Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century
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CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Alfred H. Miles, ed.  Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
 
Callirrhoë (1884)
Machaon and the Faun (Act III, Scene 6)
By Michael Field (Katherine Harris Bradley) (1846–1914)
 
A Plot of Grass in a Wood.
[FAUN dancing and singing.]

Faun.  I DANCE and dance! Another faun,
A black one, dances on the lawn.
He moves with me, and when I lift
My heels, his feet directly shift.
I can’t out-dance him, though I try;        5
He dances nimbler than I.
I toss my head, and so does he;
What tricks he dares to play on me!
I touch the ivy in my hair;
Ivy he has and finger there.        10
The spiteful thing to mock me so!
I will outdance him! Ho! ho! ho!
  Machaon.  [behind the trees.]  A sight to shake the stiffest sides on earth!
’Twould force a misanthrope to hang a smile
Upon his lip, as dew-drop on a thorn.        15
Plutus beholding this would fill with noise
Of laughter all the hollow of his voice,
So exquisitely laughable it is.
’Tis one of nature’s jokes she’s mistress of.
The little fool        20
Tries to outcaper his own shadow. Ha!
With what a pettish energy he springs,
His forelock nodding to his sportive heels.
Thus man toils oft for the Impossible,
With earnest foolishness and sorry end.        25
But here’s a jocund close to hopeless toil!
He’s lying all a-grin because he lies
Upon his shadow, which he reckons caught.
Ha! ha! The very sediments of mirth
Are stirred throughout my nature. This gay knave        30
I’ll question.                      [Parting the trees.
  Faun.  Ha! ha! ha!
  Machaon.            What have you caught?
Something philosophers themselves can’t seize
With all their definitions. We’ll revere
One who has caught himself, and at his feet        35
Sit like small scholars.    [FAUN offers to run away.
                        Nay, you shall not go!
I’ll make you talk first. You’re a funny thing!
  Faun.  Oh, let me go! I’ll bite! Oh, let me go!
  Machaon.  A natural philosopher, I see,
Apt with his mouth. I want to hear you talk.        40
For lies you are not keen enough. Methinks
The innocence of truth hath never fled
This simple mouth, though like a nested bird
It soon gets feathers, and betakes itself
Even from infant lips. Come, sit you down.        45
  Faun.  No! no!
  Machaon.        Down with you. Why, you’re on the shade
That danced with you. He’s under you! Sit firm!
There’s my good knave; you see I mean no harm;
And when you’ve told me all I want to hear,
Then dance away within the sun again!        50
  Faun.  I will not dance.
  Machaon.            No sulks; I’ll have no sulks.
Come, tell me what you are, whether a boy
Or but a boyish creature.
  Faun.                  I’m a faun.
  Machaon.  And what is that?
  Faun.                          Why, ’tis a faun.
  Machaon.                            Just so.
But then you’re not a toy?
  Faun.                    I am a faun.
        55
  Machaon.  His slow conception blocks my questions up.
Well, can you tell me how you were begot?
Dropt from the womb of Nature, I should say;
Or had you once a mother?
  Faun.                    I’m a faun.
  Machaon.    A truism, my rustic sage! But how        60
Did you become a faun?—I’ll try plain phrase.—
Cannot you tell
Aught of your childhood,—of the time, I mean,
When you were smaller?
  Faun.                    Oh, I danced as now,
And crushed the acorn-cups, and ran the deer,        65
Sucked the ripe mulberries, tossed the chestnuts up,
As I do now, and …
  Machaon.                Yes, I understand.
—O Eloquence, the tongue of Love, appeal
To cherished memories of simple things,
And thou art on the silliest of lips        70
That never move to reason!—Then you’ve lived
Your life in woods; or is this very wood
Its one green limit?
  Faun.            Once I found the trees
Grow few, so few, like hyacinths in June,
Which made me very sorry; then, I saw        75
Grass without any shade on which I ran.
But then did I grow frightened, for I’m sure
The shade cares for me, and will keep me safe.
And I ran back.
  Machaon.        Poor little fool! I shrink
Thus from a new aspect of life, before        80
Unknown. I cannot run away, like you,
To shades of ignorance to hide amaze.
Have you got any human qualities?
Speak, are you quite inhuman?
  Faun.                      I’m a faun.
  Machaon.  Like all the world, he doth repeat himself,        85
Making an adage stuff the holes of thought.
Yet I’m too rough, through griefs ill-timed assault.
You dance and talk, both actions of the man,
And yet there’s something in you I can’t fit
Into humanity. I can’t tell what.        90
  Faun  [offering to jump up.]    Now I may go!
  Machaon.  Stop! Tell me, can you love?
  Faun.  I love Coresus.
  Machaon.            Ah! and you love him!
What do you know of him?
  Faun.                He’s kind to me.
  Machaon.  The knowledge of a brute. I hoped for more.        95
What! from this simpleton.—He loved your wood?
  Faun.  He loves it, and he often plays with me,…
  Machaon.  How dull are the unfearing to suspect!
  Faun.  And bends the bough of the high fir for reach
Of my hand wanting cones, and then he strokes        100
The smooth back of a deer, and binds its neck
With ivy-leaves, at which, oh, how I laugh!
And then he laughs, and then I clap my hands.
  Machaon.  Hast thou seen any in the woods to-day?
  Faun.  Two, with their noses on a mossy root,        105
That looked at me, and …
  Machaon.                I meant any man.
Hast thou seen man or maiden in these glades?
  Faun.  No! no! He has not come so long a time.
When will he come again?
  Machaon.                No more, no more
—I’d better spell the manuscript of Death        110
To these untutored ears. This ignorance
So blessèd in the present may afflict
The future, with its wonder unallayed,
That growing drearily, at last becomes
The brutish misery that never knows.        115
—He’s dead.
  Faun.  Does that mean that he’s angry with me?
Oh, I’ll be good,
If he will come again, and not be dead!
  Machaon.  He’ll melt my manhood! It is strange, most strange;        120
The tongue of knowledge wags with sounding phrase:
Set ignorance to question, and it straight
Declines to lisping. I am childish-mouthed
Before this unschooled creature.—Come to me.
You will not? Nay, but I must have you near        125
If I’m to tell you what we mean by dead.
—I make too solemn preparations,
(Oh, cruel priestcraft of my tender dread!)
He’s frightened. Brevity but cuts the flesh
Of our anxieties; prolixity        130
Tears it. So I’ll be brief.—
You said that you were sorry when in June
The hyacinths drop away?
  Faun.                Yes.
  Machaon.                    When they’re gone.
You cannot get them back again?
  Faun.                        I can.
Not for a while, but then their streaky buds        135
Shoot up, and soon they’re all with me again.
  Machaon.  Ah! I must give a better rendering
From Death’s old bone-grey parchment.—Right, you’re right!
The hyacinths blue the ground spring after spring,
Although with different flowers from those you bunched        140
In grasp too small last year. For oft your hands
Are greedy with the flowers?
  Faun.                    No, for they look
Long-faced and tired, and do not smile at me
As when they stick straight up out of the ground.
  Machaon.  A thread to guide me, through the labyrinth        145
Of his simplicity and ignorance,
To the mid-chamber, dark and windowless,
Where understanding lies! The tired flowers
Grow ugly, lose
All likeness to the bells you jerked about        150
So merrily when they were purple?
  Faun.                    Yes.
When they grow tired, I lay them on the grass;
I love to lie upon the grass when tired,
And then they go.
  Machaon.  That going I call Death.        155
  Faun.  But then they come again, quite fresh and gay.
But I am tired, tired, tired!
  Machaon.  The thread is snapt, the labyrinthine way
Blocked up with dulness.—Yet you want to know
Wherefore Coresus cannot play with you?        160
  Faun.  Oh yes!
  Machaon.  Then tell me, did you ever love
One deer above the rest?
  Faun.                Oh yes!
  Machaon.                        —His yawn
Is to my heart’s pain most medicinal.
Tire often blunts the edge of sorrow’s sword.—        165
And did it ever cease to follow you?
  Faun.  One day it followed; then lay down; then up
It got, and followed as I ran before.
At last it lay, and would not stir, for all
I tickled its soft skin with chestnut-leaves.        170
It lay, and …
  Machaon.        It was dead!
  Faun  [shuddering.]            It grew a heap
More nasty than an ant-hill, for it smelt!
  Machaon.  He knows the alphabet of Death: my task
To make the grim idea creep through the signs
As snake through blades of grass. Yes, I must form        175
The sentence of man’s doom, and teach to him.
  Faun.  I hate the wood about it; never dance,
Or even go there.
  Machaon.        It was dead.
  Faun.                  Perhaps
It’s right again; I never go to see.
  Machaon.  I tell you it was dead.
  Faun.                      Then it was dead.
        180
  Machaon.  How shall I lift the lid of his mind’s chest,
And empty it of Hope’s sweet silver form
That’s been its tenant and glad prisoner?—
Coresus thus is dead:
Just like your deer; dead, dead, just like your deer.        185
—He’s all a-tremble; yet his frightened thought
Still dares a vain resistance, like a girl
Who whips the captor’s arms. Ah me, ah me!
I dare not comfort him while still he doubts;
Silence is unbelief’s best battle-field.—        190
  Faun  [in a whisper.]  And is he brown and nasty, like the deer?
  Machaon.  I can’t pollute his memory with Yes!
No, no. But he can talk no more, nor move,
Nor ever come to play with you again.
  Faun.  He’ll come with the next hyacinths!
  Machaon.                        No, no!
        195
You never, never will be with him more,
Or play with him again.
  Faun.              Oh-o-h-h!
  Machaon.                    Belief
At last fills up the doorway of his doubt.—
My boy!—A sob is coming, and the face
Looks older now its lines of joy are bent        200
To sorrow’s converse will.
[FAUN rolls on the grass and sobs.    

                        Nay, do not cry.
Look, here’s a cone. I’ll pick you cones, and play.
—O Death, how like a cruel step-mother,
You always put your spite in every joy!
You’ve torn a great hole in the happiness        205
Of this quiet happy creature, which no stitch
Of Time will mend completely.
  Faun.                    Dead, dead, dead!
Coresus, don’t be dead!
  Machaon.            I’ve got a cone;
I’ll give it you. There! try to love me, boy!
  Faun.  Coresus dead! Oh, oh! Dead like the deer.        210
The horrid deer that lay and smelt! Oh, oh!
Coresus dead like that?
  Machaon.            You’ll love me?
  Faun.                        No.
Perhaps the deer’s all right! I’ll see! I’ll see!
For then Coresus will be all right too!      [Exit.
  Machaon.  Go, have thy foolish way. Thy tears are dry;        215
I will not raise their flood-gate for the world.
Deception is the ivy of the mind:
I’ve cut
Its roots at his small brain, and it may hang
Greenly about it for a little while        220
Before it withers. I must budge, must hence.
Poor youngster! Here’s the very place his back
Made in the moss. Would he could lie and laugh
The shadow o’ Death uncaught! So Truth can curse:
I thought not it could put its sacred tongue        225
To such a use. Heigh-ho! From this time forth
He’ll have a different laugh. I must be gone!      [Exit.
 
 
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