Metamorphoses (Miller)/Pyramus and Thisbe

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"Pyramus and Thisbe"—he, the most beautiful youth, and she, loveliest maid of all the East—dwelt in houses side by side, in the city which Semiramis is said to have surrounded with walls of brick. Their nearness made the first steps of their acquaintance. In time love grew, and they would have been joined in marriage, too, but their parents forbade. Still, what no parents could forbid, sore smitten in heart they burned with mutual love. They had no go-between, but communicated by nods and signs; and the more they covered up the fire, the more it burned. There was a slender chink in the party-wall of the two houses, which it had at some former time received when it was building. This chink, which no one had ever discovered through all these years—but what does love not see?—you lovers first discovered and made it the channel of speech. Safe through this your loving words used to pass in tiny whispers. Often, when they had taken their positions, on this side Thisbe, and Pyramus on that, and when each in turn had listened eagerly for the other's breath, 'O envious wall,' they would say, 'why do you stand between lovers? How small a thing 'twould be for you to permit us to embrace each other, or, if this be too much, to open for our kisses! But we are not ungrateful. We owe it to you, we admit, that a passage is allowed by which our words may go through to loving ears.' So, separated all to no purpose, they would talk, and as night came on they said good-bye and printed, each on his own side of the wall, kisses that did not go through. The next morning had put out the starry beacons of the night, and the sun's rays had dried the frosty grass; they came together at the accustomed place. Then first in low whispers they lamented bitterly, then decided when all had become still that night to try to elude their guardians' watchful eyes and steal out of doors; and, when they had gotten out, they would leave the city as well; and that they might not run the risk of missing one another, as they wandered in the open country, they were to meet at Ninus' tomb and hide in the shade of a tree. Now there was a tree there hanging full of snow-white berries, a tall mulberry, and not far away was a cool spring. They liked the plan, and slow the day seemed to go. But at last the sun went plunging down beneath the waves, and from the same waves the night came up.

"Now Thisbe, carefully opening the door, steals out through the darkness, seen of none, and arrives duly at the tomb with her face well veiled and sits down under the trysting-tree. Love made her bold. But see! here comes a lioness, her jaws all dripping with the blood of fresh-slain cattle, to slake her thirst at the neighbouring spring. Far off under the rays of the moon Babylonian Thisbe sees her, and flees with trembling feet into the deep cavern, and as she flees she leaves her cloak on the ground behind her. When the savage lioness has quenched her thirst by copious draughts of water, returning to the woods she comes by chance upon the light garment (but without the girl herself!) and tears it with bloody jaws. Pyramus, coming out a little later, sees the tracks of the beast plain in the deep dust and grows deadly pale at the sight. But when he saw the cloak too, smeared with blood, he cried: 'One night shall bring two lovers to death. But she of the two was more worthy of long life; on my head lies all the guilt. Oh, I have been the cause of your death, poor girl, in that I bade you come forth by night into this dangerous place, and did not myself come hither first. Come, rend my body and devour my guilty flesh with your fierce fangs, O all ye lions who have your lairs beneath this cliff! But 'tis a coward's part merely to pray for death.' He picks up Thisbe's cloak and carries it to the shade of the trysting-tree. And while he kisses the familiar garment and bedews it with his tears he cries: 'Drink now my blood too.' So saying, he drew the sword which he wore girt about him, plunged the blade into his side, and straightway, with his dying effort, drew the sword from his warm wound. As he lay stretched upon the earth the spouting blood leaped high; just as when a pipe has broken at a weak spot in the lead and through the small hissing aperture sends spurting forth long streams of water, cleaving the air with its jets. The fruit of the tree, sprinkled with the blood, was changed to a dark red colour; and the roots, soaked with his gore, also tinged the hanging berries with the same purple hue.

"And now comes Thisbe from her hiding-place, still trembling, but fearful also that her lover will miss her; she seeks for him both with eyes and soul, eager to tell him how great perils she has escaped. And while she recognizes the place and the shape of the well-known tree, still the colour of its fruit mystifies her. She doubts if it be this. While she hesitates, she sees somebody's limbs writhing on the bloody ground, and starts back, paler than boxwood, and shivering like the sea when a slight breeze ruffles its surface. But when after a little while she recognizes her lover, she smites her innocent arms with loud blows of grief, and tears her hair; and embracing the well-beloved form, she fills his wounds with tears, mingling these with his blood. And as she kissed his lips, now cold in death, she wailed: 'O my Pyramus, what mischance has reft you from me? Pyramus! answer me. 'Tis your dearest Thisbe calling you. Oh, listen, and lift your drooping head!' At the name of Thisbe, Pyramus lifted his eyes, now heavy with death, and having looked upon her face, closed them again.

"Now when she saw her own cloak and the ivory scabbard empty of the sword, she said: Twas your own hand and your love, poor boy, that took your life. I, too, have a hand brave for this one deed; I, too, have love. This shall give me strength for the fatal blow. I will follow you in death, and men shall say that I was the most wretched cause and comrade of your fate. Whom death alone had power to part from me, not even death shall have power to part from me. O wretched parents, mine and his, be ye entreated of this by the prayers of us both, that you begrudge us not that we, whom faithful love, whom the hour of death has joined, should be laid together in the same tomb. And do you, O tree, who now shade with your branches the poor body of one, and soon will shade two, keep the marks of our death and always bear your fruit of a dark colour, meet for mourning, as a memorial of our double death.' She spoke, and fitting the point beneath her breast, she fell forward on the sword which was still warm with her lover's blood. Her prayers touched the gods and touched the parents; for the colour of the mulberry fruit is dark red when it is ripe, and all that remained from both funeral pyres rests in a common urn."