The Countess Cathleen

The Countess Cathleen


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The Countess Cathleen by William Butler Yeats







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The Countess Cathleen


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Book Excerpt

ST MERCHANT. If we knew how to find deserving poor
We'd do our share.

MARY. But seek them patiently.

FIRST MERCHANT. We know the evils of mere charity.

MARY. Those scruples may befit a common time.
I had thought there was a pushing to and fro,
At times like this, that overset the scale
And trampled measure down.

FIRST MERCHANT. But if already
We'd thought of a more prudent way than that?

SECOND MERCHANT. If each one brings a bit of merchandise,
We'll give him such a price he never dreamt of.

MARY. Where shall the starving come at merchandise?

FIRST MERCHANT. We will ask nothing but what all men have.

MARY. Their swine and cattle, fields and implements
Are sold and gone.

FIRST MERCHANT. They have not sold all yet.
For there's a vaporous thing--that may be nothing,
But that's the buyer's risk--a second self,
They call immortal for a story's sake.

SHEMUS. You come to buy our souls?

TEIG. I'll barter mine.
Why should we starve for what may be but nothing?

MARY. Teig and Shemus--

SHEMUS. What can it be but nothing?
What has God poured out of His bag but famine?
Satan gives money.

TEIG. Yet no thunder stirs.

FIRST MERCHANT. There is a heap for each.

(SHEMUS goes to take money.)

But no, not yet,
For there's a work I have to set you to.

SHEMUS. So then you're as deceitful as the rest,
And all that talk of buying what's but a vapour
Is fancy bred. I might have known as much,
Because that's how the trick-o'-the-loop man talks.

FIRST MERCHANT. That's for the work, each has its separate price; But neither price is paid till the work's done.

TEIG. The same for me.

MARY. Oh, God, why are you still?

FIRST MERCHANT. You've but to cry aloud at every cross-road, At every house door, that we buy men's souls,
And give so good a price that all may live
In mirth and comfort till the famine's done,
Because we are Christian men.

SHEMUS. Come, le


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