Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ARMGART, by MARY ANN EVANS



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ARMGART, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Good morning, fraulein
Last Line: T is better that our griefs should not spread far.
Alternate Author Name(s): Eliot, George; Cross, Marian Lewes; Evans, Marian; Ann, Mary
Subject(s): Germany; Grief; Man-woman Relationships; Philosophy & Philosophers; Sickness; Singing & Singers; Germans; Sorrow; Sadness; Male-female Relations; Illness; Songs


SCENE I.

A Salon lit with lamps and ornamented with green plants. An open piano, with
many scattered sheets of music. Bronze busts of Beethoven and Gluck on pillars
opposite each other. A small table spread with supper. To FRÄULEIN
WALPURGA, who advances with a slight lameness of gait from an adjoining
room,
enters GRAF DORNBERG at the opposite door in a travelling dress.

GRAF.
Good-morning, Fräulein!

WALPURGA.
What, so soon returned?
I feared your mission kept you still at Prague.

GRAF.
But now arrived! You see my travelling dress.
I hurried from the panting, roaring steam
Like any courier of embassy
Who hides the fiends of war within his bag.

WALPURGA.
You know that Armgart sings to-night?

GRAF.
Has sung!
'T is close on half-past nine. The Orpheus
Lasts not so long. Her spirits — were they high?
Was Leo confident?

WALPURGA.
He only feared
Some tameness at beginning. Let the house
Once ring, he said, with plaudits, she is safe.

GRAF.
And Armgart?

WALPURGA.
She was stiller than her wont.
But once, at some such trivial word of mine,
As that the highest prize might yet be won
By her who took the second — she was roused.
"For me," she said, "I triumph or I fail.
I never strove for any second prize."

GRAF.
Poor human-hearted singing-bird! She bears
Cæsar's ambition in her delicate breast,
And naught to still it with but quivering song!

WALPURGA.
I had not for the world been there to-night:
Unreasonable dread oft chills me more
Than any reasonable hope can warm.

GRAF.
You have a rare affection for your cousin;
As tender as a sister's.

WALPURGA.
Nay, I fear
My love is little more than what I felt
For happy stories when I was a child.
She fills my life that would be empty else,
And lifts my naught to value by her side.

GRAF.
She is reason good enough, or seems to be,
Why all were born whose being ministers
To her completeness. Is it most her voice
Subdues us? or her instinct exquisite,
Informing each old strain with some new grace
Which takes our sense like any natural good?
Or most her spiritual energy
That sweeps us in the current of her song?

WALPURGA.
I know not. Losing either, we should lose
That whole we call our Armgart. For herself,
She often wonders what her life had been
Without that voice for channel to her soul.
She says, it must have leaped through all her limbs —
Made her a Mænad — made her snatch a brand
And fire some forest, that her rage might mount
In crashing roaring flames through half a land,
Leaving her still and patient for a while.
"Poor wretch!" she says, of any murderess —
"The world was cruel, and she could not sing:
I carry my revenges in my throat;
I love in singing, and am loved again."

GRAF.
Mere mood! I cannot yet believe it more.
Too much ambition has unwomaned her;
But only for a while. Her nature hides
One half its treasures by its very wealth,
Taxing the hours to show it.

WALPURGA.
Hark! she comes.

(Enter LEO with a wreath in his hand, holding the door open for
ARMGART, who wears a furred mantle and hood. She is followed by her maid,
carrying an armful of bouquets.)

LEO.
Place for the queen of song!

GRAF (advancing toward ARMGART, who throws off her hood and mantle, and
shows a star of brilliants in her hair).

A triumph, then.
You will not be a niggard of your joy
And chide the eagerness that came to share it.

ARMGART.
O kind! you hastened your return for me.
I would you had been there to hear me sing!
Walpurga, kiss me: never tremble more
Lest Armgart's wing should fail her. She has found
This night the region where her rapture breathes —
Pouring her passion on the air made live
With human heart-throbs. Tell them, Leo, tell them
How I outsang your hope and made you cry
Because Gluck could not hear me. That was folly!
He sang, not listened: every linkéd note
Was his immortal pulse that stirred in mine,
And all my gladness is but part of him.
Give me the wreath.

(She crowns the bust of Gluck.)

LEO (sardonically).
Ay, ay, but mark you this:
It was not part of him — that trill you made
In spite of me and reason!

ARMGART.
You were wrong —
Dear Leo, you were wrong: the house was held
As if a storm were listening with delight
And hushed its thunder.

LEO.
Will you ask the house
To teach you singing? Quit your Orpheus then,
And sing in farces grown to operas,
Where all the prurience of the full-fed mob
Is tickled with melodic impudence:
Jerk forth burlesque bravuras, square your arms
Akimbo with a tavern wench's grace,
And set the splendid compass of your voice
To lyric jigs. Go to! I thought you meant
To be an artist — lift your audience
To see your vision, not trick forth a show
To please the grossest taste of grossest numbers.

ARMGART (taking up LEO'S hand and kissing it).
Pardon, good Leo, I am penitent.
I will do penance: sing a hundred trills
Into a deep-dug grave, then burying them
As one did Midas' secret, rid myself
Of naughty exultation. Oh I trilled
At nature's prompting, like the nightingales.
Go scold them, dearest Leo.

LEO.
I stop my ears.
Nature in Gluck inspiring Orpheus,
Has done with nightingales. Are bird-beaks lips?

GRAF.
Truce to rebukes! Tell us — who were not there —
The double drama: how the expectant house
Took the first notes.

WALPURGA (turning from her occupation of decking the room with the
flowers).
Yes, tell us all, dear Armgart.
Did you feel tremors? Leo, how did she look?
Was there a cheer to greet her?

LEO.
Not a sound.
She walked like Orpheus in his solitude,
And seemed to see naught but what no man saw.
'T was famous. Not the Schroeder-Devrient
Had done it better. But your blessed public
Had never any judgment in cold blood —
Thinks all perhaps were better otherwise,
Till rapture brings a reason.

ARMGART (scornfully).
I knew that!
The women whispered, "Not a pretty face!"
The men, "Well, well, a goodly length of limb:
She bears the chiton." — It were all the same
Were I the Virgin Mother and my stage
The opening heavens at the Judgment-day:
Gossips would peep, jog elbows, rate the price
Of such a woman in the social mart.
What were the drama of the world to them,
Unless they felt the hell-prong?

LEO.
Peace, now, peace!
I hate my phrases to be smothered o'er
With sauce of paraphrase, my sober tune
Made bass to rambling trebles, showering down
In endless demi-semi-quavers.

ARMGART (taking a bon-bon from the table, uplifting it before
putting it into
her mouth, and turning away).
Mum!

GRAF.
Yes, tell us all the glory, leave the blame.

WALPURGA.
You first, dear Leo — what you saw and heard;
Then Armgart — she must tell us what she felt.

LEO.
Well! The first notes came clearly, firmly forth.
And I was easy, for behind those rills
I knew there was a fountain. I could see
The house was breathing gently, heads were still;
Parrot opinion was struck meekly mute,
And human hearts were swelling. Armgart stood
As if she had been new-created there
And found her voice which found a melody.
The minx! Gluck had not written, nor I taught:
Orpheus was Armgart, Armgart Orpheus.
Well, well, all through the scena I could feel
The silence tremble now, now poise itself
With added weight of feeling, till at last
Delight o'er-toppled it. The final note
Had happy drowning in the unloosed roar
That surged and ebbed and ever surged again,
Till expectation kept it pent awhile
Ere Orpheus returned. Pfui! He was changed:
My demi-god was pale, had downcast eyes
That quivered like a bride's who fain would send
Backward the rising tear.

ARMGART (advancing, but then turning away, as if to check her speech).
I was a bride,
As nuns are at their spousals.

LEO.
Ay, my lady,
That moment will not come again: applause
May come and plenty; but the first, first draught!

(Snaps his fingers.)
Music has sounds for it — I know no words.
I felt it once myself when they performed
My overture to Sintram. Well! 't is strange,
We know not pain from pleasure in such joy.

ARMGART (turning quickly).
Oh, pleasure has cramped dwelling in our souls,
And when full Being comes must call on pain
To lend it liberal space.

WALPURGA.
I hope the house
Kept a reserve of plaudits: I am jealous
Lest they had dulled themselves for coming good
That should have seemed the better and the best.

LEO.
No, 't was a revel where they had but quaffed
Their opening cup. I thank the artist's star,
His audience keeps not sober: once afire,
They flame toward climax though his merit hold
But fairly even.

ARMGART (her hand on LEO's arm).
Now, now, confess the truth:
I sang still better to the very end —
All save the trill; I give that up to you,
To bite and growl at. Why, you said yourself,
Each time I sang, it seemed new doors were oped
That you might hear heaven clearer.

LEO (shaking his finger).
I was raving.

ARMGART.
I am not glad with that mean vanity
Which knows no good beyond its appetite
Full feasting upon praise! I am only glad,
Being praised for what I know is worth the praise;
Glad of the proof that I myself have part
In what I worship! At the last applause —
Seeming a roar of tropic winds that tossed
The handkerchiefs and many-colored flowers,
Falling like shattered rainbows all around —
Think you I felt myself a prima donna?
No, but a happy spiritual star
Such as old Dante saw, wrought in a rose
Of light in Paradise, whose only self
Was consciousness of glory wide-diffused,
Music, life, power — I moving in the midst
With a sublime necessity of good.

LEO (with a shrug).
I thought it was a prima donna came
Within the side-scenes; ay, and she was proud
To find the bouquet from the royal box
Enclosed a jewel-case, and proud to wear
A star of brilliants, quite an earthly star,
Valued by thalers. Come, my lady, own
Ambition has five senses, and a self
That gives it good warm lodging when it sinks
Plump down from ecstasy.

ARMGART.
Own it? why not?
Am I a sage whose words must fall like seed
Silently buried toward a far-off spring?
I sing to living men and my effect
Is like the summer's sun, that ripens corn
Or now or never. If the world brings me gifts,
Gold, incense, myrrh — 't will be the needful sign
That I have stirred it as the high year stirs
Before I sink to winter.

GRAF.
Ecstasies
Are short — most happily! We should but lose
Were Armgart borne too commonly and long
Out of the self that charms us. Could I choose,
She were less apt to soar beyond the reach
Of woman's foibles, innocent vanities,
Fondness for trifles like that pretty star
Twinkling beside her cloud of ebon hair.

ARMGART (taking out the gem and looking at it).
This little star! I would it were the seed
Of a whole Milky Way, if such bright shimmer
Were the sole speech men told their rapture with
At Armgart's music. Shall I turn aside
From splendors which flash out the glow I make,
And live to make, in all the chosen breasts
Of half a Continent? No, may it come,
That splendor! May the day be near when men
Think much to let my horses draw me home,
And new lands welcome me upon their beach,
Loving me for my fame. That is the truth
Of what I wish, nay, yearn for. Shall I lie?
Pretend to seek obscurity — to sing
In have of disregard? A vile pretence!
And blasphemy besides. For what is fame
But the benignant strength of One, transformed
To joy of Many? Tributes, plaudits come
As necessary breathing of such joy;
And may they come to me!

GRAF.
The auguries
Point clearly that way. Is it no offence
To wish the eagle's wing may find repose,
As feebler wings do, in a quiet nest?
Or has the taste of fame already turned
The Woman to a Muse . . . .

LEO (going to the table).
Who needs no supper
I am her priest, ready to eat her share
Of good Walpurga's offerings.

WALPURGA.
Armgart, come.
Graf, will you come?

GRAF.
Thanks, I play truant here,
And must retrieve my self-indulged delay.
But will the Muse receive a votary
At any hour to-morrow?

ARMGART.
Any hour
After rehearsal, after twelve at noon.

SCENE II.

The same Salon, morning. ARMGART seated, in her bonnet and
walking-dress.
The GRAF standing near her against the piano.

GRAF.
Armgart, to many minds the first success
Is reason for desisting. I have known
A man so versatile, he tried all arts,
But when in each by turns he had achieved
Just so much mastery as made men say,
"He could be king here if he would," he threw
The lauded skill aside. He hates, said one,
The level of achieved pre-eminence,
He must be conquering still; but others said —

ARMGART.
The truth, I hope: he had a meagre soul,
Holding no depth where love could root itself.
"Could if he would?" True greatness ever wills —
It lives in wholeness if it live at all,
And all its strength is knit with constancy.

GRAF.
He used to say himself he was too sane
To give his life away for excellence
Which yet must stand, an ivory statuette
Wrought to perfection through long lonely years,
Huddled in the mart of mediocrities.
He said, the very finest doing wins
The admiring only; but to leave undone,
Promise and not fulfil, like buried youth,
Wins all the envious, makes them sigh your name
As that fair Absent, blameless Possible,
Which could alone impassion them; and thus,
Serene negation has free gift of all,
Panting achievement struggles, is denied,
Or wins to lose again. What say you, Armgart?
Truth has rough flavors if we bite it through;
I think this sarcasm came from out its core
Of bitter irony.

ARMGART.
It is the truth
Mean souls select to feed upon. What then?
Their meanness is a truth, which I will spurn.
The praise I seek lives not in envious breath
Using my name to blight another's deed.
I sing for love of song and that renown
Which is the spreading act, the world-wide share,
Of good that I was born with. Had I failed —
Well, that had been a truth most pitiable.
I cannot bear to think what life would be
With high hope shrunk to endurance, stunted aims
Like broken lances ground to eating-knives,
A self sunk down to look with level eyes
At low achievement, doomed from day to day
To distaste of its consciousness. But I —

GRAF.
Have won, not lost, in your decisive throw.
And I too glory in this issue; yet,
The public verdict has no potency
To sway my judgment of what Armgart is:
My pure delight in her would be but sullied,
If it o'erflowed with mixture of men's praise.
And had she failed, I should have said, "The pearl
Remains a pearl for me, reflects the light
With the same fitness that first charmed my gaze —
Is worth as fine a setting now as then."

ARMGART (rising).
Oh, you are good! But why will you rehearse
The talk of cynics, who with insect eyes
Explore the secrets of the rubbish-heap?
I hate your epigrams and pointed saws
Whose narrow truth is but broad falsity.
Confess your friend was shallow.

GRAF.
I confess
Life is not rounded in an epigram,
And saying aught, we leave a world unsaid.
I quoted, merely to shape forth my thought
That high success has terrors when achieved —
Like preternatural spouses whose dire love
Hangs perilous on slight observances:
Whence it were possible that Armgart crowned
Might turn and listen to a pleading voice,
Though Armgart striving in the race was deaf.
You said you dared not think what life had been
Without the stamp of eminence; have you thought
How you will bear the poise of eminence
With dread of sliding? Paint the future out
As an unchecked and glorious career,
'T will grow more strenuous by the very love
You bear to excellence, the very fate
Of human powers, which tread at every step
On possible verges.

ARMGART.
I accept the peril.
I choose to walk high with sublimer dread
Rather than crawl in safety. And, besides,
I am an artist as you are a noble:
I ought to bear the burden of my rank.

GRAF.
Such parallels, dear Armgart, are but snares
To catch the mind with seeming argument —
Small baits of likeness 'mid disparity.
Men rise the higher as their task is high,
The task being well achieved. A woman's rank
Lies in the fulness of her womanhood:
Therein alone she is royal.

ARMGART.
Yes, I know
The oft-taught Gospel: "Woman, thy desire
Shall be that all superlatives on earth
Belong to men, save the one highest kind —
To be a mother. Thou shalt not desire
To do aught best save pure subservience:
Nature has willed it so!" O blessed Nature!
Let her be arbitress; she gave me voice
Such as she only gives a woman child,
Best of its kind, gave me ambition too,
That sense transcendent which can taste the joy
Of swaying multitudes, of being adored
For such achievement, needed excellence,
As man's best art must wait for, or be dumb.
Men did not say, when I had sung last night,
"'T was good, nay, wonderful, considering
She is a woman" — and then turn to add,
"Tenor or baritone had sung her songs
Better, of course: she's but a woman spoiled."
I beg your pardon, Graf, you said it.

GRAF.
No!
How should I say it, Armgart? I who own
The magic of your nature-given art
As sweetest effluence of your womanhood
Which, being to my choice the best, must find
The best of utterance. But this I say:
Your fervid youth beguiles you; you mistake
A strain of lyric passion for a life
Which in the spending is a chronicle
With ugly pages. Trust me, Armgart, trust me;
Ambition exquisite as yours which soars
Towards something quintessential you call fame,
Is not robust enough for this gross world
Whose fame is dense with false and foolish breath
Ardor, a-twin with nice refining thought,
Prepares a double pain. Pain had been saved,
Nay, purer glory reached, had you been throned
As woman only, holding all your art
As attribute to that dear sovereignty —
Concentring your power in home delights
Which penetrate and purify the world.

ARMGART.
What! leave the opera with my part ill-sung
While I was warbling in a drawing-room?
Sing in the chimney-corner to inspire
My husband reading news? Let the world hear
My music only in his morning speech
Less stammering than most honorable men's?
No! tell me that my song is poor, my art
The piteous feat of weakness aping strength —
That were fit proem to your argument.
Till then, I am an artist by my birth —
By the same warrant that I am a woman:
Nay, in the added rarer gift I see
Supreme vocation: if a conflict comes,
Perish — no, not the woman, but the joys
Which men make narrow by their narrowness.
Oh, I am happy! The great masters write
For women's voices, and great Music wants me!
I need not crush myself within a mould
Of theory called Nature: I have room
To breathe and grow unstunted.

GRAF.
Armgart, hear me.
I meant no that our talk should hurry on
To such collision. Foresight of the ills
Thick shadowing your path, drew on my speech
Beyond intention. True, I came to ask
A great renunciation, but not this
Toward which my words at first perversely strayed,
As if in memory of their earlier suit,
Forgetful . . . . . . . . .
Armgart, do you remember too? the suit,
Had but postponement, was not quite disdained —
Was told to wait and learn — what it has learned —
A more submissive speech.

ARMGART (with some agitation).
Then it forgot
Its lesson cruelly. As I remember,
'T was not to speak save to the artist crowned,
Nor speak to her of casting off her crown.

GRAF.
Nor will it, Armgart. I come not to seek
Any renunciation save the wife's,
Which turns away from other possible love
Future and worthier, to take his love
Who asks the name of husband. He who sought
Armgart obscure, and heard her answer, "Wait" —
May come without suspicion now to seek
Armgart applauded.

ARMGART (turning toward him).
Yes, without suspicion
Of aught save what consists with faithfulness
In all expressed intent. Forgive me, Graf —
I am ungrateful to no soul that loves me —
To you most grateful. Yet the best intent
Grasps but a living present which may grow
Like any unfledged bird. You are a noble,
And have a high career; just now you said
'T was higher far than aught a woman seeks
Beyond mere womanhood. You claim to be
More than a husband, but could not rejoice
That I were more than wife. What follows, then?
You choosing me with such persistency
As is but stretched-out rashness, soon must find
Our marriage asks concessions, asks resolve
To share renunciation or demand it.
Either we both renounce a mutual ease,
As in a nation's need both man and wife
Do public services, or one of us
Must yield that something else for which each lives
Besides the other. Men are reasoners:
That premise of superior claims perforce
Urges conclusion — "Armgart, it is you."

GRAF.
But if I say I have considered this
With strict prevision, counted all the cost
Which that great good of loving you demands —
Questioned by stores of patience, half resolved
To live resigned without a bliss whose threat
Touched you as well as me — and finally,
With impetus of undivided will
Returned to say, "You shall be free as now;
Only accept the refuge, shelter, guard,
My love will give your freedom" — then your words
Are hard accusal.

ARMGART.
Well, I accuse myself.
My love would be accomplice of your will.

GRAF.
Again — my will?

ARMGART.
Oh, your unspoken will.
Your silent tolerance would torture me,
And on that rack I should deny the good
I yet believed in.

GRAF.
Then I am the man
Whom you would love?

ARMGART.
Whom I refuse to love!
No; I will live alone and pour my pain
With passion into music, where it turns
To what is best within my better self.
I will not take for husband one who deems
The thing my soul acknowledges as good —
The thing I hold worth striving, suffering for,
To be a thing dispensed with easily
Or else the idol of a mind infirm.

GRAF.
Armgart, you are ungenerous; you strain
My thought beyond its mark. Our difference
Lies not so deep as love — as union
Through a mysterious fitness that transcends
Formal agreement.

ARMGART.
It lies deep enough
To chafe the union. If many a man
Refrains, degraded, from the utmost right,
Because the pleadings of his wife's small fears
Are little serpents biting at his heel —
How shall a woman keep her steadfastness
Beneath a frost within her husband's eyes
Where coldness scorches? Graf, it is your sorrow
That you love Armgart. Nay, it is her sorrow
That she may not love you.

GRAF.
Woman, it seems,
Has enviable power to love or not
According to her will.

ARMGART.
She has the will —
I have — who am one woman — not to take
Disloyal pledges that divide her will.
The man who marries me must wed my Art —
Honor and cherish it, not tolerate.

GRAF.
The man is yet to come whose theory
Will weigh as naught with you against his love.

ARMGART.
Whose theory will plead beside his love.

GRAF.
Himself a singer, then? who knows no life
Out of the opera books, where tenor parts
Are found to suit him?

ARMGART.
You are bitter,Graf.
Forgive me; seek the woman you deserve,
All grace, all goodness, who has not yet found
A meaning in her life, nor any end
Beyond fulfilling yours. The type abounds.

GRAF.
And happily, for the world.

ARMGART.
Yes, happily.
Let it excuse me that my kind is rare:
Commonness is its own security.

GRAF.
Armgart, I would with all my soul I knew
The man so rare that he could make your life
As woman sweet to you, as artist safe.

ARMGART.
Oh, I can live unmated, but not live
Without the bliss of singing to the world,
And feeling all my world respond to me.

GRAF.
May it be lasting. Then, we two must part?

ARMGART.
I thank you from my heart for all. Farewell!

SCENE III.

A YEAR LATER.

The same salon. WALPURGA is standing looking toward the
window with an air
of uneasiness. DOCTOR GRAHN.

DOCTOR.
Where is my patient, Fräulein?

WALPURGA.
Fled! escaped!
Gone to rehearsal. Is it dangerous?

DOCTOR.
No, no; her throat is cured. I only came
To hear her try her voice. Had she yet sung?

WALPURGA.
No; she had meant to wait for you. She said,
"The Doctor has a right to my first song."
Her gratitude was full of little plans,
But all were swept away like gathered flowers
By sudden storm. She saw this opera bill —
It was a wasp to sting her: she turned pale,
Snatched up her hat and mufflers, said in haste,
"I go to Leo — to rehearsal — none
Shall sing Fidelio to-night but me!"
Then rushed down-stairs.

DOCTOR (looking at his watch).
And this, not long ago?

WALPURGA.
Barely an hour.

DOCTOR.
I will come again,
Returning from Charlottenburg at one.

WALPURGA.
Doctor, I feel a strange presentiment.
Are you quite easy?

DOCTOR.
She can take no harm.
'T was time for her to sing: her throat is well,
It was a fierce attack, and dangerous;
I had to use strong remedies, but — well!
At one, dear Fräulein, we shall meet again.

SCENE IV.

TWO HOURS LATER.

WALPURGA starts up, looking toward the door. ARMGART
enters, followed by
LEO. She throws herself on a chair which stands with
its back toward the door,
speechless, not seeming to see anything. WALPURGA casts a questioning
terrified look at LEO. He shrugs his shoulders, and lifts up his hands
behind ARMGART, who sits like a helpless image,
while WALPURGA takes off
her hat and mantle.

WALPURGA.

Armgart, dear Armgart (kneeling and taking her hands), only speak to me,

Your poor Walpurga. Oh, your hands are cold.
Clasp mine, and warm them! I will kiss them warm.

(ARMGART looks at her an instant, then draws away her hands, and, turnin
g
aside, buries her face against the back of the chair, WALPURGA rising and
standing near. DOCTOR GRAHN enters.)

DOCTOR.
News! stirring news to-day! wonders come thick.

ARMGART (starting up at the first sound of his voice, and speaking
vehemently).
Yes, thick, thick, thick! and you have murdered it!
Murdered my voice — poisoned the soul in me,
And kept me living.
You never told me that your cruel cures
Were clogging films — a mouldy, dead'ning blight —
A lava-mud to crust and bury me,
Yet hold me living in a deep, deep tomb,
Crying unheard forever! Oh, your cures
Are devil's triumphs: you can rob, maim, slay,
And keep a hell on the other side your cure
Where you can see your victim quivering
Between the teeth of torture — see a soul
Made keen by loss — all anguish with a good
Once known and gone!

(Turns and sinks back on her chair.)
O misery, misery!
You might have killed me, might have let me sleep
After my happy day and wake — not here!
In some new unremembered world — not here,
Where all is faded, flat — a feast broke off —
Banners all meaningless — exulting words
Dull, dull — a drum that lingers in the air
Beating to melody which no man hears.

DOCTOR (after a moment's silence).
A sudden check has shaken you, poor child!
All things seem livid, tottering to your sense,
From inward tumult. Stricken by a threat
You see your terrors only. Tell me, Leo:
'T is not such utter loss.

(LEO, with a shrug, goes quietly out.)
The freshest bloom
Merely, has left the fruit; the fruit itself . . . .

ARMGART.
Is ruined, withered, is a thing to hide
Away from scorn or pity. Oh, you stand
And look compassionate now, but when Death came
With mercy in his hands, you hindered him.
I did not choose to live and have your pity.
You never told me, never gave me choice
To die a singer, lightning-struck, unmaimed,
Or live what you would make me with your cures —
A self accursed with consciousness of change,
A mind that lives in naught but members lopped,
A power turned to pain — as meaningless
As letters fallen asunder that once made
A hymn of rapture. Oh, I had meaning once
Like day and sweetest air. What am I now?
The millionth woman in superfluous herds.
Why should I be, do, think? 'T is thistle-seed,
That grows and grows to feed the rubbish-heap.
Leave me alone!

DOCTOR.
Well, I will come again;
Send for me when you will, though but to rate me.
That is medicinal — a letting blood.

ARMGART.
Oh, there is one physician, only one,
Who cures and never spoils. Him I shall send for;
He comes readily.

DOCTOR (to WALPURGA).
One word, dear Fräulein.

SCENE V.

ARMGART, WALPURGA.

ARMGART.
Walpurga, have you walked this morning?

WALPURGA.
No.
ARMGART.
Go, then, and walk; I wish to be alone.
WALPURGA.
I will not leave you.
ARMGART.
Will not, at my wish?

WALPURGA.
Will not, because you wish it. Say no more,
But take this draught.

ARMGART.
The Doctor gave it you?
It is an anodyne. Put it away.
He cured me of my voice, and now he wants
To cure me of my vision and resolve —

Drug me to sleep that I may wake again
Without a purpose, abject as the rest
To bear the yoke of life. He shall not cheat me
Of that fresh strength which anguish gives the soul,
The inspiration of revolt, ere rage
Slackens to faltering. Now I see the truth.

WALPURGA (setting down the glass).
Then you must see a future in your reach,
With happiness enough to make a dower
For two of modest claims.

ARMGART.
Oh, you intone
That chant of consolation wherewith ease
Makes itself easier in the sight of pain.

WALPURGA.
No; would not console you, but rebuke.

ARMGART.
That is more bearable. Forgive me, dear.
Say what you will. But now I want to write.

(She rises and moves toward a table.)

WALPURGA.
I say than, you are simply fevered, mad;
You cry aloud at horrors that would vanish
If you would change the light, throw into shade
The loss you aggrandize, and let day fall
On good remaining, nay on good refused
Which may be gain now. Did you not reject
A woman's lot more brilliant, as some held,
Than any singer's? It may still be yours.
Graf Dornberg loved you well.

ARMGART.
Not me, not me.
He loved one well who was like me in all
Save in a voice which made that All unlike
As diamond is to charcoal. Oh, a man's love!
Think you he loves a woman's inner self
Aching with loss of loveliness? — as mothers
Cleave to the palpitating pain that dwells
Within their misformed offspring?

WALPURGA.
But the Graf
Chose you as simple Armgart — had preferred
That you should never seek for any fame
But such as matrons have who rear great sons.
And therefore you rejected him; but now —

ARMGART.
Ay, now — now he would see me as I am,

(She takes up a hand-mirror.)
Russet and songless as a missel-thrush.
An ordinary girl — a plain brown girl,
Who, if some meaning flash from out her words,
Shocks as a disproportioned thing — a Will
That, like an arm astretch and broken off,
Has naught to hurl — the torso of a soul.
I sang him into love of me: my song
Was consecration, lifted me apart
From the crowd chiselled like me, sister forms,
But empty of divineness. Nay, my charm
Was half that I could win fame yet renounce
A wife with glory possible absorbed
Into her husband's actual.

WALPURGA.
For shame!
Armgart, you slander him. What would you say

If now he came to you and asked again
That you would be his wife?

ARMGART.
No, and thrice no!
It would be pitying constancy, not love,
That brought him to me now. I will not be
A pensioner in marriage. Sacraments
Are not to feed the paupers of the world.
If he were generous — I am generous too.

WALPURGA.
Proud, Armgart, but not generous.

ARMGART.
Say no more.
He will not know until —

WALPURGA.
He knows already.

ARMGART (quickly).
Is he come back?

WALPURGA.
Yes, and will soon be here.
The Doctor had twice seen him and would go
From hence again to see him.

ARMGART.
Well, he knows.
It is all one.

WALPURGA.
What if he were outside?
I hear a footstep in the ante-room.

ARMGART (raising herself and assuming calmness).
Why let him come, of course. I shall behave
Like what I am, a common personage
Who looks for nothing but civility.
I shall not play the fallen heroine,
Assume a tragic part and throw out cues
For a beseeching lover.

WALPURGA.
Some one raps.

(Goes to the door.)
A letter — from the Graf.

ARMGART.
Then open it.

(WALPURGA still offers it.)
Nay, my head swims. Read it. I cannot see.

(WALPURGA opens it, reads and pauses.)
Read it. Have done! No matter what it is.

WALPURGA (reads in a low, hesitating voice).
"I am deeply moved — my heart is rent, to hear of your illness and
its
cruel result, just now communicated to me by Dr. Grahn. But surely it is
possible that this result may not be permanent. For youth such as yours, Time
may hold in store something more than resignation: who shall say that it does
not hold renewal? I have not dared to ask admission to you in the hours of a
recent shock, but I cannot depart on a long mission without tendering my
sympathy and my farewell. I start this evening for the Caucasus, and thence I
proceed to India, where I am intrusted by the Government with business which ma
y
be of long duration."

(WALPURGA sits down dejectedly.)

ARMGART (after a slight shudder, bitterly).
The Graf has much discretion. I am glad.
He spares us both a pain, not seeing me.
What I like least is that consoling hope —
That empty cup, so neatly ciphered "Time,"
Handed me as a cordial for despair.
(Slowly and dreamity) Time — what a word to fling as charity!
Bland neutral word for slow, dull-beating pain —
Days, months, and years! — If I would wait for them.

(She takes up her hat and puts it on, then wraps her mantle round
her.
WALPURGA leaves the room.)

Why, this is but beginning. (WALPURGA re-enters.) Kiss me, dear.
I am going now — alone — out — for a walk.
Say you will never wound me any more
With such cajolery as nurses use
To patients amorous of a crippled life.
Flatter the blind: I see.

WALPURGA.
Well, I was wrong.
In haste to soothe, I snatched at flickers merely.
Believe me, I will flatter you no more.

ARMGART.
Bear witness, I am calm. I read my lot
As soberly as if it were a tale
Writ by a creeping feuilletonist and called
"The Woman's Lot: a Tale of Everyday:"
A middling woman's, to impress the world
With high superfluousness; her thoughts a crop
Of chick-weed errors or of pot-herb facts,
Smiled at like some child's drawing on a slate.
"Genteel?" "Oh yes, gives lessons; not so good
As any man's would be, but cheaper far."
"Pretty?" "No; yet she makes a figure fit
For good society. Poor thing, she sews
Both late and early, turns and alters all
To suit the changing mode. Some widower
Might do well, marrying her; but in these days! . . . .
Well, she can somewhat eke her narrow gains
By writing, just to furnish her with gloves
And droschkies in the rain. They print her things
Often for charity." — Oh, a dog's life!
A harnessed dog's, that draws a little cart
Voted a nuisance! I am going now.

WALPURGA.
Not now, the door is locked.

ARMGART.
Give me the key!

WALPURGA.
Locked on the outside. Gretchen has the key:
She is gone on errands.

ARMGART.
What, you dare to keep me
Your prisoner?

WALPURGA.
And have I not been yours?
Your wish has been a bolt to keep me in.
Perhaps that middling woman whom you paint
With far-off scorn . . . .

ARMGART.
I paint what I must be!
What is my soul to me without the voice

That gave it freedom? — gave it one grand touch
And made it nobly human? — Prisoned now,
Prisoned in all the petty mimicries
Called woman's knowledge, that will fit the world
As doll-clothes fit a man. I can do naught
Better than what a million women do —
Must drudge among the crowd and feel my life
Beating upon the world without response,
Beating with passion through an insect's horn
That moves a millet-seed laboriously.
If I would do it!

WALPURGA (coldly).
And why should you not?

ARMGART (turning quickly).
Because Heaven made me royal — wrought me out
With subtle finish toward pre-eminence,
Made every channel of my soul converge
To one high function, and then flung me down,
That breaking I might turn to subtlest pain.
An inborn passion gives a rebel's right:
I would rebel and die in twenty worlds
Sooner than bear the yoke of thwarted life,
Each keenest sense turned into keen distaste,
Hunger not satisfied but kept alive
Breathing in languor half a century.
All the world now is but a rack of threads
To twist and dwarf me into pettiness
And basely feigned content, the placid mask
Of women's misery.

WALPURGA (indignantly).
Ay, such a mask
As the few born like you to easy joy,
Cradled in privilege, take for natural
On all the lowly faces that must look
Upward to you! What revelation now
Shows you the mask or gives presentiment
Of sadness hidden? You who every day
These five years saw me limp to wait on you,
And thought the order perfect which gave me,
The girl without pretension to be aught,
A splendid cousin for my happiness:
To watch the night through when her brain was fired
With too much gladness — listen, always listen
To what she felt, who having power had right
To feel exorbitantly, and submerge
The souls around her with the poured-out flood
Of what must be ere she was satisfied!
That was feigned patience, was it? Why not love,
Love nurtured even with that strength of self
Which found no room save in another's life?
Oh, such as I know joy by negatives,
And all their deepest passion is a pang
Till they accept their pauper's heritage,
And meekly live from out the general store
Of joy they were born stripped of. I accept —
Nay, now would sooner choose it than the wealth
Of natures you call royal, who can live
In mere mock knowledge of their fellows' woe,
Thinking their smiles may heal it.

ARMGART (tremulously).
Nay, Walpurga,
I did not make a palace of my joy
To shut the world's truth from me. All my good
Was that I touched the world and made a part
In the world's dower of beauty, strength, and bliss:
It was the glimpse of consciousness divine

Which pours out day and sees the day is good.
Now I am fallen dark; I sit in gloom,
Remembering bitterly. Yet you speak truth;
I wearied you, it seems; took all your help
As cushioned nobles use a weary serf,
Not looking at his face.

WALPURGA.
Oh, I but stand
As a small symbol for the mighty sum
Of claims unpaid to needy myriads;
I think you never set your loss besideThat mighty deficit. Is your work gone

The prouder queenly work that paid itself
And yet was overpaid with men's applause?
Are you no longer chartered, privileged,
But sunk to simple woman's penury,
To ruthless Nature's chary average —
Where is the rebel's right for you alone?
Noble rebellion lifts a common load;
But what is he who flings his own load off
And leaves his fellows toiling? Rebel's right?
Say rather, the deserter's. Oh, you smiled
From your clear height on all the million lots
Which yet you brand as abject.

ARMGART.
I was blind
With too much happiness: true vision comes
Only, it seems, with sorrow. Were there one
This moment near me, suffering what I feel,
And needing me for comfort in her pang —
Then it were worth the while to live; not else.

WALPURGA.
One — near you — why, they throng! you hardly stir
But your act touches them. We touch afar.
For did not swarthy slaves of yesterday
Leap in their bondage at the Hebrews' flight,
Which touched them through the thrice millennial dark?
But you can find the sufferer you need
With touch less subtle.

ARMGART.
Who has need of me?
WALPURGA.
Love finds the need it fills. But you are hard.

ARMGART.
Is it not you, Walpurga, who are hard?
You humored all my wishes till to-day,
When fate has blighted me.

WALPURGA.
You would not hear
The "chant of consolation:" words of hope
Only imbittered you. Then hear the truth —
A lame girl's truth, whom no one ever praised
For being cheerful. "It is well," they said:
"Were she cross-grained she could not be endured."
A word of truth from her had startled you;
But you — you claimed the universe; naught less
Than all existence working in sure tracks
Toward your supremacy. The wheels might scathe
A myriad destinies — nay, must perforce;
But yours they must keep clear of; just for you
The seething atoms through the firmament
Must bear a human heart — which you had not!
For what is it to you that women, men,
Plod, faint, are weary, and espouse despair
Of aught but fellowship? Save that you spurn
To be among them? Now, then, you are lame —
Maimed, as you said, and levelled with the crowd:
Call it new birth — birth from that monstrous Self
Which, smiling down upon a race oppressed,
Says, "All is good, for I am throned at ease."
Dear Armgart — nay, you tremble — I am cruel.

ARMGART.
Oh no! hark! Some one knocks. Come in! — come in!

(Enter LEO.)

LEO.
See, Gretchen let me in. I could not rest
Longer away from you.

ARMGART.
Sit down, dear Leo.
Walpurga, I would speak with him alone.

(WALPURGA goes out.)

LEO (hesitatingly).
You mean to walk?

ARMGART.
No, I shall stay within.

(She takes off her hat and mantle, and sits down immediately. After a
pause, speaking in a sub dued tone to LEO.)
How old are you?

LEO.
Threescore and five.

ARMGART.
That's old.
I never thought till now how you have lived.
They hardly ever play your music?

LEO (raising his eyebrows and throwing out his lip).
No!
Schubert too wrote for silence: half his work
Lay like a frozen Rhine till summers came
That warmed the grass above him. Even so!
His music lives now with a mighty youth.

ARMGART.
Do you think yours will live when you are dead?

LEO.
Pfui! The time was, I drank that home-brewed wine
And found it heady, while my blood was young:
Now it scarce warms me. Tipple it as I may,
I am sober still, and say: "My old friend Leo,
Much grain is wasted in the world and rots;
Why not thy handful?"

ARMGART.
Strange! since I have known you
Till now I never wondered how you lived.
When I sang well — that was your jubilee.
But you were old already.

LEO.
Yes, child, yes:
Youth thinks itself the goal of each old life;
Age has but travelled from a far-off time
Just to be ready for youth's service. Well!
It was my chief delight to perfect you.

ARMGART.
Good Leo! You have lived on little joys.
But your delight in me is crushed forever.
Your pains, where are they now? They shaped intent
Which action frustrates; shaped an inward sense
Which is but keen despair, the agony
Of highest vision in the lowest pit.

LEO.
Nay, nay, I have a thought: keep to the stage,
To drama without song; for you can act —
Who knows how well, when all the soul is poured
Into that sluice alone.

ARMGART.
I know, and you:
The second or third best in tragedies
That cease to touch the fibre of the time.
No; song is gone, but nature's other gift,
Self-judgment, is not gone. Song was my speech,
And with its impulse only, action came:
Song was the battle's onset, when cool purpose
Glows into rage, becomes a warring god
And moves the limbs with miracle. But now —
Oh, I should stand hemmed in with thoughts and rules —
Say, "This way passion acts," yet never feel
The might of passion. How should I declaim?
As monsters write with feet instead of hands.
I will not feed on doing great tasks ill,
Dull the world's sense with mediocrity,
And live by trash that smothers excellence.
One gift I had that ranked me with the best —
The secret of my frame — and that is gone.
For all life now I am a broken thing.
But silence there! Good Leo, advise me now.
I would take humble work and do it well —
Teach music, singing — what I can — not here,
But in some smaller town where I may bring
The method you have taught me, pass your gift
To others who can use it for delight.
You think I can do that?

(She pauses with a sob in her voice.)

LEO.
Yes, yes, dear child!
And it were well, perhaps, to change the place —
Begin afresh as I did when I left
Vienna with a heart half broken.

ARMGART (roused by surprise).
You?

LEO.
Well, it is long ago. But I had lost —
No matter! We must bury our dead joys
And live above them with a living world.
But whither, think you, you would like to go?

ARMGART.
To Freiburg.

LEO.
In the Breisgau? And why there?
It is too small.

ARMGART.
Walpurga was born there,
And loves the place. She quitted it for me
These five years past. Now I will take her there.
Dear Leo, I will bury my dead joy.

LEO.
Mothers do so, bereaved; then learn to love
Another's living child.

ARMGART.
Oh, it is hard
To take the little corpse, and lay it low,

And say, "None misses it but me."
She sings . . . .
I mean Paulina sings Fidelio,
And they will welcome her to-night.

LEO.
Well, well,
'T is better that our griefs should not spread far.






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