One-Act Plays
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a play in one-act

by Maxwell Bodenheim

The following one-act play is reprinted from Minna and Myself. Maxwell Bodenheim. New York: Pagan Publishing Company, 1918. It is believed to be in the public domain and may therefore be performed without paying royalties.



[A great window of palest purple light. The lower corner of the window is visible. A dark purple wall frames the window, and narrow rectangles of the wall, below and to the left of the window-corner is the portion of a pale pink floor. One tall thin white candle stands against the dark purple rectangle of wall to the left of the window-corner. It bears a narrow flame which remains stationary. Soft and clear light pours in from the window-corner and dim shapes stand behind it. The Mad Shepherd appears from the left. He holds a reed to his lips, but does not blow into it. A long brown cloak drapes him: black sandals are on his feet. His black hair caresses his shoulders; his face is young. He pauses, three fourths of his body framed by the palest purple window corner.]

THE MAD SHEPHERD: [addressing the palest purple window-corner] I've lost a tune. It's a spirit-rose, and a reed-limbed boy ran before me and whisked it past my ears before I could seize him. Have you seen him, window clearer than the clashing light-bubbles in a woman's eyes? [A pause.] I sat on a rock in the midst of my sheep and smiled at the piping of my young soul, as it climbed a spirit-tree. Soon it would whirl joyously on the tip of the tree, and my heart would turn with it. Then the song brushed past me and made my head a burning feather dropping down. I stumbled after it, over the sun-dazed hills, and the reed-limbed boy would often stop, touch both of my eyes with the song-flower, and spring away. I saw him dance into this black palace. I followed, through high corridors, to you, palest purple window, towering over me like a silent mass of breath-clear souls. He has gone. Palest purple window, tell me where he is?

[There is a short silence. The Mad Shepherd stands despairingly fingering his reed. The Narcissus Peddler appears from the right. He is an old man, a huge basket of cut narcissus strapped to his back. His body is tall and slender; his face a bit yellow, with a long silver-brown beard. His head is bare. He wears a black velvet coat, pale yellow shirt, soft grey, loose trousers, and black sandals. He rests his basket upon the floor. The Mad Shepherd takes a step toward him, wearily.]

THE NARCISSUS PEDDLER: A Voice walked into me, one day. How he found me, sleeping between to huge purple hills, I do not know. He said with a laugh that had ghosts of weeping in it that he knew a garden where narcissus flowers grew taller than myself. What was there to do?--my soul and I, we had to walk with him. He led us to this palace, spinning the thread of a laugh behind him so that we could follow. But now he has gone, and there is no garden--only a palest purple window.

THE MAD SHEPHERD: We can leap through this window, but it may be a trap.


THE MAD SHEPHERD: Perhaps this is a dream that is true--an endless dream.

THE NARCISSUS PEDDLER: Can that be death?

THE MAD SHEPHERD: [pointing to the other's basket] With death, you would have left your narcissus behind you, for fragrance itself.

THE NARCISSUS PEDDLER: If my life has melted to an endless dream, my chase is over. I shall sit here and my soul will become an endless thought of narcissus.

[He seats himself beside his basket; Shepherd stands despairingly; the Slender Nun appears from the right: She is small and her body like a thin drooping stem; she wears the black dress of a nun but her child face is uncovered. Her feet are bare. She stops, standing a step away from the Peddler.]

THE SLENDER NUN: I see a candle that is like an arm stiffened in prayer. [She pauses.] Palest purple window, is my soul standing behind you and spreading to light that gently thrusts me down? A flame-loosed angel lifted it from me. I ran after him. He seemed to touch you, window, like a vapor kiss dying upon pale purple silk. [A pause.] Must I stand her always waiting for my soul, like a flower petal pressed deep into the earth by passing feet?

THE MAD SHEPHERD: You have lost a soul and I a tune. Let me make you the tune and you make me your soul. You could sit with me on my rock in the hills and make a soul of my reed-rippling, and, piping of you, I might weave a new tune.

THE SLENDER NUN: Can you give me a soul that will be Christ floating out in clear music? Only then I would go with you.

THE MAD SHEPHERD: [sadly] My music is like the wet, quick kiss of rain. It knows nothing of Christ.

[A short silence.]

[The Wine-Jar Maiden appears from the right. She is tall and pale brown; upon her head is a long pale green jar; her hair is black and spurts down. Her face is wide but delicately twisted. She wears a thin simple pale green gown, with a black girdle about her waist, one tasseled end hanging down. She stops a little behind the Slender Nun, and lowers her wine-jar to the floor. The Nun turns and partly faces her. The Narcissus Peddler looks up from where he has sat, in a reverie, beside his basket.]

THE WINE-JAR MAIDEN: My heart was a wine jar stained with the roses of frail dreams and filled with wine that had turned to shaking, purple mist. One day I felt it wrenched from me, and mist-drops that flew from it, as it left, sank into my breast and made me shrink. I could not see the thief, but I followed the scent of my heart trailing behind him. It brought me here; but at this palest purple window it died. Scent of my heart, have you spread over this huge window, and must I stand forever looking upon you?

[The Narcissus Peddler slowly rises and takes a stride toward the palest purple window.]

THE NARCISSUS PEDDLER: That dim shape behind the window--I believe it is a huge narcissus. I am a rainbow-smeared knave to stand here juggling little golden balls of dreams. I shall spring through the window.

THE SLENDER NUN: Take my hand when you spring. Perhaps this is God's forehead, and we shall melt into it, like billows of rain washing into a cliff.

THE WINE-JAR MAIDEN: If I leap through this window, a cloak of my heart-scent may hang to me. I shall touch the cloak, now and then, and that shall be my life.

THE MAD SHEPHERD: I must sit here, and whirl with my young spirit. If I cannot knit together strands of music better than the tune I ran after, then I should not have chased it.

[After a short silence the Narcissus Peddler and the Slender Nun, hand in hand, leap through the window-corner and vanish. The Wine Jar Maiden leaps after them, a moment later, and also disappears. The Mad Shepherd sits down and blows little fragments of piping into his reed, long pauses separating them. As he does this, he looks up at the window, his head motionless. The Narcissus Peddler, the Slender Nun and the Wine Jar Maiden appear from the left walking slowly, in single file, as though in a trance. The Narcissus Peddler stands beside his basket, which he left behind him; the Wine Jar maiden beside her jar, and the Slender Nun between them.]

THE MAD SHEPHERD: [looking up, astonished] You return, like sleep-drooping poplar trees that have been given wings, and after long journeyings, fly back to their little blue-green hills.

THE NARCISSUS PEDDLER: After we sprang we found ourselves in a high corridor, whose air was like the breath of a dying maiden--the corridor we first walked down, before we came to this palest purple window.

THE MAD SHEPHERD: [wonderingly] A dream with a strange, buried, quivering palace whose doors are closed. . . .

[The poet quietly appears from the right. He is dressed in a deep crimson robe, pale brown turban and black sandals; his head is bare. He surveys the others a moment, then touches the shoulder of the Wine Jar Maiden. She turns and stares at him. The others turn also.]

THE POET: You are all in my heart--a wide space with many buried, black palaces, huge pale-purple windows, hills with rocks for mad shepherds, strolling flower-vendors, wine-jar maidens dancing in high courtyards hushed with quilted star-light, and sometimes a slender nun walking alone through the aisles of old reveries. I have woven you into a poem, and you were drawn on by me. But when my poems are made I take my people to a far-off garden in my heart. There we sit beneath one of the shining trees and talk. There I shall give you your soul, your heart, your song--and your huge narcissus flower. And out of them make other poems, perhaps? Who knows? Come.

[He leads them away.]


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