The following article was originally published in The Ibsen Secret: A Key to the Prose Drama of Henrik Ibsen. Jennette Lee. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1910. pp. 161-207.
With John Gabriel Borkman, Henrik Ibsen completed his series of prose dramas. When We Dead Awaken he names An Epilogue. It stands in relation of an epilogue, not merely to the prose dramas, but to all the work of his life. It is autobiographic--a cryptic revelation of the man and his work--a last hidden message to the world. He seems to have grown careless in his security. No one has discovered him thus far beneath the realism of his plays. He will speak once more, he will lay bare his soul. No one will understand.
If--as it seems to me--When We Dead Awaken is Ibsen's summing up of his dramatic work, no more scathing indictment of that work will ever be made than he himself has voluntarily embodied in the symbolism of the play. The symbol is the sculptured group called The Resurrection Day.
"Figured in the likeness of a young woman awakening from the sleep of death," it was to be the awakening of the noblest, purest, most ideal woman the world could know. "I wanted to embody the pure woman as I saw her awakening on the Resurrection Day. Not marvelling at anything new and unknown and undivined; but filled with sacred joy at finding herself unchanged--she, the woman of the earth--in the higher, freer, happier region--after the long, dreamless sleep of death. Thus did I fashion her.... The Resurrection, I thought, would be most beautifully and exquisitely figured as a young, unsullied woman--with none of life's experiences--awakening to light and glory without having to put away from her anything ugly and impure."
The story deals with a Norwegian sculptor, Rubek, who in his youth has planned and executed this group statue. He has had, for help and inspiration in his work, a beautiful model who throws herself heart and soul into the work. When, however, she learns that the sculptor cares for her, not for herself, but only as a model for his art, she leaves him. He searches for her in vain. She has disappeared from the earth as effectually as if she were dead. The statue is practically complete. But when the sculptor returns to it he sees it with different eyes. His original conception changes gradually and he alters the group here and there, making it, with each change, a little less beautiful, a little less idealistic. But when at last it is completed, and he sends it out into the world, it brings him fame and money. He has married, meantime, a young wife, a woman of somewhat realistic nature who delights in active life and in travel. They live in comfort in a beautiful villa he has built for her, or travel about the country. After the completion of The Resurrection Day, he does no work of importance. He makes, now and then, a portrait bust, but he does not plan another work like The Resurrection Day. He is restless and dissatisfied. He is gradually awakening to the fact that his nature demands that as long as he lives he shall create; but he has no inspiration for his work either in himself or in his wife. They travel about incessantly.
When the play opens, four or five years after their marriage, they are stopping at the Baths in a small seacoast town in Norway. The scene is laid outside the Bath Hotel. The sculptor and his wife are "sitting in basket chairs beside a covered table on the lawn outside the hotel, having just breakfasted. They have champagne and seltzer-water on the table, and each has a newspaper. The sculptor is an elderly man of distinguished appearance. Maia, the wife, is quite young, with a vivacious expression and lively teasing eyes, yet with a suggestion of fatigue. She wears an elegant travelling dress."
The sculptor had married Maia, not because he loved her, but because he was lonely and disheartened. She, on her part, has never loved him. She consented to the marriage because he promised her that she should travel with him and that--more alluring still--he would take her with him "up to a high mountain and show her all the glory of the world." This last promise he has never fulfilled. She has grown tired of delay, and the sculptor has wearied of her and her superabundant vitality. As they sit facing each other across the breakfast table in weariness of soul, she reminds him that since The Resurrection Day was completed he has lost all pleasure in his work.
MAIA: You that used to be so indefatigable--working from morning to night!
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Gloomily) Used to be, yes.
MAIA: But ever since you got your great masterpiece out of hand--
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Nods thoughtfully) The Resurrection Day.
MAIA: The masterpiece that has gone round the whole world, and made you so famous--
PROFESSOR RUBEK: Perhaps that is just the misfortune, Maia.
MAIA: How so?
PROFESSOR RUBEK: When I had finished this masterpiece of mine (makes a passionate movement with his hand) --for The Resurrection Day is a masterpiece! Or was one in the beginning. No, it is one still. It must, must, must be a masterpiece.
MAIA: (Looks at him in astonishment) Why, Rubek, all the world knows that.
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Short, repellently) All the world knows nothing! Understands nothing!
MAIA: Well, at any rate it can divine something--
PROFESSOR RUBEK: Something that isn't there at all; yes. Something that never was in my mind. Ah, yes, that they can all go into ecstasies over. (Growling to himself) What is the good of working oneself to death for the mob and the masses--for "all the world"!
MAIA: Do you think it is better, then--do you think it is worthy of you, to do nothing at all but a portrait bust now and then!
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (With a sly smile) THey are not exactly portrait busts that I turn out, Maia.
MAIA: Yes, indeed they are--for the last two or three years--ever since you finished your great group and got it out of the house.
PROFESSOR RUBEK: All the same, they are no mere portrait busts, I assure you.
MAIA: What are they, then?
PROFESSOR RUBEK: There is something equivocal, something cryptic, lurking in and behind these busts--a secret something that the people themselves cannot see.
It is at this point, perhaps, that the reader lifts a questioning glance-- "something cryptic ... lurking behind these busts." Can it be that Ibsen is speaking of himself? Is Rubek the sculptor, only Ibsen in thin disguise?
The leaf is turned in impatience.
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Decisively) I alone can see it. And it amuses me unspeakably. On the surface I give them the "striking likeness," as they call it, that they all stand and gape at in astonishment (lowers his voice), but at the bottom they are all respectable, pompous horse-faces, and self-opinionated donkey muzzles, and lop-eared, low-browed dog-skulls, and fatted swine-snouts, and sometimes dull, brutal bull-fronts as well.
In an article on Ibsen [shortly after his death] there is the following description of his study table:
On the table beside his inkstand was a small tray. Its contents were extraordinary--some little carved wooden Swiss bears, a diminutive black devil, small cats, dogs, and rabbits made of copper, one of which was playing a violin.
"I never write a single line of any of my dramas unless that tray and its occupants are before me on the table. I could not write without them. It may seem strange--perhaps it is--but I can not write without them," he repeated. "Why I use them is my own secret." And he laughed quietly.
Were they his models--these tiny, uncanny creatures--symbols of the souls of men and women and source of the inspiration that prompted these marvelous "portrait busts"--with their outer appearance of commonplace, everyday life and their cryptic meaning of dog-skulls and fattened swine-snouts and dull, brutal bull-fronts? All the dear domestic animals, in fact?
PROFESSOR RUBEK: Simply the dear domestic animals, Maia. All the animals which men have bedevilled in their own image, and which have bedevilled men in return.
In plain English--the free natural instincts of human nature which society has caught and imprisoned in convention and taught to work for it there, or play for it--instincts which society has bedevilled in its own image and which, in turn, have bedevilled it. "All the free play of the body and soul--caught in the net of diabolic convention and leering at one through the meshes of Ibsen's play--these commonplace, realistic plays--these portrait busts...
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (With a sly smile) They are not exactly portrait busts that I turn out, Maia.... I alone see it. It amuses me unspeakably.
One has suspected it, all along, through the mazes of the plays--a certain sinister delight in the man, a quiet chuckling at our stupidity. And now, at the last, grown bold, he seems to flaunt it in our very faces as we "stand and gape in astonishment" ...
"I alone can see it. It amuses me unspeakably."
It is his final word--the last will and testament of an artist, addressed to generations yet unborn--to those who will not stand and gape in astonishment at the striking likeness. For to them the likeness will be of no account. Those of whom he drew the likeness will be dead and gone; and they--those coming generations--will demand of him an artist's account of himself...
"Why did you abandon your high calling of poet to work upon these portrait busts? It was not poverty that drove you, nor greed--surely not a desire to live comfortably--you who might have been the greatest poet of your age!"
It is before this tribunal that Ibsen speaks. When We Dead Awaken is his brief.
The history of Rubek might be that of Ibsen's own soul. One has a sense, as he reads, almost of prying, of having come upon something in an elder brother's chest--among his private papers--something intended, not for the eyes of his contemporaries, but only for the eyes of his spiritual children, and for those--long after his death. It is a confession of defeat, utter and humiliating.
"Yes, but let me tell you, too, how I have placed myself in the group. In front, beside a fountain, as it were, sits a man weighed down with guilt, who cannot quite free himself from the earth-crust. I call him 'Remorse for a Ruined Life.' He sits there and dips his fingers in the purling stream--to wash them clean--and he is gnawed and tortured by the thought that never, never will he succeed. Never in all eternity will he attain to freedom and the new life. He will remain forever prisoned in his hell."
In his youth when the sculptor had planned The Resurrection Day, the model Irene had embodied for him all the beauty of the conception and had suggested to him constantly new beauties. "You were no model to me. You were the fountain head of my achievement." She aided him in his work "joyously, so gladly and ungrudgingly."--"Yes with all the pulsing blood of my youth I served you." She revealed herself to him "in all her naked loveliness." But when she saw that he cared for her only as a model for his art, she who had given her very soul to help him--she went away and left him--"for his own sake."
She, this wonderful model, did she not come to Ibsen, too, in his youth--the Spirit of Love and Ideality? Through her help he planned and carried out the great work of his life--his poetic dramas. The beauty of Love, the power of Love, and the ultimate, wonderful resurrection of Love on the earth--these are the themes of the great song that ends with Brand and Peer Gynt. Then, because he loved not Love for herself, because he did not need her for himself, but only as an inspiration for his art, she left him, cold and desolate and uninspired. He searched for her everywhere, as the sculptor searches for Irene, but she had gone from him. The man who will be merely an artist, shall be artist and nothing more. Love will not serve those who do not live for her, and in her, and to whom she is not the breath of life.
In his loneliness the sculptor weds Maia; in his despair when the spirit of Love has left him, when he can no longer, through her inspiration, see beautiful poetic visions, Ibsen makes terms with the spirit of Realism--it was not an easy or natural adjustment on either side.
MAIA: Do you remember what you promised me the day we came to an understanding on that difficult subject?
PROFESSOR RUBEK: The subject of our marriage; yes. It was rather a hard matter for you, Maia.
He had known that he ought not to wed her. But he was very desolate. The Spirit of Love had left him. He could no longer see beauty in the world, nor ideality, nor poetry. But Truth was still left--Maia. Perhaps he could live with her and forget. So they had joined their lives.
And now, after four or five years, they face each other across the breakfast table in weariness of soul. But release is at hand--nearer than they dream. Already the sculptor has had a vision of a white figure walking in the garden at night; and already the bear-hunter, who is to carry off little Maia to his huge wild country, is on his way. She will be at home with him, the great Russian, with his dogs, gulping their raw meat and licking bloody chops. Realism belongs to him by right. She will go with him gladly. Presently we shall hear her song floating among the hills:
- I am free! I am free! I am free!
- No more life in the prison for me!
- I am free as a bird, I am free!
She has never belonged to Ibsen. She could not stay with him contentedly, though he has given her "more spacious and distinguished surroundings--in more polished society than she was accustomed to at home." He has polished realism, given it all the advantages of art; but in his heart of hearts he has never believed her.
"You are not really born to be a mountaineer, little Maia."--"Yet at one time you seemed to think I was."--"Four or five years ago; yes (stretching himself in his chair); four or five years--it's a long, it's a long, long time, Maia."
He is very weary of her. She, on her part is deeply offended. He has never dealt fairly with her. She has possibilities--her own. They will never be realized in a poet's comfortable home. She, too, longs for the high places. But he will never take her there. In his heart of hearts he despises her. She belongs to the great Russian. With him she can be her beautiful free self.
Rubek watches her go without a sigh. For the other has returned to him. The Spirit of Love--of beauty and poetry and ideality--has come again out of the past, to seek him. She is like a dead person, it is true.
Her face is pale and its lines seem to have stiffened; the eyelids are drooped, and the eyes appear as though they saw nothing. Her dress, of fine, cream-white cashmere, comes down to her feet, and clings to her body in perpendicular folds. Over her head, neck, breast, shoulders, and arms, she wears a large shawl of white crape. She keeps her arms crossed on her breast. She carries her body immovably, and her steps are stiff and measured.
He watches her breathless. "Who is that?" he demands of the innkeeper. "She is a stranger who has rented the little pavilion there." But to Rubek she is no stranger. He goes some steps toward her and says in a low voice: "I know you quite well, Irene."
They talk together of the past. It is the sculptor--Ibsen's self--communing in his heart with the Spirit that has left him so long, but has come again at last. She will never leave him again. He will cherish her in his heart, warm her there, hold her fast to the end.
The sculptor tells her of his life--how the group has gone out into the world.
IRENE: I will make a pilgrimage to the place where my soul and my child's soul lie buried.
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Uneasy and alarmed) You must never see that statue again! Do you hear, Irene! I implore you! Never, never see it again!
IRENE: Perhaps you think it would mean death to me a second time?
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Clenching his hands together) Oh, I don't know what I think. But how could I ever imagine that you would fix your mind so immovably on that statue? You, who went away from me--before it was completed.
IRENE: It was completed. That was why I could go away from you--and leave you alone.
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Sits with his elbows upon his knees, rocking his head from side to side, with his hands before his eyes) It was not what it afterwards become.
IRENE: (Quietly, but quick as lightning, half unsheathes a narrow-bladed, sharp knife, which she carries in her breast, and asks, in a hoarse whisper) Arnold, have you done any evil to our child?
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Evasively) Any evil? How can I be sure what you would call it?
IRENE: (Breathless) Tell me at once what you have done to the child!
PROFESSOR RUBEK: I will tell you if you will sit and listen quietly to what I say.
IRENE: (Hides the knife) I will listen as quietly as a mother can when she--
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Interrupting) And you must not look at me while I am telling you.
IRENE: (Moves to a stone behind his back) I will sit here behind you. Now tell me.
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Takes his hands from before his eyes and gazes straight in front of him) When I had found you, I knew at once how I should make use of you for my life-work.
IRENE The Resurrection Day you called your life-work. I call it "our child."
PROFESSOR RUBEK: I was young then--with no experience of life. The Resurrection, I thought, would be most beautifully and exquisitely figured as a young, unsullied woman--with none of life's experiences--awakening to light and glory without having to put away from her anything ugly and impure.
IRENE: (Quickly) Yes--and so I stand there now, in our work?
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Hesitating) Not absolutely and entirely so, Irene.
IRENE: (In rising excitement) Not absolutely? Do I not stand as I always stood for you?
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Without answering) I learned worldly wisdom in the years that followed, Irene. The Resurrection Day became in my mind's eye something more and something--more complex. The little round pedestal on which your figure stood erect and solitary--it no longer afforded room for all the imagery I now wanted to add.
IRENE: (Gropes for her knife, but desists) What imagery did you add, then? Tell me!
PROFESSOR RUBEK: I imaged that which I saw with my eyes around me in the world. I had to include it; I could not help it, Irene. I expanded the pedestal, made it wide and spacious; and on it I placed a segment of the curving, bursting earth. And up from the fissures of the soil there now swarm men and women with dimly suggested animal faces. Women and men, as I knew them in real life.
She does not resent that reality is there--women and men as he has known them--if in the midst of it, she, the chief figure, Love, stands radiant with the joy of light.
He confesses, reluctantly,--he has had to move her a little back for the sake of the general effect. "Otherwise it would have dominated the whole too much."
She yields even this to him. "But the joy in the light still transfigures my face?" When day dawns and Love rises from her long sleep, it must be with the joy of light about her, illuminating everything. Sorrow may be there, and evil, but the light of Love will illumine all.
"Yes, it does, Irene--in a way. A little subdued, perhaps, as my altered idea required."
She challenges him. She rises before him. She questions, "That represents life as you see it?"
Reluctantly he admits it, "Yes, I suppose it does."
She confronts him. The vision of Love, once so radiant to his eyes, she accuses him, "has been shifted back, toned down--to serve as a background figure in a group--"
He protests here--"not a background figure, but a figure not quite in the foreground." Other things come before the vision of Love in his art. He has admitted it now at last.
She turns upon him to strike him.
IRENE: There you uttered your own doom.
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Turns and looks at her) Doom?
IRENE: (Hastily hides the knife and says, as though choked with agony) My whole soul--you and I--we, we, we and our child were in that solitary figure.
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Eagerly taking off his hat and drying the drops of sweat upon his brow) Yes but let me tell you, too, how I placed myself in the group. In front, beside a fountain, as it were, sits a man weighed down with guilt, who cannot quite free himself from the earth-crust. I call him "Remorse for a Ruined Life." He sits there and dips his fingers in the purling stream--to wash them clean--and he is gnawed and tortured by the thought that never, never will he succeed. Never in all eternity will he attain to freedom and the new life. He will remain forever prisoned in his hell.
The autobiographic note is not forced, but one may read it between the lines. It is Ibsen's life history.... His spontaneous, bubbling delight in his early work when the Spirit of Love and belief in love possessed him--the very lines and rhymes of Peer Gynt testify to it. The free rollicking metre and the lines that have taxed translators to the utmost reveal the soul of the poet in love with his work and working with spontaneous touch. The theme is ever, the divine power of Love that must dawn at last upon the earth. Then--when Peer Gynt was done--the anxious halting pause that came in his work, his fumbling attempt at prose in The Young Men's League, and the revising of his earlier work--all the time searching for the Spirit that had left him, and without whom he finds himself powerless to create. He takes up Emperor and Galilean. The form is poetical, but the soul of poetry is not there. It has escaped him forever. He will never find it again. He knows it now. The Emperor and Galilean has taught him the truth. It stands there in the midst of his work, a great, bare, pretentious thing--neither prose nor poetry. Despair is in his heart. He stays his hand. His work is done.
There is still the desire in his heart, the necessity in his nature to create, but he is sterile. He can no longer make poems. The Spirit has left him. Beauty has gone from the world, and ideality. It is a cold, barren place, with only men and women, ugly and hard and prosaic, leering at him. Then comes the whisper in his ear. They throng upon his soul, these men and women of the real world, hard and cruel and cunning. His keen eyes pierce them to their very souls, as through transparent walls of glass. Why should he not write of them as he sees them--reveal them to themselves? He writes Pillars of Society. He "places it as a segment of the curving, bursting earth" on the pedestal of his life-work. "Up from the fissures of the soil swarm men and women with dimly suggested animal faces." A Doll's House follows and Ghosts, An Enemy of Society, The Wild Duck, Rosmersholm, The Lady from the Sea. The group is complete at last and he gives it to the world. The world praises him and blames him, but for the most part, it admires the skill, "the striking likeness," of the work of the pedestal--the faces that swarm from the fissures of the soil.
The rest of his works--Hedda Gabler, The Master Builder, Little Eyolf, and John Gabriel Borkman--are but portrait plays, thrown off from time to time because he must still create. They have no inner unity that joins them to each other. And with John Gabriel Borkman he finds that even this sort of work is no longer possible to him.
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Continuing undisturbed) I live at such high speed, Maia. We live so, we artists. I, for my part, have lived through a whole lifetime in the few years we two have known each other. I have come to realize that I am not at all adapted for seeking happiness in indolent enjoyment. Life does not shape itself that way for me and those like me. I must go on working--producing one work after another--right up to my last day. (Forcing himself to continue) That is why I cannot get on with you any longer, Maia--not with you alone.
MAIA: (Quietly) Does that mean in plain language, that you have grown tired of me?
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Bursts forth) Yes, that is what it means! I have grown tired--intolerably tired and fretted and unstrung--in this life with you. Now you know it. (Controlling himself) These are hard, ugly words I am using. I know that very well. And you are not at all to blame in this matter--that I willingly admit. It is simply and solely I myself, who have once more undergone a revolution (half to himself)--an awakening to my real life.
MAIA: (Involuntarily folding her hands) Why in all the world should we not part then?
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Looks at her in astonishment) Should you be willing to?
MAIA: (Shrugging her shoulders) Oh, yes; if there's nothing else for it, then--
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Eagerly) But there is something else for it. There is an alternative.
MAIA: (Holding up her forefinger) Now you are thinking of the pale lady again?
PROFESSOR RUBEK: Yes; to tell the truth, I cannot help constantly thinking of her. Ever since I met her again. (A step nearer her) For now I will tell you a secret, Maia.
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Tourching his own breast) In here, you see--in here I have a little Brahma-locked casket. And in that casket all my sculptor's visions are stored up. But when she disappeared and left no trace, the lock of the casket snapped to. And she had the key, and she took it away with her. You, little Maia, you had no key; so all that the casket contains must lie unused. And the years pass! And I have no means of getting at the treasure.
MAIA: (Trying to repress a subtle smile) Then get her to turn the key for you again.
She is not jealous of returning love. Surely in all the poet's great house--in all Ibsen's work--there must be room for Realism and Idealism, too. If not, then Realism will part from him entirely. She will be free. It is her nature. Forms and bonds weary her. She has never lived with him joyously. He has made too formal, too artistic a thing of her. She loves better the rough Russians, without a touch of art. With them the free spirit of truth can dwell willingly and all its native beauty can come out. "No need to be anxious about that, Professor Rubek!" Suddenly she points off to the right, "Look there! There we have her."
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Turning) Where?
MAIA: Out on the plain. Striding like a marble statue. She is coming this way.
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Stands gazing with his hand over his eyes) Does not she look like the Resurrection incarnate? (To himself) And her I could displace--and move into the shade! Remodel her! Fool that I was!
* * *
IRENE: She--the other one--said that you had been waiting for me.
PROFESSOR RUBEK: I have waited for you year after year, without myself knowing it.
IRENE: I could not come to you, Arnold. I was lying sleeping there, the long, deep, dreamful sleep.
PROFESSOR RUBEK: But now you have awakened, Irene.
IRENE: (Shakes her head) I have the heavy, deep sleep still in my eyes.
PROFESSOR RUBEK: You shall see that day will dawn and lighten for us both.
IRENE: Do not believe that.
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Urgently) I do believe it! And I know it! Now that I have found you again.
IRENE: Risen from the grave.
PROFESSOR RUBEK: Transfigured!
IRENE: Only risen, Arnold. Not transfigured. (He crosses over to her by means of stepping-stones below the cascade--after a short interval of silence) I have come back to you from the uttermost regions, Arnold.
PROFESSOR RUBEK: Aye, truly, from an endless journey.
IRENE: Come home to my lord and master.
PROFESSOR RUBEK: To our home--to our home, Irene.
IRENE: Have you looked for me every single day?
PROFESSOR RUBEK: How dared I look for you?
IRENE: (With a sidelong glance) No, I suppose you dared not. For you understood nothing.
PROFESSOR RUBEK: Was it really not for the sake of some one else that you all of a sudden disappeared from me in that way?
IRENE: Might it not quite well be for your sake, Arnold?
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Looks doubtfully at her) I don't understand you.
IRENE: When I had served you with my soul and with my body, when the statue stood there finished--our child as you called it--then I laid at your feet the most precious sacrifice of all--by effacing myself for all time.
Then comes the pretty play of the flower petal floating. Irene, as she launches them, one by one, recalls to him, out of memory, how they played the game, once before, by the lake, and her white gulls were the swans that drew his boat, and he was Lohengrin, bringing the heavenly message to men. Love would have piloted him safely, but he cut his boat adrift from her. The white gulls sailed away. His boats are stranded in the shoals.
But he "has ships in reserve," He has pulled down the old hut where he dwelt with Love; but he has now a spacious mansion. He begs her to come and live with him, with him and Maia--to unlock once more his heart.
"I have no longer the key." She cannot dwell with him. But they will spend together one night on the Uplands.
PROFESSOR RUBEK: A summer night on the Uplands. With you. With you. (His eyes meet hers) Oh, Irene, that might have been our life. And that we have forfeited--we two.
IRENE: We see the irretrievable only when--(Breaks short off)
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Looks inquiringly at her) When?
IRENE: When we dead awaken.
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Shakes his head mournfully) What do we really see then?
MAIA: We see that we have never lived.
- MAIA: (Is heard singing triumphantly among the hills) I am free! I am free! I am free!
- No more life in the prison for me!
- I am free as a bird. I am free!
Interwoven with the main symbol of the play is the figure of the dark attendant who appears for the first time, when Irene appears, and follows her close.
"Quite dark like a shadow"--"A dark one? Quite black perhaps?"--"Yest, it certainly seemed so to me."--"And behind the white figure? Following close upon her?"--"Yes, at a little distance."--"Aha! then I think I can explain the mystery. It is the Sister of Mercy, in black with the silver cross hanging by a chain on her breast. She has the air of a servant. She keeps her brown, piercing eyes incessantly fixed upon the lady."
Religion--the Church--follows always upon the footsteps of the white figure--cherishing and keeping alive in the world the Spirit of Love--and Ideality and Truth--but cherishing it most devotedly when it is most nearly dead, when vitality has gone from it.
When Love--the life-giving principle of art and truth is frozen and lifeless, then the Church takes it into her care, watching over it humbly, feeding it on milk and water, keeping her piercing brown eyes constantly fixed upon it, to preserve and guard it lest it slip away from earth. She follows Irene--a shadow through the play--peering out at her warningly when life comes back a little to the deadened heart, and warmth to the clay-cold limbs. Irene, with returning life, shrinks from her, rebellious--
IRENE: A face is staring out at me.
PROFESSOR RUBEK: Where? Ah! (The Sister of Mercy's head is partly visible among the bushes beside the descent to the left. Here eyes are immovably fixed upon Irene)
IRENE: (Whispering) One fine, sunny morning I shall kill her.
PROFESSOR RUBEK: Would you do that?
IRENE: With the utmost delight--if only I could manage it.
PROFESSOR RUBEK: Why do you want to?
IRENE: Because she deals in witchcraft. (Mysteriously) Only think, Arnold, she has changed herself into my shadow.
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Trying to calm her) Well, well, well--a shadow we must all have.
IRENE: I am my own shadow. (With an outburst) Do you not understand that?
PROFESSOR RUBEK: (Sadly) Yes, yes, Irene, I understand that.
The sculptor understands it. The reader understands vaguely--Love is ultimate. She resents the Church following her always--at a little distance. She herself is her own shadow--Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. The Spirit of Love--which is the spirit of life and art, the soul beneath all things, the spiritual truth, and the inner vision that sees the truth--Love is jealous that any should come before her, or after. She would be all in all. If a man will trust her and live in her, he shall know all things.... The symbol branches out into intricate paths that the mind cannot follow all at once. But only when one has taken time to follow each to its last minute wandering, will he understand fully the message that Ibsen has projected in When We Dead Awaken.
It is perhaps the chief characteristic of Ibsen's symbolism, compared with that of the other writers, that the symbol stands the test of minute following out, that it demands it, and that it rewards it richly. Every play is full of meanings within meanings. They suggest themselves hazily on the first reading. When We Dead Awaken, for instance, may be the autobiography of Ibsen's soul. But it suggests also the essential truths that must govern art in its relations with realism and idealism--the inner nature of each, the conditions that each demands for its best development, and the relation of the artist to each. There is, too, more than a suggestion of woman's relation to art--the feminine element that must join with the masculine ere true art is born--the same theme that is touched on in Hedda Gabler, and the Master Builder and Little Eyolf--the study of which in Ibsen's work might form a book by itself. But more than this, there is in the play, history--running through the lines, Maia and the bear-hunter recount, each, a parable. The bear-hunter took once a maiden from the gutter and bore her in his arms close to his heart; for her shoes were worn thin. But she rewarded him with unfaithfulness. One must know the whole story of literature to interpret the parable. But the parable in which Realism answers him is the story of her own life with Ibsen. She was "a stupid girl, who had both a father and a mother, but a rathery poverty-stricken home. Then there came a high and mighty seigneur into the midst of all this poverty. And he took the girl in his arms--as you did--and travelled far, far away with her."
ULFHEIM: Was she so anxious to be with him?
MAIA: Yes; for she was stupid, you see.
ULFHEIM: And he, no doubt, was a brilliant and beautiful personage?
MAIA: Oh, no; he wasn't so superlatively beautiful. But he pretended that he would take her with him to the top of the highest mountains where there was light and sunshine without end.
ULFHEIM: So he was a mountaineer, was he, that man?
MAIA: Yes, he was--in his way.
ULFHEIM: And then he took the girl up with him?
MAIA: (With a toss of the head) Took her up with him finely, you may be sure! Oh no! He beguiled her into a cold, clammy cage where, it seemed to her, there was neither sunlight nor fresh air, but only gilding and great petrified ghosts of people all round the walls.
The sculptor has failed to keep his promise, and now she will go with the bear-hunter who assures her that he has a castle for her. She demurs.
"Thanks! I have had enough of castles."--"With splendid hunting-grounds, stretching for miles around it."--"Are there works of art, too, in this castle?"--"Well, no--it's true there are no works of art; but--"--"Ah! that's one good thing at any rate!"
She has had enough of castles and art at Ibsen's hand. She is wary of being caught again. Realism and art cannot live together.
They turn to descend the mountain, the bear-hunter and Maia, pledged to each other for life. But the way is blocked. The sculptor and Irene are coming up. So it comes about that they meet on the Uplands in the early morning, before the sunrise.
Each has a final word to say--the bear-hunter to Ibsen, a word of surprise that he has reached the Uplands at last. "It is a deadly dangerous way that you have come--for you come to a tight place where you can neither get forward nor back. And there you stick fast, Professor! Mountain-fast, as we hunters call it."--"Am I to take these as oracular utterances?" Without doubt. The dead center of Ibsen's life swings before the vision--the ten years in which he could do nothing. And the twenty years in which he groped helplessly for the opening. But he is here--at last--on the Uplands. A storm is coming, but he is here. "Dauntless, the slug-horn to his lips he set and blew, 'Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came.'"
The bear-hunter and Maia turn hastily to descend the mountain. The sculptor, with Irene's hand in his, faces the storm. "We must first pass through the mists, Irene, and then--"
We must first pass through the mists. Then we shall stand face to face with our Beloved. Then at last we shall know her as she is. Here we see through a glass darkly. But there face to face.
The storm is upon them. They are whirled along buried in the masses of snow drifting on the high peaks. Maia's voice--earth-child, happy in her freedom--is singing about them. Religion reaches out empty, groping hands to them.
The poet and his Truth have gone from us. His lips are silent. They are forever sealed.
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