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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Paulina’s Appeal to Severus

By Pierre Corneille (1606–1684)

From ‘Polyeucte’: Translation of Walter Federau Nokes

SEVERUS—I stand agaze,

Rooted, confounded, in sheer wonderment.

Such blind resolve is so unparalleled,

I scarce may trust the witness of mine ears.

A heart that loves you—and what heart so poor

That knowing, loves you not?—one loved of you,

To leave regretless so much bliss just won!

Nay, more—as though it were a fatal prize—

To his corrival straight to yield it up!

Truly, or wondrous manias Christians have,

Or their self-happiness must be sans bourn,

Since to attain it they will cast away

What others at an empire’s cost would win.

For me, had fate, a little sooner kind,

Blessed my true service with your hand’s reward,

The glory of your eyes had been my worship;

My twin kings had they reigned—kings? nay, my gods!

To dust, to powder, had I grinded been

E’er I had—
Paulina—Hold! let me not hear too much;

Let not the smoldering embers of old time

Relume to speech unworthy of us both.

Severus, know Paulina utterly:

His latest hour my Polyeuctus nears;

Nay, scarce a minute has he yet to live.

You all unwittingly have been the cause

Of this his death. I know not if your thoughts,

Their portals opening to your wish’s knock,

Have dared to some wild hope give harboring,

Based upon his undoing; but know well,

No death so cruel I would not boldly front,

Hell hath no tortures I would not endure,

Or e’er my stainless honor I would spot,

My hand bestowing upon any man

Who anywise were his death’s instrument.

And could you for such madness deem me apt,

Hate would replace my erstwhile tender love.

You’re generous—still be so, to the end:

My father fears you; is in mood to grant

All you might ask; ay, I e’en dare aver

That if my husband he do sacrifice,

’Twill be to you. Save then your hapless victim;

Bestir yourself; stretch him your helping hand!

That this is much to claim of you, I know,

But more the effort’s great, the more the glory!

To save a rival ’spite of rivalry

Were greatness all particular to you.

And—be that not enough for your renown—

’Twere much to let a woman erst so loved,

And haply who may yet be somewhat dear,

Her greatest treasure owe to your great heart.

In fine, remember that you are Severus!

Adieu! alone determine of your course;

For if you be not all I think you are,

I’d still, not knowing it, believe you such.