Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Confession of Phædra
By Jean Racine (1639–1699)
From ‘Phèdre’: Translation of Robert Bruce Boswell

Scene: The palace at Trœzen, in the Peloponnesus.  Present: Phædra, Hippolytus, Œnone.

PHÆDRA  [to Œnone]—            There I see him!
My blood forgets to flow, my tongue to speak
What I am come to say.
  Œnone—                        Think of your son,
How all his hopes depend on you.
  Phædra—                                I hear
You leave us and in haste. I come to add        5
My tears to your distress, and for a son
Plead my alarm. No more has he a father,
And at no distant day my son must witness
My death. Already do a thousand foes
Threaten his youth. You only can defend him.        10
But in my secret heart remorse awakes,
And fear lest I have shut your ears against
His cries. I tremble lest your righteous anger
Visit on him ere long the hatred earned
By me, his mother.
  Hippolytus—                    No such base resentment,
Madam, is mine.
  Phædra—                I could not blame you, prince,
If you should hate me. I have injured you:
So much you know, but could not read my heart.
T’ incur your enmity has been mine aim:
The selfsame borders could not hold us both;        20
In public and in private I declared
Myself your foe, and found no peace till seas
Parted us from each other. I forbade
Your very name to be pronounced before me.
And yet if punishment should be proportioned        25
To the offense, if only hatred draws
Your hatred, never woman merited
More pity, less deserved your enmity.
  Hippolytus—A mother jealous of her children’s rights
Seldom forgives the offspring of a wife        30
Who reigned before her. Harassing suspicions
Are common sequels of a second marriage.
Of me would any other have been jealous
No less than you, perhaps more violent.
  Phædra—Ah, prince, how Heaven has from the general law        35
Made me exempt, be that same Heaven witness!
Far different is the trouble that devours me!
  Hippolytus—This is no time for self-reproaches, madam.
It may be that your husband still beholds
The light, and Heaven may grant him safe return,        40
In answer to our prayers. His guardian god
Is Neptune, ne’er by him invoked in vain.
  Phædra—He who has seen the mansions of the dead
Returns not thence. Since to those gloomy shores
Theseus is gone, ’tis vain to hope that Heaven        45
May send him back. Prince, there is no release
From Acheron’s greedy maw. And yet, methinks,
He lives and breathes in you. I see him still
Before me, and to him I seem to speak;
My heart—
            Oh, I am mad! Do what I will,
I cannot hide my passion.
  Hippolytus—                    Yes, I see
The strange effects of love. Theseus, though dead,
Seems present to your eyes, for in your soul
There burns a constant flame.
  Phædra—                        Ah, yes, for Theseus
I languish and I long; not as the Shades        55
Have seen him, of a thousand different forms
The fickle lover, and of Pluto’s bride
The would-be ravisher, but faithful, proud
E’en to a slight disdain, with youthful charms
Attracting every heart, as gods are painted,        60
Or like yourself. He had your mien, your eyes,
Spoke and could blush like you, when to the isle
Of Crete, my childhood’s home, he crossed the waves,
Worthy to win the love of Minos’s daughters.
What were you doing then? Why did he gather        65
The flower of Greece, and leave Hippolytus?
Oh, why were you too young to have embarked
On board the ship that brought thy sire to Crete?
At your hands would the monster then have perished,
Despite the windings of his vast retreat.        70
To guide your doubtful steps within the maze
My sister would have armed you with the clue.
But no, therein would Phædra have forestalled her.
Love would have first inspired me with the thought
And I it would have been whose timely aid        75
Had taught you all the labyrinth’s crooked ways.
What anxious care a life so dear had cost me!
No thread had satisfied your lover’s fears:
I would myself have wished to lead the way,
And share the peril you were bound to face;        80
Phædra with you would have explored the maze,
With you emerged in safety or have perished.
  Hippolytus—Gods! What is this I hear? Have you forgotten
That Theseus is my father and your husband?
  Phædra—Why should you fancy I have lost remembrance        85
Thereof, and am regardless of mine honor?
  Hippolytus—Forgive me, madam. With a blush I own
That I misconstrued words of innocence.
For very shame I cannot bear your sight
Longer. I go—
  Phædra—                Ah! cruel prince, too well
You understood me. I have said enough
To save you from mistake. I love. But think not
That at the moment when I love you most
I do not feel my guilt; no weak compliance
Has fed the poison that infects my brain.        95
The ill-starred object of celestial vengeance,
I am not so detestable to you
As to myself. The gods will bear me witness,
Who have within my veins kindled this fire;
The gods, who take a barbarous delight        100
In leading a poor mortal’s heart astray.
Do you yourself recall to mind the past:
’Twas not enough for me to fly,—I chased you
Out of the country, wishing to appear
Inhuman, odious; to resist you better,        105
I sought to make you hate me. All in vain!
Hating me more, I loved you none the less:
New charms were lent to you by your misfortunes.
I have been drowned in tears, and scorched by fire;
Your own eyes might convince you of the truth,        110
If for one moment you could look at me.
What is’t I say? Think you this vile confession
That I have made is what I meant to utter?
Not daring to betray a son for whom
I trembled, ’twas to beg you not to hate him        115
I came. Weak purpose of a heart too full
Of love for you to speak of aught besides!
Take your revenge, punish my odious passion;
Prove yourself worthy of your valiant sire,
And rid the world of an offensive monster!        120
Does Theseus’s widow dare to love his son?
The frightful monster! Let her not escape you!
Here is my heart. This is the place to strike.
Already prompt to expiate its guilt,
I feel it leap impatiently to meet        125
Your arm. Strike home. Or if it would disgrace you
To steep your hand in such polluted blood,
If that were punishment too mild to slake
Your hatred, lend me then your sword, if not
Your arm. Quick, give ’t.
  Œnone—                        What, madam, will you do?
Just gods! But some one comes. Go, fly from shame;
You cannot ’scape if seen by any thus.
Enter Theramenes
  Theramenes—Is that the form of Phædra that I see
Hurried away? What mean these signs of sorrow?
Where is your sword? Why are you pale, confused?        135
  Hippolytus—Friend, let us fly. I am, indeed, confounded
With horror and astonishment extreme.
Phædra—but no; gods, let this dreadful secret
Remain forever buried in oblivion.

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