A ruined house and a bare tree in the background.
BOY: Half door, hall door
Hither and thither day and night
Hill or hollow, shouldering this pack.
Hearing you talk.
OLD MAN: Study that house.
I think about its jokes and stories;
I try to remember what the butler
Said to a drunken gamekeeper
In mid-October, but I cannot,
If I cannot, none living can.
Where are the jokes and stories of a house
Its threshold gone to patch a pig-sty?
BOY: So you have come this path before?
OLD MAN: The moonlight falls upon the path,
The shadow of a cloud upon the house
And that's symbolical; study that tree,
What is it like?
BOY: A silly old man.
OLD MAN: It's like—no matter what it's like.
I saw it a year ago stripped bare as now,
I saw it fifty years ago
Before the thunder-bolt had riven it,
Green leaves, ripe leaves, leaves thick as butter,
Fat, greasy life. Stand there and look,
Because there is somebody in that house.
[The boy puts down pack and stands in the doorway.]
BOY There's nobody here.
OLD MAN There's somebody there.
BOY The floor is gone, the windows gone,
And where there should be roof there's sky,
And here's a bit of an egg-shell thrown
Out of a jackdaw's nest.
OLD MAN But there are some
That do not care what's gone, what's left;
The souls in Purgatory that come back
To habitations and familiar spots.
BOY Your wits are out again.
OLD MAN Re-live
Their transgressions, and that not once
But many times, they know at last
The consequence of those transgressions
Whether upon others, or upon themselves;
Upon others, others may bring help
For when the consequence is at an end
The dream must end; upon themselves
There is no help but in themselves
And in the mercy of God
BOY I have had enough!
Talk to the jackdaws, if talk you must.
OLD MAN Stop! Sit there upon that stone.
That is the house where I was born.
BOY The big old house that was burnt down?
OLD MAN My mother that was your grand-dam owned it,
This scenery and this countryside,
Kennel and stable, horse and hound—
She had a horse at the Curragh,
and there met
My father, a groom in a training stable,
Looked at him and married him.
Her mother never spoke to her again,
And she did right.
BOY What's right and wrong?
My grand-dad got the girl and the money.
OLD MAN Looked at him and married him,
And he squandered everything she had.
She never knew the worst, because
She died in giving birth to me,
But now she knows it all, being dead.
Great people lived and died in this house;
Magistrates, colonels, members of Parliament,
Captains and Governors, and long ago
Men that had fought at Aughrim and the Boyne.
Some that had gone on government work
To London or to India, came home to die,
Or came from London every spring
To look at the May-blossom in the park.
They had loved the trees that he cut down
To pay what he had lost at cards
Or spent on horses, drink and women;
Had loved the house, had loved all
The intricate passages of the house,
But he killed the house; to kill a house
Where great men grew up, married, died,
I here declare a capital offence.
BOY My God, but you had luck. Grand clothes,
And maybe a grand horse to ride,
OLD MAN That he might keep me upon his level
He never sent me to school, but some
Half-loved me for my half of her,
A gamekeeper's wife taught me to read,
A Catholic curate taught me Latin.
There were old books and books made fine
By eighteenth century French binding, books
Modern and ancient, books by the ton.
BOY What education have you given me?
OLD MAN I gave the education that befits
A bastard that a pedlar got
Upon a tinker’s daughter in a ditch.
When I had come to sixteen years old
My father burned down the house when drunk.
BOY But that is my age, sixteen years old.
At the Puck Fair.
OLD MAN And everything was burnt;
Books, library, all were burnt.
BOY Is what I have heard upon the road the truth,
That you killed him in the burning house?
OLD MAN There's nobody here but our two selves?
BOY Nobody, Father.
OLD MAN I stuck him with a knife,
That knife that cuts my dinner now,
And after that I left him in the fire;
They dragged him out, somebody saw
The knife-wound but could not be certain
Because the body was all black and charred.
Then some that were his drunken friends
Swore they would put me upon trial,
Spoke of quarrels, a threat I had made.
The gamekeeper gave me some old clothes,
I ran away, worked here and there
Till I became a pedlar on the roads,
No good trade, but good enough
Because I am my father's son,
Because of what I did or may do.
Listen to the hoof beats! Listen, Listen!
BOY I cannot hear a sound.
OLD MAN Beat! Beat!
This night is the anniversary
Of my mother's wedding night,
Or of the night wherein I was begotten.
My father is riding from the public house
A whiskey bottle under his arm.
[A window is lit showing a young girl.]
Look at the window; she stands there
Listening, the servants are all in bed,
She is alone, he has stayed late
Bragging and drinking in the public house.
BOY There's nothing but an empty gap in the wall.
You have made it up. No, you are mad!
You are getting madder every day.
OLD MAN It’s louder now because he rides
Upon a gravelled avenue
All grass to-day. The hoof beat stops,
He has gone to the other side of the house,
Gone to the stable, put the horse up.
She has gone down to open the door.
This night she is no better than her man
And does not mind that he is half drunk,
She is mad about him. They mount the stairs
She brings him into her own chamber.
And that is the marriage chamber now.
The window is dimly lit again.
Do not let him touch you! It is not true
That drunken men cannot beget
And if he touch he must beget
And you must bear his murderer.
Deaf! Both deaf! If I should throw
A stick or stone they would not hear;
And that's a proof my wits are out.
But there's a problem: she must live
Through everything in exact detail,
Driven to it by remorse, and yet
Can she renew the sexual act
And find no pleasure in it, and if not,
If pleasure and remorse must both be there
Which is the greater?
I lack schooling.
Go fetch Tertullian; he and I
Will ravel all that problem out
Whilst those two lie upon the mattress
Come back! Come back!
And so you thought to slip away,
My bag of money between your fingers,
And that I could not talk and see!
You have been rummaging in the pack.
[The light in the window has faded out.]
BOY You never gave me my right share.
OLD MAN And had I given it, young as you are
You would have spent it upon drink.
BOY What if I did? I had a right
To get it and spend it as I chose.
OLD MAN Give me that bag and no more words.
BOY I will not.
OLD MAN I will break your fingers.
[They struggle for the bag. In the struggle it drops, scattering the
money. The OLD MAN staggers but does not fall. They stand
looking at each other.]
BOY What if I killed you? You killed my grand-dad
Because you were young and he was old.
Now I am young and you are old.
[A window is lit up, a man is seen pouring whiskey into a glass.]
OLD MAN [Staring at window.] Better looking, those sixteen years—
BOY What are you muttering?
OLD MAN Younger—and yet
She should have known he was not her kind.
BOY What are you saying? Out with it!
[OLD MAN points to window.]
My God the window is lit up
And somebody stands there, although
The floorboards are all burnt away.
OLD MAN The window is lit up because my father
Has come to find a glass for his whiskey.
He leans there like some tired beast.
BOY A dead, living, murdered man.
OLD MAN Then the bride sleep fell upon Adam:9
Where did I read those words?
There’s nothing leaning in the window
But the impression upon my mother's mind,
Being dead she is alone in her remorse.
BOY A body that was a bundle of old bones
Before I was born. Horrible! Horrible! [He covers his eyes.]
OLD MAN That beast there would know nothing being nothing.
If I should kill a man under the window,
He would not even turn his head. [He stabs the boy.]
My father and my son on the same jack-knife!
[He stabs again and again. The window grows dark.]
“Hush-a-bye baby, thy father's a knight,
Thy mother a lady, lovely and bright”
No, that is something that I read in a book
And if I sing it must be to my mother,
And I lack rhyme.
[The stage has grown dark except where the tree stands in white
Study that tree.
It stands there like a purified soul,
All cold, sweet, glistening light.
Dear mother, the window is dark again
But you are in the light because
I finished all that consequence.
I killed that lad for he was growing up,
He would soon take some woman's fancy,
Beget and pass pollution on.
I am a wretched foul old man
And therefore harmless. When I have stuck
This old jack-knife into a sod
And pulled it out all bright again,
And picked up all the money that he dropped
I'll to a distant place, and there
Tell my old jokes among new men.
[He cleans the knife and begins to pick up money.]
Hoof beats! Dear God
How quickly it returns—beat—beat—
Her mind cannot hold up that dream.
Twice a murderer and all for nothing,
And she must animate that dead night
Not once but many times!
Release my mother's soul from its dream!
Mankind can do no more. Appease
The misery of the living and the remorse of the dead.
THE CURTAIN FALLS