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Title: The Collected Works in Verse and Prose of William Butler Yeats, Vol. 4 (of 8) - The Hour-glass. Cathleen ni Houlihan. The Golden Helmet. - The Irish Dramatic Movement
Author: Yeats, W. B. (William Butler)
Language: English
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    THE HOUR-GLASS                                  1

    CATHLEEN NI HOULIHAN                           31

    THE GOLDEN HELMET                              55

    THE IRISH DRAMATIC MOVEMENT                    79

    ‘THE HOUR-GLASS’                              233

    ‘CATHLEEN NI HOULIHAN’                        240

    ‘THE GOLDEN HELMET’                           243





    A FOOL



    _A large room with a door at the back and another at
    the side, or else a curtained place where persons can
    enter by parting the curtains. A desk and a chair at
    one side. An hour-glass on a bracket or stand near the
    door. A creepy stool near it. Some benches. A WISE MAN
    sitting at his desk._


    [_Turning over the pages of a book._]

WHERE is that passage I am to explain to my pupils to-day? Here it
is, and the book says that it was written by a beggar on the walls of
Babylon: ‘There are two living countries, the one visible and the one
invisible; and when it is winter with us it is summer in that country,
and when the November winds are up among us it is lambing-time there.’
I wish that my pupils had asked me to explain any other passage. [_The
FOOL comes in and stands at the door holding out his hat. He has a pair
of shears in the other hand._] It sounds to me like foolishness; and
yet that cannot be, for the writer of this book, where I have found
so much knowledge, would not have set it by itself on this page, and
surrounded it with so many images and so many deep colours and so much
fine gilding, if it had been foolishness.


Give me a penny.

WISE MAN [_turns to another page_].

Here he has written: ‘The learned in old times forgot the visible
country.’ That I understand, but I have taught my learners better.


Won’t you give me a penny?


What do you want? The words of the wise Saracen will not teach you much.


Such a great wise teacher as you are will not refuse a penny to a fool.


What do you know about wisdom?


Oh, I know! I know what I have seen.


What is it you have seen?


When I went by Kilcluan where the bells used to be ringing at the
break of every day, I could hear nothing but the people snoring in
their houses. When I went by Tubbervanach, where the young men used
to be climbing the hill to the blessed well, they were sitting at the
crossroads playing cards. When I went by Carrigoras, where the friars
used to be fasting and serving the poor, I saw them drinking wine and
obeying their wives. And when I asked what misfortune had brought all
these changes, they said it was no misfortune, but it was the wisdom
they had learned from your teaching.


Run round to the kitchen, and my wife will give you something to eat.


That is foolish advice for a wise man to give.


Why, Fool?


What is eaten is gone. I want pennies for my bag. I must buy bacon
in the shops, and nuts in the market, and strong drink for the time
when the sun is weak. And I want snares to catch the rabbits and the
squirrels and the hares, and a pot to cook them in.


Go away. I have other things to think of now than giving you pennies.


Give me a penny and I will bring you luck. Bresal the Fisherman lets me
sleep among the nets in his loft in the winter-time because he says I
bring him luck; and in the summer-time the wild creatures let me sleep
near their nests and their holes. It is lucky even to look at me or to
touch me, but it is much more lucky to give me a penny. [_Holds out his
hand._] If I wasn’t lucky, I’d starve.


What have you got the shears for?


I won’t tell you. If I told you, you would drive them away.


Whom would I drive away?


I won’t tell you.


Not if I give you a penny?




Not if I give you two pennies?


You will be very lucky if you give me two pennies, but I won’t tell you!


Three pennies?


Four, and I will tell you!


Very well, four. But I will not call you Teig the Fool any longer.


Let me come close to you where nobody will hear me. But first you must
promise you will not drive them away. [_WISE MAN nods._] Every day men
go out dressed in black and spread great black nets over the hills,
great black nets.


Why do they do that?


That they may catch the feet of the angels. But every morning, just
before the dawn, I go out and cut the nets with my shears, and the
angels fly away.


Ah, now I know that you are Teig the Fool. You have told me that I am
wise, and I have never seen an angel.


I have seen plenty of angels.


Do you bring luck to the angels too?


Oh, no, no! No one could do that. But they are always there if one
looks about one; they are like the blades of grass.


When do you see them?


When one gets quiet, then something wakes up inside one, something
happy and quiet like the stars—not like the seven that move, but like
the fixed stars. [_He points upward._


And what happens then?


Then all in a minute one smells summer flowers, and tall people go by,
happy and laughing, and their clothes are the colour of burning sods.


Is it long since you have seen them, Teig the Fool?


Not long, glory be to God! I saw one coming behind me just now. It was
not laughing, but it had clothes the colour of burning sods, and there
was something shining about its head.


Well, there are your four pennies. You, a fool, say ‘Glory be to God,’
but before I came the wise men said it.


Four pennies! That means a great deal of luck. Great teacher, I have
brought you plenty of luck! [_He goes out shaking the bag._


Though they call him Teig the Fool, he is not more foolish than
everybody used to be, with their dreams and their preachings and
their three worlds; but I have overthrown their three worlds with the
seven sciences. With Philosophy that was made from the lonely star, I
have taught them to forget Theology; with Architecture, I have hidden
the ramparts of their cloudy heaven; with Music, the fierce planets’
daughter whose hair is always on fire, and with Grammar that is the
moon’s daughter, I have shut their ears to the imaginary harpings
and speech of the angels; and I have made formations of battle with
Arithmetic that have put the hosts of heaven to the rout. But, Rhetoric
and Dialectic, that have been born out of the light star and out of
the amorous star, you have been my spearman and my catapult! Oh! my
swift horsemen! Oh! my keen darting arguments, it is because of you
that I have overthrown the hosts of foolishness! [_An ANGEL, in a dress
the colour of embers, and carrying a blossoming apple-bough in her
hand and a gilded halo about her head, stands upon the threshold._]
Before I came, men’s minds were stuffed with folly about a heaven
where birds sang the hours, and about angels that came and stood upon
men’s thresholds. But I have locked the visions into heaven and turned
the key upon them. Well, I must consider this passage about the two
countries. My mother used to say something of the kind. She would
say that when our bodies sleep our souls awake, and that whatever
withers here ripens yonder, and that harvests are snatched from us
that they may feed invisible people. But the meaning of the book may
be different, for only fools and women have thoughts like that; their
thoughts were never written upon the walls of Babylon. I must ring
the bell for my pupils. [_He sees the ANGEL._] What are you? Who are
you? I think I saw some that were like you in my dreams when I was a
child—that bright thing, that dress that is the colour of embers! But I
have done with dreams, I have done with dreams.


I am the Angel of the Most High God.


Why have you come to me?


I have brought you a message.


What message have you got for me?


You will die within the hour. You will die when the last grains have
fallen in this glass.

    [_She turns the hour-glass._


My time to die has not come. I have my pupils. I have a young wife and
children that I cannot leave. Why must I die?


You must die because no souls have passed over the threshold of Heaven
since you came into this country. The threshold is grassy, and the
gates are rusty, and the angels that keep watch there are lonely.


Where will death bring me to?


The doors of Heaven will not open to you, for you have denied the
existence of Heaven; and the doors of Purgatory will not open to you,
for you have denied the existence of Purgatory.


But I have also denied the existence of Hell!


Hell is the place of those who deny.

WISE MAN [_kneels_].

I have, indeed, denied everything, and have taught others to deny. I
have believed in nothing but what my senses told me. But, oh! beautiful
Angel, forgive me, forgive me!


You should have asked forgiveness long ago.


Had I seen your face as I see it now, oh! beautiful angel, I would have
believed, I would have asked forgiveness. Maybe you do not know how
easy it is to doubt. Storm, death, the grass rotting, many sicknesses,
those are the messengers that came to me. Oh! why are you silent? You
carry the pardon of the Most High; give it to me! I would kiss your
hands if I were not afraid—no, no, the hem of your dress!


You let go undying hands too long ago to take hold of them now.


You cannot understand. You live in a country that we can only dream
about. Maybe it is as hard for you to understand why we disbelieve as
it is for us to believe. Oh! what have I said! You know everything!
Give me time to undo what I have done. Give me a year—a month—a day—an
hour! Give me to this hour’s end, that I may undo what I have done!


You cannot undo what you have done. Yet I have this power with my
message. If you can find one that believes before the hour’s end, you
shall come to Heaven after the years of Purgatory. For, from one fiery
seed, watched over by those that sent me, the harvest can come again to
heap the golden threshing-floor. But now farewell, for I am weary of
the weight of time.


Blessed be the Father, blessed be the Son, blessed be the Spirit,
blessed be the Messenger They have sent!


    [_At the door and pointing at the hour-glass._]

In a little while the uppermost glass will be empty. [_Goes out._


Everything will be well with me. I will call my pupils; they only say
they doubt. [_Pulls the bell._] They will be here in a moment. They
want to please me; they pretend that they disbelieve. Belief is too
old to be overcome all in a minute. Besides, I can prove what I once
disproved. [_Another pull at the bell._] They are coming now. I will go
to my desk. I will speak quietly, as if nothing had happened.

    [_He stands at the desk with a fixed look in his eyes.
    The voices of THE PUPILS are heard singing these words_:

    I was going the road one day—
    O the brown and the yellow beer—
    And I met with a man that was no right man:
    O my dear, O my dear!

    _Enter PUPILS and the FOOL._


Leave me alone. Leave me alone. Who is that pulling at my bag? King’s
son, do not pull at my bag.


Did your friends the angels give you that bag? Why don’t they fill your
bag for you?


Give me pennies! Give me some pennies!


What do you want pennies for? that great bag at your waist is heavy.


I want to buy bacon in the shops, and nuts in the market, and strong
drink for the time when the sun is weak, and snares to catch rabbits
and the squirrels that steal the nuts, and hares, and a great pot to
cook them in.


Why don’t your friends tell you where buried treasures are? Why don’t
they make you dream about treasures? If one dreams three times there is
always treasure.

FOOL [_holding out his hat_].

Give me pennies! Give me pennies!

    [_They throw pennies into his hat. He is standing close
    to the door, that he may hold out his hat to each


Master, will you have Teig the Fool for a scholar?


Teig, will you give us your pennies if we teach you lessons? No, he
goes to school for nothing on the mountains. Tell us what you learn on
the mountains, Teig?


Be silent all! [_He has been standing silent, looking away._] Stand
still in your places, for there is something I would have you tell me.

    [_A moment’s pause. They all stand round in their
    places. TEIG still stands at the door._


Is there any one amongst you who believes in God? In Heaven? Or in
Purgatory? Or in Hell?


No one, Master! No one!


I knew you would all say that; but do not be afraid. I will not be
angry. Tell me the truth. Do you not believe?


We once did, but you have taught us to know better.


Oh! teaching, teaching does not go very deep! The heart remains
unchanged under it all. You have the faith that you always had, and you
are afraid to tell me.


No, no, Master!


If you tell me that you have not changed I shall be glad and not angry.

A YOUNG MAN [_to his _Neighbour_].

He wants somebody to dispute with.


I knew that from the beginning.


That is not the subject for to-day; you were going to talk about the
words the beggar wrote upon the walls of Babylon.


If there is one amongst you that believes, he will be my best friend.
Surely there is one amongst you. [_They are all silent._] Surely what
you learned at your mother’s knees has not been so soon forgotten.


Master, till you came, no teacher in this land was able to get rid of
foolishness and ignorance. But every one has listened to you, every one
has learned the truth. You have had your last disputation.


What a fool you made of that monk in the market-place! He had not a
word to say.


    [_Comes from his desk and stands among them in the
    middle of the room._]

Pupils, dear friends, I have deceived you all this time. It was I
myself who was ignorant. There is a God. There is a Heaven. There is
fire that passes, and there is fire that lasts for ever.

    [_TEIG, through all this, is sitting on a stool by the
    door, reckoning on his fingers what he will buy with
    his money._

A YOUNG MAN [_to _Another_].

He will not be satisfied till we dispute with him. [_To the WISE MAN._]
Prove it, Master. Have you seen them?

WISE MAN [_in a low, solemn voice_].

Just now, before you came in, someone came to the door, and when I
looked up I saw an angel standing there.


You were in a dream. Anybody can see an angel in his dreams.


Oh, my God! It was not a dream! I was awake, waking as I am now. I tell
you I was awake as I am now.


Some dream when they are awake, but they are the crazy, and who would
believe what they say? Forgive me, Master, but that is what you taught
me to say. That is what you said to the monk when he spoke of the
visions of the saints and the martyrs.


You see how well we remember your teaching.


Out, out from my sight! I want someone with belief. I must find that
grain the Angel spoke of before I die. I tell you I must find it, and
you answer me with arguments. Out with you, out of my sight!

    [_The _Young Men_ laugh._


How well he plays at faith! He is like the monk when he had nothing
more to say.


Out, out! This is no time for laughter! Out with you, though you are a
king’s son!

    [_They begin to hurry out._


Come, come; he wants us to find someone who will dispute with him.
[_All go out._


    [_Alone; he goes to the door at the side._]

I will call my wife. She will believe; women always believe. [_He opens
the door and calls._] Bridget! Bridget! [_BRIDGET comes in wearing her
apron, her sleeves turned up from her floury arms._] Bridget, tell me
the truth; do not say what you think will please me. Do you sometimes
say your prayers?


Prayers! No, you taught me to leave them off long ago. At first I was
sorry, but I am glad now for I am sleepy in the evenings.


But do you not believe in God?


Oh, a good wife only believes what her husband tells her!


But sometimes when you are alone, when I am in the school and the
children asleep, do you not think about the saints, about the things
you used to believe in? What do you think of when you are alone?

BRIDGET [_considering_].

I think about nothing. Sometimes I wonder if the linen is bleaching
white, or I go out to see if the crows are picking up the chickens’


Oh, what can I do! Is there nobody who believes he can never die? I
must go and find somebody! [_He goes towards the door, but stops with
his eyes fixed on the hour-glass._] I cannot go out; I cannot leave
that. Go, and call my pupils again. I will make them understand. I will
say to them that only amid spiritual terror, or only when all that
laid hold on life is shaken can we see truth. There is something in
Plato, but—no, do not call them. They would answer as I have bid.


You want somebody to get up an argument with.


Oh, look out of the door and tell me if there is anybody there in the
street. I cannot leave this glass; somebody might shake it! Then the
sand would fall more quickly.


I don’t understand what you are saying. [_Looks out._] There is a great
crowd of people talking to your pupils.


Oh, run out, Bridget, and see if they have found somebody that all the
time I was teaching understood nothing or did not listen!


    [_Wiping her arms in her apron and pulling down her

It’s a hard thing to be married to a man of learning that must be
always having arguments. [_Goes out and shouts through the kitchen
door._] Don’t be meddling with the bread, children, while I’m out.

WISE MAN [_kneels down_].

‘_Confiteor Deo Omnipotenti beatæ Mariæ ..._’ I have forgotten it all.
It is thirty years since I have said a prayer. I must pray in the
common tongue, like a clown begging in the market, like Teig the Fool!
[_He prays._] Help me, Father, Son, and Spirit!

    [_BRIDGET enters, followed by the FOOL, who is holding
    out his hat to her._


Give me something; give me a penny to buy bacon in the shops, and nuts
in the market, and strong drink for the time when the sun grows weak.


I have no pennies. [_To the WISE MAN._] Your pupils cannot find anybody
to argue with you. There is nobody in the whole country who has enough
belief to fill a pipe with since you put down the monk. Can’t you be
quiet now and not always wanting to have arguments? It must be terrible
to have a mind like that.


I am lost! I am lost!


Leave me alone now; I have to make the bread for you and the children.


Out of this, woman, out of this, I say! [_BRIDGET goes through the
kitchen door._] Will nobody find a way to help me! But she spoke of my
children. I had forgotten them. They will believe. It is only those who
have reason that doubt; the young are full of faith. Bridget, Bridget,
send my children to me.

BRIDGET [_inside_].

Your father wants you; run to him now.

    [_The two CHILDREN come in. They stand together a
    little way from the threshold of the kitchen door,
    looking timidly at their father._


Children, what do you believe? Is there a Heaven? Is there a Hell? Is
there a Purgatory?


We haven’t forgotten, father.


O no, father. [_They both speak together as if in school._] There is
nothing we cannot see; there is nothing we cannot touch.


Foolish people used to think that there was, but you are very learned
and you have taught us better.


You are just as bad as the others, just as bad as the others! Do not
run away, come back to me! [_The CHILDREN begin to cry and run away._]
Why are you afraid? I will teach you better—no, I will never teach you
again. Go to your mother! no, she will not be able to teach them....
Help them, O God!... The grains are going very quickly. There is very
little sand in the uppermost glass. Somebody will come for me in a
moment; perhaps he is at the door now! All creatures that have reason
doubt. O that the grass and the plants could speak! Somebody has said
that they would wither if they doubted. O speak to me, O grass blades!
O fingers of God’s certainty, speak to me! You are millions and you
will not speak. I dare not know the moment the messenger will come for
me. I will cover the glass. [_He covers it and brings it to the desk.
Sees the FOOL, who is sitting by the door playing with some flowers
which he has stuck in his hat. He has begun to blow a dandelion-head._]
What are you doing?


Wait a moment. [_He blows._] Four, five, six.


What are you doing that for?


I am blowing at the dandelion to find out what time it is.


You have heard everything! That is why you want to find out what hour
it is! You are waiting to see them coming through the door to carry me
away. [_FOOL goes on blowing._] Out through the door with you! I will
have no one here when they come. [_He seizes the FOOL by the shoulders,
and begins to force him out through the door, then suddenly changes his
mind._] No, I have something to ask you. [_He drags him back into the
room._] Is there a Heaven? Is there a Hell? Is there a Purgatory?


So you ask me now. When you were asking your pupils, I said to myself,
if he would ask Teig the Fool, Teig could tell him all about it, for
Teig has learned all about it when he has been cutting the nets.


Tell me; tell me!


I said, Teig knows everything. Not even the cats or the hares that milk
the cows have Teig’s wisdom. But Teig will not speak; he says nothing.


Tell me, tell me! For under the cover the grains are falling, and when
they are all fallen I shall die; and my soul will be lost if I have not
found somebody that believes! Speak, speak!

FOOL [_looking wise_].

No, no, I won’t tell you what is in my mind, and I won’t tell you what
is in my bag. You might steal away my thoughts. I met a bodach on the
road yesterday, and he said, ‘Teig, tell me how many pennies are in
your bag; I will wager three pennies that there are not twenty pennies
in your bag; let me put in my hand and count them.’ But I pulled the
strings tighter, like this; and when I go to sleep every night I hide
the bag where no one knows.


    [_Goes towards the hour-glass as if to uncover it._]

No, no, I have not the courage. [_He kneels._] Have pity upon me, Fool,
and tell me!


Ah! Now, that is different. I am not afraid of you now. But I must come
nearer to you; somebody in there might hear what the Angel said.


Oh, what did the Angel tell you?


Once I was alone on the hills, and an angel came by and he said, ‘Teig
the Fool, do not forget the Three Fires; the Fire that punishes, the
Fire that purifies, and the Fire wherein the soul rejoices for ever!’


He believes! I am saved! The sand has run out.... [_FOOL helps him to
his chair._] I am going from the country of the seven wandering stars,
and I am going to the country of the fixed stars! I understand it all
now. One sinks in on God; we do not see the truth; God sees the truth
in us. Ring the bell. They are coming. Tell them, Fool, that when the
life and the mind are broken the truth comes through them like peas
through a broken peascod. Pray, Fool, that they may be given a sign and
carry their souls alive out of the dying world. Your prayers are better
than mine.

    [_FOOL bows his head. WISE MAN’S head sinks on his arm
    on the books. PUPILS are heard singing as before, but
    now they come right on to the stage before they cease
    their song._


Look at the Fool turned bell-ringer!


What have you called us in for, Teig? What are you going to tell us?


No wonder he has had dreams! See, he is fast asleep now. [_Goes over
and touches him._] Oh, he is dead!


Do not stir! He asked for a sign that you might be saved. [_All are
silent for a moment._] ... Look what has come from his mouth ... a
little winged thing ... a little shining thing.... It is gone to the
door. [_The ANGEL appears in the doorway, stretches out her hands and
closes them again._] The Angel has taken it in her hands.... She will
open her hands in the Garden of Paradise. [_They all kneel._



    MICHAEL GILLANE, _his Son, going to be married_
    PATRICK GILLANE, _a lad of twelve, Michael’s Brother_
    BRIDGET GILLANE, _Peter’s Wife_
    DELIA CAHEL, _engaged to Michael_


    _Interior of a cottage close to Killala, in 1798.
    BRIDGET is standing at a table undoing a parcel. PETER
    is sitting at one side of the fire, PATRICK at the


What is that sound I hear?


I don’t hear anything. [_He listens._] I hear it now. It’s like
cheering. [_He goes to the window and looks out._] I wonder what they
are cheering about. I don’t see anybody.


It might be a hurling.


There’s no hurling to-day. It must be down in the town the cheering is.


I suppose the boys must be having some sport of their own. Come over
here, Peter, and look at Michael’s wedding-clothes.

PETER [_shifts his chair to table_].

Those are grand clothes, indeed.


You hadn’t clothes like that when you married me, and no coat to put on
of a Sunday more than any other day.


That is true, indeed. We never thought a son of our own would be
wearing a suit of that sort for his wedding, or have so good a place to
bring a wife to.

PATRICK [_who is still at the window_].

There’s an old woman coming down the road. I don’t know is it here she
is coming?


It will be a neighbour coming to hear about Michael’s wedding. Can you
see who it is?


I think it is a stranger, but she’s not coming to the house. She’s
turned into the gap that goes down where Murteen and his sons are
shearing sheep. [_He turns towards BRIDGET._] Do you remember what
Winny of the Cross Roads was saying the other night about the strange
woman that goes through the country whatever time there’s war or
trouble coming?


Don’t be bothering us about Winny’s talk, but go and open the door for
your brother. I hear him coming up the path.


I hope he has brought Delia’s fortune with him safe, for fear her
people might go back on the bargain and I after making it. Trouble
enough I had making it.

    [_PATRICK opens the door and MICHAEL comes in._


What kept you, Michael? We were looking out for you this long time.


I went round by the priest’s house to bid him be ready to marry us


Did he say anything?


He said it was a very nice match, and that he was never better pleased
to marry any two in his parish than myself and Delia Cahel.


Have you got the fortune, Michael?


Here it is.

    [_MICHAEL puts bag on table and goes over and leans
    against chimney-jamb. BRIDGET, who has been all this
    time examining the clothes, pulling the seams and
    trying the lining of the pockets, etc., puts the
    clothes on the dresser._


    [_Getting up and taking the bag in his hand and turning
    out the money._]

Yes, I made the bargain well for you, Michael. Old John Cahel would
sooner have kept a share of this a while longer. ‘Let me keep the half
of it until the first boy is born,’ says he. ‘You will not,’ says I.
‘Whether there is or is not a boy, the whole hundred pounds must be in
Michael’s hands before he brings your daughter to the house.’ The wife
spoke to him then, and he gave in at the end.


You seem well pleased to be handling the money, Peter.


Indeed, I wish I had had the luck to get a hundred pounds, or twenty
pounds itself, with the wife I married.


Well, if I didn’t bring much I didn’t get much. What had you the day I
married you but a flock of hens and you feeding them, and a few lambs
and you driving them to the market at Ballina. [_She is vexed and bangs
a jug on the dresser._] If I brought no fortune I worked it out in my
bones, laying down the baby, Michael that is standing there now, on a
stook of straw, while I dug the potatoes, and never asking big dresses
or anything but to be working.


That is true, indeed. [_He pats her arm._


Leave me alone now till I ready the house for the woman that is to come
into it.


You are the best woman in Ireland, but money is good, too. [_He begins
handling the money again and sits down._] I never thought to see so
much money within my four walls. We can do great things now we have
it. We can take the ten acres of land we have a chance of since Jamsie
Dempsey died, and stock it. We will go to the fair of Ballina to buy
the stock. Did Delia ask any of the money for her own use, Michael?


She did not, indeed. She did not seem to take much notice of it, or to
look at it at all.


That’s no wonder. Why would she look at it when she had yourself to
look at, a fine, strong young man? it is proud she must be to get you;
a good steady boy that will make use of the money, and not be running
through it or spending it on drink like another.


It’s likely Michael himself was not thinking much of the fortune
either, but of what sort the girl was to look at.

MICHAEL [_coming over towards the table_].

Well, you would like a nice comely girl to be beside you, and to go
walking with you. The fortune only lasts for a while, but the woman
will be there always.

PATRICK [_turning round from the window_].

They are cheering again down in the town. Maybe they are landing horses
from Enniscrone. They do be cheering when the horses take the water


There are no horses in it. Where would they be going and no fair at
hand? Go down to the town, Patrick, and see what is going on.


    [_Opens the door to go out, but stops for a moment on
    the threshold._]

Will Delia remember, do you think, to bring the greyhound pup she
promised me when she would be coming to the house?


She will surely.

    [_PATRICK goes out, leaving the door open._


It will be Patrick’s turn next to be looking for a fortune, but he
won’t find it so easy to get it and he with no place of his own.


I do be thinking sometimes, now things are going so well with us, and
the Cahels such a good back to us in the district, and Delia’s own
uncle a priest, we might be put in the way of making Patrick a priest
some day, and he so good at his books.


Time enough, time enough, you have always your head full of plans,


We will be well able to give him learning, and not to send him tramping
the country like a poor scholar that lives on charity.


They’re not done cheering yet.

    [_He goes over to the door and stands there for a
    moment, putting up his hand to shade his eyes._


Do you see anything?


I see an old woman coming up the path.


Who is it, I wonder? It must be the strange woman Patrick saw a while


I don’t think it’s one of the neighbours anyway, but she has her cloak
over her face.


It might be some poor woman heard we were making ready for the wedding
and came to look for her share.


I may as well put the money out of sight. There is no use leaving it
out for every stranger to look at.

    [_He goes over to a large box in the corner, opens it
    and puts the bag in and fumbles at the lock._


There she is, father! [_An _Old Woman_ passes the window slowly, she
looks at MICHAEL as she passes._] I’d sooner a stranger not to come to
the house the night before my wedding.


Open the door, Michael; don’t keep the poor woman waiting.

    [_The OLD WOMAN comes in. MICHAEL stands aside to make
    way for her._


God save all here!


God save you kindly!


You have good shelter here.


You are welcome to whatever shelter we have.


Sit down there by the fire and welcome.

OLD WOMAN [_warming her hands_].

There is a hard wind outside.

    [_MICHAEL watches her curiously from the door. PETER
    comes over to the table._


Have you travelled far to-day?


I have travelled far, very far; there are few have travelled so far as
myself, and there’s many a one that doesn’t make me welcome. There was
one that had strong sons I thought were friends of mine, but they were
shearing their sheep, and they wouldn’t listen to me.


It’s a pity indeed for any person to have no place of their own.


That’s true for you indeed, and it’s long I’m on the roads since I
first went wandering.


It is a wonder you are not worn out with so much wandering.


Sometimes my feet are tired and my hands are quiet, but there is no
quiet in my heart. When the people see me quiet, they think old age
has come on me and that all the stir has gone out of me. But when the
trouble is on me I must be talking to my friends.


What was it put you wandering?


Too many strangers in the house.


Indeed you look as if you’d had your share of trouble.


I have had trouble indeed.


What was it put the trouble on you?


My land that was taken from me.


Was it much land they took from you?


My four beautiful green fields.

PETER [_aside to BRIDGET_].

Do you think could she be the widow Casey that was put out of her
holding at Kilglass a while ago?


She is not. I saw the widow Casey one time at the market in Ballina, a
stout fresh woman.


Did you hear a noise of cheering, and you coming up the hill?


I thought I heard the noise I used to hear when my friends came to
visit me.

    [_She begins singing half to herself._

    I will go cry with the woman,
    For yellow-haired Donough is dead,
    With a hempen rope for a neckcloth,
    And a white cloth on his head,——

MICHAEL [_coming from the door_].

What is that you are singing, ma’am?


Singing I am about a man I knew one time, yellow-haired Donough that
was hanged in Galway. [_She goes on singing, much louder._

    I am come to cry with you, woman,
    My hair is unwound and unbound;
    I remember him ploughing his field,
    Turning up the red side of the ground,

    And building his barn on the hill
    With the good mortared stone;
    O! we’d have pulled down the gallows
    Had it happened in Enniscrone!


What was it brought him to his death?


He died for love of me: many a man has died for love of me.

PETER [_aside to BRIDGET_].

Her trouble has put her wits astray.


Is it long since that song was made? Is it long since he got his death?


Not long, not long. But there were others that died for love of me a
long time ago.


Were they neighbours of your own, ma’am?


Come here beside me and I’ll tell you about them. [_MICHAEL sits down
beside her at the hearth._] There was a red man of the O’Donnells from
the north, and a man of the O’Sullivans from the south, and there was
one Brian that lost his life at Clontarf by the sea, and there were a
great many in the west, some that died hundreds of years ago, and there
are some that will die to-morrow.


Is it in the west that men will die to-morrow?


Come nearer, nearer to me.


Is she right, do you think? Or is she a woman from beyond the world?


She doesn’t know well what she’s talking about, with the want and the
trouble she has gone through.


The poor thing, we should treat her well.


Give her a drink of milk and a bit of the oaten cake.


Maybe we should give her something along with that, to bring her on her
way. A few pence or a shilling itself, and we with so much money in the


Indeed I’d not begrudge it to her if we had it to spare, but if we go
running through what we have, we’ll soon have to break the hundred
pounds, and that would be a pity.


Shame on you, Peter. Give her the shilling and your blessing with it,
or our own luck will go from us.

    [_PETER goes to the box and takes out a shilling._


Will you have a drink of milk, ma’am?


It is not food or drink that I want.

PETER [_offering the shilling_].

Here is something for you.


This is not what I want. It is not silver I want.


What is it you would be asking for?


If anyone would give me help he must give me himself, he must give me

    [_PETER goes over to the table staring at the shilling
    in his hand in a bewildered way, and stands whispering
    to BRIDGET._


Have you no one to care you in your age, ma’am?


I have not. With all the lovers that brought me their love, I never set
out the bed for any.


Are you lonely going the roads, ma’am?


I have my thoughts and I have my hopes.


What hopes have you to hold to?


The hope of getting my beautiful fields back again; the hope of putting
the strangers out of my house.


What way will you do that, ma’am?


I have good friends that will help me. They are gathering to help me
now. I am not afraid. If they are put down to-day they will get the
upper hand to-morrow. [_She gets up._] I must be going to meet my
friends. They are coming to help me and I must be there to welcome
them. I must call the neighbours together to welcome them.


I will go with you.


It is not her friends you have to go and welcome, Michael; it is the
girl coming into the house you have to welcome. You have plenty to do,
it is food and drink you have to bring to the house. The woman that is
coming home is not coming with empty hands; you would not have an empty
house before her. [_To the OLD WOMAN._] Maybe you don’t know, ma’am,
that my son is going to be married to-morrow.


It is not a man going to his marriage that I look to for help.


Who is she, do you think, at all?


You did not tell us your name yet, ma’am.


Some call me the Poor Old Woman, and there are some that call me
Cathleen, the daughter of Houlihan.


I think I knew someone of that name once. Who was it, I wonder? It must
have been someone I knew when I was a boy. No, no; I remember, I heard
it in a song.


    [_Who is standing in the doorway._]

They are wondering that there were songs made for me; there have been
many songs made for me. I heard one on the wind this morning.

    [_Sings._] Do not make a great keening
               When the graves have been dug to-morrow.
               Do not call the white-scarfed riders
               To the burying that shall be to-morrow.
               Do not spread food to call strangers
               To the wakes that shall be to-morrow;
               Do not give money for prayers
               For the dead that shall die to-morrow ...

they will have no need of prayers, they will have no need of prayers.


I do not know what that song means, but tell me something I can do for


Come over to me, Michael.


Hush, father, listen to her.


It is a hard service they take that help me. Many that are red-cheeked
now will be pale-cheeked; many that have been free to walk the hills
and the bogs and the rushes, will be sent to walk hard streets in far
countries; many a good plan will be broken; many that have gathered
money will not stay to spend it; many a child will be born and there
will be no father at its christening to give it a name. They that had
red cheeks will have pale cheeks for my sake; and for all that, they
will think they are well paid.

    [_She goes out; her voice is heard outside singing._

    They shall be remembered for ever,
    They shall be alive for ever,
    They shall be speaking for ever,
    The people shall hear them for ever.


Look at him, Peter; he has the look of a man that has got the touch.
[_Raising her voice._] Look here, Michael, at the wedding clothes.
Such grand clothes as these are! You have a right to fit them on now,
it would be a pity to-morrow if they did not fit. The boys would be
laughing at you. Take them, Michael, and go into the room and fit them

    [_She puts them on his arm._


What wedding are you talking of? What clothes will I be wearing


These are the clothes you are going to wear when you marry Delia Cahel


I had forgotten that.

    [_He looks at the clothes and turns towards the inner
    room, but stops at the sound of cheering outside._


There is the shouting come to our own door. What is it has happened?

    [Neighbours_ come crowding in, PATRICK and DELIA with


There are ships in the Bay; the French are landing at Killala!

    [_PETER takes his pipe from his mouth and his hat off
    and stands up. The clothes slip from MICHAEL’S arm._


Michael! [_He takes no notice._] Michael! [_He turns towards her._] Why
do you look at me like a stranger?

    [_She drops his arm. BRIDGET goes over towards her._


The boys are all hurrying down the hill-sides to join the French.


Michael won’t be going to join the French.


Tell him not to go, Peter.


It’s no use. He doesn’t hear a word we’re saying.


Try and coax him over to the fire.


Michael, Michael! You won’t leave me! You won’t join the French, and we
going to be married!

    [_She puts her arms about him, he turns towards her as
    if about to yield._

OLD WOMAN’S _voice outside_.

    They shall be speaking for ever,
    The people shall hear them for ever.

    [_MICHAEL breaks away from DELIA, stands for a second
    at the door, then rushes out, following the OLD WOMAN’S
    voice. BRIDGET takes DELIA, who is crying silently,
    into her arms._


    [_To PATRICK, laying a hand on his arm._]

Did you see an old woman going down the path?


I did not, but I saw a young girl, and she had the walk of a queen.



    EMER, _Cuchulain’s wife_
    LAEG, _Cuchulain’s chariot-driver_


    _A house made of logs. There are two windows at the
    back and a door which cuts off one of the corners of
    the room. Through the door one can see rocks, which
    make the ground outside the door higher than it is
    within, and the sea. Through the windows one can see
    nothing but the sea. There are three great chairs at
    the opposite side to the door, with a table before
    them. There are cups and a flagon of ale on the table._

    _At the Abbey Theatre the house is orange red, and the
    chairs, tables and flagons black, with a slight purple
    tinge which is not clearly distinguishable from the
    black. The rocks are black, with a few green touches.
    The sea is green and luminous, and all the characters,
    except the RED MAN and the _Black Men_ are dressed in
    various tints of green, one or two with touches of
    purple which looks nearly black. The _Black Men_ are
    in dark purple and the RED MAN is altogether dressed
    in red. He is very tall and his height is increased by
    horns on the Golden Helmet. The Helmet has in reality
    more dark green than gold about it. The _Black Men_
    have cats’ heads painted on their black cloth caps. The
    effect is intentionally violent and startling._


Not a sail, not a wave, and if the sea were not purring a little like a
cat, not a sound. There is no danger yet. I can see a long way for the
moonlight is on the sea. [_A horn sounds._


Ah, there is something.


It must be from the land, and it is from the sea that danger comes. We
need not be afraid of anything that comes from the land. [_Looking out
of door._] I cannot see anybody, the rocks and the trees hide a great
part of the pathway upon that side.

LEAGERIE [_sitting at table_].

It sounded like Cuchulain’s horn, but that’s not possible.


Yes, that’s impossible. He will never come home from Scotland. He
has all he wants there. Luck in all he does. Victory and wealth and
happiness flowing in on him, while here at home all goes to rack, and a
man’s good name drifts away between night and morning.


I wish he would come home for all that, and put quiet and respect for
those that are more than she is into that young wife of his. Only this
very night your wife and my wife had to forbid her to go into the
dining-hall before them. She is young, and she is Cuchulain’s wife, and
so she must spread her tail like a peacock.

CONAL [_at door_].

I can see the horn-blower now, a young man wrapped in a cloak.


Do not let him come in. Tell him to go elsewhere for shelter. This is
no place to seek shelter in.


That is right. I will tell him to go away, for nobody must know the
disgrace that is to fall upon Ireland this night.


Nobody of living men but us two must ever know that.

CONAL [_outside door_].

Go away, go away!

    [_A YOUNG MAN covered by a long cloak is standing upon
    the rocks outside door._


I am a traveller, and I am looking for sleep and food.


A law has been made that nobody is to come into this house to-night.


Who made that law?


We two made it, and who has so good a right? for we have to guard
this house and to keep it from robbery, and from burning and from


Then I will unmake the law. Out of my way!

    [_He struggles with CONAL and shoves past into the


I thought no living man but Leagerie could have stood against me; and
Leagerie himself could not have shoved past me. What is more, no living
man could if I were not taken by surprise. How could I expect to find
so great a strength?


Go out of this: there is another house a little further along the
shore; our wives are there with their servants, and they will give you
food and drink.


It is in this house I will have food and drink.

LEAGERIE [_drawing his sword_].

Go out of this, or I will make you.

    [_The YOUNG MAN seizes LEAGERIE’S arm, and thrusting
    it up, passes him, and puts his shield over the chair
    where there is an empty place._

YOUNG MAN [_at table_].

It is here I will spend the night, but I won’t tell you why till I
have drunk. I am thirsty. What, the flagon full and the cups empty and
Leagerie and Conal there! Why, what’s in the wind that Leagerie and
Conal cannot drink?


It is Cuchulain.


Better go away to Scotland again, or if you stay here ask no one what
has happened or what is going to happen.


What more is there that can happen so strange as that I should come
home after years and that you should bid me begone?


I tell you that this is no fit house to welcome you, for it is a
disgraced house.


What is it you are hinting at? You were sitting there with ale beside
you and the door open, and quarrelsome thoughts. You are waiting for
something or someone. It is for some messenger who is to bring you to
some spoil, or to some adventure that you will keep for yourselves.


Better tell him, for he has such luck that it may be his luck will
amend ours.


Yes, I had better tell him, for even now at this very door we saw what
luck he had. He had the slope of the ground to help him. Is the sea

LEAGERIE [_looks out of window_].

There is nothing stirring.


Cuchulain, a little after you went out of this country we were sitting
here drinking. We were merry. It was late, close on to midnight, when a
strange-looking man with red hair and a great sword in his hand came in
through that door. He asked for ale and we gave it to him, for we were
tired of drinking with one another. He became merry, and for every joke
we made he made a better, and presently we all three got up and danced,
and then we sang, and then he said he would show us a new game. He said
he would stoop down and that one of us was to cut off his head, and
afterwards one of us, or whoever had a mind for the game, was to stoop
down and have his head whipped off. ‘You take off my head,’ said he,
‘and then I take off his head, and that will be a bargain and a debt
between us. A head for a head, that is the game,’ said he. We laughed
at him and told him he was drunk, for how could he whip off a head when
his own had been whipped off? Then he began abusing us and calling
us names, so I ran at him and cut his head off, and the head went on
laughing where it lay, and presently he caught it up in his hands and
ran out and plunged into the sea.

CUCHULAIN [_laughs_].

I have imagined as good, when I had as much ale, and believed it too.

LEAGERIE [_at table_].

I tell you, Cuchulain, you never did. You never imagined a story like


Why must you be always putting yourself up against Leagerie and myself?
and what is more, it was no imagination at all. We said to ourselves
that all came out of the flagon, and we laughed, and we said we will
tell nobody about it. We made an oath to tell nobody. But twelve months
after when we were sitting by this table, the flagon between us—


But full up to the brim—


The thought of that story had put us from our drinking—


We were telling it over to one another—


Suddenly that man came in with his head on his shoulders again, and the
big sword in his hand. He asked for payment of his debt, and because
neither I nor Leagerie would let him cut off our heads he began abusing
us and making little of us, and saying that we were a disgrace, and
that all Ireland was disgraced because of us. We had not a word to say.


If you had been here you would have been as silent as we were.


At last he said he would come again in twelve months and give us one
more chance to keep our word and pay our debt. After that he went down
into the sea again. Will he tell the whole world of the disgrace that
has come upon us, do you think?


Whether he does or does not, we will stand there in the door with our
swords out and drive him down to the sea again.


What is the use of fighting with a man whose head laughs when it has
been cut off?


We might run away, but he would follow us everywhere.


He is coming; the sea is beginning to splash and rumble as it did
before he came the last time.


Let us shut the door and put our backs against it.


It is too late. Look, there he is at the door. He is standing on the

    [_A MAN dressed in red, with a great sword and red
    ragged hair, and having a Golden Helmet on his head, is
    standing on the threshold._


Go back into the sea, old red head! If you will take off heads,
take off the head of the sea turtle of Muirthemne, or of the pig
of Connaught that has a moon in his belly, or of that old juggler
Manannan, son of the sea, or of the red man of the Boyne, or of the
King of the Cats, for they are of your own sort, and it may be they
understand your ways. Go, I say, for when a man’s head is off it does
not grow again. What are you standing there for? Go down, I say. If I
cannot harm you with the sword I will put you down into the sea with my
hands. Do you laugh at me, old red head? Go down before I lay my hands
upon you.


So you also believe I was in earnest when I asked for a man’s head?
It was but a drinker’s joke, an old juggling feat, to pass the time.
I am the best of all drinkers and tipsy companions, the kindest there
is among the Shape-changers of the world. Look, I have brought this
Golden Helmet as a gift. It is for you or for Leagerie or for Conal,
for the best man, and the bravest fighting-man amongst you, and you
yourselves shall choose the man. Leagerie is brave, and Conal is brave.
They risk their lives in battle, but they were not brave enough for my
jokes and my juggling. [_He lays the Golden Helmet on the ground._]
Have I been too grim a joker? Well, I am forgiven now, for there is the
Helmet, and let the strongest take it.

    [_He goes out._

CONAL [_taking Helmet_].

It is my right. I am a year older than Leagerie, and I have fought in
more battles.

LEAGERIE [_strutting about stage, sings_].

    Leagerie of the Battles
    Has put to the sword
    The cat-headed men
    And carried away
    Their hidden gold.

    [_He snatches Helmet at the last word._


Give it back to me, I say. What was the treasure but withered leaves
when you got to your own door?


    [_Taking the Helmet from LEAGERIE._]

Give it to me, I say.


You are too young, Cuchulain. What deeds have you to be set beside our


I have not taken it for myself. It will belong to us all equally. [_He
goes to table and begins filling Helmet with ale._] We will pass it
round and drink out of it turn about and no one will be able to claim
that it belongs to him more than another. I drink to your wife, Conal,
and to your wife, Leagerie, and I drink to Emer my own wife. [_Shouting
and blowing of horns in the distance._] What is that noise?


It is the horseboys and the huntboys and the scullions quarrelling.
I know the sound, for I have heard it often of late. It is a good
thing that you are home, Cuchulain, for it is your own horseboy and
chariot-driver, Laeg, that is the worst of all, and now you will keep
him quiet. They take down the great hunting-horns when they cannot
drown one another’s voices by shouting. There—there—do you hear them
now? [_Shouting so as to be heard above the noise._] I drink to your
good health, Cuchulain, and to your young wife, though it were well if
she did not quarrel with my wife.

    _Many men, among whom is LAEG, chariot-driver of
    CUCHULAIN, come in with great horns of many fantastic


I am Cuchulain’s chariot-driver, and I say that my master is the best.


He is not, but Leagerie is.


No, but Conal is.


Make them listen to me, Cuchulain.


No, but listen to me.


When I said Cuchulain should have the Helmet, they blew the horns.


Conal has it. The best man has it.


Silence, all of you. What is all this uproar, Laeg, and who began it?

    [_The _Scullions_ and the _Horseboys_ point at LAEG and
    cry, ‘_He began it_.’ They keep up an all but continual
    murmur through what follows._


A man with a red beard came where we were sitting, and as he passed me
he cried out that they were taking a golden helmet or some such thing
from you and denying you the championship of Ireland. I stood up on
that and I cried out that you were the best of the men of Ireland. But
the others cried for Leagerie or Conal, and because I have a big voice
they got down the horns to drown my voice, and as neither I nor they
would keep silent we have come here to settle it. I demand that the
Helmet be taken from Conal and be given to you.

    [_The _Horseboys_ and the _Scullions_ shout, ‘_No, no;
    give it to Leagerie_,’ ‘_The best man has it_,’ etc._


It has not been given to Conal or to anyone. I have made it into a
drinking-cup that it may belong to all. I drank and then Conal drank.
Give it to Leagerie, Conal, that he may drink. That will make them see
that it belongs to all of us.


Cuchulain is right.


Cuchulain is right, and I am tired blowing on the big horn.


Cuchulain, you drank first.


He gives it to Leagerie now, but he has taken the honour of it for
himself. Did you hear him say he drank the first? He claimed to be the
best by drinking first.


Did Cuchulain drink the first?

LAEG [_triumphantly_].

You drank the first, Cuchulain.


Did you claim to be better than us by drinking first?

    [_LEAGERIE and CONAL draw their swords._


Is it that old dried herring, that old red juggler who has made us
quarrel for his own comfort? [_The _Horseboys_ and the _Scullions_
murmur excitedly._] He gave the Helmet to set us by the ears, and
because we would not quarrel over it, he goes to Laeg and tells him
that I am wronged. Who knows where he is now, or who he is stirring up
to make mischief between us? Go back to your work and do not stir from
it whatever noise comes to you or whatever shape shows itself.


Cuchulain is right. I am tired blowing on the big horn.


Go in silence.

    [_The _Scullions_ and _Horseboys_ turn towards
    the door, but stand still on hearing the voice of
    LEAGERIE’S WIFE outside the door._


My man is the best. I will go in the first. I will go in the first.


My man is the best, and I will go in first.


No, for my man is the best, and it is I that should go first.

    [_LEAGERIE’S WIFE and CONAL’S WIFE struggle in the


    My man is the best.
    What other has fought
    The cat-headed men
    That mew in the sea
    And carried away
    Their long-hidden gold?
    They struck with their claws
    And bit with their teeth,
    But Leagerie my husband
    Put all to the sword.


    [_Putting her hand over the other’s mouth and getting
    in front of her._]

    My husband has fought
    With strong men in armour.
    Had he a quarrel
    With cats, it is certain
    He’d war with none
    But the stout and heavy
    With good claws on them.
    What glory in warring
    With hollow shadows
    That helplessly mew?


    [_Thrusting herself between them and forcing both of
    them back with her hands._]

I am Emer, wife of Cuchulain, and no one shall go in front of me, or
sing in front of me, or praise any that I have not a mind to hear

    [_CUCHULAIN puts his spear across the door._


All of our three wives shall come in together, and by three doors equal
in height and in breadth and in honour. Break down the bottoms of the

    [_While CONAL and LEAGERIE are breaking down the
    bottoms of the windows each of their wives goes to the
    window where her husband is._

    _While the windows are being broken down EMER sings._

    My man is the best.
    And Conal’s wife
    And the wife of Leagerie
    Know that they lie
    When they praise their own
    Out of envy of me.
    My man is the best,
    First for his own sake,
    Being the bravest
    And handsomest man
    And the most beloved
    By the women of Ireland
    That envy me,
    And then for his wife’s sake
    Because I’m the youngest
    And handsomest queen.

    [_When the windows have been made into doors, CUCHULAIN
    takes his spear from the door where EMER is, and all
    three come in at the same moment._


I am come to praise you and to put courage into you, Cuchulain, as a
wife should, that they may not take the championship of the men of
Ireland from you.


You lie, Emer, for it is Cuchulain and Conal who are taking the
championship from my husband.


Cuchulain has taken it.


Townland against townland, barony against barony, kingdom against
kingdom, province against province, and if there be but two door-posts
to a door the one fighting against the other. [_He takes up the Helmet
which LEAGERIE had laid down upon the table when he went to break out
the bottom of the window._] This Helmet will bring no more wars into
Ireland. [_He throws it into the sea._]


You have done that to rob my husband.


You could not keep it for yourself, and so you threw it away that
nobody else might have it.


You should not have done that, Cuchulain.


You have done us a great wrong.


Who is for Cuchulain?


Let no one stir.


Who is for Cuchulain, I say?

    [_She draws her dagger from her belt and sings the same
    words as before, flourishing it about. While she has
    been singing, CONAL’S WIFE and LEAGERIE’S WIFE have
    drawn their daggers and run at her to kill her, but
    CUCHULAIN has forced them back. CONAL and LEAGERIE have
    drawn their swords to strike CUCHULAIN._


    [_While EMER is still singing._]

Silence her voice, silence her voice, blow the horns, make a noise!

    [_The _Scullions_ and _Horseboys_ blow their horns or
    fight among themselves. There is a deafening noise and
    a confused fight. Suddenly three black hands holding
    extinguishers come through the window and extinguish
    the torches. It is now pitch dark but for a very faint
    light outside the house which merely shows that there
    are moving forms, but not who or what they are, and in
    the darkness one can hear low terrified voices._


Did you see them putting out the torches?


They came up out of the sea, three black men.


They have heads of cats upon them.


They came up mewing out of the sea.


How dark it is! one of them has put his hand over the moon.

    [_A light gradually comes into the windows as if
    shining from the sea. The RED MAN is seen standing in
    the midst of the house._


I demand the debt that is owing. I demand that some man shall stoop
down that I may cut his head off as my head was cut off. If my debt is
not paid, no peace shall come to Ireland, and Ireland shall lie weak
before her enemies. But if my debt is paid there shall be peace.


The quarrels of Ireland shall end. What is one man’s life? I will pay
the debt with my own head. [_EMER wails._] Do not cry out, Emer, for
if I were not myself, if I were not Cuchulain, one of those that God
has made reckless, the women of Ireland had not loved me, and you had
not held your head so high. [_He stoops, bending his head. Three _Black
Men_ come to the door. Two hold torches, and one stooping between them
holds up the Golden Helmet. The RED MAN gives one of the _Black Men_
his sword and takes the Helmet._] What do you wait for, old man? Come,
raise up your sword!


I will not harm you, Cuchulain. I am the guardian of this land, and
age after age I come up out of the sea to try the men of Ireland. I
give you the championship because you are without fear, and you shall
win many battles with laughing lips and endure wounding and betrayal
without bitterness of heart; and when men gaze upon you, their hearts
shall grow greater and their minds clear; until the day come when I
darken your mind, that there may be an end to the story, and a song on
the harp-string.


_The Irish dramatic movement began in May, 1899, with the performance
of certain plays by English actors who were brought to Dublin for the
purpose; and in the spring of the following year and in the autumn of
the year after that, performances of like plays were given by like
actors at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin. In the third year I started
SAMHAIN to defend the work, and on re-reading it and reading it for
the first time throughout, have found it best to reprint my part of
it unchanged. A number has been published about once a year till very
lately, and the whole series of notes are a history of a movement which
is important because of the principles it is rooted in whatever be its
fruits, and these principles are better told of in words that rose
out of the need, than were I to explain all again and with order and
ceremony now that the old enmities and friendships are ruffled by new
ones that have other things to be done and said._

_March, 1908._


When Lady Gregory, Mr. Edward Martyn, and myself planned the Irish
Literary Theatre, we decided that it should be carried on in the form
we had projected for three years. We thought that three years would
show whether the country desired to take up the project, and make it a
part of the national life, and that we, at any rate, could return to
our proper work, in which we did not include theatrical management,
at the end of that time. A little later, Mr. George Moore[A] joined
us; and, looking back now upon our work, I doubt if it could have been
done at all without his knowledge of the stage; and certainly if the
performances of this present year bring our adventure to a successful
close, a chief part of the credit will be his. Many, however, have
helped us in various degrees, for in Ireland just now one has only to
discover an idea that seems of service to the country for friends and
helpers to start up on every hand. While we needed guarantors we had
them in plenty, and though Mr. Edward Martyn’s public spirit made it
unnecessary to call upon them, we thank them none the less.

Whether the Irish Literary Theatre has a successor made on its own
model or not, we can claim that a dramatic movement which will not
die has been started. When we began our work, we tried in vain to
get a play in Gaelic. We could not even get a condensed version of
the dialogue of Oisin and Patrick. We wrote to Gaelic enthusiasts in
vain, for their imagination had not yet turned towards the stage, and
now there are excellent Gaelic plays by Dr. Douglas Hyde, by Father
O’Leary, by Father Dineen, and by Mr. MacGinlay; and the Gaelic League
has had a competition for a one-act play in Gaelic, with what results I
do not know. There have been successful performances of plays in Gaelic
at Dublin and at Macroom, and at Letterkenny, and I think at other
places; and Mr. Fay has got together an excellent little company which
plays both in Gaelic and English. I may say, for I am perhaps writing
an epitaph, and epitaphs should be written in a genial spirit, that
we have turned a great deal of Irish imagination towards the stage.
We could not have done this if our movement had not opened a way of
expression for an impulse that was in the people themselves. The truth
is that the Irish people are at that precise stage of their history
when imagination, shaped by many stirring events, desires dramatic
expression. One has only to listen to a recitation of Raftery’s
_Argument with Death_ at some country Feis to understand this. When
Death makes a good point, or Raftery a good point, the audience applaud
delightedly, and applaud, not as a London audience would, some verbal
dexterity, some piece of smartness, but the movements of a simple and
fundamental comedy. One sees it too in the reciters themselves, whose
acting is at times all but perfect in its vivid simplicity. I heard a
little Claddagh girl tell a folk-story at Galway Feis with a restraint
and a delightful energy that could hardly have been bettered by the
most careful training.

The organization of this movement is of immediate importance. Some of
our friends propose that somebody begin at once to get a small stock
company together, and that he invite, let us say, Mr. Benson, to find
us certain well-trained actors, Irish if possible, but well trained of
a certainty, who will train our actors, and take the more difficult
parts at the beginning. These friends contend that it is necessary to
import our experts at the beginning, for our company must be able to
compete with travelling English companies, but that a few years will be
enough to make many competent Irish actors. The Corporation of Dublin
should be asked, they say, to give a small annual sum of money, such
as they give to the Academy of Music; and the Corporations of Cork
and Limerick and Waterford, and other provincial towns, to give small
endowments in the shape of a hall and attendants and lighting for a
week or two out of every year; and the Technical Board to give a small
annual sum of money to a school of acting which would teach fencing and
declamation, and gesture and the like. The stock company would perform
in Dublin perhaps three weeks in spring, and three weeks in autumn,
and go on tour the rest of the time through Ireland, and through the
English towns where there is a large Irish population. It would perform
plays in Irish and English, and also, it is proposed, the masterpieces
of the world, making a point of performing Spanish and Scandinavian,
and French, and perhaps Greek masterpieces rather more than
Shakespeare, for Shakespeare one sees, not well done indeed, but not
unendurably ill done in the Theatre of Commerce. It would do its best
to give Ireland a hardy and shapely national character by opening the
doors to the four winds of the world, instead of leaving the door that
is towards the east wind open alone. Certainly, the national character,
which is so essentially different from the English that Spanish and
French influences may well be most healthy, is at present like one of
those miserable thorn bushes by the sea that are all twisted to one
side by some prevailing wind.

It is contended that there is no reason why the company should not be
as successful as similar companies in Germany and Scandinavia, and
that it would be even of commercial advantage to Dublin by making it
a pleasanter place to live in, besides doing incalculable good to the
whole intellect of the country. One, at any rate, of those who press
the project on us has much practical knowledge of the stage and of
theatrical management, and knows what is possible and what is not

Others among our friends, and among these are some who have had more
than their share of the hard work which has built up the intellectual
movement in Ireland, argue that a theatre of this kind would require
too much money to be free, that it could not touch on politics, the
most vital passion and vital interest of the country, as they say,
and that the attitude of continual compromise between conviction and
interest, which it would necessitate, would become demoralising to
everybody concerned, especially at moments of political excitement.
They tell us that the war between an Irish Ireland and an English
Ireland is about to become much fiercer, to divide families and friends
it may be, and that the organisations that will lead in the war must
be able to say everything the people are thinking. They would have
Irishmen give their plays to a company like Mr. Fay’s, when they are
within its power, and if not, to Mr. Benson or to any other travelling
company which will play them in Ireland without committees, where
everybody compromises a little. In this way, they contend, we would
soon build up an Irish theatre from the ground, escaping to some extent
the conventions of the ordinary theatre, and English voices which
give a foreign air to one’s words. And though we might have to wait
some years, we would get even the masterpieces of the world in good
time. Let us, they think, be poor enough to whistle at the thief who
would take away some of our thoughts, and after Mr. Fay has taken his
company, as he plans, through the villages and the country towns, he
will get the little endowment that is necessary, or if he does not some
other will.

I do not know what Lady Gregory or Mr. Moore think of these projects.
I am not going to say what I think. I have spent much of my time and
more of my thought these last ten years on Irish organisation, and now
that the Irish Literary Theatre has completed the plan I had in my head
ten years ago, I want to go down again to primary ideas. I want to put
old stories into verse, and if I put them into dramatic verse it will
matter less to me henceforward who plays them than what they play, and
how they play. I hope to get our heroic age into verse, and to solve
some problems of the speaking of verse to musical notes.

There is only one question which is raised by the two projects I
have described on which I will give an opinion. It is of the first
importance that those among us who want to write for the stage study
the dramatic masterpieces of the world. If they can get them on the
stage so much the better, but study them they must if Irish drama is to
mean anything to Irish intellect. At the present moment, Shakespeare
being the only great dramatist known to Irish writers has made them
cast their work too much on the English model. Miss Milligan’s _Red
Hugh_, which was successfully acted in Dublin the other day, had no
business to be in two scenes; and Father O’Leary’s _Tadg Saor_, despite
its most vivid and picturesque, though far too rambling dialogue,
shows in its half dozen changes of scene the influence of the same
English convention which arose when there was no scene painting, and
is often a difficulty where there is, and is always an absurdity in
a farce of thirty minutes, breaking up the emotion and sending one’s
thoughts here and there. Mr. MacGinlay’s _Elis agus an bhean deirce_
has not this defect, and though I had not Irish enough to follow it
when I saw it played, and excellently played, by Mr. Fay’s company, I
could see from the continual laughter of the audience that it held them
with an unbroken emotion. The best Gaelic play after Dr. Hyde’s is, I
think, Father Dineen’s _Creideamh agus gorta_, and though it changes
the scene a little oftener than is desirable under modern conditions,
it does not remind me of an English model. It reminds me of Calderon
by its treatment of a religious subject, and by something in Father
Dineen’s sympathy with the people that is like his. But I think if
Father Dineen had studied that great Catholic dramatist he would not
have failed, as he has done once or twice, to remember some necessary
detail of a situation. In the first scene he makes a servant ask his
fellow-servants about things he must have known as well as they; and he
loses a dramatic moment in his third scene by forgetting that Seagan
Gorm has a pocket-full of money which he would certainly, being the man
he was, have offered to the woman he was urging into temptation. The
play towards the end changes from prose to verse, and the reverence and
simplicity of the verse makes one think of a mediæval miracle play.
The subject has been so much a part of Irish life that it was bound
to be used by an Irish dramatist, though certainly I shall always
prefer plays which attack a more eternal devil than the proselytiser.
He has been defeated, and the arts are at their best when they are
busy with battles that can never be won. It is possible, however, that
we may have to deal with passing issues until we have re-created the
imaginative tradition of Ireland, and filled the popular imagination
again with saints and heroes. These short plays (though they would
be better if their writers knew the masters of their craft) are very
dramatic as they are, but there is no chance of our writers of Gaelic,
or our writers of English, doing good plays of any length if they do
not study the masters. If Irish dramatists had studied the romantic
plays of Ibsen, the one great master the modern stage has produced,
they would not have sent the Irish Literary Theatre imitations of
Boucicault, who had no relation to literature, and Father O’Leary would
have put his gift for dialogue, a gift certainly greater than, let us
say, Mr. Jones’ or Mr. Grundy’s, to better use than the writing of
that long rambling dramatisation of the _Tain bo Cuailgne_, in which
I hear in the midst of the exuberant Gaelic dialogue the worn-out
conventions of English poetic drama. The moment we leave even a little
the folk-tradition of the peasant, as we must in drama, if we do not
know the best that has been said and written in the world, we do not
even know ourselves. It is no great labour to know the best dramatic
literature, for there is very little of it. We Irish must know it all,
for we have, I think, far greater need of the severe discipline of
French and Scandinavian drama than of Shakespeare’s luxuriance.

If the _Diarmuid and Grania_ and the _Casadh an t-Sugain_ are not well
constructed, it is not because Mr. Moore and Dr. Hyde and myself do not
understand the importance of construction, and Mr. Martyn has shown by
the triumphant construction of _The Heather Field_ how much thought he
has given to the matter; but for the most part our Irish plays read
as if they were made without a plan, without a ‘scenario,’ as it is
called. European drama began so, but the European drama had centuries
for its growth, while our art must grow to perfection in a generation
or two if it is not to be smothered before it is well above the earth
by what is merely commercial in the art of England.

Let us learn construction from the masters, and dialogue from
ourselves. A relation of mine has just written me a letter, in which
he says: ‘It is natural to an Irishman to write plays, he has an
inborn love of dialogue and sound about him, of a dialogue as lively,
gallant, and passionate as in the times of great Eliza. In these
days an Englishman’s dialogue is that of an amateur, that is to say,
it is never spontaneous. I mean in _real life_. Compare it with an
Irishman’s, above all a poor Irishman’s, reckless abandonment and
naturalness, or compare it with the only fragment that has come down
to us of Shakespeare’s own conversation.’ (He is remembering a passage
in, I think, Ben Jonson’s _Underwoods_.) ‘Petty commerce and puritanism
have brought to the front the wrong type of Englishman; the lively,
joyous, yet tenacious man has transferred himself to Ireland. We have
him and we will keep him unless the combined nonsense of ... and ...
and ... succeed in suffocating him.’

In Dublin the other day I saw a poster advertising a play by a Miss
... under the patronage of certain titled people. I had little hope of
finding any reality in it, but I sat out two acts. Its dialogue was
above the average, though the characters were the old rattle-traps of
the stage, the wild Irish girl, and the Irish servant, and the bowing
Frenchman, and the situations had all been squeezed dry generations
ago. One saw everywhere the shadowy mind of a woman of the Irish
upper classes as they have become to-day, but under it all there was
a kind of life, though it was but the life of a string and a wire. I
do not know who Miss ... is, but I know that she is young, for I saw
her portrait in a weekly paper, and I think that she is clever enough
to make her work of some importance. If she goes on doing bad work
she will make money, perhaps a great deal of money, but she will do a
little harm to her country. If, on the other hand, she gets into an
original relation with life, she will, perhaps, make no money, and she
will certainly have her class against her.

The Irish upper classes put everything into a money measure. When
anyone among them begins to write or paint they ask him ‘How much money
have you made?’ ‘Will it pay?’ Or they say, ‘If you do this or that you
will make more money.’ The poor Irish clerk or shopboy,[B] who writes
verses or articles in his brief leisure, writes for the glory of God
and of his country; and because his motive is high, there is not one
vulgar thought in the countless little ballad books that have been
written from Callinan’s day to this. They are often clumsily written
for they are in English, and if you have not read a great deal, it is
difficult to write well in a language which has been long separated,
from the ‘folk-speech’; but they have not a thought a proud and simple
man would not have written. The writers were poor men, but they left
that money measure to the Irish upper classes. All Irish writers have
to choose whether they will write as the upper classes have done,
not to express but to exploit this country; or join the intellectual
movement which has raised the cry that was heard in Russia in the
seventies, the cry ‘to the people.’

Moses was little good to his people until he had killed an Egyptian;
and for the most part a writer or public man of the upper classes is
useless to this country till he has done something that separates him
from his class. We wish to grow peaceful crops, but we must dig our
furrows with the sword.

Our plays this year will be produced by Mr. Benson at the Gaiety
Theatre on October the 21st, and on some of the succeeding days. They
are Dr. Douglas Hyde’s _Casadh an t-Sugain_, which is founded on a well
known Irish story of a wandering poet; and _Diarmuid and Grania_, a
play in three acts and in prose by Mr. George Moore and myself, which
is founded on the most famous of all Irish stories, the story of the
lovers whose beds were the cromlechs. The first act of _Diarmuid and
Grania_ is in the great banqueting hall of Tara, and the second and
third on the slopes of Ben Bulben in Sligo. We do not think there is
anything in either play to offend anybody, but we make no promises. We
thought our plays inoffensive last year and the year before, but we
were accused the one year of sedition, and the other of heresy.

I have called this little collection of writings _Samhain_, the old
name for the beginning of winter, because our plays this year are in
October, and because our Theatre is coming to an end in its present


The Irish Literary Theatre wound up its three years of experiment last
October with _Diarmuid and Grania_, which was played by Mr. Benson’s
Company, Mr. Benson himself playing Diarmuid with poetry and fervour,
and _Casadh an t-Sugain_, played by Dr. Hyde and some members of the
Gaelic League. _Diarmuid and Grania_ drew large audiences, but its
version of the legend was a good deal blamed by critics, who knew only
the modern text of the story. There are two versions, and the play
was fully justified by Irish and Scottish folk-lore, and by certain
early Irish texts, which do not see Grania through very friendly
eyes. Any critic who is interested in so dead a controversy can look
at the folk-tales quoted by Campbell in, I think, _West Highland
Superstitions_, and at the fragment translated by Kuno Meyer, at page
458 of Vol. I. of _Zeitschrift für Keltische Philologie_. Dr. Hyde’s
play, on the other hand, pleased everybody, and has been played a good
many times in a good many places since. It was the first play in Irish
played in a theatre, and did much towards making plays a necessary part
in Irish propaganda.

The Irish Literary Theatre has given place to a company of Irish
actors. Its Committee saw them take up the work all the more gladly
because it had not formed them or influenced them. A dramatic society
with guarantors and patrons can never have more than a passing use,
because it can never be quite free; and it is not successful until it
is able to say it is no longer wanted. Amateur actors will perform for
_Cumann-na-Gael_ plays chosen by themselves, and written by A.E., by
Mr. Cousins, by Mr. Ryan, by Mr. MacGinlay and by myself. These plays
will be given at the Antient Concert Rooms at the end of October, but
the National Theatrical Company will repeat their successes with new
work in a very little hall they have hired in Camden Street. If they
could afford it they would have hired some bigger house, but, after
all, M. Antoine founded his _Théâtre Libre_ with a company of amateurs
in a hall that only held three hundred people.

The first work of theirs to get much attention was their performance,
last spring, at the invitation of _Inghinidhe h-Eireann_ of A.E.’s
_Deirdre_, and my _Cathleen ni Houlihan_. They had Miss Maud Gonne’s
help, and it was a fine thing for so beautiful a woman to consent to
play my poor old Cathleen, and she played with nobility and tragic
power. She showed herself as good in tragedy as Dr. Hyde is in comedy,
and stirred a large audience very greatly. The whole company played
well, too, but it was in _Deirdre_ that they interested me most. They
showed plenty of inexperience, especially in the minor characters, but
it was the first performance I had seen since I understood these things
in which the actors kept still enough to give poetical writing its
full effect upon the stage. I had imagined such acting, though I had
not seen it, and had once asked a dramatic company to let me rehearse
them in barrels that they might forget gesture and have their minds
free to think of speech for a while. The barrels, I thought, might
be on castors, so that I could shove them about with a pole when the
action required it. The other day I saw Sara Bernhardt and De Max in
_Phèdre_, and understood where Mr. Fay, who stage-manages the National
Theatrical Company, had gone for his model.[C] For long periods the
performers would merely stand and pose, and I once counted twenty-seven
quite slowly before anybody on a fairly well-filled stage moved, as it
seemed, so much as an eye-lash. The periods of stillness were generally
shorter, but I frequently counted seventeen, eighteen or twenty before
there was a movement. I noticed, too, that the gestures had a rhythmic
progression. Sara Bernhardt would keep her hands clasped over, let us
say, her right breast for some time, and then move them to the other
side, perhaps, lowering her chin till it touched her hands, and then,
after another long stillness, she would unclasp them and hold one out,
and so on, not lowering them till she had exhausted all the gestures of
uplifted hands. Through one long scene De Max, who was quite as fine,
never lifted his hand above his elbow, and it was only when the emotion
came to its climax that he raised it to his breast. Beyond them stood
a crowd of white-robed men who never moved at all, and the whole scene
had the nobility of Greek sculpture, and an extraordinary reality and
intensity. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen upon the
stage, and made me understand, in a new way, that saying of Goethe’s
which is understood everywhere but in England, ‘Art is art because
it is not nature.’ Of course, our amateurs were poor and crude beside
those great actors, perhaps the greatest in Europe, but they followed
them as well as they could, and got an audience of artisans, for the
most part, to admire them for doing it. I heard somebody who sat behind
me say, ‘They have got rid of all the nonsense.’

I thought the costumes and scenery, which were designed by A.E.
himself, good, too, though I did not think them simple enough. They
were more simple than ordinary stage costumes and scenery, but I would
like to see poetical drama, which tries to keep at a distance from
daily life that it may keep its emotion untroubled, staged with but
two or three colours. The background, especially in small theatres,
where its form is broken up and lost when the stage is at all crowded,
should, I think, be thought out as one thinks out the background of
a portrait. One often needs nothing more than a single colour with
perhaps a few shadowy forms to suggest wood or mountain. Even on a
large stage one should leave the description of the poet free to call
up the martlet’s procreant cradle or what he will. But I have written
enough about decorative scenery elsewhere, and will probably lecture on
that and like matters before we begin the winter’s work.

The performances of _Deirdre_ and _Cathleen ni Houlihan_, which will be
repeated in the Antient Concert Rooms, drew so many to hear them that
great numbers were turned away from the doors of St. Theresa’s Hall.
Like the plays of the Irish Literary Theatre, they started unexpected
discussion. Mr. Standish O’Grady, who had done more than any other
to make us know the old legends, wrote in his _All Ireland Review_
that old legends could not be staged without danger of ‘banishing the
soul of the land.’ The old Irish had many wives for instance, and one
had best leave their histories to the vagueness of legend. How could
uneducated people understand heroes who lived amid such different
circumstances? And so we were to ‘leave heroic cycles alone, and not to
bring them down to the crowd.’ A.E. replied in the _United Irishman_
with an impassioned letter. ‘The old, forgotten music’ he writes about
in his letter is, I think, that regulated music of speech at which both
he and I have been working, though on somewhat different principles. I
have been working with Miss Farr and Mr. Arnold Dolmetsch, who has made
a psaltery for the purpose, to perfect a music of speech which can be
recorded in something like ordinary musical notes; while A.E. has got a
musician to record little chants with intervals much smaller than those
of modern music.

After the production of these plays the most important Irish dramatic
event was, no doubt, the acting of Dr. Hyde’s _An Posadh_, in Galway.
Through an accident it had been very badly rehearsed, but his own
acting made amends. One could hardly have had a play that grew more out
of the life of the people who saw it. There may have been old men in
that audience who remembered its hero the poet Raftery, and there was
nobody there who had not come from hearing his poems repeated at the
Galway Feis. I think from its effect upon the audience that this play
in which the chief Gaelic poet of our time celebrates his forerunner
in simplicity, will be better liked in Connaught at any rate than
even _Casadh an t-Sugain_. His _Tincear agus Sidheog_, acted in Mr.
Moore’s garden, at the time of the Oireachtas, is a very good play,
but is, I think, the least interesting of his plays as literature. His
imagination, which is essentially the folk-imagination, needs a looser
construction, and probably a more crowded stage. A play that gets its
effect by keeping close to one idea reminds one, when it comes from
the hands of a folk-poet, of Blake’s saying, that ‘Improvement makes
straight roads, but the crooked roads are the roads of genius.’ The
idea loses the richness of its own life, while it destroys the wayward
life of his mind by bringing it under too stern a law. Nor could
charming verses make amends for that second kiss in which there was
profanation, and for that abounding black bottle. Did not M. Trebulet
Bonhommie discover that one spot of ink would kill a swan?

Among the other plays in Irish acted during the year Father Dineen’s
_Tobar Draoidheachta_ is probably the best. He has given up the many
scenes of his _Creadeamh agus Gorta_, and has written a play in one
scene, which, as it can be staged without much trouble, has already
been played in several places. One admires its _naïveté_ as much as
anything else. Father Dineen, who, no doubt, remembers how Finn mac
Cumhal when a child was put in a field to catch hares and keep him out
of mischief, has sent the rival lovers of his play when he wanted
them off the scene for a moment, to catch a hare that has crossed the
stage. When they return the good lover is carrying it by the heels, and
modestly compares it to a lame jackass. One rather likes this bit of
nonsense when one comes to it, for in that world of folk-imagination
one thing seems as possible as another. On the other hand, there is
a moment of beautiful dramatic tact. The lover gets a letter telling
of the death of a relative in America, for whom he has no particular
affection, and who has left him a fortune. He cannot lament, for that
would be insincere, and his first words must not be rejoicing. Father
Dineen has found for him the one beautiful thing he could say, ‘It’s a
lonesome thing death is.’ With, perhaps, less beauty than there is in
the closing scene of _Creadeamh agus Gorta_, the play has more fancy
and a more sustained energy.

Father Peter O’Leary has written a play in his usual number of scenes
which has not been published, but has been acted amid much Munster
enthusiasm. But neither that or _La an Amadan_, which has also been
acted, are likely to have any long life on our country stages. A short
play, with many changes of scene, is a nuisance in any theatre, and
often an impossibility on our poor little stages. Some kind of play,
in English, by Mr. Standish O’Grady, has been acted in the open air
in Kilkenny. I have not seen it, and I cannot understand anything
by the accounts of it, except that there were magic lantern slides
and actors on horseback, and Mr. Standish O’Grady as an Elizabethan
night-watchman, speaking prologues, and a contented audience of two or
three thousand people.

As we do not think that a play can be worth acting and not worth
reading, all our plays will be published in time. Some have been
printed in _The United Irishman_ and _The All Ireland Review_. I have
put my _Cathleen ni Houlihan_ and a little play by Dr. Hyde into this
_Samhain_. Once already this year I have had what somebody has called
the noble pleasure of praising, and I can praise this _Lost Saint_
with as good a conscience as I had when I wrote of _Cuchulain of
Muirthemne_. I would always admire it, but just now, when I have been
thinking that literature should return to its old habit of describing
desirable things, I am in the mood to be stirred by that old man
gathering up food for fowl with his heart full of love, and by those
children who are so full of the light-hearted curiosity of childhood,
and by that schoolmaster who has mixed prayer with his gentle
punishments. It seems natural that so beautiful a prayer as that of
the old saint should have come out of a life so full of innocence and
peace. One could hardly have thought out the play in English, for those
phrases of a traditional simplicity and of a too deliberate prettiness
which become part of an old language would have arisen between the
mind and the story. One might even have made something as unreal as
the sentimental schoolmaster of the Scottish novelists, and how many
children, who are but literary images, would one not have had to hunt
out of one’s mind before meeting with those little children? Even if
one could have thought it out in English one could not have written
it in English, unless perhaps in that dialect which Dr. Hyde had
already used in the prose narrative that flows about his _Love Songs of

Dr. Hyde has written a little play about the birth of Christ which
has the same beauty and simplicity. These plays remind me of my first
reading of _The Love Songs of Connaught_. The prose parts of that book
were to me, as they were to many others, the coming of a new power
into literature. I find myself now, as I found myself then, grudging
to propaganda, to scholarship, to oratory, however necessary, a genius
which might in modern Irish or in that idiom of the English-speaking
country people discover a new region for the mind to wander in. In
Ireland, where we have so much to prove and to disprove, we are ready
to forget that the creation of an emotion of beauty is the only kind
of literature that justifies itself. Books of literary propaganda
and literary history are merely preparations for the creation or
understanding of such an emotion. It is necessary to put so much in
order, to clear away so much, to explain so much, that somebody may be
moved by a thought or an image that is inexplicable as a wild creature.

I cannot judge the language of his Irish poetry, but it is so rich in
poetical thought, when at its best, that it seems to me that if he
were to write more he might become to modern Irish what Mistral was to
modern Provençal. I wish, too, that he could put away from himself some
of the interruptions of that ceaseless propaganda, and find time for
the making of translations, loving and leisurely, like those in _Beside
the Fire_ and _The Love Songs of Connaught_. He has begun to get a
little careless lately. Above all I would have him keep to that English
idiom of the Irish-thinking people of the west which he has begun to
use less often. It is the only good English spoken by any large number
of Irish people to-day, and one must found good literature on a living
speech. English men of letters found themselves upon the English Bible,
where religious thought gets its living speech. Blake, if I remember
rightly, copied it out twice, and I remember once finding a few
illuminated pages of a new decorated copy that he began in his old age.
Byron read it for the sake of style, though I think it did him little
good, and Ruskin founded himself in great part upon it. Indeed, one
finds everywhere signs of a book which is the chief influence in the
lives of English children. The translation used in Ireland has not the
same literary beauty, and if we are to find anything to take its place
we must find it in that idiom of the poor, which mingles so much of
the same vocabulary with turns of phrase that have come out of Gaelic.
Even Irish writers of considerable powers of thought seem to have no
better standard of English than a schoolmaster’s ideal of correctness.
If their grammar is correct they will write in all the lightness of
their hearts about ‘keeping in touch,’ and ‘object-lessons,’ and
‘shining examples,’ and ‘running in grooves,’ and ‘flagrant violations’
of various things. Yet, as Sainte-Beuve has said, there is nothing
immortal except style. One can write well in that country idiom without
much thought about one’s words, the emotion will bring the right word
itself, for there everything is old and everything alive and nothing
common or threadbare. I recommend to the Intermediate Board—a body
that seems to benefit by advice—a better plan than any they know for
teaching children to write good English. Let every child in Ireland be
set to turn a leading article or a piece of what is called excellent
English, written perhaps by some distinguished member of the Board,
into the idiom of his own country side. He will find at once the
difference between dead and living words, between words that meant
something years ago, and words that have the only thing that gives
literary quality—personality, the breath of men’s mouths. Zola, who is
sometimes an admirable critic, has said that some of the greatest pages
in French literature are not even right in their grammar, ‘They are
great because they have personality.’

The habit of writing for the stage, even when it is not country people
who are the speakers, and of considering what good dialogue is, will
help to increase our feeling for style. Let us get back in everything
to the spoken word, even though we have to speak our lyrics to the
Psaltery or the Harp, for, as A.E. says, we have begun to forget that
literature is but recorded speech, and even when we write with care we
have begun ‘to write with elaboration what could never be spoken.’ But
when we go back to speech let us see that it is either the idiom of
those who have rejected, or of those who have never learned, the base
idioms of the newspapers.

Mr. Martyn argued in _The United Irishman_ some months ago that
our actors should try to train themselves for the modern drama of
society. The acting of plays of heroic life or plays like _Cathleen ni
Houlihan_, with its speech of the country people, did not seem to him
a preparation. It is not; but that is as it should be. Our movement
is a return to the people, like the Russian movement of the early
seventies, and the drama of society would but magnify a condition of
life which the countryman and the artisan could but copy to their
hurt. The play that is to give them a quite natural pleasure should
either tell them of their own life, or of that life of poetry where
every man can see his own image, because there alone does human nature
escape from arbitrary conditions. Plays about drawing-rooms are written
for the middle classes of great cities, for the classes who live in
drawing-rooms, but if you would uplift the man of the roads you must
write about the roads, or about the people of romance, or about great
historical people. We should, of course, play every kind of good play
about Ireland that we can get, but romantic and historical plays, and
plays about the life of artisans and country people are the best worth
getting. In time, I think, we can make the poetical play a living
dramatic form again, and the training our actors will get from plays
of country life, with its unchanging outline, its abundant speech, its
extravagance of thought, will help to establish a school of imaginative
acting. The play of society, on the other hand, could but train up
realistic actors who would do badly, for the most part, what English
actors do well, and would, when at all good, drift away to wealthy
English theatres. If, on the other hand, we busy ourselves with poetry
and the countryman, two things which have always mixed with one another
in life as on the stage, we may recover, in the course of years, a lost
art which, being an imitation of nothing English, may bring our actors
a secure fame and a sufficient livelihood.


I CANNOT describe the various dramatic adventures of the year with as
much detail as I did last year, mainly because the movement has got
beyond me. The most important event of the Gaelic Theatre has been
the two series of plays produced in the Round Room of the Rotunda by
the Gaelic League. Father Dineen’s _Tobar Draoidheachta_, and Dr.
Hyde’s _An Posadh_, and a chronicle play about Hugh O’Neill, and, I
think, some other plays, were seen by immense audiences. I was not
in Ireland for these plays, but a friend tells me that he could only
get standing-room one night, and the Round Room must hold about 3,000
people. A performance of _Tobar Draoidheachta_ I saw there some months
before, was bad, but I believe there was great improvement, and that
the players who came up from somewhere in County Cork to play it at
this second series of plays were admirable. The players, too, that
brought Dr. Hyde’s _An Posadh_ from Ballaghadereen, in County Mayo,
where they had been showing it to their neighbours, were also, I am
told, careful and natural. The play-writing, always good in dialogue,
is still very poor in construction, and I still hear of plays in many
scenes, with no scene lasting longer than four or six minutes, and few
intervals shorter than nine or ten minutes, which have to be filled
up with songs. The Rotunda chronicle play seems to have been rather
of this sort, and I suspect that when I get Father Peter O’Leary’s
_Meadhbh_, a play in five acts produced at Cork, I shall find the
masterful old man, in spite of his hatred of English thought, sticking
to the Elizabethan form. I wish I could have seen it played last week,
for the spread of the Gaelic Theatre in the country is more important
than its spread in Dublin, and of all the performances in Gaelic plays
in the country during the year I have seen but one—Dr. Hyde’s new play,
_Cleamhnas_, at Galway Feis. I got there a day late for a play by the
Master of Galway Workhouse, but heard that it was well played, and
that his dialogue was as good as his construction was bad. There is
no question, however, about the performance of _Cleamhnas_ being the
worst I ever saw. I do not blame the acting, which was pleasant and
natural, in spite of insufficient rehearsal, but the stage-management.
The subject of the play was a match-making. The terms were in debate
between two old men in an inner room. An old woman, according to the
stage directions, should have listened at the door and reported what
she heard to her daughter’s suitor, who is outside the window, and to
her daughter. There was no window on the stage, and the young man stood
close enough to the door to have listened for himself. The door, where
she listened, opened now on the inner room, and now on the street,
according to the necessities of the play, and the young men who acted
the fathers of grown-up children, when they came through the door were
seen to have done nothing to disguise their twenty-five or twenty-six
birthdays. There had been only two rehearsals, and the little boy who
should have come in laughing at the end came in shouting, ‘Ho ho, ha
ha,’ evidently believing that these were Gaelic words he had never
heard before. Playwrights will have to be careful who they permit to
play their work if it is to be played after only two rehearsals, and
without enough attention to the arrangement of the stage to make the
action plausible.

The only Gaelic performances I have seen during the year have been
ill-done, but I have seen them sufficiently well done in other years
to believe my friends when they tell me that there have been good
performances. _Inghinidhe na h-Eireann_ is always thorough, and one
cannot doubt that the performance of Dr. Hyde’s _An Naom ar Iarriad_,
by the children from its classes, was at least careful. A powerful
little play in English against enlisting, by Mr. Colum, was played with
it, and afterwards revived, and played with a play about the Royal
Visit, also in English. I have no doubt that we shall see a good many
of these political plays during the next two or three years, and it
may be even the rise of a more or less permanent company of political
players, for the revolutionary clubs will begin to think plays as
necessary as the Gaelic League is already thinking them. Nobody can
find the same patriotic songs and recitations sung and spoken by
the same people, year in year out, anything but mouldy bread. It is
possible that the players who are to produce plays in October for the
Samhain festival of _Cumann na n-Gaedheal_ may grow into such a company.

Though one welcomes every kind of vigorous life, I am, myself, most
interested in ‘The Irish National Theatre Society,’ which has no
propaganda but that of good art. The little Camden Street Hall it had
taken has been useful for rehearsal alone, for it proved to be too far
away, and too lacking in dressing-rooms for our short plays, which
involve so many changes. Successful performances were given, however,
at Rathmines, and in one or two country places.

_Deirdre_, by A.E., _The Racing Lug_, by Mr. Cousins, _The
Foundations_, by Mr. Ryan, and my _Pot of Broth_, and _Cathleen ni
Houlihan_, were repeated, but no new plays were produced until March
14th, when Lady Gregory’s _Twenty-five_ and my _Hour-Glass_, drew a
good audience. On May 2nd the _Hour-Glass_, _Twenty-five_, _Cathleen ni
Houlihan_, _Pot of Broth_, and _Foundations_ were performed before the
Irish Literary Society in London, at the Queen’s Gate Hall, and plays
and players were generously commended by the Press—very eloquently by
the critic of _The Times_. It is natural that we should be pleased
with this praise, and that we should wish others to know of it, for is
it not a chief pleasure of the artist to be commended in subtle and
eloquent words? The critic of _The Times_ has seen many theatres and
he is, perhaps, a little weary of them, but here in Ireland there are
one or two critics who are so much in love, or pretend to be so much
in love, with the theatre as it is, that they complain when we perform
on a stage two feet wider than Molière’s that it is scarce possible to
be interested in anything that is played on so little a stage. We are
to them foolish sectaries who have revolted against that orthodoxy of
the commercial theatre, which is so much less pliant than the orthodoxy
of the church, for there is nothing so passionate as a vested interest
disguised as an intellectual conviction. If you inquire into its truth
it becomes as angry as a begging-letter writer, when you find some hole
in that beautiful story about the five children and the broken mangle.
In Ireland, wherever the enthusiasts are shaping life, the critic who
does the will of the commercial theatre can but stand against his
lonely pillar defending his articles of belief among a wild people, and
thinking mournfully of distant cities, where nobody puts a raw potato
into his pocket when he is going to hear a musical comedy.

The _Irish Literary Society_ of New York, which has been founded this
year, produced _The Land of Heart’s Desire_, _The Pot of Broth_, and
_Cathleen ni Houlihan_, on June 3rd and 4th, very successfully, and
propose to give Dr. Hyde’s Nativity Play, _Drama Breithe Chriosta_, and
his _Casadh an t-Sugain_, _Posadh_ and _Naom ar Iarriad_ next year, at
the same time of year, playing them both in Irish and English. I heard
too that his Nativity Play will be performed in New York this winter,
but I know no particulars except that it will be done in connection
with some religious societies. _The National Theatre Society_ will, I
hope, produce some new plays of his this winter, as well as new plays
by Mr. Synge, Mr. Colum, Lady Gregory, myself, and others. They have
taken the Molesworth Hall for three days in every month, beginning with
the 8th, 9th, and 10th of October, when they will perform Mr. Synge’s
_Shadow of the Glen_, a little country comedy, full of a humour that
is at once harsh and beautiful, _Cathleen ni Houlihan_, and a longish
one-act play in verse of my own, called _The King’s Threshold_. This
play is founded on the old story of Seanchan the poet, and King Guaire
of Gort, but I have seen the story from the poet’s point of view, and
not, like the old storytellers, from the king’s. Our repertory of
plays is increasing steadily, and when the winter’s work is finished,
a play[D] Mr. Bernard Shaw has promised us may be ready to open the
summer session. His play will, I imagine, unlike the plays we write for
ourselves, be long enough to fill an evening, and it will, I know, deal
with Irish public life and character. Mr. Shaw, more than anybody else,
has the love of mischief that is so near the core of Irish intellect,
and should have an immense popularity among us. I have seen a crowd of
many thousands in possession of his spirit, and keeping the possession
to the small hours.

This movement should be important even to those who are not especially
interested in the Theatre, for it may be a morning cock-crow to that
impartial meditation about character and destiny we call the artistic
life in a country where everybody, if we leave out the peasant who
has his folk-songs and his music, has thought the arts useless unless
they have helped some kind of political action, and has, therefore,
lacked the pure joy that only comes out of things that have never been
indentured to any cause. The play which is mere propaganda shows its
leanness more obviously than a propagandist poem or essay, for dramatic
writing is so full of the stuff of daily life that a little falsehood,
put in that the moral may come right in the end, contradicts our
experience. If Father Dineen or Dr. Hyde were asked why they write
their plays, they would say they write them to help their propaganda;
and yet when they begin to write the form constrains them, and they
become artists—one of them a very considerable artist, indeed. Dr.
Hyde’s early poems have even in translation a _naïveté_ and wildness
that sets them, as I think, among the finest poetry of our time; but he
had ceased to write any verses but those Oireachtas odes that are but
ingenious rhetoric. It is hard to write without the sympathy of one’s
friends, and though the country people sang his verses the readers of
Irish read them but little, partly it may be because he had broken
with that elaborate structure of later Irish poetry which seemed a
necessary part of their propaganda. They read plenty of pamphlets and
grammars, but they disliked—as do other people in Ireland—serious
reading, reading that is an end and not a means, that gives us nothing
but a beauty indifferent to our profuse purposes. But now Dr. Hyde with
his cursing Hanrahan, his old saint at his prayers, is a poet again;
and the Leaguers go to his plays in thousands—and applaud in the right
places, too—and the League puts many sixpences into its pocket.

We who write in English have a more difficult work, for English has
been the language in which the Irish cause has been debated; and we
have to struggle with traditional phrases and traditional points of
view. Many would give us limitless freedom as to the choice of subject,
understanding that it is precisely those subjects on which people feel
most passionately, and, therefore, most dramatically, we would be
forbidden to handle if we made any compromise with powers. But fewer
know that we must encourage every writer to see life afresh, even
though he sees it with strange eyes. Our National Theatre must be so
tolerant, and, if this is not too wild a hope, find an audience so
tolerant that the half-dozen minds, who are likely to be the dramatic
imagination of Ireland for this generation, may put their own thoughts
and their own characters into their work; and for that reason no one
who loves the arts, whether among Unionists or among the Patriotic
Societies, should take offence if we refuse all but every kind of
patronage. I do not say every kind, for if a mad king, a king so mad
that he loved the arts and their freedom, should offer us unconditioned
millions, I, at any rate, would give my voice for accepting them.

We will be able to find conscientious playwrights and players, for our
young men have a power of work, when they are interested in their work,
one does not look for outside a Latin nation, and if we were certain
of being granted this freedom we would be certain that the work would
grow to great importance. It is a supreme moment in the life of a
nation when it is able to turn now and again from its preoccupations,
to delight in the capricious power of the artist as one delights in the
movement of some wild creature, but nobody can tell with certainty when
that moment is at hand.

The two plays in this year’s _Samhain_ represent the two sides of the
movement very well, and are both written out of a deep knowledge of
the life of the people. It should be unnecessary to praise Dr. Hyde’s
comedy,[E] that comes up out of the foundation of human life, but Mr.
Synge is a new writer and a creation of our movement. He has gone every
summer for some years past to the Arran Islands, and lived there in
the houses of the fishers, speaking their language and living their
lives, and his play[F] seems to me the finest piece of tragic work done
in Ireland of late years. One finds in it, from first to last, the
presence of the sea, and a sorrow that has majesty as in the work of
some ancient poet.


I think the theatre must be reformed in its plays, its speaking, its
acting, and its scenery. That is to say, I think there is nothing good
about it at present.

_First._ We have to write or find plays that will make the theatre a
place of intellectual excitement—a place where the mind goes to be
liberated as it was liberated by the theatres of Greece and England
and France at certain great moments of their history, and as it is
liberated in Scandinavia to-day. If we are to do this we must learn
that beauty and truth are always justified of themselves, and that
their creation is a greater service to our country than writing
that compromises either in the seeming service of a cause. We will,
doubtless, come more easily to truth and beauty because we love some
cause with all but all our heart; but we must remember when truth and
beauty open their mouths to speak, that all other mouths should be as
silent as Finn bade the Son of Lugaidh be in the houses of the great.
Truth and beauty judge and are above judgment. They justify and have no
need of justification.

Such plays will require, both in writers and audiences, a stronger
feeling for beautiful and appropriate language than one finds in the
ordinary theatre. Sainte-Beuve has said that there is nothing immortal
in literature except style, and it is precisely this sense of style,
once common among us, that is hardest for us to recover. I do not
mean by style words with an air of literature about them, what is
ordinarily called eloquent writing. The speeches of Falstaff are as
perfect in their style as the soliloquies of Hamlet. One must be able
to make a king of faery or an old countryman or a modern lover speak
that language which is his and nobody else’s, and speak it with so much
of emotional subtlety that the hearer may find it hard to know whether
it is the thought or the word that has moved him, or whether these
could be separated at all.

If one does not know how to construct, if one cannot arrange much
complicated life into a single action, one’s work will not hold the
attention or linger in the memory, but if one is not in love with words
it will lack the delicate movement of living speech that is the chief
garment of life; and because of this lack the great realists seem to
the lovers of beautiful art to be wise in this generation, and for the
next generation, perhaps, but not for all generations that are to come.

_Second._ But if we are to restore words to their sovereignty we must
make speech even more important than gesture upon the stage.

I have been told that I desire a monotonous chant, but that is not
true, for though a monotonous chant may be a safer beginning for an
actor than the broken and prosaic speech of ordinary recitation, it
puts one to sleep none the less. The sing-song in which a child says
a verse is a right beginning, though the child grows out of it. An
actor should understand how to so discriminate cadence from cadence,
and to so cherish the musical lineaments of verse or prose that he
delights the ear with a continually varied music. Certain passages of
lyrical feeling, or where one wishes, as in the Angel’s part in _The
Hour-Glass_, to make a voice sound like the voice of an immortal, may
be spoken upon pure notes which are carefully recorded and learned as
if they were the notes of a song. Whatever method one adopts one must
always be certain that the work of art, as a whole, is masculine and
intellectual, in its sound as in its form.

_Third._ We must simplify acting, especially in poetical drama, and
in prose drama that is remote from real life like my _Hour-Glass_. We
must get rid of everything that is restless, everything that draws the
attention away from the sound of the voice, or from the few moments
of intense expression, whether that expression is through the voice
or through the hands; we must from time to time substitute for the
movements that the eye sees the nobler movements that the heart sees,
the rhythmical movements that seem to flow up into the imagination from
some deeper life than that of the individual soul.

_Fourth._ Just as it is necessary to simplify gesture that it may
accompany speech without being its rival, it is necessary to simplify
both the form and colour of scenery and costume. As a rule the
background should be but a single colour, so that the persons in the
play, wherever they stand, may harmonize with it and preoccupy our
attention. In other words, it should be thought out not as one thinks
out a landscape, but as if it were the background of a portrait, and
this is especially necessary on a small stage where the moment the
stage is filled the painted forms of the background are broken up and
lost. Even when one has to represent trees or hills they should be
treated in most cases decoratively, they should be little more than an
unobtrusive pattern. There must be nothing unnecessary, nothing that
will distract the attention from speech and movement. An art is always
at its greatest when it is most human. Greek acting was great because
it did everything with the voice, and modern acting may be great when
it does everything with voice and movement. But an art which smothers
these things with bad painting, with innumerable garish colours, with
continual restless mimicries of the surface of life, is an art of
fading humanity, a decaying art.


A writer in _The Leader_ has said that I told my audience after the
performance of _The Hour-Glass_ that I did not care whether a play
was moral or immoral. He said this without discourtesy, and as I
have noticed that people are generally discourteous when they write
about morals, I think that I owe him upon my part the courtesy of an
explanation. I did not say that I did not care whether a play was
moral or immoral, for I have always been of Verhaeren’s opinion that a
masterpiece is a portion of the conscience of mankind. My objection was
to the rough-and-ready conscience of the newspaper and the pulpit in a
matter so delicate and so difficult as literature. Every generation of
men of letters has been called immoral by the pulpit or the newspaper,
and it has been precisely when that generation has been illuminating
some obscure corner of the conscience that the cry against it has been
more confident.

The plays of Shakespeare had to be performed on the south side of
the Thames because the Corporation of London considered all plays
immoral. Goethe was thought dangerous to faith and morals for two or
three generations. Every educated man knows how great a portion of the
conscience of mankind is in Flaubert and Balzac, and yet their books
have been proscribed in the courts of law, and I found some time ago
that our own National Library, though it had two books on the genius
of Flaubert, had refused on moral grounds to have any books written
by him. With these stupidities in one’s memory, how can one, as many
would have us, arouse the mob, and in this matter the pulpit and the
newspaper are but voices of the mob, against the English theatre in
Ireland upon moral grounds? If that theatre became conscientious as
men of letters understand the conscience, many that now cry against
it would think it even less moral, for it would be more daring, more
logical, more free-spoken. The English Theatre is demoralizing, not
because it delights in the husband, the wife and the lover, a subject
which has inspired great literature in most ages of the world, but
because the illogical thinking and insincere feeling we call bad
writing, make the mind timid and the heart effeminate. I saw an English
play in Dublin a few months ago called _Mice and Men_. It had run for
five hundred nights in London, and been called by all the newspapers
‘a pure and innocent play,’ ‘a welcome relief,’ and so on. In it
occurred this incident: The typical scapegrace hero of the stage, a
young soldier, who is in love with the wife of another, goes away for
a couple of years, and when he returns finds that he is in love with
a marriageable girl. His mistress, who has awaited his return with
what is represented as faithful love, sends him a letter of welcome,
and because he has grown virtuous of a sudden he returns it unopened,
and with so careless a scorn that the husband intercepts it; and the
dramatist approves this manner of crying off with an old love, and
rings down the curtain on his marriage bells. Men who would turn such a
man out of a club bring their wives and daughters to look at him with
admiration upon the stage, so demoralizing is a drama that has no
intellectual tradition behind it. I could not endure it, and went out
into the street and waited there until the end of the play, when I came
in again to find the friends I had brought to hear it, but had I been
accustomed to the commercial theatre I would not even have known that
anything strange had happened upon the stage. If a man of intellect had
written of such an incident he would have made his audience feel for
the mistress that sympathy one feels for all that have suffered insult,
and for that young man an ironical emotion that might have marred
the marriage bells, and who knows what the curate and the journalist
would have said of him? Even Ireland would have cried out: Catholic
Ireland that should remember the gracious tolerance of the Church when
all nations were its children, and how Wolfram of Eisenbach sang from
castle to castle of the courtesy of Parzival, the good husband, and
of Gawain, the light lover, in that very Thuringia where a generation
later the lap of St. Elizabeth was full with roses. A Connaught Bishop
told his people a while since that they ‘should never read stories
about the degrading passion of love,’ and one can only suppose that
being ignorant of a chief glory of his Church, he has never understood
that this new puritanism is but an English cuckoo.


    [The performance of Mr. Synge’s _Shadow of the Glen_
    started a quarrel with the extreme national party, and
    the following paragraphs are from letters written in
    the play’s defence. The organ of the party was at the
    time _The United Irishman_ (now _Sinn Fein_), but the
    first severe attack began in _The Independent_. _The
    United Irishman_, however, took up the quarrel, and
    from that on has attacked almost every play produced
    at our theatre, and the suspicion it managed to arouse
    among the political clubs against Mr. Synge especially
    led a few years later to the organised attempt to drive
    _The Playboy of the Western World_ from the stage.]

When we were all fighting about the selection of books for the New
Irish Library some ten years ago, we had to discuss the question,
What is National Poetry? In those days a patriotic young man would
have thought but poorly of himself if he did not believe that _The
Spirit of the Nation_ was great lyric poetry, and a much finer kind
of poetry than Shelley’s _Ode to the West Wind_, or Keats’s _Ode to a
Grecian Urn_. When two or three of us denied this, we were told that we
had effeminate tastes or that we were putting Ireland in a bad light
before her enemies. If one said that _The Spirit of the Nation_ was but
salutary rhetoric, England might overhear us and take up the cry. We
said it, and who will say that Irish literature has not a greater name
in the world to-day than it had ten years ago?

To-day there is another question that we must make up our minds about,
and an even more pressing one, What is a National Theatre? A man may
write a book of lyrics if he have but a friend or two that will care
for them, but he cannot write a good play if there are not audiences
to listen to it. If we think that a national play must be as near as
possible a page out of _The Spirit of the Nation_ put into dramatic
form, and mean to go on thinking it to the end, then we may be sure
that this generation will not see the rise in Ireland of a theatre that
will reflect the life of Ireland as the Scandinavian theatre reflects
the Scandinavian life. The brazen head has an unexpected way of falling
to pieces. We have a company of admirable and disinterested players,
and the next few months will, in all likelihood, decide whether a
great work for this country is to be accomplished. The poetry of Young
Ireland, when it was an attempt to change or strengthen opinion, was
rhetoric; but it became poetry when patriotism was transformed into
a personal emotion by the events of life, as in that lamentation
written by Doheny on his keeping among the hills. Literature is always
personal, always one man’s vision of the world, one man’s experience,
and it can only be popular when men are ready to welcome the visions of
others. A community that is opinion-ridden, even when those opinions
are in themselves noble, is likely to put its creative minds into some
sort of a prison. If creative minds preoccupy themselves with incidents
from the political history of Ireland, so much the better, but we
must not enforce them to select those incidents. If in the sincere
working-out of their plot, they alight on a moral that is obviously
and directly serviceable to the National cause, so much the better,
but we must not force that moral upon them. I am a Nationalist, and
certain of my intimate friends have made Irish politics the business
of their lives, and this made certain thoughts habitual with me, and
an accident made these thoughts take fire in such a way that I could
give them dramatic expression. I had a very vivid dream one night, and
I made _Cathleen ni Houlihan_ out of this dream. But if some external
necessity had forced me to write nothing but drama with an obviously
patriotic intention, instead of letting my work shape itself under
the casual impulses of dreams and daily thoughts, I would have lost,
in a short time, the power to write movingly upon any theme. I could
have aroused opinion; but I could not have touched the heart, for I
would have been busy at the oakum-picking that is not the less mere
journalism for being in dramatic form. Above all, we must not say
that certain incidents which have been a part of literature in all
other lands are forbidden to us. It may be our duty, as it has been
the duty of many dramatic movements, to bring new kinds of subjects
into the theatre, but it cannot be our duty to make the bounds of
drama narrower. For instance, we are told that the English theatre is
immoral, because it is pre-occupied with the husband, the wife and
the lover. It is, perhaps, too exclusively pre-occupied with that
subject, and it is certain it has not shed any new light upon it for
a considerable time, but a subject that inspired Homer and about half
the great literature of the world will, one doubts not, be a necessity
to our National Theatre also. Literature is, to my mind, the great
teaching power of the world, the ultimate creator of all values,
and it is this, not only in the sacred books whose power everybody
acknowledges, but by every movement of imagination in song or story or
drama that height of intensity and sincerity has made literature at
all. Literature must take the responsibility of its power, and keep
all its freedom: it must be like the spirit and like the wind that
blows where it listeth, it must claim its right to pierce through
every crevice of human nature, and to describe the relation of the soul
and the heart to the facts of life and of law, and to describe that
relation as it is, not as we would have it be, and in so far as it
fails to do this it fails to give us that foundation of understanding
and charity for whose lack our moral sense can be but cruelty. It must
be as incapable of telling a lie as nature, and it must sometimes say
before all the virtues, ‘The greatest of these is charity.’ Sometimes
the patriot will have to falter and the wife to desert her home, and
neither be followed by divine vengeance or man’s judgment. At other
moments it must be content to judge without remorse, compelled by
nothing but its own capricious spirit that has yet its message from
the foundation of the world. Aristophanes held up the people of Athens
to ridicule, and even prouder of that spirit than of themselves, they
invited the foreign ambassadors to the spectacle.

I would sooner our theatre failed through the indifference or hostility
of our audiences than gained an immense popularity by any loss of
freedom. I ask nothing that my masters have not asked for, but I ask
all that they were given. I ask no help that would limit our freedom
from either official or patriotic hands, though I am glad of the help
of any who love the arts so dearly that they would not bring them into
even honourable captivity. A good Nationalist is, I suppose, one who
is ready to give up a great deal that he may preserve to his country
whatever part of her possessions he is best fitted to guard, and that
theatre where the capricious spirit that bloweth as it listeth has
for a moment found a dwelling-place, has good right to call itself a
National Theatre.


I was very well content when I read an unmeasured attack in _The
Independent_ on the Irish National Theatre. There had, as yet, been
no performance, but the attack was confident, and it was evident that
the writer’s ears were full of rumours and whisperings. One knew that
some such attack was inevitable, for every dramatic movement that
brought any new power into literature arose among precisely these
misunderstandings and animosities. Drama, the most immediately powerful
form of literature, the most vivid image of life, finds itself opposed,
as no other form of literature does, to those enemies of life, the
chimeras of the Pulpit and the Press. When a country has not begun to
care for literature, or has forgotten the taste for it, and most modern
countries seem to pass through this stage, these chimeras are hatched
in every basket. Certain generalisations are everywhere substituted
for life. Instead of individual men and women and living virtues
differing as one star differeth from another in glory, the public
imagination is full of personified averages, partisan fictions, rules
of life that would drill everybody into the one posture, habits that
are like the pinafores of charity-school children. The priest, trained
to keep his mind on the strength of his Church and the weakness of
his congregation, would have all mankind painted with a halo or with
horns. Literature is nothing to him, he has to remember that Seaghan
the Fool might take to drinking again if he knew of pleasant Falstaff,
and that Paudeen might run after Red Sarah again if some strange chance
put Plutarch’s tale of Anthony or Shakespeare’s play into his hands,
and he is in a hurry to shut out of the schools that Pandora’s box,
_The Golden Treasury_. The newspaper he reads of a morning has not only
the haloes and horns of the vestry, but it has crowns and fools’ caps
of its own. Life, which in its essence is always surprising, always
taking some new shape, always individualising, is nothing to it, it has
to move men in squads, to keep them in uniform, with their faces to
the right enemy, and enough hate in their hearts to make the muskets
go off. It may know its business well, but its business is building
and ours is shattering. We cannot linger very long in this great dim
temple where the wooden images sit all round upon thrones, and where
the worshippers kneel, not knowing whether they tremble because their
gods are dead or because they fear they may be alive. In the idol-house
every god, every demon, every virtue, every vice, has been given its
permanent form, its hundred hands, its elephant trunk, its monkey head.
The man of letters looks at those kneeling worshippers who have given
up life for a posture, whose nerves have dried up in the contemplation
of lifeless wood. He swings his silver hammer and the keepers of the
temple cry out, prophesying evil, but he must not mind their cries and
their prophecies, but break the wooden necks in two and throw down the
wooden bodies. Life will put living bodies in their place till new
image-brokers have set up their benches.

Whenever literature becomes powerful, the priest, whose forerunner
imagined St. Patrick driving his chariot-wheels over his own erring
sister, has to acknowledge, or to see others acknowledge, that there
is no evil that men and women may not be driven into by their virtues
all but as readily as by their vices, and the politician, that it is
not always clean hands that serve a country or foul hands that ruin
it. He may even have to say at last, as an old man who had spent many
years in prison to serve a good cause said to me, ‘There never was a
cause so evil that it has not been served by good men for what seemed
to them sufficient reasons.’ And if the priest or the politician should
say to the man of letters, ‘Into how dangerous a state of mind are you
not bringing us?’ the man of letters can but answer, ‘It is dangerous,
indeed,’ and say, like my Seanchan, ‘When did we promise safety?’

Thought takes the same form age after age, and the things that people
have said to me about this intellectual movement of ours have, I doubt
not, been said in every country to every writer who was a disturber of
the old life. When _The Countess Cathleen_ was produced, the very girls
in the shops complained to us that to describe an Irishwoman as selling
her soul to the devil was to slander the country. The silver hammer had
threatened, as it seems, one of those personifications of an average.
Someone said to me a couple of weeks ago, ‘If you put on the stage any
play about marriage that does not point its moral clearly, you will
make it difficult for us to go on attacking the English theatre for its
immorality.’ Again, we were disordering the squads, the muskets might
not all point in the same direction.

Now that these opinions have found a leader and a voice in _The
Independent_, it is easy at anyrate to explain how much one differs
from them. I had spoken of the capricious power of the artist and
compared it to the capricious movements of a wild creature, and _The
Independent_, speaking quite logically from its point of view, tells
me that these movements were only interesting when ‘under restraint.’
The writers of the Anglo-Irish movement, it says, ‘will never consent
to serve except on terms that never could or should be conceded.’ I
had spoken of the production of foreign masterpieces, but it considers
that foreign masterpieces would be very dangerous. I had asked in
_Samhain_ for audiences sufficiently tolerant to enable the half-dozen
minds who are likely to be the dramatic imagination of Ireland for this
generation to put their own thought and their own characters into their
work. That is to say, I had asked for the amount of freedom which every
nation has given to its dramatic writers. But the newspaper hopes and
believes that no ‘such tolerance will be extended to Mr. Yeats and his

I have written these lines to explain our thoughts and intentions to
many personal friends, who live too deep in the labour of politics to
give the thought to these things that we have given, and because not
only in our theatre, but in all matters of national life, we have need
of a new discovery of life—of more precise thought, of a more perfect
sincerity. I would see, in every branch of our National propaganda,
young men who would have the sincerity and the precision of those
Russian revolutionists that Kropotkin and Stepniak tell us of, men
who would never use an argument to convince others which would not
convince themselves, who would not make a mob drunk with a passion they
could not share, and who would above all seek for fine things for their
own sake, and for precise knowledge for its own sake, and not for its
momentary use. One can serve one’s country alone out of the abundance
of one’s own heart, and it is labour enough to be certain one is in the
right, without having to be certain that one’s thought is expedient



The National Theatre Society has had great difficulties because of
the lack of any suitable playhouse. It has been forced to perform
in halls without proper lighting for the stage, and almost without
dressing-rooms, and with level floors in the auditorium that prevented
all but the people in the front row from seeing properly. These
halls are expensive too, and the players of poetical drama in an age
of musical comedy have light pockets. But now a generous English
friend, Miss Horniman, has rearranged and in part re-built, at very
considerable expense, the old Mechanic’s Institute Theatre, now the
Abbey Theatre, and given us the use of it without any charge, and I
need not say that she has gained our gratitude, as she will gain the
gratitude of our audience. The work of decoration and alteration has
been done by Irishmen, and everything, with the exception of some few
things that are not made here, or not of a good enough quality, has
been manufactured in Ireland. The stained glass in the entrance hall
is the work of Miss Sarah Purser and her apprentices, the large copper
mirror frames are from the new metal works at Youghal, and the pictures
of some of our players are by an Irish artist. These details and some
details of form and colour in the building, as a whole, have been
arranged by Miss Horniman herself.

Having been given the free use of this Theatre, we may look upon
ourselves as the first endowed Theatre in any English-speaking country,
the English-speaking countries and Venezuela being the only countries
which have never endowed their theatres; but the correspondents who
write for parts in our plays or posts in the Theatre at a salary are in
error. We are, and must be for some time to come, contented to find our
work its own reward, the player giving[G] his work, and the playwright
his, for nothing; and though this cannot go on always, we start
our winter very cheerfully with a capital of some forty pounds. We
playwrights can only thank these players, who have given us the delight
of seeing our work so well performed, working with so much enthusiasm,
with so much patience, that they have found for themselves a lasting
place among the artists, the only aristocracy that has never been sold
in the market or seen the people rise up against it.

It is a necessary part of our plan to find out how to perform plays for
little money, for it is certain that every increase in expenditure has
lowered the quality of dramatic art itself, by robbing the dramatist
of freedom in experiment, and by withdrawing attention from his words
and from the work of the players. Sometimes one friend or another has
helped us with costumes or scenery, but the expense has never been very
great, ten or twenty pounds being enough in most cases for quite a long
play. These friends have all accepted the principles I have explained
from time to time in _Samhain_, but they have interpreted them in
various ways according to their temperament.

Miss Horniman staged _The King’s Threshold_ at her own expense, and
she both designed and made the costumes. The costumes for the coming
performances of _On Baile’s Strand_ are also her work and her gift and
her design. She made and paid for the costumes in _The Shadowy Waters_,
but in this case followed a colour-scheme of mine. The colour-scheme
in _The Hour-Glass_, our first experiment, was worked out by Mr.
Robert Gregory and myself, and the costumes were made by Miss Lavelle,
a member of the company; while Mr. Robert Gregory has designed the
costumes and scenery for _Kincora_. As we gradually accumulate costumes
in all the main colours and shades, we will be able to get new effects
by combining them in different ways without buying new ones. Small
dramatic societies, and our example is beginning to create a number,
not having so many friends as we have, might adopt a simpler plan,
suggested to us by a very famous decorative artist. Let them have
one suit of clothes for a king, another for a queen, another for a
fighting-man, another for a messenger, and so on, and if these clothes
are loose enough to fit different people, they can perform any romantic
play that comes without new cost. The audience would soon get used to
this way of symbolising, as it were, the different ranks and classes
of men, and as the king would wear, no matter what the play might be,
the same crown and robe, they could have them very fine in the end.
Now, one wealthy theatre-goer and now another might add a pearl to the
queen’s necklace, or a jewel to her crown, and be the more regular in
attendance at the theatre because that gift shone out there like a good

We can hardly do all we hope unless there are many more of these little
societies to be centres of dramatic art and of the allied arts. But
a very few actors went from town to town in ancient Greece, finding
everywhere more or less well trained singers among the principal
townsmen to sing the chorus that had otherwise been the chief expense.
In the days of the stock companies two or three well-known actors would
go from town to town finding actors for all the minor parts in the
local companies. If we are to push our work into the small towns and
villages, local dramatic clubs must take the place of the old stock
companies. A good-sized town should be able to give us a large enough
audience for our whole, or nearly our whole, company to go there; but
the need for us is greater in those small towns where the poorest
kind of farce and melodrama have gone and Shakespearean drama has not
gone, and it is here that we will find it hardest to get intelligent
audiences. If a dramatic club existed in one of the larger towns near,
they could supply us not only with actors, should we need them, in
their own town, but with actors when we went to the small towns and to
the villages where the novelty of any kind of drama would make success
certain. These clubs would play in Gaelic far better than we can hope
to, for they would have native Gaelic speakers, and should we succeed
in stirring the imagination of the people enough to keep the rivalry
between plays in English and Irish to a rivalry in quality, the
certain development of two schools with distinct though very kindred
ideals would increase the energy and compass of our art.

At a time when drama was more vital than at present, unpaid actors,
and actors with very little training, have influenced it deeply. The
Mystery Plays and the Miracle Plays got their players at no great
distance from the Church door, and the classic drama of France had
for a forerunner performances of Greek and Latin Classics, given by
students and people of quality, and even at its height Racine wrote two
of his most famous tragedies to be played by young girls at school.
This was before acting had got so far away from our natural instincts
of expression. When the play is in verse, or in rhythmical prose, it
does not gain by the change, and a company of amateurs, if they love
literature, and are not self-conscious, and really do desire to do
well, can often make a better hand of it than the ordinary professional

The greater number of their plays will, in all likelihood, be comedies
of Irish country life, and here they need not fear competition, for
they will know an Irish countryman as no professional can know him; but
whatever they play, they will have one advantage the English amateur
has not: there is in their blood a natural capacity for acting, and
they have never, like him, become the mimics of well-known actors.
The arts have always lost something of their sap when they have been
cut off from the people as a whole; and when the theatre is perfectly
alive, the audience, as at the Gaelic drama to-day in Gaelic-speaking
districts, feels itself to be almost a part of the play. I have never
felt that the dignity of art was imperilled when the audience at Dr.
Hyde’s _An Posadh_ cheered the bag of flour or the ham lent by some
local shopkeepers to increase the bridal gifts. It was not merely
because of its position in the play that the Greek chorus represented
the people, and the old ballad singers waited at the end of every
verse till their audience had taken up the chorus; while Ritual, the
most powerful form of drama, differs from the ordinary form, because
everyone who hears it is also a player. Our modern theatre, with the
seats always growing more expensive, and its dramatic art drifting
always from the living impulse of life, and becoming more and more what
Rossetti would have called ‘soulless self-reflections of man’s skill,’
no longer gives pleasure to any imaginative mind. It is easy for us
to hate England in this country, and we give that hatred something of
nobility if we turn it now and again into hatred of the vulgarity of
commercial syndicates, of all that commercial finish and pseudo-art she
has done so much to cherish. Mr. Standish O’Grady has quoted somebody
as saying ‘the passions must be held in reverence, they must not, they
cannot be excited at will,’ and the noble using of that old hatred will
win for us sympathy and attention from all artists and people of good
taste, and from those of England more than anywhere, for there is the
need greatest.

Before this part of our work can be begun, it will be necessary to
create a household of living art in Dublin, with principles that have
become habits, and a public that has learnt to care for a play because
it is a play, and not because it is serviceable to some cause. Our
patent is not so wide as we had hoped for, for we had hoped to have
a patent as little restricted as that of the Gaiety or the Theatre
Royal. We were, however, vigorously opposed by these theatres and by
the Queen’s Theatre, and the Solicitor-General, to meet them half way,
has restricted our patent to plays written by Irishmen or on Irish
subjects or to foreign masterpieces, provided these masterpieces are
not English. This has been done to make our competition against the
existing theatres as unimportant as possible. It does not directly
interfere with the work of our society to any serious extent, but
it would have indirectly helped our work had such bodies as the
Elizabethan Stage Society, which brought _Everyman_ to Dublin some
years ago, been able to hire the theatre from Miss Horniman, when it is
not wanted by us, and to perform there without the limitations imposed
by a special license.

Everything that creates a theatrical audience is an advantage to us,
and the small number of seats in our theatre would have kept away that
kind of drama, in whatever language, which spoils an audience for good

The enquiry itself was not a little surprising, for the legal
representatives of the theatres, being the representatives of Musical
Comedy, were very anxious for the morals of the town. I had spoken of
the Independent Theatre, and a lawyer wanted to know if a play of mine
which attacked the institution of marriage had not been performed by
it recently. I had spoken of M. Maeterlinck and of his indebtedness
to a theatre somewhat similar to our own, and one of our witnesses,
who knew no more about it than the questioner, was asked if a play by
M. Maeterlinck called _L’Intruse_ had not been so immoral that it was
received with a cry of horror in London. I have written no play about
marriage, and the Independent Theatre died some twelve years ago, and
_L’Intruse_ might be played in a nursery with no worse effects than
a little depression of spirits. Our opponents having thus protested
against our morals, went home with the fees of Musical Comedy in their

For all this, we are better off so far as the law is concerned than
we would be in England. The theatrical law of Ireland was made by the
Irish Parliament, and though the patent system, the usual method of
the time, has outlived its use and come to an end everywhere but in
Ireland, we must be grateful to that ruling caste of free spirits, that
being free themselves they left the theatre in freedom. In England
there is a censor, who forbids you to take a subject from the Bible,
or from politics, or to picture public characters, or certain moral
situations which are the foundation of some of the greatest plays of
the world. When I was at the great American Catholic University of
Notre-Dame I heard that the students had given a performance of _Œdipus
the King_, and _Œdipus the King_ is forbidden in London. A censorship
created in the eighteenth century by Walpole, because somebody had
written against election bribery, has been distorted by a puritanism,
which is not the less an English invention for being a pretended hatred
of vice and a real hatred of intellect. Nothing has ever suffered
so many persecutions as the intellect, though it is never persecuted
under its own name. It is but according to old usage when a law that
cherishes Musical Comedy and permits to every second melodrama the
central situation of _The Sign of the Cross_, attempted rape, becomes
one of the secondary causes of the separation of the English Theatre
from life. It does not interfere with anything that makes money, and
Musical Comedy, with its hints and innuendoes, and its consistently low
view of life, makes a great deal, for money is always respectable; but
would a group of artists and students see once again the masterpieces
of the world, they would have to hide from the law as if they had
been a school of thieves; or were we to take with us to London that
beautiful Nativity Play of Dr. Hyde’s, which was performed in Sligo
Convent a few months ago, that holy vision of the central story of the
world, as it is seen through the minds and the traditions of the poor,
the constables might upset the cradle. And yet it is precisely these
stories of The Bible that have all to themselves, in the imagination of
English people, especially of the English poor, the place they share in
this country with the stories of Fion and of Oisin and of Patrick.

Milton set the story of Sampson into the form of a Greek play, because
he knew that Sampson was, in the English imagination, what Herakles
was in the imagination of Greece; and I have never been able to see
any other subjects for an English Dramatist who looked for some common
ground between his own mind and simpler minds. An English poet of
genius once told me that he would have tried his hand in plays for the
people, if they knew any story the censor would pass, except Jack and
the Beanstalk.

The Gaelic League has its great dramatic opportunity because of the
abundance of stories known in Irish-speaking districts, and because
of the freedom of choice and of treatment the leaders of a popular
movement can have if they have a mind for it. The Gaelic plays acted
and published during the year selected their subjects from the
popular mind, but the treatment is disappointing. Dr. Hyde, dragged
from gathering to gathering by the necessities of the movement, has
written no new play; and Father Peter O’Leary has thrown his dramatic
power, which is remarkable, into an imaginative novel. Father Dineen
has published a little play that has some life-like dialogue, but
the action is sometimes irrelevant, and the motives of the principal
character are vague and confused, as if it were written in a hurry.
Father Dineen seems to know that he has not done his best, for he
describes it as an attempt to provide more vivid dialogue for beginners
than is to be found in the reading-books rather than a drama. An
anonymous writer has written a play called _The Money of the Narrow
Cross_, which tells a very simple tale, like that of a child’s book,
simply and adequately. It is very slight, in low relief as it were, but
if its writer is a young man it has considerable promise.

A Play called _Seaghan na Scuab_ was described in the _United Irishman_
as the best play ever written in Irish; but though the subject of it is
a dramatic old folk-tale, which has shown its vigour by rooting itself
in many countries, the treatment is confused and conventional and there
is a flatness of dialogue unusual in these plays. There is, however,
an occasional sense of comic situation which may come to something if
its writer will work seriously at his craft. One is afraid of quenching
the smoking flax, but this play was selected for performance at the
_Oireachtas_ before a vast audience in the Rotunda. It was accompanied
by _The Doctor_ in English and Irish, written by Mr. O’Beirne, and
performed by the Tawin players, who brought it from their seaside
village in Galway. Mr. O’Beirne deserves the greatest praise for
getting this company together, as well as for all he has done to give
the Tawin people a new pleasure in their language; but I think a day
will come when he will not be grateful to the _Oireachtas_ Committee
for bringing this first crude work of his into the midst of so many
thousand people. It would be very hard for a much more experienced
dramatist to make anything out of the ugly violence, the threadbare,
second-hand imaginations that flow in upon one out of the newspapers,
when one has founded one’s work on proselytizing zeal, instead of one’s
experience of life and one’s curiosity about it. These two were the
only plays, out of a number that have been played in Irish, that I have
seen this year. I went to Galway Feis, like many others, to see Dr.
Hyde’s _Lost Saint_, for I had missed every performance of it hitherto
though I had read it to many audiences in America, and I awaited the
evening with some little excitement. Although the _Lost Saint_ was on
the programme, an Anti-Emigration play was put in its place. I did not
wait for this, but, whatever its merits, it is not likely to have
contained anything so beautiful as the old man’s prayer in the other:
‘O Lord, O God, take pity on this little soft child. Put wisdom in his
head, cleanse his heart, scatter the mist from his mind and let him
learn his lessons like the other boys. O Lord, Thou wert Thyself young
one time; take pity on youth. O Lord, Thou, Thyself, shed tears; dry
the tears of this little lad. Listen, O Lord, to the prayer of Thy
servant, and do not keep from him this little thing he is asking of
Thee. O Lord, bitter are the tears of a child, sweeten them: deep are
the thoughts of a child, quiet them: sharp is the grief of a child,
take it from him: soft is the heart of a child, do not harden it.’

A certain number of propagandist plays are unavoidable in a popular
movement like the Gaelic revival, but they may drive out everything
else. The plays, while Father Peter O’Leary and Father Dineen and
Dr. Hyde were the most popular writers and the chief influence, were
full of the traditional folk-feeling that is the mastering influence
in all old Irish literature. Father O’Leary chose for his subjects
a traditional story of a trick played upon a simple villager, a
sheep-stealer frightened by what seemed to him a ghost, the quarrels
between Maeve and Aleel of Cruachan; Father Dineen chose for his a
religious crisis, alive as with the very soul of tragedy, or a well
sacred to the fairies; while Dr. Hyde celebrated old story-tellers
and poets, and old saints, and the Mother of God with the countenance
she wears in Irish eyes. Hundreds of men scattered through the world,
angry at the spectacle of modern vulgarity, rejoiced in this movement,
for it seemed impossible for anything begun in so high a spirit, so
inspired by whatever is ancient, or simple, or noble, to sink into the
common base level of our thought. This year one has heard little of the
fine work, and a great deal about plays that get an easy cheer, because
they make no discoveries in human nature, but repeat the opinions of
the audience, or the satire of its favourite newspapers. I am only
speaking of the plays of a year, and that is but a short period in what
one hopes may be a great movement, but it is not wise to say, as do
many Gaelic Leaguers, who know the weaknesses of their movement, that
if the present thinks but of grammar and propaganda the future will do
all the rest. A movement will often in its first fire of enthusiasm
create more works of genius than whole easy-going centuries that come
after it.

Nearly everything that is greatest as English prose was written in a
generation or two after the first beautiful use of prose in England:
and Mistral has made the poems of modern Provençe, as well as reviving
and all but inventing the language: for genius is more often of the
spring than of the middle green of the year. We cannot settle times and
seasons, flowering-time and harvest-time are not in our hands, but we
are to blame if genius comes and we do not gather in the fruit or the
blossom. Very often we can do no more for the man of genius than to
distract him as little as may be with the common business of the day.
His own work is more laborious than any other, for not only is thought
harder than action, as Goethe said, but he must brood over his work so
long and so unbrokenly that he find there all his patriotism, all his
passion, his religion even—it is not only those that sweep a floor that
are obedient to heaven—until at last he can cry with Paracelsus, ‘In
this crust of bread I have found all the stars and all the heavens.’

The following new plays were produced by the National Theatre Society
during the last twelve months:—_The Shadow of the Glen_ and _Riders
to the Sea_, by Mr. J. M. Synge; _Broken Soil_, by Mr. Colm; _The
Townland of Tamney_, by Mr. Seumas MacManus; _The Shadowy Waters_
and _The King’s Threshold_, by myself. The following plays were
revived:—_Deirdre_, by A.E.; _Twenty-five_, by Lady Gregory; _Cathleen
ni Houlihan_, _The Pot of Broth_, and _The Hour-Glass_, by myself.
We could have given more plays, but difficulties about the place of
performance, the shifting of scenery from where we rehearsed to where
we acted, and so on, always brought a great deal of labour upon the
Society. The Society went to London in March and gave two performances
at The Royalty to full houses. They played there Mr. Synge’s two
plays, Mr. Colm’s play, and my _King’s Threshold_ and _Pot of Broth_.
We were commended by the critics with generous sympathy, and had an
enthusiastic and distinguished audience.

We have many plays awaiting performance during the coming winter. Mr.
Synge has written us a play in three acts called _The Well of the
Saints_, full, as few works of our time are, with temperament, and of a
true and yet bizarre beauty. Lady Gregory has written us an historical
tragedy in three acts about King Brian and a very merry comedy of
country life. Mr. Bernard Shaw has written us a play[H] in four acts,
his first experiment in Irish satire; Mr. Tarpey, an Irishman whose
comedy _Windmills_ was successfully prepared by the Stage Society some
years ago, a little play which I have not yet seen; and Mr. Boyle, a
village comedy in three acts; and I hear of other plays by competent
hands that are coming to us. My own _Baile’s Strand_ is in rehearsal,
and I hope to have ready for the spring a play on the subject of
_Deirdre_, with choruses somewhat in the Greek manner. We are, of
course, offered from all parts of the world great quantities of plays
which are impossible for literary or dramatic reasons. Some of them
have a look of having been written for the commercial theatre and of
having been sent to us on rejection. It will save trouble if I point
out that a play which seems to its writer to promise an ordinary London
or New York success is very unlikely to please us, or succeed with our
audience if it did. Writers who have a better ambition should get some
mastery of their art in little plays before spending many months of
what is almost sure to be wasted labour on several acts.

We were invited to play in the St. Louis Exhibition, but thought that
our work should be in Ireland for the present, and had other reasons
for refusing.

A Company, which has been formed in America by Miss Witcherly, who
played in _Everyman_ during a part of its tour in America, to take
some of our plays on tour, has begun with three one-act plays of mine,
_Cathleen ni Houlihan_, _The Hour-Glass_, and _The Land of Heart’s
Desire_. It announces on its circulars that it is following the methods
of our Theatre.

Though the commercial theatre of America is as unashamedly commercial
as the English, there is a far larger audience interested in fine
drama than here. When I was lecturing in, I think, Philadelphia—one
town mixes with another in my memory at times—some one told me that he
had seen the _Duchess of Malfi_ played there by one of the old stock
companies in his boyhood; and _Everyman_ has been far more of a success
in America than anywhere else. They have numberless University towns
each with its own character and with an academic life animated by a
zeal and by an imagination unknown in these countries. There is nearly
everywhere that leaven of highly-cultivated men and women so much more
necessary to a good theatrical audience to-day than were ever Raleigh
and Sidney, when the groundling could remember the folk-songs and the
imaginative folk-life. The more an age is busy with temporary things,
the more must it look for leadership in matters of art to men and women
whose business or whose leisure has made the great writers of the world
their habitual company. Literature is not journalism because it can
turn the imagination to whatever is essential and unchanging in life.


Two Irish writers had a controversy a month ago, and they accused one
another of being unable to think, with entire sincerity, though it was
obvious to uncommitted minds that neither had any lack of vigorous
thought. But they had a different meaning when they spoke of thought,
for the one, though in actual life he is the most practical man I
know, meant thought as Paschal, as Montaigne, as Shakespeare, or as,
let us say, Emerson, understood it—a reverie about the adventures
of the soul, or of the personality, or some obstinate questioning
of the riddle. Many who have to work hard always make time for this
reverie, but it comes more easily to the leisured, and in this it is
like a broken heart, which is, a Dublin newspaper assured us lately,
impossible to a busy man. The other writer had in mind, when he spoke
of thought, the shaping energy that keeps us busy, and the obstinate
questionings he had most respect for were, how to change the method of
government, how to change the language, how to revive our manufactures,
and whether it is the Protestant or the Catholic that scowls at the
other with the darker scowl. Ireland is so poor, so misgoverned, that
a great portion of the imagination of the land must give itself to
a very passionate consideration of questions like these, and yet it
is precisely these loud questions that drive away the reveries that
incline the imagination to the lasting work of literature and give,
together with religion, sweetness, and nobility, and dignity to life.
We should desire no more from these propagandist thinkers than that
they carry out their work, as far as possible, without making it more
difficult for those, fitted by Nature or by circumstance for another
kind of thought, to do their work also; and certainly it is not well
that Martha chide at Mary, for they have the One Master over them.

When one all but despairs, as one does at times, of Ireland welcoming
a National Literature in this generation, it is because we do not
leave ourselves enough of time, or of quiet, to be interested in men
and women. A writer in _The Leader_, who is unknown to me, elaborates
this argument in an article full of beauty and dignity. He is speaking
of our injustice to one another, and he says that we are driven into
injustice ‘not wantonly but inevitably, and at call of the exacting
qualities of the great things. Until this latter dawning, the genius of
Ireland has been too preoccupied really to concern itself about men and
women; in its drama they play a subordinate part, born tragic comedians
though all the sons and daughters of the land are. A nation is the
heroic theme we follow, a mourning, wasted land its moving spirit;
the impersonal assumes personality for us.’ When I wrote my _Countess
Cathleen_, I thought, of course, chiefly of the actual picture that
was forming before me, but there was a secondary meaning that came
into my mind continuously. ‘It is the soul of one that loves Ireland,’
I thought, ‘plunging into unrest, seeming to lose itself, to bargain
itself away to the very wickedness of the world, and to surrender what
is eternal for what is temporary,’ and I know that this meaning seemed
natural to others, for that great orator, J. F. Taylor, who was not
likely to have searched very deeply into any work of mine, for he cared
little for mine, or, indeed, any modern work, turned the play into such
a parable in one of his speeches.

There is no use being angry with necessary conditions, or failing to
see that a man who is busy with some reform that can only be carried
out in a flame of energetic feeling, will not only be indifferent to
what seems to us the finer kind of thinking, but that he will support
himself by generalisations that seem untrue to the man of letters. A
little play, _The Rising of the Moon_, which is in the present number
of _Samhain_, and is among those we are to produce during the winter,
has, for instance, roused the suspicions of a very resolute leader of
the people, who has a keen eye for rats behind the arras. A Fenian
ballad-singer partly converts a policeman, and is it not unwise under
any circumstances to show a policeman in so favourable a light? It is
well known that many of the younger policemen were Fenians: but it is
necessary that the Dublin crowds should be kept of so high a heart
that they will fight the police at any moment. Are not morals greater
than literature? Others have objected to Mr. Synge’s _Shadow of the
Glen_ because Irish women, being more chaste than those of England
and Scotland, are a valuable part of our national argument. Mr. Synge
should not, it is said by some, have chosen an exception for the
subject of his play, for who knows but the English may misunderstand
him? Some even deny that such a thing could happen at all, while others
that know the country better, or remember the statistics, say that it
could but should never have been staged. All these arguments, by their
methods even more than by what they have tried to prove, misunderstand
how literature does its work. Men of letters have sometimes said that
the characters of a romance or of a play must be typical. They mean
that the character must be typical of something which exists in all
men because the writer has found it in his own mind. It is one of the
most inexplicable things about human nature that a writer, with a
strange temperament, an Edgar Allan Poe, let us say, made what he is by
conditions that never existed before, can create personages and lyric
emotions, which startle us by being at once bizarre and an image of
our own secret thoughts. Are we not face to face with the microcosm,
mirroring everything in universal nature? It is no more necessary
for the characters created by a romance writer, or a dramatist, to
have existed before, than for his own personality to have done so;
characters and personality alike, as is perhaps true in the instance
of Poe, may draw half their life not from the solid earth but from
some dreamy drug. This is true even of historical drama, for it was
Goethe, the founder of the historical drama of Germany, who said ‘we
do the people of history the honour of naming after them the creations
of our own minds.’ All that a dramatic writer need do is to persuade
us, during the two hours’ traffic of the stage, that the events of
his play did really happen. He must know enough of the life of his
country, or of history, to create this illusion, but no matter how
much he knows, he will fail if his audience is not ready to give up
something of the dead letter. If his mind is full of energy he will
not be satisfied with little knowledge, but he will be far more likely
to alter incidents and characters, wilfully even as it may seem, than
to become a literal historian. It was one of the complaints against
Shakespeare, in his own day, that he made Sir John Falstaff out of a
praiseworthy old Lollard preacher. One day, as he sat over Holinshed’s
History of England, he persuaded himself that Richard the Second, with
his French culture, ‘his too great friendliness to his friends,’ his
beauty of mind, and his fall before dry, repelling Bolingbroke, would
be a good image for an accustomed mood of fanciful, impracticable
lyricism in his own mind. The historical Richard has passed away for
ever and the Richard of the play lives more intensely, it seems, than
did ever living man. Yet Richard the Second, as Shakespeare made him,
could never have been born before the Renaissance, before the Italian
influence, or even one hour before the innumerable streams that flowed
in upon Shakespeare’s mind; the innumerable experiences we can never
know, brought Shakespeare to the making of him. He is typical not
because he ever existed, but because he has made us know of something
in our own minds we had never known of had he never been imagined.

Our propagandists have twisted this theory of the men of letters
into its direct contrary, and when they say that a writer should
make typical characters they mean personifications of averages, of
statistics, or even personified opinions, or men and women so faintly
imagined that there is nothing about them to separate them from the
crowd, as it appears to our hasty eyes. We must feel that we could
engage a hundred others to wear the same livery as easily as we could
engage a coachman. We must never forget that we are engaging them to
be the ideal young peasant, or the true patriot, or the happy Irish
wife, or the policeman of our prejudices, or to express some other of
those invaluable generalisations, without which our practical movements
would lose their energy. Who is there that likes a coachman to be too
full of human nature, when he has his livery on? No one man is like
another, but one coachman should be as like another as possible, though
he may assert himself a little when he meets the gardener. The patriots
would impose on us heroes and heroines, like those young couples in the
Gaelic plays, who might all change brides or bridegrooms in the dance
and never find out the difference. The personifications need not be
true even, if they are about our enemy, for it might be more difficult
to fight out our necessary fight if we remembered his virtue at wrong
moments; and might not Teig and Bacach, that are light in the head, go
over to his party?

Ireland is indeed poor, is indeed hunted by misfortune, and has indeed
to give up much that makes life desirable and lovely, but is she so
very poor that she can afford no better literature than this? Perhaps
so, but if it is a Spirit from beyond the world that decides when a
nation shall awake into imaginative energy, and no philosopher has ever
found what brings the moment, it cannot be for us to judge. It may be
coming upon us now, for it is certain that we have more writers who are
thinking, as men of letters understand thought, than we have had for
a century, and he who wilfully makes their work harder may be setting
himself against the purpose of that Spirit.

I would not be trying to form an Irish National Theatre if I did not
believe that there existed in Ireland, whether in the minds of a
few people or of a great number I do not know, an energy of thought
about life itself, a vivid sensitiveness as to the reality of things,
powerful enough to overcome all those phantoms of the night. One thing
calls up its contrary, unreality calls up reality, and, besides, life
here has been sufficiently perilous to make men think. I do not think
it a national prejudice that makes me believe we are a harder, a more
masterful race than the comfortable English of our time, and that this
comes from an essential nearness to reality of those few scattered
people who have the right to call themselves the Irish race. It is
only in the exceptions, in the few minds, where the flame has burnt as
it were pure, that one can see the permanent character of a race. If
one remembers the men who have dominated Ireland for the last hundred
and fifty years, one understands that it is strength of personality,
the individualizing quality in a man, that stirs Irish imagination
most deeply in the end. There is scarcely a man who has led the Irish
people, at any time, who may not give some day to a great writer
precisely that symbol he may require for the expression of himself. The
critical mind of Ireland is far more subjugated than the critical mind
of England by the phantoms and misapprehensions of politics and social
necessity, but the life of Ireland has rejected them more resolutely.
Indeed, it is in life itself in England that one finds the dominion of
what is not human life.

We have no longer in any country a literature as great as the
literature of the old world, and that is because the newspapers, all
kinds of second-rate books, the preoccupation of men with all kinds
of practical changes, have driven the living imagination out of the
world. I have read hardly any books this summer but Cervantes and
Boccaccio and some Greek plays. I have felt that these men, divided
from one another by so many hundreds of years, had the same mind.
It is we who are different; and then the thought would come to me,
that has come to me so often before, that they lived at times when
the imagination turned to life itself for excitement. The world was
not changing quickly about them. There was nothing to draw their
imagination from the ripening of their fields, from the birth and death
of their children, from the destiny of their souls, from all that is
the unchanging substance of literature. They had not to deal with the
world in such great masses that it could only be represented to their
minds by figures and by abstract generalisations. Everything that
their minds ran on came to them vivid with the colour of the senses,
and when they wrote it was out of their own rich experience, and they
found their symbols of expression in things that they had known all
their life long. Their very words were more vigorous than ours, for
their phrases came from a common mint, from the market, or the tavern,
or from the great poets of a still older time. It is the change, that
followed the Renaissance and was completed by newspaper government and
the scientific movement, that has brought upon us all these phrases and
generalisations, made by minds that would grasp what they have never
seen. Yesterday I went out to see the reddening apples in the garden,
and they faded from my imagination sooner than they would have from
the imagination of that old poet, who made the songs of the seasons
for the Fianna, or out of Chaucer’s, that celebrated so many trees.
Theories, opinions, these opinions among the rest, flowed in upon me
and blotted them away. Even our greatest poets see the world with
preoccupied minds. Great as Shelley is, those theories about the coming
changes of the world, which he has built up with so much elaborate
passion, hurry him from life continually. There is a phrase in some old
cabalistic writer about man falling into his own circumference, and
every generation we get further away from life itself, and come more
and more under the influence which Blake had in his mind when he said,
‘Kings and Parliament seem to me something other than human life.’
We lose our freedom more and more as we get away from ourselves, and
not merely because our minds are overthrown by abstract phrases and
generalisations, reflections in a mirror that seem living, but because
we have turned the table of value upside down, and believe that the
root of reality is not in the centre but somewhere in that whirling
circumference. How can we create like the ancients, while innumerable
considerations of external probability or social utility or of what is
becoming in so meritorious a person as ourselves, destroy the seeming
irresponsible creative power that is life itself? Who to-day could
set Richmond’s and Richard’s tents side by side on the battlefield,
or make Don Quixote, mad as he was, mistake a windmill for a giant in
broad daylight? And when I think of free-spoken Falstaff I know of
no audience, but the tinkers of the roadside, that could encourage
the artist to an equal comedy. The old writers were content if their
inventions had but an emotional and moral consistency, and created out
of themselves a fantastic, energetic, extravagant art. A Civilisation
is very like a man or a woman, for it comes in but a few years into its
beauty and its strength, and then, while many years go by, it gathers
and makes order about it, the strength and beauty going out of it the
while, until in the end it lies there with its limbs straightened out
and a clean linen cloth folded upon it. That may well be, and yet we
need not follow among the mourners, for it may be, before they are at
the tomb, a messenger will run out of the hills and touch the pale lips
with a red ember, and wake the limbs to the disorder and the tumult
that is life. Though he does not come, even so we will keep from among
the mourners and hold some cheerful conversation among ourselves; for
has not Virgil, a knowledgeable man and a wizard, foretold that other
Argonauts shall row between cliff and cliff, and other fair-haired
Achæans sack another Troy?

Every argument carries us backwards to some religious conception, and
in the end the creative energy of men depends upon their believing that
they have, within themselves, something immortal and imperishable,
and that all else is but as an image in a looking-glass. So long as
that belief is not a formal thing, a man will create out of a joyful
energy, seeking little for any external test of an impulse that may be
sacred, and looking for no foundation outside life itself. If Ireland
could escape from those phantoms of hers she might create, as did the
old writers; for she has a faith that is as theirs, and keeps alive
in the Gaelic traditions—and this has always seemed to me the chief
intellectual value of Gaelic—a portion of the old imaginative life.
When Dr. Hyde or Father Peter O’Leary is the writer, one’s imagination
goes straight to the century of Cervantes, and, having gone so far,
one thinks at every moment that they will discover his energy. It is
precisely because of this reason that one is indignant with those who
would substitute for the ideas of the folk-life the rhetoric of the
newspapers, who would muddy what had begun to seem a fountain of life
with the feet of the mob. Is it impossible to revive Irish and yet to
leave the finer intellects a sufficient mastery over the more gross, to
prevent it from becoming, it may be, the language of a Nation, and yet
losing all that has made it worthy of a revival, all that has made it a
new energy in the mind?

Before the modern movement, and while it was but new, the ordinary
man, whether he could read and write or not, was ready to welcome
great literature. When Ariosto found himself among the brigands, they
repeated to him his own verses, and the audience in the Elizabethan
Theatres must have been all but as clever as an Athenian audience. But
to-day we come to understand great literature by a long preparation, or
by some accident of nature, for we only begin to understand life when
our minds have been purified of temporary interests by study.

But if literature has no external test, how are we to know that it is
indeed literature? The only test that nature gives, to show when we
obey her, is that she gives us happiness, and when we are no longer
obedient she brings us to pain sooner or later. Is it not the same
with the artist? The sign that she makes to him is that happiness we
call delight in beauty. He can only convey this in its highest form
after he has purified his mind with the great writers of the world; but
their example can never be more than a preparation. If his art does
not seem, when it comes, to be the creation of a new personality, in
a few years it will not seem to be alive at all. If he is a dramatist
his characters must have a like newness. If they could have existed
before his days, or have been imagined before his day, we may be
certain that the spirit of life is not in them in its fulness. This
is because art, in its highest moments, is not a deliberate creation,
but the creation of intense feeling, of pure life; and every feeling
is the child of all past ages and would be different if even a moment
had been left out. Indeed, is it not that delight in beauty, which
tells the artist that he has imagined what may never die, itself but a
delight in the permanent yet ever-changing form of life, in her very
limbs and lineaments? When life has given it, has she given anything
but herself? Has she any other reward, even for the saints? If one
flies to the wilderness, is not that clear light that falls about the
soul when all irrelevant things have been taken away, but life that has
been about one always, enjoyed in all its fulness at length? It is as
though she had put her arms about one, crying: ‘My beloved, you have
given up everything for me.’ If a man spend all his days in good works
till there is no emotion in his heart that is not full of virtue, is
not the reward he prays for eternal life? The artist, too, has prayers
and a cloister, and if he do not turn away from temporary things, from
the zeal of the reformer and the passion of revolution, that zealous
mistress will give him but a scornful glance.

What attracts one to drama is that it is, in the most obvious way, what
all the arts are upon a last analysis. A farce and a tragedy are alike
in this that they are a moment of intense life. An action is taken out
of all other actions; it is reduced to its simple form, or at anyrate
to as simple a form as it can be brought to without our losing the
sense of its place in the world. The characters that are involved in
it are freed from everything that is not a part of that action; and
whether it is, as in the less important kinds of drama, a mere bodily
activity, a hair-breadth escape or the like, or as it is in the more
important kinds, an activity of the souls of the characters, it is
an energy, an eddy of life purified from everything but itself. The
dramatist must picture life in action, with an unpreoccupied mind, as
the musician pictures her in sound and the sculptor in form.

But if this be true, has art nothing to do with moral judgments?
Surely it has, and its judgments are those from which there is no
appeal. The character, whose fortune we have been called in to see,
or the personality of the writer, must keep our sympathy, and whether
it be farce or tragedy, we must laugh and weep with him and call down
blessings on his head. This character who delights us may commit murder
like Macbeth, or fly the battle for his sweetheart as did Antony, or
betray his country like Coriolanus, and yet we will rejoice in every
happiness that comes to him and sorrow at his death as if it were our
own. It is no use telling us that the murderer and the betrayer do not
deserve our sympathy. We thought so yesterday, and we still know what
crime is, but everything has been changed of a sudden; we are caught up
into another code, we are in the presence of a higher court. Complain
of us if you will, but it will be useless, for before the curtain
falls a thousand ages, grown conscious in our sympathies, will have
cried _Absolvo te_. Blame if you will the codes, the philosophies, the
experiences of all past ages that have made us what we are, as the
soil under our feet has been made out of unknown vegetations: quarrel
with the acorns of Eden if you will, but what has that to do with us?
We understand the verdict and not the law; and yet there is some law,
some code, some judgment. If the poet’s hand had slipped, if Antony
had railed at Cleopatra in the tower, if Coriolanus had abated that
high pride of his in the presence of death, we might have gone away
muttering the Ten Commandments. Yet may be we are wrong to speak of
judgment, for we have but contemplated life, and what more is there to
say when she that is all virtue, the gift and the giver, the fountain
whither all flows again, has given all herself? If the subject of drama
or any other art, were a man himself, an eddy of momentary breath, we
might desire the contemplation of perfect characters; but the subject
of all art is passion, the flame of life itself, and a passion can only
be contemplated when separated by itself, purified of all but itself,
and aroused into a perfect intensity by opposition with some other
passion, or it may be with the law, that is the expression of the whole
whether of Church or Nation or external nature. Had Coriolanus not been
a law-breaker neither he nor we had ever discovered, it may be, that
noble pride of his, and if we had not seen Cleopatra through the eyes
of so many lovers, would we have known that soul of hers to be all
flame, and wept at the quenching of it? If we were not certain of law
we would not feel the struggle, the drama, but the subject of art is
not law, which is a kind of death, but the praise of life, and it has
no commandments that are not positive.

But if literature does not draw its substance from history, or anything
about us in the world, what is a National literature? Our friends have
already told us, writers for the Theatre in Abbey Street, that we have
no right to the name, some because we do not write in Irish, and others
because we do not plead the National cause in our plays, as if we
were writers for the newspapers. I have not asked my fellow-workers
what they mean by the words National literature, but though I have
no great love for definitions, I would define it in some such way as
this: It is the work of writers, who are moulded by influences that
are moulding their country, and who write out of so deep a life that
they are accepted there in the end. It leaves a good deal unsettled—was
Rossetti an Englishman, or Swift an Irishman?—but it covers more kinds
of National literature than any other I can think of. If one says a
National literature must be in the language of the country, there are
many difficulties. Should it be written in the language that one’s
country does speak or the language that it ought to speak? Was Milton
an Englishman when he wrote in Latin or Italian, and had we no part in
Columbanus when he wrote in Latin the beautiful sermon comparing life
to a highway and to a smoke? And then there is Beckford, who is in
every history of English literature, and yet his one memorable book, a
story of Persia, was written in French.

Our theatre is of no great size, for though we know that if we write
well we shall find acceptance among our countrymen in the end, we would
think our emotions were on the surface if we found a ready welcome.
Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman are National writers of America,
although the one had his first true acceptance in France and the other
in England and Ireland. When I was a boy, six persons, who, alone out
of the whole world it may be, believed Walt Whitman a great writer,
sent him a message of admiration, and of those names four were English
and two Irish, my father’s and Prof. Dowden’s. It is only in our own
day that America has begun to prefer him to Lowell, who is not a poet
at all.

I mean by deep life that men must put into their writing the emotions
and experiences that have been most important to themselves. If they
say, ‘I will write of Irish country people and make them charming and
picturesque like those dear peasants my great grandmother used to
put in the foreground of her water-colour paintings,’ then they had
better be satisfied with the word ‘provincial.’ If one condescends
to one’s material, if it is only what a popular novelist would call
local colour, it is certain that one’s real soul is somewhere else.
Mr. Synge, upon the other hand, who is able to express his own finest
emotions in those curious ironical plays of his, where, for all that,
by the illusion of admirable art, everyone seems to be thinking and
feeling as only countrymen could think and feel, is truly a National
writer, as Burns was when he wrote finely and as Burns was not when he
wrote _Highland Mary_ and _The Cotter’s Saturday Night_.

A writer is not less National because he shows the influence of other
countries and of the great writers of the world. No nation, since the
beginning of history, has ever drawn all its life out of itself. Even
The Well of English Undefiled, the Father of English Poetry himself,
borrowed his metres, and much of his way of looking at the world, from
French writers, and it is possible that the influence of Italy was
more powerful among the Elizabethan poets than any literary influence
out of England herself. Many years ago, when I was contending with Sir
Charles Gavan Duffy over what seemed to me a too narrow definition
of Irish interests, Professor York Powell either said or wrote to me
that the creative power of England was always at its greatest when
her receptive power was greatest. If Ireland is about to produce a
literature that is important to her, it must be the result of the
influences that flow in upon the mind of an educated Irishman to-day,
and, in a greater degree, of what came into the world with himself.
Gaelic can hardly fail to do a portion of the work, but one cannot say
whether it may not be some French or German writer who will do most to
make him an articulate man. If he really achieve the miracle, if he
really make all that he has seen and felt and known a portion of his
own intense nature, if he put it all into the fire of his energy, he
need not fear being a stranger among his own people in the end. There
never have been men more unlike an Englishman’s idea of himself than
Keats and Shelley, while Campbell, whose emotion came out of a shallow
well, was very like that idea. We call certain minds creative because
they are among the moulders of their nation and are not made upon its
mould, and they resemble one another in this only—they have never been
fore-known or fulfilled an expectation.

It is sometimes necessary to follow in practical matters some
definition which one knows to have but a passing use. We, for instance,
have always confined ourselves to plays upon Irish subjects, as if
no others could be National literature. Our theatre inherits this
limitation from previous movements, which found it necessary and
fruitful. Goldsmith and Sheridan and Burke had become so much a part
of English life, were so greatly moulded by the movements that were
moulding England, that, despite certain Irish elements that clung
about them, we could not think of them as more important to us than
any English writer of equal rank. Men told us that we should keep our
hold of them, as it were, for they were a part of our glory; but we
did not consider our glory very important. We had no desire to turn
braggarts, and we did suspect the motives of our advisers. Perhaps they
had reasons, which were not altogether literary, for thinking it might
be well if Irishmen of letters, in our day also, would turn their faces
to England. But what moved me always the most, and I had something to
do with forcing this limitation upon our organisations, is that a new
language of expression would help to awaken a new attitude in writers
themselves, and that if our organisations were satisfied to interpret
a writer to his own countrymen merely because he was of Irish birth,
the organisations would become a kind of trade union for the helping
of Irishmen to catch the ear of London publishers and managers, and
for upholding writers who had been beaten by abler Englishmen. Let a
man turn his face to us, accepting the commercial disadvantages that
would bring upon him, and talk of what is near to our hearts, Irish
Kings and Irish Legends and Irish Countrymen, and we would find it a
joy to interpret him. Our one philosophical critic, Mr. John Eglinton,
thinks we were very arbitrary, and yet I would not have us enlarge our
practice. England and France, almost alone among nations, have great
works of literature which have taken their subjects from foreign lands,
and even in France and England this is more true in appearance than
reality. Shakespeare observed his Roman crowds in London, and saw,
one doubts not, somewhere in his own Stratford, the old man that gave
Cleopatra the asp. Somebody I have been reading lately finds the Court
of Louis the Fourteenth in Phèdre and Andromaque. Even in France and
England almost the whole prose fiction professes to describe the life
of the country, often of the districts where its writers have lived,
for, unlike a poem, a novel requires so much minute observation of the
surface of life that a novelist who cares for the illusion of reality
will keep to familiar things. A writer will indeed take what is most
creative out of himself, not from observation, but experience, yet he
must master a definite language, a definite symbolism of incident and
scene. Flaubert explains the comparative failure of his Salammbô by
saying ‘one cannot frequent her.’ He could create her soul, as it were,
but he could not tell with certainty how it would express itself before
Carthage fell to ruins. In the small nations which have to struggle
for their National life, one finds that almost every creator, whether
poet or novelist, sets all his stories in his own country. I do not
recollect that Björnson ever wrote of any land but Norway, and Ibsen,
though he lived in exile for many years, driven out by his countrymen,
as he believed, carried the little seaboard towns of Norway everywhere
in his imagination. So far as one can be certain of anything, one
may be certain that Ireland with her long National struggle, her old
literature, her unbounded folk-imagination, will, in so far as her
literature is National at all, be more like Norway than England or

If Literature is but praise of life, if our writers are not to plead
the National Cause, nor insist upon the Ten Commandments, nor upon the
glory of their country, what part remains for it, in the common life
of the country? It will influence the life of the country immeasurably
more, though seemingly less, than have our propagandist poems and
stories. It will leave to others the defence of all that can be
codified for ready understanding, of whatever is the especial business
of sermons, and of leading articles; but it will bring all the ways of
men before that ancient tribunal of our sympathies. It will measure all
things by the measure not of things visible but of things invisible.
In a country like Ireland, where personifications have taken the place
of life, men have more hate than love, for the unhuman is nearly the
same as the inhuman, but literature, which is a part of that charity
that is the forgiveness of sins, will make us understand men no matter
how little they conform to our expectations. We will be more interested
in heroic men than in heroic actions, and will have a little distrust
for everything that can be called good or bad in itself with a very
confident heart. Could we understand it so well, we will say, if it
were not something other than human life? We will have a scale of
virtues, and value most highly those that approach the indefinable.
Men will be born among us of whom it is possible to say, not ‘What a
philanthropist,’ ‘What a patriot,’ ‘How practical a man,’ but, as we
say of the men of the Renaissance, ‘What a nature,’ ‘How much abundant
life.’ Even at the beginning we will value qualities more than actions,
for these may be habit or accident; and should we say to a friend,
‘You have advertised for an English cook,’ or ‘I hear that you have no
clerks who are not of your own faith,’ or ‘You have voted an address to
the king,’ we will add to our complaint, ‘You have been unpatriotic and
I am ashamed of you, but if you cease from doing any of these things
because you have been terrorized out of them, you will cease to be
my friend.’ We will not forget how to be stern, but we will remember
always that the highest life unites, as in one fire, the greatest
passion and the greatest courtesy.

A feeling for the form of life, for the graciousness of life, for
the dignity of life, for the moving limbs of life, for the nobleness
of life, for all that cannot be written in codes, has always been
greatest among the gifts of literature to mankind. Indeed, the Muses
being women, all literature is but their love-cries to the manhood of
the world. It is now one and now another that cries, but the words
are the same—‘Love of my heart, what matter to me that you have been
quarrelsome in your cups, and have slain many, and have given your love
here and there? It was because of the whiteness of your flesh and the
mastery in your hands that I gave you my love, when all life came to me
in your coming.’ And then in a low voice that none may overhear—‘Alas!
I am greatly afraid that the more they cry against you the more I love

There are two kinds of poetry, and they are co-mingled in all the
greatest works. When the tide of life sinks low there are pictures,
as in _The Ode to a Grecian Urn_ and in Virgil at the plucking of the
Golden Bough. The pictures make us sorrowful. We share the poet’s
separation from what he describes. It is life in the mirror, and our
desire for it is as the desire of the lost souls for God; but when
Lucifer stands among his friends, when Villon sings his dead ladies to
so gallant a rhythm, when Timon makes his epitaph, we feel no sorrow,
for life herself has made one of her eternal gestures, has called up
into our hearts her energy that is eternal delight. In Ireland, where
the tide of life is rising, we turn, not to picture-making, but to the
imagination of personality—to drama, gesture.


[A] Both Mr. Moore and Mr. Martyn dropped out of the movement after the
third performance at the Irish Literary Theatre in 1901.—W.B.Y.

[B] That mood has gone, with Fenianism and its wild hopes. The National
movement has been commercialized in the last few years. How much real
ideality is but hidden for a time one cannot say.—W.B.Y., _March, 1908_.

[C] An illusion, as he himself explained to me. He had never seen
_Phèdre_. The players were quiet and natural, because they did not know
what else to do. They had not learned to go wrong.—W.B.Y., _March,

[D] This play was _John Bull’s Other Island_. When it came out in the
spring of 1905 we felt ourselves unable to cast it without wronging Mr.
Shaw. We had no ‘Broadbent’ or money to get one.—W.B.Y., _March, 1908_.

[E] _The Poor House_, written in Irish by Dr. Hyde on a scenario by
Lady Gregory.

[F] _Riders to the Sea._ This play made its way very slowly with our
audiences, but is now very popular.—W.B.Y., _March, 1908_.

[G] The players, though not the playwrights, are now all paid.—W.B.Y.,
_March, 1908_.

[H] _John Bull’s Other Island._


I have been asked to put into this year’s _Samhain_ Miss Horniman’s
letter offering us the use of the Abbey Theatre. I have done this, but
as Miss Horniman begins her letter by stating that she has made her
offer out of ‘great sympathy with the Irish National Theatre Company as
publicly explained by Mr. Yeats on various occasions,’ she has asked me
to go more into detail as to my own plans and hopes than I have done
before. I think they are the plans and hopes of my fellow dramatists,
for we are all of one movement, and have influenced one another, and
have in us the spirit of our time. I discussed them all very shortly in
last _Samhain_. And I know that it was that _Samhain_, and a certain
speech I made in front of the curtain, that made Miss Horniman entrust
us with her generous gift. But last _Samhain_ is practically out of
print, and my speech has gone even out of my own memory. I will repeat,
therefore, much that I have said already, but adding a good deal to it.

_First._ Our plays must be literature or written in the spirit of
literature. The modern theatre has died away to what it is because
the writers have thought of their audiences instead of their subject.
An old writer saw his hero, if it was a play of character; or some
dominant passion, if it was a play of passion, like Phèdre or
Andromaque, moving before him, living with a life he did not endeavour
to control. The persons acted upon one another as they were bound
by their natures to act, and the play was dramatic, not because he
had sought out dramatic situations for their own sake, but because
will broke itself upon will and passion upon passion. Then the
imagination began to cool, the writer began to be less alive, to seek
external aids, remembered situations, tricks of the theatre, that
had proved themselves again and again. His persons no longer will
have a particular character, but he knows that he can rely upon the
incidents, and he feels himself fortunate when there is nothing in
his play that has not succeeded a thousand times before the curtain
has risen. Perhaps he has even read a certain guide-book to the stage
published in France, and called ‘The Thirty-six Situations of Drama.’
The costumes will be magnificent, the actresses will be beautiful,
the Castle in Spain will be painted by an artist upon the spot. We
will come from his play excited if we are foolish, or can condescend
to the folly of others, but knowing nothing new about ourselves, and
seeing life with no new eyes and hearing it with no new ears. The whole
movement of theatrical reform in our day has been a struggle to get
rid of this kind of play, and the sincere play, the logical play, that
we would have in its place, will always seem, when we hear it for the
first time, undramatic, unexciting. It has to stir the heart in a long
disused way, it has to awaken the intellect to a pleasure that ennobles
and wearies. I was at the first performance of an Ibsen play given in
England. It was _The Doll’s House_, and at the fall of the curtain I
heard an old dramatic critic say, ‘It is but a series of conversations
terminated by an accident.’ So far, we here in Dublin mean the same
thing as do Mr. Max Beerbohm, Mr. Walkley, and Mr. Archer, who are
seeking to restore sincerity to the English stage, but I am not certain
that we mean the same thing all through. The utmost sincerity, the most
unbroken logic, give me, at any rate, but an imperfect pleasure if
there is not a vivid and beautiful language. Ibsen has sincerity and
logic beyond any writer of our time, and we are all seeking to learn
them at his hands; but is he not a good deal less than the greatest
of all times, because he lacks beautiful and vivid language? ‘Well,
well, give me time and you shall hear all about it. If only I had Peter
here now,’ is very like life, is entirely in its place where it comes,
and when it is united to other sentences exactly like itself, one is
moved, one knows not how, to pity and terror, and yet not moved as if
the words themselves could sing and shine. Mr. Max Beerbohm wrote once
that a play cannot have style because the people must talk as they
talk in daily life. He was thinking, it is obvious, of a play made out
of that typically modern life where there is no longer vivid speech.
Blake says that a work of art must be minutely articulated by God or
man, and man has too little help from that occasional collaborateur
when he writes of people whose language has become abstract and dead.
Falstaff gives one the sensation of reality, and when one remembers the
abundant vocabulary of a time when all but everything present to the
mind was present to the senses, one imagines that his words were but
little magnified from the words of such a man in real life. Language
was still alive then, alive as it is in Gaelic to-day, as it is in
English-speaking Ireland where the Schoolmaster or the newspaper has
not corrupted it. I know that we are at the mere beginning, laboriously
learning our craft, trying our hands in little plays for the most
part, that we may not venture too boldly in our ignorance; but I never
hear the vivid, picturesque, ever-varied language of Mr. Synge’s
persons without feeling that the great collaborateur has his finger
in our business. May it not be that the only realistic play that will
live as Shakespeare has lived, as Calderon has lived, as the Greeks
have lived, will arise out of the common life, where language is as
much alive as if it were new come out of Eden? After all, is not the
greatest play not the play that gives the sensation of an external
reality but the play in which there is the greatest abundance of life
itself, of the reality that is in our minds? Is it possible to make
a work of art, which needs every subtlety of expression if it is to
reveal what hides itself continually, out of a dying, or at any rate
a very ailing language? and all language but that of the poets and of
the poor is already bed-ridden. We have, indeed, persiflage, the only
speech of educated men that expresses a deliberate enjoyment of words:
but persiflage is not a true language. It is impersonal; it is not in
the midst but on the edge of life; it covers more character than it
discovers: and yet, such as it is, all our comedies are made out of it.

What the ever-moving delicately-moulded flesh is to human beauty, vivid
musical words are to passion. Somebody has said that every nation
begins with poetry and ends with algebra, and passion has always
refused to express itself in algebraical terms.

Have we not been in error in demanding from our playwrights personages
who do not transcend our common actions any more than our common
speech? If we are in the right, all antiquity has been in error. The
scholars of a few generations ago were fond of deciding that certain
persons were unworthy of the dignity of art. They had, it may be, an
over-abounding preference for kings and queens, but we are, it may be,
very stupid in thinking that the average man is a fit subject at all
for the finest art. Art delights in the exception, for it delights in
the soul expressing itself according to its own laws and arranging
the world about it in its own pattern, as sand strewn upon a drum
will change itself into different patterns, according to the notes of
music that are sung or played to it. But the average man is average
because he has not attained to freedom. Habit, routine, fear of public
opinion, fear of punishment here or hereafter, a myriad of things that
are ‘something other than human life,’ something less than flame,
work their will upon his soul and trundle his body here and there. At
the first performance of _Ghosts_ I could not escape from an illusion
unaccountable to me at the time. All the characters seemed to be less
than life-size; the stage, though it was but the little Royalty stage,
seemed larger than I had ever seen it. Little whimpering puppets moved
here and there in the middle of that great abyss. Why did they not
speak out with louder voices or move with freer gestures? What was it
that weighed upon their souls perpetually? Certainly they were all in
prison, and yet there was no prison. In India there are villages so
obedient that all the jailer has to do is to draw a circle upon the
ground with his staff, and to tell his thief to stand there so many
hours; but what law had these people broken that they had to wander
round that narrow circle all their lives? May not such art, terrible,
satirical, inhuman, be the medicine of great cities, where nobody is
ever alone with his own strength? Nor is Maeterlinck very different,
for his persons ‘enquire after Jerusalem in the regions of the grave,
with weak voices almost inarticulate, wearying repose.’ Is it the
mob that has robbed those angelic persons of the energy of their
souls? Will not our next art be rather of the country, of great open
spaces, of the soul rejoicing in itself? Will not the generations to
come begin again to have an over-abounding faith in kings and queens,
in masterful spirits, whatever names we call them by? I had Molière
with me on my way to America, and as I read I seemed to be at home in
Ireland listening to that conversation of the people which is so full
of riches because so full of leisure, or to those old stories of the
folk which were made by men who believed so much in the soul, and so
little in anything else, that they were never entirely certain that
the earth was solid under the foot-sole. What is there left for us,
that have seen the newly-discovered stability of things changed from an
enthusiasm to a weariness, but to labour with a high heart, though it
may be with weak hands, to rediscover an art of the theatre that shall
be joyful, fantastic, extravagant, whimsical, beautiful, resonant, and
altogether reckless? The arts are at their greatest when they seek for
a life growing always more scornful of everything that is not itself
and passing into its own fulness, as it were, ever more completely, as
all that is created out of the passing mode of society slips from it;
and attaining that fulness, perfectly it may be—and from this is tragic
joy and the perfectness of tragedy—when the world itself has slipped
away in death. We, who are believers, cannot see reality anywhere but
in the soul itself, and seeing it there we cannot do other than rejoice
in every energy, whether of gesture, or of action, or of speech, coming
out of the personality, the soul’s image, even though the very laws of
nature seem as unimportant in comparison as did the laws of Rome to
Coriolanus when his pride was upon him. Has not the long decline of the
arts been but the shadow of declining faith in an unseen reality?

    ‘If the sun and moon would doubt,
    They’d immediately go out.’

_Second._ If we are to make a drama of energy, of extravagance, of
phantasy, of musical and noble speech, we shall need an appropriate
stage management. Up to a generation or two ago, and to our own
generation, here and there, lingered a method of acting and of
stage-management, which had come down, losing much of its beauty
and meaning on the way, from the days of Shakespeare. Long after
England, under the influence of Garrick, began the movement towards
Naturalism, this school had a great popularity in Ireland, where it
was established at the Restoration by an actor who probably remembered
the Shakespearean players. France has inherited from Racine and from
Molière an equivalent art, and, whether it is applied to comedy
or to tragedy, its object is to give importance to the words. It
is not only Shakespeare whose finest thoughts are inaudible on the
English stage. Congreve’s _Way of the World_ was acted in London last
Spring, and revived again a month ago, and the part of Lady Wishfort
was taken by a very admirable actress, an actress of genius who has
never had the recognition she deserves. There is a scene where Lady
Wishfort turns away a servant with many words. She cries—‘Go, set up
for yourself again, do; drive a trade, do, with your three pennyworth
of small ware, flaunting upon a packthread under a brandy-seller’s
bulk, or against a dead wall by a ballad-monger; go, hang out an old
frisoneer-gorget, with a yard of yellow colberteen again, do; an old
gnawed mask, two rows of pins, and a child’s fiddle; a glass necklace
with the beads broken, and a quilted nightcap with one ear. Go, go,
drive a trade.’ The conversation of an older time, of Urquhart, the
translator of Rabelais, let us say, awakes with a little of its old
richness. The actress acted so much and so admirably that when she
first played it—I heard her better a month ago, perhaps because I
was nearer to the stage—I could not understand a word of a passage
that required the most careful speech. Just as the modern musician,
through the over-development of an art that seems exterior to the
poet, writes so many notes for every word that the natural energy of
speech is dissolved and broken and the words made inaudible, so did
this actress, a perfect mistress of her own art, put into her voice so
many different notes, so run up and down the scale under an impulse of
anger and scorn, that one had hardly been more affronted by a musical
setting. Everybody who has spoken to large audiences knows that he must
speak difficult passages, in which there is some delicacy of sound
or of thought, upon one or two notes. The larger his audience, the
more he must get away, except in trivial passages, from the methods
of conversation. Where one requires the full attention of the mind,
one must not weary it with any but the most needful changes of pitch
and note, or by an irrelevant or obtrusive gesture. As long as drama
was full of poetical beauty, full of description, full of philosophy,
as long as its words were the very vesture of sorrow and laughter,
the players understood that their art was essentially conventional,
artificial, ceremonious.

The stage itself was differently shaped, being more a platform than
a stage, for they did not desire to picture the surface of life, but
to escape from it. But realism came in, and every change towards
realism coincided with a decline in dramatic energy. The proscenium
was imported into England at the close of the seventeenth century,
appropriate costumes a generation later. The audience were forbidden to
sit upon the stage in the time of Sheridan, the last English-speaking
playwright whose plays have lived. And the last remnant of the
platform, the part of the stage that still projected beyond the
proscenium, dwindled in size till it disappeared in their own day.
The birth of science was at hand, the birth-pangs of its mother had
troubled the world for centuries. But now that Gargantua is born at
last, it may be possible to remember that there are other giants.

We can never bring back old things precisely as they were, but must
consider how much of them is necessary to us, accepting, even if it
were only out of politeness, something of our own time. The necessities
of a builder have torn from us, all unwilling as we were, the apron, as
the portion of the platform that came in front of the proscenium used
to be called, and we must submit to the picture-making of the modern
stage. We would have preferred to be able to return occasionally to
the old stage of statue-making, of gesture. On the other hand, one
accepts, believing it to be a great improvement, some appropriateness
of costume, but speech is essential to us. An Irish critic has told us
to study the stage-management of Antoine, but that is like telling a
good Catholic to take his theology from Luther. Antoine, who described
poetry as a way of saying nothing, has perfected naturalistic acting
and carried the spirit of science into the theatre. Were we to study
his methods, we might, indeed, have a far more perfect art than our
own, a far more mature art, but it is better to fumble our way like
children. We may grow up, for we have as good hopes as any other sturdy

An actor must so understand how to discriminate cadence from cadence,
and so cherish the musical lineaments of verse or prose, that he
delights the ear with a continually varied music. This one has to say
over and over again, but one does not mean that his speaking should be
a monotonous chant. Those who have heard Mr. Frank Fay speaking verse
will understand me. That speech of his, so masculine and so musical,
could only sound monotonous to an ear that was deaf to poetic rhythm,
and one should never, as do London managers, stage a poetical drama
according to the desire of those who are deaf to poetical rhythm. It
is possible, barely so, but still possible, that some day we may write
musical notes as did the Greeks, it seems, for a whole play, and make
our actors speak upon them—not sing, but speak. Even now, when one
wishes to make the voice immortal and passionless, as in the Angel’s
part in my _Hour-Glass_, one finds it desirable for the player to speak
always upon pure musical notes, written out beforehand and carefully
rehearsed. On the one occasion when I heard the Angel’s part spoken
in this way with entire success, the contrast between the crystalline
quality of the pure notes and the more confused and passionate speaking
of the Wise Man was a new dramatic effect of great value.

If a song is brought into a play it does not matter to what school the
musician belongs if every word, if every cadence, is as audible and
expressive as if it were spoken. It must be good speech, and one must
not listen to the musician if he promise to add meaning to the words
with his notes, for one does not add meaning to the word ‘love’ by
putting four o’s in the middle, or by subordinating it even slightly to
a musical note. But where will one find a musician so mild, so quiet,
so modest, unless he be a sailor from the forecastle or some ghost out
of the twelfth century? One must ask him for music that shall mean
nothing, or next to nothing, apart from the words, and after all he is
a musician.

When I heard the Æschylean Trilogy at Stratford-on-Avon last spring
I could not hear a word of the chorus, except in a few lines here
and there which were spoken without musical setting. The chorus was
not without dramatic, or rather operatic effect; but why should those
singers have taken so much trouble to learn by heart so much of the
greatest lyric poetry of Greece? ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star,’ or
any other memory of their childhood, would have served their turn. If
it had been comic verse, the singing-master and the musician would
have respected it, and the audience would have been able to hear.
Mr. Dolmetsch and Miss Florence Farr have been working for some time
to find out some way of setting serious poetry which will enable us
to hear it, and the singer to sing sweetly and yet never to give a
word, a cadence, or an accent, that would not be given it in ordinary
passionate speech. It is difficult, for they are trying to re-discover
an art that is only remembered or half-remembered in ships and in
hovels and among wandering tribes of uncivilised men, and they have to
make their experiment with singers who have been trained by a method
of teaching that professes to change a human being into a musical
instrument, a creation of science, ‘something other than human life.’
In old days the singer began to sing over the rocking cradle or among
the wine-cups, and it was as though life itself caught fire of a
sudden; but to-day the poet, fanatic that he is, watches the singer go
up on to the platform, wondering and expecting every moment that he
will punch himself as if he were a bag. It is certainly impossible to
speak with perfect expression after you have been a bagpipes for many
years, even though you have been making the most beautiful music all
the time.

The success of the chorus in the performance of _Hippolytus_ last
Spring—I did not see the more recent performance, but hear upon all
hands that the chorus was too large—the expressiveness of the greater
portion as mere speech, has, I believe, re-created the chorus as a
dramatic method. The greater portion of the singing, as arranged by
Miss Farr, even when four or five voices sang together, though never
when ten sang together, was altogether admirable speech, and some of
it was speech of extraordinary beauty. When one lost the meaning,
even perhaps where the whole chorus sang together, it was not because
of a defective method, but because it is the misfortune of every new
artistic method that we can only judge of it through performers who
must be for a long time unpractised and amateurish. This new art has a
double difficulty, for the training of a modern singer makes articulate
speech, as a poet understands it, nearly impossible, and those who are
masters of speech very often, perhaps usually, are poor musicians.
Fortunately, Miss Farr, who has some knowledge of music, has, it may
be, the most beautiful voice on the English stage, and is in her
management of it an exquisite artist.

That we may throw emphasis on the words in poetical drama, above all
where the words are remote from real life as well as in themselves
exacting and difficult, the actors must move, for the most part, slowly
and quietly, and not very much, and there should be something in their
movements decorative and rhythmical as if they were paintings on a
frieze. They must not draw attention to themselves at wrong moments,
for poetry and indeed all picturesque writing is perpetually making
little pictures which draw the attention away for a second or two from
the player. The actress who played Lady Wishfort should have permitted
us to give a part of our attention to that little shop or wayside
booth. Then, too, one must be content to have long quiet moments, long
grey spaces, long level reaches, as it were—the leisure that is in all
fine life—for what we may call the business-will in a high state of
activity is not everything, although contemporary drama knows of little

_Third._ We must have a new kind of scenic art. I have been the
advocate of the poetry as against the actor, but I am the advocate of
the actor as against the scenery. Ever since the last remnant of the
old platform disappeared, and the proscenium grew into the frame of a
picture, the actors have been turned into a picturesque group in the
foreground of a meretricious landscape-painting. The background should
be of as little importance as the background of a portrait-group, and
it should, when possible, be of one colour or of one tint, that the
persons on the stage, wherever they stand, may harmonise with it or
contrast with it and preoccupy our attention. Their outline should be
clear and not broken up into the outline of windows and wainscotting,
or lost into the edges of colours. In a play which copies the surface
of life in its dialogue one may, with this reservation, represent
anything that can be represented successfully—a room, for instance—but
a landscape painted in the ordinary way will always be meretricious
and vulgar. It will always be an attempt to do something which cannot
be done successfully except in easel painting, and the moment an actor
stands near to your mountain, or your forest, one will perceive that he
is standing against a flat surface. Illusion, therefore, is impossible,
and should not be attempted. One should be content to suggest a scene
upon a canvas, whose vertical flatness one accepts and uses, as the
decorator of pottery accepts the roundness of a bowl or a jug. Having
chosen the distance from naturalism, which will keep one’s composition
from competing with the illusion created by the actor, who belongs to
a world with depth as well as height and breadth, one must keep this
distance without flinching. The distance will vary according to the
distance the playwright has chosen, and especially in poetry, which
is more remote and idealistic than prose, one will insist on schemes
of colour and simplicity of form, for every sign of deliberate order
gives remoteness and ideality. But, whatever the distance be, one’s
treatment will always be more or less decorative. We can only find out
the right decoration for the different types of play by experiment,
but it will probably range between, on the one hand, woodlands made
out of recurring pattern, or painted like old religious pictures
upon gold background, and upon the other the comparative realism of
a Japanese print. This decoration will not only give us a scenic art
that will be a true art because peculiar to the stage, but it will give
the imagination liberty, and without returning to the bareness of the
Elizabethan stage. The poet cannot evoke a picture to the mind’s eye if
a second-rate painter has set his imagination of it before the bodily
eye; but decoration and suggestion will accompany our moods, and turn
our minds to meditation, and yet never become obtrusive or wearisome.
The actor and the words put into his mouth are always the one thing
that matters, and the scene should never be complete of itself, should
never mean anything to the imagination until the actor is in front of

If one remembers that the movement of the actor, and the graduation and
the colour of the lighting, are the two elements that distinguish the
stage picture from an easel painting, one will not find it difficult to
create an art of the stage ranking as a true fine art. Mr. Gordon Craig
has done wonderful things with the lighting, but he is not greatly
interested in the actor, and his streams of coloured direct light,
beautiful as they are, will always seem, apart from certain exceptional
moments, a new externality. One should rather desire, for all but
exceptional moments, an even, shadowless light, like that of noon, and
it may be that a light reflected out of mirrors will give us what we

M. Appia and M. Fortuni are making experiments in the staging of
Wagner for a private theatre in Paris, but I cannot understand what M.
Appia is doing, from the little I have seen of his writing, excepting
that the floor of the stage will be uneven like the ground, and that
at moments the lights and shadows of green boughs will fall over the
player that the stage may show a man wandering through a wood, and
not a wood with a man in the middle of it. One agrees with all the
destructive part of his criticism, but it looks as if he himself is
seeking, not convention, but a more perfect realism. I cannot persuade
myself that the movement of life is flowing that way, for life moves
by a throbbing as of a pulse, by reaction and action. The hour of
convention and decoration and ceremony is coming again.

The experiments of the Irish National Theatre Society will have of
necessity to be for a long time few and timid, and we must often,
having no money and not a great deal of leisure, accept for a while
compromises, and much even that we know to be irredeemably bad. One
can only perfect an art very gradually; and good playwriting, good
speaking, and good acting are the first necessity.


Our first season at the Abbey Theatre has been tolerably successful.
We drew small audiences, but quite as big as we had hoped for, and we
end the year with a little money. On the whole we have probably more
than trebled our audiences of the Molesworth Hall. The same people come
again and again, and others join them, and I do not think we lose any
of them. We shall be under more expense in our new season, for we have
decided to pay some of the company and send them into the provinces,
but our annual expenses will not be as heavy as the weekly expenses of
the most economical London manager. Mr. Philip Carr, whose revivals
of Elizabethan plays and old comedies have been the finest things one
could see in a London theatre, spent three hundred pounds and took
twelve pounds during his last week; but here in Ireland enthusiasm can
do half the work, and nobody is accustomed to get much money, and even
Mr. Carr’s inexpensive scenery costs more than our simple decorations.
Our staging of _Kincora_, the work of Mr. Robert Gregory, was
beautiful, with a high, grave dignity and that strangeness which Ben
Jonson thought to be a part of all excellent beauty, and the expense of
scenery, dresses and all was hardly above thirty pounds. If we find a
good scene we repeat it in other plays, and in course of time we shall
be able to put on new plays without any expense for scenery at all. I
do not think that even the most expensive decoration would increase in
any way the pleasure of an audience that comes to us for the play and
the acting.

We shall have abundance of plays, for Lady Gregory has written us a new
comedy besides her _White Cockade_, which is in rehearsal; Mr. Boyle,
a satirical comedy in three acts; Mr. Colum has made a new play out of
his _Broken Soil_; and I have made almost a new one out of my _Shadowy
Waters_; and Mr. Synge has practically finished a longer and more
elaborate comedy than his last. Since our start last Christmas we have
shown eleven plays created by our movement and very varied in substance
and form, and six of these were new: _The Well of the Saints_,
_Kincora_, _The Building Fund_, _The Land_, _On Baile’s Strand_, and
_Spreading the News_.

One of our plays, _The Well of the Saints_, has been accepted for
immediate production by the Deutsches Theatre of Berlin; and another,
_The Shadow of the Glen_, is to be played during the season at the
National Bohemian Theatre at Prague; and my own _Cathleen ni Houlihan_
has been translated into Irish and been played at the Oireachtas,
before an audience of some thousands. We have now several dramatists
who have taken to drama as their most serious business, and we claim
that a school of Irish drama exists, and that it is founded upon
sincere observation and experience.

As is natural in a country where the Gaelic League has created a
pre-occupation with the countryman, the greatest number of our
plays are founded on the comedy and tragedy of country life, and
are written more or less in dialect. When the Norwegian National
movement began, its writers chose for their maxim, ‘To understand
the saga by the peasant and the peasant by the saga.’ Ireland in our
day has re-discovered the old heroic literature of Ireland, and she
has re-discovered the imagination of the folk. My own pre-occupation
is more with the heroic legend than with the folk, but Lady Gregory
in her _Spreading the News_, Mr. Synge in his _Well of the Saints_,
Mr. Colum in _The Land_, Mr. Boyle in _The Building Fund_, have been
busy, much or little, with the folk and the folk-imagination. Mr.
Synge alone has written of the peasant as he is to all the ages; of
the folk-imagination as it has been shaped by centuries of life among
fields or on fishing-grounds. His people talk a highly-coloured musical
language, and one never hears from them a thought that is of to-day
and not of yesterday. Lady Gregory has written of the people of the
markets and villages of the West, and their speech, though less full of
peculiar idiom than that of Mr. Synge’s people, is still always that
vivid speech which has been shaped through some generations of English
speaking by those who still think in Gaelic. Mr. Colum and Mr. Boyle,
on the other hand, write of the countryman or villager of the East
or centre of Ireland, who thinks in English, and the speech of their
people shows the influence of the newspaper and the National Schools.
The people they write of, too, are not the true folk. They are the
peasant as he is being transformed by modern life, and for that very
reason the man of the towns may find it easier to understand them.
There is less surprise, less wonder in what he sees, but there is more
of himself there, more of his vision of the world and of the problems
that are troubling him.

It is not fitting for the showman to overpraise the show, but he is
always permitted to tell you what is in his booths. Mr. Synge is the
most obviously individual of our writers. He alone has discovered a
new kind of sarcasm, and it is this sarcasm that keeps him, and may
long keep him, from general popularity. Mr. Boyle satirises a miserly
old woman, and he has made a very vivid person of her, but as yet his
satire is such as all men accept; it brings no new thing to judgment.
We have never doubted that what he assails is evil, and we are never
afraid that it is ourselves. Lady Gregory alone writes out of a spirit
of pure comedy, and laughs without bitterness and with no thought but
to laugh. She has a perfect sympathy with her characters, even with
the worst of them, and when the curtain goes down we are so far from
the mood of judgment that we do not even know that we have condoned
many sins. In Mr. Colum’s _Land_ there is a like comedy when Cornelius
and Sally fill the scene, but then he is too young to be content with
laughter. He is still interested in the reform of society, but that
will pass, for at about thirty every writer, who is anything of an
artist, comes to understand that all a work of art can do is to show
one the reality that is within our minds, and the reality that our eyes
look on. He is the youngest of us all by many years, and we are all
proud to foresee his future.

I think that a race or a nation or a phase of life has but few dramatic
themes, and that when these have been once written well they must
afterwards be written less and less well until one gets at last but
‘Soulless self-reflections of man’s skill.’ The first man writes
what it is natural to write, the second man what is left to him, for
the imagination cannot repeat itself. The hoydenish young woman,
the sentimental young woman, the villain and the hero alike ever
self-possessed, of contemporary drama, were once real discoveries, and
one can trace their history through the generations like a joke or a
folk-tale, but, unlike these, they grow always less interesting as they
get farther from their cradle. Our opportunity in Ireland is not that
our playwrights have more talent, it is possible that they have less
than the workers in an old tradition, but that the necessity of putting
a life that has not hitherto been dramatised into their plays excludes
all these types which have had their origin in a different social order.

An audience with National feeling is alive, at the worst it is alive
enough to quarrel with. One man came up from the scene of Lady
Gregory’s _Kincora_ at Killaloe that he might see her play, and having
applauded loudly, and even cheered for the Dalcassians, became silent
and troubled when Brian took Gormleith for his wife. ‘It is a great
pity,’ he said to a man next to him, ‘that he didn’t marry a quiet
girl from his own district.’ Some have quarrelled with me because I
did not take some glorious moment of Cuchulain’s life for my play, and
not the killing of his son, and all our playwrights have been attacked
for choosing bad characters instead of good, and called slanderers of
their country. In so far as these attacks come from National feeling,
that is to say, out of an interest or an affection for the life of this
country now and in past times, as did the countryman’s trouble about
Gormleith, they are in the long run the greatest help to a dramatist,
for they give him something to startle or to delight. Every writer has
had to face them where his work has aroused a genuine interest. The
Germans at the beginning of the nineteenth century preferred Schiller
to Goethe, and thought him the greater writer, because he put nobler
characters into his books; and when Chaucer met Eros walking in the
month of May, that testy god complains that though he had ‘sixty
bookkes olde and newe,’ and all full of stories of women and the life
they led, and though for every bad woman there are a hundred good, he
has chosen to write only of the bad ones. He complains that Chaucer
by his _Troilus_ and his _Romaunt of the Rose_ has brought love and
women to discredit. It is the same in painting as in literature, for
when a new painter arises men cry out, even when he is a painter of
the beautiful like Rossetti, that he has chosen the exaggerated or the
ugly or the unhealthy, forgetting that it is the business of art and
of letters to change the values and to mint the coinage. Without this
outcry there is no movement of life in the arts, for it is the sign of
values not yet understood, of a coinage not yet mastered. Sometimes
the writer delights us, when we grow to understand him, with new forms
of virtue discovered in persons where one had not hitherto looked for
it, and sometimes, and this is more and more true of modern art, he
changes the values not by the persons he sets before one, who may be
mean enough, but by his way of looking at them, by the implications
that come from his own mind, by the tune they dance to as it were.
Eros, into whose mouth Chaucer, one doubts not, puts arguments that he
had heard from his readers and listeners, objected to Chaucer’s art in
the interests of pedantic mediæval moralising; the contemporaries of
Schiller commended him for reflecting vague romantic types from the
sentimental literature of his predecessors; and those who object to the
peasant as he is seen in the Abbey Theatre have their imaginations full
of what is least observant and most sentimental in the Irish novelists.
When I was a boy I spent many an afternoon with a village shoemaker who
was a great reader. I asked him once what Irish novels he liked, and
he told me there were none he could read, ‘They sentimentalised the
people,’ he said angrily; and it was against Kickham that he complained
most. ‘I want to see the people,’ he said, ‘shown up in their naked
hideousness.’ That is the peasant mind as I know it, delight in strong
sensations whether of beauty or of ugliness, in bare facts, and quite
without sentimentality. The sentimental mind is the bourgeois mind, and
it was this mind which came into Irish literature with Gerald Griffin
and later on with Kickham.

It is the mind of the town, and it is a delight to those only who have
seen life, and above all country life, with unobservant eyes, and
most of all to the Irish tourist, to the patriotic young Irishman who
goes to the country for a month’s holiday with his head full of vague
idealisms. It is not the art of Mr. Colum, born of the people, and
when at his best looking at the town and not the country with strange
eyes, nor the art of Mr. Synge spending weeks and months in remote
places talking Irish to fishers and islanders. I remember meeting,
about twenty years ago, a lad who had a little yacht at Kingstown.
Somebody was talking of the sea paintings of a great painter, Hook,
I think, and this made him very angry. No yachtsman believed in them
or thought them at all like the sea, he said. Indeed, he was always
hearing people praise pictures that were not a bit like the sea, and
thereupon he named certain of the greatest painters of water—men who
more than all others had spent their lives in observing the effects
of light upon cloud and wave. I met him again the other day, well
on in middle life, and though he is not even an Irishman, indignant
with Mr. Synge’s and Mr. Boyle’s[I] peasants. He knew the people, he
said, and neither he nor any other person that knew them could believe
that they were properly represented in _The Well of the Saints_ or
_The Building Fund_. Twenty years ago his imagination was under the
influence of popular pictures, but to-day it was under the conventional
idealisms which writers like Kickham and Griffin substitute for the
ever-varied life of the cottages, and that conventional idealism that
the contemporary English Theatre substitutes for all life whatsoever.
I saw _Caste_, the earliest play of the modern school, a few days ago,
and found there more obviously than I expected, for I am not much of
a theatre-goer, the English half of the mischief. Two of the minor
persons had a certain amount of superficial characterization, as if
out of the halfpenny comic papers; but the central persons, the man
and woman that created the dramatic excitement, such as it was, had
not characters of any kind, being vague ideals, perfection as it is
imagined by a common-place mind. The audience could give them its
sympathy without the labour that comes from awakening knowledge. If the
dramatist had put any man and woman of his acquaintance that seemed
to him nearest perfection into his play, he would have had to make it
a study, among other things, of the little petty faults and perverted
desires that come out of the nature or its surroundings. He would have
troubled that admiring audience by making a self-indulgent sympathy
more difficult. He might have even seemed, like Ibsen or the early
Christians, an enemy of the human race. We have gone down to the roots,
and we have made up our minds upon one thing quite definitely—that
in no play that professes to picture life in its daily aspects shall
we admit these white phantoms. We can do this, not because we have
any special talent, but because we are dealing with a life which has
for all practical purposes never been set upon the stage before. The
conventional types of the novelists do not pervert our imagination,
for they are built, as it were, into another form, and no man who has
chosen for himself a sound method of drama, whether it be the drama of
character or of crisis, can use them. The Gaelic League and _Cumann
na nGaedheal_ play does indeed show the influence of the novelists;
but the typical Gaelic League play is essentially narrative and not
dramatic. Every artist necessarily imitates those who have worked in
the same form before him, and when the preoccupation has been with the
same life he almost always, consciously or unconsciously, borrows
more than the form, and it is this very borrowing—affecting thought,
language, all the vehicles of expression—which brings about the most of
what we call decadence.

After all, if our plays are slanders upon their country; if to
represent upon the stage a hard old man like Cosgar, or a rapacious old
man like Shan, or a faithless wife like Nora Burke, or to select from
history treacherous Gormleith for a theme, is to represent this nation
at something less than its full moral worth; if every play played in
the Abbey Theatre now and in times to come be something of a slander,
is anybody a penny the worse? Some ancient or mediæval races did not
think so. Jusserand describes the French conquerors of mediæval England
as already imagining themselves in their literature, as they have done
to this day, as a great deal worse than they are, and the English
imagining themselves a great deal better. The greater portion of the
_Divine Comedy_ is a catalogue of the sins of Italy, and Boccaccio
became immortal because he exaggerated with an unceasing playful wit
the vices of his countryside. The Greeks chose for the themes of their
serious literature a few great crimes, and Corneille, in his article on
the theory of the drama, shows why the greatness and notoriety of these
crimes is necessary to tragic drama. The public life of Athens found
its chief celebration in the monstrous caricature of Aristophanes, and
the Greek nation was so proud, so free from morbid sensitiveness, that
it invited the foreign ambassadors to the spectacle. And I answer to
those who say that Ireland cannot afford this freedom because of her
political circumstances, that if Ireland cannot afford it, Ireland
cannot have a literature. Literature has never been the work of slaves,
and Ireland must learn to say—

    ‘Stone walls do not a prison make,
    Nor iron bars a cage.’

The misrepresentation of the average life of a nation that follows
of necessity from an imaginative delight in energetic characters and
extreme types, enlarges the energy of a people by the spectacle of
energy. A nation is injured by the picking out of a single type and
setting that into print or upon the stage as a type of the whole
nation. Ireland suffered in this way from that single whisky-drinking,
humorous type which seemed for a time the accepted type of all. The
Englishwoman is, no doubt, injured in the same way in the minds of
various Continental nations by a habit of caricaturing all Englishwomen
as having big teeth. But neither nation can be injured by imaginative
writers selecting types that please their fancy. They will never
impose a general type on the public mind, for genius differs from
the newspapers in this, that the greater and more confident it is,
the more is its delight in varieties and species. If Ireland were at
this moment, through a misunderstanding terror of the stage Irishman,
to deprive her writers of freedom, to make their imaginations timid,
she would lower her dignity in her own eyes and in the eyes of every
intellectual nation. That old caricature did her very little harm in
the long run, perhaps a few car-drivers have copied it in their lives,
while the mind of the country remained untroubled; but the loss of
imaginative freedom and daring would turn us into old women. In the
long run, it is the great writer of a nation that becomes its image in
the minds of posterity, and even though he represent no man of worth
in his art, the worth of his own mind becomes the inheritance of his
people. He takes nothing away that he does not give back in greater

If Ireland had not lost the Gaelic she never would have had this
sensitiveness as of a _parvenu_ when presented at Court for the first
time, or of a nigger newspaper. When Ireland had the confidence of
her own antiquity, her writers praised and blamed according to their
fancy, and even as throughout all mediæval Europe, they laughed when
they had a mind to at the most respected persons, at the sanctities
of Church and State. The story of _The Shadow of the Glen_, found by
Mr. Synge in Gaelic-speaking Aran, and by Mr. Curtain in Munster; the
Song of _The Red-haired Man’s Wife_, sung in all Gaelic Ireland; _The
Midnight Court of MacGiolla Meidhre_; _The Vision of MacCoinglinne_;
the old romancers, with their Bricriu and their Conan, laughed and sang
as fearlessly as Chaucer or Villon or Cervantes. It seemed almost as if
those old writers murmured to themselves: ‘If we but keep our courage
let all the virtues perish, for we can make them over again; but if
that be gone, all is gone.’ I remember when I was an art student at the
Metropolitan School of Art a good many years ago, saying to Mr. Hughes
the sculptor, as we looked at the work of our fellow-students, ‘Every
student here that is doing better work than another is doing it because
he has a more intrepid imagination; one has only to look at the line of
a drawing to see that’; and he said that was his own thought also. All
good art is extravagant, vehement, impetuous, shaking the dust of time
from its feet, as it were, and beating against the walls of the world.

If a sincere religious artist were to arise in Ireland in our day,
and were to paint the Holy Family, let us say, he would meet with
the same opposition that sincere dramatists are meeting with to-day.
The bourgeois mind is never sincere in the arts, and one finds in
Irish chapels, above all in Irish convents, the religious art that
it understands. A Connaught convent a little time ago refused a fine
design for stained glass, because of the personal life in the faces
and in the attitudes, which seemed to them ugly, perhaps even impious.
They sent to the designer an insipid German chromo-lithograph, full
of faces without expression or dignity, and gestures without personal
distinction, and the designer, too anxious for success to reject any
order, has carried out this ignoble design in glass of beautiful
colour and quality. Let us suppose that Meister Stefan were to paint
in Ireland to-day that exquisite Madonna of his, with her lattice of
roses; a great deal that is said of our plays would be said of that
picture. Why select for his model a little girl selling newspapers in
the streets, why slander with that miserable little body the Mother of
God? He could only answer, as the imaginative artist always answers,
‘That is the way I have seen her in my mind, and what I have made of
her is very living.’ All art is founded upon personal vision, and the
greater the art the more surprising the vision; and all bad art is
founded upon impersonal types and images, accepted by average men and
women out of imaginative poverty and timidity, or the exhaustion that
comes from labour.

Nobody can force a movement of any kind to take any prearranged pattern
to any very great extent; one can, perhaps, modify it a little, and
that is all. When one says that it is going to develop in a certain
way, one means that one sees, or imagines that one sees, certain
energies which left to themselves are bound to give it a certain form.
Writing in _Samhain_ some years ago, I said that our plays would be of
two kinds, plays of peasant life and plays of a romantic and heroic
life, such as one finds in the folk-tales. To-day I can see other
forces, and can foretell, I think, the form of technique that will
arise. About fifty years ago, perhaps not so many, the playwrights
of every country in the world became persuaded that their plays must
reflect the surface of life; and the author of _Caste_, for instance,
made a reputation by putting what seemed to be average common life and
average common speech for the first time upon the stage in England,
and by substituting real loaves of bread and real cups of tea for
imaginary ones. He was not a very clever nor a very well-educated
man, and he made his revolution superficially; but in other countries
men of intellect and knowledge created that intellectual drama of
real life, of which Ibsen’s later plays are the ripened fruit. This
change coincided with the substitution of science for religion in the
conduct of life, and is, I believe, as temporary, for the practice of
twenty centuries will surely take the sway in the end. A rhetorician
in that novel of Petronius, which satirises, or perhaps one should say
celebrates, Roman decadence, complains that the young people of his
day are made blockheads by learning old romantic tales in the schools,
instead of what belongs to common life. And yet is it not the romantic
tale, the extravagant and ungovernable dream which comes out of youth;
and is not that desire for what belongs to common life, whether it
comes from Rome or Greece or England, the sign of fading fires, of
ebbing imaginative desire? In the arts I am quite certain that it is
a substitution of apparent for real truth. Mr. George Moore has a
very vivid character; he is precisely one of those whose characters
can be represented most easily upon the stage. Let us suppose that
some dramatist had made even him the centre of a play in which the
moderation of common life was carefully preserved, how very little he
could give us of that headlong intrepid man, as we know him, whether
through long personal knowledge or through his many books. The more
carefully the play reflected the surface of life the more would the
elements be limited to those that naturally display themselves during
so many minutes of our ordinary affairs. It is only by extravagance,
by an emphasis far greater than that of life as we observe it, that
we can crowd into a few minutes the knowledge of years. Shakespeare
or Sophocles can so quicken, as it were, the circles of the clock, so
heighten the expression of life, that many years can unfold themselves
in a few minutes, and it is always Shakespeare or Sophocles, and not
Ibsen, that makes us say, ‘How true, how often I have felt as that man
feels’; or ‘How intimately I have come to know those people on the
stage.’ There is a certain school of painters that has discovered that
it is necessary in the representation of light to put little touches of
pure colour side by side. When you went up close to that big picture
of the Alps by Segantini, in Mr. Lane’s Loan Exhibition a year ago,
you found that the grass seeds, which looked brown enough from the
other side of the room, were full of pure scarlet colour. If you copy
nature’s moderation of colour you do not imitate her, for you have only
white paint and she has light. If you wish to represent character or
passion upon the stage, as it is known to the friends, let us say, of
your principal persons, you must be excessive, extravagant, fantastic
even, in expression; and you must be this, more extravagantly, more
excessively, more fantastically than ever, if you wish to show
character and passion as they would be known to the principal person of
your play in the depths of his own mind. The greatest art symbolises
not those things that we have observed so much as those things that
we have experienced, and when the imaginary saint or lover or hero
moves us most deeply, it is the moment when he awakens within us for
an instant our own heroism, our own sanctity, our own desire. We
possess these things—the greatest of men not more than Seaghan the
Fool—not at all moderately, but to an infinite extent, and though we
control or ignore them, we know that the moralists speak true when they
compare them to angels or to devils, or to beasts of prey. How can any
dramatic art, moderate in expression, be a true image of hell or heaven
or the wilderness, or do anything but create those faint histories that
but touch our curiosity, those groups of persons that never follow us
into our intimate life, where Odysseus and Don Quixote and Hamlet are
with us always?

The scientific movement is ebbing a little everywhere, and here in
Ireland it has never been in flood at all. And I am certain that
everywhere literature will return once more to its old extravagant
fantastical expression, for in literature, unlike science, there are
no discoveries, and it is always the old that returns. Everything in
Ireland urges us to this return, and it may be that we shall be the
first to recover after the fifty years of mistake.

The antagonism of imaginative writing in Ireland is not a habit of
scientific observation but our interest in matters of opinion. A
misgoverned country seeking a remedy by agitation puts an especial
value upon opinion, and even those who are not conscious of any
interest in the country are influenced by the general habit. All fine
literature is the disinterested contemplation or expression of life,
but hardly any Irish writer can liberate his mind sufficiently from
questions of practical reform for this contemplation. Art for art’s
sake, as he understands it, whether it be the art of the _Ode to a
Grecian Urn_ or of the imaginer of Falstaff, seems to him a neglect
of public duty. It is as though the telegraph-boys botanised among
the hedges with the undelivered envelopes in their pockets; one must
calculate the effect of one’s words before one writes them, who they
are to excite and to what end. We all write if we follow the habit of
the country not for our own delight but for the improvement of our
neighbours, and this is not only true of such obviously propagandist
work as _The Spirit of the Nation_ or a Gaelic League play, but of
the work of writers who seemed to have escaped from every national
influence, like Mr. Bernard Shaw, Mr. George Moore, or even Mr. Oscar
Wilde. They never keep their head for very long out of the flood of
opinion. Mr. Bernard Shaw, the one brilliant writer of comedy in
England to-day, makes these comedies something less than life by never
forgetting that he is a reformer, and Mr. Wilde could hardly finish an
act of a play without denouncing the British public; and Mr. Moore—God
bless the hearers!—has not for ten years now been able to keep himself
from the praise or blame of the Church of his fathers. Goethe, whose
mind was more busy with philosophy than any modern poet, has said, ‘The
poet needs all philosophy, but he must keep it out of his work.’ One
remembers Dante, and wishes that Goethe had left some commentary upon
that saying, some definition of philosophy perhaps, but one cannot
be less than certain that the poet, though it may be well for him to
have right opinions, above all if his country be at death’s door, must
keep all opinion that he holds to merely because he thinks it right,
out of his poetry, if it is to be poetry at all. At the enquiry which
preceded the granting of a patent to the Abbey Theatre I was asked if
_Cathleen ni Houlihan_ was not written to affect opinion. Certainly
it was not. I had a dream one night which gave me a story, and I
had certain emotions about this country, and I gave those emotions
expression for my own pleasure. If I had written to convince others I
would have asked myself, not ‘Is that exactly what I think and feel?’
but ‘How would that strike so-and-so? How will they think and feel when
they have read it?’ And all would be oratorical and insincere. We only
understand our own minds, and the things that are striving to utter
themselves through our minds, and we move others, not because we have
understood or thought about them at all, but because all life has the
same root. Coventry Patmore has said, ‘The end of art is peace,’ and
the following of art is little different from the following of religion
in the intense preoccupation that it demands. Somebody has said, ‘God
asks nothing of the highest soul except attention’; and so necessary
is attention to mastery in any art, that there are moments when one
thinks that nothing else is necessary, and nothing else so difficult.
The religious life has created for itself monasteries and convents
where men and women may forget in prayer and contemplation everything
that seems necessary to the most useful and busy citizens of their
towns and villages, and one imagines that even in the monastery and
the convent there are passing things, the twitter of a sparrow in the
window, the memory of some old quarrel, things lighter than air, that
keep the soul from its joy. How many of those old religious sayings can
one not apply to the life of art? ‘The Holy Spirit,’ wrote S. Thomas à
Kempis, ‘has liberated me from a multitude of opinions.’ When one sets
out to cast into some mould so much of life merely for life’s sake,
one is tempted at every moment to twist it from its eternal shape to
help some friend or harm some enemy. Alas, all men, we in Ireland more
than others, are fighters, and it is a hard law that compels us to cast
away our swords when we enter the house of the Muses, as men cast them
away at the doors of the banqueting-hall at Tara. A weekly paper in
reviewing last year’s _Samhain_, convinced itself, or at any rate its
readers—for that is the heart of the business in propaganda—that I only
began to say these things a few months ago under I know not what alien
influence; and yet I seem to have been saying them all my life. I took
up an anthology of Irish verse that I edited some ten years ago, and I
found them there, and I think they were a chief part of an old fight
over the policy of the _New Irish Library_. Till they are accepted by
writers and readers in this country it will never have a literature, it
will never escape from the election rhyme and the pamphlet. So long as
I have any control over the National Theatre Society it will be carried
on in this spirit, call it art for art’s sake if you will; and no plays
will be produced at it which were written, not for the sake of a good
story or fine verses or some revelation of character, but to please
those friends of ours who are ever urging us to attack the priests or
the English, or wanting us to put our imagination into handcuffs that
we may be sure of never seeming to do one or the other.

I have had very little to say this year in _Samhain_, and I have said
it badly. When I wrote _Ideas of Good and Evil_ and _Celtic Twilight_,
I wrote everything very slowly and a great many times over. A few
years ago, however, my eyesight got so bad that I had to dictate the
first drafts of everything, and then rewrite these drafts several
times. I did the last _Samhain_ this way, dictating all the thoughts
in a few days, and rewriting them in two or three weeks; but this
time I am letting the first draft remain with all its carelessness of
phrase and rhythm. I am busy with a practical project which needs the
saying of many things from time to time, and it is better to say them
carelessly and harshly than to take time from my poetry. One casts
something away every year, and I shall, I think, have to cast away the
hope of ever having a prose style that amounts to anything. After all,
dictation gives one a certain vitality as of vehement speech.




One Sunday, in summer, a few years ago, I went to the little village
of Killeenan, that is not many miles from Galway, to do honour to the
memory of Raftery, a Gaelic poet who died a little before the famine.
A headstone had been put over his grave in the half-ruined churchyard,
and a priest had come to bless it, and many country people to listen to
his poems. After the shawled and frieze-coated people had knelt down
and prayed for the repose of his soul, they gathered about a little
wooden platform that had been put up in a field. I do not remember
whether Raftery’s poem about himself was one of those they listened
to, but certainly it was in the thoughts of many, and it was the
image reflected in that poem that had drawn some of them from distant

    I am Raftery the poet,
    Full of hope and love;
    With eyes without light;
    With gentleness without misery.

    Going west on my journey
    With the light of my heart;
    Weak and tired
    To the end of my road.

    I am now
    And my back to a wall,
    Playing music
    To empty pockets.

Some few there remembered him, and one old man came out among the
reciters to tell of the burying, where he himself, a young boy at the
time, had carried a candle.

The verses of other Gaelic poets were sung or recited too, and,
although certainly not often fine poetry, they had its spirit, its
_naïveté_—that is to say, its way of looking at the world as if it were
but an hour old—its seriousness even in laughter, its personal rhythm.

A few days after I was in the town of Galway, and saw there, as I had
often seen in other country towns, some young men marching down the
middle of a street singing an already outworn London music-hall song,
that filled the memory, long after they had gone by, with a rhythm as
pronounced and as impersonal as the noise of a machine. In the shop
windows there were, I knew, the signs of a life very unlike that I had
seen at Killeenan; halfpenny comic papers and story papers, sixpenny
reprints of popular novels, and, with the exception of a dusty Dumas or
Scott strayed thither, one knew not how, and one or two little books of
Irish ballads, nothing that one calls literature, nothing that would
interest the few thousands who alone out of many millions have what
we call culture. A few miles had divided the sixteenth century, with
its equality of culture, of good taste, from the twentieth, where if a
man has fine taste he has either been born to leisure and opportunity
or has in him an energy that is genius. One saw the difference in the
clothes of the people of the town and of the village, for, as the
Emerald tablet says, outward and inner things answer to one another.
The village men wore their bawneens, their white flannel jackets; they
had clothes that had a little memory of clothes that had once been
adapted to their calling by centuries of continual slight changes. They
were sometimes well dressed, for they suggested nothing but themselves
and wore little that had suited another better. But in the town nobody
was well dressed; for in modern life, only a few people—some few
thousands—set the fashion, and set it to please themselves and to fit
their lives, and as for the rest they must go shabby—the ploughman in
clothes cut for a life of leisure, but made of shoddy, and the tramp
in the ploughman’s cast-off clothes, and the scarecrow in the tramp’s
battered coat and broken hat.


All that love the arts or love dignity in life have at one time or
another noticed these things, and some have wondered why the world has
for some three or four centuries sacrificed so much, and with what
seems a growing recklessness, to create an intellectual aristocracy,
a leisured class—to set apart, and above all others, a number of men
and women who are not very well pleased with one another or the world
they have to live in. It is some comparison, like this that I have
made, which has been the origin, as I think, of most attempts to revive
some old language in which the general business of the world is no
longer transacted. The Provençal movement, the Welsh, the Czech, have
all, I think, been attempting, when we examine them to the heart, to
restore what is called a more picturesque way of life, that is to say,
a way of life in which the common man has some share in imaginative
art. That this is the decisive element in the attempt to revive and to
preserve the Irish language I am very certain. A language enthusiast
does not put it that way to himself; he says, rather, ‘If I can make
the people talk Irish again they will be the less English’; but if you
talk to him till you have hunted the words into their burrow you will
find that the word ‘Ireland’ means to him a form of life delightful to
his imagination, and that the word ‘England’ suggests to him a cold,
joyless, irreligious and ugly life. The life of the villages, with
its songs, its dances and its pious greetings, its conversations full
of vivid images shaped hardly more by life itself than by innumerable
forgotten poets, all that life of good nature and improvisation grows
more noble as he meditates upon it, for it mingles with the middle ages
until he no longer can see it as it is but as it was, when it ran, as
it were, into a point of fire in the courtliness of kings’ houses. He
hardly knows whether what stirred him yesterday was that old fiddler,
playing an almost-forgotten music on a fiddle mended with twine, or a
sudden thought of some king that was of the blood of that old man, some
O’Loughlin or O’Byrne, listening amid his soldiers, he and they at
the one table, they too, lucky, bright-eyed, while the minstrel sang
of angry Cuchulain, or of him men called ‘Golden salmon of the sea,
clean hawk of the air.’ It will not please him, however, if you tell
him that he is fighting the modern world, which he calls ‘England,’ as
Mistral and his fellows called it Paris, and that he will need more
than language if he is to make the monster turn up its white belly.
And yet the difference between what the word England means and all
that the word Gaelic suggests is greater than any that could have been
before the imagination of Mistral. Ireland, her imagination at its noon
before the birth of Chaucer, has created the most beautiful literature
of a whole people that has been anywhere since Greece and Rome, while
English literature, the greatest of all literatures but that of Greece,
is yet the literature of a few. Nothing of it but a handful of ballads
about Robin Hood has come from the folk or belongs to them rightly, for
the good English writers, with a few exceptions that seem accidental,
have written for a small cultivated class; and is not this the reason?
Irish poetry and Irish stories were made to be spoken or sung, while
English literature, alone of great literatures, because the newest of
them all, has all but completely shaped itself in the printing-press.
In Ireland to-day the old world that sang and listened is, it may be
for the last time in Europe, face to face with the world that reads and
writes, and their antagonism is always present under some name or other
in Irish imagination and intellect. I myself cannot be convinced that
the printing-press will be always victor, for change is inconceivably
swift, and when it begins—well, as the proverb has it, everything comes
in at the hole. The world soon tires of its toys, and our exaggerated
love of print and paper seems to me to come out of passing conditions
and to be no more a part of the final constitution of things than the
craving of a woman in child-bed for green apples. When one takes a book
into the corner, one surrenders so much life for one’s knowledge, so
much, I mean, of that normal activity that gives one life and strength,
one lays away one’s own handiwork and turns from one’s friend, and
if the book is good one is at some pains to press all the little
wanderings and tumults of the mind into silence and quiet. If the
reader be poor, if he has worked all day at the plough or the desk,
he will hardly have strength enough for any but a meretricious book;
nor is it only when the book is on the knees that one’s life must be
given for it. For a good and sincere book needs the preparation of the
peculiar studies and reveries that prepare for good taste, and make it
easier for the mind to find pleasure in a new landscape; and all these
reveries and studies have need of so much time and thought that it is
almost certain a man cannot be a successful doctor, or engineer, or
Cabinet Minister, and have a culture good enough to escape the mockery
of the ragged art student who comes of an evening sometimes to borrow
a half-sovereign. The old culture came to a man at his work; it was
not at the expense of life, but an exaltation of life itself; it came
in at the eyes as some civic ceremony sailed along the streets, or as
one arrayed oneself before the looking-glass, or it came in at the ears
in a song as one bent over the plough or the anvil, or at that great
table where rich and poor sat down together and heard the minstrel
bidding them pass around the wine-cup and say a prayer for Gawain dead.
Certainly it came without a price; it did not take one from one’s
friends and one’s handiwork; but it was like a good woman who gives all
for love and is never jealous and is ready to do all the talking when
we are tired.

How the old is to come again, how the other side of the penny is to
come up, how the spit is to turn the other side of the meat to the
fire, I do not know, but that the time will come I am certain; when one
kind of desire has been satisfied for a long time it becomes sleepy,
and other kinds, long quiet, after making a noise begin to order life.
Of the many things, desires or powers or instruments, that are to
change the world, the artist is fitted to understand but two or three,
and the less he troubles himself about the complexity that is outside
his craft, the more will he find it all within his craft, and the more
dexterous will his hand and his thought become. I am trying to see
nothing in the world but the arts, and nothing in this change—which one
cannot prove but only foretell—but the share my own art will have in it.


One thing is entirely certain. Wherever the old imaginative life
lingers it must be stirred into life, and kept alive, and in Ireland
this is the work, it may be, of the Gaelic movement. But the nineteenth
century, with its moral zeal, its insistence upon irrelevant interests,
having passed over, the artist can admit that he cares about nothing
that does not give him a new subject or a new technique. Propaganda
would be for him a dissipation, but he may compare his art, if he has a
mind to, with the arts that belonged to a whole people, and discover,
not how to imitate the external form of an epic or a folk-song, but
how to express in some equivalent form whatever in the thoughts of his
own age seem, as it were, to press into the future. The most obvious
difference is that when literature belonged to a whole people, its
three great forms, narrative, lyrical and dramatic, found their way to
men’s minds without the mediation of print and paper. That narrative
poetry may find its minstrels again, and lyrical poetry adequate
singers, and dramatic poetry adequate players, he must spend much of
his time with these three lost arts, and the more technical is his
interest the better. When I first began working in Ireland at what some
newspaper has called the Celtic Renaissance, I saw that we had still
even in English a sufficient audience for song and speech. Certain
of our young men and women, too restless and sociable to be readers,
had amongst them an interest in Irish legend and history, and years
of imaginative politics had kept them from forgetting, as most modern
people have, how to listen to serious words. I always saw that some
kind of theatre would be a natural centre for a tradition of feeling
and thought, but that it must—and this was its chief opportunity—appeal
to the interest appealed to by lively conversation or by oratory.
In other words, that it must be made for young people who were
sufficiently ignorant to refuse a pound of flesh even though the Nine
Worthies offered their wisdom in return. They are not, perhaps, very
numerous, for they do not include the thousands of conquered spirits
who in Dublin, as elsewhere, go to see _The Girl from Kay’s_, or when
Mr. Tree is upon tour, _The Girl from Prospero’s Island_; and the
peasant in Ireland, as elsewhere, has not taken to the theatre, and
can, I think, be moved through Gaelic only.

If one could get them, I thought, one could draw to oneself the
apathetic people who are in every country, and people who don’t know
what they like till somebody tells them. Now, a friend has given me
that theatre. It is not very big, but it is quite big enough to seat
those few thousands and their friends in a seven days’ run of a new
play; and I have begun my real business. I have to find once again
singers, minstrels, and players who love words more than any other
thing under heaven, for without fine words there is no literature.


I will say but a little of dramatic technique, as I would have it in
this theatre of speech, of romance, of extravagance, for I have written
of all that so many times. In every art, when it seems to one that it
has need of a renewing of life, one goes backwards till one lights upon
a time when it was nearer to human life and instinct, before it had
gathered about it so many mechanical specialisations and traditions.
One examines that earlier condition and thinks out its principles of
life, and one may be able to separate accidental from vital things.
William Morris, for instance, studied the earliest printing, the founts
of type that were made when men saw their craft with eyes that were
still new, and with leisure, and without the restraints of commerce
and custom. And then he made a type that was really new, that had
the quality of his own mind about it, though it reminds one of its
ancestry, of its high breeding as it were. Coleridge and Wordsworth
were influenced by the publication of Percy’s _Reliques_ to the making
of a simplicity altogether unlike that of old ballad-writers. Rossetti
went to early Italian painting, to Holy Families and choirs of angels,
that he might learn how to express an emotion that had its roots in
sexual desire and in the delight of his generation in fine clothes and
in beautiful rooms. Nor is it otherwise with the reformers of churches
and of the social order, for reform must justify itself by a return in
feeling to something that our fathers have told us in the old time.

So it is with us. Inspired by players who played before a figured
curtain, we have made scenery, indeed, but scenery that is little more
than a suggestion—a pattern with recurring boughs and leaves of gold
for a wood, a great green curtain with a red stencil upon it to carry
the eye upward for a palace, and so on. More important than these, we
have looked for the centre of our art where the players of the time of
Shakespeare and of Corneille found theirs, in speech, whether it be the
perfect mimicry of the conversation of two countrymen of the roads, or
that idealised speech poets have imagined for what we think but do not
say. Before men read, the ear and the tongue were subtle, and delighted
one another with the little tunes that were in words; every word would
have its own tune, though but one main note may have been marked
enough for us to name it. They loved language, and all literature was
then, whether in the mouth of minstrels, players, or singers, but the
perfection of an art that everybody practised, a flower out of the stem
of life. And language continually renewed itself in that perfection,
returning to daily life out of that finer leisure, strengthened and
sweetened as from a retreat ordered by religion. The ordinary dramatic
critic, when you tell him that a play, if it is to be of a great kind,
must have beautiful words, will answer that you have misunderstood
the nature of the stage and are asking of it what books should give.
Sometimes when some excellent man, a playgoer certainly and sometimes
a critic, has read me a passage out of some poet, I have been set
wondering what books of poetry can mean to the greater number of men.
If they are to read poetry at all, if they are to enjoy beautiful
rhythm, if they are to get from poetry anything but what it has in
common with prose, they must hear it spoken by men who have music in
their voices and a learned understanding of its sound. There is no poem
so great that a fine speaker cannot make it greater or that a bad ear
cannot make it nothing. All the arts when young and happy are but the
point of the spear whose handle is our daily life. When they grow old
and unhappy they perfect themselves away from life, and life, seeing
that they are sufficient to themselves, forgets them. The fruit of the
tree that was in Eden grows out of a flower full of scent, rounds and
ripens, until at last the little stem, that brought to it the sap out
of the tree, dries up and breaks, and the fruit rots upon the ground.

The theatre grows more elaborate, developing the player at the expense
of the poet, developing the scenery at the expense of the player,
always increasing in importance whatever has come to it out of the mere
mechanism of a building or the interests of a class, specialising more
and more, doing whatever is easiest rather than what is most noble,
and creating a class before the footlights as behind, who are stirred
to excitements that belong to it and not to life; until at last life,
which knows that a specialised energy is not herself, turns to other
things, content to leave it to weaklings and triflers, to those in
whose body there is the least quantity of herself.


But if we are to delight our three or four thousand young men and women
with a delight that will follow them into their own houses, and if we
are to add the countryman to their number, we shall need more than
the play, we shall need those other spoken arts. The player rose into
importance in the town, but the minstrel is of the country. We must
have narrative as well as dramatic poetry, and we are making room for
it in the theatre in the first instance, but in this also we must go
to an earlier time. Modern recitation is not, like modern theatrical
art, an over-elaboration of a true art, but an entire misunderstanding.
It has no tradition at all. It is an endeavour to do what can only be
done well by the player. It has no relation of its own to life. Some
young man in evening clothes will recite to you _The Dream of Eugene
Aram_, and it will be laughable, grotesque and a little vulgar.
Tragic emotions that need scenic illusion, a long preparation, a
gradual heightening of emotion, are thrust into the middle of our
common affairs. That they may be as extravagant, as little tempered by
anything ideal or distant as possible, he will break up the rhythm,
regarding neither the length of the lines nor the natural music of
the phrases, and distort the accent by every casual impulse. He will
gesticulate wildly, adapting his movements to the drama as if Eugene
Aram were in the room before us, and all the time we see a young man
in evening dress who has become unaccountably insane. Nothing that he
can do or say will make us forget that he is Mr. Robinson the bank
clerk, and that the toes of his boots turn upward. We have nothing to
learn here. We must go to the villages or we must go back hundreds of
years to Wolfram of Eisenbach and the castles of Thuringia. In this, as
in all other arts, one finds its law and its true purpose when one is
near the source. The minstrel never dramatised anybody but himself. It
was impossible, from the nature of the words the poet had put into his
mouth, or that he had made for himself, that he should speak as another
person. He will go no nearer to drama than we do in daily speech, and
he will not allow you for any long time to forget himself. Our own
Raftery will stop the tale to cry, ‘This is what I, Raftery, wrote down
in the book of the people’; or ‘I, myself, Raftery, went to bed without
supper that night.’ Or, if it is Wolfram, and the tale is of Gawain
or Parsival, he will tell the listening ladies that he sings of happy
love out of his own unhappy love, or he will interrupt the story of
a siege and its hardships to remember his own house, where there is
not enough food for the mice. He knows how to keep himself interesting
that his words may have weight—so many lines of narrative, and then a
phrase about himself and his emotions. The reciter cannot be a player,
for that is a different art; but he must be a messenger, and he should
be as interesting, as exciting, as are all that carry great news.
He comes from far off, and he speaks of far-off things with his own
peculiar animation, and instead of lessening the ideal and beautiful
elements of speech, he may, if he has a mind to, increase them. He may
speak to actual notes as a singer does if they are so simple that he
never loses the speaking-voice, and if the poem is long he must do so,
or his own voice will become weary and formless. His art is nearer to
pattern than that of the player. It is always allusion, never illusion;
for what he tells of, no matter how impassioned he may become, is
always distant, and for this reason he may permit himself every kind
of nobleness. In a short poem he may interrupt the narrative with a
burden, which the audience will soon learn to sing, and this burden,
because it is repeated and need not tell a story to a first hearing,
can have a more elaborate musical notation, can go nearer to ordinary
song. Gradually other devices will occur to him—effects of loudness
and softness, of increasing and decreasing speed, certain rhythmic
movements of his body, a score of forgotten things, for the art of
speech is lost, and when one begins at it every day is a discovery.
The reciter must be made exciting and wonderful in himself, apart from
what he has to tell, and that is more difficult than it was in the
middle ages. We are not mysterious to one another; we can come from
far off and yet be no better than our neighbours. We are no longer
like those Egyptian birds that flew out of Arabia, their claws full
of spices; nor can we, like an ancient or mediæval poet, throw into
our verses the emotions and events of our lives, or even dramatise, as
they could, the life of the minstrel into whose mouth we are to put our
words. I can think of nothing better than to borrow from the tellers
of old tales, who will often pretend to have been at the wedding of
the princess or afterwards ‘when they were throwing out children by
the basketful,’ and to give the story-teller definite fictitious
personality and find for him an appropriate costume. Many costumes and
persons come into my imagination. I imagine an old countryman upon the
stage of the theatre or in some little country court-house where a
Gaelic society is meeting, and I can hear him say that he is Raftery
or a brother, and that he has tramped through France and Spain and the
whole world. He has seen everything, and he has all country love tales
at his finger-tips. I can imagine, too—and now the story-teller is more
serious and more naked of country circumstance—a jester with black
cockscomb and black clothes. He has been in the faery hills; perhaps
he is the terrible _Amadan-na-Breena_ himself; or he has been so long
in the world that he can tell of ancient battles. It is not as good
as what we have lost, but we cannot hope to see in our time, except
by some rare accident, the minstrel who differs from his audience in
nothing but the exaltation of his mood, and who is yet as exciting and
as romantic in their eyes as were Raftery and Wolfram to their people.

It is perhaps nearly impossible to make recitation a living thing,
for there is no existing taste one can appeal to; but it should not
be hard here in Ireland to interest people in songs that are made for
the word’s sake and not for the music, or for that only in a secondary
degree. They are interested in such songs already, only the songs have
little subtilty of thought and of language. One does not find in them
that modern emotion which seems new because it has been brought so very
lately out of the cellar. At their best they are the songs of children
and of country people, eternally young for all their centuries, and
yet not even in old days, as one thinks, the art of kings’ houses. We
require a method of setting to music that will make it possible to
sing or to speak to notes a poem like Rossetti’s translation of _The
Ballad of Dead Ladies_ in such a fashion that no word shall have an
intonation or accentuation it could not have in passionate speech. It
must be set for the speaking-voice, like the songs that sailors make
up or remember, and a man at the far end of the room must be able to
take it down on a first hearing. An English musical paper said the
other day, in commenting on something I had written, ‘Owing to musical
necessities, vowels must be lengthened in singing to an extent which in
speech would be ludicrous if not absolutely impossible.’ I have but one
art, that of speech, and my feeling for music dissociated from speech
is very slight, and listening as I do to the words with the better part
of my attention, there is no modern song sung in the modern way that
is not to my taste ‘ludicrous’ and ‘impossible.’ I hear with older
ears than the musician, and the songs of country people and of sailors
delight me. I wonder why the musician is not content to set to music
some arrangement of meaningless liquid vowels, and thereby to make
his song like that of the birds; but I do not judge his art for any
purpose but my own.[K] It is worthless for my purpose certainly, and
it is one of the causes that are bringing about in modern countries
a degradation of language. I have to find men with more music than I
have, who will develop to a finer subtilty the singing of the cottage
and the forecastle, and develop it more on the side of speech than that
of music, until it has become intellectual and nervous enough to be the
vehicle of a Shelley or a Keats. For some purposes it will be necessary
to divine the lineaments of a still older art, and re-create the
regulated declamations that died out when music fell into its earliest
elaborations. Miss Farr has divined enough of this older art, of which
no fragment has come down to us—for even the music of _Aucassin and
Nicolette_, with its definite tune, its recurring pattern of sound, is
something more than declamation—to make the chorus of _Hippolytus_ and
of the _Trojan Women_, at the Court Theatre or the Lyric, intelligible
speech, even when several voices spoke together. She used very often
definite melodies of a very simple kind, but always when the thought
became intricate and the measure grave and slow, fell back upon
declamation regulated by notes. Her experiments have included almost
every kind of verse, and every possible elaboration of sound compatible
with the supremacy of the words. I do not think Homer is ever so
moving as when she recites him to a little tune played on a stringed
instrument not very unlike a lyre. She began at my suggestion with
songs in plays, for it was clearly an absurd thing that words necessary
to one’s understanding of the action, either because they explained
some character, or because they carried some emotion to its highest
intensity, should be less intelligible than the bustling and ruder
words of the dialogue. We have tried our art, since we first tried
it in a theatre, upon many kinds of audiences, and have found that
ordinary men and women take pleasure in it and sometimes tell one that
they never understood poetry before. It is, however, more difficult
to move those, fortunately for our purpose but a few, whose ears are
accustomed to the abstract emotion and elaboration of notes in modern


If we accomplish this great work, if we make it possible again for the
poet to express himself, not merely through words, but through the
voices of singers, of minstrels, of players, we shall certainly have
changed the substance and the manner of our poetry. Everyone who has
to interest his audience through the voice discovers that his success
depends upon the clear, simple and varied structure of his thought.
I have written a good many plays in verse and prose, and almost all
those plays I have rewritten after performance, sometimes again and
again, and every change that has succeeded has been an addition to the
masculine element, an increase of strength in the bony structure.

Modern literature, above all poetical literature, is monotonous in
its structure and effeminate in its continual insistence upon certain
moments of strained lyricism. William Morris, who did more than any
modern to recover mediæval art, did not in his _Earthly Paradise_
copy from Chaucer, from whom he copied so much that was _naïve_ and
beautiful, what seems to me essential in Chaucer’s art. He thought of
himself as writing for the reader, who could return to him again and
again when the chosen mood had come, and became monotonous, melancholy,
too continuously lyrical in his understanding of emotion and of life.
Had he accustomed himself to read out his poems upon those Sunday
evenings that he gave to Socialist speeches, and to gather an audience
of average men, precisely such an audience as I have often seen in
his house, he would have been forced to Chaucer’s variety, to his
delight in the height and depth, and would have found expression for
that humorous many-sided nature of his. I owe to him many truths, but
I would add to those truths the certainty that all the old writers,
the masculine writers of the world, wrote to be spoken or to be sung,
and in a later age to be read aloud, for hearers who had to understand
swiftly or not at all, and who gave up nothing of life to listen, but
sat, the day’s work over, friend by friend, lover by lover.

THE ARROW: 1906.[L]


A character of the winter’s work will be the large number of romantic,
poetic and historical plays—that is to say, of plays which require a
convention for their performance; their speech, whether it be verse or
prose, being so heightened as to transcend that of any form of real
life. Our first two years of The Abbey Theatre have been expended
mostly on the perfecting of the Company in peasant comedy and tragedy.
Every national dramatic movement or theatre in countries like Bohemia
and Hungary, as in Elizabethan England, has arisen out of a study of
the common people, who preserve national characteristics more than any
other class, and out of an imaginative recreation of national history
or legend. The life of the drawing-room, the life represented in most
plays of the ordinary theatre of to-day, differs but little all over
the world, and has as little to do with the national spirit as the
architecture of, let us say, St. Stephen’s Green, or Queen’s Gate, or
of the Boulevards about the Arc de Triomphe.

As we wish our work to be full of the life of this country, our
stage-manager has almost always to train our actors from the beginning,
always so in the case of peasant plays, and this makes the building up
of a theatre like ours the work of years. We are now fairly satisfied
with the representation of peasant life, and we can afford to give
the greater part of our attention to other expressions of our art and
of our life. The romantic work and poetical work once reasonably
good, we can, if but the dramatist arrive, take up the life of our
drawing-rooms, and see if there is something characteristic there,
something which our nationality may enable us to express better than
others, and so create plays of that life and means to play them as
truthful as a play of Hauptmann’s or of Ibsen’s upon the German or
Scandinavian stage. I am not myself interested in this kind of work,
and do not believe it to be as important as contemporary critics think
it is, but a theatre such as we project should give a reasonably
complete expression to the imaginative interests of its country. In any
case it was easier, and therefore wiser, to begin where our art is most
unlike that of others, with the representation of country life.

It is possible to speak the universal truths of human nature whether
the speakers be peasants or wealthy men, for—

                ‘Love doth sing
    As sweetly in a beggar as a king.’

So far as we have any model before us it is the national and municipal
theatre in various Continental towns, and, like the best of these, we
must have in our repertory masterpieces from every great school of
dramatic literature, and play them confidently, even though the public
be slow to like that old stern art, and perhaps a little proudly,
remembering that no other English-speaking theatre can be so catholic.
Certainly the weathercocks of our imagination will not turn those
painted eyes of theirs too long to the quarter of the Scandinavian
winds. If the wind blow long from the Mediterranean, the paint may peel
before we pray for a change in the weather.


We have claimed for our writers the freedom to find in their own land
every expression of good and evil necessary to their art, for Irish
life contains, like all vigorous life, the seeds of all good and evil,
and a writer must be free here as elsewhere to watch where weed or
flower ripen. No one who knows the work of our Theatre as a whole can
say we have neglected the flower; but the moment a writer is forbidden
to take pleasure in the weed, his art loses energy and abundance. In
the great days of English dramatic art the greatest English writer of
comedy was free to create _The Alchemist_ and _Volpone_, but a demand
born of Puritan conviction and shop-keeping timidity and insincerity,
for what many second-rate intellects thought to be noble and elevating
events and characters, had already at the outset of the eighteenth
century ended the English drama as a complete and serious art.
Sheridan and Goldsmith, when they restored comedy after an epoch of
sentimentalities, had to apologise for their satiric genius by scenes
of conventional love-making and sentimental domesticity that have set
them outside the company of all, whether their genius be great or
little, whose work is pure and whole. The quarrel of our Theatre to-day
is the quarrel of the Theatre in many lands; for the old Puritanism,
the old dislike of power and reality have not changed, even when they
are called by some Gaelic name.

    [On the second performance of _The Playboy of the
    Western World_ about forty men who sat in the middle
    of the pit succeeded in making the play entirely
    inaudible. Some of them brought tin-trumpets, and the
    noise began immediately on the rise of the curtain. For
    days articles in the Press called for the withdrawal
    of the play, but we played for the seven nights we
    had announced; and before the week’s end opinion had
    turned in our favour. There were, however, nightly
    disturbances and a good deal of rioting in the
    surrounding streets. On the last night of the play
    there were, I believe, five hundred police keeping
    order in the theatre and in its neighbourhood. Some
    days later our enemies, though beaten so far as the
    play was concerned, crowded into the cheaper seats for
    a debate on the freedom of the stage. They were very
    excited, and kept up the discussion until near twelve.
    The last paragraphs of my opening statement ran as

_From Mr. Yeats’ opening Speech in the Debate on February 4, 1907, at
the Abbey Theatre._

The struggle of the last week has been long a necessity; various
paragraphs in newspapers describing Irish attacks on Theatres had made
many worthy young men come to think that the silencing of a stage at
their own pleasure, even if hundreds desired that it should not be
silenced, might win them a little fame, and, perhaps, serve their
country. Some of these attacks have been made on plays which are in
themselves indefensible, vulgar and old-fashioned farces and comedies.
But the attack, being an annihilation of civil rights, was never
anything but an increase of Irish disorder. The last I heard of was in
Liverpool, and there a stage was rushed, and a priest, who had set a
play upon it, withdrew his play and apologised to the audience. We have
not such pliant bones, and did not learn in the houses that bred us a
so suppliant knee. But behind the excitement of example there is a
more fundamental movement of opinion. Some seven or eight years ago the
National movement was democratised and passed from the hands of a few
leaders into those of large numbers of young men organised in clubs and
societies. These young men made the mistake of the newly-enfranchised
everywhere; they fought for causes worthy in themselves with the
unworthy instruments of tyranny and violence. Comic songs of a certain
kind were to be driven from the stage, everyone was to wear Irish
cloth, everyone was to learn Irish, everyone was to hold certain
opinions, and these ends were sought by personal attacks, by virulent
caricature and violent derision. It needs eloquence to persuade and
knowledge to expound; but the coarser means come ready to every man’s
hand, as ready as a stone or a stick, and where these coarse means are
all, there is nothing but mob, and the commonest idea most prospers and
is most sought for.

Gentlemen of the little clubs and societies, do not mistake the meaning
of our victory; it means something for us, but more for you. When the
curtain of _The Playboy_ fell on Saturday night in the midst of what
_The Sunday Independent_—no friendly witness—described as ‘thunders
of applause,’ I am confident that I saw the rise in this country of
a new thought, a new opinion, that we had long needed. It was not
all approval of Mr. Synge’s play that sent the receipts of the Abbey
Theatre this last week to twice the height they had ever touched
before. The generation of young men and girls who are now leaving
schools or colleges are weary of the tyranny of clubs and leagues. They
wish again for individual sincerity, the eternal quest of truth, all
that has been given up for so long that all might crouch upon the one
roost and quack or cry in the one flock. We are beginning once again
to ask what a man is, and to be content to wait a little before we go
on to that further question: What is a good Irishman? There are some
who have not yet their degrees that will say to friend or neighbour,
‘You have voted with the English, and that is bad’; or ‘You have sent
away your Irish servants, or thrown away your Irish clothes, or blacked
your face for your singing. I despise what you have done, I keep you
still my friend; but if you are terrorised out of doing any of these
things, evil things though I know them to be, I will not have you for
my friend any more.’ Manhood is all, and the root of manhood is courage
and courtesy.



The failure of the audience to understand this powerful and strange
work (_The Playboy of the Western World_) has been the one serious
failure of our movement, and it could not have happened but that the
greater number of those who came to shout down the play were no regular
part of our audience at all, but members of parties and societies whose
main interests are political. We have been denounced with even greater
violence than on the first production of the play for announcing that
we should carry it to London. We cannot see that an attack, which
we believe to have been founded on a misunderstanding of the nature
of literature, should prevent us from selecting, as our custom is,
whatever of our best comes within the compass of our players at the
time, to show in some English theatres. Nearly all strong and strange
writing is attacked on its appearance, and those who press it upon the
world may not cease from pressing it, for their justification is its
ultimate acceptance. Ireland is passing through a crisis in the life
of the mind greater than any she has known since the rise of the Young
Ireland party, and based upon a principle which sets many in opposition
to the habits of thought and feeling come down from that party, for the
seasons change, and need and occupation with them. Many are beginning
to recognise the right of the individual mind to see the world in its
own way, to cherish the thoughts which separate men from one another,
and that are the creators of distinguished life, instead of those
thoughts that had made one man like another if they could, and have but
succeeded in setting hysteria and insincerity in place of confidence
and self-possession. To the Young Ireland writers, who have the ear
of Ireland, though not its distracted mind, truth was historical and
external and not a self-consistent personal vision, and it is but
according to ancient custom that the new truth should force its way
amid riot and great anger.


[I] Mr. Boyle has since left us as a protest against the performance of
Mr. Synge’s _Playboy of the Western World_.—W.B.Y., _March, 1908._

[J] This essay was written immediately after the opening of the Abbey
Theatre, though it was not printed, through an accident, until the art
of the Abbey has become an art of peasant comedy. It tells of things
we have never had the time to begin. We still dream of them.—W.B.Y.,
_March, 1908_.

[K] I have heard musicians excuse themselves by claiming that they put
the words there for the sake of the singer; but if that be so, why
should not the singer sing something she may wish to have by rote?
Nobody will hear the words; and the local time-table, or, so much suet
and so many raisins, and so much spice and so much sugar, and whether
it is to be put in a quick or a slow oven, would run very nicely with a
little management.

[L] _The Arrow_, a briefer chronicle than _Samhain_, was distributed
with the programme for a few months.



This play is founded upon the following story, recorded by Lady Wilde
in _Ancient Legends of Ireland_, 1887, vol. i., pp. 60-67:—


IN former days there were great schools in Ireland where every sort
of learning was taught to the people, and even the poorest had more
knowledge at that time than many a gentleman has now. But as to the
priests, their learning was above all, so that the fame of Ireland went
over the whole world, and many kings from foreign lands used to send
their sons all the way to Ireland to be brought up in the Irish schools.

Now, at this time there was a little boy learning at one of them
who was a wonder to every one for his cleverness. His parents were
only labouring people, and of course very poor; but young as he was,
and poor as he was, no king’s or lord’s son could come up to him in
learning. Even the masters were put to shame; for when they were trying
to teach him he would tell them something they had never heard of
before, and show them their ignorance. One of his great triumphs was
in argument, and he would go on till he proved to you that black was
white, and then when you gave in, for no one could beat him in talk,
he would turn round and show you that white was black, or may be that
there was no colour at all in the world. When he grew up his poor
father and mother were so proud of him that they resolved to make him a
priest, which they did at last, though they nearly starved themselves
to get the money. Well, such another learned man was not in Ireland,
and he was as great in argument as ever, so that no one could stand
before him. Even the Bishops tried to talk to him, but he showed them
at once they knew nothing at all.

Now, there were no schoolmasters in those times, but it was the priests
taught the people; and as this man was the cleverest in Ireland all the
foreign kings sent their sons to him as long as he had house-room to
give them. So he grew very proud, and began to forget how low he had
been, and, worst of all, even to forget God, who had made him what he
was. And the pride of arguing got hold of him, so that from one thing
to another he went on to prove that there was no Purgatory, and then no
Hell, and then no Heaven, and then no God; and at last that men had no
souls, but were no more than a dog or a cow, and when they died there
was an end of them. ‘Who ever saw a soul?’ he would say. ‘If you can
show me one, I will believe.’ No one could make any answer to this;
and at last they all came to believe that as there was no other world,
every one might do what they liked in this, the priest setting the
example, for he took a beautiful young girl to wife. But as no priest
or bishop in the whole land could be got to marry them, he was obliged
to read the service over for himself. It was a great scandal, yet no
one dared to say a word, for all the kings’ sons were on his side,
and would have slaughtered any one who tried to prevent his wicked
goings-on. Poor boys! they all believed in him, and thought every word
he said was the truth. In this way his notions began to spread about,
and the whole world was going to the bad, when one night an angel came
down from Heaven, and told the priest he had but twenty-four hours to
live. He began to tremble, and asked for a little more time.

But the angel was stiff, and told him that could not be.

‘What do you want time for, you sinner?’ he asked.

‘Oh, sir, have pity on my poor soul!’ urged the priest.

‘Oh, ho! You have a soul, then?’ said the angel. ‘Pray how did you find
that out?’

‘It has been fluttering in me ever since you appeared,’ answered the
priest. ‘What a fool I was not to think of it before!’

‘A fool, indeed,’ said the angel. ‘What good was all your learning,
when it could not tell you that you had a soul?’

‘Ah, my lord,’ said the priest, ‘if I am to die, tell me how soon I may
be in heaven.’

‘Never,’ replied the angel. ‘You denied there was a Heaven.’

‘Then, my lord, may I go to Purgatory?’

‘You denied Purgatory also; you must go straight to Hell,’ said the

‘But, my lord, I denied Hell also,’ answered the priest, ‘so you can’t
send me there either.’

The angel was a little puzzled.

‘Well,’ said he, ‘I’ll tell you what I can do for you. You may either
live now on earth for a hundred years enjoying every pleasure, and then
be cast into Hell for ever; or you may die in twenty-four hours in the
most horrible torments, and pass through Purgatory, there to remain
till the Day of Judgment, if only you can find some one person that
believes, and through his belief mercy will be vouchsafed to you and
your soul will be saved.’

The priest did not take five minutes to make up his mind.

‘I will have death in the twenty-four hours,’ he said, ‘so that my soul
may be saved at last.’

On this the angel gave him directions as to what he was to do, and left

Then, immediately, the priest entered the large room where all his
scholars and the kings’ sons were seated, and called out to them—

‘Now, tell me the truth, and let none fear to contradict me. Tell me
what is your belief. Have men souls?’

‘Master,’ they answered, ‘once we believed that men had souls; but,
thanks to your teaching, we believe so no longer. There is no Hell, and
no Heaven, and no God. This is our belief, for it is thus you taught

Then the priest grew pale with fear, and cried out: ‘Listen! I taught
you a lie. There is a God, and man has an immortal soul. I believe now
all I denied before.’

But the shouts of laughter that rose up drowned the priest’s voice, for
they thought he was only trying them for argument.

‘Prove it, master,’ they cried, ‘prove it! Who has ever seen God? Who
has ever seen the soul?’

And the room was stirred with their laughter.

The priest stood up to answer them, but no word could he utter; all his
eloquence, all his powers of argument, had gone from him, and he could
do nothing but wring his hands and cry out—

‘There is a God! there is a God! Lord, have mercy on my soul!’

And they all began to mock him, and repeat his own words that he had
taught them—

‘Show him to us; show us your God.’

And he fled from them groaning with agony, for he saw that none
believed, and how then could his soul be saved?

But he thought next of his wife.

‘She will believe,’ he said to himself. ‘Women never give up God.’

And he went to her; but she told him that she believed only what he
taught her, and that a good wife should believe in her husband first,
and before and above all things in heaven or earth.

Then despair came on him, and he rushed from the house and began to ask
every one he met if they believed. But the same answer came from one
and all: ‘We believe only what you have taught us,’ for his doctrines
had spread far and wide through the county.

Then he grew half mad with fear, for the hours were passing. And he
flung himself down on the ground in a lonesome spot, and wept and
groaned in terror, for the time was coming fast when he must die.

Just then a little child came by.

‘God save you kindly,’ said the child to him.

The priest started up.

‘Child, do you believe in God?’ he asked.

‘I have come from a far country to learn about Him,’ said the child.
‘Will your honour direct me to the best school that they have in these

‘The best school and the best teacher is close by,’ said the priest,
and he named himself.

‘Oh, not to that man,’ answered the child, ‘for I am told he denies God
and Heaven and Hell, and even that man has a soul, because we can’t see
it; but I would soon put him down.’

The priest looked at him earnestly. ‘How?’ he inquired.

‘Why,’ said the child, ‘I would ask him if he believed he had life to
show me his life.’

‘But he could not do that, my child,’ said the priest. ‘Life cannot be
seen; we have it, but it is invisible.’

‘Then, if we have life, though we cannot see it, we may also have a
soul, though it is invisible,’ answered the child.

When the priest heard him speak these words he fell down on his knees
before him, weeping for joy, for now he knew his soul was safe; he had
met at last one that believed. And he told the child his whole story:
all his wickedness, and pride, and blasphemy against the great God; and
how the angel had come to him and told him of the only way in which he
could be saved, through the faith and prayers of some one that believed.

‘Now, then,’ he said to the child, ‘take this penknife and strike it
into my breast, and go on stabbing the flesh until you see the paleness
of death on my face. Then watch—for a living thing will soar up from
my body as I die, and you will then know that my soul has ascended to
the presence of God. And when you see this thing, make haste and run
to my school and call on all my scholars to come and see that the soul
of their master has left the body, and that all he taught them was a
lie, for that there is a God who punishes sin, and a Heaven and a Hell,
and that man has an immortal soul, destined for eternal happiness or

‘I will pray,’ said the child, ‘to have courage to do this work.’

And he kneeled down and prayed. Then when he rose up he took the
penknife and struck it into the priest’s heart, and struck and
struck again till all the flesh was lacerated; but still the priest
lived, though the agony was horrible, for he could not die until the
twenty-four hours had expired. At last the agony seemed to cease, and
the stillness of death settled on his face. Then the child, who was
watching, saw a beautiful living creature, with four snow-white wings,
mount from the dead man’s body into the air and go fluttering round his

So he ran to bring the scholars; and when they saw it they all knew
it was the soul of their master, and they watched with wonder and awe
until it passed from sight into the clouds.

And this was the first butterfly that was ever seen in Ireland; and now
all men know that the butterflies are the souls of the dead waiting for
the moment when they may enter Purgatory, and so pass through torture
to purification and peace.

But the schools of Ireland were quite deserted after that time, for
people said, What is the use of going so far to learn when the wisest
man in all Ireland did not know if he had a soul till he was near
losing it; and was only saved at last through the simple belief of a
little child?

       *       *       *       *       *

_The Hour-Glass_ was first played in The Molesworth Hall, Dublin, with
the following cast:—Wise Man, Mr. T. Dudley Digges; His Wife, Miss M.
T. Quinn; The Fool, Mr. F. J. Fay; Pupils, P. J. Kelly, P. Columb, C.

We always play it in front of an olive-green curtain, and dress the
Wise Man and his Pupils in various shades of purple. Because in
all these decorative schemes one needs, as I think, a third colour
subordinate to the other two, we have partly dressed the Fool in
red-brown, which is repeated in the furniture. There is some green in
his dress and in that of the Wife of the Wise Man who is dressed mainly
in purple.

One sometimes has need of more lines of the little song, and I have put
into English rhyme three of the many verses of a Gaelic ballad:

    I was going the road one day
      (O the brown and the yellow beer!)
    And I met with a man that was no right man
      (O my dear, my dear).

    ‘Give me your wife,’ said he,
      (O the brown and the yellow beer!)
    ‘Till the sun goes down and an hour of the clock’
      (O my dear, my dear).

    ‘Good-bye, good-bye, my husband,’
      (O the brown and the yellow beer!)
    ‘For a year and a day by the clock of the sun’
      (O my dear, my dear).




When I was a boy I used to wander about at Rosses Point and Ballisodare
listening to old songs and stories. I wrote down what I heard and made
poems out of the stories or put them into the little chapters of the
first edition of _The Celtic Twilight_, and that is how I began to
write in the Irish way.

Then I went to London to make my living, and though I spent a part of
every year in Ireland and tried to keep the old life in my memory by
reading every country tale I could find in books or old newspapers, I
began to forget the true countenance of country life. The old tales
were still alive for me indeed, but with a new, strange, half-unreal
life, as if in a wizard’s glass, until at last, when I had finished
_The Secret Rose_, and was half-way through _The Wind Among the Reeds_,
a wise woman in her trance told me that my inspiration was from the
moon, and that I should always live close to water, for my work was
getting too full of those little jewelled thoughts that come from the
sun and have no nation. I had no need to turn to my books of astrology
to know that the common people are under the moon, or to Porphyry to
remember the image-making power of the waters. Nor did I doubt the
entire truth of what she said to me, for my head was full of fables
that I had no longer the knowledge and emotion to write. Then you
brought me with you to see your friends in the cottages, and to talk
to old wise men on Slieve Echtge, and we gathered together, or you
gathered for me, a great number of stories and traditional beliefs. You
taught me to understand again, and much more perfectly than before, the
true countenance of country life.

One night I had a dream almost as distinct as a vision, of a cottage
where there was well-being and firelight and talk of a marriage, and
into the midst of that cottage there came an old woman in a long cloak.
She was Ireland herself, that Cathleen ni Houlihan for whom so many
songs have been sung and about whom so many stories have been told and
for whose sake so many have gone to their death. I thought if I could
write this out as a little play I could make others see my dream as
I had seen it, but I could not get down out of that high window of
dramatic verse, and in spite of all you had done for me I had not the
country speech. One has to live among the people, like you, of whom
an old man said in my hearing, ‘She has been a serving-maid among
us,’ before one can think the thoughts of the people and speak with
their tongue. We turned my dream into the little play, _Cathleen ni
Houlihan_, and when we gave it to the little theatre in Dublin and
found that the working-people liked it, you helped me to put my other
dramatic fables into speech. Some of these have already been acted, but
some may not be acted for a long time, but all seem to me, though they
were but a part of a summer’s work, to have more of that countenance of
country life than anything I have done since I was a boy.

    W. B. YEATS.

    _Feb., 1903._

This play was first played on April 2, 1902, in St. Teresa’s Hall,
Dublin, with the following cast:—Cathleen, Miss Maude Gonne; Delia
Cahel, Miss Maire nic Sheublagh; Bridget Gillan, Miss M. T. Quinn;
Patrick Gillan, Mr. C. Caufield; Michael Gillan, Mr. T. Dudley Digges;
Peter Gillan, Mr. W. G. Fay.

Miss Maude Gonne played very finely, and her great height made Cathleen
seem a divine being fallen into our mortal infirmity. Since then
the part has been twice played in America by women who insisted on
keeping their young faces, and one of these when she came to the door
dropped her cloak, as I have been told, and showed a white satin
dress embroidered with shamrocks. Upon another,—or was it the same
occasion?—the player of Bridget wore a very becoming dress of the time
of Louis the Fourteenth. The most beautiful woman of her time, when
she played my Cathleen, ‘made up’ centuries old, and never should the
part be played but with a like sincerity. This was the first play of
our Irish School of folk-drama, and in it that way of quiet movement
and careful speech which has given our players some little fame first
showed itself, arising partly out of deliberate opinion and partly out
of the ignorance of the players. Does art owe most to ignorance or
to knowledge? Certainly it comes to its deathbed full of knowledge.
I cannot imagine this play, or any folk-play of our school, acted by
players with no knowledge of the peasant, and of the awkwardness and
stillness of bodies that have followed the plough, or too lacking in
humility to copy these things without convention or caricature.

The lines beginning ‘Do not make a great keening’ and ‘They shall be
remembered for ever’ are said or sung to an air heard by one of the
players in a dream. This music is with the other music at the end of
the third volume.



_The Golden Helmet_ was produced at the Abbey Theatre on March 19,
1908, with the following cast:—Cuchulain, J. M. Kerrigan; Conal, Arthur
Sinclair; Leagerie, Fred. O’ Donovan; Laeg, Sydney Morgan; Emer, Sara
Allgood; Conal’s Wife, Maire O’Neill; Leagerie’s Wife, Eileen O’
Doherty; Red Man, Ambrose Power; Horseboys, Scullions, and Black Men,
S. Hamilton, T. J. Fox, U. Wright, D. Robertson, T. O’Neill, I. A.
O’Rourke, P. Kearney.

In performance we left the black hands to the imagination, and probably
when there is so much noise and movement on the stage they would
always fail to produce any effect. Our stage is too small to try the
experiment, for they would be hidden by the figures of the players.
We staged the play with a very pronounced colour-scheme, and I have
noticed that the more obviously decorative is the scene and costuming
of any play, the more it is lifted out of time and place, and the
nearer to faeryland do we carry it. One gets also much more effect
out of concerted movements—above all, if there are many players—when
all the clothes are the same colour. No breadth of treatment gives
monotony when there is movement and change of lighting. It concentrates
attention on every new effect and makes every change of outline or of
light and shadow surprising and delightful. Because of this one can
use contrasts of colour, between clothes and background, or in the
background itself, the complementary colours for instance, which would
be too obvious to keep the attention in a painting. One wishes to make
the movement of the action as important as possible, and the simplicity
which gives depth of colour does this, just as, for precisely similar
reasons, the lack of colour in a statue fixes the attention upon the

The play is founded upon an old Irish story, _The Feast of Bricriu_,
given in _Cuchulain of Muirthemne_, and is meant as an introduction to
_On Baile’s Strand_.





    May 8th.      _The Countess Cathleen_, by W. B. Yeats.

    May 9th.      _The Heather Field_, by Edward Martyn.



                 {_The Last Feast of the Fianna_, by Alice Milligan.
    Feb. 19th.   {
                 {_Maeve_, by Edward Martyn.

    Feb. 20th.    _The Bending of the Bough_, by George Moore.


    Oct. 21st.    _Diarmuid and Grania_, by W. B. Yeats and George
                  _The Twisting of the Rope_, by Douglas Hyde (first
                         Gaelic play produced in a theatre).



                 {_Deirdre_, by ‘A.E.’
    April 2nd.   {
                 {_Cathleen ni Houlihan_, by W. B. Yeats.


                 {_The Sleep of the King_, by Seumas O’Cuisin.
    Oct. 29th.   {
                 {_The Laying of the Foundations_, by Fred Ryan.

    Oct. 30th.    _A Pot of Broth_, by W. B. Yeats.

    Oct. 31st.    _The Racing Lug_, by Seumas O’Cuisin.



                 {_The Hour-Glass_, by W. B. Yeats.
    March 14th.  {
                 {_Twenty-five_, by Lady Gregory.

                 {_The King’s Threshold_, by W. B. Yeats.
    Oct. 8th.    {
                 {_In the Shadow of the Glen_, by J. M. Synge.

    Dec. 3rd.     _Broken Soil_, by P. Colm.


                 {_The Shadowy Waters_, by W. B. Yeats.
    Jan. 14th.   {
                 {_The Townland of Tamney_, by Seumas MacManus.

    Feb. 25th.    _Riders to the Sea_, by J. M. Synge.


                 {_On Baile’s Strand_, by W. B. Yeats.
    Dec. 27th.   {
                 {_Spreading the News_, by Lady Gregory.


    Feb. 4th.     _The Well of the Saints_, by J. M. Synge.

    March 25th.   _Kincora_, by Lady Gregory.

    April 25th.   _The Building Fund_, by William Boyle.

    June 9th.     _The Land_, by P. Colm.


    Dec. 9th.     _The White Cockade_, by Lady Gregory.


    Jan. 20th.    _The Eloquent Dempsey_, by William Boyle.

    Feb. 19th.    _Hyacinth Halvey_, by Lady Gregory.

                 {_The Gaol Gate_, by Lady Gregory.
    Oct. 20th.   {
                 {_The Mineral Workers_, by William Boyle.

    Nov. 24th.    _Deirdre_, by W. B. Yeats.

                 {_The Shadowy Waters_ (new version), by W. B. Yeats.
    Dec. 8th.    {
                 {_The Canavans_, by Lady Gregory.


    Jan. 26th.    _The Playboy of the Western World_, by J. M. Synge.

    Feb. 23rd.    _The Jackdaw_, by Lady Gregory.

    March 9th.    _Rising of the Moon_, by Lady Gregory.

    April 1st.    _The Eyes of the Blind_, by Miss W. M. Letts.

    April 3rd.    _The Poorhouse_, by Lady Gregory and Douglas Hyde.

    April 27th.   _Fand_, by Wilfred Scawen Blunt.

    Oct. 3rd.     _The Country Dressmaker_, by George Fitzmaurice.

                 {_Dervorgilla_, by Lady Gregory.
    Oct. 31st.   {
                 {_The Canavans_ (new version), by Lady Gregory.

    Nov. 21st.   _The Unicorn from the Stars_, by Lady Gregory and
                         W. B. Yeats.


                 {_The Man who Missed the Tide_, by W. F. Casey.
    Feb. 15th.   {
                 {_The Piper_, by Norreys Connell.

                 {_The Pie-dish_, by George Fitzmaurice.
    March 19th.  {
                 {_The Golden Helmet_, by W. B. Yeats.

    April 20th.  _The Workhouse Ward_, by Lady Gregory.

    In addition to these plays, many of which are
    constantly revived, translations of foreign
    masterpieces are given occasionally.

    It was not until the opening of the Abbey Theatre that
    Lady Gregory, Mr. J. M. Synge, and Mr. W. B. Yeats
    became entirely responsible for the selection of plays,
    though they had been mainly so from 1903.

    _Corrigenda._—P. 120, l. 5, for ‘severe’ read
    ‘serious’; p. 143, l. 4, for ‘prepared’ read
    ‘performed’; p. 176, l. 29, for ‘_their_ own day’ read
    ‘_our_ own day.’

    _Printed by A. H. BULLEN, at The Shakespeare Head Press,

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber’s Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired.

Page 22, “aoor” changed to “door” (through the kitchen door)

Page 177, “monotous” changed to “monotonous” (monotonous to an ear)

Page 202, “A’Kempis” changed to “à Kempis” (wrote S. Thomas à Kempis)

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Collected Works in Verse and Prose of William Butler Yeats, Vol. 4 (of 8) - The Hour-glass. Cathleen ni Houlihan. The Golden Helmet. - The Irish Dramatic Movement" ***

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