Peer Gynt, by Henrik Ibsen

Act Fourth

Scene First

[On the south-west coast of Morocco. A palm-grove. Under an awning, on ground covered with matting, a table spread for dinner. Further back in the grove hammocks are slung. In the offing lies a steam-yacht, flying the Norwegian and American colours. A jolly-boat drawn up on the beach. It is towards sunset.]

[PEER GYNT, a handsome middle-aged gentleman, in an elegant travelling-dress, with a gold-rimmed double eyeglass hanging at his waistcoat, is doing the honours at the head of the table. MR. COTTON, MONSIEUR BALLON, HERR VON EBERKOPF, and HERR TRUMPETERSTRALE, are seated at the table finishing dinner.]

Peer Gynt

Drink, gentlemen! If man is made
for pleasure, let him take his fill then.
You know ’tis written: Lost is lost,
and gone is gone —. What may I hand you?


As host you’re princely, Brother Gynt!


I share the honour with my cash,
with cook and steward —

Mr. Cotton

Very well;
let’s pledge a toast to all the four!

Monsieur Ballon

Monsieur, you have a gout, a ton
that nowadays is seldom met with
among men living en garcon —
a certain — what’s the word —?

Von Eberkopf

A dash,
a tinge of free soul-contemplation,
and cosmopolitanisation,
an outlook through the cloudy rifts
by narrow prejudice unhemmed,
a stamp of high illumination,
an Ur–Natur, with lore of life,
to crown the trilogy, united.
Nicht wahr, Monsieur, ’twas that you meant?

Monsieur Ballon

Yes, very possibly; not quite
so loftily it sounds in French.

Von Eberkopf

Ei was! That language is so stiff. —
But the phenomenon’s final cause
if we would seek —


It’s found already.
The reason is that I’m unmarried.
Yes, gentlemen, completely clear
the matter is. What should a man be?
Himself, is my concise reply.
He should regard himself and his.
But can he, as a sumpter-mule
for others’ woe and others’ weal?

Von Eberkopf

But this same in-and-for-yourself-ness,
I’ll answer for’t, has cost you strife —


Ay yes, indeed; in former days;
but always I came off with honour.
Yet one time I ran very near
to being trapped against my will.
I was a brisk and handsome lad,
and she to whom my heart was given,
she was of royal family —

Monsieur Ballon

Of royal —?

Peer [carelessly]

One of those old stocks,
you know the kind —

Trumpeterstrale [thumping the table]

Those noble-trolls!

Peer [shrugging his shoulders]

Old fossil Highnesses who make it
their pride to keep plebeian blots
excluded from their line’s escutcheon.

Mr. Cotton

Then nothing came of the affair?

Monsieur Ballon

The family opposed the marriage?


Far from it!

Monsieur Ballon


Peer [with forbearance]

You understand
that certain circumstances made for
their marrying us without delay.
But, truth to tell, the whole affair
was, first to last, distasteful to me.
I’m finical in certain ways,
and like to stand on my own feet.
And when my father-in-law came out
with delicately veiled demands
that I should change my name and station,
and undergo ennoblement,
with much else that was most distasteful,
not to say quite inacceptable —
why then I gracefully withdrew,
point-blank declined his ultimatum —
and so renounced my youthful bride.

[Drums on the table with a devout air.]

Yes, yes; there is a ruling Fate!
On that we mortals may rely;
and ’tis a comfortable knowledge.

Monsieur Ballon

And so the matter ended, eh?


Oh no, far otherwise I found it;
for busy-bodies mixed themselves,
with furious outcries, in the business.
The juniors of the clan were worst;
with seven of them I fought a duel.
That time I never shall forget,
though I came through it all in safety.
It cost me blood; but that same blood
attests the value of my person,
and points encouragingly towards
the wise control of Fate aforesaid.

Von Eberkopf

Your outlook on the course of life
exalts you to the rank of thinker.
Whilst the mere commonplace empiric
sees separately the scattered scenes,
and to the last goes groping on,
you in one glance can focus all things.
One norm to all things you apply.
You point each random rule of life,
till one and all diverge like rays
from one full-orbed philosophy. —
And you have never been to college?


I am, as I’ve already said,
exclusively a self-taught man.
Methodically naught I’ve learned;
but I have thought and speculated,
and done much desultory reading.
I started somewhat late in life,
and then, you know, it’s rather hard
to plough ahead through page on page,
and take in all of everything.
I’ve done my history piecemeal;
I never have had time for more.
And, as one needs in days of trial
some certainty to place one’s trust in,
I took religion intermittently.
That way it goes more smoothly down.
One should not read to swallow all,
but rather see what one has use for.

Mr. Cotton

Ay, that is practical!

Peer [lights a cigar]

Dear friends,
just think of my career in general.
In what case came I to the West?
A poor young fellow, empty-handed.
I had to battle sore for bread;
trust me, I often found it hard.
But life, my friends, ah, life is dear,
and, as the phrase goes, death is bitter.
Well! Luck, you see, was kind to me;
old Fate, too, was accommodating.
I prospered; and, by versatility,
I prospered better still and better.
In ten years’ time I bore the name
of Croesus ’mongst the Charleston shippers.
My fame flew wide from port to port,
and fortune sailed on board my vessels —

Mr. Cotton

What did you trade in?


I did most
in Negro slaves for Carolina,
and idol-images for China.

Monsieur Ballon

Fi donc!


The devil, Uncle Gynt!


You think, no doubt, the business hovered
on the outer verge of the allowable?
Myself I felt the same thing keenly.
It struck me even as odious.
But, trust me, when you’ve once begun,
it’s hard to break away again.
At any rate it’s no light thing,
in such a vast trade-enterprise,
that keeps whole thousands in employ,
to break off wholly, once for all.
That “once for all” I can’t abide,
but own, upon the other side,
that I have always felt respect
for what are known as consequences;
and that to overstep the bounds
has ever somewhat daunted me.
Besides, I had begun to age,
was getting on towards the fifties; —
my hair was slowly growing grizzled;
and, though my health was excellent,
yet painfully the thought beset me:
Who knows how soon the hour may strike,
the jury-verdict be delivered
that parts the sheep and goats asunder?
What could I do? To stop the trade
with China was impossible.
A plan I hit on — opened straightway
a new trade with the self-same land.
I shipped off idols every spring,
each autumn sent forth missionaries,
supplying them with all they needed,
as stockings, Bibles, rum, and rice —

Mr. Cotton

Yes, at a profit?


Why, of course.
It prospered. Dauntlessly they toiled.
For every idol that was sold
they got a coolie well baptised,
so that the effect was neutralised.
The mission-field lay never fallow,
for still the idol-propaganda
the missionaries held in check.

Mr. Cotton

Well, but the African commodities?


There, too, my ethics won the day.
I saw the traffic was a wrong one
for people of a certain age.
One may drop off before one dreams of it.
And then there were the thousand pitfalls
laid by the philanthropic camp;
besides, of course, the hostile cruisers,
and all the wind-and-weather risks.
All this together won the day.
I thought: Now, Peter, reef your sails;
see to it you amend your faults!
So in the South I bought some land,
and kept the last meat-importation,
which chanced to be a superfine one.
They throve so, grew so fat and sleek,
that ’twas a joy to me, and them too.
Yes, without boasting, I may say
I acted as a father to them —
and found my profit in so doing.
I built them schools, too, so that virtue
might uniformly be maintained at
a certain general niveau,
and kept strict watch that never its
thermometer should sink below it.
Now, furthermore, from all this business
I’ve beat a definite retreat; —
I’ve sold the whole plantation, and
its tale of live-stock, hide and hair.
At parting, too, I served around,
to big and little, gratis grog,
so men and women all got drunk,
and widows got their snuff as well.
So that is why I trust — provided
the saying is not idle breath:
Whoso does not do ill, does good —
my former errors are forgotten,
and I, much more than most, can hold
my misdeeds balanced by my virtues.

Von Eberkopf [clinking glasses with him]

How strengthening it is to hear
a principle thus acted out,
freed from the night of theory,
unshaken by the outward ferment!

Peer [who has been drinking freely during the preceding passages]

We Northland men know how to carry
our battle through! The key to the art
of life’s affairs is simply this:
to keep one’s ear close shut against
the ingress of one dangerous viper.

Mr. Cotton

What sort of viper, pray, dear friend?


A little one that slyly wiles you
to tempt the irretrievable.

[Drinking again.]

The essence of the art of daring,
the art of bravery in act,
is this: To stand with choice-free foot
amid the treacherous snares of life —
to know for sure that other days
remain beyond the day of battle —
to know that ever in the rear
a bridge for your retreat stands open.
This theory has borne me on,
has given my whole career its colour;
and this same theory I inherit,
a race-gift, from my childhood’s home.

Monsieur Ballon

You are Norwegian?


Yes, by birth;
but cosmopolitan in spirit.
For fortune such as I’ve enjoyed
I have to thank America.
My amply-furnished library
I owe to Germany’s later schools.
From France, again, I get my waistcoats,
my manners, and my spice of wit —
from England an industrious hand,
and keen sense for my own advantage.
The Jew has taught me how to wait.
Some taste for dolce far niente
I have received from Italy —
and one time, in a perilous pass,
to eke the measure of my days,
I had recourse to Swedish steel.

Trumpeterstrale [lifting up his glass]

Ay, Swedish steel —?

Von Eberkopf

The weapon’s wielder
demands our homage first of all!

[They clink glasses and drink with him. The wine begins to go to his head.]

Mr. Cotton

All this is very good indeed; —
but, sir, I’m curious to know
what with your gold. you think of doing.

Peer [smiling]

Hm; doing? Eh?

All Four [coming closer]

Yes, let us hear!


Well, first of all, I want to travel.
You see, that’s why I shipped you four,
to keep me company, at Gibraltar.
I needed such a dancing-choir
of friends around my gold-calf-altar —

Von Eberkopf

Most witty!

Mr. Cotton

Well, but no one hoists
his sails for nothing but the sailing.
Beyond all doubt, you have a goal;
and that is —?


To be Emperor.

All Four


Peer [nodding]


The Four



O’er all the world.

Monsieur Ballon

But how, friend —?


By the might of gold!
That plan is not at all a new one;
it’s been the soul of my career.
Even as a boy, I swept in dreams
far o’er the ocean on a cloud.
I soared with train and golden scabbard —
and flopped down on all-fours again.
But still my goal, my friends, stood fast. —
There is a text, or else a saying,
somewhere, I don’t remember where,
that if you gained the whole wide world,
but lost yourself, your gain were but
a garland on a cloven skull.
That is the text — or something like it;
and that remark is sober truth.

Von Eberkopf

But what then is the Gyntish Self?


The world behind my forehead’s arch,
in force of which I’m no one else
than I, no more than God’s the Devil.


I understand now where you’re aiming!

Monsieur Ballon

Thinker sublime!

Von Eberkopf

Exalted poet!

Peer [more and more elevated]

The Gyntish Self — it is the host
of wishes, appetites, desires —
the Gyntish Self, it is the sea
of fancies, exigencies, claims,
all that, in short, makes my breast heave,
and whereby I, as I, exist.
But as our Lord requires the clay
to constitute him God o’ the world,
so I, too, stand in need of gold,
if I as Emperor would figure.

Monsieur Ballon

You have the gold, though!


Not enough.
Ay, maybe for a nine-days’ flourish,
as Emperor a la Lippe–Detmold.
But I must be myself en bloc,
must be the Gynt of all the planet,
Sir Gynt throughout, from top to toe!

Monsieur Ballon [enraptured]

Possess the earth’s most exquisite beauty!

Von Eberkopf

All century-old Johannisberger!


And all the blades of Charles the Twelfth!

Mr. Cotton

But first a profitable opening
for business —


That’s already found;
our anchoring here supplied me with it.
To-night we set off northward ho!
The papers I received on board
have brought me tidings of importance —!

[Rises with uplifted glass.]

It seems that Fortune ceaselessly
aids him who has the pluck to seize it —

The Guests

Well? Tell us —!


Greece is in revolt.

All Four [springing up]

What! Greece —?


The Greeks have risen in Hellas.

The Four



And Turkey’s in a fix!

[Empties his glass.]

Monsieur Ballon

To Hellas! Glory’s gate stands open!
I’ll help them with the sword of France!

Von Eberkopf

And I with war-whoops — from a distance!

Mr. Cotton

And I as well — by taking contracts!


Lead on! I’ll find again in Bender
the world-renowned spur-strap-buckles!

Monsieur Ballon [falling on PEER GYNT’S neck]

Forgive me, friend, that I at first
misjudged you quite!

Von Eberkopf [pressing his hands]

I, stupid hound,
took you for next door to a scoundrel!

Mr. Cotton

Too strong that; only for a fool —

Trumpeterstrale [trying to kiss him]

I, Uncle, for a specimen
of Yankee riff-raff’s meanest spawn —!
Forgive me —!

Von Eberkopf

We’ve been in the dark —


What stuff is this?

Von Eberkopf

We now see gathered
in glory all the Gyntish host
of wishes, appetites, and desires —!

Monsieur Ballon [admiringly]

So this is being Monsieur Gynt!

Von Eberkopf [in the same tone]

This I call being Gynt with honour!


But tell me —?

Monsieur Ballon

Don’t you understand?


May I be hanged if I begin to!

Monsieur Ballon

What? Are you not upon your way
to join the Greeks, with ship and money —?

Peer [contemptuously]

No, many thanks! I side with strength,
and lend my money to the Turks.

Monsieur Ballon


Von Eberkopf

Witty, but a jest!

Peer [after a short silence, leaning on a chair and assuming a dignified mien]

Witty, Come, gentlemen, I think it best
we part before the last remains
of friendship melt away like smoke.
Who nothing owns will lightly risk it.
When in the world one scarce commands
the strip of earth one’s shadow covers,
one’s born to serve as food for powder.
But when a man stands safely landed,
as I do, then his stake is greater.
Go you to Hellas. I will put you
ashore, and arm you gratis too.
The more you eke the flames of strife,
the better will it serve my purpose.
Strike home for freedom and for right!
Fight! storm! make hell hot for the Turks; —
and gloriously end your days
upon the Janissaries’ lances. —
But I— excuse me —

[Slaps his pocket.]

I have cash,
and am myself, Sir Peter Gynt.

[Puts up his sunshade, and goes into the grove, where the hammocks are partly visible.]


The swinish cur!

Monsieur Ballon

No taste for glory —!

Mr. Cotton

Oh, glory’s neither here nor there;
but think of the enormous profits
we’d reap if Greece should free herself.

Monsieur Ballon

I saw myself a conqueror,
by lovely Grecian maids encircled.


Grasped in my Swedish hands, I saw
the great, heroic spur-strap-buckles!

Von Eberkopf

I my gigantic Fatherland’s
culture saw spread o’er earth and sea —!

Mr. Cotton

The worst’s the loss in solid cash.
God dam! I scarce can keep from weeping!
I saw me owner of Olympus.
If to its fame the mountain answers,
there must be veins of copper in it,
that could be opened up again.
And furthermore, that stream Castalia,
which people talk so much about,
with fall on fall, at lowest reckoning,
must mean a thousand horse-power good —!


Still I will go! My Swedish sword
is worth far more than Yankee gold!

Mr. Cotton

Perhaps; but, jammed into the ranks,
amid the press we’d all be drowned;
and then where would the profit be?

Monsieur Ballon

Accurst! So near to fortune’s summit,
and now stopped short beside its grave!

Mr. Cotton [shakes his fist towards the yacht]

That long black chest holds coffered up
the nabob’s golden nigger-sweat —!

Von Eberkopf

A royal notion! Quick! Away!
It’s all up with his empire now!

Monsieur Ballon

What would you?

Von Eberkopf

Seize the power!
The crew can easily be bought.
On board then! I annex the yacht!

Mr. Cotton

You — what —?

Von Eberkopf

I grab the whole concern!

[Goes down to the jolly-boat.]

Mr. Cotton

Why then self-interest commands me
to grab my share.

[Goes after him.]


What scoundrelism!

Monsieur Ballon

A scurvy business — but — enfin!

[Follows the others.]


I’ll have to follow, I suppose —
but I protest to all the world —!


Scene Second

[Another part of the coast. Moonlight with drifting clouds. The yacht is seen far out, under full steam.]

[PEER GYNT comes running along the beach; now pinching his arms, now gazing out to sea.]


A nightmare! — Delusion! — I’ll soon be awake!
She’s standing to sea! And at furious speed! —
Mere delusion! I’m sleeping! I’m dizzy and drunk!

[Clenches his hands.]

It’s not possible I should be going to die!

[Tearing his hair.]

A dream! I’m determined it shall be a dream!
Oh, horror! It’s only too real, worse luck!
My brute-beasts of friends —! Do but hear me, oh Lord!
Since thou art so wise and so righteous —! Oh judge —!

[With upstretched arms.]

It is I, Peter Gynt! Oh, Lord, give but heed!
Hold thy hand o’er me, Father; or else I must perish!
Make them back the machine! Make them lower the gig!
Stop the robbers! Make something go wrong with the rigging!
Hear me! Let other folks’ business lie over!
The world can take care of itself for the time!
I’m blessed if he hears me! He’s deaf as his wont is!
Here’s a nice thing! A God that is bankrupt of help!

[Beckons upwards.]

Hist! I’ve abandoned the nigger-plantation!
And missionaries I’ve exported to Asia!
Surely one good turn should be worth another!
Oh, help me on board —!

[A jet of fire shoots into the air from the yacht, followed by thick clouds of smoke; a hollow report is heard. PEER GYNT utters a shriek, and sinks down on the sands. Gradually the smoke clears away; the ship has disappeared.]

Peer [softly, with a pale face]

That’s the sword of wrath!
In a crack to the bottom, every soul, man and mouse!
Oh, for ever blest be the lucky chance —

[With emotion.]

A chance? No, no, it was more than chance.
I was to be rescued and they to perish.
Oh, thanks and praise for that thou hast kept me,
hast cared for me, spite of all my sins! —

[Draws a deep breath.]

What a marvellous feeling of safety and peace
it gives one to know oneself specially shielded!
But the desert! What about, food and drink?
Oh, something I’m sure to find. He’ll see to that.
There’s no cause for alarm; —

[Loud and insinuatingly.]

He would never allow
a poor little sparrow like me to perish!
Be but lowly of spirit. And give him time.
Leave it all in the Lord’s hands; and don’t be cast down. —

[With a start of terror.]

Can that be a lion that growled in the reeds —?

[His teeth chattering.]

No, it wasn’t a lion.

[Mustering up courage.]

A lion, forsooth!
Those beasts, they’ll take care to keep out of the way.
They know it’s no joke to fall foul of their betters.
They have instinct to guide them; — they feel, what’s a fact,
that it’s dangerous playing with elephants. —
But all the same —. I must find a tree.
There’s a grove of acacias and palms over there;
if I once can climb up, I’ll be sheltered and safe —
most of all if I knew but a psalm or two.

[Clambers up.]

Morning and evening are not alike;
that text has been oft enough weighed and pondered.

[Seats himself comfortably.]

How blissful to feel so uplifted in spirit.
To think nobly is more than to know oneself rich.
Only trust in Him. He knows well what share
of the chalice of need I can bear to drain.
He takes fatherly thought for my personal weal; —

[Casts a glance over the sea, and whispers with a sigh:]

but economical — no, that he isn’t!

Scene Third

[Night. An encampment of Moroccan troops on the edge of the desert. Watchfires, with SOLDIERS resting by them.]

A Slave [enters, tearing his hair]

Gone is the Emperor’s milk-white charger!

Another Slave [enters, rending his garments]

The Emperor’s sacred robes are stolen!

An Officer [enters]

A hundred stripes upon the foot-soles
for all who fail to catch the robber!

[The troopers mount their horses, and gallop away in every direction.]

Scene Fourth

[Daybreak. The grove of acacias and palms.]

[PEER GYNT in his tree with a broken branch in his hand, trying to beat off a swarm of monkeys.]


Confound it! A most disagreeable night.

[Laying about him.]

Are you there again? This is most accursed!
Now they’re throwing fruit. No, it’s something else.
A loathsome beast is your Barbary ape!
The Scripture says: Thou shalt watch and fight.
But I’m blest if I can; I am heavy and tired.

[Is again attacked; impatiently:]

I must put a stopper upon this nuisance!
I must see and get hold of one of these scamps,
get him hung and skinned, and then dress myself up,
as best I may, in his shaggy hide,
that the others may take me for one of themselves. —
What are we mortals? Motes, no more;
and it’s wisest to follow the fashion a bit. —
Again a rabble! They throng and swarm.
Off with you! Shoo! They go on as though crazy.
If only I had a false tail to put on now —
only something to make me a bit like a beast. —
What now? There’s a pattering over my head —!

[Looks up.]

It’s the grandfather ape — with his fists full of filth —!

[Huddles together apprehensively, and keeps still for a while. The ape makes a motion; PEER GYNT begins coaxing and wheedling him, as he might a dog.]

Ay — are you there, my good old Bus!
He’s a good beast, he is! He will listen to reason!
He wouldn’t throw; — I should think not, indeed!
It is me! Pip-pip! We are first-rate friends!
Ai-ai! Don’t you hear, I can talk your language?
Bus and I, we are kinsfolk, you see; —
Bus shall have sugar to-morrow —! The beast!
The whole cargo on top of me! Ugh, how disgusting! —
Or perhaps it was food? ’Twas in taste — indefinable;
and taste’s for the most part a matter of habit.
What thinker is it who somewhere says:
You must spit and trust to the force of habit? —
Now here come the small-fry!

[Hits and slashes around him.]

It’s really too bad
that man, who by rights is the lord of creation,
should find himself forced to —! O murder! murder!
the old one was bad, but the youngsters are worse!

Scene Fifth

[Early morning. A stony region, with a view out over the desert. On one side a cleft in the hill, and a cave.]

[A THIEF and a RECEIVER hidden in the cleft, with the Emperor’s horse and robes. The horse, richly caparisoned, is tied to a stone. Horsemen are seen afar off.]

The Thief

The tongues of the lances
all flickering and flashing —
see, see!

The Receiver

Already my head seems
to roll on the sand-plain!
Woe, woe!

The Thief [folds his arms over his breast]

My father he thieved;
so his son must be thieving.

The Receiver

My father received;
so his son keeps receiving.

The Thief

Thy lot shalt thou bear still;
thyself shalt thou be still.

The Receiver [listening]

Steps in the brushwood!
Flee, flee! But where?

The Thief

The cavern is deep,
and the Prophet great!

[They make off, leaving the booty behind them. The horsemen gradually disappear in the distance.]

Peer Gynt [enters, cutting a reed whistle]

What a delectable morning-tide! —
The dung-beetle’s rolling his ball in the dust;
the snail creeps out of his dwelling-house.
The morning; ay, it has gold in its mouth. —
It’s a wonderful power, when you think of it,
that Nature has given to the light of day.
One feels so secure, and so much more courageous —
one would gladly, at need, take a bull by the horns. —
What a stillness all round! Ah, the joys of Nature —
strange enough I should never have prized them before.
Why go and imprison oneself in a city,
for no end but just to be bored by the mob. —
just look how the lizards are whisking about,
snapping, and thinking of nothing at all.
What innocence ev’n in the life of the beasts!
Each fulfils the Creator’s behest unimpeachably,
preserving its own special stamp undefaced;
is itself, is itself, both in sport and in strife,
itself, as it was at his primal: Be!

[Puts on his eye-glasses.]

A toad. In the middle of a sandstone block.
Petrifaction all round him. His head alone peering.
There he’s sitting and gazing as though through a window
at the world, and is — to himself enough. —


Enough? To himself —? Where is it that’s written?
I’ve read it, in youth, in some so-called classic.
In the family prayer-book? Or Solomon’s Proverbs?
Alas, I notice that, year by year,
my memory for dates and for places is fading.

[Seats himself in the shade.]

Here’s a cool spot to rest and to stretch out one’s feet.
Why, look, here are ferns growing-edible roots.

[Eats a little.]

’Twould be fitter food for an animal —
but the text says: Bridle the natural man!
Furthermore it is written: The proud shall be humbled,
and whoso abaseth himself, exalted.


Exalted? Yes, that’s what will happen with me; —
no other result can so much as be thought of.
Fate will assist me away from this place,
and arrange matters so that I get a fresh start.
This is only a trial; deliverance will follow —
if only the Lord lets me keep my health.

[Dismisses his misgivings, lights a cigar, stretches himself, and gazes out over the desert.]

What an enormous, limitless waste! —
Far in the distance an ostrich is striding. —
What can one fancy was really God’s
meaning in all of this voidness and deadness?
This desert, bereft of all sources of life;
this burnt-up cinder, that profits no one;
this patch of the world, that for ever lies fallow;
this corpse, that never, since earth’s creation,
has brought its Maker so much as thanks —
why was it created? — How spendthrift is Nature! —
Is that sea in the east there, that dazzling expanse
all gleaming? It can’t be; ’tis but a mirage.
The sea’s to the west; it lies piled up behind me,
dammed out from the desert by a sloping ridge.

[A thought flashes through his mind.]

Dammed out? Then I could —? The ridge is narrow.
Dammed out? It wants but a gap, a canal —
like a flood of life would the waters rush
in through the channel, and fill the desert!
Soon would the whole of yon red-hot grave
spread forth, a breezy and rippling sea.
The oases would rise in the midst, like islands;
Atlas would tower in green cliffs on the north;
sailing-ships would, like stray birds on the wing,
skim to the south, on the caravans’ track.
Life-giving breezes would scatter the choking
vapours, and dew would distil from the clouds.
People would build themselves town on town,
and grass would grow green round the swaying palm-trees.
The southland, behind the Sahara’s wall,
would make a new seaboard for civilisation.
Steam would set Timbuctoo’s factories spinning;
Bornu would be colonised apace;
the naturalist would pass safely through Habes
in his railway-car to the Upper Nile.
In the midst of my sea, on a fat oasis,
I will replant the Norwegian race;
the Dalesman’s blood is next door to royal;
Arabic crossing will do the rest.
Skirting a bay, on a shelving strand,
I’ll build the chief city, Peeropolis.
The world is decrepit! Now comes the turn
of Gyntiana, my virgin land!

[Springs up.]

Had I but capital, soon ’twould be done. —
A gold key to open the gate of the sea!
A crusade against Death! The close-fisted old churl
shall open the sack he lies brooding upon.
Men rave about freedom in every land; —
like the ass in the ark, I will send out a cry
o’er the world, and will baptise to liberty
the beautiful, thrall-bounden coasts that shall be.
I must on! To find capital, eastward or west!
My kingdom — well, half of it, say — for a horse!

[The horse in the cleft neighs.]

A horse! Ay, and robes! — jewels too — and a sword!

[Goes closer.]

It can’t be! It is though —! But how? I have read,
I don’t quite know where, that the will can move mountains; —
but how about moving a horse as well —?
Pooh! Here stands the horse, that’s a matter of fact;
for the rest, why, ab esse ad posse, et cetera.

[Puts on the dress and looks down at it.]

Sir Peter — a Turk, too, from top to toe!
Well, one never knows what may happen to one. —
Gee-up, now, Grane, my trusty steed!

[Mounts the horse.]

Gold-slipper stirrups beneath my feet! —
You may know the great by their riding-gear!

[Gallops off into the desert.]

Scene Sixth

[The tent of an Arab chief, standing alone on an oasis.]

[PEER GYNT, in his Eastern dress, resting on cushions. He is drinking coffee, and smoking a long pipe. ANITRA, and a bevy of GIRLS, dancing and singing before him.]

Chorus Of Girls

The Prophet is come!
The Prophet, the Lord, the All–Knowing One,
to us, to us is he come,
o’er the sand-ocean riding!
The Prophet, the Lord, the Unerring One,
to us, to us is he come,
o’er the sand-ocean sailing!
Wake the flute and the drum!
The Prophet, the Prophet is come!


His courser is white as the milk is
that streams in the rivers of Paradise.
Bend every knee! Bow every head!
His eyes are as bright-gleaming, mild-beaming stars.
Yet none earth-born endureth
the rays of those stars in their blinding splendour!
Through the desert he came.
Gold and pearl-drops sprang forth on his breast.
Where he rode there was light.
Behind him was darkness;
behind him raged drought and the simoom.
He, the glorious one, came!
Through the desert he came,
like a mortal apparelled.
Kaaba, Kaaba stands void; —
he himself hath proclaimed it!

The Chorus Of Girls

Wake the flute and the drum!
The Prophet, the Prophet is come!

[They continue the dance, to soft music.]


I have read it in print — and the saying is true —
that no one’s a prophet in his native land. —
This position is very much more to my mind
than my life over there ’mong the Charleston merchants.
There was something hollow in the whole affair,
something foreign at the bottom, something dubious behind it; —
I was never at home in their company,
nor felt myself really one of the guild.
What tempted me into that galley at all?
To grub and grub in the bins of trade —
as I think it all over, I can’t understand it; —
it happened so; that’s the whole affair. —
To be oneself on a basis of gold
is no better than founding one’s house on the sand.
For your watch, and your ring, and the rest of your trappings
the good people fawn on you, grovelling to earth;
they lift their hats to your jewelled breast-pin;
but your ring and your breast-pin are not your person. —
A prophet; ay, that is a clearer position.
At least one knows on what footing one stands.
If you make a success, it’s yourself that receives
the ovation, and not your pounds-sterling and shillings.
One is what one is, and no nonsense about it;
one owes nothing to chance or to accident,
and needs neither licence nor patent to lean on. —
A prophet; ay, that is the thing for me.
And I slipped so utterly unawares into it —
just by coming galloping over the desert,
and meeting these children of nature en route.
The Prophet had come to them; so much was clear.
It was really not my intent to deceive —
there’s a difference ’twixt lies and oracular answers;
and then I can always withdraw again.
I’m in no way bound; it’s a simple matter —;
the whole thing is private, so to speak;
I can go as I came; there’s my horse ready saddled;
I am master, in short, of the situation.

Anitra [approaching from the tent-door]

Prophet and Master!


What would my slave?


The sons of the desert await at thy tent-door;
they pray for the light of thy countenance —


Say in the distance I’d have them assemble;
say from the distance I hear all their prayers.
Add that I suffer no menfolk in here!
Men, my child, are a worthless crew —
inveterate rascals you well may call them!
Anitra, you can’t think how shamelessly
they have swind — I mean they have sinned, my child! —
Well, enough now of that; you may dance for me, damsels!
The Prophet would banish the memories that gall him.

The Girls [dancing]

The Prophet is good! The Prophet is grieving
for the ill that the sons of the dust have wrought!
The Prophet is mild; to his mildness be praises;
he opens to sinners his Paradise!

Peer [his eyes following ANITRA during the dance]

Legs as nimble as drumsticks flitting.
She’s a dainty morsel indeed, that wench!
It’s true she has somewhat extravagant contours —
not quite in accord with the norms of beauty.
But what is beauty? A mere convention —
a coin made current by time and place.
And just the extravagant seems most attractive
when one of the normal has drunk one’s fill.
In the law-bound one misses all intoxication.
Either plump to excess or excessively lean;
either parlously young or portentously old; —
the medium is mawkish. —
Her feet — they are not altogether clean;
no more are her arms; in especial one of them.
But that is at bottom no drawback at all.
I should rather call it a qualification —
Anitra, come listen!

Anitra [approaching]

Thy handmaiden hears!


You are tempting, my daughter! The Prophet is touched.
If you don’t believe me, then hear the proof; —
I’ll make you a Houri in Paradise!


Impossible, Lord!


What? You think I am jesting?
I’m in sober earnest, as true as I live!


But I haven’t a soul.


Then of course you must get one!


How, Lord?


Just leave me alone for that; —
I shall look after your education.
No soul? Why, truly you’re not over bright,
as the saying goes. I’ve observed it with pain.
But pooh! for a soul you can always find room.
Come here! let me measure your brain-pan, child. —
There is room, there is room, I was sure there was.
It’s true you never will penetrate
very deep; to a large soul you’ll scarcely attain —
but never you mind; it won’t matter a bit; —
you’ll have plenty to carry you through with credit —


The Prophet is gracious —


You hesitate? Speak!


But I’d rather —


Say on; don’t waste time about it!


I don’t care so much about having a soul; —
give me rather —


What, child?

Anitra [pointing to his turban]

That lovely opal

Peer [enchanted, handing her the jewel]

Anitra! Anitra! true daughter of Eve!
I feel thee magnetic; for I am a man.
And, as a much-esteemed author has phrased it:
“Das Ewig–Weibliche ziehet uns an!”

Scene Seventh

[A moonlight night. The palm-grove outside ANITRA’S tent.]

[PEER GYNT is sitting beneath a tree, with an Arabian lute in his hands. His beard and hair are clipped; he looks considerably younger.]

Peer Gynt [plays and sings]

I double-locked my Paradise,
and took its key with me.
The north-wind bore me seaward ho!
while lovely women all forlorn
wept on the ocean strand.
Still southward, southward clove my keel
the salt sea-currents through.
Where palms were swaying proud and fair,
a garland round the ocean-bight,
I set my ship afire.
I climbed aboard the desert ship,
a ship on four stout legs.
It foamed beneath the lashing whip —
oh, catch me; I’m a flitting bird; —
I’m twittering on a bough!
Anitra, thou’rt the palm-tree’s must;
that know I now full well!
Ay, even the Angora goat-milk cheese
is scarcely half such dainty fare,
Anitra, ah, as thou!

[He hangs the lute over his shoulder, and comes forward.]

Stillness! Is the fair one listening?
Has she heard my little song?
Peeps she from behind the curtain,
veil and so forth cast aside? —
Hush! A sound as though a cork
from a bottle burst amain!
Now once more! And yet again!
Love-sighs can it be? or songs? —
No, it is distinctly snoring. —
Dulcet strain! Anitra sleepeth!
Nightingale, thy warbling stay!
Every sort of woe betide thee,
if with gurgling trill thou darest —
but, as says the text: Let be!
Nightingale, thou art a singer;
ah, even such an one am I.
He, like me, ensnares with music
tender, shrinking little hearts.
Balmy night is made for music;
music is our common sphere;
in the act of singing, we are
we, Peer Gynt and nightingale.
And the maiden’s very sleeping
is my passion’s crowning bliss; —
for the lips protruded o’er the
beaker yet untasted quite —
but she’s coming, I declare!
After all, it’s best she should.

Anitra [from the tent]

Master, call’st thou in the night?


Yes indeed, the Prophet calls.
I was wakened by the cat
with a furious hunting-hubbub —


Ah, not hunting-noises, Master;
it was something much, much worse.


What, then, was’t?


Oh, spare me!




Oh, I blush to —

Peer [approaching]

Was it, mayhap,
that which filled me so completely
when I let you have my opal?

Anitra [horrified]

Liken thee, O earth’s great treasure,
to a horrible old cat!


Child, from passion’s standpoint viewed,
may a tom-cat and a prophet
come to very much the same.


Master, jest like honey floweth
from thy lips.


My little friend,
you, like other maidens, judge
great men by their outsides only.
I am full of jest at bottom,
most of all when we’re alone.
I am forced by my position
to assume a solemn mask.
Duties of the day constrain me;
all the reckonings and worry
that I have with one and all,
make me oft a cross-grained prophet;
but it’s only from the tongue out. —
Fudge, avaunt! En tete-a-tete
I’m Peer — well, the man I am.
Hei, away now with the prophet;
me, myself, you have me here!

[Seats himself under a tree, and draws her to him.]

Come, Anitra, we will rest us
underneath the palm’s green fan-shade!
I’ll lie whispering, you’ll lie smiling;
afterwards our roles exchange we;
then shall your lips, fresh and balmy,
to my smiling, passion whisper!

Anitra [lies down at his feet]

All thy words are sweet as singing,
though I understand but little.
Master, tell me, can thy daughter
catch a soul by listening?


Soul, and spirit’s light and knowledge,
all in good time you shall have them.
When in east, on rosy streamers
golden types print: Here is day —
then, my child, I’ll give you lessons;
you’ll be well brought-up, no fear.
But, ’mid night’s delicious stillness,
it were stupid if I should,
with a threadbare wisdom’s remnants,
play the part of pedagogue. —
And the soul, moreover, is not,
looked at properly, the main thing.
It’s the heart that really matters.


Speak, O Master! When thou speakest,
I see gleams, as though of opals!


Wisdom in extremes is folly;
coward blossoms into tyrant;
truth, when carried to excess,
ends in wisdom written backwards.
Ay, my daughter, I’m forsworn
as a dog if there are not
folk with o’erfed souls on earth
who shall scarce attain to clearness.
Once I met with such a fellow,
of the flock the very flower;
and even he mistook his goal,
losing sense in blatant sound. —
See the waste round this oasis.
Were I but to swing my turban,
I could force the ocean-flood
to fill up the whole concern.
But I were a blockhead, truly,
seas and lands to go creating.
Know you what it is to live?


Teach me!


It is to be wafted
dry-shod down the stream of time,
wholly, solely as oneself.
Only in full manhood can I
be the man I am, dear child!
Aged eagle moults his plumage,
aged fogey lags declining,
aged dame has ne’er a tooth left,
aged churl gets withered hands —
one and all get souls.
Youth! Ah, youth! I mean to reign,
as a sultan, whole and fiery —
not on Gyntiana’s shores,
under trellised vines and palm-leaves —
but enthroned in the freshness
of a woman’s virgin thoughts. —
See you now, my little maiden,
why I’ve graciously bewitched you —
why I have your heart selected,
and established, so to speak,
there my being’s Caliphate?
All your longings shall be mine.
I’m an autocrat in passion!
You shall live for me alone.
I’ll be he who shall enthrall
you like gold and precious stones.
Should we part, then life is over —
that is, your life, nota bene!
Every inch and fibre of you,
will-less, without yea or nay,
I must know filled full of me.
Midnight beauties of your tresses,
all that’s lovely to be named,
shall, like Babylonian gardens,
tempt your Sultan to his tryst.
After all, I don’t complain, then,
of your empty forehead-vault.
With a soul, one’s oft absorbed in
contemplation of oneself.
Listen, while we’re on the subject —
if you like it, faith, you shall
have a ring about your ankle:—
’twill be best for both of us.
I will be your soul by proxy;
for the rest — why, status quo.

[ANITRA snores.]

What! She sleeps! Then has it glided
bootless past her, all I’ve said? —
No; it marks my influence o’er her
that she floats away in dreams
on my love-talk as it flows.

[Rises, and lays trinkets in her lap.]

Here are jewels! Here are more!
Sleep, Anitra! Dream of Peer —.
Sleep! In sleeping, you the crown have
placed upon your Emperor’s brow!
Victory on his Person’s basis
has Peer Gynt this night achieved.

Scene Eighth

[A caravan route. The oasis is seen far off in the background.]

[PEER GYNT comes galloping across the desert on his white horse, with ANITRA before him on his saddle-bow.]


Let be, or I’ll bite you!


You little rogue!


What would you?


What would I? Play hawk and dove!
Run away with you! Frolic and frisk a bit!


For shame! An old prophet like you —!


Oh, stuff!
The prophet’s not old at all, you goose!
Do you think all this is a sign of age?


Let me go! I want to go home!


What, home! To father-in-law! That would be fine!
We madcap birds that have flown from the cage
must never come into his sight again.
Besides, my child, in the self-same place
it’s wisest never to stay too long;
for familiarity lessens respect; —
most of all when one comes as a prophet or such.
One should show oneself glimpse-wise, and pass like a dream.
Faith, ’twas time that the visit should come to an end.
They’re unstable of soul, are these sons of the desert; —
both incense and prayers dwindled off towards the end.


Yes, but are you a prophet?


Your Emperor I am!

[Tries to kiss her.]

Why just see now how coy the wee woodpecker is!


Give me that ring that you have on your finger.


Take, sweet Anitra, the whole of the trash!


Thy words are as songs! Oh, how dulcet their sound!


How blessed to know oneself loved to this pitch!
I’ll dismount! Like your slave, I will lead your palfrey!

[Hands her his riding-whip, and dismounts.]

There now, my rosebud, my exquisite flower!
Here I’ll go trudging my way through the sand,
till a sunstroke o’ertakes me and finishes me.
I’m young, Anitra; bear that in mind!
You mustn’t be shocked at my escapades.
Frolics and high-jinks are youth’s sole criterion!
And so, if your intellect weren’t so dense,
you would see at a glance, oh my fair oleander —
your lover is frolicsome — ergo, he’s young!


Yes, you are young. Have you any more rings?


Am I not? There, grab! I can leap like a buck!
Were there vine-leaves around, I would garland my brow.
To be sure I am young! Hei, I’m going to dance!

[Dances and sings.]

I am a blissful game-cock!
Peck me, my little pullet!
Hop-sa-sa! Let me trip it; —
I am a blissful game-cock!


You are sweating, my prophet; I fear you will melt; —
hand me that heavy bag hung at your belt.


Tender solicitude! Bear the purse ever; —
hearts that can love are content without gold!

[Dances and sings again.]

Young Peer Gynt is the maddest wag; —
he knows not what foot he shall stand upon.
Pooh, says Peer; — pooh, never mind!
Young Peer Gynt is the maddest wag!


What joy when the Prophet steps forth in the dance!


Oh, bother the Prophet! — Suppose we change clothes!
Heisa! Strip off!


Your caftan were too long,
your girdle too wide, and your stockings too tight —


Eh bien!

[Kneels down.]

But vouchsafe me a vehement sorrow —
to a heart full of love, it is sweet to suffer!
Listen; as soon as we’re home at my castle —


In your Paradise; — have we far to ride?


Oh, a thousand miles or —


Too far!


Oh, listen; —
you shall have the soul that I promised you once —


Oh, thank you; I’ll get on without the soul.
But you asked for a sorrow —

Peer [rising]

Ay, curse me, I did!
A keen one, but short — to last two or three days!


Anitra obeyeth the Prophet! — Farewell!

[Gives him a smart cut across the fingers, and dashes off, at a tearing gallop, back across the desert.]

Peer [stands for a long time thunderstruck]

Well now, may I be —!

Scene Ninth

[The same place, an hour later.]

[PEER GYNT is stripping off his Turkish costume; soberly and thoughtfully, bit by bit. Last of all, he takes his little travelling-cap out of his coat-pocket, puts it on, and stands once more in European dress.]

Peer Gynt [throwing the turban far away from him]

There lies the Turk, then, and here stand I! —
These heathenish doings are no sort of good.
It’s lucky ’twas only a matter of clothes,
and not, as the saying goes, bred in the bone. —
What tempted me into that galley at all?
It’s best, in the long run, to live as a Christian,
to put away peacock-like ostentation,
to base all one’s dealings on law and morality,
to be ever oneself, and to earn at the last
speech at one’s grave-side, and wreaths on one’s coffin.

[Walks a few steps.]

The hussy; — she was on the very verge
of turning my head clean topsy-turvy.
May I be a troll if I understand
what it was that dazed and bemused me so.
Well; it’s well that’s done: had the joke been carried
but one step on, I’d have looked absurd. —
I have erred; — but at least it’s a consolation
that my error was due to the false situation.
It wasn’t my personal self that fell.
’Twas in fact this prophetical way of life,
so utterly lacking the salt of activity,
that took its revenge in these qualms of bad taste.
It’s a sorry business this prophetising!
One’s office compels one to walk in a mist;
in playing the prophet, you throw up the game
the moment you act like a rational being.
In so far I’ve done what the occasion demanded,
in the mere fact of paying my court to that goose.
But, nevertheless —

[Bursts out laughing.]

Hm, to think of it now!
To try to make time stop by jigging and dancing,
and to cope with the current by capering and prancing!
To thrum on the lute-strings, to fondle and sigh,
and end, like a rooster — by getting well plucked!
Such conduct is truly prophetic frenzy. —
Yes, plucked! — Phew! I’m plucked clean enough indeed.
Well, well, I’ve a trifle still left in reserve;
I’ve a little in America, a little in my pocket;
so I won’t be quite driven to beg my bread. —
And at bottom this middle condition is best.
I’m no longer a slave to my coachman and horses;
I haven’t to fret about postchaise or baggage;
I am master, in short, of the situation. —
What path should I choose? Many paths lie before me;
and a wise man is known from a fool by his choice.
My business life is a finished chapter;
my love-sports, too, are a cast-off garment.
I feel no desire to live back like a crab.
“Forward or back, and it’s just as far;
out or in, and it’s just as strait,”—
so I seem to have read in some luminous work. —
I’ll try something new, then; ennoble my course;
find a goal worth the labour and money it costs.
Shall I write my life without dissimulation —
a book for guidance and imitation?
Or stay —! I have plenty of time at command; —
what if, as a travelling scientist,
I should study past ages and time’s voracity?
Ay, sure enough; that is the thing for me!
Legends I read e’en in childhood’s days,
and since then I’ve kept up that branch of learning. —
I will follow the path of the human race!
Like a feather I’ll float on the stream of history,
make it all live again, as in a dream —
see the heroes battling for truth and right,
as an onlooker only, in safety ensconced —
see thinkers perish and martyrs bleed,
see empires founded and vanish away —
see world-epochs grow from their trifling seeds;
in short, I will skim off the cream of history. —
I must try to get hold of a volume of Becker,
and travel as far as I can by chronology. —
It’s true-my grounding’s by no means thorough,
and history’s wheels within wheels are deceptive; —
but pooh; the wilder the starting-point,
the result will oft be the more original. —
How exalting it is, now, to choose a goal,
and drive straight for it, like flint and steel!

[With quiet emotion.]

To break off all round one, on every side,
the bonds that bind one to home and friends —
to blow into atoms one’s hoarded wealth —
to bid one’s love and its joys good-night —
all simply to find the arcana of truth —

[Wiping a tear from his eye.]

that is the test of the true man of science! —
I feel myself happy beyond all measure.
Now I have fathomed my destiny’s riddle.
Now ’tis but persevering through thick and thin!
It’s excusable, sure, if I hold up my head,
and feel my worth, as the man, Peer Gynt,
also called Human — life’s Emperor. —
I will own the sum-total of bygone days;
I’ll nevermore tread in the paths of the living.
The present is not worth so much as a shoe-sole;
all faithless and marrowless the doings of men;
their soul has no wings and their deeds no weight;

[Shrugs his shoulders.]

and women — ah, they are a worthless crew!

[Goes off.]

Scene Tenth

[A summer day. Far up in the North. A hut in the forest. The door, with a large wooden bar, stands open. Reindeer-horns over it. A flock of goats by the wall of the hut.]

[A MIDDLE–AGED WOMAN, fair-haired and comely, sits spinning outside in the sunshine.]

The Woman [glances down the path, and sings]

Maybe both the winter and spring will pass by,
and the next summer too, and the whole of the year; —
but thou wilt come one day, that know I full well;
and I will await thee, as I promised of old.

[Calls the goats, and sings again.]

God strengthen thee, whereso thou goest in the world!
God gladden thee, if at his footstool thou stand!
Here will I await thee till thou comest again;
and if thou wait up yonder, then there we’ll meet, my friend!

Scene Eleventh

[In Egypt. Daybreak. MEMNON’S STATUE amid the sands.]

[PEER GYNT enters on foot, and looks around him for a while.]

Peer Gynt

Here I might fittingly start on my wanderings. —
So now, for a change, I’ve become an Egyptian;
but Egyptian on the basis of the Gyntish I.
To Assyria next I will bend my steps.
To begin right back at the world’s creation
would lead to nought but bewilderment.
I will go round about all the Bible history;
its secular traces I’ll always be coming on;
and to look, as the saying goes, into its seams,
lies entirely outside both my plan and my powers.

[Sits upon a stone.]

Now I will rest me, and patiently wait
till the statue has sung its habitual dawn-song.
When breakfast is over, I’ll climb up the pyramid;
if I’ve time, I’ll look through its interior afterwards.
Then I’ll go round the head of the Red Sea by land;
perhaps I may hit on King Potiphar’s grave. —
Next I’ll turn Asiatic. In Babylon I’ll seek for
the far-renowned harlots and hanging gardens —
that’s to say, the chief traces of civilisation.
Then at one bound to the ramparts of Troy.
From Troy there’s a fareway by sea direct
across to the glorious ancient Athens; —
there on the spot will I, stone by stone,
survey the Pass that Leonidas guarded.
I will get up the works of the better philosophers,
find the prison where Socrates suffered, a martyr —;
oh no, by-the-bye-there’s a war there at present —!
Well then, my Hellenism must even stand over.

[Looks at his watch.]

It’s really too bad, such an age as it takes
for the sun to rise. I am pressed for time.
Well then, from Troy — it was there I left off —

[Rises and listens.]

What is that strange sort of murmur that’s rushing —?


Memnon’s Statue [sings]

From the demigod’s ashes there soar, youth-renewing,
birds ever singing.
Zeus the Omniscient
shaped them contending
Owls of wisdom,
my birds, where do they slumber?
Thou must die if thou rede not
the song’s enigma!


How strange now — I really fancied there came
from the statue a sound. Music, this, of the Past.
I heard the stone — accents now rising, now sinking. —
I will register it, for the learned to ponder.

[Notes in his pocket-book.]

“The statue did sing. I heard the sound plainly,
but didn’t quite follow the text of the song.
The whole thing, of course, was hallucination. —
Nothing else of importance observed to-day.”

[Proceeds on his way.]

Scene Twelfth

[Near the village of Gizeh. The great SPHINX carved out of the rock. In the distance the spires and minarets of Cairo.]

[PEER GYNT enters; he examines the SPHINX attentively, now through his eyeglass, now through his hollowed hand.]

Peer Gynt

Now, where in the world have I met before
something half forgotten that’s like this hobgoblin?
For met it I have, in the north or the south.
Was it a person? And, if so, who?
That Memnon, it afterwards crossed my mind,
was like the Old Men of the Dovre, so called,
just as he sat there, stiff and stark,
planted on end on the stumps of pillars. —
But this most curious mongrel here,
this changeling, a lion and woman in one —
does he come to me, too, from a fairy-tale,
or from a remembrance of something real?
From a fairy-tale? Ho, I remember the fellow!
Why, of course it’s the Boyg, that I smote on the skull —
that is, I dreamt it — I lay in fever. —

[Going closer.]

The self-same eyes, and the self-same lips; —
not quite so lumpish; a little more cunning;
but the same, for the rest, in all essentials. —
Ay, so that’s it, Boyg; so you’re like a lion
when one sees you from behind and meets you in the daytime!
Are you still good at riddling? Come, let us try.
Now we shall see if you answer as last time!

[Calls out towards the SPHINX.]

Hei, Boyg, who are you?

A Voice [behind the SPHINX]

Ach, Sphinx, wer bist du?


What! Echo answers in German! How strange!

The Voice

Wer bist du?


It speaks it quite fluently too!
That observation is new, and my own.

[Notes in his book.]

“Echo in German. Dialect, Berlin.”



A man!


Oh, then it was he that was chattering.

[Notes again.]

“Arrived in the sequel at other results.”

Begriffenfeldt [with all sorts of restless antics]

Excuse me, mein Herr —! Eine Lebensfrage —!
What brings you to this place precisely to-day?


A visit. I’m greeting a friend of my youth.


What? The Sphinx —?

PEER [nods]

Yes, I knew him in days gone by.


Famos! — And that after such a night!
My temples are hammering as though they would burst!
You know him, man! Answer! Say on! Can you tell
what he is?


What he is? Yes, that’s easy enough.
He’s himself.

Begriffenfeldt [with a bound]

Ha, the riddle of life lightened forth
in a flash to my vision! — It’s certain he is


Yes, he says so, at any rate.


Himself! Revolution! thine hour is at hand!

[Takes off his hat.]

Your name, pray, mein Herr?


I was christened Peer Gynt.

Begriffenfeldt [in rapt admiration]

Peer Gynt! Allegoric! I might have foreseen it. —
Peer Gynt? That must clearly imply: The Unknown —
the Comer whose coming was foretold to me —


What, really? And now you are here to meet —?


Peer Gynt! Profound! Enigmatic! Incisive!
Each word, as it were, an abysmal lesson!
What are you?

Peer [modestly]

I’ve always endeavoured to be
myself. For the rest, here’s my passport, you see.


Again that mysterious word at the bottom.

[Seizes him by the wrist.]

To Cairo! The Interpreters’ Kaiser is found!




Come on!


Am I really known —?

Begriffenfeldt [dragging him away]

The Interpreters’ Kaiser — on the basis of Self!

Scene Thirteenth

[In Cairo. A large courtyard, surrounded by high walls and buildings. Barred windows; iron cages.]

[THREE KEEPERS in the courtyard. A FOURTH comes in.]

The New-comer

Schafmann, say, where’s the director gone?

A Keeper

He drove out this morning some time before dawn.

The First

I think something must have occurred to annoy him;
for last night —


Hush, be quiet; he’s there at the door!

[BEGRIFFENFELDT leads PEER GYNT in, locks the gate, and puts the key in his pocket.]

Peer [to himself]

Indeed an exceedingly gifted man;
almost all that he says is beyond comprehension.

[Looks around.]

So this is the Club of the Savants, eh?


Here you will find them, every man jack of them; —
the group of Interpreters threescore and ten;
it’s been lately increased by a hundred and sixty —

[Shouts to the KEEPERS.]

Mikkel, Schlingelberg, Schafmann, Fuchs —
into the cages with you at once!

The Keepers



Who else, pray? Get in, get in!
When the world twirls around, we must twirl with it too.

[Forces them into a cage.]

He’s arrived this morning, the mighty Peer; —
the rest you can guess — I need say no more.

[Locks the cage door, and throws the key into a well.]


But, my dear Herr Doctor and Director, pray —?


Neither one nor the other! I was before —
Herr Peer, are you secret? I must ease my heart —

Peer [with increasing uneasiness]

What is it?


Promise you will not tremble.


I will do my best, but —

Begriffenfeldt [draws him into a corner, and whispers]

The Absolute Reason
departed this life at eleven last night.


God help me —!


Why, yes, it’s extremely deplorable.
And as I’m placed, you see, it is doubly unpleasant;
for this institution has passed up to now
for what’s called a madhouse.


A madhouse, ha!


Not now, understand!

Peer [softly, pale with fear]

Now I see what the place is!
And the man is mad; — and there’s none that knows it!

[Tries to steal away.]

Begriffenfeldt [following him]

However, I hope you don’t misunderstand me?
When I said he was dead, I was talking stuff.
He’s beside himself. Started clean out of his skin —
just like my compatriot Munchausen’s fox.


Excuse me a moment —

Begriffenfeldt [holding him back]

I meant like an eel; —
it was not like a fox. A needle through his eye; —
and he writhed on the wall —


Where can rescue be found!


A snick round his neck, and whip! out of his skin!


He’s raving! He’s utterly out of his wits!


Now it’s patent, and can’t be dissimulated,
that this from-himself-going must have for result
a complete revolution by sea and land.
The persons one hitherto reckoned as mad,
you see, became normal last night at eleven,
accordant with Reason in its newest phase.
And more, if the matter be rightly regarded,
it’s patent that, at the aforementioned hour,
the sane folks, so called, began forthwith to rave.


You mentioned the hour, sir, my time is but scant —


Your time, did you say? There you jog my remembrance!

[Opens a door and calls out.]

Come forth all! The time that shall be is proclaimed!
Reason is dead and gone; long live Peer Gynt!


Now, my dear good fellow —!

[The LUNATICS come one by one, and at intervals, into the courtyard.]


Good morning! Come forth,
and hail the dawn of emancipation!
Your Kaiser has come to you!




Of course!


But the honour’s so great, so entirely excessive —


Oh, do not let any false modesty sway you
at an hour such as this.


But at least give me time —!
No, indeed, I’m not fit; I’m completely dumbfounded!


A man who has fathomed the Sphinx’s meaning!
A man who’s himself!


Ay, but that’s just the rub.
It’s true that in everything I am myself;
but here the point is, if I follow your meaning,
to be, so to phrase it, outside oneself.


Outside? No, there you are strangely mistaken!
It’s here, sir, that one is oneself with a vengeance;
oneself, and nothing whatever besides.
We go, full sail, as our very selves.
Each one shuts himself up in the barrel of self,
in the self-fermentation he dives to the bottom —
with the self-bung he seals it hermetically,
and seasons the staves in the well of self.
No one has tears for the other’s woes;
no one has mind for the other’s ideas.
We’re our very selves, both in thought and tone,
ourselves to the spring-board’s uttermost verge —
and so, if a Kaiser’s to fill the throne,
it is clear that you are the very man.


O would that the devil —!


Come, don’t be cast down;
almost all things in nature are new at the first.
“Oneself;”— come, here you shall see an example;
I’ll choose you at random the first man that comes

[To a gloomy figure.]

Good-day, Huhu! Well, my boy, wandering round
for ever with misery’s impress upon you?


Can I help it, when the people,
race by race, dies untranslated?


You’re a stranger; will you listen?

Peer [bowing]

Oh, by all means!


Lend your ear then. —
Eastward far, like brow-borne garlands,
lie the Malabarish seaboards.
Hollanders and Portugueses
compass all the land with culture.
There, moreover, swarms are dwelling
of the pure-bred Malabaris.
These have muddled up the language,
they now lord it in the country. —
But in long-departed ages
there the orang-outang was ruler.
He, the forest’s lord and master,
freely fought and snarled in freedom.
As the hand of nature shaped him,
just so grinned he, just so gaped he.
He could shriek unreprehended;
he was ruler in his kingdom. —
Ah, but then the foreign yoke came,
marred the forest-tongue primeval.
Twice two hundred years of darkness
brooded o’er the race of monkeys;
and, you know, nights so protracted
bring a people to a standstill. —
Mute are now the wood-notes primal;
grunts and growls are heard no longer; —
if we’d utter our ideas,
it must be by means of language.
What constraint on all and sundry!
Hollanders and Portugueses,
half-caste race and Malabaris,
all alike must suffer by it. —
I have tried to fight the battle
of our real, primal wood-speech —
tried to bring to life its carcass —
proved the people’s right of shrieking —
shrieked myself, and shown the need of
shrieks in poems for the people. —
Scantly, though, my work is valued. —
Now I think you grasp my sorrow.
Thanks for lending me a hearing; —
have you counsel, let me hear it!

Peer [softly]

It is written: Best be howling
with the wolves that are about you.


Friend, if I remember rightly,
there are bushes in Morocco,
where orang-outangs in plenty
live with neither bard nor spokesman; —
their speech sounded Malabarish; —
it was classical and pleasing.
Why don’t you, like other worthies,
emigrate to serve your country?


Thanks for lending me a hearing; —
I will do as you advise me.

[With a large gesture.]

East! thou hast disowned thy singer!
West! thou hast orang-outangs still!



Well, was he himself? I should rather think so.
He’s filled with his own affairs, simply and solely.
He’s himself in all that comes out of him —
himself, just because he’s beside himself.
Come here! Now I’ll show you another one,
who’s no less, since last evening, accordant with Reason.

[To a FELLAH, with a mummy on his back.]

King Apis, how goes it, my mighty lord?

The Fellah [wildly, to PEER GYNT]

Am I King Apis?

Peer [getting behind the DOCTOR]

I’m sorry to say
I’m not quite at home in the situation;
but I certainly gather, to judge by your tone —

The Fellah

Now you too are lying.


Your Highness should state
how the whole matter stands.

The Fellah

Yes, I’ll tell him my tale.

[Turns to PEER GYNT.]

Do you see whom I bear on my shoulders?
His name was King Apis of old.
Now he goes by the title of mummy,
and withal he’s completely dead.
All the pyramids yonder he builded,
and hewed out the mighty Sphinx,
and fought, as the Doctor puts it,
with the Turks, both to rechts and links.
And therefore the whole of Egypt
exalted him as a god,
and set up his image in temples,
in the outward shape of a bull. —
But I am this very King Apis,
I see that as clear as day;
and if you don’t understand it,
you shall understand it soon.
King Apis, you see, was out hunting,
and got off his horse awhile,
and withdrew himself unattended
to a part of my ancestor’s land.
But the field that King Apis manured
has nourished me with its corn,
and if further proofs are demanded,
know, I have invisible horns.
Now, isn’t it most accursed
that no one will own my might!
By birth I am Apis of Egypt,
but a fellah in other men’s sight.
Can you tell me what course to follow? —
then counsel me honestly. —
The problem is how to make me
resemble King Apis the Great.


Build pyramids then, your highness,
and carve out a greater Sphinx,
and fight, as the Doctor puts it,
with the Turks, both to rechts and links.

The Fellah

Ay, that is all mighty fine talking!
A fellah! A hungry louse!
I, who scarcely can keep my hovel
clear even of rats and mice.
Quick, man — think of something better,
that’ll make me both great and safe,
and further, exactly like to
King Apis that’s on my back!


What if your highness hanged you,
and then, in the lap of earth,
’twixt the coffin’s natural frontiers,
kept still and completely dead.

The Fellah

I’ll do it! My life for a halter!
To the gallows with hide and hair! —
At first there will be some difference,
but that time will smooth away.

[Goes off and prepares to hang himself.]


There’s a personality for you, Herr Peer —
a man of method —


Yes, yes; I see —;
but he’ll really hang himself! God grant us grace!
I’ll be ill; — I can scarcely command my thoughts!


A state of transition; it won’t last long.


Transition? To what? With your leave — I must go —

Begriffenfeldt [holding him]

Are you crazy?


Not yet —. Crazy? Heaven forbid!

[A commotion. The Minister HUSSEIN forces his way through the crowd.]


They tell me a Kaiser has come to-day.


It is you?

Peer [in desperation]

Yes, that is a settled thing!


Good. — Then no doubt there are notes to be answered?

Peer [tearing his hair]

Come on! Right you are, sir; — the madder the better!


Will you do me the honour of taking a dip?

[Bowing deeply.]

I am a pen.

Peer [bowing still deeper]

Why then I am quite clearly
a rubbishy piece of imperial parchment.


My story, my lord, is concisely this:
they take me for a sand-box, and I am a pen.


My story, Sir Pen, is, to put it briefly:
I’m a blank sheet of paper that no one will write on.


No man understands in the least what I’m good for;
they all want to use me for scattering sand with!


I was in a woman’s keeping a silver-clasped book; —
it’s one and the same misprint to be either mad or sane!

Hussein [with high leap]

Just fancy, what an exhausting life:
to be a pen and never taste the edge of a knife!


Just fancy, for a reindeer to leap from on high —
to fall and fall — and never feel the ground beneath your


A knife! I am blunt; — quick, mend me and slit me!
The world will go to ruin if they don’t mend my point for me!!


A pity for the world which, like other self-made things,
was reckoned by the Lord to be so excellently good.


Here’s a knife!

Hussein [seizing it]

Ah, how I shall lick up the ink now!
Oh, what rapture to cut oneself!

[Cuts his throat.]

Begriffenfeldt [stepping aside]

Pray do not sputter.

Peer [in increasing terror]

Hold him!


Ay, hold me! That is the word!
Hold! Hold the pen! On the desk with the paper —!


I’m outworn. The postscript — remember it, pray:
He lived and he died as a fate-guided pen!

Peer [dizzily]

What shall I—! What am I? Thou mighty — hold fast!
I am all that thou wilt — I’m a Turk, I’m a sinner —
a hill-troll —; but help; — there was something that burst —!


I cannot just hit on thy name at the moment; —
oh, come to my aid, thou — all madmen’s protector!

[Sinks down insensible.]

Begriffenfeldt [with a wreath of straw in his hand, gives a bound and sits astride of him]

I cannot Ha! See him in the mire enthroned; —
beside himself —! To crown him now!
Long life, long life to Self-hood’s Kaiser!

Schafmann [in the cage]

Es lebe hoch der grosse Peer!

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56