« ZurückWeiter »
The time will come when a diviner flame
Shall warm my breast to sing of Cæsar's fame ;
Mean-while permit that my preluding Muse
In Theban wars an humbler theme may chuse:
Of furious hate surviving death she sings,
A fatal throne to two contending kings,
And funeral flames that, parting wide in air,
Express the discord of the souls they bear :
Of towns dispeopled, and the wandering ghosts
Of kings unbury'd in the wasted coasts;
When Dirce's fountain blush'd with Grecian blood,
And Thetis, near Ismenos' swelling flood,
With dread beheld the rolling surges sweep
In heaps his slaughter'd sons into the deep.
What hero, Clio! wilt thou first relate?
The rage of Tydeus, or the prophet's fate ?
Or how, with hills of slain on every side,
Hippomedon repellid the hostile tide ?
Or how the youth, with every grace adoru'd,
Untimely fell, to be for ever mourn'd?
Then to fierce Capaneus thy verse extend,
And sing with horror his prodigious end.
Now wretched Edipus, depriv'd of sight,
Led a long death in everlasting night;
But while he dwells where not a cheerful ray
Can pierce the darkness, and abhors the day,
The clear reflecting mind presents his sin
In frightful views, and makes it day within ;
Returning thoughts in endless circles roll,
And thousand furies haunt his guilty soul:
The wretch then lifted to the unpitying skies
Those empty orbs from whence he tore his eyes,
Whosewounds,yet fresh, withbloody handshestrook,
Whilefrom his breast these dreadful accents broke:
“ Ye gods! that o'er the gloomy regions reign, Where guilty spirits feel eternal pain ; Thou, sable Styx !whose livid streams are rollid Thro' dreary coasts, which I though blind behold; Tisiphone ! that oft hast heard my pray'r, Assist, if Edipus deserve thy care.
If you receiv'd me from Jocasta's womb,
And nurs'd the hope of mischiefs yet to come;
If, leaving Polybus, I took my way
To Cyrrha's temple, on that fatal day
When by the son the trembling father died,
Where the three roads the Phocian fields divide;
If I the Sphynx's riddles durst explain,
Taught by thyself to win the promis'd reign;
If wretched I, by baleful furies led,
With monstrous mixture stain'd my mother's bed,
For hell and thee begot an impious brood,
And with full lust those horrid joys renew'd ;
Then, self-condemn'd, to shades of endless night,
Forc'd from these orbs the bleeding balls of sight;
Oh, bear ! and aid the vengeance I require,
If worthy thee, and what thou might'st inspire.
My sons their old unhappy sire despise,
Spoil'd of his kingdom, and depriv'd of eyes;
Guideless I wander, unregarded mourn,
While these exalt their sceptres o'er my urn:
These sons, ye gods ! who with flagitious pride
Insult my darkness and my groans deride.
Art thou a father, unregarding Jove !
And sleeps thy thunder in the realms above?
Thou fury ! then some lasting curse entail,
Which o'er their children's children shall prevail ;
Place on their heads that crown distain'd with gore,
Which these dire hands from my slain father tore ;
Go! and a parent's heavy curses bear ;
Break all the bonds of nature, and prepare
Their kindred souls to mutual hate and war.
Give them to dare, what I might wish to see,
Blind as I am, some glorious villany!
Soon shalt thou find, if thou but arm their hands,
Their ready guilt preventing thy commands :
Couldstthou somegreat proportion'd mischief frame,
They'd prove the father from whoseloins they came.”
The fury heard; while on Cocytus' brink
Her snakes, untied, sulphureous waters drink;
But at the summons roll'd her eyes around,
And spatch'd the starting serpents from the ground.
Not half so swiftly shoots along in air
The gliding lightning or descending star.
Thro' crowds of airy shades she wing'd her fight,
And dark dominions of the silent night;
Swift as she pass'd the fitting ghosts withdrew,
And the pale spectres trembled at her view :
To the' iron gates of Tenarus she flies,
There spreads her dusky pinions to the skies.
The day beheld, and, sickening at the sight,
Veild her fair glories in the shades of night.
Affrighted Atlas on the distant shore
Trembled, and shook the heav'ns and gods he bore.
Now from beneath Malea's airy height
Aloft she sprung, and steer'd to Thebes her flight;
With eager speed the well-known journey took,
Nor here regrets the hell she late forsook.
A hundred snakes her gloomy visage shade,
A hundred serpents guard her horrid head;
In her sunk eyeballs dreadful meteors glow:
Such rays from Phæbe's bloody circle flow,
When labouring with strong charms she shoots from high.
A fiery gleam, and reddens all the sky.
Blood stain'd her cheeks, and from her mouth there
Blue steaming poisons, and a length of flame.
From every blast of her contagious breath
Famine anddrought proceed,and plagues and death.
A robe obscene was o'er her shoulders thrown,
A dress by fates and furies worn alone.
She toss'd her meagre arms; her better hand
In waving circles whirl'd a funeral brand :
A serpent from her left was seen to rear
His flaming crest, and lash the yielding air.
But when the fury took her stand on high,
Where vast Cithæron's top salutes the sky,
A hiss from all the snaky tire went round :
The dreadful signal all the rocks rebound,
And through the Achaian cities send the sound.
Ete, with high Parnassus, heard the voice ;
Eurotas' banks remurmur'd to the noise ;
Again Leucothea shook at these alarms,
And press'd Palæmon closer in her arms.
Headlong from thence the glowing fury springs,
And o'er the Theban palace spreads her wings,
Once more invades the guilty dome, and shrouds
Its bright pavilions in a veil of clouds.
Straight with the rage of all their race possest,
Stung to the soul, the brothers start from rest,
And all their furies wake within their breast:
Their tortur'd minds repining envy tears,
And hate, engender'd by suspicious fears;
And sacred thirst of sway, and all the ties
Of nature broke, and royal perjuries ;
And impotent desire to reign alone,
That scorns the dull reversion of a throne :
Each would the sweets of sovereign rule devour,
While discord waits upon divided pow'r.
As stubborn steers, by brawny ploughmen broke,
And join'd reluctant to the galling yoke,
Alike disdain with servile necks
The' unwonted weight, or drag the crooked share
But rend the reins, and bound a different way,
And all the furrows in confusion lay :
Sach was the discord of the royal pair,
Whom fury drove precipitate to war.
In vain the chiefs contriv'd a specious way
To govern Thebes by their alternate sway:
Unjust decree! while this enjoys the state,
That mourns in exile his unequal fate,
And the short monarch of a hasty year
Foresees with anguish his returning heir.
Thus did the league their impious arms restrain,
But scarce subsisted to the second reign.
Yet then no proud aspiring piles were rais'd,
No fretted roofs with polish'd metals blaz'd;
No labour'd columns in long order plac'd,
No Grecian stone the powpous arches grac’d;
No nightly bands in glittering armour wait
Before the sleepless tyrant's guarded gate ;
No charges then were wrought in burnish'd gold,
Nor silver vases took the forming mould ;
Nor gems on bowls emboss'd were seen to shine,
Blaze on the brims, and sparkle in the wine
Say, wretched rivals! what provokes your rage?
Say to what end your impious arms engage ?
Not all bright Phobus views in early morn,
Or when his evening beans the west adorn,
When the south glows with his meridian ray,
And the cold north receives a fainter day;
For crimes like these not all those realms suffice,
Were all those realms the guilty victor's prize!
But fortune now (the lots of empire thrown)
Decrees to proud Eteocles the crown;
What joys, O tyrant! swell'd thy soul that day,
When all were slaves thou couldst around survey,
Pleas'd to behold uubounded pow'r thy own,
And singly fill a fear'd and envied throne !
But the vile vulgar, ever discontent,
Their growing fears in secret murmurs vent;
Still prone to change, though still the slaves of state,
And sure the monarch whom they have to hate;
New lords they madly make, then tamely bear,
And softly curse the tyrants whom they fear.
And one of those who groan beneath the sway
Of kings impos’d, and grudgingly obey,
(Whom envy to the great, and vulgar spite,
With scandal arm'd, the' ignoble mind's delight)
Exclaim'd—“O Thebes! for thee what fates remain,
What woes attend this inauspicious reign ?
Must we, alas ! our doubtful necks prepare
Each haughty master's yoke by turns to bear,
And still to change whom chang'd we still must
These now control a wretched people's fate,
These can divide, and these reverse the state :
Ev'n fortune rules no more- servile land,
Where exil'd tyrants still by turns command !