Four Mystery Plays
The Soul's Probation (Written 1911)
The woodland meadow, as in Scene 6. Joseph Keane, Dame Keane, their daughter Bertha; afterwards, Countryfolk, later the Monk; finally Keane's foster-daughter Cecilia and Thomas.
Dear mother, I so long to hear the tale
Cecilia often spake of years ago.
Thou dost know all those fairy-tales to tell
Which father brings back with him from the knights
When he comes home, and which with greatest joy
So many friends are always glad to hear.
The soul can find real treasure in those tales.
The gifts which on the spirit they confer
Decay not with the body in the grave,
But bear their fruits in later lives on earth.
Darkly, as through a glass, we glimpse their truth;
And from such darkened sight, our souls can win
Knowledge to serve our needs in daily life.
If only folk could realize the store
Of precious gifts our knights have to bestow
Cecilia and Thomas have, alas,
Deaf ears at present for such things as these;
Since they draw wisdom from another source.
To-day I fain would listen to that tale
Which tells about the Evil and the Good.
Right gladly will I tell it thee; attend.
Once on a time there lived a man who spent
Much time in puzzling over cosmic truths.
That which tormented his poor brain the most
Was, how to learn of Evil's origin;
And to that question he could not reply.
The world was made by God, so he would say,
And God can only have in him the Good.
How then doth Evil spring from out the Good?
Time and again he puzzled over this,
But could not find the answer that he sought.
Now it befell that on a certain day
This seeker on his travels passed a tree
That was engaged in converse with an axe.
Unto the tree the axe did speak these words:
‘That which thou canst not do I can achieve,
I can fell thee; but thou canst not fell me.’
Unto the vain axe thus the tree replied:
‘'Twas but a year ago a man did cleave
The very wood of which thine haft is made
Out of my body with another axe.’
And when the man had listened to these words
A thought was straightway born within his soul
Which he could not set clearly down in words,
But which completely answered his demand:
How Evil could originate from Good.
Think on this story, daughter, and thou'lt see,
How contemplating nature's mysteries
May form fresh knowledge in a human head.
I know how many things I can make clear
Unto myself by spinning out in thought
The tales by which the knights enlighten us.
I know I am a simple little thing,
Without ability to understand
The learned words which clever people use
In setting forth the science they profess.
I have no taste for matters of that kind.
Whenever Thomas tells us of his work
I nearly fall asleep. But I could spend
Unnumbered hours in listening to the tales
Which father brings back home on his return
From visiting the castle, and wherewith
He often weaves a story of his own
As he recounts them to us hour on hour.
(After an interval, the Country folk come across the meadow.)
My uncle yesterday came home again.
He dwelt a long time in Bohemia,
And earned an honest living in the mines.
Full many a bit of news he hath to tell
Picked up by him upon his journeyings;
Excitement and unrest are everywhere;
Attacks are made upon the Spirit-Knights.
Our local brotherhood cannot escape;
Already preparations have been made
And ere long will this castle be besieged.
I hope 'twill not be long 'ere they attack.
Many amongst us will most certainly
Gladly enlist among the fighting-men;
I mean to be among the first myself.
Thou wilt but hurry headlong to thy doom!
How can a man be such a witless fool!
Hast thou forgot how strongly fortified
The castle is? The battle will be grim.
It is no business of the countryfolk
To mix with things they do not understand.
Yet there are many hereabouts to-day
Who do naught else but go from place to place
And fan the embers of revolt and strife.
Things have already come to such a pass
That sick folk have to cry in vain for aid.
The good man who in former days was wont
To help so many in sore need, can now
No more pass out beyond the castle gates,
So cruelly have folk belaboured him.
Of course! For many people were enraged
On hearing from what source the sickness came
That broke out, all at once, among our cows.
The Jew brought this upon them by his spells.
He only seems to make sick people well
In order, by the use of hellish arts,
Better to serve the ends of evil powers.
This empty prattle about heresy
Little availed. Truth is, our countryfolk
Had what they needed. Nought else came of it
Save that with dark mysterious sayings they beguiled
The idle hour; till, with cunning skill
A clever judge of human frailty
Devised this silly tale about the Jew,
How he had laid a spell upon our stock —
And then indeed the storm. began to rise.
I think that every one of you might know
What wars do mean, with all their misery.
Have not our fathers told us all that they
Must needs endure, when all the countryside
Was overrun by bands of soldiery?
I always said that it would come to pass:
Their lordships' rule must shortly fade away.
Already hath a dream revealed to me
How we can be of service to the troops
When they arrive to carry out the siege,
And take good care of all their creature needs.
If dreams to-day are still to be believed,
That is a matter we need not discuss.
The knights have tried to make us cleverer
Than were our fathers. Now they have to learn
How much our cleverness hath been increased.
Our fathers let them in; in our turn we.
Shall drive them out. I know the secret tracks
That yield an entrance to the fortalice.
I used to work within it until rage,
Drove me away; now will I show the knights
How we can make their science serve our ends.
He surely hath no good thought in his heart;
I trembled as I listened to his words.
In spirit-vision I have lately seen
A traitor leading hostile soldiery
By secret ways into the castle's keep.
Such visions are destructive, I should say.
No one who thinks as Christians ought to think
But is aware that honesty alone,
Not treason, can from evil set us free.
I let folk talk, and help as best I can.
How often do we hear a thing called wrong
By those who lack the courage in themselves
To do that very thing. Let's go our ways;
I see the father coming down the road;
We will not interrupt his train of thought.
I found no difficulty up till now
In understanding everything he taught;
But in the sermon which he preached to-day
He said much that one could not understand.
(The Countryfolk go away towards the forest.)
(After an interval the Monk comes along the meadow path.)
It must be that a soul is led astray
In striving to pursue her natural course.
The weakness of my heart alone allowed
Such visions to appear before mine eyes
As those which I beheld within those walls.
That they must Show themselves to me in strife
Is proof enough how little yet in me
The psychic forces work in harmony.
Therefore will I address myself anew
To kindle in myself those potent words
Which bring me light from out the Spirit-heights.
That man alone prefers another road,
Whom personal illusions have made blind.
The soul can only triumph over lies
By proving herself worthy of the grace
Which Spirit-light, outpoured from founts of love,
In words of wisdom doth reveal to her.
I know that I shall find the greatest strength
Which can throw light on what the Fathers taught,
When from the gloom of self's imaginings
With lowly heart submissive I can flee.
(After an interval there appear on the meadow Cecilia and Thomas.)
Dear brother, when in fervent ecstasy
Of silent prayer my soul did bow herself
Unto the Fountain of the World, and yearn
Whole-heartedly to be made one therewith,
A light before my spirit would appear —
With gentle warmth and radiancy aglow;
This then transformed itself into a man
Who looked into my face with tender eyes,
And spoke to me. These were the vision's words:
‘Human delusion left thee once forlorn,
And now thou art upborne by human love
Wait therefore until longing finds a way
To bring the seeker safely to thy side.’
Thus spake this human figure oft to me
Nor could I fathom what the words might mean;
And yet a dim foreboding made me glad,
That some time they should be fulfilled for me.
And then, beloved brother, thou didst come,
And when I first set eyes upon thy face,
I felt my senses leave me; for thou vast
That human figure's very counterpart.
Dream and foreboding told thee but the truth,
Indeed 'twas longing guided me to thee.
And when thou didst request me as thy wife
I thought the Spirit had ordained it so.
That in good truth the Spirit's purpose was
To re-unite us, clearly may be seen,
Although we read it not aright at first.
As wife and helpmeet, sent me from above,
So didst thou seem to me, when first we met.
And then my long-lost sister did I find.
And henceforth nothing shall divide us twain.
Yet many obstacles between us rise.
Thy foster-parents by close ties are bound
Unto the brotherhood which I must spurn.
They are incarnate love and kindness both;
And loyal friendship will they give to thee.
My creed will separate me from their love.
Through me you will find out the way to them.
Keane is a kindly man, but he is stubborn;
He never will see aught but darkness there
Where I perceive the very fount of light.
In riper years it was first granted me
To turn my steps toward this light of truth,
Since all I learned of it in childhood's days
Upon my spirit made but little mark;
Whilst later on, my every thought was bent
On scientific knowledge as a means
To gain a livelihood. When I came here
At last I found the teacher and the guide
Who had the power to liberate my soul.
The teaching he path let me listen to
Doth bear the very stamp of truth itself.
Such is his speech that heart and head alike
Must yield themselves as captives to his words,
So full at once of gentleness and good.
I took the greatest trouble heretofore
To understand the other spirit type
And found it could but unto error lead.
Since it clings only to those spirit-powers
Which may be faithful guides in earthly ways
But cannot lift one up to higher worlds.
Row shall I therefore ever find the way
Into the hearts of people who believe
That from this error all salvation springs?
I hear thy words, dear brother, and they seem
The product of no peaceful frame of mind.
Yet 'tis a peaceful scene of former days
Which they have reawakened in my soul.
'Twas one Good Friday, many years ago,
I saw the scene of which I speak to thee.
It happened that upon that day the man
Who wore my brother's features, said to me:
‘From source divine hath sprung the human soul
It can in death dive down to nature's depths;
In time it will set spirit free from death.’
Not until afterwards was I aware
That these words are the motto of our knights.
Alas! my sister, that thy lips should speak
Those evil words, which our opponents take
As revelation of the highest truth.
I have at heart no sympathy at all
With outward acts committed by the knights
I truly serve the creed that nourished thee.
But never could I make myself believe
That men who guide the footsteps of the soul
By such instruction toward so high a goal
Walk not themselves the path that Christ hath trod.
The Spirit's pupil am I, staunch and true,
And I confess that it is my belief
That on that day, my brother's spirit strove
To speak of aims that lead the soul to peace.
The powers of destiny have not ordained
Peace for the soul, it seems, for thee and me;
They take our father from us that same hour
That sees him once again restored to us.
My faculties are clouded o'er with pain
When of our father thus I hear thee speak.
Thy heart would draw thee to his side in love,
And yet thou tremblest at the very thought
Of union with him whilst he is alive.
Thou followest our leader in good faith,
Yet canst not hear the messages of love
Which his commands so tenderly convey.
A dark enigma faceth me; I see
The goodness of thy heart, and thy strong faith,
And yet must shudder at the deep abyss
That yawns so terribly between them.
And did not hope live on to comfort me,
And tell me love is never overcome,
I should lack courage to endure this pain.
Dear sister, thou hast yet to learn the power
Of thought, once it hath gripped a human soul.
This is no case of son opposing sire;
But one thought from another turns away.
Thought is the sovereign whom my soul obeys
Did I refuse her homage I should be
In very truth my spirit's murderer.
Curtain; Thomas and Cecilia still standing in the meadow
(This closes the vision into the fourteenth century. The following is the sequel of the events described in the first five scenes.)