Peer Gynt, by Henrik Ibsen

Act Fifth

Scene First

[On board a ship on the North Sea, off the Norwegian coast. Sunset. Stormy weather.]

[PEER GYNT, a vigorous old man, with grizzled hair and beard, is standing aft on the poop. He is dressed half sailor-fashion, with a pea-jacket and long boots. His clothing is rather the worse for wear; he himself is weather-beaten, and has a somewhat harder expression. The CAPTAIN is standing beside the steersman at the wheel. The crew are forward.]

Peer Gynt [leans with his arms on the bulwark, and gazes towards the land]

Look at Hallingskarv in his winter furs; —
he’s ruffling it, old one, in the evening glow.
The Jokel, his brother, stands behind him askew;
he’s got his green ice-mantle still on his back.
The Flogefann, now, she is mighty fine —
lying there like a maiden in spotless white.
Don’t you be madcaps, old boys that you are!
Stand where you stand; you’re but granite knobs.

The Captain [shouts forward]

Two hands to the wheel, and the lantern aloft!

Peer

It’s blowing up stiff —

The Captain

— for a gale to-night.

Peer

Can one see the Ronde Hills from the sea?

The Captain

No, how should you? They lie at the back of the snow-fields.

Peer

Or Blaho?

The Captain

No; but from up in the rigging,
you’ve a glimpse, in clear weather, of Galdhopiggen.

Peer

Where does Harteig lie?

The Captain [pointing]

About over there.

Peer

I thought so.

The Captain

You know where you are, it appears.

Peer

When I left the country, I sailed by here;
And the dregs, says the proverb, hang in to the last.

[Spits, and gazes at the coast.]

In there, where the scaurs and the clefts lie blue —
where the valleys, like trenches, gloom narrow and black,
and underneath, skirting the open fiords —
it’s in places like these human beings abide.

[Looks at the CAPTAIN.]

They build far apart in this country.

The Captain

Ay;
few are the dwellings and far between.

Peer

Shall we get in by day-break?

The Captain

Thereabouts;
if we don’t have too dirty a night altogether.

Peer

It grows thick in the west.

The Captain

It does so.

Peer

Stop a bit!
You might put me in mind when we make up accounts —
I’m inclined, as the phrase goes, to do a good turn
to the crew —

The Captain

I thank you.

Peer

It won’t be much.
I have dug for gold, and lost what I found; —
we are quite at loggerheads, Fate and I.
You know what I’ve got in safe keeping on board —
that’s all I have left; — the rest’s gone to the devil.

The Captain

It’s more than enough, though, to make you of weight
among people at home here.

Peer

I’ve no relations.
There’s no one awaiting the rich old curmudgeon. —
Well; that saves you, at least, any scenes on the pier!

The Captain

Here comes the storm.

Peer

Well, remember then —
If any of your crew are in real need,
I won’t look too closely after the money —

The Captain

That’s kind. They are most of them ill enough off;
they have all got their wives and their children at home.
With their wages alone they can scarce make ends meet;
but if they come home with some cash to the good,
it will be a return not forgot in a hurry.

Peer

What do you say? Have they wives and children?
Are they married?

The Captain

Married? Ay, every man of them.
But the one that is worst off of all is the cook;
black famine is ever at home in his house.

Peer

Married? They’ve folks that await them at home?
Folks to be glad when they come? Eh?

The Captain

Of course,
in poor people’s fashion.

Peer

And come they one evening,
what then?

The Captain

Why, I daresay the goodwife will fetch
something good for a treat —

Peer

And a light in the sconce?

The Captain

Ay, ay, may be two; and a dram to their supper.

Peer

And there they sit snug! There’s a fire on the hearth!
They’ve their children about them! The room’s full of chatter;
not one hears another right out to an end,
for the joy that is on them —!

The Captain

It’s likely enough.
So it’s really kind, as you promised just now,
to help eke things out.

Peer [thumping the bulwark]

I’ll be damned if I do!
Do you think I am mad? Would you have me fork out
for the sake of a parcel of other folks’ brats?
I’ve slaved much too sorely in earning my cash!
There’s nobody waiting for old Peer Gynt.

The Captain

Well well; as you please then; your money’s your own.

Peer

Right! Mine it is, and no one else’s.
We’ll reckon as soon as your anchor is down!
Take my fare, in the cabin, from Panama here.
Then brandy all round to the crew. Nothing more.
If I give a doit more, slap my jaw for me, Captain.

The Captain

I owe you a quittance, and not a thrashing; —
but excuse me, the wind’s blowing up to a gale.

[He goes forward. It has fallen dark; lights are lit in the cabin. The sea increases. Fog and thick clouds.]

Peer

To have a whole bevy of youngsters at home; —
still to dwell in their minds as a coming delight; —
to have others’ thoughts follow you still on your path! —
There’s never a soul gives a thought to me. —
Lights in the sconces! I’ll put out those lights.
I will hit upon something! — I’ll make them all drunk; —
not one of the devils shall go sober ashore.
They shall all come home drunk to their children and wives!
They shall curse; bang the table till it rings again —
they shall scare those that wait for them out of their wits!
The goodwife shall scream and rush forth from the house —
clutch her children along! All their joy gone to ruin!

[The ship gives a heavy lurch; he staggers and keeps his balance with difficulty.]

Why, that was a buffet and no mistake.
The sea’s hard at labour, as though it were paid for it; —
it’s still itself here on the coasts of the north; —
a cross-sea, as wry and wrong-headed as ever —

[Listens.]

Why, what can those screams be?

The Look-out [forward]

A wreck a-lee!

The Captain [on the main deck, shouts]

Helm hard a-starboard! Bring her up to the wind!

The Mate

Are there men on the wreck?

The Look-out

I can just see three!

Peer

Quick! lower the stern boat —

The Captain

She’d fill ere she floated.

[Goes forward.]

Peer

Who can think of that now?

[To some of the crew.]

If you’re men, to the rescue!
What the devil, if you should get a bit of a ducking!

The Boatswain

It’s out of the question in such a sea.

Peer

They are screaming again! There’s a lull in the wind. —
Cook, will you risk it? Quick! I will pay —

The Cook

No, not if you offered me twenty pounds-sterling —

Peer

You hounds! You chicken-hearts! Can you forget
these are men that have goodwives and children at home?
There they’re sitting and waiting —

The Boatswain

Well, patience is wholesome.

The Captain

Bear away from that sea!

The Mate

There the wreck turned over!

Peer

All is silent of a sudden —!

The Boatswain

Were they married, as you think,
there are three new-baked widows even now in the world.

[The storm increases. PEER GYNT moves away aft.]

Peer

There is no faith left among men any more —
no Christianity — well may they say it and write it; —
their good deeds are few and their prayers are still fewer,
and they pay no respect to the Powers above them. —
In a storm like to-night’s, he’s a terror, the Lord is.
These beasts should be careful, and think, what’s the truth,
that it’s dangerous playing with elephants; —
and yet they must openly brave his displeasure!
I am no whit to blame; for the sacrifice
I can prove I stood ready, my money in hand.
But how does it profit me? — What says the proverb?
A conscience at ease is a pillow of down.
Oh ay, that is all very well on dry land,
but I’m blest if it matters a snuff on board ship,
when a decent man’s out on the seas with such riff-raff.
At sea one never can be one’s self;
one must go with the others from deck to keel;
if for boatswain and cook the hour of vengeance should strike,
I shall no doubt be swept to the deuce with the rest; —
one’s personal welfare is clean set aside; —
one counts but as a sausage in slaughtering-time. —
My mistake is this: I have been too meek;
and I’ve had no thanks for it after all.
Were I younger, I. think I would shift the saddle,
and try how it answered to lord it awhile.
There is time enough yet! They shall know in the parish
that Peer has come sailing aloft o’er the seas!
I’ll get back the farmstead by fair means or foul; —
I will build it anew; it shall shine like a palace.
But none shall be suffered to enter the hall!
They shall stand at the gateway, all twirling their caps; —
they shall beg and beseech — that they freely may do;
but none gets so much as a farthing of mine.
If I’ve had to howl ’neath the lashes of fate,
trust me to find folks I can lash in my turn —

The Strange Passenger [stands in the darkness at PEER GYNT’s side, and salutes him in friendly fashion]

Good evening Good evening!

Peer

Good evening! What —? Who are you?

The Passenger

Your fellow-passenger, at your service.

Peer

Indeed? I thought I was the only one.

The Passenger

A mistaken impression, which now is set right.

Peer

But it’s singular that, for the first time to-night,
I should see you —

The Passenger

I never come out in the day-time.

Peer

Perhaps you are ill? You’re as white as a sheet —

The Passenger

No, thank you — my health is uncommonly good.

Peer

What a raging storm!

The Passenger

Ay, a blessed one, man!

Peer

A blessed one?

The Passenger

The sea’s running high as houses.
Ah, one can feel one’s mouth watering!
just think of the wrecks that to-night will be shattered; —
and think, too, what corpses will drive ashore!

Peer

Lord save us!

The Passenger

Have ever you seen a man strangled,
or hanged — or drowned?

Peer

This is going too far —!

The Passenger

The corpses all laugh. But their laughter is forced;
and the most part are found to have bitten their tongues.

Peer

Hold off from me —!

The Passenger

Only one question pray!
If we, for example, should strike on a rock,
and sink in the darkness —

Peer

You think there is danger?

The Passenger

I really don’t know what I ought to say.
But suppose, now, I float and you go to the bottom —

Peer

Oh, rubbish —

The Passenger

It’s just a hypothesis.
But when one is placed with one foot in the grave,
one grows soft-hearted and open-handed —

Peer [puts his hand in his pocket]

Ho, money!

The Passenger

No, no; but perhaps you would kindly
make me a gift of your much-esteemed carcass —?

Peer

This is too much!

The Passenger

No more than your body, you know!
To help my researches in science —

Peer

Begone!

The Passenger

But think, my dear sir — the advantage is yours!
I’ll have you laid open and brought to the light.
What I specially seek is the centre of dreams —
and with critical care I’ll look into your seams —

Peer

Away with you!

The Passenger

Why, my dear sir — a drowned corpse —!

Peer

Blasphemer! You’re goading the rage of the storm!
I call it too bad! Here it’s raining and blowing,
a terrible sea on, and all sorts of signs
of something that’s likely to shorten our days; —
And you carry on so as to make it come quicker!

The Passenger

You’re in no mood, I see, to negotiate further;
but time, you know, brings with it many a change —

[Nods in a friendly fashion.]

We’ll meet when you’re sinking, if not before;
perhaps I may then find you more in the humour.

[Goes into the cabin.]

Peer

Unpleasant companions these scientists are!
With their freethinking ways —

[To the BOATSWAIN, who is passing.]

Hark, a word with you, friend!
That passenger? What crazy creature is he?

The Boatswain

I know of no passenger here but yourself.

Peer

No others? This thing’s getting worse and worse.

[To the SHIP’S BOY, who comes out of the cabin.]

Who went down the companion just now?

The Boy

The ship’s dog, sir!

[Passes on.]

The Look-out [shouts]

Land close ahead!

Peer

Where’s my box? Where’s my trunk?
All the baggage on deck!

The Boatswain

We have more to attend to!

Peer

It was nonsense, captain! ’Twas only my joke; —
as sure as I’m here I will help the cook —

The Captain

The jib’s blown away!

The Mate

And there went the foresail!

The Boatswain [shrieks from forward]

Breakers under the bow!

The Captain

She will go to shivers!

[The ship strikes. Noise and confusion.]

Scene Second

[Close under the land, among sunken rocks and surf. The ship sinks. The jolly-boat, with two men in her, is seen for a moment through the scud. A sea strikes her; she fills and upsets. A shriek is heard; then all is silent for a while. Shortly afterwards the boat appears floating bottom upwards.]

[PEER GYNT comes to the surface near the boat.]

Peer

Help! Help! A boat! Help! I’ll be drowned!
Save me, oh Lord — as saith the text!

[Clutches hold of the boat’s keel.]

The Cook [comes up on the other side]

Oh, Lord God — for my children’s sake,
have mercy! Let me reach the land!

[Seizes hold of the keel.]

Peer

Let go!

The Cook

Let go!

Peer

I’ll strike!

The Cook

So’ll I!

Peer

I’ll crush you down with kicks and blows!
Let go your hold! She won’t float two!

The Cook

I know it! Yield!

Peer

Yield you!

The Cook

Oh yes!

[They fight; one of the COOKS hands is disabled; he clings on with the other.]

Peer

Off with that hand!

The Cook

Oh, kind sir — spare!
Think of my little ones at home!

Peer

I need my life far more than you,
for I am lone and childless still.

The Cook

Let go! You’ve lived, and I am young!

Peer

Quick; haste you; sink; — you drag us down.

The Cook

Have mercy! Yield in heaven’s name!
There’s none to miss and mourn for you —

[His hand slips; he screams:]

I’m drowning!

Peer [seizing him]

By this wisp of hair
I’ll hold you; say your Lord’s Prayer, quick!

The Cook

I can’t remember; all turns black —

Peer

Come, the essentials in a word —!

The Cook

Give us this day —!

Peer

Skip that part, Cook;
you’ll get all you need, safe enough.

The Cook

Give us this day —

Peer

The same old song!
One sees you were a cook in life —

[The COOK slips from his grasp.]

The Cook [sinking]

Give us this day our —

[Disappears.]

Peer

Amen, lad!
to the last gasp you were yourself. —

[Draws himself up on to the bottom of the boat.]

So long as there is life there’s hope —

The Strange Passenger [catches hold of the boat]

Good morning!

Peer

Hoy!

The Passenger

I heard you shout. —
It’s pleasant finding you again.
Well? So my prophecy came true!

Peer

Let go! Let go! ’Twill scarce float one!

The Passenger

I’m striking out with my left leg.
I’ll float, if only with their tips
my fingers rest upon this ledge.
But apropos: your body —

Peer

Hush!

The Passenger

The rest, of course, is done for, clean —

Peer

No more!

The Passenger

Exactly as you please.

[Silence.]

Peer

Well?

The Passenger

I am silent.

Peer

Satan’s tricks! —
What now?

The Passenger

I’m waiting.

Peer [tearing his hair]

I’ll go mad! —
What are you?

The Passenger [nods]

Friendly.

Peer

What else? Speak!

The Passenger

What think you? Do you know none other
that’s like me?

Peer

Do I know the devil —?

The Passenger [in a low voice]

Is it his way to light a lantern
for life’s night-pilgrimage through fear?

Peer

Ah, come! When once the thing’s cleared up,
you’d seem a messenger of light?

The Passenger

Friend — have you once in each half-year
felt all the earnestness of dread?

Peer

Why, one’s afraid when danger threatens; —
but all your words have double meanings.

The Passenger

Ay, have you gained but once in life
the victory that is given in dread?

Peer [looks at him]

Came you to ope for me a door,
’twas stupid not to come before.
What sort of sense is there in choosing
your time when seas gape to devour one?

The Passenger

Were, then, the victory more likely
beside your hearth-stone, snug and quiet?

Peer

Perhaps not; but your talk befooled me.
How could you fancy it awakening?

The Passenger

Where I come from, there smiles are prized
as highly as pathetic style.

Peer

All has its time; what fits the taxman,
so says the text, would damn the bishop.

The Passenger

The host whose dust inurned has slumbered
treads not on week-days the cothurnus.

Peer

Avaunt thee, bugbear! Man, begone!
I will not die! I must ashore!

The Passenger

Oh, as for that, be reassured; —
one dies not midmost of Act Five.

[Glides away.]

Peer

Ah, there he let it out at last; —
he was a sorry moralist.

Scene Third

[Churchyard in a high-lying mountain parish.]

[A funeral is going on. By the grave, the PRIEST and a gathering of people. The last verse of the psalm is being sung. PEER GYNT passes by on the road.]

Peer [at the gate]

Here’s a countryman going the way of all flesh.
God be thanked that it isn’t me.

[Enters the churchyard.]

The Priest [speaking beside the grave]

Now, when the soul has gone to meet its doom,
and here the dust lies, like an empty pod —
now, my dear friends, we’ll speak a word or two
about this dead man’s pilgrimage on earth.
He was not wealthy, neither was he wise,
his voice was weak, his bearing was unmanly,
he spoke his mind abashed and faltering,
he scarce was master at his own fireside;
he sidled into church, as though appealing
for leave, like other men, to take his place.
It was from Gudbrandsdale, you know, he came.
When here he settled he was but a lad; —
and you remember how, to the very last,
he kept his right hand hidden in his pocket.
That right hand in the pocket was the feature
that chiefly stamped his image on the mind —
and therewithal his writhing, his abashed
shrinking from notice wheresoe’er he went.
But, though he still pursued a path aloof,
and ever seemed a stranger in our midst,
you all know what he strove so hard to hide —
the hand he muffled had four fingers only. —
I well remember, many years ago,
one morning; there were sessions held at Lunde.
’Twas war-time, and the talk in every mouth
turned on the country’s sufferings and its fate.
I stood there watching. At the table sat
the Captain, ’twixt the bailiff and the sergeants;
lad after lad was measured up and down,
passed, and enrolled, and taken for a soldier.
The room was full, and from the green outside,
where thronged the young folks, loud the laughter rang.
A name was called, and forth another stepped,
one pale as snow upon the glacier’s edge.
They bade the youth advance; he reached the table;
we saw his right hand swaddled in a clout; —
he gasped, he swallowed, battling after words —
but, though the Captain urged him, found no voice.
Ah yes, at last! Then with his cheek aflame,
his tongue now failing him, now stammering fast,
he mumbled something of a scythe that slipped
by chance, and shore his finger to the skin.
Straightway a silence fell upon the room.
Men bandied meaning glances; they made mouths;
they stoned the boy with looks of silent scorn.
He felt the hail-storm, but he saw it not.
Then up the Captain stood, the grey old man;
he spat, and pointed forth, and thundered “Go!”
And the lad went. On both sides men fell back,
till through their midst he had to run the gauntlet.
He reached the door; from there he took to flight; —
up, up he went — through wood and over hillside,
up through the stone-slips, rough, precipitous.
He had his home up there among the mountains. —
It was some six months later he came here,
with mother, and betrothed, and little child.
He leased some ground upon the high hillside,
there where the waste lands trend away towards Lomb.
He married the first moment that he could;
he built a house; he broke the stubborn soil;
he throve, as many a cultivated patch
bore witness, bravely clad in waving gold.
At church he kept his right hand in his pocket —
but sure I am at home his fingers nine
toiled every bit as hard as others’ ten. —
One spring the torrent washed it all away.
Their lives were spared. Ruined and stripped of all,
he set to work to make another clearing;
and, ere the autumn, smoke again arose
from a new, better-sheltered, mountain farm-house.
Sheltered? From torrent — not from avalanche;
two years, and all beneath the snow lay buried.
But still the avalanche could not daunt his spirit.
He dug, and raked, and carted — cleared the ground —
and the next winter, ere the snow-blasts came,
a third time was his little homestead reared.
Three sons he had, three bright and stirring boys;
they must to school, and school was far away; —
and they must clamber where the hill-track failed,
by narrow ledges through the headlong scaur.
What did he do? The eldest had to manage
as best he might, and, where the path was worst,
his father cast a rope round him to stay him; —
the others on his back and arms he bore.
Thus he toiled, year by year, till they were men.
Now might he well have looked for some return.
In the New World, three prosperous gentlemen
their school-going and their father have forgotten.
He was short-sighted. Out beyond the circle
of those most near to him he nothing saw.
To him seemed meaningless as cymbals’ tinkling
those words that to the heart should ring like steel.
His race, his fatherland, all things high and shining,
stood ever, to his vision, veiled in mist.
But he was humble, humble, was this man;
and since that sessions-day his doom oppressed him,
as surely as his cheeks were flushed with shame,
and his four fingers hidden in his pocket. —
Offender ’gainst his country’s laws? Ay, true!
But there is one thing that the law outshineth
sure as the snow-white tent of Glittertind
has clouds, like higher rows of peaks, above it.
No patriot was he. Both for church and state
a fruitless tree. But there, on the upland ridge,
in the small circle where he saw his calling,
there he was great, because he was himself.
His inborn note rang true unto the end.
His days were as a lute with muted strings.
And therefore, peace be with thee, silent warrior,
that fought the peasant’s little fight, and fell!
It is not ours to search the heart and reins; —
that is no task for dust, but for its ruler; —
yet dare I freely, firmly, speak my hope:
he scarce stands crippled now before his God!

[The gathering disperses. PEER GYNT remains behind, alone.]

Peer

Now that is what I call Christianity!
Nothing to seize on one’s mind unpleasantly. —
And the topic — immovably being oneself —
that the pastor’s homily turned upon —
is full, in its essence, of edification.

[Looks down upon the grave.]

Was it he, I wonder, that hacked through his knuckle
that day I was out hewing logs in the forest?
Who knows? If I weren’t standing here with my staff
by the side of the grave of this kinsman in spirit,
I could almost believe it was I that slept,
and heard in a vision my panegyric. —
It’s a seemly and Christianlike custom indeed
this casting a so-called memorial glance
in charity over the life that is ended.
I shouldn’t at all mind accepting my verdict
at the hands of this excellent parish priest.
Ah well, I dare say I have some time left
ere the gravedigger comes to invite me to stay with him; —
and as Scripture has it: What’s best is best —
and: Enough for the day is the evil thereof —
and further: Discount not thy funeral. —
Ah, the church, after all, is the true consoler.
I’ve hitherto scarcely appreciated it; —
but now I feel clearly how blessed it is
to be well assured upon sound authority:
Even as thou sowest thou shalt one day reap. —
One must be oneself; for oneself and one’s own
one must do one’s best, both in great and in small things.
If the luck goes against you, at least you’ve the honour
of a life carried through in accordance with principle. —
Now homewards! Though narrow and steep the path,
though Fate to the end may be never so biting —
still old Peer Gynt will pursue his own way,
and remain what he is: poor, but virtuous ever.

[Goes out.]

Scene Fourth

[A hillside seamed by the dry bed of a torrent. A ruined mill-house beside the stream. The ground is torn up, and the whole place waste. Further up the hill, a large farm-house.]

[An auction is going on in front of the farm-house. There is a great gathering of people, who are drinking, with much noise. PEER GYNT is sitting on a rubbish-heap beside the mill.]

Peer

Forward and back, and it’s just as far;
out and in, and it’s just as strait. —
Time wears away and the river gnaws on.
Go roundabout, the Boyg said; — and here one must.

A Man Dressed In Mourning

Now there is only rubbish left over.

[Catches sight of PEER GYNT.]

Are there strangers here too! God be with you, good friend!

Peer

Well met! You have lively times here to-day.
Is’t a christening junket or a wedding feast?

The Man In Mourning

I’d rather call it a house-warming treat; —
the bride is laid in a wormy bed.

Peer

And the worms are squabbling for rags and clouts.

The Man In Mourning

That’s the end of the ditty; it’s over and done.

Peer

All the ditties end just alike;
and they’re all old together; I knew ’em as a boy.

A Lad Of Twenty [with a casting-ladle]

Just look what a rare thing I’ve been buying!
In this Peer Gynt cast his silver buttons.

Another

Look at mine, though! The money-bag bought for a halfpenny.

A Third

No more, eh? Twopence for the pedlar’s pack!

Peer

Peer Gynt? Who was he?

The Man In Mourning

All I know is this:
he was kinsman to Death and to Aslak the Smith.

A Man In Grey

You’re forgetting me, man! Are you mad or drunk?

The Man In Mourning

You forget that at Hegstad was a storehouse door.

The Man In Grey

Ay, true; but we know you were never dainty.

The Man In Mourning

If only she doesn’t give Death the slip —

The Man In Grey

Come, kinsman! A dram, for our kinship’s sake!

The Man In Mourning

To the deuce with your kinship! You’re maundering in drink —

The Man In Grey

Oh, rubbish; blood’s never so thin as all that;
one cannot but feel one’s akin to Peer Gynt.

[Goes off with him.]

Peer [to himself]

One meets with acquaintances.

A Lad [calls after the MAN IN MOURNING]

Mother that’s dead
will be after you, Aslak, if you wet your whistle.

Peer [rises]

The agriculturists’ saying seems scarce to hold here:
The deeper one harrows the better it smells.

A Lad [with a bear’s skin]

Look, the cat of the Dovre! Well, only his fell.
It was he chased the trolls out on Christmas Eve.

Another [with a reindeer-skull]

Here is the wonderful reindeer that bore,
at Gendin, Peer Gynt over edge and scaur.

A Third [with a hammer, calls out to the MAN IN MOURNING]

Hei, Aslak, this sledge-hammer, say, do you know it?
Was it this that you used when the devil clove the wall?

A Fourth [empty-handed]

Mads Moen, here’s the invisible cloak
Peer Gynt and Ingrid flew off through the air with.

Peer

Brandy here, boys! I feel I’m grown old; —
I must put up to auction my rubbish and lumber!

A Lad

What have you to sell, then?

Peer

A palace I have —
it lies in the Ronde; it’s solidly built.

The Lad

A button is bid!

Peer

You must run to a dram.
’Twere a sin and a shame to bid anything less.

Another

He’s a jolly old boy this!

[The bystanders crowd round him.]

Peer [shouts]

Grane, my steed;
who bids?

One Of The Crowd

Where’s he running?

Peer

Why, far in the west!
Near the sunset, my lads! Ah, that courser can fly
as fast, ay, as fast as Peer Gynt could lie.

Voices

What more have you got?

Peer

I’ve both rubbish and gold!
I bought it with ruin; I’ll sell it at a loss.

A Lad

Put it up!

Peer

A dream of a silver-clasped book!
That you can have for an old hook and eye.

The Lad

To the devil with dreams!

Peer

Here’s my Kaiserdom!
I throw it in the midst of you; scramble for it!

The Lad

Is the crown given in?

Peer

Of the loveliest straw.
It will fit whoever first puts it on.
Hei, there is more yet! An addled egg!
A madman’s grey hair! And the Prophet’s beard!
All these shall be his that will show on the hillside
a post that has writ on it: Here lies your path!

The Bailiff [who has come up]

You’re carrying on, my good man, so that almost
I think that your path will lead straight to the lock-up.

Peer [hat in hand]

Quite likely. But, tell me, who was Peer Gynt?

The Bailiff

Oh, nonsense —

Peer

Your pardon! Most humbly I beg —!

The Bailiff

Oh, he’s said to have been an abominable liar —

Peer

A liar —?

The Bailiff

Yes — all that was strong and great
he made believe always that he had done it.
But, excuse me, friend — I have other duties —

[Goes.]

Peer

And where is he now, this remarkable man?

An Elderly Man

He fared over seas to a foreign land;
it went ill with him there, as one well might foresee; —
it’s many a year now since he was hanged.

Peer

Hanged! Ay, ay! Why, I thought as much;
our lamented Peer Gynt was himself to the last.

[Bows.]

Good-bye — and best thanks for to-day’s merry meeting.

[Goes a few steps, but stops again.]

You joyous youngsters, you comely lasses —
shall I pay my shot with a traveller’s tale?

Several Voices

Yes; do you know any?

Peer

Nothing more easy. —

[He comes nearer; a look of strangeness comes over him.]

I was gold-digging once in San Francisco.
There were mountebanks swarming all over the town.
One with his toes could perform on the fiddle;
another could dance a Spanish halling on his knees;
a third, I was told, kept on making verses
while his brain-pan was having a hole bored right through it.
To the mountebank-meeting came also the devil; —
thought he’d try his luck with the rest of them.
His talent was this: in a manner convincing,
he was able to grunt like a flesh-and-blood pig.
He was not recognised, yet his manners attracted.
The house was well filled; expectation ran high.
He stepped forth in a cloak with an ample cape to it;
man muss sich drappiren, as the Germans say.
But under the mantle — what none suspected —
he’d managed to smuggle a real live pig.
And now he opened the representation;
the devil he pinched, and the pig gave voice.
The whole thing purported to be a fantasia
on the porcine existence, both free and in bonds;
and all ended up with a slaughter-house squeal —
whereupon the performer bowed low and retired. —
The critics discussed and appraised the affair;
the tone of the whole was attacked and defended.
Some fancied the vocal expression too thin,
while some thought the death-shriek too carefully studied;
but all were agreed as to one thing: qua grunt,
the performance was grossly exaggerated. —
Now that, you see, came of the devil’s stupidity
in not taking the measure of his public first.

[He bows and goes off. A puzzled silence comes over the crowd.]

Scene Fifth

[Whitsun Eve. — In the depths of the forest. To the back, in a clearing, is a hut with a pair of reindeer horns over the porch-gable.]

[PEER GYNT is creeping among the undergrowth, gathering wild onions.]

Peer

Well, this is one standpoint. Where is the next?
One should try all things and choose the best.
Well, I have done so — beginning from Caesar,
and downwards as far as to Nebuchadnezzar.
So I had, after all, to go through Bible history; —
the old boy’s had to take to his mother again.
After all it is written: Of the earth art thou come. —
The main thing in life is to fill one’s belly.
Fill it with onions? That’s not much good; —
I must take to cunning, and set out snares.
There’s water in the beck here; I shan’t suffer thirst;
and I count as the first ’mong the beasts after all.
When my time comes to die — as most likely it will —
I shall crawl in under a wind-fallen tree;
like the bear, I will heap up a leaf-mound above me,
and I’ll scratch in big print on the bark of the tree:
Here rests Peer Gynt, that decent soul,
Kaiser o’er all of the other beasts. —
Kaiser?

[Laughs inwardly.]

Why, you old soothsayer-humbug!
no Kaiser are you; you are nought but an onion.
I’m going to peel you now, my good Peer!
You won’t escape either by begging or howling.

[Takes an onion and pulls off layer after layer.]

There lies the outermost layer, all torn;
that’s the shipwrecked man on the jolly-boat’s keel.
Here’s the passenger layer, scanty and thin; —
and yet in its taste there’s a tang of Peer Gynt.
Next underneath is the gold-digger ego;
the juice is all gone — if it ever had any.
This coarse-grained layer with the hardened skin
is the peltry-hunter by Hudson’s Bay.
The next one looks like a crown; — oh, thanks!
we’ll throw it away without more ado.
Here’s the archaeologist, short but sturdy;
and here is the Prophet, juicy and fresh.
He stinks, as the Scripture has it, of lies,
enough to bring the water to an honest man’s eyes.
This layer that rolls itself softly together
is the gentleman, living in ease and good cheer.
The next one seems sick. There are black streaks upon it; —
black symbolises both parsons and niggers.

[Pulls off several layers at once.]

What an enormous number of swathings!
Isn’t the kernel soon coming to light?

[Pulls the whole onion to pieces.]

I’m blest if it is! To the innermost centre,
it’s nothing but swathings — each smaller and smaller. —
Nature is witty!

[Throws the fragments away.]

The devil take brooding!
If one goes about thinking, one’s apt to stumble.
Well, I can at any rate laugh at that danger;
for here on all fours I am firmly planted.

[Scratches his head.]

A queer enough business, the whole concern!
Life, as they say, plays with cards up its sleeve;
but when one snatches at them, they’ve disappeared,
and one grips something else — or else nothing at all.

[He has come near to the hut; he catches sight of it and starts.]

This hut? On the heath —! Ha!

[Rubs his eyes.]

It seems exactly
as though I had known this same building before. —
The reindeer-horns jutting above the gable! —
A mermaid, shaped like a fish from the navel! —
Lies! there’s no mermaid! But nails — and planks —
bars too, to shut out hobgoblin thoughts! —

Solveig [singing in the hut]

Now all is ready for Whitsun Eve.
Dearest boy of mine, far away,
comest thou soon?
Is thy burden heavy,
take time, take time; —
I will await thee;
I promised of old.

Peer [rises, quiet and deadly pale]

One that’s remembered — and one that’s forgot.
One that has squandered — and one that has saved. —
Oh, earnest! — and never can the game be played o’er!
Oh, dread! — here was my Kaiserdom!

[Hurries off along the wood path.]

Scene Sixth

[Night. A heath, with fir-trees. A forest fire has been raging; charred tree-trunks are seen stretching for miles. White mists here and there clinging to the earth.]

[PEER GYNT comes running over the heath.]

Peer

Ashes, fog-scuds, dust wind-driven —
here’s enough for building with!
Stench and rottenness within it;
all a whited sepulchre.
Figments, dreams, and still-born knowledge
lay the pyramid’s foundation;
o’er them shall the work mount upwards,
with its step on step of falsehood.
Earnest shunned, repentance dreaded,
flaunt at the apex like a scutcheon,
fill the trump of judgment with their:
Petrus Gyntus Caesar fecit!

[Listens.]

What is this, like children’s weeping?
Weeping, but half-way to song. —
Thread-balls at my feet are rolling! —

[Kicking at them.]

Off with you! You block my path!

The Thread-balls [on the ground]

We are thoughts;

thou shouldst have thought us; —

feet to run on

thou shouldst have given us!

Peer [going round about]

I have given life to one; —
’twas a bungled, crook-legged thing!

The Thread-balls

We should have soared up

like clangorous voices —

and here we must trundle

as grey-yarn thread-balls.

Peer [stumbling]

Thread-clue! You accursed scamp!
Would you trip your father’s heels?

[Flees.]

Withered Leaves [flying before the wind]

We are a watchword;

thou shouldst have proclaimed us!

See how thy dozing

has wofully riddled us.

The worm has gnawed us

in every crevice;

we have never twined us

like wreaths round fruitage.

Peer

Not in vain your birth, however; —
lie but still and serve as manure.

A Sighing In The Air

We are songs;

thou shouldst have sung us! —

a thousand times over

hast thou cowed us and smothered us.

Down in thy heart’s pit

we have lain and waited; —

we were never called forth.

In thy gorge be poison!

Peer

Poison thee, thou foolish stave!
Had I time for verse and stuff?

[Attempts a short cut.]

Dewdrops [dripping from the branches]

We are tears

unshed for ever.

Ice-spears, sharp-wounding,

we could have melted.

Now the barb rankles

in the shaggy bosom; —

the wound is closed over;

our power is ended.

Peer

Thanks; — I wept in Ronde-cloisters —
none the less they tied the tail on!

Broken Straws

We are deeds;

thou shouldst have achieved us!

Doubt, the throttler,

has crippled and riven us.

On the Day of Judgment

we’ll come a-flock,

and tell the story —

then woe to you!

Peer

Rascal-tricks! How dare you debit
what is negative against me?

[Hastens away.]

Åse’s Voice [far away]

Fie, what a post-boy!
Hu, you’ve upset me!
Snow’s newly fallen here; —
sadly it’s smirched me. —
You’ve driven me the wrong way.
Peer, where’s the castle?
The Fiend has misled you
with the switch from the cupboard!

Peer

Better haste away, poor fellow!
With the devil’s sins upon you,
soon you’ll faint upon the hillside; —
hard enough to bear one’s own sins.

[Runs off.]

Scene Seventh

[Another part of the heath.]

Peer Gynt [sings]

A sexton! A sexton! where are you, hounds?
A song from braying precentor-mouths;
around your hat-brim a mourning band; —
my dead are many; I must follow their biers!

[THE BUTTON–MOULDER, with a box of tools, and a large casting-ladle, comes from a side-path.]

The Button-moulder

Well met, old gaffer!

Peer

Good evening, friend.

The Button-moulder

The man’s in a hurry. Why, where is he going?

Peer

To a grave-feast.

The Button-moulder

Indeed? My sight’s not very good; —
excuse me — your name doesn’t chance to be Peer?

Peer

Peer Gynt, as the saying is.

The Button-moulder

That I call luck!
It’s precisely Peer Gynt I am sent for to-night.

Peer

You’re sent for? What do you want?

The Button-moulder

Why, see here;
I’m a button-moulder. You’re to go into my ladle.

Peer

And what to do there?

The Button-moulder

To be melted up.

Peer

To be melted?

The Button-moulder

Here it is, empty and scoured.
Your grave is dug ready, your coffin bespoke.
The worms in your body will live at their ease; —
but I have orders, without delay,
on Master’s behalf to fetch in your soul.

Peer

It can’t be! Like this, without any warning —!

The Button-moulder

It’s an old tradition at burials and births
to appoint in secret the day of the feast,
with no warning at all to the guest of honour.

Peer

Ay, ay, that’s true. All my brain’s awhirl.
You are —?

The Button-moulder

Why, I told you — a button-moulder.

Peer

I see! A pet child has many nicknames.
So that’s it, Peer; it is there you’re to harbour!
But these, my good man, are most unfair proceedings!
I’m sure I deserve better treatment than this; —
I’m not nearly so bad as perhaps you think —
I’ve done a good deal of good in the world; —
at worst you may call me a sort of a bungler —
but certainly not an exceptional sinner.

The Button-moulder

Why that is precisely the rub, my man;
you’re no sinner at all in the higher sense;
that’s why you’re excused all the torture-pangs,
and land, like others, in the casting-ladle.

Peer

Give it what name you please — call it ladle or pool;
spruce ale and swipes, they are both of them beer.
Avaunt from me, Satan!

The Button-moulder

You can’t be so rude
as to take my foot for a horse’s hoof?

Peer

On horse’s hoof or on fox’s claws —
be off; and be careful what you’re about!

The Button-moulder

My friend, you’re making a great mistake.
We’re both in a hurry, and so, to save time,
I’ll explain the reason of the whole affair.
You are, with your own lips you told me so,
no sinner on the so-called heroic scale —
scarce middling even —

Peer

Ah, now you’re beginning
to talk common sense

The Button-moulder

Just have patience a bit —
but to call you virtuous would be going too far. —

Peer

Well, you know I have never laid claim to that.

The Button-moulder

You’re nor one thing nor t’other then, only so-so.
A sinner of really grandiose style
is nowadays not to be met on the highways.
It wants much more than merely to wallow in mire;
for both vigour and earnestness go to a sin.

Peer

Ay, it’s very true, that remark of yours;
one has to lay on, like the old Berserkers.

The Button-moulder

You, friend, on the other hand, took your sin lightly.

Peer

Only outwardly, friend, like a splash of mud.

The Button-moulder

Ah, we’ll soon be at one now. The sulphur pool
is no place for you, who but plashed in the mire.

Peer

And in consequence, friend, I can go as I came?

The Button-moulder

No, in consequence, friend, I must melt you up.

Peer

What tricks are these that you’ve hit upon
at home here, while I’ve been in foreign parts?

The Button-moulder

The custom’s as old as the Snake’s creation;
it’s designed to prevent loss of good material.
You’ve worked at the craft — you must know that often
a casting turns out, to speak plainly, mere dross;
the buttons, for instance, have sometimes no loop to them.
What did you do, then?

Peer

Flung the rubbish away.

The Button-moulder

Ah, yes; Jon Gynt was well known for a waster,
so long as he’d aught left in wallet or purse.
But Master, you see, he is thrifty, he is;
and that is why he’s so well-to-do.
He flings nothing away as entirely worthless
that can be made use of as raw material.
Now, you were designed for a shining button
on the vest of the world; but your loop gave way;
so into the waste-box you needs must go,
and then, as they phrase it, be merged in the mass.

Peer

You’re surely not meaning to melt me up,
with Dick, Tom, and Harry, into something new?

The Button-moulder

That’s just what I do mean, and nothing else.
We’ve done it already to plenty of folks.
At Kongsberg they do just the same with money
that’s been current so long that its stamp’s worn away.

Peer

But this is the wretchedest miserliness!
My dear good friend, let me get off free; —
a loopless button, a worn out farthing —
what is that to a man in your Master’s position?

The Button-moulder

Oh, so long, and inasmuch as, the spirit’s in one,
one always has value as so much metal.

Peer

No, I say! No! With both teeth and claws
I’ll fight against this! Sooner anything else!

The Button-moulder

But what else? Come now, be reasonable.
You know you’re not airy enough for heaven —

Peer

I’m not hard to content; I don’t aim so high; —
but I won’t be deprived of one doit of my Self.
Have me judged by the law in the old-fashioned way!
For a certain time place me with Him of the Hoof; —
say a hundred years, come the worst to the worst;
that, now, is a thing that one surely can bear;
for they say the torment is only moral,
so it can’t after all be so pyramidal.
It is, as ’tis written, a mere transition;
and as the fox said: One waits; there comes
an hour of deliverance; one lives in seclusion,
and hopes in the meantime for happier days. —
But this other notion — to have to be merged,
like a mote, in the carcass of some outsider —
this casting-ladle business, this Gynt-cessation —
it stirs up my innermost soul in revolt!

The Button-moulder

Bless me, my dear Peer, there is surely no need
to get so wrought up about trifles like this.
Yourself you never have been at all; —
then what does it matter, your dying right out?

Peer

Have I not been —? I could almost laugh!
Peer Gynt, then, has been something else, I suppose!
No, Button-moulder, you judge in the dark.
If you could but look into my very reins,
you’d find only Peer there, and Peer all through —
nothing else in the world, no, nor anything more.

The Button-moulder

It’s impossible. Here I have got my orders.
Look, here it is written: Peer Gynt shalt thou summon.
He has set at defiance his life’s design;
clap him into the ladle with other spoilt goods.

Peer

What nonsense! They must mean some other person.
Is it really Peer? It’s not Rasmus, or Jon?

The Button-moulder

It is many a day since I melted them.
So come quietly now, and don’t waste my time.

Peer

I’ll be damned if I do! Ay, ’twould be a fine thing
if it turned out to-morrow some one else was meant.
You’d better take care what you’re at, my good man!
think of the onus you’re taking upon you —

The Button-moulder

I have it in writing —

Peer

At least give me time!

The Button-moulder

What good would that do you?

Peer

I’ll use it to prove
that I’ve been myself all the days of my life;
and that’s the question that’s in dispute.

The Button-moulder

You’ll prove it? And how?

Peer

Why, by vouchers and witnesses.

The Button-moulder

I’m sadly afraid Master will not accept them.

Peer

Impossible! However, enough for the day —!
My dear man, allow me a loan of myself;
I’ll be back again shortly. One is born only once,
and one’s self, as created, one fain would stick to.
Come, are we agreed?

The Button-moulder

Very well then, so be it.
But remember, we meet at the next cross-roads.

[PEER GYNT runs off.]

Scene Eighth

[A further point on the heath.]

Peer [running hard]

Time is money, as the scripture says.
If I only knew where the cross-roads are; —
they may be near and they may be far.
The earth burns beneath me like red-hot iron.
A witness! A witness! Oh, where shall I find one?
It’s almost unthinkable here in the forest.
The world is a bungle! A wretched arrangement,
when a man must prove a right that’s as patent as day!

[AN OLD MAN, bent with age, with a staff in his hand and a bag on his back, is trudging in front of him.]

The Old Man [stops]

Dear, kind sir — a trifle to a houseless soul!

Peer

Excuse me; I’ve got no small change in my pocket —

The Old Man

Prince Peer! Oh, to think we should meet again —!

Peer

Who are you?

The Old Man

You forget the Old Man in the Ronde?

Peer

Why, you’re never —?

The Old Man

The King of the Dovre, my boy!

Peer

The Dovre–King? Really? The Dovre-king? Speak!

The Old Man

Oh, I’ve come terribly down in the world —!

Peer

Ruined?

The Old Man

Ay, plundered of every stiver.
Here am I tramping it, starved as a wolf.

Peer

Hurrah! Such a witness doesn’t grow on the trees!

The Old Man

My Lord Prince, too, has grizzled a bit since we met.

Peer

My dear father-in-law, the years gnaw and wear one. —
Well well, a truce to all private affairs —
and pray, above all things, no family jars.
I was then a sad madcap —

The Old Man

Oh yes; oh yes; —
His Highness was young; and what won’t one do then?
But his Highness was wise in rejecting his bride;
he saved himself thereby both worry and shame;
for since then she’s utterly gone to the bad —

Peer

Indeed!

The Old Man

She has led a deplorable life;
and, just think — she and Trond are now living together.

Peer

Which Trond?

The Old Man

Of the Valfjeld.

Peer

It’s he? Aha;
it was he I cut out with the saeter-girls.

The Old Man

But my grandson has flourished — grown both stout and great,
and has strapping children all over the country —

Peer

Now, my dear man, spare us this flow of words; —
I’ve something quite different troubling my mind. —
I’ve got into rather a ticklish position,
and am greatly in need of a witness or voucher; —
that’s how you could help me best, father-in-law,
and I’ll find you a trifle to drink my health with.

The Old Man

You don’t say so; can I be of use to his Highness?
You’ll give me a character, then, in return?

Peer

Most gladly. I’m somewhat hard pressed for cash,
and must cut down expenses in every direction.
Now hear what’s the matter. No doubt you remember
that night when I came to the Ronde a-wooing —

The Old Man

Why, of course, my Lord Prince!

Peer

Oh, no more of the Prince!
But no matter. You wanted, by sheer brute force,
to bias my sight, with a slit in the lens,
and to change me about from Peer Gynt to a troll.
What did I do then? I stood out against it —
swore I would stand on no feet but my own;
love, power, and glory at once I renounced,
and all for the sake of remaining myself.
Now this fact, you see, you must swear to in Court —

The Old Man

No, I’m blest if I can.

Peer

Why, what nonsense is this?

The Old Man

You surely don’t want to compel me to lie?
You pulled on the troll-breeches, don’t you remember,
and tasted the mead —

Peer

Ay, you lured me seductively; —
but I flatly declined the decisive test,
and that is the thing you must judge your man by.
It’s the end of the ditty that all depends on.

The Old Man

But it ended, Peer, just in the opposite way.

Peer

What rubbish is this?

The Old Man

When you left the Ronde,
you inscribed my motto upon your ’scutcheon.

Peer

What motto?

The Old Man

The potent and sundering word.

Peer

The word?

The Old Man

That which severs the whole race of men
from the troll-folk. Troll! To thyself be enough!

Peer [falls back a step]

Enough!

The Old Man

And with every nerve in your body,
you’ve being living up to it ever since.

Peer

What, I? Peer Gynt?

The Old Man [weeps]

It’s ungrateful of you!
You’ve lived as a troll, but have still kept it secret.
The word I taught you has shown you the way
to swing yourself up as a man of substance; —
and now you must needs come and turn up your nose
at me and the word you’ve to thank for it all.

Peer

Enough! A hill-troll! An egoist!
This must be all rubbish; that’s perfectly certain!

The Old Man [pulls out a bundle of old newspapers]

I daresay you think that we’ve no newspapers?
Wait; here I’ll show you in red and black,
how the Bloksberg Post eulogises you;
and the Heklefield Journal has done the same
ever since the winter you left the country. —
Do you care to read them? You’re welcome, Peer.
Here’s an article, look you, signed “Stallionhoof.”
And here too is one: “On Troll–Nationalism.”
The writer points out and lays stress on the truth
that horns and a tail are of little importance,
so long as one has but a strip of the hide.
“Our enough,” he concludes, “gives the hall-mark of trolldom
to man,”— and proceeds to cite you as an instance.

Peer

A hill-troll? I?

The Old Man

Yes, that’s perfectly clear.

Peer

Might as well have stayed quietly where I was?
Might have stopped in the Ronde in comfort and peace?
Saved my trouble and toil and no end of shoe-leather?
Peer Gynt — a troll? Why it’s rubbish! It’s stuff!
Good-bye! There’s a halfpenny to buy you tobacco.

The Old Man

Nay, my good Prince Peer!

Peer

Let me go! You’re mad,
or else doting. Off to the hospital with you!

The Old Man

Oh, that is exactly what I’m in search of.
But, as I told you, my grandson’s offspring
have become overwhelmingly strong in the land,
and they say that I only exist in books.
The saw says: One’s kin are unkindest of all;
I’ve found to my cost that that saying is true.
It’s cruel to count as mere figment and fable

Peer

My dear man, there are others who share the same fate.

The Old Man

And ourselves we’ve no Mutual Aid Society,
no alms-box or Penny Savings Bank; —
in the Ronde, of course, they’d be out of place.

Peer

No, that cursed: To thyself be enough was the word there!

The Old Man

Oh, come now, the Prince can’t complain of the word.
And if he could manage by hook or by crook —

Peer

My man, you have got on the wrong scent entirely;
I’m myself, as the saying goes, fairly cleaned out —

The Old Man

You surely can’t mean it? His Highness a beggar?

Peer

Completely. His Highness’s ego’s in pawn.
And it’s all your fault, you accursed trolls!
That’s what comes of keeping bad company.

The Old Man

So there came my hope toppling down from its perch again!
Good-bye! I had best struggle on to the town —

Peer

What would you do there?

The Old Man

I will go to the theatre.
The papers are clamouring for national talents —

Peer

Good luck on your journey; and greet them from me.
If I can but get free, I will go the same way.
A farce I will write them, a mad and profound one;
its name shall be: “Sic transit gloria mundi.”

[He runs off along the road; the OLD MAN shouts after him.]

Scene Ninth

[At a cross-road.]

Peer Gynt

Now comes the pinch, Peer, as never before!
This Dovrish Enough has passed judgment upon you.
The vessel’s a wreck; one must float with the spars.
All else; only not to the spoilt-goods heap!

The Button-moulder [at the cross-road]

Well now, Peer Gynt, have you found your voucher?

Peer

Have we reached the cross-road? Well, that’s short work!

The Button-moulder

I can see on your face, as it were on a signboard,
the gist of the paper before I’ve read it.

Peer

I got tired of the hunt; — One might lose one’s way —

The Button-moulder

Yes; and what does it lead to, after all?

Peer

True enough; in the wood, and by night as well —

The Button-moulder

There’s an old man, though, trudging. Shall we call him here?

Peer

No let him go. He is drunk, my dear fellow!

The Button-moulder

But perhaps he might —

Peer

Hush; no — let him be!

The Button-moulder

Well, shall we turn to then?

Peer

One question only:
What is it, at bottom, this “being oneself”?

The Button-moulder

A singular question, most odd in the mouth
of a man who just now —

Peer

Come, a straightforward answer.

The Button-moulder

To be oneself is: to slay oneself.
But on you that answer is doubtless lost;
and therefore we’ll say: to stand forth everywhere
with Master’s intention displayed like a signboard.

Peer

But suppose a man never has come to know
what Master meant with him?

The Button-moulder

He must divine it.

Peer

But how oft are divinings beside the mark —
then one’s carried ad undas in middle career.

The Button-moulder

That is certain, Peer Gynt; in default of divining
the cloven-hoofed gentleman finds his best hook.

Peer

This matter’s excessively complicated. —
See here! I no longer plead being myself; —
it might not be easy to get it proven.
That part of my case I must look on as lost.
But just now, as I wandered alone o’er the heath,
I felt my conscience-shoe pinching me;
I said to myself: After all, you’re a sinner —

The Button-moulder

You seem bent on beginning all over again —

Peer

No, very far from it; a great one I mean;
not only in deeds, but in words and desires.
I’ve lived a most damnable life abroad —

The Button-moulder

Perhaps; I must ask you to show me the schedule!

Peer

Well well, give me time; I will find out a parson,
confess with all speed, and then bring you his voucher.

The Button-moulder

Ay, if you can bring me that, then it is clear
you escape this business of the casting-ladle.
But Peer, I’d my orders —

Peer

The paper is old;
it dates no doubt from a long past period; —
at one time I lived with disgusting slackness,
went playing the prophet, and trusted in Fate.
Well, may I try?

The Button-moulder

But —!

Peer

My dear fellow,
I’m sure you can’t have so much to do.
Here, in this district, the air is so bracing,
it adds an ell to the people’s ages.
Recollect what the Justedal parson wrote:
“It’s seldom that any one dies in this valley.”

The Button-moulder

To the next cross-roads then; but not a step further.

Peer

A priest I must catch, if it be with the tongs.

[He starts running.]

Scene Tenth

[A heather-clad hillside with a path following the windings of the ridge.]

Peer

This may come in useful in many ways,
said Esben as he picked up a magpie’s wing.
Who could have thought one’s account of sins
would come to one’s aid on the last night of all?
Well, whether or no, it’s a ticklish business;
a move from the frying-pan into the fire; —
but then there’s a proverb of well-tried validity
which says that as long as there’s life, there’s hope.

[A LEAN PERSON, in a priest’s cassock, kilted-up high, and with a birding net over his shoulder, comes hurrying along the ridge.]

Peer

Who goes there? A priest with a fowling-net!
Hei, hop! I’m the spoilt child of fortune indeed!
Good evening, Herr Pastor! the path is bad —

The Lean One

Ah yes; but what wouldn’t one do for a soul?

Peer

Aha! then there’s some one bound heavenwards?

The Lean One

No;
I hope he is taking a different road.

Peer

May I walk with Herr Pastor a bit of the way?

The Lean One

With pleasure; I’m partial to company.

Peer

I should like to consult you —

The Lean One

Heraus! Go ahead!

Peer

You see here before you a good sort of man.
The laws of the state I have strictly observed,
have made no acquaintance with fetters or bolts; —
but it happens at times that one misses one’s footing
and stumbles —

The Lean One

Ah yes; that occurs to the best of us.

Peer

Now these trifles you see —

The Lean One

Only trifles?

Peer

Yes;
from sinning en gros I have ever refrained.

The Lean One

Oh then, my dear fellow, pray leave me in peace; —
I’m not the person you seem to think me. —
You look at my fingers? What see you in them?

Peer

A nail-system somewhat extremely developed.

The Lean One

And now? You are casting a glance at my feet?

Peer [pointing]

That’s a natural hoof?

The Lean One

So I flatter myself.

Peer [raises his hat]

I’d have taken my oath you were simply a parson;
and I find I’ve the honour —. Well, best is best; —
when the hall door stands wide — shun the kitchen way;
when the king’s to be met with — avoid the lackey.

The Lean One

Your hand! You appear to be free from prejudice.
Say on then, my — friend; in what way can I serve you?
Now you mustn’t ask me for wealth or power;
I couldn’t supply them although I should hang for it.
You can’t think how slack the whole business is; —
transactions have dwindled most pitiably.
Nothing doing in souls; only now and again
a stray one —

Peer

The race has improved so remarkably?

The Lean One

No, just the reverse; it’s sunk shamefully low; —
the majority end in a casting-ladle.

Peer

Ah yes — I have heard that ladle mentioned;
in fact, ’twas the cause of my coming to you.

The Lean One

Speak out!

Peer

If it were not too much to ask,
I should like —

The Lean One

A harbour of refuge? eh?

Peer

You’ve guessed my petition before I have asked.
You tell me the business is going awry;
so I daresay you will not be over-particular.

The Lean One

But, my dear —

Peer

My demands are in no way excessive.
I shouldn’t insist on a salary;
but treatment as friendly as things will permit.

The Lean One

A fire in your room?

Peer

Not too much fire; — and chiefly
the power of departing in safety and peace —
the right, as the phrase goes, of freely withdrawing
should an opening offer for happier days.

The Lean One

My dear friend, I vow I’m sincerely distressed;
but you cannot imagine how many petitions
of similar purport good people send in
when they’re quitting the scene of their earthly activity.

Peer

But now that I think of my past career,
I feel I’ve an absolute claim to admission —

The Lean One

’Twas but trifles, you said —

Peer

In a certain sense; —
but, now I remember, I’ve trafficked in slaves —

The Lean One

There are men that have trafficked in wills and souls,
but who bungled it so that they failed to get in.

Peer

I’ve shipped Bramah-figures in plenty to China.

The Lean One

Mere fustian again! Why, we laugh at such things.
There are people that ship off far gruesomer figures
in sermons, in art, and in literature —
yet have to stay out in the cold —

Peer

Ah, but then,
do you know — I once went and set up as prophet!

The Lean One

In foreign parts? Humbug! Why, most people’s sehen
ins Blaue ends in the casting-ladle.
If you’ve no more than that to rely upon,
with the best of goodwill, I can’t possibly house you.

Peer

But hear this: In a shipwreck — I clung to a boat’s keel —
and it’s written: A drowning man grasps at a straw —
furthermore it is written: You’re nearest yourself —
so I half-way divested a cook of his life.

The Lean One

It were all one to me if a kitchen-maid
you had half-way divested of something else.
What sort of stuff is this half-way jargon,
saving your presence? Who, think you, would care
to throw away dearly-bought fuel in times
like these on such spiritless rubbish as this?
There now, don’t be enraged; ’twas your sins that scoffed at;
and excuse my speaking my mind so bluntly. —
Come, my dearest friend, banish this stuff from your head,
and get used to the thought of the casting-ladle.
What would you gain if I lodged you and boarded you?
Consider; I know you’re a sensible man.
Well, you’d keep your memory; that’s so far true; —
but the retrospect o’er recollection’s domain
would be, both for heart and for intellect,
what the Swedes call “Mighty poor sport” indeed.
You have nothing either to howl or to smile about,
no cause for rejoicing nor yet for despair,
nothing to make you feel hot or cold;
only a sort of a something to fret over.

Peer

It is written: It’s never so easy to know
where the shoe is tight that one isn’t wearing.

The Lean One

Very true; I have — praise be to so-and-so! —
no occasion for more than a single odd shoe.
But it’s lucky we happened to speak of shoes;
it reminds me that I must be hurrying on; —
I’m after a roast that I hope will prove fat;
so I really mustn’t stand gossiping here. —

Peer

And may one inquire, then, what sort of sin-diet
the man has been fattened on?

The Lean One

I understand
he has been himself both by night and by day,
and that, after all, is the principal point.

Peer

Himself? Then do such folks belong to your parish?

The Lean One

That depends; the door, at least, stands ajar for them.
Remember, in two ways a man can be
himself — there’s a right and wrong side to the jacket.
You know they have lately discovered in Paris
a way to take portraits by help of the sun.
One can either produce a straightforward picture,
or else what is known as a negative one.
In the latter the lights and the shades are reversed,
and they’re apt to seem ugly to commonplace eyes;
but for all that the likeness is latent in them,
and all you require is to bring it out.
If, then, a soul shall have pictured itself
in the course of its life by the negative method,
the plate is not therefore entirely cashiered —
but without more ado they consign it to me.
I take it in hand, then, for further treatment,
and by suitable methods effect its development.
I steam it, I dip it, I burn it, I scour it,
with sulphur and other ingredients like that,
till the image appears which the plate was designed for —
that, namely, which people call positive.
But if one, like you, has smudged himself out,
neither sulphur nor potash avails in the least.

Peer

I see; one must come to you black as a raven
to turn out a white ptarmigan? Pray what’s the name
inscribed ’neath the negative counterfeit
that you’re now to transfer to the positive side?

The Lean One

The name’s Peter Gynt.

Peer

Peter Gynt! Indeed?
Is Herr Gynt himself?

The Lean One

Yes, he vows he is.

Peer

Well, he’s one to be trusted, that same Herr Peter.

The Lean One

You know him, perhaps?

Peer

Oh yes, after a fashion; —
one knows all sorts of people.

The Lean One

I’m pressed for time;
where saw you him last?

Peer

It was down at the Cape.

The Lean One

Di Buona Speranza?

Peer

Just so; but he sails
very shortly again, if I’m not mistaken.

The Lean One

I must hurry off then without delay.
I only hope I may catch him in time!
That Cape of Good Hope — I could never abide it; —
it’s ruined by missionaries from Stavanger.

[He rushes off southwards.]

Peer

The stupid hound! There he takes to his heels
with his tongue lolling out. He’ll be finely sold.
It delights me to humbug an ass like that.
He to give himself airs, and to lord it forsooth!
He’s a mighty lot, truly, to swagger about!
He’ll scarcely grow fat at his present trade; —
he’ll soon drop from his perch with his whole apparatus. —
Hm, I’m not over-safe in the saddle either;

[A shooting star is seen; he nods after it.]

I’m expelled, one may say, from self-owning nobility.
Bear all hail from Peer Gynt, Brother Starry–Flash!
To flash forth, to go out, and be naught at a gulp —

[Pulls himself together as though in terror, and goes deeper in among the mists; stillness for awhile; then he cries:]

Is there no one, no one in all the turmoil —
in the void no one, no one in heaven —!

[He comes forward again further down, throws his hat upon the ground, and tears at his hair. By degrees a stillness comes over him.]

So unspeakably poor, then, a soul can go
back to nothingness, into the grey of the mist.
Thou beautiful earth, be not angry with me
that I trampled thy grasses to no avail.
Thou beautiful sun, thou hast squandered away
thy glory of light in an empty hut.
There was no one within it to hearten and warm; —
the owner, they tell me, was never at home.
Beautiful sun and beautiful earth,
you were foolish to bear and give light to my mother.
The spirit is niggard and nature lavish;
and dearly one pays for one’s birth with one’s life. —
I will clamber up high, to the dizziest peak;
I will look once more on the rising sun,
gaze till I’m tired o’er the promised land;
then try to get snowdrifts piled up over me.
They can write above them: “Here No One lies buried;”
and afterwards — then —! Let things go as they can.

Church-goers [singing on the forest path]

Oh, morning thrice blessed,
when the tongues of God’s kingdom
struck the earth like to flaming steel!
from the earth to His dwelling
now the heirs’ song ascendeth
in the tongue of the kingdom of God.

Peer [crouches as in terror]

Never look there! there all’s desert and waste. —
I fear I was dead long before I died.

[Tries to slink in among the bushes, but comes upon the cross-roads.]

The Button-moulder

Good morning, Peer Gynt! Where’s the list of your sins?

Peer

Do you think that I haven’t been whistling and shouting as hard as I could?

The Button-moulder

And met no one at all?

Peer

Not a soul but a tramping photographer.

The Button-moulder

Well, the respite is over.

Peer

Ay, everything’s over.
The owl smells the daylight. just list to the hooting!

The Button-moulder

It’s the matin-bell ringing —

Peer [pointing]

What’s that shining yonder?

The Button-moulder

Only light from a hut.

Peer

And that wailing sound —?

The Button-moulder

But a woman singing.

Peer

Ay, there — there I’ll find
the list of my sins —

The Button-moulder [seizing him]

Set your house in order!

[They have come out of the underwood, and are standing near the hut. Day is dawning.]

Peer

Set my house in order? It’s there! Away!
Get you gone! Though your ladle were huge as a coffin,
it were too small, I tell you, for me and my sins!

The Button-moulder

Well, to the third cross-road, Peer; but then —!

[Turns aside and goes.]

Peer [approaches the hut]

Forward and back, and it’s just as far.
Out and in, and it’s just as strait.

[Stops.]

No! — like a wild, an unending lament,
is the thought: to come back, to go in, to go home.

[Takes a few steps on, but stops again.]

Roundabout, said the Boyg!

[Hears singing in the hut.]

Ah, no; this time at least
right through, though the path may be never so strait!

[He runs towards the hut; at the same moment SOLVEIG appears in the doorway, dressed for church, with psalm-book wrapped in a kerchief, and a staff in her hand. She stands there erect and mild.]

Peer [flings himself down on the threshold]

Hast thou doom for a sinner, then speak it forth!

Solveig

He is here! He is here! Oh, to God be the praise!

[Stretches out her arms as though groping for him.]

Peer

Cry out all my sins and my trespasses!

Solveig

In nought hast thou sinned, oh my own only boy.

[Gropes for him again, and finds him.]

The Button-moulder [behind the house]

The sin-list, Peer Gynt?

Peer

Cry aloud my crime!

Solveig [sits down beside him]

Thou hast made all my life as a beautiful song.
Blessed be thou that at last thou hast come!
Blessed, thrice blessed our Whitsun-morn meeting!

Peer

Then I am lost!

Solveig

There is one that rules all things.

Peer [laughs]

Lost! Unless thou canst answer riddles.

Solveig

Tell me them.

Peer

Tell them! Come on! To be sure!
Canst thou tell where Peer Gynt has been since we parted?

Solveig

Been?

Peer

With his destiny’s seal on his brow;
been, as in God’s thought he first sprang forth!
Canst thou tell me? If not, I must get me home —
go down to the mist-shrouded regions.

Solveig [smiling]

Oh, that riddle is easy.

Peer

Then tell what thou knowest!
Where was I, as myself, as the whole man, the true man?
where was I, with God’s sigil upon my brow?

Solveig

In my faith, in my hope, and in my love.

Peer [starts back]

What sayest thou —? Peace! These are juggling words.
Thou art mother thyself to the man that’s there.

Solveig

Ay, that I am; but who is his father?
Surely he that forgives at the mother’s prayer.

Peer [a light shines in his face; he cries:]
My mother; my wife; oh, thou innocent woman! — in thy love — oh, there hide me, hide me!

[Clings to her and hides his face in her lap. A long silence. The sun rises.]

Solveig [sings softly]

Sleep thou, dearest boy of mine!

I will cradle thee, I will watch thee —

The boy has been sitting on his mother’s lap.

They two have been playing all the life-day long.

The boy has been resting at his mother’s breast

all the life-day long. God’s blessing on my joy!

The boy has been lying close in to my heart

all the life-day long. He is weary now.

Sleep thou, dearest boy of mine!

I will cradle thee, I will watch thee.

The Button-moulder’s Voice [behind the house]

We’ll meet at the last cross-road again, Peer; and then we’ll see whether —; I say no more.

Solveig [sings louder in the full daylight]

I will cradle thee, I will watch thee;

Sleep and dream thou, dear my boy!

pine

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:44