Thursday, 28 May 2015

Phaedra, Act V Scene 6 (lines 11-83) - Jean Racine

Scarcely had we emerged from Troezen’s gate:
He drove his chariot, and his soldiery
Were ranged about him, mute and grave as he.
Brooding, he headed toward Mycenae. Lax
In his hands, the reins lay on his horses' backs.
His haughty chargers, quick once to obey
His voice, and give their noble spirits play,
Now, with hung head and mournful eye, seemed part
Of the sad thoughts that filled their master's heart.
Out of the sea-cleeps then a frightful cry
Arose, to tear the quiet of the sky,
And a dread voice from far beneath the ground
Replies in groans to that appalling sound.
Our hearts congeal; blood freezes in our veins.
The horses, hearing, bristle up their manes.
And now there rises from the sea’s calm breast
A liquid mountain with a seething crest.
The wave approaches, breaks, and spews before
Our eyes a raging monster on the shore.
His huge brow’s armed with horns; the spray unveils
A body covered all with yellow scales;
Half bull he is, half dragon; fiery, bold;
His thrashing tail contorts in fold on fold.
With echoing bellows now he shakes the strand.
The sky, aghast, beholds him; he makes the land
Shudder; his foul breath chokes the atmosphere;
The wave which brought him in recoils in fear.
All flee, and in a nearby temple save
Their lives, since it is hopeless to be brave.
Hippolytus alone dares make a stand.
He checks his chargers, javelins in hand,
Has at the monster and, with a sure-aimed throw,
Pierces his flank: a great wound starts to flow.
In rage and pain the beast makes one dread spring,
Falls near the horses’ feet, still bellowing,
Rolls over toward them, with fiery throat takes aim
And covers them with smoke and blood and flame.
Sheer panic takes them; deaf now, they pay no heed
To voice or curb, but bolt in full stampede;
Their master strives to hold them back, in vain.
A bloody slaver drips from bit and rein.
lt’s said that, in that tumult, some caught sight
Of a God who spurred those dusty flanks to flight.
Fear drives them over rocks; the axletree
Screeches and breaks. The intrepid Prince must see
His chariot dashed to bits, for all his pains;
He falls at last, entangled in the reins.
Forgive my grief. That cruel sight will be
An everlasting source of tears for me.
l’ve seen, my lord, the heroic son you bred
Dragged by the horses which his hand had fed.
His shouts to them but make their fear more strong.
His body seems but one great wound, ere long.
The plain re-echoes to our cries of woe.
At last, their headlong furystarts to slow:
Joseph-Desire Court,
The Death of Hippolytus, 1825
They stop, then, near that graveyard which contains,
In royal tombs, his forebears’ cold remains.
I run to him in tears; his guards are led
By the bright trail of noble blood he shed;
The rocks are red with it; the briars bear
Their red and dripping trophies of his hair.
I reach him; speak his name; his hand seeks mine;
His eyelids lift a moment, then decline.
“Heaven takes,” he says, “my innocent life away.
Protect my sad Aricia, I pray.
If ever, friend, my sire is disabused,
And mourns his son who falsely was accused,
Bid him appease my blood and plaintive shade
By dealing gently with that captive maid.
Let him restore...” His voice then died away,
And in my arms a mangled body lay
Which the God's wrath had claimed, a sorry prize
Which even his father would not recognize.

Jean Racine (1639 - 1699), France
Translated by Richard Wilbur

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