Pyramus and Thisbe
Ovid’s Pyramus and Thisbe
When Pyramus and Thisbe, who were known
the one most handsome of all youthful men,
the other loveliest of all eastern girls,–
lived in adjoining houses, near the walls
that Queen Semiramis had built of brick
around her famous city, they grew fond,
and loved each other–meeting often there–
and as the days went by their love increased.
They wished to join in marriage, but that joy
their fathers had forbidden them to hope;
and yet the passion that with equal strength
inflamed their minds no parents could forbid.
No relatives had guessed their secret love,
for all their converse was by nods and signs;
and as a smoldering fire may gather heat,
the more ’tis smothered, so their love increased.
Now, it so happened, a partition built
between their houses, many years ago,
was made defective with a little chink;
a small defect observed by none, although
for ages there; but what is hid from love?
Our lovers found the secret opening,
and used its passage to convey the sounds
of gentle, murmured words, whose tuneful note
passed oft in safety through that hidden way.
Thisbe, by Waterhouse.
There, many a time, they stood on either side,
thisbe on one and Pyramus the other,
and when their warm breath touched from lip to lip,
their sighs were such as this: “Thou envious wall
why art thou standing in the way of those
who die for love? What harm could happen thee
shouldst thou permit us to enjoy our love?
But if we ask too much, let us persuade
that thou wilt open while we kiss but once:
for, we are not ungrateful; unto thee
we own our debt; here thou hast left a way
that breathed words may enter loving ears.,”
so vainly whispered they, and when the night
began to darken they exchanged farewells;
made presence that they kissed a fond farewell
vain kisses that to love might none avail.
When dawn removed the glimmering lamps of night,
and the bright sun had dried the dewy grass
again they met where they had told their love;
and now complaining of their hapless fate,
in murmurs gentle, they at last resolved,
away to slip upon the quiet night,
elude their parents, and, as soon as free,
quit the great builded city and their homes.
Fearful to wander in the pathless fields,
they chose a trysting place, the tomb of Ninus,
where safely they might hide unseen, beneath
the shadow of a tall mulberry tree,
covered with snow-white fruit, close by a spring.
All is arranged according to their hopes:
and now the daylight, seeming slowly moved,
sinks in the deep waves, and the tardy night
arises from the spot where day declines.
Quickly, the clever Thisbe having first
deceived her parents, opened the closed door.
She flitted in the silent night away;
and, having veiled her face, reached the great tomb,
and sat beneath the tree; love made her bold.
There, as she waited, a great lioness
approached the nearby spring to quench her thirst:
her frothing jaws incarnadined with blood
of slaughtered oxen. As the moon was bright,
Thisbe could see her, and affrighted fled
with trembling footstep to a gloomy cave;
and as she ran she slipped and dropped her veil,
which fluttered to the ground. She did not dare
to save it. Wherefore, when the savage beast
had taken a great draft and slaked her thirst,
and thence had turned to seek her forest lair,
she found it on her way, and full of rage,
tore it and stained it with her bloody jaws:
but Thisbe, fortunate, escaped unseen.
Now Pyramus had not gone out so soon
as Thisbe to the tryst; and, when he saw
the certain traces of that savage beast,
imprinted in the yielding dust, his face
went white with fear; but when he found the veil
covered with blood, he cried; “Alas, one night
has caused the ruin of two lovers! Thou
wert most deserving of completed days,
but as for me, my heart is guilty! I
destroyed thee! O my love! I bade thee come
out in the dark night to a lonely haunt,
and failed to go before. Oh! whatever lurks
beneath this rock, though ravenous lion, tear
my guilty flesh, and with most cruel jaws
devour my cursed entrails! What? Not so;
it is a craven’s part to wish for death!”
So he stopped briefly; and took up the veil;
went straightway to the shadow of the tree;
and as his tears bedewed the well-known veil,
he kissed it oft and sighing said, “Kisses
and tears are thine, receive my blood as well.”
And he imbrued the steel, girt at his side,
deep in his bowels; and plucked it from the wound,
a-faint with death. As he fell back to earth,
his spurting blood shot upward in the air;
so, when decay has rift a leaden pipe
a hissing jet of water spurts on high.–
By that dark tide the berries on the tree
assumed a deeper tint, for as the roots
soaked up the blood the pendent mulberries
were dyed a purple tint.
though trembling still with fright, for now she thought
her lover must await her at the tree,
and she should haste before he feared for her.
Longing to tell him of her great escape
she sadly looked for him with faithful eyes;
but when she saw the spot and the changed tree,
she doubted could they be the same, for so
the colour of the hanging fruit deceived.
While doubt dismayed her, on the ground she saw
the wounded body covered with its blood;–
she started backward, and her face grew pale
and ashen; and she shuddered like the sea,
which trembles when its face is lightly skimmed
by the chill breezes;–and she paused a space;–
but when she knew it was the one she loved,
she struck her tender breast and tore her hair.
Then wreathing in her arms his loved form,
she bathed the wound with tears, mingling her grief
in his unquenched blood; and as she kissed
his death-cold features wailed; “Ah Pyramus,
what cruel fate has taken thy life away?
Pyramus! Pyramus! awake! awake!
It is thy dearest Thisbe calls thee! Lift
thy drooping head! Alas,”–At Thisbe’s name
he raised his eyes, though languorous in death,
and darkness gathered round him as he gazed.
And then she saw her veil; and near it lay
his ivory sheath–but not the trusty sword
and once again she wailed; “Thy own right hand,
and thy great passion have destroyed thee!–
And I? my hand shall be as bold as thine–
my love shall nerve me to the fatal deed–
thee, I will follow to eternity–
though I be censured for the wretched cause,
so surely I shall share thy wretched fate:–
alas, whom death could me alone bereave,
thou shalt not from my love be reft by death!
And, O ye wretched parents, mine and his,
let our misfortunes and our pleadings melt
your hearts, that ye no more deny to those
whom constant love and lasting death unite–
entomb us in a single sepulchre.
“And, O thou tree of many-branching boughs,
spreading dark shadows on the corpse of one,
destined to cover twain, take thou our fate
upon thy head; mourn our untimely deaths;
let thy fruit darken for a memory,
an emblem of our blood.” No more she said;
and having fixed the point below her breast,
she fell on the keen sword, still warm with his red blood.
But though her death was out of Nature’s law
her prayer was answered, for it moved the Gods
and moved their parents. Now the Gods have changed
the ripened fruit which darkens on the branch:
and from the funeral pile their parents sealed
their gathered ashes in a single urn.