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(Enter Female attendant.)
But lo! a maiden from the house draws nigh:
In tears, methinks; what new mischance is here?
Yet small the blame, if, when our monarchs fail,
One melt in grief. In sooth I fain would learn,
Lives our good queen ? or is her spirit fled ?
Art. You still may call her living, though as dead.
Chor. How can she then yet live, if hush'd in death?
Att. Just on the verge--and breathing life away.
Chor. O worthy lord, of worthy spouse bereft!
Att. Trial and time have not yet proved his loss.
Chor. Is there no hope she still her life may save ?
Art. No: for the day of fate doth force its way.
CHOR. Do none prepare such pomp then, as is meet?
Art. Yes; fair array, which our good king provides.
Chor. Well, she may rest, and know she dies renown'd,
And far outshines all women else on earth.
Att. How can she fail? who dares contend with her ?
What must she be, that hath surpassed her worth?
And who can better prove her woman's love!
180 Or pay her lord devotion more than this, To die for him ? as all this city knows. Yet greater marvel were her acts at home. Soon as she knew her destined hour was come, In limpid water her fair skin she bathed : Then from her cedar press drew forth a robe Of broidered richness. Clad in such attire, She stood before the altars, thus to pray“O mistress, ere the earth enshroud my form, “Hear my last prayer, the homage of my heart:
190 “Do thou protect mine orphans : Grant my son “ A loving wife: my girl a noble spouse. “And oh! may theirs be other lot than mine : “Forefend untimely death. Oh let their days “ Be full and joyous in their fa her-land.” Then every shrine in yonder halls she sought, And many a garland offered, many a prayer, Whilst from the myrtle shoots she stript the leaves : She wept not, moaned not; nor could coming ills Rob her soft skin of wonted loveliness.
200 Then, hasting to her chamber, there she paused And with fresh tears addressed her bridal bed : “O couch, first witness of my wedded love,
“And union with my lord, for whom I die,
"Farewell! farewell ! I hate thee not, though death
“Is thy sad issue : nor would I betray
My liege and thee. What then? Some other mate
“Ere long must share thee: haply she may be
“More blessed by fortune, but oh! not more pure !"
With lavish kisses then she falls thereon,
And bathes it o'er with floods of bitter tears :
210 Then, when much weeping found at last its end, She leaves her couch : and hurries forth in hasteYet ofttimes thither she would backward turn, And prostrate fall upon its folds again. Meanwhile fast clinging to their mother's robe Her children wept. That mother in her arms Clasped, as if doomed to death, each darling pledge. Nay: each domestic through the mansion mourned In pity for their mistress; she to each
220 Stretched forth her hand ; and there was none so mean, But she addressed him, and allowed reply. Such are our woes within the Palace gates : Oh! blest Admetus, had he died at once! For there had been an end. But now he lives And
pays such grief, as time can ne'er efface. CHOR. Great is the burden of his grief, I ween, If he must needs be robbed of such a wife.
Att. Ay! much he weeps, and clasps her with his hands, And spends his hours, beseeching her to stay :
230 All vain! She wastes and withers with disease ; Yet sinking thus, poor burden to his arms, She still, albeit with fastly ebbing breath, Desires to taste once more the Sun's warm ray. For ne'er again, she deems, this hour elapsed, Will she behold his beams, and circling orb. But I must hence, thy presence to announce : For all are not so loyal to their kings, As to come kindly to them in their woe: But thy true duty hath been proved of old.
Chorus. O Jove, what rescue may we find,
Or freedom from the lot unkind,
Which destiny hath sought to bind
Around our honoured king ?
Approach some friend, or must my hair
Be shorn? or must I signs of care,
The dark-robed garbs that mourners wear,
About my body fling?
Alas, my friends, tis all too plain;
Yet let us seek the Gods again,
Perchance our prayer may not be vain,
For potent is their might.
And chiefly, Healer, grant relief;
Thou once didst banish death and grief,
And drovest back Hell's blood stained chief
To realms of darkest night.
ADM. Two wretched sufferers they behold in us, Free from all crime, for which thy death is due. Alc. Hail thou dear land of my birth,
Where my bridal honours were,
I thy land, Iolcos, greet!
ADM. Upraise thee, lost one ! live: desert me not;
Ask pity of the Gods, with whom is strength.
Alc. Lo: the two-oared skiff I see;
Charon stands at deadman ferry:
Pole in hand, he calls for me,
“ It is time! then wherefore tarry ?
“ Haste thee! haste thee! come along !"
Such is all his angry song.
Adm. Ah! me, thou speakest of a voyage of woe,
Unhappy wife: we fare indeed most ill.
Alc. Lo ! he bears me, (dost thou see?)
To the halls which shadows tread,
With his dark-browed eyes on me,
Wingèd Pluto, king of dead !
Off! what wilt thou ? must I go
Forward on this course of woe?
Adm. Sad to thy friends: and chiefly sad to me,
And these young partners in our common grief.
Alc. Loose me! leave me! lay me down !
Strength deserts my weary feet!
Death is near: thy darkling frown,
Night, steals o’er' me fast and fleet:
Children we must part : adieu !
Long may ye this daylight view.
Adm. Wretched words are these I hear,
Worse than any death to bear :
By the Gods, forbear to leave
Those whom thou wilt thus bereave.
Rise, look up! when thou art dead,
Life, all joy of life, is fled.
Life or death depends on thee :
In thy love my God I see.
Alc. The posture of my fortunes thou dost know,
And I would fain, Admetus, ere I die,
Confide my wishes to thy faithful love.
My fond devotion prompted me to place
My life in ransom, that thou mightest live.
And so I die! though, had I willed it, death
Had passed me by. The chief Thessalian lord
I might have wedded, and in regal state
Have dwelt in princely halls. I could not live,
Bereft of thee, with orphan babes. No thought
For beauty's charms, which once I prized, had weight.
Yet failed thy sire to save thee in thy need;
Thy mother too: albeit their tale of years
Was wellnigh told : and cheaply had they earned
A glorious death, in saving thus their son :
(Thou wast their only son: no hope remained,
Ìf thou shouldest die, of late posterity ;)
And we might live together life's full term.
Thou wouldst not then have mourned a buried wife,
Nor reared thy children orphans. Yet some God
Disposed this juncture, that it thus should fall.
Well! let me crave of thee one slight return:
(An equal boon I ask not: for can ought
Compensate life, of gifts most highly prized ?)
And thou shalt own it fair : for thou dost love
These twain, thine heart being right, not less than I.
I pray thee rear them chief in all thine house,
Nor bring thy children home thy second bride,
A step-dame, who, unlike myself, shall raise
Her vengeful hand against these proofs of love.
Ob! do not so ! give ear to this my prayer.
For, viper-like in fierceness, second mates
Bear hard on former offspring : tis their wont.
True, to my boy thou art a tower of strength;
But who shall fitly rear my daughter's youth?
What consort of her sire? ah! much I fear
Lest one should mar her prime by ill report,
And blast her marriage by a slanderous tongue.
Thy wedding, girl, a mother's care must lack;
A mother's presence ne'er shall soothe thy throes ;
Yet where is mother's aid more richly prized.
No hope! I die. Nor is to-morrow's dawn,
No! nor the month's third sun, my term of life :*
This day enrolls me with the names that were.
Farewell ! Be happy! Husband, thou mayest boast
That thou didst link thee to no common wife :
No worthless mother brought ye, children, forth.
Cuor. Take heart: I boldly pledge my faith for him :
My lord will grant thy wish, if reason lasts.
ADM. I will : I will ! oh, trust me, I have known
Through life no other mate, my bride in death,
My only bride! none other wife shall call
* Neither to-morrow, nor the day after, but this very day. A month had perhaps been given to Admetus, to find a substitute : and accordingly the death of Alcestis was on the 1st of the next month.