Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, MEDEA (A FRAGMENT IN DRAMA FORM, AFTER EURIPIDES), by AMY LEVY

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MEDEA (A FRAGMENT IN DRAMA FORM, AFTER EURIPIDES), by             Poet's Biography
First Line: To-day, to-day, I know why it is
Last Line: Into the deep, dense heart of the night -- alone.
Subject(s): Euripides (484-406 B.c.)



Citizens of Corinth.


Scene : Before Medea's House.

[Enter Medea.]

TO-DAY, to-day, I know not why it is,
I do bethink me of my Colchian home.
To-day, that I am lone and weary and sad,
I fain would call back days of pride and hope ;
Of pride in strength, when strength was all unprov'd,
Of hope too high, too sweet, to be confined
In limits of conception.

I am sad
Here in this gracious city, whose white walls
Gleam snow-like in the sunlight ; whose fair shrines
Are filled with wondrous images of gods ;
Upon whose harbour's bosom ride tall ships,
Black-masted, fraught with fragrant merchandise ;
Whose straight-limbed people, in fair stuffs arrayed,
Do throng from morn till eve the sunny streets.
For what avail fair shrines and images ?
What, cunning workmanship and purple robes ?
Light of sweet sunlight, play and spray of waves ?
When all around the air is charged and chill,
And all the place is drear and dark with hate ?
Alas, alas, this people loves me not !
This strong, fair people, marble-cold and smooth
As modelled marble. I, an alien here,
That well can speak the language of their lips,
The language of their souls may never learn.
And in their hands, I, that did know myself
Ere now, a creature in whose veins ran blood
Redder, more rapid, than flows round most hearts,
Do seem a creature reft of life and soul.
If they would only teach the subtle trick
By which their hearts are melted into love,
I'd strive to learn it. I am very meek.
They think me proud, but I am very meek,
Ready to do their bidding. Hear me, friends !
Friends, I am very hungry, give me love !
'Tis all I ask ! is it so hard to give ?
You stand and front me with your hostile eyes ;
You only give me hatred ?
Yet I know
Ye are not all unloving. Oft I see
The men and women walking in the ways,
Hand within hand, and tender-bated breath,
On summer evenings when the sky is fair.
O men and women, are ye then so hard ?
Will ye not give a little of your love
To me that am so hungry ?

Enter AEgeus and Nikias, on the opposite side. Medea steps back on the
threshold and pauses.]

Ha, that word !
'Tis Jason's name they bandy to and fro.
I know not why, whene'er his name is spoke,
Once name of joy and ever name of love,
I wax white and do tremble ; sudden seized
With shadowy apprehension. May't forbode
No evil unto him I hold so dear ;
And ever dearer with the waxing years : --
For this indeed is woman's chiefest curse,
That still her constant heart clings to its love
Through all time and all chances ; while the man
Is caught with newness ; coldly calculates,
And measures pain and pleasure, loss and gain ;
And ever grows to look with the world's eye
Upon a woman, tho' his, body and soul. [She goes within.]

[The two citizens come forward.]

I, in this thing, do hold our Jason wise ;
Kreon is mighty ; Glauke very fair.

An 'twere for that -- the Colchian's fair enough.

I like not your swart skins and purple hair ;
Your black, fierce eyes where the brows meet across.
By all the gods ! when yonder Colchian
Fixes me with her strange and sudden gaze,
Each hair upon my body stands erect !
Zeus, 'tis a very tiger, and as mute !

'Tis certain that the woman's something strange.

Gods, spare me your strange women, so say I.
Give me gold hair, lithe limbs and gracious smiles,
And spare the strangeness.

I do marvel much
How she will bear the tidings.

Lo, behold !
Here comes our Jason striding 'thwart the streets.
Gods ! what a gracious presence !

I perceive
The Colchian on the threshold. By her looks,
Our idle talk has reached her listening ears.

[Enter Jason. Medea reappears on the threshold.]

Let's draw aside and mark them ; lo, they meet.

[The two citizens withdraw, unperceived, to a further corner of the

'Tis false, 'tis false. O Jason, they speak false !

Your looks are wild, Medea ; you bring shame
Upon this house, that stand with hair unbound
Beyond the threshold. Get you in the house.

But not till you have answered me this thing.

What is this thing that you would know of me ?

O I have heard strange rumours -- horrible !

Oft lies the horror of a tale in the ear
Of him that hears it. What is 't you have heard ?

Almost, for fear, I dare not give it tongue.
But tell me this ? Love, you have not forgot
The long years passed in this Corinthian home ?
The great love I have borne you through the years ?
Nor that far time when, in your mighty craft,
You came, a stranger, to the Colchian shore ?
O strong you were ; but not of such a strength
To have escaped the doom of horrid death,
Had not I, counting neither loss nor gain,
Shown you the way to triumph and renown.

And better had I then, a thousand times,
Have fought with my good sword and fall'n or stood
As the high Fates directed ; than been caught
In the close meshes of the magic web
Wrought by your hand, dark-thoughted sorceress.

Did you mark that ? Jason speaks low and smooth ;
Yet there is that within his level tones,
And in the icy drooping of his lids
(More than his words, tho' they are harsh enough),
Tells me he hates her.

Hush ! Medea speaks.

O gods, gods ; ye have cursed me in this gift !
Is it for this, for this that I have striven ?
Have wrestled in the darkness ? wept my tears ?
Have fought with sweet desires and hopes and thoughts ?
Have watched when men were sleeping ? for long days
Have shunned the sunlight and the breaths of Heaven ?
Is it for this, for this that I have prayed
Long prayers, poured out with blood and cries and tears ?
Lo, I who strove for strength have grown more weak
Than is the weakest. I have poured the sap
Of all my being, my life's very life,
Before a thankless godhead ; and am grown
No woman, but a monster. What avail
Charms, spells and potions, all my hard-won arts,
My mystic workings, seeing they cannot win
One little common spark of human love ?
O gods, gods, ye have cursed me in this gift !
More should ye have withheld or more have giv'n ;
Have fashioned me more weak or else more strong.
Behold me now, your work, a thing of fear --
From natural human fellowship cut off,
And yet a woman -- sick and sore with pain ;
Hungry for love and music of men's praise,
But walled about as with a mighty wall,
Far from men's reach and sight, alone, alone.

Behold her, how she waves about her arms
And casts her eyes to Heaven.

Ay, 'tis strange --
Not as our women do, yet scarce unmeet.

Unmeet, unmeet ? But Jason holds it so !
Mark you his white cheeks and his knitted brows,
What wrath and hate and scorn upon his face !

Hear me, Medea, if you still can hear
That seem so strangely lifted from yourself :
But I, that know you long, do know you well,
A thing of moods and passions ; so I bear
Once more with your wild words and savage gests,
Ay, and for all your fury speak you fair.
You say you love me. Can I deem it so,
When what does most advantage me and mine
You shrink to hear of ? For I make no doubt,
Fleet-footed rumour did anticipate
The tidings I was hastening to bear,
When you, wide-eyed, unveiled, unfilleted,
Rushed out upon me.
Know then this once more :
That I have sworn to take as wedded wife
Glauke, the daughter of our mighty king,
In this, in nowise hurting you and yours.
For you all fair provisions I have made,
So but you get beyond the city walls
Before the night comes on. Our little ones --
They too shall journey with you. I have said.
And had I found you in a mood more mild,
Less swayed by savage passion, I had told
How this thing, which mayhap seems a thing hard,
Is but a blessing, wrapped and cloaked about
In harsh disguisements. For tho' Kreon rule
To-day within the city ; Kreon dead,
Who else shall rule there saving I alone,
The king's son loved of him and other men ?
And in those days Medea's sons and mine
Shall stand at my right hand, grown great in power.
Medea, too, if she do but control
Her fiery spirit, may yet reign a queen
Above this land of Corinth. I have said.

Well said.

But none the better that 'twas false.

I'd sooner speak, for my part, fair than true.
Mark Jason there ; how firm his lithe, straight limbs ;
How high his gold-curled head, crisped like a girl's.
And yet for all his curled locks and smooth tones
Jason is very strong. I never knew
A man of such a strange and subtle strength.

The Colchian speaks no word ; and her swart hands,
Which waved, a moment since, and beat the air
In mad entreaty, are together clasped
Before her white robe in an iron clasp.
And her wild eyes, which erst did seek the heav'ns,
And now her lord and now again the earth,
Are set on space and move not. The tall shape
Stands there erect and still. This calm, I think,
Is filled with strangest portent.

O ye gods,
She is a pregnant horror as she stands.

She speaks ; her voice sounds as a sound far off.

As you have said, O Jason, let it be.
I for my part am nothing loth to break
A compact never in fair justice framed,
Seeing how much one gave and one how much.
For you, you thought : This maid has served me well,
And yet may serve me. When I touch her palm
The blood is set a-tingle in my veins ;
For these things I will make her body mine.
And I, I stood before you, clean and straight,
A woman some deemed fair and all deemed wise ;
A woman, yet no simple thing nor slight,
By nature fashioned in no niggard mould ;
And looked into your eyes with eyes that spake :
Lo, utterly, for ever, I am yours.
And since that you, this gift I lavish laid
Low at your feet, have lightly held and spurned --
I in my two arms, thus, shall gather it up
So that your feet may not encounter it
Which is not worthy for your feet to tread !
Yet pause a moment, Jason. Haply now
In some such wise as this your thoughts run on :
I loved this woman for a little space ;
Alas, poor soul, she loved me but too well --
It is the way with women ! Some, I think,
Did deem her fierce ; gods ! she was meek enough,
Content with what I gave ; when I gave not
Nothing importunate.
Ah, Jason, pause.
You never knew Medea. You forget,
Because so long she bends the knee to you,
She was not born to serfdom.
I have knelt
Too long before you. I have stood too long
Suppliant before this people. You forget
A redder stream flows in my Colchian veins
Than the slow flood which courses round your hearts,
O cold Corinthians, with whom I long have dwelt
And never ere this day have known myself.
Nor have ye known me. Now behold me free,
Ungyved by any chains of this man wrought ;
Nothing desiring at your hands nor his.
Free, freer than the air or winged birds ;
Strong, stronger than the blast of wintry storms ;
And lifted up into an awful realm
Where is nor love, nor pity, nor remorse,
Nor dread, but only purpose.
There shall be
A horror and a horror in this land ;
Woe upon woe, red blood and biting flame ;
Most horrid death and anguish worse than death ;
Deeds that shall make the shores of Hades sound
With murmured terror ; with an awful dread
Shall move the generations yet unborn ;
A horror and a horror in the land.

Shrew, triple-linked with Hell, get you within.
Shame not my house ! 'Tis your own harm you work.

[Medea goes within. Jason moves off slowly. AEgeus and Nikias go off
conferring in whispers.]

Scene II

[Time -- After an interval ; the evening of the same day. Scene -- A
street. A crowd of people running to and fro.]

O horror, horror, have ye heard the tale ?

Alas, a bloody rumour reached mine ears
Of awful purport : that the king lies dead --

And by his side, his daughter ; both caught up
In sudden toils of torment. With his grief
Jason is all distraught ; behold her deed,
The swift and subtle tigress !

Woe ! Alas !
Woe for the state, woe for our Kreon slain,
For hapless Glauke, for our Jason, woe !
But three times woe for her that did the deed --
Her womanhood sham'd ; her children basely wrong'd.

Hold back our pity till the tale be told,
For never was there horror like to this.
Ere now in Corinth, haply, you have heard
How she did use for her crime's instruments
The tender boys sprung from great Jason's loins ;
Bidding them bear the garments wrought in Hell
As bridal gifts to grace the marriage morn
Of gold-hair'd Glauke. Serpent ! Sorceress !

Alas, consider ; so the tigress springs
When that her cubs are menaced. 'Twas her love
That wrought the deed -- evil, yet wrought for love.

Spare me such love. I never yet could deem,
Ev'n ere the horror, that Medea held
The love of human mothers in her breast.
For I have seen her, when her children played
Their innocent, aimless sports about her knees,
Or held her gown across the market-place,
Move all unheeding with her swart brows knit
And fierce eyes fixed ; not, as is mothers' wont,
Eager to note the winning infant ways,
A-strain to catch the babbling treble tones
Of soft lips clamouring for a kiss or smile.
And once I marked her ('twas a summer's morn)
Turn suddenly and, stooping, catch and strain
One tender infant to her breast. She held
Her lips to his and looked into his eyes,
Not gladly, as a mother with her child,
But stirred by some strange passion ; then the boy
Cried out with terror, and Medea wept.

Your tale is strange.

Stranger is yet to come.
How that the Colchian did send forth her sons,
Innocent doers of most deadly deed,
Has reached your knowledge. When the deed was done,
And the dead king lay stretched upon the floor
Clutching his daughter in a last embrace,
Arose great clamour in the palace halls ;
Wailing and cries of terror ; women's screams ;
A rush of flying feet from hall to hall ;
The clanging fall of brazen instruments
Upon the marble.
The two tender boys,
Half apprehending what thing had befallen,
Fled forth unmarked, and all affrighted reached
The house of Jason, where Medea stood
Erect upon the threshold. From afar
Sounded and surged the fiercely frighted roar
Of the roused city, and, like waves of the sea,
Grew nearer ev'ry beating of the pulse.
Forth from the inmost chambers fled the slaves,
Made fleet with sudden fear ; the little ones
With arms outspread rushed to the Colchian,
And clung about her limbs and caught her robe,
Hiding their faces.
And Medea stood
Calm as a carven image. As the sound
Of wrath and lamentation drew more near,
The pale lips seemed to smile. But when she saw
Her children clinging round her, she stretched forth
One strong, swart hand and put the twain away,
And gathered up the trailing of her robe.
I saw the deed, I, Nikias, with these eyes !
Then spake she (Zeus ! grant that I may not hear
Such tones once more from human lips !). She spake :
"I will not have ye, for I love ye not !"
Then all her face grew alien. Those around
Stood still, not knowing what she planned.
Then she
Forth from her gathered garment swiftly drew
A thing that gleamed and glinted ; in the air
She held it poised an instant ; then -- O gods !
How shall I speak it ? -- on the marble floor
Was blood that streamed and spurted ; blood that flow'd
From two slain, innocent babes !

O woful day !

Then brake a cry from all about : a wail
Of lamentation. But above the sound
A fierce long shriek, that froze the blood i' the veins,
Rang out and rose, cleaving the topmost cloud.

O evil deed ! O essence of all evil
Stealing the shape of woman !

After that
All is confusion ; from all sides surged up
The people, cursing, weeping. 'Thwart the din
Each other moment the strained ear might catch
Medea's name, or Jason's, or the King's ;
And women wailed out "Glauke" through their tears.
Then sudden came a pause ; the angry roar
Died down into a murmur ; and the throng
Grew still, and rolled aside like a clov'n sea.
And Jason strode between them till he reached
His own home's threshold where the twain lay dead,
Long gazed he on their faces ; then he turned
To the hush'd people ; turned to them and spake :
(His face was whiter than the dead's, his eyes
Like to a creature's that has looked on Hell)
"Where is the woman ?" Lo, and when they sought
Medea, no eye beheld her. And no man
Had looked upon her since that moment's space
When steel had flashed and blood foamed in the air.
Then Jason stood erect and spake again :
"Let no man seek this woman ; blood enough
Has stained our city. Let the furies rend
Her guilty soul ; nor we pollute our hands
With her accursed body . . ."

Cease, my friend ;
It is enough. You judged this thing aright ;
This woman was dark and evil in her soul ;
Black to her fiend-heart's root ; a festering plague
In our fair city's midst.

Spake I not true?

[Night ; outside the city. Medea leaning against a rock.]

Here let me rest ; beyond men's eyes, beyond
The city's hissing hate. Why am I here ?
Why have I fled from death ? There's sun on the earth,
And in the shades no sun ; -- thus much I know ;
And sunlight's good.
Wake I, or do I sleep ?
I'm weary, weary ; once I dream'd a dream
Of one that strove and wept and yearned for love
In a fair city. She was blind indeed.
They say the woman had a fiend at heart,
And afterwards -- Hush, hush, I dream'd a dream.
How cold the air blows ; how the night grows dark,
Wrapping me round in blackness. Darker too
Grows the deep night within. I cannot see ;
I grope with weary hands ; my hands are sore
With fruitless striving. I have fought with the Fates
And I am vanquished utterly. The Fates
Yield not to strife; nay, nor to many prayers.
Their ways are dark.
One climbs the tree and grasps
A handful of dead leaves ; another walks,
Heedless, beneath the branches, and the fruit
Falls mellow at his feet.
This is the end :
I have dash'd my heart against a rock ; the blood
Is drain'd and flows no more ; and all my breast
Is emptied of its tears.
Thus go I forth
Into the deep, dense heart of the night -- alone.

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