Federico García Lorca
Yerma: Act III
A tragic poem in three acts and six scenes - 1934
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2007 All Rights Reserved
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Act III Scene 1
(The house of Dolores, the wise woman. It is daybreak. Yerma and Dolores enter with two Old Women.)
Dolores You were brave.
First old woman There’s no power on earth as great as desire.
Second old woman But the graveyard was very dark.
Dolores Many are the times I’ve said those prayers in the graveyard with women who wanted a child, and they were all frightened. All except you.
Yerma I came here so it would happen. I don’t think you’re a deceitful person.
Dolores I am not. May my mouth fill with ants like the mouths of the dead if I’ve lied to you. The last time, I prayed with a beggar woman who’d been barren longer than you, and her womb became so beautifully fertile that she gave birth to two children, down by the river, because she didn’t have time to reach the village, and she brought them to me herself in a cloth, for me to look after.
Yerma And she walked, from the river?
Dolores She did. With her shoes and skirts drenched with blood…but her face was shining.
Yerma And nothing bad happened to her?
Dolores What should happen? God is God.
Yerma Of course, why would anything happen: she simply picked up the infants and washed them in running water. Animals lick them clean, don’t they? My own son couldn’t disgust me. I think that women who’ve just given birth are illuminated from within, and the infants sleep for hours at their breast listening to the flow of warm milk filling their breasts for them to suckle, for them to play with until they don’t want any more, until they lift their heads ‘a little more, my child…’ and their faces and breasts are covered with white droplets.
Dolores You’ll have a child now, I promise you.
Yerma I will, because I must have one. Oh, I don’t understand people. Sometimes, when I feel certain I never will, never…a wave of fire flows upwards from my feet, and everything seems empty, and people walking in the street, and cattle and stones, seem as if they are lighter than cotton. And I ask myself: why are they here?
First old woman It’s right for a married woman to want children, but if she doesn’t have them, why yearn so? The important thing in this world is to let life carry us along. I’m not criticising. You see how I’ve helped at the prayers. But what do you hope this land will give your son, happiness, or silver?
Yerma I’m not thinking about tomorrow, but today. You’re old and you see things like a book already read. I know I’m thirsty and that I’m not free. I need to hold my son in my arms so that I can sleep peacefully, and, listen closely now and don’t be afraid of what I say, and even if I knew my son was going to torment me and hate me and drag me through the streets by my hair, I’d still welcome his birth with joy, because it’s better to weep over a living man who gives us pain, than over this phantom that squats year after year on my breast.
First old woman You’re too young to take good advice. But, while you wait for God’s grace, you ought to seek refuge in your husband’s love.
Yerma Ay! You’ve poked your finger into the deepest wound in my flesh!
Dolores Your husband’s a good man.
Yerma (Rising) He is good! He is! But so what? I wish he was bad. He goes out on the hills with his sheep, and at night he counts his money. When he covers me, he is carrying out his duty, but my thighs feel cold as a corpse’s, and I, who’ve always been disgusted by sensual women, at that moment, I yearn to feel like a mountain of fire.
Yerma I’m not shameless; but I know that children are born of a man and a woman. Ay! If I could only have them all by myself!
Dolores Remember your husband is suffering too.
Yerma He’s not. The thing is he doesn’t long for children.
First old woman You shouldn’t say that!
Yerma I can see it in his glance, and since he doesn’t, he won’t give them to me. I don’t love him, I don’t, and yet he’s my only salvation. For family and honour’s sake: my only salvation.
First old woman (Fearfully) It will soon be dawn. You should go home.
Dolores Before you know it the flocks will be out and you shouldn’t be seen alone.
Yerma But I needed this. How many times should I repeat the prayer?
Dolores The laurel prayer, twice, and at noon Saint Anne’s prayer. When you feel pregnant bring me the sack of grain you promised me.
First old woman The mountain tops are already starting to lighten. Go on.
Dolores And they’ll soon begin opening the gates, you must go the long way round by the ditch.
Yerma (Disheartened) I don’t know why I came!
Dolores You regret it?
Dolores (Troubled) If you’re afraid I’ll accompany you to the corner.
Yerma There’s no need!
Dolores (Uneasily) It’ll be daylight when you get home.
(Voices are heard.)
Dolores Hush! (They listen)
First old woman It’s nothing. God be with you.
(Yerma goes towards the door, but at this moment a knocking is heard. The three women remain stationary.)
Dolores Who is it?
A voice It is I.
Yerma Open the door. (Dolores is reluctant) Will you open it?
(Whispering is heard. Juan appears with the two Sisters)
First sister Here she is.
Yerma Here I am.
Juan Why are you here? If I could, I’d shout and wake the whole village, so they could see how the honour of my house has gone astray; but I have to swallow everything and be silent because you’re my wife.
Yerma If I could, I’d shout too, so even the dead would wake and testify to my innocence.
Juan No, that’s not true! I can bear anything but lies. You deceive me, you trick me, and because I’m a man who labours in the fields my mind’s not a clever enough match for yours.
Juan You, not a word!
Dolores (Firmly) Your wife has done nothing wrong.
Juan She’s been doing wrong since the very day of the wedding. Looking daggers at me, lying awake at night eyes open by my side, drowning the pillows in wicked sighs.
Yerma Be quiet!
Juan And I won’t take any more. Because you’d have to be made of steel to tolerate a woman who wants to stab her nails into your heart, and who leaves her house at night looking for what? Tell me, looking for what? The streets are full of men. There are no flowers to pick there.
Yerma I won’t allow you to say another word. Not a single one. You think you and your family are the only ones who care for honour, and you don’t understand that my family have never needed to hide anything. Come. Come here and smell my clothes. Come closer! See if you can find an odour that’s not yours, that’s not come from your body. Set me naked in the midst of the square and spit on me: do what you want with me, since I’m your wife, but take care not to pin any other man’s name on my breast.
Juan It’s not I who pins it there; you do it by your conduct and everyone’s starting to say it. They’re beginning to say it out loud. When I meet a group of them, they fall silent; when I go to weigh the flour, they fall silent; and even at night in the fields, when I wake, it seems to me the trees fall silent too.
Yerma I don’t know the source of those evil winds that sour the wheat, but look for yourself, and see if the wheat is good!
Juan Nor do I know what a woman seeks leaving her house at all hours.
Yerma (Starting towards him, and embracing her husband) I’m searching for you, for you. It’s you I search for night and day without finding a place to draw breath. It’s your blood, your help I want.
Juan Get away from me.
Yerma Don’t push me away, love me.
Yerma See how I’m abandoned. As if the moon were searching for herself in the sky. Look at me! (She gazes at him)
Juan (He looks at her and pulls back brusquely) Let me be!
(Yerma falls to the floor)
Yerma (Loudly) I went out searching for flowers and ran up against a wall. Ay! Ay! It’s the wall I’ll break my head against.
Juan Be quiet. Come on.
Dolores My God!
Yerma (Moaning) Cursed be my father who gave me the blood that fathered a hundred sons. Cursed be that blood that searches in me for them, beating against the walls.
Juan I told you: be quiet!
Dolores Someone is coming! Speak more softly.
Yerma I don’t care. Let my voice at least be free, now that I’m falling into the darkest pit. (She rises) Let this beautiful thing at least emerge from my body and meet the air.
Dolores They’re coming this way.
Yerma Yes, yes! Silence. Don’t fret.
Juan Come, quickly!
Yerma That’s right! That’s right! There’s no point in wringing my hands! It’s one thing to yearn in your mind…
Yerma (Softly) It’s one thing to yearn in your mind, another thing for the body, cursed body, not to respond. It’s fate and I won’t raise my arms against the waves. That’s right! Let my mouth be dumb! (She exits)
Act III Scene 2
(The environs of a hermitage high in the mountains. Downstage are the wheels of a cart and some canvas forming a rustic tent, where we see Yerma. Women enter with offerings for the shrine. They are barefoot. The cheerful Old Woman of the first act is on stage.)
(Singing while the curtain is raised)
When you were single
I never could see you,
but now you are married we’ll meet.
When you were single
I never could see you.
I’ll strip you bare now
wife, and wanderer,
when midnight sounds through the air.
Old woman (Sarcastically) Have you drunk the holy water?
First woman Yes!
Old woman Now let’s see it work.
First woman We believe in it.
Old woman You come to ask the saint for children, and it so happens every year more single men come on this pilgrimage. What’s going on? (She laughs)
First woman Why do you come if you don’t believe?
Old woman To watch. I’m crazy about seeing it all. And to look after my son. Last year two men killed themselves over a barren wife and I need to be vigilant. And, finally, because I feel like it.
First woman God forgive you! (She leaves)
Old woman (Sarcastically) May He forgive you too!
(She leaves. Maria enters with the First Girl)
First girl Is she here?
Maria There’s the cart. It cost me a lot to get her here. She’s been a month without rising from her chair. I’m afraid of her. She’s possessed by some idea, I don’t know what, but it must be a wicked one.
First girl I’m with my sister. She’s been coming here for eight years, but with no result.
Maria Those who are meant to have children do so.
First girl That’s what I say.
(Voices are heard)
Maria I’ve never liked these pilgrimages. Let’s go down to the farms where there are people about.
First girl Last year, in the darkness, some young men felt my sister’s breasts.
Maria For miles around you hear nothing but dreadful tales.
First girl I saw more than forty barrels of wine behind the hermitage.
Maria A stream of single men flows through these mountains.
(Voices are heard. Yerma enters with six Women who are going to the chapel. They are barefooted and carrying ornamental candles. Twilight falls.)
Lord, who makes the roses flower
don’t leave my rose to wither.
Second woman Over her body that suffers
may the yellow rose flower.
Maria And in your servants’ bellies
set free earth’s hidden fires.
Chorus of women Lord, who makes the roses flower
don’t leave mine to wither.
The heavens have their gardens
of happiness in flower:
glows the rose of wonder
between briar and briar.
A ray of dawn appears
an angel watches over,
with his wings of thunder
with his eyes that suffer.
All about the leaves, there
runs a milk-white river
moistening the faces
of the stars that quiver.
Lord, may your rose bloom
in my barren flesh.
Second woman Lord, with your hand calm
the embers of her cheeks.
Yerma Listen to the penitent
in her sacred wandering.
Let your rose bloom in my flesh
though with a thousand thorns.
Chorus Lord, who makes the roses flower
don’t leave my rose to wither.
Yerma To my flesh that suffers
bring the rose of wonder.
(Girls enter from the left running, with large garlands in their hands. From the right, three others the same, looking behind them. There is a crescendo of voices from the stage, accompanied by bells on horse-collars and harnesses. On a higher level seven girls appear, waving their garlands towards the left. The noise increases and two traditional Masks appear: one male and the other female. The masks they carry are large. The Male carries a bull’s horn in his hand. They are not in any way grotesque, but very beautiful and with a suggestion of earthly purity. The Female shakes a ring of large bells.)
Children The devil and his wife! The devil and his wife!
(The rear of the stage fills with people who shout and comment on the dance. It is quite dark.)
In a stream along the mountain
the sorrowing wife was bathing.
All about her body creeping
little snails through the water.
The sands all along the shore
and all the breezes of morning
brought a flame to her laughter
and made her shoulders shiver.
Ay, nakedly she stood there
lovely lady of the water!
A boy Ay, how she moaned there!
First man Ay the withering of love!
Boy In the wind and the water!
Second man Let her say whom she longs for!
First man Let her say whom she waits for!
Second man Ay, with her empty womb
and with her waning beauty!
Woman’s mask When the darkness falls I’ll tell you
when the glittering night is falling.
When it gleams above our wandering
I’ll rip the seams of my clothing.
Boy Suddenly there came the nightfall.
Ay how the night came falling!
See there the darkness gathering
in the depths of mountain water.
(The sound of guitars commences.)
Male mask (Rising, and shaking the horn) Ay, now how white
the sorrowful wife!
Ay, how she sighs in the branches!
You’ll be red poppies, carnations,
when the man spreads his mantle.
If you come her wandering
begging for your womb to flower
don’t you wear a mourning veil,
but a fine gown of soft linen.
Walk alone along the walls where
the fig-trees grow thickest,
and support my mortal body
tilll the white dawn moans.
Ay, how she shines there!
Ay, how she was shining there!
Ay, how the woman quivers!
Female mask Ay let love wreathe her
with coronets and garlands,
arrows of brightest gold
through her breasts be darted!
Male mask Seven times she wept there,
nine times rose again.
Fifteen times they joined
orange-tree with jasmine.
First man Strike her with the horn!
Second man With the rose in the dance.
First man Ay, how the woman quivers!
Male mask In this wandering
the man always commands.
The husband is the bull,
ever the man commands,
and women are the flowers,
for the one who wins.
Boy Strike her with the breeze.
Second man Strike her with the branch.
Male mask Come and see the splendour
of she who is bathing!
First man Like a reed she bends.
Boy Like a flower she bows.
Men Let the young girls flee!
Male mask Let the dance flare high
and the shining body
of the spotless wife!
(The girls dance to the sound of clapping and music. They sing.)
Girls The heavens have their gardens
of happiness in flower:
glows the rose of wonder
between briar and briar.
(Two girls pass by shouting. The Cheerful Old Woman enters.)
Old woman Let’s see if you’ll let us sleep now. But there’ll be something else later. (Yerma enters) You? (Yerma is downcast and silent.) Why did you come here? Tell me.
Yerma I don’t know.
Old woman You’re not convinced? And your husband?
(Yerma shows signs of fatigue, and acts like someone whose mind is oppressed by a fixed idea.)
Yerma He’s over there.
Old woman What’s he doing?
Yerma Drinking. (Pause. Putting her hands to her forehead.) Ay!
Old woman Ay, ay. Less of that: show more spirit. I couldn’t tell you before but now I can.
Yerma What can you tell me that I don’t know already?
Old woman What can no longer be silenced. What shouts itself from the rooftops. The fault is your husband’s, do you hear? Let him cut off my hands if it isn’t. Neither his father, nor his grandfather conducted themselves like man who breed well. For them to have a child heaven and earth had to be joined. They’re just balls of spit. But your family are not. You have brothers and cousins for miles around. See what a curse has fallen on your beauty!
Yerma A curse. A blight of venom on the crop.
Old woman But you have feet on which you can leave his house.
Old woman When I saw you in the procession my heart leapt. Women come here to find new men, and the Saint performs miracles. My son is waiting for me behind the chapel. My house needs a woman. Mate with him and the three of us can live together. My son is strong. Like me. If you enter my household, there’ll be the smell of babies again. The ashes of your coverlet will turn to bread and salt for your children. Come. Take no notice of others. And as for your husband, in my house there are strong hearts and weapons to prevent him even crossing the street.
Yerma Hush, hush! It’s not like that! I can’t take another. I can’t go seeking men out. Do you think I could know another man? Where would my honour be then? Water can’t run uphill or the full moon rise at noon. No. I’ll keep to the path I’m on. Did you really think I could yield to another man? That I could go and beg for what is mine, like a slave? Understand me, so you never say it to me again. I am not seeking any other.
Old woman When one is thirsty, one is grateful for water.
Yerma I’m like a parched field where a thousand pairs of oxen should drive the plough, and what you offer me is a little glass of water from the well. My grief is one that’s already beyond the flesh.
Old woman (Firmly) Then stay that way. Since you wish to. Like a thistle in a wasteland. Pinched and barren.
Yerma (Firmly) Barren yes, I know that! Barren! You don’t need to hurl it in my face. Don’t come and pleasure yourself, as children do, with the sufferings of some small creature. Ever since I married I’ve been avoiding that word and this is the first time I’ve heard it said to my face. The first time I recognise that it’s true.
Old woman You rouse no sympathy in me, none. I’ll go look for another wife for my son.
(She exits. A large choir of pilgrims is heard singing in the distance. Yerma moves towards the cart, and her husband appears from behind it.)
Yerma Were you there all along?
Juan I was there.
Yerma Spying on me?
Yerma You heard what I said?
Yerma So? Leave me and go and join the singing. (She sits on the canvas.)
Juan It’s time I spoke too.
Yerma Speak, then!
Juan And time I complained.
Yerma About what?
Juan That I have a bitterness in my throat.
Yerma And I in my bones.
Juan This is your last chance to resist this continual lament for shadowy things, outside existence, for things that are lost in the breeze.
Yerma (With dramatic astonishment) Outside existence you say? Lost in the breeze, you say?
Juan Things which haven’t happened and neither you nor I can control.
Yerma (Violently) Go on, go on!
Juan For things that don’t’ matter. Do you hear? That have no importance to me. That’s what I had to say to you. What matters to me is what I can hold in my hands, what I can see with my eyes.
Yerma (Rising to her knees, desperately) That’s it. That’s it. That’s what I wanted to hear from your mouth. Truth is not felt when it’s inside oneself, but how vast it is, how loud it cries, when it emerges, and raises its arms! It’s doesn’t matter! Now, I’ve heard you!
Juan (Approaching her) Think that it had to be so. Listen to me. (He embraces her to help her rise.) Many women would be happy to live your life. Life is sweeter without children. I’m happy without them. It’s not your fault.
Yerma What did you seek in me, then?
Yerma (Excitedly) That’s it! You wanted a home, tranquillity and a woman. But nothing more. Is that true?
Juan It’s true. As everyone else does.
Yerma And the rest? Your son?
Juan (Firmly) Didn’t you hear, it doesn’t matter! Don’t ask me again! Do I have to shout it in your ear so you can understand, and live peacefully for once!
Yerma And you’ve never thought about it even when you could see I wanted one?
Juan Never. (They are both on the ground)
Yerma And I’m not to hope for one?
Yerma Nor you?
Juan Nor I, likewise. Resign yourself!
Juan But living peacefully. Both of us: in gentleness and friendship. Embrace me! (He embraces her)
Yerma What do you want?
Juan I want you. In the moonlight you are beautiful.
Yerma You want me as if you were wanting a pigeon to eat.
Juan Kiss me…like this.
Yerma That, never. Never (Yerma gives a cry and grasps her husband by the throat. He falls backward. She chokes him until he is dead. The choir of pilgrims starts up.) Barren, barren, but I’m certain at last. Now I know for certain. And alone. (She rises. People begin to gather.) I’ll sleep, without waking with a start to see if my blood announces new blood. With a body barren forever. What do you want? Don’t come near me: because I’ve murdered my child! I’ve killed my own son!
(The group that remained in the background gathers. We hear the sound of the choir of pilgrims.)