Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE COUNTESS CATHLEEN, by WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS

Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE COUNTESS CATHLEEN, by                 Poet's Biography
First Line: What can have made the grey hen flutter so?
Last Line: The darkness.
Alternate Author Name(s): Yeats, W. B.
Subject(s): Ireland; Irish


Shemus Rua, a Peasant
Mary, his wife
Teigue, his son
Aleel, a Poet
The Countess Cathleen
Oona, her foster-mother
Two Demons disguised as Merchants
Peasants, Servants, Angelical Beings

The Scene is laid in Ireland and in old times


A room with lighted fire, and a door into the open air, through which one
sees, perhaps, the trees of a wood, and these trees should be painted in
flat colour upon a gold or diapered sky. The walls are of one colour.
The scene should have the effect of missal painting. Mary, a woman of forty yea
rs or so, is grinding a quern.

Mary. What can have made the grey hen flutter so?
[Teigue, a boy of fourteen, is coming in with turf, which he lays
beside the hearth.
Teigue. They say that now the land is famine-struck
The graves are walking.
Mary. What can the hen have heard?
Teigue. And that is not the worst; at Tubber-vanach
A woman met a man with ears spread out,
And they moved up and down like a bat's wing.
Mary. What can have kept your father all this while?
Teigue. Two nights ago, at Carrick-orus churchyard,
A herdsman met a man who had no mouth,
Nor eyes, nor ears; his face a wall of flesh;
He saw him plainly by the light of the moon.
Mary. Look out, and tell me if your father's coming.
[Teigue goes to door.
Teigue. Mother!
Mary. What is it?
Teigue. In the bush beyond,
There are two birds—if you can call them birds—
I could not see them rightly for the leaves—
But they've the shape and colour of horned owls,
And I'm half certain they've a human face.
Mary. Mother of God, defend us!
Teigue. They're looking at me.
What is the good of praying? father says.
God and the Mother of God have dropped asleep.
What do they care, he says, though the whole land
Squeal like a rabbit under a weasel's tooth?
Mary. You'll bring misfortune with your blasphemies
Upon your father, or yourself, or me.
Would God that he were home—ah, there he is.
[Shemus comes in
What was it kept you in the wood? You know
I cannot get all sorts of accidents
Out of my mind till you are home again.
Shemus. I'm in no mood to listen to your clatter.
Although I tramped the woods for half a day,
I've taken nothing, for the very rats,
Badgers, and hedgehogs seem to have died of drought,
And there was scarce a wind in the parched leaves.
Teigue. Then you have brought no dinner.
Shemus. After that
I sat among the beggars at the cross-roads,
And held a hollow hand among the others.
Mary. What, did you beg?
Shemus. I had no chance to beg,
For when the beggars saw me they cried out
They would not have another share their alms,
And hunted me away with sticks and stones.
Teigue. You said that you would bring us food or money.
Shemus. What's in the house?
Teigue. A bit of mouldy bread.
Mary. There's flour enough to make another loaf.
Teigue. And when that's gone?
Mary. There is the hen in the coop.
Shemus. My curse upon the beggars, my curse upon them!
Teigue. And the last penny gone.
Shemus. When the hen's gone,
What can we do but live on sorrel and dock,
And dandelion, till our mouths are green?
Mary. God, that to this hour has found bit and sup,
Will cater for us still.
Shemus. His kitchen's bare.
There were five doors that I looked through this day
And saw the dead and not a soul to wake them.
Mary. Maybe He'd have us die because He knows,
When the ear is stopped and when the eye is stopped,
That every wicked sight is hid from the eye,
And all fool talk from the ear! [A stringed instrument without.
Shemus. Who's passing there?
And mocking us with music?
Teigue. A young man plays it.
There's an old woman and a lady with him.
Shemus. What is the trouble of the poor to her?
Nothing at all or a harsh radishy sauce
For the day's meat.
Mary. God's pity on the rich!
Had we been through as many doors, and seen
The dishes standing on the polished wood
In the wax candle light, we'd be as hard,
And there's the needle's eye at the end of all.
Shemus. My curse upon the rich!
Teigue. They're coming here.
Shemus. Then down upon that stool, down quick, I say,
And call up a whey face and a whining voice,
And let your head be bowed upon your knees.
Mary. Had I but time to put the place to rights!
Cathleen, Oona, and Aleel enter
Cathleen. God save all here. There is a certain house,
An old grey castle with a kitchen garden,
A cider orchard and plot for flowers,
Somewhere among these woods.
Mary. We know it, lady.
A place that's set among impassable walls
As though world's trouble could not find it out.
Cathleen. It may be that we are that trouble, for we—
Although we've wandered in the wood this hour—
Have lost it too, yet I should know my way,
For I lived all my childhood in that house.
Mary. Then you are Countess Cathleen?
Cathleen. And this woman,
Oona, my nurse, should have remembered it,
For we were happy for a long time there.
Oona. The paths are overgrown with thickets now,
Or else some change has come upon my sight.
Cathleen. And this young man, that should have known the woods—
Because we met him on their border but now,
Wandering and singing like a wave of the sea—
Is so wrapped up in dreams of terrors to come
That he can give no help.
Mary. You have still some way,
But I can put you on the trodden path
Your servants take when they are marketing.
But first sit down and rest yourself awhile,
For my old fathers served your fathers, lady,
Longer than books can tell—and it were strange
If you and yours should not be welcome here.
Cathleen. And it were stranger still were I ungrateful
For such kind welcome—but I must be gone,
For the night's gathering in.
Shemus. It is a long while
Since I've set eyes on bread or on what buys it.
Cathleen. So you are starving even in this wood,
Where I had thought I would find nothing changed.
But that's a dream, for the old worm o' the world
Can eat its way into what place it pleases. [She gives money.
Teigue. Beautiful lady, give me something too;
I fell but now, being weak with hunger and thirst,
And lay upon the threshold like a log.
Cathleen. I gave for all and that was all I had.
But look, my purse is empty. I have passed
But starving men and women all this day,
And they have had the rest; but take the purse,
The silver clasps on't may be worth a trifle.
And if you'll come to-morrow to my house
You shall have twice the sum. [Aleel begins to play.
Shemus [muttering]. What, music, music!
Cathleen. Ah, do not blame the finger on the string;
The doctors bid me fly the unlucky times
And find distraction for my thoughts, or else
Pine to my grave.
Shemus. I have said nothing, lady.
Why should the like of us complain?
Oona. Have done.
Sorrows that she's but read of in a book
Weigh on her mind as if they had been her own.
[Oona, Mary, and Cathleen go out. Aleel looks defiantly at Shemus.
Aleel [singing]. Were I but crazy for love's sake
I know who'd measure out his length,
I know the heads that I should break,
For crazy men have double strength.
I know—all's out to leave or take,
Who mocks at music mocks at love;
Were I but crazy for love's sake,
No need to pick and choose.
[Snapping his fingers in Shemus' face.
I know the heads that I should break.
[He takes a step towards the door and then turns again.
Shut to the door before the night has fallen,
For who can say what walks, or in what shape
Some devilish creature flies in the air; but now
Two grey horned owls hooted above our heads.
[He goes out, his singing dies away. Mary comes in. Shemus has been
counting the money.
Shemus. So that fool's gone.
Teigue. He's seen the horned owls too.
There's no good luck in owls, but it may be
That the ill luck's to fall upon his head.
Mary. You never thanked her ladyship.
Shemus. Thank her
For seven halfpence and a silver bit?
Teigue. But for this empty purse?
Shemus. What's that for thanks,
Or what's the double of it that she promised,
With bread and flesh and every sort of food
Up to a price no man has heard the like of
And rising every day?
Mary. We have all she had;
She emptied out the purse before our eyes.
Shemus [to Mary, who has gone to close the door]. Leave that door
Mary. When those that have read books,
And seen the seven wonders of the world,
Fear what's above or what's below the ground,
It's time that poverty should bolt the door.
Shemus. I'll have no bolts, for there is not a thing
That walks above the ground or under it
I had not rather welcome to this house
Than any more of mankind, rich or poor.
Teigue. So that they brought us money.
Shemus. I heard say
There's something that appears like a white bird,
A pigeon or a seagull or the like,
But if you hit it with a stone or a stick
It clangs as though it had been made of brass,
And that if you dig down where it was scratching
You'll find a crock of gold.
Teigue. But dream of gold
For three nights running, and there's always gold.
Shemus. You might be starved before you've dug it out.
Teigue. But maybe if you called, something would come.
They have been seen of late.
Mary. Is it call devils?
Call devils from the wood, call them in here?
Shemus. So you'd stand up against me, and you'd say
Who or what I am to welcome here. [He hits her.
That is to show who's master.
Teigue. Call them in.
Mary. God help us all!
Shemus. Pray, if you have a mind to.
It's little that the sleepy ears above
Care for your words; but I'll call what I please.
Teigue. There is many a one, they say, had money from them.
Shemus [at door]. Whatever you are that walk the woods at night,
So be it that you have not shouldered up
Out of a grave—for I'll have nothing human—
And have free hands, a friendly trick of speech,
I welcome you. Come, sit beside the fire.
What matter if your head's below your arms
Or you've a horse's tail to whip your flank,
Feathers instead of hair, that's all but nothing.
Come, share what bread and meat is in the house,
And stretch your heels and warm them in the ashes.
And after that, let's share and share alike
And curse all men and women. Come in, come in.
What, is there no one there? [Turning from door.
And yet they say
They are as common as the grass, and ride
Even upon the book in the priest's hand.
[Teigue lifts one arm slowly and points towards the door and begins
moving backward. Shemus turns, he also sees something and begins moving
backward. Mary does the same. A man dressed as an Eastern merchant
comes in carrying a small carpet. He unrolls it and sits
crosslegged at one end of it. Another man dressed in the same way follows, and
sits at the other end. This is done slowly and deliberately. When they are
seated they take money out of embroidered purses at their girdles and
begin arranging it on the carpet.
Teigue. You speak to them.
Shemus. No, you.
Teigue. 'Twas you that called them.
Shemus [coming nearer]. I'd make so bold, if you would pardon it,
To ask if there's a thing you'd have of us.
Although we are but poor people, if there is,
Why, if there is———
First Merchant. We've travelled a long road,
For we are merchants that must tramp the world,
And now we look for supper and a fire
And a safe corner to count money in.
Shemus. I thought you were ... but that's no matter now—
There had been words between my wife and me
Because I said I would be master here,
And ask in what I pleased or who I pleased,
And so ... but that is nothing to the point,
Because it's certain that you are but merchants.
First Merchant. We travel for the Master of all merchants.
Shemus. Yet if you were that I had thought but now
I'd welcome you no less. Be what you please
And you'll have supper at the market rate.
That means that what was sold for but a penny
Is now worth fifty.
First Merchant [arranging money]. Our Master bids us pay
So good a price that all who deal with us
Shall eat, drink, and be merry.
Shemus [to Mary]. Bestir yourself,
Go kill and draw the fowl, while Teigue and I
Lay out the plates and make a better fire.
Mary. I will not cook for you.
Shemus. Not cook! not cook!
Do not be angry. She wants to pay me back
Because I struck her in that argument.
But she'll get sense again. Since the dearth came
We rattle one on another as though we were
Knives thrown into a basket to be cleaned.
Mary. I will not cook for you, because I know
In what unlucky shape you sat but now
Outside this door.
Teigue. It's this, your honours:
Because of some wild words my father said
She thinks you are not of those who cast a shadow.
Shemus. I said I'd make the devils of the wood
Welcome, if they'd a mind to eat and drink;
But it is certain that you are men like us.
First Merchant. It's strange that she should think we cast no shadow,
For there is nothing on the ridge of the world
That's more substantial than the merchants are
That buy and sell you.
Mary. If you are not demons,
And seeing what great wealth is spread out there,
Give food or money to the starving poor.
First Merchant. If we knew how to find deserving poor
We'd do our share.
Mary. But seek them patiently.
First Merchant. We know the evils of mere charity.
Mary. Those scruples may befit a common time.
I had thought there was a pushing to and fro,
At times like this, that overset the scale
And trampled measure down.
First Merchant. But if already
We'd thought of a more prudent way than that?
Second Merchant. If each one brings a bit of merchandise,
We'll give him such a price he never dreamt of.
Mary. Where shall the starving come at merchandise?
First Merchant. We will ask nothing but what all men have.
Mary. Their swine and cattle, fields and implements
Are sold and gone.
First Merchant. They have not sold all yet.
For there's a vaporous thing—that may be nothing,
But that's the buyer's risk—a second self,
They call immortal for a story's sake.
Shemus. They come to buy our souls?
Teigue. I'll barter mine.
Why should we starve for what may be but nothing?
Mary. Teigue and Shemus———
Shemus. What can it be but nothing?
What has God poured out of His bag but famine?
Satan gives money.
Teigue. Yet no thunder stirs.
First Merchant. There is a heap for each.
[Shemus goes to take money.
But, no, not yet,
For there's a work I have to set you to.
Shemus. So, then, you're as deceitful as the rest,
And all that talk of buying what's but a vapour
Is fancy bread. I might have known as much,
Because that's how the trick-o'-the-loop man talks.
First Merchant. That's for the work, each has its separate price;
But neither price is paid till the work's done.
Teigue. The same for me.
Mary. O God, why are You still?
First Merchant. You've but to cry aloud at every crossroad,
At every house door, that we buy men's souls
And give so good a price that all may live
In mirth and comfort till the famine's done,
Because we are Christian men.
Shemus. Come, let's away.
Teigue. I shall keep running till I've earned the price.
Second Merchant [who has risen and gone towards fire]. Stop; you
must have proof behind the words,
So here's your entertainment on the road.
[He throws a bag of money on the ground.
Live as you please; our Master's generous.
[Teigue and Shemus have stopped. Teigue takes the money. They go
Mary. Destroyers of souls, God will destroy you quickly.
You shall at last dry like dry leaves and hang
Nailed like dead vermin to the doors of God.
Second Merchant. Curse to your fill, for saints will have their dreams.
First Merchant. Though we're but vermin that our Master sent
To overrun the world, he at the end
Shall pull apart the pale ribs of the moon
And quench the stars in the ancestral night.
Mary. God is all-powerful.
Second Merchant. Pray, you shall need Him.
You shall eat dock and grass, and dandelion,
Till that low threshold there becomes a wall,
And when your hands can scarcely drag your body
We shall be near you. [Mary faints.
[The First Merchant takes up the carpet, spreads it before the fire
and stands in front of it warming his hands.
First Merchant. Our faces go unscratched.
Wring the neck o' that fowl, scatter the flour,
And look if there is bread upon the shelves.
We'll turn the fowl upon the spit and roast it,
And eat the supper we were bidden to,
Now that the house is quiet, praise our Master,
And stretch and warm our heels among the ashes.


FRONT SCENE.—A wood with perhaps distant view of turreted house at
one side, but all in flat colour, without light and shade and against a
diapered or gold background.

Countess Cathleen comes in leaning upon Aleel's arm. Oona
follows them.

Cathleen [stopping]. Surely this leafy corner, where one smells
The wild bee's honey, has a story too?
Oona. There is the house at last.
Aleel. A man, they say,
Loved Maeve the Queen of all the invisible host,
And died of his love nine centuries ago.
And now, when the moon's riding at the full,
She leaves her dancers lonely and lies there
Upon that level place, and for three days
Stretches and sighs and wets her long pale cheeks.
Cathleen. So she loves truly.
Aleel. No, but wets her cheeks,
Lady, because she has forgot his name.
Cathleen. She'd sleep that trouble away—though it must be
A heavy trouble to forget his name—
If she had better sense.
Oona. Your own house, lady.
Aleel. She sleeps high up on wintry Knocknarea
In an old cairn of stones; while her poor women
Must lie and jog in the wave if they would sleep—
Being water-born—yet if she cry their names
They run up on the land and dance in the moon
Till they are giddy and would love as men do,
And be as patient and as pitiful.
But there is nothing that will stop in their heads,
They've such poor memories, though they weep for it.
O yes, they weep; that's when the moon is full.
Cathleen. Is it because they have short memories
They live so long?
Aleel. What's memory but the ash
That chokes our fires that have begun to sink?
And they've a dizzy, everlasting fire.
Oona. There is your own house, lady.
Cathleen. Why, that's true,
And we'd have passed it without noticing.
Aleel. A curse upon it for a meddlesome house!
Had it but stayed away I would have known
What Queen Maeve thinks on when the moon is pinched;
And whether now—as in the old days—the dancers
Set their brief love on men.
Oona. Rest on my arm.
These are no thoughts for any Christian ear.
Aleel. I am younger, she would be too heavy for you.
[He begins taking his lute out of the bag. Cathleen, who
has turned towards Oona, turns back to him.
This hollow box remembers every foot
That danced upon the level grass of the world,
And will tell secrets if I whisper to it.
Lift up the white knee;
Hear what they sing,
Those young dancers
That in a ring
Raved but now
Of the hearts that broke
Long, long ago
For their sake.
Oona. New friends are sweet.
Aleel. But the dance changes,
Lift up the gown,
All that sorrow
Is trodden down.
Oona. The empty rattle-pate! Lean on this arm,
That I can tell you is a christened arm,
And not like some, if we are to judge by speech.
But as you please. It is time I was forgot.
Maybe it is not on this arm you slumbered
When you were as helpless as a worm.
Aleel. Stay with me till we come to your own house.
Cathleen [sitting down]. When I am rested I will need no help.
Aleel. I thought to have kept her from remembering
The evil of the times for full ten minutes;
But now when seven are out you come between.
Oona. Talk on; what does it matter what you say,
For you have not been christened?
Aleel. Old woman, old woman,
You robbed her of three minutes' peace of mind,
And though you live unto a hundred years,
And wash the feet of beggars and give alms,
And climb Cro-Patrick, you shall not be pardoned.
Oona. How does a man who never was baptized
Know what Heaven pardons?
Aleel. You are a sinful woman.
Oona. I care no more than if a pig had grunted.
Enter Cathleen's steward
Steward. I am not to blame, for I had locked the gate.
The forester's to blame. The men climbed in
At the east corner where the elm-tree is.
Cathleen. I do not understand you. Who has climbed?
Steward. Then God be thanked, I am the first to tell you.
I was afraid some other of the servants—
Though I've been on the watch—had been the first,
And mixed up truth and lies, your ladyship.
Cathleen [rising]. Has some misfortune happened?
Steward. Yes, indeed.
The forester that let the branches lie
Against the wall's to blame for everything,
For that is how the rogues got into the garden.
Cathleen. I thought to have escaped misfortune here.
Has any one been killed?
Steward. O no, not killed.
They have stolen half a cart-load of green cabbage.
Cathleen. But maybe they were starving.
Steward. That is certain.
To rob or starve, that was the choice they had.
Cathleen. A learned theologian has laid down
That starving men may take what's necessary,
And yet be sinless.
Oona. Sinless and a thief!
There should be broken bottles on the wall.
Cathleen. And if it be a sin, while faith's unbroken
God cannot help but pardon. There is no soul
But it's unlike all others in the world,
Nor one but lifts a strangeness to God's love
Till that's grown infinite, and therefore none
Whose loss were less than irremediable
Although it were the wickedest in the world.
Enter Teigue and Shemus
Steward. What are you running for? Pull off your cap.
Do you not see who's there?
Shemus. I cannot wait.
I am running to the world with the best news
That has been brought it for a thousand years.
Steward. Then get your breath and speak.
Shemus. If you'd my news
You'd run as fast and be as out of breath.
Teigue. Such news, we shall be carried on men's shoulders.
Shemus. There's something every man has carried with him
And thought no more about than if it were
A mouthful of the wind; and now it's grown
A marketable thing!
Teigue. And yet it seemed
As useless as the paring of one's nails.
Shemus. What sets me laughing when I think of it,
Is that a rogue who's lain in lousy straw,
If he but sell it, may set up his coach.
Teigue [laughing]. There are two gentlemen who buy men's souls.
Cathleen. O God!
Teigue. And maybe there's no soul at all.
Steward. They're drunk or mad.
Teigue. Look at the price they give. [Showing money.
Shemus [tossing up money]. 'Go cry it all about the world', they said.
' "Money for souls, good money for a soul." '
Cathleen. Give twice and thrice and twenty times their money,
And get your souls again. I will pay all.
Shemus. Not we! not we! For souls—if there are souls—
But keep the flesh out of its merriment.
I shall be drunk and merry.
Teigue. Come, let's away. [He goes.
Cathleen. But there's a world to come.
Shemus. And if there is,
I'd rather trust myself into the hands
That can pay money down than to the hands
That have but shaken famine from the bag. [He goes out R. lilting.
'There's money for a soul, sweet yellow money.
There's money for men's souls, good money, money.'
Cathleen [to Aleel]. Go call them here again, bring them by force,
Beseech them, bribe, do anything you like; [Aleel goes.
And you too follow, add your prayers to his.
[Oona, who has been praying, goes out.
Steward, you know the secrets of my house.
How much have I?
Steward. A hundred kegs of gold.
Cathleen. How much have I in castles?
Steward. As much more.
Cathleen. How much have I in pasture?
Steward. As much more.
Cathleen. How much have I in forests?
Steward. As much more.
Cathleen. Keeping this house alone, sell all I have,
Go barter where you please, but come again
With herds of cattle and with ships of meal.
Steward. God's blessing light upon your ladyship.
You will have saved the land.
Cathleen. Make no delay. [He goes L.
Aleel and Oona return
Cathleen. They have not come; speak quickly.
Aleel. One drew his knife
And said that he would kill the man or woman
That stopped his way; and when I would have stopped him
He made this stroke at me; but it is nothing.
Cathleen. You shall be tended. From this day for ever
I'll have no joy or sorrow of my own.
Oona. Their eyes shone like the eyes of birds of prey.
Cathleen. Come, follow me, for the earth burns my feet
Till I have changed my house to such a refuge
That the old and ailing, and all weak of heart,
May escape from beak and claw; all, all, shall come
Till the walls burst and the roof fall on us.
From this day out I have nothing of my own. [She goes.
Oona [taking Aleel by the arm and as she speaks bandaging his wound].
She has found something now to put her hand to,
And you and I are of no more account
Than flies upon a window-pane in the winter. [They go out.


Hall in the house of Countess Cathleen. At the left an oratory with
steps leading up to it. At the right a tapestried wall, more or less
repeating the form of the oratory, and a great chair with its back
against the wall. In the centre are two or more arches through
which one can see dimly the trees of the garden. Cathleen is
kneeling in front of the altar in the oratory; there is a
hanging lighted lamp over the altar. Aleel enters.

Aleel. I have come to bid you leave this castle and fly
Out of these woods.
[Cathleen rises from the altar and comes into the hall.
Cathleen. What evil is there here
That is not everywhere from this to the sea?
Aleel. They who have sent me walk invisible.
Cathleen. So it is true what I have heard men say,
That you have seen and heard what others cannot.
Aleel. I was asleep in my bed, and while I slept
My dream became a fire; and in the fire
One walked and he had birds about his head.
Cathleen. I have heard that one of the old gods walked so.
Aleel. It may be that he is angelical;
And, lady, he bids me call you from these woods.
And you must bring but your old foster-mother,
And some few serving-men, and live in the hills,
Among the sounds of music and the light
Of waters, till the evil days are done.
For here some terrible death is waiting you,
Some unimagined evil, some great darkness
That fable has not dreamt of, nor sun nor moon
Cathleen. No, not angelical.
Aleel. This house
You are to leave with some old trusty man,
And bid him shelter all that starve or wander
While there is food and house-room.
Cathleen. He bids me go
Where none of mortal creatures but the swan
Dabbles, and there you would pluck the harp, when the trees
Had made a heavy shadow about our door,
And talk among the rustling of the reeds,
When night hunted the foolish sun away
With stillness and pale tapers. No—no—no!
I cannot. Although I weep, I do not weep
Because that life would be most happy, and here
I find no way, no end. Nor do I weep
Because I had longed to look upon your face,
But that a night of prayer has made me weary.
Aleel [prostrating himself before her]. Let Him
that made mankind, the angels and devils
And dearth and plenty, mend what He has made,
For when we labour in vain and eye still sees,
Heart breaks in vain.
Cathleen. How would that quiet end?
Aleel. How but in healing?
Cathleen. You have seen my tears,
And I can see your hand shake on the floor.
Aleel [faltering]. I thought but of healing. He was angelical.
Cathleen [turning away from him]. No, not
angelical, but of the old gods,
Who wander about the world to waken the heart—
The passionate, proud heart—that all the angels,
Leaving nine heavens empty, would rock to sleep.
[She goes to the oratory door; Aleel
holds his clasped hands towards her for a
moment hesitatingly, and then lets them fall beside him.
Cathleen. Do not hold out to me beseeching hands.
This heart shall never waken on earth. I have sworn,
By her whose heart the seven sorrows have pierced,
To pray before this altar until my heart
Has grown to Heaven like a tree, and there
Rustled its leaves, till Heaven has saved my people.
Aleel [who has risen]. When one so great has spoken of love to one
So little as I, though to deny him love,
What can he but hold out beseeching hands,
Then let them fall beside him, knowing how greatly
They have overdared?
[He goes towards the door of the hall. The Countess Cathleen takes a
few steps towards him.
Cathleen. If the old tales are true,
Queens have wed shepherds and kings beggar-maids;
God's procreant waters flowing about your mind
Have made you more than kings or queens; and not you
But I am the empty pitcher.
Aleel. Being silent,
I have said all, yet let me stay beside you.
Cathleen. No, no, not while my heart is shaken. No,
But you shall hear wind cry and water cry,
And curlew cry, and have the peace I longed for.
Aleel. Give me your hand to kiss.
Cathleen. I kiss your forehead.
And yet I send you from me. Do not speak;
There have been women that bid men to rob
Crowns from the Country-under-Wave or apples
Upon a dragon-guarded hill, and all
That they might sift the hearts and wills of men,
And trembled as they bid it, as I tremble
That lay a hard task on you, that you go,
And silently, and do not turn your head.
Good-bye; but do not turn your head and look;
Above all else, I would not have you look. [Aleel goes.
I never spoke to him of his wounded hand,
And now he is gone. [She looks out.]
I cannot see him, for all is dark outside.
Would my imagination and my heart
Were as little shaken as this holy flame!
[She goes slowly into the oratory. The distant sound of an alarm
bell. The two Merchants enter hurriedly.
Second Merchant. They are ringing the alarm, and in a moment
They'll be upon us.
First Merchant [going to a door at the side]. Here is the Treasury.
You'd my commands to put them all to sleep.
Second Merchant. Some angel or else her prayers protected them.
[Goes into the Treasury and returns with bags of treasure. First
Merchant has been listening at the oratory door.
First Merchant. She has fallen asleep.
[Second Merchant goes out through one of the arches at the back
and stands listening. The bags are at his feet.
Second Merchant. We've all the treasure now,
So let's away before they've tracked us out.
First Merchant. I have a plan to win her.
Second Merchant. You have time enough
If you would kill her and bear off her soul
Before they are upon us with their prayers;
They search the Western Tower.
First Merchant. That may not be.
We cannot face the heavenly host in arms.
Her soul must come to us of its own will;
But being of the ninth and mightiest Hell,
Where all are kings, I have a plan to win it.
Lady, we've news that's crying out for speech.
[Cathleen wakes and comes to door of oratory.
Cathleen. Who calls?
First Merchant. Lady, we have brought news.
Cathleen. What are you?
First Merchant. We are merchants, and we know the book of the world
Because we have walked upon its leaves; and there
Have read of late matters that much concern you;
And noticing the castle door stand open,
Come in to find an ear.
Cathleen. The door stands open
That no one who is famished or afraid
Despair of help or of a welcome with it.
But you have news, you say.
First Merchant. We saw a man
Heavy with sickness in the bog of Allen,
Whom you had bid buy cattle. Near Fair Head
We saw your grain ships lying all becalmed
In the dark night; and not less still than they,
Burned all their mirrored lanthorns in the sea.
Cathleen. Thanks be to God there's money in the house
That can buy grain from those who have stored it up
To prosper on the hunger of the poor.
But you've been far and know the signs of things,
When will this famine end?
First Merchant. Day copies day,
And there's no sign of change, nor can it change,
With the wheat withered and the cattle dead.
Cathleen. And heard you of the demons who buy souls?
First Merchant. There are some men who hold they have wolves' heads,
And say their limbs—dried by the infinite flame—
Have all the speed of storms; others, again,
Say they are gross and little; while a few
Will have it they seem much as mortals are,
But tall and brown and travelled—like us, lady—
Yet all agree a power is in their looks
That makes men bow, and flings a casting-net
About their souls, and that all men would go
And barter those poor vapours, were it not
You bribe them with the safety of your gold.
Cathleen. Praise God that I am wealthy! Why do they sell?
First Merchant. As we came in at the great door we saw
Your porter sleeping in his niche—a soul
Too little to be worth a hundred pence,
And yet they buy it for a hundred crowns.
But for a soul like yours, I heard them say,
They would give five hundred thousand crowns and more.
Cathleen. How can a heap of crowns pay for a soul?
Is the green grave so terrible a thing?
First Merchant. Some sell because the money gleams, and some
Because they are in terror of the grave,
And some because their neighbours sold before,
And some because there is a kind of joy
In casting hope away, in losing joy,
In ceasing all resistance, in at last
Opening one's arms to the eternal flames,
In casting all sails out upon the wind;
To this—full of the gaiety of the lost—
Would all folk hurry if your gold were gone.
Cathleen. There is a something, Merchant, in your voice
That makes me fear. When you were telling how
A man may lose his soul and lose his God
Your eyes were lighted up, and when you told
How my poor money serves the people, both—
Merchants, forgive me—seemed to smile.
First Merchant. I laugh
To think that all these people should be swung
As on a lady's shoe-string,—under them
The glowing leagues of never-ending flame.
Cathleen. There is a something in you that I fear;
A something not of us; were you not born
In some most distant corner of the world?
[The Second Merchant, who has been listening at the door, comes forwa
rd, and as he comes a sound of voices and feet is heard.
Second Merchant. Away now—they are in the passage—hurry,
For they will know us, and freeze up our hearts
With Ave Marys, and burn all our skin
With holy water.
First Merchant. Farewell; for we must ride
Many a mile before the morning come;
Our horses beat the ground impatiently.
[They go out. A number of Peasants enter by other door.
First Peasant. Forgive us, lady, but we heard a noise.
Second Peasant. We sat by the fireside telling vanities.
First Peasant. We heard a noise, but though we have searched the house
We have found nobody.
Cathleen. You are too timid,
For now you are safe from all the evil times,
There is no evil that can find you here.
Oona [entering hurriedly]. Ochone! The treasure-room is broken in.
The door stands open, and the gold is gone.
[Peasants raise a lamentable cry.
Cathleen. Be silent. [The cry ceases.] Have you seen nobody?
Oona. Ochone!
That my good mistress should lose all this money!
Cathleen. Let those among you not too old to ride
Get horses and search all the country round.
I'll give a farm to him who finds the thieves.
[A man with keys at his girdle has come in while she speaks. There
is a general murmur of 'The porter! the porter!'
Porter. Demons were here. I sat beside the door
In my stone niche, and two owls passed me by,
Whispering with human voices.
Old Peasant. God forsakes us.
Cathleen. Old man, old man, He never closed a door
Unless one opened. I am desolate
Because of a strange thought that's in my heart;
But I have still my faith; therefore be silent;
For surely He does not forsake the world,
But stands before it modelling in the clay
And moulding there His image. Age by age
The clay wars with His fingers and pleads hard
For its old, heavy, dull and shapeless ease;
But sometimes—though His hand is on it still—
It moves awry and demon hordes are born.
[Peasants cross themselves.
Yet leave me now, for I am desolate.
I hear a whisper from beyond the thunder.
[She comes from the oratory door.
Yet stay an instant. When we meet again
I may have grown forgetful. Oona, take
These two—the larder and the dairy keys.
[To the Porter.]
But take you this. It opens the small room
Of herbs for medicine, every kind of herb.
The book of cures is on the upper shelf.
Porter. Why do you do this, lady; did you see
Your coffin in a dream?
Cathleen. Ah, no, not that.
But I have come to a strange thought. I have heard
A sound of wailing in unnumbered hovels,
And I must go down, down—I know not where—
Pray for all men and women mad from famine;
Pray, you good neighbours.
[The Peasants all kneel. Countess Cathleen ascends the steps to the
door of the oratory, and turning round stands there motionless for a little, an
d then cries in a loud voice:
Mary, Queen of angels,
And all you clouds on clouds of saints, farewell!


FRONT SCENE.—A wood near the Castle, as in Scene II. A group
of Peasants pass.

First Peasant. I have seen silver and copper, but not gold.
Second Peasant. It's yellow and it shines.
First Peasant. It's beautiful.
The most beautiful thing under the sun,
That's what I've heard.
Third Peasant. I have seen gold enough.
Fourth Peasant. I would not say that it's so beautiful.
First Peasant. But doesn't a gold piece glitter like the sun?
That's what my father, who'd seen better days,
Told me when I was but a little boy—
So high—so high, it's shining like the sun,
Round and shining, that is what he said.
Second Peasant. There's nothing in the world it cannot buy.
First Peasant. They've bags and bags of it.
[They go out. The two Merchants follow silently. Then Aleel passes
over the stage singing.
Aleel. Impetuous heart be still, be still,
Your sorrowful love can never be told,
Cover it up with a lonely tune.
He who could bend all things to His Will
Has covered the door of the infinite fold
With the pale stars and the wandering moon.


The house of Shemus Rua. There is an alcove at the back with curtains; in
it a bed, and on the bed is the body of Mary with candles round it. The two Mer
chants while they speak put a large book upon a table, arrange money, and so

First Merchant. Thanks to that lie I told about her ships
And that about the herdsman lying sick,
We shall be too much thronged with souls to-morrow.
Second Merchant. What has she in her coffers now but mice?
First Merchant. When the night fell and I had shaped myself
Into the image of the man-headed owl,
I hurried to the cliffs of Donegal,
And saw with all their canvas full of wind
And rushing through the parti-coloured sea
Those ships that bring the woman grain and meal.
They're but three days from us.
Second Merchant. When the dew rose
I hurried in like feathers to the east,
And saw nine hundred oxen driven through Meath
With goads of iron. They're but three days from us.
First Merchant. Three days for traffic.
[Peasants crowd in with Teigue and Shemus.
Shemus. Come in, come in, you are welcome.
That is my wife. She mocked at my great masters,
And would not deal with them. Now there she is;
She does not even know she was a fool,
So great a fool she was.
Teigue. She would not eat
One crumb of bread bought with our masters' money,
But lived on nettles, dock, and dandelion.
Shemus. There's nobody could put into her head
That death is the worst thing can happen us,
Though that sounds simple, for her tongue grew rank
With all the lies that she had heard in chapel.
Draw to the curtain. [Teigue draws it.] You'll not play the fool
While these good gentlemen are there to save you.
Second Merchant. Since the drought came they drift about in a throng,
Like autumn leaves blown by the dreary winds.
Come, deal—come, deal.
First Merchant. Who will come deal with us?
Shemus. They are out of spirit, sir, with lack of food,
Save four or five. Here, sir, is one of these;
The others will gain courage in good time.
Middle-aged Man. I come to deal—if you give honest price.
First Merchant [reading in a book]. 'John Maher, a man of substance,
with dull mind,
And quiet senses and unventurous heart.
The angels think him safe.' Two hundred crowns,
All for a soul, a little breath of wind.
Middle-aged Man. I ask three hundred crowns. You have read there
That no mere lapse of days can make me yours.
First Merchant. There is something more writ here—'Often at night
He is wakeful from a dread of growing poor,
And thereon wonders if there's any man
That he could rob in safety.'
A Peasant. Who'd have thought it?
And I was once alone with him at midnight.
Another Peasant. I will not trust my mother after this.
First Merchant. There is this crack in you—two hundred crowns.
A Peasant. That's plenty for a rogue.
Another Peasant. I'd give him nothing.
Shemus. You'll get no more—so take what's offered you.
[A general murmur, during which the Middle-aged Man takes money, and
slips into background, where he sinks on to a seat.
First Merchant. Has no one got a better soul than that?
If only for the credit of your parishes,
Traffic with us.
A Woman. What will you give for mine?
First Merchant [reading in book]. 'Soft, handsome, and still
young'—not much, I think.
'It's certain that the man she's married to
Knows nothing of what's hidden in the jar
Between the hour-glass and the pepper pot.'
The Woman. The scandalous book!
First Merchant. 'Nor how when he's away
At the horse-fair the hand that wrote what's hid
Will tap three times upon the window-pane.'
The Woman. And if there is a letter, that is no reason
Why I should have less money than the others.
First Merchant. You're almost safe. I give you fifty crowns.
[She turns to go.
A hundred, then.
Shemus. Woman, have sense—come, come.
Is this a time to haggle at the price?
There, take it up. There, take it up. That's right.
[She takes them and goes into the crowd.
First Merchant. Come, deal, deal, deal. It is but for charity
We buy such souls at all; a thousand sins
Made them our Master's long before we came.
Aleel enters
Aleel. Here, take my soul, for I am tired of it.
I do not ask a price.
Shemus. Not ask a price?
How can you sell your soul without a price?
I would not listen to his broken wits.
His love for Countess Cathleen has so crazed him
He hardly understands what he is saying.
Aleel. The trouble that has come on Countess Cathleen,
The sorrow that is in her wasted face,
The burden in her eyes, have broke my wits,
And yet I know I'd have you take my soul.
First Merchant. We cannot take your soul, for it is hers.
Aleel. No, but you must. Seeing it cannot help her
I have grown tired of it.
First Merchant. Begone from me,
I may not touch it.
Aleel. Is your power so small?
And must I bear it with me all my days?
May you be scorned and mocked!
First Merchant. Drag him away.
He troubles me. [Teigue and Shemus lead Aleel into the crowd.
Second Merchant. His gaze has filled me, brother,
With shaking and a dreadful fear.
First Merchant. Lean forward
And kiss the circlet where my Master's lips
Were pressed upon it when he sent us hither;
You shall have peace once more.
[Second Merchant kisses the gold circlet that is about the head of
the First Merchant.
I, too, grow weary,
But there is something moving in my heart
Whereby I know that what we seek the most
Is drawing near—our labour will soon end.
Come, deal, deal, deal, deal, deal; are you all dumb?
What, will you keep me from our ancient home,
And from the eternal revelry?
Second Merchant. Deal, deal.
Shemus. They say you beat the woman down too low.
First Merchant. I offer this great price: a thousand crowns
For an old woman who was always ugly.
[An old Peasant Woman comes forward, and he takes up a book and
There is but little set down here against her.
'She has stolen eggs and fowl when times were bad,
But when the times grew better has confessed it;
She never missed her chapel of a Sunday
And when she could, paid dues.' Take up your money.
Old Woman. God bless you, sir. [She screams.] O, sir, a pain
went through me!
First Merchant. That name is like a fire to all damned souls.
[Murmur among the Peasants, who shrink back from her as
she goes out.
A Peasant. How she screamed out!
Second Peasant. And maybe we shall scream so.
Third Peasant. I tell you there is no such place as Hell.
First Merchant. Can such a trifle turn you from your profit?
Come, deal; come, deal.
Middle-aged Man. Master, I am afraid.
First Merchant. I bought your soul, and there's no sense in
fear Now the soul's gone.
Middle-aged Man. Give me my soul again.
Woman [going on her knees and clinging to Merchant].
And take this money too, and give me mine.
Second Merchant. Bear bastards, drink or follow some wild fancy;
For cryings out and sighs are the soul's work,
And you have none. [Throws the Woman off.
Peasant. Come, let's away.
Another Peasant. Yes, yes.
Another Peasant. Come quickly; if that woman had not screamed
I would have lost my soul.
Another Peasant. Come, come away.
[They turn to door, but are stopped by shouts of
'Countess Cathleen! Countess Cathleen!'
Cathleen [entering]. And so you trade once more?
First Merchant. In spite of you.
What brings you here, saint with the sapphire eyes?
Cathleen. I come to barter a soul for a great price.
Second Merchant. What matter, if the soul be worth the price?
Cathleen. The people starve, therefore the people go
Thronging to you. I hear a cry come from them
And it is in my ears by night and day,
And I would have five hundred thousand crowns
That I may feed them till the dearth go by.
First Merchant. It may be the soul's worth it.
Cathleen. There is more:
The souls that you have bought must be set free.
First Merchant. We know of but one soul that's worth the price.
Cathleen. Being my own it seems a priceless thing.
Second Merchant. You offer us———
Cathleen. I offer my own soul.
A Peasant. Do not, do not, for souls the like of ours
Are not precious to God as your soul is.
O, what would Heaven do without you, lady?
Another Peasant. Look how their claws clutch in their leathern gloves.
First Merchant. Five hundred thousand crowns; we give the price.
The gold is here; the souls even while you speak
Have slipped out of our bond, because your face
Has shed a light on them and filled their hearts.
But you must sign, for we omit no form
In buying a soul like yours.
Second Merchant. Sign with this quill.
It was a feather growing on the cock
That crowed when Peter dared deny his Master,
And all who use it have great honour in Hell.
[Cathleen leans forward to sign.
Aleel [rushing forward and snatching the pen from
her]. Leave all things to the Builder of the Heavens.
Cathleen. I have no thoughts; I hear a cry—a cry.
Aleel [casting the pen on the ground]. I have seen a vision under a gre
en hedge,
A hedge of hips and haws—men yet shall hear
The archangels rolling Satan's empty skull
Over the mountain-tops.
First Merchant. Take him away.
[Teigue and Shemus drag him roughly away so that he falls upon the
floor among the Peasants. Cathleen picks up the parchment and signs, then
turns towards the Peasants.
Cathleen. Take up the money, and now come with me;
When we are far from this polluted place
I will give everybody money enough.
[She goes out, the Peasants crowding round her and kissing her
dress. Aleel and the two Merchants are left alone.
Second Merchant. We must away and wait until she dies,
Sitting above her tower as two grey owls,
Waiting as many years as may be, guarding
Our precious jewel; waiting to seize her soul.
First Merchant. We need but hover over her head in the air,
For she has only minutes. When she signed
Her heart began to break. Hush, hush, I hear
The brazen door of Hell move on its hinges,
And the eternal revelry float hither
To hearten us.
Second Merchant. Leap feathered on the air
And meet them with her soul caught in your claws.
[They rush out. Aleel crawls into the middle of the room. The
twilight has fallen and gradually darkens as the scene goes on. There is a dist
ant muttering of thunder and a sound of rising storm.
Aleel. The brazen door stands wide, and Balor comes
Borne in his heavy car, and demons have lifted
The age-weary eyelids from the eyes that of old
Turned gods to stone; Barach, the traitor, comes
And the lascivious race, Cailitin,
That cast a Druid weakness and decay
Over Sualtim's and old Dectora's child;
And that great king Hell first took hold upon
When he killed Naoise and broke Deirdre's heart;
And all their heads are twisted to one side,
For when they lived they warred on beauty and peace
With obstinate, crafty, sidelong bitterness.
Oona enters
Crouch down, old heron, out of the blind storm.
Oona. Where is the Countess Cathleen? All this day
Her eyes were full of tears, and when for a moment
Her hand was laid upon my hand it trembled,
And now I do not know where she is gone.
Aleel. Cathleen has chosen other friends than us,
And they are rising through the hollow world.
Demons are out, old heron.
Oona. God guard her soul!
Aleel. She's bartered it away this very hour,
As though we two were never in the world.
[He points downward.
First, Orchil, her pale, beautiful head alive,
Her body shadowy as vapour drifting
Under the dawn, for she who awoke desire
Has but a heart of blood when others die;
About her in a vapoury multitude
Of women alluring devils with soft laughter;
Behind her a host heat of the blood made sin,
But all the little pink-white nails have grown
To be great talons.
[He seizes Oona and drags her into the middle of the room and points
downward with vehement gestures. The wind roars.
They begin a song
And there is still some music on their tongues.
Oona [casting herself face downwards on the floor]. O Maker of all,
protect her from the demons,
And if a soul must needs be lost, take mine.
[Aleel kneels beside her, but does not seem to hear her words. The
Peasants return. They carry the Countess Cathleen and lay her upon the
ground before Oona and Aleel. She lies there as if dead.
Oona. O that so many pitchers of rough clay
Should prosper and the porcelain break in two!
[She kisses the hands of Cathleen.
A Peasant. We were under the tree where the path turns,
When she grew pale as death and fainted away.
And while we bore her hither cloudy gusts
Blackened the world and shook us on our feet.
Draw the great bolt, for no man has beheld
So black, bitter, blinding, and sudden a storm.
[One who is near the door draws the bolt.
Cathleen. O, hold me, and hold me tightly, for the storm
Is dragging me away.
[Oona takes her in her arms. A woman begins to wail.
Peasants. Hush!
Other Peasants. Hush!
Peasant Women. Hush!
Other Peasant Women. Hush!
Cathleen [half rising]. Lay all the bags of money in a heap,
And when I am gone, old Oona, share them out
To every man and woman: judge, and give
According to their needs.
A Peasant Woman. And will she give
Enough to keep my children through the dearth?
Another Peasant Woman. O Queen of Heaven, and all you blessed saints,
Let us and ours be lost so she be shriven.
Cathleen. Bend down your faces, Oona and Aleel;
I gaze upon them as the swallow gazes
Upon the nest under the eave, before
She wander the loud waters. Do not weep
Too great a while, for there is many a candle
On the High Altar though one fall. Aleel,
Who sang about the dancers of the woods
That know not the hard burden of the world,
Having but breath in their kind bodies, farewell!
And farewell, Oona, you who played with me,
And bore me in your arms about the house
When I was but a child and therefore happy,
Therefore happy, even like those that dance.
The storm is in my hair and I must go. [She dies.
Oona. Bring me the looking-glass.
[A woman brings it to her out of the inner room. Oona holds it over
the lips of Cathleen. All is silent for a moment. And then she speaks in a
half scream;
O, she is dead!
A Peasant. She was the great white lily of the world.
Another Peasant. She was more beautiful than the pale stars.
An Old Peasant Woman. The little plant I loved is broken in two.
[Aleel takes looking-glass from Oona and flings it upon the floor so t
hat it is broken in many pieces.
Aleel. I shatter you in fragments, for the face
That brimmed you up with beauty is no more:
And die, dull heart, for she whose mournful words
Made you a living spirit has passed away
And left you but a ball of passionate dust.
And you, proud earth and plumy sea, fade out!
For you may hear no more her faltering feet,
But are left lonely amid the clamorous war
Of angels upon devils.
[He stands up; almost every one is kneeling, but it has grown so dark
that only confused forms can be seen.
And I who weep
Call curses on you, Time and Fate and Change,
And have no excellent hope but the great hour
When you shall plunge headlong through bottomless space.
[A flash of lightning followed immediately by thunder.
A Peasant Woman. Pull him upon his knees before his curses
Have plucked thunder and lightning on our heads.
Aleel. Angels and devils clash in the middle air,
And brazen swords clang upon brazen helms.
[A flash of lightning followed immediately by thunder.
Yonder a bright spear, cast out of a sling,
Has torn through Balor's eye, and the dark clans
Fly screaming as they fled Moytura of old.
[Everything is lost in darkness.
An Old Man. The Almighty wrath at our great weakness and sin
Has blotted out the world and we must die.
[The darkness is broken by a visionary light. The Peasants seem to be
kneeling upon the rocky slope of a mountain, and vapour full of storm and
ever-changing light is sweeping above them and behind them. Half in the
light, half in the shadow, stand armed angels. Their armour is old and
worn, and their drawn swords dim and dinted. They stand as if upon the air in f
ormation of battle and look downward with stern faces. The Peasants cast
themselves on the ground.
Aleel. Look no more on the half-closed gates of Hell,
But speak to me, whose mind is smitten of God,
That it may be no more with mortal things,
And tell of her who lies there. [He seizes one of the angels.
Till you speak
You shall not drift into eternity.
The Angel. The light beats down; the gates of pearl are wide;
And she is passing to the floor of peace,
And Mary of the seven times wounded heart
Has kissed her lips, and the long blessed hair
Has fallen on her face; The Light of Lights
Looks always on the motive, not the deed,
The Shadow of Shadows on the deed alone.
[Aleel releases the Angel and kneels.
Oona. Tell them who walk upon the floor of peace
That I would die and go to her I love;
The years like great black oxen tread the world,
And God the herdsman goads them on behind,
And I am broken by their passing feet.
[A sound of far-off horns seems to come from the heart of the light.
The vision melts away, and the forms of the kneeling Peasants appear faintly in
the darkness.

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