THE DEAD CITY
In Argolis "the thirsty" -- near the ruins of Mycenae "rich of gold".
A large, light room, opening upon a loggia (piazza) with a balustrade, looking toward the ancient city of the sons of Pelops. The floor of the loggia, is higher than that of the room by five stone steps built in shape of a truncated pyramid, as at the entrance of a temple. Two Doric columns support the architrave. Through the opening is seen, the Acropolis with its venerable Cyclopic walls broken by the Gate of Lions. In each of the side walls of the room there are two exits leading to the interior apartments and to the staircase. A large table is covered with papers, books, small statues and vases. Everywhere, along the walls, into the empty spaces, are crowded statues, bas reliefs, inscriptions, sculptural fragments: evidences of remote life, vestiges of a vanished beauty. The presence of all these white objects gives to the room a brilliant and severe, almost sepulchral aspect, in the immobility of the morning light.
ANNA, seated on the highest of the steps leading up to the loggia, her head resting against the shaft of a column, listens in silence to BIANCA MARIA, who reads to her. THE NURSE is seated on a lower step, at the feet of the listener, in a listless attitude, like a patient slave. BIANCA MARIA is standing, her back against the other column, dressed in a kind of tunic, simple and harmonious like a peplum. Holding in her hands an open book --Sophocles' "Antigone,"--she reads with a slow and grave intonation, in which trembles now and then a vague uneasiness, that does not escape the notice of the hearer. The signs of her disquietude and anxiety rouse the latter's attention more and more.
BIANCA MARIA, reads.
"O Eros, invincible in strife,
"Eros, thou who hurlest disasters,
"Who in the soft cheeks
"Of the maiden liest in ambush,
"Who roamest beyond the sea and through the rustic cottages!
"Neither any among the Immortals can escape thee,
"Nor any of the short-lived mortals; and whoever has thee is mad.
"Thou drivest the misguided minds
"Of the just to ruin;
"And thou hast also to this strife
"Incited blood relations.
"The seductive glance from the eyes of a lovely bride
"Wins the victory over the greatest laws.
"Even I am being carried beyond the pale of the law
"Seeing this; nor can I restrain
"Any longer the fountains of my tears
"Seeing Antigone on her way to
"The nuptial chamber that quiets all.
"Behold me, O citizens of my native country
"Entering upon the last journey,
"Looking at the splendor
"Of the sun for the last time,
"And hence forward never again! Hades,
that stills everything, conducts me
"To the shore of Acheron alive
"And deprived of marriage.
"The nuptial hymn shall never be
"Sung for me; for I am to espouse Acheron . . ."
The reader stops as if suffocating. The book shakes in her hands.
Are you tired from reading, Bianca Maria?
Perhaps a little fatigued. . . . This dying spring is so hot that it causes weariness and suffocation like mid-summer. . . . Do you not feel it too, Anna?
She closes the book.
Have you closed the book?
I have closed it.
Is there much light in this room?
Yes, very much.
Is the sun shining on the loggia?
It is descending on the column, and is
about to touch your neck.
ANNA lifts one hand to feel of the column.
There it is, I feel it. How warm the stone is! I seem to touch a living thing. . . . Are you in the sun, Bianca Maria? Once upon a time, when I faced its rays with mine dead eyes, the eyelids open, I used to see something like a red vapor, scarcely perceptible, or at times a sparkling similar to that issuing from the hard flint, almost painful. . . . Now, nothing any more: perfect darkness.
And your eyes are ever beautiful and clear, Anna; and in the morning they are full of freshness, as if sleep were dew for them.
ANNA covers her eyes with both hands, resting her elbows on her knees.
Ah, the waking, every morning, what a horror! Almost every night I dream that I can see, dream that by a miracle sight has been granted to my eyes. . . And to awake always in darkness, always in night. . . . Of nearly all things I have a recollection, of the things I saw when still in the light; I remember their shapes, their colors, their most minute particulars; and their perfect pictures rise for me out of the darkness, as soon as I touch them with my hands. But of my own person I have only a confused recollection as of one dead. A deep shadow has fallen upon my image; time has effaced it, as it effaces in us the pictures of those who have departed. My own image has vanished from me like the images of my beloved dead. . . . Every effort is in vain. I know well that the vision I finally succeed in calling up, is not my true self. Ah, how sad! You tell her, nurse, how many times I have asked you to conduct me before the mirror. There I remained with my forehead against the glass--to recollect, held by I do not know what insensate expectation. . . . And how many times do I even press my hands against my face--as at present--to obtain its imprint in their softness. Ah, at times I seem truly to bear imprinted in my hands my faithful mask, like those copied in plaster from the dead; but it is a mask without life.
Slowly she uncovers her face and stretches forth her hollow hands.
Do you realize the horror of such sorrow?
How beautiful you are, Anna!
Last night I had a dream, strange, indescribable. A sudden old age seized all my limbs; I felt over all my body the lines of wrinkles; I felt my hair falling from my head upon my lap in large masses, and my fingers were interlaced like loose straw; my gums were toothless, and my lips were drawn in over the gums, and everything in me had become shapeless and miserable. I was like an old beggar woman whom I used to know, a poor idiot whom I used to see every day before the garden fence when I was still at home, and my mother was yet alive. Do you remember her, nurse? She was called Simona, and always mumbled the same song, hoping to make me smile. . . . It was a strange dream! And it corresponds to a painful sensation that I have at times, when I listen to my life slipping by. . . . In silence and in darkness, at times, I listen to my life hastening by with a roar so terrible, Bianca Maria, that I would gladly die to hear it no more. Ah, you cannot understand!
I understand, Anna. Even in the light, the passing hour imparts to me at times an almost unbearable anxiety. It seems that we are waiting. for something that will never happen. Nothing has happened, for a long time.
I do not feel the sun any longer.
BIANCA MARIA, turning toward the loggia and looking at the sky.
A cloud is passing, but a light one: a golden cloud in the shape of a wing. Every day the clouds float through the azure sky--arising below, from the. gulf of Argos, and moving toward Corinth. I see them form and pass away. Some of them are marvelous. Sometimes they remain long upon the horizon, and in the evening glow like funeral pyres. Yet none of them lets fall a drop of water. All the country is thirsty. Yesterday the pilgrims set out from Carvati for the Chapel of the Prophet Elijah to pray for rain. Everywhere there is drought; and the wind carries the dust of the sepulchres to a great height.
You do not love this country, do you, Bianca Maria?
It is too dreary. Sometimes it seems to me almost frightful. When my brother and myself, for the first time, came up to Mycenae, two years ago, it was the dawning of a burning August day. The plain of Argos behind us was a sea of flame. The mountains were tawny yellow and as savage as lions. We ascended on foot, silent, astonished, almost without breath, and with blinded eyes. From time to time an eddy would rise from the edge of the path, a column of dust and withered grasses, and follow us noiselessly with the step of a phantom. Seeing it approach I could not repress an instinctive shudder, as if those mysterious shapes could renew the terror with which the ancient crimes had inspired me. Upon the edge of a big ditch Leonardo picked up the skin of a snake and said in jest, 'This was in the heart of Clytemnestra,' and wound it around my hat like a ribbon. Before my eyes the little shining tail swung back and forth with the rustle of a dry leaf, A horrible thirst burned my throat. We looked for the fountain of Perseus in the valley below the citadel. So great was my weariness that as soon as I put my hands and lips into the cool water, I fainted. When I recovered my senses, I appeared to be in dreamland, out of this world, as though after death. The wind raged and eddies of dust pursued each other upon the height, disappearing before the sun, which seemed to devour them. A boundless sadness fell upon my soul; a sadness never before experienced, never to be forgotten. I thought I had come to a place of exile, from which there was no return; and everything assumed, in my eyes, a funereal aspect, which gave me a vague but painful presentiment. I shall never forget that hour, Anna! But Leonardo, full of hope and courage, supported me and dragged me along. He was sure of finding his princes, the Atridae, intact in the buried sepulchres. he said to me, laughing: "You look like the virgin Iphigenia on the point of being dragged to the sacrifice!" But his gaiety and confidence did not bring back my courage. . . You see, Anna, that every day his expectation has remained a delusion. This malignant soil that he turns over without rest, has given him so far only the fever that consumes him. If you could see him, Anna, you would feel uneasy. . . .
It is true. His voice at times is like a smothered flame. Yesterday, feeling his emaciated, parched hand, I thought he was ill. He was standing next to me when you entered; he trembled like a man in fear. While you were there, I felt him quiver from time to time, as if your words made him suffer. I have a very singular intuition about such things, Bianca Maria. My eyes are closed to my soul, but it hears. It heard yesterday those poor nerves that were suffering, ah, so much pain. I wanted to speak to you about this, Bianca Maria.
BIANCA MARIA, With evident anxiety.
Do you believe that my brother is really ill?
Perhaps he is only tired. His strength is exhausted. His idea torments him like a passion. Perhaps he does not sleep. Does he?
I do not know, Anna. Sometime ago he abandoned the room where he formerly slept, next to mine. Before that, I knew that his sleep was a profound one from his calm breathing. Now he is farther away.
Perhaps he does not sleep.
Perhaps. His eyelids are inflamed and red. But he lives continually in the midst of that irritating dust; he is always there, bending over, groping in the ruins, digging up the relics, breathing the exhalations from the sepulchres. Oh, what a terrible will power he has. I am certain that he will not take any rest until he has wrung from the earth the secret that he is seeking.
He seems to have a secret himself.
For some time he has been greatly changed. He was so loving to me, once. I was everything to him, the only companion of his youth. How often have I seen him tired, but not as he is now. He laid his very soul upon my knees, like a child. But no longer. When I go near him he seems to shrink into himself. Formerly, when the intenseness of his thought made his head ache, he would wish me to hold my fingers upon his temples to quiet the painful throbbings, and he was grateful to me, as for a delightful medicine. But no longer. He seems to avoid me. You said, Anna, that my words yesterday made him suffer. . .
ANNA, with a very pointed inflection.
Perhaps he feels that there is a change in you, Bianca Maria.
BIANCA MARIA, troubled.
ANNA, with the same inflection.
Perhaps he divines the cause of your melancholy and is worried by it.
The cause of my melancholy?
ANNA, veiling the pointedness of her question.
You do not like this country, and you desire to depart.
I am, now and ever, obedient to his will.
There is the sun again. Your cloud has vanished. How warm it is! Almost scorching! Give me your hand, please, Bianca Maria. Help me to rise and descend.
BIANCA MARIA extends her hand, raises ANNA and leads her down the steps. ANNA, still holding, her hand in her own and drawing near to her as if to listen to the palpitation of her heart, asks suddenly.
Did you see my husband this morning before he went out?
BIANCA MARIA, hesitating an instant.
Yes, I saw him, together with my brother.
Do you know where he has gone?
He had his horse saddled and took the road to Argos, alone.
He has not cared for his work for a longtime. He is absent many long hours; when he returns he is silent. Do you remember, Bianca Maria, the first weeks after our arrival? Do you remember his ardor? He, too, like Leonardo, had great treasures to discover; but they were in his own soul. It seemed as if this land had, above all others, the power to exalt his mind. The flow of poetry was so abundant in him that he would pour it out continually, almost with every word. Do you remember? Now he is taciturn and absorbed.
BIANCA MARIA, almost with trepidation.
Perhaps he is meditating some grand work. Perhaps he carries in him the weight of some great idea still unshaped. His genius may be about to give life to some marvelous creation.
He speaks freely with you, Bianca Maria. Has he not revealed anything to you?
BIANCA MARIA, always with slight excitement in her voice.
What could he reveal to me that he has not already revealed to you, dear Anna? You are so near to his soul, so near!
I am near to his soul as a beggar is near a door. Perhaps he has no more to give to me.
BIANCA MARIA, sweetly.
Why do you say such things? I see his eyes when they turn toward you. His look repeats constantly that he has nothing dearer, and that he finds nothing more beautiful. . . .How beautiful you are, Anna!
You seem to wish to console me for something that I have lost. . . .
Why do you say such things?
Do you hear? Alessandro is returning. Look, nurse, from the loggia, and see if he is coming.
THE NURSE, who has remained seated upon the steps, inactive, all this time, rises and ascends to the loggia to look out.
There is no one on the road.
It seemed to me that I heard the steps of the horse. Perhaps he is still at some distance. It is late.
From the window of my room I can see the entire road to Argos. I am going to see if he is on the way.
Exit through the second door to the right.
THE DEAD CITY ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ACT FIRST, SCENE II
THE NURSE approaches ANNA, who has covered her face with her hands.
I feet like weeping, nurse.
THE NURSE takes her hands to kiss them.
What has my daughter on her heart?
I do not know. Something that presses like a knot; and then . . . . a vague fear.
Oh, I do not know. . . . Let me sit down. . . . Stay near me!
She sits down . THE NURSE kneels at her feet. She suddenly bends her head toward THE NURSE.
Look, nurse, if you can find any white hairs. I must have some. Look well, nurse; here upon my temples; here upon the back of my head. Have you found it? Have you? Only one? Many? Are there many?
NURSE. Who has put her fingers into her hair.
Not one, really? Are you telling me the truth?
I am still young? Tell me, am I still young? Tell me the truth!
So young, indeed.
Tell me the truth!
Why should I deceive you? You are as white as these statues. No woman is as white as you are.
It is true. So Alessandro told me the first time he spoke to me, long, long ago. Ah! That is why I became blind, like the statues! . . . What did Bianca Maria say about my eyes just now? Look at my eyes nurse, are they not like two opaque stones?
They are as clear as two crystals.
They are dead, nurse; they are without sight. Do they not cause you a slight shudder, when they are fixed upon you? Do they not frighten you a little? Tell me the truth!
Ah, stop! They are still alive--still alive! Some day, suddenly, through the grace of God, they will recover the light they have lost.
Never more! Never more!
Some day, suddenly: perhaps to-morrow. . . .
Never more! Never more!
Who knows the will of the Lord? Why should the Lord have left your eyes so beautiful if he had not wished to illumine them once more?
If truly hope were dead, why should my heart tremble every morning when you call me? Why should I turn toward you with the same expectation every morning when I open the window of your room, to let in the light?
ANNA, with a deep sigh.
If it might be!
You also, do you not dream every night that sight has returned to your eyes?
Believe in dreams! Believe in dreams!
Here comes Bianca Maria. Go, go, nurse.
THE NURSE kisses her hands, rises and goes out of the second door at the left, on her lips a silent prayer.
THE DEAD CITY~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ACT FIRST SCENE III
Re-enter BIANCA MARIA.
Is Alessandro coming?
I saw no one on the road from Argos. In the distance I noticed a cloud of dust; but it was a herd of goats. He may be coming back across the fields. Maybe, he went down to the fountain of Perseus.
She ascends the steps and looks from the loggia, between the columns, toward the sun.
The work is at white heat in the Agora. Yesterday they found five funeral strata, sure indications. A great cloud of dust arises from the enclosure. It is a reddish dust; in the sun it seems to burn. Ah! It seems as if it must penetrate the blood like a poison. I am sure Leonardo is there on his hands and feet, lying prostrate, digging with his own hands. He fears that the blow of an iron might break fragile things.
She turns toward the blind woman.
If you could see how tenderly he takes every fragment out of its coat of earth. Looking at him one would think that he was about to peel a precious fruit, and that he feared to lose a drop of its juice. . . .
A pause. She descends toward the blind woman, with a swift gliding motion, keeping in the rays of the sun.
Would you like, Anna, to eat a sweet scented orange? Would you like to be in a Sicilian garden?
ANNA, making a gesture, in the air as if to draw the young girl to her.
What a strange voice comes from your lips, Bianca Maria! It seems like a new voice, as of one who was asleep and who suddenly awakens. . . .
Does my wish astonish you? Would you not like to have a basket of fruit in your lap? Ah, with what greed I would eat! At Syracuse we used to walk through the orange groves, looking through the boughs at the glittering sea; the trees bore upon their branches the ripe fruit and the new blossoms, the petals fell upon our heads like a fragrant snow; and we bit into the juicy pulp as one bites bread.
ANNA stretches out her hands again to draw her to her while the other still keeps a little away.
It is there you would like to live. There, there is joy! All your being asks for joy, needs joy. Ah, how brilliant your youth should be to-day! The desire of living is radiating from your person like the heat of a fire-place. . . . Let me warm my poor hands!
BIANCA MARIA approaches her and sits at her feet upon a low stool. As soon ANNA touches her cheeks she has a visible shiver.
Why are your hands so cold, Anna?
Your entire face throbs like a violent pulse.
The sun has set me on fire. In there at my window I kept watching in the sun. The stone of the sill was almost burning. Here, too, the whole room is now flooded by the sun. The sunshine reaches as far as the feet of Hermes. We are sitting on the bank of a golden stream. Stoop down a little.
ANNA, touching her vaguely upon the face and hair.
How you love the sun! How you love life! I heard Alessandro tell you one day, that you resembled Victory, unlacing her sandals. I remember--at Athens--in marble as fine as ivory, a delicate and impetuous figure, which gave one the desire to fly, to soar through the air forever. . . . I remember: her small head stood out from the curve of her wings, which hung in repose from her shoulders. Alessandro said that the impatience to fly was expressed in every fold of the tunic, and that no other statue represented more vividly the gift of divine swiftness. . . . We lived for a time in the enchantment of that youthful grace. Every day we ascended to the Acropolis to look at it again. Is it true that you resemble her, Bianca Maria?
BIANCA MARIA, troubled by the strange manner of the blind woman who continues to touch her.
I have no wings. You look for them in vain!
Who knows! The wings invisible, are the ones that fly the furthest. Every virgin can be a messenger. . . .
A pause. She continues to finger BIANCA MARIA, who makes an involuntary movement as if to draw away.
Will you not allow me to touch you? I feel that you are beautiful, and I would like to picture to myself your beauty. Are my hands repulsive to you?
BIANCA MARIA takes her hands and kisses them.
No! No! Anna. But I cannot tell you the sensation they give me. It seems as if your fingers could see. . . . I do not know. It is like a gaze that persists, that presses. . . . Each of your fingers is like an eye that opens. . . . Ah, your whole soul seems to descend to the extremities of your fingers, and your flesh seems to lose its human qualities. The color of these veins is unspeakably. . . .
She places her lips upon the hollow of ANNA'S left hand, trembling.
Do you not feel my lips upon your soul?
ANNA, in secret despair.
They burn, Bianca Maria. They are as heavy as if all the wealth of life was gathered in them. How tempting must your lips be! All the promises, and all the persuasions must be in them.
You disturb me. . . . My life is bounded by a narrow circle, perhaps forever. I was reading to you awhile ago the Antigone. From time to time I seemed to be reading my own destiny. I, too, have consecrated, myself to my brother. . . . I, too, am bound by a vow!
ANNA, with passionate and anxious tenderness.
The forces of your life are too grand to be consumed in sacrifice. You must live. . . . You must rejoice, bite the fruit, pluck flowers, dear soul. I seem to feel in you a glowing fire. All your blood beats in your face so strangely. . . . O, I have never felt such a strong pulsation. . . . Your heart. . . . Your heart. . . .
She searches for BIANCA MARIA'S heart, bending down listen to its beating. She speaks in a low, almost mysterious voice the following words.
It is terrible, your heart. . . . It seems to want the whole world. . . .It is wild with eagerness. . . .
She trembles and shrinks away from the hands of the blind woman as from slow torture that enervates and exhausts.
Do not tremble! I am like a dead sister of yours returned from the grave. Once my blood, too, beat so; and my desire, too, toward the immensity of life was boundless. know what you dream, what You suffer, and what you expect. . . There is, there is happiness on earth; there hangs over every head the hour of joy. You devotedly follow your brother who lives amid ruins, and digs in sepulchres; but you cannot renounce your hour. An imperious force has suddenly risen within you. You cannot repress it any longer. If you should succeed in cutting off its stem, a thousand sprouts would rise from its roots. You must yield.
BIANCA MARIA hides her face in the lap of the blind woman and remains in this position, trembling.
Do not tremble. I am like a dead sister of yours, who watches over you from beyond. Maybe, I am for you like a shadow; I am in another world. You see what I do not see. I see,what you do not see. Therefore, you feel separated from me by an abyss. You cannot yield your soul to mine as you yield your head to my lap. Is it not so?
She puts her hands upon the hair of the reclining girl, caressing it; then she drops them.
How much hair! How much hair! It is soft to the touch, like running, tepid water. How much! How much! It is marvelous! If it should come down, it would cover you to your feet. Ah, it is coming down!
The loosened hair falls upon the shoulders of BIANCA MARIA and down ANNA'S dress, in luxuriant waves. The hands of the blind woman follow its ripples.
It is a torrent. It covers you completely. It touches the ground. It covers me also. How much! How much! It has a perfume, a thousand perfumes. A torrent full of flowers. . . .Ah, you are all beauty. . . You have all the gifts!
She puts her hands upon her temples, and upon her cheeks, convulsively, with a gesture of anguish, as if feeling lost. Her voice becomes veiled.
How could one who loved you renounce you? How could you remain in the shade? You who have been created to give joy! Some part of you was asleep in the depths, which now has awakened. Now you know yourself, do you not? I have watched your steps at times, You move as if in tune with an inner well-known melody. . . . Ah, if I myself could pronounce the word of happiness for you, Bianca Maria!
BIANCA MARIA sobs, buried under her hair, suffocating.
You are weeping?
She draws the hair against her eyelids to feel the tears.
You are weeping! You are weeping! Ah, woe to us!
A pause. BIANCA MARIA sobs, always in the same position. ANNA turns restlessly toward one of the doors. A great anxiety shows in her face as she hears a rapid step on the stairway.
Here is Alessandro!
BIANCA MARIA rises to her feet, her face hidden in her hair which covers her completely, trembling and terrified in the light of the sun.
THE DEAD CITY ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ACT FIRST SCENE IV
ALESSANDRO enters through the first door to the right, carrying a bunch of wildflowers in his hand, a little out of breath and heated. He starts back at seeing BIANCA MARIA in such a condition, and his confusion is apparent.
ANNA, her voice calm and soft again.
Where do you come from, Alessandro? We have been waiting for you a long time. Bianca Maria, from her window, watched the road to Argos to descry your horse; I but you did not appear. Where do you come from?
ALESSANDRO, in a clear, ringing voice, with sober and simple intonation which reveals the strength of a spontaneous and deep feeling in everything he says.
I have been riding through the country at random. I crossed the Inachos, which has not a drop of water in it. . . . All, the fields are covered with little wild flowers that are dying; and the song of the larks fills the sky! It is marvelous! I never heard such impetuous singing. Thousands of larks, a countless multitude. . . . They flew up from everywhere darting toward the sky with the speed of arrows; they seemed mad, vanishing in the light without reappearing, as if consumed by their own song or devoured by the sun. . . . One fell suddenly at the feet of my horse like a stone, and lay there lifeless, struck down by intoxication from having sung with too much joy. I picked it up. Here it is!
ANNA, stretching out her hand and taking the lark.
Ah, it is still warm. How soft and delicate its throat is. It was singing a little while ago! Look at it, Bianca Maria.
BIANCA MARIA approaches timidly, embarrassed by her hanging hair.
You tremble. . . . She feels ashamed of her hair, Alessandro. She was sitting near me just now, when it became unfastened in my hands, and suddenly inundated me. . . . It is wonderful! She must be entirely covered by it. You see her! You see her! Are you standing in the sun, Bianca Maria? Give her your flowers, Alessandro! Give her your flowers!
BIANCA MARIA tries to gather her hair and coil it upon her head.
ALESSANDRO, astonished and perplexed, but smiling, advances toward the girl.
Take these flowers, Bianca Maria.
BIANCA MARIA holds out her hands, having gathered up her hair confusedly, and uncovered her face upon which appear the traces of tears.
You have been crying?
She was reading Antigone to me, and suddenly the sadness of it overwhelmed her. . . .
You wept for Antigone!
Upon the steps of the loggia she was looking at the clouds of dust arising from the Agora; and the thought of her brother caused her anxiety. . . .
You were reading the story of the watcher. . . . Antigone is never so beautiful as under that tempest of fiery dust in the arid plane, crying and imprecating over the naked corpse of her brother. Is it not so? Sitting upon a hill against the wind, so as to escape the odor of the decomposing body, the watchers await with closed eyes the passing of the blinding tempest; and she, undaunted in the midst of the atrocious furnace, gathers the dust with her hands and throws it over the corpse. . . . Ah, I always see her thus! . . . . She is not so beautiful and grand when she leads Oedipus by the hand, or when going to her death. Is she? I should have liked to be here when you read, Bianca Maria. I have never heard you read.
Why not read a few pages more?
I have not the book.
Did you leave it upon the window-sill?
I left it. . . I do not know where, Anna.
Will you read to me some day?
Whenever you wish.
Some day I should like to hear you read Sophocles' Electra, in the shadow of the Gate of Lions.
Ah, the invocation to light!
Some day I should like to hear you read one of my poems.
ALESSANDRO, with an air of uncertainty.
A pause. A confused noise comes through the loggia. BIANCA MARIA rapidly ascends the steps and looks toward the Acropolis.
BIANCA MARIA, growing excited.
They are the men in the Agora. They are shouting with joy. . . Perhaps they have discovered a tomb; perhaps they have found the king. . . . Leonardo! Leonardo!
ALESSANDRO, ascending to her side.
Do you see Leonardo?
No, I do not see him. . . . The dust hides everything; the wind is stronger. He must be there, on his knees under the dust. . . Leonardo!
Your voice cannot reach him. He cannot hear you.
They shout no longer. . . . Listen!
Her hair is falling, disheveled, from the top of her head again.
They shout no longer. We hear nothing more.
A pause. The two remain for a while near each other, silent. The wind blows BIANCA MARIA'S hair toward ALESSANDRO.
It is strange, this silence.
The two descend the steps, pensive. Suddenly BIANCA MARIA, feeling her hair pulled, utters a slight cry. The blind woman springs to her feet trembling. The dead lark falls from her lap.
ALESSANDRO, trying to laugh.
It is nothing, Anna. A little of Bianca Maria's hair caught in the setting of my ring and pulled out. . . . Did you feel any pain?
Oh, hardly any. . . .
Laying the flowers upon a steps, she tries to arrange her hair.
Forgive me. I had not noticed.
ANNA, with simulated simplicity.
Bianca Maria's hair is so soft! Did you notice, Alessandro? I would like to have it always in my fingers, like a spinning woman.
She approaches BIANCA MARIA unsteadily and leans upon her shoulder in a caressing way.
ALESSANDRO, still trying to laugh.
Oh, I have never dared to touch it. The wind blew it toward me. The rape of the lock was an involuntary one; a few threads of silk to tie scattered pages together. . . .
He tries to disentangle the hair from his ring
But they are inextricable. What knots chance can tie!
BIANCA MARIA, shivering.
A clamor is heard again.
They are still shouting.
Some great sight. . . .
Did you notice, Bianca Maria, how uneasy and anxious Leonardo was this morning? He seemed to be coming out of a nightmare. . . . Perhaps he had been visited in his dreams by the "King of Men," and had wakened with some great presentiment? Did not the ardor in his eyes pain, you? I could not look at him without suffering. I thought of him constantly a long time in the fields. I hoped he would come to meet me: he would have heard the song of the larks and picked some flowers with those fingers of his, which have known nothing but stone and dust for too long a time. Ah, it is a long time since he began to bend over, the grey, hard clay! Fascinated by the tombs, he has forgotten the beauty of the sky. I must tear him away at last from that accursed spot. . . .
You alone can do it. You know what power you have over him.
ANNA, in a low voice.
He is ill, very ill.
BIANCA MARIA looks at he with a shiver, frightened and dropping the bunch of flowers.
Truly, at times, he has the looks of a man bewitched. The earth he digs in is malignant; it seems that exhalations of monstrous crimes still arise from it. The curse which weighed upon the Atridae was so horrible that it seems truly as if some dreadful vestige of it still remains in the dust which was once trod by them. I understand how Leonardo, who lives a most intense inner life, should be troubled by it almost to frenzy. I fear that the dead he is looking for, and does not discover, have been revived within himself, and breathe within him with the tremendous force infused in them by Aeschylus, enormous and bloody as they appear in the "Orestiad," ever pierced by the sword and firebrand of Destiny. Ah, how many nights have I seen him enter my room and seat himself by my bed, with the book that made him sleepless! How many nights he has watched with me, reading those grand verses aloud, which wearied him like cries, too immense for human breath! With the touch of that accursed soil, every day, every day, he must feel his fever grow. All that ideal life with which he has nourished himself must have assumed in him the shape and the body of reality. I think that at every stroke of the pickaxe he must tremble through all his bones, anxious to see the face of an Atrides really appear, still intact, with the visible signs of the violence suffered, of the cruel slaughter. . . .
A new, prolonged clamor is heard. BIANCA MARIA, agitated, impatient, ascends to the loggia, and looks toward the Agora in the bright sunshine.
They have ascended the wall . . . two, three, four men, upon the wall . . . they are shouting, shouting for joy. . . They call to me, waving their arms. . . . Look! Look!
ANNA has grasped ALESSANDRO'S wrist tightly, and remains at the foot of the steps, wild with anxiety. BIANCA MARIA advances and leans over the balustrade shouting. At intervals, between her short phrases, she seems to take in the signs and some of the words of her brother, who is rapidly approaching.
Leonardo! I see Leonardo. . . . He is there, he is there. . . . I see him. . . . Now he is in the Gate of Lions; he is coming down running--all white with dust. . . Some great event! Some great discovery! . . . Brother! . Ah! he falls down . . . he struck his foot against a rock. . . . My God! He rises; runs.. . . .Brother! . . See him! See him! . . . . The sepulchres. . . . He has discovered the sepulchres. . . . all his sepulchres. God be praised! Ah, what joy, what joy! . . . My brother! . . . Here he is! Here he is! He is coming!
She descends to the room, runs to the door and opens it.
At last! At last! . Here he is! . . .He enters! . . . He ascends the stairs! . . . At last all is joy, all is joy! . . . Brother! Brother!
THE DEAD CITY ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ACT FIRST, SCENE V
LEONARDO, enters by the first door at the right, white with dust and dripping with perspiration. His eyes are radiant in his almost unrecognizable face. His excitement prevents him from speaking; and his hands, soiled with earth and stained with blood, are trembling. The whole room is flooded with sunlight.
The gold, the gold . . . the corpses. . . an immense amount of gold. . . all the corpses covered with gold.
His emotion suffocates him.
BIANCA MARIA and ALESSANDRO stand near him breathless, affected by the same excitement. ANNA, standing alone and leaning upon the edge of the table, bends forward toward the voice of the newcomer.
BIANCA MARIA, with pitying tenderness.
Be calm, be calm, Leonardo; take your breath again. Rest a minute! . . . Are you thirsty? Do you wish something to drink?
Yes, give me a drink! I am dying with thirst.
BIANCA MARIA goes to the table, fills a glass will water and hands it to him. He drinks it with avidity, in one draught.
BIANCA MARIA, trembling.
Sit down, I beg of you! Rest a minute. . .
LEONARDO, touching ALESSANDRO'S shoulder.
Ah, why were you not there? Why were you not there? You, you ought to have been there, Alessandro! The grandest and most wonderful vision that was ever offered to mortal eyes; an apparent hallucination; unheard of wealth; a terrible splendor revealed, all of a sudden as in a superhuman dream. . . . I cannot tell, I cannot describe what I have seen. A succession of tombs: fifteen corpses intact, one by the side of the other, upon a bed of gold, their faces covered with golden masks, their brows crowned with gold, their chests enveloped in gold; and everywhere, upon their bodies, at their sides, at their feet, a profusion of golden objects,--numberless as the leaves fallen in a fabulous forest: an indescribable magnificence, one immense, dazzling view, the most resplendent treasure that Death has ever gathered in the darkness of the earth, in centuries, in thousands of years. . . . I cannot tell, I cannot tell, what I have seen. You, you ought to have been there, Alessandro. You alone would have been able to picture. . . .
He stops an instant as if oppressed by want of breath. All are eagerly watching his feverish lips.
In one instant this soul passed over hundreds, thousands of years, breathed in the frightful legend, palpitated with the horror of the ancient slaughter. The fifteen corpses were there, with all their members, as if just deposited after the killing, hardly burned by the fire extinguished too soon: Agamemnon, Eurymedon, Cassandra, and the royal escort: buried with their garments, their weapons, their diadems, their vases, their jewels, all their riches. . . . Do you remember, do you remember, Alessandro, that passage of Homer-- "They lay between the vases and the decorated tables, and all the room was stained with blood. And I heard the lamenting voice of the daughter of Cassandra, whom the perfidious Clytemnestra stabbed at my side. . . ." For an instant my soul has lived an antique and violent life. They were there, the murdered ones: the king of kings, the enslaved princess, the charioteer and the guests,--there, under my eyes for an instant, motionless. as vapor vanishes, as foam melts away, as dust is dispersed, like I do not know what unspeakably evanescent and fleeting thing, they all passed away in the silence. It seemed to me that, they were swallowed by the same fatal silence that reigned over their radiant immobility. I do not know what happened. A mass of precious things remains there, a treasure without equal, the witness of a great forgotten civilization. . . . You will see, you will see!
ANNA, very softly.
What a dream!
What a glory! What a glory!
You will see! The golden masks. Ah, why were you not there, at my side! The masks protected the faces from contact with the air, and the faces must have remained natural. One of the corpses, surpassing in stature and majesty all the others, was adorned with a large golden crown, with the armor, the belt and the golden spurs. Surrounded by swords, spears, poniards, and cups, covered with numberless golden discs thrown profusely upon the body like wreaths, more venerable than a demi-god. I was leaning over him when he vanished in the light; I was raising the heavy mask. . . . Ah! Have I not, in truth, seen the face of Agamemnon? Was he not the king of kings, perchance? His mouth was open, his eyes were open. . . . Do you remember, do you remember in Homer: "As I lay dying I lifted my hand toward my sword; but the woman with the dog's eyes went away and would not close my eyelids nor my mouth . . . at the moment when I was descending into the home of Hades. "Do you remember? The mouth of the corpse was open now, the eyelids were open. . . . He had a large forehead, ornamented with a round golden band; the nose was long and straight; the chin, oval; and when I raised the armor I thought I noticed the hereditary sign of the tribe of Pelops, "the shoulder of ivory." Everything vanished in the light. A handful of dust and a mass of gold. . . .
ALESSANDRO, astonished and dazzled.
You speak like one coming out of a hallucination, like one who is the prey of delirium. What you say is incredible. . . .If you have really seen what you say, you are no longer a human being.
I saw it, I saw it! . . . and Cassandra! How we loved the daughter of Priam, "the flower of the booty!" Do you remember? How you loved her, with the same love as Apollo! She pleased you, deaf and dumb upon her chariot, with her "look of a wild animal just taken," owing to the Delphic fire which was smouldering under her sibylline tongue. Many a night her prophetic cries have awakened me. . . . And she was there just now, supine upon a bed of golden leaves with numberless golden butterflies upon her garment, her brow bound with a diadem, her neck ornamented with necklaces, her fingers covered with rings; and a golden pair of scales rested upon her breast, the symbolic scales with which the destinies of man are weighed, and an infinity of golden crosses formed of four laurel leaves surrounded her; and her two sons, Teledamos and Pelops, wrapped in the same metal, were at her sides like two innocent lambs. . . . Thus I saw them. And I was crying to you aloud when she vanished. But you were not there! You will see her wrappings, you will touch her empty girdle. . .
ALESSANDRO, impatient and excited.
I must see, must run. . . .
LEONARDO holds him back with his hand, urged by an irresistible need of saying more, of communicating to others all his feverish excitement.
Marvelous vases, four-handled, orna. mented with little doves, like Nestor's cup in Homer; large heads of oxen, all of solid silver, with golden horns; thousands of plates wrought in the shape of flowers, leaves, insects, shells, octopi, Medusas, stars; fantastic animals of gold, ivory, crystal; sphinxes, griffins, chimeras; small figures of divinities with arms and heads loaded with doves; little temples with towers crowned with doves, their wings spread; lion-hunts and panther-hunts engraved upon blades of swords and lances; ivory combs, bracelets, lockets, seals, sceptres, wands. . . .
While he pictures these splendors ANNA lets herself all upon a chair and covers her face with her palms, leaning forward, and her elbows upon her knees.
ALESSANDRO, breaking away.
Let me go! Let me go!
LEONARDO, rising, very loud.
I go with you. . . . Let us go!
BIANCA MARIA, embracing her brother and beseeching him, her hair again falling about her.
No, no, Leonardo, I beg of you. Remain here awhile, rest a little, recover at least your breath! You are too tired, you are exhausted!
I am going, I am going!
Exit by the door leading to the stairs.
BIANCA MARIA, still holding her brother in her arms, compassionately.
Oh, how weak you are, my poor brother, my poor brother! You are wet through . . . The perspiration is mixed with dust. . . Your face is almost black . . . and those poor eyes, those poor eyes! How inflamed they are! Your eyelids are as red and swollen as if you had been weeping a whole year. . . . Do they not ache? Oh, how they must ache, poor eyes! I will give you a lotion I know, to lave them. You will take a rest, won't you? You will rest now that your wish is fulfilled. . . . You have covered yourself with glory; you were splendid awhile ago when you entered, you were resplendent from all that gold.
Her falling hair almost covers him as she sinks against his breast. With infinite tenderness she wipes his brow, and his eyes, his cheeks, his neck with her hair; she enfolds him with her love. Leonardo appears as if repelled, rigid; with an extraordinary expression of pain and of terror upon his exhausted face of a deadlike pallor.
Let me wipe the perspiration away, let me. I cannot tell you the sorrow you cause me. . . . I do not know what to say to you to relieve your weariness, to calm your blood, to revive your color; I do not know what balm, what draught. . . . Ah, how many days, how many days you have spent there, prostrate upon the earth, in the excavations, swallowing that cursed dust, tearing your hands on the stones, without rest, without rest! Poor hands! They are all torn, stained with blood, the fingernails split, almost without flesh, dry as flint. . . . Do they not ache? Poor hands! I will give you an ointment that I perfumed sweetly with violets-which will heal them in a short time, and make them as soft and white as they were once. . . . I remember. You used to have such fine and beautiful hands. . . . How you tremble! How you tremble!
ANNA suddenly lifts her head.
You must feel like dying with weariness. You have lived at such a tension, like a bow ready to break! Not a vein in you but trembles, and your muscles twitch like cords unstrung. . . You are suffering, you are suffering!
Struck by the remembrance of the words spoken by ANNA, she stops with an expression of anguish. Then she takes in her hands her brothers head, looking sharply into his eyes.
You have nothing against me, have you? I have done nothing to you, have I? I have done nothing to cause you pain. Tell me, tell me Leonardo! Answer!
LEONARDO, in a faint voice, trying to smile.
I never loved you as much as I do now, brother. My tenderness for you has never been so deep. You are my continual thought, you are everything to me. Take me where you will, to the most sterile desert, to the most desolate ruin; and if you smile and are contented, I shall be happy. I, too, will remain in the midst of the dust; I, too, will tear my hands upon the stones; I, too, will gather the bones of the dead; but you must smile, you must have a cheerful countenance. . . . Do you remember, do you remember? At Syracuse you used to sing in the midst of your work, and you seemed to have in your soul the beauty of the statue for which you were looking. I was picking the sweetest oranges to bring you; and you did not wish to eat them unless peeled by my fingers. Do you recollect? When you were tired you fell asleep with your head upon my knees, in the shadow of the olive trees; and I guarded your calm sleep, thinking of the statue you were trying to find. Ah, how long, how long have I not watched over your sleep! You must need an infinity of sleep. . . . You can no longer raise your eyelids. . . . Come, come to your room! Let me help you. Let me be like a mother to you! You must sleep. You must have a long, deep sleep; you must have your soul clarified like tranquil water. . . . When you wake again you will see all the gold you have discovered, as at the bottom of your soul, and I will still be at your bedside. Come, come!
He endeavors to draw away from the sweet embrace as if from unbearable torture.
I cannot bear to feel you tremble so! Come!
I must go back there.
It is impossible. It is noon. Do you not see! The sun is shining everywhere, a sun that burns. . . . Have you not left your men up there?
I must return, I must return!
It is impossible. You cannot go back there as you are. . . . You would fall on the way . . . Listen to your sister! You look as if you were going to faint. . . . Let me support you!
She presses him back and twines her arms about his shoulders, covering him tenderly with her hair. He looks deadly pale and desperate. ANNA rises silently and moves toward them, listening, while they go out through the second door to the right. The room is flooded with sunlight.
THE DEAD CITY ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ACT FIRST, SCENE VI
ANNA, alone, takes a few uncertain steps, oppressed by a the gloom.
ANNA, in a hollow voice, as if from within.
No one has spoken to me. I am in another life. . . . And all that funereal gold. . . . And that poor, trembling soul . . . . And all that sweet life that is glowing in the beautiful creature.
Her feet touch the bunch of wild flowers, which have fallen from BIANCA MARIA'S hands.
Ah, the wild flowers he picked for her!
She stoops, takes the whole bunch, buries her face in it and remains mute for a moment.
I would I could weep!
She takes a few steps more.
THE NURSE, rushing from the second door to the left.
Here! Here I am.
Takes the hand of the blind woman and kisses it.
It is noon.
Here, take these flowers and put them in a vase of water.
They are all withered; they cannot revive.
ANNA, letting the bunch fall.
Let us go. . . .
While going out, guided by the nurse, she stops and turns around as if remembering something.
Ah, look around there, nurse, look on the floor. . . .
NURSE, bends down to look.
What have you lost?
Look there. . . . It is a dead lark!
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