Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
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Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
 
The Coming of Hippolytus
By Margaret Sackville
 
  SCENE:  A high Tower overlooking the sea.
  Phaedra.  The singing women move about the streets
With gold between their breasts, their garments sway
About them with little murmurs—as a wind
Murmurs through the deep heart of a forest,
Broken and fugitive and soft. Their song        5
Is but the wind’s murmuring turned to song:
Nurse, is it happiness that bids them sing,
Who sing to welcome thus my lord’s return?
  The Nurse.  Wilt thou not also greet King Theseus?
  Phaedra.  Nay, for the heat lies heavily upon me—        10
The white heat, the intolerable heat,
The heat which has sucked my soul away from me,
Which melts the stone even. See it lies
Palpitating along the balustrade.
I cannot raise my head to sweep away        15
This lock which presses heavily on my forehead;
I cannot turn my head, nor raise my eyes
Beyond the shadow on the further wall.
See the great golden banner, how it droops!
There is no veil betwixt the earth and sun.        20
How should I rouse myself to meet the King?
  The Nurse.  So shouldst thou show more fair in the King’s sight.
  Phaedra.  Let thy shadow fall between me and the sun—
Speak not to me of Theseus. Am I not
Phaedra, God’s daughter? Is not my face white,        25
Consumed and wasted as a funeral pyre?
Because the blood beneath it burns it to ashes?
Like flakes of fire my days are falling from me,
Visibly one by one, since God has wrought
Fearfully his being into mine.        30
And what have I to do with mortal man?
  The Nurse.  Yet art thou wedded to Theseus, and his wife,
And meet it is thy soul should bend to him.
  Phaedra.  Why did no god come to me? Am I then
Less fair than my sister, who was loved of a god?        35
Is not my heart wild enough, and my love—
Are not its wings strong and tempestuous,
Wide reaching and far roaming o’er hill and sea,
Enough to satisfy any god’s desire?
Am I not too a goddess, half-revealed        40
Through a close clinging veil of irksome flesh,
Which tortures me, till I would fly beyond
The furthest barriers of the confined world?
Does not sharp fire sting me in hands and feet?
  The Nurse.  Thou art ever restless thus—yet turn thy gaze        45
From the proud heavens which have no care for thee.
  Phaedra.  For me there is no comfort. I am wrought
With doubtful blood; for me there is no rest—
Not in heaven, nor yet among the shades;
Certainly not on earth. How amongst men        50
Or gods shall such as I find comfort? How
In whom the god’s wars with the woman’s blood,
Who even in death shall be a twofold thing?
  The Nurse.  Yet art thou Queen here; thy will made thee Queen.
  Phaedra.  It was the will of Theseus made me Queen—        55
Who, being blind, loved me; and I was blind
And saw only the gold shining round his brows,
And saw the brow beneath was calm as death,
And no ambiguous light in the calm eyes.
And I said his calmness shall be to my soul        60
As twilight soothing with grave hands the sea;
Now is my soul like a rag torn in shreds.
  The Nurse.  Lovest thou not King Theseus?
  Phaedra.                I can hate:
I can no longer love. And who am I        65
To be bound thus to the slow wheel of earth?
I can hate, as a god hates, whom men forget,
All men—all gods—but mostly my lord the King,
Who has brought me weary love and a dull heart.
  The Nurse.  This cup is evil, drink thou not of it.        70
  Phaedra.  This cup is evil—I will drink deep of it:
I am outcast from love. Let the sea rage
And the rain beat on the brown earth pitilessly,
It shall not rage nor be pitiless as I!
  The Nurse.  Thou art a child, whose quick and petulant speech        75
Scatters thy soul like sparks. Do I not know thee,
And how thou wert ever thus?—yea, and wouldst spurn
With thy uneasy hands, even my breast!
  Phaedra.  Oh peace! How weary am I of mortal speech!
And of the gods who love me not—but I        80
Equally hate them. Nay, there is one I love,
One goddess, Aphrodite; I have sought
Her temples with white gifts and gifts of fire—
Prayers which gushed forth like blood from a pricked wound.
Yet she hears not—nothing she recks of me!        85
  The Nurse.  She is a dangerous goddess—speak not of her!
  Phaedra.  Why wilt thou tarnish life with thy grey tongue?
Her only do I worship. I will go
At once and offer sacrifice. Prepare
Wine and spiced cakes and myrtle wreaths and flowers,        90
For all my soul is eager to wait on her!
  The Nurse.  Yet canst not meet the King?
  Phaedra.                Let the King be:
Nay but I am weary—nay I will not go.
I tire of Aphrodite, even of her—        95
And of all things, and of my most impotent heart,
Which dares not stop from beating. Would I were
Strong like that fierce-limbed Queen Hippolyta
The King once loved, who rules the clamorous tribe
Of Amazons—gaunt women with one breast,        100
Who war with men and conquer. Yea and Theseus
Brings, does he not, even now from that far land
The son she bore him, grown a man to plague us?—
The gods alone know wherefore!
  The Nurse.                It may be        105
This son shall prove a son to thee and bring
Unto thy manifold heart comfort and love!
  Phaedra.  To me shall he bring no comfort. How should one
Sprung from King Theseus bring me comfort? Yet
Surely a strange soul must be his, conceived        110
In a womb not used to child-bearing, and reared
With dangers for his play-fellows since birth,
Among the forests and dark scattered rocks,
The winds with wings like shadows, and the fierce
Sun burning the highest pinnacles of the hills!        115
  The Nurse.  Behold, they come! and lo, King Theseus’ brow
Is cloudy, seeing thee not: crane forth thy head!
  Phaedra.  [She advances to the balcony and looks over.]
Ah! he is straight as a young sapling, a tree
Shining white in a dark wood! I have seen his eyes
Once, in a wild dream I had once; and his lips        120
A little cruelly curved, like a drawn bow;
His hand, which would not spare though it should smite
Her he loved—yea deeper because he loved her
Would he smite, and no pity dim those eyes of his.
I hate him from the bottom of my soul!        125
  The Nurse.  Wilt thou not go to meet thy lord?
  Phaedra.                I hate
Him from the bottom of my soul. Give me
My veil and crown—I go to meet my lord.
 
 
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