Home  »  library  »  poem  »  From ‘Peer Gynt’

C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

From ‘Peer Gynt’

By Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906)

  • Translation of William and Charles Archer
  • Scene:—In front of a settler’s newly built hut in the forest.A reindeer’s horns over the door.The snow is lying deep around.It is dusk. Peer Gynt is standing outside the door, fastening a large wooden bar to it.

  • PEER[laughing between whiles]—Bars I must fix me; bars that can fasten

    The door against troll-folk, and men, and women.

    Bars I must fix me; bars that can shut out

    All the cantankerous little hobgoblins.

    They come with the darkness, they knock and they rattle:

    “Open, Peer Gynt, we’re as nimble as thoughts are!

    ’Neath the bedstead we bustle, we rake in the ashes,

    Down the chimney we hustle like fiery-eyed dragons.

    Hee-hee! Peer Gynt, think you staples and planks

    Can shut out cantankerous hobgoblin thoughts?”

    Solveig comes on snow-shoes over the heath; she has a shawl over her head and a bundle in her hand.
    Solveig—God prosper your labor. You must not reject me.

    You sent for me hither, and so you must take me.

    Peer—Solveig! It cannot be!—Ay, but it is!—

    And you’re not afraid to come near to me!

    Solveig—One message you sent me by little Helga;

    Others came after in storm and in stillness.

    All that your mother told bore me a message,

    That brought forth others when dreams sank upon me.

    Nights full of heaviness, blank empty days,

    Brought me the message that now I must come.

    It seemed as though life had been quenched down there;

    I could not laugh nor weep from the depths of my heart.

    I knew not for sure how you might be minded;

    I knew but for sure what I should do and must do.

    Peer—But your father?
    Solveig—In all of God’s wide earth

    I have none I can call either father or mother.

    I have loosed me from all of them.
    Peer—Solveig, you fair one—

    And to come to me?
    Solveig—Ay, to you alone;

    You must be all to me, friend and consoler.

    [In tears]—The worst was leaving my little sister;

    But parting from father was worse, still worse;

    And worst to leave her at whose breast I was borne;—

    Oh no, God forgive me, the worst I must call

    The sorrow of leaving them all, ay, all!

    Peer—And you know the doom that was passed in spring?

    It forfeits my farm and my heritage.

    Solveig—Think you for heritage, goods, and gear,

    I forsook the paths all my dear ones tread?

    Peer—And know you the compact? Outside the forest

    Whoever may meet me may seize me at will.

    Solveig—I ran upon snow-shoes; I asked my way on;

    They said, “Whither go you?” I answered, “I go home.”

    Peer—Away, away then with nails and planks!

    No need now for bars against hobgoblin thoughts.

    If you dare dwell with the hunter here,

    I know the hut will be blessed from ill.

    Solveig! Let me look at you! Not too near!

    Only look at you! Oh, but you are bright and pure!

    Let me lift you! Oh, but you are fine and light!

    Let me carry you, Solveig, and I’ll never be tired!

    I will not soil you. With outstretched arms

    I will hold you far out from me, lovely and warm one!

    Oh, who would have thought I could draw you to me,—

    Ah, but I’ve longed for you, daylong and nightlong.

    Here you may see I’ve been hewing and building;

    It must down again, dear: it is ugly and mean.

    Solveig—Be it mean or brave, here is all to my mind,

    One so lightly draws breath in the teeth of the wind.

    Down below it was airless; one felt as though choked:

    That was partly what drove me in fear from the dale.

    But here, with the fir branches soughing o’erhead,

    What a stillness and song! I am here in my home.

    Peer—And know you that surely? For all your days?

    Solveig—The path I have trodden leads back nevermore.

    Peer—You are mine then! In! In the room let me see you!

    Go in! I must go to fetch fir-roots for fuel.

    Warm shall the fire be and bright shall it shine;

    You shall sit softly and never be a-cold.

    [He opens the door; Solveig goes in.He stands still for a while, then laughs aloud with joy and leaps into the air.]
    Peer—My king’s daughter! Now I have found her and won her!

    Hei! Now the palace shall rise, deeply founded!

    He seizes his axe and moves away; at the same moment an Old-Looking Woman, in a tattered green gown, comes out from the wood; an Ugly Brat, with an ale flagon in his hand, limps after, holding on to her skirt.
    The Woman—Good evening, Peer Lightfoot!
    Peer—What is it? Who’s there?

    The Woman—Old friends of yours, Peer Gynt! My home is near by.

    We are neighbors.
    Peer—Indeed? That is more than I know.

    The Woman—Even as your hut was builded, mine built itself too.

    Peer[going]—I’m in haste—
    The Woman—Yes, that you are always, my lad;

    But I’ll trudge behind you and catch you at last.

    Peer—You’re mistaken, good woman!
    The Woman—I was so before;

    I was when you promised such mighty fine things.

    Peer—I promised—? What devil’s own nonsense is this?

    The Woman—You’ve forgotten the night when you drank with my sire?

    You’ve forgot—?
    Peer—I’ve forgot what I never have known.

    What’s this that you prate of? When last did we meet?

    The Woman—When last we met was when first we met.

    [To the Brat]—Give your father a drink: he is thirsty, I’m sure.

    Peer—Father? You’re drunk, woman! Do you call him—?

    The Woman—I should think you might well know the pig by its skin!

    Why, where are your eyes? Can’t you see that he’s lame in

    His shank, just as you too are lame in your soul?

    Peer—Would you have me believe—?
    The Woman—Would you wriggle away?

    Peer—This long-legged urchin?
    The Woman—He’s shot up apace.

    Peer—Dare you, you troll-snout, father on me—?

    The Woman—Come now, Peer Gynt, you’re as rude as an ox![Weeping.

    Is it my fault if no longer I’m fair,

    As I was when you lured me on hillside and lea?

    Last fall, in my labor, the Fiend held my back,

    And so ’twas no wonder I came out a fright.

    But if you would see me as fair as before,

    You have only to turn yonder girl out of doors,

    Drive her clean out of your sight and your mind;—

    Do but this, dear my love, and I’ll soon lose my snout!

    Peer—Begone from me, troll-witch!
    The Woman—Ay, see if I do!

    Peer—I’ll split your skull open!
    The Woman—Just try if you dare!

    Ho-ho, Peer Gynt, I’ve no fear of blows!

    Be sure I’ll return every day of the year.

    I’ll set the door ajar and peep in at you both.

    When you’re sitting with your girl on the fireside bench,—

    When you’re tender, Peer Gynt,—when you’d pet and caress her,—

    I’ll seat myself by you, and ask for my share.

    She there and I, we will take you by turns.

    Farewell, dear my lad, you can marry to-morrow!

    Peer—You nightmare of hell!
    The Woman—By-the-by, I forgot!

    You must rear your own youngster, you light-footed scamp!

    Little imp, will you go to your father?
    The Brat[spits at him]—Faugh!

    I’ll chop you with my hatchet; only wait, only wait!

    The Woman[kisses the Brat]—What a head he has got on his shoulders, the dear!

    You’ll be father’s living image when once you’re a man.

    Peer[stamping]—Oh, would you were as far—!
    The Woman—As we now are near?

    Peer[clinching his hands]—And all this—!
    The Woman—For nothing but thoughts and desires!

    It is hard on you, Peer!
    Peer—For nothing but thoughts and desires!

    It is hard on you, Peer!
    The Woman—For nothing but thoughts and desires!

    It is hard on you, Peer!
    Peer—It is worst for another!—

    Solveig, my fairest, my purest gold!

    The Woman—Oh ay, ’tis the guiltless must smart, said the Devil:

    His mother boxed his ears when his father was drunk!

    [She trudges off into the thicket with the Brat, who throws the flagon at Peer Gynt.]
    Peer[after a long silence]—The Boyg said, “Go roundabout!” so one must here.—

    There fell my fine palace, with crash and clatter!

    There’s a wall around her whom I stood so near;

    Of a sudden all’s ugly—my joy has grown old.—

    Roundabout, lad! There’s no way to be found

    Right through all this from where you stand to her.

    Right through? Hm, surely there should be one.

    There’s a text on repentance, unless I mistake.

    But what? What is it? I haven’t the book.

    I’ve forgotten it mostly, and here there is none

    That can guide me aright in the pathless wood.—

    Repentance? And maybe ’twould take whole years,

    Ere I fought my way through. ’Twere a meagre life, that.

    To shatter what’s radiant and lovely and pure,

    And clinch it together in fragments and shards?

    You can do it with a fiddle, but not with a bell.

    Where you’d have the sward green, you must mind not to trample.

    ’Twas naught but a lie though, that witch-snout business!

    Now all that foulness is well out of sight.—

    Ay, out of sight maybe, not out of mind.

    Thoughts will sneak stealthily in at my heel.

    Ingrid! And the three, they that danced on the heights!

    Will they too want to join us? With vixenish spite

    Will they claim to be folded, like her, to my breast,

    To be tenderly lifted on outstretched arms?

    Roundabout, lad: though my arms were as long

    As the root of the fir, or the pine-tree’s stem,—

    I think even then I should hold her too near,

    To set her down pure and untarnished again.—

    I must roundabout here, then, as best I may,

    And see that it bring me nor gain nor loss.

    One must put such things from one, and try to forget.—

    [Goes a few steps towards the hut, and stops again.]
    Go in after this? So befouled and disgraced?

    Go in with that troll rabble after me still?

    Speak, yet be silent; confess, yet conceal—?

    [Throws away his axe.]
    It’s a holy-day evening. For me to keep tryst,

    Such as now I am, would be sacrilege.

    Solveig[in the doorway]—Are you coming?
    Peer[half aloud]—Roundabout!
    Peer—You must wait.

    It is dark, and I’ve got something heavy to fetch.

    Solveig—Wait; I will help you; the burden we’ll share,

    Peer—No, stay where you are! I must bear it alone.

    Solveig—But don’t go too far, dear!
    Peer—Be patient, my girl;

    Be my way long or short—you must wait.
    Solveig[nodding to him as he goes]—Yes, I’ll wait!
    [Peer Gynt goes down the wood-path.Solveig remains standing in the open half-door.]