Peer Gynt

by Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen



(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.)


(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.


(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-



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



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!


(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.

From the homepage of Espen Joranger