The Muse

By Taylor Haacke


Characters

CHARACTER 1

Young Romantic, mourning the loss of his ‘Muse’, distracted by the thought that he possesses little control over his ‘muses’ and inspirations (Lines from Keats’s poetry from pages 301 through 315)

 

CHARACTER 2

 Aged Romantic, wise, grandfather-esque, smoking a tobacco pipe, trying to convince CHARACTER 1 that his mind is his only limitation (Lines from Hugo’s poetry from pages 435-449)

 


 

Setting

Scene takes place outside in an open grassy field, in the afternoon. The backdrop is a simple canvas painted to have soft, grassy hills in the distance, warm sunlight, and blue skies. There is a large (papier-mâché) tree on the right-hand side of the stage, and a picnic table on the left hand side. 

At Rise: The curtains open to a completely lit stage, warm lights mimicking sunlight. CHARACTER 1 is sitting on top of the picnic table, pensively, with his fist underneath his chin, looking off into the distance (re; Rodin’s The Thinker). CHARACTER 2 is standing, leaning on the tree with the pipe in his mouth, turned more away from the audience than CHARACTER 1. He is looking down at the pipe. Both remain still as a painted picture. After 10 seconds of a completely lit stage with no movement, all the lights go off.

 


(Spotlight appears on CHARACTER 1)

 

CHARACTER 1

(Looking out into the distance)

What can I do to drive away remembrance from my eyes?[1]

 

(Spotlight on CHARACTER 1 disappears)

(After a pause, spotlight appears in CHARACTER 2)

 

CHARACTER 2

(As if talking to himself)

Friends, never delve into the dreams you cherish; Leave the soil of your flowering plains untouched. Whenever slumbering oceans rise before you, swim at the surface or play on the shore. Because thought, is a dark thing.[2]

 

(Spotlight on CHARACTER 2 disappears)

(Spotlight on CHARACTER 1 reappears)

 

CHARACTER 1

(Looking out into distance)

What can I do to kill it and be free, in my old liberty?[3] My muse had wings and ever ready was to take her course…[4]

(Spotlight on CHARACTER 1 disappears)

(Spotlight on CHARACTER 2 reappears)

 

(CHARACTER 2 becomes slightly restless now, taking a few steps from the tree, unclogging and refilling his tobacco pipe.)

 

CHARACTER 2

You and your paintbrushes with sparkling tips. You, letting loose your wild and flying verses while all of us gather to hear or watch…[5]

 

(CHARACTER 2 takes a few puffs from tobacco pipe)

 

(Spotlight on CHARACTER 2 disappears)

(Spotlight on CHARACTER 1 reappears)

 

CHARACTER 1

(Removing his fist from his chin, but still looking into distance)

Where shall I learn to get my peace again? To banish thoughts of the most hateful land. Dungeoner of my friends, that wicked strand, where they were wrecked and lived a wretched life.[6]    

 

(Spotlight on CHARACTER 1 disappears)

(Spotlight on CHARACTER 2 reappears)

 

CHARACTER 2

(Still as if talking to himself)

In my mind, I saw my friends around me- Not indistinctly, but exactly as I see them come at evening, grave and loyal.[7] (pauses to smoke pipe) Yes, everyone was there- I saw their faces. Even those who have traveled far away. And after that, those who have

CHARACTER 2 (continued)

died were visible, just as they used to look when they too lived. When the eyes of my mind had, for some moments, studied this family crowding round my hearth, I saw their faces blur and waver. Slowly, they paled, their colorless foreheads all dissolved and, like a brook running into a great lake, they vanished round me into a vast crowd…[8]

 

(The entire stage now lights up as it was originally, and for the first time, CHARACTER 1 addresses CHARACTER 2.)

 

CHARACTER 1

(Angry, turning towards CHARACTER 2)

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget what thou among the leaves hast never known. The weariness, the fever, and the fret… Here, where men sit and hear each other groan. Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs. Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies. Where but to think is to be full of sorrow and leaden-eyes despairs. Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes, or new love pine at them beyond tomorrow.[9]  

 

(CHARACTER 2 remains unfettered, eyes on his pipe, which he is still fiddling with nonchalantly.)

 

CHARACTER 2

The man of glory shook. Cold stupefied him, then suddenly he felt terrified. (pauses, looks at CHARACTER 1) Being without belief, he turned to God. ‘God of armies, is this the end?’ he cried. And then at last the expiation came as he heard someone call him by his name. Someone half-lost in shadow who said, ‘No, Napoleon.’ Napoleon understood, restless, bareheaded, leaden, as he stood before his butchered legions in the snow.[10]

 

(CHARACTER 2 goes back to fiddling with tobacco pipe.)

 

(CHARACTER 1 pauses to think about this.)

 

CHARACTER 1

(Sad, standing from picnic table while speaking)

If by dull rhymes our English must be chained, and, like Andromeda, the sonnet sweet fettered, in spite of pained loveliness, let us find out, if we must be constrained, sandals more interwoven and complete to fit the naked foot of Poesy.[11] (pauses) So, if we may not let the muse be free, she will be bound with garlands of her own.[12]

 

(CHARACTER 1 sits cross-legged on the ground, staring at his hands.)

 

(CHARACTER 2 shakes his head.)

 

CHARACTER 2

(Animated, directly at CHARACTER 1)

I am the Human Spirit. My name is Legion. I am the swarm of sounds, the epidemic of living words that pass from soul to soul. I am the breath. I am smoke, cinder, flame. Sometimes brute instinct, sometimes divine impetus. I am the vast invincible vain passerby called wind. My words contain both star and spark because I am the breath of all- the breath, not the mouth. Breeze inflates and deflates me. And when I have breathed out, I have said everything.[13]

 

CHARACTER 1

(Sad, lies on his back looking towards the sky)

She dwells with beauty, beauty that must die. And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips bidding adieu, and aching Pleasure nigh, turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips, ay, in the very temple of Delight, veiled Melancholy has her sovran shrine. Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue can burst

CHARACTER 1 (continued)

Joy’s grape against his palate fine…his soul shall taste the sadness of her might, and be among her cloudy trophies hung.[14]

 

CHARACTER 2

(Still animated)

I am the neutral spirit Midst. I see no Satan below, no Lord above. My number? Multitude! My being? Boundary! I oppose excess knowledge, search, discovery, investigation, or achievement. I am everyone, strange enemy of everything. I am the law that stops, constrains, hems, shuts in what goes beyond the bounds of Nature… Unbreathable clear ether on the heights; in the mute unrelenting chasm, heaviness.[15]

 

CHARACTER 1

(Over-dramatically)

Oh, brightest! Though too late for antique vows, too, too late for the fond believing lyre, when holy were the haunted forest boughs. Holy the air, the water, and the fire. Yet, even in these days so far retired from happy pieties, thy lucent fans, fluttering among the faint Olympians, I see and sing by my own eyes inspired.[16]

 

CHARACTER 2

(Speaking with soft assertion)

I am the one who says, ‘There lies your sphere. Stay; wait. Rocks, people, angels, animals- all have their bounds. Without stretching their present shape, they must submit to laws tied and crossed round them. I am Limit and Center. I guard all the gates of all the worlds. Go back.’[17]

 

CHARACTER 1

(Quietly)

My imagination is a Monastery and I am its Monk.[18]

CHARACTER 2

(As if relaying a short story)

Five year olds, looking at the elephant, ‘Inside his mouth, he’s got horns’. Six year olds, ‘I like elephants- they’re big.’ Seven year olds, interrupting their study of the elephant and dragging them off, ‘Hey, watch out! He’s going to hit you with his nose.’[19]

 

CHARACTER 1

(Dramatically)

Forlorn! The very word is like a bell to toll me back from thee to my sole self! Adieu! The fancy cannot cheat so well as she is famed to do, deceiving elf. Adieu, adieu! Thy plaintive anthem fades past the near meadows over the still stream, up the hill-side, and now ‘tis buried deep in the next valley-glades. Was it a vison, or a waking dream? Fled is that music:-Do I wake or sleep?[20]

 

CHARACTER 2

(Final thought)

I longed to sound that double sea of time and space, where the human ship goes to and fro eternally. To touch its sand, to study it and search it and explore and fathom it, and bring back some strange rich thing, and say whether its bed is made of rock or mud. So then my spirit dived into this unknown ocean, swam down, naked, alone, to the abyss, pressing on from ineffable to invisible- Suddenly, it came back with great cry. Dazzled, stunned, gasping, staggered and astonished; in the depths, it had found eternity.[21]

 

(Lights fade to dark, all except spotlight which remains on CHARACTER 1.)

(Spotlight fades with the voice of CHARACTER 1.)

 

 

CHARACTER 1

(Softly, looking at sky, voice fading out as if audience is getting further from stage)

I almost wish, we were butterflies, and lived…but three…summer…days…[22]

  

(Stage is black.)

END.


[1] Keats, “What Can I Do To Drive Away”, lines 1-2, page 301

[2] Hugo, The Slope of Reverie, lines 1-5, page 435

[3] Keats, “What Can I Do To Drive Away”, lines 5-6, page 301

[4] Keats, “What Can I Do To Drive Away”, lines 11-12, page 301

[5] Hugo, The Slope of Reverie, lines 35-37, page 436

[6] Keats, “What Can I Do To Drive Away”, lines 30-33, page 302

[7] Hugo, The Slope of Reverie, lines 32-34, page 436

[8] Hugo, The Slope of Reverie, lines 38-37, page 436

[9] Keats, Ode to a Nightingale, stanza 3, page 309

[10] Hugo, Russia 1812, lines 60-69, pages 440-441

[11] Keats, Sonnet: “If By Dull Rhymes”, lines 1-6, page 305

[12] Keats, Sonnet: “If By Dull Rhymes”, lines 13-14, page 305

[13] Hugo, (From God) The Threshold of the Abyss, lines 39-49, page 445

[14] Keats, Ode on Melancholy, stanza 3, page 312

[15] Hugo, (From God) The Threshold of the Abyss, lines 60-69, page 446

[16] Keats, Ode to Psyche, lines 36-43, pages 307-308

[17] Hugo, (From God) The Threshold of the Abyss, lines 70-75, page 446

[18] Keats, in a letter to [Percy Bysshe] Shelley, August 1820, page 314

[19] Hugo, (From The Art Of Being A Grandfather) What the Public Says, lines 25-33, page 442

[20] Keats, Ode to a Nightingale, stanza 8, pages 310-311

[21] Hugo, The Slope of Reverie, lines 133-144, page 439

[22] Keats, Butterflies, Lineated (From a letter, 1 July 1819), page 301







Rothenberg, Jerome. Poems for the Millennium the University of California Book of Romantic & Postmodern Poetry. Vol. 3. Berkeley: U of California, 2009. Print.