Poetical Tragedies

Morning: A Tragedy in Five Acts.

by William Wilfred Campbell




PLACE—A hut in the forest.

TIME—Autumn evening.

Enter, from forest, LEONATUS, aged, feeble and poorly clad, carrying a bundle of sticks. He proceeds to build a fire.


     LEON.     I am a poor old man, a poor old man,

Outcast, forsaken! God has rebuked my pride.
I am so old, so feeble and so old,
Cast off and beggared in my wintered age!
Is there no one to chafe these poor old hands
That erstwhile granted favors?




     MORN.     Father, what do you?


     LEON.     I am Leonatus the woodgatherer, dost know, my child?

Who, once a senator, angered the awful heavens
By his presumption. Do you know me, child?
Though cursed and outcast I am yet your father.


     MORN.     Father! hear me, father! I love you yet.

[She kneels and takes his hands.


Believe me, father, I am yet your daughter.


     LEON.     Nay, I am outcast, none dare love me now!

But let me whisper it, child: though they deny me,
I yet believe in God! Ha, ha! Hush, hush!
The stars might hear me, the icy-fingered night
Might cruelly punish!


     MORN.     O terrible nature, white and pitiless stars,

Undying, mighty ones who measure all,
And sift the futile through the million years,
Is there nought in your majesty and power
To help this poor old man? O God! O God!
Father, come within!


     LEON.     Nay, Morning, let me stay. I love this night;

It is not human, it hath a kindly look;
It speaks me peaceful, eyes me not askance,
And makes me one with all its majesty;
Holds recompense unto the poor old man
For all that love hath suffered, life hath lost.
God is not merciless, dost thou think, my child?


     MORN.     Nay, father.


     LEON.     Why did they drive me out? Why is this winter

So cold and pitiless to these poor old hands?
They never denied any, never hurt a soul;
I ever did love my fellows! Why am I
The spite and sport of ice and wind and snow,
A palsied spectre? Speak to me, my child.
I am so lonely, so close moored to death,
So much a shadow wandering ’mid the shadows,
I may not know the evil from the good,
The night from morning. Did God punish me
For my presumption? Or are their lies a truth,
And life a mockery? Nay, my child, they lied.
In face of woe, in spite of hunger, pain
And frost and cold, and this dead, icy night,
I do believe, I do believe in God!


     MORN.     Father, forget your woes. Let us within.

Here comes a stranger!


     LEON.     Let them come! yea, let the whole world come,

And buzz its devil doubts about mine ears;
I do believe, I do believe in God!


Enter VULPINUS, alone, as a fugitive, disguised.


     VULP.     (discovering them) Good even, friends!
(aside) Ha! this the natural end to trusting honor!


     LEON.     Aye, who art thou dost call Leonatus friend?

If thou dost, knowing, thou art anomaly!
The very icy winds that walk this night
Give him the shoulder. The fire should warm his chaps
Flickers askance; the very storms of heaven
Beat on him pitiless, all nature joined
In iron league to flout his miseries.
Yea, who art thou, bold one that darest come
With that word friend?


     VULP.     I am one who calleth no one friend

Save cheating opportunity—My name? Vulpinus!


     LEON.     (rising) Ha, ha! I know thee now! thou art that fiend,

That acid tongue, that lie upon the lips,
Forged out of cant to make this world a hell
And good men blaspheme God. Wert thou my son,
I’d damn all marriage, batten up its tides,
And stop its issues. I would rather breed
That hideous thing the idiot than thy kind.
Thou art that bane crept in the milk of life
To turn the truth to crooked, the love to hate.
Begone, thou blot! Accursed as I am,
My soul abhors thee!


     VULP.     And this is all from kind Leonatus,

Most fortunate, most high Leonatus?


     LEON.     Fortune is a jade. But who art thou

To dance upon my miseries? Were I young,
I’d show thee, viper, Leonatus had an arm
To back his honor.


     MORN.     Father, come in! Sir, leave us; he is mad

With age and misery, and your presence wracks him.


     LEON.     Yea, go! Why stand’st thou there, thou monster dark,

To weight my spirit down? I call on God
To judge betwixt us!


     MORN.     (to VULPINUS) Wilt thou not go? Hast thou not even yet

Glutted thine envies, or doth thy spirit seek
A dreader vengeance?


     VULP.     (to MORNING) My curse is this: forever insatiate,

Not all the ills of this besotted world
Could make Vulpinus happy. And thou thyself,
Dost thou, too, still believe?


     LEON.     Begone, thou darkness! Anger me not down

To thy base levels.


     VULP.     (to LEONATUS) Dost thou believe that this relentless force,

That raised thee up from out thy mother’s womb,
Built thee to pride and arrogance of man,
To buffet thee back to that thing which thou art,
Baffled of all thy highest; dost thou dream
This weird, dread force hath got a beating heart
Like thine within it? Doth it pity the lives
It crushes every heart-beat? Can it weep
For man’s poor million miseries? Tell me now,
Thou festering breath, thou ruin of a tree
All dead at top, thou remnant of a life,
Canst thou believe in God?


     MORN.     Torment him not, nor beat about his age,

Thou bat of bitterness. Dost thou not see
His poor spent spirit flutters above its doubts,
To rest in God!


     LEON.     Yea, she speaks truth. I am a weak old man,

A feeble wreck of life’s poor promises;
But God is kind, yea, kind, though man be cruel.
Ha, ha! you mock me, scoff me, sneer me down,
Would turn my trust to folly, make me dream
This life a lie! The very winds of heaven
Would freeze me to it. The very stony stars
Would iron me to it. The pitiless icy night
Would shrivel my spirit to it,—all in league
With hellish doubt and damned obliquity
To make me doubt the Highest. Even, my child,
Thou shalt not do it; even thy sorrowful eyes,
Thy broken loves, thy daily silent patience;
Thou famished, glaring Hunger! thou pale Want!
Back, back, all spectres of this hideous world!
In spite of all, in spite of all, I trust.
You shall not bear me down.


     MORN.     O nature, nature, how long will this last?


     LEON.     They called my senator. Even thou, Vulpinus!

LEON. They called my senator. Even thou, Vulpinus!
Ha, ha, thou doubter, thou didst laugh at me!
But see me now, even now, in all my glory!
Ha, ha! God is good!


     VULP.     (aside) ’Tis a hideous madness! I have seen enough.

[Would go.


Enter VARRA, Nobles and Retainers.


     VAR.     Caught, thou fox, at last!
[VULPINUS would flee: is stopped.


     VAR.     Morning!


     MORN.     Varra! At last! at last!

[LEONATUS comes feeble forward.


     VAR.     Leonatus, the city from her sink

Of vile corruption hath risen to a sense
Of conscience of her sin, and sends for thee
To be her Senator!


     LEON.     Senator! yea, Leonatus is Senator. Good morrow,

It is a sweet, glad summer. I am old,
And heaven biting, but this my daughter here
Will show ’tis summer.


     VAR.     What dread horror is this?


     MORN.     He hath been troubled thus. It soon will pass;

Sorrow and care and his infirmity
Have wrought upon him.


     VAR.     Great heaven! Good citizens, we have much to answer!


     LEON.     Yea, much to answer, we all have much to answer.

Believe me, friends, we are all good citizens;
Leonatus did ever love your city,
And built its virtues. Sit you down, good friends.
I am no lord, but just a poor old man
Whom his loved city, in mistaken dream,
Did banish for his misdeeds. Believe me, friends,
They did not mean it; God for some good reason
Did blind them to it. Look not so cold upon us,
We will not stay; yea, we will go without,
Where our poor woes and wants may not offend you.
Come, my sweet daughter, take your father’s hand!
We are alone, the very inclement night
Doth freeze us, the stars refuse us bread,
The world is aged and ruined, dread and dark,
My poor limbs fail me. All, yea, all but God!
[He staggers; they hold him.


(half rising up) Nay, nay, you lie, you doubters; back of all
This wintry age, this iron of dread and dark,
I see a glimmer. I do feel a dawn
Breaking! breaking!