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

Notes

I found the story of the Countess Cathleen in what professed to
be a collection of Irish folk-lore in an Irish newspaper some
years ago. I wrote to the compiler, asking about its source,
but got no answer, but have since heard that it was translated
from Les Matin`ees de Timoth`e Trimm a good many years ago, and
has been drifting about the Irish press ever since. L`eo Lesp`es
gives it as an Irish story, and though the editor of Folklore has
kindly advertised for information, the only Christian variant I
know of is a Donegal tale, given by Mr. Larminie in his West
Irish Folk Tales and Romances, of a woman who goes to hell for
ten years to save her husband, and stays there another ten,
having been granted permission to carry away as many souls as
could cling to her skirt. L`eo Lesp`es may have added a few
details, but I have no doubt of the essential antiquity of what
seems to me the most impressive form of one of the supreme
parables of the world. The parable came to the Greeks in the
sacrifice of Alcestis, but her sacrifice was less overwhelming,
less apparently irremediable. L`eo Lesp`es tells the story as
follows:--

Ce que je vais vous dire est un r`ecit du car`eme Irlandais. Le
boiteux, l'aveugle, le paralytique des rues de Dublin ou de
Limerick, vous le diraient mieux que moi, cher lecteur, si vous
alliez le leur demander, un sixpense d'argent `a la main.-Il
n'est pas une jeune fille catholique `a laquelle on ne Fait
appris pendant les jours de pr`eparation `a la communion sainte,
pas un berger des bords de la Blackwater qui ne le puisse redire
`a la veill`ee.

Il y a bien longtemps qu'il apparut tout-`a-coup dans la vielle
Irlande deux marchands inconnus dont personne n'avait oui parler,
et qui parlaient n`eanmoins avec la plus grande perfection la
langue du pays. Leurs cheveux `etaient noirs et ferr`es avec de
l'or et leurs robes d'une grande magnificence.

Tous deux semblaient avoir le m`eme age; ils paraissaient `etre
des hommes de cinquante ans, car leur barbe grisormait un peu.

Or, `a cette `epoque, comme aujourd'hui, l'Irlande `etait pauvre,
car le soleil avait `et`e rare, et des r`ecoltes presque nulles.
Les indigents ne savaient `a quel sainte se vouer, et la mis`ere
devenai de plus en plus terrible.

Dans l'h`otellerie o`u descendirent les marchands fastueux on
chercha `a p`en`etrer leurs desseins: mais cc fut en vain, ils
demeur`erent silencieux et discrets.

Et pendant qu'ils demeur`erent dans l'h`otellerie, ils ne
cess`erent de compter et de recompter des sacs de pi`eces d'or,
dont la vive clart`e s'apercevait `a travers les vitres du logis.

Gentlemen, leur dit l'h`otesse un jour, d'o`u vient que vous
`etes si opulents, et que, venus pour secourir la mis`ere
publique, vous ne fassiez pas de bonnes oeuvres?

-Belle h`otesse, r`epondit l'un d'eux, nous n'avons pas voulu
aller au-devant d'infortunes honorables, dans la crainte d'`etre
tromp`es par des mis`eres fictives: que la douleur frappe `a la
porte, nous ouvrirons.

Le lendemain, quand on sut qu'il existait deux opulents
`etrangers pr`ets `a prodiguer l'or, la foule assi`egea leur
logis; mais les figures des gens qui en sortaient `etaient bien
diverses. Les uns avaient la fiert`e dans le regard, les autres
portaient la honte au front. Les deux trafiquants achetaient
des `ames pour le d`emon. L'`ame d'un vieillard valait vingt
pi`eces d'or, pas un penny de plus; car Satan avait eu le temps
d'y former hypoth`eque. L'`ame d'une `pouse en valait cinquante
quand elle `etait jolie, ou cent quand elle `etait laide. L'`Ame
d'une jeune fille se payait des prix fous: les fleurs les plus
belles et les plus pures sont les plus ch`eres.

Pendant ce temps, il existait dans la ville un ange de beaut`e,
la comtesse Ketty O'Connor. Elle `etait l'idole du peuple, et la
providence des indigents. D`es qu'elle eut appris que des
m`ecr`eants profitaient de la mis`ere publique pour d`erober des
coeurs `a Dieu, elle fit appeler son majordome.

- Master Patrick, lui dit elle, combien ai-je de pi`eces d'or
dans mon coffre?

- Cent mille.

- Combien de bijoux?

- Pour autant d'argent.

- Combien de ch`ateaux, de bois et de terres?

- Pour le double de ces sommes.

- Eh bien! Patrick, vendez tout cc qui n'est pas or et
apportez-m'en le montant. je ne veux garder `a moi que ce castel
et le champs qui l'entoure.

Deux jours apr`es, les ordres de la pieuse Ketty `etaient
ex`ecues et le tr`esor `etait distribu`e aux pauvres au fur et `a
mesure de leurs besoins.

Ceci ne faisait pas le compte, dit la tradition, des
commisvoyageurs du malin esprit, qui ne trouvaient plus d'`ames
`a acheter.

Aides par un valet infame, ils p`en`etr`erent dans la retraite de
la noble dame et lui d`erob`erent le reste de son tr`esor. . . en
vain lutta-t-elle de toutes ses forces pour sauver le contenu de
son coffre, les larrons diaboliques furent les plus forts. Si
Ketty avait eu les moyens de faire un signe de croix, ajoute la
l`egende Irlandaise, elle les eut mis en fuite, mais ses mains
`etaient captives-Le larcin fut effectu`e.

Alors les pauvres sollicit`erent
en vain pr`es de Ketty d`epouill`ee, elle ne pouvait plus
secourir leur mis`ere;-elle les abandonnait `a la tentation.
Pourtant il n'y avait plus que huit jours `a passer pour que les
grains et les fourrages arrivassent en abondance des pays
d'Orient. Mais, huit jours, c'`etait un si`ecle : huit jours
n`ecessitaient une somme immense pour subvenir aux exigences de
la disette, et les pauvres allaient ou expirer dans les angoisses
de la faim, ou, reniant les saintes maximes de l'Evangile,
vendre `a vil prix leur `ame, le plus beau pr`esent de la
munificence du Seigneur toutpuissant.

Et Ketty n'avait plus une obole, car elle avait abandonn`e son
ch`ateaux aux malheureux.

Elle passa douze heures dans les larmes et le deuil, arrachant
ses cheveux couleur de soleil et meurtrissant son sein couleur du
lis: puis elle se leva r`esolue, anim`ee par un vif sentiment de
d`esespoir.

Elle se rendit chez les marchands d'`ames.

- Que voulez-vous? dirent ils.

- Vous achetez des `ames?

- Oui, un peu malgr`e vous, n'est ce pas, sainte aux yeux de
sapbir?

- Aujourd'hui je viens vous proposer un march`e, reprit elle.

- Lequel?

- J'ai une `ame `a vendre; mais elle est ch`ere.

- Qu'importe si elle est pr`ecieuse? L'`ame, comme le diamant,
s'appr`ecie `a sa blancheur.

- C'est la mienne, dit Ketty.

Les deux envoy`es de Satan tressaillirent, Leurs griffes
s'allong`erent sous leurs gants de cuir; leurs yeux gris
`etincel`erent:--l'`ame, pure, immacul`ee, virginale de Ketty
c'`etait une acquisition inappr`eciable.

- Gentille dame, combien voulez-vouz?

- Cent cinquante mille `ecus d'or.

- C'est fait, dirent les marchands: et ils tendirent `a Ketty un
parchemin cachet`e de noir, qu'elle signa en frissonnant.

La somme lui fut compt`ee.

Des qu'elle fut rentr`ee, elle dit au majordome:

- Tenez, distribuez ceci. Avec la somme que je vous donne les
pauvres attendront la huitaine n`ecessaire et pas une de leurs
`ames ne sera livr`ee au d`emon.


Puis elle s'enferma et recommanda qu'on ne vint pas la d`eranger.

Trois jours se pass`erent; elle n'appela pas; elle ne sortit pas.

Quand on ouvrit sa porte, on la trouva raide et froide: elle
`etait morte de douleur.

Mais la vente de cette `ame si adorable dans sa charit`e fut
d`eclar`ee nulle par le Seigneur: car elle avait sauv`e ses
concitoyens de la morte `eternelle.

Apr`es la huitaine, des vaisseaux nombreux amen`erent l'Irlande
affam`ee d'immenses provisions de grains.

La famine n'`etait plus possible. Quant aux marchands, ils
disparurent de leur h`otellerie, sans qu'on s`ut jamais ce qu'ils
`etaient devenus.

Toutefois, les p`echeurs de la Blackwater pr`etendent qu'ils sont
enchain`es dans une prison souterraine par ordre de Lucifer
jusqu'au moment o`u ils pourront livrer l'`ame de Ketty qui leur
a `echapp`e. je vous dis la l`egende telle que je la sais.

-Mais les pauvres l'ont racont`e d'`age en `age et les enfants de
Cork et de Dublin chantent encore la ballade dont voici les
derniers couplets:-

Pour sauver les pauvres qu'elle aime
Ketty donna
Son esprit, sa croyance m`eme
Satan paya
Cette `ame au d`evoument sublime,
En `ecus d'or,
Disons pour racheter son crime,
Confiteor.

Mais l'ange qui se fit coupable
Par charit`e

Au s`ejour d'amour ineffable
Est remont`e.
Satan vaincu n'eut pas de prise

Sur ce coeur d'or;
Chantons sous la nef de l'`eglise,
Confiteor.

N'est ce pas que ce r`ecit, n`e de l'imagination des po`etes
catholiques de la verte Erin, est une V`eritable r`ecit
de car`eme?


The Countess Cathleen was acted in Dublin in 1899, with Mr.
Marcus St. John and Mr. Trevor Lowe as the First and Second
Demon, Mr. Valentine Grace as Shemus Rua, Master Charles Sefton
as Teig, Madame San Carola as Mary, Miss Florence Farr as Aleel,
Miss Anna Mather as Oona, Mr. Charles Holmes as the Herdsman, Mr.
Jack Wilcox as the Gardener, Mr. Walford as a Peasant, Miss
Dorothy Paget as a Spirit, Miss M. Kelly as a Peasant Woman, Mr.
T. E. Wilkinson as a Servant, and Miss May Whitty as The Countess
Kathleen. They had to face a very vehement opposition stirred up
by a politician and a newspaper, the one accusing me in a
pamphlet, the other in long articles day after day, of blasphemy
because of the language of the demons or of Shemus Rua, and
because I made a woman sell her soul and yet escape damnation,
and of a lack of patriotism because I made Irish men and women,
who, it seems, never did such a thing, sell theirs. The
politician or the newspaper persuaded some forty Catholic
students to sign a protest against the play, and a Cardinal, who
avowed that he had not read it, to make another, and both
politician and newspaper made such obvious appeals to the
audience to break the peace, that a score or so of police were
sent to the theatre to see that they did not. I had, however, no
reason to regret the result, for the stalls, containing almost
all that was distinguished in Dublin, and a gallery of artisans
alike insisted on the freedom of literature.

After the performance in 1899 I added the love scene between
Aleel and the Countess, and in this new form the play was revived
in New York by Miss Wycherley as well as being played a good deal
in England and America by amateurs. Now at last I have made a
complete revision to make it suitable for performance at the
Abbey Theatre. The first two scenes are almost wholly new, and
throughout the play I have added or left out such passages as a
stage experience of some years showed me encumbered the action;
the play in its first form having been written before I knew
anything of the theatre. I have left the old end, however, in the
version printed in the body of this book, because the change for
dramatic purposes has been made for no better reason than that
audiences--even at the Abbey Theatre--are almost ignorant of Irish
mythology or because a shallow stage made the elaborate vision of
armed angels upon a mountain-side impossible. The new
end is particularly suited to the Abbey stage, where the stage
platform can be brought out in front of the prosceniurn and have
a flight of steps at one side up which the Angel comes, crossing
towards the back of the stage at the opposite side. The principal
lighting is from two arc lights in the balcony which throw their
lights into the faces of the players, making footlights
unnecessary. The room at Shemus Rua's house is suggested by a
great grey curtain-a colour which becomes full of rich tints
under the stream of light from the arcs. The two or more arches
in the third scene permit the use of a gauze. The short front
scene before the last is just long enough when played with
incidental music to allow the scene set behind it to be changed.
The play when played without interval in this way lasts a little
over an hour.

The play was performed at the Abbey Theatre for the first time on
December 14, 1911, Miss Maire O'Neill taking the part
of the Countess, and the last scene from the going out of the
Merchants was as follows:-

(MERCHANTS rush out. ALEEL crawls into the middle of the room;
the twilight has fallen and gradually darkens as the scene goes
on.)

ALEEL. They're rising up-they're rising through the earth,
Fat Asmodel and giddy Belial,
And all the fiends. Now they leap in the air.
But why does Hell's gate creak so? Round and round,
Hither and hither, to and fro they're running.


He moves about as though the air was full of spirits.
OONA enters.)

Crouch down, old heron, out of the blind storm.

OONA. Where is the Countess Cathleen? All this day
Her eyes were full of tears, and when for a moment
Her hand was laid upon my hand, it trembled.
And now I do not know where she is gone.

ALEEL. Cathleen has chosen other friends than us,
And they are rising through the hollow world.
Demons are out, old heron.

OONA. God guard her soul.

ALEEL. She's bartered it away this very hour,
As though we two were never in the world.

(He kneels beside her, but does not seem to hear her words. The
PEASANTS return. They carry the COUNTESS CATHLEEN and lay her
upon the ground before OONA and ALEEL. She lies there as if
dead.)

OONA. O, that so many pitchers of rough clay
Should prosper and the porcelain break in two!

(She kisses the hands Of CATHLEEN.)

A PEASANT. We were under the tree where the path turns
When she grew pale as death and fainted away.

CATHLEEN. O! hold me, and hold me tightly, for the storm
is dragging me away.

(OONA takes her in her arms. A WOMAN begins to wail.)

PEASANTS. Hush!

PEASANTS Hush!

PEASANT WOMEN. Hush!

OTHER PEASANT WOMEN. Hush!

CATHLEEN. (half rising) Lay all the bags of money in a heap,
And when I am gone, old Oona, share them out
To every man and woman: judge, and give
According to their needs.

A PEASANT WOMAN. And will she give
Enough to keep my children through the dearth?

ANOTHER PEASANT WOMAN.
O, Queen of Heaven, and all you blessed saints,
Let us and ours be lost, so she be shriven.

CATHLEEN. Bend down your faces, Oona and Aleel;
I gaze upon them as the swallow gazes
Upon the nest under the eave, before
She wander the loud waters. Do not weep
Too great a while, for there is many a candle
On the High Altar though one fall. Aleel,
Who sang about the dancers of the woods,
That know not the hard burden of the world,
Having but breath in their kind bodies, farewell
And farewell, Oona, you who played with me
And bore me in your arms about the house
When I was but a child-and therefore happy,
Therefore happy even like those that dance.
The storm is in my hair and I must go.

(She dies.)

OONA. Bring me the looking-glass.

(A WOMAN brings it to her out of inner room. OONA holds glass
over the lips of CATHLEEN. All is Silent for a moment, then she
speaks in a half-scream.)

O, she is dead!

A PEASANT. She was the great white lily of the world.

A PEASANT. She was more beautiful than the pale stars.

AN OLD PEASANT WOMAN. The little plant I loved is broken in two.

(ALEEL takes looking-glass from OONA and flings it upon fkoor, so
that it is broken in manypieces.)

ALEEL. I shatter you in fragments, for the face
That brimmed you up with beauty is no more;
And die, dull heart, for you that were a mirror
Are but a ball of passionate dust again!
And level earth and plumy sea, rise up!
And haughty sky, fall down!

A PEASANT WOMAN. Pull him upon his knees,
His curses will pluck lightning on our heads.

ALEEL. Angels and devils clash in the middle air,
And brazen swords clang upon brazen helms.
Look, look, a spear has gone through Belial's eye!

(A winged ANGEL, carrying a torch and a sword, enters from the R.
with eyes fixed upon some distant thing. The ANGEL is about to
pass out to the L. when ALEEL speaks. The ANGEL Stops
a moment and turns.)

Look no more on the half-closed gates of Hell,
But speak to me whose mind is smitten of God,
That it may be no more with mortal things:
And tell of her who lies there.

(The ANGEL turns again and is about to go, but is seized by
ALEEL.)

Till you speak
You shall not drift into eternity.
ANGEL. The light beats down; the gates of pearl are wide.
And she is passing to the floor of peace,
And Mary of the seven times wounded heart
Has kissed her lips, and the long blessed hair
Has fallen on her face; the Light of Lights
Looks always on the motive, not the deed,
The Shadow of Shadows on the deed alone.

(ALEEL releases the ANGEL and kneels.)

OONA. Tell them who walk upon the floor of peace,

That I would die and go to her I love,
The years like great black oxen tread the world,
And God the herdsman goads them on behind,
And I am broken by their passing feet.

William Butler Yeats

Sorry, no summary available yet.