A line-by-line translation

Pericles

Pericles Translation Act 1, Scene 4

Line Map Clear Line Map Add

Enter CLEON, the governor of Tarsus, with DIONYZA, and others

CLEON

My Dionyza, shall we rest us here,And by relating tales of others' griefs,See if 'twill teach us to forget our own?

CLEON

Dionyza, should we sit down here and tell each other sad stories? Maybe that way we'll forget our own sad lives.

DIONYZA

That were to blow at fire in hope to quench it; For who digs hills because they do aspire Throws down one mountain to cast up a higher. O my distressed lord, even such our griefs are; Here they're but felt, and seen with mischief's eyes, But like to groves, being topp'd, they higher rise.

DIONYZA

That's like blowing on a fire to try to put it out. It's like digging up a hill to stop it growing tall; you'll build a higher mountain in the process. My dear, as bad as our suffering is, at least it's only felt. If someone up to no good were to take notice, they might make things even worse.

CLEON

O Dionyza, Who wanteth food, and will not say he wants it, Or can conceal his hunger till he famish? Our tongues and sorrows do sound deep Our woes into the air; our eyes do weep, Till tongues fetch breath that may proclaim them louder; That, if heaven slumber while their creatures want, They may awake their helps to comfort them. I'll then discourse our woes, felt several years, And wanting breath to speak help me with tears.

CLEON

Oh, Dionyza, how can someone who's starving not beg for food? Can he pretend he's not hungry until he dies? We should proclaim our grief loudly, cry out, weep, then shout even louder. Then maybe the gods will wake up from their sleep, take notice of how their creatures are suffering, and help us. I'll start by telling our sad story of the last few years, and you can help me by crying during the pauses.

DIONYZA

I'll do my best, sir.

DIONYZA

I'll do my best, sir.

CLEON

This Tarsus, o'er which I have the government, A city on whom plenty held full hand, For riches strew'd herself even in the streets; Whose towers bore heads so high they kiss'd the clouds, And strangers ne'er beheld but wondered at; Whose men and dames so jetted and adorn'd, Like one another's glass to trim them by: Their tables were stored full, to glad the sight, And not so much to feed on as delight; All poverty was scorn'd, and pride so great, The name of help grew odious to repeat.

CLEON

Tarsus, which I rule, was once wealthy. We had everything we wanted: the streets were strewn with riches, we built towers up to the skies, and every visitor who came here was amazed. Our men and women wore fine clothes and jewelry; they were like mirrors to each other's own riches. They had more than enough food on their tables. No one was poor. We were proud; we couldn't imagine needing help from anyone.

DIONYZA

O, 'tis too true.

DIONYZA

Oh, it's too true.

CLEON

But see what heaven can do! By this our change, These mouths, who but of late, earth, sea, and air, Were all too little to content and please, Although they gave their creatures in abundance, As houses are defiled for want of use, They are now starved for want of exercise: Those palates who, not yet two summers younger, Must have inventions to delight the taste, Would now be glad of bread, and beg for it: Those mothers who, to nousle up their babes, Thought nought too curious, are ready now To eat those little darlings whom they loved. So sharp are hunger's teeth, that man and wife Draw lots who first shall die to lengthen life: Here stands a lord, and there a lady weeping; Here many sink, yet those which see them fall Have scarce strength left to give them burial. Is not this true?

CLEON

But look what heaven can do! At one time, the earth, sea, and air were hardly enough to content and please our mouths, though they gave us all the food we needed to survive. Just as houses become run-down from lack of use, our mouths are now starved for lack of exercise. Two years ago we looked for the best recipes to please our palates; now we'd be happy to get a crust a bread, and beg for it. Women who once happily nursed their babies would hardly think it strange that they would now want to eat them. Hunger is such a grim reality that husbands and wives take bets on which of them will die first. Look, there's a man, and there's a woman crying. Here so many are sick that, even when someone dies, no one has the strength to bury them. Isn't this true?

DIONYZA

Our cheeks and hollow eyes do witness it.

DIONYZA

You can tell by our sunken cheeks and hollow eyes.

CLEON

O, let those cities that of plenty's cup And her prosperities so largely taste, With their superfluous riots, hear these tears! The misery of Tarsus may be theirs.

CLEON

Oh, if only the cities that have enough, who enjoy the tastes of prosperity, with their superfluous riots, would hear these tears! One day, they could be as miserable as Tarsus.

Enter a Lord

LORD

Where's the lord governor?

LORD

Where's the governor?

CLEON

Here.Speak out thy sorrows which thou bring'st in haste,For comfort is too far for us to expect.

CLEON

Here. Tell me the bad news that you hurried to bring us; I can't imagine it's good news you bring.

LORD

We have descried, upon our neighbouring shore,A portly sail of ships make hitherward.

LORD

We can make out, on the opposite shore, a large group of ships sailing this way.

CLEON

I thought as much. One sorrow never comes but brings an heir, That may succeed as his inheritor; And so in ours: some neighbouring nation, Taking advantage of our misery, Hath stuff'd these hollow vessels with their power, To beat us down, the which are down already; And make a conquest of unhappy me, Whereas no glory's got to overcome.

CLEON

I figured. It never rains but it pours; one struggle gives way to another. It's that way with us. Some nearby country is going to take advantage of our weakness. They've sent all these ships to kick us while we're down, and conquer us in our misery, though it'll hardly be difficult for them to overcome us.

LORD

That's the least fear; for, by the semblanceOf their white flags display'd, they bring us peace,And come to us as favourers, not as foes.

LORD

I don't think so. They're flying white flags to show they come in peace. They're coming as friends rather than as foes.

CLEON

Thou speak'st like him's untutor'd to repeat: Who makes the fairest show means most deceit. But bring they what they will and what they can, What need we fear? The ground's the lowest, and we are half way there. Go tell their general we attend him here, To know for what he comes, and whence he comes, And what he craves.

CLEON

You idiot, that doesn't mean anything! Those that seem to be the most kind are the most deceitful. But let them do what they will and what they can, why should we be afraid? Our lives couldn't be more miserable than they are now; we're halfway to the ground. Go, tell their general he can meet us here to announce why and from where he comes, and what he wants.

LORD

I go, my lord.

LORD

On my way, sir.

Exit

CLEON

Welcome is peace, if he on peace consist;If wars, we are unable to resist.

CLEON

Peace would be great, if that's what he's here for. If it's war he wants, there's nothing we can do about it.

Enter PERICLES with Attendants

PERICLES

Lord governor, for so we hear you are, Let not our ships and number of our men Be like a beacon fired to amaze your eyes. We have heard your miseries as far as Tyre, And seen the desolation of your streets: Nor come we to add sorrow to your tears, But to relieve them of their heavy load; And these our ships, you happily may think Are like the Trojan horse was stuff'd within With bloody veins, expecting overthrow, Are stored with corn to make your needy bread, And give them life whom hunger starved half dead.

PERICLES

So we hear you're the governor? Don't be so surprised by all our ships and men. We've heard about your suffering all the way in Tyre, and we've seen the destruction in your streets. We came to help, not to make things worse. These ships might look like the Trojan horse (which had Greek soldiers hidden inside, bloodthirsty and ready to attack), but they're filled with grain to make bread, to bring all your starving people back to life.

ALL

The gods of Greece protect you!And we'll pray for you.

ALL

[CLEON, DIONYZA, and the others kneel to PERICLES] May the gods of Greece protect you! And we'll pray for you.

PERICLES

Arise, I pray you, rise:We do not look for reverence, but to love,And harbourage for ourself, our ships, and men.

PERICLES

Get up, please. I didn't come to be worshipped. All I ask is a place for myself, my ships, and my men to stay.

CLEON

The which when any shall not gratify, Or pay you with unthankfulness in thought, Be it our wives, our children, or ourselves, The curse of heaven and men succeed their evils! Till when,—the which I hope shall ne'er be seen,— Your grace is welcome to our town and us.

CLEON

If anyone fails to thank you, or think grateful thoughts toward you—whether it's our wives, children, or ourselves—may they be cursed by heaven and punished by men! Until the day someone denies you (which day we hope will never come) you're very welcome here in our town and with us.

PERICLES

Which welcome we'll accept; feast here awhile,Until our stars that frown lend us a smile.

PERICLES

We'll accept your welcome and feast here a while, until our fortunes turn again from bad to good.

Exeunt

Pericles
Join LitCharts A+ and get the entire Pericles Translation as a printable PDF.
LitCharts A+ members also get exclusive access to:
  • Downloadable translations of every Shakespeare play and sonnet
  • Downloads of 1180 LitCharts Lit Guides
  • Explanations and citation info for 26,026 quotes covering 1180 books
  • Teacher Editions for every Lit Guide
  • PDFs defining 136 key Lit Terms
Bailey sincox
About the Translator: Bailey Sincox

Bailey Sincox is a PhD student in English at Harvard University, where she researches the theatre of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Her teaching experience includes accessible online courses with edX on Hamlet and The Merchant of Venice. She holds a Master's from the University of Oxford and a Bachelor's from Duke University.