MRS. PATRICK CAMPBELL
who in the generosity of her genius has played my Deirdre in Dublin and London with the Abbey Company, as well as with her own people, and
in memory of
who designed the beautiful scene and played it in.
Persons in the Play:
Fergus, an old man
Naoise, a young king
Deirdre, his queen
A Dark-Faced Messenger
Conchubar, the old king of Uladh, who is still strong and vigorous
A Dark-Faced Executioner
A Guest-house in a wood. It is a rough house of timber; through the doors and some of the windows one can see the great spaces of the wood, the sky dimming, night closing in. But a window to the left shows the thick leaves of a coppice; the landscape suggests silence and loneliness. There is a door to right and left, and through the side windows one can see anybody who approaches either door, a moment before he enters. In the centre, a part of the house is curtained off; the curtains are drawn. There are unlighted torches in brackets on the walls. There is, at one side, a small table with a chess-board and chessmen upon it. At the other side of the room there is a brazier with a fire; two women, with musical instruments beside them, crouch about the brazier: they are comely women of about forty. Another woman, who carries a stringed instrument, enters hurriedly; she speaks, at first standing at the doorway.
First Musician: I have a story right, my wanderers,
That has so mixed with fable in our songs
That all seemed fabulous. We are come, by chance,
Into King Conchubar’s country, and this house
Is an old guest-house for travellers
From the seashore to Conchubar’s royal house,
And there are certain hills among these woods
And there Queen Deirdre grew.
Second Musician: The famous queen
Who has been wandering with her lover Naoise
Somewhere beyond the edges og the world?
First Musician: (going nearer to the brazier): Some dozen years
Ago, King Conchubar found
A house upon a hillside in this wood,
And there a child with an old witch to nurse her,
And nobody to say if she were human,
Or of the gods, or anything at all
Of who she was or why she was hidden there,
But that she’d too much beauty for good luck.
He went up thither daily, till at last
She put in womanhood, and he lost peace,
And Deirdre’s tale began. The king was old.
A month or so before the marriage-day,
A young man, in the laughing scorn of his youth,
Naoisie, the son of Usna, climbed up there,
And having wooed, or, as some say, been wooed,
Carried her off.
Second Musician: The tale were well enough
Had it a finish.
First Musician: Hush! I have more to tell;
But gather close about that I may whisper
The secrets of a king.
Second Musician: There’s none to hear!
First Musician: I have been to Conchubar’s house and followed
A crowd of servants going out and in
With loads upon their heads; embroideries
To hang upon the walls, or new-mown rushes
To strew upon the floors, and came at length
To a great room.
Second Musician: Be silent; there are steps!
(Enter Fergus, an old man, who moves about from door to window excitedly through what follows.)
Fergus: I thought to find a message from the King.
You are musicians by these instruments,
And if as seems – for you are comely women –
You can praise love, you’ll have the best of luck, For there’ll be two, before the night is in,
That bargained for their love, and paid for it
All that men value. You have but the time
To weigh a happy music with a sad,
To find what is most pleasing to a lover,
Before the sun of Usna and his queen
Have passed this threshold!
First Musician: Deirdre and her man!
Fergus: I was to have found a message in this house,
And ran to meet it. Is there no messenger
From Conchubar to Fergus, son of Rogh?
First Musician: Are Deirdre and her lover tired of life?
Fergus: You are not of this country, or you’d know
That they are in my charge and all forgiven.
First Musician: We have no country but the roads of the world.
Fergus: Then you should know that all things change in the world,
And hatred turns to love and love to hate,
And even kings forgive.
First Musician: An old man’s love
Who casts no second line is hard to cure;
His jealousy is like his love.
Fergus: And that’s but true.
You have learned something in your wanderings.
He was so hard to cure that the whole court,
But I alone, thought it impossible;
Yet after I had urged it at all seasons,
I had my way, and all’s forgiven now;
And you shall speak the welcome and the joy
That I lack tongue for.
First Musician: Yet old men are jealous.
Fergus (going to door): I am Conchubar’s near friend, and that weighed somewhat,
And it was policy to pardon them,
The need of some young, famous, popular man
To lead the troops, the murmur of the crowd,
And his own natural impulse, urged him to it.
They have been wandering half a dozen years.
First Musician: And yet old men are jealous.
Fergus (coming from door): Sing the more sweetly
Because, though age is arid as a bone,
This man has flowered. I’ve need of music, too;
If this grey head would suffer no reproach,
I’d dance and sing –
(Dark-faced men, with strange, barbaric dress and arms begin to pass by the doors and windows. They pass one by one and in silence.)
and dance till the hour ran out,
Because I have accomplished this good deed.
First Musician: Look there – there at the window, those dark men,
With murderous and outlandish-looking arms –
There’ve been about the house all day.
Fergus (looking after them): What are you?
Where do you come from, who is it sent you here?
First Musician: They will not answer you.
Fergus: They do not hear.
First Musician: Forgive my open speech, but to these eyes
That have seen many lands they are such men
As kings will gather for a murderous task
That neither bribes, commands, nor promises
Can bring their people do.
Fergus: And that is why
You harped upon an old man’s jealousy.
A trifle sets you quaking. Conchubar’s fame
Brings merchandise on every wind that blows.
They may have brought him Libyan dragon-skin,
Or the ivory of the fierce unicorn.
First Musician: If these be merchants, I have seen the goods
They have brought to Conchubar, and understood
His murderous purpose.
Fergus: Murderous, you say?
Why, what new gossip of the roads is this?
But I’ll not hear.
First Musician: It may be life or death.
There is a room in Conchubar’s house, and there –
Fergus: Be silent, or I’ll drive you from the door.
There’s many a one that would do more than that,
And make it prison, or death, or banishment
To slander the High King.
(Suddenly restraining himself and speaking gently.)
He is my friend;
I have his oath, and I am well content.
I have known his mind as if it were my own
These many years, and there is none alive
Shall buzz against him, and I there to stop it.
I know myself, and him, and your wild thought
Fed on extravagant poetry, and lit
By such a dazzle of old fabulous tales
That common things are lost, and all that’s strange
Is true because ‘twere pity if it were not.
(Going to the door again.)
Quick! Quick! Your instruments! They are coming now.
I hear the hoofs a-clatter. Begin that song!
But what is it to be? I’d have them hear
A music foaming up out of the house
Like wine out of a cup. Come now, a verse
Of some old time not worth remembering,
And all the lovelier because a bubble.
Begin, begin, of some old king and queen,
Of Lugaidh Redstripe or another; no, not him,
He and his lady perished wretchedly.
First Musician (singing):
“Why is it”, Queen Edain said,
If I do but climb the stair…”
Fergus: Ah! That is better… They are alighted now.
Shake all your cockscombs, children;
these are lovers.
(Fergus goes out.)
“Why is it”, Queen Edain said,
If I do but climb the stair
To the tower overhead,
When the winds are calling there,
Or the gannets calling out
In waste places of the sky,
There’s so much to think about
That I cry, that I cry?”
Second Musician: But her goodman answered her:
“Love would be a thing of naught
Had not all his limbs a stir
Born out of immoderate thought;
Were be anything by half,
Were his measure running dry.
Lovers, if they may not laugh,
Have to cry, have to cry.”
(Deirdre, Naoise, and Fergus have been seen for a moment through the windows, but now they have entered.)
The Three Musicians (together):
But is Edain worth a song
Now the haunts begin anew?
Praise the beautiful and strong;
Praise the redness of the yew;
Praise the blossoming apple-stem.
But our silence had been wise.
What is all our praise to them
That have one another’s eyes?
Deirdre: Silence your music, though i thank you for it;
But the wind’s blown upon my hair, and I
Must set the jewels on my neck and head
For one that’s coming.
Naoise: Your colour has all gone
As ‘twere with fear, and there’s no cause for that.
Deirdre: These women have the raddle that they use
To make them brave and confident, although
Dread, toil, or cold may chill the blood o’ their cheeks.
You’ll help me, women. It is my husband’s will
I show my trust in one that may be here
Before the mind can call the colour up.
My husband took these rubies from a king
Of Surracha that was so murderous
He seemed all glittering dragon. Now wearing them
Myself wars on myself, for I myself –
That do my husband’s will, yet fear to do it –
Grow dragonish to myself.
(The women have gathered about her. Naoise has stood looking at her, but Fergus brings him to the chess-table.)
Naoise: No messenger!
It’s strange that there is none to welcome us.
Fergus: King Conchubar has sent no messenger
Tat he may come himself.
Naoise: And being himself,
Being High King, he cannot break his faith.
I have his word and I must take this word,
Or prove myself unworthy of my nurture
Under a great man’s roof.
Fergus: We’ll play at chess
Till the King comes. It is but natural
That she would doubt about him, for her house had been
The hole of the badger and the den of fox.
Naoise: If I had not Conchubar’s word I’d think
That chess-board ominous.
Fergus: How can a board
That has been lying there these many years
Be lucky or unlucky?
Naoise: It is the board
Where Lugaidh Redstripe and that wife of his,
Who had a seamew’s body half the year,
Played at the chess upon the night they died.
Fergus: I can remember now, a tale of treachery,
A broken promise and a journey’s end –
But it were best forgot.
(Deirdre has been standing with the women about her. They have been helping her to put on her jewels and to put the pigment on her cheeks and arrange her hair. She has gradually grown attentive to what Fergus is saying.)
Naoise: If the tale’s true,
When it was plain that they had been betrayed,
They moved the men and waited for the end
As it were bedtime, and had so quiet mends
They hardly winked their eyes when the sword flashed.
Fergus: She never could have played so, being a woman,
If she had not the cold sea’s blood on her.
Deirdre: The gods turn clouds and casual accidents
Naoise: It would but ill become us,
Now that King Conchubar has pledged his word,
Should we be startled by a cloud or a shadow.
Deirdre: There’s none to welcome us.
Naoise: Being his guest,
Words that would wrong him can but
Deirdre: An empty house upon the journey’s end!
Is that the way a king that means no mischief
Honours a guest?
Naoise: He is but making ready
A welcome in his house, arranging where
The moorhen and the mallard go, and where
The speckled heathcock on a golden dish.
Deirdre: Had he no messenger?
Naoise: Such words are fears
Wrong this old man who’s pledged his word to us.
We must not speak or think as women do,
That when the house is all abed sit up
Marking among the ashes with a stick
Till they are terrified. – Being what we are
We must meet all things with an equal mind.
(To Fergus.) Come, let us look if there’s a messenger
From Conchubar. We cannot see from this
Because we are blinded by the leaves and twigs,
But it may be the wood will thin again.
It is but kind that when the lips we love
Speak words that are unfitting for king’s ears
Our ears be deaf.
Fergus: But now I had to threaten
These wanderers because they would have weighed
Some crazy fantasy of their own brain
Or gossip of the road with Conchubar’s word.
If I had thought so little of mankind
I never could have moved him to this pardon.
I have believed the best of every man,
And find that to believe it is enough
To make a bad man show him at his best,
Or even a good man swing his lantern higher.
(Naoise and Fergus go out. The last words are spoken as they go through the door. One can see them through part of what follows, either through door or window. They move about, talking or looking along the road towards Conchubar’s house.)
First Musician: If anything lies heavy on your heart,
Speak freely of it, knowing it is certain
That you will never see my face again.
Deirdre: You’ve been in love?
First Musician: If you would speak of love
Speak freely of it. There is nothing in the world
That has been friendly to us but the kisses
That were upon our lips, and when we are old
Their memory will be all the life we have.
Deirdre: There was a man that loved me. He was old:
I could not love him. Now I can but fear.
He has made promises, and brought me home;
But though I turn it over in my thoughts,
I cannot tell if they are sound and wholesome,
Or hackles on the hook.
First Musician: I heard he loved you
As some old miser loves the dragon-stone
He hides among the cobwebs near the roof.
Deirdre: You mean that when a man who has loved like that
Is after crossed, love drowns in its own flood,
And that love drowned and floating is but hate;
And that a king who hates sleeps ill at night
Till he has killed; and that, though the day laughs,
We shall be dead at cock-crow.
First Musician: You’ve not my thought.
When I lost one I loved distractedly,
I blamed my crafty rival and not him,
And fancied, till my passion had run out,
That could I carry him away with me,
And tell him all my love, I’d keep him yet.
Deirdre: Ah! Now I catch your meaning, that this king
Will murder Naoise, and keep me alive.
First Musician: ‘Tis you that put that meaning upon words
Spoken at random.
Deirdre: Wanderers like you,
Who have their wit alone to keep their lives,
Speak nothing that is bitter to the ear
At random; if they hint at it at all
Their eyes and ears have gathered it so lately
That it is crying out in them for speech.
First Musician: We have little that is certain.
Deirdre: Certain or not,
Speak it out quickly, I beseech you to it;
I never have met any of your kind
But that I gave them money, food and fire.
First Musician: There are strange, miracle-working, wicked stones,
Men tear out of the heart and the hot brain
Of Libyan dragons.
Deirdre: The hot Istain stone,
And the cold stone of Fanes, that have power
To stir even those at enmity to love.
First Musician: They have so great an influence, if but sewn
In the embroideries that curtain in
The bridal bed.
Deirdre: O Mover of the stars
That made this delicate house of ivory,
And made my soul its mistress, keep it safe!
First Musician: I have seen a bridal bed, so curtained in,
So decked for miracle in Conchubar’s house,
And learned that a bride’s coming.
Deirdre: And I the bride?
Here is worse treachery than the seamew suffered,
For she but died and mixed into the dust
Of her dear comrade, but I am to live
And lie in the one bed with him I hate.
Where is Naoise? I was not alone like this
When Conchubar first chose me for his wife;
I cried in sleeping or waking and he came,
But now there is worse need.
Naoise (entering with Fergus): Why have you called?
I was but standing there, without the door.
Deirdre: I have heard terrible mysterious things,
Magical horrors and the spells of wizards.
Fergus: Why, that’s no wonder. You have been listening
To singers of the roads that gather up
The stories of the world.
Deirdre: But I have one
To make the stories of the world but nothing.
Naoise: Be silent if it is against the King
Whose guest you are.
Deirdre: No, let her speak it out.
I know the High King’s heart as it were my own,
And can refute a slander, but already
I have warned these women that it may be death
Naoise: I will not weigh the gossip of the roads
With the King’s word. I ask you pardon for her:
She has the heart of the wild birds that fear
The net of the fowler or the wicker cage.
Deirdre: Am I to see the fowler and the cage
And speak no word at all?
Naoise: You would have known,
Had they not bred you in that mountainous place,
That when we give a word and take a word
Sorrow is put away, past wrong forgotten.
Deirdre: Though death may come of it?
Naoise: Though death may come.
Deirdre: When first we came into this empty house
You had foreknowledge of our death, and even
When speaking of the paleness of my cheek
Your own cheek blanched.
Naoise: listen to this old man.
He can remember all the promises
We trusted to.
Deirdre: You speak from the lips out,
And I am pleading for your life and mine.
Naoise: Listen to this old man, for many think
He has a golden tongue.
Deirdre: Then I will say
What it were best to carry to the grave.
Look at my face where the leaf raddled it
And at these rubies on my hair and breast.
It was for him, to stir him to desire,
I put on beauty; yes, for Conchubar.
Naoise: What frenzy put these words into your mouth?
Deirdre: No frenzy, for what need is there for frenzy
To change what shifts with every change of the wind,
Or else there is no truth in men’s old sayings?
Was I not born a woman?
Naoise: You are mocking me.
Deirdre: And is there mockery in this face and eyes,
Or in this body, in these limbs that brought
So many mischiefs? Look at me and say
If that that shakes my limbs be mockery.
Naoise: What woman is there that a man can trust
But at the moment when he kisses her
At the first midnight?
Deirdre: Were it not most strange
That woman should put evil in men’s hearts
And lack it in themselves? And yet I think
That being half good I might change round again
Were we aboard our ship and on the sea.
Naoise: We’ll to the horses and take ship again.
Fergus: Fool, she but seeks to rouse your jealousy
With crafty words.
Deirdre: Were we not born to wander?
These jewels have been reaped by the innocent sword
Upon a mountain, and a mountain bred me;
But who can tell what change can come to love
Among the valleys? I speak no falsehood now.
Away to windy summits, and there mock
The night-jar and the valley-keeping bird!
Fergus: Men blamed you that you stirred a quarrel up
That has brought death to many. I have nade peace,
Poured water on the fire, but if you fly
King Conchubar may think that he is mocked
And the house blaze again: and in what quarter,
If Conchubar were the treacherous man you think,
Would you find safety now that you have come
Into the very middle of his power,
Under his very eyes?
Deirdre: Under his eyes
And in the very middle of his power!
Then there is but one way to make all safe:
I’ll spoil this beauty that brought misery
And houseless wandering on the man I loved.
These wanderers will show me how to do it;
To clip this hair to baldness, blacken my skin
With walnut juice, and tear my face with briars.
O that the creatures of the woods had torn
My body with their claws!
Fergus: What, wilder yet!
Deirdre (to Naoise): Whatever were to happen to my face
I’d be myself, and there’s not any way
But this to bring all trouble to an end.
Naoise: Leave the gods’ handiwork unblotched, and wait
For their decision, our decision is past.
(A dark-faced Messenger comes to the threshold.)
Fergus: Peace, peace; the messenger is at the door;
He stands upon the threshold; he stands there;
He stands, King Conchubar’s purpose on his lips.
Messenger: Supper is on the table. Conchubar
Is waiting for his guests.
Fergus: All’s well again!
All’s well! All’s well! You cried your doubts so loud
That I had almost doubted.
Naoise: We had doubted him,
And he the while but busy in his house
For the more welcome.
Deirdre: The message is not finished.
Fergus: Come quickly. Conchubar will laugh, that I –
Although I held out boldly in my speech –
That I, even I –
Deirdre: Wait, wait! He is not done.
Messenger: Deirdre and Fergus, son of Rogh, are summoned;
But not the traitor that bore off the Queen.
It is enough that the King pardon her,
And call her to his table and his bed.
Naoise: So, then, it’s treachery.
Fergus: I’ll not believe it.
Naoise: Lead on and I will follow at your heels
That I may challenge him before his court
To match me there, or match me in some place
Where none can come between us but our swords,
For I have found no truth on any tongue
That’s not of iron.
Messenger: I’m Conchubar’s man,
I am content to serve an iron tongue:
That tongue commands that Fergus, son of Rogh,
And Deirdre come this night into his house,
And none but they.
(He goes, followed by Naoise.)
Fergus: Some rogue, some enemy,
Has bribed him to embroil us with the King;
I know that he has lied because I know
King Conchubar’s mind as it were my own,
But I’ll find out the truth.
(He is about to follow Naoise, but Deirdre stops him.)
Deirdre: No, no, old man.
You thought the best, and the worst came of it;
We listened to the counsel of the wise,
And so turned fools. But ride and bring your friends.
Go, and go quickly. Conchubar has not seen me;
It may be that his passion is asleep,
And that we may escape.
Fergus: But I’ll go first,
And follow up this Libyan heel, and send
Such words to Conchubar that he may know
At how great peril he lays hands upon you.
Naoise: The Libyan, knowing that a servant’s life
Is safe from hands like mine, but turned and mocked.
Fergus: I’ll call my friends, and call the reaping-hooks,
And carry you in safety to the ships.
My name has still some power. I will protect,
Or, if it is impossible, revenge.
(Goes out by the other door.)
Naoise (who is calm, like a man who has passed beyond life):
The crib has fallen and the birds are in it;
There is not one of the great oaks about us
But shades a hundred men.
Deirdre: Let’s out and die,
Or break away, if the chance favour us.
Naoise: That would but drag you from me, stained with blood.
Their barbarous weapons would but mar that beauty,
And I would have you die as a queen should –
In a death-chamber. You are in my charge.
We will wait here, and when they come upon us,
I’ll hold them from the doors, and when that’s over,
Give you a cleanly death with this grey edge.
Deirdre: I will stay here; but you go out and fight.
Our way of life has brought no friends to us,
And if we do not buy them leaving it,
We shall be ever friendless.
Naoise: What do they say?
That Lugaidh Redstripe and that wife of his
Sat at this chess-board, waiting for their end.
They knew that there was nothing that could save them,
And so played chess as they had any nightg
For years, and waited for the stroke of sword.
I never heard a death so out of reach
Of common hearts, a high and comely end.
What need have I, that gave up all for love,
To die like an old king out of a fable,
Fighting and passionate? What need is there
For all that ostentation at my setting?
I have loved truly and betrayed no man.
I need no lightning at the end, no beating
In a vain fury at the cage’s door.
(To Musicians.) Had you been here when that man and his queen
Played at so high a game, could you have found
An ancient poem for the praise of it?
It should have set out plainly that those two,
Because no man and woman have loved better,
Might sit on there contentedly, and weigh
The joy comes after. I have heard the seamew Sat there, with all the colour in her cheeks,
As though she’d say: “There’s nothing happening
But that a king and queen are playing chess.”
Deirdre: He’s in the right, though I have not been born
Of the cold, haughty waves, my veins been hot,
And though I have loved better than that queen,
I’ll have as quiet fingers on the board.
O, singing women, set it down in a book,
That love is all we need, even though it is
But the last drops we gather up like this;
And though the drops are all we have known of life,
For we have been most friendless – praise us for it,
And praise the double sunset, for naught’s lacking
But a good end to the long, cloudy day.
Naoise: Light torches there and drive the shadows out,
For day’s grey end comes up.
(A Musician lights a torch in the fire and then crosses before the chess-players, and slowly lights the torches in the sconces. The light is almost gone from the wood, but there is a clear evening light in the sky, increasing the sense of solitude and loneliness.)
Deirdre: Make no sad music.
What is it but a king and queen at chess?
They need a music that can mix itself
Into imagination, but not break
The steady thinking that the hard game needs.
(During the chess, The Musicians sin this song.)
Love is an immoderate thing
And can never be content
Till it dip an ageing wing
Where some laughing element
Leaps the Time’s old lanthorn dims.
What’s the merit in love-play,
In the tumult of the limbs
That dies out before ‘tis day,
Heart on heart, or mouth on mouth,
All that mingling of our breath,
When love-longing is but drouth
For the things come after death?
(During the last verses Deirdre rises from the board and kneels at Naoise’s feet.)
Deirdre: I cannot go on playing like that woman
That had but the cold blood of the sea in her veins.
Naoise: It is your move. Take up your man again.
Deirdre: Do you remember that first night in the woods
We lay all night on leaves, and looking up,
When the first grey of dawn awoke the birds,
Saw leaves above us? You thought that I still slept,
And bending down to kiss me on the eyes,
Found they were open. Bend and kiss me now,
For it may be the last before our death.
And when that’s over, we’ll be different;
Imperishable things, a cloud or a fire.
And I know nothing but this body, nothing
But that old vehement, bewildering kiss.
(Conchubar comes to the door.)
First Musician: Children, beware!
Naoise (laughing): He has taken up my challenge;
Whether I am a ghost or living man
When day has broken, I’ll forget the rest,
And say that there is kingly stuff in him.
(Turns to fetch spear and shield, and then sees that Conchubar has gone.)
First Musician: He came to spy upon you, not to fight.
Naoise: A prudent hunter, therefore, but no king.
He’d find if what has fallen in the pit
Were worth the hunting, but has come too near,
And I turn hunter. You’re not man, but beast.
Go scurry in the bushes, now, beast , beast,
For now it’s topsy-turvy, I upon you.
(He rushes out after Conchubar.)
Deirdre: You have a knife there, thrust into your girdle.
I’d have you give it me.
First Musician: No, but I dare not.
Deirdre: No, but you must.
First Musician: If harm should come to you,
They’d know I gave it.
Deirdre (snatching knife): There is no mark on this
To make it different from any other
Out of a common forge.
(Goes to the door and looks out.)
First Musician: You have taken it,
I did not give it to you; but there are times
When such a thing as all the friend one has.
Deirdre: The leaves hide all, and there’s no way to find
What path to follow. Why is there no sound?
(She goes from door to window.)
First Musician: Where would you go?
Deirdre: To strike a blow for Naoise,
If Conchubar call Libyans to his aid.
But why is there no clash? They have met by this!
First Musician: Listen. I am called wise. If Conchubar win,
You have a woman’s wile that can do much,
Even with men in pride of victory.
He is in love and old. What were one knife
Among a hundred?
Deirdre (going towards them): Women, if I die,
If Naoise die this night, how will you praise?
What words seek out? For that will stand to you;
For being but dead we shall have many friends.
All through your wanderings, the doors of kings
Shall be thrown wider open, the poor man’s hearth
Heaped with new turf, because you’re wearing this
(Gives Musician a bracelet.)
To show that you have Deirdre’s story right.
First Musician: Have you not been paid servants
in love’s house?
To sweep the ashes out and keep the doors?
And though you have suffered all for mere love’s sake
You’d live your lives again.
Deirdre: Even this last hour.
(Conchubar enters with dark-faced men.)
Conchubar: One woman and two men; that is the quarrel
That knows nom mending. Bring in the man she chose
Because of his beauty and the strength of youth.
(The dark-faced men drag in Naoise entangled in a net.)
Naoise: I have been taken like a bird or a fish.
Conchubar: He cried: “Beast, beast!” and in a blind-beast rage
He ran at me and fell into the nets,
But we were careful for your sake, and took him
With all the comeliness that woke desire
Unbroken in him. I being old and lenient,
I would not hurt a hair upon his head.
Deirdre: What do you say? Have you forgiven him?
Naoise: He is but mocking us. What’s left to say
Now that the seven years’ hunt is at an end?
Deirdre: He never doubted you until I made him,
And therefore all the blame for what he says
Should fall on me.
Conchubar: But his young blood is hot,
And if we’re of one mind, he shall go free,
And I ask nothing for it, or, if something,
Nothing I could not take. There is no king
In the wide world that, being so greatly wronged,
Could copy me, and give all vengeance up.
Although her marriage-day had all but come,
You carried her away; but I’ll show mercy.
Because you had the insolent strength of youth
You carried her away; but I’ve had time
To think it out through all these seven years.
I will show merci.
Naoise: You have many words.
Conchubar: I will not make a bargain; I but ask
What is already mine.
(Deirdre moves slowly towards Conchubar while he is speaking, her eyes fixed upon him.)
You may go free
If Deirdre will but walk into my house
Before the people’s eyes, that they may know,
When I have put the crown upon her head,
I have not taken her by force and guile.
The doors are open, and the floors are strewed
And in the bridal chamber curtains sewn
With all enchantments that give happiness
By races that are germane to the sun,
And nearest him, and have no blood in their veins –
For when they’re wounded the wound drips with wine –
Nor speech but singing. At the bridal door
Two fair king’s daughters carry in their hands
The crown and robe.
Deirdre: O no! Not that, not that!
Ask any other thing but that one thing.
Leave me with Naoise. We will go away
Into some country at the ends of the earth.
We’ll trouble you no more; and there is no one
That will not praise you if you pardon us.
“He’ is good, he is good”, they’ll say to one another;
“There’s nobody like him, for he forgave
Deirdre and Naoise.”
Conchubar: Do you think that I
Shall let you go again, after seven years
Of longing and of planning here and there,
And trafficking with merchants for the stones
That make all sure, and watching my own face
That none might read it?
Deirdre (to Naoise): It’s better to go with him.
Why should you die when one can bear it all?
My life is over; it’s better to obey.
Why should you die? I will not live long, Naoise.
I’d not have you believe I’d long stay living;
O no, no, no! You will go far away.
You will forget me. Speak, speak, Naoise, speak,
And say that it is better that I go.
I will not ask it. Do not speak a word,
For I will take it all upon myself.
Conchubar, I will go.
Naoise: And do you think
That, were I given life at such a price,
I would not cast it from me? O my eagle!
Why do you beat vain wings upon the rock
When hollow night’s above?
Deirdre: It’s better, Naoise.
It may be hard for you, but you’ll forget.
For what am I, to be remembered always?
And there are other women. There was one,
The daughter of the king of Leodas;
I could not sleep because of her. Speak to him;
Tell it out plain, and make him undrestand.
And if it be he thinks I shall stay living,
Say that I will not.
Naoise: Would I had lost life
Among those Scottish kings that sought it of me
Because you were my wife, or that the worst
Had taken you before this bargaining!
O eagle! If you were to do this thing,
And buy my life of Conchubar with your body,
Love’s law being broken, I would stand lone
Upon the eternal summits, and call out,
And could never come there, being banished.
Deirdre (kneeling to Conchubar): I would obey
But cannot. Pardon us.
I know that you are good. I have heard you praised
For giving gifts; and you will pardon us,
Although I cannot go into your house.
It was my fault. I only should be punished.
(Unseen by Deirdre, Naoise is gagged.)
The very moment these eyes fell on him,
I told him; I held out my hands to him;
How could he refuse? At first he would not –
I am not lying – he remembered you.
What do I say? My hands? – No, no, my lips –
For I had pressed my lips upon his lips –
I swear it is not false – my breast to his;
(Conchubar motions; Naoise, unseen by Deirdre, is taken behind the curtain.)
Until I woke the passion that’s in all,
And how could he resist? I had my beauty.
You may have need of him, a brave, strong man,
Who is not foolish at the council-board,
Nor does he quarrel by the candle-light
And give hard blows to dogs. A cup of wine
Moves him to mirth, not madness.
(She stands up.)
What am I saying?
You may have need of him, for you have none
Who is so good a sword, or so well loved
Among the common people. You may need him,
And what king knows when the hour of need may come?
You dream that you have men enough. You laugh.
Yes; you are laughing to yourself. You say,
“I am Conchubar – I have no need of him.”
You will cry out for him some day and say,
“If Naoise were but living” – (she misses Naoise) Where is he? Where have you sent him?
Where is the son of Usna?
Where is he, O, where is he?
(She staggers over to the Musicians. The Executioner has come out with a sword on which there is blood; Conchubar points to it. The Musiciand give a wail.)
Conchubar: The traitor who has carried off my wife
No longer lives. Come to my house now, Deirdre,
For he that called himself your husband’s dead.
Deirdre: O, do not touch me. Let me go to him.
King Conchubar is right. My husband’s dead.
A single woman is of no account,
Lacking array of servants, linen cupboards,
The bacon hanging – and King Conchubar’s house
All ready, too – I’ll to King Conchubar’s house.
It is but wisdom to do willingly
What has to be.
Conchubar: But why are you so calm?
I thought that you would curse me and cry out,
And fall upon the ground and tear your hair.
Deirdre (laughing): You know too much of women to think so;
Though, if I were less worthy of desire,
I would pretend as much; but being myself,
It is enough that you were master here.
Although we are so delicately made,
There’s something brutal in us, and we are won
By those who can shed blood. It was some woman
Who taught you how to woo: but do not touch me:
I shall do all you bid me, but not yet,
Because I have to do what’s customary.
We lay the dead out, folding up the hands,
Closing the eyes, and stretching out the feet,
And push a pillow underneath the head,
Till all’s in order; and all this I’ll do
For Naoise, son of Usna.
Conchubar: It is not fitting.
You are not now a wanderer, but a queen,
And there are plenty that can do these things.
Deirdre (motioning Conchubar away): No, no. Not yet. I cannot be your queen
Till the past’s finished, and its debts are paid.
When a man dies, and there are debts unpaid,
He wanders by the debtor’s bed and cries,
“There’s so much owing.”
Conchubar: You are deceiving me.
You long to look upon his face again.
Why should I give you now to a dead man
That took you from a living?
(He makes a step towards her.)
Deirdre: In good time
You’ll stir me to more passion that he could,
And yet, if you are wise, you’ll grant me this:
That I go look upon him that was once
So strong and comely and held his head so high
That women envied me. For I will see him
All blood-bedabbled and his beauty gone.
It’s better, when you’re beside me in your strength,
That the mind’s eye should call up the soiled body,
And not the shape I loved. Look at him, women.
He heard me pleading to be given up,
Although my lover was still living, and yet
He doubts my purpose. I will have you tell him
How changeable all women are; how soon
Even the best of lovers is forgot
When his day’s finished.
Conchubar: No, but I will trust
The strength that you have praised, and not your purpose.
Deirdre(almost with a caress): It is so small a gift and you will grant it
Because it is the first that I have asked.
He has refused. There is no sap in him;
Nothing but empty veins. I thought as much.
He has refused me the first thing I have asked –
Me, me, his wife. I understand him now;
I know the sort of life I’ll have with him;
But he must drag me to his house by force.
If he refuses (she laughs), he shall be mocked of all.
They’ll say to one another, “Look at him
That is so jealous that he lured a man
From over sea, and murdered him, and yet
He trembled at the thought of a dead face!
(She has her hand upon the curtain.)
Conchubar: How do I know that you have not some knife,
And go to die upon his body?
Deirdre: Have me searched,
If you would make so little of your queen.
It may be that I hid a knife hid here
Under my dress. Bid one of these dark slaves
To search me for it.
Conchubar: Go to your farewells, Queen.
Deirdre: Now strike the wire, and sing to it a while,
Knowing that all is happy, and that you know
Within what bride-bed I shall lie this night,
And by what man, and lie close up to him,
For the bed’s narrow, and there outsleep the cock-crow.
(She goes behind the curtain.)
First Musician: They are gone, they are gone. The proud may lie by the proud.
Second Musician: Though we were bidden to sing, cry nothing loud.
First Musician: They are gone, they are gone.
Second Musician: Whispering were enough.
First Musician: Into the secret wilderness of their love.
Second Musician: A high, grey cairn. What more is to be said?
First Musician: Eagles have gone into their cloudy bed.
(Shouting outside. Fergus enters. Many men with scythes and sickles and torches gather about the doors. The house is lit with the glare of their torches.)
Fergus: Where’s Naoise, son of Usna, and his queen?
I and a thousand reaping-hooks and scythes
Demand him of you.
Conchubar: You have come too late.
I have accomplished all. Deirdre is mine;
She is my queen, and no man now can rob me.
I had to climb the topmost bough, and pull
This apple among the wings. Open the curtain
That Fergus learn my triumph from her lips.
(The curtain is drawn back. The Musicians begin to keen with low voices.)
No, no; I’ll not believe it. She is not dead –
She cannot have escaped a second time!
Fergus: King, she is dead; but lay no hand upon her.
What’s this but empty cage and tangled wire,
Now the bird’s gone?
But I’ll not have you touch it.
Conchubar: You are all traitors, all against me – all.
And she has deceived me for a second time;
And every common man can keep his wife,
But not the King.
(Loud shouting outside: “Death to Conchubar!” “Where is Naoise?”, etc. The dark-faced men gather round Conchubar and draw their swords; but he motions them away.)
I have no need of weapons,
There’s not a traitor that dare stop my way.
Howl, if you will; but I, being King, did right
In choosing her most fitting to be Queen,
And letting no boy lover take the sway.