Deep in the pine-woods. Grey autumn weather. Snow is falling.
Peer Gynt stands in his shirt-sleeves, felling timber.
[Hewing at a large fir-tree with twisted branches.]
Oh ay, you are tough, you ancient churl;
But it’s all in vain, for you’ll soon be down.
[Hews at it again.
I see well enough you’ve a chain-mail shirt,
But I’ll hew it through, were it never so stout.—
Ay, ay, you’re shaking your twisted arms;
You’ve reason enough for your spite and rage;
But none the less you must bend the knee——!
[Breaks off suddenly.
Lies! ’Tis an old tree and nothing more.
Lies! It was never a steel-clad churl;
It’s only a fir-tree with fissured bark.—
It is heavy labour this hewing timber;
But the devil and all when you hew and dream too.—
I’ll have done with it all—with this dwelling in mist,
And, broad-awake, dreaming your senses away.—
You’re an outlaw, lad! You are banned to the woods.
[Hews for a while rapidly.
Ay, an outlaw, ay. You’ve no mother now
To spread your table and bring your food.
If you’d eat, my lad, you must help yourself,
Fetch your rations raw from the wood and stream,
Split your own fir-roots1 and light your own fire,
Bustle around, and arrange and prepare things.
Would you clothe yourself warmly, you must stalk your deer;
Would you found you a house, you must quarry the stones;
Would you build up its walls, you must fell the logs,
And shoulder them all to the building-place.—
[His axe sinks down; he gazes straight in
front of him.
Brave shall the building be. Tower and vane
Shall rise from the roof-tree, high and fair.
And then I will carve, for the knob on the gable,
A mermaid, shaped like a fish from the navel.
Brass shall there be on the vane and the door-locks.
Glass I must see and get hold of too.
Strangers, passing, shall ask amazed:
What is that glittering far on the hillside?
Devil’s own lies! There they come again.
You’re an outlaw, lad!
A bark-thatched hovel
Is shelter enough both in rain and frost.
[Looks up at the tree.
Now he stands wavering. There; only a kick,
And he topples and measures his length on the ground;—
93The thick-swarming undergrowth shudders around him!
[Begins lopping the branches from the trunk; suddenly he listens, and stands motionless with his axe in the air.
There’s some one after me;—Ay, are you that sort,
Old Hegstad-churl; would you play me false?
[Crouches behind the tree, and peeps over it.
A lad! One only. He seems afraid.
He peers all round him. What’s that he hides
’Neath his jacket? A sickle. He stops and looks round,—
Now he lays his hand on a fence-rail flat.
What’s this now? Why does he lean like that——?
Ugh, ugh! Why, he’s chopped his finger off!
A whole finger off!—He bleeds like an ox.—
Now he takes to his heels with his fist in a clout.
What a devil of a lad! An unmendable2 finger!
Right off! And with no one compelling him to it!
Ho, now I remember! It’s only thus
You can ’scape from having to serve the King.
That’s it. They wanted to send him soldiering,
And of course the lad didn’t want to go.—
But to chop off——? To sever for good and all——?
Ay, think of it—wish it done—will it to boot,—
But do it——! No, that’s past my understanding!
[Shakes his head a little; then goes on with his work.
A room in Åse’s house. Everything in disorder; boxes standing open; wearing apparel strewn around. A cat is lying on the bed.
Åse and the Cottar’s Wife are hard at work packing things together and putting them straight.
[Running to one side.]
Kari, come here!
[On the other side.]
Where is——? Where shall I find——? Tell me where——?
What am I seeking? I’m out of my wits!
Where is the key of the chest?
In the key hole.
What is that rumbling?
The last cart-load
They’re driving to Hegstad.
How glad I’d be
In the black chest myself to be driven away!
Oh, what must a mortal abide and live through!
God help me in mercy; The whole house is bare!
What the Hegstad-churl left now the Bailiff3 has taken.
Not even the clothes on my back have they spared.
Fie! Shame on them all that have judged so hardly!
[Seats herself on the edge of the bed.
Both the land and the farm-place are lost to our line;
The old man was hard, but the law was still harder;—
There was no one to help me, and none would show mercy;
Peer was away; not a soul to give counsel.
But here, in this house, you may dwell till you die.
Ay, the cat and I live on charity.
God help you, mother; your Peer’s cost you dear.
Peer? Why, you’re out of your senses, sure!
Ingrid came home none the worse in the end.
The right thing had been to hold Satan to reckoning;—
He was the sinner, ay, he and none other;
The ugly beast tempted my poor boy
Had I not better send word to the parson?
Mayhap you’re worse than you think you are.
To the parson? Truly I almost think so.
But, oh God, I can’t! I’m the boy’s own mother;
And help him I must; it’s no more than my duty;
I must do what I can when the rest forsake him.
They’ve left him his coat; I must patch it up.
I wish I dared snap up the fur-rug as well!
What’s come of the hose?
They are there, ’mid that rubbish.
Why, what have we here? I declare it’s an old
Casting-ladle, Kari! With this he would play
Button-moulder, would melt, and then shape, and then stamp them.
One day—there was company—in the boy came,
And begged of his father a lump of tin.
“Not tin,” says Jon, “but King Christian’s coin;
Silver; to show you’re the son of Jon Gynt.”
God pardon him, Jon; he was drunk, you see,
And then he cared neither for tin nor for gold.
Here are the hose. Oh, they’re nothing but holes;
They want darning, Kari!
Indeed but they do.
When that is done, I must get to bed;
I feel so broken, and frail, and ill——
Two woollen-shirts, Kari;—they’ve passed them by!
So they have indeed.
It’s a bit of luck.
One of the two you may put aside;
Or rather, I think we’ll e’en take them both;—
The one he has on is so worn and thin.
But oh, Mother Åse, I fear it’s a
Maybe; but remember the priest holds out
Pardon for this and our other sinnings.
In front of a settlers newly-built hut in the forest. A reindeer’s horns over the door. The snow is lying deep around. It is dusk.
Peer Gynt is standing outside the door, fastening a large wooden bar to it.
[Laughing between whiles.]
Bars I must fix me; bars that can fasten
The door against troll-folk, and men, and women.
Bars I must fix me; bars that can shut out
All the cantankerous little hobgoblins.—
They come with the darkness, they knock and they rattle:
Open, Peer Gynt, we’re as nimble as thoughts are!
’Neath the bedstead we bustle, we rake in the ashes,
Down the chimney we hustle like fiery-eyed dragons.
Hee-hee! Peer Gynt; think you staples and planks
Can shut out cantankerous hobgoblin-thoughts?
[Solveig comes on snow-shoes over the heath; she has a shawl over her head, and a bundle in her hand.
God prosper your labour. You must not reject me.
You sent for me hither, and so you must take me.
Solveig! It cannot be——! Ay, but it is!—
And you’re not afraid to come near to me!
One message you sent me by little Helga;
Others came after in storm and in stillness.
All that your mother told bore me a message,
That brought forth others when dreams sank upon me.
Nights full of heaviness, blank, empty days,
Brought me the message that now I must come.
It seemed as though life had been quenched down there;
I could nor laugh nor weep from the depths of my heart.
I knew not for sure how you might be minded;
I knew but for sure what I should do and must do.
But your father?
In all of God’s wide earth
I have none I can call either father or mother.
I have loosed me from all of them.
Solveig, you fair one—
And to come to me?
Ay, to you alone;
You must be all to me, friend and consoler.
The worst was leaving my little sister;—
But parting from father was worse, still worse;
And worst to leave her at whose breast I was borne;—
Oh no, God forgive me, the worst I must call
The sorrow of leaving them all, ay all!
And you know the doom that was passed in spring?
It forfeits my farm and my heritage.
Think you for heritage, goods, and gear,
I forsook the paths all my dear ones tread?
And know you the compact? Outside the forest
Whoever may meet me may seize me at will.
I ran upon snow-shoes; I asked my way on;
They said “Whither go you?” I answered, “I go home.”
Away, away then with nails and planks!
No need now for bars against hobgoblin-thoughts.
If you dare dwell with the hunter here,
I know the hut will be blessed from ill.
Solveig! Let me look at you! Not too near!
Only look at you! Oh, but you are bright and pure!
Let me lift you! Oh, but you are fine and light!
Let me carry you, Solveig, and I’ll never be tired!
I will not soil you. With outstretched arms
I will hold you far out from me, lovely and warm one!
Oh, who would have thought I could draw you to me,—
Ah, but I have longed for you, daylong and nightlong.
Here you may see I’ve been hewing and building;—
It must down again, dear; it is ugly and mean——
Be it mean or brave,—here is all to my mind.
One so lightly draws breath in the teeth of the wind.
Down below it was airless; one felt as though choked;
That was partly what drove me in fear from the dale.
But here, with the fir-branches soughing o’erhead,—
What a stillness and song!—I am here in my home.
And know you that surely? For all your days?
The path I have trodden leads back nevermore.
You are mine then! In! In the room let me see you!
Go in! I must go to fetch fir-roots for fuel.
Warm shall the fire be and bright shall it shine,
You shall sit softly and never be a-cold.
[He opens the door; Solveig goes in. He stands still for a while, then laughs aloud with joy and leaps into the air.
My king’s daughter! Now I have found her and won her!
Hei! Now the palace shall rise, deeply founded!
He seizes his axe and moves away; at the same moment an Old-looking Woman, in a tattered green gown, comes out from the wood; an Ugly Brat, with an ale-flagon in his hand, limps after, holding on to her skirt.
Good evening, Peer Lightfoot!
What is it? Who’s there?
Old friends of yours, Peer Gynt! My home is near by.
We are neighbours.
Indeed! That is more than I know.
Even as your hut was builded, mine built itself too.
I’m in haste——
Yes, that you are always, my lad!
But I’ll trudge behind you and catch you at last.
You’re mistaken, good woman!
I was so before;
I was when you promised such mighty fine things.
I promised——? What devil’s own nonsense is this?
You’ve forgotten the night when you drank with my sire?
I’ve forgot what I never have known.
What’s this that you prate of? When last did we meet?
When last we met was when first we met.
[To The Brat.]
Give your father a drink; he is thirsty, I’m sure.
Father? You’re drunk, woman! Do you call him——?
I should think you might well know the pig by its skin!
Why, where are your eyes? Can’t you see that he’s lame
In his shank, just as you too are lame in your soul?
Would you have me believe——?
Would you wriggle away——?
This long-leggëd urchin——!
He’s shot up apace.
Dare you, you troll-snout, father on me——?
Come now, Peer Gynt, you’re as rude as an ox!
Is it my fault if no longer I’m fair,
As I was when you lured me on hillside and lea?
Last fall, in my labour, the Fiend held my back,
And so ’twas no wonder I came out a fright.
But if you would see me as fair as before,
You have only to turn yonder girl out of doors,
Drive her clean out of your sight and your mind;—
Do but this, dear my love, and I’ll soon lose my snout!
Begone from me, troll-witch!
Ay, see if I do!
I’ll split your skull open——!
Just try if you dare!
Ho-ho, Peer Gynt, I’ve no fear of blows!
Be sure I’ll return every day of the year.
Through the door, set ajar, I’ll peep in at you both.
When you’re sitting with your girl on the fireside bench,—
When you’re tender, Peer Gynt,—when you’d pet and caress her,—
I’ll seat myself by you, and ask for my share.
She there and I—we will take you by turns.
Farewell, dear my lad, you can marry to-morrow!
You nightmare of hell!
By-the-bye, I forgot!
You must rear your own youngster, you light-footed scamp!
Little imp, will you go to your father?
[Spits at him.]
I’ll chop you with my hatchet; only wait, only wait!
[Kisses The Brat.]
What a head he has got on his shoulders, the dear!
You’ll be dad’s living image when once you’re a man!
Oh, would you were as far——!
As we now are near?
[Clenching his hands.]
And all this——!
For nothing but thoughts and desires!
It is hard on you, Peer!
It is worst for another!—
Solveig, my fairest, my purest gold!
Oh ay, ’tis the guiltless must smart, said the devil:
His mother boxed his ears when his father was drunk!
[She trudges off into the thicket with The Brat, who throws the flagon at Peer Gynt.
[After a long silence.]
The Boyg said, “Go roundabout!”—so one must here.—
There fell my fine palace, with crash and clatter!
There’s a wall around her whom I stood so near,
Of a sudden all’s ugly—my joy has grown old.—
Roundabout, lad! There’s no way to be found
Right through all this, from where you stand to her.
Right through? H’m, surely there should be one.
There’s a text on repentance, unless I mistake.
But what? What is it? I haven’t the book,
I’ve forgotten it mostly, and here there is none
That can guide me aright in the pathless wood.—
Repentance? And maybe ’twould take whole years
Ere I fought my way through. ’Twere a meagre life, that.
To shatter what’s radiant, and lovely, and pure,
And clinch it together in fragments and shards?
You can do it with a fiddle, but not with a bell.
Where you’d have the sward green, you must mind not to trample.
’Twas nought but a lie though, that witch-snout business!
Now all that foulness is well out of sight.—
Ay, out of sight maybe, but not out of mind.
Thoughts will sneak stealthily in at my heel.
Ingrid! And the three, they that danced on the heights!
Will they too want to join us? With vixenish spite
Will they claim to be folded, like her, to my breast,
To be tenderly lifted on outstretched arms?
Roundabout, lad; though my arms were as long
As the root of the fir, or the pine-tree’s stem,—
I think even then I should hold her too near
To set her down pure and untarnished again.—
I must roundabout here, then, as best I may,
And see that it bring me nor gain nor loss.
One must put such things from one, and try to forget.—
[Goes a few steps towards the hut, but stops again.
Go in after this? So befouled and disgraced?
Go in with that troll-rabble after me still?
Speak, yet be silent; confess, yet conceal——?
[Throws away his axe.
It’s a holy-day evening. For me to keep tryst,
Such as now I am, would be sacrilege.
[In the doorway.]
Are you coming?
You must wait.
It is dark, and I’ve got something heavy to fetch.
Wait; I will help you; the burden we’ll share.
No, stay where you are! I must bear it alone.
But don’t go too far, dear!
Be patient, my girl;
Be my way long or short—you must wait.
[Nodding to him as he goes.]
Yes, I’ll wait!
[Peer Gynt goes down the wood-path. Solveig remains standing in the open half-door.
Åse’s room. Evening. The room is lighted by a wood fire on the open hearth. A cat is lying on a chair at the foot of the bed.
Åse lies in the bed, fumbling about restlessly with her hands on the coverlet.
Oh, Lord my God, isn’t he coming?
The time drags so drearily on.
I have no one to send with a message;
And I’ve much, oh so much, to say.
I haven’t a moment to lose now!
So quickly! Who could have foreseen
Oh me, if I only were certain
I’d not been too strict with him!
The Lord give you gladness!
You’ve come then, my boy, my dear!
But how dare you show face in the valley?
You know your life’s forfeit here.
Oh, life must e’en go as it may go;
I felt that I must look in.
Ay, now Kari is put to silence,
And I can depart in peace!
Depart? Why, what are you saying?
Where is it you think to go?
Alas, Peer, the end is nearing;
I have but a short time left.
[Writhing, and walking towards the back of the room.]
See there now! I’m fleeing from trouble;
I thought at least here I’d be free——!
Are your hands and your feet a-cold, then?
Ay, Peer; all will soon be o’er.—
When you see that my eyes are glazing,
You must close them carefully.
And then you must see to my coffin;
And be sure it’s a fine one, dear.
Ah no, by-the-bye——
There’s time yet to think of that.
[Looks restlessly round the room.
Here you see the little
They’ve left us! It’s like them, just.
[With a writhe.]
Well, I know it was my fault.
What’s the use of reminding me?
You! No, that accursed liquor,
From that all the mischief came!
Dear my boy, you know you’d been drinking;
And then no one knows what he does;
And besides, you’d been riding the reindeer;
No wonder your head was turned!
Ay, ay; of that yarn enough now.
Enough of the whole affair.
All that’s heavy we’ll let stand over
Till after—some other day.
[Sits on the edge of the bed.
Now, mother, we’ll chat together;
But only of this and that,—
Forget what’s awry and crooked,
And all that is sharp and sore.—
Why see now, the same old pussy
So she is alive then, still?
She makes such a noise o’ nights now;
You know what that bodes, my boy!
Changing the subject.]
What news is there here in the parish?
There’s somewhere about, they say,
A girl who would fain to the uplands——
Mads Moen, is he content?
They say that she hears and heeds not
The old people’s prayers and tears.
You ought to look in and see them;—
You, Peer, might perhaps bring help——
The smith, what’s become of him now?
Don’t talk of that filthy smith.
Her name I would rather tell you,
The name of the girl, you know——
Nay, now we will chat together,
But only of this and that,—
Forget what’s awry and crooked,
And all that is sharp and sore.
Are you thirsty? I’ll fetch you water.
Can you stretch you? The bed is short.
Let me see;—if I don’t believe, now,
It’s the bed that I had when a boy!
Do you mind, dear, how oft in the evenings
You sat at my bedside here,
And spread the fur-coverlet o’er me,
And sang many a lilt and lay?
Ay, mind you? And then we played sledges,
When your father was far abroad.
The coverlet served for sledge-apron,
And the floor for an ice-bound fiord.
Ah, but the best of all, though,—
Mother, you mind that too?
The best was the fleet-foot horses——
Ay, think you that I’ve forgot?—
It was Kari’s cat that we borrowed;
It sat on the log-scooped chair——
To the castle west of the moon, and
The castle east of the sun,
To Soria-Moria Castle
The road ran both high and low.
A stick that we found in the closet,
For a whip-shaft you made it serve.
Right proudly I perked on the box-seat——
Ay, ay; you threw loose the reins,
And kept turning round as we travelled,
And asked me if I was cold.
God bless you, ugly old mother,—
You were ever a kindly soul——!
What’s hurting you now?
My back aches,
Because of the hard, bare boards.
Stretch yourself; I’ll support you.
There now, you’re lying soft.
No, Peer, I’d be moving!
Ay, moving; ’tis ever my wish.
Oh, nonsense! Spread o’er you the bed-fur.
Let me sit at your bedside here.
There; now we’ll shorten the evening
With many a lilt and lay.
Best bring from the closet the prayer-book:
I feel so uneasy of soul.
In Soria-Moria Castle
The King and the Prince give a feast.
On the sledge-cushions lie and rest you;
I’ll drive you there over the heath——
But, Peer dear, am I invited?
Ay, that we are, both of us.
[He throws a string round the back of the chair on which the cat is lying, takes up a stick, and seats himself at the foot of the bed.
Gee-up! Will you stir yourself, Black-boy?
Mother, you’re not a-cold?
Ay, ay; by the pace one knows it,
When Granë4 begins to go!
Why, Peer, what is it that’s ringing——?
The glittering sledge-bells, dear!
Oh, mercy, how hollow it’s rumbling
We’re just driving over a fiord.
I’m afraid! What is that I hear rushing
And sighing so strange and wild?
It’s the sough of the pine-trees, mother,
On the heath. Do you but sit still.
There’s a sparkling and gleaming afar now;
Whence comes all that blaze of light.
From the castle’s windows and doorways.
Don’t you hear, they are dancing?
Outside the door stands St. Peter,
And prays you to enter in.
Does he greet us?
He does, with honour,
And pours out the sweetest wine.
Wine! Has he cakes as well, Peer?
Cakes? Ay, a heaped-up dish.
And the dean’s wife is getting ready
Your coffee and your dessert.
Lord, Lord! shall we two come together?
As freely as ever you will.
Oh, deary, Peer, what a frolic
You’re driving me to, poor soul!
[Cracking his whip.]
Gee-up; will you stir yourself, Black-boy!
Peer, dear, you’re driving right?
[Cracking his whip again.]
Ay, broad is the way.
It makes me so weak and tired.
There’s the castle rising before us;
The drive will be over soon.
I will lie back and close my eyes then,
And trust me to you, my boy!
Come up with you, Granë, my trotter!
In the castle the throng is great;
They bustle and swarm to the gateway:
Peer Gynt and his mother are here!
What say you, Master Saint Peter?
Shall mother not enter in?
You may search a long time, I tell you,
Ere you find such an honest old soul.
Myself I don’t want to speak of;
I can turn at the castle gate.
If you’ll treat me, I’ll take it kindly;
If not, I’ll go off just as pleased.
I have made up as many flim-flams
As the devil at the pulpit desk,
And called my old mother a hen, too,
Because she would cackle and crow.
But her you shall honour and reverence,
And make her at home indeed;
There comes not a soul to beat her
From the parishes nowadays.—
Ho-ho; here comes God the Father!
Saint Peter! you’re in for it now!
[In a deep voice.
“Have done with these jack-in-office airs, sir;
Mother Åse shall enter free!”
[Laughs loudly, and turns towards his mother.
Ay, didn’t I know what would happen?
Now they dance to another tune!
Why, what makes your eyes so glassy?
Mother! Have you gone out of your wits——?
[Goes to the head of the bed.
You mustn’t lie there and stare so——!
Speak, mother; it’s I, your boy!
[Feels her forehead and hands cautiously; then throws the string on the chair, and says softly:
Ay, ay!—You can rest yourself, Granë;
For e’en now the journey’s done.
[Closes her eyes, and bends over her.
For all of your days I thank you,
For beatings and lullabys!
But see, you must thank me back, now—
[Presses his cheek against her mouth.
There; that was the driver’s fare.5
The Cottar’s Wife.
What? Peer! Ah, then we are over
The worse of the sorrow and need!
Dear Lord, but she’s sleeping soundly—
Or can she be——?
Hush; she is dead.
[Kari weeps besides the body; Peer Gynt walks up and down the room for some time; at last he stops beside the bed.
See mother buried with honour.
I must try to fare forth from here.
Are you faring afar?
Ay, and further still.
- “Tyri,” resinous pine-wood which burns with a bright blaze.
- “Umistelig”—unlosable, indispensable, irreplaceable.
- “Lensmand,” the lowest functionary in the Norwegian official scale—a sort of parish officer.
- Granë (Grani) was the name of Sigurd Fafnirsbane’s horse, descended from Odin’s Sleipnir. Sigurd’s Granë was grey; Peer Gynt calls his “Svarten,” Black-boy, or Blackey.—See the “Volsunga Saga,” translated by Morris and Magnussen. Camelot edition, p. 43.
- Tak for skyds, literally “thanks for the drive.”