THE PIERROT OF THE MINUTE
A Dramatic Fantasy
By Ernest Dowson
A Moon Maiden.|
THE PIERROT OF THE MINUTE
A Dramatic Fantasy
By Ernest Dowson
[Scene: A glade in the Parc du Petit
Trianon. In the center a Doric temple
with steps coming down the stage. On
the left a little Cupid on a pedestal.
Enter Pierrot with his hands full of
lilies. He is burdened with a little
basket. He stands gazing at the Temple
and the Statue.]
My journey's end! This surely is the glade
Which I was promised: I have well obeyed!
A clue of lilies was I bid to find,
Where the green alleys most obscurely wind;
Where tall oaks darkliest canopy o'erhead,
And moss and violet make the softest bed;
Where the path ends, and leagues behind me lie
The gleaming courts and gardens of Versailles;
The lilies streamed before me, green and white;
I gathered, following: they led me right,
To the bright temple and the sacred grove:
This is, in truth, the very shrine of Love!
[He gathers together his flowers and
lays them at the foot of Cupid's
statue; then he goes timidly up the
first steps of the temple and stops.]
It is so solitary, I grow afraid.
Is there no priest here, no devoted maid?
Is there no oracle, no voice to speak,
Interpreting to me the word I seek?
[A very gentle music of lutes floats
out from the temple. Pierrot
starts back; he shows extreme surprise;
then he returns to the foreground,
and crouches down in rapt
attention until the music ceases.
His face grows puzzled and petulant.]
Too soon! too soon! in that enchanting strain
Days yet unlived, I almost lived again:
It almost taught me that I most would know—
Why am I here, and why am I Pierrot?
[Absently he picks up a lily which
has fallen to the ground, and repeats.]
Why came I here, and why am I Pierrot?
That music and this silence both affright;
Pierrot can never be a friend of night.
I never felt my solitude before—
Once safe at home, I will return no more.
Yet the commandment of the scroll was plain;
While the light lingers let me read again.
[He takes a scroll from his bosom and reads.]
"He loves to-night who never loved before;
Who ever loved, to-night shall love once more."
I never loved! I know not what love is.
I am so ignorant—but what is this?
"Who would adventure to encounter Love
Must rest one night within this hallowed grove.
Cast down thy lilies, which have led thee on,
Before the tender feet of Cupidon."
Thus much is done, the night remains to me.
Well, Cupidon, be my security!
Here is more writing, but too faint to read.
[He puzzles for a moment, then casts
the scroll down.]
Hence, vain old parchment. I have learnt thy rede!
[He looks round uneasily, starts at
his shadow; then discovers his
basket with glee. He takes out a
flask of wine, pours it into a glass,
Courage mon Ami! I shall never miss
Society with such a friend as this.
How merrily the rosy bubbles pass,
Across the amber crystal of the glass.
I had forgotten you. Methinks this quest
Can wake no sweeter echo in my breast.
[Looks round at the statue, and starts.]
Nay, little god! forgive. I did but jest.
[He fills another glass, and pours it
upon the statue.]
This libation, Cupid, take,
With the lilies at thy feet;
Cherish Pierrot for their sake,
Send him visions strange and sweet,
While he slumbers at thy feet.
Only love kiss him awake!
Only love kiss him awake!
[Slowly falls the darkness, soft music
plays, while Pierrot gathers together
fern and foliage into a rough
couch at the foot of the steps which
lead to the Temple d'Amour.
Then he lies down upon it, having
made his prayer. It is night. He
Music, more music, far away and faint:
It is an echo of mine heart's complaint.
Why should I be so musical and sad?
I wonder why I used to be so glad?
In single glee I chased blue butterflies,
Half butterfly myself, but not so wise,
For they were twain, and I was only one.
Ah me! how pitiful to be alone.
My brown birds told me much, but in mine ear
They never whispered this—I learned it here:
The soft wood sounds, the rustling in the breeze,
Are but the stealthy kisses of the trees.
Each flower and fern in this enchanted wood
Leans to her fellow, and is understood;
The eglantine, in loftier station set,
Stoops down to woo the maidly violet.
In gracile pairs the very lilies grow:
None is companionless except Pierrot.
Music, more music! how its echoes steal
Upon my senses with unlooked for weal.
Tired am I, tired, and far from this lone glade
Seems mine old joy in rout and masquerade.
Sleep cometh over me, now will I prove,
By Cupid's grace, what is this thing called love.
[There is more music of lutes for an
interval, during which a bright
radiance, white and cold, streams
from the temple upon the face of
Pierrot. Presently a Moon Maiden
steps out of the temple; she descends
and stands over the sleeper.]
Who is this mortal
Who ventures to-night
To woo an immortal?
Cold, cold the moon's light,
For sleep at this portal,
Bold lover of night.
Fair is the mortal
In soft, silken white,
Who seeks an immortal.
Ah, lover of night,
Be warned at the portal,
And save thee in flight!
[She stoops over him; Pierrot stirs
in his sleep.]
Forget not, Cupid. Teach me all thy lore:
"He loves to-night who never loved before."
Unwitting boy! when, be it soon or late,
What Pierrot ever has escaped his fate?
What if I warned him! He might yet evade,
Through the long windings of this verdant glade;
Seek his companions in the blither way,
Which, else, must be as lost as yesterday.
So might he still pass some unheeding hours
In the sweet company of birds and flowers.
How fair he is, with red lips formed for joy,
As softly curved as those of Venus' boy.
Methinks his eyes, beneath their silver sheaves,
Rest tranquilly like lilies under leaves.
Arrayed in innocence, what touch of grace
Reveals the scion of a courtly race?
Well, I will warn him, though, I fear, too late—
What Pierrot ever has escaped his fate?
But, see, he stirs, new knowledge fires his brain,
And cupid's vision bids him wake again.
Dione's Daughter! but how fair he is,
Would it be wrong to rouse him with a kiss?
[She stoops down and kisses him, then
withdraws into the shadow.]
Pierrot [rubbing his eyes].
Celestial messenger! remain, remain;
Or, if a vision, visit me again!
What is this light, and whither am I come
To sleep beneath the stars so far from home?
[Rises slowly to his feet.]
Stay, I remember this is Venus' Grove,
And I am hither come to encounter—
The Lady [coming forward, but veiled].
Pierrot [in ecstasy, throwing himself at her feet].
Then have I ventured and encountered Love?
Not yet, rash boy! and, if thou wouldst be wise,
Return unknowing; he is safe who flies.
Never, sweet lady, will I leave this place
Until I see the wonder of thy face.
Goddess or Naiad! lady of this Grove,
Made mortal for a night to teach me love,
Unveil thyself, although thy beauty be
Too luminous for my mortality.
The Lady [unveiling].
Then, foolish boy, receive at length thy will:
Now knowest thou the greatness of thine ill.
Now have I lost my heart, and gained my goal.
Didst thou not read the warning on the scroll?
[Picks up the parchment.]
I read it all, as on this quest I fared,
Save where it was illegible and hard.
Alack! poor scholar, wast thou never taught
A little knowledge serveth less than naught?
Hadst thou perused—but, stay, I will explain
What was the writing which thou didst disdain.
"Au Petit Trianon, at night's full noon,
Mortal, beware the kisses of the moon!
Whoso seeks her she gathers like a flower—
He gives a life, and only gains an hour."
Pierrot [laughing recklessly].
Bear me away to thine enchanted bower,
All of my life I venture for an hour.
Take up thy destiny of short delight;
I am thy lady for a summer's night,
Lift up your viols, maidens of my train,
And work such havoc on this mortal's brain
That for a moment he may touch and know
Immortal things, and be full Pierrot,
White music, Nymphs! Violet and Eglantine!
To stir his tired veins like magic wine,
What visitants across his spirit glance,
Lying on lilies, while he watch me dance?
Watch, and forget all weary things on earth,
All memories and cares, all joy and mirth,
While my dance woos him, light and rhythmical,
And weaves his heart into my coronal.
Music, more music for his soul's delight:
Love is his lady for a summer's night.
[Pierrot reclines, and gazes at her
while she dances. The dance finished,
she beckons to him: he rises
dreamily, and stands at her side.]
Whence came, dear Queen, such magic melody?
Pan made it long ago in Arcady.
I heard it long ago, I know not where,
As I knew thee, or ever I came here.
But I forgot all things—my name and race,
All that I ever knew except thy face.
Who art thou, lady? Breathe a name to me,
That I may tell it like a rosary.
Thou, whom I sought, dear Dryad of the trees,
How art thou designate—art thou Heart's-Ease?
Waste not the night in idle questioning,
Since Love departs at dawn's awakening.
Nay, thou art right; what recks thy name or state,
Since thou art lovely and passionate.
Play out thy will on me: I am thy lyre.
I am to each the face of his desire.
I am not Pierrot, but Venus' dove,
Who craves a refuge on the breast of love.
What wouldst thou of the maiden of the moon?
Until the cock crow I may grant thy boon.
Then, sweet Moon Maiden, in some magic car,
Wrought wondrously of many a homeless star—
Such must attend thy journeys through the skies,—
Drawn by a team of milk-white butterflies,
Whom, with soft voice and music of thy maids,
Thou urgest gently through the heavenly glades;
Mount me beside thee, bear me far away
From the low regions of the solar day;
Over the rainbow, up into the moon,
Where is thy palace and thine opal throne;
There on thy bosom—
Too ambitious boy!
I did but promise thee one hour of joy.
This tour thou plannest, with a heart so light,
Could hardly be completed in a night.
Hast thou no craving less remote than this?
Would it be impudent to beg a kiss?
I say not that: yet prithee have a care!
Often audacity has proved a snare.
How wan and pale do moon-kissed roses grow—
Does thou not fear my kisses, Pierrot?
As one who faints upon the Libyan plain
Fears the oasis which brings life again!
Where far away green palm trees seem to stand
May be a mirage of the wreathing sand.
Nay, dear enchantress, I consider naught,
Save mine own ignorance, which would be taught.
Dost thou persist?
I do entreat this boon!
[She bends forward, their lips meet:
she withdraws with a petulant
shiver. She utters a peal of clear
Why art thou pale, fond lover of the moon?
Cold are thy lips, more cold than I can tell;
Yet would I hang on them, thine icicle!
Cold is thy kiss, more cold than I could dream
Arctus sits, watching the Boreal stream:
But with its frost such sweetness did conspire
That all my veins are filled with running fire;
Never I knew that life contained such bliss
As the divine completeness of a kiss.
Apt scholar! so love's lesson has been taught,
Warning, as usual, has gone for naught.
Had all my schooling been of this soft kind,
To play the truant I were less inclined.
Teach me again! I am a sorry dunce—
I never knew a task by conning once.
Then come with me! below this pleasant shrine
Of Venus we will presently recline,
Until birds' twitter beckon me away
To my own home, beyond the milky-way.
I will instruct thee, for I deem as yet
Of Love thou knowest but the alphabet.
In its sweet grammar I shall grow most wise,
If all its rules be written in thine eyes.
[The Lady sits upon a step of the
temple, and Pierrot leans upon
his elbow at her feet, regarding
Sweet contemplation! how my senses yearn to be thy scholar always, always learn.
Hold not so high from me thy radiant mouth,
Fragrant with all the spices of the South;
Nor turn, O sweet! thy golden face away,
For with it goes the light of all my day.
Let me peruse it, till I know by rote
Each line of it, like music, note by note;
Raise thy long lashes, Lady; smile again:
These studies profit me.
[Takes her hand.]
Pierrot [with passion].
I am but studious, so do not stir;
Thou art my star, I thine astronomer!
Geometry was founded on thy lip.
[Kisses her hand.]
This attitude becomes not scholarship!
Thy zeal I praise; but, prithee, not so fast,
Nor leave the rudiments until the last,
Science applied is good, but 'twere a schism
To study such before the catechism.
Bear thee more modestly, while I submit
Some easy problems to confirm thy wit.
In all humility my mind I pit
Against her problems which would test my wit.
The Lady [questioning him from a little
book bound deliciously in vellum].
What is Love?
Is it folly,
Is it mirth, or melancholy?
Are there many, or not any?
What is love?
Pierrot [answering in a very humble attitude
If you please,
A most sweet folly!
Full of mirth and melancholy:
Both of these!
In its sadness worth all gladness,
If you please!
Goes Love a-hiding?
Is he long in his abiding
Can you bind him when you find him;
With spring days
Love comes and dallies:
Upon the mountains, through the valleys
Lie Love's ways.
Then he leaves you and deceives you
In spring days.
Thine answers please me: 'tis thy turn to ask.
To meet thy questioning be now my task.
Since I know thee, dear Immortal,
Is my heart become a blossom,
To be worn upon thy bosom.
When thou turn me from this portal,
Whither shall I, hapless mortal,
Seek love out and win again
Heart of me that thou retain?
In and out the woods and valleys,
Circling, soaring like a swallow,
Love shall flee and thou shalt follow:
Though he stops awhile and dallies,
Never shalt thou stay his malice!
Moon-kissed mortals seek in vain
To possess their hearts again!
Tell me, Lady, shall I never
Rid me of this grievous burden!
Follow Love and find his guerdon
In no maiden whatsoever?
Wilt thou hold my heart forever?
Rather would I thine forget,
In some earthly Pierrette!
Thus thy fate, what'er thy will is!
Moon-struck child, go seek my traces
Vainly in all mortal faces!
In and out among the lilies,
Court each rural Amaryllis:
Seek the signet of Love's hand
In each courtly Corisande!
Now, verily, sweet maid, of school I tire;
These answers are not such as I desire.
Why art thou sad?
I dare not tell.
The Lady [caressingly].
Is love all schooling, with no time to play?
Though all love's lessons be a holiday,
Yet I will humor thee: what wouldst thou play?
What are the games that small moon-maids enjoy:
Or is their time all spent in staid employ?
Sedate they are, yet games they much enjoy:
They skip with stars, the rainbow is their toy.
That is too hard!
For mortal's play.
Teach me some pastime from the world of men.
I have it, maiden.
Can it soon be taught?
A single game, I learnt it at the Court.
But, prithee, not so near.
That is essential, as will soon appear.
Lay here thine hand, which cold night dews anoint,
Washing its white—
Now is this to the point?
Prithee, forbear! Such is the game's design.
Here is my hand.
I cover it with mine.
What must I next?
It goes too fast.
[They continue playing, until Pierrot
catches her hand.]
'Tis done. I win my forfeit at the last.
[He tries to embrace her. She escapes;
he chases her round the
stage; she eludes him.]
Thou art not quick enough. Who hopes to catch
A moon-beam, must use twice as much dispatch.
Pierrot [sitting down sulkily].
I grow aweary, and my heart is sore.
Thou dost not love me; I will play no more.
[He buries his face in his hands.
The Lady stands over him.]
What is this petulance?
'Tis quick to tell—
Thou hast but mocked me.
Nay! I love thee well!
Repeat those words, for still within my breast
A whisper warns me they are said in jest.
I jested not: at daybreak I must go,
Yet loving thee far better than thou know.
Then, by this altar, and this sacred shrine,
Take my sworn troth, and swear thee wholly mine!
The gods have wedded mortals long ere this.
There was enough betrothal in my kiss.
What need of further oaths?
That bound not thee!
Peace! since I tell thee that it may not be.
But sit beside me whilst I soothe thy bale
With some moon fancy or celestial tale.
Tell me of thee, and that dimy, happy place
Where lies thine home, with maidens of thy race!
The Lady [seating herself].
Calm is it yonder, very calm; the air
For mortals' breath is too refined and rare;
Hard by a green lagoon our palace rears
Its dome of agate through a myriad years.
A hundred chambers its bright walls enthrone,
Each one carved strangely from a precious stone.
Within the fairest, clad in purity,
Our mother dwelleth immemorially:
Moon-calm, moon-pale, with moon stones on her gown,
The floor she treads with little pearls is sown;
She sits upon a throne of amethysts,
And orders mortal fortunes as she lists;
I, and my sisters, all around her stand,
And, when she speaks, accomplish her demand.
Methought grim Clotho and her sisters twain
With shriveled fingers spun this web of bane!
Theirs and my mother's realm is far apart;
Hers is the lustrous kingdom of the heart,
And dreamers all, and all who sing and love,
Her power acknowledge, and her rule approve.
Me, even me, she hath led into this grove.
Yea, thou art one of hers! But, ere this night,
Often I watched my sisters take their flight
Down heaven's stairway of the clustered stars
To gaze on mortals through their lattice bars;
And some in sleep they woo with dreams of bliss
Too shadowy to tell, and some they kiss.
But all to whom they come, my sisters say,
Forthwith forget all joyance of the day,
Forget their laughter and forget their tears,
And dream away with singing all their years—
Why art sad, sweet Moon?
For this, my story, grant me now a boon.
I am thy servitor.
Would, then, I knew
More of the earth, what men and women do.
I will explain.
Let brevity attend
Thy wit, for night approaches to its end.
Once was I a page at Court, so trust in me:
That's the first lesson of society.
I mean the very best
Pardy! thou wouldst not hear about the rest.
I know it not, but am a petit maître
At rout and festival and bal champêtre.
But since example be instruction's ease,
Let's play the thing.—Now, Madame, if you please!
[He helps her to rise, and leads her
forward: then he kisses her hand,
bowing over it with a very courtly
What am I, then?
A most divine Marquise!
Perhaps that attitude hath too much ease.
Ah, that is better! To complete the plan,
Nothing is necessary save a fan.
Cool is the night, what needs it?
Reflect, it is essential to our play.
The Lady [taking a lily].
Here is my fan!
So, use it with intent:
The deadliest arm in beauty's armament!
What do we next?
But what about?
We quiz the company and praise the rout;
Are polished, petulant, malicious, sly,
Or what you will, so reputations die.
Observe the Duchess in Venetian lace,
With the red eminence.
A pretty face!
For something tarter set thy wits to search—
"She loves the churchman better than the church."
Her blush is charming; would it were her own!
Madame is merciless!
Is that the tone?
The very tone: I swear thou lackest naught.
Madame was evidently bred at Court.
Thou speakest glibly: 'tis not of thine age.
I listened much, as best becomes a page.
I like thy Court but little—
Hush! the Queen!
Bow, but not low—thou knowest what I mean.
Nay, that I know not!
Though she wears a crown,
'Tis from La Pompadour one fears a frown.
Thou art a child: thy malice is a game.
A most sweet pastime—scandal is its name.
Enough, it wearies me.
Then, rare Marquise,
Desert the crowd to wander through the trees.
[He bows low, and she curtsies; they
move round the stage. When they
pass before the Statue he seizes
her hand and falls on his knee.]
What wouldst thou now?
Ah, prithee, what, save thee!
Was this included in thy comedy?
Ah, mock me not! In vain with quirk and jest
I strive to quench the passion in my breast;
In vain thy blandishments would make me play:
Still I desire far more than I can say.
My knowledge halts, ah, sweet, be piteous,
Instruct me still, while time remains to us,
Be what thou wist, Goddess, moon-maid, Marquise,
So that I gather from thy lips heart's ease,
Nay, I implore thee, think thee how time flies!
Hush! I beseech thee, even now night dies.
Night, day, are one to me for thy soft sake.
[He entreats her with imploring gestures,
she hesitates: then puts her
finger on her lip, hushing him.]
It is too late, for hark! the birds awake.
The birds awake! It is the voice of day!
Farewell, dear youth! They summon me away.
[The light changes, it grows daylight:
and the music imitates the
twitter of the birds. They stand
gazing at the morning: then Pierrot
sinks back upon his bed, he
covers his face in his hands.]
The Lady [bending over him].
Music, my maids! His weary senses steep
In soft untroubled and oblivious sleep,
With Mandragore anoint his tired eyes,
That they may open on mere memories,
Then shall a vision seem his lost delight,
With love, his lady for a summer night.
Dream thou hast dreamt all this, when thou awake,
Yet still be sorrowful, for a dream's sake.
I leave thee, sleeper! Yea, I leave thee now,
Yet take my legacy upon thy brow:
Remember me, who was compassionate,
And opened for thee once, the ivory gate.
I come no more, thou shalt not see my face
When I am gone to mine exalted place:
Yet all thy days are mine, dreamer of dreams,
All silvered over with the moon's pale beams:
Go forth and seek in each fair face in vain,
To find the image of thy love again.
All maids are kind to thee, yet never one
Shall hold thy truant heart till day be done.
Whom once the moon has kissed, loves long and late,
Yet never finds the maid to be his mate.
Farewell, dear sleeper, follow out thy fate.
[The Moon Maiden withdraws: a
song is sung from behind: it is full
The Moon Maiden's Song
Sleep! Cast thy canopy
Over this sleeper's brain,
Dim grows his memory,
When he awake again.
Love stays a summer night,
Till lights of morning come;
Then takes her wingèd flight
Back to her starry home.
Sleep! Yet thy days are mine;
Love's seal is over thee:
Far though my ways from thine,
Dim though thy memory.
Love stays a summer night,
Till lights of morning come;
Then takes her wingèd flight
Back to her starry home.
[When the song is finished, the curtain
falls upon Pierrot sleeping.]
[Spoken in the character of Pierrot]
The sun is up, yet ere a body stirs,
A word with you, sweet ladies and dear sirs,
[Although on no account let any say
That Pierrot finished Mr. Dowson's play].
One night not long ago, at Baden Baden,—
The birthday of the Duke,—his pleasure garden
Was lighted gayly with feu d'artifice,
With candles, rockets, and a center-piece
Above the conversation house, on high,
Outlined in living fire against the sky,
A glittering Pierrot, radiant, white,
Whose heart beat fast, who danced with sheer delight,
Whose eyes were blue, whose lips were rosy red,
Whose pompons too were fire, while on his head
He wore a little cap, and I am told
That rockets covered him with showers of gold.
"Take our applause, you well deserve to win it,"
They cried: "Bravo! the Pierrot of the minute!"
What with applause and gold, one must confess
That Pierrot had "arrived," achieved success,
When, as it happened, presently, alas!
A terrible disaster came to pass.
His nose grew dim, the people gave a shout,
His red lips paled, both his blue eyes went out.
There rose a sullen sound of discontent,
The golden shower of rockets was all spent;
He left off dancing with a sudden jerk,
For he was nothing but a firework.
The garden darkened and the people in it
Cried, "He is dead,—the Pierrot of the minute!"
With every artist it is even so;
The artist, after all, is a Pierrot—
A Pierrot of the minute, naïf, clever,
But Art is back of him, She lives for ever!
Then pardon my Moon Maid and me, because
We craved the golden shower of your applause!
Pray shrive us both for having tried to win it,
And cry, "Bravo! The Pierrot of the minute!"