The deck of an ancient ship. At the right of the stage is the mast, with a large square sail hiding a great deal of the sky and sea on that side. The tiller is at the left of the stage; it is a long oar coming through an opening in the bulwark. The deck rises in a series of steps hehind the tiller, and the stern of the ship curves overhead. When the play opens there are four persons upon the deck. Aibric stands by the tiller. Forgael sleeps upon the raised portion of the deck towards the front of the stage. Two Sailors are standing near to the mast, on which a harp is hanging.
First Sailor. Has he not led us into these waste seas
For long enough?
Second Sailor. Aye, long and long enough.
First Sailor. We have not come upon a shore or ship
These dozen weeks.
Sccond Sailor. And I had thought to make
A good round Sum upon this cruise, and turn —
For I am getting on in life — to something
That has less ups and downs than robbery.
First Sailor. I am so tired of being bachelor
I could give all my heart to that Red Moll
That had but the one eye.
Second Sailor. Can no bewitchment
Transform these rascal billows into women
That I may drown myself?
First Sailor. Better steer home,
Whether he will or no; and better still
To take him while he sleeps and carry him
And drop him from the gunnel.
Second Sailor. I dare not do it.
Were’t not that there is magic in his harp,
I would be of your mind; but when he plays it
Strange creatures flutter up before one’s eyes,
Or cry about one’s ears.
First Sailor. Nothing to fear.
Second Sailor. Do you remember when we sank that
At the full moon?
First Sailor. He played all through the night.
Second Sailor. Until the moon had set; and when I looked
Where the dead drifted, I could see a bird
Like a grey gull upon the breast of each.
While I was looking they rose hurriedly,
And after circling with strange cries awhile
Flew westward; and many a time since then
I’ve heard a rustling overhead in the wind.
First Sailor. I saw them on that night as well as you.
But when I had eaten and drunk myself asleep
My courage came again.
Second Sailor. But that’s not all.
The other night, while he was playing it,
A beautiful young man and girl came up
In a white breaking wave; they had the look
Of those that are alive for ever and ever.
First Sailor. I saw them, too, one night. Forgael was
And they were listening ther& beyond the sail.
He could not see them, but I held out my hands
To grasp the woman.
Second Sailor. You have dared to touch her?
First Sailor. O she was but a shadow, and slipped from
Second Sailor. But were you not afraid?
First Sailor. Why should I fear?
Second Sailor. ‘Twas Aengus and Edain, the wandering
To whom all lovers pray.
First Sailor. But what of that?
A shadow does not carry sword or spear.
Second Sailor. My mother told me that there is not one
Of the Ever-living half so dangerous
As that wild Aengus. Long before her day
He carried Edain off from a king’s house,
And hid her among fruits of jewel-stone
And in a tower of glass, and from that day
Has hated every man that’s not in love,
And has been dangerous to him.
First Sailor. I have heard
He does not hate seafarers as he hates
Peaceable men that shut the wind away,
And keep to the one weary marriage-bed.
Second Sailor. I think that he has Forgael in his net,
And drags him through the sea,
First Sailor Well, net or none,
I’d drown him while we have the chance to do it.
Second Sailor. It’s certain I’d sleep easier o’ nights
If he were dead; but who will be our captain,
Judge of the stars, and find a course for us?
First Sailor. I’ve thought of that. We must have Aibric
For he can judge the stars as well as Forgael.
[Going towards Aibric.]Become our captain, Aibric. I am resolved
To make an end of Forgael while he sleeps.
There’s not a man but will be glad of it
When it is over, nor one to grumble at us.
Aibric. You have taken pay and made your bargain for it.
First Sailor. What good is there in this hard way of
Unless we drain more flagons in a year
And kiss more lips than lasting peaceable men
In their long lives? Will you be of our troop
And take the captain’s share of everything
And bring us into populous seas again?
Aibric. Be of your troop! Aibric be one of you
And Forgael in the other scale! kill Forgael,
And he my master from my childhood up!
If you will draw that sword out of its scabbard
I’ll give my answer.
First Sailor. You have awakened him.
[To Second Sailor.]We’d better go, for we have lost this chance.
[They go out.]Forgael. Have the birds passed us? I could hear your
But there were others.
Aibric. I have seen nothing pass.
Forgael. You’re certain of it? I never wake from sleep
But that I am afraid they may have passed,
For they’re my only pilots. If I lost them
Straying too far into the north or south,
I’d never come upon the happiness
That has been promised me. I have not seen them
These many days; and yet there must be many
Dying at every moment in the world,
And flying towards their peace.
Aibric. Put by these thoughts,
And listen to me for a while. The sailors
Are plotting for your death.
Forgael. Have I not given
More riches than they ever hoped to find?
And now they will not follow, while I seek
The only riches that have hit my fancy.
Aibric. What riches can you find in this waste sea
Where no ship sails, where nothing that’s alive
Has ever come but those man-headed birds,
Knowing it for the world’s end?
Forgael. Where the world ends
The mind is made unchanging, for it finds
Miracle, ecstasy, the impossible hope,
The flagstone under all, the fire of fires,
The roots of the world.
Aibric. Shadows before now
Have driven travellers mad for their own sport.
Forgael. Do you, too, doubt me? Have you joined their
Aibric. No, no, do not say that. You know right well
That I will never lift a hand against you.
Forgael. Why should you be more faithful than the rest,
Being as doubtful?
Aibric. I have called you master
Too many years to lift a hand against you.
Forgael. Maybe it is but natural to doubt me.
You’ve never known, I’d lay a wager on it,
A melancholy that a cup of wine,
A lucky battle, or a woman’s kiss
Could not amend.
Aibric. I have good spirits enough.
Forgael. If you will give me all your mind awhile —
All, all, the very bottom of the bowl —
I’ll show you that I am made differently,
That nothing can amend it but these waters,
Where I am rid of life — the events of the world —
What do you call it? — that old promise-breaker,
The cozening fortune-teller that comes whispering,
‘You will have all you have wished for when you have
Land for your children or money in a pot.-
And when we have it we are no happier,
Because of that old draught under the door,
Or creaky shoes. And at the end of all
How are we better off than Seaghan the fool,
That never did a hand’s turn? Aibric! Aibric!
We have fallen in the dreams the Ever-living
Breathe on the burnished mirror of the world
And then smooth out with ivory hands and sigh,
And find their laughter sweeter to the taste
For that brief sighing.
Aibric. If you had loved some woman —
Forgael. You say that also? You have heard the voices,
For that is what they say — all, all the shadows —
Aengus and Edain, those passionate wanderers,
And all the others; but it must be love
As they have known it. Now the secret’s out;
For it is love that I am seeking for,
But of a beautiful, unheard-of kind
That is not in the world.
Aibric. And yet the world
Has beautiful women to please every man.
Forgael. But he that gets their love after the fashion
‘Loves in brief longing and deceiving hope
And bodily tenderness, and finds that even
The bed of love, that in the imagination
Had seemed to be the giver of all peace,
Is no more than a wine-cup in the tasting,
And as soon finished.
Aibric. All that ever loved
Have loved that way — there is no other way.
Forgael. Yet never have two lovers kissed but they
believed there was some other near at hand,
And almost wept because they could not find it.
Aibric. When they have twenty years; in middle life
They take a kiss for what a kiss is worth,
And let the dream go by.
Forgael. It’s not a dream,
But the reality that makes our passion
As a lamp shadow — no — no lamp, the sun.
What the world’s million lips are thirsting for
Must be substantial somewhere.
Aibric. I have heard the Druids
Mutter such things as they awake from trance.
It may be that the Ever-living know it —
No mortal can.
Forgael. Yes; if they give us help.
Aibric. They are besotting you as they besot
The crazy herdsman that will tell his fellows
That he has been all night upon the hills,
Riding to hurley, or in the battle-host
With the Ever-living.
Forgael. What if he speak the truth,
And for a dozen hours have been a part
Of that more powerful life?
Aibric, His wife knows better.
Has she not seen him lying like a log,
Or fumbling in a dream about the house?
And if she hear him mutter of wild riders,
She knows that it was but the cart-horse coughing
That set him to the fancy.
Forgael. All would be well
Could we but give us wholly to the dreams,
And get into their world that to the sense
Is shadow, and not linger wretchedly
Among substantial things; for it is dreams
That lift us to the flowing, changing world
That the heart longs for. What is love itself,
Even though it be the lightest of light love,
But dreams that hurry from beyond the world
To make low laughter more than meat and drink,
Though it but set us sighing? Fellow-wanderer,
Could we but mix ourselves into a dream,
Not in its image on the mirror!
We’re in the body that’s impossible.
Forgael. And yet I cannot think they’re leading me
To death; for they that promised to me love
As those that can outlive the moon have known it, ‘
Had the world’s total life gathered up, it seemed,
Into their shining limbs — I’ve had great teachers.
Aengus and Edain ran up out of the wave —
You’d never doubt that it was life they promised
Had you looked on them face to face as I did,
With so red lips, and running on such feet,
And having such wide-open, shining eyes.
Aibric. It’s certain they are leading you to death.
None but the dead, or those that never lived,
Can know that ecstasy. Forgael! Forgael!
They have made you follow the man-headed birds,
And you have told me that their journey lies
Towards the country of the dead.
Forgael. What matter
If I am going to my death? — for there,
Or somewhere, I shall find the love they have
That much is certain. I shall find a woman.
One of the Ever-living, as I think —
One of the Laughing People — and she and I
Shall light upon a place in the world’s core,
Where passion grows to be a changeless thing,
Like charmed apples made of chrysoprase,
Or chrysoberyl, or beryl, or chrysclite;
And there, in juggleries of sight and sense,
Become one movement, energy, delight,
Until the overburthened moon is dead.
[A number of Sailors entcr hurriedly.]First Sailor. Look there! there in the mist! a ship of spice!
And we are almost on her!
Second Sailor. We had not known
But for the ambergris and sandalwood.
First Sailor. NO; but opoponax and cinnamon.
Forgael [taking the tiller from Aibric]. The Ever-living have
kept my bargain for me,
And paid you on the nail.
Aibric. Take up that rope
To make her fast while we are plundering her.
First Sailor. There is a king and queen upon her deck,
And where there is one woman there’ll be others.
Aibric. Speak lower, or they’ll hear.
First Sailor. They cannot hear;
They are too busy with each other. Look!
He has stooped down and kissed her on the lips.
Second Sailor. When she finds out we have better men
She may not be too sorry in the end.
First Sailor. She will be like a wild cat; for these queens
Care more about the kegs of silver and gold
And the high fame that come to them in marriage,
Than a strong body and a ready hand.
Second Sailor. There’s nobody is natural but a robber,
And that is why the world totters about
Upon its bandy legs.
Aibric. Run at them now,
And overpower the crew while yet asleep!
[The Sailors go out.]1 Why are you standing
with your eyes upon me?
You are not the world’s core. O no, no, no!
That cannot be the meaning of the birds.
You are not its core. My teeth are in the world,
But have not bitten yet.
Dectora. I am a queen,
And ask for satisfaction upon these
Who have slain my husband and laid hands upon me.
[Breaking loose from the Sailors who are holding her.]Let go my hands!
Forgael. Why do you cast a shadow?
Where do you come from? Who brought you to this
They would not send me one that casts a shadow.
Dectora. Would that the storm that overthrew my ships,
And drowned the treasures of nine conquered nations,
And blew me hither to my lasting sorrow,
Had drowned me also. But, being yet alive,
I ask a fitting punishment for all
That raised their hands against him.
Forgael. There are some
That weigh and measure all in these waste seas —
They that have all the wisdom that’s in life,
And all that prophesying images
Made of dim gold rave out in secret tombs;
They have it that the plans of kings and queens
But laughter and tears — laughter, laughter, and tears;
That every man should carry his own soul
Upon his shoulders.
Dectora. You’ve nothing but wild words,
And I would know if you will give me vengeance.
Forgael. When she finds out I will not let her go —
When she knows that.
Dectora. What is it that you are muttering —
That you’ll not let me go? I am a queen.
Forgael. Although you are more beautiful than any,
I almost long that it were possible;
But if I were to put you on that ship,
With sailors that were sworn to do your will,
And you had spread a sail for home, a wind
Would rise of a sudden, or a wave so huge
It had washed among the stars and put them out,
And beat the bulwark of your ship on mine,
Until you stood before me on the deck —
Dectora. Does wandering in these desolate seas
And listening to the cry of wind and wave
Forgael. Queen, I am not mad.
Dectora. Yet say
That unimaginable storms of wind and wave
Would rise against me.
Forgael. No, I am not mad —
If it be not that hearing messages
From lasting watchers, that outlive the moon,
At the most quiet midnight is to be stricken.
Dectora. And did those watchers bid you take me
Forgael. Both you and I are taken in the net.
It was their hands that plucked the winds awake
And blew you hither; and their mouths have
I shall have love in their immortal fashion;
And for this end they gave me my old harp
That is more mighty than the sun and moon,
Or than the shivering casting-net of the stars,
That none might take you from me.
1 For a moment
Your raving of a message and a harp
More mighty than the stars half troubled me,
But all that’s raving. Who is there can compel
The daughter and the granddaughter of kings
To be his bedfellow?
Forgael. Until your lips
Have called me their beloved, I’ll not kiss them.
Dectora. My husband and miy king died at my feet,
And yet you talk of love.
Forgael. The movement of time
Is shaken in these seas, and what one does
One moment has no might upon the moment
That follows after.
Dectora. I understand you now.
You have a Druid craft of wicked sound
Wrung from the cold women of the sea —
A magic that can call a demon up,
Until my body give you kiss for kiss.
Forgael. Your soul shall give the kiss.
Dectora. I am not afraid,
While there’s a rope to run into a noose
Or wave to drown. But I have done with words,
And I would have you look into my face
And know that it is fearless.
Forgael. Do what you will,
For neither I nor you can break a mesh
Of the great golden net that is about us.
Dectora. There’s nothing in the world that’s worth a
I have good reason for that thought.
[She runs suddenly on to the raiscd part of the poop.]And now
I can put fear away as a queen should.
Fool, fool! Although you have looked into my face
You do not see my purpose. I shall have gone
Before a hand can touch me.
Forgael [folding his arms]. My hands are still;
The Ever-living hold us. Do what you will,
You cannot leap out of the golden net.
First Sailor. No need to drown, for, if you will pardon
And measure out a course and bring us home,
We’ll put this man to death.
Dectora. I promise it.
First Sailor. There is none to take his side.
Aibric. I am on his side,
I’ll strike a blow for him to give him time
To cast his dreams away.
First Sailor. No other’ll do it.
1 He has put a sudden darkness over the
Dectora. Nine swords with handles of rhinoceros horn
To him that strikes him first!
First Sailor. I will strike him first.
Aibric. Where is my sword that fell out of my hand
When I first heard the news? Ah, there it is!
Aibric [sleepily]. Queen, give it me.
Dectora. No, I have need of it.
Aibric. Why do you need a sword? But you may keep it.
Now that he’s dead I have no need of it,
For everything is gone.
A Sailor [calling from the other ship]. Come hither, Aibric,
And tell me who it is that we are waking.
Aibric [half to Dectora, half to himself]. What name had
that dead king? Arthur of Britain?
No, no — not Arthur. I remember now.
It was golden-armed Iollan, and he died
Broken-hearted, having lost his queen
Through wicked spells. That is not all the tale,
For he was killed. O! O! O! O! O! O!
For golden-armed Iollan has been killed.
Dectora. I will end all your magic on the instant.
This sword is to lie beside him in the grave.
It was in all his battles. I will spread my hair,
And wring my hands, and wail him bitterly,
For I have heard that he was proud and laughing,
Blue-eyed, and a quick runner on bare feet,
And that he died a thousand years ago.
O; O! O! O!
[Forgael changes the tune.]But no, that is not it.
They killed him at my feet. O! O! O! O!
For golden-armed Iollan that I loved-
But what is it that made me say I loved him?
It was that harper put it in my thoughts,
But it is true. Why did they run upon him,
And beat the golden helmet with their swords?
Forgael. Do you not know me, lady? I am he
That you are weeping for.
Dectora. No, for he is dcad.
O! O! O! O! for golden-armed Iollan.
Forgael. It was so given out, but I will prove
That the grave-diggers in a dreamy frenzy
Have buried nothing but my golden arms.
Listen to that low-laughing string of the moon
And you will recollect my face and voice,
For you have listened to me playing it
These thousand years.
What are the birds at there?
Why are they all a-flutter of a sudden?
What are you calling out above the mast?
If railing and reproach and mockery
Because I have awakened her to love
By magic strings, I’ll make this answer to it:
Being driven on by voices and by dreams
That were clear messages from the Ever-living,
I have done right. What could I but obey?
And yet you make a clamour of reproach.
Dcctora [laughing]. Why, it’s a wonder out of reckoning
That I should keen him from the full of the moon
To the horn, and he be hale and hearty.
Forgael. How have I wronged her now that she is merry?
But no, no, no! your cry is not against me.
You know the counsels of the Ever-living,
And all that tossing of your wings is joy,
And all that murmuring’s but a marriage-song;
But if it be reproach, I answer this:
There is not one among you that made love
by any other means. You call it passion,
But it was all deceit, and flattery
To win a woman in her own despite,
For love is war, and there is hatred in it;
And if you say that she came willingly —
Dectora. Why do you turn away and hide your face,
That I would look upon for ever?
Forgael. My grief!
Dectora. Have I not loved you for a thousand years?
Forgael. I never have been golden-armed Iollan.
Vectora. I do not understand. I know your face
Better than my own hands.
Forgael. I have deceived you
Out of all reckoning.
Tectora. Is it not tme
That you were born a thousand years ago,
In islands where the children of Aengus wind
In happy dances under a windy moon,
And that you’ll bring me there?
Forgael. I have deceived you;
I have deceived you utterly.
Dectora. How can that be?
Is it that though your eyes are full of love
Some other woman has a claim on you,
And I’ve but half!
Forgael. O no!
Dectora. And if there is,
If there be half a hundred more, what matter?
I’ll never give another thought to it;
No, no, nor half a thought; but do not speak.
Women are hard and proud and stubborn-hearted,
Their heads being turned with praise and flattery;
And that is why their lovers are afraid
To tell them a plain story.
Forgael. That’s not the story;
But I have done so great a wrong against you,
There is no measure that it would not burst.
I will confess it all.
Dectora. What do I care,
Now that my body has begun to dream,
And you have grown to be a burning sod
In the imagination and intellect?
If something that’s most fabulous were true —
If you had taken me by magic spells,
And killed a lover or husband at my feet —
I would not let you speak, for I would know
That it was yesterday and not to-day
I loved him; I would cover up my ears,
As I am doing now. [A pause.] Why do you weep?
Forgael. I weep because I’ve nothing for your eyes
But desolate waters and a battered ship.
Dectora. O why do you not lift your eyes to mine?
Forgael. I weep — I weep because bare night’s above,
And not a roof of ivory and gold.
Dectora. I would grow jealous of the ivory roof,
And strike the golden pillars with my hands.
I would that there was nothing in the world
But my beloved — that night and day had perished,
And all that is and all that is to be,
All that is not the meeting of our lips.
Forgael. You turn away. Why do you turn away?
Am I to fear the waves, or is the moon
Dectora. I looked upon the moon,
Longing to knead and pull it into shape
That I might lay it on your head as a crown.
But now it is your thoughts that wander away,
For you are looking at the sea. Do you not know
How great a wrong it is to let one’s thought
Wander a moment when one is in love?
Why are you looking at the sea?
Forgael. Look there!
Dectora. What is there but a troop of ash-grey birds
That fly into the west?
Forgael. But listen, listen!
Dectora. What is there but the crying of the birds?
Forgael. If you’ll but listen closely to that crying
You’ll hear them calling out to one another
With human voices
Dectora. O, I can hear them now.
What are they? Unto what country do they fly?
Forgael. To unimaginable happiness.
They have been circling over our heads in the air,
But now that they have taken to the road
We have to follow, for they are our pilots;
And though they’re but the colour of grey ash,
They’re crying out, could you but hear their words,
‘There is a country at the end of the world
Where no child’s born but to outlive the moon.’
First Sailor. The hold is full of treasure.
Second Sailor. Full to the hatches.
First Sailor. Treasure on treasure.
Third Sailor. Boxes of precious spice.
First Sailor. Ivory images with amethyst eyes.
Third Sailor. Dragons with eyes of ruby.
First Sailor. The whole ship
Flashes as if it were a net of herrings.
Third Sailor. Let’s home; I’d give some rubies to a
Second Sailor. There’s somebody I’d give the amethyst
Aibric [silencing thcm with agesture]. We would return to
our own country, Forgael,
For we have found a treasure that’s so great
Imagination cannot reckon it.
And having lit upon this woman there,
What more have you to look for on the seas?
Forgael. I cannot — I am going on to the end.
As for this woman, I think she is coming with me.
Aibric. The Ever-living have made you mad; but no,
It was this woman in her woman’s vengeance
That drove you to it, and I fool enough
To fancy that she’d bring you home again.
‘Twas you that egged him to it, for you know
That he is being driven to his death.
Dectora. That is not true, for he has promised me
An unimaginable happiness.
Aibric. And if that happiness be more than dreams,
More than the froth, the feather, the dust-whirl,
The crazy nothing that I think it is,
It shall be in the country of the dead,
If there be such a country.
Dectora. No, not there,
But in some island where the life of the world
Leaps upward, as if all the streams o’ the world
Had run into one fountain.
Aibric. Speak to him.
He knows that he is taking you to death;
Speak — he will not deny it.
Dectora. Is that true?
Forgael. I do not know for certain, but I know.
That I have the best of pilots.
Aibric. Shadows, illusions,
That the Shape-changers, the Ever-laughing Ones,
The Immortal Mockers have cast into his mind,
Or called before his eyes.
Dectora. O carry me
To some sure country, some familia’r place.
Have we not everything that life can give
In having one another?
Forgael. How could I rest
If I refused the messengers and pilots
With all those sights and all that crying out?
Dectora. But I will cover up your eyes and ear?,
That you may never hear the cry of the birds,
Or look upon them.
Forgael. Were they but lowlier
I’d do your will, but they are too high — too high.
Dectora. Being too high, their heady prophecies
But harry us with hopes that come to nothing,
Because we are not proud, imperishable,
Alone and winged.
Forgael. Our love shall be like theirs
When we have put their changeless image on.
Dectora. I am a woman, I die at every breath.
Aibric. Let the birds scatter, for the tree is broken,
And there’s no help in words. [To the Sailors.]To the other ship,
And I will follow you and cut the rope
When I have said farewell to this man here,
For neither I nor any living man
Will look upon his face again.
[The Sailors go out.]Forgael [to Dectora], Go with him,
For he will shelter you and bring you home.
Aibric [taking Forgael’s hand]. I’ll do it for his sake.
Dectora. No. Take this sword
And cut the rope, for I go on with Forgael.
Aibric [half falling into the keen]. The yew-bough has been
broken into two,
And all the birds are scattered — O! O! O!
Farewell! farewell! [He goes out.]Dectora. The sword is in the rope —
The rope’s in two — it falls into the sea,
It whirls into the foam. O ancient worm,
Dragon that loved the world and held us to it,
You are broken, you are broken. The world drifts
And I am left alone with my beloved,
Who cannot put me from his sight for ever.
We are alone for ever, and I laugh,
Forgael, because you cannot put me from you.
The mist has covered the heavens, and you and I
Shall be alone for ever. We two — this crown —
I half remember. It has been in my dreams.
Bend lower, O king, that I may crown you with it.
O flower of the branch, 0 bird among the leaves,
O silver fish that my two hands have taken
Out of the running stream, O morning star
Trembling in the blue heavens like a white fawn
Upon the misty border of the wood,
Bend lower, that I may cover you with my hair,
For we will gaze upon this world no longer.
Forgael [gathering Dectora’s hair about him]. Beloved, hav-
ing dragged the net about us,
And knitted mesh to mesh, we grow immortal;
And that old harp awakens of itself
To cry aloud to the grey birds, and dreams,
That have had dreams for father, live in us.