Federico García Lorca

Yerma: Act II

A tragic poem in three acts and six scenes - 1934

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


Act II Scene 1

(A mountain stream where women from the village are washing their clothes.  The washer-women are positioned at various levels.)

Singing (Before the curtain rises)

I’ll wash your fine ribbons,

in the chill water.

Like glowing jasmine,

you’re filled with laughter.

First washer-woman I don’t like gossip.

Third washer-woman Well, we talk here.

Fourth washer-woman There’s no harm in it.

Fifth washer-woman Whoever wants a good name must earn it.

Fourth washer-woman I planted a sprig,

I watched it grow.

Who wants a good name

should live just so.

(They laugh)

Fifth washer-woman That’s how we say it.

First washer-woman But nothing is known.

Fourth washer-woman It’s certain her husband’s brought both his sisters to live with them.

Fifth washer-woman The old maids?

Fourth washer-woman Yes. They used to watch over the church and now they’re watching over their sister-in-law. I couldn’t bear them.

First washer-woman Why not?

Fourth washer-woman Because they make my flesh creep. They’re like those huge leaves that spring up over graves. They’re all waxy. They’re all wrapped up in themselves. I think they must cook their food in lamp-oil.

Third washer-woman So they’ve arrived?

Fourth washer-woman Yesterday. Her husband’s back to the fields again.

First washer-woman But doesn’t anyone know what happened?

Fifth washer-woman The night before last she spent sitting on her doorstep, in spite of the cold.

First washer-woman But, why?

Fourth washer-woman It’s all uphill work in that house.

Fifth washer-woman That’s the way those masculine creatures are! When they should be making lace or apple pies, they prefer to climb on the roof or wade barefoot in the river.

First washer-woman Who are you to say that? She’s no children, but it’s not her fault.

Fourth washer-woman Those who want children have them. The ones who are spoiled, lazy, and soft aren’t prepared to suffer a wrinkled belly.

(They laugh)

Third washer-woman And they dab on face-powder and rouge and pin a spray of oleander on, and go looking for anyone but their husband.

Fifth washer-woman That’s the truth!

First washer-woman But have you seen her with anyone?

Fourth washer-woman Not us, but others have.

First washer-woman Always, others!

Fifth washer-woman On two occasions, they say.

Second washer-woman And what were they up to?

Fourth washer-woman Talking.

First washer-woman Talking’s no sin.

Fourth washer-woman In this world just a glance can mean something, my mother used to say. A woman gazing at roses is not the same as a woman gazing at a man. She gazes at him.

First washer-woman At whom?

Fourth washer-woman Someone. Haven’t you heard? Find out for yourself. Do you want me to say it out loud? (Laughter) And when she’s not gazing at him, when she’s alone, when he’s not right in front of her, she sees him behind her eyes.

First washer-woman That’s not true!

Fifth washer-woman And the husband?

Third washer-woman The husband acts as if he’s deaf to everything. Unmoving: like a lizard in the sun.

(Laughter)

First washer-woman It would all sort itself out if they had a child.

Second washer-woman It’s all about people who aren’t content with their lot.

Fourth washer-woman Hour by hour that house gets more hellish. She and the sisters-in-law, never opening their lips, washing the walls all day, polishing the copper, cleaning the windows with their breath, and oiling the floors. But, the more that house gleams, the more it seethes inside.

First washer-woman It’s all his fault; his. When a man can’t give her children he should take more care of his wife.

Fourth washer-woman It’s her fault, because she’s a tongue hard as flint.

First washer-woman What the devil’s got into you that you talk about her so?

Fourth washer-woman And who gave you licence to offer me advice?

Fifth washer-woman Be quiet, you two!

(Laughter)

First washer-woman I’d like to pierce all gossiping tongues with a knitting needle.

Fifth washer-woman Be quiet.

Fourth washer-woman And I the breasts of all hypocrites.

Fifth washer-woman Hush. Look, don’t you see the sisters-in-law are here.

(They murmur. Yerma’s two Sisters-in-Law appear. They are dressed in black. They begin their washing in silence. A sound of sheep-bells.)

First washer-woman Are the shepherds off already?

Third washer-woman Yes, all the flocks will be moved today.

Fourth washer-woman (Breathing deeply) I love the smell of sheep.

Third washer-woman You do?

Fourth washer-woman And why not? They smell of what’s ours. Just as I like the smell of red mud that the river carries in winter.

Third washer-woman Fancy!

Fifth washer-woman (Gazing) The flocks are mingling together.

Fourth washer-woman It’s a woollen flood. Sweeping everything before it. If the green wheat had eyes it would tremble to see them coming.

Third washer-woman See how they run! What a herd of rascals!

First washer-woman They’re all going, not one flock’s missing.

Fourth washer-woman Let’s see….No…Yes, yes one is missing.

Fifth washer-woman Whose?...

Fourth washer-woman Victor’s.

(The Sisters-in-Law sit up and look at one another)

(Quietly singing)

I’ll wash your fine ribbons,

in the chill water.

Like glowing jasmine,

you’re filled with laughter.

I’d like to live

in the jasmine’s

white snowfall.

First washer-woman But, alas, for a wife’s barrenness!

Alas, for the one with sand at her breast!

 

Fifth washer-woman Say if your man

has the true seed,

that through your dress

the stream may run free.

Fourth washer-woman Your dress is a boat

of silver and air

sailing the shore.

Third washer-woman My child’s clothes now

I wash in the river

teaching the water

its lessons of crystal.

Second washer-woman From the mountain he comes,

my husband, to eat.

He brings me one rose

and I yield him three.

Fifth washer-woman From the meadows he comes,

my husband, to dinner,

He brings me live coals

that with myrtle I cover.

Fourth washer-woman With the breeze he comes,

my husband, to sleep.

Red wallflowers for him,

Red wallflowers for me.

Third washer-woman Flower with flower then shall be allied

when summer the reaper’s blood has dried.

Fourth washer-woman And wombs be opened to sleepless birds

when winter comes shivering through the firs.

First washer-woman In the sheets, tears must be shed.

Fourth washer-woman Let there be singing too!

Fifth washer-woman When our husband brings us

the garland, the bread.

Fourth washer-woman Because bodies entwine and are wed.

Fifth washer-woman Because light stabs our throats through.

Fourth washer-woman And the branch’s stem, it turns sweet.

Fifth washer-woman And the hills are roofed by the tent of the breeze.

Sixth washer-woman (Appearing higher up the stream)

So that a child might fuse

the morning’s frozen dew.

Fourth washer-woman And our bodies might hold

furious branches of coral.

Fifth washer-woman So that there might be rowers

riding the waves of the sea.

First washer-woman A child, now then, a little one.

Second washer-woman Opening wings and beak, the pigeons.

Third washer-woman A child crying, a son.

Fourth washer-woman And men advancing

like wounded stags so.

Fifth washer-woman Happiness, happiness, happiness

of the swelling belly beneath the dress!

First washer-woman But, alas, for a wife’s barrenness!

Alas, for the one with sand at her breast!

Fourth washer-woman Let her shine!

Fifth washer-woman Let her ride!

First washer-woman Let her shine out once more!

Third washer-woman Let her sing!

First washer-woman Let her hide!

Third washer-woman Let her sing as before!

Sixth washer-woman Oh, the dawn that my child

brings, in its clean pinafore.

Fourth washer-woman (They sing together)

I’ll wash your fine ribbons,

in the chill water.

Like glowing jasmine,

you’re filled with laughter.

Ha, ha, ha!

(They wash and beat the clothes rhythmically)

Curtain

 

Act II Scene 2

(Yerma’s  house.  Dusk. Juan is seated. The two Sisters-in-Law, standing.)

Juan You say she went out not long ago? (The older sister nods)  She must be at the spring. But, you know, I don’t like her to go out alone. (Pause) You can lay the table. (The younger sister enters) The bread I eat is hard earned. (To the sister) I had a hard day yesterday. I was pruning the apple-trees, and as evening fell I began to wonder why I put so much effort into my work when I can’t even raise an apple to my mouth. I’m tired. (He passes his hand over his face. Pause) She’s not coming…One of you should have gone with her, that’s why you’re here eating at my table and drinking my wine. My life’s in the fields, but my honour is here. And my honour is your honour too. (The sister bows her head) Don’t take that amiss. (Yerma  enters carrying two pitchers. She halts in the doorway.) Have you been to the spring?

Yerma To fetch fresh water for the meal. (The other sister enters) How was it in the fields?

Juan Yesterday I pruned the trees.

(Yerma  puts down the pitchers. Pause.) 

Yerma Are you staying?

Juan I have to guard the flock. You know it’s the owner’s duty. 

Yerma I know it only too well. You needn’t repeat it.

Juan Every man has to lead his life. 

Yerma And every woman hers. I’m not asking you to stay. I have everything I need here. Your sisters look after me well. I eat roast lamb, soft bread and cheese here, and on the hillsides your cattle eat grass drenched with the dew. I’d have thought you’d be able to live peacefully.

Juan To live peacefully one must be tranquil. 

Yerma And you’re not?

Juan No, I’m not. 

Yerma Don’t say it.

Juan You know what I think. The ewe in the fold and the woman at home. You go out too much. Haven’t I always said so?

Yerma That’s right. A woman in her home. When that home is not a tomb. When the chairs and the linen sheets wear out with use. But not here. Every night, when I go to bed, the bed seems newer, gleaming, as if it had just been brought from town.

Juan You yourself know I’ve a right to complain. That I have reason to be careful! 

Yerma Careful? About what? I’ve offended in nothing. I live obediently, and what I suffer I keep close to my chest. And every day that passes is worse. Let’s be silent. I’ll learn to bear my cross as best I can, but don’t ask for anything more. If I suddenly turned into an old woman with a mouth like a withered flower, I might be able to smile and share my life with you more easily. Now…now leave me alone with my thorns.

Juan I don’t understand you. I don’t deprive you of anything. I send to town for whatever you wish. I have my faults, but I want to live peacefully and quietly with you. I want to sleep in the fields knowing you are asleep too.

Yerma But I don’t sleep, I can’t sleep.

Juan Are you in need of something? Tell me. (Pause) Answer me! 

Yerma (Deliberately, looking fixedly at her husband) Yes, I’m in need.

(Pause)

Juan Always the same thing. It’s more than five years. I’ve almost lost interest in it.   

Yerma But I’m not you. Men have another life: flocks, trees, comradeship; women only have children and childcare.

Juan Everyone is different. Why don’t you have one of your brother’s children here. I wouldn’t object.   

Yerma I don’t want to look after other people’s children. I think my arms would freeze from holding them.

Juan You’re half crazy with these ideas, instead of thinking only about what you should, and so you insist in running your head against a rock.

Yerma A rock, and shameful that it is a rock, when it should be a basket of flowers and fragrances.

Juan Near you one feels only inquietude, dissatisfaction. In the end you’ll become resigned to it.   

Yerma I didn’t enter these four walls to become resigned. When my head is bound with a cloth so my mouth remains shut, and my hands are tied fast in the coffin, that’s when I’ll resign myself!

Juan Well, what do you want?

Yerma I want to drink water and there’s neither water nor glass; I want to climb the mountain and I’ve no feet; I want to embroider my dress and can’t find the thread.

Juan The reality is you’re not a woman, and you’re trying to ruin a man against his will.   

Yerma I don’t know what I am. Let me wander about and ease the pressure. I’ve not failed you in anything.

Juan I don’t like people pointing me out. That’s why I want to see this door closed tight, and all of you here in the house.

(The First Sister enters slowly and walks towards some shelves.)

Yerma To talk with people’s no sin.

Juan But it may appear so. (The other Sister enters and goes towards the water-jars, from one of which she fills a pitcher.)  (He lowers his voice.) I’m not happy about it all. When people engage you in conversation, keep your mouth shut and remember you’re a married woman.

Yerma (With amazement) Married!

Juan And that there’s such a thing as family honour, and honour is a burden we all must bear.  (The Sister with the pitcher leaves slowly.) But it can run dark or pale in the one set of veins. (The other Sister leaves with a platter, in a ceremonial manner. Pause.) Forgive me. (Yerma  looks at her husband. He raises his head and his gaze meets hers.) Even though you look at me in such a way that I shouldn’t ask forgiveness, but force you to obey me, lock you up, since that’s what a husband should do.

(The two Sisters appear at the door.)

Yerma I beg you not to talk this way. Let the matter rest. (Pause.)

Juan Let’s go and eat. (The two Sisters go inside.)  Did you hear me?

Yerma (Sweetly) Eat with your Sisters. I’m not hungry yet.

Juan As you wish. (He goes inside.) 

Yerma (Dreamily)

Ay, what a field of stones!

Ay what a door closed to beauty,

to ask for a son, to suffer, while the breeze

offers flowers of the slumbering moon!

These two springs of warm milk

I have, in the courts of my flesh

are twin beats of a horse’s hooves,

to shake the branch of my anguish.

Ay, blind breasts under my dress!

Ay, doves without sight or whiteness!

Ay, what grief of the captive blood

goes nailing wasp-stings into my neck!

But you must come, my love, my child,

because water gives salt, and earth fruit,

and our wombs hold tender children

as the clouds are filled with sweet rain.

(She gazes towards the doorway.)

Maria! Why are you rushing past the door like that?

Maria (Entering with her child in her arms.)  I hurry past whenever I have the child…You always weep! ...

Yerma You’re right. (She takes the child and sits down.)

Maria It make’s me sad that you’re envious.  (She sits.)

Yerma It’s not envy I feel; it’s my poverty.

Maria You shouldn’t complain. 

Yerma How can I not complain, when I see you and other women filled with flowers within, and see myself, useless in the midst of so much beauty!

Maria But you’ve other things. If you’d listen to me, you’d be happy. 

Yerma A farmer’s wife who can’t bear children is as useless as a handful of thorns, almost seen as evil, even though I too come from this wasteland abandoned by God. (Maria gestures as if to take the child) Take him; he’s happier with you. I seem to lack a mother’s hands.

Maria Why do you say that? 

Yerma (Rising.) Because I’m tired: tired of them: of not being able to use them for something of my own. Because I’m hurt, hurt and humiliated beyond endurance, seeing the crops ripen, the fountains give water endlessly, the ewes bear scores of lambs, and the bitches pups, till the whole countryside seems to rise up to show me its tender sleeping young, while I feel only two hammer-blows here, instead of a child’s mouth.

Maria I don’t like what you’re saying. 

Yerma Women, when they have children, don’t think of those who don’t. You’re always refreshed, unknowing, as those who swim in fresh water have no idea of thirst.

Maria I won’t repeat what I’ve always said.

Yerma Every moment I feel more longing and less hope.

Maria That’s wrong.

Yerma I’ll even end up imagining I’m my own child. Many a night I go down to feed the oxen, which I never did before, because women don’t do that work: and when I cross the dark shed my footsteps sound like a man’s.

Maria Everyone has their own ways.

Yerma In spite of it all, I go on seeking. See how I live!

Maria And your sisters-in-law? 

Yerma You’ll see me dead, without a shroud, if I should ever say a word to them.

Maria And your husband. 

Yerma All three are against me.

Maria What do they think of you?

Yerma They’re full of fantasies. Like all whose consciences are not clear. They think I want another man and don’t realise that, even if I were to want one, with my kind honour comes first. They are stones in my path. But they don’t see that if I wished I could become a flood of water sweeping them away.

(One Sister enters, and leaves, carrying a loaf of bread)

Maria Even so, I think your husband still loves you. 

Yerma My husband gives me bread and shelter.

Maria What troubles you endure, what troubles, but remember the sufferings of Our Lord! (They reach the doorway.) 

Yerma (Gazing at the child) He’s awake now.

Maria In a little while he’ll start to sing. 

Yerma He has your eyes, you know? Have you noticed? (Weeping) He has the same eyes as you!

(Yerma  pushes Maria gently and she leaves silently. Yerma walks towards the door through which her husband went.)

Second girl Pssst! 

Yerma (Turning) What?

Second girl I waited till she left. My mother’s expecting you. 

Yerma Is she alone?

Second girl She’s with two neighbours. 

Yerma Tell them to wait a little.

Second girl But will you go? Aren’t you afraid? 

Yerma I’ll go.

Second girl It’s up to you! 

Yerma Tell them to wait for me even if it’s late!

(Victor enters.)

Second girl (Complicitly) Well, I’ll bring the blouse.

Yerma Whenever you wish. (The Girl leaves) Be seated.

Victor I’m fine here.

Yerma (Calling to her Husband) Juan!

Victor I’ve come to say farewell.

Yerma (She trembles a little, but regains her composure.) You’re leaving with your brothers?

Victor That’s what my father wants.

Yerma He must be old.

Victor Yes, he’s very old. (Pause)

Yerma You’re right to seek new pastures.

Victor All pastures are the same.

Yerma No. I’d like to go far, far away.

Victor It’s all the same. The same sheep: yielding the same wool.

Yerma For men, yes, but it’s different for women. I never heard a man as he ate say: ‘How good these apples are!’ You take what’s yours without worrying over trifles. But as for me, I must say I’ve grown to hate the water from this well.

Victor Perhaps so.

(The stage is in soft shadow. Pause.)

Yerma Victor.

Victor Yes?

Yerma Why are you leaving? The people here like you.

Victor I’ve behaved well. (Pause.)

Yerma You always behave well. When you were a lad, you once carried me in your arms; do you remember? No one knows what may happen.

Victor Things change.

Yerma Some things don’t. There are things shut behind walls that can’t change because no one sees them.

Victor That’s how it is.

(The Second Sister appears and goes slowly towards the door, where she remains standing, lit by the last rays of evening.)

Yerma But if they appeared suddenly and cried out, they’d fill the world with their cries.

Victor Nothing would be gained. The ditch where it’s dug: the flock in the fold; the moon in the sky; and man at his plough.

Yerma What a pity we don’t listen more to what our elders teach us!

(The deep and melancholy sound of the shepherd’s horn is heard.)

Victor The sheep.

Juan (Entering) Are you off?

Victor I want to be over the pass by dawn.

Juan Have you any dispute with me?

Victor No. It was a fair price.

Yerma (To Yerma) I bought his sheep.

Yerma You did.

Victor (To Yerma) They’re yours now.

Yerma I didn’t know.

Juan (With satisfaction) Well, they are.

Victor Your husband will see his fields overflow.

Yerma The bounty comes to the hands of the worker who seeks it.

(The Sister who was in the doorway goes inside.)

Juan Now we’ve so many sheep there’s nowhere to put them.

Yerma (Darkly) The earth is wide. (Pause)

Juan We can go together as far as the stream.

Victor I wish this house great happiness.

(He gives Yerma his hand.)

Yerma May God grant it so! Farewell!

(Victor salutes her, and at an imperceptible movement of Yerma’s, he turns.)

Victor Did you say something?

Yerma (Dramatically) I said farewell.

(They leave. Yerma stands, gazing in anguish at the hand she gave to Victor. She goes rapidly stage left and picks up a shawl.)

Second girl (Silently covering her head) Let’s go.

Yerma Yes.

(They leave cautiously. The scene is almost dark. The First Sister enters with a lamp that must not provide any light on stage but its own natural glow. She goes to the edge of the stage looking for Yerma. The shepherds’ horns sound.)

First sister (In a low voice) Yerma!

(The Second Sister enters. They look at each other and go towards the door.)

Second sister (Louder) Yerma!!

First sister (In an imperious voice, going to the door.) Yerma!!!

(She exits. The bells and horns of the flocks and shepherds are heard. The stage is completely dark.)

Curtain