The Social Significance of the Modern Drama/Gerhart Hauptmann
GERHART HAUPTMANN is the dramatist of whom it may be justly said that he revolutionized the spirit of dramatic art in Germany: the last Mohican of a group of four—Ibsen, Strindberg, Tolstoy, and Hauptmann—who illumined the horizon of the nineteenth century. Of these Hauptmann, undoubtedly the most human, is also the most universal.
It is unnecessary to make comparisons between great artists: life is sufficiently complex to give each his place in the great scheme of things. If, then, I consider Hauptmann more human, it is because of his deep kinship with every stratum of life. While Ibsen deals exclusively with one attitude, Hauptmann embraces all, understands all, and portrays all, because nothing human is alien to him.
Whether it be the struggle of the transition stage in "Lonely Lives," or the conflict between the Ideal and the Real in "The Sunken Bell," or the brutal background of poverty in "The Weavers," Hauptmann is never aloof as the iconoclast Ibsen, never as bitter as the soul director Strindberg, nor yet as set as the crusader Tolstoy. And that because of his humanity, his boundless love, his oneness with the disinherited of the earth, and his sympathy with the struggles and the travail, the hope and the despair of every human soul. That accounts for the bitter opposition which met Gerhart Hauptmann when he made his first appearance as a dramatist; but it also accounts for the love and devotion of those to whom he was a battle cry, a clarion call against all iniquity, injustice and wrong.
In "Lonely Lives" we see the wonderful sympathy, the tenderness of Hauptmann permeating every figure of the drama.
Dr. Vockerat is not a fighter, not a propagandist or a soap-box orator; he is a dreamer, a poet, and above all a searcher for truth; a scientist, a man who lives in the realm of thought and ideas, and is out of touch with reality and his immediate surroundings.
His parents are simple folk, religious and devoted. To them the world is a book with seven seals. Having lived all their life on a farm, everything with them is regulated and classified into simple ideas—good or bad, great or small, strong or weak. How can they know the infinite shades between strong and weak, how could they grasp the endless variations between the good and the bad? To them life is a daily routine of work and prayer. God has arranged everything, and God manages everything. Why bother your head? Why spend sleepless nights? " Leave it all to God." What pathos in this childish simplicity!
They love their son John, they worship him, and they consecrate their lives to their only boy and because of their love for him, also to his wife and the newly born baby. They have but one sorrow: their son has turned away from religion. Still greater their grief that John is an admirer of Darwin, Spencer and Haeckel and other such men,-sinners, heathens all, who will burn in purgatory and hell. To protect their beloved son from the punishment of God, the old folks continuously pray and give still more devotion and love to their erring child.
Kitty, Dr. Vockerat's wife, is a beautiful type of the Gretchen, reared without any ideas about life, without any consciousness of her position in the world, a tender, helpless flower. She loves John; he is her ideal; he is her all. But she cannot understand him. She does not live in his sphere, nor speak his language. She has never dreamed his thoughts, - not because she is not willing or not eager to give the man all that he needs, but because she does not understand and does not know how.
Into this atmosphere comes Anna Mahr like a breeze from the plains. Anna is a Russian girl, a woman so far produced in Russia only, perhaps because the conditions, the life struggles of that country have been such as to develop a different type of woman. Anna Mahr has spent most of her life on the firing line. She has no conception of the personal: she is universal in her feelings and thoughts, with deep sympathies going out in abundance to all mankind.
When she comes to the Vockerats, their whole life is disturbed, especially that of John Vockerat, to whom she is like a balmy spring to the parched wanderer in the desert. She understands him, for has she not dreamed such thoughts as his, associated with men and women who, for the sake of the ideal, sacrificed their lives, went to Siberia and suffered in the underground dungeons? How then could she fail a Vockerat? It is quite natural that John should find in Anna what his own little world could not give him, understanding, comradeship, deep spiritual kinship.
The Anna Mahrs give the same to any one, be it man, woman, or child. For theirs is not a feeling of sex, of the personal; it is the selfless, the human, the all-embracing fellowship.
In the all invigorating presence of Anna Mahr, John Vockerat begins to live, to dream and work. Another phase of him, as it were, comes into being; larger vistas open before his eyes, and his life is filled with new aspiration for creative work in behalf of a liberating purpose.
Alas, the inevitability that the ideal should be besmirched and desecrated when it comes in contact with sordid reality! This tragic fate befalls Anna Mahr and John Vockerat.
Old Mother Vockerat, who, in her simplicity of soul cannot conceive of an intimate friendship between a man and a woman, unless they be husband and wife, begins first to suspect and insinuate, then to nag and interfere. Of course, it is her love for John, and even more so her love for her son's wife, who is suffering in silence and wearing out her soul in her realization of how little she can mean to her husband.
Mother Vockerat interprets Kitty's grief in a different manner: jealousy, and antagonism to the successful rival is her most convenient explanation for the loneliness, the heart-hunger of love. But as a matter of fact, it is something deeper and more vital that is born in Kitty's soul. It is the awakening of her own womanhood, of her personality.
Kitty. I agree with Miss Mahr on many points. She was saying lately that we women live in a condition of degradation. I think she is quite right there. It is what I feel very often.... It's as clear as daylight that she is right. We are really and truly a despised and ill-used sex. Only think that there is still a law-so she told me yesterday-which allows the husband to inflict a moderate amount of corporal punishment on his wife.
And yet, corporal punishment is not half as terrible as the punishment society inflicts on the Kittys by rearing them as dependent and useless beings, as hot-house flowers, ornaments for a fine house, but of no substance to the husband and certainly of less to her children.
And Mother Vockerat, without any viciousness, instills poison into the innocent soul of Kitty and embitters the life of her loved son. Ignorantly, Mother Vockerat meddles, interferes, and tramples upon the most sacred feelings, the innocent joys of true comradeship.
And all the time John and Anna are quite unaware of the pain and tragedy they are the cause of: they are far removed from the commonplace, petty world about them. They walk and discuss, read and argue about the wonders of life, the needs of humanity, the beauty of the ideal. They have both been famished so long: John for spiritual communion, Anna for warmth of home that she had known so little before, and which in her simplicity she has accepted at the hand of Mother Vockerat and Kitty, oblivious of the fact that nothing is so enslaving as hospitality prompted by a sense of duty.
Miss Mahr. It is a great age that we live in. That which has so weighed upon people's minds and darkened their lives seems to me to be gradually disappearing. Do you not think so, Dr. Vockerat?
John. How do you mean?
Miss Mahr. On the one hand we were oppressed by a sense of uncertainty, of apprehension, on the other by gloomy fanaticism. This exaggerated tension is calming down, is yielding to the influence of something like a current of fresh air, that is blowing in upon us from- let us say from the twentieth century.
John. But I don't find it possible to arrive at any real joy in life yet. I don't know....
Miss Mahr. It has no connection with our individual fates-our little fates, Dr. Vockerat! . . . I have something to say to you-but you are not to get angry; you are to be quite quiet and good.... Dr. Vockerat! we also are falling into the error of weak natures. We must look at things more impersonally. We must learn to take ourselves less seriously.
John. But we'll not talk about that at present.... And is one really to sacrifice everything that one has gained to this cursed conventionality ? Are people incapable of understanding that there can be no crime in a situation which only tends to make both parties better and nobler? Do parents lose by their son becoming a better, wiser man? Does a wife lose by the spiritual growth of her husband?
Miss Mahr. You are both right and wrong. ... Your parents have a different standard from you. Kitty's again, differs from theirs. It seems to me that in this we cannot judge for them.
John. Yes, but you have always said yourself that one should not allow one's self to be ruled by the opinion of others-that one ought to be independent?
Miss Mahr. You have often said to me that you foresee a new, a nobler state of fellowship between man and woman.
John. Yes, I feel that it will come some time-a relationship in which the human will preponderate over the animal tie. Animal will no longer be united to animal, but one human being to another. Friendship is the foundation on which this love will rise, beautiful, unchangeable, a miraculous structure. And I foresee more than this-something nobler, richer, freer still.
Miss Mahr. But will you get anyone, except me, to believe this? Will this prevent Kitty's grieving herself to death ? . . . Don't let us speak of ourselves at all. Let us suppose, quite generally, the feeling of a new, more perfect relationship between two people to exist, as it were prophetically. It is only a feeling, a young and all too tender plant which must be carefully watched and guarded. Don't you think so, Dr. Vockerat? That this plant should come to perfection during our lifetime is not to be expected. We shall not see or taste its fruits. But we may help to propagate it for future generations. I could imagine a person accepting this as a life-task.
John. And hence you conclude that we must part.
Miss Mahr. I did not mean to speak of ourselves. But it is as you say . . . we must part. Another idea . . had sometimes suggested itself to me too . . . momentarily. But I could not entertain it now. I too have felt as if it were the presentiment of better things. And since then the old aim seems to me too poor a one for us-too common, to tell the truth. It is like coming down from the mountain-top with its wide, free view, and feeling the narrowness, the nearness of everything in the valley.
Those who feel the narrow, stifling atmosphere must either die or leave. Anna Mahr is not made for the valley. She must live on the heights. But John Vockerat, harassed and whipped on by those who love him most, is unmanned, broken and crushed. He clings to Anna Mahr as one condemned to death.
John. Help me, Miss Anna! There is no manliness, no pride left in me. I am quite changed. At this moment I am not even the man I was before you came to us. The one feeling left in me is disgust and weariness of life. Everything has lost its worth to me, is soiled, polluted, desecrated, dragged through the mire. When I think what you, your presence, your words made me, I feel that if I cannot be that again, then-then all the rest no longer means anything to me. I draw a line through it all and-close my account.
Miss Mahr. It grieves me terribly, Dr. Vockerat, to see you like this. I hardly know how I am to help you. But one thing you ought to remember-that we foresaw this. We knew that we must be prepared for this sooner or later,
John. Our prophetic feeling of a new, a free existence, a far-off state of blessedness-that feeling we will keep. It shall never be forgotten, though it may never be realized. It shall be my guiding light; when this light is extinguished, my life will be extinguished too.
Miss Mahr. John! one word more! This ring- was taken from the finger of a dead woman, who hat followed her-her husband to Siberia-and faithfully shared his suffering to the end. Just the opposite to our case.... It is the only ring I have ever worn. Its story is a thing to think of when one feels weak. And when you look at it-in hours of weakness-then- think of her-who, far away-lonely like yourself- is fighting the same secret fight-Good-bye!
But John lacks the strength for the fight. Life to him is too lonely, too empty, too unbearably desolate. He has to die-a suicide.
What wonderful grasp of the deepest and most hidden tones of the human soul! What significance in the bitter truth that those who struggle for an ideal, those who attempt to cut themselves loose from the old, from the thousand fetters that hold them down, are doomed to lonely lives!
Gerhart Hauptmann has dedicated this play " to those who have lived this life." And there are many, oh, so many who must live this life, torn out root and all from the soil of their birth, of their surroundings and past. The ideal they see only in the distance-sometimes quite near, again in the far-off distance. These are the lonely lives.
This drama also emphasizes the important point that not only the parents and the wife of John Vockerat fail to understand him, but even his own comrade, one of his own world, the painter Braun,-the type of fanatical revolutionist who scorns human weaknesses and ridicules those who make concessions and compromises But not even this arch-revolutionist can grasp the needs of John. Referring to his chum's friendship with Anna, Braun upbraids him. He charges John with causing his wife's unhappiness and hurting the feelings of his parents. This very man who, as a propagandist, demands that every one live up to his ideal, is quick to condemn his friend when the latter, for the first time in his life, tries to be consistent, to be true to his own innermost being.
The revolutionary, the social and human significance of " Lonely Lives " consists in the lesson that the real revolutionist,-the dreamer, the creative artist, the iconoclast in whatever line,- is fated to be misunderstood, not only by his own kin, but often by his own comrades. That is the doom of all great spirits: they are detached from their environment. Theirs is a lonely life -the life of the transition stage, the hardest and the most difficult period for the individual as well as for a people.
WHEN " The Weavers " first saw the light, pandemonium broke out in the " land of thinkers and poets." "What!" cried Philistia, "workingmen, dirty, emaciated and starved, to be placed on the stage! Poverty, in all its ugliness, to be presented as an after-dinner amusement? That is too much! " Indeed it is too much for the self-satisfied bourgeoisie to be brought face to face with the horrors of the weaver's existence. It is too much, because of the truth and reality that thunders in the placid ears of society a terrific J'accuse!
Gerhart Hauptmann is a child of the people; his grandfather was a weaver, and the only way his father could escape the fate of his parents was by leaving his trade and opening an inn. Little Gerhartís vivid and impressionable mind must have received many pictures from the stories told about the life of the weavers. Who knows but that the social panorama which Hauptmann subsequently gave to the world, had not slumbered in the soul of the child, gaining form and substance as he grew to manhood. At any rate ìThe Weavers,î like the canvases of Millet and the heroic figures of Meunier, represent the epic of the age-long misery of labor, a profoundly stirring picture.
The background of "The Weavers" is the weaving district in Silesia, during the period of home industry - a gruesome sight of human phantoms, dragging on their emaciated existence almost by superhuman effort. Life is a tenacious force that clings desperately even to the most meager chance in an endeavor to assert itself. But what is mirrored in " The Weavers " is so appalling, so dismally hopeless that it stamps the damning brand upon our civilization.
One man and his hirelings thrive on the sinew and bone, on the very blood, of an entire community. The manufacturer Dreissiger spends more for cigars in a day than an entire family earns in a week. Yet so brutalizing, so terrible is the effect of wealth that neither pale hunger nor black despair can move the master.
There is nothing in literature to equal the cruel reality of the scene in the office of Dreissiger, when the weavers bring the finished cloth. For hours they are kept waiting in the stuffy place, waiting the pleasure of the rich employer after they had walked miles on an empty stomach and little sleep. For as one of the men says, " What's to hinder a weaver waiting' for an hour, or for a day? What else is he there for? "
Indeed what else, except to be always waiting in humility, to be exploited and degraded, always at the mercy of the few pence thrown to them after an endless wait.
Necessity knows no law. Neither does it know pride. The weavers, driven by the whip of hunger, bend their backs, beg and cringe before their " superior."
Weaver's wife. No one can't call me idle, but I am not fit now for what I once was. I've twice had a miscarriage. As to John, he's but a poor creature. He's been to the shepherd at Zerlau, but he couldn't do him no good, and . . . you can't do more than you've strength for.... We works as hard as ever we can. This many a week I've been at it till far into the night. Aní weíll keep our heads above water right enough if I can just get a bit oí strength into me. But you must have pity on us, Mr. Pfeifer, sir. Youíll please be so very kind as to let me have a few pence on the next job, sir? Only a few pence, to buy bread with. We canít get no more credit. Weíve made a lot oí little ones.
" Suffer little children to come unto me." Christ loves the children of the poor. The more the better. Why, then, care if they starve ? Why care if they faint away with hunger, like the little boy in Dreissiger's office? For " little Philip is one of nine and the tenth's coming, and the rain comes through their roof and the mother hasn't two shirts among the nine."
Who is to blame ? Ask the Dreissigers. They will tell you, " The poor have too many children." Besides-
Dreissiger. It was nothing serious. The boy is all right again. But all the same it's a disgrace. The child's so weak that a puff of wind would blow him over. How people, how any parents can be so thoughtless is what passes my comprehension. Loading him with two heavy pieces of fustian to carry six good miles! No one would believe it that hadn't seen it. It simply means that I shall have to make a rule that no goods brought by children will be taken over. I sincerely trust that such things will not occur again.-Who gets all the blame for it? Why, of course the manufacturer. It's entirely our fault. If some poor little fellow sticks in the snow in winter and goes to sleep, a special correspondent arrives posthaste, and in two days we have a bloodcurdling story served up in all the papers. Is any blame laid on the father, the parents, that send such a child? Not a bit of it. How should they be to blame? It's all the manufacturer's fault - he's made the scapegoat. They flatter the weaver, and give the manufacturer nothing but abuse - he's a cruel man, with a heart like a stone, a dangerous fellow, at whose calves every cur of a journalist may take a bite. He lives on the fat of the land, and pays the poor weavers starvation wages. In the flow of his eloquence the writer forgets to mention that such a man has his cares too and his sleepless nights; that he runs risks of which the workman never dreams; that he is often driven distracted by all the calculations he has to make, and all the different things he has to take into account; that he has to struggle for his very life against competition; and that no day passes without some annoyance or some loss. And think of the manufacturer's responsibilities, think of the numbers that depend on him, that look to him for their daily bread. No, No! none of you need wish yourselves in my shoes - you would soon have enough of it. You all saw how that fellow, that scoundrel Becker, behaved. Now he'll go and spread about all sorts of tales of my hardheartedness, of how my weavers are turned off for a mere trifle, without a moment's notice. Is that true? Am I so very unmerciful?
The weavers are too starved, too subdued, too terror-stricken not to accept Dreissiger's plea in his own behalf. What would become of these living corpses were it not for the rebels like Becker, to put fire, spirit, and hope in them ? Verily the Beckers are dangerous.
Appalling as the scene in the office of Dreissiger is, the life in the home of the old weaver Baumert is even more terrible. His decrepit old wife, his idiotic son August, who still has to wind spools, his two daughters weaving their youth and bloom into the cloth, and Ansorge, the broken remnant of a heroic type of man, bent over his baskets, all live in cramped quarters lit up only by two small windows. They are waiting anxiously for the few pence old Baumert is to bring, that they may indulge in a long-missed meal. " What . . . what . . . what is to become of us if he don't come home? " laments Mother Baumert. " There is not so much as a handful o' salt in the house - not a bite o' bread, nor a bit o' wood for the fire." But old Baumert has not forgotten his family. He brings them a repast, the first " good meal " they have had in two years. It is the meat of their faithful little dog, whom Baumert could not kill himself because he loved him so. But hunger knows no choice; Baumert had his beloved dog killed, because " a nice little bit o' meat like that does you a lot o' good."
It did not do old Baumert much good. His stomach, tortured and abused so long, rebelled, and the old man had to " give up the precious dog." And all this wretchedness, all this horror almost within sight of the palatial home of Dreissiger, whose dogs are better fed than his human slaves.
Man's endurance is almost limitless. Almost, yet not quite. For there comes a time when the Baumerts, even like their stomachs, rise in rebellion, when they hurl themselves, even though in blind fury, against the pillars of their prison house. Such a moment comes to the weavers, the most patient, docile and subdued of humanity, when stirred to action by the powerful poem read to them by the Jaeger.
Is bloody, cruel, and hateful;
Our life's one torture, long drawn out:
For Lynch law we'd be grateful.
Heart sick and bodies aching,
Our heavy sighs their witness bear
To spirit slowly breaking.
Servants no whit behind them;
Masters and men with one accord
Set on the poor to grind them.
You fiends in fashion human,
A curse will fall on all like you,
Who prey on man and woman.
Vain every word that's spoken.
"If not content, then go and starve—
Our rules cannot be broken."
O ye, who hear this ditty!
Our struggle vain for daily bread
Hard hearts would move to pity.
You'd take both skin and clothing,
You cannibals, whose cruel deeds
Fill all good men with loathing.
The Dreissigers, however, will take no heed. Arrogant and secure in the possession of their stolen wealth, supported by the mouthpieces of the Church and the State, they feel safe from the wrath of the people - till it is too late. But when the storm breaks, they show the yellow streak and cravenly run to cover.
The weavers, roused at last by the poet's description of their condition, urged on by the inspiring enthusiasm of the Beckers and the Jaegers, become indifferent to the threats of the law and ignore the soft tongue of the dispenser of the pure word of God, - " the God who provides shelter and food for the birds and clothes the lilies of the field." Too long they had believed in Him. No wonder Pastor Kittelhaus is now at a loss to understand the weavers, heretofore " so patient, so humble, so easily led." The Pastor has to pay the price for his stupidity: the weavers have outgrown even him.
The spirit of revolt sweeps their souls. It gives them courage and strength to attack the rotten structure, to drive the thieves out of the temple, aye, even to rout the soldiers who come to I save the sacred institution of capitalism. The women, too, are imbued with the spirit of revolt and become an avenging force. Not even the devout faith of Old Hilse, who attempts to stem the tide with his blind belief in his Savior, can stay them.
Old Hilse. O Lord, we know not how to be thankful enough to Thee, for that Thou hast spared us this night again in Thy goodness . . . an' hast had pity on us . . . an' hast suffered us to take no harm. Thou art the All merciful, an' we are poor, sinful children of men - that bad that we are not worthy to be trampled under Thy feet. Yet Thou art our loving Father, an' Thou wilt look upon us an' accept us for the sake of Thy dear Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. " Jesus' blood and righteousness, Our covering is and glorious dress." An' if we're sometimes too sore cast down under Thy chastening - when the fire of Thy purification burns too ragin' hot - oh, lay it not to our charge; forgive us our sin. Give us patience, heavenly Father, that after all these sufferin's we may be made partakers of Thy eternal blessedness. Amen.
The tide is rushing on. Luise, Old Hilse's own daughter-in-law, is part of the tide.
Luise. You an' your piety an' religion - did they serve to keep the life in my poor children? In rags an' dirt they lay, all the four - it didn't as much as keep 'em dry. Yes! I sets up to be a mother, that's what I do - an' if you'd like to know it, that's why I'd send all the manufacturers to hell - because I am a mother! -Not one of the four could I keep in life! It was cryin' more than breathin' with me from the time each poor little thing came into the world till death took pity on it. The devil a bit you cared! You sat there prayin' and singin', and let me run about till my feet bled, tryin' to get one little drop o' skim milk. How many hundred nights has I lain an' racked my head to think what I could do to cheat the churchyard of my little one ? What harm has a baby like that done that it must come to such a miserable end - eh ? An' over there at Dittrich's they're bathed in wine an' washed in milk. No! you may talk as you like, but if they begins here, ten horses won't hold me back. An' what's more - if there's a rush on Dittrich's, you will see me in the forefront of it - an' pity the man as tries to prevent me - I've stood it long enough, so now you know it.
Thus the tide sweeps over Old Hilse, as it must sweep over every obstacle, every hindrance, once labor awakens to the consciousness of its solidaric power.
An epic of misery and revolt never before painted with such terrific force, such inclusive artistry. Hence its wide human appeal, its incontrovertible indictment and its ultra-revolutionary significance, not merely to Silesia or Germany, but to our whole pseudo-civilization built on the misery and exploitation of the wealth producers, of Labor. None greater, none more universal than this stirring, all-embracing message of the most humanly creative genius of our time - Gerhart Hauptmann.
THE SUNKEN BELL
The great versatility of Gerhart Hauptmann is perhaps nowhere so apparent as in " The Sunken Bell," the poetic fairy tale of the tragedy of Man, a tragedy as rich in symbolism as it is realistically true-a tragedy as old as mankind, as elemental as man's ceaseless struggle to cut loose from the rock of ages.
Heinrich, the master bell founder, is an idealist consumed by the fire of a great purpose. He has already set a hundred bells ringing in a hundred different towns, all singing his praises. But his restless spirit is not appeased. Ever it soars to loftier heights, always yearning to reach the sun.
Now once more he has tried his powers, and the new bell, the great Master Bell, is raised aloft, - only to sink into the mere, carrying its maker with it.
His old ideals are broken, and Heinrich is lost in the wilderness of life.
Weak and faint with long groping in the dark woods, and bleeding, Heinrich reaches the mountain top and there beholds Rautendelein, the spirit of freedom, that has allured him on in the work which he strove-" in one grand Bell, to weld the silver music of thy voice with the warm gold of a Sun- holiday. It should have been a master work I failed, then wept I tears of blood." Heinrich returns to his faithful wife Magda, his children, and his village friends - to die. The bell that sank into the mere was not made for the heights -it was not fit to wake the answering echoes of the peaks!
. . . . . . . . . . .
'Twas for the valley - not the mountain-top!
I choose to die. The service of the valleys
Charms me no longer. . . . since on the peak I stood.
Youth - a new youth - I'd need, if I should live:
Out of some rare and magic mountain flower
Marvelous juices I should need to press —
Heart-health, and strength, and the mad lust of triumph,
Steeling my hand to work none yet have dreamed of!
Rautendelein, the symbol of youth and freedom, the vision of new strength and expression, wakes Heinrich from his troubled sleep, kisses him back to life, and inspires him with faith and courage to work toward greater heights.
Heinrich leaves his wife, his hearth, his native place, and rises to the summit of his ideal, there to create, to fashion a marvel bell whose iron throat shall send forth
The first waking peal
Shall shake the skies-when, from the somber clouds
That weighed upon us through the winter night,
Rivers of jewels shall go rushing down
Into a million hands outstretched to clutch!
Then all who drooped, with sudden Power inflamed,
Shall bear their treasure homeward to their huts,
There to unfurl, at last, the silken banners,
Waiting - so long, so long - to be upraised.
. . . . . . . . . . .
And now the wondrous chime again rings out,
Filling the air with such sweet, passionate sound
As makes each breast to sob with rapturous pain.
It sings a song, long lost and long forgotten,
A song of home -a childlike song of Love,
Born in the waters of some fairy well —
Known to all mortals, and yet heard of none!
And as it rises, softly first, and low,
The nightingale and dove seem singing, too;
And all the ice in every human breast
Is melted, and the hate, and pain, and woe,
Stream out in tears.
Indeed a wondrous bell, as only those can forge who have reached the mountain top,- they who can soar upon the wings of their imagination high above the valley of the commonplace, above the dismal gray of petty consideration, beyond the reach of the cold, stifling grip of reality,- higher, ever higher, to kiss the sun-lit sky.
Heinrich spreads his wings. Inspired by the divine fire of Rautendelein, he all but reaches the pinnacle. But there is the Vicar, ready to wrestle with the devil for a poor human soul; to buy it free, if need be, to drag it back to its cage that it may never rise again in rebellion to the will of God.
You shun the church, take refuge in the mountains;
This many a month you have not seen the home
Where your poor wife sits sighing, while, each day,
Your children drink their lonely mother's tears!
For this there is no name but madness,
And wicked madness. Yes. I speak the truth.
Here stand I, Master, overcome with horror
At the relentless cruelty of your heart.
Now Satan, aping God, hath dealt a blow
Yes, I must speak my mind - a blow so dread
That even he must marvel at his triumph.
. . . Now - I have done.
Too deep, yea to the neck, you are sunk in sin!
Your Hell, decked out in beauty as high Heaven,
Shall hold you fast. I will not waste more words.
Yet mark this, Master: witches make good fuel,
Even as heretics, for funeral-pyres.
. . . Your ill deeds,
Heathen, and secret once, are now laid bare.
Horror they wake, and soon there shall come hate.
. . . . . . . . . .
Then, go your way! Farewell! My task is done.
The hemlock Of your sin no man may hope
To rid your soul of. May God pity you!
But this remember! There's a word named rue!
And some day, some day, as your dreams You dream,
A sudden arrow, shot from out the blue,
Shall pierce your breast! And yet
You shall not die, Nor shall You live.
In that dread day you'll Curse
All you now cherish -God, the world, your work,
Your wretched self you'll curse. Then . . . think of me!
That bell shall ring again! Then think of me!
Barely does Heinrich escape the deadly clutch of outlived creeds, superstitions, and conventions embodied in the Vicar, than he is in the throes of other foes who conspire his doom.
Nature herself has decreed the death of Heinrich. For has not man turned his back upon her, has he not cast her off, scorned her beneficial of. ferings, robbed her of her beauty, devastated her charms and betrayed her trust-all for the ephemeral glow of artifice and sham? Hence Nature, too, is Heinrich's foe. Thus the Spirit of the Earth, with all its passions and lusts, symbolized in the Wood Sprite, and gross materialism in the person of the Nickelmann, drive the in. truder back.
The Wood Sprite.
He crowds us from our hills. He hacks and hews,
Digs up our metals, sweats, and smelts, and brews.
The earth-man and the water-sprite he takes
To drag his burdens, and, to harness, breaks.
She steals my cherished flowers, my red-brown ores,
My gold, my Precious stones, my resinous stores.
She serves him like a slave, by night and day.
'Tis he she kisses—us she keeps at bay.
Naught stands against him. Ancient trees he fells.
The earth quakes at his tread, and all the dells
Ring with the echo of his thunderous blows.
His Crimson smithy furnace glows and shines
Into the depths Of my most secret mines.
What he is up to, only Satan knows!
Brekekekex! Hadst thou the creature slain,
A-rotting in the mere long since he had lain —
The maker of the bell, beside the bell.
And so when next I had wished to throw the stones,
The bell had been my box—the dice, his bones!
But even they are powerless to stern the tide of the Ideal: they are helpless in the face of Heinrich's new-born faith, of his burning passion to complete his task, and give voice to the thousand throated golden peal.
Heinrich works and toils, and when doubt casts its black shadow athwart his path, Rautendelein charms back hope. She alone has boundless faith in her Balder,— god of the joy of Life — for he is part of her, of the great glowing force her spirit breathed into the Heinrichs since Time was born — Liberty, redeemer of man.
I am thy Balder?
Make me believe it-make me know it, child!
Give my faint soul the rapturous joy it needs,
To nerve it to its task. For, as the hand,
Toiling with tong and hammer, on and on,
To hew the marble and to guide the chisel,
Now bungles here, now there, yet may not halt
. . . . But - enough of this,
Still straight and steady doth the smoke ascend
From my poor human sacrifice to heaven.
Should now a Hand on high reject my gift,
Why, it may do so. Then the priestly robe
Falls from my shoulder-by no act of mine;
While I, who erst upon the heights was set,
Must look my last on Horeb, and be dumb!
But now bring torches! Lights! And show thine Art!
Enchantress! Fill the wine-cup! We will drink!
Aye, like the common herd of mortal men,
With resolute hands our fleeting joy we'll grip!
Our unsought leisure we will fill with life,
Not waste it, as the herd, in indolence.
We will have music!
While Heinrich and Rautendelein are in the ecstasy of their love and work, the spirits weave their treacherous web - they threaten, they plead, they cling,- spirits whose pain and grief are harder to bear than the enmity or menace of a thousand foes. Spirits that entwine one's heartstrings with tender touch, yet are heavier fetters, more oppressive than leaden weights. Heinrich's children, symbolizing regret that paralyzes one's creative powers, bring their mother's tears and with them a thousand hands to pull Heinrich down from his heights, back to the valley.
"The bell! The bell!" The old, long buried bell again ringing and tolling. Is it not the echo from the past? The superstitions instilled from birth, the prejudices that cling to man with cruel persistence, the conventions which fetter the wings of the idealist: the Old wrestling with the New for the control of man.
" The Sunken Bell " is a fairy tale in its poetic beauty and glow of radiant color. But stripped 'of the legendary and symbolic, it is the life story of every seeker for truth, of the restless spirit of rebellion ever striving onward, ever reaching out toward the sun-tipped mountain, ever yearning for a new-born light.
Too long had Heinrich lived in the valley. It has sapped his strength, has clipped his wings. " Too late! Thy heavy burdens weigh thee down; thy dead ones are too mighty for thee." Heinrich has to die. " He who has flown so high into the very Light, as thou hast flown, must per. ish, if he once fall back to earth."
Thus speak the worldly wise. As if death could still the burning thirst for light; as if the hunger for the ideal could ever be appeased by the thought of destruction! The worldly wise never feel the irresistible urge to dare the cruel fates. With the adder in Maxim Gorki's " Song of the Falcon" they sneer, "What is the sky? An empty place. . . . Why disturb the soul with the desire to soar into the sky? . . . Queer birds," they laugh at the falcons. " Not knowing the earth and grieving on it, they yearn for the sky, seeking for light in the sultry desert. For it is only a desert, with no food and no supporting place for a living body."
The Heinrichs are the social falcons, and though they perish when they fall to earth, they die in the triumphant glory of having beheld the sun, of having braved the storm, defied the clouds and mastered the air.
The sea sparkles in the glowing light, the waves dash against the shore. In their lion-like roar a song resounds about the proud falcons: " 0 daring Falcon, in the battle with sinister forces you lose your life. But the time will come when your precious blood will illumine, like the burning torch of truth, the dark horizon of man; when your blood shall inflame many brave hearts with a burning desire for freedom."
The time when the peals of Heinrich's Bell will call the strong and daring to battle for light and joy. " Hark I . . . 'Tis the music of the Sunbells' song! The Sun . . . the Sun . . . draws near! " . . . and though "the night is long," dawn breaks, its first rays falling on the dying Heinrichs.