Alcestis (Murray)/Alcestis

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Characters of the Play[edit]


The play was first performed when Glaukînos was Archon, in the 2nd year of the 85th Olympiad (438 B.C.). Sophocles was first, Euripides second with the Cretan Women, Alcmaeon in Psophis, Telephus and Alcestis.... The play is somewhat Satyric in character.

Alcestis[edit]

The scene represents the ancient Castle of Admetus near Pherae in Thessaly. It is the dusk before dawn; Apollo, radiant in the darkness, looks at the Castle.

Apollo:
Admetus' House! 'Twas here I bowed my head
Of old, and chafed not at the bondman's bread,
Though born in heaven. Aye, Zeus to death had hurled
My son, Asclepios, Healer of the World,
Piercing with fire his heart; and in mine ire
I slew his Cyclop churls, who forged the fire.
Whereat Zeus cast me forth to bear the yoke
Of service to a mortal. To this folk
I came, and watched a stranger's herd for pay,
And all his house I have prospered to this day.
For innocent was the Lord I chanced upon
And clean as mine own heart, King Pheres' son,
Admetus. Him I rescued from the grave,
Beguiling the Grey Sisters till they gave
A great oath that Admetus should go free,
Would he but pay to Them Below in fee
Another living soul. Long did he prove
All that were his, and all that owed him love,
But never a soul he found would yield up life
And leave the sunlight for him, save his wife:
Who, even now, down the long galleries
Is borne, death-wounded; for this day it is
She needs must pass out of the light and die.
And, seeing the stain of death must not come nigh
My radiance, I must leave this house I love.
But ha! The Headsman of the Pit, above
Earth's floor, to ravish her! Aye, long and late
He hath watched, and cometh at the fall of fate.

Enter from the other side Thanatos; a crouching black-haired and winged figure, carrying a drawn sword. He starts in revulsion on seeing Apollo.

Thanatos:
Aha!
Why here? What mak'st thou at the gate,
Thou Thing of Light? Wilt overtread
The eternal judgment, and abate
And spoil the portions of the dead?
'Tis not enough for thee to have blocked
In other days Admetus' doom
With craft of magic wine, which mocked
The three grey Sisters of the Tomb;
But now once more
I see thee stand at watch, and shake
That arrow-armèd hand to make
This woman thine, who swore, who swore,
To die now for her husband's sake.

Apollo:
Fear not.
I bring fair words and seek but what is just.

Thanatos, sneering
And if words help thee not, an arrow must?

Apollo:
'Tis ever my delight to bear this bow.

Thanatos:
And aid this house unjustly? Aye, 'tis so.

Apollo:
I love this man, and grieve for his dismay.

Thanatos:
And now wilt rob me of my second prey!

Apollo:
I never robbed thee, neither then nor now.

Thanatos:
Why is Admetus here then, not below?

Apollo:
He gave for ransom his own wife, for whom ...

Thanatos, interrupting.
I am come; and straight will bear her to the tomb.

Apollo:
Go, take her.--I can never move thine heart.

Thanatos, mocking.
To slay the doomed?--Nay; I will do my part.

Apollo:
No. To keep death for them that linger late.

Thanatos, still mocking.
'Twould please thee, so?... I owe thee homage great.

Apollo:
Ah, then she may yet ... she may yet grow old?

Thanatos, with a laugh.
No!... I too have my rights, and them I hold.

Apollo:
'Tis but one life thou gainest either-wise.

Thanatos:
When young souls die, the richer is my prize.

Apollo:
Old, with great riches they will bury her.

Thanatos:
Fie on thee, fie! Thou rich-man's lawgiver!

Apollo:
How? Is there wit in Death, who seemed so blind?

Thanatos:
The rich would buy long life for all their kind.

Apollo:
Thou will not grant me, then, this boon? 'Tis so?

Thanatos:
Thou knowest me, what I am: I tell thee, no!

Apollo:
I know gods sicken at thee and men pine.

Thanatos:
Begone! Too many things not meant for thine
Thy greed hath conquered; but not all, not all!

Apollo:
I swear, for all thy bitter pride, a fall
Awaits thee. One even now comes conquering
Towards this house, sent by a southland king
To fetch him four wild coursers, of the race
Which rend men's bodies in the winds of Thrace.
This house shall give him welcome good, and he
Shall wrest this woman from thy worms and thee.
So thou shalt give me all, and thereby win
But hatred, not the grace that might have been.

Exit Apollo.

Thanatos:
Talk on, talk on! Thy threats shall win no bride
From me.--This woman, whatsoe'er betide,
Shall lie in Hades' house. Even at the word
I go to lay upon her hair my sword.
For all whose head this grey sword visiteth
To death are hallowed and the Lords of death.

Thanatos goes into the house. Presently, as the day grows lighter, the Chorus enters: it consists of Citizens of Pherae, who speak severally.

Chorus:

Leader:
Quiet, quiet, above, beneath!

Second Elder:
The house of Admetus holds its breath.

Third Elder:
And never a King's friend near,
To tell us either of tears to shed
For Pelias' daughter, crowned and dead;
Or joy, that her eyes are clear.
Bravest, truest of wives is she
That I have seen or the world shall see.

Divers Citizens, conversing.
The dash -- indicates a new speaker.

--Hear ye no sob, or noise of hands
Beating the breast? No mourners' cries
For one they cannot save?
--Nothing: and at the door there stands
No handmaid.--Help, O Paian; rise,
O star beyond the wave!

--Dead, and this quiet? No, it cannot be.
--Dead, dead!--Not gone to burial secretly!

--Why? I still fear: what makes your speech so brave?
--Admetus cast that dear wife to the grave
Alone, with none to see?

--I see no bowl of clear spring water.
It ever stands before the dread
Door where a dead man rests.
--No lock of shorn hair! Every daughter
Of woman shears it for the dead.
No sound of bruisèd breasts!

--Yet 'tis this very day ...--This very day?
--The Queen should pass and lie beneath the clay.
--It hurts my life, my heart!--All honest hearts
Must sorrow for a brightness that departs,
A good life worn away.

Leader:
To wander o'er leagues of land,
To search over wastes of sea,
Where the Prophets of Lycia stand,
Or where Ammon's daughters three
Make runes in the rainless sand,
For magic to make her free--
Ah, vain! for the end is here;
Sudden it comes and sheer.
What lamb on the altar-strand
Stricken shall comfort me?

Second Elder:
Only, only one, I know:
Apollo's son was he,
Who healed men long ago.
Were he but on earth to see,
She would rise from the dark below
And the gates of eternity.
For men whom the Gods had slain
He pitied and raised again;
Till God's fire laid him low,
And now, what help have we?

Others:
All's done that can be. Every vow
Full paid; and every altar's brow
Full crowned with spice of sacrifice.
No help remains nor respite now.

Enter from the Castle a Handmaid, almost in tears.

Leader:
But see, a handmaid cometh, and the tear
Wet on her cheek! What tiding shall we hear?...
Thy grief is natural, daughter, if some ill
Hath fallen to-day. Say, is she living still
Or dead, your mistress? Speak, if speak you may.

Maid:
Alive. No, dead.... Oh, read it either way.

Leader:
Nay, daughter, can the same soul live and die?

Maid:
Her life is broken; death is in her eye.

Leader:
Poor King, to think what she was, and what thou!

Maid:
He never knew her worth.... He will know it now.

Leader:
There is no hope, methinks, to save her still?

Maid:
The hour is come, and breaks all human will.

Leader:
She hath such tendance as the dying crave?

Maid:
For sure: and rich robes ready for her grave.

Leader:
'Fore God, she dies high-hearted, aye, and far
In honour raised above all wives that are!

Maid:
Far above all! How other? What must she,
Who seeketh to surpass this woman, be?
Or how could any wife more shining make
Her lord's love, than by dying for his sake?
But thus much all the city knows. 'Tis here,
In her own rooms, the tale will touch thine ear
With strangeness. When she knew the day was come,
She rose and washed her body, white as foam,
With running water; then the cedarn press
She opened, and took forth her funeral dress
And rich adornment. So she stood arrayed
Before the Hearth-Fire of her home, and prayed:
"Mother, since I must vanish from the day,
This last, last time I kneel to thee and pray;
Be mother to my two children! Find some dear
Helpmate for him, some gentle lord for her.
And let not them, like me, before their hour
Die; let them live in happiness, in our
Old home, till life be full and age content."
To every household altar then she went
And made for each his garland of the green
Boughs of the wind-blown myrtle, and was seen
Praying, without a sob, without a tear.
She knew the dread thing coming, but her clear
Cheek never changed: till suddenly she fled
Back to her own chamber and bridal bed:
Then came the tears and she spoke all her thought.
"O bed, whereon my laughing girlhood's knot
Was severed by this man, for whom I die,
Farewell! 'Tis thou ... I speak not bitterly....
'Tis thou hast slain me. All alone I go
Lest I be false to him or thee. And lo,
Some woman shall lie here instead of me--
Happier perhaps; more true she cannot be."
She kissed the pillow as she knelt, and wet
With flooding tears was that fair coverlet.
At last she had had her fill of weeping; then
She tore herself away, and rose again,
Walking with downcast eyes; yet turned before
She had left the room, and cast her down once more
Kneeling beside the bed. Then to her side
The children came, and clung to her and cried,
And her arms hugged them, and a long good-bye
She gave to each, like one who goes to die.
The whole house then was weeping, every slave
In sorrow for his mistress. And she gave
Her hand to all; aye, none so base was there
She gave him not good words and he to her.
So on Admetus falls from either side
Sorrow. 'Twere bitter grief to him to have died
Himself; and being escaped, how sore a woe
He hath earned instead--Ah, some day he shall know!

Leader:
Surely Admetus suffers, even to-day,
For this true-hearted love he hath cast away?

Maid:
He weeps; begs her not leave him desolate,
And holds her to his heart--too late, too late!
She is sinking now, and there, beneath his eye
Fading, the poor cold hand falls languidly,
And faint is all her breath. Yet still she fain
Would look once on the sunlight--once again
And never more. I will go in and tell
Thy presence. Few there be, will serve so well
My master and stand by him to the end.
But thou hast been from olden days our friend.
The Maid goes in.

Chorus:

Third Elder:
O Zeus,
What escape and where
From the evil thing?
How break the snare
That is round our King?

Second Elder:
Ah list!
One cometh?... No.
Let us no more wait;
Make dark our raiment
And shear this hair.

Leader:
Aye, friends!
'Tis so, even so.
Yet the gods are great
And may send allayment.
To prayer, to prayer!

All, praying.
O Paian wise!
Some healing of this home devise, devise!
Find, find.... Oh, long ago when we were blind
Thine eyes saw mercy ... find some healing breath!
Again, O Paian, break the chains that bind;
Stay the red hand of Death!

Leader:
Alas!
What shame, what dread,
Thou Pheres' son,
Shalt be harvested
When thy wife is gone!

Second Elder:
Ah me;
For a deed less drear
Than this thou ruest
Men have died for sorrow;
Aye, hearts have bled.

Third Elder:
Tis she;
Not as men say dear,
But the dearest, truest,
Shall lie ere morrow
Before thee dead!

All:
But lo! Once more!
She and her husband moving to the door!
Cry, cry! And thou, O land of Pherae, hearken!
The bravest of women sinketh, perisheth,
Under the green earth, down where the shadows darken,
Down to the House of Death!

During the last words Admetus and Alcestis have entered. Alcestis is supported by her Handmaids and followed by her two children.

Leader:
And who hath said that Love shall bring
More joy to man than fear and strife?
I knew his perils from of old,
I know them now, when I behold
The bitter faring of my King,
Whose love is taken, and his life
Left evermore an empty thing.

Alcestis:
O Sun, O light of the day that falls!
O running cloud that races along the sky!

Admetus:
They look on thee and me, a stricken twain,
Who have wrought no sin that God should have thee slain.

Alcestis:
Dear Earth, and House of sheltering walls,
And wedded homes of the land where my fathers lie!

Admetus:
Fail not, my hapless one. Be strong, and pray
The o'er-mastering Gods to hate us not alway.

Alcestis, faintly, her mind wandering.
A boat two-oared, upon water; I see, I see.
And the Ferryman of the Dead,
His hand that hangs on the pole, his voice that cries;
"Thou lingerest; come. Come quickly, we wait for thee."
He is angry that I am slow; he shakes his head.

Admetus:
Alas, a bitter boat-faring for me,
My bride ill-starred.--Oh, this is misery!

Alcestis, as before.
Drawing, drawing! 'Tis some one that draweth me ...
To the Palaces of the Dead.
So dark. The wings, the eyebrows and ah, the eyes!...
Go back! God's mercy! What seekest thou? Let me be!...
Recovering Where am I? Ah, and what paths are these I tread?

Admetus:
Grievous for all who love thee, but for me
And my two babes most hard, most solitary.

Alcestis:
Hold me not; let me lie.--
I am too weak to stand; and Death is near,
And a slow darkness stealing on my sight.
My little ones, good-bye.
Soon, soon, and mother will be no more here....
Good-bye, two happy children in the light.

Admetus:
Oh, word of pain, oh, sharper ache
Than any death of mine had brought!
For the Gods' sake, desert me not,
For thine own desolate children's sake.
Nay, up! Be brave. For if they rend
Thee from me, I can draw no breath;
In thy hand are my life and death,
Thine, my belovèd and my friend!

Alcestis:
Admetus, seeing what way my fortunes lie,
I fain would speak with thee before I die.
I have set thee before all things; yea, mine own
Life beside thine was naught. For this alone
I die.... Dear Lord, I never need have died.
I might have lived to wed some prince of pride,
Dwell in a king's house.... Nay, how could I, torn
From thee, live on, I and my babes forlorn?
I have given to thee my youth--not more nor less,
But all--though I was full of happiness.
Thy father and mother both--'tis strange to tell--
Had failed thee, though for them the deed was well,
The years were ripe, to die and save their son,
The one child of the house: for hope was none,
If thou shouldst pass away, of other heirs.
So thou and I had lived through the long years,
Both. Thou hadst not lain sobbing here alone
For a dead wife and orphan babes.... 'Tis done
Now, and some God hath wrought out all his will.
Howbeit I now will ask thee to fulfill
One great return-gift--not so great withal
As I have given, for life is more than all;
But just and due, as thine own heart will tell.
For thou hast loved our little ones as well
As I have.... Keep them to be masters here
In my old house; and bring no stepmother
Upon them. She might hate them. She might be
Some baser woman, not a queen like me,
And strike them with her hand. For mercy, spare
Our little ones that wrong. It is my prayer....
They come into a house: they are all strife
And hate to any child of the dead wife....
Better a serpent than a stepmother!
A boy is safe. He has his father there
To guard him. But a Little Girl! Taking the Little Girl
to her What good
And gentle care will guide thy maidenhood?
What woman wilt thou find at father's side?
One evil word from her, just when the tide
Of youth is full, would wreck thy hope of love.
And no more mother near, to stand above
Thy marriage-bed, nor comfort thee pain-tossed
In travail, when one needs a mother most!
Seeing I must die.... 'Tis here, across my way,
Not for the morrow, not for the third day,
But now--Death, and to lie with things that were.
Farewell. God keep you happy.--Husband dear,
Remember that I failed thee not; and you,
My children, that your mother loved you true.

Leader:
Take comfort. Ere thy lord can speak, I swear,
If truth is in him, he will grant thy prayer.

Admetus:
He will, he will! Oh, never fear for me.
Mine hast thou been, and mine shalt ever be,
Living and dead, thou only. None in wide
Hellas but thou shalt be Admetus' bride.
No race so high, no face so magic-sweet
Shall ever from this purpose turn my feet.
And children ... if God grant me joy of these,
'Tis all I ask; of thee no joy nor ease
He gave me. And thy mourning I will bear
Not one year of my life but every year,
While life shall last.... My mother I will know
No more. My father shall be held my foe.
They brought the words of love but not the deed,
While thou hast given thine all, and in my need
Saved me. What can I do but weep alone,
Alone alway, when such a wife is gone?...
An end shall be of revel, and an end
Of crowns and song and mirth of friend with friend,
Wherewith my house was glad. I ne'er again
Will touch the lute nor ease my heart from pain
With pipes of Afric. All the joys I knew,
And joys were many, thou hast broken in two.
Oh, I will find some artist wondrous wise
Shall mould for me thy shape, thine hair, thine eyes,
And lay it in thy bed; and I will lie
Close, and reach out mine arms to thee, and cry
Thy name into the night, and wait and hear
My own heart breathe: "Thy love, thy love is near."
A cold delight; yet it might ease the sum
Of sorrow.... And good dreams of thee will come
Like balm. 'Tis sweet, even in a dream, to gaze
On a dear face, the moment that it stays.
O God, if Orpheus' voice were mine, to sing
To Death's high Virgin and the Virgin's King,
Till their hearts failed them, down would I my path
Cleave, and naught stay me, not the Hound of Wrath,
Not the grey oarsman of the ghostly tide,
Till back to sunlight I had borne my bride.
But now, wife, wait for me till I shall come
Where thou art, and prepare our second home.
These ministers in that same cedar sweet
Where thou art laid will lay me, feet to feet,
And head to head, oh, not in death from thee
Divided, who alone art true to me!

Leader:
This life-long sorrow thou hast sworn, I too,
Thy friend, will bear with thee. It is her due.

Alcestis:
Children, ye heard his promise? He will wed
No other woman nor forget the dead.

Admetus:
Again I promise. So it shall be done.

Alcestis, giving the children into his arms one after the other.
On that oath take my daughter: and my son.

Admetus:
Dear hand that gives, I accept both gift and vow.

Alcestis:
Thou, in my place, must be their mother now.

Admetus:
Else were they motherless--I needs must try.

Alcestis:
My babes, I ought to live, and lo, I die.

Admetus:
And how can I, forlorn of thee, live on?

Alcestis:
Time healeth; and the dead are dead and gone.

Admetus:
Oh, take me with thee to the dark below,
Me also!

Alcestis:
 'Tis enough that one should go.

Admetus:
O Fate, to have cheated me of one so true!

Alcestis, her strength failing.
There comes a darkness: a great burden, too.

Admetus:
I am lost if thou wilt leave me.... Wife! Mine own!

Alcestis:
I am not thy wife; I am nothing. All is gone.

Admetus:
Thy babes! Thou wilt not leave them.--Raise thine eye.

Alcestis:
I am sorry.... But good-bye, children; good-bye.

Admetus:
Look at them! Wake and look at them!

Alcestis:
I must go.

Admetus:
What? Dying!

Alcestis:
 Farewell, husband! She dies.

Admetus, with a cry.
 Ah!... Woe, woe!

Leader:
Admetus' Queen is dead!

While Admetus is weeping silently, and the Chorus veil their faces, the Little Boy runs up to his dead Mother.

Little Boy:
Oh, what has happened? Mummy has gone away,
And left me and will not come back any more!
Father, I shall be lonely all the day....
Look! Look! Her eyes ... and her arms not like before,
How they lie ...
Mother! Oh, speak a word!
Answer me, answer me, Mother! It is I.
I am touching your face. It is I, your little bird.

Admetus, recovering himself and going to the Child.
She hears us not, she sees us not. We lie
Under a heavy grief, child, thou and I.

Little Boy:
I am so little, Father, and lonely and cold
Here without Mother. It is too hard.... And you,
Poor little sister, too.
Oh, Father!
Such a little time we had her. She might have stayed
On till we all were old....
Everything is spoiled when Mother is dead.

The Little Boy is taken away, with his Sister, sobbing.

Leader:
My King, thou needs must gird thee to the worst.
Thou shalt not be the last, nor yet the first,
To lose a noble wife. Be brave, and know
To die is but a debt that all men owe.

Admetus:
I know. It came not without doubts and fears,
This thing. The thought hath poisoned all my years.
Howbeit, I now will make the burial due
To this dead Queen. Be assembled, all of you;
And, after, raise your triumph-song to greet
This pitiless Power that yawns beneath our feet.
Meantime let all in Thessaly who dread
My sceptre join in mourning for the dead
With temples sorrow-shorn and sable weed.
Ye chariot-lords, ye spurrers of the steed,
Shear close your horses' manes! Let there be found
Through all my realm no lute, nor lyre, nor sound
Of piping, till twelve moons are at an end.
For never shall I lose a closer friend,
Nor braver in my need. And worthy is she
Of honour, who alone hath died for me.

The body of Alcestis is carried into the house by mourners; Admetus follows it.

Chorus:
Daughter of Pelias, fare thee well,
May joy be thine in the Sunless Houses!
For thine is a deed which the Dead shall tell
Where a King black-browed in the gloom carouses;
And the cold grey hand at the helm and oar
Which guideth shadows from shore to shore,
Shall bear this day o'er the Tears that Well,
A Queen of women, a spouse of spouses.

Minstrels many shall praise thy name
With lyre full-strung and with voices lyreless,
When Mid-Moon riseth, an orbèd flame,
And from dusk to dawning the dance is tireless;
And Carnos cometh to Sparta's call,
And Athens shineth in festival;
For thy death is a song, and a fullness of fame,
Till the heart of the singer is left desireless.

Leader:
Would I could reach thee, oh,
Reach thee and save, my daughter,
Starward from gulfs of Hell,
Past gates, past tears that swell,
Where the weak oar climbs thro'
The night and the water!

Second Elder:
Belovèd and lonely one,
Who feared not dying:
Gone in another's stead
Alone to the hungry dead:
Light be the carven stone
Above thee lying!

Third Elder:
Oh, he who should seek again
A new bride after thee,
Were loathed of thy children twain,
And loathed of me.

Leader:
Word to his mother sped,
Praying to her who bore him;
Word to his father, old,
Heavy with years and cold;
"Quick, ere your son be dead!
What dare ye for him?"

Second Elder:
Old, and they dared not; grey,
And they helped him never!
'Twas she, in her youth and pride,
Rose up for her lord and died.
Oh, love of two hearts that stay
One-knit for ever....

Third Elder:
'Tis rare in the world! God send
Such bride in my house to be;
She should live life to the end,
Not fail through me.

As the song ceases there enters a stranger, walking strongly, but travel-stained, dusty, and tired. His lion-skin and club show him to be Heracles.

Heracles:
Ho, countrymen! To Pherae am I come
By now? And is Admetus in his home?

Leader:
Our King is in his house, Lord Heracles.--
But say, what need brings thee in days like these
To Thessaly and Pherae's wallèd ring?

Heracles:
A quest I follow for the Argive King.

Leader:
What prize doth call thee, and to what far place?

Heracles:
The horses of one Diomede, in Thrace.

Leader:
But how...? Thou know'st not? Is he strange to thee?

Heracles:
Quite strange. I ne'er set foot in Bistony.

Leader:
Not without battle shalt thou win those steeds.

Heracles:
So be it! I cannot fail my master's needs.

Leader:
'Tis slay or die, win or return no more.

Heracles:
Well, I have looked on peril's face before.

Leader:
What profit hast thou in such manslaying?

Heracles:
I shall bring back the horses to my King.

Leader:
'Twere none such easy work to bridle them.

Heracles:
Not easy? Have they nostrils breathing flame?

Leader:
They tear men's flesh; their jaws are swift with blood.

Heracles:
Men's flesh! 'Tis mountain wolves', not horses' food!

Leader:
Thou wilt see their mangers clogged with blood, like mire.

Heracles:
And he who feeds such beasts, who was his sire?

Leader:
Ares, the war-lord of the Golden Targe.

Heracles:
Enough!--This labour fitteth well my large
Fortune, still upward, still against the wind.
How often with these kings of Ares' kind
Must I do battle? First the dark wolf-man,
Lycaon; then 'twas he men called The Swan;
And now this man of steeds!... Well, none shall see
Alcmena's son turn from his enemy.

Leader:
Lo, as we speak, this land's high governor,
Admetus, cometh from his castle door.

Enter Admetus from the Castle.

Admetus:
Zeus-born of Perseid line, all joy to thee!

Heracles:
Joy to Admetus, Lord of Thessaly!

Admetus:
Right welcome were she!--But thy love I know.

Heracles:
But why this mourning hair, this garb of woe?

Admetus, in a comparatively light tone.
There is a burial I must make to-day.

Heracles:
God keep all evil from thy children!

Admetus:
Nay,
My children live.

Heracles:
 Thy father, if 'tis he,
Is ripe in years.

Admetus:
 He liveth, friend, and she
Who bore me.

Heracles:
Surely not thy wife? 'Tis not
Alcestis?

Admetus, his composure a little shaken.
 Ah; two answers share my thought,
Questioned of her.

Heracles:
 Is she alive or dead?

Admetus:
She is, and is not; and my heart hath bled
Long years for her.

Heracles:
 I understand no more.
Thy words are riddles.

Admetus:
Heard'st thou not of yore
The doom that she must meet?

Heracles:
I know thy wife
Has sworn to die for thee.

Admetus:
And is it life,
To live with such an oath hung o'er her head?

Heracles, relieved.
Ah,
Weep not too soon, friend. Wait till she be dead.

Admetus:
He dies who is doomed to die; he is dead who dies.

Heracles:
The two are different things in most men's eyes.

Admetus:
Decide thy way, lord, and let me decide
The other way.

Heracles:
Who is it that has died?
Thou weepest.

Admetus:
 'Tis a woman. It doth take
My memory back to her of whom we spake.

Heracles:
A stranger, or of kin to thee?

Admetus:
Not kin,
But much beloved.

Heracles:
 How came she to be in
Thy house to die?

Admetus:
 Her father died, and so
She came to us, an orphan, long ago.

Heracles, as though about to depart.
'Tis sad.
I would I had found thee on a happier day.

Admetus:
Thy words have some intent: what wouldst thou say?

Heracles:
I must find harbour with some other friend.

Admetus:
My prince, it may not be! God never send
Such evil!

Heracles:
Tis great turmoil, when a guest
Comes to a mourning house.

Admetus:
Come in and rest.
Let the dead die!

Heracles:
 I cannot, for mere shame,
Feast beside men whose eyes have tears in them.

Admetus:
The guest-rooms are apart where thou shalt be.

Heracles:
Friend, let me go. I shall go gratefully.

Admetus:
Thou shalt not enter any door but mine.
To an Attendant
Lead in our guest. Unlock the furthest line
Of guest-chambers; and bid the stewards there
Make ready a full feast; then close with care
The midway doors. 'Tis unmeet, if he hears
Our turmoil or is burdened with our tears.

The Attendant leads Heracles into the house.

Leader:
How, master? When within a thing so sad
Lies, thou wilt house a stranger? Art thou mad?

Admetus:
And had I turned the stranger from my door,
Who sought my shelter, hadst thou praised me more?
I trow not, if my sorrow were thereby
No whit less, only the more friendless I.
And more, when bards tell tales, were it not worse
My house should lie beneath the stranger's curse?
Now he is my sure friend, if e'er I stand
Lonely in Argos, in a thirsty land.

Leader:
Thou callest him thy friend; how didst thou dare
Keep hid from him the burden of thy care?

Admetus:
He never would have entered, had he known
My grief.--Aye, men may mock what I have done,
And call me fool. My house hath never learned
To fail its friend, nor seen the stranger spurned.

Admetus goes into the house

Chorus:
Oh, a House that loves the stranger,
And a House for ever free!
And Apollo, the Song-changer,
Was a herdsman in thy fee;
Yea, a-piping he was found,
Where the upward valleys wound,
To the kine from out the manger
And the sheep from off the lea,
And love was upon Othrys at the sound.

And from deep glens unbeholden
Of the forest to his song
There came lynxes streaky-golden,
There came lions in a throng,
Tawny-coated, ruddy-eyed,
To that piper in his pride;
And shy fawns he would embolden,
Dappled dancers, out along
The shadow by the pine-tree's side.

And those magic pipes a-blowing
Have fulfilled thee in thy reign
By thy Lake with honey flowing,
By thy sheepfolds and thy grain;
Where the Sun turns his steeds
To the twilight, all the meads
Of Molossus know thy sowing
And thy ploughs upon the plain.
Yea, and eastward thou art free
To the portals of the sea,
And Pelion, the unharboured, is but minister to thee.

He hath opened wide his dwelling
To the stranger, though his ruth
For the dead was fresh and welling,
For the loved one of his youth.
Tis the brave heart's cry:
"I will fail not, though I die!"
Doth it win, with no man's telling,
Some high vision of the truth?
We may marvel. Yet I trust,
When man seeketh to be just
And to pity them that wander, God will raise him from the dust.

As the song ceases the doors are thrown open and Admetus comes before them: a great funeral procession is seen moving out.

Admetus:
Most gentle citizens, our dead is here
Made ready; and these youths to bear the bier
Uplifted to the grave-mound and the urn.
Now, seeing she goes forth never to return,
Bid her your last farewell, as mourners may.

The procession moves forward, past him.

Leader:
Nay, lord; thy father, walking old and grey;
And followers bearing burial gifts and brave
Gauds, which men call the comfort of the grave.

Enter Pheres with followers bearing robes and gifts.

Pheres:
I come in sorrow for thy sorrow, son.
A faithful wife indeed thou hast lost, and one
Who ruled her heart. But, howso hard they be,
We needs must bear these griefs.--Some gifts for thee
Are here.... Yes; take them. Let them go beneath
The sod. We both must honour her in death,
Seeing she hath died, my son, that thou mayst live
Nor I be childless. Aye, she would not give
My soul to a sad old age, mourning for thee.
Methinks she hath made all women's life to be
A nobler thing, by one great woman's deed.
Thou saviour of my son, thou staff in need
To our wrecked age, farewell! May some good life
Be thine still in the grave.--Oh, 'tis a wife
Like this man needs; else let him stay unwed!

The old man has not noticed Admetus's gathering indignation.

Admetus:
I called not thee to burial of my dead,
Nor count thy presence here a welcome thing.
My wife shall wear no robe that thou canst bring,
Nor needs thy help in aught. There was a day
We craved thy love, when I was on my way
Deathward--thy love, which bade thee stand aside
And watch, grey-bearded, while a young man died!
And now wilt mourn for her? Thy fatherhood!
Thou wast no true begetter of my blood,
Nor she my mother who dares call me child.
Oh, she was barren ever; she beguiled
Thy folly with some bastard of a thrall.
Here is thy proof! This hour hath shown me all
Thou art; and now I am no more thy son.
Fore God, among all cowards can scarce be one
Like thee. So grey, so near the boundary
Of mortal life, thou wouldst not, durst not, die
To save thy son! Thou hast suffered her to do
Thine office, her, no kin to me nor you,
Yet more than kin! Henceforth she hath all the part
Of mother, yea, and father in my heart.
And what a glory had been thine that day,
Dying to save thy son--when, either way,
Thy time must needs be brief. Thy life has had
Abundance of the things that make men glad;
A crown that came to thee in youth; a son
To do thee worship and maintain thy throne--
Not like a childless king, whose folk and lands
Lie helpless, to be torn by strangers' hands.
Wilt say I failed in duty to thine age;
For that thou hast let me die? Not so; most sage,
Most pious I was, to mother and to thee;
And thus ye have paid me! Well, I counsel ye.
Lose no more time. Get quick another son
To foster thy last years, to lay thee on
Thy bier, when dead, and wrap thee in thy pall.
I will not bury thee. I am, for all
The care thou hast shown me, dead. If I have found
Another, true to save me at the bound
Of life and death, that other's child am I,
That other's fostering friend, until I die.
How falsely do these old men pray for death,
Cursing their weight of years, their weary breath!
When Death comes close, there is not one that dares
To die; age is forgot and all its cares.

Leader:
Oh, peace! Enough of sorrow in our path
Is strewn. Thou son, stir not thy father's wrath.

Pheres:
My son, whom seekest thou ... some Lydian thrall,
Or Phrygian, bought with cash?... to affright withal
By cursing? I am a Thessalian, free,
My father a born chief of Thessaly;
And thou most insolent. Yet think not so
To fling thy loud lewd words at me and go.
I got thee to succeed me in my hall,
I have fed thee, clad thee. But I have no call
To die for thee. Not in our family,
Not in all Greece, doth law bid fathers die
To save their sons. Thy road of life is thine
None other's, to rejoice at or repine.
All that was owed to thee by us is paid.
My throne is thine. My broad lands shall be made
Thine, as I had them from my father.... Say,
How have I wronged thee? What have I kept away?
"Not died for thee?"... I ask not thee to die.
Thou lovest this light: shall I not love it, I?...
'Tis age on age there, in the dark; and here
My sunlit time is short, but dear; but dear.
Thou hast fought hard enough. Thou drawest breath
Even now, long past thy portioned hour of death,
By murdering her ... and blamest my faint heart,
Coward, who hast let a woman play thy part
And die to save her pretty soldier! Aye,
A good plan, surely! Thou needst never die;
Thou canst find alway somewhere some fond wife
To die for thee. But, prithee, make not strife
With other friends, who will not save thee so.
Be silent, loving thine own life, and know
All men love theirs!... Taunt others, and thou too
Shalt hear much that is bitter, and is true.

Leader:
Too much of wrath before, too much hath run
After. Old man, cease to revile thy son.

Admetus:
Speak on. I have spoken.... If my truth of tongue
Gives pain to thee, why didst thou do me wrong?

Pheres:
Wrong? To have died for thee were far more wrong.

Admetus:
How can an old life weigh against a young?

Pheres:
Man hath but one, not two lives, to his use.

Admetus:
Oh, live on; live, and grow more old than Zeus!

Pheres:
Because none wrongs thee, thou must curse thy sire?

Admetus:
I blest him. Is not life his one desire?

Pheres:
This dead, methinks, is lying in thy place.

Admetus:
A proof, old traitor, of thy cowardliness!

Pheres:
Died she through me?... That thou wilt hardly say.

Admetus, almost breaking down.
O God!
Mayst thou but feel the need of me some day!

Pheres:
Go forward; woo more wives that more may die.

Admetus:
As thou wouldst not! Thine is the infamy.

Pheres:
This light of heaven is sweet, and sweet again.

Admetus:
Thy heart is foul. A thing unmeet for men.

Pheres:
Thou laugh'st not yet across the old man's tomb.

Admetus:
Dishonoured thou shalt die when death shall come.

Pheres:
Once dead, I shall not care what tales are told.

Admetus:
Great Gods, so lost to honour and so old!

Pheres:
She was not lost to honour: she was blind.

Admetus:
Go! Leave me with my dead.... Out from my mind!

Pheres:
I go. Bury the woman thou hast slain....
Her kinsmen yet may come to thee with plain
Question. Acastus hath small place in good
Men, if he care not for his sister's blood.

Pheres goes off, with his Attendants. Admetus calls after him as he goes.

Admetus:
Begone, begone, thou and thy bitter mate!
Be old and childless--ye have earned your fate--
While your son lives! For never shall ye be
From henceforth under the same roof with me....
Must I send heralds and a trumpet's call
To abjure thy blood? Fear not, I will send them all....

Pheres is now out of sight; Admetus drops his defiance and seems like a broken man.

But we--our sorrow is upon us; come
With me, and let us bear her to the tomb.

Chorus:
Ah me!
Farewell, unfalteringly brave!
Farewell, thou generous heart and true!
May Pluto give thee welcome due,
And Hermes love thee in the grave.
Whate'er of blessèd life there be
For high souls to the darkness flown,
Be thine for ever, and a throne
Beside the crowned Persephonê.

The funeral procession has formed and moves slowly out, followed by Admetus and the Chorus. The stage is left empty, till a side door of the Castle opens and there comes out a Servant, angry and almost in tears.

Servant:
Full many a stranger and from many a land
Hath lodged in this old castle, and my hand
Served them; but never has there passed this way
A scurvier ruffian than our guest to-day.
He saw my master's grief, but all the more
In he must come, and shoulders through the door.
And after, think you he would mannerly
Take what was set before him? No, not he!
If, on this day of trouble, we left out
Some small thing, he must have it with a shout.
Up, in both hands, our vat of ivy-wood
He raised, and drank the dark grape's burning blood,
Strong and untempered, till the fire was red
Within him; then put myrtle round his head
And roared some noisy song. So had we there
Discordant music. He, without a care
For all the affliction of Admetus' halls,
Sang on; and, listening, one could hear the thralls
In the long gallery weeping for the dead.
We let him see no tears. Our master made
That order, that the stranger must not know.
So here I wait in her own house, and do
Service to some black thief, some man of prey;
And she has gone, has gone for ever away.
I never followed her, nor lifted high
My hand to bless her; never said good-bye....
I loved her like my mother. So did all
The slaves. She never let his anger fall
Too hard. She saved us alway....And this wild beast
Comes in our sorrow when we need him least!

During the last few lines Heracles has entered, unperceived by the Servant. He has evidently bathed and changed his garments and drunk his fill, and is now revelling, a garland of flowers on his head. He frightens the Servant a little from time to time during the following speech.

Heracles:
Friend, why so solemn and so cranky-eyed?
'Tis not a henchman's office, to show pride
To his betters. He should smile and make good cheer.
There comes a guest, thy lord's old comrade, here;
And thou art all knitted eyebrows, scowls and head
Bent, because somebody, forsooth, is dead!
Come close! I mean to make thee wiser.

The Servant reluctantly comes close.

So.
Dost comprehend things mortal, how they grow?...
'To himself I suppose not. How could he?...
Look this way!
Death is a debt all mortal men must pay;
Aye, there is no man living who can say
If life will last him yet a single day.
On, to the dark, drives Fortune; and no force
Can wrest her secret nor put back her course....
I have told thee now. I have taught thee. After this
Eat, drink, make thyself merry. Count the bliss
Of the one passing hour thine own; the rest
Is Fortune's. And give honour chiefliest
To our lady Cypris, giver of all joys
To man. 'Tis a sweet goddess. Otherwise,
Let all these questions sleep and just obey
My counsel.... Thou believest all I say?
I hope so.... Let this stupid grieving be;
Rise up above thy troubles, and with me
Drink in a cloud of blossoms. By my soul,
I vow the sweet plash-music of the bowl
Will break thy glumness, loose thee from the frown
Within. Let mortal man keep to his own
Mortality, and not expect too much.
To all your solemn dogs and other such
Scowlers--I tell thee truth, no more nor less--
Life is not life, but just unhappiness.

He offers the wine-bowl to the Servant, who avoids it.

Servant:
We know all this. But now our fortunes be
Not such as ask for mirth or revelry.

Heracles:
A woman dead, of no one's kin; why grieve
So much? Thy master and thy mistress live.

Servant:
Live? Man, hast thou heard nothing of our woe?

Heracles:
Yes, thy lord told me all I need to know.

Servant:
He is too kind to his guests, more kind than wise.

Heracles:
Must I go starved because some stranger dies?

Servant:
Some stranger?--Yes, a stranger verily!

Heracles, his manner beginning to change.
Is this some real grief he hath hid from me?

Servant:
Go, drink, man! Leave to us our master's woes.

Heracles:
It sounds not like a stranger. Yet, God knows...

Servant:
How should thy revelling hurt, if that were all?

Heracles:
Hath mine own friend so wronged me in his hall?

Servant:
Thou camest at an hour when none was free
To accept thee. We were mourning. Thou canst see
Our hair, black robes...

Heracles, suddenly, in a voice of thunder.
 Who is it that is dead?

Servant:
Alcestis, the King's wife.

Heracles, overcome.
What hast thou said?
Alcestis?... And ye feasted me withal!

Servant:
He held it shame to turn thee from his hall.

Heracles:
Shame! And when such a wondrous wife was gone!

Servant, breaking into tears.
Oh, all is gone, all lost, not she alone!

Heracles:
I knew, I felt it, when I saw his tears,
And face, and shorn hair. But he won mine ears
With talk of the strange woman and her rite
Of burial. So in mine own heart's despite
I crossed his threshold and sat drinking--he
And I old friends!--in his calamity.
Drank, and sang songs, and revelled, my head hot
With wine and flowers!... And thou to tell me not,
When all the house lay filled with sorrow, thou!
A pause; then suddenly
Where lies the tomb?--Where shall I find her now?

Servant, frightened.
Close by the straight Larissa road. The tall
White marble showeth from the castle wall.

Heracles:
O heart, O hand, great doings have ye done
Of old: up now, and show them what a son
Took life that hour, when she of Tiryns' sod,
Electryon's daughter, mingled with her God!
I needs must save this woman from the shore
Of death and set her in her house once more,
Repaying Admetus' love.... This Death, this black
And wingèd Lord of corpses, I will track
Home. I shall surely find him by the grave
A-hungered, lapping the hot blood they gave
In sacrifice. An ambush: then, one spring,
One grip! These arms shall be a brazen ring,
With no escape, no rest, howe'er he whine
And curse his mauled ribs, till the Queen is mine!
Or if he escape me, if he come not there
To seek the blood of offering, I will fare
Down to the Houses without Light, and bring
To Her we name not and her nameless King
Strong prayers, until they yield to me and send
Alcestis home, to life and to my friend:
Who gave me shelter, drove me not away
In his great grief, but hid his evil day
Like a brave man, because he loved me well.
Is one in all this land more hospitable,
One in all Greece? I swear no man shall say
He hath cast his love upon a churl away!

He goes forth, just as he is, in the direction of the grave. The Servant watches a moment and goes back into the hall.

The stage is empty; then Admetus and the Chorus return.

Admetus:
Alas!
Bitter the homeward way,
Bitter to seek
A widowed house; ah me,
Where should I fly or stay,
Be dumb or speak?
Would I could cease to be!

Despair, despair!
My mother bore me under an evil star.
I envy them that are perished; my heart is there.
It dwells in the Sunless Houses, afar, afar.

I take no joy in looking upon the light;
No joy in the feel of the earth beneath my tread.
The Slayer hath taken his hostage; the Lord of the Dead
Holdeth me sworn to taste no more delight.

He throws himself on the ground in despair.

Chorus:
Each member of the Chorus speaks his line severally, as he passes Admetus, who is heard sobbing at the end of each line.

--Advance, advance;
Till the house shall give thee cover.
--Thou hast borne heavy things
And meet for lamentation.
--Thou hast passed, hast passed,
Thro' the deepest of the River.
--Yet no help comes
To the sad and silent nation.
--And the face of thy belovèd, it shall meet thee never, never!

Admetus:
Ye wrench my wounds asunder. Where
Is grief like mine, whose wife is dead?
My wife, whom would I ne'er had wed,
Nor loved, nor held my house with her....

Blessed are they who dare to dwell
Unloved of woman! 'Tis but one
Heart that they bleed with, and alone
Can bear their one life's burden well.

No young shall wither at their side,
No bridal room be swept by death....
Aye, better man should draw his breath
For ever without child or bride.

Chorus, as before.
--'Tis Fate, 'tis Fate:
She is strong and none shall break her.
--No end, no end,
Wilt thou lay to lamentations?
--Endure and be still:
Thy lamenting will not wake her.
--There be many before thee,
Who have suffered and had patience.
--Though the face of Sorrow changeth, yet her hand is on all nations.

Admetus:
The garb of tears, the mourner's cry:
Then the long ache when tears are past!...
Oh, why didst hinder me to cast
This body to the dust and die
With her, the faithful and the brave?
Then not one lonely soul had fled,
But two great lovers, proudly dead,
Through the deep waters of the grave.

Leader:
A friend I knew,
In whose house died a son,
Worthy of bitter rue,
His only one.
His head sank, yet he bare
Stilly his weight of care,
Though grey was in his hair
And life nigh done.

Admetus:
Ye shapes that front me, wall and gate,
How shall I enter in and dwell
Among ye, with all Fortune's spell
Dischanted? Aye, the change is great.

That day I strode with bridal song
Through lifted brands of Pelian pine;
A hand belovèd lay in mine;
And loud behind a revelling throng

Exalted me and her, the dead.
They called us young, high-hearted; told
How princes were our sires of old,
And how we loved and we must wed....

For those high songs, lo, men that moan,
And raiment black where once was white;
Who guide me homeward in the night,
On that waste bed to lie alone.

Second Elder:
It breaks, like strife,
Thy long peace, where no pain
Had entered; yet is life,
Sweet life, not slain.
A wife dead; a dear chair
Empty: is that so rare?
Men live without despair
Whose loves are ta'en.

Admetus, erect and facing them.
Behold, I count my wife's fate happier,
Though all gainsay me, than mine own. To her
Comes no more pain for ever; she hath rest
And peace from all toil, and her name is blest.
But I am one who hath no right to stay
Alive on earth; one that hath lost his way
In fate, and strays in dreams of life long past....
Friends, I have learned my lesson at the last.
I have my life. Here stands my house. But now
How dare I enter in? Or, entered, how
Go forth again? Go forth, when none is there
To give me a parting word, and I to her?...
Where shall I turn for refuge? There within,
The desert that remains where she hath been
Will drive me forth, the bed, the empty seat
She sat in; nay, the floor beneath my feet
Unswept, the children crying at my knee
For mother; and the very thralls will be
In sobs for the dear mistress that is lost.
That is my home! If I go forth, a host
Of feasts and bridal dances, gatherings gay
Of women, will be there to fright me away
To loneliness. Mine eyes will never bear
The sight. They were her friends; they played with her.
And always, always, men who hate my name
Will murmur: "This is he who lives in shame
Because he dared not die! He gave instead
The woman whom he loved, and so is fled
From death. He counts himself a man withal!
And seeing his parents died not at his call
He hates them, when himself he dared not die!"
Such mocking beside all my pain shall I
Endure.... What profit was it to live on,
Friend, with my grief kept and mine honour gone?

Chorus:
I have sojourned in the Muse's land,
Have wandered with the wandering star,
Seeking for strength, and in my hand
Held all philosophies that are;
Yet nothing could I hear nor see
Stronger than That Which Needs Must Be.
No Orphic rune, no Thracian scroll,
Hath magic to avert the morrow;
No healing all those medicines brave
Apollo to the Asclepiad gave;
Pale herbs of comfort in the bowl
Of man's wide sorrow.
She hath no temple, she alone,
Nor image where a man may kneel;
No blood upon her altar-stone
Crying shall make her hear nor feel.
I know thy greatness; come not great
Beyond my dreams, O Power of Fate!
Aye, Zeus himself shall not unclose
His purpose save by thy decerning.
The chain of iron, the Scythian sword,
It yields and shivers at thy word;
Thy heart is as the rock, and knows
No ruth, nor turning.

They turn to Admetus.

Her hand hath caught thee; yea, the keeping
Of iron fingers grips thee round.
Be still. Be still. Thy noise of weeping
Shall raise no lost one from the ground.
Nay, even the Sons of God are parted
At last from joy, and pine in death....
Oh, dear on earth when all did love her,
Oh, dearer lost beyond recover:
Of women all the bravest-hearted
Hath pressed thy lips and breathed thy breath.

Let not the earth that lies upon her
Be deemed a grave-mound of the dead.
Let honour, as the Gods have honour,
Be hers, till men shall bow the head,
And strangers, climbing from the city
Her slanting path, shall muse and say:
"This woman died to save her lover,
And liveth blest, the stars above her:
Hail, Holy One, and grant thy pity!"
So pass the wondering words away.

Leader:
But see, it is Alcmena's son once more,
My lord King, cometh striding to thy door.

Enter Heracles; his dress is as in the last scene, but shows signs of a struggle. Behind come two Attendants, guiding between them a veiled Woman, who seems like one asleep or unconscious. The Woman remains in the background while Heracles comes forward.

Heracles:
Thou art my friend, Admetus; therefore bold
And plain I tell my story, and withhold
No secret hurt.--Was I not worthy, friend,
To stand beside thee; yea, and to the end
Be proven in sorrow if I was true to thee?
And thou didst tell me not a word, while she
Lay dead within; but bid me feast, as though
Naught but the draping of some stranger's woe
Was on thee. So I garlanded my brow
And poured the gods drink-offering, and but now
Filled thy death-stricken house with wine and song.
Thou hast done me wrong, my brother; a great wrong
Thou hast done me. But I will not add more pain
In thine affliction.
Why I am here again,
Returning, thou must hear. I pray thee, take
And keep yon woman for me till I make
My homeward way from Thrace, when I have ta'en
Those four steeds and their bloody master slain.
And if--which heaven avert!--I ne'er should see
Hellas again, I leave her here, to be
An handmaid in thy house. No labour small
Was it that brought her to my hand at all.
I fell upon a contest certain Kings
Had set for all mankind, sore buffetings
And meet for strong men, where I staked my life
And won this woman. For the easier strife
Black steeds were prizes; herds of kine were cast
For heavier issues, fists and wrestling; last,
This woman.... Lest my work should all seem done
For naught, I needs must keep what I have won;
So prithee take her in. No theft, but true
Toil, won her.... Some day thou mayst thank me, too.

Admetus:
'Twas in no scorn, no bitterness to thee,
I hid my wife's death and my misery.
Methought it was but added pain on pain
If thou shouldst leave me, and roam forth again
Seeking another's roof. And, for mine own
Sorrow, I was content to weep alone.
But, for this damsel, if it may be so,
I pray thee, Lord, let some man, not in woe
Like mine, take her. Thou hast in Thessaly
Abundant friends.... 'Twould wake sad thoughts in me.
How could I have this damsel in my sight
And keep mine eyes dry? Prince, why wilt thou smite
The smitten? Griefs enough are on my head.
Where in my castle could so young a maid
Be lodged--her veil and raiment show her young:
Here, in the men's hall? I should fear some wrong.
'Tis not so easy, Prince, to keep controlled
My young men. And thy charge I fain would hold
Sacred.--If not, wouldst have me keep her in
The women's chambers ... where my dead hath been?
How could I lay this woman where my bride
Once lay? It were dishonour double-dyed.
These streets would curse the man who so betrayed
The wife who saved him for some younger maid;
The dead herself ... I needs must worship her
And keep her will.

During the last few lines Admetus has been looking at the veiled Woman and, though he does not consciously recognize her, feels a strange emotion overmastering him. He draws back.

Aye. I must walk with care....
O woman, whosoe'er thou art, thou hast
The shape of my Alcestis; thou art cast
In mould like hers.... Oh, take her from mine eyes!
In God's name!

Heracles signs to the Attendants to take Alcestis away again. She stays veiled and unnoticing in the background.

I was fallen, and in this wise
Thou wilt make me deeper fall.... Meseems, meseems,
There in her face the loved one of my dreams
Looked forth.--My heart is made a turbid thing,
Craving I know not what, and my tears spring
Unbidden.--Grief I knew 'twould be; but how
Fiery a grief I never knew till now.

Leader:
Thy fate I praise not. Yet, what gift soe'er
God giveth, man must steel himself and bear.

Heracles, drawing Admetus on.
Would God, I had the power, 'mid all this might
Of arm, to break the dungeons of the night,
And free thy wife, and make thee glad again!

Admetus:
Where is such power? I know thy heart were fain;
But so 'tis writ. The dead shall never rise.

Heracles:
Chafe not the curb, then: suffer and be wise.

Admetus:
Easier to give such counsel than to keep.

Heracles:
Who will be happier, shouldst thou always weep?

Admetus:
Why, none. Yet some blind longing draws me on...

Heracles:
'Tis natural. Thou didst love her that is gone.

Admetus:
'Tis that hath wrecked, oh more than wrecked, my life.

Heracles:
'Tis certain: thou hast lost a faithful wife.

Admetus:
Till life itself is dead and wearies me.

Heracles:
Thy pain is yet young. Time will soften thee,

The veiled Woman begins dimly, as though in a dream, to hear the words spoken.

Admetus:
Time? Yes, if time be death.

Heracles:
Nay, wait; and some
Woman, some new desire of love, will come.

Admetus, indignantly.
Peace!
How canst thou? Shame upon thee!

Heracles:
Thou wilt stay
Unwed for ever, lonely night and day?

Admetus:
No other bride in these void arms shall lie.

Heracles:
What profit will thy dead wife gain thereby?

Admetus:
Honour; which finds her wheresoe'er she lies.

Heracles:
Most honourable in thee: but scarcely wise!

Admetus:
God curse me, if I betray her in her tomb!

Heracles:
So be it!...
And this good damsel, thou wilt take her home?

Admetus:
No, in the name of Zeus, thy father! No!

Heracles:
I swear, 'tis not well to reject her so.

Admetus:
'Twould tear my heart to accept her.

Heracles:
Grant me, friend,
This one boon! It may help thee in the end.

Admetus:
Woe's me!
Would God thou hadst never won those victories!

Heracles:
Thou sharest both the victory and the prize.

Admetus:
Thou art generous.... But now let her go.

Heracles:
 She shall,
If go she must. Look first, and judge withal.

He takes the veil off Alcestis.

Admetus, steadily refusing to look.
She must.--And thou, forgive me!

Heracles:
Friend, there is
A secret reason why I pray for this.

Admetus, surprised, then reluctantly yielding.
I grant thy boon then--though it likes me ill.

Heracles:
'Twill like thee later. Now ... but do my will.

Admetus, beckoning to an Attendant.
Take her; find her some lodging in my hall.

Heracles:
I will not yield this maid to any thrall.

Admetus:
Take her thyself and lead her in.

Heracles:
 I stand
Beside her; take her; lead her to thy hand.

He brings the Woman close to Admetus, who looks determinedly away. She reaches out her arms.

Admetus:
I touch her not.--Let her go in!

Heracles:
I am loth
To trust her save to thy pledged hand and oath.

He lays his hand on Admetus's shoulder.

Admetus, desperately.
Lord, this is violence ... wrong ...

Heracles:
 Reach forth thine hand
And touch this comer from a distant land.

Admetus, holding out his hand without looking.
Like Perseus when he touched the Gorgon, there!

Heracles:
Thou hast touched her?

Admetus, at last taking her hand.
Touched her?... Yes.

Heracles, a hand on the shoulder of each.
Then cling to her;
And say if thou hast found a guest of grace
In God's son, Heracles! Look in her face;
Look; is she like...?

Admetus looks and stands amazed.
 Go, and forget in bliss
Thy sorrow!

Admetus:
 O ye Gods! What meaneth this?
A marvel beyond dreams! The face ... 'tis she;
Mine, verily mine! Or doth God mock at me
And blast my vision with some mad surmise?

Heracles:
Not so. This is thy wife before thine eyes.

Admetus, who has recoiled in his amazement.
Beware! The dead have phantoms that they send...

Heracles:
Nay; no ghost-raiser hast thou made thy friend.

Admetus:
My wife ... she whom I buried?

Heracles:
I deceive
Thee not; nor wonder thou canst scarce believe.

Admetus:
And dare I touch her, greet her, as mine own
Wife living?

Heracles:
Greet her. Thy desire is won.

Admetus, approaching with awe,
Beloved eyes; beloved form; O thou
Gone beyond hope, I have thee, I hold thee now?

Heracles:
Thou hast her: may no god begrudge your joy.

Admetus, turning to Heracles.
O lordly conqueror, Child of Zeus on high,
Be blessèd! And may He, thy sire above,
Save thee, as thou alone hast saved my love!

He kneels to Heracles, who raises him.

But how ... how didst thou win her to the light?

Heracles:
I fought for life with Him I needs must fight.

Admetus:
With Death thou hast fought! But where?

Heracles:
Among his dead
I lay, and sprang and gripped him as he fled.

Admetus, in an awed whisper, looking towards Alcestis.
Why standeth she so still? No sound, no word!

Heracles:
She hath dwelt with Death. Her voice may not be heard
Ere to the Lords of Them Below she pay
Due cleansing, and awake on the third day.
To the Attendants So; guide her home.

They lead Alcestis to the doorway.

And thou, King, for the rest
Of time, be true; be righteous to thy guest,
As he would have thee be. But now farewell!
My task yet lies before me, and the spell
That binds me to my master; forth I fare.

Admetus:
Stay with us this one day! Stay but to share
The feast upon our hearth!

Heracles:
The feasting day
Shall surely come; now I must needs away.

Heracles departs.

Admetus:
Farewell! All victory attend thy name
And safe home-coming!
Lo, I make proclaim
To the Four Nations and all Thessaly;
A wondrous happiness hath come to be:
Therefore pray, dance, give offerings and make full
Your altars with the life-blood of the Bull!
For me ... my heart is changed; my life shall mend
Henceforth. For surely Fortune is a friend.

He goes with Alcestis into the house.

Chorus:
There be many shapes of mystery;
And many things God brings to be,
Past hope or fear.
And the end men looked for cometh not,
And a path is there where no man thought.
So hath it fallen here.