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Full Online Book HomePlaysThe Unicorn From The Stars - Act 1
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The Unicorn From The Stars - Act 1 Post by :smartgroup Category :Plays Author :William Butler Yeats Date :May 2012 Read :2220

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The Unicorn From The Stars - Act 1


SCENE: _Interior of a coach builder's workshop. Parts of a gilded coach, among them an ornament representing the lion and the unicorn. THOMAS _working at a wheel. FATHER JOHN _coming from door of inner room.

FATHER JOHN. I have prayed over Martin. I have prayed a long time, but there is no move in him yet.

THOMAS. You are giving yourself too much trouble, Father. It's as good for you to leave him alone till the doctor's bottle will come. If there is any cure at all for what is on him, it is likely the doctor will have it.

FATHER JOHN. I think it is not doctor's medicine will help him in this case.

THOMAS. It will, it will. The doctor has his business learned well. If Andrew had gone to him the time I bade him, and had not turned again to bring yourself to the house, it is likely Martin would be walking at this time. I am loth to trouble you, Father, when the business is not of your own sort. Any doctor at all should be able, and well able, to cure the falling sickness.

FATHER JOHN. It is not any common sickness that is on him now.

THOMAS. I thought at the first it was gone asleep he was. But when shaking him and roaring at him failed to rouse him, I knew well it was the falling sickness. Believe me, the doctor will reach it with his drugs.

FATHER JOHN. Nothing but prayer can reach a soul that is so far beyond the world as his soul is at this moment.

THOMAS. You are not saying that the life is gone out of him!

FATHER JOHN. No, no, his life is in no danger. But where he himself, the spirit, the soul, is gone, I cannot say. It has gone beyond our imaginings. He is fallen into a trance.

THOMAS. He used to be queer as a child, going asleep in the fields and coming back with talk of white horses he saw, and bright people like angels or whatever they were. But I mended that. I taught him to recognise stones beyond angels with a few strokes of a rod. I would never give in to visions or to trances.

FATHER JOHN. We who hold the faith have no right to speak against trance or vision. St. Teresa had them, St. Benedict, St. Anthony, St. Columcille. St. Catherine of Sienna often lay a long time as if dead.

THOMAS. That might be so in the olden time, but those things are gone out of the world now. Those that do their work fair and honest have no occasion to let the mind go rambling. What would send my nephew, Martin Hearne, into a trance, supposing trances to be in it, and he rubbing the gold on the lion and unicorn that he had taken in hand to make a good job of for the top of the coach?

FATHER JOHN (_taking it up_). It is likely it was that sent him off. The flashing of light upon it would be enough to throw one that had a disposition to it into a trance. There was a very saintly man, though he was not of our church, he wrote a great book called "Mysterium Magnum," was seven days in a trance. Truth, or whatever truth he found, fell upon him like a bursting shower, and he a poor tradesman at his work. It was a ray of sunlight on a pewter vessel that was the beginning of all. (_Goes to the door of inner room._) There is no stir in him yet. It is either the best thing or the worst thing can happen to anyone that is happening to him now.

THOMAS. And what in the living world can happen to a man that is asleep on his bed?

FATHER JOHN. There are some would answer you that it is to those who are awake that nothing happens, and it is they that know nothing. He is gone where all have gone for supreme truth.

THOMAS (_sitting down again and taking up tools_). Well, maybe so. But work must go on and coach building must go on, and they will not go on the time there is too much attention given to dreams. A dream is a sort of a shadow, no profit in it to anyone at all. A coach now is a real thing and a thing that will last for generations and be made use of the last, and maybe turn to be a hen-roost at its latter end.

FATHER JOHN. I think Andrew told me it was a dream of Martin's that led to the making of that coach.

THOMAS. Well, I believe he saw gold in some dream, and it led him to want to make some golden thing, and coaches being the handiest, nothing would do him till he put the most of his fortune into the making of this golden coach. It turned out better than I thought, for some of the lawyers came looking at it at assize time, and through them it was heard of at Dublin Castle ... and who now has it ordered but the Lord Lieutenant! (FATHER JOHN _nods._) Ready it must be and sent off it must be by the end of the month. It is likely King George will be visiting Dublin, and it is he himself will be sitting in it yet.

FATHER JOHN. Martin has been working hard at it, I know.

THOMAS. You never saw a man work the way he did, day and night, near ever since the time, six months ago, he first came home from France.

FATHER JOHN. I never thought he would be so good at a trade. I thought his mind was only set on books.

THOMAS. He should be thankful to myself for that. Any person I will take in hand I make a clean job of them the same as I would make of any other thing in my yard, coach, half coach, hackney-coach, ass car, common car, post-chaise, calash, chariot on two wheels, on four wheels. Each one has the shape Thomas Hearne put on it, and it in his hands; and what I can do with wood and iron, why would I not be able to do it with flesh and blood, and it in a way my own?

FATHER JOHN. Indeed I know you did your best for Martin.

THOMAS. Every best. Checked him, taught him the trade, sent him to the monastery in France for to learn the language and to see the wide world; but who should know that if you did not know it, Father John, and I doing it according to your own advice?

FATHER JOHN. I thought his nature needed spiritual guidance and teaching, the best that could be found.

THOMAS. I thought myself it was best for him to be away for a while. There are too many wild lads about this place. He to have stopped here, he might have taken some fancies and got into some trouble, going against the Government, maybe, the same as Johnny Gibbons that is at this time an outlaw having a price upon his head.

FATHER JOHN. That is so. That imagination of his might have taken fire here at home. It was better putting him with the Brothers, to turn it to imaginings of heaven.

THOMAS. Well, I will soon have a good hardy tradesman made of him now that will live quiet and rear a family, and maybe be appointed coach builder to the royal family at the last.

FATHER JOHN (_at window_). I see your brother Andrew coming back from the doctor; he is stopping to talk with a troop of beggars that are sitting by the side of the road.

THOMAS. There now is another that I have shaped. Andrew used to be a bit wild in his talk and in his ways, wanting to go rambling, not content to settle in the place where he was reared. But I kept a guard over him; I watched the time poverty gave him a nip, and then I settled him into the business. He never was so good a worker as Martin; he is too fond of wasting his time talking vanities. But he is middling handy, and he is always steady and civil to customers. I have no complaint worth while to be making this last twenty years against Andrew. (ANDREW _comes in._)

ANDREW. Beggars there are outside going the road to the Kinvara fair. They were saying there is news that Johnny Gibbons is coming back from France on the quiet. The king's soldiers are watching the ports for him.

THOMAS. Let you keep now, Andrew, to the business you have in hand. Will the doctor be coming himself, or did he send a bottle that will cure Martin?

ANDREW. The doctor can't come, for he is down with lumbago in the back. He questioned me as to what ailed Martin, and he got a book to go looking for a cure, and he began telling me things out of it, but I said I could not be carrying things of that sort in my head. He gave me the book then, and he has marks put in it for the places where the cures are ... wait now ... (_Reads._) "Compound medicines are usually taken inwardly, or outwardly applied. Inwardly taken they should be either liquid or solid; outwardly they should be fomentations or sponges wet in some decoctions."

THOMAS. He had a right to have written it out himself upon a paper. Where is the use of all that?

ANDREW. I think I moved the mark maybe ... here now is the part he was reading to me himself ... "the remedies for diseases belonging to the skins next the brain: headache, vertigo, cramp, convulsions, palsy, incubus, apoplexy, falling sickness."

THOMAS. It is what I bid you to tell him--that it was the falling sickness.

ANDREW (_dropping book_). O my dear, look at all the marks gone out of it. Wait now, I partly remember what he said ... a blister he spoke of ... or to be smelling hartshorn ... or the sneezing powder ... or if all fails, to try letting the blood.

FATHER JOHN. All this has nothing to do with the real case. It is all waste of time.

ANDREW. That is what I was thinking myself, Father. Sure it was I was the first to call out to you when I saw you coming down from the hillside and to bring you in to see what could you do. I would have more trust in your means than in any doctor's learning. And in case you might fail to cure him, I have a cure myself I heard from my grandmother ... God rest her soul ... and she told me she never knew it to fail. A person to have the falling sickness, to cut the top of his nails and a small share of the hair of his head, and to put it down on the floor and to take a harry-pin and drive it down with that into the floor and to leave it there. "That is the cure will never fail," she said, "to rise up any person at all having the falling sickness."

FATHER JOHN (_hands on ears_). I will go back to the hillside, I will go back to the hillside, but no, no, I must do what I can, I will go again, I will wrestle, I will strive my best to call him back with prayer. (_Goes into room and shuts door._)

ANDREW. It is queer Father John is sometimes, and very queer. There are times when you would say that he believes in nothing at all.

THOMAS. If you wanted a priest, why did you not get our own parish priest that is a sensible man, and a man that you would know what his thoughts are? You know well the Bishop should have something against Father John to have left him through the years in that poor mountainy place, minding the few unfortunate people that were left out of the last famine. A man of his learning to be going in rags the way he is, there must be some good cause for that.

ANDREW. I had all that in mind and I bringing him. But I thought he would have done more for Martin than what he is doing. To read a Mass over him I thought he would, and to be convulsed in the reading it, and some strange thing to have gone out with a great noise through the doorway.

THOMAS. It would give no good name to the place such a thing to be happening in it. It is well enough for labouring men and for half-acre men. It would be no credit at all such a thing to be heard of in this house, that is for coach building the capital of the county.

ANDREW. If it is from the devil this sickness comes, it would be best to put it out whatever way it would be put out. But there might no bad thing be on the lad at all. It is likely he was with wild companions abroad, and that knocking about might have shaken his health. I was that way myself one time....

THOMAS. Father John said that it was some sort of a vision or a trance, but I would give no heed to what he would say. It is his trade to see more than other people would see, the same as I myself might be seeing a split in a leather car hood that no other person would find out at all.

ANDREW. If it is the falling sickness is on him, I have no objection to that ... a plain, straight sickness that was cast as a punishment on the unbelieving Jews. It is a thing that might attack one of a family and one of another family and not to come upon their kindred at all. A person to have it, all you have to do is not to go between him and the wind or fire or water. But I am in dread trance is a thing might run through the house, the same as the cholera morbus.

THOMAS. In my belief there is no such thing as a trance. Letting on people do be to make the world wonder the time they think well to rise up. To keep them to their work is best, and not to pay much attention to them at all.

ANDREW. I would not like trances to be coming on myself. I leave it in my will if I die without cause, a holly stake to be run through my heart the way I will lie easy after burial, and not turn my face downwards in my coffin. I tell you I leave it on you in my will.

THOMAS. Leave thinking of your own comforts, Andrew, and give your mind to the business. Did the smith put the irons yet on to the shafts of this coach?

ANDREW. I'll go see did he.

THOMAS. Do so, and see did he make a good job of it. Let the shafts be sound and solid if they _are to be studded with gold.

ANDREW. They are, and the steps along with them ... glass sides for the people to be looking in at the grandeur of the satin within ... the lion and the unicorn crowning all ... it was a great thought Martin had the time he thought of making this coach!

THOMAS. It is best for me go see the smith myself ... and leave it to no other one. You can be attending to that ass car out in the yard wants a new tyre in the wheel ... out in the rear of the yard it is. (_They go to door._) To pay attention to every small thing, and to fill up every minute of time, shaping whatever you have to do, that is the way to build up a business. (_They go out._)

FATHER JOHN (_bringing in MARTIN). They are gone out now ... the air is fresher here in the workshop ... you can sit here for a while. You are now fully awake; you have been in some sort of a trance or a sleep.

MARTIN. Who was it that pulled at me? Who brought me back?

FATHER JOHN. It is I, Father John, did it. I prayed a long time over you and brought you back.

MARTIN. You, Father John, to be so unkind! O leave me, leave me alone!

FATHER JOHN. You are in your dream still.

MARTIN. It was no dream, it was real ... do you not smell the broken fruit ... the grapes ... the room is full of the smell.

FATHER JOHN. Tell me what you have seen where you have been.

MARTIN. There were horses ... white horses rushing by, with white, shining riders ... there was a horse without a rider, and someone caught me up and put me upon him, and we rode away, with the wind, like the wind....

FATHER JOHN. That is a common imagining. I know many poor persons have seen that.

MARTIN. We went on, on, on ... we came to a sweet-smelling garden with a gate to it ... and there were wheat-fields in full ear around ... and there were vineyards like I saw in France, and the grapes in bunches ... I thought it to be one of the town-lands of heaven. Then I saw the horses we were on had changed to unicorns, and they began trampling the grapes and breaking them ... I tried to stop them, but I could not.

FATHER JOHN. That is strange, that is strange. What is it that brings to mind ... I heard it in some place, _Monocoros di Astris_, the Unicorn from the Stars.

MARTIN. They tore down the wheat and trampled it on stones, and then they tore down what were left of the grapes and crushed and bruised and trampled them ... I smelt the wine, it was flowing on every side ... then everything grew vague ... I cannot remember clearly ... everything was silent ... the trampling now stopped ... we were all waiting for some command. Oh! was it given! I was trying to hear it ... there was some one dragging, dragging me away from that ... I am sure there was a command given ... and there was a great burst of laughter. What was it? What was the command? Everything seemed to tremble around me.

FATHER JOHN. Did you awake then?

MARTIN. I do not think I did ... it all changed ... it was terrible, wonderful. I saw the unicorns trampling, trampling ... but not in the wine troughs.... Oh, I forget! Why did you waken me?

FATHER JOHN. I did not touch you. Who knows what hands pulled you away? I prayed; that was all I did. I prayed very hard that you might awake. If I had not, you might have died. I wonder what it all meant. The unicorns ... what did the French monk tell me ... strength they meant ... virginal strength, a rushing, lasting, tireless strength.

MARTIN. They were strong.... Oh, they made a great noise with their trampling!

FATHER JOHN. And the grapes ... what did they mean?... It puts me in mind of the psalm ... _Ex calix meus inebrians quam praeclarus est. It was a strange vision, a very strange vision, a very strange vision.

MARTIN. How can I get back to that place?

FATHER JOHN. You must not go back, you must not think of doing that; that life of vision, of contemplation, is a terrible life, for it has far more of temptation in it than the common life. Perhaps it would have been best for you to stay under rules in the monastery.

MARTIN. I could not see anything so clearly there. It is back here in my own place the visions come, in the place where shining people used to laugh around me and I a little lad in a bib.

FATHER JOHN. You cannot know but it was from the Prince of this world the vision came. How can one ever know unless one follows the discipline of the church? Some spiritual director, some wise, learned man, that is what you want. I do not know enough. What am I but a poor banished priest with my learning forgotten, my books never handled, and spotted with the damp?

MARTIN. I will go out into the fields where you cannot come to me to awake me ... I will see that townland again ... I will hear that command. I cannot wait, I must know what happened, I must bring that command to mind again.

FATHER JOHN (_putting himself between MARTIN _and the door_). You must have patience as the saints had it. You are taking your own way. If there is a command from God for you, you must wait His good time to receive it.

MARTIN. Must I live here forty years, fifty years ... to grow as old as my uncles, seeing nothing but common things, doing work ... some foolish work?

FATHER JOHN. Here they are coming. It is time for me to go. I must think and I must pray. My mind is troubled about you. (_To THOMAS _as he and ANDREW _come in._) Here he is; be very kind to him, for he has still the weakness of a little child.

(Goes out.)

THOMAS. Are you well of the fit, lad?

MARTIN. It was no fit. I was away ... for a while ... no, you will not believe me if I tell you.

ANDREW. I would believe it, Martin. I used to have very long sleeps myself and very queer dreams.

THOMAS. You had, till I cured you, taking you in hand and binding you to the hours of the clock. The cure that will cure yourself, Martin, and will waken you, is to put the whole of your mind on to your golden coach, to take it in hand, and to finish it out of face.

MARTIN. Not just now. I want to think ... to try and remember what I saw, something that I heard, that I was told to do.

THOMAS. No, but put it out of your mind. There is no man doing business that can keep two things in his head. A Sunday or a Holyday now you might go see a good hurling or a thing of the kind, but to be spreading out your mind on anything outside of the workshop on common days, all coach building would come to an end.

MARTIN. I don't think it is building I want to do. I don't think that is what was in the command.

THOMAS. It is too late to be saying that the time you have put the most of your fortune in the business. Set yourself now to finish your job, and when it is ended, maybe I won't begrudge you going with the coach as far as Dublin.

ANDREW. That is it; that will satisfy him. I had a great desire myself, and I young, to go travelling the roads as far as Dublin. The roads are the great things; they never come to an end. They are the same as the serpent having his tail swallowed in his own mouth.

MARTIN. It was not wandering I was called to. What was it? What was it?

THOMAS. What you are called to, and what everyone having no great estate is called to, is to work. Sure the world itself could not go on without work.

MARTIN. I wonder if that is the great thing, to make the world go on. No, I don't think that is the great thing ... what does the Munster poet call it ... "this crowded slippery coach-loving world." I don't think I was told to work for that.

ANDREW. I often thought that myself. It is a pity the stock of the Hearnes to be asked to do any work at all.

THOMAS. Rouse yourself, Martin, and don't be talking the way a fool talks. You started making that golden coach, and you were set upon it, and you had me tormented about it. You have yourself wore out working at it and planning it and thinking of it, and at the end of the race, when you have the winning post in sight, and horses hired for to bring it to Dublin Castle, you go falling into sleeps and blathering about dreams, and we run to a great danger of letting the profit and the sale go by. Sit down on the bench now, and lay your hands to the work.

MARTIN (_sitting down_). I will try. I wonder why I ever wanted to make it; it was no good dream set me doing that. (_He takes up wheel._) What is there in a wooden wheel to take pleasure in it? Gilding it outside makes it no different.

THOMAS. That is right now. You had some good plan for making the axle run smooth.

MARTIN (_letting wheel fall and putting his hands to his head_). It is no use. (_Angrily._) Why did you send the priest to awake me? My soul is my own and my mind is my own. I will send them to where I like. You have no authority over my thoughts.

THOMAS. That is no way to be speaking to me. I am head of this business. Nephew or no nephew, I will have no one come cold or unwilling to the work.

MARTIN. I had better go. I am of no use to you. I am going.... I must be alone.... I will forget if I am not alone. Give me what is left of my money, and I will go out of this.

THOMAS (_opening a press and taking out a bag and throwing it to him_). There is what is left of your money! The rest of it you have spent on the coach. If you want to go, go, and I will not have to be annoyed with you from this out.

ANDREW. Come now with me, Thomas. The boy is foolish, but it will soon pass over. He has not my sense to be giving attention to what you will say. Come along now; leave him for a while; leave him to me, I say; it is I will get inside his mind.

(He leads THOMAS out. MARTIN, when they
have gone, sits down, taking up lion and unicorn.)

MARTIN. I think it was some shining thing I saw.... What was it?

ANDREW (_opening door and putting in his head_). Listen to me, Martin.

MARTIN. Go away--no more talking--leave me alone.

ANDREW (_coming in_). Oh, but wait. I understand you. Thomas doesn't understand your thoughts, but I understand them. Wasn't I telling you I was just like you once?

MARTIN. Like me? Did you ever see the other things, the things beyond?

ANDREW. I did. It is not the four walls of the house keep me content. Thomas doesn't know, oh, no, he doesn't know.

MARTIN. No, he has no vision.

ANDREW. He has not, nor any sort of a heart for frolic.

MARTIN. He has never heard the laughter and the music beyond.

ANDREW. He has not, nor the music of my own little flute. I have it hidden in the thatch outside.

MARTIN. Does the body slip from you as it does from me? They have not shut your window into eternity?

ANDREW. Thomas never shut a window I could not get through. I knew you were one of my own sort. When I am sluggish in the morning Thomas says, "Poor Andrew is getting old." That is all he knows. The way to keep young is to do the things youngsters do. Twenty years I have been slipping away, and he never found me out yet!

MARTIN. That is what they call ecstasy, but there is no word that can tell out very plain what it means. That freeing of the mind from its thoughts. Those wonders we know; when we put them into words, the words seem as little like them as blackberries are like the moon and sun.

ANDREW. I found that myself the time they knew me to be wild, and used to be asking me to say what pleasure did I find in cards, and women, and drink.

MARTIN. You might help me to remember that vision I had this morning, to understand it. The memory of it has slipped from me. Wait; it is coming back, little by little. I know that I saw the unicorns trampling, and then a figure, a many-changing figure, holding some bright thing. I knew something was going to happen or to be said, ... something that would make my whole life strong and beautiful like the rushing of the unicorns, and then, and then....

JOHNNY BACACH'S VOICE (_at window_). A poor person I am, without food, without a way, without portion, without costs, without a person or a stranger, without means, without hope, without health, without warmth....

ANDREW (_looking towards window_). It is that troop of beggars; bringing their tricks and their thieveries they are to the Kinvara fair.

MARTIN (_impatiently_). There is no quiet ... come to the other room. I am trying to remember....

(They go to door of inner room, but ANDREW stops him.)

ANDREW. They are a bad-looking fleet. I have a mind to drive them away, giving them a charity.

MARTIN. Drive them away or come away from their voices.

ANOTHER VOICE. I put under the power of my prayer,

All that will give me help,
Rafael keep him Wednesday;
Sachiel feed him Thursday;
Hamiel provide him Friday;
Cassiel increase him Saturday.

Sure giving to us is giving to the Lord and laying up a store in the treasury of heaven.

ANDREW. Whisht! He is coming in by the window! (JOHNNY B. _climbs in._)

JOHNNY B. That I may never sin, but the place is empty!

PAUDEEN. Go in and see what can you make a grab at.

JOHNNY B. (_getting in_). That every blessing I gave may be turned to a curse on them that left the place so bare! (_He turns things over._) I might chance something in this chest if it was open.... (ANDREW _begins creeping towards him._)

NANNY (_outside_). Hurry on now, you limping crabfish, you! We can't be stopping here while you'll boil stirabout!

JOHNNY B. (_seizing bag of money and holding it up in both hands_). Look at this now, look! (ANDREW _comes behind and seizes his arm._)

JOHNNY B. (_letting bag fall with a crash_). Destruction on us all!

MARTIN (running forward, seizes him. Heads disappear). That is it! Oh, I remember! That is what happened! That is the command! Who was it sent you here with that command?

JOHNNY B. It was misery sent me in and starvation and the hard ways of the world.

NANNY (_outside_). It was that, my poor child, and my one son only. Show mercy to him now, and he after leaving gaol this morning.

MARTIN (to ANDREW). I was trying to remember it ... when he spoke that word it all came back to me. I saw a bright, many-changing figure ... it was holding up a shining vessel ... (_holds up arms_) then the vessel fell and was broken with a great crash ... then I saw the unicorns trampling it. They were breaking the world to pieces ... when I saw the cracks coming, I shouted for joy! And I heard the command, "Destroy, destroy; destruction is the life-giver; destroy."

ANDREW. What will we do with him? He was thinking to rob you of your gold.

MARTIN. How could I forget it or mistake it? It has all come upon me now ... the reasons of it all, like a flood, like a flooded river.

JOHNNY B. (_weeping_). It was the hunger brought me in and the drouth.

MARTIN. Were you given any other message? Did you see the unicorns?

JOHNNY B. I saw nothing and heard nothing; near dead I am with the fright I got and with the hardship of the gaol.

MARTIN. To destroy ... to overthrow all that comes between us and God, between us and that shining country. To break the wall, Andrew, the thing, whatever it is that comes between, but where to begin?...

ANDREW. What is it you are talking about?

MARTIN. It may be that this man is the beginning. He has been sent ... the poor, they have nothing, and so they can see heaven as we cannot. He and his comrades will understand me. But now to give all men high hearts that they may all understand.

JOHNNY B. It's the juice of the grey barley will do that.

ANDREW. To rise everybody's heart, is it? Is it that was your meaning?... If you will take the blame of it all, I'll do what you want. Give me the bag of money, then. (_He takes it up._) Oh, I've a heart like your own! I'll lift the world too! The people will be running from all parts. Oh, it will be a great day in this district.

JOHNNY B. Will I go with you?

MARTIN. No, you must stay here; we have things to do and to plan.

JOHNNY B. Destroyed we all are with the hunger and the drouth.

MARTIN. Go then, get food and drink, whatever is wanted to give you strength and courage; gather your people together here; bring them all in. We have a great thing to do. I have to begin ... I want to tell it to the whole world. Bring them in, bring them in, I will make the house ready.

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