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"PELLÉAS ET MÉLISANDE"
INSTEAD of writing another "Sept Princesses," Maeterlinck wrote "Pelléas et Mélisande," which appeared in 1892, when he was thirty. The story has fully as much external interest as "La Princesse Maleine," and it is treated upon a similar scale, but without irrelevancies. The characters are of the same vaguely "ancient" period as those of "Maleine," and the scenery is the same. Old Arkël is "King of Allemande." Golaud and Pelléas are his grandsons, and Geneviève their mother. Yniold is the son of Golaud by a former marriage. Mélisande is a princess from a strange land. There is a castle, a park, a forest by the sea. Golaud is lost in the forest while following the wild boar, and finds the beautiful, timid Mélisande sobbing beside a fountain. He takes her home, half-willing, and marries her. But upon meeting the younger brother, Pelléas, she is sad, and would not have him go away from the castle. She tells Golaud that she is not happy, she knows not why. But she continues to meet Pelléas, and the child Yniold sees that they have both been crying as they sat together in the dark. Golaud comes upon Pelléas kissing Mélisande's hair, which she has let fall from her window. Golaud warns his brother, calling it smilingly only child's play; but is jealous, and, after having caught them together again, he drags her about by the hair, so that Arkël, looking on, says: "If I were God I should have pity on men's hearts." The lovers meet again beside a fountain. Golaud is in hiding, and kills Palléas and wounds Mélisande, so that she dies after being delivered of a child, "a little puny girl that a beggar would not care to bring into the world ... a little waxen thing that came much too soon."
Such stories have been told before, but simply as a story. Maeterlinck tells it admirably, with proportions that are original as well as just, so that even those who cared nothing for his peculiar method must recognize a master. The surroundings, the colour, the air are his own, like those of its little predecessors. His choice of an Arthurian name for his hero is not unimportant. It gives the key to the story as a whole. He needed an atmosphere remote from modernity and from all historic time, and, by using an Arthurian name, he gained an antique richness far beyond anything which could have come through a medium of his own imagination like that in" Les Sept Princesses." Whether from its Celtic blood or not, the Arthurian literary tradition has just that unreality which serves Maeterlinck. He comes to us upon the music of Lancelot and Pelléas and Pellenore, but tempers it by a scene, the first, which might have been the opening of a modern play, for he is to make the tradition his own and colour it afresh, as Morris and Swinburne did. "What big forests," exclaimed Mélisande when she came to the castle, "what big forests all around the palace!" Seldom could she see the sun. The well where she sits with Pelléas is "perhaps as deep as the sea." When she and Pelléas enter a cave they see "three white-haired old beggars, seated side by side, and supporting one another in sleep against a ledge of rock." Looking out of a window, Pelléas shows the boy Yniold the dogs fighting. Under the castle there are deep vaults where" the darkness is thick as envenomed pulp," but opening on the sea. On the doors there are heavy bolts and chains, and when Pelléas goes out to his last embrace of Mélisande he hears these shoot behind him: "It is too late, it is too late," he cries, and the words echo like, "We shall never come back." When Mélisande lies on her deathbed the maid-servants come in unasked and range themselves in silence and in spite of Golaud along the walls.
Golaud first sees Mélisande crying because she is lost, and does not "belong here," beside a pool in the forest, and at a touch from him she threatens to cast herself in. She has great eyes that seem never to shut, and she takes him for a giant. She would rather die than that he should recover her crown, which has fallen into the water. But he takes her home and weds her, though the hair is grey on his chin and temples: six months after he knows no more of her than at first. When she first meets Pelléas he tells her that he is perhaps going away on the next day, and she asks: "Oh! ... Why are you going?" They sit and talk, not to one another so much as into the silence. She dips her hands into the water because "it seems as if my hands were ill to-day," and, tossing Golaud's ring up into the air, she lets it slip into the fountain, and they cannot get it back. When she reached the castle she was joyous like a child, but now, says Arkël, she stands, "careless perhaps, but with the strange bewildered look of one that was ever expecting a great sorrow, out in the sunshine, in a fair garden." Even the jealous Golaud sees innocence in her eyes so great "they could give lessons in innocence to God "; yet her flesh disgusts him -- her hands are too hot -- and he tortures her by the hair. When she tells Pelléas, who has just said "I love you," that she loves him too, her voice "comes from the end of the world." Asked if she is lying, she says: "No, I never lie; I only lie to your brother." When he kisses her she is "so beautiful that one would say you were going to die." Forgiving Golaud-"what is there to forgive?" -- she dies of a wound that would not have killed a bird; and as she lies in her bed she looks like her baby's big sister.
Compared with his wife, Golaud is a human being upon the ordinary plane. Falling in love with Mélisande is probably his first serious indiscretion, and he knows it is indiscreet. When he sees the flocks being led to town he observes their crying, like lost children -- " one would say that they already smelt the butcher"; but goes on to utter words which betray, if anything, a too ironic opinion in the dramatist: "It will be time to go in to dinner. What a lovely day! What an admirable day for the harvest!" He sets his child to spy for Mélisande. Upon her death-bed he seeks from Mélisande a confession of infidelity'' Quick! Quick!... the truth! the truth!" -- and, failing to get a clear statement of facts, he raves because he will die "like a blind man," and will never know.
SAINT WANDRILLE. Ruins of the Abbey.
Pelléas is a brother soul to Mélisande, but not to Golaud, who had a different father. Before he has seen her he seems to his mother weary of waiting so long for Mélisande. He is always agitated, and when little Yniold enters the room after knocking at the door he reproves him: "That is not the way to knock at doors. It was just as if some misfortune had happened." His passion finds open and direct expression but seldom, as when Mélisande's hair inundates him from a window above, and he holds it and winds it about his neck. "Look, look," he cries up to Mélisande:
"Look, look, I am kissing your hair .... All pain has left me here in the midst of your hair... Do you hear my kisses creep along your hair?... They are climbing all the length of your hair .... Every single hair must bring you one...."
On the night when Golaud surprises and kills him he watches the long shadows of Mélisande and himself and notices how, far away, they kiss, as if he were enchanted as the child Traherne was by his reflection in the water: "Our second selves those shadows be."
As Pelléas is Maeterlinckian in the languor and acquiescence of his actions, so his grandfather Arkël is Maeterlinckian in thought. On reading the letter ill which Golaud confesses his "strange marriage" and fears that Mélisande's beauty will not excuse his folly in the old man's eyes, Arkël says:
"He has done what he probably had to do. I am very old, and yet I have never for one instant seen clearly within myself; how then would you have me judge the deeds of others? I am not far from the grave, and I am incapable of judging myself.... One is always mistaken unless one shuts one's eyes."
And he concludes:
"Let it be as he has willed. I have never put myself in the way of a destiny; and he knows his own future better than I do. There is no such thing, perhaps, as the occurrence of purposeless events."
Arkël, it is evident, has been reading "Le Trésor des Humbles" and "La Sagesse et la Destinée," though these books were not actually published for several years yet. When Pelléas wishes to go away from the castle, and Arkël wishes him to stay, the old man says: "If you think it is from the depths of your life that this journey is exacted, I shall not forbid you to undertake it; for you must know, better than I, what events you ought to offer to your being and to your destiny." The old man has relatives among the blind in "Les Aveugles" and is at least cousin to the grandfather in "L'Intruse" and the prince in "Les Sept Princesses.'' He is the intellect of the family, and has thought so much that he is never much disturbed, and can always speak like a philosopher if not like a wise man. When Mélisande has died and Golaud is sobbing -- "Oh! oh! oh!" -- Arkël says to him: "It is terrible, but it is not your fault ....
It was a little, gentle being, so quiet, so timid, and so silent .... It was a poor little mysterious being, like all the world," and this is the very accent of his microcephalous relatives; but his next words, the last in the play, mark the philosopher again: "Let us go from here. Come; the child must not stay here, in this room .... It must live now, in her stead .... The poor little one's turn has come ...." It is like the end of "L' Intruse."
The doctor also who attends Mélisande has had the same training. "It is," he tells Golaud, "not of this small wound that she could die; a bird could not die of it . . . it is therefore not you that have killed her, my good lord; you must not distress yourself so .... She could not have lived .... She was born for no reason.., to die; and now she is dying for no reason ...."
Not for nothing does Maeterlinck make his characters royal persons, or at least landowners; or, if not, blind men in the care of an asylum. Such lives could not be supported by any others except, perhaps, priests, it is hard to think of them as performing the simplest functions of men, so sad, languid, and submissive are they. They can lie about beside forest fountains all day and lose a ring or a crown and take sadness or happiness as if it were a sweet drug. Golaud's normality interrupts them from time to time and ends them at last. The child Yniold interrupts them because he is strange, but only with the strangeness of a child among elders, while all the others are strange, meditative children whose elders we do not see. Yniold is perfectly natural. Golaud is asking him about Pelléas and Mélisande, and promises to give him something to-morrow:
"'What, father dear?' asks the child.
"' A quiver and arrows; but now tell me what you know about the door,' says Golaud.
"'Yes, yes; very big arrows. But why will they not have left the door open? -- Come, answer! -- no, no; don't open your mouth to cry. I am not angry.'"
This is a domestic conversation from any day. Yniold and Golaud, in fact, and the servants of the opening scene, give scale to the play. They are strong, rough, ordinary members of the human species. Arkël, Pelléas, and Mélisande are of another race. And yet Golaud himself has the trick of these "poor little" people when he says: "Do you see those poor creatures over there who are trying to light a little fire in the forest? -- it has been raining. And, round the other way, do you see the old gardener trying to lift up that tree which the wind has blown across the path? -- he cannot do it; the tree is too big; the tree is too heavy, and it must lie where it fell. There is no help for it all .... "
None of these people is free, and if they were modern or belonged to any time, we could not endure the sight of their servility. They are enslaved to two great powers -- to life, like all other men, and to Maeterlinck. He has given Arkël his philosophy, for example. He has made Pelléas's friend say that he knows precisely the day of his death. He has made the grandfather of Pelléas see in his grandson "the sad, kindly face of one that has not long to live." He alone could make Arkël say that he had observed how all young and beautiful beings shape round themselves events that are young, beautiful, and happy. He bade Pelléas say: "We cannot do as we wish"; and Mélisande: "I don't myself understand all that I say, do you see." He delights in the sound of the chains and bolts shutting out the lovers from the castle. He has given the doctor also a copy of his "Trésor." He gave the servants orders to go and form an impressive line along the walls of the death-chamber and to fall down all together on their knees at the moment of death, though it was unknown to the doctor. Maeterlinck it was who insisted that the lovers should speak as if they were not speaking to one another, uttering words that are hollow, solitary ejaculations, not communion; and when they sit side by side, as Yniold notices, they stare not at one another but in the same direction, without closing their eyes. And as he can make Golaud see the "poor little" men struggling helplessly, so he can make Yniold. Fur when the child is trying to lift a rock to release a ball he says: "It is heavier than all the world.... It is heavier than all that has happened .... I can see my golden ball between the rock and this naughty stone, and I cannot reach it .... My arm is not long enough . . . and the stone will not be lifted . . . I cannot lift it . . . and there is nobody that could lift it .... " Not content with this, the child is made to see a flock of sheep coming:" How many there are! ... They are afraid of the dark .... They huddle together! . . . They all want to turn to the right. ; . . They may not! Their shepherd is throwing earth at them .... Ah! ah! . . . They are obeying."
Symbols, symbols! It is the triumph of Maeterlinck that these symbols, though exaggerated, are never out of harmony. They are all variations of one theme -- the littleness, the impotence, the lostness of mankind. The sound is sweet because the creatures are so small and far away, and unlike anything known to us. Even so must the giant have regarded the man whom he caged for the sweetness of his voice in lamentations. The voices of Pelléas and Mélisande are sweet. Their gestures are beautiful, and they move among scenes which are grim or beautiful, such as impress men. We who know ourselves free, or, if we think otherwise, at least always behave at the moment of action as if we were free, we can safely smile upon them, as perhaps we also are smiled upon by them. Yet the symbols, and the beauty of Mélisande, touch as well as amuse, so that our smile ends in a sigh, which again turns to a smile because "it is not real." At least the music of the scene and action is so great that we are no more disturbed by the sadness of the theme than in De Quincey's "Oh, burden of solitude, that clearest to man through every stage of his being!"
A curious contrast with "Pelléas et Mélisande" may be found in a Portuguese play of the early nineteenth century, Viscount de Almeide Garrett's "Brother Luiz de Sousa." Here the mysterious intelligence of a young girl gives half of its powerful quality to the play, and yet itself remains credible and does not disturb the naturalness, albeit romantic, of the whole. The principal characters are Manuel de Sousa (afterwards Brother Luiz), his wife Magdalena, his daughter Maria, and Telmo, an old servant. Manuel was Magdalena's second husband, and father of Maria. Her first husband was supposed to have perished with King Sebastian at the famous battle of Alcacer (1578), although he had written on the morning of tat battle: "Alive or dead, Magdalena, I will see you at least once again in this world." These words haunted Magdalena, and though she had never loved this man, she waited and searched for him for some years. Old Telmo was always at hand, who had known her first husband, and recalled him as a mirror of chivalry, with repeated doubts of his death. He was always talking of King Sebastian, whose return the people expected, as they might King Arthur's. Telmo, too, had a strange hold upon Maria, a delicate and subtle child. Her mother feared lest she should get to know of her obsession. She loved Telmo's tales and songs of the battle, and begged him for the romance of "the hidden island where King Dom Sebastian lives, who did not die, but will come again one thick, misty day .... For he did not die, did he, mother?" She had observed that only Telmo was willing to talk of the lost king. She noted her mother's anxiety, reading her eyes" and the stars in the sky, too -- and knew things .... " She lay awake whole nights trying to understand. When they were anxiously expecting her father's return from Lisbon it was she who first knew of his arrival -- " and he comes affronted," she said, before the others heard a sound. Then it became necessary to move to a new house, to the house which had belonged to Magdalena's first husband. In spite of all, she had to go there to live, and the old house was burnt. Maria saw that her mother was being preyed upon, but she also believed that they were being forewarned. She was thinking too much; her father bade her play and laugh and enjoy herself, but she recognized, with "a kind of inner knowledge," the portrait of Dom John hanging on one of the walls. She was one to find "marvels and mysteries in the most simple, natural things." Again her father had to go away -- on the very fatal day for Magdalena, the anniversary of her first marriage, of King Sebastian's death, and of her first meeting with Manuel. While he was away came a palmer from Jerusalem, and slowly let drop into her soul the news that he was sent to her by: one who loved her much, and had been twenty years a captive. After seeing Telmo and learning that Magdalena really had sent messengers in search of her lost husband before the second marriage, the palmer begged the old man to say that his story was a lie. Maria was near physical death from excitement and sorrow. Magdalena was willing to pretend to question the word of a vagabond, but both she and Manuel were persuaded that nothing was left for them but "these shrouds " -- the religious habit. It was when they were actually about to take the scapular, and in the presence of the archbishop, that the bewildered Maria burst in upon the ceremony, crying, "What God is this on that altar who would rob a daughter of her father and mother?" The palmer entered at the last scene to try to save them, but Maria fell dead, and Manuel, addressing Magdalena as "My sister," said: "Let us commend our souls to this angel whom God has taken unto Himself." Perhaps no child in drama, after and including the romantic period, is so exquisitely and spiritually revealed as Maria, who is really the heroine of the play; a child of fourteen, who is on the stage almost from beginning to end, and dominates it with a vivid and fatal melancholy. When Magdalena says, "This child is marvellous: she sees and hears at such distances"; and her brother Jorge, "True; it is a terrible sign at that age, and with that complexion"; when Jorge says alone, "The hearts of all seem to have a presentiment of misfortune . . . and the malady has almost taken hold of me too," * -- we seem to be listening to the words of Maeterlinck's characters. Their words, but not their voices. These are people who were born and lived and died among men in the sixteenth, or at any rate the nineteenth, century. Their words deepen the mystery of this life, which the words of Mélisande and Pelléas and Arkël do but delicately embroider with old mysteries of which they have heard tell.
* "Don Luiz de Sousa," translated by Edgar Prestage (Elkin Mathews).
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