500 AP English Literature Questions to know by test day

CHAPTER 7. Drama

 

Passage 5. Sophocles, Oedipus the King

 

Oedipus.

My children, fruit of Cadmus’ ancient tree

New springing, wherefore thus with bended knee

Press ye upon us, laden all with wreaths

And suppliant branches? And the city breathes

Heavy with incense, heavy with dim prayer

And shrieks to affright the Slayer.—Children, care

For this so moves me, I have scorned withal

Message or writing: seeing ’tis I ye call,

’Tis I am come, world-honoured Oedipus.

 

Old Man, do thou declare—the rest have thus

Their champion—in what mood stand ye so still,

In dread or sure hope? Know ye not, my will

Is yours for aid ’gainst all? Stern were indeed

The heart that felt not for so dire a need.

 

Priest.

O Oedipus, who holdest in thy hand

My city, thou canst see what ages stand

At these thine altars; some whose little wing

Scarce flieth yet, and some with long living

O’erburdened; priests, as I of Zeus am priest,

And chosen youths: and wailing hath not ceased

Of thousands in the market-place, and by

Athena’s two-fold temples and the dry

Ash of Ismenus’ portent-breathing shore.

 

For all our ship, thou see’st, is weak and sore

Shaken with storms, and no more lighteneth

Her head above the waves whose trough is death.

She wasteth in the fruitless buds of earth,

In parched herds and travail without birth

Of dying women: yea, and midst of it

A burning and a loathly god hath lit

Sudden, and sweeps our land, this Plague of power;

Till Cadmus’ house grows empty, hour by hour,

And Hell’s house rich with steam of tears and blood.

 

O King, not God indeed nor peer to God

We deem thee, that we kneel before thine hearth,

Children and old men, praying; but of earth

A thing consummate by thy star confessed

Thou walkest and by converse with the blest;

Who came to Thebes so swift, and swept away

The Sphinx’s song, the tribute of dismay,

That all were bowed beneath, and made us free.

A stranger, thou, naught knowing more than we,

Nor taught of any man, but by God’s breath

Filled, thou didst raise our life. So the world saith;

So we say.

 

Therefore now, O Lord and Chief,

We come to thee again; we lay our grief

On thy head, if thou find us not some aid.