Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Scene 1

SCENE--A room with lighted fire, and a door into the open air,
through which one sees, perhaps, the trees of a wood, and these
trees should be painted in flat colour upon a gold or diapered
sky. The walls are of one colour. The scene should have the
effect of missal Painting. MARY, a woman of forty years or so,
is grinding a quern.

MARY. What can have made the grey hen flutter so?

(TEIG, a boy of fourteen, is coming in with turf, which he lays
beside the hearth.)

TEIG. They say that now the land is famine struck
The graves are walking.

MARY. There is something that the hen hears.

TEIG. And that is not the worst; at Tubber-vanach
A woman met a man with ears spread out,
And they moved up and down like a bat's wing.

MARY. What can have kept your father all this while?

TEIG. Two nights ago, at Carrick-orus churchyard,
A herdsman met a man who had no mouth,
Nor eyes, nor ears; his face a wall of flesh;
He saw him plainly by the light of the moon.

MARY. Look out, and tell me if your father's coming.

(TEIG goes to door.)

TEIG. Mother!

MARY. What is it?

TEIG. In the bush beyond,
There are two birds--if you can call them birds--
I could not see them rightly for the leaves.
But they've the shape and colour of horned owls
And I'm half certain they've a human face.

MARY. Mother of God, defend us!

TEIG. They're looking at me.
What is the good of praying? father says.
God and the Mother of God have dropped asleep.
What do they care, he says, though the whole land
Squeal like a rabbit under a weasel's tooth?

MARY. You'll bring misfortune with your blasphemies
Upon your father, or yourself, or me.
I would to God he were home--ah, there he is.

(SHEMUS comes in.)

What was it kept you in the wood? You know
I cannot get all sorts of accidents
Out of my mind till you are home again.

SHEMUS. I'm in no mood to listen to your clatter.
Although I tramped the woods for half a day,
I've taken nothing, for the very rats,
Badgers, and hedgehogs seem to have died of drought,
And there was scarce a wind in the parched leaves.

TEIG. Then you have brought no dinner.

SHEMUS. After that
I sat among the beggars at the cross-roads,
And held a hollow hand among the others.

MARY. What, did you beg?

SHEMUS. I had no chance to beg,
For when the beggars saw me they cried out
They would not have another share their alms,
And hunted me away with sticks and stones.

TEIG. You said that you would bring us food or money.

SHEMUS. What's in the house?

TEIG. A bit of mouldy bread.

MARY. There's flour enough to make another loaf.

TEIG. And when that's gone?

MARY. There is the hen in the coop.

SHEMUS. My curse upon the beggars, my Curse upon them!

TEIG. And the last penny gone.

SHEMUS. When the hen's gone,
What can we do but live on sorrel and dock)
And dandelion, till our mouths are green?

MARY. God, that to this hour's found bit and sup,
Will cater for us still.

SHEMUS. His kitchen's bare.
There were five doors that I looked through this day
And saw the dead and not a soul to wake them.

MARY. Maybe He'd have us die because He knows,
When the ear is stopped and when the eye is stopped,
That every wicked sight is hid from the eye,
And all fool talk from the ear.

SHEMUS. Who's passing there?
And mocking us with music?

(A stringed instrument without.)

TEIG. A young man plays it,
There's an old woman and a lady with him.

SHEMUS. What is the trouble of the poor to her?
Nothing at all or a harsh radishy sauce
For the day's meat.

MARY. God's pity on the rich,
Had we been through as many doors, and seen
The dishes standing on the polished wood
In the wax candle light, we'd be as hard,
And there's the needle's eye at the end of all,

SHEMUS. My curse upon the rich.

TEIG. They're coming here.

SHEMUS. Then down upon that stool, down quick, I say,
And call up a whey face and a whining voice,
And let your head be bowed upon your knees,

MARY. Had I but time to put the place to rights.

(CATHLEEN, OONA, and ALEEL enter.)

CATHLEEN. God save all here. There is a certain house,
An old grey castle with a kitchen garden,
A cider orchard and a plot for flowers,
Somewhere among these woods.

MARY. We know it, lady.
A place that's set among impassable walls
As though world's trouble could not find it out.

CATHLEEN. It may be that we are that trouble, for we--
Although we've wandered in the wood this hour--
Have lost it too, yet I should know my way,
For I lived all my childhood in that house.

MARY. Then you are Countess Cathleen?

CATHLEEN. And this woman,
Oona, my nurse, should have remembered it,
For we were happy for a long time there.

OONA. The paths are overgrown with thickets now,
Or else some change has come upon my sight.

CATHLEEN. And this young man, that should have known the woods--
Because we met him on their border but now,
Wandering and singing like a wave of the sea--
Is so wrapped up in dreams of terrors to come
That he can give no help.

MARY. You have still some way,
But I can put you on the trodden path
Your servants take when they are marketing.
But first sit down and rest yourself awhile,
For my old fathers served your fathers, lady,
Longer than books can tell--and it were strange
If you and yours should not be welcome here.

CATHLEEN. And it were stranger still were I ungrateful
For such kind welcome but I must be gone,
For the night's gathering in.

SHEMUS. It is a long while
Since I've set eyes on bread or on what buys it.

CATHLEEN. So you are starving even in this wood,
Where I had thought I would find nothing changed.
But that's a dream, for the old worm o' the world
Can eat its way into what place it pleases.

(She gives money.)

TEIG. Beautiful lady, give me something too;
I fell but now, being weak with hunger and thirst,
And lay upon the threshold like a log.

CATHLEEN. I gave for all and that was all I had.
Look, my purse is empty. I have passed
By starving men and women all this day,
And they have had the rest; but take the purse,
The silver clasps on't may be worth a trifle.
But if you'll come to-morrow to my house
You shall have twice the sum.

(ALEEL begins to play.)

SHEMUS (muttering). What, music, music!

CATHLEEN. Ah, do not blame the finger on the string;
The doctors bid me fly the unlucky times
And find distraction for my thoughts, or else
Pine to my grave.

SHEMUS. I have said nothing, lady.
Why should the like of us complain?

OONA. Have done. Sorrows that she's but read of in a book
Weigh on her mind as if they had been her own.

(OONA, MARY, and CATHLEEN go Out. ALEEL looks defiantly at
SHEMUS.)

ALEEL. (Singing) Impetuous heart, be still, be still,
Your sorrowful love can never be told,
Cover it up with a lonely tune,
He that could bend all things to His will
Has covered the door of the infinite fold
With the pale stars and the wandering moon.

(He takes a step towards the door and then turns again.)

Shut to the door before the night has fallen,
For who can say what walks, or in what shape
Some devilish creature flies in the air, but now
Two grey-horned owls hooted above our heads.

(He goes out, his singing dies away. MARY comes in. SHEmus has
been counting the money.)

TEIG. There's no good luck in owls, but it may be
That the ill luck's to fall upon their heads.

MARY. You never thanked her ladyship.

SHEMUS. Thank her,
For seven halfpence and a silver bit?

TEIG. But for this empty purse?

SHEMUS. What's that for thanks,
Or what's the double of it that she promised?
With bread and flesh and every sort of food
Up to a price no man has heard the like of
And rising every day.


MARY. We have all she had;
She emptied out the purse before our eyes.

SHEMUS (to MARY, who has gone to close the door)
Leave that door open.

MARY. When those that have read books,
And seen the seven wonders of the world,
Fear what's above or what's below the ground,
It's time that poverty should bolt the door.

SHEMUS. I'll have no bolts, for there is not a thing
That walks above the ground or under it
I had not rather welcome to this house
Than any more of mankind, rich or poor.

TEIG. So that they brought us money.

SHEMUS. I heard say
There's something that appears like a white bird,
A pigeon or a seagull or the like,
But if you hit it with a stone or a stick
It clangs as though it had been made of brass;
And that if you dig down where it was scratching
You'll find a crock of gold.

TEIG. But dream of gold
For three nights running, and there's always gold.

SHEMUS. You might be starved before you've dug it out.

TEIG. But maybe if you called, something would come,
They have been seen of late.

MARY. Is it call devils?
Call devils from the wood, call them in here?

SHEMUS. So you'd stand up against me, and you'd say
Who or what I am to welcome here.

(He hits her.)

That is to show who's master.

TEIG. Call them in.

MARY. God help us all!

SHEMUS. Pray, if you have a mind to.
it's little that the sleepy ears above
Care for your words; but I'll call what I please.

TEIG. There is many a one, they say, had money from them.


SHEMUS. (at door)
Whatever you are that walk the woods at night,
So be it that you have not shouldered up
Out of a grave--for I'll have nothing human--
And have free hands, a friendly trick of speech,
I welcome you. Come, sit beside the fire.
What matter if your head's below your arms
Or you've a horse's tail to whip your flank,
Feathers instead of hair, that's but a straw,
Come, share what bread and meat is in the house,
And stretch your heels and warm them in the ashes.
And after that, let's share and share alike
And curse all men and women. Come in, come in.
What, is there no one there?

(Turning from door)

And yet they say
They are as common as the grass, and ride
Even upon the book in the priest's hand.

(TEIG lifts one arm slowly and points toward the door and begins
moving backwards. SHEMUS turns, he also sees something and begins
moving backward. MARY does the same. A man dressed as an
Eastern merchant comes in carrying a small carpet. He unrolls it
and sits cross-legged at one end of it. Another man dressed
in the same way follows, and sits at the other end. This is done
slowly and deliberately. When they are seated they take money out
of embroidered purses at their girdles and begin arranging it on
the carpet.

TEIG. You speak to them.

SHEMUS. No, you.

TEIG. 'Twas you that called them.

SHEMUS. (coming nearer)
I'd make so bold, if you would pardon it,
To ask if there's a thing you'd have of us.
Although we are but poor people, if there is,
Why, if there is--

FIRST MERCHANT. We've travelled a long road,
For we are merchants that must tramp the world,
And now we look for supper and a fire
And a safe corner to count money in.

SHEMUS. I thought you were .... but that's no matter now--
There had been words between my wife and me
Because I said I would be master here,
And ask in what I pleased or who I pleased
And so. . . . but that is nothing to the point,
Because it's certain that you are but merchants.

FIRST MERCHANT. We travel for the Master of all merchants.

SHEMUS. Yet if you were that I had thought but now
I'd welcome you no less. Be what you please
And you'll have supper at the market rate,
That means that what was sold for but a penny
Is now worth fifty.

(MERCHANTS begin putting money on carpet.)

FIRST MERCHANT. Our Master bids us pay
So good a price, that all who deal with us
Shall eat, drink, and be merry.

SHEMUS. (to MARY) Bestir yourself,
Go kill and draw the fowl, while Teig and I
Lay out the plates and make a better fire.

MARY. I will not cook for you.

SHEMUS. Not cook! not cook!
Do not be angry. She wants to pay me back
Because I struck her in that argument.
But she'll get sense again. Since the dearth came
We rattle one on another as though we were
Knives thrown into a basket to be cleaned.

MARY. I will not cook for you, because I know
In what unlucky shape you sat but now
Outside this door.

TEIG. It's this, your honours:
Because of some wild words my father said
She thinks you are not of those who cast a shadow.

SHEMUS. I said I'd make the devils of the wood
Welcome, if they'd a mind to eat and drink;
But it is certain that you are men like us.

FIRST MERCHANT.
It's strange that she should think we cast no shadow,
For there is nothing on the ridge of the world
That's more substantial than the merchants are
That buy and sell you.

MARY. If you are not demons,
And seeing what great wealth is spread out there,
Give food or money to the starving poor.

FIRST MERCHANT. If we knew how to find deserving poor
We'd do our share.

MARY. But seek them patiently.

FIRST MERCHANT. We know the evils of mere charity.

MARY. Those scruples may befit a common time.
I had thought there was a pushing to and fro,
At times like this, that overset the scale
And trampled measure down.

FIRST MERCHANT. But if already
We'd thought of a more prudent way than that?

SECOND MERCHANT. If each one brings a bit of merchandise,
We'll give him such a price he never dreamt of.

MARY. Where shall the starving come at merchandise?

FIRST MERCHANT. We will ask nothing but what all men have.

MARY. Their swine and cattle, fields and implements
Are sold and gone.

FIRST MERCHANT. They have not sold all yet.
For there's a vaporous thing--that may be nothing,
But that's the buyer's risk--a second self,
They call immortal for a story's sake.

SHEMUS. You come to buy our souls?

TEIG. I'll barter mine.
Why should we starve for what may be but nothing?

MARY. Teig and Shemus--

SHEMUS. What can it be but nothing?
What has God poured out of His bag but famine?
Satan gives money.

TEIG. Yet no thunder stirs.

FIRST MERCHANT. There is a heap for each.

(SHEMUS goes to take money.)

But no, not yet,
For there's a work I have to set you to.

SHEMUS. So then you're as deceitful as the rest,
And all that talk of buying what's but a vapour
Is fancy bred. I might have known as much,
Because that's how the trick-o'-the-loop man talks.

FIRST MERCHANT. That's for the work, each has its separate price;
But neither price is paid till the work's done.

TEIG. The same for me.

MARY. Oh, God, why are you still?

FIRST MERCHANT. You've but to cry aloud at every cross-road,
At every house door, that we buy men's souls,
And give so good a price that all may live
In mirth and comfort till the famine's done,
Because we are Christian men.

SHEMUS. Come, let's away.

TREIG> I shall keep running till I've earned the price.

SECOND MERCHANT. (who has risen and gone towards fire)
Stop, for we obey a generous Master,
That would be served by Comfortable men.
And here's your entertainment on the road.

(TRIG and SHEMUS have stopped. TEIG takes the money. They go
out.)

MARY. Destroyers of souls, God will destroy you quickly.
You shall at last dry like dry leaves and hang
Nailed like dead vermin to the doors of God.

SECOND MERCHANT.
Curse to your fill, for saints will have their dreams.

FIRST MERCHANTm Though we're but vermin that our Master sent
To overrun the world, he at the end
Shall pull apart the pale ribs of the moon
And quench the stars in the ancestral night.

MARY., God is all powerful.

SECOND MERCHANT. Pray, you shall need Him.
You shall eat dock and grass, and dandelion,
Till that low threshold there becomes a wall,
And when your hands can scarcely drag your body
We shall be near you.

(MARY faints.) (The FIRST MERCHANT takes up the carPet, spreads
it before the fire and stands in front of it warming his hands.)

FIRST MERCHANT. Our faces go unscratched,
For she has fainted. Wring the neck o' that fowl,
Scatter the flour and search the shelves for bread.
We'll turn the fowl upon the spit and roast it,
And eat the supper we were bidden to,
Now that the house is quiet, praise our master,
And stretch and warm our heels among the ashes.

END OF SCENE 1

William Butler Yeats

Sorry, no summary available yet.