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From the Hippolytus  of Euripides
by Hilda Doolittle
[from The Poets’ Translation Series (issued by The Egoist, London, 1919)]

I

THERAPONTES.

Daemon initiate, spirit
of the god-race, Artemis,
Latona’s daughter,
child of Zeus,
of all maids loveliest,
we greet you, mistress:
you dwell in your father’s house,
the gold-wrought porches of Zeus,
apart in the depth of space.

HIPPOLYTUS.

Of all maids, loveliest,
I greet you, Artemis,
loveliest upon Olympus:
dearest, to you this gift,
flower set by flower and leaf,
broken by uncut grass,
where neither scythe has dipped
nor does the shepherd yet
venture to lead his sheep;
there it is white and fragrant,
the wild-bee swirls across;
as a slow rivulet,
mystic peace broods and drifts:

Ah! but my own, my dearest,
take for your gold-wrought locks
from my hands these flowers,
as from a spirit.

II

CHORUS OF TROIZENIAN WOMEN.

At high-tide,
the sea—they say—
left a deep pool
below the rock-shelf:
in that clear place
where the women dip
their water-jars,
my friend steeped her veils
and spread the scarlet stuff
across the hot ridge
of sun-baked rocks:
she first brought word
of my mistress:

“She lies sick,
faint on her couch
within the palace;
her thin veils
cast a shadow
across her bright locks.
I count three days
since her beautiful lips
touched the fine wheat—
her frail body
disdains nourishment:
she suffers—
some secret hurt
hastens her death.”

Surely, O young queen,
you are possessed
by Pan, by Hecate,
by some spirit
of the Corybantic rites,
or by Cybele
from the hill-rocks!
or have you sinned
that you suffer thus,
against Artemis?
Have you offered
no sacrificial cakes
to the huntress?
For she walks above earth,
along the sea-coast,
and across the salt trail
of the sea-drift.

Or is it that your lord,
born of Erechtheus,
the king most noble in descent,
neglects you in the palace
and your bride-couch
for another in secret?
Or has some sea-man,
landing at our port,
friendly to ships,
brought sad news from Crete?
For some great hurt
binds you to your couch,
broken in spirit.

III

PHAEDRA.

Lift my head, help me up,
I am bruised, bone and flesh;
chafe my white hands, my servants:
this weight about my forehead?
Ah, my veil—loose it—
spread my hair across my breast.

TROPHOS.

There, do not start,
child, nor toss about;
only calm and high pride
can help your hurt:
fate tries all alike.

PHAEDRA.

Ai, ai! to drink deep
of spring water
from its white source;
ai, ai! for rest—black poplars—
t
hick grass—sleep.

TROPHOS.

What is this you ask,
wild words, mad speech—
hide your hurt, my heart,
hide your hurt
before these servants.

PHAEDRA.

Take me to the mountains!
O for woods, pine tracts,
where hounds athirst for death,
leap on the bright stags!
God, how I would shout to the beasts
with my gold hair torn loose;
I would shake the Thessalian dart,
I would hurl the barbed arrow from my grasp.

TROPHOS.

Why, so distraught,
child, child, why the chase
and this cold water you would ask:
but we may get you that
from deep rills that cut the slopes
before the gate.

PHAEDRA.

Artemis of the salt beach
and of the sea-coast,
mistress of the race-course,
trodden of swift feet,
O for your flat sands
where I might mount
with goad and whip
the horses of Enetas.

IV

O Spirit,
spark by spark,
you instil fire
through the sight:
to hearts you attack
you grant rare happiness!
Do not front me with grief,
yourself discord manifest!

For neither lightning-shaft
nor yet stars shot
from a distant place
can equal the love-dart,
sped from your hands,
child of God, Eros.

In vain along Alpheos,
in vain (if we defy Eros)
are the Greek altars
bright with blood,
and the Pythian rocks
with beasts slain
for Helios:
Aphrodite’s child
is man’s chief absolute:
he protects love’s portal
and love’s rite,
or ruthlessly betrays men,
destroying them
in his flight.

So at Oechalie,
that girl, chaste—
a wild colt,
mateless, uncaught—
was betrayed by Kupris:
Heracles dragged her,
a bacchante, hell-loosed,
from her palace
to his ship:
there was flame and blood spilt
for the bride-chant,
for rapture, unhappiness.

O Thebes,
high-built and chaste,
O Dirke’s river-bank,
you can tell how Kupris strikes:
for with thunder-bolt,
alight at both points,
she slew the mother of Bacchus,
child of Zeus!
Ah evil wedlock! Ah fate!
she incites all to evil,
she flutters over all things,
like a bee in flight.

V

O for wings,
swift, a bird,
set of God
among the bird-flocks!
I would dart
from some Adriatic precipice,
across its wave-shallows and crests,
to Eradanus’ river-source;
to the place
where his daughters weep,
thrice-hurt for Phaeton’s sake,
tears of amber and gold which dart
their fire through the purple surface.

I would seek
the song-haunted Hesperides
and the apple-trees
set above the sand drift:
there the god
of the purple marsh
lets no ships pass;
he marks the sky-space
which Atlas keeps—
that holy place
where streams,
fragrant as honey,
pass to the couches spread
in the palace of Zeus:
there the earth-spirit,
source of bliss,
grants the gods happiness.

O ship
white-sailed of Crete,
you brought my mistress
from her quiet palace
through breaker and crash of surf
to love-rite of unhappiness!
Though the boat swept
toward great Athens,
though she was made fast
with ship-cable and ship-rope
at Munychia the sea-port,
though her men stood
on the main-land,
(whether unfriended by all alike
or only by the gods of Crete)
it was evil—the auspice.

On this account
my mistress,
most sick at heart,
is stricken of Kupris
with unchaste thought:
helpless and overwrought,
she would fasten
the rope-noose about the beam
above her bride-couch
and tie it to her white throat:
she would placate the daemon’s wrath,
still the love-fever in her breast,
and keep her spirit inviolate.

VI

No more, O my spirit,
are we flawless,
we have seen evil undreamt
I myself saw it:
the Greek, the most luminous,
the Athenian, the star-like,
banished through his father’s hate
to a country far distant.

O sand dunes and sand-stretches
of the Athenian coast,
O mountain-thickets
where you climbed,
following the wild beasts,
with hounds, delicate of feet,
bunting with the daemon, Artemis!

No more
will you mount your chariot,
yoked with horses of Enetas,
nor spur forward your steed
toward the stadium at Limnas,
and your chant, ever rapturous,
and the answering lyre-note,
shall cease in the king’s house:
far in the forest depth
in the glades where she loves to rest,
Latona’s child shall be crownless:
at your flight
the contest of the maidens will cease,
and their love-longing, comfortless.

And because of your fate,
I accept bitter hurt,
and weep:
ai, ai, poor mother,
your birth-pangs were fruitless:
I am wroth with these spirits:
alas, Karites, never-separate,
why, why have you sent him forth,
the unfortunate, blameless,
from his palace,
from his own gates?

VII

         Men you strike
         and the gods’
         dauntless spirits alike,
         and Eros helps you, O Kupris,
         with wings’ swift
         interplay of light:
         now he flies above earth,
         now above sea-crash
         and whirl of salt:
         he enchants beasts
         who dwell in the hills
         and shoals in the sea-depth:
         he darts gold wings
         maddening their spirits:
         he charms all born of earth,
         (all whom Helios visits,
         fiery with light)
         and men’s hearts:
         you alone, Kupris,
         creator of all life,
         reign absolute.

* * *

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