THREE TRAVELERS WATCH A SUNRISE
By Wallace Stevens
Copyright, 1916, by Wallace Stevens.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted from "Poetry" (Chicago) by permission of Mr. Wallace Stevens and
Miss Harriet Monroe. Applications for permission to produce this play should be
addressed to Mr. Wallace Stevens, 125 Trumbull Street, Hartford, Conn.
THREE TRAVELERS WATCH A SUNRISE
By Wallace Stevens
[The characters are three Chinese, two
negroes and a girl.
The scene represents a forest of heavy
trees on a hilltop in eastern Pennsylvania.
To the right is a road, obscured by bushes.
It is about four o'clock of a morning in
August, at the present time.
When the curtain rises, the stage is
dark. The limb of a tree creaks. A
negro carrying a lantern passes along the
road. The sound is repeated. The negro
comes through the bushes, raises his lantern
and looks through the trees. Discerning
a dark object among the
branches, he shrinks back, crosses stage,
and goes out through the wood to the
A second negro comes through the
bushes to the right. He carries two large
baskets, which he places on the ground
just inside of the bushes. Enter three
Chinese, one of whom carries a lantern.
They pause on the road,]
Second Chinese. All you need,
To find poetry,
Is to look for it with a lantern. [The Chinese laugh.]
Third Chinese. I could find it without,
On an August night,
If I saw no more
Then the dew on the barns.
[The Second Negro makes a sound to
attract their attention. The three
Chinese come through the bushes.
The first is short, fat, quizzical, and
of middle age. The second is of
middle height, thin and turning
gray; a man of sense and sympathy.
The third is a young man,
intent, detached. They wear European
Second Chinese [glancing at the baskets].
Dew is water to see,
Not water to drink:
We have forgotten water to drink.
Yet I am content
Just to see sunrise again.
I have not seen it
Since the day we left Pekin.
It filled my doorway,
Like whispering women.
First Chinese. And I have never seen it.
If we have no water,
Do find a melon for me
In the baskets.
[The Second Negro, who has been
opening the baskets, hands the
First Chinese a melon.]
First Chinese. Is there no spring?
[The negro takes a water bottle of
red porcelain from one of the baskets
and places it near the Third
Second Chinese [to Third Chinese].
Your porcelain water bottle.
[One of the baskets contains costumes
of silk, red, blue and green.
During the following speeches, the
Chinese put on these costumes, with
the assistance of the negro, and
seat themselves on the ground.]
Third Chinese. This fetches its own water.
[Takes the bottle and places it on the
ground in the center of the stage.]
I drink from it, dry as it is,
As you from maxims, [To Second Chinese.]
Or you from melons. [To First Chinese.]
First Chinese. Not as I, from melons.
Be sure of that.
Second Chinese. Well, it is true of maxims.
[He finds a book in the pocket of his
costume, and reads from it.]
"The court had known poverty
and wretchedness; humanity had invaded
its seclusion, with its suffering
and its pity."
[The limb of the tree creaks.]
Yes: it is true of maxims,
Just as it is true of poets,
Or wise men, or nobles,
First Chinese. Drink from wise men? From jade?
Is there no spring?
[Turning to the negro, who has taken
a jug from one of the baskets.]
Fill it and return.
[The negro removes a large candle
from one of the baskets and hands
it to the First Chinese; then takes
the jug and the lantern and enters
the trees to the left. The First
Chinese lights the candle and places
it on the ground near the water
Third Chinese. There is a seclusion of porcelain
That humanity never invades.
First Chinese [with sarcasm]. Porcelain!
Third Chinese. It is like the seclusion of sunrise,
Before it shines on any house.
First Chinese. Pooh!
Second Chinese. This candle is the sun;
This bottle is earth:
It is an illustration
Used by generations of hermits.
The point of difference from reality
That, in this illustration,
The earth remains of one color—
It remains red,
It remains what it is.
But when the sun shines on the earth,
It does not shine on a thing that remains
What it was yesterday.
The sun rises
On whatever the earth happens to be.
Third Chinese. And there are indeterminate moments
Before it rises,
Like this, [With a backward gesture.]
Before one can tell
What the bottle is going to be—
Porcelain, Venetian glass,
Well, there are moments
When the candle, sputtering up,
Finds itself in seclusion, [He raises the candle in the air.]
And shines, perhaps, for the beauty of shining.
That is the seclusion of sunrise
Before it shines on any house. [Replacing the candle.]
First Chinese [wagging his head]. As abstract as porcelain.
Second Chinese. Such seclusion knows beauty
As the court knew it.
The court woke
In its windless pavilions,
And gazed on chosen mornings,
As it gazed
On chosen porcelain.
What the court saw was always of the same color,
And well shaped,
And seen in a clear light. [He points to the candle.]
It never woke to see,
And never knew,
The flawed jars,
The weak colors,
The contorted glass.
It never knew
The poor lights. [He opens his book significantly.]
When the court knew beauty only,
And in seclusion,
It had neither love nor wisdom.
These came through poverty
Through suffering and pity. [He pauses.]
It is the invasion of humanity
[The limb of the tree creaks. The
First Chinese turns, for a moment,
in the direction of the sound.]
First Chinese [thoughtfully]. The light of the most tranquil candle
Would shudder on a bloody salver.
Second Chinese [with a gesture of disregard]. It is the invasion
If it be supposed that we are three figures
Painted on porcelain
As we sit here,
That we are painted on this very bottle,
The hermit of the place,
Holding this candle to us,
But if it be supposed
That we are painted as warriors,
The candle would tremble in his hands;
Or if it be supposed, for example,
That we are painted as three dead men,
He could not see the steadiest light,
It would be true
If an emperor himself
Held the candle.
He would forget the porcelain
For the figures painted on it.
Third Chinese [shrugging his shoulders]. Let the candle shine for the beauty of shining.
I dislike the invasion
And long for the windless pavilions.
And yet it may be true
That nothing is beautiful
Except with reference to ourselves,
Nor high, [Pointing to the sky.]
Nor low. [Pointing to the candle.]
No: not even sunrise.
Can you play of this [Mockingly to First Chinese.]
For us? [He stands up.]
First Chinese [hesitatingly]. I have a song
Called Mistress and Maid.
It is of no interest to hermits
Yet it has a bearing;
For if we affect sunrise,
We affect all things.
Third Chinese. It is a pity it is of women.
[He takes an instrument from one
of the baskets and hands it to the
First Chinese, who sings the following
song, accompanying himself,
somewhat tunelessly, on the instrument.
The Third Chinese takes
various things out of the basket for
tea. He arranges fruit. The First
Chinese watches him while he plays.
The Second Chinese gazes at the
ground. The sky shows the first
signs of morning.]
First Chinese. The mistress says, in a harsh voice,
"He will be thinking in strange countries
Of the white stones near my door,
And I—I am tired of him."
She says sharply, to her maid,
"Sing to yourself no more."
Then the maid says, to herself,
"He will be thinking in strange countries
Of the white stones near her door;
But it is me he will see
At the window, as before.
"He will be thinking in strange countries
Of the green gown I wore.
He was saying good-by to her."
The maid drops her eyes and says to her mistress,
"I shall sing to myself no more."
Third Chinese. That affects the white stones,
To be sure. [They laugh.]
First Chinese. And it affects the green gown.
Second Chinese. Here comes our black man.
[The Second Negro returns, somewhat
agitated, with water but without
his lantern. He hands the jug
to the Third Chinese. The First
Chinese from time to time strikes
the instrument. The Third Chinese,
who faces the left, peers in
the direction from which the negro
Third Chinese. You have left your lantern behind you.
It shines, among the trees,
Like evening Venus in a cloud-top.
[The Second Negro grins but makes
no explanation. He seats himself
behind the Chinese to the right.]
First Chinese. Or like a ripe strawberry
Among its leaves. [They laugh.]
I heard to-night
That they are searching the hill
For an Italian.
He disappeared with his neighbor's daughter.
Second Chinese [confidently]. I am sure you heard
The first eloping footfall,
And the drum
Of pursuing feet.
First Chinese [amusedly]. It was not an elopement.
The young gentleman was seen
To climb the hill,
In the manner of a tragedian
Such things happen in the evening.
Second Chinese. Reach the lady quickly.
[The First Chinese strikes the instrument
twice as a prelude to his narrative.]
First Chinese. There are as many points of view
From which to regard her
As there are sides to a round bottle.
[Pointing to the water bottle.]
She was represented to me
[They laugh. The First Chinese
strikes the instrument, and looks
at the Third Chinese, who yawns.]
First Chinese [reciting]. She was as
beautiful as a porcelain water bottle.
[He strikes the instrument in an insinuating
First Chinese. She was represented to me
Therefore my song should go
Of the color of blood.
[He strikes the instrument. The
limb of the tree creaks. The First
Chinese notices it and puts his hand
on the knee of the Second Chinese,
who is seated between him and the
Third Chinese, to call attention to
the sound. They are all seated so
that they do not face the spot from
which the sound comes. A dark
object, hanging to the limb of the
tree, becomes a dim silhouette.
The sky grows constantly brighter.
No color is to be seen until the end
of the play.]
Second Chinese [to First Chinese]. It is only a tree
Creaking in the night wind.
Third Chinese [shrugging his shoulders]. There would be no creaking
In the windless pavilions.
First Chinese [resuming]. So far the lady of the present ballad
Would have been studied
By the hermit and his candle
With much philosophy;
And possibly the emperor would have cried,
But it is a way with ballads
That the more pleasing they are
The worse end they come to;
For here it was also represented
That the lady was poor—
The hermit's candle would have thrown
And the emperor would have held
The porcelain in one hand ...
She was represented as clinging
To that sweaty tragedian,
And weeping up the hill.
Second Chinese [with a grimace]. It does not sound like an elopement.
First Chinese. It is a doleful ballad,
Fit for keyholes.
Third Chinese. Shall we hear more?
Second Chinese. Why not?
Third Chinese. We came for isolation,
To rest in sunrise.
Second Chinese [raising his book slightly]. But this will be a part of sunrise,
And can you tell how it will end?—
Contorted glass ...
[He turns toward the light in the sky
to the right, darkening the candle
with his hands.]
In the meantime, the candle shines, [Indicating the sunrise.]
As you say, [To the Third Chinese.]
For the beauty of shining.
First Chinese [sympathetically]. Oh! it will end badly.
The lady's father
Came clapping behind them
To the foot of the hill.
He came crying,
"Anna, Anna, Anna!" [Imitating.]
He was alone without her,
Just as the young gentleman
Was alone without her:
Three beggars, you see,
Begging for one another.
[The First Negro, carrying two lanterns,
through the trees. At the sight of
him, the Second Negro, seated near
the Chinese, jumps to his feet.
The Chinese get up in alarm. The
Second Negro goes around the
Chinese toward the First Negro.
All see the body of a man hanging
to the limb of the tree. They
gather together, keeping their eyes
fixed on it. The First Negro comes
out of the trees and places the lanterns
on the ground. He looks at
the group and then at the body.]
First Chinese [moved]. The young gentleman of the ballad.
Third Chinese [slowly, approaching the body]. And the end of the ballad.
Take away the bushes.
[The negroes commence to pull away
Second Chinese. Death, the hermit,
Needs no candle
In his hermitage.
[The Second Chinese snuffs out the
candle. The First Chinese puts
out the lanterns. As the bushes
are pulled away, the figure of a
girl, sitting half stupefied under
the tree, suddenly becomes apparent
to the Second Chinese and then
to the Third Chinese. They step
back. The negroes move to the
left. When the First Chinese sees
the girl, the instrument slips from
his hands and falls noisily to the
ground. The girl stirs.]
Second Chinese [to the girl]. Is that you, Anna?
[The girl starts. She raises her head,
looks around slowly, leaps to her
feet and screams.]
Second Chinese [gently]. Is that you, Anna?
[She turns quickly toward the body,
looks at it fixedly and totters up
Anna [bitterly]. Go.
Tell my father:
He is dead.
[The Second and Third Chinese support
her. The First Negro whispers
to the First Chinese, then
takes the lanterns and goes through
the opening to the road, where he
disappears in the direction of the
First Chinese [to Second Chinese]. Bring up fresh water
From the spring.
[The Second Negro takes the jug and
enters the trees to the left. The
girl comes gradually to herself.
She looks at the Chinese and at the
sky. She turns her back toward
the body, shuddering, and does not
look at it again.]
Anna. It will soon be sunrise.
Second Chinese. One candle replaces
[The First Chinese walks toward the
bushes to the right. He stands by
the roadside, as if to attract the
attention of any one passing.]
Anna [simply]. When he was in his fields,
I worked in ours—
Wore purple to see;
And when I was in his garden
I wore gold ear-rings.
Last evening I met him on the road.
He asked me to walk with him
To the top of the hill.
I felt the evil,
But he wanted nothing.
He hanged himself in front of me.
[She looks for support. The Second
and Third Chinese help her toward
the road.—At the roadside, the
First Chinese takes the place of the
Third Chinese. The girl and the
two Chinese go through the bushes
and disappear down the road. The
stage is empty except for the Third
Chinese. He walks slowly across
the stage, pushing the instrument
out of his way with his foot. It
reverberates. He looks at the water
Third Chinese. Of the color of blood ...
Seclusion of porcelain ...
Seclusion of sunrise ...
[He picks up the water bottle.]
The candle of the sun
Will shine soon
On this hermit earth. [Indicating the bottle.]
It will shine soon
Upon the trees,
And find a new thing [Indicating the body.]
Painted on this porcelain, [Indicating the trees.]
But not on this. [Indicating the bottle.]
[He places the bottle on the ground.
A narrow cloud over the valley becomes
red. He turns toward it,
then walks to the right. He finds
the book of the Second Chinese lying
on the ground, picks it up and
turns over the leaves.]
Red is not only
The color of blood,
Or [Indicating the body.]
Of a man's eyes,
Of a girl's.
And as the red of the sun
Is one thing to me
And one thing to another,
So it is the green of one tree [Indicating.]
And the green of another,
Which without it would all be black.
Sunrise is multiplied,
Like the earth on which it shines,
By the eyes that open on it,
Even dead eyes,
As red is multiplied by the leaves of trees.
[Toward the end of this speech, the
Second Negro comes from the trees
to the left, without being seen.
The Third Chinese, whose back is
turned toward the negro, walks
through the bushes to the right and
disappears on the road. The negro
looks around at the object on the
stage. He sees the instrument,
seats himself before it and strikes
it several times, listening to the
sound. One or two birds twitter.
A voice, urging a horse, is heard at
a distance. There is the crack of
a whip. The negro stands up,
walks to the right and remains at
the side of the road.]
[The Curtain Falls Slowly.]