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Cyprian’s Bargain

By Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600–1681)

  • From ‘The Wonderful Magician’: Translation of Percy Bysshe Shelley
  • [The Demon, angered by Cyprian’s victory in defending the existence of God, swears vengeance. He resolves that Cyprian shall lose his soul for Justina, who rejects his love. Cyprian says:—]

  • SO bitter is the life I live,

    That, hear me hell, I now would give

    To thy most detested spirit

    My soul forever to inherit,

    To suffer punishment and pine,

    So this woman may be mine.[The Demon accepts his soul and hastens to Justina.

    Justina—’Tis that enamored nightingale

    Who gives me the reply:

    He ever tells the same soft tale

    Of passion and of constancy

    To his mate, who, rapt and fond,

    Listening sits, a bough beyond.

    Be silent, Nightingale!—No more

    Make me think, in hearing thee

    Thus tenderly thy love deplore,

    If a bird can feel his so,

    What a man would feel for me.

    And, voluptuous vine, O thou

    Who seekest most when least pursuing,—

    To the trunk thou interlacest

    Art the verdure which embracest

    And the weight which is its ruin,—

    No more, with green embraces, vine,

    Make me think on what thou lovest;

    For while thou thus thy boughs entwine,

    I fear lest thou shouldst teach me, sophist,

    How arms might be entangled too.

    Light-enchanted sunflower, thou

    Who gazest ever true and tender

    On the sun’s revolving splendor,

    Follow not his faithless glance

    With thy faded countenance,

    Nor teach my beating heart to fear

    If leaves can mourn without a tear,

    How eyes must weep! O Nightingale,

    Cease from thy enamored tale,—

    Leafy vine, unwreath thy bower,

    Restless sunflower, cease to move—

    Or tell me all, what poisonous power

    Ye use against me—
    All—Love! love! love!

    Justina—It cannot be!—Whom have I ever loved?

    Trophies of my oblivion and disdain,

    Floro and Lelio did I not reject?

    And Cyprian?—[She becomes troubled at the name of Cyprian.
    Did I not requite him

    With such severity that he has fled

    Where none has ever heard of him again?—

    Alas! I now begin to fear that this

    May be the occasion whence desire grows bold,

    As if there were no danger. From the moment

    That I pronounced to my own listening heart,

    “Cyprian is absent, O miserable me!”

    I know not what I feel![More calmly.
    It must be pity,

    To think that such a man, whom all the world

    Admired, should be forgot by all the world,

    And I the cause.[She again becomes troubled.
    And yet if it were pity,

    Floro and Lelio might have equal share,

    For they are both imprisoned for my sake.[Calmly.

    Alas! what reasonings are these? It is

    Enough I pity him, and that in vain,

    Without this ceremonious subtlety,

    And woe is me! I know not where to find him now,

    Even should I seek him through this wide world!

    Enter Demon.
    Demon—Follow, and I will lead thee where he is.

    Justina—And who art thou, who hast found entrance hither

    Into my chamber through the doors and locks?

    Art thou a monstrous shadow which my madness

    Has formed in the idle air?
    Demon—No. I am one

    Called by the thought which tyrannizes thee

    From his eternal dwelling—who this day

    Is pledged to bear thee unto Cyprian.

    Justina—So shall thy promise fail. This agony

    Of passion which afflicts my heart and soul

    May sweep imagination in its storm,—

    The will is firm.
    Demon—Already half is done

    In the imagination of an act.

    The sin incurred, the pleasure then remains:

    Let not the will stop half-way on the road.

    Justina—I will not be discouraged, nor despair,

    Although I thought it, and although ’tis true

    That thought is but a prelude to the deed:

    Thought is not in my power, but action is:

    I will not move my foot to follow thee!

    Demon——But a far mightier wisdom than thine own

    Exerts itself within thee, with such power

    Compelling thee to that which it inclines

    That it shall force thy step; how wilt thou then

    Resist, Justina?
    Justina—By my free will.

    Must force thy will.
    Justina—It is invincible;

    It were not free if thou hadst power upon it.[He draws, but cannot move her.

    Demon—Come, where a pleasure waits thee.
    Justina—It were bought

    Too dear.
    Demon—’Twill soothe thy heart to softest peace.

    Justina—’Tis dread captivity.
    Demon—’Tis joy, ’tis glory.

    Justina—’Tis shame, ’tis torment, ’tis despair.
    Demon—But how

    Canst thou defend thyself from that or me,

    If my power drags thee onward?
    Justina—My defense

    Consists in God.[He vainly endeavors to force her, and at last releases her.
    Demon—Woman, thou hast subdued me

    Only by not owning thyself subdued.

    But since thou thus findest defense in God,

    I will assume a feignèd form, and thus

    Make thee a victim of my baffled rage.

    For I will mask a spirit in thy form

    Who will betray thy name to infamy,

    And doubly shall I triumph in thy loss,

    First by dishonoring thee, and then by turning

    False pleasure to true ignominy.[Exit

    Appeal to Heaven against thee; so that Heaven

    May scatter thy delusions, and the blot

    Upon my fame vanish in idle thought,

    Even as flame dies in the envious air,

    And as the flow’ret wanes at morning frost,

    And thou shouldst never—But alas! to whom

    Do I still speak?—Did not a man but now

    Stand here before me?—No, I am alone,

    And yet I saw him. Is he gone so quickly?

    Or can the heated mind engender shapes

    From its own fear? Some terrible and strange

    Peril is near. Lisander! father! lord!


    Enter Lisander and Livia.
    Lisander—O my daughter! what?
    Justina—Saw you

    A man go forth from my apartment now?—

    I scarce sustain myself!
    Lisander—A man here!

    Justina—Have you not seen him?
    Livia—No, lady.

    Justina—I saw him.
    Lisander—’Tis impossible; the doors

    Which led to this apartment were all locked.

    Livia[aside]—I dare say it was Moscon whom she saw,

    For he was locked up in my room.
    Lisander—It must

    Have been some image of thy phantasy.

    Such melancholy as thou feedest is

    Skillful in forming such in the vain air

    Out of the motes and atoms of the day.

    Livia—My master’s in the right.
    Justina—Oh, would it were

    Delusion; but I fear some greater ill.

    I feel as if out of my bleeding bosom

    My heart was torn in fragments; ay,

    Some mortal spell is wrought against my frame.

    So potent was the charm, that had not God

    Shielded my humble innocence from wrong,

    I should have sought my sorrow and my shame

    With willing steps. Livia, quick, bring my cloak,

    For I must seek refuge from these extremes

    Even in the temple of the highest God

    Which secretly the faithful worship.

    Justina[putting on her cloak]—In this, as in a shroud of snow, may I

    Quench the consuming fire in which I burn,

    Wasting away!
    Lisander—And I will go with thee!

    Livia[aside]—When I once see them safe out of the house,

    I shall breathe freely.
    Justina—So do I confide

    In thy just favor, Heaven!
    Lisander—Let us go.

    Justina—Thine is the cause, great God! Turn, for my sake

    And for thine own, mercifully to me!