A Dramatic Poem
The deck of an ancient ship. At the right of the stage is the mast,
with a large square sail hiding a great deal of the sky and sea
on that side. The tiller is at the left of the stage; it is a long oar
coming through an opening in the bulwark. The deck rises in a
series of steps hehind the tiller, and the stern of the ship curves
overhead. When the play opens there are four persons upon the
deck. Aibric stands by the tiller. Forgael sleeps upon the raised
portion of the deck towards the front of the stage. Two Sailors
are standing near to the mast, on which a harp is hanging.
First Sailor. Has he not led us into these waste seas
For long enough?
Second Sailor. Aye, long and long enough.
First Sailor. We have not come upon a shore or ship
These dozen weeks.
Second Sailor. And I had thought to make
A good round Sum upon this cruise, and turn -
For I am getting on in life - to something
That has less ups and downs than robbery.
First Sailor. I am so tired of being bachelor
I could give all my heart to that Red Moll
That had but the one eye.
Second Sailor. Can no bewitchment
Transform these rascal billows into women
That I may drown myself?
First Sailor. Better steer home,
Whether he will or no; and better still
To take him while he sleeps and carry him
And drop him from the gunnel.
Second Sailor. I dare not do it.
Were't not that there is magic in his harp,
I would be of your mind; but when he plays it
Strange creatures flutter up before one's eyes,
Or cry about one's ears.
First Sailor. Nothing to fear.
Second Sailor. Do you remember when we sank that galley
At the full moon?
First Sailor. He played all through the night.
Second Sailor. Until the moon had set; and when I looked
Where the dead drifted, I could see a bird
Like a grey gull upon the breast of each.
While I was looking they rose hurriedly,
And after circling with strange cries awhile
Flew westward; and many a time since then
I've heard a rustling overhead in the wind.
First Sailor. I saw them on that night as well as you.
But when I had eaten and drunk myself asleep
My courage came again.
Second Sailor. But that's not all.
The other night, while he was playing it,
A beautiful young man and girl came up
In a white breaking wave; they had the look
Of those that are alive for ever and ever.
First Sailor. I saw them, too, one night. Forgael was playing,
And they were listening ther& beyond the sail.
He could not see them, but I held out my hands
To grasp the woman.
Second Sailor. You have dared to touch her?
First Sailor. O she was but a shadow, and slipped from me.
Second Sailor. But were you not afraid?
First Sailor. Why should I fear?
Second Sailor. "Twas Aengus and Edain, the wandering lovers,
To whom all lovers pray.
First Sailor. But what of that?
A shadow does not carry sword or spear.
Second Sailor. My mother told me that there is not one
Of the Ever-living half so dangerous
As that wild Aengus. Long before her day
He carried Edain off from a king's house,
And hid her among fruits of jewel-stone
And in a tower of glass, and from that day
Has hated every man that's not in love,
And has been dangerous to him.
First Sailor. I have heard
He does not hate seafarers as he hates
Peaceable men that shut the wind away,
And keep to the one weary marriage-bed.
Second Sailor. I think that he has Forgael in his net,
And drags him through the sea,
First Sailor. Well, net or none,
I'd drown him while we have the chance to do it.
Second Sailor. It's certain I'd sleep easier o' nights
If he were dead; but who will be our captain,
Judge of the stars, and find a course for us?
First Sailor. I've thought of that. We must have Aibric with us,
For he can judge the stars as well as Forgael.
[Going towards Aibric.]
Become our captain, Aibric. I am resolved
To make an end of Forgael while he sleeps.
There's not a man but will be glad of it
When it is over, nor one to grumble at us.
Aibric. You have taken pay and made your bargain for it.
First Sailor. What good is there in this hard way of living,
Unless we drain more flagons in a year
And kiss more lips than lasting peaceable men
In their long lives? Will you be of our troop
And take the captain's share of everything
And bring us into populous seas again?
Aibric. Be of your troop! Aibric be one of you
And Forgael in the other scale! **** Forgael,
And he my master from my childhood up!
If you will draw that sword out of its scabbard
I'll give my answer.
First Sailor. You have awakened him.
[To Second Sailor.]
We'd better go, for we have lost this chance.
[They go out.]
Forgael. Have the birds passed us? I could hear your voice,
But there were others.
Aibric. I have seen nothing pass.
Forgael. You're certain of it? I never wake from sleep
But that I am afraid they may have passed,
For they're my only pilots. If I lost them
Straying too far into the north or south,
I'd never come upon the happiness
That has been promised me. I have not seen them
These many days; and yet there must be many
Dying at every moment in the world,
And flying towards their peace.
Aibric. Put by these thoughts,
And listen to me for a while. The sailors
Are plotting for your death.
Forgael. Have I not given
More riches than they ever hoped to find?
And now they will not follow, while I seek
The only riches that have hit my fancy.
Aibric. What riches can you find in this waste sea
Where no ship sails, where nothing that's alive
Has ever come but those man-headed birds,
Knowing it for the world's end?
Forgael. Where the world ends
The mind is made unchanging, for it finds
Miracle, ecstasy, the impossible hope,
The flagstone under all, the fire of fires,
The roots of the world.
Aibric. Shadows before now
Have driven travellers mad for their own sport.
Forgael. Do you, too, doubt me? Have you joined their plot?
Aibric. No, no, do not say that. You know right well
That I will never lift a hand against you.
Forgael. Why should you be more faithful than the rest,
Being as doubtful?
Aibric. I have called you master
Too many years to lift a hand against you.
Forgael. Maybe it is but natural to doubt me.
You've never known, I'd lay a wager on it,
A melancholy that a cup of wine,
A lucky battle, or a woman's kiss
Could not amend.
Aibric. I have good spirits enough.
Forgael. If you will give me all your mind awhile -
All, all, the very bottom of the bowl -
I'll show you that I am made differently,
That nothing can amend it but these waters,
Where I am rid of life - the events of the world -
What do you call it? - that old promise-breaker,
The cozening fortune-teller that comes whispering,
"You will have all you have wished for when you have earned
Land for your children or money in a ***.-
And when we have it we are no happier,
Because of that old draught under the door,
Or creaky shoes. And at the end of all
How are we better off than Seaghan the fool,
That never did a hand's turn? Aibric! Aibric!
We have fallen in the dreams the Ever-living
Breathe on the burnished mirror of the world
And then smooth out with ivory hands and sigh,
And find their laughter sweeter to the taste
For that brief sighing.
Aibric. If you had loved some woman -
Forgael. You say that also? You have heard the voices,
For that is what they say - all, all the shadows -
Aengus and Edain, those passionate wanderers,
And all the others; but it must be love
As they have known it. Now the secret's out;
For it is love that I am seeking for,
But of a beautiful, unheard-of kind
That is not in the world.
Aibric. And yet the world
Has beautiful women to please every man.
Forgael. But he that gets their love after the fashion
"Loves in brief longing and deceiving hope
And ****** tenderness, and finds that even
The bed of love, that in the imagination
Had seemed to be the giver of all peace,
Is no more than a wine-cup in the tasting,
And as soon finished.
Aibric. All that ever loved
Have loved that way - there is no other way.
Forgael. Yet never have two lovers kissed but they believed there was some other near at hand,
And almost wept because they could not find it.
Aibric. When they have twenty years; in middle life
They take a kiss for what a kiss is worth,
And let the dream go by.
Forgael. It's not a dream,
But the reality that makes our passion
As a lamp shadow - no - no lamp, the sun.
What the world's million lips are thirsting for
Must be substantial somewhere.
Aibric. I have heard the Druids
Mutter such things as they awake from trance.
It may be that the Ever-living know it -
No mortal can.
Forgael. Yes; if they give us help.
Aibric. They are besotting you as they besot
The crazy herdsman that will tell his fellows
That he has been all night upon the hills,
Riding to hurley, or in the battle-host
With the Ever-living.
Forgael. What if he speak the truth,
And for a dozen hours have been a part
Of that more powerful life?
Aibric. His wife knows better.
Has she not seen him lying like a log,
Or fumbling in a dream about the house?
And if she hear him mutter of wild riders,
She knows that it was but the cart-horse coughing
That set him to the fancy.
Forgael. All would be well
Could we but give us wholly to the dreams,
And get into their world that to the sense
Is shadow, and not linger wretchedly
Among substantial things; for it is dreams
That lift us to the flowing, changing world
That the heart longs for. What is love itself,
Even though it be the lightest of light love,
But dreams that hurry from beyond the world
To make low laughter more than meat and drink,
Though it but set us sighing? Fellow-wanderer,
Could we but mix ourselves into a dream,
Not in its image on the mirror!
We're in the body that's impossible.
Forgael. And yet I cannot think they're leading me
To death; for they that promised to me love
As those that can outlive the moon have known it, '
Had the world's total life gathered up, it seemed,
Into their shining limbs - I've had great teachers.
Aengus and Edain ran up out of the wave -
You'd never doubt that it was life they promised
Had you looked on them face to face as I did,
With so red lips, and running on such feet,
And having such wide-open, shining eyes.
Aibric. It's certain they are leading you to death.
None but the dead, or those that never lived,
Can know that ecstasy. Forgael! Forgael!
They have made you follow the man-headed birds,
And you have told me that their journey lies
Towards the country of the dead.
Forgael. What matter
If I am going to my death? - for there,
Or somewhere, I shall find the love they have promised.
That much is certain. I shall find a woman.
One of the Ever-living, as I think -
One of the Laughing People - and she and I
Shall light upon a place in the world's core,
Where passion grows to be a changeless thing,
Like charmed apples made of chrysoprase,
Or chrysoberyl, or beryl, or chrysclite;
And there, in juggleries of sight and sense,
Become one movement, energy, delight,
Until the overburthened moon is dead.
[A number of Sailors enter hurriedly.]
First Sailor. Look there! there in the mist! a ship of spice!
And we are almost on her!
Second Sailor. We had not known
But for the ambergris and sandalwood.
First Sailor. NO; but opoponax and cinnamon.
Forgael [taking the tiller from Aibric].
The Ever-living have kept my bargain for me,
And paid you on the nail.
Aibric. Take up that rope
To make her fast while we are plundering her.
First Sailor. There is a king and queen upon her deck,
And where there is one woman there'll be others.
Aibric. Speak lower, or they'll hear.
First Sailor. They cannot hear;
They are too busy with each other. Look!
He has stooped down and kissed her on the lips.
Second Sailor. When she finds out we have better men aboard
She may not be too sorry in the end.
First Sailor. She will be like a wild cat; for these queens
Care more about the kegs of silver and gold
And the high fame that come to them in marriage,
Than a strong body and a ready hand.
Second Sailor. There's nobody is natural but a robber,
And that is why the world totters about
Upon its bandy legs.
Aibric. Run at them now,
And overpower the crew while yet asleep!
[The Sailors go out.]
[Voices and thc clashing of swords are heard from the other ship, which cannot be seen because of the sail.]
A Voice. Armed men have come upon us! O I am slain!
Another Voice. Wake all below!
Another Voice. Why have you broken our sleep?
First Voice. Armed men have come upon us! O I am slain!
Forgael [who has remained at the tiller].
There! there they come! Gull, gannet, or diver,
But with a man's head, or a fair woman's,
They hover over the masthead awhile
To wait their Fiends; but when their friends have come
They'll fly upon that secret way of theirs.
One - and one - a couple - five together;
And I will hear them talking in a minute.
Yes, voices! but I do not catch the words.
Now I can hear. There's one of them that says,
"How light we are, now we are changed to birds!'
Another answers, "Maybe we shall find
Our heart's desire now that we are so light.'
And then one asks another how he died,
And says, "A sword-blade pierced me in my sleep.-
And now they all wheel suddenly and fly
To the other side, and higher in the air.
And now a laggard with a woman's head down crying, "I have run upon the sword.
I have fled to my beloved in the air,
In the waste of the high air, that we may wander
Among the windy meadows of the dawn.'
But why are they still waiting? why are they
Circling and circling over the masthead?
What power that is more mighty than desire
To hurry to their hidden happiness
Withholds them now? Have the Ever-living Ones
A meaning in that circling overhead?
But what's the meaning?
[He cries out.] Why do you linger there?
Why linger? Run to your desire,
Are you not happy winged bodies now?
[His voice sinks again.]
Being too busy in the air and the high air,
They cannot hear my voice; but what's the meaning?
[The Sailors have returned. Dectora is with them.]
Forgael [turning and seeing her]. Why are you standing
with your eyes upon me?
You are not the world's core. O no, no, no!
That cannot be the meaning of the birds.
You are not its core. My teeth are in the world,
But have not bitten yet.
Dectora. I am a queen,
And ask for satisfaction upon these
Who have slain my husband and laid hands upon me.
[Breaking loose from the Sailors who are holding her.]
Let go my hands!
Forgael. Why do you cast a shadow?
Where do you come from? Who brought you to this place?
They would not send me one that casts a shadow.
Dectora. Would that the storm that overthrew my ships,
And drowned the treasures of nine conquered nations,
And blew me hither to my lasting sorrow,
Had drowned me also. But, being yet alive,
I ask a fitting punishment for all
That raised their hands against him.
Forgael. There are some
That weigh and measure all in these waste seas -
They that have all the wisdom that's in life,
And all that prophesying images
Made of dim gold rave out in secret tombs;
They have it that the plans of kings and queens
But laughter and tears - laughter, laughter, and tears;
That every man should carry his own soul
Upon his shoulders.
Dectora. You've nothing but wild words,
And I would know if you will give me vengeance.
Forgael. When she finds out I will not let her go -
When she knows that.
Dectora. What is it that you are muttering -
That you'll not let me go? I am a queen.
Forgael. Although you are more beautiful than any,
I almost long that it were possible;
But if I were to put you on that ship,
With sailors that were sworn to do your will,
And you had spread a sail for home, a wind
Would rise of a sudden, or a wave so huge
It had washed among the stars and put them out,
And beat the bulwark of your ship on mine,
Until you stood before me on the deck -
Dectora. Does wandering in these desolate seas
And listening to the cry of wind and wave
Forgael. Queen, I am not mad.
Dectora. Yet say
That unimaginable storms of wind and wave
Would rise against me.
Forgael. No, I am not mad -
If it be not that hearing messages
From lasting watchers, that outlive the moon,
At the most quiet midnight is to be stricken.
Dectora. And did those watchers bid you take me
Forgael. Both you and I are taken in the net.
It was their hands that plucked the winds awake
And blew you hither; and their mouth