High up in the mountain snowfields. The mist lies thick and close; it is raining, and nearly
Brand in black, with stick and wallet, is struggling on westward. A Peasant and his Young Son, who have joined him, are a little way behind.
[Calling after Brand.]
Hullo, you stranger fellow, stay!
Where are you?
You’ve got astray!
The fog’s so thick, my sight it passes
To see a staff’s-length ’fore or back——
Father, here’s clefts!
And here crevasses!
And not a vestige of the track.
Hold, man! God’s death—! The very ground
Is but a shell! Don’t stamp the snow!
I hear the roaring of a fall.
A beck has gnawed its way below;
Here’s an abyss that none can sound;
’Twill open and engulf us all!
As I have said, I must go on.
That’s past the power of any one.
I tell you—the ground’s a rotten crust—
Hold, hold, man! Death is where it’s
A great one gave me charge; I must.
What is his name?
His name is God.
And what might you be, pray?
Maybe; but one thing’s clear at least;
Though you were dean and bishop too
Death will have laid his grip on you
Ere daybreak, if you dare to breast
The glacier’s cavern-cloven crest.
[Approaching warily and insinuatingly.]
Hark, priest, the wisest, learned’st man
Cannot do more than what he can.
Turn back; don’t be so stiff and stout!
A man has but a single life;—
What has he left if that goes out?
The nearest farm is two leagues off,
And for the fog, it’s thick enough
To hack at with a hunting-knife.
If the fog’s thick, no glimmering ray
Of marsh-light lures our feet astray.
All round lie ice-tarns in a ring,
And an ice-tarn’s an ugly thing.
We’ll walk across.
On waves you’ll walk!
Your deeds will hardly match your talk.
Yet one has proved,—whose faith is sound
May walk dry-footed on the sea.
Yes, men of olden time, maybe;
But nowadays he’d just be drowned.
You throw your life away!
If God should haply need its loss,——
Then welcome chasm, and flood, and foss.
Nay, but his wits are gone astray!
Come away, Father! see how black
With coming tempest is the wrack!
[Stopping and approaching again.]
Hear, peasant; you at first profess’d,
Your daughter by the fjordside lying,
Had sent you word that she was dying,
But could not with a gladsome breast,
Until she saw you, go to rest?
That’s certain, as I hope for bliss!
And as her last day mentioned—this?
Not a later?
The thing’s impossible—turn home!
[Looking fixedly at him.]
Listen! Would you give twenty pound
If she might have a blest release?
House and ground
I’d very gladly sign away
If so she might expire in peace!
But would you also give your life?
What? life? My good friend——!
[Scratching his head.]
I draw the line somewhere or other——!
In Jesus’ name, remember, pray,
At home I’ve children and a wife.
He whom you mention had a mother.
Ay, that was in the times of yore;—
Then marvels were of every day;
Such things don’t happen any more.
Go home. You travel in death’s track.
You know not God, God knows not you.
Hoo, you are stern!
[Pulling him away.]
Come back! come
Ay, ay; but he must follow too!
Ay, if I let you bide
Up here in this accursed weather,
And rumour told, what we can’t hide,
That you and we set out together,
I’m haul’d some morning to the dock,—
And if you’re drown’d in flood and fen,
I’m sentenced to the bolt and lock——
You suffer in God’s service, then.
Nor his nor yours is my affair;
My own is hard enough to bear.
[A hollow roar is heard in the distance.
An avalanche roar!
[To the Peasant who has seized his collar.]
Stay no more!
[Struggling with Brand.]
Nay, devil take me——!
[Shakes him off and throws him down in the snow.]
On it, he will do in the end!
[Sitting and rubbing his arm.]
Ow, ow; his arm’s an iron rod;
And that’s what he calls serving
[Calling as he gets up.]
He’s gone athwart the hill.
Ay, but I see him glimmer still.
Hear me,—if you remember, say,
Where was it that we lost the way?
[In the mist.]
You need no cross to point you right;—
The broad and beaten track you tread.
God grant it were but as he said,
And I’d sit snug at home to-night.
[He and his Son retire eastwards.
[Reappears higher up, and listens in the direction in which the Peasant went.]
Homeward they grovel! Thou dull thrall,
If but thy feeble flesh were all,
If any spark of living will
Sprang in thee, I had help’d thee still.
With breaking back, and feet way-worn,
Lightly and swift I had thee borne;—
But help is idle for the man
Who nothing wills but what he can.
[Goes further on.]
Ah life! ah life! Why art thou then
So passing sweet to mortal men?
In every weakling’s estimation
His own life does as grossly weigh
As if the load of man’s salvation
Upon his puny shoulders lay.
For every burden he’s prepared,
God help us,—so his life be spared!
[Smiles as in recollection.]
Two thoughts in boyhood broke upon me,
And spasms of laughter in me woke,
And from our ancient school-dame won me
Many a just and bitter stroke.
An Owl I fancied, scared by night;
A Fish that had the water-fright;
I sought to banish them;—in vain,
They clung like leeches to my brain.
Whence rose that laughter in my mind?
Ah, from the gulf, dimly divined,
Between the living world we see
And the world as it ought to be,
Between enduring what we must,
And murmuring, it is unjust!
Ah, whole or sickly, great or small,
Such owls, such fishes, are we all.
Born to be tenants of the deep,
Born to be exiles from the sun,
This, even this, does us appal;
We dash against the beetling steep,
Our starry-vaulted home we shun,
And crying to heaven, bootless pray
For air and the glad flames of day!
[Pauses a moment, starts, and listens.]
What do I hear? A sound of singing.
Ay, blended song and laughter ringing.
With now a cheer and now a hollo,—
Lo, the sun rises; the mist lifts.
Already through the breaking rifts
The illimitable heights I see;
And now that joyous company
Stands out against the morning light
Upon the summit of the height.
Their shadows taper to the west,
Farewells are utter’d, hands are pressed.
And now they part, the others move
Eastward away, two westward wend,
And, waving hats and kerchiefs, send
Their farewell messages of love.
[The sun gradually breaks through and disperses the mist. Brand stands and looks down on the two as they approach.]
How the light glitters round these two!
It is as if the mist took flight,
And flowering heather clothed the height,
And heaven laugh’d round them where they go.
Brother and sister, hand in hand,
They spring along the hill together,
She scarcely stirs the dewy heather,
And he is lissome as a wand.
Now she darts back, he rushes after,
Now slips aside, eludes his aim,—
Out of their gambols grows a game——!
And hark, a song out of their laughter!
[Einar and Agnes, in light summer dress, both of them warm and glowing, come playing across the level. The mist is gone; a bright summer morning lies on the mountains.]
Agnes, my beautiful butterfly,
Playfully shalt thou be caught!
I am weaving a net, and its meshes fine
Are all of my music wrought!
[Dancing backwards and always eluding him.]
And am I a butterfly, dainty and slight,
Let me sip of the heather-bell blue,
And art thou a boy, let me be thy sport,
But oh! not thy captive too!
Agnes, my beautiful butterfly,
I have woven my meshes so thin,
And never availeth thy fluttering flight,
Soon art thou my captive within.
And am I a butterfly young and bright,
Full joyously I can play,
But if in thy net I a captive lie
Oh, touch not my wings, I pray!
Nay, I will lift thee with tender hand,
And lock thee up in my breast,
And there thou shalt play thy whole life long
At the game thy heart loves best.
[They have unwittingly approached a sheer precipice, and are now close to the edge.
[Calls down to them.]
Hold! hold! You stand by an abyss!
Who calls us?
Heed where you go
Your feet are on the hollow snow
That overhangs a precipice.
[Clasping her, and laughing up to Brand.]
Needless for her and me your fears!
We have a whole life long to play!
In sunshine lies our destined way,
And ends but with a hundred years.
And then you perish? So!
[Waving her veil.]
We fly to heaven and play again!
A hundred years to revel given,
Each night the bridal lamps aflame,—
A century of glorious game——
Then home again to heaven,—
Aha! so that is whence you came?
Of course; how should we not come thence?
That is, our very latest flight
Is from the valley, eastward hence.
I think I saw you on the height.
Ay, it was there on those loved faces
Even but now we look’d our last,
And with clasp’d hands, kisses, embraces
Seal’d all our tender memories fast!
Come down to us, and I will tell
How God’s been good beyond compare—
And you shall all our gladness share——!
Pooh, stand not like an icicle!
Come, thaw now! There, I like you so.
First, I’m a painter, you must know,
And even this to me was sweet,—
To lend my fancy wings and feet,
In colours to bid life arise,
As He of grubs breeds butterflies.
But God surpass’d Himself when He
My Agnes gave me for my bride!
I came from travels over sea,
My painter’s satchel at my side——
Glad as a king, and fresh, and free,—
And knew a thousand songs beside!
Just as the village I pass’d through,
She chanced to dwell an inmate there.
She longed to taste the upland air,
The scented woods, the sun, the dew;
Me God unto the mountains drew,—
My heart cried out: Seek Beauty’s might
In forests dim and rivers bright
And flying clouds beneath the blue.—
Then I achieved my height of art:
A rosy flush upon her cheek,
Two joyous eyes that seem’d to speak,
A smile whose music filled the heart—
For you, though, all that art was vain,
You drank life’s beaker, blind and rapt,
And then, one sunny morn, again
Stood, staff in hand and baggage strapp’d—
Then suddenly the thought occurr’d:
“Why, friend, the wooing is forgot!”
Hurrah! I ask’d, she gave her word,
And all was settled on the spot.
Our good old doctor, like a boy,
Was all beside himself with joy;
So three whole days, and whole nights three,
Held revelry for her and me;
Mayor and constable, clerk and priest,—
All the grown youth was at the feast.
Last night we left, but not for that
The revel or the banquet ceased;
With banner’d pole and wreathed hat,
Up over bank, on over brae,
Our comrades brought us on our way.
The mountain-side we danced along,
In couples now, and now in groups,—
Drank luscious wine from silver stoups,—
Awoke the summer night with song,—
And the thick mist before our feet
Beat an obsequious retreat.
And now your way lies—?
To the town
To my parents’ home.
First over yonder peak, then down
To the fjord haven in the west;
On Egir’s courser through the foam
Ride homeward to the bridal feast,—
So to the sunny south together
Like paired swans in their first flight——
A life of summer weather,
A dream, a legend of delight.
For on this Sabbath morn have we,
High on the hills, without a priest,
From fear and sorrow been released
And consecrated to gaiety.
By all the merry crowd.
With ringing glasses every cloud
Was banish’d that might dash the leaves
Too rudely at our cottage eaves.
Out of our speech they put to flight
Each warning word of stormy showers,
And hail’d us, garlanded with flowers,
The true-born children of Delight.
Farewell, ye two.
[Starting and looking more closely at him.]
I pray you, hold
Something familiar in your face——
I am a stranger.
Yet a trace
Surely there lingers of an old
Friend of my school-days—
But now I am no more a boy.
Can it be——?
[Cries out suddenly.]
Brand! It is! O joy!
From the first moment I knew you.
Well met! a thousand times well met!
Look at me!—Ay, the old Brand yet,
Still centred on the things within,
Whom never any one could win
To join our gambols.
That I was homeless and alone.
Yet you at least I loved, I own.
You children of the southern land
Were fashion’d of another clay
Than I, born by a rocky strand
In shadow of a barren brae.
Your home is here, I think?
Lies past it.
Past? What, further?
Beyond, beyond my home.
A mission-preacher, say.
I wander like the woodland hare,
And where I am, my home is there.
And whither is your last resort?
[Sternly and quickly.]
[Changing his tone.]
The ship that stays for you below
Shall bear me also from the port.
Hurrah! My bridal-courser true
Think, Agnes, he is coming too!
But I am to a burial bound.
You? Why, who is dead?
The God who was your God, you said.
With cerements wound
The God of each mechanic slave,
Of each dull drudger, shall be laid
By broad day in his open grave.
End of the matter must be made;
And high time is it you should know
He ail’d a thousand years ago.
Brand, you are ill!
No, sound and fresh
As juniper and mountain-pine!
It is our age whose pining flesh
Craves burial at these hands of mine.
Ye will but laugh and love and play,
A little doctrine take on trust,
And all the bitter burden thrust
On One who came, ye have been told,
And from your shoulders took away
Your great transgressions manifold.
He bore for you the cross, the lance—
Ye therefore have full leave to dance;
Dance then,—but where your dancing ends
Is quite another thing, my friends!
Ah, I perceive, the latest cry,
That folks are so much taken by.
You come of the new brood, who hold
That life is only gilded mould,
And with God’s penal fires and flashes
Hound all the world to sack and ashes.
No, I am no “Evangelist,”
I speak not as the Church’s priest;
That I’m a Christian, even, I doubt;
That I’m a man, though, I know well,
And that I see the cancer fell
That eats our country’s marrow out.
I never heard, I must confess,
Our country taxed with being given
To worldly pleasure in excess!
No, by delight no breast is riven;—
Were it but so, the ill were less!
Be passion’s slave, be pleasure’s thrall,—
But be it utterly, all in all!
Be not to-day, to-morrow, one,
Another when a year is gone;
Be what you are with all your heart,
And not by pieces and in part.
The Bacchant’s clear, defined, complete,
The sot, his sordid counterfeit;
Silenus charms; but all his graces
The drunkard’s parody debases.
Traverse the land from beach to beach,
Try every man in heart and soul,
You’ll find he has no virtue whole,
But just a little grain of each.
A little pious in the pew,
A little grave,—his fathers’ way,—
Over the cup a little gay,—
It was his father’s fashion too!
A little warm when glasses clash,
And stormy cheer and song go round
For the small Folk, rock-will’d, rock-bound,
That never stood the scourge and lash.
A little free in promise-making;
And then, when vows in liquor will’d
Must be in mortal stress fulfill’d,
A little fine in promise-breaking.
Yet, as I say, all fragments still
His faults, his merits, fragments all,
Partial in good, partial in ill,
Partial in great things and in small;—
But here’s the grief—that, worst or best,
Each fragment of him wrecks the rest!
Scoffing’s an easy task: it were
A nobler policy to spare——
Perhaps, if it were wholesome too.
Well, well, the indictment I endorse
With all my heart; but can’t divine
What in the world it has to do
With Him, the God you count a corse,
Whom yet I still acknowledge mine.
My genial friend, your gift is Art;—
Show me the God you have averr’d.
Him you have painted, I have heard,
And touch’d the honest people’s heart.
Old is he haply; am I right?
Of course; and, doubtless, white?
Hairs straggling on a reverend head,
A beard of ice or silver-thread;
Kindly, yet stern enough to fright
A pack of children in the night.
I will not ask you, if your God
With fireside slippers you have shod;
But ’twere a pity, without doubt,
To leave skull-cap and glasses out.
What do you mean?
I do not flout;
Just so he looks in form and face,
The household idol of our race.
As Catholics make of the Redeemer
A baby at the breast, so ye
Make God a dotard and a dreamer,
Verging on second infancy.
And as the Pope on Peter’s throne
Calls little but his keys his own,
So to the Church you would confine
The world-wide realm of the Divine;
’Twixt Life and Doctrine set a sea,
Nowise concern yourselves to be;
Bliss for your souls ye would receive,
Not utterly and wholly live.
Ye need, such feebleness to brook,
A God who’ll through his fingers look,
Who, like yourselves, is hoary grown,
And keeps a cap for his bald crown.
Mine is another kind of God!
Mine is a storm, where thine’s a lull,
Implacable where thine’s a clod,
All-loving there, where thine is dull;
And He is young like Hercules,
No hoary sipper of life’s lees!
His voice rang through the dazzled night
When He, within the burning wood,
By Moses upon Horeb’s height
As by a pigmy’s pigmy stood.
In Gibeon’s vale He stay’d the sun,
And wonders without end has done,
And wonders without end would do,
Were not the age grown sick,—like you!
And now the age shall be made whole?
It shall, I say, and that as sure
As that I came to earth to cure
The sapping fester of its soul.
[Shaking his head.]
Ere yet the radiant torchlight blazes,
Throw not the taper to the ground!
Nor blot the antiquated phrases
Before the great new words be found!
Nothing that’s new do I demand;
For Everlasting Right I stand.
It is not for a Church I cry,
It is not dogmas I defend;
Day dawn’d on both, and, possibly,
Day may on both of them descend.
What’s made has “finis” for its brand;
Of moth and worm it feels the flaw,
And then, by nature and by law,
Is for an embryo thrust aside.
But there is one that shall abide;—
The Spirit, that was never born,
That in the world’s fresh gladsome Morn
Was rescued when it seem’d forlorn,
That built with valiant faith a road
Whereby from Flesh it climb’d to God.
Now but in shreds and scraps is dealt
The Spirit we have faintly felt;
But from these scraps and from these shreds,
These headless hands and handless heads,
These torso-stumps of soul and thought,
A Man complete and whole shall grow,
And God His glorious child shall know,
His heir, the Adam that He wrought!
Farewell. I judge that it were best
You are going west,
I northward. To the fjord from here
Two pathways lead,—both alike near.
[Turning round again.]
Light learn to part
From vapour.—Know that Life’s an art!
[Waving him off.]
Go, turn the universe upside down;
Still in my ancient God I trust!
Good; paint his crutches and his crown,—
I go to lay him in the dust!
[Disappears over the pass.
[Einar goes silently to the edge and looks after him.]
[Stands a moment lost in thought; then starts, looks about her uneasily, and asks:]
Is the sun set already?
A shadowing cloud; and now ’tis past.
The wind is cold!
Only a blast
That hurried by. Here lies our way.
Yon mountain southward, sure, till now,
Wore not that black and beetling brow.
Thou saw’st it not for game and glee
Ere with his cry he startled thee.
Let him pursue his toilsome track,
And we will to our gambols back!
No, now I’m weary.
I’m weary too, to tell the truth,—
And here our footing asks more heed
Than on yon upland broad and smooth.
But once we’re on the level plain
We’ll dance defiantly once more,
Ay, in a tenfold wilder vein
And tenfold swifter than before.
See Agnes, yon blue line that sparkles,
Fresh from the young sun’s morning kiss,
And now it dimples and now darkles,
Silver one moment, amber this;
It is the ocean glad and free
That in the distance thou dost see.
And seest thou the smoky track
In endless line to leeward spread?
And seest thou the point of black
Just rounding now the furthest head?
It is the steamer—thine and mine—
And now it speeds into the fjord,
Then out into the foaming brine
To-night with thee and me on board!—
The mists have veil’d the mountain brow—
Saw’st thou how vividly, but now,
Heaven’s image in the water woke!
[Looking absently about her.]
Oh, yes. But tell me—sawest thou——?
[In a hushed voice, without looking at him.]
How he tower’d as he spoke?
[She goes down over the pass, Einar follows.
[A path along the crags, with a wild valley beyond to the right. Above, and beyond the mountain, are glimpses of greater heights, with peaks and snow.]
[Comes up along the path, descends, stops half-way upon a jutting crag, and gazes into the valley.]
Yes, I know myself once more!
Every boat-house by the shore,
Every home; the landslip-fall,
And the inlet’s fringe of birch,
And the ancient moulder’d church,
And the river alders, all
From my boyhood I recall.
But methinks it all has grown
Grayer, smaller than I knew;
Yon snow-cornice hangs more prone
Than of old it used to do,
From that scanty heaven encloses
Yet another strip of blue,
Beetles, looms, immures, imposes—
Steals of light a larger due.
[Sits down and gazes into the distance.]
And the fjord too. Crouch’d it then
In so drear and deep a den?
’Tis a squall. A square-rigg’d skiff
Scuds before it to the land.
Southward, shadow’d by the cliff,
I descry a wharf, a shed,
Then, a farm house, painted red.—
’Tis the farm beside the strand!
’Tis the widow’s farm. The home
Of my childhood. Thronging come
Memories born of memories dead.
I, where yonder breakers roll,
Grew, a lonely infant-soul.
Like a nightmare on my heart
Weighs the burden of my birth,
Knit to one, who walks apart
With her spirit set to earth.
All the high emprise that stirr’d
In me, now is veil’d and blurr’d.
Force and valour from me fail,
Heart and soul grow faint and frail
As I near my home, I change,
To my very self grow strange—
Wake, as baffled Samson woke,
Shorn and fetter’d, tamed and broke.
[Looks again down into the valley.]
What is stirring down below?
Out of every garth they flow,
Troops of children, wives and men,
And in long lines meet and mingle,
Now among the rocks and shingle
Vanish, now emerge again;—
To the ancient Church they go.
Oh, I know you, through and through!
Sluggard spirits, souls of lead!
All the Lord’s Prayer, said by you,
Is not with such anguish sped,
By such passion borne on high,
That one tittle thrills the sky
As a ringing human cry,
Save the prayer for daily bread!
That’s this people’s battle-call,
That’s the blazon of them all!
From its context pluck’d apart,
Branded deep in every heart—
There it lies, the tempest-tost
Wreckage of the Faith you’ve lost.
Forth! out of this stifling pit!
Vault-like is the air of it!
Not a Flag may float unfurl’d
In this dead and windless world!
[He is going; a stone is thrown from above and rolls down the slope close by him.
Ha! who throws stones there?
[A girl of fifteen, running along the crest with stones in her apron.]
Ho! Good aim!
[She throws again.]
Hullo, child, stop that game!
Without a hurt he’s sitting now,
And swinging on a wind-swept bough!
[She throws again and screams.]
Now fierce as ever he’s making for me.
Help! Hoo! With claws he’ll rend and gore me!
In the Lord’s name——
Whist! who are you?
Hold still, hold still; he’s flying.
Didn’t you see the falcon fly?
The laidly fowl with crest
Thwart on its sloping brow depress’d,
And red-and-yellow circled
Which is your way?
To church I go.
Then we can go along together.
We? But the way I’m bound is thither.
But yonder is the church, you know!
[Pointing downward with a scornful smile.]
Truly; come with me.
No; yon is ugly.
Because it’s small.
Where did you see
I could tell you, I.
[She turns away upwards.
Lies there that church of yours?
Why, that way leads but to the moors.
Come with me, you; I’ve got to show
A church that’s built of ice and snow!
Of ice and snow! I see the truth!
There, amid peak and precipice
As I remember from my youth,
There yawns a cavernous abyss;
“Ice-church” they call’d the place of old;
And of it many a tale was told;
A frozen tarn has paved the floor;
Aloft, in massy-piled blocks,
The gather’d snow-drifts slope and soar
Arch-like over the yawning rocks.
It seems a mountain-cleft,—ah, yes,
It is a church, though, none the less.
Never go there; a sudden gust
Has often crack’d that hollow crust;
A rifle shot, a scream, a whoop——
[Without listening to him.]
Just come and see a reindeer troop
Gulf’d in the fall, and never found
Till spring and the great thaw came round.
Yonder is danger; go not near it!
Yonder is foulness; thou must fear it!
God’s peace with you!
Nay, this way pass!
Yonder the cataract’s singing Mass;
There on the crags the whistling weather
Preaches you hot and cold together.
Thither the hawk will ne’er steal in;
Down, down he sweeps from Svartetind,—
Yonder he sits, the ugly block,
Like my church-steeple’s weathercock.
Wild is thy way, and wild thy soul,—
A cittern with a shatter’d bowl.
Of dulness dulness is the brood,—
But evil’s lightly won to good.
With whirring wings I hear him come!
I’ll e’en make shift to get me home!
In yonder church I’m safe,—farewell;
He’s on me,—hoo, how fierce and fell!
I’ll throw a stone! No nearer, now.
If thou hast talons, I’ve a bough!
[She runs off up the mountain.
[After a pause.]
This was a church-goer, like the rest.
Mountain- or Dale-church, which is best?
Which wildest reel, which blindest grope,
Which furthest roam from home and hope:—
Light-heart who, crown’d with leafage gay,
Loves by the dizziest verge to play,—
Faint-heart, who marches slack and slow,
Because old Wont will have it so;—
Wild-heart, who, borne on lawless wings,
Sees fairness in the foulest things?
War front and rear, war high and low,
With this fell triple-banded foe!
I see my Call! It gleams ahead
Like sunshine through a loop-hole shed!
I know my task; these demons slain,
The sick Earth shall grow sound again;—
Once let them to the grave be given,
The fever-fumes of Earth shall fly!
Up, Soul, array thee! Sword from thigh!
To battle for the heirs of Heaven!
[He descends to the hamlet.