ANTIGONE and ISMENE before the Palace Gates
ANTIGONE: Ismene, sister of my blood and heart,
See’st thou how Zeus would in our lives fulfill
The weird of Oedipus, a world of woes!
For what of pain, affliction, outrage, shame,
Is lacking in our fortunes, thine and mine?
And now this proclamation of today
Made by our Captain-General to the State,
What can its purport be? Didst hear and heed,
Or art thou deaf when friends are banned as foes?
ISMENE: To me, Antigone, no word of friends
Has come, or glad or grievous, since we twain
Were reft of our two brethren in one day
By double fratricide; and since i’ the night
Our Argive leaguers fled, no later news
Has reached me, to inspirit or deject.
ANTIGONE: I know ‘twas so, and therefore summoned thee
Beyond the gates to breathe it in thine ear.
ISMENE: What is it? Some dark secret stirs thy breast.
ANTIGONE: What but the thought of our two brothers dead,
The one by Creon graced with funeral rites,
The other disappointed? Eteocles
He hath consigned to earth (as fame reports)
With obsequies that use and wont ordain,
So gracing him among the dead below.
But Polyneices, a dishonored corse,
(So by report the royal edict runs)
No man may bury him or make lament—
Must leave him tombless and unwept, a feast
For kites to scent afar and swoop upon.
Such is the edict (if report speak true)
Of Creon, our most noble Creon, aimed
At thee and me, aye me too; and anon
He will be here to promulgate, for such
As have not heard, his mandate; ‘tis in sooth
No passing humor, for the edict says
Whoe’er transgresses shall be stoned to death.
So stands it with us; now ‘tis thine to show
If thou art worthy of thy blood or base.
ISMENE: But how, my rash, fond sister, in such case
Can I do anything to make or mar?
ANTIGONE: Say, wilt thou aid me and abet? Decide.
ISMENE: In what bold venture? What is in thy thought?
ANTIGONE: Lend me a hand to bear the corpse away.
ISMENE: What, bury him despite the interdict?
ANTIGONE: My brother, and, though thou deny him, thine
No man shall say that I betrayed a brother.
ISMENE: Wilt thou persist, though Creon has forbid?
ANTIGONE: What right has he to keep me from my own?
ISMENE: Bethink thee, sister, of our father’s fate,
Abhorred, dishonored, self-convinced of sin,
Blinded, himself his executioner.
Think of his mother-wife (ill sorted names)
Done by a noose herself had twined to death
And last, our hapless brethren in one day,
Both in a mutual destiny involved,
Self-slaughtered, both the slayer and the slain.
Bethink thee, sister, we are left alone;
Shall we not perish wretchedest of all,
If in defiance of the law we cross
A monarch’s will?—weak women, think of that,
Not framed by nature to contend with men.
Remember this too that the stronger rules;
We must obey his orders, these or worse.
Therefore I plead compulsion and entreat
The dead to pardon. I perforce obey
The powers that be. ‘Tis foolishness, I ween,
To overstep in aught the golden mean.
ANTIGONE: I urge no more; nay, wert thou willing still,
I would not welcome such a fellowship.
Go thine own way; myself will bury him.
How sweet to die in such employ, to rest,—
Sister and brother linked in love’s embrace—
A sinless sinner, banned awhile on earth,
But by the dead commended; and with them
I shall abide for ever. As for thee,
Scorn, if thou wilt, the eternal laws of Heaven.
ISMENE: I scorn them not, but to defy the State
Or break her ordinance I have no skill.
ANTIGONE: A specious pretext. I will go alone
To lap my dearest brother in the grave.
ISMENE: My poor, fond sister, how I fear for thee!
ANTIGONE: O waste no fears on me; look to thyself.
ISMENE: At least let no man know of thine intent,
But keep it close and secret, as will I.
ANTIGONE: O tell it, sister; I shall hate thee more
If thou proclaim it not to all the town.
ISMENE: Thou hast a fiery soul for numbing work.
ANTIGONE: I pleasure those whom I would liefest please.
ISMENE: If thou succeed; but thou art doomed to fail.
ANTIGONE: When strength shall fail me, yes, but not before.
ISMENE: But, if the venture’s hopeless, why essay?
ANTIGONE: Sister, forbear, or I shall hate thee soon,
And the dead man will hate thee too, with cause.
Say I am mad and give my madness rein
To wreck itself; the worst that can befall
Is but to die an honorable death.
ISMENE: Have thine own way then; ‘tis a mad endeavor,
Yet to thy lovers thou art dear as ever.
Sunbeam, of all that ever dawn upon
Our seven-gated Thebes the brightest ray,
O eye of golden day,
How fair thy light o’er Dirce’s fountain shone,
Speeding upon their headlong homeward course,
Far quicker than they came, the Argive force;
Putting to flight
The argent shields, the host with scutcheons white.
Against our land the proud invader came
To vindicate fell Polyneices’ claim.
Like to an eagle swooping low,
On pinions white as new fall’n snow.
With clanging scream, a horsetail plume his crest,
The aspiring lord of Argos onward pressed.
Hovering around our city walls he waits,
His spearmen raven at our seven gates.
But ere a torch our crown of to...