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ACT III. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Goethe’s Works, vol. 3 (Goetz von Berlichingen, Iphigenia in Tauris, Tarquato Tasso, etc) 
Goethe’s Works, illustrated by the best German artists, 5 vols. (Philadelphia: G. Barrie, 1885). Vol. 3.
Part of: Goethe’s Works, 5 vols.
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Unhappy man, I only loose thy bonds
In token of a still severer doom.
The freedom which the sanctuary imparts,
Like the last life-gleam o’er the dying face,
But heralds death. I cannot, dare not say
Your doom is hopeless; for, with murderous hand,
Could I inflict the fatal blow myself?
And while I here am priestess of Diana,
None, be he who he may, dare touch your heads.
But the incens’d king, should I refuse
Compliance with the rites himself enjoin’d,
Will choose another virgin from my train
As my successor. Then, alas! with naught,
Save ardent wishes, can I succor you.
Much honored countrymen! The humblest slave.
Who had but near’d our sacred household hearth.
Is dearly welcome in a foreign land;
How with proportion’d joy and blessing, then,
Shall I receive the man who doth recall
The image of the heroes, whom I learn’d
To honor from my parents, and who cheers
My inmost heart with flatt’ring gleams of hope!
Does prudent forethought prompt thee to conceal
Thy name and race? or may I hope to know
Who, like a heavenly vision, meets me thus?
Yes, thou shalt know me. Now conclude the tale
Of which thy brother only told me half:
Relate their end, who coming home from Troy,
On their own threshold met a doom severe
And most unlook’d for. Young I was in sooth
When first conducted to this foreign shore,
Yet well I recollect the timid glance
Of wonder and amazement which I cast
On those heroic forms. When they went forth
It seem’d as though Olympus had sent down
The glorious figures of a bygone world,
To frighten Ilion; and above them all,
Great Agamemnon tower’d pre-eminent!
Oh, tell me! Fell the hero in his home,
Through Clytemnestra’s and Ægisthus’ wiles?
Unbless’d Mycene! Thus the sons
Of Tantalus, with barbarous hands, have sown
Curse upon curse; and, as the shaken weed
Scatters around a thousand poison-seeds,
So they assassins ceaseless generate,
Their children’s children ruthless to destroy,—
Now tell the remnant of thy brother’s tale,
Which horror darkly hid from me before.
How did the last descendant of the race,—
The gentle child, to whom the Gods assign’d
The office of avenger,—how did he
Escape that day of blood? Did equal fate
Around Orestes throw Avernus’ net?
Say, was he sav’d? and is he still alive?
And lives Electra, too?
They both survive.
Golden Apollo, lend thy choicest beams!
Lay them an offering at the throne of Jove!
For I am poor and dumb.
If social bonds
Or ties more close connect thee with this house,
As this thy rapturous joy betrayeth to me,
Oh, then rein in thy heart and hold it fast!
For insupportable the sudden plunge
From happiness to sorrow’s gloomy depth.
Thou knowest only Agamemnon’s death.
And is not this intelligence enough?
Half of the horror only hast thou heard.
What should I fear? Orestes, Electra live.
And fearest thou for Clytemnestra naught?
Her, neither hope nor fear have power to save.
She to the land of hope hath bid farewell.
Did her repentant hand shed her own blood?
Not so; yet her own blood inflicted death.
More plainly speak, nor leave me in suspense.
Uncertainty around my anxious head
Her dusky, thousand-folded pinion waves.
Have then the powers above selected me
To be the herald of a dreadful deed,
Which in the drear and soundless realms of night
I fain would hide forever? ’Gainst my will
Thy gentle voice constrains me; it demands,
And shall receive, a tale of direst woe.
Electra, on the day when fell her sire,
Her brother from impending doom conceal’d;
Him Strophius, his father’s relative,
Receiv’d with kindest care, and rear’d him up
With his own son, nam’d Pylades, who soon
Around the stranger twin’d love’s fairest bonds.
And as they grew, within their inmost souls
There sprang the burning longing to revenge
The monarch’s death. Unlook’d for, and disguis’d,
They reach Mycene, feigning to have brought
The mournful tidings of Orestes’ death,
Together with his ashes. Them the queen
Gladly receives. Within the house they enter;
Orestes to Electra shows himself:
She fans the fires of vengeance into flame,
Which in the sacred presence of a mother
Had burn’d more dimly. Silently she leads
Her brother to the spot where fell their sire:
Where lurid blood-marks, on the oft-wash’d floor,
With pailid streaks, anticipate revenge.
With fiery eloquence she pictur’d forth
Each circumstance of that atrocious deed,—
Her own oppress’d and miserable lite.
The prosperous traitor’s insolent demeanor,
The perils threat’ning Agamemnon’s race
From her who had become their stepmother.—
Then in his hand the ancient dagger thrust,
Which often in the house of Tantalus
With savage fury rag’d,—and by her son
Was Clytemnestra slain.
Whose pure and bless’d existence glides away
’Mid ever shifting clouds, me have ye kept
So many years secluded from the world,
Retain’d me near yourselves, consign’d to me
The childlike task to feed the sacred fire,
And taught my spirit, like the hallow’d flame,
With never-clouded brightness to aspire
To your pure mansions,—but at length to feel
With keener woe the horror of my house?
Oh, tell me of the poor unfortunate!
Speak of Orestes!
Oh, could I speak to tell thee of his death!
Forth from the slain ones spouting blood arose
His mother’s ghost;
And to the ancient daughters of the night
Cries,—“Let him not escape,—the matricide!
Pursue the victim, dedicate to you!”
They hear, and glare around with hollow eyes,
Like greedy eagles. In their murky dens
They stir themselves, and from the corners creep
Their comrades, dire Remorse and pallid Fear;
Before them fumes a mist of Acheron:
Perplexingly around the murderer’s brow
The eternal contemplation of the past
Rolls in its cloudy circles. Once again
The grisly band, commission’d to destroy,
Pollute earth’s beautiful and heaven-sown fields,
From which an ancient curse had banish’d them.
Their rapid feet the fugitive pursue;
They only pause to start a wilder fear.
Unhappy one! thy lot resembles his;
Thou feel’st what he, poor fugitive, must suffer.
What say’st thou? why presume my fate like his?
A brother’s murder weighs upon thy soul;
Thy younger brother told the mournful tale.
I cannot suffer that thy noble soul
Should by a word of falsehood be deceiv’d.
In cunning rich and practis’d in deceit
A web ensnaring let the stranger weave
To snare the stranger’s feet; between us twain
I am Orestes! and this guilty head
Is stooping to the tomb, and covets death;
It will be welcome now in any shape.
Whoe’er thou art, for thee and for my friend
I wish deliverance;—I desire it not.
Thou seem’st to linger here against thy will;
Contrive some means of flight, and leave me here:
My lifeless corpse hurl’d headlong from the rock,
My blood shall mingle with the dashing waves,
And bring a curse upon this barbarous shore!
Return together home to lovely Greece,
With joy a new existence to commence.
At length Fulfilment, fairest child of Jove,
Thou dost descend upon me from on high!
How vast thine image! scarce my straining eye
Can reach thy hands, which, fill’d with golden fruit
And wreaths of blessing, from Olympus’ height
Shower treasures down. As by his bounteous gifts
We recognize the monarch (for what seems
To thousands opulence, is naught to him).
So you, ye heavenly Powers, are also known
By bounty long withheld, and wisely plann’d.
Ye only know what things are good for us;
Ye view the future’s wide-extended realm,
While from our eye a dim or starry veil
The prospect shrouds. Calmly ye hear our prayers,
When we like children sue for greater speed.
Not immature ye pluck heaven’s golden fruit;
And woe to him, who with impatient hand,
His date of joy forestalling, gathers death.
Let not this long-awaited happiness,
Which yet my heart hath scarcely realiz’d,
Like to the shadow of departed friends,
Glide vainly by with triple sorrow fraught!
(Returning.) Dost thou for Pylades and for thyself
Implore the gods, blend not my name with yours;
Thou wilt not save the wretch whom thou would’st join,
But will participate his curse and woe.
My destiny is firmly bound to thine.
No, say not so: alone and unattended
Let me descend to Hades. Though thou should’st
In thine own veil enwrap the guilty one,
Thou could’st not shroud him from his wakeful foes;
And e’en thy sacred presence, heavenly maid,
But driveth them aside and scares them not.
With brazen impious feet they dare not tread
Within the precincts of this sacred grove:
Yet in the distance, ever and anon,
I hear their horrid laughter, like the howl
Of famish’d wolves, beneath the tree wherein
The traveller hides. Without, encamp’d they lie,
And should I quit this consecrated grove,
Shaking their serpent locks, they would arise,
And, raising clouds of dust on every side,
Ceaseless pursue their miserable prey.
Orestes, canst thou hear a friendly word?
Reserve it for one favored by the gods.
To thee they give anew the light of hope.
Through clouds and smoke I see the feeble gleam
Of the death-stream which lights me down to hell.
Hast thou one sister only, thy Electra?
I knew but one: yet her kind destiny,
Which seem’d to us so terrible, betimes
Remov’d an elder sister from the woe
Which o’er the house of Pelops aye impends.
Oh, cease thy questions, nor thus league thyself
With the Erinnys; still they blow away,
With fiendish joy, the ashes from my soul,
Lest the last embers of the fiery brand,
The fatal heritage of Pelops’ house,
Should there be quenched. Must then the fire for aye,
Deliberately kindled and supplied
With hellish sulphur, sear my tortur’d soul?
I scatter fragrant incense in the flame.
Oh, let the pure, the gentle breath of love,
Low murmuring, cool thy bosom’s fiery glow.
Orestes, fondly lov’d,—canst thou not hear me?
Hath the terrific Furies’ grisly band
Dried up the blood of life within thy veins?
Creeps there, as from the Gorgon’s direful head,
A petrifying charm through all thy limbs?
With hollow accents from a mother’s blood,
If voices call thee to the shades below,
May not a sister’s word with blessing rife
Call from Olympus’ height help-rendering gods?
She calls! she calls!—Dost thou desire my doom?
Is there a Fury shrouded in thy form?
Who art thou, that thy voice thus horribly
Can harrow up my bosom’s inmost depths?
Thine inmost heart reveals it. I am she,—
Iphigenia,—look on me, Orestes!
My own brother!
Hence, away, begone!
I counsel thee, touch not these fatal locks!
As from Creusa’s bridal robe, from me
An inextinguishable fire is kindled.
Leave me! Like Hercules, a death of shame,
Unworthy wretch, lock’d in myself, I’ll die!
Thou shalt not perish! Would that I might hear
One quiet word from thee! dispel my doubts,
Make sure the bliss I have implor’d so long.
A wheel of joy and sorrow in my heart
Ceaseless revolves. I from a man unknown
With horror turn; but with resistless might
My inmost heart impels me to my brother.
Is this Lyæus’ temple? Doth the glow
Of holy rage unbridled thus possess
The sacred priestess?
Hear me! oh, look up!
See how my heart, which hath been clos’d so long,
Doth open to the bliss of seeing thee,
The dearest treasure that the world contains,—
Of falling on thy neck, and folding thee
Within my longing arms, which have till now
Met the embraces of the empty wind.
Do not repulse me,—the eternal spring,
Whose crystal waters from Parnassus flow,
Bounds not more gayly on from rock to rock,
Down to the golden vale, than from my heart
The waters of affection freely gush,
And round me form a circling sea of bliss.
Orestes! O my brother!
Nor thy caresses, nor thyself I trust;
Diana claims attendants more severe,
And doth avenge her desecrated fane.
Remove thy circling arm! Wilt thou indeed
Safety and love upon a youth bestow,
And fondly tender him earth’s fairest joy?
Unto my friend, more worthy than myself,
Impart thy favors; ’mong yon rocks he roves,
Go, seek him; guide him hence, and heed not me.
Brother, command thyself, and better know
Thy sister, newly found! Misconstrue not
Her pure and heavenly rapture, blaming it
As lustful heat unbridled. O ye gods,
Remove delusion from his rigid gaze,
Lest that this moment, fraught with bliss supreme,
Should make us trebly wretched! She is here,
Thine own, thy long-lost sister! From the altar
The goddess rescu’d me, and plac’d me here,
Secure within her consecrated fane—
A captive thou, prepar’d for sacrifice,
And findest here a sister in the priestess.
Unblessed one! So may the radiant sun
The final horror of our house behold!
Is not Electra here? That she with us
May also perish, nor her life prolong
For heavier destiny and direr woe,
’Tis well,—I follow, priestess! Fratricide
Is an old custom of our ancient house;
And you, ye gods, I thank, that ye resolve
Childless to root me hence. Thee let me counsel
To view too fondly neither sun nor stars,
Come, follow to the gloomy realms below!
As dragons, gender’d in the sulphur pool,
Swallow each other with voracious rage,
So our accursed race destroys itself
Childless and guiltless come below with me!
There’s pity in thy look! oh, gaze not so,—
’Twas with such looks that Clytemnestra sought
An entrance to her son Orestes’ heart,
And yet his uprais’d arm her bosom pierc’d
His mother fell!—Appear, indignant shade!
Within the circle step, ye fiends of hell,
Be present at the welcome spectacle,
The last, most horrible that ye prepare!
Nor hate, nor vengeance whets the poniard now;
A loving sister is constrain’d to deal
The fatal blow. Weep not! Thou hast no guilt.
From earliest infancy I naught have lov’d,
As thee I could have lov’d, my sister. Come,
The weapon raise, spare not, this bosom rend,
And make an outlet for its boiling streams!
[He sinks exhausted.
Alone I cannot bear this bliss and woe.
Where art thou, Pylades? Thine aid I need.
(Recovering from his swoon and standing up.) Give yet another! reach from Lethe’s stream
The last reviving draught of cool refreshment!
Soon shall its waters in my bosom still
Life’s fitful fever; and my spirit then
Adown oblivion’s stream shall glide to you,
Ye spirits shrouded in eternal mist,
With tranquil pleasure in your deep repose
A weary son of earth may lave his soul!—
What whisp’ring sounds pervade the dreary grove?
What hollow murmurs haunt its twilight gloom?
They gather round to view the stranger guest!
Who are you troop in high communion met,
Like an assembled family of princes?
They mingle peacefully, of every age,
Of either sex: godlike, of kindred mould,
Appear the gliding figures. Yes, ’tis they,
The fathers of my race! With Atreus,
In friendly converse glides Thyestes’ shade,
And children playfully around them sport.
Is there no enmity among you now?
And is revenge extinguish’d with the sun?
So am I also welcome, and may hope
To mingle in your solemn company.
Welcome, my sires! Orestes bids you hail!
The seed that ye have sow’d, that hath he reap’d.
Laden with curses he descends to you.
But burdens here are lighter far to bear.
Receive him, oh, receive him in your circle!
Thee, Atreus, I revere, and thee, Thyestes:
Here all are free from enmity and hate.—
Show me my father, whom I only once
In life beheld.—Art thou my father, thou.
My mother leading thus familiarly?
Dares Clytemnestra reach her hand to thee?
Then may Orestes also draw near her.
And say, Behold thy son!—My ancestors,
Behold your son, and bid him welcome here.
Among the sons of ancient Tantalus,
A kind salute on earth was murder’s watchword,
And all their joys commence beyond the grave.
Ye welcome me! Ye bid me join your circle!
Oh, lead me to my honor’d ancestor!
Where is our aged sire? Let me behold
The dear, the venerable head of him
Who with the immortal gods in council sat.
Ye seem to shudder and to turn away!
What may this mean? Suffers the godlike man?
Alas! the mighty gods, with ruthless hate,
To his heroic breast, with brazen chains,
Have cruel pangs indissolubly bound.
Orestes, Iphigenia, Pylades.
How! Are ye come already here below?
Welcome, my sister! Still Electra fails;
Oh, that some kindly god, with gentle arrow,
Her too, full speedily, would downward send!
Thee, hapless friend, I must compassionate!
Come with me! Come! To Pluto’s gloomy throne,
There to salute our hosts like stranger guests.
Celestial pair, who from the realms above
By night and day shed down the beauteous light
To cheer mankind, but who may not illume
Departed spirits, save a mortal pair!
A brother’s and a sister’s anguish pity!
For thou. Diana, lov’st thy gentle brother
Beyond what earth and heaven can offer thee;
And dost, with quiet yearning, ever turn
Thy virgin face to his eternal light.
Let not my only brother, found so late,
Rave in the darkness of insanity!
And is thy will, when thou didst here conceal me,
At length fulfill’d,—would’st thou to me through him,
To him through me, thy gracious aid extend,—
Oh, free him from the fetters of this curse,
Lest vainly pass the precious hours of safety.
Dost thou not know us, and this sacred grove,
And this bless’d light, which shines not on the dead?
Dost thou not feel thy sister and thy friend,
Who hold thee living in their firm embrace?
Us firmly grasp; we are not empty shades,
Mark well my words! Collect thy scatter’d thoughts!
Attend! Each moment is of priceless worth.
And our return hangs on a slender thread,
Which, as it seems, some gracious fate doth spin.
(ToIphigenia.) My sister, let me for the first time taste.
With open heart, pure joy within thine arms!
Ye gods, who charge the heavy clouds with dread.
And sternly gracious send the long-sought rain
With thunder and the rush of mighty winds,
A horrid deluge on the trembling earth;
Yet dissipate at length man’s dread suspense,
Exchanging timid wonder’s anxious gaze
For grateful looks and joyous songs of praise,
When in each sparkling drop which gems the leaves,
Apollo, thousand-fold, reflects his beam,
And Iris colors with a magic hand
The dusty texture of the parting clouds;
Oh, let me also in my sister’s arms,
And on the bosom of my friend, enjoy
With grateful thanks the bliss ye now bestow;
My heart assures me that your curses cease.
The dread Eumenides at length retire,
The brazen gates of Tartarus I hear
Behind them closing with a thunderous clang.
A quick’ning odor from the earth ascends,
Inviting me to chase, upon its plains,
The joys of life and deeds of high emprise.
Lose not the moments which are limited!
The favoring gale, which swells our parting sail,
Must to Olympus waft our perfect joy.
Quick counsel and resolve the time demands.