For northern fells my lonely home surrounded,
And by my parish bounds my world was bounded.
My home â Ah, Falk, I wonder, do you know
What home is ?
I have never known.
That is a home, where five may dwell with ease,
Tho' two would be a crowd, if enemies.
That is a home, where all your thoughts play free
As boys and girls about their father's knee.
Where speech no sooner touches heart, than tongue
Darts back an answering harmony of song;
Where you may grow from flax-haired snowy-polled.
And not a soul take note that you grow old;
Where memories grow fairer as they fade,
Like far blue peaks beyond the forest glade.
[TFi7/t constrained sarcasm.]
Come, you grow warm â
ACT III] LOVE'S COMEDY 441
Where you but jeered and flouted.
So utterly unlike God made us two!
I'm bare of that he lavished upon you.
But I have won the game where you were routed.
Seen from the clouds, full many a wayside grain
Of truth seems empty chaff and husks. You'd soar
To heaven, I scarcely reach the stable door.
One bird's an eagle born â
And one a hen.
Yes, laugh away, and say it be so, grant
I am a hen. There clusters to my cluck
A crowd of little chickens, â which you want!
And I've the hen's high spirit and her pluck.
And for my little ones forget myself.
You think me dull, I know it. Possibly
You pass a harsher judgment yet, decree
Me over covetous of worldly pelf.
Good, on that head we will not disagree.
[Seizes Falk's arm and continues in a low tone
hut ivith gathering vehemence.
You're right, I'm dull and dense and grasping, yes;
But grasping for my God-given babes and wife,
And dense from struggling blindly for bare life,
And dull from sailing seas of loneliness.
Just when the pinnace of my youthful dream
Into the everlasting deep went down,
Another started from the ocean stream
Borne with a fair wind onward to life's crown.
442 LOVE'S COMEDY [act iii
For every dream that vanished in the wave,
For every buoyant plume that broke asunder,
God sent me in return a Httle Wonder,
And gratefully I took the good He gave.
For them I strove, for them amassed, annexed, â
For them, for them, explained the Holy text;
My clustering girls, my garden of delight!
On them you've poured the venom of your spite!
You've proved, v/ith all the cunning of the schools,
My bliss was but the paradise of fools,
That all I took for earnest was a jest; â
Now I implore, give me my quiet breast
Again, the jQawless peace of mind I had â
Prove, in a word, your title to be glad ?
Yes, in my path you've cast the stone of doubt.
And nobody but you can cast it out.
Between my kin and me you've set a bar, â
Remove the bar, the strangling noose undo â
You possibly believe I keep the glue
Of lies for Happiness's broken jar?
I do believe, the faith your reasons tore
To shreds, your reasons may again restore;
The limb that you have shatter'd, you can set;
Reverse your judgment, â the whole truth unfold,
Restate the case â I'll fly my banner yet â
ACT III] LOVE'S COMEDY 443
I stamp no copper Happiness as gold.
[Looking fixedly at him.]
Remember then that, lately, one whose scent
For truth is of the keenest told us this :
[With uplifted finger.
"There runs through all our life a Nemesis,
Which may delay, but never will relent."
[He goes towards the house.
[Coming out with glasses on, and an open book in his
Pastor, you must come flying like the blast!
Your girls are sobbing â
[In the doorway.]
And Madam waiting !
[Strawman goes in.
This lady has no talent for debating.
[Puts the hook and glasses in his pocket, and
444 LOVE'S COMEDY [act iii
I hope you've changed your mind at last ?
Whv so ?
For obvious reasons. To betray
Communications made in confidence.
Is conduct utterly without defence.
They must not pass the lips.
No, I've heard say
It is at times a risky game to play.
The very devil!
Only for the great.
No, no, for all us servants of the state.
Only imagine how my future chances
Would dwindle, if the governor once knew
I keep a Pegasus that neighs and prances
In office hours â and such an office, too!
From first to last, you know, in our profession.
The winged horse is viewed with reprobation:
But worst of all would be, if it got wind
That I against our primal law had sinn'd
By bringing secret matters to the light â
ACT III] LOVE'S COMEDY 445
That's penal, is it â such an oversight ?
It can a servant of the state compel
To beg for his dismissal out of hand.
On us officials lies a strict command,
Even by the hearth to be inscrutable.
O those despotical authorities,
Muzzling the â clerk that treadeth out the grain!
[Shrugging his shoulders i\
It is the law; to murmur is in vain.
Moreover, at a moment such as this.
When salary revision is in train.
It is not well to advertise one's views
Of office time's true function and right use.
That's why I beg you to be silent; look,
A word may forfeit my â
Officially it's called a transcript book;
A protocol's the clasp upon the veil of snow
That shrouds the modest breast of the Bureau.
What lies beneath you must not seek to know.
446 LOVE'S COMEDY [act iii
And yet I only spoke at your desire;
You hinted at your literary crop.
How should I guess he'd grovel in the mire
So deep, this parson perch'd on fortune's top,
A man with snug appointments, children, wife.
And money to defy the ills of life .'
If such a man prove such a Philistine,
What shall of us poor copyists be said ?
Of me, who drive the quill and rule the line,
A man engaged and shortly to be wed.
With family in prospect â and so forth.?
O, if I only had a well-lined berth,
I'd bind the armour 'd helmet on my head,
And cry defiance to united earth!
And were I only unengaged like you.
Trust me, I'd break a road athwart the snow
Of Prose, and carry the Ideal through!
To work then, man!
You may still do so!
Let the world's prudish owl unheeded flutter by;
Freedom converts the grub into a butterfly!
ACT III] LOVE'S COMEDY 447
You mean, to break the engagement â ?
That's my mind; â
The fruit is gone, why keep the empty rind ?
Such a proposal's for a green young shoot,
Not for a man of judgment and repute.
I heed not what King Christian in his time
(The Fifth) laid down about engagements broken-
For that relationship is nowhere spoken of
In any rubric of the code of crime.
The act would not be criminal in name,
It would in no way violate the laws â
Why there, you see then !
Yes, but all the same, â
I must reject all pleas in such a cause.
Staunch comrades we have been in times of dearth;
Of life's disport she asks but little share.
And I'm a homely fellow, long aware
God made me for the ledger and the hearth.
Let others emulate the eagle's flight.
Life in the lowly plains may be as bright.
448 LOVE'S COMEDY [act iii
What does his Excellency Goethe say
About the white and shining milky way ?
Man may not there the milk of fortune skim.
Nor is the butter of it meant for him.
Why, even were fortune-churning our life's goal.
The labour must be guided by the soul; â
Be citizens of the time that is â but then
Make the time worthy of the citizen.
In homely things lurks beauty, without doubt,
But watchful eye and brain must draw it out.
Not every man who loves the soil he turns
May therefore claim to be another Burns.
Then let us each our proper path pursue,
And part in peace; we shall not hamper you;
We keep the road, you hover in the sky.
There where we too once floated, she and I.
But work, not song, provides our daily bread.
And when a man's alive, his music's dead.
A voung: man's life's a lawsuit, and the most
Superfluous litigation in existence:
Withdraw, make terms, abandon all resistance:
Plead where and how you will, your suit is lost.
[Bold and confident, with a glance at the summer-house.]
Nay, tho' I took it to the highest place, â
Judgment, I know, would be reversed by grace!
I know two hearts can live a life complete,
ACTiii] LOVE'S COMEDY 449
With hope still ardent, and with faith still sweet;
You preach the wretched gospel of the hour,
That the Ideal is secondary!
It's primary: appointed, like the flower.
To generate the fruit, and then to go.
[Indoors, Miss Jay plays and sings: "In the
Gloaming." Stiver stands listening in silent
With the same melody she calls me yet
Which thrilled me to the heart when first we met.
[Lays his hand on Falk's arm and gazes in-
tently at him.
Oft as she wakens those pathetic notes.
From the w^hite keys reverberating floats
An echo of the "yes" that made her mine.
And when our passions shall one day decline.
To live again as friendship, to the last
That song shall link that present to this past.
And what tho' at the desk my back grow round,
And my day's work a battle for mere bread,
Yet joy will lead me homeward, where the dead
Enchantment will be born again in sound.
If one poor bit of evening we can claim,
I shall come off undamaged from the game!
[He goes into the house. Falk turns toicards
the summer-house. Svanhild comes out, she
is pale and agitated. They gaze at each other
in silence a moment, and fling themselves
impetuously into each other's arms.
450 LOVE'S COMEDY [act iii
O, Svanhild, let us battle side by side!
Thou fresh glad blossom flowering by the tomb, â
See what the life is that they call youth's bloom!
There's coffin-stench of bridegroom and of bride;
There's coffin-stench wherever two go by
At the street corner, smiling outwardly.
With falsehood's reeking sepulchre beneath.
And in their blood the apathy of death.
And this they think is living! Heaven and earth,
Is such a load so many antics worth ?
For such an end to haul up babes in shoals.
To pamper them with honesty and reason,
To feed them fat with faith one sorry season.
For service, after killing-day, as souls ?
Falk, let us travel ! \
Travel ? Whither, then ?
Is not the whole world everywhere the same ?
And does not Truth's own mirror in its frame
Lie equally to all the sons of men ?
No, we will stay and watch the merry game,
The conjurer's trick, the tragi-comedy
Of liars that are dupes of their own lie;
Stiver and Lind, the Parson and his dame.
See them, â prize oxen harness'd to love's yoke,.
And yet at bottom very decent folk!
Each wears for others and himself a mask.
Yet one too innocent to take to task;
Each one, a stranded sailor on a wreck,
Counts himself happy as the gods in heaven;
ACT III] LOVE'S COMEDY 451
Each his own hand from Paradise has driven,
Then, splash! into the sulphur to the neck!
But none has any inkling where he lies,
Each thinks himself a knight of Paradise,
And each sits smiling between howl and howl;
And if the Fiend come by with jeer and growl,
With horns, and hoofs, and things yet more ab-
Then each man jogs the neighbour at his jowl :
" Off with your hat, man ! See, there goes the Lord ! "
[After a brief, thoughtful silence.]
How marvellous a love my steps has led
To this sweet trysting place ! My life that sped
In frolic and fantastic visions gay,
Henceforth shall grow one ceaseless working day!
O God! I wandered groping, â all was dim:
Thou gavest me light â and I discovered him!
[Gazing at Falk in love and wonder.
Whence is that strength of thine, thou mighty tree
That stand 'st unshaken in the wind-wrecked wood,
That stand 'st alone, and yet canst shelter meâ?
God's truth, my Svanhild; â that gives fortitude.
[With a shy glance towards the house.]
They came like tempters, evilly inclined.
Each spokesman for his half of humankind,
One asking: How can true love reach its goal
When riches' leaden weight subdues the soul ?
452 LOVE'S COMEDY [actiii
The other asking: How can true love speed
When Hfe's a battle to the death with Need ?
horrible! â to bid the world receive
That teaching as the truth, and yet to live!
How if 'twere meant for us ?
For us ? â What, then ?
Can outward faith control the wills of men ?
1 have already said: if thou'lt stand fast,
I'll dare and suffer by thee to the last.
How light to listen to the gospel's voice.
To leave one's home behind, to weep, rejoice,
And take with God the husband of one's choice!
Come then, and blow thy worst, thou winter weather!
We stand unshaken, for we stand together!
[Mrs. Halm and Guldstad come in from the
right in the background.
[Falk and Svanhild remain standing bij the
ACT III] LOVE'S COMEDY 453
Do you doubt it now ?
This is most singular.
O, I've noted how
His work of late absorb'd his interest.
Who would have fancied Svanhild was so sly ?
[Vivaciously to Guldstad.
But no â I can't think.
Put it to the test.
Now, on the spot ?
Yes, and decisively!
[Giving him her hand.]
God's blessing with you !
Thanks, it may bestead.
[Comes to the front.
454 LOVE'S COMEDY [act iii
[Looking back as she goes towards the house.]
Whichever way it goes, my child is sped.
It's late, I think ?
Ten minutes and I go.
Sufficient for my purpose.
Shall I ?
Until you've answered me.
It's time we squared accounts. It's time we three
Talked out for once together from the heart.
We three ?
ACT ml LOVE'S COMEDY 455
Yes,â all disguises flung apart.
[Suppressing a smile.]
O, at your service.
Very good, then hear.
We've been acquainted now for half a year;
We've wrangled â
We've been in constant feud ;
We've changed hard blows enough. You foughtâ
For a sublime ideal; I as one
Among the money-grubbing multitude.
And yet it seemed as if a chord united
Us two, as if a thousand thoughts that lay
Deep in my own youth's memory benighted
Had started at your bidding into day.
Yes, I amaze you. But this hair grey-sprinkled
Once fluttered brown in spring-time, and this brow,
Which daily occupation moistens now
With sweat of labour, was not always wrinkled.
Enough; I am a man of business, hence â
[With gentle sarcasm.]
You are the type of practical good sense.
456 LOVE'S COMEDY [act iii
And you are hope's own singer young and fain.
[Stepping between them.
Just therefore, Falk and Svanhild, I am here.
Now let us talk, then; for the hour is near '
Which brings good hap or sorrow in its train.
My ground is, as I said last night,
A kind of poetry â
And if one asked the source from which you drew â ?
[Glancing a moment at Svanhild, and then turning again
A common source discovered by us two.
Now I must go.
ACTiii] LOVE'S COMEDY 457
No, wait till I conclude.
I should not ask so much of others. You,
Svanhild, I've learnt to fathom thro' and thro';
You are too sensible to play the prude.
I watched expand, unfold, your little life;
A perfect woman I divined within you.
But long I only saw a daughter in you; â
Now I ask of you â will you be my wife ?
[Svanhild draws back in embarrassment.
[Seizing his arm.]
Patience; she must answer. Put your own
Question; â then her decision will be free.
I â do you say ?
[Looking steadily at him.]
The happiness of three
Lives is at stake to-day, â not mine alone.
Don't fancy it concerns you less than me;
For tho' base matter is my chosen sphere,
Yet nature made me something of a seer.
Yes, Falk, you love her. Gladly, I confess,
I saw your young love bursting into flower.
But this young passion, with its lawless power,
iSIay be the ruin of her happiness.
458 LOVE'S COMEDY [act in
You have the face to say so ?
Years give right.
Say now you won her-
And what then?
[Slowly and emphatically.]
She ventured in one bottom to embark
Her all, her all upon one card to play, â
And then life's tempest swept the ship away.
And the flower faded as the day grew dark ?
She must not!
[Lookiiig at him loith meaning.]
Hm. So I myself decided
When I was young, like you. In days of old
I was afire for one. Our paths divided.
Last night we met again; â the fire was cold.
ACT ml LOVE'S COMEDY 459
Last night ?
Last night. You know the parson's dame â
What? It was she, then, whoâ
Who lit the flame.
Long I remembered her with keen regret,
And still in my remembrance she arose
As the young lovely woman that she was
When in life's buoyant spring-time first we met.
And that same foolish fire you now are fain
To light, that game of hazard you would dare.
See, that is why I call to youâ beware!
The game is perilous! Pause, and think again!
No, to the whole tea-caucus I declared
My fixed and unassailable belief â
[Com'pletiiig his sentence.]
That heartfelt love can weather unimpaired
Custom, and Poverty, and Age, and Grief.
Well, say it be so; possibly you're right;
But see the matter in another light.
What love is, no man ever told usâ whence
It issues, that ecstatic confidence
460 LOVE'S COMEDY [act iii
That one life may fulfil itself in two, â
To this no mortal ever found the clue.
But marriage is a practical concern.
As also is betrothal, my good sir â
And by experience easily we learn
That we are fitted just for her, or her.
But love, you know, goes blindly to its fate,
Chooses a woman, not a wife, for mate;
And what if now this chosen v/oman was
No wife for you â ?
[Shrugging his shoulders.']
Then you've lost your cause.
To make a happy bridegroom and a bride
Demands not love alone, but much beside.
Relations one can meet with satisfaction.
Ideas that do not wholly disagree.
And marriage ? Why, it is a very sea
Of claims and calls, of taxing and exaction.
Whose bearing upon love is very small.
Here mild domestic virtues are demanded,
A kitchen soul, inventive and neat handed.
Making no claims, and executing all; â
And much which in a lady's presence I
Can hardly with decorum specify.
And therefore â ?
ACT III] LOVE'S COMEDY 461
Hear a golden counsel then.
Use your experience; watch your fellow-men,
How every loving couple struts and swaggers
Like millionaires among a world of beggars.
They scamper to the altar, lad and lass,
Thev make a home and, drunk with exultation.
Dwell for awhile within its walls of glass.
Then comes the day of reckoning; â out, alas,
They're bankrupt, and their house in liquidation!
Bankrupt the bloom of youth on woman's brow.
Bankrupt the flower of passion in her breast.
Bankrupt the husband's battle-ardour now.
Bankrupt each spark of passion he possessed.
Bankrupt the whole estate, below, above, â
And yet this broken pair were once confessed
A first-class house in all the wares of love'
That is a lie!
Some hours ago 'twas true
However. I have only quoted you; â
In these same words you challenged to the field
The "caucus" with love's name upon your shield.
Then rang repudiation fast and thick
From all directions, as from you at present;
Incredible, I know; who finds it pleasant
To hear the name of death when he is sick ?
Look at the priest! A painter and composer
462 LOVE'S COMEDY [act iii
Of taste and spirit when he wooed his bride; â
What wonder if the man became a proser
When she was snugly settled by his side ?
To be his lady-love she was most fit;
To be his wife, tho' â not a bit of it.
And then the clerk, who once wrote clever numbers ?
No sooner was the gallant plighted, fixed,
Than all his rhymes ran counter and got mixed;
And now his Muse continuously slumbers,
Lullabied by the law's eternal hum.
Thus you see â [Looks at Svanhild.
Are you cold ?
[With forced humour.]
Since the sum
Works out a minus then in every case
And never shows a p 1 u s, â why should you be
So resolute your capital to place
In such a questionable lottery ?
It almost looks as if you fancied Fate
Had meant you for a bankrupt from your birth?
[Looks at him, smiles, and shakes his head.]
My bold young Falk, reserve a while your mirth. â
There are two ways of founding an estate.
It may be built on credit â drafts long-dated
On pleasure in a never-ending bout,
On perpetuity of youth unbated,
ACTiii] LOVE'S COMEDY 463
And permanent postponement of the gout.
It may be built on lips of rosy red.
On sparkling eyes and locks of flowing gold,
On trust these glories never will be shed.
Nor the dread hour of periwigs be tolled.
It may be built on thoughts that glow and quiver, â
Flowers blowing in the sandy wilderness, â
On hearts that, to the end of life, for ever
Throb with the passion of the primal "yes."
To dealings such as this the world extends
One epithet: 'tis known as "humbug," friends.
I see, you are a dangerous attorney.
You â well-to-do, a millionaire, maybe;
While two broad backs could carry in one journey
All that beneath the sun belongs to me.
What do you mean ?
That is not hard to see.
For the sound way of building, I suppose,
Is just with cash â the wonder-working paint
That round the widow's batten'd forehead throws
The aureole of a young adored saint.
O no, 'tis something better that I meant.
'Tis the still flow of generous esteem,
464 LOVE'S COMEDY [act m
Which no less honours the recipient
Than does young rapture's giddy-whirling dream.
It is the feeling of the blessedness
Of service, and home quiet, and tender ties.
The joy of mutual self-sacrifice,
Of keeping watch lest any stone distress
Her footsteps wheresoe'er her pathway lies;
It is the healing arm of a true friend.
The manly muscle that no burdens bend.
The constancy no length of years decays.
The arm that stoutly lifts and firmly stays.
This, Svanhild, is the contribution I
Bring to your fortune's fabric: now, reply.
[Svanhild makes an effort to speak; Guldstad
lifts his hand to check her.
Consider well before you give your voice!
With clear deliberation make your choice.
And how have you discovered â
That vou love her ?
That in your eyes 'twas easy to discover.
Let her too know it. [Presses his hand.
Now I will go in.
Let the jest cease and earnest work begin;
And if you undertake that till the end
You'll be to her no less a faithful friend,
A staff to lean on, and a help in need.
Than I can be [Turning to Svanhild.
Why, good, my offer's nought;
Cancel it from the tables of your thought.
ACT III] LOVE'S COMEDY 465
Then it is I who triumph in very deed;
You're happy, and for nothing else I fought.
And, apropos â just now you spoke of cash.
Trust me, 'tis Httle more than tinsell'd trash.
I have no ties, stand perfectly alone;
To you I will make over all I own;
My daughter she shall be, and you my son.
You know I have a business by the border:
There I'll retire, you set your home in order.
And we'll foregather when a year is gone.
Now, Falk, you know me; with the same precision
Observe yourself: the voyage down life's stream.
Remember, is no pastime and no dream.
Now, in the name of God â make your decision!