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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
From ‘The Countess Cathleen’
By William Butler Yeats (1865–1939)
 
        
From ‘Poems and Plays’

Act II.
  
  [A great hall in the castle of the Countess Cathleen.  There is a large window at the farther end, through which the forest is visible.  The wall to the right juts out slightly, cutting off an angle of the room.  A flight of stone steps leads up to a small arched door in the jutting wall.  Through the door can be seen a little oratory.  The hall is hung with ancient tapestry, representing the loves and wars and huntings of the Fenian and Red Branch heroes.  There are doors to the right and left.  On the left side Oona sits, as if asleep, beside a spinning wheel.  The Countess Cathleen stands farther back and more to the right, close to a group of the musicians, still in their fantastic dresses, who are playing a merry tune.]

CATHLEEN—Be silent, I am tired of tympan and harp,
And tired of music that but cries “Sleep, sleep,”
Till joy and sorrow and hope and terror are gone.
[The Countess Cathleen goes over to Oona.]
You were asleep?
  Oona—                No, child, I was but thinking
Why you have grown so sad.
  Cathleen—                    The famine frets me.
        5
  Oona—I have lived now near ninety winters, child,
And I have known three things no doctor cures—
Love, loneliness, and famine; nor found refuge
Other than growing old and full of sleep.
See you where Oisin and young Niamh ride        10
Wrapped in each other’s arms, and where the Fenians
Follow their hounds along the fields of tapestry;
How merry they lived once, yet men died then.
Sit down by me, and I will chaunt the song
About the Danaan nations in their raths        15
That Aleel sang for you by the great door
Before we lost him in the shadow of leaves.
  Cathleen—No, sing the song he sang in the dim light,
When we first found him in the shadow of leaves,
About King Fergus in his brazen car        20
Driving with troops of dancers through the woods.
[She crouches down on the floor, and lays her head on Oona’s knees.]
  Oona—Dear heart, make a soft cradle of old tales,
And songs, and music: wherefore should you sadden
For wrongs you cannot hinder? The great God
Smiling condemns the lost: be mirthful: He        25
Bids youth be merry and old age be wise.
  Cathleen—Tympan and harp awaken wandering dreams.
  A Voice  [without]—You may not see the Countess.
  Another Voice—                        I must see her.
[Sound of a short struggle.  A Servant enters from door to R.]
  Servant—The gardener is resolved to speak with you.
I cannot stay him.
  Cathleen—                You may come, Maurteen.
[The Gardener, an old man, comes in from the R., and the Servant goes out.]
        30
  Gardener—Forgive my working clothes and the dirt on me.
I bring ill words, your ladyship,—too bad
To send with any other.
  Cathleen—                    These bad times,
Can any news be bad or any good?
  Gardener—A crowd of ugly lean-faced rogues last night—        35
And may God curse them!—climbed the garden wall.
There is scarce an apple now on twenty trees,
And my asparagus and strawberry beds
Are trampled into clauber, and the boughs
Of peach and plum-trees broken and torn down        40
For some last fruit that hung there. My dog, too,
My old blind Simon, him who had no tail,
They murdered—God’s red anger seize them!
  Cathleen—I know how pears and all the tribe of apples
Are daily in your love—how this ill chance        45
Is sudden doomsday fallen on your year;
So do not say no matter. I but say
I blame the famished season, and not you.
Then be not troubled.
  Gardener—                I thank your ladyship.
  Cathleen—What rumors and what portents of the famine?        50
  Gardener—The yellow vapor, in whose folds it came,
That creeps along the hedges at nightfall,
Rots all the heart out of my cabbages.
I pray against it.
[He goes towards the door, then pauses.]
                If her ladyship
Would give me an old crossbow, I would watch        55
Behind a bush and guard the pears of nights
And make a hole in somebody I know of.
  Cathleen—They will give you a long draught of ale below.
[The Gardener goes out.]
  Oona—What did he say?—he stood on my deaf side.
  Cathleen—His apples are all stolen. Pruning time,        60
And the slow ripening of his pears and apples,
For him is a long, heart-moving history.
  Oona—Now lay your head once more upon my knees.
I will sing how Fergus drove his brazen cars.
 
[She chaunts with the thin voice of age.]
  Who will drive with Fergus now,
        65
  And pierce the deep woods’ woven shade,
  And dance upon the level shore?
  Young man, lift up your russet brow,
  And lift your tender eyelids, maid,
  And brood on hopes and fears no more.        70
 
You have dropped down again into your trouble.
You do not hear me.
  Cathleen—                Ah, sing on, old Oona,
I hear the horn of Fergus in my heart.
  Oona—I do not know the meaning of the song.
I am too old.
  Cathleen—            The horn is calling, calling.
        75
  OonaAnd no more turn aside and brood
Upon Love’s bitter mystery;
For Fergus rules the brazen cars,
And rules the shadows of the wood,
And the white breast of the dim sea        80
And all dishevelled wandering stars.
  The Servant’s Voice  [without]—The Countess Cathleen must not be disturbed.
  Another Voice—Man, I must see her.
  Cathleen—                    Who now wants me, Paudeen?
  Servant  [from the door]—A herdsman and his history.
  Cathleen—                            He may come.
[The Herdsman enters from the door to R.]
  Herdsman—Forgive this dusty gear: I have come far.        85
My sheep were taken from the fold last night.
You will be angry: I am not to blame.
But blame these robbing times.
  Cathleen—                        No blame’s with you.
I blame the famine.
  Herdsman—                Kneeling, I give thanks.
When gazing on your face, the poorest, Lady,        90
Forget their poverty, the rich their care.
  Cathleen—What rumors and what portents of famine?
  Herdsman—As I came down the lane by Tubber-vanach
A boy and man sat cross-legged on two stones,
With moving hands and faces famine-thin,        95
Gabbling to crowds of men and wives and boys
Of how two merchants at a house in the woods
Buy souls for hell, giving so great a price
That men may live through all the dearth in plenty.
The vales are famine-crazy—I am right glad        100
My home is on the mountain near to God.  [He turns to go.]
  Cathleen—They will give you ale and meat before you go.
You must have risen at dawn to come so far.
Keep your bare mountain—let the world drift by,
The burden of its wrongs rests not on you.        105
  Herdsman—I am content to serve your ladyship.  [He goes.]
  Oona—What did he say?—he stood on my deaf side.
He seemed to give you word of woeful things.
  Cathleen—A story born out of the dreaming eyes
And crazy brain and credulous ears of famine.        110
O, I am sadder than an old air, Oona,
My heart is longing for a deeper peace
Than Fergus found amid his brazen cars:
Would that like Edain my first forebear’s daughter,
Who followed once a twilight’s piercing tune,        115
I could go down and dwell among the Sidhe
In their old ever-busy honeyed land.
  Oona—You should not say such things—they bring ill-luck.
  Cathleen—The image of young Edain on the arras,
Walking along, one finger lifted up;        120
And that wild song of the unending dance
Of the dim Danaan nations in their raths,
Young Aleel sang for me by the great door,
Before we lost him in the shadow of leaves,
Have filled me full of these wicked words.
[The Servant enters hastily, followed by three men.  Two are peasants.]
        125
  Servant—The steward of the castle brings two men
To talk with you.
  Steward—                And tell the strangest story
The mouth of man has uttered.
  Cathleen—                            More food taken;
Yet learned theologians have laid down
That he who has no food, offending no way,        130
May take his meat and bread from too-full larders.
  First Peasant—We come to make amends for robbery.
I stole five hundred apples from your trees,
And laid them in a hole; and my friend here
Last night stole two large mountain sheep of yours        135
And hung them on a beam under his thatch.
  Second Peasant—His words are true.
  First Peasant—                Since then our luck has changed.
As I came down the lane by Tubber-vanach
I fell on Shemus Rua and his son,
And they led me where two great gentlemen        140
Buy souls for money, and they bought my soul.
I told my friend here—my friend also trafficked.
  Second Peasant—His words are true.
  First Peasant—                    Now people throng to sell,
Noisy as seagulls tearing a dead fish.
There soon will be no man or woman’s soul        145
Unbargained for in five-score baronies.
  Second Peasant—His words are true.
  First Peasant—                When we had sold we talked,
And having no more comfortable life
Than this that makes us warm—our souls being bartered
For all this money.
  Second Peasant—                And this money here.
[They bring handfuls of money from their pockets.  Cathleen starts up.]
        150
  First Peasant—And fearing much to hang for robbery,
We come to pay you for the sheep and fruit.
How do you price them?
  Cathleen—                    Gather up your money.
Think you that I would touch the demons’ gold?
Begone, give twice, thrice, twenty times their money,        155
And buy your souls again. I will pay all.
  First Peasant—We will not buy our souls again: a soul
But keeps the flesh out of its merriment.
We shall be merry and drunk from moon to moon.
Keep from our way. Let no one stop our way.        160
  Cathleen  [to Servant]—Follow and bring them here again—beseech them.  [The Servant goes.]
[To Steward.]
Steward, you know the secrets of this house.
How much have I in gold?
  Steward—                        A hundred thousand.
  Cathleen—How much have I in castles?
  Steward—                          As much more.
  Cathleen—How much have I in pastures?
  Steward—                            As much more.
        165
  Cathleen—How much have I in forests?
  Steward—                          As much more.
  Cathleen—Keeping this house alone, sell all I have;
Go to some distant country and come again
With many herds of cows and ships of grain.
  Steward—God’s blessing light upon your ladyship;        170
You will have saved the land.
  Cathleen—                            Make no delay.  [He goes.]
[Enter Servant.]
How did you thrive? Say quickly. You are pale.
  Servant—Their eyes burn like the eyes of birds of prey:
I did not dare go near.
  Cathleen—                        God pity them!
Bring all the old and ailing to this house,        175
For I will have no sorrow of my own
From this day onward.
[The Servant goes out.  Some of the musicians follow him, some linger in the doorway.  The Countess Cathleen kneels beside Oona.]
                        Can you tell me, mother,
How I may mend the times, how staunch this wound
That bleeds in the earth, how overturn the famine,
How drive these demons to their darkness again?        180
  Oona—The demons hold our hearts between their hands,
For the apple is in our blood, and though heart break
There is no medicine but Michael’s trump.
Till it has ended parting and old age
And hail and rain and famine and foolish laughter;        185
The dead are happy, the dust is in their ears.
 
 
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