Oenone to Paris
MAY I hope that you will read this? Or, over-awed by your new bride, must you treat it with neglect? Read it over, I entreat you:
it is no threatening
letter sent you from Mycenæ. I, the Nymph Œnone, famous in the Phrygian woods, complain of injuries received from you, whom I am still fond to call mine, if you permit. What God opposes himself to my wishes? What crime have I committed, that I no longer possess your love? Where we suffer deservedly, we ought to bear it with patience; but unmerited calamities sit heavy upon us. You were yet in low circumstances, when I, a Nymph sprung from a mighty river, was contented to receive you for my husband. Thought now the
son of Priam, (excuse my freedom,) you were then no more than a slave: nor did I disdain to wed you even in that meanest rank. Oft under the shade of a tree, have we quietly rested amidst the flocks, where the ground, strewn with leaves, afforded a pleasant couch. Oft in our Iowly cottage, secure from hail
and freezing winds, have we contentedly
reposed on straw or a bed of hay. Who shewed you the forests best stocked with game, or pointed out the rocky caverns where the savage dam concealed her young? A constant companion of your toils, I often spread the knotted net, and cheered your sweeping hounds along the mountain's brow. The beeches still preserve my name carved by your hand; and 'Œnone,
' the work of your pruning-knife, is read upon their bark; and, as the trunks increase, the letters still dilate. Grow on, and rise as testimonies of my just claim. There grows a poplar (I remember it) by the river's side, on which is carved the motto of our love. Flourish. thou poplar, fed by the bordering stream, whose furrowed bark bears this inscription: Sooner shall Xanthus hasten back to his source, than Paris be able to live without his Œnone.
flow backward; backward flow, ye streams! Paris still lives, though faithless to his Œnone. My misfortunes began from that unhappy day, in which Venus, Juno, and Minerva (most graceful when clad in shining armor) appointed you judge of the prize of beauty. It was then that a black storm overcast my former peace. My heart failed while you repeated the fatal tale, and a cold trembling shot through all my bones. I acquainted the aged matrons and sages with my just fears; and they all agreed that some misfortune was approaching. Trees are cut down, ships are built; and the sea-green waves bear up your well-appointed fleet. When about to depart, you melted into tears; this at least you need not be ashamed to own; the present love is far more guilty than the past. You wept, and witnessed my melting grief; the mingled tears spoke our
mutual sadness. You clasped your arms round my neck, more closely than the curling vines embrace the towering elm. How did your companions smile, when you complained of the unfriendly winds! They favored; but love detained you.
How often at parting did you repeat the ardent kisses; while your tongue was scarcely able to utter a last farewell!
A propitious gale swells your sails bellying from the rigid masts; and the sea foams after the repeated strokes of the oars. Hapless, I pursue with my eyes the lessening canvass, and water the sands with my tears. I implore the Nereids for your speedy return; a speedy return indeed to my sorrow. Have then my prayers brought you back only for the sake of another, and have I solicited the Gods in behalf of an injurious harlot? A high rock formed by nature overlooks the boundless sea. This precipice opposes itself to the beating waves. Hence I first espied your swelling
sails, and hardly could forbear plunging into the deep. As I waited with impatience for your arrival, I discerned upon the deck a purple garment; this made me tremble, as I well knew that it was not your dress. The ship approached, and, urged by a favorable gale, reached the land; when with a throbbing heart I espied my hated rival, whose head even (why delayed I to leap into the sea?) rested upon your bosom. At this I tore my hair and beat my breast, and, urged by despair, scratched my face with my inhuman nails. Ida's sacred groves resounded with my mournful complaints; and hence I bore them to those caves which were conscious of our former love. So may Helen also complain, and mourn like me a faithless spouse; may she too taste of those sorrows, which on her account I now so severely feel. You are at present charmed with one who forsakes her lawful husband, and follows you over the wide sea. But when, a poor shepherd, you attended your little flock, Œnone alone made you an offer of her bed. I have no eye to your riches, nor am I moved by your stately palace. I have no ambition to be numbered among the daughters of potent Priam. Yet Priam needs not to be ashamed of owning himself the father-in-law of a Nymph; nor needs Hecuba disscmble that I am
her daughter. I merit, and wish to become the consort of a powerful prince; nor would a regal sceptre ill become my hands. It is no dishonor to have lain with you upon the new-fallen leaves; I am the more fit to ascend a bed of state. Add that you are safe in my love; no wars threaten you; no revengeful ships plough the waves. Fugitive Helen is demanded back by hostile arms, and sees with pride that a war must be her dowry. Ask of Hector your brother, Polydamas, or Deiphobus, whether she ought to be restored. Consult with sage Antenor, and your aged sire Priam, whom years and long experience have taught wisdom. It is scandalous to prefer a mistress to your native country. You engage in a shameful cause: her husband raises a just war against you. Nor flatter yourself that this Lacedæmonian will long prove constant, she who was so easily enticed to your embraces. As young Atrides complains of his dishonored bed, and mourns the injury done to him by a foreign
love; so shall you lament in your turn. Chastity, when once sullied, can never be recovered; one false step ruins it for ever.
She now burns for you. Thus she once loved Menelaus. He, too easy of belief, lies now in a forlorn bed. Happy Andromache, the worthy consort of a faithful spouse! My fidelity merited a like return from you. You are lighter than withered leaves driven by the inconstant winds, or than stalks of wheat parched by the continual heat of the sun. Heretofore your sister (now I recollect) forewarned me of all, and, with her hair disheveled, thus prophesied my approaching fate: What is it you hope for, Œnone? Why bury you thus your seed in the sand? Why plough you up the shore with unprofitable steers? The Grecian heifer comes, fatal to you, to Troy, and our ancient house. She comes. Forbid it Heaven; and now, while it may be done, overwhelm the guilty ship. Alas! how is she fraught with Phrygian blood!
She said: her servants carried her off full of the God. My
hair was erect with fear. Ah, you too truly foretold my wretched fate! This heifer now feeds in my lawns. Though fair to look upon, she is yet a prostitute, whom strangers have easily enticed from her native home. Thus Theseus (if I do not mistake the name), one Theseus, formerly made her a prize. It is likely, no doubt, that she was restored safe and untouched by a youth passionate and fond. If you wonder how I obtained a knowlege of this story, I answer,
that I love. You may call it violence, and think to hide her fault by a specious name: it is evident that one who has been carried off so often, must have contrived the rape. But Œnone continues faithful to a perjured spouse; and yet I might have returned the injury in kind. I was pursued by the Satyrs, a lustful crew, and, to escape their violence, concealed myself in the woods. Fauns too, adorned with garlands of pine-leaves, traced me over Ida's swelling
summits. Phœbus, the guardian god of Troy, obtained at last, by violence, what others had struggled for in vain. I tore his hair, and left on his face the marks of my rage. Yet I desired no sordid recompence of jewels or gold, nor would meanly prostitute my free charms for hire. He thought me worthy to be intrusted with the healing art, and rewarded me with the same knowlege for which he is himself so famed. My skill reaches to every herb and healing root which the fertile carth produces. But, unhappy that I am! my art avails not to my own cure; nor are herbs sufficient to heal the wounds of love. Even Phœbus, the founder of our art, fed (we are told) the herds of Admetus; nor could he withstand the pointed flames. Not heaven, nor earth with all its bounteous store, can ease my pain; it is from you alone that I expect relief. Paris can relieve;
and I have deserved it. Pity a maid who merits and loves you. My alliance will bring upon you no dangerous bloody wars. I am yours, and with you innocently passed my infant years: Heaven grant that what yet remains of life may be also spent with you!