For the king’s sake who sent him, Oedipus,
Dismiss him not without a meet reply.
Nay, worthy seniors, but for Theseus’ sake
Who sent him hither to have word of me.
Never again would he have heard my voice;
But now he shall obtain this parting grace,
An answer that will bring him little joy.
O villain, when thou hadst the sovereignty
That now thy brother holdeth in thy stead,
Didst thou not drive me, thine own father, out,
An exile, cityless, and make we wear
This beggar’s garb thou weepest to behold,
Now thou art come thyself to my sad plight?
Nothing is here for tears; it must be borne
By me till death, and I shall think of thee
As of my murderer; thou didst thrust me out;
‘Tis thou hast made me conversant with woe,
Through thee I beg my bread in a strange land;
And had not these my daughters tended me
I had been dead for aught of aid from thee.
They tend me, they preserve me, they are men
Not women in true service to their sire;
But ye are bastards, and no sons of mine.
Therefore just Heaven hath an eye on thee;
Howbeit not yet with aspect so austere
As thou shalt soon experience, if indeed
These banded hosts are moving against Thebes.
That city thou canst never storm, but first
Shall fall, thou and thy brother, blood-imbrued.
Such curse I lately launched against you twain,
Such curse I now invoke to fight for me,
That ye may learn to honor those who bear thee
Nor flout a sightless father who begat
Degenerate sons–these maidens did not so.
Therefore my curse is stronger than thy “throne,”
Thy “suppliance,” if by right of laws eterne
Primeval Justice sits enthroned with Zeus.
Begone, abhorred, disowned, no son of mine,
Thou vilest of the vile! and take with thee
This curse I leave thee as my last bequest:–
Never to win by arms thy native land,
No, nor return to Argos in the Vale,
But by a kinsman’s hand to die and slay
Him who expelled thee. So I pray and call
On the ancestral gloom of Tartarus
To snatch thee hence, on these dread goddesses
I call, and Ares who incensed you both
To mortal enmity. Go now proclaim
What thou hast heard to the Cadmeians all,
Thy staunch confederates–this the heritage that Oedipus divideth
to his sons.
Thy errand, Polyneices, liked me not
From the beginning; now go back with speed.
Woe worth my journey and my baffled hopes!
Woe worth my comrades! What a desperate end
To that glad march from Argos! Woe is me!
I dare not whisper it to my allies
Or turn them back, but mute must meet my doom.
My sisters, ye his daughters, ye have heard
The prayers of our stern father, if his curse
Should come to pass and ye some day return
To Thebes, O then disown me not, I pray,
But grant me burial and due funeral rites.
So shall the praise your filial care now wins
Be doubled for the service wrought for me.
One boon, O Polyneices, let me crave.
What would’st thou, sweet Antigone? Say on.
Turn back thy host to Argos with all speed,
And ruin not thyself and Thebes as well.
That cannot be. How could I lead again
An army that had seen their leader quail?
But, brother, why shouldst thou be wroth again?What profit from thy country’s ruin comes?
‘Tis shame to live in exile, and shall I
The elder bear a younger brother’s flouts?
Wilt thou then bring to pass his prophecies
Who threatens mutual slaughter to you both?
Aye, so he wishes:–but I must not yield.
O woe is me! but say, will any dare,
Hearing his prophecy, to follow thee?
I shall not tell it; a good general
Reports successes and conceals mishaps.
Misguided youth, thy purpose then stands fast!
‘Tis so, and stay me not. The road I choose,
Dogged by my sire and his avenging spirit,
Leads me to ruin; but for you may Zeus
Make your path bright if ye fulfill my hest
When dead; in life ye cannot serve me more.
Now let me go, farewell, a long farewell!
Ye ne’er shall see my living face again.
Bewail me not.
Who would not mourn
Thee, brother, hurrying to an open pit!
If I must die, I must.
Nay, hear me plead.
It may not be; forbear.
Then woe is me, If I must lose thee.
Nay, that rests with fate,
Whether I live or die; but for you both
I pray to heaven ye may escape all ill;
For ye are blameless in the eyes of all.
Ills on ills! no pause or rest!
Come they from our sightless guest?
Or haply now we see fulfilled
What fate long time hath willed?
For ne’er have I proved vain
Aught that the heavenly powers ordain.
Time with never sleeping eye
Watches what is writ on high,
Overthrowing now the great,
Raising now from low estate.
Hark! How the thunder rumbles! Zeus defend us!
Children, my children! will no messenger
Go summon hither Theseus my best friend?
And wherefore, father, dost thou summon him?
This winged thunder of the god must bear me
Anon to Hades. Send and tarry not.
Hark! with louder, nearer roar
The bolt of Zeus descends once more.
My spirit quails and cowers: my hair
Bristles for fear. Again that flare!
What doth the lightning-flash portend?
Ever it points to issues grave.
Dread powers of air! Save, Zeus, O save!
Daughters, upon me the predestined end
Has come; no turning from it any more.
How knowest thou? What sign convinces thee?
I know full well. Let some one with all speed
Go summon hither the Athenian prince.
Ha! once more the deafening sound
Peals yet louder all around
If thou darkenest our land,
Lightly, lightly lay thy hand;
Grace, not anger, let me win,
If upon a man of sin
I have looked with pitying eye,
Zeus, our king, to thee I cry!
Is the prince coming? Will he when he comes
Find me yet living and my senses clear!
What solemn charge would’st thou impress on him?
For all his benefits I would perform
The promise made when I received them first.
Hither haste, my son, arise,
Altar leave and sacrifice,
If haply to Poseidon now
In the far glade thou pay’st thy vow.
For our guest to thee would bring
And thy folk and offering,
Thy due guerdon. Haste, O King!
Wherefore again this general din? at once
My people call me and the stranger calls.
Is it a thunderbolt of Zeus or sleet
Of arrowy hail? a storm so fierce as this
Would warrant all surmises of mischance.
Thou com’st much wished for, Prince, and sure some god
Hath bid good luck attend thee on thy way.
What, son of Laius, hath chanced of new?
My life hath turned the scale. I would do all
I promised thee and thine before I die.
What sign assures thee that thine end is near?
The gods themselves are heralds of my fate;
Of their appointed warnings nothing fails.
How sayest thou they signify their will?
This thunder, peal on peal, this lightning hurled
Flash upon flash, from the unconquered hand.
I must believe thee, having found thee oft
A prophet true; then speak what must be done.