Volume VII ~Poems & Dramas by Fiona Macleod

THE HOUSE OF USNA

 

SCENE II

[In the background, vague in the moonlight, the walls of a great Dûn or ancient fortress, half obscured by trees. To the right, in deep shadow, an oak. Concobar, wrapt in a white robe, with a fillet of gold round his head, leans in silence against the oak. In front, in the moonlialit, the boy Mainé, clad in a deerskin, lies on the ground looking towards the king, and playing softly upon a reed with seven holes in it.

CONCOBAR

Hush.

[Mainé ceases playing

CONCOBAR

[Coming slowly forward

Where is Deirdre

MAINÉ

[Unstirring, plays softly

CONCOBAR

[Slowly advancing, till he stands above Mainé, and looks down at him, in silence

Where is Deirdrê?

MAINÉ

[Taking the reed from his mouth, in a low,
prolonged, chanting voice

Deirdrê is dead! Deirdrê the Beautiful is dead, is dead!

CONCOBAR

It is the voice of my dreams.

MAINÉ

Deirdrê is dead! Deirdrê the Beautiful is dead, is dead!

CONCOBAR

[Muttering

Duach the Wise. . . . Where is Duach the Wise? These were his words: "In the whisper of the leaf by night, in the first moaning air of the new wind, in the voice of the wave, that which has been is told, that which is to be is known. "O, heart of my heart. . . . Deirdrê, my love, my desire!"

MAINÉ

[Rises and goes silently over to the oak, and leans against it, lost in shadow

CONCOBAR

Heart of my heart, Deirdrê! Love of my love. desire of all desire--can no voice rise to those red lips, red as rowans, in that silent place? There is no sadness like unto the sadness of the king. Dream of dreams, I trampled all dreams till the hour of my desire, and in that hour you were stolen from me: and in his heart the king was as a swineherd herding swine, a helot, a slave. Was it I who put death upon Naysha the Fair ? Was it I who put death upon the sons of Usna? It was not I, by the Sun and the Moon! It was the beauty of Deirdrê. O, beauty too great and sore! Deirdrê, love of my love, sorrow of my sorrow, grief of my grief! I am old, because of my sorrow. There is no king so great that he may not perish because of a woman's love. She sleeps: she sleeps: she is not dead! I will go to the grianân, and will cry Heart o' Beauty, awake! It is I, Concobar the King! She will hear,and she will put white bands through her hair, like white doves going into the shadow of a wood: and I will see her eyes like stars, and her face pale and wonderful as dawn, and her lips like twilight water, and she will sigh, and my heart will be as wind fainting in hot grass, and I will laugh because that I am made king of the world and as the old gods, but greater than they, greater than they, greater than they!

MAINÉ

[Chanting slowly from the shadow

Deirdrê is dead! Deirdrê the Beautiful is dead, is dead!

CONCOBAR

[Slowly turning, and looking towards the shadow whence the sound came

Who spoke?

[Silence

CONCOBAR

Who spoke? (Turning again.) It was the pulse of my heart. They lie who say that Deirdrê is dead. The sons of Usna are dead. May the dust of Naysha rot among the worries of the earth. It was he who was king, not I! It was he whom Deirdrê loved. . . . Deirdrê, who was so fair, the most beautiful of women; my dream, my love?

[A long wailing cry is heard. Concobar lifts his head, and listens.

CONCOBAR

It is Duach. The Druid has deep wisdom. I will ask him to tell me where Deirdrê is. There is no woman in the world for me but the daughter of Felim. Her beauty is more terrible than day to the creatures of the night; more mysterious than night to the winged children of the moon.

[The boughs dispart, and a tall, while-haired man, clad in white, with a gold belt, and with a wreath of oak leaves, enters from the left

DUACH

Hail, O king!

CONCOBAR

I heard the howl of the grey wolf, but now you come alone. Where is the wolf?

DUACH

There was no wolf. It was an image only of your own mind. It was but your own sorrow, O King.

CONCOBAR

Tell me, Duach, who lives in yonder great Dûn?

DUACH

[Looking at the king curiously, then slowly

Concobar the king; with the comrades of the king, and his guards; his harpers and poets; the women of the household.

CONCOBAR

Can you see the grianân, Duach?

DUACH

I see the grianân, Concobar mac Nessa.

CONCOBAR

Nessa . . . yes, I am the son of Nessa. . . .
Nessa, who was so fair. Tell me, Duach; in her youth was she so beautiful as the harpers and poets say?

DUACH

She was so beautiful that few looked at her untroubled. In her eyes youths dreamed; old men looked back. To all men Nessa was a light and a flame.

CONCOBAR

Was she fair, as Deirdrê is fair? Was she beautiful, as Deirdrê is beautiful?

DUACH

Deirdrê, whom you have slain, is dead.

CONCOBAR

[Calling

Deirdrê, dear love, come! I am here! I wait!

DUACH

From that silence where both are, their
names only may come back like falling dew.

CONCOBAR

There is none so beautiful as Deirdrê.

DUACH

She sleeps by Naysha, son of Usna.

CONCOBAR

[Furiously

You lie, old man. Naysha is dead.

DUACH

She sleeps by Naysha, son of Usna.

CONCOBAR

[Troubled

Tell me! When shall she wake?

DUACH

She shall wake no more.

CONCOBAR

Speak no lies, Druid, I heard her laugh a brief while ago. She came out into the woods at the rising of the moon.

DUACH

She will wake no more.

[Silence

DUACH

Hearken, Concobar mac Nessa! That was an evil deed, the slaying of the sons of Usna. They were the noblest of all the Gaels of Eiré and Alba.

CONCOBAR

[Sullenly

They are dead.

DUACH

They are more to be feared dead than when their young, sweet, terrible life was upon them. Their voices cry for vengeance, and all men hear. Women whisper.

CONCOBAR

What do they whisper?

DUACH

"Most fair and beautiful were the sons of Usna, slain treacherously by Concobar the High-King."

CONCOBAR

What vengeance is called for by those who cry for an eric?

DUACH

It is no eric they cry, but the broken honour of the king.

CONCOBAR

And what do the young men say?

DUACH

They say: He has slain the image of our desire."

CONCOBAR

And what is the burthen of the song the singers sing.?

DUACH

"The beauty of the world is now as an old song that is sung."

[Silence

MAINÉ

[From the shadow of the oak, strikes a note, and, in a low voice, chants slowly

Deirdrê is dead! Deirdrê the Beautiful is dead, is dead!

CONCOBAR

Can dreams have a voice?

DUACH

They alone speak. It is our spoken words
that are the idle dreams.

CONCOBAR

Dreams--dreams. I am sick of dreams! It
is love I long for--my lost love! my lost love!

DUACH

It is a madness, that love.

CONCOBAR

Better that madness than all wisdom.

[Silence

MAINÉ

[Playing a -note or two, slowly, chants, from the shadow of the oak Deirdrê is dead! Deirdrê the Beautiful is dead, is dead!

CONCOBAR

Duach, can dreams speak?

DUACH

The dead, old wisdom, the wind, dreams--these speak. All else are troubled murmurs, confused cries, echoes of echoes.

CONCOBAR

[Stands with outstretched arms, staring towards the Dûn

DUACH

Death and beauty are in his eyes.

CONCOBAR

[With a sudden passionate gesture, flinging out his arms supplicatingly

Deirdrê, my queen, my dream, my desire! Death and beauty were in your eyes as a little child, oh, fawn of women, when I lit my dreams at your face before the House of Usna did me that bitter, bitter wrong! . . . that bitter, bitter wrong! O, Naysha, more terrible your quiet smile in death than all the armies of Meave! Deirdrê, Deirdrê, death and beauty are in your eyes, my queen, my dream, my desire!

[With a sobbing cry he sinks to his knees, bows his head, and pulls his robe about him

MAINÉ

[Slowly advances from the shadow, softly playing on his reed-flute

DUACH

Sing!

MAINÉ

[Sings

Dim face of Beauty haunting all the world,
Fair face of Beauty all too fair to see,
Where the lost stars adown the heavens are hurled,
              There, there alone for thee
              May white peace be.

For here, where all the dreams of men are whirled
Like sere, torn leaves of autumn to and fro,
There is no place for thee in all the world,
             Who drifted as a star,
              Beyond, afar.

Beauty, and face of Beauty, Mystery, Wonder
What are these dreams to foolish babbling' men--
Who cry with little noises 'neath the thunder
               Of ages ground to sand,
                To a little sand?

[Concobar slowly rises. He turns and looks at Mainé

CONCOBAR

Who made that song?

MAINÉ

Cormac the Red, the father of my father,
and son of Felim the Harper.

CONCOBAR

Felim! . . . Felim the Harper--it was he who was the father of Deirdrê. He harps no more. [Turning to Duach.] Do you remember when we went to the house of Felim the Harper in the days of my youth ? Do you remember the birth night of Deirdrê ?

DUACH

Ay.

CONCOBAR

And the prophecy of Cathba the Arch-Druid?

DUACH

Ay: that before his eyes he saw a sea of blood, and saw it rise and rise and rise till it overflowed great straths, and laved the flanks of high hills, and from the summits of the mountains poured down upon the lands of the Gael in a thundering flood, blood-red, to the blood-red sea.

CONCOBAR

[Troubled, and moving slowly to and fro

Did Cathba see the end?

DUACH

He saw the end.

CONCOBAR

It was but the idle wisdom of a dreamer.

DUACH

That idle wisdom is the utterance of the gods. The dreamers and poets and seers are their voices.

CONCOBAR

What were the last words of Cathba the Wise?

DUACH

That Eirê, the most beautiful of all lands under the sun, should be the saddest of all lands under the sun. Blood shall run in that land till Famine shall make her home there, he said: and tears shall be shed for it in every age: and all wisdom and beauty and hope shall grow there : and she shall be a lamp, and then know the darkness of darkness. But before the end she shall be a queenly land again, and the nations shall bow before her as the soul of peoples born anew. For into all the nations of the world, he said, Eiré shall die, but shall live again. She shall be the soul, of the nations.

CONCOBAR

Too many dreams . . . too many dreams!

DUACH

Cathba saw all that is to be.

CONCOBAR

If Felim the Harper were to come again....

DUACH

He would ask: Where is Emain Macha, the royal city, the beautiful city? Where are the sons of Usna? Where is Deirdrê, the most beautiful of women? Where is the glory of the Red Branch?

CONCOBAR

[Confusedly

The Red Branch! . . . The Red Branch!
At least, at least, the Red Branch stands!

DUACH

What of Fergus? . . . What of Cormac Conlingas? They and a third of the Red Branch are gone from you: Fergus, the first champion of Ulla; Cormac Conlingas, the greatest of your sons, the king that is to be.

CONCOBAR

Conaill Carna is with me . . . and Setanta
the wonderful youth, that is called Cuchulain.

DUACH

Yet neither they nor the gods themselves shall in the end prevail.

CONCOBAR

[With sudden passion

Duach, win back to me my son Cormac, and I will give you whatsoever you will--yea, my kingship. Him only do I love of all men, him only, my son who is so fair and proud and beautiful. He shall be High-king; he and he only is the son of my kinghood.

DUACH

That which is to be, will be.

CONCOBAR

[Looking fixedly at him

Shall not Cormac Conlingas be king after me?

DUACH

Have you forgotten, O king! Cormac mac Concobar is in arms against you. He and Fergus and a third of the Red Branch are with Queen Meave, whose armies gather to overwhelm you, to do to Ulla as the Great Queen has already done to Emain Macha, your proud city.

CONCOBAR

Cormac, my son, my son!

DUACH

These were the words he sent: "For that which you did upon Naysha and the sons of Usna, and for that shame which you brought upon Fergus mac Roy, and because of the beauty of Deirdrê which is no more in the world because of you . . . the Sword and Sorrow, Sorrow and the Sword!"

CONCOBAR

[Angrily and impatiently

I care not! I care not! He shall be king. Listen! Duach; I will send word to Cormac that I am weary of the kingship. He shall be Tanist, with all power. He shall be the Ard-Righ himself. He shall save Eiré. The prophecies of Cathba shall be set at nought. He shall be a great king. All Eiré shall call him king. All the Gaels shall call him Ard-Righ. His son's sons shall reign after him. Ireland shall be made one nation, because of this great king--Cormac, the son of Concobar, the son of Flachtna, kings and sons of kings!

DUACH

Beware, O Concobar, of the foam of dreams. It is only the great wave that will lift Eiré.

CONCOBAR

The great wave?  Shall not that be the king?

DUACH

Through no king can Eiré become one nation and great, but only through the kinglihood of her sons and daughters. In the end, when all are royal of soul, Eiré shall be the first of the nations of the world.

CONCOBAR

(Confusedly

In the end? . . . In the end? Of what do you speak? Cormac shall be king, he and his sons after him. The blood of the gods is in Essa, his wife.

DUACH

[Leaning forward, and staring into the king's face

Essa? . . . Have you not heard? Essa is dead!

CONCOBAR

Essa is not dead. I saw her and Deirdrê and Dectera, my sister, and my mother Nessa, walking in the wood at the rising of the moon.

DUACH

[Muttering

Ay, that might well be. It is the hour of the dead.

CONCOBAR

[Sadly

Is she dead, Essa, daughter of Etain the Wonderful?

DUACH

She is not dead, being of the Divine race. But her body lies at Rath Nessa, where in the dream of death she can look for ever upon the Hill of Tara.

CONCOBAR

Hopes fall about me as old leaves. [A pause.] Nevertheless, I will send to Cormae at the camp of Queen Meave. There shall be no more war. Cormac Conlingas shall be king.

DUACH

Connac is not there. He is one of the nine hostages at the Dian of Cònairey Mòr, the king of the Middle Province. Meave marches against him.

CONCOBAR

Fergus was king no more because of Nessa: I am king no more because of Deirdrê. She is not here, the beautiful Deirdrê. She is here no more. I will go into the woods, and upon the hills. I am led by dreams and visions. Deirdrê, my dream and my desire!

DUACH

[Aside

The prophecy of the sting that was to sting to madness the King of the Ultonians! The gods see far!

CONCOBAR

[Starting

Who . . . what is that?

DUACH

I see nothing.

CONCOBAR

[Pointing

Look! . . . yonder . . . a white hound--a white hound, that moves through the wood! How swift and silent . . . see, his head is low . . . he is on the trail . . . is it Rumac?

[An echo in the woods

Rumac! Cormac! Cormac!

CONCOBAR

[Moves backward a step

What! Cormac! . . . Cormac? my son Cormac!

DUACH

[Staring into the dusk of the woods

I see no hound. . . . Where is the white hound?

CONCOBAR

Yonder under the oaks . . . he goes swiftly to the place where he was born.

DUACH

Who?

CONCOBAR

Cormac, Cormac Conlingas, my son. Is this evil fallen upon me because of the death of Deirdrê? Is this evil come upon me out of the House of Usna?

DUACH

The House of Usna is in the dust!

CONCOBAR

[Distraught, loudly chants

The grey wind weeps, the grey wind weeps, the
grey wind weeps;
Dust on her breasts, dust in her eyes, the grey
wind weeps!

DUACH

The hound is gone.

CONCOBAR

[Putting his finger on his lips

Hush! do you hear the little children of the wind . . . rustling and laughing . . . the little children of the wind? Or are they the little white feet of those who come at dusk? Or are they the waves of the Moyle . . . tears, tears, sighs, oh tears, tears, tears, of Deirdrê upon the dark waters of the Moyle!

DUACH

Deirdrê is in that far place where your hound of old is . . . where Rumac bays against a moon that does not set or wane.

CONCOBAR

[Calling

Rumac! Rumac!

ECHO

Coomac! Coomac!

CONCOBAR

Cormac, my beautiful son! Cormac! come, come!

[A sound of a harp is heard. Both start

CONCOBAR

Who comes?

DUACH

Someone comes through the wood.

CONCOBAR

[Drawing his sword

It is Naysha, son of Usna. Night after night I hear him come harping through the woods. Sometimes I see him, standing under an oak. He calls upon Deirdrê.

DUACH

It is Coel mac Coel, the old blind harper--he who loved Macha the great queen, and was blinded by her because that he loved overmuch. He alone wandered free out of Emain Macha when the beautiful city was laid waste. He is not alone; there are the young bards and minstrels with him. For the last three nights they have come in the darkness, and sung before the Royal Dûn the song which Coel made of Macha and her beautiful city. Hark! They sing now.

[The noise of harps and lympans. From the wood comes the loud chanting voice of Coel:

O, 'tis a good house, and a palace fair, the Dûn of Macha,
And happy with a great household is Macha there:
Druids she has, and bards, minstrels, harpers, knights;
Hosts of servants she has, and wonders beautiful and rare,
But nought so wonderful and sweet as her face, queenly fair,

O Macha of the Ruddy Hair!

[Choric voices in a loud, swelling, chant:

O Macha of the Ruddy Hair!

COEL chants:

The colour of her great Dûn is the shining whiteness of lime,
And within it are floors strewn with green rushes and couches white
Soft wondrous silks and blue gold-claspt mantles and furs
Are there, and jewelled golden cups for revelry by night:
Thy grianân of gold and glass is filled with sunshine-light,

O Macha, queen by day, queen by night!

[Choric voices:

O Macha, queen by day, queen by night!

Beyond the green portals, and the brown and red thatch of wings
Striped orderly, the wings of innumerous stricken birds,
A wide shining floor reaches from wall to wall,
wondrously carven
Out of a sheet of silver, whereon are graven swords
Intricately ablaze: mistress of many hoards

Art thou, Macha of few words!

[Choric Voices:

O Macha of few words!

Fair indeed is thy couch, but fairer still thy throne,
A chair it is, all of a blaze of wonderful yellow gold:
There thou sittest, and watchest the women going to and fro,
Each in garments fair and with long locks twisted fold in fold:
With the joy that is in thy house men would not grow old,

O Macha, proud, austere, cold.

[Choric Voices:

O Macha, proud, austere, cold.

Of a surety there is much joy to be had of thee and thine,
There in the song-sweet sunlit bowers in that place;
Wounded men might sink in sleep and be well content
So to sleep, and to dream perchance, and know no other grace
Than to wake and look betimes on thy proud queenly face,

O Macha of the Proud Face!

[Choric Voices:

O Macha of the Proud Face!

And if there be any here who wish to know more of this wonder,
Go, you will find all as I have shown, as I have said:
From beneath its portico, thatched with wings of birds blue and yellow,
Reaches a green lawn, where a fount is fed
From crystal and gems: of crystal and gold each bed

In the house of Macha of the Ruddy Head!

[Choric Voices:

In the house of Macha of the Ruddy Head!

In that great house where Macha the queen
has her pleasaunce
There is everything in the whole world that a man might desire,
God is my witness that if I say little it is for this,
That I am grown faint with wonder, and can
no more admire,
But say this only, that I live and die in the fire

Of thine eyes, O Macha, my desire,
With thine eyes of fire!

[Choric Voices in a loud, swelling chant:

But say this only, that we live and die in the fire
Of thine eyes, O Macha, Dream, Desire,
With thine eyes of fire!

[Choric Voices repeat their refrains, but fainter, and becoming more faint. Last vanishing sound of the harps and lympans

CONCOBAR

Is Emain Macha as a dream that is no more?

DUACH

Emain Macha, the beautiful city, is as a dream that is no more.

[A moan of wind

CONCOBAR

Wind, wind, nothing but wind!

DUACH

Clouds cover the moon. Let us go, O king.
To-night, dreams: the morrow waits, when dreams will be realities.

CONCOBAR

Dreams, dreams, nothing but dreams!

[Slowly Concobar and Duach pass through the darkening gloom. The Dûn becomes more and more obscure. From the darkness to the right a single flute note, where Mainé lies.

MAINÉ

[Chanting slowly, unseen

Deirdrê is dead! Deirdrê the Beautiful is dead, is dead!

 

The House of Usna, Scene 3

 

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