Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, OEDIPUS AT COLONUS: THE PASSING OF OEDIPUS, by SOPHOCLES



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OEDIPUS AT COLONUS: THE PASSING OF OEDIPUS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: How he departed hence, you who stood by
Last Line: I ask no grace of those who think them so.
Subject(s): Death; Oedipus; Dead, The


HOW he departed hence, you who stood by
Know well; he had no friend to guide his steps
But was himself the guide to all of us.
And when to that steep threshold he had come,
Rooted by brass foundations to the earth,
He stood in one of the dividing ways,
Near to the hollow urn, where deathless lie
The pledges Theseus and Pirithous made.
He stopped midway between the hollow pear-tree
And the Thorician rock. On that stone tomb
He sat and took his stained apparel off;
Then called he to his children, bade them bring
Libation water from the running brook;
To green Demeter's overlooking hill
They went and in short space of time did all
Their father's bidding, washed his body clean
And gave him raiment as the rite demands.
But when he was content with all things done
And nought was undone that he wanted, then
Zeus thundered underground, and, when they heard,
The maidens shuddered. At their father's knees
They fell and wept, nor ceased to beat their breasts
Nor stopped their long and lamentable cries.
But when he heard the sudden bitter voice,
He spread his hands above them, saying: 'Children,
You have no more a father in this world;
For all my life is ended, and no more
Shall you have trouble looking after me:
'Twas hard, I know, my children, but one word
Alone redeems our sum of sufferings.
From no man living have you had such love
As you have had from me; deprived of me
Shall you now pass all your remaining days.'
Together folded in each other's arms
They mingled sobs and sighing. When the end
Came to their weeping and no more cries came,
There was a silence. Suddenly a voice
Called summoning him, and straightway all in fear
Were shaken and their hair stood up on end.
The god was calling him and called again:
'OEdipus, OEdipus, why dost delay
To go? Too long hast thou been lingering.'
And when he saw that the god summoned him,
He called to Theseus, ruler of the land,
And when he came, addressed him: 'O my friend,
Give to my children -- children, give to him --
Your hands in faithful oath, and promise me
That you will never willingly betray them,
But do your best in kindness for their sakes.'
And he, the noble Theseus, not with tears
Consented upon oath to help his friend.
And when he did this, straightway OEdipus
Feeling with sightless hands his children, said:
'Now must you go, my children, patiently
Enduring it and nobly, nor perceive
What it is wrong to see, nor hear the voices.
Go with all speed from here, but let the king,
Theseus, remain to see what comes to pass.'
Obediently we listened to his words
Together, and, not holding back our tears,
Accompanied the maidens. On our way
We turned a little later, and we saw
OEdipus nowhere in that neighbourhood,
And Theseus with his hand above his head
Shading his eyes, as if some awful thing
Had happened that no eyes could look upon.
We saw him do obeisance to the earth
And to Olympus in a single prayer.
What fate took OEdipus no living soul
On earth, save only Theseus, can declare.
No fiery-flashing thunderbolt of God
Encompassed his destruction, and no wind
Came whirling from the ocean in that hour,
But either the gods took him, or the earth
In good will opened up its lightless caves.
For with no lamentations was his passing,
Nor sad with painful sickness, but most like
A miracle. And if my words seem mad,
I ask no grace of those who think them so.





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