——
Ah! . . . [She lets the axe drop, and falls insensible.
Who are these? What shrill, ear-piercing scream
Wakes me thus kindly from the perilous sloop
Wherewith fatigue and youth had bound mine eyes,
Even in the deadly palace of my foe?—
Arcas! Thou here?
ARCAS (embracing him)
O my dear master! O
My child, my charge belov’d, welcome to life!
As dead we held thee, mourn’d for thee as dead.
In word I died, that I in deed might live.
But who are these?
Messenian maidens, friends.
And, Arcas!—but I tremble!
That black-rob’d, swooning figure? . . . .. .
O mother! mother!
Who upbraids me? Ah! . . .
[seeing the axe.
Upbraids thee? no one.
Thou dost well: but take . . .
What wav’st thou off?
That murderous axe away!
Thy son is here.
One said so, sure, but now.
Here, here thou hast him!
Slaughter’d by this hand! . . .
No, by the Gods, alive and like to live!
What, thou?—I dream——
May’st thou dream ever so!
MEROPE (advancing towards him)
My child? unhurt? . . .
Only by over joy.
Art thou, then, come? . . .
Never to part again.
[They fall into one anther’s arms. Then MEROPE:,|
holding AEPYTUS by the hand, turns to THE CHORUS.
O kind Messenian maidens. O my friends,
Bear witness, see, mark well, on what a head
My first stroke of revenge had nearly fallen!
We see, dear mistress: and we say, the Gods,
As hitherto they kept him, keep him now.
O my son! strophe.
I have, I have thee. . . . the years
Fly back, my child! and thou seem’st
Ne’er to have gone from these eyes,
Never been torn from this breast.
Mother, my heart runs over: but the time
Presses me, chides me, will not let me weep.
Fearest thou now?
I fear not, but I think on my design.
At the undried fount of this breast,
A babe, thou smilest again.
Thy brothers play at my feet,
Early-slain innocents! near,
Thy kind-speaking father stands.
Remember, to revenge his death I come!
Ah . . . revenge! antistrophe.
That word! it kills me! I see
Once more roll back on my house,
Never to ebb, the accurs’d
All-flooding ocean of blood.
Mother, sometimes the justice of the Gods
Appoints the way to peace through shedding blood.
And yet the only peace to us allow’d.
From the first-wrought vengeance is born
A long succession of crimes.
Fresh blood flows, calling for blood:
Fathers, sons, grandsons, are all
One death-dealing vengeful train.
Mother, thy fears are idle: for I come
To close an old wound, not to open new.
In all else willing to be taught, in this
Instruct me not; I have my lesson clear.—
Arcas, seek out my uncle Laias, now
Concerting in the city with our friends;
Here bring him, ere the king come back from council:
That, how to accomplish what the Gods enjoin,
And the slow-ripening time at last prepares,
We two with thee, my mother, may consult:
For whose help dare I count on if not thine?
Approves my brother Laias this design?
Yes, and alone is with me here to share.
And what of thine Arcadian mate, who bears
Suspicion from thy grandsire of thy death,
For whom, as I suppose, thou passest here?
Sworn to our plot he is: but, that surmise
Fix’d him the author of my death, I knew not.
Proof, not surmise, shows him in commerce close——
With this Messenian tyrant—that I know.
And entertain’st thou, child, such dangerous friends?
This commerce for my best behoof he plies.
That thou may’st read thine enemy’s counsel plain?
Too dear his secret wiles have cost our house.
And of his unsure agent what demands he?
News of my business, pastime, temper, friends.
His messages, then, point not to thy murder?
Not yet; though such, no doubt, his final aim.
And what Arcadian helpers bring’st thou here?
Laias alone; no errand mine for crowds.
On what relying, to crush such a foe?
One sudden stroke, and the Messenians’ love.
O thou long-lost, long seen in dreams alone,
But now seen face to face, my only child!
Why wilt thou fly to lose as soon as found
My new-won treasure, thy beloved life?
Or how expectest not to lose, who com’st
With such slight means to cope with such a fee?
Thine enemy thou know’st not, nor his strength.
The stroke thou purposest is desperate, rash—
Yet grant that it succeeds;—thou hast behind
The stricken king a second enemy
Scarce dangerous less than him, the Dorian lords.
These are not now the savage band who erst
Follow’d thy father from their northern hills,
Mere ruthless and uncounsell’d tools of war,
Good to obey, without a leader naught.
Their chief hath train’d them, made them like himself,
Sagacious. men of iron, watchful, firm,
Against surprise and sudden panic proof:
Their master fall’n, these will not flinch, but band
To keep their master’s power: thou wilt find
Behind his corpse their hedge of serried spears.
But, to match these, thou hast the peoples love?
On what a reed, my child, thou leanest there!
Knowest thou not how timorous, how unsure,
How useless an ally a people is
Against the one and certain arm of power?
Thy father perish’d in this people’s cause,
Perish’d before their eyes, yet no man stirr’d:
For years, his widow, in their sight I stand,
A never-changing index to revenge—
What help, what vengeance, at their hands have I?—
At least, if thou wilt trust them, try them first:
Against the King himself array the host
Thou countest on to back thee ’gainst his lords:
First rally the Messenians to thy cause,
Give them cohesion, purpose, and resolve,
Marshal them to an army—then advance,
Then try the issue; and not, rushing on
Single and friendless, throw to certain death
That dear-belov’d, that young, that gracious head.
Be guided, O my son! spurn counsel not:
For know thou this, a violent heart hath been
Fatal to all the race of Hercules.
With sage experience she speaks; and thou,
O Aepytus, weigh well her counsel given.
Ill counsel, in my judgement, gives she here,
Maidens, and reads experience much amiss;
Discrediting the succour which our cause
Might from the people draw, if rightly us’d:
Advising us a course which would, indeed,
If followed, make their succour slack and null.
A people is no army, train’d to fight.
A passive engine, at their general’s will;
And, if so us’d, proves, as thou say’st, unsure.
A people, like a common man, is dull.
Is lifeless, while its heart remains untouch’d;
A fool can drive it, and a fly may scare:
When it admires and loves, its heart awakes;
Then irresistibly it lives, it works:
A people, then, is an ally indeed
It is ten thousand fiery wills in one.
Now I, if I invite them to run risk
Of life for my advantage, and myself,
Who chiefly profit, run no more than they—
How shall I rouse their love, their ardour so?
But, if some signal, unassisted stroke,
Dealt at my own sole risk, before their eyes,
Announces me their rightful prince return’d—
The undegenerate blood of Hercules—
The daring claimant of a perilous throne—
How might not such a sight as this revive
Their loyal passion tow’rd my father’s house?
Electrify their hearts? make them no more
A craven mob, but a devouring fire?
Then might I use them, then, for one who thus
Spares not himself, themselves they will not spare.
Haply, had but one daring soul stood forth
To rally them and lead them to revenge,
When my great father fell, they had replied:—
Alas! our foe alone stood forward then.
And thou, my mother, hadst thou made a sign—
Hadst thou, from thy forlorn and captive state
Of widowhood in these polluted halls.
Thy prison-house, rais’d one imploring cry—
Who knows but that avengers thou hadst found?
But mute thou sat’st, and each Messenian heart
In thy despondency desponded too.
Enough of this!—though not a finger stir
To succour me in my extremest need;
Though all free spirits in this land be dead,
And only slaves and tyrants left alive—
Yet for me, mother, I had liefer die
On native ground, than drag the tedious hours
Of a protected exile any more.
Hate, duty, interest, passion call one way:
Here stand I now, and the attempt shall be.
Prudence is on the other side; but deeds
Condemn’d by prudence have sometimes gone well.
Not till the ways of prudence all are tried,
And tried in vain, the turn of rashness comes.
Thou leapest to thy deed, and hast not ask’d
Thy kinsfolk and thy father’s friends for aid.
And to what friends should I for aid apply?
The royal race of Temenus, in Argos——
That house, like ours, intestine murder maims.
Thy Spartan cousins, Procles and his brother——
Love a won cause, but not a cause to win.
My father, then, and his Arcadian chiefs——
Mean still to keep aloof from Dorian broil.
Wait, then, until sufficient help appears.
Orestes in Mycenae had no more.
He to fulfil an order rais’d his hand.
What order more precise had he than I?
Apollo peal’d it from his Delphian cave.
A mother’s murder needed best divine.
He had a hest, at least, and thou hast none.
The Gods command not where the heart speaks clear.
Thou wilt destroy, I see, thyself and us.
O suffering! O calamity! how ten,
How twentyfold worse are ye, when your blows
Not only wound the sense, but kill the soul,
The noble thought, which is alone the man!
That I, to-day returning, find myself
Orphan’d of both my parents—by his foes
My father, by your strokes my mother slain!—
For this is not my mother, who dissuades,
At the dread altar of her husband’s tomb,
His son from vengeance on his murderer;
And not alone dissuades him, but compares
His just revenge to an unnatural deed,
A deed so awful, that the general tongue
Fluent of horrors, falters to relate it—
Of darkness so tremendous, that its author,
Though to his act empower’d, nay, impell’d,
By the oracular sentence of the Gods,
Fled, for years after, o’er the face of earth,
A frenzied wanderer, a God-driven man.
And hardly yet, some say, hath found a grave—
With such a deed as this thou matchest mine,
Which Nature sanctions, which the innocent blood
Clamours to find fulfill’d, which good men praise,
And only bad men joy to see undone?
O honour’d father! hide thee in thy grave
Deep as thou canst, for hence no succour comes;
Since from thy faithful subjects what revenge
Canst thou expect, when thus thy widow fails?
Alas! an adamantine strength indeed,
Past expectation, hath thy murderer built:
For this is the true strength of guilty kings,
When they corrupt the souls of those they rule.
Zeal makes him most unjust: but, in good time,
Here, as I guess, the noble Laias comes.
Break off, break off your talking, and depart
Each to his post, where the occasion calls;
Lest from the council-chamber presently
The King return, and find you prating here.
A time will come for greetings; but to-day
The hour for words is gone, is come for deeds.
O princely Laias! to what purpose calls
The occasion, if our chief confederate fails?
My mother stands aloof, and blames our deed.
My royal sister? . . . but, without some cause,
I know, she honours not the dead so ill.
Brother, it seems thy sister must present,
At this first meeting after absence long,
Not welcome, exculpation to her kin:
Yet exculpation needs it, if I seek,
A woman and a mother, to avert
Risk from my new-restor’d, my only son?—
Sometimes, when he was gone, I wish’d him back,
Risk what he might; now that I have him here,
Now that I feed mine eyes on that young face,
Hear that fresh voice, and clasp that gold-lock’d head,
I shudder, Laias, to commit my child
To Murder’s dread arena, where I saw
His father and his ill-starr’d brethren fall:
I loathe for him the slippery way of blood;
I ask if bloodless means may gain his end.
In me the fever of revengeful hate,
Passion’s first furious longing to imbrue
Our own right hand in the detested blood
Of enemies, and count their dying groans—
If in this feeble bosom such a fire
Did ever burn—is long by time allay’d,
And I would now have Justice strike, not me.
Besides—for from my brother and my son
I hide not even this—the reverence deep,
Remorseful, tow’rd my hostile solitude,
By Polyphontes never fail’d-in once
Through twenty years; his mournful anxious zeal
To efface in me the memory of his crime—
Though it efface not that, yet makes me wish
His death a public, not a personal act,
Treacherously plotted ’twixt my son and me;
To whom this day he came to proffer peace,
Treaty, and to this kingdom for my son
Heirship, with fair intent, as I believe:—
For that he plots thy death, account it false;
Number it with the thousand rumours vain,
Figments of plots, wherewith intriguers fill
The enforced leisure of an exile’s ear:—
Immers’d in serious state-craft is the King,
Bent above all to pacify, to rule,
Rigidly, yet in settled calm, this realm;
Not prone, all say, to useless bloodshed now.—
So much is due to truth, even tow’rds our foe.
Do I, then, give to usurpation grace,
And from his natural rights my son debar?
Not so: let him—and none shall be more prompt
Than I to help—raise his Messenian friends;
Let him fetch succours from Arcadia, gain
His Argive or his Spartan cousins’ aid;
Let him do this, do aught but recommence
Murder’s uncertain, secret, perilous game—
And I, when to his righteous standard down
Flies Victory wing’d, and Justice raises then
Her sword, will be the first to bid it fall.
If, haply, at this moment, such attempt
Promise not fair, let him a little while
Have faith, and trust the future and the Gods.
He may—for never did the Gods allow
Fast permanence to an ill-gotten throne.—
These are but woman’s words;—yet, Laias, thou
Despise them not! for, brother, thou, like me,
Wert not among the feuds of warrior-chiefs,
Each sovereign for his dear-bought hour, born;
But in the pastoral Arcadia rear’d,
With Cypselus our father, where we saw
The simple patriarchal state of kings,
Where sire to son transmits the unquestion’d crown,
Unhack’d, unsmirch’d, unbloodied, and hast learnt
That spotless hands unshaken sceptres hold.
Having learnt this, then, use thy knowledge now.
Which way to lean I know not: bloody strokes
Are never free from doubt, though sometimes due.
O Merope, the common heart of man
Agrees to deem some deeds so horrible,
That neither gratitude, nor tie of race,
Womanly pity, nor maternal fear,
Nor any pleader else, shall be indulg’d
To breathe a syllable to bar revenge.
All this, no doubt, thou to thyself hast urg’d—
Time presses, so that theme forbear I now:
Direct to thy dissuasions I reply.
Blood-founded thrones, thou say’st, are insecure;
Our father’s kingdom, because pure, is safe.
True; but what cause to our Arcadia gives
Its privileg’d immunity from blood,
But that, since first the black and fruitful Earth
In the primeval mountain-forests bore
Pelasgus, our forefather and mankind’s,
Legitimately sire to son, with us,
Bequeaths the allegiance of our shepherd-tribes,
More loyal, as our line continues more?—
How can your Heracleidan chiefs inspire
This awe which guards our earth-sprung, lineal kings?
What permanence, what stability like ours,
Whether blood flows or no, can yet invest
The broken order of your Dorian thrones,
Fix’d yesterday, and ten times chang’d since then?—
Two brothers, and their orphan nephews, strove
For the three conquer’d kingdoms of this isle
The eldest, mightiest brother, Temenus, took
Argos: a juggle to Cresphontes gave
Messenia: to those helpless Boys, the lot
Worst of the three, the stony Sparta, fell.
August, indeed, was the foundation here!
What followed?—His most trusted kinsman slew
Cresphontes in Messenia; Temenus
Perish’d in Argos by his jealous sons;
The Spartan Brothers with their guardian strive:—
Can houses thus ill-seated—thus embroil’d—
Thus little founded in their subjects’ love,
Practise the indulgent, bloodless policy
Of dynasties long-fix’d, and honour’d long?
No! Vigour and severity must chain
Popular reverence to these recent lines;
If their first-founded order be maintain’d—
Their murder’d rulers terribly aveng’d—
Ruthlessly their rebellious subjects crush’d.—
Since policy bids thus, what fouler death
Than thine illustrious husband’s to avenge
Shall we select?—than Polyphontes, what
More daring and more grand offender find?
Justice, my sister, long demands this blow,
And Wisdom, now thou see’st, demands it too:
To strike it, then, dissuade thy son no more;
For to live disobedient to these two,
Justice and Wisdom, is no life at all.
The Gods, O mistress dear! the hard-soul’d man,
Who spar’d not others, bid not us to spare.
Alas! against my brother, son, and friends,
One, and a woman, how can I prevail?—
O brother! thou hast conquor’d; yet, I fear. . . .
Son! with a doubting heart thy mother yields . . .
May it turn happier than my doubts portend!
Meantime on thee the task of silence only
Shall be impos’d; to us shall be the deed.
Now, not another word, but to our act!
Nephew! thy friends are sounded, and prove true:
Thy father’s murderer, in the public place,
Performs, this noon, a solemn sacrifice
Go with him—choose the moment—strike thy blow!
If prudence counsels thee to go unarm’d,
The sacrificer’s axe will serve thy turn.
To me and the Messenians leave the rest,
With the Gods’ aid—and, if they give but aid
As our just cause deserves, I do not fear.
[AEPYTUS, LAIAS, and ARCAS go out.
O Son and Mother, str. 1.
Whom the Gods o’ershadow,
In dangerous trial,
With certainty of favour!
As erst they shadow’d
Your race’s founders
From irretrievable woe:
When the seed of Lycaon
Lay forlorn, lay outcast,
Callisto and her Boy.
What deep-grass’d meadow ant. 1.
At the meeting valleys—
Where clear-flowing Ladon,
Most beautiful of waters,
Receives the river
Whose trout are vocal,
The Aroanian stream—
Without home, without mother,
Hid the babe, hid Arcas,
The nursling of the dells?
But the sweet-smelling myrtle, str. 2.
And the pink-flower’d oleander,
And the green agnus-castus,
To the West-Wind’s murmur,
Rustled round his cradle;
And Maia rear’d him.
Then, a boy, he startled
In the snow-fill’d hollows
Of high Cyllene
The white mountain-birds;
Or surpris’d, in the glens,
The basking tortoises,
Whose strip’d shell founded
In the hand of Hermes
The glory of the lyre.
But his mother, Callisto, ant. 2.
In her hiding-place of the thickets
Of the lentisk and ilex,
In her rough form, fearing
The hunter on the outlook,
Poor changeling! trembled.
Or the children, plucking
In the thorn-chok’d gullies
Wild gooseberries, scar’d her,
The shy mountain-bear.
Or the shepherds, on slopes
With pale-spik’d lavender
And crisp thyme tufted,
Came upon her, stealing
At day-break through the dew.
Once, ’mid the gorges, str. 3.
Unclimb’d by man—
O’er whose cliffs the townsmen
Of crag-perch’d Nonacris
Behold in summer
The slender torrent
Of Styx come dancing,
A wind-blown thread—
By the precipices of Khelmos,
The fleet, desperate hunter,
The youthful Arcas, born of Zeus,
His fleeing mother,
And rais’d his spear.
Turning, with piteous ant. 3.
Sad, eager eyes,
Mutely she regarded
Her well-known enemy.
Low moans half utter’d
What speech refus’d her;
Tears cours’d, tears human,
Down those disfigur’d
Once human cheeks.
With unutterable foreboding
Her son, heart-stricken, ey’d her.
The Gods had pity, made them Stars.
Stars now they sparkle
In the northern Heaven;
The guard Arcturus,
The guard-watch’d Bear.
So, o’er thee and thy child, epode.
Some God, Merope, now,
In dangerous hour, stretches his hand.
So, like a star, dawns thy son,
Radiant with fortune and joy.
[POLYPHONTES comes in.
O Merope, the trouble on thy face
Tells me enough thou know’st the news which all
Messenia speaks: the prince, thy son, is dead.
Not from my lips should consolation fall:
To offer that, I came not; but to urge,
Even after news of this sad death, our league.
Yes, once again I come; I will not take
This morning’s angry answer for thy last:
To the Messenian kingdom thou and I
Are the sole claimants left; what cause of strife
Lay in thy son is buried in his grave.
Most honourably I meant, I call the Gods
To witness, offering him return and power:
Yet, had he liv’d, suspicion, jealousy,
Inevitably had surg’d up, perhaps,
’Twixt thee and me; suspicion, that I nurs’d
Some ill design against him; jealousy,
That he enjoy’d but part, being heir to all.
And he himself, with the impetuous heart
Of youth, ’tis like, had never quite forgone
The thought of vengeance on me, never quite
Unclos’d his itching fingers from his sword.
But thou, O Merope, though deeply wrong’d.
Though injur’d past forgiveness, as men deem.
Yet hast been long at school with thoughtful Time,
And from that teacher may’st have learn’d, like me,
That all may be endur’d, and all forgiv’n;
Have learn’d that we must sacrifice the thirst
Of personal vengeance to the public weal;
Have learn’d, that there are guilty deeds, which leave
The hand that does them guiltless; in a word,
That kings live for their peoples, not themselves.
This having learn’d, let us a union found
(For the last time I ask, ask earnestly)
Bas’d on pure public welfare; let us be—
Not Merope and Polyphontes, foes
Blood-sever’d—but Messenia’s King and Queen:
Let us forget ourselves for those we rule.
Speak: I go hence to offer sacrifice
To the Preserver Zeus; let me return
Thanks to him for our amity as well.
Oh had’st thou, Polyphontes, still but kept
The silence thou hast kept for twenty years!
Henceforth, if what I urge displease, I may:
But fair proposal merits fair reply.
And thou shalt have it! Yes, because thou hast
For twenty years forborne to interrupt
The solitude of her whom thou hast wrong’d—
That scanty grace shall earn thee this reply.—
First, for our union. Trust me, ’twixt us two
The brazen-footed Fury ever stalks,
Waving her hundred hands, a torch in each,
Aglow with angry fire, to keep us twain.
Now, for thyself. Thou com’st with well-cloak’d joy,
To announce the ruin of my husband’s house,
To sound thy triumph in his widow’s ears,
To bid her share thine unendanger’d throne:—
To this thou would’st have answer.—Take it: Fly!
Cut short thy triumph, seeming at its height;
Fling off thy crown, suppos’d at last secure;
Forsake this ample, proud Messenian realm:
To some small, humble, and unnoted strand,
Some rock more lonely than that Lemnian isle
Where Philoctetes pin’d, take ship and flee:
Some solitude more inaccessible
Than the ice-bastion’d Caucasean Mount,
Chosen a prison for Prometheus, climb:
There in unvoic’d oblivion hide thy name,
And bid the sun, thine only visitant,
Divulge not to the far-off world of men
What once-fam’d wretch he hath seen lurking there.
There nurse a late remorse, and thank the Gods,
And thank thy bitterest foe, that, having lost
All things but life, thou lose not life as well.
What mad bewilderment of grief is this?
Thou art bewilder’d: the sane head is mine.
I pity thee, and wish thee calmer mind.
Pity thyself; none needs compassion more.
Yet, oh! could’st thou but act as reason bids!
And in my turn I wish the same for thee.
All I could do to soothe thee has been tried.
For that, in this my warning, thou art paid.
Know’st thou then aught, that thus thou sound’st the alarm?
Thy crime: that were enough to make one fear.
My deed is of old date, and long aton’d.
Aton’d this very day, perhaps, it is.
My final victory proves the Gods appeas’d.
O victor, victor, trip not at the goal!
Hatred and passionate Envy blind thine eyes.
O Heaven-abandon’d wretch, that envies thee!
Thou hold’st so cheap, then, the Messenian crown?
I think on what the future hath in store.
To-day I reign: the rest I leave to Fate.
For Fate thou wait’st not long; since, in this hour——
What’? for so far she hath not prov’d my foe—
Fate seals my lips, and drags to ruin thee.
Enough! enough! I will no longer hear
The ill-boding note which frantic Envy sounds
To affright a fortune which the Gods secure.
Once more my friendship thou rejectest: well!
More for this land’s sake grieve I, than mine own.
I chafe not with thee, that thy hate endures,
Nor bend myself too low, to make it yield.
What I have done is done; by my own deed,
Neither exulting nor asham’d, I stand.
Why should this heart of mine set mighty store
By the construction and report of men?
Not men’s good-word hath made me what I am.
Alone I master’d power; and alone,
Since so thou wilt, I will maintain it still.
[POLYPHONTES goes out.
Did I then waver str. 1.
(O woman’s judgement!)
Misled by seeming
Success of crime?
And ask, if sometimes
The Gods, perhaps, allow’d you,
O lawless daring of the strong,
O self-will recklessly indulg’d?
Not time, not lightning, ant. 1.
Not rain, not thunder,
Efface the endless
Decrees of Heaven—
Make Justice alter,
Revoke, assuage her sentence,
Which dooms dread ends to dreadful deeds,
And violent deaths to violent men.
But the signal example str. 2.
Of invariableness of justice
Our glorious founder
Hercules gave us,
Son lov’d of Zeus his father: for he err’d,
And the strand of Euboea, ant. 2.
And the promontory of Cenaeum,
His painful, solemn
Beheld his expiation: for he died.
O villages of Oeta str. 3.
With hedges of the wild rose!
O pastures of the mountain,
Of short grass, beaded with dew,
Between the pine-woods and the cliffs!
O cliffs, left by the eagles,
On that morn, when the smoke-cloud
From the oak-built, fiercely-burning pyre,
Up the precipices of Trachis,
Drove them screaming from their eyries!
A willing, a willing sacrifice on that day
Ye witness’d, ye mountain lawns,
When the shirt-wrapt, poison-blister’d Hero
Ascended, with undaunted heart,
Living, his own funeral-pile,
And stood, shouting for a fiery torch;
And the kind, chance-arriv’d Wanderer,
The inheritor of the bow,
Coming swiftly through the sad Trachinians,
Put the torch to the pile:
That the flange tower’d on high to the Heaven
Bearing with it, to Olympus,
To the side of Hebe,
To immortal delight,
The labour-releas’d Hero.
O heritage of Neleus, ant. 3.
Ill-kept by his infirm heirs!
O kingdom of Messene,
Of rich soil, chosen by craft,
Possess’d in hatred, lost in blood!
O town, high Stenyclaros,
With new walls, which the victors
From the four-town’d, mountain-shadow’d Doris,
For their Hercules-issu’d princes
Built in strength against the vanquish’d!
Another, another sacrifice on this day
Ye witness, ye new-built towers!
When the white-rob’d, garland-crowned Monarch
Approaches, with undoubting heart,
Living, his own sacrifice-block,
And stands, shouting for a slaughterous axe;
And the stern, Destiny-brought Stranger,
The inheritor of the realm,
Coming swiftly through the jocund Dorians,
Drives the axe to its goal:
That the blood rushes in streams to the dust;
Bearing with it, to Erinnys,
To the Gods of Hades,
To the dead unaveng’d,
The fiercely-requir’d Victim.
Knowing he did it, unknowing pays for it. [epode.
Lo, the Ill-fated One,
Standing for harbour,
Right at the harbour-mouth,
Strikes, with all sail set,
Full on the sharp-pointed
Needle of ruin!
[A MESSENGER comes in.
O honour’d Queen, O faithful followers
Of your dead master’s line, I bring you news
To make the gates of this long-mournful house
Leap, and fly open of themselves for joy!
[noise and shouting heard.
Hark how the shouting crowds tramp hitherward
With glad acclaim! Ere they forestall my news,
Accept it:—Polyphontes is no more.
Is my son safe? that question bounds my care.
He is, and by the people hail’d for king.
The rest to me is little: yet, since that
Must from some mouth be heard, relate it thou.
Not little, if thou saw’st what love, what zeal,
At thy dead husband’s name the people show.
For when this morning in the public square
I took my stand, and saw the unarm’d crowds
Of citizens in holiday attire,
Women and children intermix’d; and then,
Group’d around Zeus’s altar, all in arms,
Serried and grim, the ring of Dorian lords—
I trembled for our prince and his attempt.
Silence and expectation held us all:
Till presently the King came forth, in robe
Of sacrifice, his guards clearing the way
Before him—at his side, the prince, thy son,
Unarm’d and travel-soil’d, just as he was:
With him conferring the King slowly reach’d
The altar in the middle of the square,
Where, by the sacrificing minister,
The flower-dress’d victim stood, a milk-white bull,
Swaying from side to side his massy head
With short impatient lowings: there he stopp’d,
And seem’d to muse awhile, then rais’d his eyes
To Heaven, and laid his hand upon the steer,
Arid cried—O Zeus, let what blood-guiltiness
Yet stains our land be by this blood wash’d out,
And grant henceforth to the Messenians peace!
That moment, while with upturn’d eyes he pray’d,
The prince snatch’d from the sacrificer’s hand
The axe, and on the forehead of the King,
Where twines the chaplet, dealt a mighty blow
Which fell’d him to the earth, and o’er him stood,
And shouted—Since by thee defilement came,
What blood so meet as thine to wash it out?
What hand to strike thee meet as mine, the hand
Of Aepytus, thy murder’d master’s son?—
But, gazing at him from the ground, the King . . .
Is it, then, thou? he murmur’d; and with that,
He bow’d his head, and deeply groan’d, and died.
Till then we all seem’d stone: but then a cry
Broke from the Dorian lords: forward they rush’d
To circle the prince round: when suddenly
Laias in arms sprang to his nephew’s side,
Crying—O ye Messenians, will ye leave
The son to perish as ye left the sire?
And from that moment I saw nothing clear:
For from all sides a deluge, as it seem’d,
Burst o’er the altar and the Dorian lords,
Of holiday-clad citizens transform’d
To armed warriors: I heard vengeful cries;
I heard the clash of weapons; then I saw
The Dorians lying dead, thy son hail’d king.
And, truly, one who sees, what seem’d so strong,
The power of this tyrant and his lords,
Melt like a passing smoke, a nightly dream,
At one bold word, one enterprising blow—
Might ask, why we endur’d their yoke so long:
But that we know how every perilous feat
Of daring, easy as it seems when done,
Is easy at no moment but the right.
Thou speakest well; but here, to give our eyes
Authentic proof of what thou tell’st our ears,
The conquerors, with the King’s dead body, come.
[AEPYTUS, LAIAS, and ARCAS came in with the|
dead body of POLYPHONTES, followed by a
crowd of the MESSENIANS.]
Sister, from this day forth thou art no more
The widow of a husband unaveng’d,
The anxious mother of an exil’d son.
Thine enemy is slain, thy son is king!
Rejoice with us! and trust me, he who wish’d
Welfare to the Messenian state, and calls,
Could find no way to found them sure as this.
Mother, all these approve me: but if thou
Approve not too, I have but half my joy.
O Aepytus, my son, behold, behold
This iron man, my enemy and thine,
This politic sovereign, lying at our feet,
With blood-bespatter’d robes, and chaplet shorn!
Inscrutable as ever, see, it keeps
Its sombre aspect of majestic care,
Of solitary thought, unshar’d resolve,
Even in death, that countenance austere.
So look’d he, when to Stenyclaros first,
A new-made wife, I from Arcadia came,
And found him at my husband’s side, his friend,
His kinsman, his right hand in peace and war;
Unsparing in his service of his toil,
His blood; to me, for I confess it, kind:
So look’d he in that dreadful day of death:
So, when he pleaded for our league but now.
What meantest thou, O Polyphontes, what
Desired’st thou, what truly spurr’d thee on?
Was policy of state, the ascendancy
Of the Heracleidan conquerors, as thou said’st,
Indeed thy lifelong passion and sole aim?
Or did’st thou but, as cautious schemers use,
Cloak thine ambition with these specious words?
I know not; just, in either case, the stroke
Which laid thee low, for blood requires blood:
But yet, not knowing this, I triumph not
Over thy corpse, triumph not, neither mourn;
For I find worth in thee, and badness too.
What mood of spirit, therefore, shall we call
The true one of a man—what way of life
His fix’d condition and perpetual walk
None, since a twofold colour reigns in all.
But thou, my son, study to make prevail
One colour in thy life, the hue of truth:
That Justice, that sage Order, not alone
Natural Vengeance, may maintain thine act,
And make it stand indeed the will of Heaven.
Thy father’s passion was this people’s ease,
This people’s anarchy, thy foe’s pretence;
As the chiefs rule, indeed, the people are:
Unhappy people, where the chiefs themselves
Are, like, the mob, vicious and ignorant!
So rule, that even thine enemies may fail
To find in thee a fault whereon to found,
Of tyrannous harshness, or remissness weak:
So rule, that as thy father thou be lov’d;
So rule, that as thy foe thou be obey’d.
Take these, my son, over thing enemy’s corpse
Thy mother’s prayers: and this prayer last of all,
That even in thy victory thou show,
Mortal, the moderation of a man.
O mother, my best diligence shall be
In all by thy experience to be rul’d
Where my own youth falls short. But, Laias, now,
First work after such victory, let us go
To render to my true Messenians thanks,
To the Gods grateful sacrifice; and then,
Assume the ensigns of my father’s power.
Son of Cresphontes, past what perils
Com’st thou, guided safe, to thy home!
What things daring! what enduring!
And all this by the will of the Gods.