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at last was satisfied; and as she leaned
on her left elbow, partly raised from her
half-dream position, she said, “Let him see:
let me at once confess my frantic passion
without repression! O my wretched heart!
What hot flame burns me!” But while speaking so,
she took an iron pen in her right hand,
and trembling wrote the heart-words as she could,
all on a clean wax tablet which she held
in her limp left hand. She begins and stops,
and hesitates—she loves and hates her hot
confession—writes, erases, changes here
and there, condemns, approves, disheartened throws
her tablets down and takes them up again:
her mind refuses everything she does,
and moves against each action as begun:
shame, fear and bold assurance mingled showed
upon her face, as she began to write,
“Your sister” but at once decided she
could not say sister, and commenced instead,
with other words on her amended wax.
“A health to you, which she who loves you fails
to have, unless you grant the same to her.
It shames me, oh I am ashamed to tell
my name to you, and so without my name,
I would I might plead well until the hopes
of my desires were realized, and then
you might know safely, Byblis is my name.
“You might have knowledge of my wounded heart,
because my pale, drawn face and down-cast eyes
so often tearful, and my sighs without
apparent cause have shown it — and my warm
embraces, and my frequent kisses, much
too tender for a sister. All of this
has happened, while with agitated heart
and in hot passion, I have tried all ways,
(I call upon the Gods to witness it!)
that I might force myself to sanity.
And I have struggled, wretched nights and days,
to overcome the cruelties of love,
too dreadful for a frail girl to endure,
for they most surely are all Cupid's art.
“I have been overborne and must confess
my passion, while with timid prayers I plead;
for only you can save me. You alone
may now destroy the one who loves you best:
so you must choose what will be the result.
The one who prays is not your enemy;
but one most closely joined to you, yet asks
to knit the tie more firmly. Let old men
be governed by propriety, and talk
of what is right and wrong, and hold to all
the nice distinctions of strict laws. But Love,
has no fixed law for those whose age is ours,
is heedless and compliant. And we have
not yet discovered what is right or wrong,
and all we should do is to imitate
the known example of the Gods. We have
no father's harsh rule, and we have no care
for reputation, and no fear that keeps
us from each other. But there may be cause
for fear, and we may hide our stolen love,
because a sister is at liberty
to talk with her dear brother—quite apart:
we may embrace and kiss each other, though
in public. What is wanting? Pity her
whose utmost love compels her to confess;
and let it not be written on her tomb,
her death was for your sake and love denied.”
Here when she dropped the tablet from her hand,
it was so full of fond words, which were doomed
to disappointment, that the last line traced
the edge: and without thinking of delay,
she stamped the shameful letter with her seal,
and moistened it with tears (her tongue failed her
for moisture). Then, hot-blushing, she called one
of her attendants, and with timid voice
said, coaxing, “My most trusted servant, take
these tablets to my—” after long delay
she said, “my brother.” While she gave the tablets
they suddenly slipped from her hands and fell.
Although disturbed by this bad omen, she
still sent the letter, which the servant found
an opportunity to carry off.
He gave the secret love-confession. This
her brother, grandson of Maeander, read
but partly, and with sudden passion threw
the tablets from him. He could barely hold
himself from clutching on the throat of her
fear-trembling servant; as, enraged, he cried,
“Accursed pander to forbidden lust,
be gone!—before the knowledge of your death
is added to this unforeseen disgrace!”
The servant fled in terror, and told all
her brother's actions and his fierce reply
to Byblis: and when she had heard her love
had been repulsed, her startled face went pale,
and her whole body trembled in the grip
of ice-chills. Quickly as her mind regained
its usual strength, her maddening love returned,
came back with equal force, and while she choked
with her emotion, gasping she said this:
“I suffer only from my folly! why did I
so rashly tell him of my wounded heart?
And why did I so hastily commit
to tablets all I should have kept concealed?
I should have edged my way by feeling first,
obscurely hinting till I knew his mind
and disposition towards me. And so that
my first voyage might get favorable wind,
I should have tested with a close-reefed sail,
and, knowing what the wind was, safely fared.
But now with sails full spread I have been tossed
by unexpected winds. And so my ship
is on the rocks; and, overwhelmed with all
the power of Ocean, I have not the strength
to turn back and recover what is lost.
“Surely clear omens warned me not to tell
my love so soon, because the tablets fell
just when I would have put them in the hand
of my picked servant — certainly a sign
my hasty hopes were destined to fall down.
Is it not clear I should have changed the day;
and even my intention? Rather say
should not the day have been postponed at once?
The god himself gave me unerring signs,
if I had not been so deranged with love.
I should have spoken to him, face to face;
and with my own lips have confessed it all;
and then my passion had been seen by him,
and, as my face was bathed in tears, I could
have told him so much more than words engraved
on tablets; and, while I was telling him
I could have thrown my arms around his neck,
and if rejected could have seemed almost
at point of death; as I embraced his feet,
while prostrate, even might have begged for life.
I could have tried so many plans, and they
together would have won his stubborn heart.
“Perhaps my stupid servant, in mistake,
did not approach him at a proper time,
and even sought an hour his mind was full
of other things.
“All this has harmed my case;
there is no other reason; he was not
born of a tigress, and his heart is not
of flint or solid iron, or of adamant;
and no she-lion suckled him. He shall
be won to my affection; and I must
attempt again, again, nor ever cease
so long as I have breath. If it were not
too late already to undo what has
been done, 'twere wiser not begun at all.
But since I have begun, it now is best
to end it with success. How can he help
remembering what I dared, although I should
abandon my design! In such a case,
because I gave up, I must be to him
weak, fickle-minded; or perhaps he may
believe I tried to tempt him with a snare.
But come what may, he will not think of me
as overcome by some god who inflames
and rules the heart. He surely will believe
I was so actuated by my lust.
“If I do nothing more, my innocence
is gone forever. I have written him
and wooed him also, in a way so rash
and unmistakable, that if I should
do nothing more than this, I should be held
completely guilty in my brother's sight—
but I have hope, and nothing worse to fear.”
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