by Jean Baptiste Racine
Can you keep silent in this mortal peril?
Your father loves you. Will you leave him thus
Deceived? If in your cruel heart you scorn
My tears, content to see me nevermore,
Go, part from poor Aricia; but at least,
Going, secure the safety of your life.
Defend your honor from a shameful stain,
And force your father to recall his pray’rs.
There yet is time. Why out of mere caprice
Leave the field free to Phaedra’s calumnies?
Let Theseus know the truth.
Could I say more,
Without exposing him to dire disgrace?
How should I venture, by revealing all,
To make a father’s brow grow red with shame?
The odious mystery to you alone
Is known. My heart has been outpour’d to none
Save you and Heav’n. I could not hide from you
(Judge if I love you), all I fain would hide
E’en from myself. But think under what seal
I spoke. Forget my words, if that may be;
And never let so pure a mouth disclose
This dreadful secret. Let us trust to Heav’n
My vindication, for the gods are just;
For their own honour will they clear the guiltless;
Sooner or later punish’d for her crime,
Phaedra will not escape the shame she merits.
I ask no other favour than your silence;
In all besides I give my wrath free scope.
Make your escape from this captivity,
Be bold to bear me company in flight;
Linger not here on this accursed soil,
Where virtue breathes a pestilential air.
To cover your departure take advantage
Of this confusion, caused by my disgrace.
The means of flight are ready, be assured;
You have as yet no other guards than mine.
Pow’rful defenders will maintain our quarrel;
Argos spreads open arms, and Sparta calls us.
Let us appeal for justice to our friends,
Nor suffer Phaedra, in a common ruin
Joining us both, to hunt us from the throne,
And aggrandise her son by robbing us.
Embrace this happy opportunity:
What fear restrains? You seem to hesitate.
Your interest alone prompts me to urge
Boldness. When I am all on fire, how comes it
That you are ice? Fear you to follow then
A banish’d man?
Ah, dear to me would be
Such exile! With what joy, my fate to yours
United, could I live, by all the world
Forgotten! but not yet has that sweet tie
Bound us together. How then can I steal
Away with you? I know the strictest honour
Forbids me not out of your father’s hands
To free myself; this is no parent’s home,
And flight is lawful when one flies from tyrants.
But you, Sir, love me; and my virtue shrinks—
No, no, your reputation is to me
As dear as to yourself. A nobler purpose
Brings me to you. Fly from your foes, and follow
A husband. Heav’n, that sends us these misfortunes,
Sets free from human instruments the pledge
Between us. Torches do not always light
The face of Hymen.
At the gates of Troezen,
‘Mid ancient tombs where princes of my race
Lie buried, stands a temple, ne’er approach’d
By perjurers, where mortals dare not make
False oaths, for instant punishment befalls
The guilty. Falsehood knows no stronger check
Than what is present there—the fear of death
That cannot be avoided. Thither then
We’ll go, if you consent, and swear to love
For ever, take the guardian god to witness
Our solemn vows, and his paternal care
Entreat. I will invoke the name of all
The holiest Pow’rs; chaste Dian, and the Queen
Of Heav’n, yea all the gods who know my heart
Will guarantee my sacred promises.
The King draws near. Depart,—make no delay.
To mask my flight, I linger yet one moment.
Go you; and leave with me some trusty guide,
To lead my timid footsteps to your side.
THESEUS, ARICIA, ISMENE
Ye gods, throw light upon my troubled mind,
Show me the truth which I am seeking here.
ARICIA (aside to ISMENE)
Get ready, dear Ismene, for our flight.
Your colour comes and goes, you seem confused,
Madame! What business had my son with you?
Sire, he was bidding me farewell for ever.
Your eyes, it seems, can tame that stubborn pride;
And the first sighs he breathes are paid to you.
I can’t deny the truth; he has not, Sire,
Inherited your hatred and injustice;
He did not treat me like a criminal.
That is to say, he swore eternal love.
Do not rely on that inconstant heart;
To others has he sworn as much before.
You ought to check his roving taste.
How could you bear a partnership so vile?
And how can you endure that vilest slanders
Should make a life so pure as black as pitch?
Have you so little knowledge of his heart?
Do you so ill distinguish between guilt
And innocence? What mist before your eyes
Blinds them to virtue so conspicuous?
Ah! ’tis too much to let false tongues defame him.
Repent; call back your murderous wishes, Sire;
Fear, fear lest Heav’n in its severity
Hate you enough to hear and grant your pray’rs.
Oft in their wrath the gods accept our victims,
And oftentimes chastise us with their gifts.
No, vainly would you cover up his guilt.
Your love is blind to his depravity.
But I have witness irreproachable:
Tears have I seen, true tears, that may be trusted.
Take heed, my lord. Your hands invincible
Have rid the world of monsters numberless;
But all are not destroy’d, one you have left
Alive—Your son forbids me to say more.
Knowing with what respect he still regards you,
I should too much distress him if I dared
Complete my sentence. I will imitate
His reverence, and, to keep silence, leave you.
What is there in her mind? What meaning lurks
In speech begun but to be broken short?
Would both deceive me with a vain pretence?
Have they conspired to put me to the torture?
And yet, despite my stern severity,
What plaintive voice cries deep within my heart?
A secret pity troubles and alarms me.
Oenone shall be questioned once again,
I must have clearer light upon this crime.
Guards, bid Oenone come, and come alone.
I know not what the Queen intends to do,
But from her agitation dread the worst.
Fatal despair is painted on her features;
Death’s pallor is already in her face.
Oenone, shamed and driven from her sight,
Has cast herself into the ocean depths.
None knows what prompted her to deed so rash;
And now the waves hide her from us for ever.
What say you?
Her sad fate seems to have added
Fresh trouble to the Queen’s tempestuous soul.
Sometimes, to soothe her secret pain, she clasps
Her children close, and bathes them with her tears;
Then suddenly, the mother’s love forgotten,
She thrusts them from her with a look of horror,
She wanders to and fro with doubtful steps;
Her vacant eye no longer knows us. Thrice
She wrote, and thrice did she, changing her mind,
Destroy the letter ere ’twas well begun.
Vouchsafe to see her, Sire: vouchsafe to help her.
Heav’ns! Is Oenone dead, and Phaedra bent
On dying too? Oh, call me back my son!
Let him defend himself, and I am ready
To hear him. Be not hasty to bestow
Thy fatal bounty, Neptune; let my pray’rs
Rather remain ever unheard. Too soon
I lifted cruel hands, believing lips
That may have lied! Ah! What despair may follow!
Theramenes, is’t thou? Where is my son?
I gave him to thy charge from tenderest childhood.
But whence these tears that overflow thine eyes?
How is it with my son?
Concern too late!
Affection vain! Hippolytus is dead.
I have seen the flow’r of all mankind
Cut off, and I am bold to say that none
Deserved it less.
What! My son dead! When I
Was stretching out my arms to him, has Heav’n
Hasten’d his end? What was this sudden stroke?
Scarce had we pass’d out of the gates of Troezen,
He silent in his chariot, and his guards
Downcast and silent too, around him ranged;
To the Mycenian road he turn’d his steeds,
Then, lost in thought, allow’d the reins to lie
Loose on their backs. His noble chargers, erst
So full of ardour to obey his voice,
With head depress’d and melancholy eye
Seem’d now to mark his sadness and to share it.
A frightful cry, that issues from the deep,
With sudden discord rends the troubled air;
And from the bosom of the earth a groan
Is heard in answer to that voice of terror.
Our blood is frozen at our very hearts;
With bristling manes the list’ning steeds stand still.
Meanwhile upon the watery plain there rises
A mountain billow with a mighty crest
Of foam, that shoreward rolls, and, as it breaks
Before our eyes vomits a furious monster.
With formidable horns its brow is arm’d,
And all its body clothed with yellow scales,
In front a savage bull, behind a dragon
Turning and twisting in impatient rage.
Its long continued bellowings make the shore
Tremble; the sky seems horror-struck to see it;
The earth with terror quakes; its poisonous breath
Infects the air. The wave that brought it ebbs
In fear. All fly, forgetful of the courage
That cannot aid, and in a neighbouring temple
Take refuge—all save bold Hippolytus.
A hero’s worthy son, he stays his steeds,
Seizes his darts, and, rushing forward, hurls
A missile with sure aim that wounds the monster
Deep in the flank. With rage and pain it springs
E’en to the horses’ feet, and, roaring, falls,
Writhes in the dust, and shows a fiery throat
That covers them with flames, and blood, and smoke.
Fear lends them wings; deaf to his voice for once,
And heedless of the curb, they onward fly.
Their master wastes his strength in efforts vain;
With foam and blood each courser’s bit is red.
Some say a god, amid this wild disorder,
Was seen with goads pricking their dusty flanks.
O’er jagged rocks they rush urged on by terror;
Crash! goes the axle-tree. Th’ intrepid youth
Sees his car broken up, flying to pieces;
He falls himself entangled in the reins.
Pardon my grief. That cruel spectacle
Will be for me a source of endless tears.
I saw thy hapless son, I saw him, Sire,
Drag’d by the horses that his hands had fed,
Pow’rless to check their fierce career, his voice
But adding to their fright, his body soon
One mass of wounds. Our cries of anguish fill
The plain. At last they slacken their swift pace,
Then stop, not far from those old tombs that mark
Where lie the ashes of his royal sires.
Panting I thither run, and after me
His guard, along the track stain’d with fresh blood
That reddens all the rocks; caught in the briers
Locks of his hair hang dripping, gory spoils!
I come, I call him. Stretching forth his hand,
He opens his dying eyes, soon closed again.
“The gods have robb’d me of a guiltless life,”
I hear him say: “Take care of sad Aricia
When I am dead. Dear friend, if e’er my father
Mourn, undeceived, his son’s unhappy fate
Falsely accused; to give my spirit peace,
Tell him to treat his captive tenderly,
And to restore—” With that the hero’s breath
Fails, and a mangled corpse lies in my arms,
A piteous object, trophy of the wrath
Of Heav’n—so changed, his father would not know him.
Alas, my son! Dear hope for ever lost!
The ruthless gods have served me but too well.
For what a life of anguish and remorse
Am I reserved!
Aricia at that instant,
Flying from you, comes timidly, to take him
For husband, there, in presence of the gods.
Thus drawing nigh, she sees the grass all red
And reeking, sees (sad sight for lover’s eye!)
Hippolytus stretch’d there, pale and disfigured.
But, for a time doubtful of her misfortune,
Unrecognized the hero she adores,
She looks, and asks—”Where is Hippolytus?”
Only too sure at last that he lies there
Before her, with sad eyes that silently
Reproach the gods, she shudders, groans, and falls
Swooning and all but lifeless, at his feet.
Ismene, all in tears, kneels down beside her,
And calls her back to life—life that is naught
But sense of pain. And I, to whom this light
Is darkness now, come to discharge the duty
The hero has imposed on me, to tell thee
His last request—a melancholy task.
But hither comes his mortal enemy.
THESEUS, PHAEDRA, THERAMENES, PANOPE, GUARDS
Madame, you’ve triumph’d, and my son is kill’d!
Ah, but what room have I for fear! How justly
Suspicion racks me that in blaming him
I err’d! But he is dead; accept your victim;
Rightly or wrongly slain, let your heart leap
For joy. My eyes shall be for ever blind:
Since you accuse him, I’ll believe him guilty.
His death affords me cause enough for tears,
Without a foolish search for further light
Which, pow’rless to restore him to my grief,
Might only serve to make me more unhappy,
Far from this shore and far from you I’ll fly,
For here the image of my mangled son
Would haunt my memory and drive me mad.
From the whole world I fain would banish me,
For all the world seems to rise up in judgment
Against me; and my very glory weights
My punishment; for, were my name less known
‘Twere easier to hide me. All the favours
The gods have granted me I mourn and hate,
Nor will I importune them with vain pray’rs
Henceforth for ever. Give me what they may,
What they have taken will all else outweigh.
Theseus, I cannot hear you and keep silence:
I must repair the wrong that he has suffer’d—
Your son was innocent.
And it was on your word that I condemn’d him!
Think you such cruelty can be excused—
Moments to me are precious; hear me, Theseus.
‘Twas I who cast an eye of lawless passion
On chaste and dutiful Hippolytus.
Heav’n in my bosom kindled baleful fire,
And vile Oenone’s cunning did the rest.
She fear’d Hippolytus, knowing my madness,
Would make that passion known which he regarded
With horror; so advantage of my weakness
She took, and hasten’d to accuse him first.
For that she has been punish’d, tho’ too mildly;
Seeking to shun my wrath she cast herself
Beneath the waves. The sword ere now had cut
My thread of life, but slander’d innocence
Made its cry heard, and I resolved to die
In a more lingering way, confessing first
My penitence to you. A poison, brought
To Athens by Medea, runs thro’ my veins.
Already in my heart the venom works,
Infusing there a strange and fatal chill;
Already as thro’ thickening mists I see
The spouse to whom my presence is an outrage;
Death, from mine eyes veiling the light of heav’n,
Restores its purity that they defiled.
She dies my lord!
Would that the memory
Of her disgraceful deed could perish with her!
Ah, disabused too late! Come, let us go,
And with the blood of mine unhappy son
Mingle our tears, clasping his dear remains,
In deep repentance for a pray’r detested.
Let him be honour’d as he well deserves;
And, to appease his sore offended ghost,
Be her near kinsmen’s guilt whate’er it may,
Aricia shall be held my daughter from to-day.