Oedipus the King
O let it not decline! If thou wouldst rule
This land, as now thou reignest, better sure
To rule a peopled than a desert realm.
Nor battlements nor galleys aught avail,
If men to man and guards to guard them tail.
OEDIPUS Ah! my poor children, known, ah, known too well,
The quest that brings you hither and your need.
Ye sicken all, well wot I, yet my pain,
How great soever yours, outtops it all.
Your sorrow touches each man severally,
Him and none other, but I grieve at once
Both for the general and myself and you.
Therefore ye rouse no sluggard from day-dreams.
Many, my children, are the tears I've wept,
And threaded many a maze of weary thought.
Thus pondering one clue of hope I caught,
And tracked it up; I have sent Menoeceus' son,
Creon, my consort's brother, to inquire
Of Pythian Phoebus at his Delphic shrine,
How I might save the State by act or word.
And now I reckon up the tale of days
Since he set forth, and marvel how he fares.
'Tis strange, this endless tarrying, passing strange.
But when he comes, then I were base indeed,
If I perform not all the god declares.
PRIEST Thy words are well timed; even as thou speakest
That shouting tells me Creon is at hand.
OEDIPUS O King Apollo! may his joyous looks
Be presage of the joyous news he brings!
PRIEST As I surmise, 'tis welcome; else his head
Had scarce been crowned with berry-laden bays.
OEDIPUS We soon shall know; he's now in earshot range. (Enter CREON.)
My royal cousin, say, Menoeceus' child,
What message hast thou brought us from the god?
CREON Good news, for e'en intolerable ills,
Finding right issue, tend to naught but good.
OEDIPUS How runs the oracle? thus far thy words
Give me no ground for confidence or fear.
CREON If thou wouldst hear my message publicly,
I'll tell thee straight, or with thee pass within.
OEDIPUS Speak before all; the burden that I bear
Is more for these my subjects than myself.
CREON Let me report then all the god declared.
King Phoebus bids us straitly extirpate
A fell pollution that infests the land,
And no more harbor an inveterate sore.
OEDIPUS What expiation means he? What's amiss?
CREON Banishment, or the shedding blood for blood.
This stain of blood makes shipwreck of our state.
OEDIPUS Whom can he mean, the miscreant thus denounced?
CREON Before thou didst assume the helm of State,
The sovereign of this land was Laius.
OEDIPUS I heard as much, but never saw the man.
CREON He fell; and now the god's command is plain:
Punish his takers-off, whoe'er they be.
OEDIPUS Where are they? Where in the wide world to find
The far, faint traces of a bygone crime?
CREON In this land, said the god; «who seeks shall find;
Who sits with folded hands or sleeps is blind.»
OEDIPUS Was he within his palace, or afield,
Or traveling, when Laius met his fate?
CREON Abroad; he started, so he told us, bound
For Delphi, but he never thence returned.