(Churchyard in a high-lying mountain parish.)
(A funeral is going on. By the grave, the PRIEST and a gathering of people. The last verse of the psalm is being sung. PEER GYNT passes by on the road.)
(at the gate).
Here's a countryman going the way of all flesh. God be thanked that it isn't me. (Enters the churchyard.)
(speaking beside the grave).
Now, when the soul has gone to meet its doom,
and here the dust lies, like an empty pod,-
now, my dear friends, we'll speak a word or two
about this dead man's pilgrimage on earth.
He was not wealthy, neither was he wise,
his voice was weak, his bearing was unmanly,
he spoke his mind abashed and faltering,
he scarce was master at his own fireside;
he sidled into church, as though appealing
for leave, like other men, to take his place.
It was from Gudbrandsdale, you know, he came.
When here he settled he was but a lad;-
and you remember how, to the very last,
he kept his right hand hidden in his pocket.
That right hand in the pocket was the feature
that chiefly stamped his image on the mind,-
and therewithal his writhing, his abashed
shrinking from notice wheresoe'er he went.
But, though he still pursued a path aloof,
and ever seemed a stranger in our midst,
you all know what he strove so hard to hide,-
the hand he muffled had four fingers only.-
I well remember, many years ago,
one morning; there were sessions held at Lunde.
'Twas war-time, and the talk in every mouth
turned on the country's sufferings and its fate.
I stood there watching. At the table sat
the Captain, 'twixt the bailiff and the sergeants;
lad after lad was measured up and down,
passed, and enrolled, and taken for a soldier.
The room was full, and from the green outside,
where thronged the young folks, loud the laughter rang.
A name was called, and forth another stepped,
one pale as snow upon the glacier's edge.
They bade the youth advance; he reached the table;
we saw his right hand swaddled in a clout;-
he gasped, he swallowed, battling after words,-
but, though the Captain urged him, found no voice.
Ah yes, at last! Then with his cheek aflame,
his tongue now failing him, now stammering fast,
he mumbled something of a scythe that slipped
by chance, and shore his finger to the skin.
Straightway a silence fell upon the room.
Men bandied meaning glances; they made mouths;
they stoned the boy with looks of silent scorn.
He felt the hail-storm, but he saw it not.
Then up the Captain stood, the grey old man;
he spat, and pointed forth, and thundered "Go!"
And the lad went. On both sides men fell back,
till through their midst he had to run the gauntlet.
He reached the door; from there he took to flight;-
up, up he went,-through wood and over hillside,
up through the stone-slips, rough, precipitous.
He had his home up there among the mountains.-
It was some six months later he came here,
with mother, and betrothed, and little child.
He leased some ground upon the high hillside,
there where the waste lands trend away towards Lomb.
He married the first moment that he could;
he built a house; he broke the stubborn soil;
he throve, as many a cultivated patch
bore witness, bravely clad in waving gold.
At church he kept his right hand in his pocket,-
but sure I am at home his fingers nine
toiled every bit as hard as others' ten.-
One spring the torrent washed it all away.
Their lives were spared. Ruined and stripped of all,
he set to work to make another clearing;
and, ere the autumn, smoke again arose
from a new, better-sheltered, mountain farm-house.
Sheltered? From torrent-not from avalanche;
two years, and all beneath the snow lay buried.
But still the avalanche could not daunt his spirit.
He dug, and raked, and carted-cleared the ground-
and the next winter, ere the snow-blasts came,
a third time was his little homestead reared.
Three sons he had, three bright and stirring boys;
they must to school, and school was far away;-
and they must clamber where the hill-track failed,
by narrow ledges through the headlong scaur.
What did he do? The eldest had to manage
as best he might, and, where the path was worst,
his father cast a rope round him to stay him;-
the others on his back and arms he bore.
Thus he toiled, year by year, till they were men.
Now might he well have looked for some return.
In the New World, three prosperous gentlemen
their school-going and their father have forgotten.
He was short-sighted. Out beyond the circle
of those most near to him he nothing saw.
To him seemed meaningless as cymbals' tinkling
those words that to the heart should ring like steel.
His race, his fatherland, all things high and shining,
stood ever, to his vision, veiled in mist.
But he was humble, humble, was this man;
and since that sessions-day his doom oppressed him,
as surely as his cheeks were flushed with shame,
and his four fingers hidden in his pocket.-
Offender 'gainst his country's laws? Ay, true!
But there is one thing that the law outshineth
sure as the snow-white tent of Glittertind
has clouds, like higher rows of peaks, above it.
No patriot was he. Both for church and state
a fruitless tree. But there, on the upland ridge,
in the small circle where he saw his calling,
there he was great, because he was himself.
His inborn note rang true unto the end.
His days were as a lute with muted strings.
And therefore, peace be with thee, silent warrior,
that fought the peasant's little fight, and fell!
It is not ours to search the heart and reins;-
that is no task for dust, but for its ruler;-
yet dare I freely, firmly, speak my hope:
he scarce stands crippled now before his God!
(The gathering disperses. PEER GYNT remains behind, alone.)
Now that is what I call Christianity!
Nothing to seize on one's mind unpleasantly.-
And the topic-immovably being oneself,-
that the pastor's homily turned upon,-
is full, in its essence, of edification.
(Looks down upon the grave.)
Was it he, I wonder, that hacked through his knuckle
that day I was out hewing logs in the forest?
Who knows? If I weren't standing here with my staff
by the side of the grave of this kinsman in spirit,
I could almost believe it was I that slept,
and heard in a vision my panegyric.-
It's a seemly and Christianlike custom indeed
this casting a so-called memorial glance
in charity over the life that is ended.
I shouldn't at all mind accepting my verdict
at the hands of this excellent parish priest.
Ah well, I dare say I have some time left
ere the gravedigger comes to invite me to stay with him;-
and as Scripture has it: What's best is best,-
and: Enough for the day is the evil thereof,-
and further: Discount not thy funeral.-
Ah, the church, after all, is the true consoler.
I've hitherto scarcely appreciated it;-
but now I feel clearly how blessed it is
to be well assured upon sound authority:
Even as thou sowest thou shalt one day reap.-
One must be oneself; for oneself and one's own
one must do one's best, both in great and in small things.
If the luck goes against you, at least you've the honour
of a life carried through in accordance with principle.-
Now homewards! Though narrow and steep the path,
though Fate to the end may be never so biting-
still old Peer Gynt will pursue his own way,
and remain what he is: poor, but virtuous ever.