Part 5 out of 10
national hero who had found his way to the dramatic workshop of Hans
Sachs in Nuremberg, had been recommended to Schiller, and had recently
been treated in Hungarian by Joseph Katona. Grillparzer knew neither of
the plays of his predecessors. In connection with this subject he
thought rather of Shakespeare's _King Lear_ and _Othello_, of Byron's
_Marino Faliero_--he had early experimented with this hero himself--and
this was the time of his first thorough study of Lope de Vega. In
November and December, 1826, he wrote _A Faithful Servant of His
Master._ This is a drama of character triumphant in the severest test to
which the sense of duty can be put. Bancbanus, appointed regent while
his sovereign goes to war, promises to preserve peace in the kingdom,
and keeps his promise even when his own relatives rise in arms against
the queen's brother who has insulted Bancbanus' wife and, they think,
has killed her. We have to do, however, not merely with a brilliant
example of unselfish loyalty; we have a highly special case of
individualized persons. Bancbanus is a little, pedantic old man, almost
ridiculous in his personal appearance and in his over-conscientiousness.
Erny, his wife, is a childlike creature, not displeased by flattery, too
innocent to be circumspect, but faithful unto death. And Otto von Meran,
the princely profligate, is one of Grillparzer's boldest creations--not
bad by nature, but utterly irresponsible; crafty, resourceful, proud as
a peacock and, like a monkey in the forest, wishing always to be
noticed. He cannot bear disregard; contempt makes him furious; and a
sense of disgrace which would drive a moral being to insanity reduces
him to a state of stupidity in which, doing good deeds for the first
time and unconsciously, he gradually acquires consciousness of right and
wrong. It is Bancbanus who brings about this transformation in the
character of Otto, who holds rebellious nobles and populace in check,
who teaches his master how to be a servant of the State, and who, by
saving the heir to the throne and praying that he may deserve the
loyalty shown his father, points forward to the better day when
feudalism shall give way to unselfish enlightened monarchy.
[Illustration: GRILLPARZER'S ROOM IN THE HOUSE OF THE SISTERS FROeHLICH]
This play, a glorification of patriotic devotion and, in spite of the
self-repressive character of the hero, as full of stirring action as any
German historical play whatever, was presented on the twenty-eighth of
February, 1828, and was received with applause by high and low. The
emperor caused a special word of appreciation to be conveyed to the
poet. How great was Grillparzer's astonishment, therefore, when, on the
following day, the president of police summoned him and informed him
that the emperor was so well pleased with the play that he wished to
have it all to himself; wherefore the dramatist would please hand over
the manuscript, at his own price! Dynastic considerations probably moved
the emperor to this preposterous demand. The very futility of it--since
a number of copies of the manuscript had already been made, and one or
the other was sure to escape seizure--is a good example of the trials to
which the patience of Austrian poets was subjected during the old
regime. Grillparzer was at this time depressed enough on his own
account, as his poems _Tristia ex Ponto_ bear witness. This new attempt
at interference almost made him despair of his fatherland. "An Austrian
poet," he said, "ought to be esteemed above all others. The man who does
not lose heart under such circumstances is really a kind of hero."
Grillparzer was not a real hero. But in the midst of public frictions,
personal tribulations, apprehension that his powers of imagination were
declining, and petulant surrenders to discouragement, he kept pottering
along with compositions long since started, and by 1831 he had completed
two more plays, _A Dream is Life_ and _Waves of the Sea and of Love_.
Like _The Ancestress_, _A Dream is Life_ is written in short trochaic
verses of irregular length and with occasional rhyme. The idea was
conceived early, the first act was written at the time of _The
Ancestress,_ and the title, though chosen late, being a reversal of
Calderon's _Life is a Dream_, suggests the connection with that Spanish
drama. Grillparzer's principal source for the plot, was, however,
Voltaire's narrative entitled _White and Black_. In the psychology of
dreams he had long been interested, and life in the dream state formed a
large part of the opera text _Melusina_ which, in 1821-23, he wrote for
Beethoven. A particular flavor was doubtless given to the plot by the
death of Napoleon on May fifth, 1821, and the beginning of Grillparzer's
friendship with Katharina Froehlich shortly before; for _A Dream is Life_
represents in the dream of a harmless but ambitious young man such a
career of conquest as Napoleon was thought to have exemplified, and the
hero, waking after a nightmare of deceits and crimes that were the
stepping stones to success, is warned of the dangers that beset
enterprise and taught to prefer the simple life in union with a rustic
maiden. There are two actions, corresponding to the waking and sleeping
states, the actors in the latter being those of real life fantastically
transformed; but there is no magic or anything else super-natural, and
the most fascinating quality in the drama is the skill with which the
transformation is made in accordance with the irrational logic of
dreams. Accompanied by the weird music of Gyrowetz and exquisitely
staged, this is the most popular of Grillparzer's plays in Vienna. But
it is by no means merely theatrical. There is profound truth in the
theory upon which it is constructed: a dream is the awakening of the
soul; dreams do not create wishes, they reveal them, and the actions of
a dreamer are the potentialities of his character. Moreover, the
quietistic note of renunciation for the sake of peace to the soul and
integrity of personality is the final note of _The Golden Fleece_ no
less than of this fantasmagoria. _Waves of the Sea and of Love_ is a
far-fetched and sentimental title for a dramatization of the story of
Hero and Leander. Grillparzer chose the title, he said, because he
wished to suggest a romantic treatment that should humanize the matter.
The play really centres in the character of Hero and might much better
be called by her name. In it Grillparzer's experiences with Charlotte
von Paumgarten and Marie Daeffinger are poetically fructified, and his
capacity for tracing the incalculable course of feminine instincts
attains to the utmost of refinement and delicacy. The theme is the
conflict between duty to a solemn vow of sacerdotal chastity and the
disposition to satisfy the natural desire for love. But Grillparzer has
represented no such conflict in the breast of Hero. Her antagonist is
not her own conscience but the representative of divine law in the
temple of which she is priestess. The action of the play therefore takes
the form of an intrigue on the part of this representative to thwart the
intrigue of Hero and Leander. This external collision is, however, far
from supplying the chief interest in a drama unquestionably dramatic,
although its main action is internal. Hero is at the beginning a Greek
counterpart to the barbarian Medea. She has the same pride of station
and self-assurance. Foreordained to asceticism, she is ready to embrace
it because she thinks it superior to the worldliness of which she has no
knowledge. When worldliness presents itself to her in the attractive
form of Leander, she is first curious, then offended, apprehensive of
danger to herself and to him, only soon to apprehend nothing but
interruption of the new rapture to which she yields in oblivion of
everything else in the world. Only a poet of the unprecedented _naivete_
of Grillparzer could so completely obliterate the insurgency of moral
scruples against this establishment of the absolute monarchy of love.
In spite of admirable dramatic qualities and the most exquisite poetry
even in the less dramatic passages, this play on Hero and Leander
disappointed both audience and playwright when it was put upon the stage
in April, 1831. Other disappointments were rife for Grillparzer at
this time. But he put away his desires for the unattainable, and with
the publication of _Tristia ex Ponto_ in 1835, took, as it were, formal
leave of the past and its sorrow. Indeed, he seemed on the point of
beginning a new epoch of ready production; for he now succeeded, for the
first time since 1818, in the quick conception and uninterrupted
composition of an eminently characteristic play, the most artistic of
German comedies, _Woe to the Liar_. It was the more lamentable that when
the play was enacted, on the sixth of March, 1838, the brutal behavior
of an unappreciative audience so wounded the sensitive poet that he
resolved never again to subject himself to such ignominy--and kept his
word. In 1840 he published _Waves of the Sea and of Love, A Dream is
Life_, and _Woe to the Liar_; but the plays which he wrote after that
time he kept in his desk.
The year 1838, accordingly, sharply divides the life of Grillparzer into
two parts--the first, productive and more or less in the public eye; the
second, contemplative and in complete retirement from the stage. To be
sure, the poet became conspicuous once more with his poem to Radetzky in
1848; in 1851 Heinrich Laube, recently appointed director of the
_Hofburgtheater_, instituted a kind of Grillparzer revival; and belated
honors brought some solace to his old age. But he had become an
historical figure long before he ceased to be seen on the streets of his
beloved Vienna, and the three completed manuscripts of plays that in
1872 he bequeathed to posterity had lain untouched for nearly twenty
Two of these posthumous pieces, _Brothers' Quarrels in the House of
Habsburg_ and _Libussa_, undoubtedly reveal the advancing years of their
author, in a good and in a bad sense. They lack the theatrical
self-evidence of the earlier dramas. But on the other hand, they are
rich in the ripest wisdom of their creator, and in significance of
characterization as well as in profundity of idea they amply atone for
absence of the more superficial qualities. Kaiser Rudolf II. in
_Brothers' Quarrels_ is one of the most human of the men who in the face
of inevitable calamity have pursued a Fabian policy. Even to personal
predilections, like fondness for the dramas of Lope, he is a replica of
the mature Grillparzer himself. _Libussa_ presents in Primislaus a
somewhat colorless but nevertheless thoroughly masculine representative
of practical cooeperation and progress, and in Libussa, the heroine, a
typical feminine martyr to duty.
[Illustration: FRANZ GRILLPARZER In his Sixtieth Year]
The third of the posthumous pieces, however, _The Jewess of Toledo_, may
perhaps be said to mark the climax of Grillparzer's productive activity.
It is an eminently modern drama of passion in classical dignity of form.
Grillparzer noted the subject as early as 1813. In 1824 he read Lope de
Vega's play on it, and wrote in trochees two scenes of his own; in
1848-49--perhaps with Lola Montez and the king of Bavaria in mind--he
worked further on it, and about 1855 brought the work to an end. The
play is properly called _The Jewess of Toledo_; for Rachel, the Jewess,
is at the centre of the action, and is a marvelous creation--"a mere
woman, nothing but her sex"; but the king, though relatively passive, is
the most important character. He is attracted to Rachel by a charm that
he has never known in his coldly virtuous English consort, and, after an
error forgivable because made comprehensible, is taught the duty of
personal sacrifice to morality and to the state. In doctrine and in
inner form this drama is comparable to Hebbel's _Agnes Bernauer_; it is
a companion piece to _A Faithful Servant of his Master_, and the
sensuality of Rachel contrasts instructively with the spirituality of
Hero. The genuine dramatic collision of antithetical forces produces,
furthermore, a new synthesis, the effect of which is to make us wish
morality less austere and the sense of obligation stronger than they at
first are in two persons good by nature but caused to err by
circumstances. In the series of dramas thus passed in review there is
a great variety of setting and incident, and an abundance of dramatic
_motifs_ that show Grillparzer to have been one of the most opulent of
playwrights. The range of characters, too, each presented with due
regard for _milieu_, is seen to be considerable, and upon closer
examination would be seen to be more considerable still. The greatest
richness is found in the characters of women. Grillparzer himself lacked
the specifically masculine qualities of courageous enterprise and
tenacity of purpose. His men are rather affected by the world than
active creators of new conditions, and their contact with conditions as
they are leaves them with the scars of battle instead of the joy of
victory. No one, however, could attribute a feministic spirit to
Grillparzer; or, if so, it must be said that the study of reaction is no
less instructive than the study of action and that being is at least as
high an ideal as doing. Being, existence in a definite place amid the
tangible surroundings of personal life, Grillparzer gives us with
extraordinary abundance of sensuous details. The drama was for him what
Goethe said it should always be, a present reality; and for the greater
impressiveness of this reality he is fond of the use of visible
objects--whether they be symbols, like the Golden Fleece in _Medea_, the
lyre in _Sappho_, the medallion in _The Jewess of Toledo_, or
characteristic weapons, accoutrement, and apparel. Everything expressive
is welcome to him, gesture or inarticulate sound reinforces the spoken
word or replaces it. Unusually sensuous language and comparative fulness
of sententious passages go hand in hand with a laconic habit which
indulges in many ellipses and is content to leave to the actor the task
of making a single word convey the meaning of a sentence.
Grillparzer's plays were written for the stage. He abhorred what the
Germans call a book drama, and had, on the other hand, the highest
respect for the judgment of a popular audience as to the fact whether a
play were fit for the stage or not. The popular audience was a jury
from which there was no appeal on this question of fact. A passage in
_The Poor Musician_ gives eloquent expression to Grillparzer's regard
for the sure esthetic instinct of the masses and, indirectly, to his own
poetic _naivete._ But his plays are also poems; they are all in verse;
and like the plays of his French prototype, Racine, they reveal their
full merit only to connoisseurs. They are the work of a man who was
better able than most men of his generation to prove all things, and who
held fast to that which he found good. His art is not forward-looking,
like that of Kleist, nor backward-looking, like that, say, of Theodor
Koerner. It is in the strictest sense complementary and co-ordinate to
that of Goethe and Schiller, a classicism modified by romantic
tendencies toward individuation and localization. He did not aim at the
typical. He felt, and rightly, that a work of art, being something
individual, should be created with concentrated attention upon the
attainment of its perfection as an individual; this perfection attained,
the artist would attain to typical, symbolical connotation into the
bargain. From anything like the grotesqueness of exaggerated
characterization Grillparzer was saved by his sense of form. He had as
fertile an imagination and as penetrating an intellect as Kleist, and he
excelled Kleist in the reliability of his common sense. It was no play
upon words, but the expression of conviction when he wrote, in 1836:
"Poetry is incorporation of the spirit, spiritualization of the body,
feeling of the understanding, and thought of the feeling." In its
comprehensive appeal to all of these faculties a work of art commends
itself and carries its meaning through its existence as an objective
reality, like the phenomena of nature herself. A comprehensive
sensitiveness to such an appeal, whether of art or of nature, was
Grillparzer's ideal of individual nature and culture. He thought the
North Germans had cultivated their understanding at the expense of their
feeling, and had thereby impaired their esthetic sense. He thought the
active life in general inevitably destroyed the harmony of the faculties
and substituted an extrinsic for an intrinsic good. In the mad rush of
our own time after material wealth and power we may profitably
contemplate the picture which Grillparzer drew of himself in the
following characteristic verses:
Below lies the lake hushed and tranquil,
And I sit here with idle hands,
And gaze at the frolicking fishes
Which glide to and fro o'er the sands.
They come, and they go, and they tarry;
But if I now venture a cast,
Of a sudden the playground is empty,
As my basket remains to the last.
Mayhap if I stirred up the water,
My angling might lure the shy prey.
But then I must also give over
The sight of the fishes at play.
[Illustration: THE GRILLPARZER MONUMENT AT VIENNA.]
* * * * *
A TRAGEDY IN FIVE ACTS
CREON, _King of Corinth
CREUSA, _his daughter
GORA, _Medea's aged nurse_
_A herald of the Amphictyons_
_Slaves and slave-women, attendants of
the King, etc._
TRANSLATED BY THEODORE A. MILLER, PH.D.
_Before the walls of Corinth. At the left, halfway up stage, a tent is
pitched; in the background lies the sea, with a point of land jutting
out into it, on which is built a part of the city. The time is early
morning, before daybreak; it is still dark.
At the right in the foreground a slave is seen standing in a pit digging
and throwing up shovelfuls of earth; on the opposite side of the pit
stands MEDEA, before a black chest which is strangely decorated with
gold; in this chest she keeps laying various utensils during the
MEDEA. Is it, then, done?
SLAVE. A moment yet, my mistress.
[GORA _comes out of the tent and stands at a distance_.]
MEDEA. Come! First the veil, and then the goddess' staff.
I shall not need them more; here let them rest.
Dark night, the time for magic, is gone by,
And what is yet to come, or good or ill,
Must happen in the beamy light of day.--
This casket next; dire, secret flames it hides
That will consume the wretch who, knowing not,
Shall dare unlock it. And this other here,
Full-filled with sudden death, with many an herb,
And many a stone of magic power obscure,
Unto that earth they sprang from I commit.
So! Rest ye here in peace for evermore.
Now for the last and mightiest thing of all!
[Illustration: MEDEA _From the Painting by Anselm Feuerbach_]
[_The slave, who has meanwhile climbed out of the pit and taken his
stand behind the princess awaiting the conclusion of her enterprise,
now turns to help her, and grasps at an object covered with a veil and
hanging from a lance that has been resting against a tree behind MEDEA;
the veil falls, revealing the banner, with the Golden Fleece glowing
radiantly through the darkness._]
SLAVE (_grasping the Fleece_). 'Tis this?
MEDEA. Nay, hold thy hand! Unveil it not.
(_Addressing the Fleece_.)
Once more let me behold thee, fatal gift
Of trusting guest-friend! Shine for one last time,
Thou witness of the downfall of my house,
Bespattered with my father's, brother's blood,
Sign of Medea's shame and hateful crime!
[_She stamps upon the lance-haft and breaks it in two_.]
So do I rend thee now, so sink thee deep
In earth's dark bosom, whence, a bane to men,
[_She lays the broken standard in the chest with the other objects and
shuts down the cover_.]
GORA (_comes down_).
What does my mistress here?
MEDEA. Thou seest.
GORA. Wilt thou, then, bury in the earth that Fleece,
The symbol of thy service to the gods,
That saved thee, and shall save thee yet again?
That saved me? 'Tis because it saved me not,
That here I lay it. I am safe enough.
Thanks to thy husband's love?
MEDEA (_to the slave, ignoring Gora's taunt_).
Is all prepared?
SLAVE. Yea, mistress.
[_She grasps one handle of the chest, the slave the other, and together
they carry it to the pit._]
GORA (_observing them from a distance_).
Oh, what a task is this
For a proud princess, daughter of a king!
MEDEA. Nay, if it seem so hard, why dost not help?
GORA. Lord Jason's handmaid am I--and not thine!
Nor is it meet one slave another serve.
MEDEA (_to the slave_).
Now lay it in, and heap the earth upon it.
[_The slave lets the chest down into the pit and shovels in the earth
upon it. MEDEA kneels at one side of the pit as he works._]
GORA (_standing in the foreground_).
Oh, let me die, ye gods of Colchis, now,
That I may look no more on such a sight!
Yet, first hurl down your lightning-stroke of wrath
Upon this traitor who hath wrought us woe.
Let me but see him die; then slay me too!
MEDEA (_to the slave_).
'Tis finished. Stamp the earth about it close,
And go.--I charge thee, guard my secret well.
Thou art a Colchian, and I know thee true.
[_The slave departs._]
GORA (_calling after him with grim scorn_).
If thou shalt tell thy master, woe to you both!
MEDEA. Ay. At last I am at peace!
GORA. The Fleece, too, didst thou bury?
MEDEA. Even the Fleece.
GORA. Thou didst not leave it in Iolcos, with
Thine husband's uncle?
MEDEA. Nay, thou saw'st it here.
GORA. Thou hadst it still--and now hast buried it!
Gone, gone! And naught is left; all thy past life
Vanished, like wreaths of vapor in the breeze!
And naught's to come, and naught has been, and all
Thou seest is but this present fleeting hour!
There _was_ no Colchis! All the gods are dead!
Thou hadst no father, never slew thy brother I
Thou think'st not of it; lo, it never happened!--
Think, then, thou art not wretched. Cheat thyself
To dream Lord Jason loves thee yet. Perchance
It may come true!
Be silent, woman!
Let her who knows her guilty lock her lips,
But I _will_ speak. Forth from my peaceful home
There in far Colchis, thou hast lured me here,
To be thine haughty paramour's meek slave.
Freeborn am I, yet see! mine arms are chained!--
Through the long, troubled nights, upon my couch
I lie and weep; each morn, as the bright sun
Returns, I curse my gray hairs and my weight
Of years. All scorn me, flout me. All I had
Is gone, save heavy heart and scalding tears.--
Nay, I will speak, and thou shalt listen, too!
MEDEA. Say on.
GORA. All I foretold has come to pass.
'Tis scarce one moon since the revolted sea
Cast you ashore, seducer and seduced;
And yet e 'en now these folk flee from thy face,
And horror follows wheresoe'er thou goest.
The people shudder at the Colchian witch
With fearful whispers of her magic dark.
Where thou dost show thyself, there all shrink back
And curse thee. May the same curse smite them all!--
As for thy lord, the Colchian princess' spouse,
Him, too, they hate, for his sake, and for thine.
Did not his uncle drive him from his palace?
Was he not banished from his fatherland
What time that uncle perished, none knows how?
Home hath he none, nor resting-place, nor where
To lay his head. What canst thou hope from him?
MEDEA. I am his wife!
GORA. And hop'st--?
MEDEA. To follow him
In need and unto death.
GORA. Ay, need and death!
AEtes' daughter in a beggar's hut!
MEDEA. Let us pray Heaven for a simple heart;
So shall our humble lot be easier borne.
GORA. Ha!--And thy husband--?
MEDEA. Day breaks. Let us go.
GORA. Nay, thou shalt not escape my questioning!--One
comfort still is left me in my grief,
And only one: our wretched plight shows clear
That gods still rule in Heaven, and mete out
To guilty men requital, late or soon.
Weep for thy bitter lot; I'll comfort thee.
Only presume not rashly to deny
The gods are just, because thou dost deny
This punishment they send, and all this woe.--
To cure an evil, we must see it clear.
Thy husband--tell me--is he still the same?
MEDEA. What should he be?
GORA. O, toy not so with words!
Is he the same impetuous lover still
Who wooed thee once; who braved a hundred swords
To win thee; who, upon that weary voyage,
Laughed at thy fears and kissed away thy grief,
Poor maid, when thou wouldst neither eat nor drink,
But only pray to die? Ay, all too soon
He won thee with his passionate, stormy love.
Is he thy lover still?--I see thee tremble.
Ay, thou hast need; thou knowest he loves thee not,
But shudders at thee, dreads thee, flees thee, _hates_ thee!
And as thou didst betray thy fatherland,
So shalt thou be betrayed--and by thy lover.
Deep in the earth the symbols of thy crime
Lie buried;--but the crime thou canst not hide.
MEDEA. Be silent!
MEDEA (_grasping her fiercely by the arm _).
Silence, dame, I say!
What is this madness? Cease these frantic cries!
'Tis our part to await whate'er may come,
Not bid it hasten.--Thou didst say but now
There is no past, no future; when a deed
Is done, 'tis done for all time; we can know
Only this one brief present instant, Now.
Say, if this Now may cradle a dim future,
Why may it not entomb the misty past?
My past! Would God that I could change it--now!
And bitter tears I weep for it, bitterer far
Than thou dost dream of.--Yet, that is no cause
To seek destruction. Rather is there need
Clearly to know myself, face honestly
The thing I am. Here to these foreign shores
And stranger folk a god hath driven us;
And what seemed right in Colchis, here is named
Evil and wickedness; our wonted ways
Win hatred here in Corinth, and distrust.
So, it is meet we change our ways and speech;
If we may be no longer what we would,
Let us at least, then, be e'en what we can.--
The ties that bound me to my fatherland
Here in earth's bosom I have buried deep;
The magic rites my mother taught me, all
Back to the Night that bare them I have given.
Now, but a woman, weak, alone, defenseless,
I throw me in my husband's open arms!
He shuddered at the Colchian witch! But now
I am his true, dear wife; and surely he
Will take me to his loving, shelt'ring arms.--
Lo, the day breaks, fair sign of our new life
Together! The dark past has ceased to be,
The happy future beckons!--Thou, O Earth,
The kind and gentle mother of us all,
Guard well my trust, that in thy bosom lies.
[_As she and_ GORA _approach the tent, it opens, and _JASON _appears,
talking with a Corinthian rustic, and followed by a slave._]
JASON. Thou saw'st the king himself?
RUSTIC. I did, my lord.
JASON. How went thy tale?
RUSTIC. I Said, "One waits without,
A guest-friend of thy house, well-known to thee,
Yet so hedged round is he with traitorous foes,
He dares not enter, ere thou promise him
Peace and protection."
JASON. And his answer?--Speak!
RUSTIC. He comes, my lord, to meet thee. All this folk
Make pious offering to Poseidon here
Upon the seashore. Soon in festal train
They come with garlands and fair gifts, the king
Leading his daughter by the hand. 'Tis then,
As they pass by, that he will speak with thee.
JASON. Thou hast done well. I thank thee.
MEDEA (_coming up to him_).
JASON. Hail to thee, too!
(_To the slave._)
Go, thou, and all the others,
And pluck green branches from the budding trees
To mark you suppliants. 'Tis the custom here.
And keep a quiet, peaceful mien. Dost hear?
MEDEA. Thou'rt full of thought?
JASON. Ay, full.
MEDEA. Thou givest
Thyself no rest.
JASON. A fugitive--and rest?
There is no rest for such, but only flight.
MEDEA. Last night thou didst not close thine eyes in sleep,
But wand'redst forth in the murky night, alone.
JASON. I love the night; the sunlight hurts my eyes.
MEDEA. And thou hast sent a message to the king.
Will he receive us kindly?
JASON. That I wait
MEDEA. He is thy friend?
JASON. He was.
MEDEA. Then sure
His heart will soften.
JASON. Even the kindest men
Shun friendship with the accurst. And thou dost know
How all the world doth flee us, since the death
Of my false uncle, Pelias, whom some god
In devilish sport caused to be strangled. Thus
The people whisper that I slew him, I,
Thy husband, from that land of magic come.
Dost thou not know this?
JASON. Here's cause enough
To wake and wander all the dark night through.--
But what hath brought thee forth, before the sun
Is up? What seek'st thou in this darkling hour?
Calling old friends from Colchis?
JASON. Speak truth!
MEDEA. I say, I am not.
JASON. And I say to thee,
Better for thee if thou forget all such.
Pluck no more herbs, brew no more poison-drinks,
Nor commune with the moon, let dead men's bones
Rot in their graves at peace! Such magic arts
This folk here love not,--and I hate them, too!
This is not Colchis dark,--but sunny Greece;
Not hideous monsters, but our fellow-men
Dwell round about us. Come, henceforth, I know,
Thou wilt give o'er these rites and magic spells;
I have thy promise, and I know thee true.--
That crimson wimple bound about thy hair
Calls long-forgotten scenes to memory.
Why wilt not wear our country's wonted dress?
I was a Colchian on thy Colchian soil;
Be thou a Greek, now I have brought thee home.
The past is dead. Why call it back to life?
Alas! It haunts us yet, do what we will!
[MEDEA _silently removes the veil and gives it to_ GORA.]
Scorn'st thou thy homeland thus--and all for him?
JASON (_catching sight of _GORA).
What! Art thou here, thou ancient beldame? Ha!
I hate thee most of all this Colchian crew.
One glance at thy dim eyes and wrinkled brow,
And lo! before my troubled sight there swims
The dusky shore of Colchis! Why must thou
Be ever hovering close beside my wife?
Why should I?
MEDEA. Begone, I pray.
GORA (_sullenly to _JASON).
Am I thy purchased slave, that thou shouldst speak
JASON. Go! My hand, of its own will,
Is on my sword! Go, while there yet is time!
Often ere this I have thought to make essay
If that stern brow be softer than it seems!
[MEDEA _leads the reluctant_ GORA _away, whispering words of comfort as
they go._ JASON _throws himself on a grass-bank, and strikes his
JASON. O, heart of mine, burst from thy prison-house,
And drink the air!--
Ay, there they lie, fair Corinth's lofty towers,
Marshalled so richly on the ocean-strand,
The cradle of my happy, golden youth!
Unchanging, gilded by the selfsame sun
As then. 'Tis I am altered, and not they.
Ye gods! The morning of my life was bright
And sunny; wherefore is my eventide
So dark and gloomy? Would that it were night!
[MEDEA _has brought the two children out of the tent, and now leads them
by the hand to_ JASON.]
MEDEA. See, Jason, thy two babes, who come to greet thee.
Come, children, give your sire your little hands.
[_The children draw back, and stand shyly at one side._]
JASON (_stretching out his hands yearningly toward the little group._)
Is this the end, then? Do I find myself
Husband and father of a savage brood?
MEDEA. Go, children.
ONE CHILD. Father, is it true thou art
JASON. And why?
CHILD. Old Gora says thou art,
And calls the Greeks bad names.
JASON. What names, my boy?
CHILD. Traitors she says they are, and cowards, too.
JASON (_to_ MEDEA).
MEDEA. 'Tis Gora's foolish tales that they
Have heard, and treasured, child-like. Mark them not.
[_She kneels beside the two children, whispering in the ear now of one,
now of the other._]
JASON. I will not.
[_He rises from the grass._]
There she kneels--unhappy fate!--
Bearing two burdens, hers, and mine as well.
[_He paces up and down, then addresses_ MEDEA.]
There, leave the babes awhile, and come to me.
MEDEA (_to the children_).
Now go, and be good children. Go, I say.
[_The children go._]
JASON. Think not, Medea, I am cold and hard.
I feel thy grief as deeply as mine own.
Thou'rt a brave comrade, and dost toil as truly
As I to roll away this heavy stone
That, ever falling backwards, blocks all paths,
All roads to hope. And whether thou'rt to blame,
Or I, it matters not. What's done is done.
[_He clasps her hands in one of his, and with the other lovingly strokes
Thou lov'st me still, I know it well, Medea.
In thine own way, 'tis true; but yet thou lov'st me.
And not this fond glance only--all thy deeds
Tell the same tale of thine unending love.
[MEDEA _hides her face on his shoulder._]
I know how many griefs bow this dear head,
How love and pity in thy bosom sit
Enthroned.--Come, let us counsel now together
How we may 'scape this onward-pressing fate
That threatens us so near. Here Corinth lies;
Hither, long years agone, a lonely youth,
I wandered, fleeing my uncle's wrath and hate;
And Creon, king of Corinth, took me in,--
A guest-friend was he of my father's house--
And cherished me ev'n as a well-loved son.
Full many a year I dwelt here, safe and happy.
MEDEA. Thou'rt silent!
JASON. Now, when all the world
Flouts me, avoids me, now, when each man's hand
In blind, unreasoning rage is raised to strike,
I hope to find a refuge with this king.--
One fear I have, though, and no idle one.
MEDEA. And what is that?
JASON. Me he will shelter safe--
That I hold certain--and my children, too,
For they are mine. But thee--
MEDEA. Nay, have no fear.
If he take them, as being thine, then me,
Who am thine as well, he will not cast away.
JASON. Hast thou forgotten all that lately chanced
There in my home-land, in my uncle's house,
When first I brought thee from dark Colchis' shores?
Hast thou forgot the scorn, the black distrust
In each Greek visage when it looked on thee,
A dark barbarian from a stranger-land?
They cannot know thee as I do,--true wife
And mother of my babes;--homekeepers they,
Nor e'er set foot on Colchis' magic strand
MEDEA. A bitter speech. What is the end?
JASON. The worst misfortune of mankind is this:
Calm and serene and unconcerned to court
Fate's heaviest blows, and then, when these have fallen,
To whine and cringe, bewailing one's sad lot.--
Such folly we will none of, thou and I.
For now I seek King Creon, to proclaim
My right as guest-friend, and to clear away
These clouds of dark distrust that threaten storm.--
Meanwhile, take thou the babes and get thee hence
Without the city walls. There wait, until--
MEDEA. Till when?
JASON. Until--Why hidest thou thy face?
MEDEA. Ah, say no more! This is that bitter fate
Whereof my father warned me! Said he not
We should torment each other, thou and I?
But no!--My spirit is not broken yet!
All that I was, all that I had, is gone,
Save this: I am thy wife! To that I'll cling
Even to death.
JASON. Why twist my kindly words
To a false meaning that I never dreamed of?
MEDEA. Prove that I twist thy words! I'll thank thee for it.
Quick, quick! The king draws nigh.--Let thy heart speak!
JASON. So, wait we here the breaking of the storm.
[GORA _comes out of the tent with the two children_; MEDEA _places
herself between the children, and at first waits in the distance,
watching anxiously all that passes. The_ KING _enters with his daughter
and attended by youths and maidens who carry the vessels for the
KING. Where is this stranger?--Who he is, my heart,
By its wild beating, warns me; wanderer,
And banished from his homeland, nay, mayhap
E'en guilty of those crimes men charge him with.--
Where is the stranger?
JASON. Here, my lord, bowed low
Before thee, not a stranger, though estranged.
A suppliant I, and come to pray thine aid.
Thrust forth from house and home, by all men shunned,
I fly to thee, my guest-friend, and beseech
In confidence the shelter of thy roof.
CREUSA. Ay, it is he! Look, father, 'tis Prince Jason!
[_She takes a step toward him._]
JASON. Yea, it is I. And is this thou, Creusa,
Crowned with a yet more gentle, radiant grace,
But still the same? O, take me by the hand
And lead me to thy father, where he stands
With thoughtful brow, fixing his steady gaze
Upon my face, and dallies with his doubt
Whether to greet me kindly. Is he wroth
At me, or at my guilt, which all men cry?
CREUSA (_taking_ JASON's _hand and leading him to her father_).
See, father, 'tis Prince Jason!
KING. He is welcome.
JASON. Thy distant greeting shows me clear what place
Now best beseems me. Here at thy feet I fall
And clasp thy knees, and stretch a timid hand
To touch thy chin. Grant me my prayer, O King!
Receive and shelter a poor suppliant wretch!
KING. Rise, Jason.
JASON. Never, till thou--
KING. Rise, I say.
[_Jason rises to his feet._]
KING. So, from thine Argo-quest thou art returned?
JASON. 'Tis scarce one moon since I set foot on land.
KING. What of the golden prize ye sought? Is't won?
JASON. The king who set the task--he hath it now.
KING. Why art thou banished from thy fatherland?
JASON. They drove me forth--homeless I wander now.
KING. Ay, but why banished? I must see this clear.
JASON. They charged me with a foul, accursed crime.
KING. Truly or falsely? Answer me this first.
JASON. A false charge! By the gods I swear, 'tis false!
KING (_swiftly grasping_ JASON's _hand and leading him forward_).
Thine uncle perished?
JASON. Yea, he died.
KING. But how?
JASON. Not at my hands! As I do live and breathe,
I swear that bloody deed was none of mine!
KING. Yet Rumor names thee Murderer, and the word
Through all the land is blown.
JASON. Then Rumor lies,
And all that vile land with it!
KING. Dream'st thou then
I can believe thy single tale, when all
The world cries, "Liar!"
JASON. 'Tis the word of one
Thou knowest well, against the word of strangers.
KING. Say, then, how fell the king?
JASON. 'Twas his own blood,
The children of his flesh, that did the deed.
KING. Horror of horrors! Surely 'tis not true?
It cannot be!
JASON. The gods know it is truth.
Give ear, and I will tell thee how it chanced.
KING. Nay, hold. Creusa comes. This is no tale
For gentle ears. I fain would shield the maid
From knowledge of such horror. (_Aloud._) For the moment
I know enough. We'll hear the rest anon.
I will believe thee worthy while I can.
CREUSA (_coming up to _KING CREON).
Hast heard his tale? He's innocent, I know.
KING. Go, take his hand. Thou canst without disgrace.
CREUSA. Didst doubt him, father? Nay, I never did!
My heart told me these tales were never true,
These hideous stories that men tell of him.
Gentle he was, and kind; how could he, then,
Show him so base and cruel? Couldst thou know
How they have slandered thee, heaped curse on curse!
I've wept, to think our fellow-men could be
So bitter, false. For thou hadst scarce set sail,
When, sudden, all men's talk throughout the land
Was of wild deeds and hideous midnight crimes--
The fruit of witchcraft on far Colchis' shores--
Which thou hadst done.--And, last, a woman, dark
And dreadful, so they said, thou took'st to wife,
Brewer of poisons, slayer of her sire.
What was her name? It had a barbarous sound--
MEDEA (_stepping forward with the children_).
Medea! Here am I.
KING. Is 't she?
CREUSA (_pressing close to her father_).
MEDEA (_to_ CREUSA).
Thou'rt wrong. I never slew my sire.
My brother died, 'tis true; but ask my lord
If 'twas my doing.
[_She points to _JASON.]
True it is, fair maid,
That I am skilled to mix such magic potions
As shall bring death or healing, as I will.
And many a secret else I know. Yet, see!
I am no monster, no, nor murderess.
CREUSA. Oh, dreadful, horrible.
KING. And is she thy--wife?
JASON. My wife.
KING. Those children there?
JASON. They are mine own.
KING. Unhappy man!
JASON. Yea, sooth!--Come, children, bring
Those green boughs in your hands, and reach them out
To our lord the King, and pray him for his help,
[_He leads them up by the hand._]
Behold, my lord, these babes. Thou canst not spurn them!
ONE CHILD (_holding out a bough timidly to the _KING).
See, here it is.
KING (_laying his hands gently on the children's heads_).
Poor tiny birdlings, snatched from out your nest!
CREUSA (_kneeling compassionately beside the children_).
Come here to me, poor, homeless, little orphans!
So young, and yet misfortune bows you down
So soon! So young, and oh! so innocent!--
And look, how this one has his father's mien!
[_She kisses the smaller boy._]
Stay here with me. I'll be your mother, sister.
MEDEA (_with sudden fierceness_).
They are not orphans, do not need thy tears
Of pity! For Prince Jason is their father;
And while Medea lives, they have no need
To seek a mother!
(_To the children._)
Come to me-come here.
CREUSA (_glancing at her father_).
Shall I let them go?
KING. She is their mother.
To mother, children.
MEDEA (to children).
Come! Why stand ye there
CREUSA (_to the children, who are clasping her about the neck_).
Your mother calls, my little ones.
Run to her quick!
[_The children go to_ MEDEA.]
JASON (_to the_ KING).
My lord, what is thy will?
KING. Thou hast my promise.
JASON. Thou wilt keep me safe?
KING. I have said it.
JASON. Me and mine thou wilt receive?
KING. Nay, _thee_ I said, not _thine_.--Now follow on,
First to the altar, to our palace then.
JASON (_as he follows the king, to _CREUSA).
Give me thy hand, Creusa, as of yore!
CREUSA. Thou canst not take it as of old thou didst.
MEDEA. They go,--and I am left, forgot! Oh, children,
Run here and clasp me close. Nay, closer, tighter!
CREUSA (_to herself, turning as they go_).
Where is Medea? Why does she not follow?
[_She comes back, but stands at a distance from_ MEDEA.]
Com'st thou not to the sacrifice, then home
MEDEA. Unbidden guests must wait without.
CREUSA. Nay, but my father promised shelter, help.
MEDEA. Thy words and his betokened no such aid!
CREUSA (_approaching nearer_).
I've grieved thee, wounded thee! Forgive, I pray.
MEDEA. Ah, gracious sound! Who spake that gentle word?
Ay, many a time they've stabbed me to the quick,
But none e'er paused, and, pitying, asked himself
If the wound smarted! Thanks to thee, sweet maid!
Oh, when thou art thyself in sore distress,
Then may'st thou find some tender, pitying soul
To whisper soft and gracious words to thee,
To give one gentle glance--as thou to me!
[MEDEA _tries to grasp _CREUSA's _hand, but the princess draws back
Nay, shudder not! 'Tis no plague-spotted hand.--
Oh, I was born a princess, even as thou.
For me the path of life stretched smooth and straight
As now for thee; blindly thereon I fared,
Content, where all seemed right.--Ah, happy days!
For I was born a princess, even as thou.
And as thou stand'st before me, fair and bright
And happy, so I stood beside my father,
The idol of his heart, and of his folk.
O Colchis! O my homeland! Dark and dread
They name thee here, but to my loving eyes
Thine is a shining shore!
CREUSA _(taking her hand)_.
Poor, lonely soul!
MEDEA. Gentle art thou, and mild, and gracious too;
I read it in thy face. But oh, beware!
The way _seems_ smooth.--One step may mean thy fall!
Light is the skiff that bears thee down the stream,
Advance upon the silvery, shining waves,
Past gaily-flowered banks, where thou would'st pause.--
Ah, gentle pilot, is thy skill so sure?
Beyond thee roars the sea! Oh, venture not
To quit these flowery banks' secure embrace,
Else will the current seize thy slender craft
And sweep thee out upon the great gray sea.--
Why that fixed gaze? Dost shudder at me still?
There was a time when I had shuddered, too,
At thought of such a thing as I'm become!
_[She hides her face on CREUSA's neck.]_
CREUSA. She is no wild thing! Father, see, she weeps!
MEDEA. I am a stranger, from a far land come,
Naught knowing of this country's ancient ways;
And so they flout me, look at me askance
As at some savage, untamed animal.
I am the lowest, meanest of mankind,
I, the proud child of Colchis' mighty king!--
Teach me what I must do. Oh, I will learn
Gladly from thee, for thou art gentle, mild.
'Tis patient teaching, and not angry scorn,
Will tame me.--
Is't thy wont to be so calm
And so serene? To me that happy gift
The gods denied. But I will learn of _thee_!
Thou hast the skill to know what pleases him,
What makes him glad. Oh, teach me how I may
Once more find favor in my husband's sight,
And I will thank thee, thank thee!
CREUSA. Look, my father!
KING. Ay, bring her with thee.
CREUSA. Wilt thou come, Medea?
MEDEA. I'll follow gladly, whereso'er thou goest.
Have pity on me, lone, unfriended, sad,
And hide me from the king's stern, pitiless eyes!
(_To the_ KING.)
Now may'st thou gaze thy fill. My fears are fled,
E'en while I know thy musings bode me ill.
Thy child is tenderer than her father.
He would not harm thee. Come, ye children, too.
[CREUSA _leads_ MEDEA _and the children away_.]
KING. Hast heard?
JASON. I have.
KING. And so, that is thy wife!
That thou wert wedded, Rumor long since cried,
But I believed not. Now, when I have seen,
Belief is still less easy. She--thy wife?
JASON. 'Tis but the mountain's peak thou seest, and not
The toilsome climb to reach it, nor those steps
By which alone the climber guides his feet.--
I sailed away, a hot, impetuous youth,
O'er distant seas, upon the boldest quest
That e'er within the memory of man
Was ventured. To this life I said farewell,
And, the world well forgot, I fixed my gaze
Solely upon that radiant Golden Fleece
That, through the night, a star in the storm, shone out.
And none thought on return, but one and all,
As though the hour that saw the trophy won
Should be their last, strained every nerve to win.
And so, a valorous band, we sailed away,
Boastful and thirsting deep for daring deeds,
O'er sea and land, through storm and night and rocks,
Death at our heels, Death beckoning us before.
And what at other times we had thought full
Of terror, now seemed gentle, mild, and good;
For Nature was more awful than the worst
That man could do. And, as we strove with her,
And with barbarian hordes that blocked our path,
The hearts of e'en the mildest turned to flint.
Lost were those standards whereby men at home
Judge all things calmly; each became a law
Unto himself amid these savage sights.--
But that which all men deemed could never be
Came finally to pass, and we set foot
On Colchis' distant and mysterious strand.
Oh, hadst thou seen it, wrapped in murky clouds!
There day is night, and night a horror black,
Its folk more dreadful even than the night.
And there I found--_her_, who so hateful seems
To thee. In sooth, O king, she shone on me
Like the stray sunbeam that some prisoner sees
Pierce through the crannies of his lonely cell!
Dark though she seem to thee, in that black land
Like some lone, radiant star she gleamed on me.
KING. Yet wrong is never right, nor evil good.
JASON. It was some god that turned her heart to me.
Fast friend was she in many a dangerous pass.
I saw how in her bosom love was born,
Which yet her royal pride bade firm restrain;
No word she spake betrayed her--'twas her looks,
Her deeds that told the secret. Then on me
A madness came, like to a rushing wind.
Her silence but inflamed me; for a new
And warlike venture then I girded me,
For love I struggled with her--and I won!
Mine she became.--Her father cursed his child;
But mine she was, whether I would or no.
'Twas she that won me that mysterious Fleece;
She was my guide to that dank horror-cave
Where dwelt the dragon, guardian of the prize,
The which I slew, and bore the Fleece away.
Since then I see, each time I search her eyes,
That hideous serpent blinking back at me,
And shudder when I call her wife!--
We sailed away. Her brother fell.
She slew him?
JASON. The gods' hand smote him down. Her aged father,
With curses on his lips for her, for me,
For all our days to come, with bleeding nails
Dug his own grave, and laid him down to die,
So goes the tale--grim victim of his own
KING. Dread beginning of your life
JASON. Ay, and, as the days wore on,
More dreadful still.
KING. Thine uncle--what of him?
JASON. For four long years some god made sport of us
And kept us wandering far from hearth and home
O'er land and sea. Meanwhile, pent up with her
Within the narrow confines of our bark,
Seeing her face each moment of the day,
The edge of my first shuddering fear grew blunt.
The past was past.--So she became my wife.
KING. When home thou camest, what befell thee there?
JASON. Time passed; the memory of those ghastly days
In Colchis dimmer grew and mistier.
I, the proud Greek, now half barbarian grown,
Companioned by my wife, barbarian too,
Sought once again my home-land. Joyfully
The people cried Godspeed! as forth I fared
Long years agone. Of joyfuller greetings now,
When I returned a victor, I had dreamed.
But lo, the busy streets grew still as death
When I approached, and whoso met me, shrank
Back in dismay! The tale, grown big with horrors,
Of all that chanced in Colchis had bred fear
And hatred in this foolish people's hearts.
They fled my face, heaped insults on my wife--
_Mine_ she was, too; who flouted her, struck me!
This evil talk my uncle slily fed;
And when I made demand that he yield up
The kingdom of my fathers, stolen by him
And kept from me by craft, he made reply
That I must put away this foreign wife,
For she was hateful in his eyes, he feared
Her dark and dreadful deeds! If I refused,
My fatherland, his kingdom, I must flee.
KING. And thou--?
JASON. What could I? Was she not my wife,
That trusted to my arm to keep her safe?
Who challenged her, was he not then my foe?
Why, had he named some easier behest,
By Heaven, I had obeyed not even that!
Then how grant this? I laughed at his command.
KING. And he--?
JASON. Spake doom of banishment for both.
Forth from Iolcos on that selfsame day
We must depart, he said. But I would not,
Forthwith a grievous illness seized
The king, and through the town a murmur ran
Whisp'ring strange tidings: How the aged king,
Seated before his household shrine, whereon
They had hung the Fleece in honor of the god,
Gazed without ceasing on that golden prize,
And oft would cry that thence his brother's face
Looked down on him,--my father's, whom he slew
By guile, disputing of the Argo-quest.
Ay, that dead face peered down upon him now
From every glittering lock of that bright Fleece,
In search of which, false man! he sent me forth
To distant lands, in hope that I should perish!
At last, when all the king's house saw their need,
To me for succor his proud daughters came,
Begging my wife to heal him by her skill.
But I cried, "No! Am I to save the man
Who plotted certain death for me and mine?"
And those proud maidens turned again in tears.
I shut me up within my house, unheeding
Aught else that passed. Weeping, they came again,
And yet again; each time I said them nay.
And then one night, as I lay sleeping, came
A dreadful cry before my door! I waked
To find Acastus, my false uncle's son,
Storming my portal with loud, frenzied blows,
Calling me murderer, slayer of his sire!
That night the aged king had passed from life.
Up from my couch I sprang, and sought to speak,
But vainly, for the people's howls of rage
Drowned my weak cries. Then one among them cast
A stone, then others. But I drew my blade
And through the mob to safety cut my way.
Since then I've wandered all fair Hellas o'er,
Reviled of men, a torment to myself.
And, if thou, too, refuse to succor me,
Then am I lost indeed!
KING. Nay, I have sworn
And I will keep my oath. But this thy wife--
JASON. Hear me, O king, before thou end that speech!
Needs must thou take us both, or none at all!
I were a happy man,--ay, born anew--
Were she but gone forever. But no, no!
I must protect her--for she trusted me.
KING. These magic arts she knows--'tis them I fear.
The power to injure, spells the will to do it.
Besides, these strange, suspicious deeds of hers--
These are not all her guilt.
JASON. Give her one chance.
Then, if she stay not quiet, hound her forth,
Hunt her, and slay her, me, and these my babes.
Yet, till that time, I pray thee let her try
If she can live at peace with this thy folk.
This boon I crave of thee by mightiest Zeus,
The god of strangers--ay, and call upon
The ancient bond of friendship that, long since,
Our fathers formed, mine in Iolcos, thine
In Corinth here. On that long-vanished day
They dreamed there might fall need of such a tie.
And, now that need is here, do thou thy part
And succor me, lest in like evil pass
Thou make the same request, and meet denial.
KING. 'Tis the gods' will; I yield, against my judgment,
And she shall stay. But, look you, if she show
One sign that those wild ways are not forgot,
I drive her forth from out this city straight
And yield her up to those who seek her life!
Here in this meadow, where I found thee first,
A sacred altar shall be raised, to Zeus,
The god of strangers, consecrate and to
Thy murdered uncle Pelias' bloody shades.
Here will we kneel together and pray the gods
To send their blessing on thy coming here,
And turn to mercy that which bodes us ill.--
Now to my royal city follow swift.
[_He turns to his attendants, who approach._]
See my behests are faithfully obeyed.
[_As they turn to depart, the curtain falls._]
_A chamber in_ CREON'S _royal palace at Corinth_. CREUSA _is discovered
seated, while_ MEDEA _occupies a low stool before her, and holds a lyre
in her arm. She is clad in the Greek fashion._
CREUSA. Now pluck this string--the second--this one here.
MEDEA. So, this way?
CREUSA. Nay, thy fingers more relaxed.
MEDEA. I cannot.
CREUSA. 'Tis not hard, if thou'lt but try.
MEDEA. I have tried, patiently; but 'tis no use!
[_She lays the lyre aside and rises._]
Were it a spear-haft, or the weapons fierce
Of the bloody hunt, these hands were quick enough.
[_She raises her right hand and gazes at it reproachfully._]
Rebellious fingers! I would punish them!
CREUSA. Perverse one! When my heart was filled with joy
At thinking how 'twould gladden Jason's heart
To hear this song from thee!
MEDEA. Ay, thou art right.
I had forgot that. Let me try once more.
The song will please him, think'st thou, truly
CREUSA. Nay, never doubt it. 'Tis the song he sang
When he dwelt here with us in boyhood days.
Each time I heard it, joyfully I sprang
To greet him, for it meant he was come home.
Teach me the song again!
CREUSA. Come, listen, then.
'Tis but a short one, nor so passing sweet;
But then--he knew to sing it with such grace,
Such joy, such lordly pride--ay, almost scorn!
"Ye gods above, ye mighty gods,
Anoint my head, I pray;
Make strong my heart to bear my part
Right kingly in the fray,
To smite all foes, and steal the heart
Of all fair maids away!"
MEDEA. Yea, yea, all these the gods bestowed on him!
CREUSA. All what?
MEDEA. These gifts, of which the song doth tell.
CREUSA. What gifts?
MEDEA. "To smite all foes, and steal the heart
Of all fair maids away!"
CREUSA. Is't so? I never thought on that before;
I did but sing the words I heard him sing.
MEDEA. 'Twas so he stood on Colchis' hostile strand;
Before his burning glance our warriors cringed,
And that same glance kindled a fatal fire
In the soft breast of one unhappy maid;
She struggled, fled--until at last those flames,
So long hid deep within her heart, burst forth,
And rest and joy and peace to ashes burned
In one fierce holocaust of smoky flame.
'Twas so he stood, all shining strength and grace,
A hero, nay, a god--and drew his victim
And drew and drew, until the victim came
To its own doom; and then he flung it down
Careless, and there was none would take it up.
CREUSA. Art thou his wife, and speak'st such things of him?
MEDEA. Thou know'st him not; I know his inmost soul.--
In all the wide world there is none but he,
And all things else are naught to him but tools
To shape his deeds. He harbors no mean thoughts
Of paltry gain, not he; yet all his thoughts
Are of himself alone. He plays a game
with Fortune--now his own, and now another's.
If bright Fame beckon, he will slay a man
And do it gaily. Will he have a wife?
He goes and takes one. And though hearts should break
And lives be wasted--so he have his will,
What matters it to him? Oh, he does naught
That is not right--but right is what he wants!
Thou knowest him not; I've probed his inmost soul.
And when I think on all that he has wrought,
Oh, I could see him die, and laugh the while!
MEDEA. Thou goest?
CREUSA. Can I longer stay
To list such words?--Ye gods! to hear a wife
Revile her husband thus!
MEDEA. She should speak truth,
And mine is such an one as I have said.
CREUSA. By Heaven, if I were wedded to a man,
E'en one so base and vile as thou hast named--
'Though Jason is _not_ so--and had I babes,
His gift, each bearing in his little face
His father's likeness, oh, I would love them dear,
Though they should slay me!
MEDEA. Ay, an easy task
To set, but hard to do.
CREUSA. And yet, methinks,
If easier, 'twere less sweet.--Have thou thy way
And say whate'er thou wilt; but I must go.
First thou dost charm my heart with noble words
And seek'st my aid to win his love again;
But now thou breakest forth in hate and scorn.
I have seen many evils among men,
But worst of all these do I count a heart
That knows not to forgive. So, fare thee well!
Learn to be better, truer!
MEDEA. Art thou angry
MEDEA. Alas, thou wilt not give me up,
Thou, too? Thou wilt not leave me? Be my help,
My friend, my kind protector!
CREUSA. Now thou'rt gentle,
Yet, but a moment since, so full of hate!
MEDEA. Hate for myself, but only love for him!
CREUSA. Dost thou love Jason?
MEDEA. Should I else be here?
CREUSA. I've pondered that, but cannot understand.--
Yet, if thou truly lov'st him, I will take thee
Back to my heart again, and show thee means
Whereby thou mayst regain his love.--I know
Those bitter moods of his, and have a charm
To scatter the dark clouds. Come, to our task!
I marked this morning how his face was sad
And gloomy. Sing that song to him; thou'lt see
How swift his brow will clear. Here is the lyre;
I will not lay it down till thou canst sing
The song all through. [_She seats herself._]
Nay, come! Why tarriest there
MEDEA. I gaze on thee, and gaze on thee again,
And cannot have my fill of thy sweet face.
Thou gentle, virtuous maid, as fair in soul
As body, with a heart as white and pure
As are thy snowy draperies! Like a dove,
A pure, white dove with shining, outspread wings,
Thou hoverest o'er this life, nor yet so much
As dipp'st thy wing in this vile, noisome slough
Wherein we wallow, struggling to get free,
Each from himself. Send down one kindly beam
From out thy shining heaven, to fall in pity
Upon my bleeding breast, distraught with pain;
And all those ugly scars that grief and hate
And evil fortune e'er have written there,
Oh, cleanse thou these away with thy soft hands,
And leave thine own dear picture in their place!
That strength, that ever was my proudest boast
From youth, once tested, proved but craven weakness.
Oh, teach me how to make my weakness strong!
[_She seats herself on the low stool at CREUSA's feet._]
Here to thy feet for refuge will I fly,
And pour my tale of suffering in thine ear;
And thou shalt teach me all that I must do.
Like some meek handmaid will I follow thee,
Will pace before the loom from early morn,
Nay, set my hand to all those lowly tasks
Which maids of noble blood would scorn to touch
In Colchis, as but fit for toiling serfs,
Yet here they grace a queen. Oh, I'll forget
My sire was Colchis' king, and I'll forget
My ancestors were gods, and I'll forget
The past, and all that threatens still!
[_She springs up and leaves _CREUSA's _side._]
That can I not forget!
CREUSA (_following her_).
Why so distressed?
Men have forgotten many an evil deed
That chanced long since, ay, even the gods themselves
Remember not past sorrows.
MEDEA (_embracing her_).
Say'st thou so?
Oh, that I could believe it, could believe it!
CREUSA (_turning to him_).
Here is thy wife. See, Jason, we are friends!
JASON. 'Tis well.
MEDEA. Greetings, my lord.--She is so good,
Medea's friend and teacher she would be.
JASON. Heaven speed her task!
CREUSA. But why these sober looks?
We shall enjoy here many happy days!
I, sharing 'twixt my sire and you my love
And tender care, while thou and she, Medea,--
MEDEA. What are thy commands, my lord?
JASON. Hast seen the children late?
MEDEA. A moment since;
They are well and happy.
JASON. Look to them again!
MEDEA. I am just come from them.
JASON. Go, go, I say!
MEDEA. If 'tis thy wish--
JASON. It is.
MEDEA. Then I obey.
CREUSA. Why dost thou bid her go? The babes are safe.
JASON. Ah..! ho, a mighty weight is rolled away
From off my soul, and I can breathe again!
Her glance doth shrivel up my very heart,
And all that bitter hate, hid deep within
My bosom, well nigh strangles me to death!
CREUSA. What words are these? Oh, ye all-righteous gods!
He speaks now even as she a moment since.
Who was it told me, wife and husband ever
Do love each other?
JASON. Ay, and so they do,
When some fair, stalwart youth hath cast his glance
Upon a maid, whom straightway he doth make
The goddess of his worship. Timidly
He seeks her eyes, to learn if haply she
Seek his as well; and when their glances meet,
His soul is glad. Then to her father straight
And to her mother goes he, as is meet,
And begs their treasure, and they give consent.
Comes then the bridal day; from far and near
Their kinsmen gather; all the town has part
In their rejoicing. Richly decked with wreaths
And dainty blossoms, to the altar then
He leads his bride; and there a rosy flush,
Of maiden shyness born, plays on her cheek
The while she trembles with a holy fear
At what is none the less her dearest wish.
Upon her head her father lays his hands
And blesses her and all her seed to come.
Such happy wooing breeds undying love
'Twixt wife and husband.--'Twas of such I dreamed.
Alas, it came not! What have I done, ye gods!
To be denied what ye are wont to give
Even to the poorest? Why have I alone
No refuge from the buffets of the world
At mine own hearth, no dear companion there,
My own, in truth, my own in plighted troth?
CREUSA. Thou didst not woo thy wife as others, then?
Her father did not raise his hand to bless?
JASON. He raised it, ay, but armed with a sword;
And 'twas no blessing, but a curse he spake.
But I--I had a swift and sweet revenge!
His only son is dead, and he himself
Lies dumb in the grave. His curse alone lives still--
Or so it seems.
CREUSA. Alas, how strange to think
Of all the change a few brief years have wrought!
Thou wert so soft and gentle, and art now
So stern. But I am still the selfsame maid
As then, have still the selfsame hopes and fears,
And what I then thought right, I think right still,
What then I blamed, cannot think blameless now.--
But thou art changed.
JASON. Ay, thou hast hit the truth!
The real misfortune in a hapless lot
Is this: that man is to himself untrue.
Here one must show him master, there must cringe
And bow the knee; here Justice moves a hair,
And there a grain; and, at his journey's end,
He stands another man than he who late
Set out upon that journey. And his loss
Is twofold--for the world has passed him by
In scorn, and his own self-respect is dead.
Naught have I done that in itself was bad,
Yet have had evil hopes, bad wishes, ay,
Unholy aspirations; and have stood
And looked in silence, while another sinned;
Or here have willed no evil, yet joined hands
With sin, forgetful how one wicked deed
Begets another.--Now at last I stand,
A sea of evils breaking all about,
And cannot say, "My hand hath done no wrong!"--
O happy Youth, couldst thou forever stay!
O joyous Fancy, blest Forgetfulness,
Time when each moment cradles some great deed
And buries it! How, in a swelling tide
Of high adventure, I disported me,
Cleaving the mighty waves with stalwart breast!
But manhood comes, with slow and sober steps;
And Fancy flees away, while naked Truth
Creeps soft to fill its place and brood upon
Full many a care. No more the present seems
A fair tree, laden down with luscious fruits,
'Neath whose cool shadows rest and joy are found,
But is become a tiny seedling which,
When buried in the earth, will sprout and bud
And bloom, and bear a future of its own.
What shall thy task in life be? Where thy home?
What of thy wife and babes? What thine own fate,
And theirs?--Such constant musings tantalize
the soul. [_He seats himself._]
CREUSA. What should'st thou care for such? 'Tis all decreed,
All ordered for thee.
JASON. Ordered? Ay, as when
Over the threshold one thrusts forth a bowl
Of broken meats, to feed some begging wretch!
I am Prince Jason. Spells not that enough
Of sorrow? Must I ever henceforth sit
Meek at some stranger's board, or beg my way,
My little babes about me, praying pity
From each I meet? My sire was once a king,
And so am I; yet who would care to boast
He is like Jason? Still--[_He rises._]
I passed but now
Down through the busy market-place and through
Yon wide-wayed city. Dost remember how
I strode in my young pride through those same streets
What time I came to take farewell of thee
Long since, ere sailed the Argo? How the folk
Came thronging, surging, how each street was choked
With horses, chariots, men--a dazzling blaze
Of color? How the eager gazers climbed
Up on the house-tops, swarmed on every tower,
And fought for places as they would for gold?
The air rang with the cymbals' brazen crash
And with the shouts of all that mighty throng
Crying, "Hail, Jason!" Thick they crowded round
That gallant band attired in rich array,
Their shining armor gleaming in the sun,
The least of them a hero and a king,
And in their midst the leader they adored.
I was the man that captained them, that brought
Them safe to Greece again; and it was I
That all this folk did greet with loud acclaim.--
I trod these selfsame streets an hour ago,
But no eye sought me, greeting heard I none;
Only, the while I stood and gazed about,
I heard one rudely grumbling that I had
No right to block the way, and stand and stare.
CREUSA. Thou wilt regain thy proud place once again,
If thou but choose.
JASON. Nay, all my hopes are dead;
My fight is fought, and I am down, to rise
CREUSA. I have a charm will save thee yet.
JASON. Ay, all that thou would'st say, I know before:
Undo the past, as though it ne'er had been.
I never left my fatherland, but stayed
With thee and thine in Corinth, never saw
The Golden Fleece, nor stepped on Colchis' strand,
Ne'er saw that woman that I now call wife!
Send thou her home to her accursed land,
Cause her to take with her all memory
That she was ever here.--Do thou but this,
And I will be a man again, and dwell
CREUSA. Is that thy charm? I know a better;
A simple heart, I mean, a mind at peace.
JASON. Ah, thou art good! Would I could learn this peace
CREUSA. To all that choose, the gods will give it.
Thou hadst it once, and canst have yet again.
JASON. Dost thou think often on our happy youth?
CREUSA. Ay, many a time, and gladly.
JASON. How we were
One heart, one soul?
CREUSA. I made thee gentler, thou
Didst give me courage.--Dost remember how
I set thy helm upon my head?
JASON. And how
Because it was too large, thy tiny hands
Did hold it up, the while it rested soft
Upon thy golden curls? Creusa, those
Were happy days!
CREUSA. Dost mind thee how my father
Was filled with joy to see it, and, in jest,
Did name us bride and bridegroom?
JASON. Ay--but that
Was not to be.
CREUSA. Like many another hope
That disappoints us.--Still, what matters it?
We mean to be no less good friends, I trust!
MEDEA. I've seen the children. They are safe.
(_Continuing his revery._)
All those fair spots our happy youth once knew,
Linked to my memory with slender threads,
All these I sought once more, when first I came
Again to Corinth, and I cooled my breast
And dipped my burning lips in that bright spring
Of my lost childhood. Once again, methought,
I drove my chariot through the market-place,
Guiding my fiery steeds where'er I would,
Or, wrestling with some fellow of the crowd,
Gave blow for blow, while thou didst stand to watch,
Struck dumb with terror, filled with angry fears,
Hating, for my sake, all who raised a hand
Against me. Or again I seemed to be
Within the solemn temple, where we knelt
Together, there, and there alone, forgetful
Each of the other, our soft-moving lips
Up-sending to the gods from our two breasts
A single heart, made one by bonds of love.
CREUSA. Dost thou remember all these things so well?