Scene 1



A wood.

[SILENUS, sitting. HARLEQUIN and COLUMBINE posturing about him. SATYRS and BACCHANTES dancing round the group.]


Sing of dancing, sing of wine,

Satyrs and Bacchantes, sing. 

Harlequin and Columbine,

Leap within our frantic ring.

Dance, the skies are violet; 

Dance, our lips with wine are wet;

Sing, heigh-ho, the shade is mellow! 

Twist and twine from dusk till dawn; 

Feet and hoofs beat bare the lawn.

Bacchus is a noble fellow!

From our garlands grapes are flung,

And we tread them in the grass; 

Ivy, in our tresses strung,

Streams behind us as we pass.

Dance, the skies are violet; 

Dance, our lips with foam are wet;

Sing, the beechen shade is mellow! 

Bend and bound with one accord;

Foot it firm, and trench the sward. 

Bacchus is a splendid fellow!

Round we spin; our starry eyes

Glimmer through our tossing manes.

Time is ending; wisdom dies;

We are drunk; and Bacchus reigns.

Dance, the skies are violet;

The dust with juice of grapes is wet;

Sing, the deepening shade is mellow! 

Dance the night into the day; 

Dance into eternity.

Bacchus is the only fellow!

HAR. Now, you may tell them; now, that they think of Bacchus but as one of themselves — a wine-bibber, and the inventor of wine-bibbing.

SIL. Do you disparage wine-bibbing ?

HAR. May my mask grow to my face, and my sword to my arm, if I do not think it a most intellectual pursuit!

COL. For what do you take us ?

SIL. No enigmas: I am not good at riddles in the evening; for the tedious parched hours of this torrid July, and the labour of moistening them make me sweat brains; but if I have not enough left to say what I take you for I would be glad to mount spontaneously to heaven in a chariot of fire — I mean by combustion. You, my good Harlequin, I take to be the son of Mercury and one of the furies.

HAR. Which one ?

SIL. Know you not your own mother? She whom Hermes mistook for Aphrodite: it's an old story now, as your joints might tell you, for you are a most degenerate Harlequin. Now do I remember Bathylus and Pylades, sweet youths both.

HAR. Were they Harlequins?

SIL. Harlequins! They were anything. Their very hands were garrulous as beldames, and their fingers more exclamatory than Marsyas under the knife of Apollo. You are a mere grasshopper and a magpie — a very signboard. You are like your father in nothing but the lightness of your heels, and the nimbleness of your pilfering.

HAR. In what am I like my mother?

SIL. In greed, and in that you are appointed to be my torment. But you serve me, too, or I would discard you. Moreover, you amuse me. You are a walking firmament: your spangles are the milky way, and your belt the zodiac. Sometimes you are Orion, and swagger out with sword on thigh to ogle the Pleiades. You are the bad angel of pleasantry, because you are, as it were, humour run to seed, and become a science: you are a mere name, and the thing which you once were is in limbo; wherefore you suit these times, and are well matched with my sweet Columbine.

COL. What am I?

SIL. What short flounces and limelight have made you. What do these woods know of fleshings? Doff them for shame, and go naked.

COL. [Aside.] Swell till you burst, old pumpkin! We'll make a Pantaloon of you before we've done.

SIL. What are you muttering? Do you hear? You must go naked with a tiger's skin.

HAR. She shall. But see, they are ripe for your address.

SIL. I say, wine-bibbing is noble, and drunkenness a virtue. Give me a drink, and let me go to sleep.

HAR. Have you forgotten?

SIL. I thank Jove I have. To forget is Elysium; regret is hell. I would put it better if I weren't so sleepy.

HAR. This will rouse you.

[HARLEQUIN gives him wine.]

SIL. [Drinks.] Aurora is in this wine: already I feel her chariot prancing through my veins. I have drunken of the sun. Children — [Aside.] What was I to say? There was some plot.

HAR. [Aside.] You are Bacchus.

SIL. I am the new Bacchus —

HAR. [Aside.] No, no; you are the old Bacchus!

SIL. — And the old Bacchus, and Bacchus altogether; and that maiden-faced Bacchus, who these many generations has roamed about the world striking men with fury and madness, is not the son of Semele, but a pampered and audacious old mountain-rover, none other than my ancient, Silenus, disguised. And this is the meaning of the fable that says I was dead and buried for a time. What greater burial could there be than the eclipse of Bacchus by Silenus! Well then, I am Bacchus: Proserpina nursed me.

HAR. The true Bacchus is come again!

ALL. Long live the true Bacchus!

SIL. There shall be no more rations, but all shall drink as much as they please; for ever since I stepped out of Jove's thigh I have been a hard drinker. [Aside.] Do I not do it well? Observe how I throw in these backhanders about my parentage — casually — before I am aware; and I blush and hem, for I would not be thought proud. — Children, rumour has confounded me with my father, Jupiter. Think it not: I am plain Bacchus, whose only claims on the world are that he invented wine, and is a good fellow, and a hard drinker. Fear me not, for I am harmless.

ALL. Long live Bacchus!

SIL. Columbine, where is Ariadne?

COL. I do not know, but we must find her.

SIL. We must — I have no chariot.

HAR. You shall have one.

SIL. And tigers?

HAR. I fear you can't have tigers: there are none on the island.

SIL. Then you must get me some cats instead. And now I bethink me, cats will please me better. They were dangerous reptiles, those tigers, and I am growing old: my charms have not the power they once had. Harness me some half-dozen tabbies, they shall serve well enough. I have somewhat more to say, and I will say it seriously. [Rises.]

Drinkers and drunkards, gentle profligates! 

In praise of drinking to be curious 

Would task Apollo and his morning lyre, 

With fresh and dulcet brains and strings new-strung, 

So often has the art been sung and said: 

And yet good reasons for it scarce are known:

One that consoles me I will offer you. 

We are immortals — all of us, divine; 

But people of inferior intellect.

Wherein consists our chief capacity?

In drinking deep: and some have sprightly toes.

Well, here's my reason. What is genius? This:

Perception of our bent and tireless zeal

To track it out against the wind of fate.

Have we not followed with a quenchless thirst

Deep drinking?

ALL. We have, most noble Bacchus.

SIL. Are we not plagued with headaches in the morning?

ALL. We are, we are.

SIL. Some of our noses, too, are rubicund.

ALL. Most true.

SIL. Our eyes are bulging, blazing amethysts.

1 SAT. Grapes, bursting grapes.

SIL. The women's hair is dank as Panope's,

Uncrisped and colourless, as limp as hay.

BACS. Alas! Alas!

SIL. Their cheeks are hollow, and their arms are thin.

BACS. Alack-a-day!

SIL. We all are rebels.

1 SAT. Outcasts.

1 BAC. Unsexed.

2 BAC. Lost.

SIL. Then are we geniuses. Now, hear my reason.

1 SAT. Your reason!

2 SAT. Why, we thought we had it now!

SIL. Erroneous conclusion; for to say

That we have geniuses for drinking deep,

And drink accordingly, is but to say

We drink because we're dry: that's not enough.

Reason there is for genius evermore, 

Could we discover it.

1 SAT. Then tell us ours.

SIL. Patience and drink a little. [All drink.]

Mine alderliefest prodigals, the truth 

Is simply this: that we're inferior.

1 BAC. We know it.

SIL. Well said! That's it! We know it!

Inferior, and we know it. Consider, then, 

What dreadful thought is this — what dire dismay— 

Inferior, yet immortal! We tried, we failed;

Failure was our familiar: so we chose, 

Rather than miss our aim eternally, 

To aim to miss, making success secure: 

That is the reason of our geniuses. 

Were we of those to whom death ministers, 

We might strain struggling, staggering — but no! 

What is the highest life that mortals live? 

A finger-length —time, fame, oblivion — 

A slate, a pencil, and a sponge! Then drink.

Song and dance, in which Silenus joins.

Dance and sing, we are eternal;

Let us still be mad with drinking: 

Tis a madness less infernal

Than the madness caused by thinking.

Death, cease whetting missiles for us;

Lurk not in the grave's dark portal; 

Bring your dead, and join the chorus;

Drink, for we are all immortal.

Drink, my gallants; reel and rhyme 

Though our souls are second-rate

We are none the less sublime: 

Drink, and give the lie to fate!

SIL. I know another song like that; but if drunkenness is no excuse for plagiarism, what is?



HAR. Welcome, great chief!

COL. Hail, noble champion!

SCA. How d'ye do? How d'ye do? Have you secured our venerable Bacchanalian friend?

HAR. We have.

SCA. Where is he? Now, don't tell me he's in your pocket. I'm not yet better of that fairy you caught me.

HAR. Was she not a success?

SCA. O Harlequin! O Columbine! I had her advertised on posters as big as mainsails. I paid municipalities fortunes to permit policemen to be my sandwichmen.

HAR. And a very good use to put them to.

SCA. Now don't: I can't stand it. Listen: I offered a prize of a thousand guineas to whoever would make a new joke about policemen, introducing my fairy. Twenty-one thousand jokes were sent in: I read these jokes.

HAR. Heroic soul!

SCA. Nay, I am better — Do not flatter me. Well, I published an hourly bulletin of the fairy's progress to the capital, with gratis supplements of original novels by the chief living writers. I hired and shut up six theatres, and bought the Crystal Palace to exhibit her in. Age of glass and iron! There came a thing about the size of a small tadpole!

HAR. Well, I never said she was a giantess.

SCA. No; but my bills had her as big as a balletgirl. The crowd — there was a crowd the first and only night — couldn't see it; so they wrecked the Palace and went off in a body to the performing fleas, and a stray cat ate the fairy. Now, how big is Bacchus?

HAR. Too big for a cat to eat: in fact, I don't believe any cat in Christendom, even Whittington's, which bearded a king, would dare to look at him. I only saw him once, and I've no desire to see him again. He withered me, sir, with a look: I am limp still.

SCA. Paper, pens, and ink! I thought you said you had him?

HAR. No, sir; we have only got his venerable Bacchanalian friend.

SCA. People and pantomimes! What am I to do!

HAR. Ship Silenus instead. Why, even supposing we could get hold of Bacchus, he would be of no use for our purpose.

COL. He would be a worse bargain than the fairy, unless you passed him off for Ariadne.

SCA. In the name of the living tinker, how?

HAR. Because not a soul would believe that the big beardless boy which Bacchus looks was he. Now, this old wine-skin, Silenus, is just the idea your worthy patrons have of what Bacchus must be after a supposed debauch extending from end to end of the Christian era.

SCA. And is he willing to play Bacchus?

HAR. As willing as a grub is in May to be a butterfly. Bacchus has placed him and some other drouths of his crew under guard, and limited them to so many drinks a day, for they were as dissipated as porters. I helped them to escape on condition that they should sail with us; which was a bargain. But they were more difficult to manage than a crew ashore after a three months' voyage. Imagine, now : they have gone off in search of Ariadne. By good chance they took the way to the beach.

SCA. Is Ariadne in the wood?

HAR. Not at all: but they have all shipped such a sea of liquor that they would believe anything. Silenus told them to go and find Ariadne, and they straightway comprehended that she was in the vicinity.

SCA. I suppose we couldn't lay hands on her?

COL. On Ariadne? You might as well try to lay hands upon a star.

SCA. Stripes and stirrups! A glorious idea! To have a well-preserved planet or a three-tailed comet on exhibition! Naxos and night! — but that would be stupendous.

For a caravan is the only plan;

Hurry my toms and trulls! 

Ho-ye-ho, and a rumble-low! 

Pay your penny, and see the show: 

This is the age of gulls.

[They go out dancing.]