Tilbake

Peer Gynt

by Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen

ACT 1

SCENE 1



A wooded hillside near ASE's farm. A river rushes down the slope. On the further side of it an old mill shed. It is a hot day in summer. PEER GYNT, a strongly-built youth of twenty, comes down the pathway. His mother, ASE, a small, slightly built woman, follows him, scolding angrily.


ÅSE

Peer, you're lying!

PEER

(without stopping).

No, I am not!

ÅSE

Well then, swear that it is true!

PEER

Swear? Why should I?

ÅSE

See, you dare not!
It's a lie from first to last.

PEER

(stopping).

It is true-each blessed word!

ÅSE

(confronting him).

Don't you blush before your mother?
First you skulk among the mountains
monthlong in the busiest season,
stalking reindeer in the snows;
home you come then, torn and tattered,
gun amissing, likewise game;-
and at last, with open eyes,
think to get me to believe
all the wildest hunters'-lies!-
Well, where did you find the buck, then?

PEER

West near Gendin.

ÅSE

(laughing scornfully).

Ah! Indeed!

PEER

Keen the blast towards me swept;
hidden by an alder-clump,
he was scraping in the snow-crust
after lichen-

ÅSE

(as before).

Doubtless, yes!

PEER

Breathlessly I stood and listened,
heard the crunching of his hoof,
saw the branches of one antler.
Softly then among the boulders
I crept forward on my belly.
Crouched in the moraine I peered up;-
such a buck, so sleek and fat,
you, I'm sure, have ne'er set eyes on.

ÅSE

No, of course not!

PEER

Bang! I fired!
Clean he dropped upon the hillside.
But the instant that he fell
I sat firm astride his back,
gripped him by the left ear tightly,
and had almost sunk my knife-blade
in his neck, behind his skull-
when, behold! the brute screamed wildly,
sprang upon his feet like lightning,
with a back-cast of his head
from my fist made knife and sheath fly,
pinned me tightly by the thigh,
jammed his horns against my legs,
clenched me like a pair of tongs;-
then forthwith away he flew
right along the Gendin-Edge!

ÅSE

(involuntarily).

Jesus save us-!

PEER

Have you ever
chanced to see the Gendin-Edge?
Nigh on four miles long it stretches
sharp before you like a scythe.
Down o'er glaciers, landslips, scaurs,
down the toppling grey moraines,
you can see, both right and left,
straight into the tarns that slumber,
black and sluggish, more than seven
hundred fathoms deep below you.
Right along the Edge we two
clove our passage through the air.
Never rode I such a colt!
Straight before us as we rushed
'twas as though there glittered suns.
Brown-backed eagles that were sailing
in the wide and dizzy void
half-way 'twixt us and the tarns,
dropped behind, like motes in air.
Ice-floes on the shores broke crashing,
but no murmur reached my ears.
Only sprites of dizziness sprang,
dancing, round;-they sang, they swung,
circle-wise, past sight and hearing!

ÅSE

(dizzy).

Oh, God save me!

PEER

All at once,
at a desperate, break-neck spot,
rose a great cock-ptarmigan,
flapping, cackling, terrified,
from the crack where he lay hidden
at the buck's feet on the Edge.
Then the buck shied half around,
leapt sky-high, and down we plunged
both of us into the depths!

(ÅSE totters, and catches at the trunk of a tree. PEER GYNT continues:)
Mountain walls behind us, black,
and below a void unfathomed!
First we clove through banks of mist,
then we clove a flock of sea-gulls,
so that they, in mid-air startled,
flew in all directions, screaming.
Downward rushed we, ever downward.
But beneath us something shimmered,
whitish, like a reindeer's belly.-
Mother, 'twas our own reflection
in the glass-smooth mountain tarn,
shooting up towards the surface
with the same wild rush of speed
wherewith we were shooting downwards.

ÅSE

(gasping for breath).

Peer! God help me-! Quickly, tell-!

PEER

Buck from over, buck from under,
in a moment clashed together,
scattering foam-flecks all around.
There we lay then, floating, plashing,-
But at last we made our way
somehow to the northern shore;
buck, he swam, I clung behind him:-
I ran homewards-

ÅSE

But the buck, dear?

PEER

He's there still, for aught I know;-

(Snaps his fingers, turns on his heel, and adds:)

catch him, and you're welcome to him!

ÅSE

And your neck you haven't broken?
Haven't broken both your thighs?
and your backbone, too, is whole?
Oh, dear Lord-what thanks, what praise,
should be thine who helped my boy!
There's a rent, though, in your breeches;
but it's scarce worth talking of
when one thinks what dreadful things
might have come of such a leap-!

(Stops suddenly, looks at him open-mouthed and wide-eyed; cannot find words for some time, but at last bursts out:)

Oh, you devil's story-teller,
Cross of Christ, how you can lie!
All this screed you foist upon me,
I remember now, I knew it
when I was a girl of twenty.
Gudbrand Glesne it befell,
never you, you-

PEER

Me as well.
Such a thing can happen twice.

ÅSE
(exasperated).

Yes, a lie, turned topsy-turvy,
can be prinked and tinselled out,
decked in plumage new and fine,
till none knows its lean old carcass.
That is just what you've been doing,
vamping up things, wild and grand,
garnishing with eagles' backs
and with all the other horrors,
lying right and lying left,
filling me with speechless dread,
till at last I recognised not
what of old I'd heard and known!

PEER

If another talked like that
I'd half kill him for his pains

.

ÅSE
(weeping).

Oh, would God I lay a corpse;
would the black earth held me sleeping!
Prayers and tears don't bite upon him.-
Peer, you're lost, and ever will be!

PEER

Darling, pretty little mother,
you are right in every word;-
don't be cross, be happy-

ÅSE

Silence!
Could I, if I would, be happy,
with a pig like you for son?
Think how bitter I must find it,
I, a poor defenceless widow,
ever to be put to shame!

(Weeping again.)

How much have we now remaining
from your grandsire's days of glory?
Where are now the sacks of coin
left behind by Rasmus Gynt?
Ah, your father lent them wings,-
lavished them abroad like sand,
buying land in every parish,
driving round in gilded chariots.
Where is all the wealth he wasted
at the famous winter-banquet,
when each guest sent glass and bottle
shivering 'gainst the wall behind him?

PEER

Where's the snow of yester-year?

ÅSE

Silence, boy, before your mother!
See the farmhouse! Every second
window-pane is stopped with clouts.
Hedges, fences, all are down,
beasts exposed to wind and weather,
fields and meadows lying fallow,
every month a new distraint-

PEER

Come now, stop this old-wife's talk!
Many a time has luck seemed dropping,
and sprung up as high as ever!

ÅSE

Salt-strewn is the soil it grew from.
Lord, but you're a rare one, you,-
just as pert and jaunty still,
just as bold as when the pastor,
newly come from Copenhagen,
bade you tell your Christian name,
and declared that such a headpiece
many a prince down there might envy;
till the cob your father gave him,
with a sledge to boot, in thanks
for his pleasant, friendly talk.-
Ah, but things went bravely then!
Provost, captain, all the rest,
dropped in daily, ate and drank,
swilling, till they well-nigh burst.
But 'tis need that tests one's neighbour.
Still it grew and empty here
from the day that 'Gold-bag Jon'
started with his pack, a pedlar.

(Dries her eyes with her apron.)

Ah, you're big and strong enough,
you should be a staff and pillar
for your mother's frail old age,-
you should keep the farm-work going,
guard the remnants of your gear;-

(Crying again.)

oh, God help me, small's the profit
you have been to me, you scamp!
Lounging by the hearth at home,
grubbing in the charcoal embers;
or, round all the country, frightening
girls away from merry-makings-
shaming me in all directions,
fighting with the worst rapscallions-

PEER

(turning away from her).

Let me be.

ÅSE

(following him).

Can you deny
that you were the foremost brawler
in the mighty battle royal
fought the other day at Lunde,
when you raged like mongrels mad?
Who was it but you that broke
Blacksmith Aslak's arm for him,-
or at any rate that wrenched one
of his fingers out of joint?

PEER

Who has filled you with such prate?

ÅSE

(hotly).

Cottar Kari heard the yells!

PEER

(rubbing his elbow).

Maybe, but 'twas I that howled.

ÅSE

You?

PEER

Yes, mother,-I got beaten.

ÅSE

What d'you say?

PEER

He's limber, he is.

ÅSE

Who?

PEER

Why Aslak, to be sure.

ÅSE

Shame-and shame; I spit upon you!
Such a worthless sot as that,
such a brawler, such a sodden
dram-sponge to have beaten you!

(Weeping again.)

Many a shame and slight I've suffered;
but that this should come to pass
is the worst disgrace of all.
What if he be ne'er so limber,
need you therefore be a weakling?

PEER

Though I hammer or am hammered,-
still we must have lamentations.

(Laughing.)

Cheer up, mother-

ÅSE

What? You're lying
now again?

PEER

Yes, just this once.
Come now, wipe your tears away;-

(Clenching his left hand.)

see,-with this same pair of tongs,
thus I held the smith bent double,
while my sledge-hammer right fist-

ÅSE

Oh, you brawler! You will bring me
with your doings to the grave!

PEER

No, you're worth a better fate;
better twenty thousand times!
Little, ugly, dear old mother,
you may safely trust my word,-
all the parish shall exalt you;
only wait till I have done
something-something really grand!

ÅSE

(contemptuously).

You!

PEER

Who knows what may befall one!

ÅSE

Would you'd get so far in sense
one day as to do the darning
of your breeches for yourself!

PEER

(hotly).

I will be a king, a kaiser!

ÅSE

Oh, God comfort me, he's losing
all the wits that he had left!

PEER

Yes, I will! just give me time!

ÅSE

Give you time, you'll be a prince,
so the saying goes, I think!

PEER

You shall see!

ÅSE

Oh, hold your tongue!
You're as mad as mad can be.-
Ah, and yet it's true enough,-
something might have come of you,
had you not been steeped for ever
in your lies and trash and moonshine.
Hegstad's girl was fond of you.
Easily you could have won her
had you wooed her with a will-

PEER

Could I?

ÅSE

The old man's too feeble
not to give his child her way.
He is stiff-necked in a fashion
but at last 'tis Ingrid rules;
and where she leads, step by step, stumps the gaffer, grumbling, after.

(Begins to cry again.)

Ah, my Peer!-a golden girl-
land entailed on her! just think,
had you set your mind upon it,
you'd be now a bridegroom brave,-
you that stand here grimed and tattered!

PEER

(briskly).

Come, we'll go a-wooing, then!

ÅSE

Where?

PEER

At Hegstad!

ÅSE

Ah, poor boy;
Hegstad way is barred to wooers!

PEER

How is that?

ÅSE

Ah, I must sigh!
Lost the moment, lost the luck-

PEER

Speak!

ÅSE

(sobbing).

While in the Wester-hills
you in air were riding reindeer,
here Mads Moen's won the girl!

PEER

What! That women's-bugbear! He-!

ÅSE

Ay, she's taking him for husband.

PEER

Wait you here till I have harnessed
horse and waggon-

(Going.)

ÅSE

Spare your pains.
They are to be wed to-morrow-

PEER

Pooh; this evening I'll be there!

ÅSE
Fie now! Would you crown our miseries
with a load of all men's scorn?

PEER
Never fear; 'twill all go well.

(Shouting and laughing at the same time.)

Mother, jump! We'll spare the waggon;
'twould take time to fetch the mare up-

(Lifts her up in his arms.)

ÅSE

Put me down!

PEER

No, in my arms
I will bear you to the wedding!

(Wades out into the stream.)

ÅSE

Help! The Lord have mercy on us!
Peer! We're drowning-

PEER

I was born
for a braver death-

ÅSE

Ay, true;
sure enough you'll hang at last!

(Tugging at his hair.)

Oh, you brute!

PEER

Keep quiet now;
here the bottom's slippery-slimy.

ÅSE

Ass!

PEER

That's right, don't spare your tongue;
that does no one any harm.
Now it's shelving up again-

ÅSE

Don't you drop me!

PEER

Heisan! Hop!
Now we'll play at Peer and reindeer;-

(Curvetting.)

I'm the reindeer, you are Peer!

ÅSE

Oh, I'm going clean distraught!

PEER

There see; now we've reached the shallows;-

(Wades ashore.)

come, a kiss now, for the reindeer;

just to thank him for the ride-

ÅSE

(boxing his ears).

This is how I thank him!

PEER

Ow!
That's a miserable fare!

ÅSE

Put me down!

PEER

First to the wedding.
Be my spokesman. You're so clever;
talk to him, the old curmudgeon;
say Mads Moen's good for nothing-

ÅSE

Put me down!

PEER

And tell him then
what a rare lad is Peer Gynt.

ÅSE

Truly, you may swear to that!
Fine's the character I'll give you.
Through and through I'll show you up;
all about your devil's pranks
I will tell them straight and plain-

PEER

Will you?

ÅSE

(kicking with rage).

I won't stay my tongue
till the old man sets his dog
at you, as you were a tramp!

PEER

Hm; then I must go alone.

ÅSE

Ay, but I'll come after you!

PEER

Mother dear, you haven't strength-

ÅSE

Strength? When I'm in such a rage,
I could crush the rocks to powder!
Hu! I'd make a meal of flints!
Put me down!

PEER

You'll promise then-

ÅSE

Nothing! I'll to Hegstad with you!
They shall know you, what you are!

PEER

Then you'll even have to stay here.

ÅSE

Never! To the feast I'm coming!

PEER

That you shan't.

ÅSE

What will you do?

PEER

Perch you on the mill-house roof.

(He puts her up on the roof. ÅSE screams.)

ÅSE

Lift me down!

PEER

Yes, if you'll listen-

ÅSE

Rubbish!

PEER

Dearest mother, pray-!

ÅSE

(throwing a sod of grass at him).

Lift me down this moment, Peer!

PEER

If I dared, be sure I would.

(Coming nearer.)

Now remember, sit quite still.

Do not sprawl and kick about;

do not tug and tear the shingles,-

else 'twill be the worse for you;

you might topple down.

ÅSE

You beast!

PEER

Do not kick!

ÅSE

I'd have you blown,
like a changeling, into space!

PEER

Mother, fie!

ÅSE

Bah!

PEER

Rather give your

blessing on my undertaking.

Will you? Eh?

ÅSE

I'll thrash you soundly,
hulking fellow though you be!

PEER

Well, good-bye then, mother dear!
Patience; I'll be back ere long.

(Is going, but turns, holds up his finger warningly, and says:)

Careful now, don't kick and sprawl!

(Goes.)

ÅSE

Peer!-God help me, now he's off;
Reindeer-rider! Liar! Hei!
Will you listen!-No, he's striding
o'er the meadow-!

(Shrieks.)

Help! I'm dizzy!

(TWO OLD WOMEN, with sacks on their backs, come down the path to the mill.)

FIRST WOMAN

Christ, who's screaming?

ÅSE

It is I!

SECOND WOMAN

ÅSE! Well, you are exalted!

ÅSE

This won't be the end of it;-
soon, God help me, I'll be heaven-high!

FIRST WOMAN

Bless your passing!

ÅSE

Fetch a ladder;
I must be down! That devil Peer-

SECOND WOMAN

Peer! Your son?

ÅSE

Now you can say
you have seen how he behaves.

FIRST WOMAN

We'll bear witness.

ÅSE

Only help me;
straight to Hegstad I will hasten-

SECOND WOMAN

Is he there?

FIRST WOMAN

You'll be revenged, then;
Aslak Smith will be there too.

ÅSE

(wringing her hands).

Oh, God help me with my boy;
they will kill him ere they're done!

FIRST WOMAN

Oh, that lot has oft been talked of;
comfort you: what must be must be!

SECOND WOMAN

She is utterly demented.

(Calls up the hill.)

Eivind, Anders! Hei! Come here!

A MAN'S VOICE

What's amiss?

SECOND WOMAN

Peer Gynt has perched his
mother on the mill-house roof!


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