The Great War

from War, The Liberator and Other Pieces, an electronic edition

The Remembered Gods

Calum, Shepherd. Ian, Shepherd. Lior, God of the Sea. Balor, God of War. Angus, God of Love. Alastair, a young stranger. Mairi, daughter of Ian.

Dedication

If in my song the heart of love

Looks from another maiden's eyes,

Where on the hills of Morven move

The kings too proud for Paradise;

Though to your ears the autumn brings

No sounds of crying, you will know

The murmur of immortal things

In this dark tale of long ago.

If in the silence of the nights

The song of Angus calls no more,

If all the sea is ringed with lights

And no waves moaning on the shore.

Though Balor, sleeping on the hills,

Forgets the dew in his drenched hair.

You will remember ancient ills,

Pitying another Alastair.

The Remembered Gods

TIME: A long time ago. SCENE: A glen in Morven in the West Highlands, with big stonesscattered. Behind, a big ben. The stage is dark, but in the middle a tall tree shows blacker. Beneath it sits Angus in a wreath of mist. (sings).

Angus

Are the gods forgotten in Morven of the hinds,

The beauty that slew men, the golden eyes that shone,

The gods that would be walking on the rocks of the winds,

That little men would die for the love of looking on?

Are the gods forgotten in Morven of the stags,

The old gods, the fair gods, that were too high for love,

The white feet pressing on the grasses of the crags,

The black hair hidden in the black clouds above?

The gods are forgotten in Morven of the glens.

The sun shines clearly, and gentle is the day.

Like snow in summer corries, like mist upon the bens,

The lovely gods of darkness are vanished away.

[Day dawns, and the stage is empty. Calum and Ian come in.

Calum.

I thought I heard one of the men of peace.

Singing alone within the narrow glen.

Ian.

There is none in it.

Calum.

Yet I thought I heard

A man of peace and he at sorrowing.

God's pity on the people of the hills,

For they have lost the changing love of men,

And won their fear.

Ian.

My mother used to say

That when a man would walk the darkened hills,

The men of peace would take his soul from him

And use it for their pleasure. As they did,

My mother said, in the old misty times,

Before the word of God came into Alba.

Calum.

Poor fallen gods, that were the lords of men,

God's peace upon you. Make your peace with Him.

Lose your sad pride to win His ready grace,

And stand upon the golden floor of Heaven

With other song than this. And yet, who knows,

May be your pride is of more worth to you

Than all the melodies of Paradise,

And these sad songs of yours more beautiful

Than any you could sing with happier lips.

Perhaps our Lord's sweet face might make you dumb.

(outside singing).

Alastair

Summer is gone at last, and autumn leaves are falling,

And through the naked trees the wind is breathing low.

Let us arise and go, for the old gods are calling,

The beautiful cruel gods we loved so long ago.

Let us arise and go, for far beyond the city

We hear the old gods singing the years from which we came,

The merry heartless years that knew not pain or pity,

The happy lustful years that knew not fear or shame.

The bitter music calls, and we must follow after

Back through the gentler years to the old time again,

To wake their lovely mirth, to move the gods to laughter,

This is the end of man, the full reward of pain.

The golden eyes aglow, the silver laughter ringing,

Shall we not suffer pain for lovely things as these?

Let us arise and go, for the old gods are singing,

The beautiful cruel gods that mock our miseries.

Ian.

What voice is this? The men of peace are out.

May God protect us!

Calum.

Ian make an end.

Though all the beaten fairies of the air

Rise against heaven, we can cast them down,

But it were better save them with a kiss.

[Raising his voice.

Whoe'er you be that sing to us this morn,

Whether your dwelling be below the hills

Or in the mazy fastness of the air,

Draw near in peace. For I have learned too well

The lesson of Christ's love, to hate the sad

Discrownèd gods that are His enemies.

Alastair comes in.

Alastair.

Christ's love? Then even here men pray to Christ,

The pitiful intruder; even here

In Western Morven of the windy rocks,

Where once the old gods would be wandering

Along the outer fringes of the world,

The loving god is master.

Ay and you,

With love and pity shining from your eyes,

Can you not mind upon your fathers' swords,

Anger and hate and pride and cruelty?

Ian.

Blasphemer of the world, the Lord is King,

And has set all your gods below His feet.

Calum.

If Christ the loving God is naught to you,

Anger and hate more dear to you than love,

What god would you be praying to at all?

Alastair.

The bitter gods, the beautiful white gods,

That will be walking on the darkened cliffs,

Lior the haunter of the roaring tides.

Whose emerald eyes the drowning sailors see

For one sweet instant, and are swallowed up.

And Balor panoplied in shining rain.

And armoured with the lightnings of the hills

That fire our hearts to war. And chief of all,

Angus the white-foot conqueror of men.

The mist that would destroy the moon with love

If she could hold him, the eternal mist

That wanders still within our quiet hearts,

Stirring the bitter love we may not sate

Save with his own white beauty. These are they

That were your father's gods in the old days.

Calum.

The gods are fallen. On the misty crags

They walk and sorrow for the olden times.

And on the surf-beat rocks the whole night through

Lior is moaning for his vanished loves,

For we have girdled all the seas with flame,

And our new night is gentle as the day.

And the apostles' swords have pierced the rain

That armoured Balor, and the angels' hands

Have rent the fiery lightnings from his grasp,

And war is dying, dying in our hearts.

And the white feet of Angus walk the hill,

But with him go no beautiful young men,

And the young maidens bide within the house.

And you may be, that walk the city ways,

Dream that the gods are mighty yet. But we

In Western Morven, by the winter fires,

Hear all night long above the talk of men

Our broken masters wailing on the hills.

Alastair.

The gods are living yet, and have their thrones

In the invisible desires of men.

Below the quiet current of our lives

They move and labour to destroy the chains

Your saints have cast upon our memory.

Still in our hearts the ancient fires burn high,

And Balor, tempest-armoured, calls to us.

And you with gentle prayer and song adore

Your pitiful, sad god the whole day long.

But in the echoing nights when none is by,

In the lone nights do they not burn you still?

Ian (dreamily).

I do remember clamorous desires,

And lusts awaking in the frozen night,

White maidens dancing underneath the moon,

And the long roll and tumble of the waves.

Calum.

Ian, remember greater things than these,

The little baby god new-born on earth,

With soft lips sucking at his mother's breast.

Alastair.

The sword of night has severed the gentle chains that bound you,

The lovely gods of darkness rise in your heart anew.

Beautiful gods and mighty, in dreams they stand around you,

Kneel down in dreams and worship as once you used to do.

Ian.

White maidens dancing underneath the moon,

And the fierce glow of battle on the hills,

And red, wet blood upon the slayer's hands.

Calum.

Oh, Ian, wake and see the face of Christ.

The worn sad face, the pitiful sweet eyes,

And the feet torn and bloody from the stones.

Alastair.

Dream on, dream on my brother, forget the man of sorrow.

The way-worn feet and bloody, the eyes too dim with tears.

Dream of the lords of beauty, for you shall see to-morrow

The older day returning and the forgotten years.

Ian.

The slow tides calling, calling on the beach,

And all the little waves of night afire,

And the cool emerald depths of Lior's eyes,

That none may look upon and live again.

Oh beautiful cool depths to drown my life,--

I have remembered Lior, and the moon

Is full again and there is mist abroad,

And Angus singing clear upon the hills.

Oh young men follow Angus of the Birds,

Young maidens dance with him below the moon.

You will grow old and hear his song no more.

Oh, follow Angus now while you are young.--

Angus has passed me by, but Balor's fires

Burn fiercely in my bosom as of old,

The lust of slaying, and the bitter blood,

And the cold smile upon the foeman's face.

Calum.

Oh Ian, Ian, will you not remember

The poor feet that the nails were driven through,

The piercèd hands and the spear-riven side,

And the heroic brow false-crowned with thorns?

Ian.

The night is ending. With the day will come

The memory that dreamers may forget,

But I will yet dream on a little while,

Before day claims me for its own again,

And the soft fetters close about my soul.

[Looking round.

Am I awake, and you that bade me dream

Bid me remember in the eye of day?

Is there an end of the new heaven and hell,

And all save earth and the immortal isle,

They used to tell of in the olden times?

[Sinks down.

1 have been dreaming, as I dream alone

In the dim nights; but after them the day

Brings back to me anew the face of Christ.

I am afraid of this new dawn that brings

No Christ, but memories of older things.

END OF ACT I

Act II

The scene is Ian's cottage. A wide fireplace with peats burning,and big chests along the walls. At a table sits Mairi Bain. Ian and Alastair come in.

Ian.

Mairi put out more peats upon the fire,

For we have strangers in the house to-night.

Mairi.

The blessings of our Lord be with you, stranger.

Alastair.

Blessings be with you, woman of the house,

From older gods and greater lords than he.

Mairi.

Stranger, that is no luck-word to the house.

Alastair.

Have you forgotten too, and do you bow,

Pale lily of Morven, to the beaten god,

Who should be following the mist of love

Over the hills beneath a summer moon?

Ian.

Mairi the days of memory are on us,

For I have heard the coronach for Christ

Wail up the corries of the windy hills,

And high and clear above them Angus sang.

But the apostles' souls fled crying, crying

Over the hills across the boundless sea.

I heard the noise of their lament grow faint,

As the waves stilled it; and on the hills of Morven,

Among the unseen secrets of the world,

Christ that we knelt to once is lying dead.

Mairi.

Father, have you forgotten God so soon?

Ian.

I have forgotten all things save the song

Of Angus that I cannot follow now,

And the fierce music of the lords of war,

When fighting heroes meet in the glad ring

Of sword on sword and cries of wounded men.

[Recalls himself.

Mairi put meat and drink before the stranger.

I must be going with the sheep again.

[He goes out. Mairi bursts into tears.

Mairi.

My sorrow on the people of the hills,

My sorrow on the heart that could forget,

My sorrow on you, stranger, who have cast

A misty spell before my father's eyes,

So that the face of Christ grows dark to him.

(kneels beside her).

Alastair

Oh beautiful in sorrow still weep on,

Shrouding your face within a veil of tears.

Weep, for your grief will roll away the years

That have drawn long forgetfulness between us.

[She turns away.

Hear me, forgetting for a little while

That I am he who woke the gods again.

Think I am Alastair, who would awake

The drowsy loveliness that sleeps too long.

Mairi (staring at him).

You are too beautiful for me to hate,

And yet too evil for my love.

Alastair.

Oh wait,

For in my heart remembrance is awake

Of the old time when we went hand in hand,

Following the harp a thousand years ago.

And I will make a song of memory,

That shall call love to your dim eyes again.

SONG

Long ago beneath the moon,

In a corrie of the hills

We forgot our ancient ills

Dancing to a wizard tune.

We remembered song and spell

Chanted in a Lochlainn rune.

Flower of Morven, it was well

Long ago beneath the moon.

Now the moon is full again,

And the song of Angus cries

Underneath the Summer skies

Till the nights of Summer wane.

Follow now while still you may,

Ere his music calls in vain,

Where the harps of Angus play,

Now the moon is full again.

Flower of Morven, long ago

In the corrie where we met,

Did you think you could forget,

Did you dream you would not know

Lips that sang the lovers' tune,

And the heart that loved you so?

Did forgetfulness come soon,

Flower of Morven long ago?

Oh remember me once more,

Now the mist is on the hills

And the harp of Angus stills

Moaning waves along the shore,

For the songs I made for you,

For the love that was before,

For the heart that still is true

Oh remember me once more.

Mairi.

I cannot tell if it be memory

That burns me so, or if the heart of love

Looks out from eyes I never saw till now.

Alastair.

The memory of a thousand years is on us,

The darkened years since our young souls, new-made,

Looked out through other eyes on other lands.

For you and I spoke with a hundred tongues,

And saw a hundred lives passing us by,

Before we came to Morven of the stags.

They have fled by like the light winds that blow

Swift shadows o'er a waveless loch. But we,

Like the loch water, bide the same for ever,

Since first the gods fashioned our souls of mist,

That at the end will take them back again.

Mairi.

The gods are dead, or if they have I care not,

For over my poor heart they have no power.

Here in the changing world we stand alone,

Ourselves for ever. I am Mairi Bain,

And you are Alastair, my love. Forget

The gods that haunted you, for they were dreams,

And I hold truth for you in these two hands.

Alastair (coming nearer).

Oh draw me close and help me to forget,

As though there were no gods in all the world.

All the delight of living, all the beauty

That lingers in the depths of mountain pools

Is in your eyes, and on your dewy lips

The joy of lying in the grass at morning,

Before the sun is risen in the sky.

Mairi.

I dreamed I saw you seven years ago.

You brought me heather-honey and blue flowers,

And wild raspberries picked in an upland glen.

Alastair.

I will bring you gold from the fairy houses,

That are below the hills. I will forget

All, and grow old and happy, loving you.

Mairi (puts her arms round his neck).

We will not care now for the flying shadows,

For we have come into the heart of the world.

[They kiss. Outside a faint music is heard. ALASTAIR starts and turns round.

Mairi.

What is it that you hear?

Alastair.

The song of Angus

Calling across the misty hills to me.

END OF Act II

Act III

A grassy place in the clachan. In the middle an altar with peat and some sacrifice burning. Around it the people are standing. They sing.

Song

Cry for the gods returning,

Cry for the saints that go,

Cry for the altars burning,

And the beacon lights burnt low.

Now in the hills above us

The masters of joy and pain,

Our loves that will not love us,

The gods are come again.

Cry for the day of slaughter,

Cry for the happy dead,

The dooms of men and the water

Over the drowning head.

Cry for the lightnings gleaming,

And the thunder answering,

The things that we longed for dreaming,

And the songs we could not sing.

Cry for the wandering singer,

And for his magic tune,

And dances that weave and linger

Under a summer moon.

Cry for the fight and tourney,

The harp the mother of tears,

And the world that with backward journey

Moves down the older years.

1st Man.

We had our fill of slaying and wild joy

When Balor gave us victory in Appin.

2nd Man.

Uisdean was fighting like a great hero

Of those that were the guard of Fionnagal.

3rd Man.

Uisdean is lying cold upon the hills

And in the houses they are wailing him,

And the wife dumb with sorrow.

1st Man.

It was fine

Ta hear the way the Appin men were crying,

And though Bean-Uisdean will be sorrowing,

The gods love slaying and the clash of swords.

ALASTAIR comes in.

Alastair.

Oh praise the gods that have renewed the world,

Until our old desires are young again.

The sun is growing weary, and draws on

The fairy-haunted stillness of the night,

That is the end of all my wandering.

For you have heard the voices that were crying

Through the long years of your forgetfulness,

And known the end of prisoning.

But I

Bid you farewell, for the last chain of all

Must be destroyed, and the last honour paid.

Mairi and Calum come in.

The gods are calling for the sacrifice,

And on the hills the fairy harps are playing,

That I must follow at the end of all.

Here at the altar of the king of love

I give myself the first-fruits of his fires

To die to-night upon the sacred tree.

1st Man.

We will fulfil the sacrifice hereafter.

And tread behind you in the way of death.

2nd Man.

The servant of the gods will go his way,

That ends beyond the sight of human eyes

In the immortal island of the west.

[They go out in reverent silence, leaving on the stage only Alastair, Mairi, and Calum. Mairi is struck at first with terror. Then she comes up to Alastair and speaks, weeping.

Mairi.

Oh heart of mine, you will not leave me so,

But turn again to see the face of Christ,

And love that brought us into the bright heaven.

Alastair (uplifted with the joy of worship).

Pale lily that I would not pluck, farewell.

A greater love than yours is calling me,

And I must follow where the harper plays

Through the short bitterness into the joy

That none may know save those who see the eyes,

The golden eyes of Angus opening.

Farewell. Our love was soiled with mortal clay,

And I am seeing the white feet of the mist.

[He goes out. Mairi sits down with her head in her hands.

Mairi.

Oh sorrow for the fleeting love of man,

That the desires of hell have stolen away.

Oh love of mine, that the dark gods have charmed

To follow down the misty path that leads

To the eternal gloom of the abyss.

It is a farewell for us two evermore.

The gods have conquered, and the heart of love

Is bruisèd with the beating of their wings.

Calum.

Mairi, the gods are masters for an hour,

But in the end our Lord will come again

With all the host of Heaven for His guard.

Mairi.

Our Lord will come too late for him. And I

Have forgot all the sorrow of the world,

But the swift agony upon the tree

And the immortal pain of him I love.

[She is silent a while. Then she raises her head.

There is an end of joy, for I have bowed

My spirit to the harsh commands of love.

God will forget me who have cast Him off.

The doors of heaven are shut, and the dark fires

Burn high to-night for me.

[She turns to Calum.

But you will know

The sorrow of my love that I must die

For him I set above the joy of heaven.

[She stretches out her arms to where Alastair has gone out.

Oh you that brought the bitter gift to me,

Rejoice. Angus will have his sacrifice.

END OF ACT III

Act IV

The scene is the same as the first. It is night, but the great tree shows blacker. Below it sits ANGUS in a wreath of mist.

Angus (sings).

Let the gods awake, for memory has woken,

The little men that loved us remember us again,

The chains that were wrought of the love of Christ are broken,

And little men come back to our beauty and their pain.

Let the gods awake, for the hearts of men are waking

The little hearts that warmed us when we were a-cold.

The old time is back again, the old day is breaking--

What is man's forgetting to us who wax not old?

Let the gods awake, for the old fires are burning,

And little men remember the words they used to pray.

In all the lands of Morven our lovers are returning,

The gentle chains that bound them are vanished away.

[From the left of the stage the waves of the sea moan, and LIOR speaks.

Lior.

Who will be calling, who will be calling

The master of waters to waken again?

In my ears is the noise of the waves that are falling,

And over my head is the sound of the rain.

Who will be crying, who will be crying

To Lior the watcher, the emerald-eyed?

Is there a story that men will be dying

For me, as their fathers, my lovers, have died?

Who will be singing, who will be singing

Of waking to me who awaken no more?

For men have forgot me, and no winds are bringing

The lives for my drowning they brought me before.

Angus.

Awake, awake, Lior, the time is gone for sleeping;

The hearts of men remember the haunter of the waves;

Let your tides awake, for soon they will be keeping

The watch they kept of old time upon your lovers' graves.

[The murmur of the sea swells into a roar, and the darkness in the west lightens to an emerald glow. From it LIOR speaks.

Lior.

Awake my waters, for men are returning

From the new god to the lord of the tide.

On the rocks of drowning no watch-fires are burning.

For men have remembered the emerald-eyed.

Awake my waters. The north wind is blowing,

And seaward the sailors are toiling in vain,

We are the lords of their coming and going,

Men have remembered the sea-god again.

[From the great ben BALOR speaks through the falling rain.

Balor.

I will sleep still, for my trumpet of thunder,

The master of fear, has been silent for long.

The rain-clouds that armed me are riven asunder,

I will sleep still for the new god is strong.

I will sleep on, for his angels have reft me

Of lightnings that burned in my servants of yore.

War is gone from me, I only have left me

Sleep that is good at the ending of war.

I will sleep on, for men are forgetting

Balor that strode on the heads of the slain.

Anger is dead, and the old day is setting;

My servants will turn to me never again.

Angus

Oh wake, my brother, wake. The hearts of men grown younger

Remember Balor striding above the battle-cry.

The old fires are lit, for the old lusts are stronger;

And men are born to slay again, and born again to die.

[Lightning flashes across the sky, and the thunder rolls.

Balor.

I will rise up in the castles of singing,

The houses of feasting my trumpet shall hear.

The winds of the hills will come back with me bringing

The rouser of battle, the master of fear.

I will rise up where the arrows are hailing,

In the hearts of the dying I will lie down.

In the houses of Morven new widows are wailing,

For men have remembered my ancient renown.

Angus.

Now the gods are wakened, now the world is old,

Now the lightnings flash above the rain,

Now the hymns are chanted, and the stories told,

For the ancient faith has come again.

Now the world remembers, love is passed away,

Pity buried with forgotten things.

High among the mountains, low along the bay

Men are praying to the older kings.

Now the smoke of burning scents the western winds,

Now the victim bleeds upon the sod.

The gods are remembered in Morven of the hinds,

And men have forgotten God.

[All is quiet. Calum and Mairi come in.

Calum.

This is the place of Angus.

Mairi.

Are the hills

As full of terror as they are to-night,

When you are herding in the nights of spring?

Calum

To-night the men of peace have power on earth,

For men have loosed them. Now the hollow caves

Send forth a thousand walkers of the hills,

And all along the beach the voices call,

And fairy torches move among the rocks.

Now the old gods are masters of the world,

And wait to-night the keystone of their power.

Mairi.

I see them all about me cold and still,

The cruel, lovely faces. From the sea

I hear the voices of a thousand sorrows

Crying the coronach along the beach

For them that will be drowned in years to come.

And in the houses there is wailing too,

And moaning of strong fighters on the hill,

And maidens weeping their virginity,

And old men sorrowing for lost desires.

And the gods sit for ever cold and still,

Mocking the sorrows of the heart of men

With cruel, lovely faces.

I remember

Alastair's face and I am brave again,

And all the fairies of the lower air

Powerless as autumn leaves before the wind

Against the burning purpose of my heart.

[Wistfully.

I wish that I might live the summer through,

Milking the cattle in the upland glens,

And singing songs before the shelling door,

Careless and happy as I used to be.

Eilidh will miss my hand at milking-time,

But you will tell them to be soft with her.

Calum.

Eilidh will be the princess of the cows,

When they are herded in the upland glens.

Mairi

And you will bid the children think of me.

I shall be happy if I hear them weep,

And see their tears across the flames of Hell.

Calum.

Oh Mairi, there will be no Hell for you,

But the soft grass that is the floor of Heaven,

With lilies of the south between each blade,

And angels to go with you hand in hand,

And God the Father at the end of all.

Mairi.

Calum, soft words are harder than sharp stones

To hearts that know the end of happiness;

For I will never press the floor of Heaven,

Nor hear the angels' voices sweet and clear,

Nor ever kiss the piercèd feet of Christ.

But sometimes I shall hear them far away

Singing the melodies of Paradise,

While I lie torn and anguished evermore,

The mate of demons in the lower Hell.

Not only this poor body, oh my God,

But all my soul's eternal ecstasy

I cast away to-night of my own will.

Go now, but kiss me once before you go,

That the last kiss may cool my lips in Hell.

Calum.

I will not go and leave you on the hills,

Alone and weak within the fairy ring.

Mairi.

The men of peace can do no harm to me,

For I am dead and lost by my own will.

But go, for I am weakening again,

And dreaming of my life's lost happiness;

It is a lonely thing for me to die.

[He goes out. She turns away to the tree.

Mairi.

Darkness, and all around the waiting gods.

Oh Alastair, your heart will comfort me

If you remember me a little while.

As in the darkness I remember you.

[She hangs herself. There is quiet and then Alastair comes in.

Alastair.

This is the last of nights on earth for me,

Since all is done that I was sent to do,

Down in the clachan there is wailing now

For son and husband stricken in their pride.

And on the hills lie the unburied dead

With hate and anger cold upon their lips,

Or terror still upon the frozen face.

And on the rocks the beacons are burnt out,

And in all Morven no man tends the fire,

And Lior takes his lovers back again.

Along the hills the song of Angus calls

White maidens and the beautiful young men

To dance with him to-night below the moon.

White maidens, and will Mairi go with them,

The pale lily of Morven I have held

Within my hands, and left to grow alone,

Because I love the beauty of the mist

More than the heavy fragrance of her hair,

And the dim soul that looks from her two eyes.

Oh, the pale shadows of immortal love,

That shiver in the eyes of mortal maids.

Cannot drink up the waters of desire,

That eddy stormily, until my heart

Is borne upon them to the last of isles,

The spring of life, the love of all the world.

Oh Angus, oh white haunter of the world,

Wandering mist that hides the heart of earth,

I come at last back to the king of love,

And cast my soul into the endless sea.

[He turns to the tree. Seeing Mairi's figure in the branches he starts.

There is a shadow in the lower branches

Too dark to be the bright wraith of the mist.

[He goes towards the tree and sees who it is.

Mairi!

[He is silent. Then he realizes.

And did you cast away your life,

Lily of Morven, cast your soul away

For me, oh love?

[A light shines over her heart, and gradually spreads over the whole body.

Alastair.

My brain is all afire,

And in the flames great temples crashing down,

The houses of the gods are rent asunder,

And through them sweep the angels triumphing,

And over all I see

[The light reaches the face.

The face of Christ!

[He clasps her hanging feet.

Oh heart of earthly lovers keep me safe.

Oh blessed anguished feet, let me hold you still.

[The light spreads over the stage and drives back the mist.

Angus.

The gods are forgotten in Morven of the glens;

The sun shines clearly, and gentle is the day;

Like snow in summer corries, like the mist upon the bens,

The lovely gods of darkness are vanished away.

End of the Play