they never lift a finger to make themselves comfortable. They will not
sleep under a roof. They will not clothe themselves: a girdle with a few
pockets hanging to it to carry things about in is all they wear: they
will sit down on the wet moss or in a gorse bush when there is dry
heather within two yards of them. Two years ago, when you were born, I
did not understand this. Now I feel that I would not put myself to the
trouble of walking two paces for all the comfort in the world.
STREPHON. But you don't know what this means to me. It means that you
are dying to me: yes, just dying. Listen to me [_he puts his arm around
THE MAIDEN [_extricating herself_] Dont. We can talk quite as well
without touching one another.
STREPHON [_horrified_] Chloe! Oh, this is the worst symptom of all! The
ancients never touch one another.
THE MAIDEN. Why should they?
STREPHON. Oh, I don't know. But don't you want to touch me? You used to.
THE MAIDEN. Yes: that is true: I used to. We used to think it would be
nice to sleep in one another's arms; but we never could go to sleep
because our weight stopped our circulations just above the elbows. Then
somehow my feeling began to change bit by bit. I kept a sort of interest
in your head and arms long after I lost interest in your whole body. And
now that has gone.
STREPHON. You no longer care for me at all, then?
THE MAIDEN. Nonsense! I care for you much more seriously than before;
though perhaps not so much for you in particular. I mean I care more for
everybody. But I don't want to touch you unnecessarily; and I certainly
don't want you to touch me.
STREPHON [_rising decisively_] That finishes it. You dislike me.
THE MAIDEN [_impatiently_] I tell you again, I do not dislike you; but
you bore me when you cannot understand; and I think I shall be happier
by myself in future. You had better get a new companion. What about the
girl who is to be born today?
STREPHON. I do not want the girl who is to be born today. How do I know
what she will be like? I want you.
THE MAIDEN. You cannot have me. You must recognize facts and face them.
It is no use running after a woman twice your age. I cannot make my
childhood last to please you. The age of love is sweet; but it is short;
and I must pay nature's debt. You no longer attract me; and I no longer
care to attract you. Growth is too rapid at my age: I am maturing from
week to week.
STREPHON. You are maturing, as you call it - I call it ageing - from
minute to minute. You are going much further than you did when we began
THE MAIDEN. It is not the ageing that is so rapid. It is the realization
of it when it has actually happened. Now that I have made up my mind to
the fact that I have left childhood behind me, it comes home to me in
leaps and bounds with every word you say.
STREPHON. But your vow. Have you forgotten that? We all swore together
in that temple: the temple of love. You were more earnest than any of
THE MAIDEN [_with a grim smile_] Never to let our hearts grow cold!
Never to become as the ancients! Never to let the sacred lamp be
extinguished! Never to change or forget! To be remembered for ever as
the first company of true lovers faithful to this vow so often made and
broken by past generations! Ha! ha! Oh, dear!
STREPHON. Well, you need not laugh. It is a beautiful and holy compact;
and I will keep it whilst I live. Are you going to break it?
THE MAIDEN. Dear child: it has broken itself. The change has come in
spite of my childish vow. [_She rises_]. Do you mind if I go into the
woods for a walk by myself? This chat of ours seems to me an unbearable
waste of time. I have so much to think of.
STREPHON [_again collapsing on the altar and covering his eyes with his
hands_] My heart is broken. [_He weeps_].
THE MAIDEN [_with a shrug_] I have luckily got through my childhood
without that experience. It shews how wise I was to choose a lover half
my age. [_She goes towards the grove, and is disappearing among the
trees, when another youth, older and manlier than Strephon, with crisp
hair and firm arms, comes from the temple, and calls to her from the
THE TEMPLE YOUTH. I say, Chloe. Is there any sign of the Ancient yet?
The hour of birth is overdue. The baby is kicking like mad. She will
break her shell prematurely.
THE MAIDEN [_looks across to the hill path; then points up it, and
says_] She is coming, Acis.
_The Maiden turns away through the grove and is lost to sight among the
Acis [_coming to Strephon_] Whats the matter? Has Chloe been unkind?
STREPHON. She has grown up in spite of all her promises. She deceived us
about her age. She is four.
ACIS. Four! I am sorry, Strephon. I am getting on for three myself;
and I know what old age is. I hate to say 'I told you so'; but she was
getting a little hard set and flat-chested and thin on the top, wasn't
STREPHON [_breaking down_] Dont.
ACIS. You must pull yourself together. This is going to be a busy day.
First the birth. Then the Festival of the Artists.
STREPHON [_rising_] What is the use of being born if we have to decay
into unnatural, heartless, loveless, joyless monsters in four short
years? What use are the artists if they cannot bring their beautiful
creations to life? I have a great mind to die and have done with it
all. [_He moves away to the corner of the curved seat farthest from the
theatre, and throws himself moodily into it_].
_An Ancient Woman has descended the hill path during Strephon's lament,
and has heard most of it. She is like the He-Ancient, equally bald,
and equally without sexual charm, but intensely interesting and rather
terrifying. Her sex is discoverable only by her voice, as her breasts
are manly, and her figure otherwise not very different. She wears no
clothes, but has draped herself rather perfunctorily with a ceremonial
robe, and carries two implements like long slender saws. She comes to
the altar between the two young men._
THE SHE-ANCIENT [_to Strephon_] Infant: you are only at the beginning of
it all. [_To Acis_] Is the child ready to be born?
ACIS. More than ready, Ancient. Shouting and kicking and cursing. We
have called to her to be quiet and wait until you come; but of course
she only half understands, and is very impatient.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Very well. Bring her out into the sun.
ACIS [_going quickly into the temple_] All ready. Come along.
_Joyous processional music strikes up in the temple._
THE SHE-ANCIENT [_going close to Strephon_]. Look at me.
STREPHON [_sulkily keeping his face _averted] Thank you; but I don't
want to be cured. I had rather be miserable in my own way than callous
THE SHE-ANCIENT. You like being miserable? You will soon grow out of
that. [_She returns to the altar_].
_The procession, headed by Acis, emerges from the temple. Six youths
carry on their shoulders a burden covered with a gorgeous but light
pall. Before them certain official maidens carry a new tunic, ewers of
water, silver dishes pierced with holes, cloths, and immense sponges.
The rest carry wands with ribbons, and strew flowers. The burden is
deposited on the altar, and the pall removed. It is a huge egg._
THE SHE-ANCIENT [_freeing her arms from her robe, and placing her saws
on the altar ready to her hand in a businesslike manner_] A girl, I
think you said?
THE TUNIC BEARER. It is a shame. Why cant we have more boys?
SEVERAL YOUTHS [_protesting_] Not at all. More girls. We want new girls.
A GIRL'S VOICE FROM THE EGG. Let me out. Let me out. I want to be born.
I want to be born. [_The egg rocks_].
ACIS [_snatching a wand from one of the others and whacking the egg with
it_] Be quiet, I tell you. Wait. You will be born presently.
THE EGG. No, no: at once, at once. I want to be born: I want to be born.
[_Violent kicking within the egg, which rocks so hard that it has to be
held on the altar by the bearers_].
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Silence. [_The music stops; and the egg behaves
_The She-Ancient takes her two saws, and with a couple of strokes rips
the egg open. The Newly Born, a pretty girl who would have been guessed
as seventeen in our day, sits up in the broken shell, exquisitely fresh
and rosy, but with filaments of spare albumen clinging to her here and
THE NEWLY BORN [_as the world bursts on her vision_] Oh! Oh!!
Oh!!! Oh!!!! [_She continues this ad libitum during the following
ACIS. Hold your noise, will you?
_The washing begins. The Newly Born shrieks and struggles._
A YOUTH. Lie quiet, you clammy little devil.
A MAIDEN. You must be washed, dear. Now quiet, quiet, quiet: be good.
ACIS. Shut your mouth, or I'll shove the sponge in it.
THE MAIDEN. Shut your eyes. Itll hurt if you don't.
ANOTHER MAIDEN. Dont be silly. One would think nobody had ever been born
THE NEWLY BORN [_yells_]!!!!!!
ACIS. Serve you right! You were told to shut your eyes.
THE YOUTH. Dry her off quick. I can hardly hold her. Shut it, will you;
or I'll smack you into a pickled cabbage.
_The dressing begins. The Newly Born chuckles with delight._
THE MAIDEN. Your arms go here, dear. Isnt it pretty? Youll look lovely.
THE NEWLY BORN [_rapturously_] Oh! Oh!! Oh!!! Oh!!!!
ANOTHER YOUTH. No: the other arm: youre putting it on back to front. You
are a silly little beast.
ACIS. Here! Thats it. Now youre clean and decent. Up with you! Oopsh!
[_He hauls her to her feet. She cannot walk at first, but masters it
after a few steps_]. Now then: march. Here she is, Ancient: put her
through the catechism.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. What name have you chosen for her?
THE SHE-ANCIENT [_to the Newly Born_] Your name is Amaryllis.
THE NEWLY BORN. What does it mean?
A YOUTH. Love.
A MAIDEN. Mother.
ANOTHER YOUTH. Lilies.
THE NEWLY BORN [_to Acis_] What is your name?
THE NEWLY BORN. I love you, Acis. I must have you all to myself. Take me
in your arms.
ACIS. Steady, young one. I am three years old.
THE NEWLY BORN. What has that to do with it? I love you; and I must have
you or I will go back into my shell again.
ACIS. You cant. It's broken. Look here [_pointing to Strephon, who has
remained in his seal without looking round at the birth, wrapped up in
his sorrow_]! Look at this poor fellow!
THE NEWLY BORN. What is the matter with him?
ACIS. When he was born he chose a girl two years old for his sweetheart.
He is two years old now himself; and already his heart is broken because
she is four. That means that she has grown up like this Ancient here,
and has left him. If you choose me, we shall have only a year's
happiness before I break your heart by growing up. Better choose the
youngest you can find.
THE NEWLY BORN. I will not choose anyone but you. You must not grow up.
We will love one another for ever. [_They all laugh_]. What are you
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Listen, child -
THE NEWLY BORN. Do not come near me, you dreadful old creature. You
ACIS. Just give her another moment. She is not quite reasonable yet.
What can you expect from a child less than five minutes old?
THE NEWLY BORN. I think I feel a little more reasonable now. Of course I
was rather young when I said that; but the inside of my head is changing
very rapidly. I should like to have things explained to me.
ACIS [_to the She-Ancient_] Is she all right, do you think?
_The She-Ancient looks at the Newly Born critically; feels her bumps
like a phrenologist; grips her muscles and shakes her limbs; examines
her teeth; looks into her eyes for a moment; and finally relinquishes
her with an air of having finished her job._
THE SHE-ANCIENT. She will do. She may live.
_They all wave their hands and shout for joy._
THE NEWLY BORN [_indignant_] I may live! Suppose there had been anything
wrong with me?
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Children with anything wrong do not live here, my
child. Life is not cheap with us. But you would not have felt anything.
THE NEWLY BORN. You mean that you would have murdered me!
THE SHE-ANCIENT. That is one of the funny words the newly born bring
with them out of the past. You will forget it tomorrow. Now listen. You
have four years of childhood before you. You will not be very happy; but
you will be interested and amused by the novelty of the world; and your
companions here will teach you how to keep up an imitation of happiness
during your four years by what they call arts and sports and pleasures.
The worst of your troubles is already over.
THE NEWLY BORN. What! In five minutes?
THE SHE-ANCIENT. No: you have been growing for two years in the egg. You
began by being several sorts of creatures that no longer exist, though
we have fossils of them. Then you became human; and you passed in
fifteen months through a development that once cost human beings twenty
years of awkward stumbling immaturity after they were born. They had to
spend fifty years more in the sort of childhood you will complete in
four years. And then they died of decay. But you need not die until your
THE NEWLY BORN. What is my accident?
THE SHE-ANCIENT. Sooner or later you will fall and break your neck; or a
tree will fall on you; or you will be struck by lightning. Something or
other must make an end of you some day.
THE NEWLY BORN. But why should any of these things happen to me?
THE SHE-ANCIENT. There is no why. They do. Everything happens to
everybody sooner or later if there is time enough. And with us there is
THE NEWLY BORN. Nothing need happen. I never heard such nonsense in all
my life. I shall know how to take care of myself.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. So you think.
THE NEWLY BORN. I don't think: I know. I shall enjoy life for ever and
THE SHE-ANCIENT. If you should turn out to be a person of infinite
capacity, you will no doubt find life infinitely interesting. However,
all you have to do now is to play with your companions. They have many
pretty toys, as you see: a playhouse, pictures, images, flowers, bright
fabrics, music: above all, themselves; for the most amusing child's toy
is another child. At the end of four years, your mind will change: you
will become wise; and then you will be entrusted with power.
THE NEWLY BORN. But I want power now.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. No doubt you do; so that you could play with the world
by tearing it to pieces.
THE NEWLY BORN. Only to see how it is made. I should put it all together
again much better than before.
THE SHE-ANCIENT. There was a time when children were given the world to
play with because they promised to improve it. They did not improve it;
and they would have wrecked it had their power been as great as that
which you will wield when you are no longer a child. Until then your
young companions will instruct you in whatever is necessary. You are not
forbidden to speak to the ancients; but you had better not do so, as
most of them have long ago exhausted all the interest there is in
observing children and conversing with them. [_She turns to go_].
THE NEWLY BORN. Wait. Tell me some things that I ought to do and ought
not to do. I feel the need of education. They all laugh at her, except
THE SHE-ANCIENT. You will have grown out of that by tomorrow. Do what
you please. [_She goes away up the hill path_].
_The officials take their paraphernalia and the fragments of the egg
back into the temple._
ACIS. Just fancy: that old girl has been going for seven hundred years
and hasnt had her fatal accident yet; and she is not a bit tired of it
THE NEWLY BORN. How could anyone ever get tired of life?
ACIS. They do. That is, of the same life. They manage to change
themselves in a wonderful way. You meet them sometimes with a lot of
extra heads and arms and legs: they make you split laughing at them.
Most of them have forgotten how to speak: the ones that attend to us
have to brush up their knowledge of the language once a year or so.
Nothing makes any difference to them that I can see. They never enjoy
themselves. I don't know how they can stand it. They don't even come to
our festivals of the arts. That old one who saw you out of your shell
has gone off to moodle about doing nothing; though she knows that this
is Festival Day?
THE NEWLY BORN. What is Festival Day?
ACIS. Two of our greatest sculptors are bringing us their latest
masterpieces; and we are going to crown them with flowers and sing
dithyrambs to them and dance round them.
THE NEWLY BORN. How jolly! What is a sculptor?
ACIS. Listen here, young one. You must find out things for yourself, and
not ask questions. For the first day or two you must keep your eyes and
ears open and your mouth shut. Children should be seen and not heard.
THE NEWLY BORN. Who are you calling a child? I am fully a quarter of
an hour old [_She sits down on the curved bench near Strephon with her
VOICES IN THE TEMPLE [_all expressing protest, disappointment, disgust_]
Oh! Oh! Scandalous. Shameful. Disgraceful. What filth! Is this a joke?
Why, theyre ancients! Ss-s-s-sss! Are you mad, Arjillax? This is an
outrage. An insult. Yah! etc. etc. etc. [_The malcontents appear on the
ACIS. Hullo: whats the matter? [_He goes to the steps of the temple_].
_The two sculptors issue from the temple. One has a beard two feet long:
the other is beardless. Between them comes a handsome nymph with marked
features, dark hair richly waved, and authoritative bearing._
THE AUTHORITATIVE NYMPH [_swooping down to the centre of the glade with
the sculptors, between Acis and the Newly Born_] Do not try to browbeat
me, Arjillax, merely because you are clever with your hands. Can you
play the flute?
ARJILLAX [_the bearded sculptor on her right_] No, Ecrasia: I cannot.
What has that to do with it? [_He is half derisive, half impatient,
wholly resolved not to take her seriously in spite of her beauty and
ECRASIA. Well, have you ever hesitated to criticize our best flute
players, and to declare whether their music is good or bad? Pray have I
not the same right to criticize your busts, though I cannot make images
anymore than you can play?
ARJILLAX. Any fool can play the flute, or play anything else, if he
practises enough; but sculpture is a creative art, not a mere business
of whistling into a pipe. The sculptor must have something of the god
in him. From his hand comes a form which reflects a spirit. He does not
make it to please you, nor even to please himself, but because he must.
You must take what he gives you, or leave it if you are not worthy of
ECRASIA [_scornfully_] Not worthy of it! Ho! May I not leave it because
it is not worthy of me?
ARJILLAX. Of you! Hold your silly tongue, you conceited humbug. What do
you know about it?
ECRASIA. I know what every person of culture knows: that the business of
the artist is to create beauty. Until today your works have been full of
beauty; and I have been the first to point that out.
ARJILLAX. Thank you for nothing. People have eyes, havnt they, to see
what is as plain as the sun in the heavens without your pointing it out?
ECRASIA. You were very glad to have it pointed out. You did not call me
a conceited humbug then. You stifled me with caresses. You modelled me
as the genius of art presiding over the infancy of your master here
[_indicating the other sculptor_], Martellus.
MARTELLUS [_a silent and meditative listener, shudders and shakes his
head, but says nothing_].
ARJILLAX [_quarrelsomely_] I was taken in by your talk.
ECRASIA. I discovered your genius before anyone else did. Is that true,
or is it not?
ARJILLAX. Everybody knew I was an extraordinary person. When I was born
my beard was three feet long.
ECRASIA. Yes; and it has shrunk from three feet to two. Your genius
seems to have been in the last foot of your beard; for you have lost
MARTELLUS [_with a short sardonic cachinnation_] Ha! My beard was three
and a half feet long when I was born; and a flash of lightning burnt it
off and killed the ancient who was delivering me. Without a hair on my
chin I became the greatest sculptor in ten generations.
ECRASIA. And yet you come to us today with empty hands. We shall
actually have to crown Arjillax here because no other sculptor is
ACIS [_returning from the temple steps to behind the curved seat on the
right of the three_] Whats the row, Ecrasia? Why have you fallen out
ECRASIA. He has insulted us! outraged us! profaned his art! You know
how much we hoped from the twelve busts he placed in the temple to be
unveiled today. Well, go in and look at them. That is all I have to
say. [_She sweeps to the curved seat, and sits down just where Acis is
leaning over it_].
ACIS. I am no great judge of sculpture. Art is not my line. What is
wrong with the busts?
ECRASIA. Wrong with them! Instead of being ideally beautiful nymphs and
youths, they are horribly realistic studies of - but I really cannot
bring my lips to utter it.
_The Newly Born, full of curiosity, runs to the temple, and peeps in._
ACIS. Oh, stow it, Ecrasia. Your lips are not so squeamish as all that.
Studies of what?
THE NEWLY BORN [_from the temple steps_] Ancients.
ACIS [_surprised but not scandalized_] Ancients!
ECRASIA. Yes, ancients. The one subject that is by the universal consent
of all connoisseurs absolutely excluded from the fine arts. [_To
Arjillax_] How can you defend such a proceeding?
ARJILLAX. If you come to that, what interest can you find in the statues
of smirking nymphs and posturing youths you stick up all over the place?
ECRASIA. You did not ask that when your hand was still skilful enough to
ARJILLAX. Skilful! You high-nosed idiot, I could turn such things out by
the score with my eyes bandaged and one hand tied behind me. But what
use would they be? They would bore me; and they would bore you if you
had any sense. Go in and look at my busts. Look at them again and yet
again until you receive the full impression of the intensity of
mind that is stamped on them; and then go back to the pretty-pretty
confectionery you call sculpture, and see whether you can endure its
vapid emptiness. [_He mounts the altar impetuously_] Listen to me, all
of you; and do you, Ecrasia, be silent if you are capable of silence.
ECRASIA. Silence is the most perfect expression of scorn. Scorn! That is
what I feel for your revolting busts.
ARJILLAX. Fool: the busts are only the beginning of a mighty design.
ACIS. Go ahead, old sport. We are listening.
_Martellus stretches himself on the sward beside the altar. The Newly
Born sits on the temple steps with her chin on her hands, ready to
devour the first oration she has ever heard. The rest sit or stand at
ARJILLAX. In the records which generations of children have rescued from
the stupid neglect of the ancients, there has come down to us a fable
which, like many fables, is not a thing that was done in the past, but a
thing that is to be done in the future. It is a legend of a supernatural
being called the Archangel Michael.
THE NEWLY BORN. Is this a story? I want to hear a story. [_She runs down
the steps and sits on the altar at Arjillax's feet_].
ARJILLAX. The Archangel Michael was a mighty sculptor and painter. He
found in the centre of the world a temple erected to the goddess of the
centre, called Mediterranea. This temple was full of silly pictures of
pretty children, such as Ecrasia approves.
ACIS. Fair play, Arjillax! If she is to keep silent, let her alone.
ECRASIA. I shall not interrupt, Acis. Why should I not prefer youth and
beauty to age and ugliness?
ARJILLAX. Just so. Well, the Archangel Michael was of my opinion, not
yours. He began by painting on the ceiling the newly born in all their
childish beauty. But when he had done this he was not satisfied; for the
temple was no more impressive than it had been before, except that there
was a strength and promise of greater things about his newly born ones
than any other artist had attained to. So he painted all round these
newly born a company of ancients, who were in those days called prophets
and sybils, whose majesty was that of the mind alone at its intensest.
And this painting was acknowledged through ages and ages to be the
summit and masterpiece of art. Of course we cannot believe such a tale
literally. It is only a legend. We do not believe in archangels; and the
notion that thirty thousand years ago sculpture and painting existed,