Drop by Drop Upon the Heart

A few years ago I was directing The Oresteia––all three parts in one production. I started by comparing three different translations: Ted Hughes, Edith Hamilton, and Robert Fagles. When I got to the famous lines on truth and suffering, I created a collage of all three translations.

I’ve been wondering about this idea today. Are there lessons so important that the pain never fully goes away?

Caravaggio, The Sacrifice of Isaac
Caravaggio, The Sacrifice of Isaac

from Aeschylus’ Oresteia

Zeus has given man this law,
Zeus has led us on to know,
God, whose law it is that he who learns must suffer––
we must suffer, suffer into truth,
The truth has to be melted out of our stubborn lives by suffering.
And even in our sleep…
We cannot sleep
…pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart,
Drop by drop at the heart, the pain of pain remembered:
Nothing speaks the truth, nothing tells us how things really are, nothing forces us to know except pain.
And in our own despite, against our will…
(We resist)
…comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.
This is how the gods declare their love.
From the gods there comes a violent love.
Truth comes with pain.

–Fagles, Hamilton, and Hughes

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2 Replies to “Drop by Drop Upon the Heart”

  1. This has been what I’ve been keeping in my mind since being sick earlier this year:
    (Love, Kathryn)

    A Mistake
    By Czeslaw Milosz

    I thought: all this is only preparation
    For learning, at last, how to die.
    Mornings and dusks, in the grass under a maple
    Laura sleeping without pants, on a headrest of raspberries,
    While Filon, happy, washes himself in the stream.
    Mornings and years. Every glass of wine,
    Laura, and the sea, land, and archipelago
    Bring us nearer, I believed, to one aim
    And should be used with a thought to that aim.

    But a paraplegic in my street
    Whom they move together with his chair
    From shade into sunlight, sunlight into shade,
    Looks at a cat, a leaf, the chrome steel on an auto,
    And mumbles to himself, “Beau temps, beau temps.”

    It is true. We have a beautiful time
    As long as time is time at all.

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