Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
The Curtains
By Cloyd Head and Mary Gavin
A Theme in Dramatic Rhythms

  The curtain rises upon a darkened stage. After a moment, during which the eyes become less blind, it is possible to distinguish a vague suggestion of figures, moving.

A Man’s Voice, in affirmation.  Light!…. My life yet beats against …. darkness!….
A Second Voice, after an interval.  Failure….
A Voice, answering.  And I, brother?
The Second Voice.  Brother….
A Voice, distant.  Here, afar off …. in the desert, my voice calls back—echoes. I break beneath the silence, asking.        5
A Woman’s Voice.  Together we may understand: press your lips closer.

  A pause, sustained. Then far back on the stage, as if parting heavy draperies, a pure white light divides the darkness. It illuminates for an instant a strange boy-like figure seated in front of the draperies on steps which seem to continue upward into the light an immeasurable distance. Slowly the curtains come together. The harsh voice of a Priest breaks the silence.
Priest.  I render praise unto God, who hath instructed mine eyes so that I do not behold darkness.
A Woman’s Voice.  Lonely …

  The stage becomes visible. In front of a background of tall neutral-toned draperies which meet, closing, at the center, three unequal steps extend across the stage. From these steps run two parallel black lines a short distance apart to the foreground, forming a path. At either side of the stage is a conventionalized suggestion of a realistic setting, clearly indicated but semi-transparent and without reality.
  The boy-like figure in white, whose name may be called Ralfar, remains seated on the steps. Nearer the front is the Priest and to the right an Old Man, blind. The chief masculine character of the play stands at the extreme right.
A Mother, crossing from the left.  I am weary: if there be a search, the child I bore—let him seek in my stead the dream—
Old Man, crossing.  I have lost … the rest of me, my youth; the woman whom I loved is dead; if I had children, they are long since parted from me. I am but a husk, with life to feel the presence of the wind.        10
Ralfar.  When all is taken, then, it might be …

  The Old Man continues to the left, and exit.
Priest.  …. Not until death be passed is life made sure.
Ralfar, standing erect.  Once I remember …. naked voices that strove, crossing black lines. Is this the light, light bent from streets, which has power to withdraw the hunger, groping with blind courage, the hunger which was darkness?
A Young Girl, entering from the right.  I go, to give—him …. all that I am.

  Ralfar looks towards her with a gesture as if of completeness, broken instantly by half-gestures from the Mother and Priest.
Mother.  Stay. Unless …. from love, to keep its beauty after love is gone, a child.        15
Girl.  I am so young.
Priest, as the Girl pauses irresolutely; beckoning her.  Kneel …. first.
Girl….  I cannot…. We will return together …. afterward….

  As she crosses the stage, she becomes aware of Ralfar and stops abruptly, with a quick indrawn breath.
Ralfar.  I did not call.
Girl.  Perhaps it was his voice …. I heard.

  She leaves the stage slowly.
Mother, to Ralfar.  You smile … strangely; there is strength—disdain …
Ralfar.  Of me is borne no child.
Mother, drawing back instinctively, frightened.  What are you?

  For a long time Ralfar does not answer, and then only by extending the arms sidewards, raising them slightly, as if a veil were lifting from the background.
Ralfar.  They only see …. streets, houses, nothing that here is—the curtains and the reaching steps—
Mother, scornfully, to the Priest.  She speaks of mystery.

  Exit, right.
Ralfar, looking in the direction that the Girl passed.  I felt …. the passionate search of half-things—
Priest.  I know not you nor who you are. You come, breaking altars.
Ralfar, quietly.  Why must there be an altar?
Priest.  There must be altars. And you too will need—
Ralfar.  Perhaps I …. too.

  The Priest turns and goes off, left.
Ralfar.  Their heavy voices, stifled by dead light. The darkness had gone from them.
The Man, who has stood silently at the right.  Darkness?
Ralfar, turning towards him with reluctance.  And you?
Man.  And I?—am one of them. If you have seen—
Ralfar.  Yes …. clearly.        35
Man.  They have no longer hope.
Ralfar.  If from their eyes the sense of earth could even for a moment vanish—

  An instant of suspended rhythm.
          Why have we loved?….
  You wait: (shadows of time and space
  Yet darken on the mountain-top).        40
  Do you not feel the path between black lines?
  Do you not see the steps and, just beyond,
  The mystery of light the curtains shield?
  These are the heights where you and I have met:
  It is but a little distance …. further—        45
Man.  You, reaching out beyond the world,
  Frighten my strength….
  It is not the woman that I fear in you:
  Something …. I know not what,
  As one fears …. flowing water.

  Ralfar sinks to the floor with hands extended toward him in surrender that is also a challenge. The vitality of this gesture draws the Man into a position suggesting love. The pose gradually becomes dynamic.
Ralfar.  It would not matter if I met you now,
  Or if we met after a thousand years.
  We have loved always; always we shall love:
  It is the meeting that keeps us from each other.
Man.  The yielding glory of you streams upward,        55
  Streams like the vapor of a cloud….
Ralfar.  Your breath …. Life concentrates …. tenser …. burning.
  A moment; ecstasy …. and then
  I shall pass …. on….

  Light, different in quality, resurges upon the stage. Ralfar rises very quietly.
Man.  You saw …. too far.        60
Ralfar.  Do not speak: watch.
  Light reawakens, gathered like a mist.
  I am glad that we forgot …. a thousand years.

  A long interval. From the left the Girl re-enters.
Ralfar.  The colors that we watch are blurred.—
  A boy came with me who had gone away,        65
  Whom also I must bring when you and I
  Meet …. again….

  With a gesture as of seeking freedom, Ralfar turns and goes directly to the Girl.
Girl.  I loved him.
Ralfar.          Yet?
Girl.                I came.

  Ralfar makes a gesture of acceptance.
Girl.  You will not ever let me go from you?
  I love you, as one loves a boy.
Ralfar, meeting the eyes of the Man.  I am a boy.
Mother, who has entered, to the Girl.  Go from her …. quickly.
Ralfar.  No!…. I love her also.        75
Girl.  Also?….

  She sees the Man.
Mother, to Ralfar.  You clutch at too much life: you grasp at life both ways!
Ralfar, with a growing consciousness of freedom and of isolation.  Not you alone speak: they, the world of half-things—. I too have known what causes them to hate that which I am.
Girl, to the Man.  Is it you that have power to kill the boy I love in him?
Ralfar.  You would be better free.        80
Mother, of the Girl.  Let her go back.
Ralfar, after a pause.  And there were flowers trembling in my hands, flowers it had been wonderful to give.
Mother.  How can you give, having no need?

  Ralfar, with hands drawn down, unconsciously crosses to the space midway between the black lines. The Girl follows. A pause. The light alters.
Ralfar.  I would not willingly have left them—not so soon.

  No longer aware of those on the stage, Ralfar takes the hands of the Girl and turns her gently aside.
Girl.  Where can I go?

  She crosses from the stage. A long silence.
Ralfar.  Behind black curtains the light …. breathes.

  Ralfar turns abruptly, and is facing the curtains with hands stretched upward and outward.
Ralfar.  The path calls back my footsteps whence they came.

  The Mother recoils, as if frightened, glancing at the Man, who stands motionless. She goes off. Ralfar moves towards the curtains. A pause. Out of the silence are heard, at first distant, then nearer, heavy sounds, dull and in repetition.
A Voice.  Brother, the chain with which you bind me hurts.
A Second Voice.  I do not touch you. Brother, the chain with which you bind me hurts.
A Third Voice.  I do not touch you. Brother—        90
Ralfar, hearing the voices: to the curtains, in agony.
  Drag me from them. I have gone….
A pause; then, as if the word were forced into utterance.

  The Priest has re-entered. Ralfar, unable to complete the struggle between the light and the earth-rhythm, goes to him and kneels.
Ralfar.  Listen—I saw—
Priest.  What did you see?
A Voice.  Brother, the chain with which you bind me hurts.        95
Ralfar.  I saw—
A Voice.  The life I builded prisons me, and yet—
Another Voice.  Together we may understand.
Another Voice.  Lonely …
Priest.  What did you see?        100
Ralfar.  Nothing!
Priest, after an interval.  An altar will bring God more near.
Man.  Their chains have brought them God more near.
Ralfar, rising and speaking involuntarily.  Brother—

  Then, holding the white light like a sword, Ralfar cuts their chains. The sounds begin to disintegrate.
Man.  Their chains are fallen.        105
Ralfar, aware of the disintegration.  One of them …. may …. find!

  During what follows, discordant lights, irregular in contour, appear, and cross and re-cross, developing intensity as the stage grows darker to receive them. Various figures enter, scattered. Exit the Priest.
A Voice, off stage.  Our hands grow mad without a god.
One of those on the stage.  Why have you hid our chains?
Ralfar.  That slaves might not seek God.
Another.  Find him!        110
Ralfar, groping out.  The colors …. tear—!
Another.  Show us the way!
Ralfar.  I cannot: I would create only myself in you.
The Girl.  There was love between us—….
Ralfar.  I have forgotten….        115
Another.  I will take the sounds in my hands, and gather them with the lights, and mould them.
Another.  The sounds reach further than your hands can grasp.
Another, at the extreme right.  I am dying….
Ralfar.  Earth builds….
Another.  Have pity!        120
Ralfar.  Pity?

  The rhythm is obstructed. Ralfar sinks down on the steps, and speaks to the curtains.
  Take me; lest I re-find their chains!

  An interval. The white light parts the curtains, coming like a wind. The colors have vanished, and all who were on the stage except the Man. Presently the curtains close once more.
Ralfar, rising.  Surely earth used me as it closed the path
  Step after step behind….
  So far off is the sea I cannot hear it;        125
  Even the sky I cannot remember;
  And tall trees are not.
Man.  If you could hear me, I would take you in my arms.

  Ralfar makes an involuntary gesture, as if sometime he might be heard.
Man.  And if I stay, you might hear…. My life has been …. deflected to vast spaces leading toward you.

  The curtains become visible to the Man. He walks slowly from the stage.
Ralfar.  He dies.

  Ralfar moves backward toward the curtains, suddenly touching them with raised hand.
Priest, crossing from the left.  Upon my altar the fire no longer burns.

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