Federico García Lorca

Yerma: Act I

A tragic poem in three acts and six scenes - 1934

The Botanical Garden near Port Orotava, Tenerife

‘The Botanical Garden near Port Orotava, Tenerife’
Alfred Diston, active 1818–1829
The Yale Centre for British Art

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2007 All Rights Reserved

This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose. Permission to perform this version of the play, on stage or film, by amateur or professional companies, and for commercial purposes, should be requested from the translator.


Contents


Cast List

Yerma

Maria

Juan

Victor

Old Pagan Woman

Dolores

First Washer-Woman

Second Washer-Woman

Third Washer-Woman

Fourth Washer-Woman

Fifth Washer-Woman

Sixth Washer-Woman

First Young Girl

Second Young Girl

Female Mask

Male Mask

First Sister-in-Law

Second Sister-in-Law

First Woman

Second Woman

Child

First Man

Second Man

Third Man


Act I Scene 1

(When the curtain rises Yerma is asleep with an embroidery frame at her feet. A strange dreamy light fills the stage. A shepherd enters on tiptoe, gazing fixedly at Yerma. He leads a child dressed in white by the hand. The clock sounds. The shepherd leaves and the bluish light becomes the bright light of a spring morning. Yerma wakes.)

Voice singing (within)

For a cradle, cradle, cradle

for a cradle we will make

a little cabin in the meadow

and then shelter there’ll we take.

Yerma Juan. Do you hear me? Juan.

Juan I’m on my way.

Yerma It’s time.

Juan Have the oxen gone by?

Yerma They’ve already gone.

Juan See you later. (He prepares to leave)

Yerma You won’t take a glass of milk?

Juan What for?

Yerma You work hard and you’re not made for work.

Juan When men are thin they’re strong, like steel.

Yerma Not you, though. When we married you were different. Now you’re white-faced as if the sun never shines on you. I’d like to see you swim in the river, or climb on the roof when the rain is beating on our house. We’ve been married twenty months, and your face gets sadder, thinner, as if you were shrinking.

Juan Have you done?

Yerma (Rising) Don’t take it amiss. If I were ill I’d want you to take care of me. ‘My wife’s ill: I’ll slaughter this lamb and make her a good meat stew. My wife’s sick: I’ll keep this chicken-fat to ease her chest; I’ll take this sheepskin to protect her feet from the cold.’ That’s how I am. That’s why take care of you.

Juan And I’m grateful for it.

Yerma But you don’t let me.

Juan Because there’s nothing the matter with me. It’s just your imagination. I work hard. Every year I grow a little older.

Yerma Every year…You and I will stay on here year after year…

Juan (Smiling) Naturally. And peacefully, too. The work is going well, we’ve no children to worry about.

Yerma No children….Juan!

Juan What is it?

Yerma Is it because I don’t love you enough?

Juan You love me.

Yerma I know girls who’ve trembled and wept before they climbed into bed with their husbands. Did I cry the first time I slept with you? Didn’t I sing as I turned back the fine linen? Didn’t I say: ‘What a scent of apples these sheets hold?’

Juan That’s what you said!

Yerma My mother wept because I wasn’t sorry to leave her. And it was true! No one was ever happier at being married. And yet…

Juan Hush.

Yerma I will hush. And yet…

Juan It’s too much, having to listen to it all the time…

Yerma No. Don’t tell me what they say. I see with my own eyes it’s not true…the force of the rain falling on stone makes it crumble to soil, and weeds grow that people say are fit for nothing. Weeds may be fit for nothing, yet I still see their yellow flowers blowing in the breeze.

Juan We must hope!

Yerma Yes, and love each other! (Yerma , taking the initiative, kisses and embraces her husband)

Juan If you need anything tell me and I’ll get it for you.  You know I don’t like you going out.

Yerma I never go out.

Juan You’re better off here.

Yerma Yes.

Juan The streets are for idlers.

Yerma (Darkly) Of course.

(The husband leaves and Yerma goes back to her sewing. She passes her hand over her belly, lifts her arms in a beautiful sigh, and sits down to sew.)

Yerma Where do you come from, my child?

‘From heights that are icy cold.’

(She threads the needle)

What do you need, my love?

‘The warm feel of your robe.’

Let branches stir in the light

and fountains leap in the air!

(As if she is speaking to her child)

A dog barks in the yard,

a breeze sings in the trees.

The ox lows for the herdsman

and the moon ruffles my hair.

What do you wish, child, far away?

(She pauses)

‘The white hills of your breast’

Let branches stir in the light

and fountains leap in the air!

(Sewing)     

I can only say yes, my child.

I’ll be broken and torn for you.

What a grief it is to me now,

your first cradle, this womb!

When, my child, will you come?

(Pause)

‘When it smells of jasmine, your flesh.’

Let branches stir in the light

and fountains leap in the air!

(Yerma  continues singing. Maria enters through the doorway carrying a bundle of clothes.)

Where have you come from?

Maria From the store.

Yerma From the store, so early?

Maria I’d have waited at the door till they opened to get what I wanted. Can you guess what I bought?

  

Yerma I’d imagine coffee for breakfast, sugar, bread.

Maria No. I bought lace, three lengths of cloth, ribbons and coloured wool to make tassels. My husband had money and he gave it to me.

Yerma You’re going to make a blouse.

Maria No, it’s for….you know?

Yerma What?

Maria Because it’s arrived! (She lowers her head)

(Yerma  rises and looks at her admiringly.)

Yerma In only five months!

Maria Yes!

Yerma You can tell it’s there?

Maria Of course.

Yerma (With curiosity) And how do you feel?

Maria I don’t know. (Pause) Worried.

Yerma Worried. (She takes hold of her) But…when did it come? Tell me…You weren’t expecting it?

Maria No, I wasn’t…

Yerma You could have been singing, couldn’t you? I’m singing. You must…tell me about it…

Maria Don’t ask. Have you ever held a live bird cupped in your hands?

Yerma Yes.

Maria It’s the same…but deep inside you.

Yerma How beautiful! (She gazes at her, at a loss)

Maria I’m anxious. I don’t know a thing.

Yerma About what?

Maria About what I should do. I’ll ask my mother.

Yerma Why her? She’s old and she’s forgotten about all that. Don’t walk too much, and when you breathe, breathe as softly as if you had a rose between your teeth.

Maria Listen, they say that later he kicks you gently with his little legs.

Yerma And that makes you love him more, when you can say ‘My son!’

Maria In the midst of it all I feel embarrassed.

Yerma What did your husband say?

Maria Nothing.

Yerma He loves you deeply?

Maria He doesn’t say, but he clasps me and his eyelids quiver like green leaves.

Yerma Did he know that….?

Maria Yes.

Yerma And how did he know?

Maria I don’t know. But on our wedding night he kept saying it to me with his mouth pressed against my cheek, so my child seems like a dove of light he set free in my ear.

  

Yerma What joy!

Maria But you know more about this than I do.

Yerma What use is it to me?

Maria It’s true! Why that should be? Of all the brides of your year you are the only one…

Yerma That’s how it is. Of course there’s still time. Helena took three years, and others in my mother’s day even longer, but five years and twenty days, like me, is too long to wait. I don’t think it is right for me to wear away my life here. Many a night I go out in the yard barefoot to walk about, I don’t know why. If I go on like this, I’ll end badly.

Maria See here, you foolish creature! You’re talking like an old woman. What are you saying! No one should worry abut these things. One of my mother’s sisters had one after fourteen years, and you should have seen how beautiful a child it was!

Yerma (Eagerly) What was he like?

Maria He bellowed like a little bull, with the energy of a thousand cicadas all buzzing at once, and he peed on us, and tugged our plaits, and when he was four months old he covered our faces with scratches.

Yerma (Laughing) But it doesn’t hurt.

Maria I tell you…

Yerma Bah! I’ve seen my sister feed her child, and her breasts covered with scratches, and it hurt a lot, but it was a new pain, a good one, essential to health.

Maria They say you suffer a lot with children.

Yerma It’s a lie. That’s what weak, complaining mothers say. Why do they have them? Having a child is no bouquet of roses. We must suffer if they’re to grow. I sometimes think we must give half our blood to them. But that’s good; healthy, beautiful. Every woman has enough blood for four or five children, and when she doesn’t have them it sours her, as it shall me.

Maria I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

Yerma I’ve heard the first time always makes you fearful.

Maria (Timidly) We’ll see….How well you sew…

Yerma (Taking her bundle) Give that to me. I’ll cut you out two little dresses. And this?

Maria For diapers.

Yerma Good. (She sits down)

Maria Well then…till later.

(As she comes near Yerma presses her belly lovingly)

Yerma Don’t go running over the cobblestones.

Maria Bye. (She kisses her and exits)

Yerma Come again soon.

(Yerma  is in the same position as at the start of the scene. She takes her scissors and begins cutting out. Victor enters.)

Hello Victor.

Victor (He has depth and a solid gravitas about him) Where’s Juan?

Yerma Out in the fields.

Victor What’s that you’re sewing?

Yerma I’m sewing diapers.

Victor (Smiling) Bravo!

Yerma (Laughing) I’m going to trim them with lace.

Victor If it’s a girl, name her after yourself.

Yerma (Trembling) What?

Victor I’m happy for you.

Yerma (Almost choking) No…they’re not mine! They’re for Maria’s baby.

Victor Fine, let’s see if her example encourages you. This house needs a child.

Yerma (With anguish) Needs one!

Victor You can do it. Tell your husband to think about work less. He wants to make money and he will, but who will he leave it to when he dies? I’m going out to my sheep. Tell Juan to take the two he brought from me. And about the other thing…try harder! (He exits, smiling)

Yerma (Passionately) That’s it: try harder!

(Yerma  who has risen, in thought, goes to the place where Victor stood and breathes deeply as if she were breathing mountain air. Then she goes to the other side of the room as if seeking something, and then sits down and takes up the sewing again. She begins to sew and remains there with fixed gaze)

Curtain


Act I Scene 2

(A field.  Yerma enters, carrying a basket. The first Old Woman enters.)

Yerma Good Morning!

First old woman Good luck to the lovely lady. Where are you going?

Yerma I’ve just taken my husband his lunch. He’s working in the olive grove.

First old woman Have you been married long?

Yerma Three years.

First old woman Have you any children?

Yerma No.

First old woman Oh, you’ll have them!

Yerma (Eagerly) Do you think so?

First old woman Why not? (She sits down) I’ve just taken my husband his lunch too. He’s old. He’s still working. I’ve nine children, but since not one of them is a girl, I have to cross from one side of the river to the other.

Yerma You live over the river.

First old woman Yes. By the mills. Who are your family?

Yerma I’m the daughter of Enrique the shepherd.

First old woman Oh! Enrique the shepherd. I knew him. Good people. Rise, sweat, eat bread and die. No playing about, nothing. Fairs are for others. Silent people. I might have married an uncle of yours. But then…I’ve been a woman with her skirts in the wind, I’ve sped like an arrow to melon-cutting, fiestas, sugar-cakes. Many times at dawn I’ve run to the door thinking I heard music ebbing and flowing, but it was only the breeze. (She laughs) You’ll laugh at me. I’ve had two husbands, fourteen children, six of them dead, and yet I’m not sad, and I’d like to go on living a long time. Here’s what I say: fig-trees last! Houses last! And it’s only we bedevilled women who turn to dust for some reason.

Yerma I’d like to ask you something.

First old woman Let me look at you. (She gazes at her) I know what you’re going to ask. There’s no answer to such things. (She rises)

Yerma (Detaining her) Why not? It’s given me confidence hearing you talk. I’ve wanted to talk to an older woman for some time. Because I want to find out. Yes. You’ll tell me…

First old woman What?

Yerma (Lowering her voice) What you know. Why am I barren? Must I spend my whole life tending chickens, or pleating curtains for my windows? No. You must tell me what to do, and I’ll do it; even if you tell me to stick needles into the most delicate parts of my eyes.

First old woman I? I know nothing. I lay down, opened my mouth, and began to sing. Children flowed out like water. Ay! Who can say this body of ours isn’t beautiful? You walk out, and at the end of the street a stallion neighs. Ay! Leave me alone, girl, don’t make me speak. There are many things I don’t want to talk about.

Yerma Why not? With my husband I never talk about anything else.

First old woman Listen? Does your husband please you?

Yerma In what way?

First old woman Do you love him? Do you yearn to be with him…?

Yerma I don’t know.

First old woman Do you tremble when he comes near you? Do you feel as if you’re dreaming when he brings his lips close? Tell me.

Yerma No. No, I’ve never felt like that.

First old woman Never? Not even when you were dancing?

Yerma (Remembering) Perhaps…just once…with Victor.

First old woman Go on.

Yerma He held me by the waist and I couldn’t say a word, I couldn’t speak. Another time when I was fourteen, Victor (he was a strapping lad) took me in his arms to cross a ditch and I started shaking so much my teeth chattered. But it was because I was ashamed.

First old woman And with your husband?

Yerma That’s different. My father gave me to him, and I accepted him. Happily. That’s the plain truth. From the first day I was married to him I thought about…children…And I could see myself in his eyes. Yes, but it was myself rendered small, manageable, as if I were my own daughter.

First old woman Quite the opposite with me. Perhaps that’s why you’ve no child as yet. Men must pleasure us, girl. They need to undo our tresses and have us drink from their mouths. So runs the world.

Yerma For you, but not for me. I spend a lot of time thinking, thinking, and I’m sure that what I think about will be realised in my child. I gave myself to my husband for its sake, and I go on giving to see if the child will come, but never for pleasure.

First old woman And the result is that you’re empty!

Yerma Not empty, no, because I’m filled with self-loathing. Tell me. Is it my fault? Should one seek in a man just the man and nothing more? Then what is one to think when he leaves you lying there in bed with sad eyes staring at the ceiling, and turns over and goes to sleep? Should I think of him or of what might come shining from my womb? I don’t know, but you’ll tell me, out of charity. (She kneels down.)

First old woman Oh what a trusting blossom! What a sweet creature you are! Leave me be. Don’t make me say any more. I don’t want to speak any more. These are matters of honour, and I don’t abuse anyone’s honour. You’ll find out. At any rate, you should be less naïve.

Yerma (Sadly) Girls brought up in the country, like me, find that all avenues to knowledge are closed to them. Everything is only muttered phrases, gestures, because they say you’re not supposed to know about these things. And you too, you too are silent and you go away with a doctor’s wise look, all-knowing, but denying aid to one dying of thirst.

First old woman I could discuss it with a calmer person. With you: no. I’m old and I know what I’m saying.

Yerma Then, God help me.

First old woman God? No, I’ve never liked the idea of God. When are you going to realize he doesn’t exist? It’s men who will have to help you.

Yerma But why do you say that? Why?

First old woman (Exiting) Though there ought to be a God, however feeble, to strike with lightening those men with barren seed who turn the joyful fields to mud.

Yerma I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me.

First old woman (Continuing on her way) Well, I understand. Don’t be unhappy. Hope for the best. You’re still very young. What would you have me say? (She leaves)

(Two girls enter)

First girl We keep meeting people everywhere.

Yerma With all that needs doing, the men must work the olive groves, and we must take them food. Only the old folks are left at home.

Second girl Are you going back to the village?

Yerma I’m going that way.

First girl I’m in a hurry. I left the baby asleep and there’s no one in the house.

Yerma Then hurry, woman. Children shouldn’t be left alone. If there are any swine roaming around your place…..

First girl No. But you’re right. I’m going now.

Yerma Go. That’s how things can happen. Surely you’ve locked the door.

First girl Of course.

Yerma Even so, you don’t realize what a little child is. Things that seem nothing to us might do away with him. A little needle, a mouthful of water.

First girl You’re right. I’m off. I didn’t think of that.

Yerma Go now.

Second girl If you had four or five you wouldn’t speak like that.

Yerma Why not? If I had forty….

Second girl Anyway, you and I, who have none, live more peacefully.

Yerma I don’t.

Second girl I do. What a bother they are! Yet my mother insists on giving me herbs so I’ll produce, and in October we’re going to pray to the Saint who they say grants children to women who yearn for them. My mother will ask for them, not I.

Yerma Why marry then?

Second girl Because they made me marry. They make everyone marry. If it goes on like this, there will only be little girls left. Anyway…in reality you’re married long before you go to church. But the old women fret about these things. I’m nineteen and I hate cooking and cleaning. And now I have to spend the whole day doing what I hate. What for? Why did my husband need to become my husband? We do the same now as before. It’s all old women’s foolishness.

Yerma Hush, don’t say such things.

Second girl You’ll be calling me crazy too. ‘Crazy! Crazy!’ (She laughs) I tell you the one thing I’ve learned in life: everybody’s stuck in their houses doing what they don’t want to do. It’s so much better outside. I go to the stream; I climb up and ring the bells, I take a drink of anisette.

Yerma You’re just a child.

Second girl Sure, but I’m not crazy. (She laughs)

Yerma Does your mother live at the top of the village?

Second girl Yes.

Yerma In the furthest house?

Second girl Yes.

Yerma What’s her name?

Second girl Dolores. What do you ask that for?

Yerma Oh, nothing.

Second girl To question her about….

Yerma I don’t know….people say…

Second girl That’s your business…Look, I’m going to take my husband his lunch. (She laughs) There’s a thing. What a pity I can’t say my sweetheart! (She exits, laughing cheerfully) Bye!

Victor’s voice (Singing)

Why sleep alone, shepherd?

Why sleep alone?

You’d sleep much deeper

on my quilt of wool.

Why sleep alone, shepherd?

Yerma (Listening)

Why sleep alone?

You’d sleep much deeper

on my quilt of wool.

Your pillow’s dark stone, shepherd,

your shirt all of frost,

grey rushes of winter

in your midnight bed.

The oaks weave their roots, shepherd

under your head,

and the girl’s voice you hear

is the voice of the stream.

Shepherd, shepherd,

what does it want of you?

The hill’s bitter grass womb.

What infant is killing you?

The thorn of the yellow broom!

(She starts to leave, and meets Victor as he enters.)

Victor (Cheerfully) Where are you going, my beauty?

Yerma Was that you singing?

Victor It was.

Yerma So fine! I’ve never heard you sing.

Victor No?

Yerma And what a strong voice. It’s like a stream of water that fills your whole mouth.

Victor I’m always happy.

Yerma That’s true.

Victor And you are always sad.

Yerma I’m not sad, but I have reason to be.

Victor And your husband’s sadder than you.

Yerma He is. He has a dry character.

Victor He always did. (Pause.  Yerma is seated) Have you been to take him his lunch?

Yerma Yes. (She looks at him. Pause.) What’s that? (She points to his face.)

Victor Where?

Yerma (She rises and approaches him) Here…on your cheek. Like a burn.

Victor It’s nothing.

Yerma It looks like one to me. (Pause.)

Victor It must be the sun…

Yerma Perhaps…(She pauses. The silence is accentuated and without the slightest gesture a struggle begins between the two. ) (Trembling) Do you hear that?

Victor What?

Yerma Can’t you hear crying?

Victor (Listening) No.

Yerma I thought I heard a child crying?

Victor You did?

Yerma Very near. And crying as if it were drowning.

Victor There are always children round here, they come to steal fruit.

Yerma No. It was the sound of a little child. (Pause)

Victor I heard nothing.

Yerma It’s my imagination. (She looks at him intently and Victor looks back then drops his gaze, as if in fear.)

(Juan enters)

Juan Why are you still here?

Yerma We were talking.

Victor Farewell. (He leaves)

Juan You should be at home.

Yerma I was delayed.

Juan I don’t see what kept you.

Yerma I was listening to the birds singing.

Juan That’s fine. But it gives people something to talk about.

Yerma (Firmly) What do you mean, Juan?

Juan I don’t say it because of you, but because of other people.

Yerma Other people be damned!

Juan Don’t swear. That’s ugly in a woman.

Yerma If only I were a woman.

Juan Let’s end this conversation. Go home. (Pause)

Yerma All right. Shall I expect you?

Juan No. I’ll be busy with the watering all night. There’s not much water, it’s mine till sunrise and I need to guard it from thieves. You go to bed and sleep.

Yerma (Dramatically) I’ll be sure to sleep! (She exits)

Curtain