Peer Gynt

by Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen



(The same place, an hour later.)

(PEER GYNT is stripping off his Turkish costume; soberly and thoughtfully, bit by bit. Last of all, he takes his little travelling-cap out of his coat-pocket, puts it on, and stands once more in European dress.)


(throwing the turban far away from him).

There lies the Turk, then, and here stand I!-
These heathenish doings are no sort of good.
It's lucky 'twas only a matter of clothes,
and not, as the saying goes, bred in the bone.-
What tempted me into that galley at all?
It's best, in the long run, to live as a Christian,
to put away peacock-like ostentation,
to base all one's dealings on law and morality,
to be ever oneself, and to earn at the last
speech at one's grave-side, and wreaths on one's coffin.

(Walks a few steps.)

The hussy;-she was on the very verge
of turning my head clean topsy-turvy.
May I be a troll if I understand
what it was that dazed and bemused me so.
Well; it's well that's done: had the joke been carried
but one step on, I'd have looked absurd.-
I have erred;-but at least it's a consolation
that my error was due to the false situation.
It wasn't my personal self that fell.
'Twas in fact this prophetical way of life,
so utterly lacking the salt of activity,
that took its revenge in these qualms of bad taste.
It's a sorry business this prophetising!
One's office compels one to walk in a mist;
in playing the prophet, you throw up the game
the moment you act like a rational being.
In so far I've done what the occasion demanded,
in the mere fact of paying my court to that goose.
But, nevertheless-

(Bursts out laughing.)

Hm, to think of it now!
To try to make time stop by jigging and dancing,
and to cope with the current by capering and prancing!
To thrum on the lute-strings, to fondle and sigh,
and end, like a rooster,-by getting well plucked!
Such conduct is truly prophetic frenzy.-
Yes, plucked!-Phew! I'm plucked clean enough indeed.
Well, well, I've a trifle still left in reserve;
I've a little in America, a little in my pocket;
so I won't be quite driven to beg my bread.-
And at bottom this middle condition is best.
I'm no longer a slave to my coachman and horses;
I haven't to fret about postchaise or baggage;
I am master, in short, of the situation.-
What path should I choose? Many paths lie before me;
and a wise man is known from a fool by his choice.
My business life is a finished chapter;
my love-sports, too, are a cast-off garment.
I feel no desire to live back like a crab.
"Forward or back, and it's just as far;
out or in, and it's just as strait,"-
so I seem to have read in some luminous work.-
I'll try something new, then; ennoble my course;
find a goal worth the labour and money it costs.
Shall I write my life without dissimulation,-
a book for guidance and imitation?
Or stay-! I have plenty of time at command;-
what if, as a travelling scientist,
I should study past ages and time's voracity?
Ay, sure enough; that is the thing for me!
Legends I read e'en in childhood's days,
and since then I've kept up that branch of learning.-
I will follow the path of the human race!
Like a feather I'll float on the stream of history,
make it all live again, as in a dream,-
see the heroes battling for truth and right,
as an onlooker only, in safety ensconced,-
see thinkers perish and martyrs bleed,
see empires founded and vanish away,-
see world-epochs grow from their trifling seeds;
in short, I will skim off the cream of history.-
I must try to get hold of a volume of Becker,
and travel as far as I can by chronology.-
It's true-my grounding's by no means thorough,
and history's wheels within wheels are deceptive;-
but pooh; the wilder the starting-point,
the result will oft be the more original.-
How exalting it is, now, to choose a goal,
and drive straight for it, like flint and steel!

(With quiet emotion.)

To break off all round one, on every side,
the bonds that bind one to home and friends,-
to blow into atoms one's hoarded wealth,-
to bid one's love and its joys good-night,-
all simply to find the arcana of truth,-

(Wiping a tear from his eye.)

that is the test of the true man of science!-
I feel myself happy beyond all measure.
Now I have fathomed my destiny's riddle.
Now 'tis but persevering through thick and thin!
It's excusable, sure, if I hold up my head,
and feel my worth, as the man, Peer Gynt,
also called Human-life's Emperor.-
I will own the sum-total of bygone days;
I'll nevermore tread in the paths of the living.
The present is not worth so much as a shoe-sole;
all faithless and marrowless the doings of men;
their soul has no wings and their deeds no weight;

(Shrugs his shoulders.)

and women,-ah, they are a worthless crew!

(Goes off.)

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