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She was the best of wives to me!
In death I fain would dwell
I'th' hollow grave, and ever be
With one beloved so well.
Yea! thus might Hell rejoice in both,
Instead of one, to take
Two faithful souls; and nothing loth
To cross th' infernal lake.
Chor. A kinsman once beloved had I,
And it befell his child to die,
A child lamented worthily,
A dear, an only son :
Yet learned the sire to bear his woe,
And meekly bowed his head, although
Told by his thin locks, tinged with snow,
His course was well nigh run.
ADM. How shall I come, ancestral pile,
A guest, in thee to dwell,
So changed ! alas how short a while
Can diverse fortunes tell.
But lately Pelian torches shone,
And bridal songs did wait
My bride and me, with joyous tone,
Hard by the palace gate.
And as we moved, hand clasped in hand,
Our greeting did not fail;
'T was chaunted by a tuneful band,
That bade us, hail ! all hail !
They sang that both were far renowned,
That each was nobly born,
With Hymen's ties both fitly bound;
And now I am forlorn.
Sad groans succeed the marriage strain,
Dark robes to white array,
And wearied limbs I come again
In widowed couch to lay.
Chor. On happy fortune followed fast,
To thee o'er whom no grief had cast
Her gloom, this crowning woe the last :
Yet thou hast saved thy life!
Thy spouse hath fled: hath left behind
Her love : what marvel ? thou shalt find
That death doth oft such ties unbind,
And rob man of his wife.
Adm. Friends, tho' it seems not so, yet brighter far
I deem my lost wife's fortune than mine own:
For she is free: no grief shall touch her more,
And she hath ceased in glory from her toils.
But I, though due to death, escaped fate:
And sadly, late I learn, shall pass my days.
For how shall I have heart to cross my doors ?
Accosting whom, by whom addrest, rejoice
On entering mine halls? or whither turn?
Dark solitude within will drive me forth
When I shall see my wife's deserted couch,
The seat where she would sit : the unswept floor
Throughout the house; when falling at my knees,
My children wail their mother; and my slaves
Lament their peerless mistress lost to them.
Such are my woes at home. Abroad there wait
Thessalian brides, and female throngs to wring
My aching heart: for I can ne'er endure
To see my wife's companions face to face.
Perchance some foe will speak these words of me
“ See him, who basely lives, who would not die,
“But gave his wife in stead, through cowardice
“Escaping death. Can such be rank'd with men ?
“Nay more, though clinging fast to life himself,
“He hates his parents for their dread of death.
Add to my woes this ill name I shall bear;
Then say, my friends, what boots it me to live,
By ill-report and evil fortune bowed ?
CHORUS. Oft have I been borne aloft
Through the airy meads of song,
And, in reasons practised oft,
Never found a force more strong
Than the might that dwells with thee,
Ever stern Necessity !
Vainly seek I antidote
From the Thracian healing book,
Which the minstrel Orpheus wrote;
Vainly to the drugs I look,
Which Apollo gave his race, ,
Ills from wretched life ť efface.
Altar worship, image prayer,
She of goddesses alone
Doth forbid; and, idle care,
Bleeding victims doth disown.
Mayst thou near oppress me more,
Goddess dread, than heretofore.
All that Jove decrees to do,
By thy aid to pass he brings :
Thou the iron dost subdue,
Where the Chalyb anvil rings.
Thy fierce spirit works perforce,
Never yielding to remorse.
Thee, Admetus, hath she ta’en
In her tight constraining hard.
Courage! tears ne'er bring again
Corpses from the spirit land.
doth death remove,
God-born sons of secret love.
Dear when with us was our queen;
Doubly dear to us when dead.
Noblest wife of all, I ween,
Didst thou welcome to thy bed.
Oh ! be hers no common tomb
With the heirs of death and gloom.
Deem we not her earthy rest
Such a mound as mortals raise,
But, like gods eternal, blest.
May each traveller sing her praise :
Swerving from their onward way,
Often may they turn and say:
“ For her lord in olden time
“ Died Alcestis, fair lady.
“Now she sits in realms sublime,
“Always blest divinity.
“ Hail and bless us ! lady, hail !
“ Such shall be the ofttold tale. But lo! where yonder famed Alcmena's son Unto thine hearth, Admetus, bends his steps.
HERC. To friends, Admetus, one should freely speak;
Nor cherish blame unspoken in the heart.
Now I did think me worthy to stand by,
And in thy sorrows prove myself thy friend.
What then ? thou didst not say thy wife was dead,
And e'en laid out: but bad'st me welcome here,
As though thy care was no domestic grief.
Then in these sorrowing halls I crown'd my head,
And lightly poured libations to the gods.
Indeed I blame thy conduct : and must blame;
Though far from mine the wish to augment thy grief.
Yet list: and hear why I am thus returned,
And seek thy halls. This lady take in charge,
And keep for me, till I shall hither drive
The mares of Thrace, their Biston master slain.
And, if I fare as heaven forefend, (Return
To me hath charms :) thine handmaid let her be.
Great was the toil that earn'd her for mine hands :
For I did find that some propos'd a game
For wrestlers public, worthy of my toil :
And thence I bear her, as the victor's meed.
For such as won in lighter sports, had steeds
To bear away for prizes. Harder toils,
As wrestling, boxing, earn'd a nobler prize;
Oxen, and e'en a maiden. In success
It had been mean to scorn such glorious gain.
But thou, as I have said, must care for her,
Whom, not by stealth, but labour I have won,
And hither brought. It may be that in time
Thou wilt not blame, but praise me for the deed.
ADM. ’T was no disdain ; nor did I count thee foe,
When I withheld my wife's sad fate from thee:
But surely grief had then been heaped on grief,
Hadst thou repaired to other host than me.
My proper grief drew from me woes enough.
But, for this woman, if it may be, King,
I pray thee bid some other, less distrest,
Guard her for thee : thou hast Pheraan friends
In plenty: do not then recall my woes :
For never can I, seeing her within
Refrain from tears. Oh! add not to the sick
Worse sickness. I am weighed with woes enough.
Where, too, in the house shall this young woman bide?
For young she is, as garb and gear declare.
In men's apartments, prythee, shall she bide ?
Nay : but how then, consorting with young men,
Shall she be pure ? Good Hercules, tis hard
To check young blood. Thou seest I care for thee.
Or shall I keep her in those much loved rooms,
The chambers of my lost one? In her stead
How can I take this woman to my couch?
I fear a twofold censure, lest perchance
Some subject should convict me of bad faith
To my preserver, in a fresh embrace.
Besides (for she is worth my best regard)
Of my deceased one I must cherish thought.
Yet, whosoe'er thou art, thou lady, know
Thy fair proportions correspond with hers.
1175 Thy figure, too, recalls my buried wife. Oh! take her, I adjure you, from my sight! Or ye will make destruction doubly sure : For seeing her, methinks I view my wife. Sad streams break forth ! ah me! how fresh the time That first I tasted this most bitter grief
Chor. I cannot name thy lot in terms of praise ! Yet all should meekly bear the gods' behests.
Herc. Would that my power were such that I could bring 1185 Thy wife to light from out the nether world, And do this service, most desired, for thee.
Adm. I know thou wouldst ! yet how can this be done?
The dead must not return to life again,
HERC, Nay pass not bounds! but fitly bear thy grief !
ADM. Advice is easy; meek endurance hard.
HERC. What boots thy wish, for ever to lament?
Adm. I know tis vain ; yet still love draws me on.
HERC. Ay! buried love calls forth the tear full oft.
Adm. She hath destroyed me, more than words can tell. 1195
HERC. Good was the wife you lost, let none gainsay !
Adm. So good that life hath no more joy for me.
HERC. Time soothes. Thy woes have now the strength of youth.
ADM. “Time,” thou may'st say, if death indeed be “ Time."
HERC. A wife, a fresh desire shall make thee cease.
ADM. Hold! what hast said ? I thought not this of thee.
HERC. What? never marry ? wilt thou dwell alone ?
ADM. The woman lives not, who shall share my bed.
HERC. Think'st thou to serve thy buried wife in this?
ADM. Where'er she is, I still must honour her,
HERC. Tis well ! Tis well! yet men will count thee weak.
ADM. Howe'er it be, call me no bridegroom more.
HERC. I praise thy faith and friendship to thy wife.
ADM. When I forsake my lost one, let me die !
Herc. Take now this noble lady to thine house!
ADM. By Jove, thy sire, I pray thee, ask it not.
HERC. Why: if thou dost not this, thou needs must err.
ADM. Yes; but to do, will gnaw my heart with woe.
HERC. Yield ! for compliance may thy duty prove.
ADM. Ah! would thou ne'er hadst borne her from the lists.
HERC. Yet, when I conquer, thou art victor too.
Adm. Well hast thou said; yet let the dame depart.
HERC. Ay, if need be; first ascertain that need.
ADM. It needs : at least if thou wouldst shun my rage.
HERC. A certain knowledge makes me press my suit.
ADM. Have then thy way, e’en though it please me not.