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THE English translation of "L'Oiseau Bleu" appeared in 1909, before its original, and was soon afterwards charmingly performed at the Haymarket Theatre in London, with scenery which was for the most part brilliantly apt. The woodcutter's children, Tyltyl and Mytyl, lie in bed dreaming on Christmas Eve, but, appearing to wake, they get up and watch the party in the great house opposite, which they enjoy as if they were of it. There is a knock at the cottage door, and an old hunch-backed woman enters, rather like their neighbour, Madame Berlingot. She wants the Blue Bird for her little sick daughter, and Tyltyl and Mytyl are to find it for her. She is the fairy Bérylune, and gives Tyltyl a green hat and the magic diamond: "One turn, you see the inside of things .... One more, and you behold the past .... Another, and you behold the future." Tyltyl turns the diamond, and the fairy becomes a princess of marvellous beauty, and all things are resplendent. The Hours trip out of the tall grandfather's clock and begin to dance to delicious music.
The souls of the loaves, of the fire, of the dog, and of the cat appear. The dog is enthusiastic at this release, the cat circumspect. The soul of water comes from the tap and fights with fire, and the souls of milk, sugar, and light appear. At a knock on the door, Tyltyl turns the diamond, and the enchantment is gone. Fire, Bread, Water, Sugar, Milk, Light, and Tylo the Dog and Tylette the Cat remain to accompany the children. All go out through the window, and Daddy and Mummy Tyl, entering, believe their children asleep.
In the Fairy's palace all receive their dresses. The Cat rebels. The Dog is for Man, and so is Light, who is to lead the guest. First they visit the Land of Memory, and see Granny and Gaffer Tyl, who tell them: "Every time you think of us, we wake up and see you." Tyltyl notices that the old blackbird in the cage is quite blue, and Gaffer agrees to give it to them. Their dead brothers and sisters run out of the cottage, they play and sup together, but a clock strikes and the two have to go -- the bird has turned black again. In the Palace of Night the Cat asks Night to keep them from finding the Blue Bird, "hidden here, among the blue birds and the dreams.., that die as soon as they set eyes on the sun." The children, Bread, Sugar, and the Dog timidly enter and find Night, Sleep, and Death. In cave after cave they discover the Ghosts, the Sicknesses, the Wars, the Shades and Terrors, Silence and the Mysteries, the Stars, Perfumes of Night, Will-o'-th'-Wisps, Fireflies, Transparent Dew, and at last a dream-garden with many blue birds. The children take away some of these, but when Light enters they droop and die, and Tyltyl flings them down and cries. In the Forest the Cat conspires with the Trees against the children before they and the Dog enter. When the diamond is turned the trees' souls appear. A blue bird is perched on the Oak, who denounces Man and calls on the Animals. At the Cat's suggestion the Dog is bound up by Ivy to the Oak because he has threatened it. None of the trees will attack Tyltyl, and the war is left to the Animals. The Dog and Light save the children in the battle, and, Tyltyl turning the diamond, the Forest is once more harmless. Light says: "You see Man is alone against all in this world."
After this sinister forest scene Maeterlinck has introduced two most genial scenes at the suggestion of Mr. Herbert Trench. "I believe we have the Blue Bird this time," says Light, on approaching the Palace of Happiness. Here they meet the Luxuries -- the Luxury of Being Rich, the Luxury of Being a Landowner, the Luxury of Knowing Nothing, the Luxury of Understanding Nothing, and so on. But the Luxury of Being Rich tells Tyltyl that the Blue Bird "is a bird that is not good to eat, I believe .... At any rate, he has never figured on our table .... That means that we have a poor opinion of him. But don't trouble; we have much better things .... " Tylo, Sugar, and Bread give way to the temptations of the Luxuries' table: one Luxury catches Light herself round the waist. The turning of the diamond brings the tempted ones to their senses, and wipes out the glories of the Luxuries. For them are substituted the angelic beauty of the Happinesses. First the" Children's Happinesses" appear dancing and singing, but without the Blue Bird. Then come the Happinesses of Tyltyl's own home, though he does not recognize them. They are the Happiness of Being Well, the Happiness of Pure Air, the Happiness of Loving one's Parents, the Happiness of Running Barefoot in the Dew, and many others. When Tyltyl asks them about the Blue Bird, they all burst out laughing at hearing that he does not know where the Bird is. The Happiness of Running Barefoot in the Dew has taken word to the Great Joys. They appear to the children -- the Joy of Being Just, the Joy of Being Good, the Joy of Fame, the Joy of Understanding, and such gentry. The Joy of Loving comes also, and "the peerless joy of Maternal Love" -- in her Tyltyl sees the resemblance to his mother, "but you are much prettier." She wears a ring like Mummy Tyl, but with light flowing through it. "Doesn't it do any work like the one at home?" asks Tyltyl.
"'Why, yes,' says Maternal Love, ' it is the very same: did you never see that it becomes quite white and fills with light the moment it fondles you?'"
She tells him that "Heaven is wherever you and I kiss each other." These Joys kneel at the feet of Light because she is to teach them to see beyond themselves; but not yet. They part from her with tears, but without the Blue Bird, and with only the slightest mention of it in the whole act, as is natural in a scene designed to consummate the daintily, solemnly, airy Christmas quality of the whole play.
Light now has to announce that a note from the Fairy Bérylune tells her the Blue Bird is probably in the graveyard, one of the dead is hiding it. She sends the children alone to the graveyard, and there, in the turning of the diamond, the gaping tombs give forth an efflorescence which makes a fairy-like garden, with dew on the flowers, murmuring wind, and bees and birds. "There are no dead," is the discovery.
ABBEY OF SAINT WANDRILLE, The Refectory (interior)
The children are next taken by Light to the Kingdom of the Future, where the children are waiting to be born -- playing, talking, dreaming, working at future inventions -- and among them a child who is to wipe out injustice from the earth, and another who is to be Tyltyl's brother. The great opal doors open and Time appears calling those whose turn it is to be born, and of two lovers one is taken and another is forced to remain behind. The galley bearing them passes away; the song of the glad and expectant mothers is heard. Time sees the children and is furious and threatening, but they slip away with Light, who has the Blue Bird under her cloak.
At the wall of their cottage the children part from Light and the rest. They are still without the Blue Bird, because the one from the Future turned pink: "he changes colour when he is eyed." The Dog and the Cat quarrel again. The clock strikes and all flee, the Dog howling outside. The children are awakened by Mummy Tyl, who is frightened at their strange talk and adventures. She thinks she is to lose them, but Daddy Tyl thinks all is well. After a knock their neighbour Berlingot enters, and the children think her the Fairy Bérylune. Her little sick daughter wants Tyltyl's bird, and behold it is blue. He gives it and she goes away. "How lovely it all is!" he says, "and how glad I feel!" The neighbour returns presently with a beautiful little girl carrying Tyltyl's dove. But as Tyltyl is stroking the bird it escapes and flies away. The little girl sobs, but Tyltyl comforts her and says he will catch him again; then, addressing the audience, he says: "If any of you should find him, would you be so very kind as to give him back to us? . . . We need him for our happiness, later on."
Compare "L'Oiseau Bleu" simply as a fairy play for children with any other books or plays for children -- with "Peter Pan," with "Alice in Wonderland," with Mr. Walter de la Mare's "Three Mulla Mulgars" -- and it will bear the comparison. It innovates less than "Alice" and no more than "Three Mulla Mulgars." The animals and inanimate things are personified and made to talk. All takes place during the sleeping hours, and it is "only pretending," for the two children might have been seen lying rightly in their bed at any hour of the night. It is the night before Christmas Day. The children are the masters, with the help of a fairy of a thoroughly acceptable traditional kind. All these are conditions which cause less surprise fulfilled than if unfulfilled. Then Tyltyl is to be dressed like Hop-o'-my-Thumb in Perrault's tales, Mytyl like Grethel or Little Red Riding Hood, the Fairy Bérylune and neighbour Berlingot like "the poor woman in fairy tales," the Dog in a costume suggesting "John Bull," the Cat in that of Puss-in-Boots, though Maeterlinck might easily defend himself against any one who attacked him with his own objection to the use of ancient bogeys and fustian in modern plays. The reader, and still less the spectator, if he be acquainted with new as well as old fairy tales, children's books, pantomimes, etc., has no difficulties at the opening of the play and few at any other point. It satisfies the most rigid and the most indolent conventional standards by its total form and most of its detail. The Palace of Happiness is indeed an irrelevant intrusion, but it can be played so that the "angel forms" of the Joy of Doing Good and the other shadows appear as pretty and as little symbolical as ballet-girls. Upon the stage, the brilliant or fantastic or amusing dresses, and the various surprising and charming scenes, add yet a great deal more to the power of the play to conquer the eye and the fancy.
But Maeterlinck has not merely done consummately what many could have done somehow or very well. Here, for example, are Tyltyl and Mytyl looking out of their window at the rich children's party.
T. It's snowing! . . . There's two carriages, with six horses each! . . .
M. There are twelve little boys getting out!...
T. How silly you are! . . They're little girls ....
M. They've got knickerbockers ....
T. What do you know? ... Don't push so! . . .
M. I never touched you.
T. (who is taking up the whole stool). You're taking up all the room.
M. Why, there's no room at all! . . .
T. Do be quiet! I see the tree! . . .
M. What tree? . . .
T. Why, the Christmas tree! . . . You're looking at the wall!...
M. I'm looking at the wall because I've got no room.
T. (giving her a miserly little place on the stool). There! Will that do? . . . Now you're better off than I! I say, what lots and lots of lights!
M. What are those people doing who are making such a noise? . . .
T. They're the musicians.
M. Are they angry? . . .
T. No; but it's hard work.
M. Another carriage with white horses! . . .
T. Be quiet! . . . And look!
M. What are those gold things there, hanging from the branches?
T. Why, toys, to be sure! ... Swords, guns, soldiers, cannons ....
M. And dolls; say, are there any dolls? . . .
T. Dolls? That's too silly; there's no fun in dolls.
But these things, perfect as they are in their way, might have been by other clever writers. The humour can be quietly playful enough, as when the Fairy says she thinks it wrong of the rich children not to give Tyltyl and Mytyl some, and Tyltyl replies: "Not at all, they're rich " -- or when the Cat tells the Oak that it does not throw off its rheumatism "because of the moss; you put too much of it on your feet" -- or in the assumed superiority of the little boy to the little girl all through, or of the similar superiority of Gaffer Tyl to Granny Tyl, or in the quarrels of Cat and Dog down to the time when the Dog asks the children: "Shall I do a wonderful trick for you? Would you like me to kiss the Cat?" Or when Mytyl asks Tyltyl what the dead eat and he says "Roots," she asks, "Shall we see them?" Yet if this humour, taken altogether, can be called individual, it is not distinctive; nor perhaps is the mere invention of the Land of Memory, the Kingdom of the Future, the Forest where the Animals strive against Man; it is certainly far less so than the invention of several of the early plays. One reminder of the early plays there is in the third scene of the fifth act when the two unborn lovers are begging to be allowed to go together to earth, and one says, "I shall never see him again," and the other, "We shall be alone in the world." This echoed expression of the feeling of separation has been seen to survive and to reappear again and again. No; as in "Monna Vanna," Maeterlinck has taken an outline which might have been any one's, but this outline he has filled with delicate and significant fancy that is purely his own, and with thoughts which are not only his own but are for the most part to be found in his essays. If any one is inclined to lay too much stress upon this serious side of the book he should turn to the first act, where the power of the diamond is explained. It will, says the Fairy, open the children's eyes so that they can see at once "the inside of things." The boy turns the diamond, and among other souls appear those of the loaves:
"The souls of the Quartern Loaves, in the form of little men in crust-coloured tights, flurried and all powdered with flour, scramble out of the bread-pan and frisk round the table, where they are caught up by Fire, who, springing from the hearth in yellow and vermilion tights, writhes with laughter as he chases the loaves."
And the Fairy tells the boy that they are "taking advantage of the reign of truth to leave the pan in which they were too tightly packed." This is Maeterlinck's playful warning to those who are not content that a Christmas fairy play should be that above all things. It is as if, in an hour of uncontrollable and pyrotechnic high spirits, he had taken his essays and vowed to turn them into something amusing. For the most part he has done this with a zest and lightness which are as remarkable as the qualities of the essays themselves, but, instead of writing of the wisdom of silent children, he compares seven brothers and sisters to a set of Pan's-pipes. He has once or twice relented, and even so far forgotten his vow that he writes as would better become the essayist. The intruded "Palace of Happiness" is a case in point. It can only be effective on the stage by obliterating whatever meaning it has and making it simply an excuse for scenery and dress.
It is yet worth while to see how much of the essays has not been completely transformed. Tylo, the dog, for example, who, dressed as John Bull or not, is probably the favourite character with English audiences. Tylo does nothing which might not have been foreseen by readers of Maeterlinck's essays on the death of a little dog and on chrysanthemums. When his soul is free and can speak, he at once jumps about with joy and addresses the boy as "My little god" and cries, "At last, at last we can talk! . . · I had so much to tell you! Bark and wag my tail as I might, you never understood. But now! . · . Good morning, good morning! . . · I love you!" The Fairy was to tell the souls that all who accompany the children will die at the end of the journey, and the Cat cries out at once that they should return to the "trap "; but Tylo accepts the condition. "I want to go with the little god! I want to talk to him all the time." When the animals are left alone together, the Cat tells them that their future is at stake, and that they must prolong the journey as much as possible. Tylo simply explains:
"'This is ridiculous! . .. There is Man, and that's all! . . . We have to obey him and do as he tells us!... That is the one and only fact! . .. I recognize no one but him! . . . Hurrah for Man! . . . Man for ever! . . . In life and death, all for Man! . . . Man is God!'"
In the forest scene Tylo's acts are as heroic as these speeches. Much of this scene is unmitigated philosophy from the essays. The Oak, for example, speaks for inhuman Nature to the assembled animals:
"The child you see before you, thanks to a talisman stolen from the powers of Earth, is able to take possession of the Blue Bird and thus to snatch from us the secret which we have kept since the origin of life .... Now we know enough of Man to entertain no doubt as to the fate which he reserves for us once he is in possession of this secret. That is why it seems to me that any hesitation would be both foolish and criminal ....
It is a serious moment. The child must be done away with before it is too late."
Tylo breaks in upon this anarchism with gruff, abusive humour, calling the trees "Timbertoes" and the Ivy "You old ball of twine." But he is tied up, and the Oak continues:
"'This is the first time that it is given to us to judge Man and make him feel our power .... I do not think that, after the harm which he has done us, after the monstrous injustice which we have suffered, there can remain the least doubt as to the sentence that awaits him.'"
And all of them are, in fact, for death, and immediate death. The Beech offers its highest branch to hang the children on, and the Fir-tree four planks for a coffin, and so on, the Lime interrupting to oppose "such extremities." They are alarmed at the knife, and make a very poor fight against two small children and afterwards the dog. When the Wolf tries to corrupt Tylo by reminding him that Tyltyl's father drowned his seven puppies, he retorts: "Quite right! And a good thing too! . . . It was because they looked like you!" When Light has saved the children she tells them that the animals and trees are "always like that; but we do not know it because we do not see it .... Man is all alone against all in this world." Not a word about vegetarianism, though the sheep gives, as the reason of its hostility, the fact that Tyltyl has eaten her brother, two sisters, three uncles, an aunt, and a grandfather and grandmother. Maeterlinck's cheerful confidence in the romance of Man is not prominent in this scene alone. In the Palace of Night, Night admits that Man has "captured a third of her mysteries, that all her terrors are afraid, her ghosts fled, and most of her sicknesses ill'' almost all poorly and very much discouraged . . . the doctors are so unkind to them." She asks:
"Must he absolutely know everything?" In the Kingdom of the Future the same is expressed with greater extravagance and not always so much humour. Maeterlinck's interest in machinery and invention leads to a whirl of "wheels, disks, flywheels, driving-wheels, pulleys, straps, and strange and as yet unnamed objects," where experimenters are at work, and Time, choosing those who are to be born, comments, "More doctors?... Where are the engineers?" The unborn children boast to Tyltyl of their inventions; and one shows a scented daisy as big as a table -- " They will grow like that when I am on the earth " -- and another a bunch of grapes as big as pears; one is to bring pure joy to the earth "by means of ideas which people have not yet had," and another is "to conquer death." There is a curious piece of cruelty also in this scene. A brother of Tyltyl's, who is to be born on next Palm Sunday, comes running up to the children with a bag. Tyltyl asks what is in it, and he tells them, "Three illnesses: scarlatina, whooping-cough, and measles." Tyltyl's comment might have been invented by Mr. Kenneth Grahame or any child: "Oh, that's all, is it?" But he continues:" And, after that, what will you do?" "I shall have you," says the unborn. "It will hardly be worth while coming," is Tyltyl's last word. It is cruel, to any one but a child, and it is admirable. The child is perhaps to be one of the doomed children of" Le Trésor des Humbles," but it has a reality which is lacking there. This is one of the passages where philosophy fails Maeterlinck and reality breaks in. It is not the only unexpected thing in the scene. Among the children who are to go off on Time's galley to the earth are several who have forgotten the things they had to bring -- for each must bring something -- and one of them has forgotten "the box containing the two crimes which I shall have to commit." This need not be taken as doctrine, unless the whole scene is, but it is so consistent that I think it must. "Life is right" -- at least to the extent of being unalterable, and Merlin was wrong when he told Lancéor that Joyzelle could change the future.
If Maeterlinck gives up, for the purposes of the play, his suggestion that man may learn to change the future, he returns to the belief that he makes his own past. In "Le Temple Enseveli" he expressed this belief very cunningly. The most dangerous past, he said, is one inhabited by "too dearly cherished phantoms," and against such cherishing he urges that, if the dead were to return, they would bid us dry our eyes and say that they live only in our memories, but that we falsely believe our regrets alone can touch them; in truth they are robbed yet again of life when we return too often to their graves and allow them to" sadden our ardour." This is the language of old Gaffer Tyl, whom the children meet in the Land of Memory:
"'Why don't you come to see us oftener? . . . It makes us so happy! . . . It is months and months now that you've forgotten us, and that we have seen nobody ....
"'We are always here, waiting for a visit from those who are alive .... They come so seldom!... Well, every time you think of us, we wake up and see you again.'"
The scene in the graveyard, ending in Tyltyl's "There are no dead" is a continuation of the same thought, and the child has evidently read the essay on immortality, as Tylo has read that on the death of a little dog. If the Kingdom of the Future is not quite in keeping with holly and mistletoe, there can be no objection of the kind against the Land of Memory. In the book, and still more on the stage, it is full of concessions to amiability, and this scene at the supper-table is a charming example:
Tyltyl (half raising himself on his stool). I want more, more!... (He seizes the tureen, drags it towards him, and upsets it and the soup, which trickles over the table and down over their knees, and scalds them. Yells and screams of pain.)
Granny Tyl. There! . . . I told you so! . . .
Gaffer Tyl. (giving Tyltyl a loud box on the ear). That's one for you! . . .
Tyltyl. (staggered for a moment, next puts his hand to his cheek with an expression of rapture). Oh, that's just like the slaps you used to give me when you were alive!... Grandad, how nice it was, and how good it makes one feel! . . . I must give you a kiss! . . .
Gaffer Tyl. Very well; there's more where that came from, if you like them.
In this Land of Memory Gaffer Tyl wants to smoke, but has broken his pipe. Another piece of geniality is the pipe which is given to the soul of the Lime-tree to smoke in the Forest scene: he comes forward quietly smoking his pipe. These personifications of the trees may serve as examples of Maeterlinck's pretty anthropomorphic fancy. Tyltyl turns the diamond and --
"A long-drawn-out rustling shakes the leaves and branches. The oldest and most stately trunks open to make way for the soul which each of them contains. The appearance of these souls differs according to the appearance and the character of the trees which they represent. The soul of the Elm, for instance, is a sort of pursy, pot-bellied, crabbed gnome; the Lime-tree is placid, familiar, and jovial; the Beech, elegant and agile; the Birch, white, reserved, and restless; the Willow, stunted, dishevelled, and talkative; the Fir-tree, tall, lean, and taciturn; the Cypress, tragic; the Chestnut-tree, pretentious, and rather dandified; the Poplar, sprightly, cumbersome, and talkative."
The early plays of Maeterlinck are irregularly and incompletely symbolic, as life, nature, and biography are. "L'Oiseau Bleu" is more allegorical than symbolic; in fact, few books are less symbolic, for the writer has been too self-conscious to allow his imagination to work in the manner which produces symbols. It is also far too lively a play to be systematically allegorical, and to call the Blue Bird happiness, and to claim the play as a picture of the quest for happiness, is to blind ourselves to many of the merits of a theatrical fairy story, and to substantiate the claim is to attempt an impossible and ungrateful task. By writing the new fourth act for Mr. Herbert Trench Maeterlinck shows his robust indifference to everything but the entertainment. He very nearly left the Blue Bird altogether out of this act. The Blue Bird, says the Oak, in one of the dangerously abstract speeches of the play, is "the great secret of things, and of happiness"; and again, to win the Blue Bird is "to snatch from us the secret which we have kept since the origin of life." Fairy Bérylune, says Light, has said that the Blue Bird is in the graveyard -- " One of the dead is hiding it in his tomb"; but "there are no dead." Light again claims to have the Blue Bird when they leave the Kingdom of the Future, and when they are back again at the cottage she tells them that the Fairy is coming to ask for it. "But," says Tyltyl, "I haven't got the Blue Bird!" Whereupon Light seems to prevaricate, saying: "it seems likely that the Blue Bird does not exist or that he changes colour when he is caged." Nevertheless, in the cage is a blue bird found, instead of a common turtle-dove, and, by giving it to Madame Berlingot, Tyltyl cures her sick daughter: which causes no surprise in a fairy play, and more cannot be said. The Blue Bird has given an excuse for the play and continuity to the adventures, and that it should seem to mean something important is no more than was to be expected in a work by Maeterlinck. He has probably tricked us good-naturedly by playing with his liking for symbols. The Blue Bird means happiness, as the White Peacocks of "Serres Chaudes" meant ennui, and no more.
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