Arthurian and Grail Poetry

Time and the Witch Vivien
by W. B. Yeats

A marble-flagged, pillared room. Magical instruments in one corner. A fountain in the centre.

Vivien (looking down into the fountain).
   Where moves there any beautiful as I,
   Save, with the little golden greedy carp,
   Gold unto gold, a gleam in its long hair,
   My image yonder?     (Spreading her hand over the water.)
                   Ah, my beautiful,
   What roseate fingers!                  (Turning away.)
                        No; nor is there one
   Of equal power in spells and secret rites.  
   The proudest or most coy of spirit things,
   Hide where he will, in wave or wrinkled moon,
   Obeys.
         Some fierce magician flies or walks
   Beyond the gateway--by the sentries now--
   Close and more close     I feel him in my heart
   Some great one.  No; I hear the wavering steps
   Without there of a little, light old man;
   I dreamt some great one.
   (Catching sight of her image, and spreading her hand over the
        water.)
                               Ah, my beautiful,
   What roseate fingers!

(Enter Time as an old pedlar, with a scythe, an hour-glass, and a black
             bag.)

                     Ha, ha! ha, ha, ha!  
   The wrinkled squanderer of human wealth.  
   Come here.  Be seated now; I'd buy of you.
   Come, father.

Time.           Lady, I nor rest nor sit.

Vivien.  Well then, to business; what is in your bag?

Time (putting the bag and hour-glass on the table and
        resting on his scythe).
   Grey hairs and crutches, crutches and grey hairs,
   Mansions of memories and mellow thoughts
   Where dwell the minds of old men having peace,
   And--

Vivien.  No; I'll none of these, old Father Wrinkles.

Time.  Some day you'll buy them, maybe.

Vivien.                                Never!

Time (laughing).                             Never?

Vivien. Why do you laugh?

Time.                   I laugh the last always.

         (She lays the hour-glass on one side.  Time rights it again.)

Vivien.  I do not need your scythe.  May that bring peace
   To those your "mellow" wares have wearied out.
   I'll buy your glass.

Time                   My glass I will not sell.
   Without my glass I'd be a sorry clown.

Vivien.  Yet whiter beard have you than Merlin had. 

Time.  No taste have I for slumber 'neath an oak.

Vivien.  When were you born?

Time.                       Before your grandam Eve.

Vivien.  Oh, I am weary of that foolish tale.
   They say you are a gambler and a player
   At chances and at moments with mankind.
   I'll play you for your old hour-glass.  (Pointing to the
         instruments of magic.)           You see
   I keep such things about me; they are food
   For antiquarian meditation.              (Brings dice.)

Time.                         Ay,
  We throw three times.

Vivien. Three-six.

Time.  Four-six.

Vivien.  Five-six.  Ha, Time!

Time.  Double sixes!

Vivien.  I lose!  They're loaded dice.  Time always plays
   With loaded dice.  Another chance!  Come, father;
   Come to the chess, for young girls' wits are better
   Than old men's any day, as Merlin found.
                      (Places the chess-board on her knees.)
   The passing of those little grains is snow
   Upon my soul, old Time.
                       (She lays the hour-glass on its side.)

Time.                    No; thus it stands.
                                       (Rights it again.)
   For other stakes we play.  You lost the glass.

Vivien.  Then give me triumph in my many plots.

Time.  Defeat is death.

Vivien.                Should my plots fail I'd die.
                                               (They play.)
   Thus play we first with pawns, poor things and weak:
   And then the great ones come, and last the king.
   So men in life and I in magic play;
   First dreams, and goblins, and the lesser sprites,
   And now with Father Time I'm face to face.
                                           (They play.)
   I trap you.

Time.         Check.

Vivien.             I do miscalculate.
   I am dull to-day, or you were now all lost.
   Chance, and not skill, has favoured you, old father!
                                        (She plays.)

Time.  Check.

Vivien.  Ah! how bright your eyes.  How swift your moves.
   How still it is!  I hear the carp go splash,
   And now and then a bubble rise. I hear
   A bird walk on the doorstep.                      (She plays).

Time.                          Check once more.

Vivien.  I must be careful now.  I have such plots--
   Such war plots, peace plots, love plots--every side;
   I cannot go into the bloodless land
   Among the whimpering ghosts.

Time.                          Mate thus.

Vivien.                                  Already?
   Chance hath a skill!                   (She dies.)