Volume VII ~Poems & Dramas by Fiona Macleod

THE IMMORTAL HOUR

ACT II

SCENE I.--A year later. In the hall of the Royal Dûn at Tara. The walls covered with skins, stag's heads and boar's heads, weapons: at intervals great torches. At lower end, a company of warriors, for the most part in bratta of red and green, or red and green and blue, like tartan but in long, broad lines or curves, and not in squares, deerskin gaiters and sandals. Also harpers and others, and white-clad druids and bards. On a dais sits EOCHAIDH the High King. Beside him sits ETAIN, his queen. Behind her is a group of white-robed girls.

HARPERS (strike a loud clanging music from their harps).

CHORUS OF BARDS

 

Glory of years, king, glory of years!
Hail, Eochaidh the High King of Eiré, hail!
Etain the Beautiful, hail!

OTHER BARDS, HARPERS, AND MINSTRELS

Hail!

DRUIDS

Hail!

WARRIORS

Hail!

EOCHAIDH

Drink from the great shells and horns! . . .
for I am glad
That on this night which rounds my year of joy,
In amity and all glad fellowship
We feast together.

[Turning to ETAIN

Etain, speak, my Queen.

ETAIN

[Rising

Warriors and druids, bards, harpers, friends
Of high and low degree, I who am queen
Do also thank you. But I am weary now,
And weary too with strange perplexing dreams
Thrice dreamed: -and so I bid you all farewell.

[Bows low. Turning to the king adds

To you, dear love, my lord and king, I too
Will bid farewell to-night.

EOCHAIDH

[Lovingly

Say not farewell:
Say not farewell, dear love, for we shall meet
When the last starry dews are gathered up
And loud in the green woods the throstles call.

ETAIN

Dear, I am tired. . . . Farewell!

EOCHAIDH

No, no, my fawn---

My fawn of love: this night, this night I pray
Leave me not here alone: for under all
This outer tide of joy I am sore wrought
By dreams and premonitions. For three nights
I have heard sudden laughters in the dark,
Where nothing was; and in the first false dawn
Have seen phantasmal shapes, and on the grass
A host of shadows marching, bent one way
As when green leagues of reed become one reed
Blown slantwise by the wind.

ETAIN

I, too, have heard
Strange delicate music, subtle murmurings,
A little lovely noise of myriad leaves,
As though the greenness on the wind o' the south
Came travelling to bare woods on one still night:

[A Pause

I, too, have heard sweet laughter at the dawn,
Amid the twilight fern: but when I leaned
To see the unknown friends, no more than this
I saw-grey delicate shadows on the grass,
Grey shadows on the fern, the flowers, the leaves,
Swift flitting, like foam-shadows o'er a wave,
Before the grey wave of the coming day--

[A pause: then suddenly

But I am weary. Eochaidh, love and king,
Sweet sleep and sweeter dreams!

[ETAIN leans and kisses the king. He stoops, and takes her right hand, and lifts it to his lips. Warriors raise their swords and spears, as
ETAIN leaves, followed by her women.

WARRIORS AND OTHERS

The Queen! The Queen!

HARPERS (strike a load clanging music from their harps).

CHORUS OF BARDS

Glory of years, O king, glory of years;
Hail, Eochaidh Ard-Righ of Eiré, hail! hail!
Etain the Beautiful, hail!

OTHER BARDS, HARPERS, AND MINSTRELS

Hail!

DRUIDS

Hail!

WARRIORS

Hail!

EOCHAIDH

[Raising a white hazel-wand, till absolute silence falls

Now go in peace. To one and all, good-night.

[The Warriors, bards, minstrels troop out,
leaving only the harpers and a few, druids
who do not follow, but stand uncertain as a stranger passes through their midst and
confronts the king.
He is young, princely, fair to see; clad all in green, with a gold belt, a gold torque round his neck, gold armlets on his bare arms, and two gold torques round his bare ankles. On his long
curling dark hair, falling over his shoulder, is a small green cap from which trails a peacock-feather. To his left side is slung a small clarsach, or harp.

MIDIR

Hail, Eochaidh, King of Eiré.

EOCHAIDH

[Standing motionless and looking fixedly
at the stranger

Hail, fair sir!

MIDIR

[With light grace

Sorrow upon me that I am so late
For this great feasting; but I come from far,
And winds and rains delayed me. Yet full glad
I am to stand before the king to-night
And claim a boon!

EOCHAIDH

No stranger claims in vain
Here in my Dûn, a boon if that boon be
Such I may grant without a loss of fame,
Honour, or common weal. But first, fair sir,
I ask the name and rank of him who craves,
To all unknown?

MIDIR

I am a king's first son:
My kingdom lies beyond your lordly realms,
O king, and yet upon our mist-white shores
The Three Great Waves of Eiré rise in foam.
But I am under geasa, sacred bonds,
To tell to no one, even to the king,
My name and lineage. King, I wish you well,
Lordship and peace and all your heart's desire.

EOCHAIDH

Fair lord, my thanks I give. Lordship I have,
And peace a little while, though one brief year
Has seen its birth and life: my heart's desire--
Ah, unknown lord, give me my heart's desire--
And I will give you these lands,
Kingship of Eiré, riches, power,
All, all, for but the little infinite thing
That is my heart's desire!

MIDIR

And that, O king?

EOCHAIDH

It is to know there is no twilight hour
Upon my day of joy: no starless night
Wherein my swimming love may reach in vain
For any shore, wherein great love shall drown
And be a lifeless weed, which the pale shapes
Of ghastly things shall look at and pass by
With idle fin.

MIDIR

Have not the poets sung

Great love survives the night, and climbs the stars,
And lives th' immortal hour along the brows
Of that infinitude called Youth, whom men
Name Oengus, Sunrise?

EOCHAIDH

Sir, I too have been

A poet.

MIDIR

Within the Country of the Young,

Whence I have come, our life is full of joy,
For there the poet's dreams alone are true.

EOCHAIDH

Dreams . . . dreams. . . .

[A pause: then abruptly

But tell me now, fair lord, the boon

You crave.

MIDIR

I have heard rumour say that there is none
Can win the crown at chess from this crowned king
Called Eochaidh.

EOCHAIDH

Well?

MIDIR

And I would win that crown:
For none in afl, the lands that I have been
Has led me to the maze wherein the pawns
Are lost or go awry.

EOCHAIDH

Sir, it is late,
But if I play with you, and I should win,
What is the guerdon?

MIDIR

That---your heart's desire.

[A pause

MIDIR

And what, O king, my guerdon if I win?

EOCHAIDH

What you shall ask.

MIDIR

Then be it so, O king.

EOCHAIDH

Yet why not on the morrow, my fair lord ?
To-night the hour is late; the queen is gone:
The chessboard lies upon a fawnskin-couch
Beside the queen. She is weary, asleep.
To-morrow then . . .

MIDIR

[Drawing from his green vest a small
chessboard ofivory, and then a
handful of gold pawns.

Not so, Ard-Righ, for see
I have a chessboard here, fit for a king--
For it is made of yellow ivory
That in dim days of old was white as cream
When Dana, mother of the ancient gods,
Withdrew it from her thigh, with golden shapes
Of unborn gods and kings to be her pawns.

EOCHAIDH

[Leaning forward curiously

Lay it upon the dais. In all my years
I have seen none so fair, so wonderful.

[Both lie upon the dais, and move the
Pawns upon
the ivory board
HARPERS (play a delicate music).

A YOUNG MINSTREL

[Sings slowly

I have seen all things pass and all men go
Under the shadow of the drifting leaf:
Green leaf, red leaf, brown leaf,
Grey leaf blown to and fro:
Blown to and fro.

I have seen happy dreams rise up and pass
Silent and swift as shadow on the grass:
Grey shadows of old dreams,
Grey beauty of old dreams
Grey shadows in the grass.

 

The Immortal Hour, Act 2 Scene 2

Contents: Dramas