Peer Gynt

by Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen



(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 tongues of the lances
all flickering and flashing,-
see, see!


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


(folds his arms over his breast).

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


My father received;
so his son keeps receiving.


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



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


The cavern is deep,
and the Prophet great!

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


(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.)

From the homepage of Espen Joranger