Tilbake

Peer Gynt

by Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen

ACT 5

SCENE TENTH

(A heather-clad hillside with a path following the windings of the ridge.)

PEER

This may come in useful in many ways,
said Esben as he picked up a magpie's wing.
Who could have thought one's account of sins
would come to one's aid on the last night of all?
Well, whether or no, it's a ticklish business;
a move from the frying-pan into the fire;-
but then there's a proverb of well-tried validity
which says that as long as there's life, there's hope.

(A LEAN PERSON, in a priest's cassock, kilted-up high, and with a birding net over his shoulder, comes hurrying along the ridge.)

PEER

Who goes there? A priest with a fowling-net!
Hei, hop! I'm the spoilt child of fortune indeed!
Good evening, Herr Pastor! the path is bad-

THE LEAN ONE

Ah yes; but what wouldn't one do for a soul?

PEER

Aha! then there's some one bound heavenwards?

THE LEAN ONE

No;
I hope he is taking a different road.

PEER

May I walk with Herr Pastor a bit of the way?

THE LEAN ONE

With pleasure; I'm partial to company.

PEER

I should like to consult you-

THE LEAN ONE

Heraus! Go ahead!

PEER

You see here before you a good sort of man.
The laws of the state I have strictly observed,
have made no acquaintance with fetters or bolts;-
but it happens at times that one misses one's footing
and stumbles-

THE LEAN ONE

Ah yes; that occurs to the best of us.

PEER

Now these trifles you see-

THE LEAN ONE

Only trifles?

PEER

Yes; from sinning en gros I have ever refrained.

THE LEAN ONE

Oh then, my dear fellow, pray leave me in peace;-
I'm not the person you seem to think me.-
You look at my fingers? What see you in them?

PEER

A nail-system somewhat extremely developed.

THE LEAN ONE

And now? You are casting a glance at my feet?

PEER

(pointing).

That's a natural hoof?

THE LEAN ONE

So I flatter myself.

PEER

(raises his hat).

I'd have taken my oath you were simply a parson;
and I find I've the honour-. Well, best is best;-
when the hall door stands wide,-shun the kitchen way;
when the king's to be met with,-avoid the lackey.

THE LEAN ONE

Your hand! You appear to be free from prejudice.
Say on then, my - friend; in what way can I serve you?
Now you mustn't ask me for wealth or power;
I couldn't supply them although I should hang for it.
You can't think how slack the whole business is;-
transactions have dwindled most pitiably.
Nothing doing in souls; only now and again
a stray one-

PEER

The race has improved so remarkably?

THE LEAN ONE

No, just the reverse; it's sunk shamefully low;-
the majority end in a casting-ladle.

PEER

Ah yes-I have heard that ladle mentioned;
in fact, 'twas the cause of my coming to you.

THE LEAN ONE

Speak out!

PEER

If it were not too much to ask,
I should like-

THE LEAN ONE

A harbour of refuge? eh?

PEER

You've guessed my petition before I have asked.
You tell me the business is going awry;
so I daresay you will not be over-particular.

THE LEAN ONE

But, my dear-

PEER

My demands are in no way excessive.
I shouldn't insist on a salary;
but treatment as friendly as things will permit.

THE LEAN ONE

A fire in your room?

PEER

Not too much fire;-and chiefly
the power of departing in safety and peace,-
the right, as the phrase goes, of freely withdrawing
should an opening offer for happier days.

THE LEAN ONE

My dear friend, I vow I'm sincerely distressed;
but you cannot imagine how many petitions
of similar purport good people send in
when they're quitting the scene of their earthly activity.

PEER

But now that I think of my past career,
I feel I've an absolute claim to admission-

THE LEAN ONE

'Twas but trifles, you said-

PEER

In a certain sense;-
but, now I remember, I've trafficked in slaves-

THE LEAN ONE

There are men that have trafficked in wills and souls,
but who bungled it so that they failed to get in.

PEER

I've shipped Bramah-figures in plenty to China.

THE LEAN ONE

Mere fustian again! Why, we laugh at such things.
There are people that ship off far gruesomer figures
in sermons, in art, and in literature-
yet have to stay out in the cold-

PEER

Ah, but then,
do you know-I once went and set up as prophet!

THE LEAN ONE

In foreign parts? Humbug! Why, most people's sehen
ins Blaue ends in the casting-ladle.
If you've no more than that to rely upon,
with the best of goodwill, I can't possibly house you.

PEER

But hear this: In a shipwreck-I clung to a boat's keel,-
and it's written: A drowning man grasps at a straw,-
furthermore it is written: You're nearest yourself,-
so I half-way divested a cook of his life.

THE LEAN ONE

It were all one to me if a kitchen-maid
you had half-way divested of something else.
What sort of stuff is this half-way jargon,
saving your presence? Who, think you, would care
to throw away dearly-bought fuel in times
like these on such spiritless rubbish as this?
There now, don't be enraged; 'twas your sins that scoffed at;
and excuse my speaking my mind so bluntly.-
Come, my dearest friend, banish this stuff from your head,
and get used to the thought of the casting-ladle.
What would you gain if I lodged you and boarded you?
Consider; I know you're a sensible man.
Well, you'd keep your memory; that's so far true;-

but the retrospect o'er recollection's domain
would be, both for heart and for intellect,
what the Swedes call "Mighty poor sport" indeed.
You have nothing either to howl or to smile about,
no cause for rejoicing nor yet for despair,
nothing to make you feel hot or cold;
only a sort of a something to fret over.

PEER

It is written: It's never so easy to know
where the shoe is tight that one isn't wearing.

THE LEAN ONE

Very true; I have-praise be to so-and-so!-
no occasion for more than a single odd shoe.
But it's lucky we happened to speak of shoes;
it reminds me that I must be hurrying on;-
I'm after a roast that I hope will prove fat;
so I really mustn't stand gossiping here.-

PEER

And may one inquire, then, what sort of sin-diet
the man has been fattened on?

THE LEAN ONE

I understand
he has been himself both by night and by day,
and that, after all, is the principal point.

PEER

Himself? Then do such folks belong to your parish?

THE LEAN ONE

That depends; the door, at least, stands ajar for them.
Remember, in two ways a man can be
himself-there's a right and wrong side to the jacket.
You know they have lately discovered in Paris
a way to take portraits by help of the sun.
One can either produce a straightforward picture,
or else what is known as a negative one.
In the latter the lights and the shades are reversed,
and they're apt to seem ugly to commonplace eyes;
but for all that the likeness is latent in them,
and all you require is to bring it out.
If, then, a soul shall have pictured itself
in the course of its life by the negative method,
the plate is not therefore entirely cashiered,-
but without more ado they consign it to me.
I take it in hand, then, for further treatment,
and by suitable methods effect its development.
I steam it, I dip it, I burn it, I scour it,
with sulphur and other ingredients like that,
till the image appears which the plate was designed for,-
that, namely, which people call positive.
But if one, like you, has smudged himself out,
neither sulphur nor potash avails in the least.

PEER

I see; one must come to you black as a raven
to turn out a white ptarmigan? Pray what's the name
inscribed 'neath the negative counterfeit
that you're now to transfer to the positive side?

THE LEAN ONE

The name's Peter Gynt.

PEER

Peter Gynt! Indeed?
Is Herr Gynt himself?

THE LEAN ONE

Yes, he vows he is.

PEER

Well, he's one to be trusted, that same Herr Peter.

THE LEAN ONE

You know him, perhaps?

PEER

Oh yes, after a fashion;-
one knows all sorts of people.

THE LEAN ONE

I'm pressed for time;
where saw you him last?

PEER

It was down at the Cape.

THE LEAN ONE

Di Buona Speranza?

PEER

Just so; but he sails
very shortly again, if I'm not mistaken.

THE LEAN ONE

I must hurry off then without delay.
I only hope I may catch him in time!
That Cape of Good Hope-I could never abide it;-
it's ruined by missionaries from Stavanger.

(He rushes off southwards.)

PEER

The stupid hound! There he takes to his heels
with his tongue lolling out. He'll be finely sold.
It delights me to humbug an ass like that.
He to give himself airs, and to lord it forsooth!
He's a mighty lot, truly, to swagger about!
He'll scarcely grow fat at his present trade;-
he'll soon drop from his perch with his whole apparatus.-
Hm, I'm not over-safe in the saddle either;

(A shooting star is seen; he nods after it.)

I'm expelled, one may say, from self-owning nobility.
Bear all hail from Peer Gynt, Brother Starry-Flash!
To flash forth, to go out, and be naught at a gulp-

(Pulls himself together as though in terror, and goes deeper in among the mists; stillness for awhile; then he cries:)

Is there no one, no one in all the turmoil,-
in the void no one, no one in heaven-!

(He comes forward again further down, throws his hat upon the ground, and tears at his hair. By degrees a stillness comes over him.)

So unspeakably poor, then, a soul can go
back to nothingness, into the grey of the mist.
Thou beautiful earth, be not angry with me
that I trampled thy grasses to no avail.
Thou beautiful sun, thou hast squandered away
thy glory of light in an empty hut.
There was no one within it to hearten and warm;-
the owner, they tell me, was never at home.
Beautiful sun and beautiful earth,
you were foolish to bear and give light to my mother.
The spirit is niggard and nature lavish;
and dearly one pays for one's birth with one's life.-
I will clamber up high, to the dizziest peak;
I will look once more on the rising sun,
gaze till I'm tired o'er the promised land;
then try to get snowdrifts piled up over me.
They can write above them: "Here No One lies buried;"
and afterwards,-then-! Let things go as they can.

CHURCH-GOERS

(singing on the forest path).

Oh, morning thrice blessed,
when the tongues of God's kingdom
struck the earth like to flaming steel!
from the earth to His dwelling
now the heirs' song ascendeth
in the tongue of the kingdom of God.

PEER

(crouches as in terror).

Never look there! there all's desert and waste.-
I fear I was dead long before I died.

(Tries to slink in among the bushes, but comes upon the cross-roads.)

THE BUTTON-MOULDER

Good morning, Peer Gynt! Where's the list of your sins?

PEER

Do you think that I haven't been whistling and shouting
as hard as I could?

THE BUTTON-MOULDER

And met no one at all?

PEER

Not a soul but a tramping photographer.

THE BUTTON-MOULDER

Well, the respite is over.

PEER

Ay, everything's over.
The owl smells the daylight. just list to the hooting!

THE BUTTON-MOULDER

It's the matin-bell ringing-

PEER

(pointing).

What's that shining yonder?

THE BUTTON-MOULDER

Only light from a hut.

PEER

And that wailing sound-?

THE BUTTON-MOULDER

But a woman singing.

PEER

Ay, there-there I'll find
the list of my sins-

THE BUTTON-MOULDER

(seizing him).

Set your house in order!

(They have come out of the underwood, and are standing near the hut. Day is dawning.)

PEER

Set my house in order? It's there! Away!
Get you gone! Though your ladle were huge as a coffin,
it were too small, I tell you, for me and my sins!

THE BUTTON-MOULDER

Well, to the third cross-road, Peer; but then-!

(Turns aside and goes.)

PEER

(approaches the hut).

Forward and back, and it's just as far.
Out and in, and it's just as strait.

(Stops.)

No!-like a wild, an unending lament,
is the thought: to come back, to go in, to go home.

(Takes a few steps on, but stops again.)

Roundabout, said the Boyg!

(Hears singing in the hut.)

Ah, no; this time at least
right through, though the path may be never so strait!

(He runs towards the hut; at the same moment SOLVEIG appears in
the doorway, dressed for church, with psalm-book wrapped in a
kerchief, and a staff in her hand. She stands there erect and mild.)

PEER

(flings himself down on the threshold). Hast thou doom for a sinner, then speak it forth!

SOLVEIG

He is here! He is here! Oh, to God be the praise!
(Stretches out her arms as though groping for him.)

PEER

Cry out all my sins and my trespasses!

SOLVEIG

In nought hast thou sinned, oh my own only boy.
(Gropes for him again, and finds him.)

THE BUTTON-MOULDER

(behind the house).

The sin-list, Peer Gynt?

PEER

Cry aloud my crime!

SOLVEIG

(sits down beside him).

Thou hast made all my life as a beautiful song.
Blessed be thou that at last thou hast come!
Blessed, thrice blessed our Whitsun-morn meeting!

PEER

Then I am lost!

SOLVEIG

There is one that rules all things.

PEER

(laughs).

Lost! Unless thou canst answer riddles.

SOLVEIG

Tell me them.

PEER

Tell them! Come on! To be sure!
Canst thou tell where Peer Gynt has been since we parted?

SOLVEIG

Been?

PEER

With his destiny's seal on his brow;
been, as in God's thought he first sprang forth!
Canst thou tell me? If not, I must get me home,-
go down to the mist-shrouded regions.

SOLVEIG

(smiling).

Oh, that riddle is easy.

PEER

Then tell what thou knowest!
Where was I, as myself, as the whole man, the true man?
where was I, with God's sigil upon my brow?

SOLVEIG

In my faith, in my hope, and in my love.

PEER

(starts back).

What sayest thou-? Peace! These are juggling words.
Thou art mother thyself to the man that's there.

SOLVEIG

Ay, that I am; but who is his father?
Surely he that forgives at the mother's prayer.

PEER

(a light shines in his face; he cries:)

My mother; my wife; oh, thou innocent woman!-
in thy love-oh, there hide me, hide me!

(Clings to her and hides his face in her lap. A long silence. The sun rises.)

SOLVEIG

(sings softly).

Sleep thou, dearest boy of mine!
I will cradle thee, I will watch thee-
The boy has been sitting on his mother's lap.
They two have been playing all the life-day long.
The boy has been resting at his mother's breast
all the life-day long. God's blessing on my joy!
The boy has been lying close in to my heart
all the life-day long. He is weary now.
Sleep thou, dearest boy of mine!
I will cradle thee, I will watch thee.

THE BUTTON-MOULDER'S VOICE

(behind the house).

We'll meet at the last cross-road again, Peer;
and then we'll see whether-; I say no more.

SOLVEIG

(sings louder in the full daylight).

I will cradle thee, I will watch thee;
Sleep and dream thou, dear my boy!


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