Part 06, Chapter 1 : Maurice Maeterlinck, Monna Vanna
Part 06, Chapter 1
To those who are conversant with the works of Maeterlinck it may seem rather far-fetched to discuss him from the point of view of revolutionary and social significance. Above all, MaEterlinck is the portrayer of the remote, the poet of symbols; therefore it may seem out of place to bring him down to earth, to simplify him, or to interpret his revolutionary spirit. To some extent these objections have considerable weight; but on the other hand, if one keeps in mind that only those who go to the remote are capable of understanding the obvious, one will readily see how very significant Maeterlinck is as a revolutionizing factor. Besides, we have Maeterlinck's own conception of the significance of the revolutionary spirit In a very masterly article called "The Social Revolution," he discusses the objection on the part of the conservative section of society to the introduction of revolutionary methods. He says that they would like us to "go slow"; that they object to the use of violence and the forcible overthrow of the evils of society. And Maeterlinck answers in these significant words:
"We are too ready to forget that the headsmen of misery are less noisy, less theatrical, but infinitely more numerous, more cruel and active than those of the most terrible revolutions."
Maeterlinck realizes that there are certain grievances in society, iniquitous conditions which demand immediate solution, and that if we do not solve them with the readiest and quickest methods at our command, they will react upon society and upon life a great deal more terribly than even the most terrible revolutions. No wonder, then, that his works were put under the ban by the Catholic Church which forever sees danger in light and emancipation. Surely if Maeterlinck were not primarily the spokesman of truth, he would be embraced by the Catholic Church.
In "Monna Vanna" Maeterlinck gives a wonderful picture of the new woman--not the new woman as portrayed in the newspapers, but the new woman as a reborn, regenerated spirit; the woman who has emancipated herself from her narrow outlook upon life, and detached herself from the confines of the home; the woman, in short, who has become race-conscious andtherefore understands that she is a unit in the great ocean of life, and that she must take her place as an independent factor in order to rebuild and remold life. In proportion as she learns to become race-conscious, does she become a factor in the reconstruction of society, valuable to herself, to her children, and to the race.
Pisa is subdued by the forces of Florence; it is beaten and conquered. The city is in danger of being destroyed, and the people exposed to famine and annihilation. There is only one way of saving Pisa. Marco Colonna, the father of the Commander of Pisa, brings the ultimatum of the enemy:
Marco. Know, then, that I saw Prinzivalle and spoke with him. . . . I thought to find some barbarian, arrogant and heavy, always covered with blood or plunged in drunken stupor; at best, the madman they have told us of, whose spirit was lit up at times, upon the battle field, by dazzling flashes of brilliance, coming no man knows whence. I thought to meet the demon of combat, blind, unreasoning, vain and cruel, faithless and dissolute. . . . I found a man who bowed before me as a loving disciple bows before the master. He is lettered, eager for knowledge, and obedient to the voice of wisdom. . . . He loves not war; his smile speaks of understanding and gentle humanity. He seeks the reason of passions and events. He looks into his own heart; he is endowed with conscience and sincerity, and it is against his will that he serves a faithless State. . . . I have told you that Prinzivalle seems wise, that he is humane and reasonable. But where is the wise man that hath not his private madness, the good man to whom no monstrous idea has ever come? On one Side Is reason and pity and justice; on the other--ah! there is desire and passion and what you will-the insanity into which we all fall at times. I have fallen into it myself, and shall, belike, again--so have you. Man is made in that fashion. A grief which should not be within the experience of man is on the point of touching you. . . . Hearken: this great convoy, the victuals that I have seen, wagons running over with corn, others full of wine and fruit; flocks of sheep and herds of cattle, enough to feed a city for months; all these tuns of powder and bars of lead, with which you may vanquish Florence and make Pisa lift her head--all this will enter the city tonight, . . . if you send in exchange, to give her up to Prinzivalle until tomorrow's dawn. . . . for he will send her back when the first faint gray shows in the sky, only, he exacts that, in sign of victory and submission, she shall come alone, and her cloak for all her covering. . . .
Guido. Who? Who shall thus come?
Guido. My wife? Vanna?
Marco. Aye, your Vanna.
Guido Colonna, in the consciousness that the woman belongs to him, that no man may even look, with desire, upon her dazzling beauty, resents this mortal insult. He is willing that all the other women should face danger, that the little children of pisa should be exposed to hunger and destruction, rather than that he give up his possession. But Monna Vanna does not hesitate. When she is before the issue of saying her people, she does not stop to consider. She goes into the enemy's tent, as a child might go, without consciousness of self, imbued solely with the impulse to save her people.
The meeting of Monna Vanna and Prinzivalle is an exquisite interpretation of love--the sweetness, purity, and fragrance of Prinzivalle's love for the woman of his dream--the one he had known when she was but a child, and who remained an inspiring vision all through his career. He knows he cannot reach her; he also knows that he will be destroyed by the political intriguers of Florence, and he stakes his all on this one step to satisfy the dream of his life to see Vanna and in return to save Pisa.
Prinzivalle. Had there come ten thousand of you into my tent, all clad alike, all equally fair, ten thousand sisters whom even their mother would not know apart, I should have risen, should have taken your hand, and said, "This is she!" Is it not strange that a beloved image can live thus in a man's heart? For yours lived so in mine that each day it changed as in real life--the image of to-day replaced that of yesterday--it blossomed out, it became always fairer; and the years adorned it with all that they add to a child that grows in grace and beauty. But when I saw you again, it seemed to me at first that my eyes deceived me. My memories were so fair and so fond--but they had been too slow and too timid--they had not dared to give you all the splendor which appeared so suddenly to dazzle me. I was as a man that recalled to mind a flower he had but seen in passing through a garden on a gray day, and should be suddenly confronted with a hundred thousand as fair in a field bathed with sunshine. I saw once more your hair, your brow, your eyes, and I found all the soul of the face I had adored--but how its beauty shames that which I had treasured in silence through endless days, through years whose only light was a memory that had taken too long a road and found itself outshone by the reality! . . . Ah! I knew not too well what I meant to do. I felt that I was lost -- and I desired to drag with me all I could. . . . And I hated you, because of the love. . . . Yes, I should have gone to the end had it not been you. . . . Yet any other would have seemed odious to me-you yourself would have had to be other than you are. . . . I lose my reason when I think of it. . . . One word would have been enough that was different from your words-one gesture that was not yours--the slightest thing would have inflamed my hate and let loose the monster. But when I saw you, I saw in that same moment that it was impossible.
Vanna. I felt a change, too. . . . I marveled that I could speak to, you as I have spoken since the first moment. . . . I am silent by nature -I have never spoken thus to any man, unless it be to Marco, Guido's father. . . . And even with him it is not the same. He has a thousand dreams that take up all his mind, . . . and we have talked but a few times. The others have always a desire in their eyes that will not suffer one to tell them that one loves them and would fain know what they have in their hearts. In your eyes, too, a longing burns; but it is not the same--it does not affright me nor fill me with loathing. I felt at once that I knew you before I remembered that I had ever seen you. . . .
Vanna, awed by the character and personality of this despised and hated outlaw, pleads with him to come with her to Pisa under the protection of herself and her husband. She is sure that he will be safe with them, and that he will be hailed as the redeemer of the people of Pisa. Like innocent children they walk to their doom.
Vanna is honored by the people whom she has saved, but scorned by her husband who, like the true male, does not credit her story.
Vanna. Hear me, I say! I have never lied--but to-day, above all days, I tell the deepest truth, the truth that can be told but once and brings life or death. . . . Hearken, Guido, then-and look upon me, if you have never known me until this hour, the first and only hour when you have it in your power to love me as I would be loved. I speak in the name of our life, of all that I am, of all that you are to me. . . . Be strong enough to believe that which is incredible. This man has spared my honor. . . . He had all power - I was given over to him. Yet he has not touched me -- I have issued from his tent as I might from my brother's house. . . . I gave him one only kiss upon the brow -and he gave it me again.
Guido. Ah, that was what you were to tell us--that was the miracle! Aye, already, at the first words, I divined something beneath them that I understood not . . . . It passed me like a flash--I took no heed of it . . . But I see now that I must look more closely. So, when he had you in his tent, alone, with a cloak for all your covering, all night long, you say he spared you? . . . Am I a man to believe that the stars are fragments of hellebore, or that one may drop something into a well and put out the moon? . . . What! a man desires you so utterly that he will betray his country, stake all that he has for one single night, ruin himself forever, and do it basely, do such a deed as no man ever thought to do before him, and make the world uninhabitable to himself forever! And this man has you there in his tent, alone and defenseless, and he has but this single night that he has bought at such a price--and he contents himself with a kiss upon the brow, and comes even hither to make us give him credence! No, let us reason fairly and not too long mock at misfortune. If he asked but that, what need was there that he should plunge a whole people into sadness, sink me in an abyss of misery such that I have come from it crushed and older by ten years? Ah I Had he craved but a kiss upon the brow, he might have saved us without torturing us so! He had but to come like a god to our rescue. . . . But a kiss upon the brow is not demanded and prepared for after his fashion, . . . The truth is found in our cries of anguish and despair . . .
It is only at this psychological moment, a moment that sometimes changes all our conceptions, all our thoughts, our very life, that Monna Vanna feels the new love for Prinzivalle stirring in her soul, a love that knows no doubt. The conception of such a love is revolutionary in the scope of its possibilities -- a love that is pregnant with the spirit of daring, of freedom, that lifts woman out of the ordinary and inspires her with the strength and joy of molding a new and free race.
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