The Scene represents a pretty garden irregularly but tastefully laid out; in the background are seen the fjord and the islands. To the left is the house, with a verandah and an open dormer window above; to the right in the foreground an open summer-house with a table and benches. The landscape lies in bright afternoon sunshine. It is early summer; the fruit-trees are in flower.
When the Curtain rises, Mrs. Halm, Anna, and Miss Jay are sitting on the verandah, the first two engaged in embroidery, the last with a book. In the summer-house are seen Falk, Lind, Guldstad, and Stiver: a punch-bowl and glasses are on the table. Svanhild sits alone in the background by the water.
Falk [rises, lifts his glass, and sings].
Sun-glad day in garden shady
Was but made for thy delight:
What though promises of May-day
Be annulled by Autumn’s blight?
Apple-blossom white and splendid
Drapes thee in its glowing tent,—
Let it, then, when day is ended,
Strew the closes storm-besprent.
Chorus of Gentlemen.
Let it, then, when day is ended, etc.
Wherefore seek the harvest’s guerdon
While the tree is yet in bloom?
Wherefore drudge beneath the burden
Of an unaccomplished doom?
Wherefore let the scarecrow clatter
Day and night upon the tree?
Brothers mine, the sparrows’ chatter
Has a cheerier melody.
Brothers mine, the sparrow’s chatter, etc.
Happy songster! Wherefore scare him
From our blossom-laden bower?
Rather for his music spare him
All our future, flower by flower;
Trust me, ’twill be cheaply buying
Present song with future fruit;
List the proverb, “Time is flying;—”
Soon our garden music’s mute.
List the proverb, etc.
I will live in song and gladness,—
Then, when every bloom is shed,
Sweep together, scarce in sadness,
All that glory, wan and dead:
Fling the gates wide! Bruise and batter,
Tear and trample, hoof and tusk;
I have plucked the flower, what matter
Who devours the withered husk!
I have plucked the flower, etc.
[They clink and empty their glasses.
Falk [to the ladies].
There—that’s the song you asked me for; but pray
Be lenient to it—I can’t think to-day.
Oh, never mind the sense—the sound’s the thing.
Miss Jay [looking round].
But Svanhild, who was eagerest to hear—?
When Falk began, she suddenly took wing
Anna [pointing towards the back].
No, for there she sits—I see her.
Mrs. Halm [sighing].
That child! Heaven knows, she’s past my comprehending!
But, Mr. Falk, I thought the lyric’s ending
Was not so rich in—well, in poetry,
As others of the stanzas seemed to be.
Why yes, and I am sure it could not tax
Your powers to get a little more inserted—
Falk [clinking glasses with him].
You cram it in, like putty into cracks,
Till lean is into streaky fat converted.
Yes, nothing easier—I, too, in my day
Could do the trick.
Dear me! Were you a poet?
My Stiver! Yes!
Oh, in a humble way.
Miss Jay [to the ladies].
His nature is romantic.
Yes, we know it.
Not now; it’s ages since I turned a rhyme.
Yes, varnish and romance go off with time.
But in the old days—?
Well, you see, ’twas when
I was in love.
Is that time over, then?
Have you slept off the sweet intoxication?
I’m now engaged—I hold official station—
That’s better than in love, I apprehend!
Quite so! You’re in the right, my good old friend.
The worst is past—vous voilà bien avancé—
Promoted from mere lover to fiancé.
Stiver [with a smile of complacent recollection].
It’s strange to think of it—upon my word,
I half suspect my memory of lying—
[Turns to Falk.
But seven years ago—it sounds absurd!—
I wasted office hours in versifying.
What! Office hours—!
Yes, such were my transgressions.
Guldstad [ringing on his glass].
Silence for our solicitor’s confessions!
But chiefly after five, when I was free,
I’d rattle off whole reams of poetry—
Ten—fifteen folios ere I went to bed—
I see—you gave your Pegasus his head,
And off he tore—
On stamped or unstamped paper—
’Twas all the same to him—he’d prance and caper—
The spring of poetry flowed no less flush?
But how, pray, did you teach it first to gush?
By aid of love’s divining-rod, my friend!
Miss Jay it was that taught me where to bore,
My fiancée—she became so in the end—
For then she was—
Your love and nothing more.
’Twas a strange time; I could not read a bit;
I tuned my pen instead of pointing it;
And when along the foolscap sheet it raced,
It twangled music to the words I traced;—
At last by letter I declared my flame
To her—to her—
Whose fiancé you became.
In course of post her answer came to hand—
The motion granted—judgment in my favour!
And you felt bigger, as you wrote, and braver,
To find you’d brought your venture safe to land!
And then you bade the Muse farewell?
I’ve felt no lyric impulse, truth to tell,
From that day forth. My vein appeared to peter
Entirely out; and now, if I essay
To turn a verse or two for New Year’s Day,
I make the veriest hash of rhyme and metre,
And—I’ve no notion what the cause can be—
It turns to law and not to poetry.
Guldstad [clinks glasses with him].
And, trust me, you’re no whit the worse for that!
You think the stream of life is flowing solely
To bear you to the goal you’re aiming at—
But you may find yourself mistaken wholly.
As for your song, perhaps it’s most poetic,
Perhaps it’s not—on that point we won’t quarrel—
But here I lodge a protest energetic,
Say what you will, against its wretched moral.
A masterly economy and new
To let the birds play havoc at their pleasure
Among your fruit-trees, fruitless now for you,
And suffer flocks and herds to trample through
Your garden, and lay waste its springtide treasure!
A pretty prospect, truly, for next year!
Oh, next, next, next! The thought I loathe and fear
That these four letters timidly express—
It beggars millionaires in happiness!
If I could be the autocrat of speech
But for one hour, that hateful word I’d banish;
I’d send it packing out of mortal reach,
As B and G from Knudsen’s Grammar vanish.
Why should the word of hope enrage you thus?
Because it darkens God’s fair earth for us.
“Next year,” “next love,” “next life,”—my soul is vext
To see this world in thraldom to “the next.”
’Tis this dull forethought, bent on future prizes,
That millionaires in gladness pauperises.
Far as the eye can reach, it blurs the age;
All rapture of the moment it destroys;
No one dares taste in peace life’s simplest joys
Until he’s struggled on another stage—
And there arriving, can he there repose?
No—to a new “next” off he flies again;
On, on, unresting, to the grave he goes;
And God knows if there’s any resting then.
Fie, Mr. Falk, such sentiments are shocking.
Oh, I can understand the feeling quite;
I am sure at bottom Mr. Falk is right.
Miss Jay [perturbed].
My Stiver mustn’t listen to his mocking.
He’s rather too eccentric even now.—
My dear, I want you.
Stiver [occupied in cleaning his pipe].
Presently, my dear.
Guldstad [to Falk].
One thing at least to me is very clear;—
And that is that you cannot but allow
Some forethought indispensable. For see,
Suppose that you to-day should write a sonnet,
And, scorning forethought, you should lavish on it
Your last reserve, your all, of poetry,
So that, to-morrow, when you set about
Your next song, you should find yourself cleaned out,
Heavens! how your friends the critics then would crow!
D’you think they’d notice I was bankrupt? No!
Once beggared of ideas, I and they
Would saunter arm in arm the selfsame way— [Breaking off.
But Lind! why, what’s the matter with you, pray?
You sit there dumb and dreaming—I suspect you’re
Deep in the mysteries of architecture.
Lind [collecting himself].
I? What should make you think so?
Your eyes are glued to the verandah yonder—
You’re studying, mayhap, its arches’ curve,
Or can it be its pillars’ strength you ponder,
The door perhaps, with hammered iron hinges?
The window blinds, and their artistic fringes?
From something there your glances never wander.
No, you are wrong—I’m just absorbed in being—
Drunk with the hour—naught craving, naught foreseeing.
I feel as though I stood, my life complete,
With all earth’s riches scattered at my feet.
Thanks for your song of happiness and spring—
From out my inmost heart it seemed to spring.
[Lifts his glass and exchanges a glance, unobserved, with Anna.
Here’s to the blossom in its fragrant pride!
What reck we of the fruit of autumn-tide?
[Empties his glass.
Falk [looks at him with surprise and emotion, but assumes a light tone].
Behold, fair ladies! though you scorn me quite,
Here I have made an easy proselyte.
His hymn-book yesterday was all he cared for—
To-day e’en dithyrambics he’s prepared for!
We poets must be born, cries every judge;
But prose-folks, now and then, like Strasburg geese,
Gorge themselves so inhumanly obese
On rhyming balderdash and rhythmic fudge,
That, when cleaned out, their very souls are thick
With lyric lard and greasy rhetoric.
Your praise, however, I shall not forget;
We’ll sweep the lyre henceforward in duet.
You, Mr. Falk, are hard at work, no doubt,
Here in these rural solitudes delightful,
Where at your own sweet will you roam about—
Mrs. Halm [smiling].
Oh, no, his laziness is something frightful.
What! here at Mrs. Halm’s! that’s most surprising—
Surely it’s just the place for poetising—
[Pointing to the right.
That summer-house, for instance, in the wood
Sequestered, name me any place that could
Be more conducive to poetic mood—
Let blindness veil the sunlight from mine eyes,
I’ll chant the splendour of the sunlit skies!
Just for a season let me beg or borrow
A great, a crushing, a stupendous sorrow,
And soon you’ll hear my hymns of gladness rise!
But best, Miss Jay, to nerve my wings for flight,
Find me a maid to be my life, my light—
For that incitement long to Heaven I’ve pleaded;
But hitherto, worse luck, it hasn’t heeded.
Yes, most irreverent!
Pray don’t imagine it was my intent
To live with her on bread and cheese and kisses.
No! just upon the threshold of our blisses,
Kind Heaven must snatch away the gift it lent.
I need a little spiritual gymnastic;
The dose in that form surely would be drastic.
[Has during the talk approached; she stands close to the table, and says in a determined but whimsical tone:
I’ll pray that such may be your destiny.
But, when it finds you—bear it like a man.
Falk [turning round in surprise].
Miss Svanhild!—well, I’ll do the best I can.
But think you I may trust implicitly
To finding your petitions efficacious?
Heaven, as you know, to faith alone is gracious—
And though you’ve doubtless will enough for two
To make me bid my peace of mind adieu,
Have you the faith to carry matters through?
That is the question.
Svanhild [half in jest].
Wait till sorrow comes,
And all your being’s springtide chills and numbs,
Wait till it gnaws and rends you, soon and late,
Then tell me if my faith is adequate.
[She goes across to the ladies.
Mrs. Halm [aside to her].
Can you two never be at peace? you’ve made
Poor Mr. Falk quite angry, I’m afraid.
[Continues reprovingly in a low voice. Miss Jay joins in the conversation. Svanhild remains cold and silent.
Falk [after a pause of reflection goes over to the summer-house, then to himself].
With fullest confidence her glances lightened.
Shall I believe, as she does so securely,
That Heaven intends—
No, hang it; don’t be frightened!
The powers above would be demented surely
To give effect to orders such as these.
No, my good sir—the cure for your disease
Is exercise for muscle, nerve, and sinew.
Don’t lie there wasting all the grit that’s in you
In idle dreams; cut wood, if that were all;
And then I’ll say the devil’s in’t indeed
If one brief fortnight does not find you freed
From all your whimsies high-fantastical.
Fetter’d by choice, like Burnell’s ass, I ponder—
The flesh on this side, and the spirit yonder.
Which were it wiser I should go for first?
Guldstad [filling the glasses].
First have some punch—that quenches ire and thirst.
Mrs. Halm [looking at her watch].
Ha! Eight o’clock! my watch is either fast, or
It’s just the time we may expect the Pastor.
[Rises, and puts things in order on the verandah.
What! have we parsons coming?
Don’t you know?
I told you, just a little while ago—
No, mother—Mr. Falk had not yet come.
Why no, that’s true; but pray don’t look so glum.
Trust me, you’ll be enchanted with his visit.
A clerical enchanter; pray who is it?
Why, Pastor Strawman, not unknown to fame.
Indeed! Oh, yes, I think I’ve heard his name,
And read that in the legislative game
He comes to take a hand, with voice and vote.
He speaks superbly.
When he’s cleared his throat.
He’s coming with his wife—
And all their blessings—
To give them three or four days’ treat, poor dears—
Soon he’ll be buried over head and ears
In Swedish muddles and official messings—
Mrs. Halm [to Falk].
Now there’s a man for you, in truth!
They say he was a rogue, though, in his youth.
Miss Jay [offended].
There, Mr. Guldstad, I must break a lance!
I’ve heard as long as I can recollect,
Most worthy people speak with great respect
Of Pastor Strawman and his life’s romance.
Romance! I call a match romantic
At which mere worldly wisdom looks askance.
You make my curiosity gigantic.
Miss Jay [continuing].
But certain people always grow splenetic—
Why, goodness knows—at everything pathetic,
And scoff it down. We all know how, of late,
An unfledged, upstart undergraduate
Presumed, with brazen insolence, to declare
That “William Russell” was a poor affair!
But what has this to do with Strawman, pray?
Is he a poem, or a Christian play?
Miss Jay [with tears of emotion].
No, Falk,—a man, with heart as large as day.
But when a—so to speak—mere lifeless thing
Can put such venom into envy’s sting,
And stir up evil passions fierce and fell
Of such a depth—
And such a length as well—
Why then, a man of your commanding brain
Can’t fail to see—
Oh yes, that’s very plain.
But hitherto I haven’t quite made out
The nature, style, and plot of this romance.
It’s something quite delightful I’ve no doubt—
But just a little inkling in advance—
I will abstract, in rapid résumé,
The leading points.
No, I am more au fait,
I know the ins and outs—
I know them too!
Oh Mrs. Halm! now let me tell it, do!
Well, Mr. Falk, you see—he passed at college
For quite a miracle of wit and knowledge,
Had admirable taste in books and dress—
And acted—privately—with great success.
Yes, wait a bit—he painted, played and wrote—
And don’t forget his gift of anecdote.
Do give me time; I know the whole affair:
He made some verses, set them to an air,
Also his own,—and found a publisher.
O heavens! with what romantic melancholy
He played and sang his “Madrigals to Molly”!
He was a genius, that’s the simple fact.
Guldstad [to himself].
Hm! Some were of opinion he was cracked.
A gray old stager, whose sagacious head
Was never upon mouldy parchments fed,
Says “Love makes Petrarchs, just as many lambs
And little occupation, Abrahams.”
But who was Molly?
Molly? His elect,
His lady-love, whom shortly we expect.
Of a great firm her father was a member—
A timber house.
Miss Jay [curtly].
I’m really not aware.
Did a large trade in scantlings, I remember.
That is the trivial side of the affair.
Miss Jay [continuing].
Of vast resources, I’m informed.
You can imagine how the suitors swarm’d;
Gentlemen of the highest reputation.—
Even a baronet made application.
But Molly was not to be made their catch.
She had met Strawman upon private stages;
To see him was to love him—
The wooing gentry home without their wages?
Was it not just a too romantic match?
And then there was a terrible old father,
Whose sport was thrusting happy souls apart;
She had a guardian also, as I gather,
To add fresh torment to her tortured heart.
But each of them was loyal to his vow;
A straw-thatched cottage and a snow-white ewe
They dream’d of, just enough to nourish two—
Or at the very uttermost a cow,—
In short, I’ve heard it from the lips of both,—
A beck, a byre, two bosoms, and one troth.
Ah yes! And then—?
She broke with kin and class.
Broke with them.
There’s a plucky lass!
And fled to Strawman’s garret—
Ahem—the priestly consecration?
Fy, fy! my late beloved husband’s name
Was on the list of sponsors—!
Stiver [to Miss Jay].
You’re to blame
For leaving that important item out.
In a report ’tis of the utmost weight
That the chronology be accurate.
But what I never yet could comprehend
Is how on earth they managed—
The one room
Not housing sheep and cattle, I presume.
Miss Jay [to Stiver].
O, but you must consider this, my friend;
There is no Want where Love’s the guiding star;
All’s right without if tender Troth’s within.
He loved her to the notes of the guitar,
And she gave lessons on the violin—
Then all, of course, on credit they bespoke—
Till, in a year, the timber merchant broke.
Then Strawman had a call to north.
Vowed, in a letter that I saw (as few did),
He lived but for his duty, and for her.
Falk [as if completing her statement].
And with those words his Life’s Romance concluded.
Mrs. Halm [rising].
How if we should go out upon the lawn,
And see if there’s no prospect of them yet?
Miss Jay [drawing on her mantle].
It’s cool already.
Svanhild, will you get
My woollen shawl?—Come ladies, pray!
Lind [to Anna, unobserved by the others].
[Svanhild goes into the house; the others, except Falk, go towards the back and out to the left. Lind, who has followed, stops and returns.
Falk, your hand! The tide
Of joy’s so vehement, it will perforce
Hullo there; you must first be tried;
Sentence and hanging follow in due course.
Now, what on earth’s the matter? To conceal
From me, your friend, this treasure of your finding;
For you’ll confess the inference is binding:
You’ve come into a prize off Fortune’s wheel!
I’ve snared and taken Fortune’s blessed bird!
How? Living,—and undamaged by the steel?
Patience; I’ll tell the matter in one word.
I am engaged! Conceive—!
To-day,—with unimagined courage swelling,
I said,—ahem, it will not bear re-telling;—
But only think,—the sweet young maiden grew
Quite rosy-red,—but not at all enraged!
You see, Falk, what I ventured for a bride!
She listened,—and I rather think she cried;
That, sure, means “Yes“?
If precedents decide;
And so we really are—engaged?
I should conclude so; but the only way
To be quite certain, is to ask Miss Jay.
O no, I feel so confident, so clear!
So perfectly assured, and void of fear.
[Radiantly, in a mysterious tone.
Hark! I had leave her fingers to caress
When from the coffee-board she drew the cover.
Falk [lifting and emptying his glass].
Well, flowers of spring your wedding garland dress!
Lind [doing the same].
And here I swear by heaven that I will love her
Until I die, with love as infinite
As now glows in me,—for she is so sweet!
Engaged! Aha, so that was why you flung
The Holy Law and Prophets on the shelf!
And you believed it was the song you sung—!
A poet believes all things of himself.
Don’t think, however, Falk, that I dismiss
The theologian from my hour of bliss.
Only, I find the Book will not suffice
As Jacob’s ladder unto Paradise.
I must into God’s world, and seek Him there.
A boundless kindness in my heart upsprings,
I love the straw, I love the creeping things;
They also in my joy shall have a share.
Yes, only tell me this, though—
I have told it,—
My precious secret, and our three hearts hold it!
But have you thought about the future?
I?—thought about the future? No, from this
Time forth I live but in the hour that is.
In home shall all my happiness be sought;
We hold Fate’s reins, we drive her hither, thither,
And neither friend nor mother shall have right
To say unto my budding blossom: Wither!
For I am earnest and her eyes are bright,
And so it must unfold into the light!
Yes, Fortune likes you, you will serve her turn!
My spirits like wild music glow and burn;
I feel myself a Titan: though a foss
Opened before me—I would leap across!
Your love, you mean to say, in simple prose,
Has made a reindeer of you.
But in my wildest flight, I know the nest
In which my heart’s dove longs to be at rest!
Well then, to-morrow it may fly con brio;
You’re off into the hills with the quartette.
I’ll guarantee you against cold and wet—
Pooh, the quartette may go and climb in trio,
The lowly dale has mountain air for me;
Here I’ve the immeasurable fjord, the flowers,
Here I have warbling birds and choral bowers;
And lady Fortune’s self,—for here is she!
Ah, lady Fortune by our Northern water
Is rara avis,—hold her if you’ve caught her!
[With a glance towards the house.
Well; I go,—disclose to none
The secret that we share alone with one.
’Twas good of you to listen: now enfold it
Deep in your heart,—warm, glowing, as I told it.
[He goes out in the background to the others. Falk looks after him a moment, and paces up and down in the garden, visibly striving to master his agitation. Presently Svanhild comes out with a shawl on her arm, and is going towards the back. Falk approaches and gazes at her fixedly. Svanhild stops.
Svanhild [after a short pause].
You gaze so at me!
Falk [half to himself].
Yes, ’tis there—the same;
The shadow in her eyes’ deep mirror sleeping,
The roguish elf about her lips a-peeping,
It is there.
What? You frighten me.
Yes, you know it very well.
But do you know the name is laughable?
I beg you to discard it from to-night!
That would be far beyond a daughter’s right—
Hm. “Svanhild! Svanhild!”
[With sudden gravity.
With your earliest breath
How came you by this prophecy of death?
Is it so grim?
No, lovely as a song,
But for our age too great and stern and strong,
How can a modern demoiselle fill out
The ideal that heroic name expresses?
No, no, discard it with your outworn dresses.
You mean the mythical princess, no doubt—
Who, guiltless, died beneath the horse’s feet.
But now such acts are clearly obsolete.
No, no, I’ll mount his saddle! There’s my place!
How often have I dreamt, in pensive ease,
He bore me, buoyant, through the world apace,
His mane a flag of freedom in the breeze!
Yes, the old tale. In “pensive ease” no mortal
Is stopped by thwarting bar or cullis’d portal;
Fearless we cleave the ether without bound;
In practice, tho’, we shrewdly hug the ground;
For all love life and, having choice, will choose it;
And no man dares to leap where he may lose it.
Yes! show me but the end, I’ll spurn the shore;
But let the end be worth the leaping for!
A Ballarat beyond the desert sands—
Else each will stay exactly where he stands.
I grasp the case;—the due conditions fail.
Exactly: what’s the use of spreading sail
When there is not a breath of wind astir?
Yes, what’s the use of plying whip and spur
When there is not a penny of reward
For him who tears him from the festal board,
And mounts, and dashes headlong to perdition?
Such doing for the deed’s sake asks a knight,
And knighthood’s now an idle superstition.
That was your meaning, possibly?
Look at that fruit tree in the orchard close,—
No blossom on its barren branches blows.
You should have seen last year with what brave airs
It staggered underneath its world of pears.
No doubt, but what’s the moral you impute?
Svanhild [with finesse].
O, among other things, the bold unreason
Of modern Zacharies who seek for fruit.
If the tree blossom’d to excess last season,
You must not crave the blossoms back in this.
I knew you’d find your footing in the ways
Of old Romance.
Yes, modern virtue is
Of quite another stamp. Who now arrays
Himself to battle for the truth? Who’ll stake
His life and person fearless for truth’s sake?
Where is the hero?
Falk [looking keenly at her].
Where is the Valkyria?
Svanhild [shaking her head].
Valkyrias find no market in this land!
When the faith lately was assailed in Syria,
Did you go out with the crusader-band?
No, but on paper you were warm and willing,—
And sent the “Clerical Gazette” a shilling.
[Pause. Falk is about to retort, but checks himself, and goes into the garden.
[After watching him a moment, approaches him and asks gently:
Falk, are you angry?
No, I only brood,—
Svanhild [with thoughtful sympathy].
You seem to be two natures, still at feud,—
I know it well.
Falk [losing self-control].
Why, why? Because I hate to go about
With soul bared boldly to the vulgar eye,
As Jock and Jennie hang their passions out;
To wear my glowing heart upon my sleeve,
Like women in low dresses. You, alone,
Svanhild, you only,—you, I did believe,—
Well, it is past, that dream, for ever flown.—
[She goes to the summer-house and looks out; he follows.
To another voice, that sings.
Hark! every evening when the sun’s at rest,
A little bird floats hither on beating wings,—
See there—it darted from its leafy nest—
And, do you know, it is my faith,—as oft
As God makes any songless soul, He sends
A little bird to be her friend of friends,
And sing for ever in her garden-croft.
Falk [picking up a stone].
Then must the owner and the bird be near,
Or its song’s squandered on a stranger’s ear.
Yes, that is true; but I’ve discovered mine.
Of speech and song I am denied the power,
But when it warbles in its leafy bower,
Poems flow in upon my brain like wine—
Ah, yes,—they fleet—they are not to be won—
[Falk throws the stone. Svanhild screams.
O God, you’ve hit it! Ah, what have you done!
[She hurries out to the right and then quickly returns.
O pity! pity!
Falk [in passionate agitation].
No,—but eye for eye,
Svanhild, and tooth for tooth. Now you’ll attend
No further greetings from your garden-friend,
No guerdon from the land of melody.
That is my vengeance: as you slew, I slay.
You slew. Until this very day,
A clear-voiced song-bird warbled in my soul;
See,—now one passing bell for both may toll—
You’ve killed it!
Yes, for you have slain
My young, high-hearted, joyous exultation—
By your betrothal!
How! But pray, explain—!
O, it’s in full accord with expectation;
He gets his licence, enters orders, speeds to
A post,—as missionary in the West—
Svanhild [in the same tone].
A pretty penny, also, he succeeds to;—
For it is Lind you speak of—?
You know best
Of whom I speak.
Svanhild [with a subdued smile].
As the bride’s sister, true,
I cannot help—
Great God! It is not you—?
Who win this overplus of bliss? Ah no!
Falk [with almost childish joy].
It is not you! O God be glorified!
What love, what mercy does He not bestow!
I shall not see you as another’s bride;—
’Twas but the fire of pain He bade me bear—
[Tries to seize her hand.
O hear me, Svanhild, hear me then—
Svanhild [pointing quickly to the background].
[She goes towards the house. At the same moment Mrs. Halm, Anna, Miss Jay, Guldstad, Stiver, and Lind emerge from the background. During the previous scene the sun has set; it is now dark.
Mrs. Halm [to Svanhild].
The Strawmans may be momently expected.
Where have you been?
Miss Jay [after glancing at Falk].
Your colour’s very high.
A little face-ache; it will soon pass by.
And yet you walk at nightfall unprotected?
Arrange the room, and see that tea is ready;
Let everything be nice; I know the lady.
[Svanhild goes in.
Stiver [to Falk].
What is the colour of this parson’s coat?
I guess bread-taxers would not catch his vote.
How if one made allusion to the store
Of verses, yet unpublished, in my drawer?
It might do something.
Would to heaven it might!
Our wedding’s imminent; our purses light.
Courtship’s a very serious affair.
Just so: “Qu’allais-tu faire dans cette galère?”
Is courtship a “galère”?
No, married lives;—
All servitude, captivity, and gyves.
Stiver [seeing Miss Jay approach].
You little know what wealth a man obtains
From woman’s eloquence and woman’s brains.
Miss Jay [aside to Stiver].
Will Guldstad give us credit, think you?
Am not quite certain of it yet: I’ll try.
[They withdraw in conversation; Lind and Anna approach.
Lind [aside to Falk].
I can’t endure it longer; in post-haste
I must present her—
You had best refrain,
And not initiate the eye profane
Into your mysteries—
That would be a jest!—
From you, my fellow-boarder, and my mate,
To keep concealed my new-found happy state!
Nay, now, my head with Fortune’s oil anointed—
You think the occasion good to get it curled?
Well, my good friend, you won’t be disappointed;
Go and announce your union to the world!
Other reflections also weigh with me,
And one of more especial gravity;
Say that there lurked among our motley band
Some sneaking, sly pretender to her hand;
Say, his attentions became undisguised,—
We should be disagreeably compromised.
Yes, it is true; it had escaped my mind,
You for a higher office were designed,
Love as his young licentiate has retained you;
Shortly you’ll get a permanent position;
But it would be defying all tradition
If at the present moment he ordained you.
Yes if the merchant does not—
What of him?
Oh, it is Lind’s unreasonable whim.
Hush; I’ve a deep foreboding that the man
Will rob me of my treasure, if he can.
The fellow, as we know, comes daily down,
Is rich, unmarried, takes you round the town;
In short, my own, regard it as we will,
There are a thousand things that bode us ill.
Oh, it’s too bad; to-day was so delicious!
Falk [sympathetically to Lind].
Don’t wreck your joy, unfoundedly suspicious,
Don’t hoist your flag till time the truth disclose—
Great God! Miss Jay is looking; hush, be still!
[She and Lind withdraw in different directions.
Falk [looking after Lind].
So to the ruin of his youth he goes.
[Who has meantime been conversing on the steps with Mrs. Halm and Miss Jay, approaches Falk and slaps him on the shoulder.
Well, brooding on a poem?
No, a play.
The deuce;—I never heard it was your line.
O no, the author is a friend of mine,
And your acquaintance also, I daresay.
The knave’s a dashing writer, never doubt.
Only imagine, in a single day
He’s worked a perfect little Idyll out.
With happy ending, doubtless!
No curtain falls but on a plighted pair.
Thus with the Trilogy’s First Part we’ve reckoned;
But now the poet’s labour-throes begin;
The Comedy of Troth-plight, Part the Second,
Thro’ five insipid Acts he has to spin,
And of that staple, finally, compose
Part Third,—or Wedlock’s Tragedy, in prose.
The poet’s vein is catching, it would seem.
Really? How so, pray?
Since I also pore
And ponder over a poetic scheme,—
An actuality—and not a dream.
And pray, who is the hero of your theme?
I’ll tell you that to-morrow—not before.
It is yourself!
You think me equal to it?
I’m sure no other mortal man could do it.
But then the heroine? No city maid,
I’ll swear, but of the country, breathing balm?
Guldstad [lifting his finger].
Ah,—that’s the point, and must not be betrayed!—
[Changing his tone.
Pray tell me your opinion of Miss Halm.
O you’re best able to pronounce upon her;
My voice can neither credit nor dishonour,—
But just take care no mischief-maker blot
This fine poetic scheme of which you talk.
Suppose I were so shameless as to balk
The meditated climax of the plot?
Well, I would cry “Amen,” and change my plan.
Why, you see, you are a letter’d man;
How monstrous were it if your skill’d design
Were ruined by a bungler’s hand like mine!
[Retires to the background.
Falk [in passing, to Lind].
Yes, you were right; the merchant’s really scheming
The ruin of your new-won happiness.
Lind [aside to Anna].
Now then you see, my doubting was not dreaming;
We’ll go this very moment and confess.
[They approach Mrs. Halm, who is standing with Miss Jay by the house.
Guldstad [conversing with Stiver].
’Tis a fine evening.
A man’s disposed—
What, all not running smooth
In true love’s course?
Not that exactly—
Falk [coming up].
With your engagement?
That’s about the truth.
Hurrah! Your spendthrift pocket has a groat
Or two still left, it seems, of poetry.
I cannot see what poetry has got
To do with my engagement, or with me.
You are not meant to see; when lovers prove
What love is, all is over with their love.
Guldstad [to Stiver].
But if there’s matter for adjustment, pray
Let’s hear it.
I’ve been pondering all day
Whether the thing is proper to disclose,
But still the Ayes are balanced by the Noes.
I’ll right you in one sentence. Ever since
As plighted lover you were first installed,
You’ve felt yourself, if I may say so, galled—
And sometimes to the quick.
You’ve had to wince
Beneath a crushing load of obligations
That you’d send packing, if good form permitted.
That’s what’s the matter.
My legal debts I’ve honestly acquitted;
But other bonds next month are falling due;
When a man weds, you see, he gets a wife—
Now your youth’s heaven once again is blue,
There rang an echo from your old song-life!
That’s how it is: I read you thro’ and thro’;
Wings, wings were all you wanted,—and a knife!
Yes, Resolution’s knife, to sever
Each captive bond, and set you free for ever,
Nay, now you’re insolent beyond
Endurance! Me to charge with violation
Of law,—me, me with plotting to abscond!
It’s libellous, malicious defamation,
Insult and calumny—
Are you insane?
What is all this about? Explain! Explain!
Guldstad [laughingly to Stiver].
Yes, clear your mind of all this balderdash!
What do you want?
Stiver [pulling himself together].
A trifling loan in cash.
Stiver [hurriedly to Guldstad].
That is, I mean to say, you know,
A voucher for a ten pound note, or so.
Miss Jay [to Lind and Anna].
I wish you joy! How lovely, how delicious!
Guldstad [going up to the ladies].
Pray what has happened?
[To himself.] This was unpropitious.
Falk [throws his arms about Stiver’s neck].
Hurrah! the trumpet’s dulcet notes proclaim
A brother born to you in Amor’s name!
[Drags him to the others.
Miss Jay [to the gentlemen].
Think! Lind and Anna—think!—have plighted hearts,
Mrs. Halm [with tears of emotion].
’Tis the eighth in order
Who well-provided from this house departs;
Seven nieces wedded—always with a boarder—
[Is overcome; presses her handkerchief to her eyes.
Miss Jay [to Anna].
Well, there will come a flood of gratulation!
[Caresses her with emotion.
Lind [seizing Falk’s hand].
My friend, I walk in rapt intoxication!
Hold! As a plighted man you are a member
Of Rapture’s Temperance-association.
Observe its rules;—no orgies here, remember!
[Turning to Guldstad sympathetically.
Well, my good sir!
Guldstad [beaming with pleasure].
I think this promises
All happiness for both.
Falk [staring at him].
You seem to stand
The shock with exemplary self-command.
What do you mean, sir?
That inasmuch as you appeared to feed
Fond expectations of your own—
At any rate, you were upon the scent.
You named Miss Halm; you stood upon this spot
And asked me—
There are two, though, are there not?
It was—the other sister that you meant?
That sister, yes, the other one,—just so.
Judge for yourself, when you have come to know
That sister better, if she has not in her
Merits which, if they were divined, would win her
A little more regard than we bestow.
Her virtues are of every known variety
Not quite; the accent of society
She cannot hit exactly; there she loses.
A grievous fault.
But if her mother chooses
To spend a winter on her, she’ll come out of it
Queen of them all, I’ll wager.
Not a doubt of it.
Young women are odd creatures, to be sure!
Like winter rye-seed, canopied secure
By frost and snow, invisibly they sprout.
Then in the festive ball-room bedded out—
With equivoque and scandal for manure—
And when the April sun shines—
There the blade is;
The seed shot up in mannikin green ladies!
[Lind comes up and seizes Falk’s hand.
How well I chose,—past understanding well;—
I feel a bliss that nothing can dispel.
There stands your mistress; tell us, if you can,
The right demeanor for a plighted man.
That’s a third person’s business to declare.
Ill-tempered! This to Anna’s ears I’ll bear.
[Goes to the ladies.
Lind [looking after him].
Can such a man be tolerated?
Mistook his aim, however,—
And how so?
It was not Anna that he had in view.
How, was it Svanhild?
Well, I hardly know.
Forgive me, martyr to another’s cause!
What do you mean?
You’ve read the news to-night?
Do so. There ’tis told in black and white
Of one who, ill-luck’s bitter counsel taking,
Had his sound teeth extracted from his jaws
Because his cousin-german’s teeth were aching.
Miss Jay [looking out to the left].
Here comes the priest!
Now see a man of might!
Five children, six, seven, eight—
And, heavens, all recent!
Ugh! it is almost to be called indecent.
[A carriage has meantime been heard stopping outside to the left. Strawman, his wife, and eight little girls, all in travelling dress, enter one by one.
Mrs. Halm [advancing to meet them].
Welcome, a hearty welcome!
No, dear madam, not at all.
If we disturb you—
Au contraire, your visit
Could in no wise more opportunely fall.
My Anna’s just engaged.
Strawman [shaking Anna’s hand with unction].
Ah then, I must
Bear witness;—Lo! in wedded Love’s presented
A treasure such as neither moth nor rust
Corrupt—if it be duly supplemented.
But how delightful that your little maids
Should follow you to town.
Four tender blades
We have besides.
Three of whom
Are still too infantine to take to heart
A loving father’s absence, when I come
To town for sessions.
Miss Jay [to Mrs. Halm, bidding farewell].
Now I must depart.
O, it is still so early!
I must fly
To town and spread the news. The Storms, I know,
Go late to rest, they will be up; and oh!
How glad the aunts will be! Now, dear, put by
Your shyness; for to-morrow a spring-tide
Of callers will flow in from every side!
Well, then, good-night.
[To the others.
Now friends, what would you say
To drinking tea?
[To Mrs. Strawman.
Pray, madam, lead the way.
[Mrs. Halm, Strawman, his wife and children, with Guldstad, Lind, and Anna go into the house.
Miss Jay [taking Stiver’s arm].
Now let’s be tender! Look how softly floats
Queen Luna on her throne o’er lawn and lea!—
Well, but you are not looking!
Yes, I see;
I’m thinking of the promissory notes.
[They go out to the left. Falk, who has been continuously watching Strawman and his wife, remains behind alone in the garden. It is now dark; the house is lighted up.
All is as if burnt out;—all desolate, dead—!
So thro’ the world they wander, two and two;
Charred wreckage, like the blackened stems that strew
The forest when the withering fire is fled.
Far as the eye can travel, all is drought,
And nowhere peeps one spray of verdure out!
[Svanhild comes out on to the verandah with a flowering rose-tree which she sets down.
Yes one—yes one—!
Falk, in the dark?
Darkness to me is fair, and light is cheerless
But are not you afraid in yonder walls
Where the lamp’s light on sallow corpses falls—
Falk [looking after Strawman who appears at the window].
He was once so brilliant and so strong;
Warred with the world to win his mistress; passed
For Custom’s doughtiest iconoclast;
And poured forth love in pæans of glad song—!
Look at him now! In solemn robes and wraps,
A two-legged drama on his own collapse!
And she, the limp-skirt slattern, with the shoes
Heel-trodden, that squeak and clatter in her traces,
This is the winged maid who was his Muse
And escort to the kingdom of the graces!
Of all that fire this puff of smoke’s the end!
Sic transit gloria amoris, friend.
Yes, it is wretched, wretched past compare.
I know of no one’s lot that I would share.
Then let us two rise up and bid defiance
To this same order Art, not Nature, bred!
Svanhild [shaking her head].
Then were the cause for which we made alliance
Ruined, as sure as this is earth we tread.
No, triumph waits upon two souls in unity.
To Custom’s parish-church no more we’ll wend,
Seatholders in the Philistine community.
See, Personality’s one aim and end
Is to be independent, free and true.
In that I am not wanting, nor are you.
A fiery spirit pulses in your veins,
For thoughts that master, you have words that burn;
The corslet of convention, that constrains
The beating hearts of other maids, you spurn.
The voice that you were born with will not chime to
The chorus Custom’s baton gives the time to.
And do you think pain has not often pressed
Tears from my eyes, and quiet from my breast?
I longed to shape my way to my own bent—
“In pensive ease?”
O no, ’twas sternly meant.
But then the aunts came in with well-intended
Advice, the matter must be sifted, weighed—
“In pensive ease,” you say; oh no, I made
A bold experiment—in art.
In failure. I lacked talent for the brush.
The thirst for freedom, tho’, I could not crush;
Checked at the easel, it essayed the stage—
That plan was shattered also, I engage?
Upon the eldest aunt’s suggestion, yes;
She much preferred a place as governess—
But of all this I never heard a word!
No wonder; they took care that none was heard.
They trembled at the risk “my future” ran
If this were whispered to unmarried Man.
Falk [after gazing a moment at her in meditative sympathy].
That such must be your lot I long had guessed.
When first I met you, I can well recall,
You seemed to me quite other than the rest,
Beyond the comprehension of them all.
They sat at table,—fragrant tea a-brewing,
And small-talk humming with the tea in tune,
The young girls blushing and the young men cooing,
Like pigeons on a sultry afternoon.
Old maids and matrons volubly averred
Morality and faith’s supreme felicity,
Young wives were loud in praise of domesticity,
While you stood lonely like a mateless bird.
And when at last the gabbling clamour rose
To a tea-orgy, a debauch of prose,
You seemed a piece of silver, newly minted,
Among foul notes and coppers dulled and dinted.
You were a coin imported, alien, strange,
Here valued at another rate of change,
Not passing current in that babel mart
Of poetry and butter, cheese and art.
Then—while Miss Jay in triumph took the field—
Her knight behind her, like a champion bold,
His hat upon his elbow, like a shield—
Your mother nodded to your untouched cup:
“Drink, Svanhild dear, before your tea grows cold.”
And then you drank the vapid liquor up,
The mawkish brew beloved of young and old.
But that name gripped me with a sudden spell;
The grim old Völsungs as they fought and fell,
With all their faded æons, seemed to rise
In never-ending line before my eyes.
In you I saw a Svanhild, like the old,
But fashioned to the modern age’s mould.
Sick of its hollow warfare is the world;
Its lying banner it would fain have furled;
But when the world does evil, its offence
Is blotted in the blood of innocence.
Svanhild [with gentle irony].
I think, at any rate, the fumes of tea
Must answer for that direful fantasy;
But ’tis your least achievement, past dispute,
To hear the spirit speaking, when ’tis mute.
Falk [with emotion].
Nay, Svanhild, do not jest: behind your scoff
Tears glitter,—O, I see them plain enough.
And I see more: when you to dust are fray’d,
And kneaded to a formless lump of clay,
Each bungling dilettante’s scalpel-blade
On you his dull devices shall display.
The world usurps the creature of God’s hand
And sets its image in the place of His,
Transforms, enlarges that part, lightens this;
And when upon the pedestal you stand
Complete, cries out in triumph: “Now she is
At last what woman ought to be: Behold,
How plastically calm, how marble-cold!
Bathed in the lamplight’s soft irradiation,
How well in keeping with the decoration!”
[Passionately seizing her hand.
But if you are to die, live first! Come forth
With me into the glory of God’s earth!
Soon, soon the gilded cage will claim its prize.
The Lady thrives there, but the Woman dies,
And I love nothing but the Woman in you.
There, if they will, let others woo and win you,
But here, my spring of life began to shoot,
Here my Song-tree put forth its firstling fruit;
Here I found wings and flight:—Svanhild, I know it,
Only be mine,—here I shall grow a poet!
Svanhild [in gentle reproof, withdrawing her hand].
O, why have you betrayed yourself? How sweet
It was when we as friends could freely meet!
You should have kept your counsel. Can we stake
Our bliss upon a word that we may break?
Now you have spoken, all is over.
I’ve pointed to the goal,—now leap with me,
My high-souled Svanhild—if you dare, and show
That you have heart and courage to be free.
Yes, free, for freedom’s all-in-all
Is absolutely to fulfil our Call.
And you by heaven were destined, I know well,
To be my bulwark against beauty’s spell.
I, like my falcon namesake, have to swing
Against the wind, if I would reach the sky!
You are the breeze I must be breasted by,
You, only you, put vigour in my wing:
Be mine, be mine, until the world shall take you,
When leaves are falling, then our paths shall part
Sing unto me the treasures of your heart,
And for each song another song I’ll make you;
So may you pass into the lamplit glow
Of age, as forests fade without a throe.
Svanhild [with suppressed bitterness].
I cannot thank you, for your words betray
The meaning of your kind solicitude.
You eye me as a boy a sallow, good
To cut and play the flute on for a day.
Yes, better than to linger in the swamp
Till autumn choke it with her grey mists damp!
You must! you shall! To me you must present
What God to you so bountifully lent.
I speak in song what you in dreams have meant.
See yonder bird I innocently slew,
Her warbling was Song’s book of books for you.
O, yield your music as she yielded hers!
My life shall be that music set to verse!
And when you know me, when my songs are flown,
And my last requiem chanted from the bough,—
Falk [observing her].
What then? Ah well, remember now!
[Pointing to the garden.
Yes, I remember you can drive a stone.
Falk [with a scornful laugh].
This is your vaunted soul of freedom therefore!
All daring, if it had an end to dare for!
I’ve shown you one; now, once for all, your yea
You know the answer I must make you:
I never can accept you in your way.
Falk [coldly, breaking off].
Then there’s an end of it; the world may take you!
[Svanhild has silently turned away. She supports her hands upon the verandah railing, and rests her head upon them.
[Walks several times up and down, takes a cigar, stops near her and says, after a pause:
You think the topic of my talk to-night
Extremely ludicrous, I should not wonder?
[Pauses for an answer. Svanhild is silent.
I’m very conscious that it was a blunder;
Sister’s and daughter’s love alone possess you;
Henceforth I’ll wear kid gloves when I address you,
Sure, so, of being understood aright.
[Pauses, but as Svanhild remains motionless, he turns and goes towards the right.
Svanhild [lifting her head after a brief silence, looking at him and drawing nearer].
Now I will recompense your kind intent
To save me, with an earnest admonition.
That falcon-image gave me sudden vision
What your “emancipation” really meant.
You said you were the falcon, that must fight
Athwart the wind if it would reach the sky,
I was the breeze you must be breasted by,
Else vain were all your faculty of flight;
How pitifully mean! How paltry! Nay
How ludicrous, as you yourself divined!
That seed, however, fell not by the way,
But bred another fancy in my mind
Of a far more illuminating kind.
You, as I saw it, were no falcon, but
A tuneful dragon, out of paper cut,
Whose Ego holds a secondary station,
Dependent on the string for animation;
Its breast was scrawled with promises to pay
In cash poetic,—at some future day;
The wings were stiff with barbs and shafts of wit
That wildly beat the air, but never hit;
The tail was a satiric rod in pickle
To castigate the town’s infirmities,
But all it compass’d was to lightly tickle
The casual doer of some small amiss.
So you lay helpless at my feet, imploring:
“O raise me, how and where is all the same!
Give me the power of singing and of soaring.
No matter at what cost of bitter blame!”
Falk [clenching his fists in inward agitation].
Heaven be my witness—!
No, you must be told:—
For such a childish sport I am too old.
But you, whom Nature made for high endeavour,
Are you content the fields of air to tread
Hanging your poet’s life upon a thread
That at my pleasure I can slip and sever?
What is the date to-day?
Svanhild [more gently].
Why, now, that’s right!
Mind well this day, and heed it, and beware;
Trust to your own wings only for your flight,
Sure, if they do not break, that they will bear.
The paper poem for the desk is fit,
That which is lived alone has life in it;
That only has the wings that scale the height;
Choose now between them, poet: be, or write!
[Nearer to him.
Now I have done what you besought me; now
My requiem is chanted from the bough;
My only one; now all my songs are flown;
Now, if you will, I’m ready for the stone!
[She goes into the house; Falk remains motionless, looking after her; far out on the fjord is seen a boat, from which the following chorus is faintly heard:
My wings I open, my sails spread wide,
And cleave like an eagle life’s glassy tide;
Gulls follow my furrow’s foaming;
Overboard with the ballast of care and cark;
And what if I shatter my roaming bark,
It is passing sweet to be roaming!
Falk [starting from a reverie].
What, music? Ah, it will be Lind’s quartette
Getting their jubilation up.—Well met!
[To Guldstad, who enters with an overcoat on his arm.
Ah, slipping off, sir?
Yes, with your goodwill.
But let me first put on my overcoat.
We prose-folks are susceptible to chill;
The night wind takes us by the tuneless throat.
Sir, a word ere you proceed!
Show me a task, a mighty one, you know—!
I’m going in for life—!
Guldstad [with ironical emphasis].
Well, in you go!
You’ll find that you are in for it, indeed.
Falk [looking reflectively at him, says slowly].
There is my program, furnished in a phrase.
[In a lively outburst.
Now I have wakened from my dreaming days,
I’ve cast the die of life’s supreme transaction,
I’ll show you—else the devil take me—
No cursing: curses never scared a fly.
Words, words, no more, but action, only action!
I will reverse the plan of the Creation;—
Six days were lavish’d in that occupation;
My world’s still lying void and desolate,
Hurrah, to-morrow, Sunday—I’ll create!
Yes, strip, and tackle it like a man, that’s right!
But first go in and sleep on it. Good-night!
[Goes out to the left. Svanhild appears in the room over the verandah; she shuts the window and draws down the blind.
No, first I’ll act. I’ve slept too long and late.
[Looks up at Svanhild’s window, and exclaims, as if seized with a sudden resolution:
Good-night! Good-night! Sweet dreams to-night be thine;
To-morrow, Svanhild, thou art plighted mine!
[Goes out quickly to the right; from the water the Chorus is heard again.
Maybe I shall shatter my roaming bark,
But it’s passing sweet to be roaming!
[The boat slowly glides away as the curtain falls.