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Poetical Works of Matthew Arnold
by Matthew Arnold
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The events on which the action of the drama turns belong to the period of transition from the heroic and fabulous to the human and historic age of Greece. The doings of the hero Hercules, the ancestor of the Messenian AEpytus, belong to fable; but the invasion of Peloponnesus by the Dorians under chiefs claiming to be descended from Hercules, and their settlement in Argos, Lacedaemon, and Messenia, belong to history. AEpytus is descended on the father's side from Hercules, Perseus, and the kings of Argos; on the mother's side from Pelasgus, and the aboriginal kings of Arcadia. Callisto, the daughter of the wicked Lycaon, and the mother, by Zeus, of Arcas, from whom the Arcadians took their name, was the granddaughter of Pelasgus. The birth of Arcas brought upon Callisto the anger of the virgin-goddess Artemis, whose service she followed: she was changed into a she-bear, and in this form was chased by her own son, grown to manhood. Zeus interposed, and the mother and son were removed from the earth, and placed among the stars. Callisto became the famous constellation of the Great Bear; her son became Arcturus, Arctophylax, or Booetes. From this son of Callisto were descended Cypselus, the maternal grandfather of AEpytus, and the children of Cypselus, Laias and Merope.

The story of the life of Hercules, the paternal ancestor of AEpytus, is so well known that there is no need to record it. The reader will remember that, although entitled to the throne of Argos by right of descent from Perseus and Danaus, and to the thrones of Sparta and Messenia by right of conquest, Hercules yet passed his life in labours and wanderings, subjected by the decree of fate to the commands of his kinsman, the feeble and malignant Eurystheus. At his death he bequeathed to his offspring, the Heracleidae, his own claims to the kingdoms of Peloponnesus, and to the persecution of Eurystheus. They at first sought shelter with Ceyx, king of Trachis; he was too weak to protect them, and they then took refuge at Athens. The Athenians refused to deliver them up at the demand of Eurystheus; he invaded Attica, and a battle was fought near Marathon, in which, after Macaria, a daughter of Hercules, had devoted herself for the preservation of her house, Eurystheus fell, and the Heracleidae and their Athenian protectors were victorious. The memory of Macaria's self-sacrifices was perpetuated by the name of a spring of water on the plain of Marathon, the spring Macaria. The Heracleidae then endeavoured to effect their return to Peloponnesus. Hyllus, the eldest of them, inquired of the oracle at Delphi respecting their return; he was told to return by the narrow passage and in the third harvest. Accordingly, in the third year from that time Hyllus led an army to the Isthmus of Corinth; but there he was encountered by an army of Achaians and Arcadians, and fell in single combat with Echemus, king of Tegea. Upon this defeat the Heracleidae retired to northern Greece; there, after much wandering, they finally took refuge with AEgimius, king of the Dorians, who appears to have been the fastest friend of their house, and whose Dorian warriors formed the army which at last achieved their return. But, for a hundred years from the date of their first attempt, the Heracleidae were defeated in their successive invasions of Peloponnesus. Cleolaus and Aristomachus, the son and grandson of Hyllus, fell in unsuccessful expeditions. At length the sons of Aristomachus, Temenus, Cresphontes, and Aristodemus, when grown up, repaired to Delphi and taxed the oracle with the non-fulfilment of the promise made to their ancestor Hyllus. But Apollo replied that his oracle had been misunderstood; for that by the third harvest he had meant the third generation, and by the narrow passage he had meant the straits of the Corinthian Gulf. After this explanation the sons of Aristomachus built a fleet at Naupactus; and finally, in the hundredth year from the death of Hyllus and the eightieth from the fall of Troy, the invasion was again attempted and was this time successful. The son of Orestes, Tisamenus, who ruled both Argos and Lacedaemon, fell in battle; many of his vanquished subjects left their homes and took refuge in Achaia.

The spoil was now to be divided among the conquerors. Aristodemus, the youngest of the sons of Aristomachus, did not survive to enjoy his share. He was slain at Delphi by the sons of Pylades and Electra, the kinsman, through their mother, of the house of Agamemnon, that house which the Heracleidae with their Dorian army had dispossessed. The claims of Aristodemus descended to his two sons, Procles and Eurysthenes, children under the guardianship of their maternal uncle, Theras. Temenus, the eldest of the sons of Aristomachus, took the kingdom of Argos. For the two remaining kingdoms, that of Sparta and that of Messenia, his two nephews, who were to rule jointly, and their uncle Cresphontes, had to cast lots. Cresphontes wished to have the fertile Messenia, and induced his brother to acquiesce in a trick which secured it to him. The lot of Cresphontes and that of his two nephews were to be placed in a water-jar, and thrown out. Messenia was to belong to him whose lot came out first. With the connivance of Temenus, Cresphontes marked as his own lot a pellet composed of baked clay, as the lot of his nephews, a pellet of unbaked clay; the unbaked pellet was of course dissolved in the water, while the brick pellet fell out alone. Messenia, therefore, was assigned to Cresphontes.

Messenia was at this time ruled by Melanthus, a descendant of Neleus. This ancestor, a prince of the great house of AEolus, had come from Thessaly and succeeded to the Messenian throne on the failure of the previous dynasty. Melanthus and his race were thus foreigners in Messenia and were unpopular. His subjects offered little or no opposition to the invading Dorians; Melanthus abandoned his kingdom to Cresphontes, and retired to Athens.

Cresphontes married Merope, whose native country, Arcadia, was not affected by the Dorian invasion. This marriage, the issue of which was three sons, connected him with the native population of Peloponnesus. He built a new capital of Messenia, Stenyclaros, and transferred thither, from Pylos, the seat of government; he proposed, moreover, says Pausanias, to divide Messenia into five states, and to confer on the native Messenians equal privileges with their Dorian conquerors. The Dorians complained that his administration unduly favoured the vanquished people; his chief magnates, headed by Polyphontes, himself a descendant of Hercules, formed a cabal against him, and he was slain with his two eldest sons. The youngest son of Cresphontes, AEpytus, then an infant, was saved by his mother, who sent him to her father, Cypselus, the king of Arcadia, under whose protection he was brought up.

The drama begins at the moment when AEpytus, grown to manhood, returns secretly to Messenia to take vengeance on his father's murderers. At this period Temenus was no longer reigning at Argos; he had been murdered by his sons, jealous of their brother-in-law, Deiphontes. The sons of Aristodemus, Procles and Eurysthenes, at variance with their uncle and ex-guardian, Theras, were reigning at Sparta.

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PERSONS OF THE DRAMA

LAIAS, uncle of AEPYTUS, brother of MEROPE. AEPYTUS, son of MEROPE and CRESPHONTES. POLYPHONTES, king of MESSENIA. MEROPE, widow of CRESPHONTES, the murdered king of MESSENIA. THE CHORUS, of MESSENIAN maidens. ARCAS, AN OLD MAN OF MEROPE'S household. MESSENGER. GUARDS, ATTENDANTS, etc.

The Scene is before the royal palace in STENYCLAROS, the capital of MESSENIA. In the foreground is the tomb of CRESPHONTES. The action commences at day-break.



MEROPE

LAIAS. AEPYTUS.

Laias

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, famed 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 Heracles; and, in that public place, Zeus hath his altar, where thy father fell. Southward and west, 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 received 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.

AEpytus

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 judged the best; chance finds no better way. Go thou into the city, and seek out Whate'er in the Messenian people stirs Of faithful fondness for 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; Hate to their rule, which else would die away, Their daily-practised 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, to these 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 look, to meet them, that one, grief-plunged 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.

Laias

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 approaching 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 vengeance 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.

(To MEROPE)

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, estranged reproach, These punctual funeral honours, year by year Repeated, are in thee, I well believe, Courageous, faithful actions, nobly dared. 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-robed 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.

Merope

This day, to-morrow, yesterday, alike I am, I shall be, have been, in my mind Tow'rd thee; toward thy silence as thy speech. Speak, therefore, or keep silence, which thou wilt.

Polyphontes

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 grown, together lived; Together to this isle of Pelops came To take the inheritance of Heracles, 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 that, 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, scourged 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?

Merope

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 moves; this breach that thou would'st close Was by that murder open'd; that one child (If still, indeed, he 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.

Polyphontes

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 raised 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, Heracles, Soaring from his death-pile on OEta, left His puny, callow eaglets; and what trials— Infirm protectors, dubious oracles Construed awry, misplann'd invasions—wore Three generations of his offspring out; Hardly the fourth, with grievous loss, regain'd Their fathers' realm, this isle, from Pelops named. Who made that triumph, though deferr'd, secure? Who, but the kinsmen of the royal brood Of Heracles, scarce Heracleidae less Than they? these, and the Dorian lords, whose king AEgimius gave our outcast house a home When Thebes, when Athens dared 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 ruled by foreign lords From the AEolian stock of Neleus sprung, A house once great, now dwindling in its sons. Such were the conquer'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 framed 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 shamed the king; If jealousy of us, it shamed the man. Long we refrain'd ourselves, submitted long, Construed his acts indulgently, revered, Though found perverse, the blood of Heracles; 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 Heracles, preferr'd The many of that lineage to the one; What his foes dared not, I, his lover, dared; I at that altar, where mid shouting crowds He sacrificed, our ruin in his heart, To Zeus, before he struck his blow, struck mine— Struck once, and awed his mob, and saved this realm. Murder let others call this, if they will; I, self-defence and righteous execution.

Merope

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, asked 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, gorged and helpless, be assail'd and slain. He would have saved 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 inclined 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 supposed 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 placed the forfeit crown, Ruled in their name, and train'd them to your will? Had they misruled? 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 desired 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.

Polyphontes

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 saved 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.

Merope

Such chance as kill'd the father, kill'd the sons.

Polyphontes

One son at least I spared, for still he lives.

Merope

Tyrants think him they murder not they spare.

Polyphontes

Not much a tyrant thy free speech displays me.

Merope

Thy shame secures my freedom, not thy will.

Polyphontes

Shame rarely checks the genuine tyrant's will.

Merope

One merit, then, thou hast; exult in that.

Polyphontes

Thou standest out, I see, repellest peace.

Merope

Thy sword repell'd it long ago, not I.

Polyphontes

Doubtless thou reckonest on the help of friends.

Merope

Not help of men, although, perhaps, of Gods.

Polyphontes

What Gods? the Gods of concord, civil weal?

Merope

No! the avenging Gods, who punish crime.

Polyphontes

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, Involved 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 deliver'd 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.

The Chorus

Draw, draw near to the tomb! strophe. Lay honey-cakes on its marge, 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 Advanced, two javelins, not now Dangerous alone to the deer!

Merope

What shall I bear, O lost str. 1 Husband and King, to thy grave?— Pure libations, and fresh Flowers? But thou, in the gloom, Discontented, perhaps, Demandest vengeance, not grief? Sternly requirest a man, Light to spring up to thy house?

The Chorus

Vengeance, O Queen, is his due, str. 2 His most just prayer; yet his house— 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.

Merope

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 Heracleidae received That Delphic hest to return, What hath involved them, but blind Error on error, and blood?

The Chorus

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.

Merope

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, Matricidal, world-famed, Seven-cubit-statured son— 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 Heracles, Hyllus, the chief of his house. Brother follow'd sister The all-wept way.

The Chorus

Yes; but his seed still, 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 restorer appear to the race.

Merope

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, untired, Jealous, blood-exacting friends! Your sons leap upon 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. Thrice son follow'd sire The all-wept way.

The Chorus

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 lived, Swaying the sceptre with predestined hand; And now, minister loved, Holds rule.

Merope

Ah me ... Ah....

The Chorus

For the awful Monarchs below.

Merope

Thou touchest the worst of my ills. str. 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 All-regarded afar, Noble memorial of worth Of a valiant Chief, to his own.

The Chorus

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— Some Form

Merope

Ah me.... Ah....

The Chorus

Of a dreadful Presence of fear.

Merope

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.

The Chorus

Not to thee only hath come str. 6. Sorrow, O Queen, of mankind. Had not Electra to haunt A palace defiled by a death unavenged, For years, in silence, devouring her heart? But her nursling, her hope, came at last. Thou, too, rearest in hope, Far 'mid Arcadian hills, Somewhere, for vengeance, a champion, a light. Soon, soon shall Zeus bring him home! Soon shall he dawn on this land!

Merope

Him in secret, in tears, str. 7. Month after month, I await Vainly. For he, in the glens Of Lycaeus afar, A gladsome hunter of deer, Basks in his morning of youth, Spares not a thought to his home.

The Chorus

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 numb'reth the hours Till the sinner, the vengeance, be ripe. Still, by Acheron stream, Terrible Deities throned Sit, and eye grimly the victim unscourged. Still, still the Dorian boy, Exiled, remembers his home.

Merope

Him if high-ruling Zeus ant. 7. Bring to me safe, let the rest Go as it will! But if this Clash with justice, the Gods Forgive my folly, and work Vengeance on sinner and sin— Only to me give my child!

The Chorus

Hear us and help us, Shade of our King! str. 8.

Merope

A return, O Father! give to thy boy! str. 9.

The Chorus

Send an avenger, Gods of the dead! ant. 8.

Merope

An avenger I ask not—send me my son! ant. 9.

The Chorus

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.

Merope

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 unbribed 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 chafed 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— Small comfort offers for a woman there! 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, and pray the all-seeing sun: "Sun, who careerest through the height of Heaven, When o'er the Arcadian forests thou art come, And see'st my stripling hunter there afield, Put tightness in thy gold-embossed 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 bare 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 beloved— 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 judged! 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 turns to go towards the palace.

The Chorus

The dead hath now his offerings duly paid. But whither go'st thou hence, O Queen, away?

Merope

To receive Arcas, who to-day should come, Bringing me of my boy the annual news.

The Chorus

No certain news if like the rest it run.

Merope

Certain in this, that 'tis uncertain still.

The Chorus

What keeps him in Arcadia from return?

Merope

His grandsire and his uncles fear the risk.

The Chorus

Of what? it lies with them to make risk none.

Merope

Discovery of a visit made by stealth.

The Chorus

With arms then they should send him, not by stealth.

Merope

With arms they dare not, and by stealth they fear.

The Chorus

I doubt their caution little suits their ward.

Merope

The heart of youth I know; that most I fear.

The Chorus

I augur thou wilt hear some bold resolve.

Merope

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 saved 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.

The Chorus

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 unscaled. Even earth, whereon he treads, So feeble is his march, so slow, Holds countless tracts untrod.

But more than all unplumb'd, ant. 1. Unscaled, 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 wherewith we try to test Feelings and motives there.

Yea, and not only have we not explored str. 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 judged, 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 hath 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 strike 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-ruled world, ant. 3. Well sometimes may the good desire To give to virtue her dominion due! Well may he long to interrupt The reign of folly, usurpation ever, Though fenced 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 destined 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.

AEpytus

Maidens, assure me if they told me true Who told me that the royal house was here.

The Chorus

Rightly they told thee, and thou art arrived.

AEpytus

Here, then, it is, where Polyphontes dwells?

The Chorus

He doth; thou hast both house and master right.

AEpytus

Might some one straight inform him he is sought?

The Chorus

Inform him that thyself, for here he comes.

[POLYPHONTES comes forth, with ATTENDANTS and GUARDS.

AEpytus

O King, all hail! I come with weighty news; Most likely, grateful; but, in all case, sure.

Polyphontes

Speak them, that I may judge their kind myself.

AEpytus

Accept them in one word, for good or bad: AEpytus, the Messenian prince, is dead!

Polyphontes

Dead!—and when died he? where? and by what hand? And who art thou, who bringest me such news?

AEpytus

He perish'd in Arcadia, where he dwelt With Cypselus; and two days since he died. One of the train of Cypselus am I.

Polyphontes

Instruct me of the manner of his death.

AEpytus

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 Arne spring, where Rhea gave the babe Poseidon to the shepherd-boys to hide From Saturn's search among the new-yean'd lambs, To Mantineia, with its unbaked 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 named, 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 lodged One night; and the next day at dawn fared 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 high green spur which bathes its point 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 praised 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, Arne minded him, he too Was saved a babe, but to a life obscure, Which he, the seed of Heracles, 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, Named AEpytus like him, having gone in, Was blinded by the outgushing springs of brine. Then, turning westward to the Adder's Hill— Another ancestor, named, 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 plunged Through the dense ilex-thickets to the dogs. Far in the woods ahead their music rang; And many times that morn we coursed in ring The forests round that belt Cyllene's side; Till I, thrown out and tired, came to halt On that same spur where we had sate at morn. And resting there to breathe, I watch'd the chase— 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 fringed 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 plunged 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 aged plane-tree crown'd, Parts from this cave-pierced cliff the shelving bay Where first the chase plunged 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 came 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 An 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 dared, 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 saved, 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 'twixt him and thee. But I from our deplored 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.

The Chorus.

So dies the last shoot of our royal tree! Who shall tell Merope this heavy news?

Polyphontes

Stranger, this news thou bringest is too great For instant comment, having many sides Of import, and in silence best received, Whether it turn at last to joy or woe. But thou, the zealous bearer, hast no part In what it hath of painful, whether now, First heard, or in its future issue shown. Thou for thy labour hast deserved 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 Chorus

The youth is gone within; alas! he bears A presence sad for some one through those doors.

Polyphontes

Admire then, maidens, how in one short hour The schemes, pursued in vain for twenty years, Are—by a stroke, though undesired, complete— Crown'd with success, not in my way, but Heaven's! This at a moment, too, when I had urged A last, long-cherish'd project, in my aim Of peace, and been repulsed with hate and scorn. Fair terms of reconcilement, equal rule, I offer'd to my foes, and they refused; Worse terms than mine they have obtain'd from Heaven. Dire is this blow for Merope; and I Wish'd, truly wish'd, 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.

The Chorus

Peace, who tarriest too long; str. 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 condemn'd by my voice ant. 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.

Merope

A whisper through the palace flies of one Arrived 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?

The Chorus

A messenger, sent from Arcadia here, Arrived, and of the King had speech but now.

Merope

Ah me! the wrong expectant got his news.

The Chorus

The message brought was for the King design'd.

Merope

How so? was Arcas not the messenger?

The Chorus

A younger man, and of a different name.

Merope

And what Arcadian news had he to tell?

The Chorus

Learn that from other lips, O Queen, than mine.

Merope

He kept his tale, then, for the King alone?

The Chorus

His tale was meeter for that ear than thine.

Merope

Why dost thou falter, and make half reply?

The Chorus

O thrice unhappy, how I groan thy fate!

Merope

Thou frightenest and confound'st me by thy words. O were but Arcas come, all would be well?

The Chorus

If so, all's well: for look, the old man speeds Up from the city tow'rd this gated hill.

[ARCAS comes in.

Merope

Not with the failing breath and foot of age My faithful follower comes. Welcome, old friend!

Arcas

Faithful, not welcome, when my tale is told. O that my over-speed and bursting grief Had on the journey choked my labouring breath, And lock'd my speech for ever in my breast! Yet then another man would bring this news, Wherewith from end to end Arcadia rings.— O honour'd Queen, thy son, my charge, is gone.

The Chorus

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.

Merope

Ah ... Ah ... Ah me!

The Chorus

And I, too, say, ah me!

Arcas

Forgive, forgive the bringer of such news!

Merope

Better from thine than from an enemy's tongue.

The Chorus

And yet no enemy did this, O Queen: But the wit-baffling will and hand of Heaven.

Arcas

No enemy! and what hast thou, then, heard? Swift as I came, hath falsehood been before?

The Chorus

A youth arrived 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 rifted in the cliff Which hangs o'er the Stymphalian Lake, and drown'd.

Arcas

Ah me! with what a foot doth treason post, While loyalty, with all her speed, is slow! Another tale, I trow, thy messenger For the King's private ear reserves, like this In one thing only, that the prince is dead.

The Chorus

And how then runs this true and private tale?

Arcas

As much to the King's wish, more to his shame. This young Arcadian noble, guard and mate To AEpytus, the king seduced with gold, And had him at the prince's side in leash, Ready to slip on his unconscious prey. He on a hunting party two days since, Among the forests on Cyllene's side, Perform'd good service for his bloody wage; Our prince, and the good Laias, whom his ward Had in a father's place, he basely murder'd. 'Tis so, 'tis so, alas, for see the proof: Uncle and nephew disappear; their death Is charged against this stripling; agents, fee'd To ply 'twixt the Messenian king and him, Come forth, denounce the traffic and the traitor. Seized, he escapes—and next I find him here. Take this for true, the other tale for feign'd.

The Chorus

The youth, thou say'st, we saw and heard but now—

Arcas

He comes to tell his prompter he hath sped.

The Chorus

Still he repeats the drowning story here.

Arcas

To thee—that needs no OEdipus to explain.

The Chorus

Interpret, then; for we, it seems, are dull.

Arcas

Your King desired 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 loved the prince.

The Chorus

Suspicion grave I see, but no firm proof.

Merope

Peace! peace! all's clear.—The wicked watch and work While the good sleep; the workers have the day. Yes! yes! now I conceive 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, forged 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, duped, disarm'd, despised, The willing sharer of his guilty rule, All claim to succour forfeit, to myself Hateful, by each Messenian heart abhorr'd. His offers I repell'd—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 endured His offers, coldly heard them, cold repell'd? How must men think me abject, void of heart, While all this time I bear to linger on In this blood-deluged 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 lived, 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, avenged? 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 believed 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 our 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 unappeased. What shall I have to answer to such words?— No, something must be dared; 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 friend 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.

Arcas

O mistress, by the Gods, do nothing rash!

Merope

Unfaithful servant, dost thou, too, desert me?

Arcas

I go! I go!—The King holds council—there Will I seek tidings. Take, the while, this 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.

The Chorus

I have heard, O Queen, how a prince, str. 1. Agamemnon's son, in Mycenae, Orestes, died but in name, Lived for the death of his foes.

Merope

Peace!

The Chorus

What is it?

Merope

Alas, Thou destroyest me!

The Chorus

How?

Merope

Whispering hope of a life Which no stranger unknown, But the faithful servant and nurse, Whose tears warrant his truth, Bears sad witness is lost.

The Chorus

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.

Merope

Yes——

The Chorus

Thou knowest it?

Merope

This, Who lives, witnesses.

The Chorus

True.

Merope

But is it only a fate Sure, all-common, to lose In a land of friends, by a friend, One last, murder-saved child?

The Chorus

Ah me! str. 2.

Merope

Thou confessest the prize In the rushing, thundering, mad, Cloud-enveloped, obscure, Unapplauded, unsung Race of calamity, mine?

The Chorus

None can truly claim that Mournful preeminence, not Thou.

Merope

Fate gives it, ah me!

The Chorus

Not, above all, in the doubts, Double and clashing, that hang——

Merope

What then? ant. 2. Seems it lighter, my loss, If, perhaps, unpierced by the sword, My child lies in his jagg'd Sunless prison of rock, On the black wave borne to and fro?

The Chorus

Worse, far worse, if his friend, If the Arcadian within, If——

Merope (with a start)

How say'st thou? within?...

The Chorus

He in the guest-chamber now, Faithlessly murder'd his friend.

Merope

Ye, too, ye, too, join to betray, then Your Queen!

The Chorus

What is this?

Merope

Ye knew, O false friends! into what Haven the murderer had dropp'd? Ye kept silence?

The Chorus

In fear, O loved mistress! in fear, Dreading thine over-wrought mood, What I knew, I conceal'd.

Merope

Swear by the Gods henceforth to obey me!

The Chorus

Unhappy one, what deed Purposes thy despair? I promise; but I fear.

Merope

From the altar, the unavenged tomb, Fetch me the sacrifice-axe!——

[THE CHORUS goes towards the tomb of CRESPHONTES, and their leader brings back the axe.

O Husband, O clothed With the grave's everlasting, All-covering darkness! O King, Well-mourn'd, but ill-avenged! Approv'st thou thy wife now?—— The axe!—who brings it?

The Chorus

'Tis here! But thy gesture, thy look, Appals me, shakes me with awe.

Merope

Thrust back now the bolt of that door!

The Chorus

Alas! alas!— Behold the fastenings withdrawn Of the guest-chamber door!— Ah! I beseech thee—with tears——

Merope

Throw the door open!

The Chorus

'Tis done!...

[The door of the house is thrown open: the interior of the guest-chamber is discovered, with AEPYTUS asleep on a couch.

Merope

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 wert 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 droop'd 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 briars 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 Take——

[MEROPE advances towards the sleeping AEPYTUS, with the axe uplifted. At the same moment ARCAS re-enters.

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!...

Merope

Foolish old man, thou spoil'st my blow!

Arcas

What do I see?...

Merope

A murderer at death's door. Therefore no words!

Arcas

A murderer?...

Merope

And a captive To the dear next-of-kin of him he murder'd. Stand, and let vengeance pass!

Arcas

Hold, O Queen, hold! Thou know'st not whom thou strik'st....

Merope

I know his crime.

Arcas

Unhappy one! thou strik'st——

Merope

A most just blow.

Arcas

No, by the Gods, thou slay'st——

Merope

Stand off!

Arcas

Thy son!

Merope

Ah!...

[She lets the axe drop, and falls insensible.

AEpytus (awaking)

Who are these? What shrill, ear-piercing scream Wakes me thus kindly from the perilous sleep 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 beloved, welcome to life! As dead we held thee, mourn'd for thee as dead.

AEpytus

In word I died, that I in deed might live. But who are these?

Arcas

Messenian maidens, friends.

AEpytus

And, Arcas!—but I tremble!

Arcas

Boldly ask.

AEpytus

That black-robed, swooning figure?...

Arcas

Merope.

AEpytus

O mother! mother!

Merope

Who upbraids me? Ah!... [seeing the axe.

AEpytus

Upbraids thee? no one.

Merope

Thou dost well: but take....

AEpytus

What wav'st thou off?

Merope

That murderous axe away!

AEpytus

Thy son is here.

Merope

One said so, sure, but now.

AEpytus

Here, here thou hast him!

Merope

Slaughter'd by this hand!...

AEpytus

No, by the Gods, alive and like to live!

Merope

What, thou?—I dream——

AEpytus

May'st thou dream ever so!

Merope (advancing towards him)

My child? unhurt?...

AEpytus

Only by over joy

Merope

Art thou, then, come?...

AEpytus

Never to part again.

[They fall into one another's arms. Then MEROPE, holding AEPYTUS by the hand, turns to THE CHORUS.

Merope

O kind Messenian maidens, O my friends, Bear witness, see, mark well, on what a head My first stroke of revenge had nearly fallen!

The Chorus

We see, dear mistress: and we say, the Gods, As hitherto they kept him, keep him now.

Merope

O my son! str. 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.

AEpytus

Mother, my heart runs over; but the time Presses me, chides me, will not let me weep.

Merope

Fearest thou now?

AEpytus

I fear not, but I think on my design.

Merope

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.

AEpytus

Remember, to revenge his death I come!

Merope

Ah ... revenge! ant. That word! it kills me! I see Once more roll back on my house, Never to ebb, the accurst All-flooding ocean of blood.

AEpytus

Mother, sometimes the justice of the Gods Appoints the way to peace through shedding blood.

Merope

Sorrowful peace!

AEpytus

And yet the only peace to us allow'd.

Merope

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.

AEpytus

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 Conferring 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?

Merope

Approves my brother Laias this intent?

AEpytus

Yes, and alone is with me here to share.

Merope

And what of thine Arcadian mate, who bears Suspicion from thy grandsire of thy death, For whom, as I suppose, thou passest here?

AEpytus

Sworn to our plot he is; if false surmise Fix him the author of my death, I know not.

Merope

Proof, not surmise, shows him in commerce close——

AEpytus

With this Messenian tyrant—that I know.

Merope

And entertain'st thou, child, such dangerous friends?

AEpytus

This commerce for my best behoof he plies.

Merope

That thou may'st read thine enemy's counsel plain?

AEpytus

Too dear his secret wiles have cost our house.

Merope

And of his unsure agent what demands he?

AEpytus

News of my business, pastime, temper, friends.

Merope

His messages, then, point not to thy murder?

AEpytus

Not yet, though such, no doubt, his final aim.

Merope

And what Arcadian helpers bring'st thou here?

AEpytus

Laias alone; no errand mine for crowds.

Merope

On what relying, to crush such a foe?

AEpytus

One sudden stroke, and the Messenians' love.

Merope

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 foe? 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 wolves of war, Good to obey, without a leader nought. 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 people's 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, give to certain death That dear-beloved, 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 Heracles.

The Chorus

With sage experience she speaks; and thou, O AEpytus, weigh well her counsel given.

AEpytus

Ill counsel, in my judgment, gives she here, Maidens, and reads experience much amiss; Discrediting the succour which our cause Might from the people draw, if rightly used; Advising us a course which would, indeed, If follow'd, 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 used, 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 Heracles— 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, Kindle their hearts, make them no more a mob, 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, raised 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 were 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.

The Chorus

Prudence is on the other side; but deeds Condemn'd by prudence have sometimes gone well.

Merope

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.

AEpytus

And to what friends should I for aid apply?

Merope

The royal race of Temenus, in Argos——

AEpytus

That house, like ours, intestine murder maims.

Merope

Thy Spartan cousins, Procles and his brother——

AEpytus

Love a won cause, but not a cause to win.

Merope

My father, then, and his Arcadian chiefs——

AEpytus

Mean still to keep aloof from Dorian broil.

Merope

Wait, then, until sufficient help appears.

AEpytus

Orestes in Mycenae had no more.

Merope

He to fulfil an order raised his hand.

AEpytus

What order more precise had he than I?

Merope

Apollo peal'd it from his Delphian cave.

AEpytus

A mother's murder needed hest divine.

Merope

He had a hest, at least, and thou hast none.

AEpytus

The Gods command not where the heart speaks clear.

Merope

Thou wilt destroy, I see, thyself and us.

AEpytus

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.

The Chorus

Zeal makes him most unjust; but, in good time, Here, as I guess, the noble Laias comes.

Laias

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.

AEpytus

O princely Laias! to what purpose calls The occasion, if our chief confederate fails? My mother stands aloof, and blames our deed.

Laias

My royal sister?... but, without some cause, I know, she honours not the dead so ill.

Merope

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-restored, 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;

[to AEPYTUS.

Number it with the thousand rumours vain, Figments of plots, wherewith intriguers fill The enforced leisure of an exile's ear. Immersed 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, averse to bloodshed now.— So much is due to truth, even tow'rds our foe.

[to LAIAS.

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 and I Were 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 have learnt That spotless hands unshaken sceptres hold. Having learnt this, then, use thy knowledge now.

The Chorus

Which way to lean I know not: bloody strokes Are never free from doubt, though sometimes due.

Laias

O Merope, the common heart of man Agrees to deem some deeds so dark in guilt, That neither gratitude, nor tie of race, Womanly pity, nor maternal fear, Nor any pleader else, shall be indulged To breathe a syllable to bar revenge. All this, no doubt, thou to thyself hast urged— 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 privileged 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 changed 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 follow'd?—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. Be their first-founded order strict maintain'd— Their murder'd rulers terribly avenged— 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 Chorus

The Gods, O mistress dear! the hard-soul'd man, Who spared not others, bid not us to spare.

Merope

Alas! against my brother, son, and friends, One, and a woman, how can I prevail?— O brother, thou hast conquer'd; yet, I fear! Son! with a doubting heart thy mother yields; May it turn happier than my doubts portend!

Laias

Meantime on thee the task of silence only Shall be imposed; 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; Be 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.

The Chorus

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 surprised, in the glens, The basking tortoises, Whose striped 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-choked gullies Wild gooseberries, scared her, The shy mountain-bear! Or the shepherds, on slopes With pale-spiked lavender And crisp thyme tufted, Came upon her, stealing At day-break through the dew.

Once, 'mid those gorges, str. 3. Spray-drizzled, lonely, Unclimb'd of 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, Transform'd Callisto, Unwitting follow'd— And raised his spear.

Turning, with piteous, ant. 3. Distressful longing, Sad, eager eyes, Mutely she regarded Her well-known enemy. Low moans half utter'd What speech refused her; Tears coursed, tears human, Down those disfigured, Once human cheeks. With unutterable foreboding Her son, heart-stricken, eyed 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.

Polyphontes

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 come 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 lived, suspicion, jealousy, Inevitably had surged up, perhaps, 'Twixt thee and me—suspicion, that I nursed 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 Unclosed his itching fingers from his sword. But thou, O Merope, though deeply wrong'd, Though injured 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 endured, and all forgiv'n— Have learn'd, that we must sacrifice the bent Of personal feeling 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 known, let us a union found (For the last time I ask, ask earnestly) Based 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.

Merope

Oh had'st thou, Polyphontes, still but kept The silence thou hast kept for twenty years!

Polyphontes

Henceforth, if what I urge displease, I may. But fair proposal merits fair reply.

Merope

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, supposed 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 pined, take ship and flee! Some solitude more inaccessible Than the ice-bastion'd Caucasian Mount Chosen a prison for Prometheus, climb! There in unvoiced oblivion sink thy name, And bid the sun, thine only visitant, Divulge not to the far-off world of men What once-famed wretch he there did espy hid. 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.

Polyphontes

What mad bewilderment of grief is this?

Merope

Thou art bewilder'd; the sane head is mine.

Polyphontes

I pity thee, and wish thee calmer mind.

Merope

Pity thyself; none needs compassion more.

Polyphontes

Yet, oh! could'st thou but act as reason bids!

Merope

And in my turn I wish the same for thee.

Polyphontes

All I could do to soothe thee has been tried.

Merope

For that, in this my warning, thou art paid.

Polyphontes

Know'st thou then aught, that thus thou sound'st the alarm?

Merope

Thy crime! that were enough to make one fear.

Polyphontes

My deed is of old date, and long atoned.

Merope

Atoned this very day, perhaps, it is.

Polyphontes

My final victory proves the Gods appeased.

Merope

O victor, victor, trip not at the goal!

Polyphontes

Hatred and passionate envy blind thine eyes.

Merope

O Heaven-abandon'd wretch, that envies thee!

Polyphontes

Thou hold'st so cheap, then, the Messenian crown?

Merope

I think on what the future hath in store.

Polyphontes

To-day I reign; the rest I leave to Fate.

Merope

For Fate thou wait'st not long; since, in this hour——

Polyphontes

What? for so far Fate hath not proved my foe—

Merope

Fate seals my lips, and drags to ruin thee.

Polyphontes

Enough! enough! I will no longer hear The ill-boding note which frantic hatred 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 ashamed, 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 dare maintain it still.

[POLYPHONTES goes out.

The Chorus

Did I then waver str. 1. (O woman's judgment!) 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 indulged?

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 Heracles gave us, Son loved of Zeus his father—for he sinn'd,

And the strand of Euboea, ant. 2. And the promontory of Cenaeum, His painful, solemn Punishment witness'd, 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-arrived Wanderer,[30] The inheritor of the bow, Coming swiftly through the sad Trachinians, Put the torch to the pile. That the flame tower'd on high to the Heaven; Bearing with it, to Olympus, To the side of Hebe, To immortal delight, The labour-released 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 Heracles-issued princes Built in strength against the vanquish'd! Another, another sacrifice on this day Ye witness, ye new-built towers! When the white-robed, 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 unavenged, The fiercely-required Victim.

Knowing he did it, unknowing pays for it. [epode. Unknowing, unknowing, Thinking atoned-for Deeds unatonable, Thinking appeased Gods unappeasable, 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.

Messenger

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.

Merope

Is my son safe? that question bounds my care.

Messenger

He is, and by the people hail'd for king.

Merope

The rest to me is little; yet, since that Must from some mouth be heard, relate it thou.

Messenger

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 raised his eyes To heaven, and laid his hand upon the steer, And 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 endured 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.

The Chorus

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 come in with the dead body of POLYPHONTES, followed by a crowd of the MESSENIANS.

Laias

Sister, from this day forth thou art no more The widow of a husband unavenged, The anxious mother of an exiled 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 calm, Could find no way to found them sure as this.

AEpytus

Mother, all these approve me; but if thou Approve not too, I have but half my joy.

Merope

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, unshared 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 ascendency 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, my son, 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 loved! So rule, that as his foe thou be obey'd! Take these, my son, over thine 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.

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