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Title: Webs of our Weaving
Author: Musette Morell
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Language: English
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Webs of our Weaving

by

Musette Morell



from
Three Radio Plays by Musette Morell
Australasian Publishing Company
1948



Webs of our Weaving
by
Musette Morell

*

CHARACTERS

Epeira Productus (A Male Spider)
Arachne (A Female Spider)
Her Mother
Young Male
Casual Male
Dictatorial Male

Crowd of Males

*

Webs of Our Weaving was first performed in 1945 by the
Australian Broadcasting Commission. The producer was
Frank Harvey; the cast:

Announcer & 2nd Male — TOM LAKE
Arachne (Female Spider) — LYNDALL BARBOUR
Epeira (Male Spider) — EDWIN FINN
Mother — WINIFRED GREEN
1st Male — BRUCE BEEBY
3rd Male — CHARLES KITCHENER
Voice — SYDNEY CHAMBERS

*

WEBS OF OUR WEAVING

An Australian garden at twilight. Crickets chirr...a mopoke
calls...In a shadowed corner, between two shrubs, hangs a
spider-web. Swinging upon this glinting, swaying filigree, is
the glamorous young female spider, Arachne, and her obese
and grizzled mother.

ARACHNE
The red sun-fire is gone out,
leaving the green-misted smoke of twilight.

MOTHER
Of course the sun is gone—else you'd be sleeping:
we spiders are nocturnal, creatures of night;
All day while sun crackles in the tree-tops,
we sleep, cool in our caves of sodden leaf-mould;
then when the fire dozes our eyes come open—

ARACHNE
Open! open
on the green garden hung with greener shadows!
The night is sweet with the wild honey smell of gum-bloom,
the moon grows round and full.

MOTHER
When she's full-bellied 'twill be time for mating.

ARACHNE
(Airily) Mating?—I never think of it!

MOTHER
If you don't
you think of all that leads to it.

ARACHNE
What do you mean?

MOTHER
I mean you're prinking and preening every hour;
curling your pedipalpi and sharpening your claws,
preparing your body to lure and—(with wicked gusto)
devour your lover!

ARACHNE
My lover!—I've yet to discover—my lover.

MOTHER
When the moon is ripe you'll discover him.
Think of it!

ARACHNE
But I tell you I never think of it.

MOTHER
Females do not need to think—
our instinct does it for us.

ARACHNE
You're vulgar.

MOTHER
Vulgar—I'm hungry.

ARACHNE
You're as amorous as a dove.

MOTHER
Not hungry for a mate. Hungry for a kill.

ARACHNE
Kill!

MOTHER
Don't screech like a pee-wee
as tho' you'd never thought of it!

ARACHNE
I haven't.

MOTHER
How refined you like to think you are.
Are you a female?

ARACHNE
Silly moth!

MOTHER
Then behave as one.

ARACHNE
Do all females gloat upon the kill?

MOTHER
That they do—and soon you'll know it...
Ah! To have my moment back again.
To see the male—starving for love—
come greedily to his death.

ARACHNE
He has his moment also.

MOTHER
A moment—yes—his last.
I've seen him trembling in every hair,
and while he babbled on about the love-feast,
I've laughed within myself, and thought:
"And you provide it!"

ARACHNE
The silly insect!

MOTHER
He's not an insect—none of us are:
we spiders have eight, not six legs, and no wings.

ARACHNE
There's one male who swears he'll make no love-meal.

MOTHER
Whom do you mean?

ARACHNE
Epeira Productus.

MOTHER
Epeira Productus! Epeira Productus!

ARACHNE
Why do you laugh?

MOTHER
That juicy boy!

ARACHNE
(Eagerly) Do you truly think he's handsome?

MOTHER
(With a cracked laugh) Ask the females.

ARACHNE
But he'll have none of them.

MOTHER
They'll have him—they'll see to that.

ARACHNE
Oh!

MOTHER
Aha, you'd have him, eh?

ARACHNE
What lies!

MOTHER
Well, he's edible—(gloating) round and smooth and
juicy.

ARACHNE
I hate such talk!

MOTHER
Hate? You mean you love—him.

ARACHNE
I have never even spoken with him.

MOTHER
You soon will—
I recognise that greedy glaring eye.
You are repressed, my spiderling,
and so you pose and won't admit your appetite.
Well, nibble at sentiment. But you'll learn
that marriage is something to masticate. (Smacks lips.)

ARACHNE
I tell you he swears against all marriage:
says he's vegetarian and will make
no feast for any cannibalistic female.

MOTHER
Ho, ho, ho.

ARACHNE
He says he has a brain
and will use it to combat us.

MOTHER
Ha, ha, ha!

ARACHNE
Oh, he, he, he!

MOTHER
Ah, but it's droll! A male, a little male
to rear himself up against great nature.
Where is this buck—this bucking buck!—
where is he?

ARACHNE
In the eleventh gum-tree.

MOTHER
Lives there?

ARACHNE
No, meets there—with all the others—all the males.

MOTHER
What for?

ARACHNE
He talks and talks
and tells them what I've said.

MOTHER
When?

ARACHNE
Most every twilight, till—
till about this very time.

MOTHER
Where are you going?

ARACHNE
(Off) Just along the branch—

MOTHER
Not by the eleventh gum-tree, by any chance?

ARACHNE
(Off) Oh, go and spin!

MOTHER
(Shouting) As you will giddy do—by the eleventh tree.
I hope a wasp gets after you—he-he!

There is a pause. We are out on the branch with
Arachne. The hooting of an owl terrifies her.

ARACHNE
An owl!
Ah, he's too far off to spy me.
Now to weaving—I must seem busy when he passes.
A frog croaks!
Ooo, if he should see me!

Three great hops and then a splash.

That's right, hop back to your slimy pool,
you bellowing glutton!...
Now what's that?—something below me stirred the
towering grass!
Let's hope it's only a drunken ant
swaggering home to his puritan nest!
No, some huge creature...
(in fear) it's a bark-grey bulk
of a squatting bandicoot!
Ooo, if that twitching nose and searching eye
should scent or see me where I swing!...
she sharpens her teeth on a bopple nut—
how she'd love to grind me between those teeth,
or octopus claws!...
Ah, at last she's gone about her affairs—
Now to spin...
Here on this ti-tree is a likely branch—
before it a desert of open space,
encumbered by giant twigs and leaves:
here I can throw my line across this space
and anchor it to a branch the other side.

(She begins to spin her web.)

Now to pay out silk from my spinnerets:
discharge my filmy line—discharge!
uncoil from your loom within my body!
casting your free end from me—so!
It floats—
Aha, the air puffs up and blows it widely far,
far! far! across the breach,
upon the lilac avalanche of air,
to lift and sag with each breath of the breeze...
tightening—slackening—tightening
till—ah! now it strikes upon a eucalypt and holds!

Hm, my first line held in just the right direction,
and the right height above the ground—
that's good.
I'll just try out the thread to test its strength...

(The gossamer thread rings as she taps it.)

Yes, yes, it bears my weight—
all's going well!
Now to cross its silken length—
my aerial tight-rope! ~spinning as I go,
paying out silk to make a double thickness,
and double strength...

(She weaves across the line.)

Shuttle—shuttle! Shuttle!—shuttle!
Safely across! my destination reached!
I cement my second line to the eucalypt—so!
And now—dreary repeat!—to ply back and forth,
back and forth across this wavering bridge,
until its single thread
swells to a cable of many strands...

And while I spin my silk
he spins his words.
I weave my gossamer stalks—
He talks...and talks!

Epeira's proud resonant voice fades in and takes us to
the meeting in the eleventh gum-tree.

EPEIRA
I talk and talk, but—
spiders, males, consider—
does my talk fit your ears?
I ask and ask again
must we live for this,
must we die for this
now and through the years?
Each of us to be
a biological necessity?
Surrender philosophy for a moment's bliss,
find annihilation in a kiss?
No.

(Excited murmur of several male voices.)

We are greedy of joy
but the result of—appeasing hunger
should give us pause.
For, consider:
what is this bliss we'd have?
A fire that consumes while it inflames,
that extinguishes whilst animating—
ephemeral gain bringing eternal loss. (Murmurs.)

(Rapidly and dramatically he describes the love drama,
overriding their interruptions.)

Who has perceived—the love drama of others
foreknows his own fate:
the suitor, the bold adventurer,
the intrepid swain, the love-mad loon
climbs the tremulous fibres of the web.
Leg over leg he mounts the dizzy stair,
times pausing to tap-tap! tap-tap! the silver wires—
drumming his palpitating agitations
to the giantess of his choice.

(Murmurs.)

Unless
that capricious ogress stretch forth a claw
then-panic-struck—he darts away...
Only to return again to the fray:
to mount the tingling spokes, and—
tap-tap! tap-tap! rap-rap!—
stroke out the shivering obligato of vibration:—
staccato!
pizzicato!
Then more frights,
more frenzied flights,
followed by fresh approaches. Until—
Oh tumultuous moment!
the unmatched couple face each other. (General gasps.)
What now?
See, scarcely-to-be-hoped-for luck!
She does not menace him:
he is benign, she will abstain,
she grins, she woos, she melts before him—
confidence, confidence, midget brave!
Will he dare all?
Will he dare touch the grinning siren;
the bouncing, somersaulting acrobat,
who magnets his blood more fiercely
than bush-fire compels the moth?

MALES
Yes! Yes!

EPEIRA
Yes.
He squeezes her to him in his palpi.
The deed is done—
besotted with honeyed love as any drunken hummer
he goggles delirious thanks.
Till,
noting the glare of greed replace her grin,
he—
slant-eyed with sudden fear—
dives, darts for cover!
But the vampire also darts.

(Subdued groans.)

You know the rest—
you know the end,
our end unless we each of us say,
"No!" to this poisoned sweet—
This lover—kiss of death.

(General sighs.)

This joy of which desire gives augury—
this treacherous felicity—
is nature's snare,
a snare to catch us unaware
and drag us to our death—a booby trap!
well, are we boobies?

YOUNG MALE
(Immature voice) It's not a snare.

EPElRA
Who says it's not?

YOUNG MALE
I do.

EPEIRA
And who are you?
No; no, I do not want your name—
give me your record. Have you kissed
and lived to tell?

(Laughter.)

YOUNG MALE
(Sulkily) I've not kissed
as well you know.
But as to the bliss of the kiss
I feel it is no lie.

EPEIRA
You feel it?

YOUNG MALE
My instinct says it's true.

EPEIRA
Your instinct to die?

YOUNG MALE
My instinct to kiss.

(Excited murmurs of agreement. He continues with
more confidence.)

I know it is no lie.

EPEIRA
You know it? How? By what?

YOUNG MALE
By my blood's knowledge,
by all the diverse avenues of sense.
Why, but to think of it—

EPEIRA
Then do not think.

YOUNG MALE
'Tis the starved think most of food.

EPEIRA
And the gluttonous.

YOUNG MALE
My instinct says—

EPEIRA
Confound your instinct.
'Tis but nature's trap to snare you
as the web snares the instinctive fly.

YOUNG MALE
Well—maybe—I'll—be—disillusioned—

EPEIRA
Maybe? Oh, hear him!
You'll find disillusion
in dissolution—
if you won't beware.

CASUAL MALE
A male can't fight his destiny—

EPEIRA
Here's one who can.
Let destiny beware—beware, I say!
she's out of date.
Cursed be the female and all that she confers.
I'll live by my own lode star—not by hers!

(Music takes us back on the ti-tree where Arachne
awaits Epeira.)

ARACHNE
The meeting is over.
He comes! the leaves convulse,
the anticipant air, trembles
and closes round him with lover-clutch.

(Breeze sighs—once—twice—dies, then:)

Oh, pardon me!
I was hanging on a gossamer thread
and swung across your path.

EPEIRA
Is it to me you speak?

ARACHNE
Why, yes, at least, I would—that is—

EPEIRA
What have we two to say to one another?
I am a male and females I avoid.

ARACHNE
I am a female—or—that is, in my body:
but am I only female—nothing more?

EPEIRA
What more, then, would you be?

ARACHNE
Why, I would be a heart, a brain, a soul!

EPEIRA
I had not known
that there were females who could wish such things—
the ones I've met, do not.

ARACHNE
I am different:
I long to rise above the fetish of the web,
the humdrum of dull domesticity,
the kiss, the eggs, the hatching, and the brood.

EPEIRA
(Startled) The kiss! You'd rise above the kiss?

ARACHNE
Oh yes! oh yes!

(Pause.)

(Sighs) Ah, you're just as all the others—
you do not think a female should do more
than her own mother, and her mother's mother.
I will confine myself to the drab old rusty web,
the fusty nightly spinning—
'Twas too much to hope that as you had a brain
you'd deem I also might have one.

EPEIRA.
Er—what you say arrests me; I seem to hear
an echo of my own unrest. (Low) Is it possible
the talons of my grief grip another heart?

ARACHNE
Yes, I am restless—restless.

EPEIRA
Unrest, 'tis but the stirring of ambition. See
the restless wind leap up to snatch the cloud
woven above the blue. The restless wave
spring forward to spin the land.

ARACHNE
Wind, wave, as we, but longing to fulfil
that which we never may.

EPEIRA
Speak not so soon.
Who says we never may?
If we've ambition for some finer thing,
then we've the power for fulfilment.

ARACHNE
Don't speak of that.

EPEIRA
Don't speak of what?

ARACHNE
Fulfilment—'tis my mother's endless song—
I dread the echo.

EPEIRA
What would you say it meant?

ARACHNE
Why; the kiss, the eggs, the hatching, and the—

EPEIRA
(Amused) No; 'tis the soul,
the soul's fulfilment I would have.

ARACHNE
Oh!—
'tis the soul, the soul that interests me.

EPEIRA
(Guardedly) What have you thought about it?

ARACHNE
Thought?
I—I scarcely ever think—I feel.

EPEIRA
Then review the matter now.

ARACHNE.
Well, I feel that—

EPEIRA
Feel! Feel!—Can we never think?

ARACHNE
(Crossly) I think and feel.

EPEIRA
Then think about your feelings—sort them out;
retain the best, discard the rest.

ARACHNE.
As you have done?

EPEIRA
As I have tried to do;
for thus I tell myself: if life is good
and death is bad, and mating makes for death,
them mating in itself is bad, in that
the nuptial bliss becomes the death pang.

ARACHNE
(Softly) And yet—the spider race—would it not die
did males refuse to die?

EPEIRA
Males do refuse.

ARACHNE
But if it is their fate—who can rebel?

EPEIRA
Your thinking is a reflex of the web.

ARACHNE
I accept our spider destiny, that's all.

EPEIRA
And what is destiny but old tradition?
just history repeated over and over,
repeated till it's stale. Pah!—out on it!

ARACHNE
(In wonder) You would change the course of life?

EPEIRA
Yes, yes.

ARACHNE
You would?

EPEIRA
I would imagine what has never been,
impregnate reality with my dream
till the future blossomed with flower of my vision.

ARACHNE
What ambition!
Perhaps you would preserve
the faculty we had as spiderlings,
and go ballooning in a gossamer parachute
till you learnt to fly like our cousin the rainbow spider;
or spray the fountain of your foaming silk
about huge birds and enmesh them in your coils;
or evolve a diving bell like the water spider
and explore the bottom of the suffocating pool
and yet breathe freely.
Oh, I feel you'll do,
for daring greatly must give power to do. (Pause.)

EPEIRA.
(Subdued) My dreams are not of these—I await the
change—

ARACHNE
I too await my change.

EPEIRA
You'd grow a soul?

ARACHNE
Yes, and wings—if possible.
I'd slice up the sun,
crack the stars—as squirrels crack their nuts—
and hang them round my web;
subdue the garden and make all creatures mine.
O, I would range beyond all females yet.

EPEIRA
(Disappointed) You seek power! not understanding.

ARACHNE
(Gaily) Talk on!

EPEIRA
No.
You'd have us speak about and from our puny selves,
but my life is incomplete unless it be
strung up and out upon the web of meaning.
I am not myself alone
but a point of interrogation
posing today's question to eternity.
And you—I cannot see you with a single eye—
but only as a symbol of your kind.

ARACHNE
(Angry) So! You cannot see me, eh?
Am I not easy to look at?

EPEIRA
Vanity!

ARACHNE
So I'm vain now?
And I seek for power?
But what of you?
What of your talks in the eleventh gum tree—
do you not find power there?

EPEIRA
No...Wait—Let me think—
your words disturb my heart. Power?...
(Low) This evening when I talked it went all wrong:
I am proud, stubborn proud, and pride breeds friction:
I must subdue my own unruly ego.
(Going) Good-night.

ARACHNE
No, no, don't go. Please stay—please talk—

EPEIRA
Another time, perhaps. But now
a rage boils in me—
my 
mind is a bird pecking over a grub—
I wish to concentrate, to savour deeply,
I am on the fringe of the leaf when I would be
within the chalice where the nectar lies.
Another time, perhaps—

ARACHNE
What other time?

EPEIRA
(Exploding) But you are female—and females I avoid.

ARACHNE
Oh!

EPEIRA
Forgive me if I'm porcupinish.

ARACHNE
You are.
I am as I was hatched.

EPEIRA
Of course.
And now you elect to change—that is your value.

ARACHNE
Then you won't avoid me?

EPEIRA
Well—if speaking with me helps—

ARACHNE
It does.

EPEIRA
Then tomorrow night—we males meet in the gum.
After the meeting be here, and I will come.

(Short music denotes the passage of time.)

ARACHNE
"To-morrow night!" he said. "To-morrow night!"
This is to-morrow night.
Now in this lovely slimy light we stir abroad.

MOTHER
What are you mumbling about, Arachne?
Why aren't you spinning?

ARACHNE
I'm just going to my web.

MOTHER
You wouldn't like to weave one next to mine
tonight—just for company?
The mating moon is waxing fat
and I've advice to give you.

ARACHNE
Give it to those who need it.
(Going) I'm going to my web along the branch.

MOTHER
(Shouting) Yes, by the eleventh gum-tree!

(A frog ,croaks...an owl hoots...We are alone with
Arachne, by the eleventh gum-tree.)

ARACHNE
(Softly) By the eleventh gum-tree.
He is in the eleventh gum-tree...
soon he will be here with me.

(A hum of male voices takes us into the tree where
Epeira is again addressing the males.)

EPEIRA
What if the spider race outlasts the moon?
the individual spider dies too soon.

YOUNG MALE
I heard it from a spider of high station
that we spiders are the peak of all creation.

CASUAL MALE
That's so. They say the power who made the garden
holds in his heart for us a special pardon.

DICTATORIAL MALE
Of course he does; did he not design
us after his own image? I opine
that of the many creatures of his spinning
we spiders please him most and are most winning.

EPEIRA
O, while you flatter that thus we are and thus;
we remain but as we are—

VOICES
But—

EPEIRA
O don't fuss!

DICTATORIAL MALE
(Sneering) What would you have us, Epeira?

EPEIRA
Not as we are but—
as we might be.

DICTATORIAL MALE
What is that?

EPEIRA
Ah!
To the utmost tip of our most distant beam,
what today we can but merely sense or dream.

CASUAL MALE
Spiders are young in time,
wait for another avalanche of moons
before pronouncing on us.

EPEIRA
We are not young in time,
but in development.

YOUNG MALE
Time will hatch out that egg.

EPEIRA
Time hatches nothing that is not begun,
'tis not blind time that sees to things—but us.
If the future can learn of the present
why has the present not learnt of the past?

YOUNG MALE
It has. The webs we weave are larger than our fathers.

EPEIRA
The web's still spun to trap the hapless fly.

YOUNG MALE
I said the web was larger.

EPEIRA
Large or small—the quality's the same—
it's still a snare.
We don't improve because we haven't time.
We die too soon,
too soon to work the change.
So this wisdom from experience we acquire
is blown as dust before the wind,
scattered and lost to futurity?

CASUAL MALE
It isn't lost.
The knowledge we acquire our sons will have.

EPEIRA
You're wrong.
Our sons will have their own—they won't have ours.
That's why I say we live too short a span;
it matters no hoot of an owl that the spider race is old;
the individual spider dies too young.

VOICES
But—

EPEIRA
Why should we fellows die before our prime
when a fish retains his youth for centuries?
Just when we learn to see, we cease to be.

CASUAL MALE
Some of us don't live long enough to see...
we die in wedlock.

EPEIRA
Deadlock. That death must cease;
at least there we have autonomy.

YOUNG MALE
(Sulkily) You want our race to cease?

EPEIRA
Let females kiss—and learn to end it there;
let them subdue their murderous appetites.
Till then,
well, the issue of the race is on their heads.
If they will make war—

DICTATORIAL MALE
A war of necessity.

EPEIRA
(Scornfully) Necessity!
Must each new generation
invent excuses for an ancient crime?
Fate should demand more of us
than a mere blind willingness to die.

CASUAL MALE
We males have always given our lives—
it is our virtue.

EPEIRA
A stupid, misled virtue...
we must be wise as well as good,
we must be cunning as she is cunning;
she who tricks us through our loveliest emotion,
inspires us to gallantry—only to betray! (Murmurs.)
Life is bigger than we dare to live it.
We are grubs and midges when we might be butterflies.
(In vision) I have dreamt of a garden beyond this garden,
a garden from whence light flows as rivers overflow.

DICTATORIAL MALE
And yet you assert your concern is here—with us.

EPEIRA
My dream garden is this garden—in the future.

DICTATORIAL MALE
We, too, were speaking of the future.

EPEIRA
And leaving it to the future.
As you would leave it to dream, to chance.

EPEIRA
To chance? No, not to chance.
I would plant seed now
to make the future flower.

DICTATORIAL MALE
(Sarcastic) The garden that he finds can't suit Epeira,
he'd make a whole new garden to fit his mind,
and make us over, too. (Laughter.)

EPEIRA
Why not?
All that we are today we once aspired to be.
All that we now are not—we may become.

CASUAL MALE
We aspire to be ourselves and nothing more.

EPEIRA
Which self do you refer to? You have choice.

YOUNG MALE
(Angrily) I do not choose; and, no; I do not will—
I live as my senses and my instinct say.

EPEIRA
Then crawl back into the foetal dark.
Go, get beneath a stone, out of the light,
and wait till your instinct says to die—
your life is not your own.

YOUNG MALE
(Hotly) 'Tis not yours either.
What is this death in life you'd have us live—
never to kiss, to enjoy, to fulfil our function?
My life would be lived under a stone
did I take your hard unyielding granite course.
Let me tell you this;
I'll spin a careless web till the moon comes round,
then when she's round, I'll mate, and if I die
then I'll die happy—at least I will have lived.

EPEIRA
How long?

YOUNG MALE
That's not for you to say.

EPEIRA
And not for you
since you abdicate in favour of tradition.

YOUNG MALE
Bah! You would spin the sunshine!

EPEIRA
I'd save you from aimless living.
You have a mind midge-small,
you see a thorny hedge but cannot see above it.

CASUAL MALE
We see above it, but we know we cannot fly.

EPEIRA
Where the antennae of our minds reach out,
there we may follow.

YOUNG MALE
Our minds may light upon a star.

EPEIRA
You view things with the fixed eye of the owl.

YOUNG MALE
And you see things from the shifting sands of thought.
A rabbit looks from a new furrow,
imagining the garden changed
because he moved his burrow.

EPEIRA
Enough, enough!—

EPEIRA
Where does mere wrangling lead us? Oh don't you see
change must be conscious—of our choosing—
disciplined, directed from within...
The slime out of the past seeps into our minds.
We think we are thinking when we but remember
sloven reflexes of our torpid forebears;
yet sloven as they were,
an impetus towards the light
bestirred them from their ooze.
Beware! Take care
that the ancestral worship in our blood,
the totems of the past woven in our woof
do not betray us back into the mud,
the primeval chaos from which we hold aloof.

(Music takes us back to the ti-tree.)

ARACHNE
To-morrow night! Tomorrow night!—
This is tomorrow night!
Soon he will fill the sky,
his voice will thrill the air,
here to the green night of twilight he will bring the moon.
The moon!...the moon!

EPEIRA
(Coming in) Arachne!

ARACHNE
He is here!

EPEIRA
Ah, spinstress,
I see you've fabricated your snare.

ARACHNE.
My snare?
No, no, no, your suspicions are threadless—
I'm innocent, I swear.

EPEIRA
Why these protestations? Before me I see
a tapestry of net, a forest of filmy ropes,
a mesh of mist, an aerial silken curtain,
a gallery of gauze, a gossamer tent—
all this is your web.

ARACHNE
(Laughing) Ah, yes! Ah, yes.

EPEIRA
Yes, all your web is this—and more;
a web's a snare,
a snare insidiously limed for the unwary;
already a tumult of mites and gnats
are strung across its strings.

ARACHNE
I do not plan to trap them—
my interest is bigger game.

EPEIRA
Nevertheless they die.

ARACHNE
Did they ever live?—that is the sting.

EPEIRA
Did they ever live? Poor aimless mites!
And what of us—are we less pitiful,
less aimless, less accessible to fate?
We hibernate in the winter of desolation,
no quickening light delivers us from chrysalis;
the sleeping powers of our nature are still in the cocoon.
O, at such thoughts, flowers die in my heart
and weeds spring turbulent; deciduous hopes
lose greenness as though at the touch of frost...
Fledgling spirits we are, with baby wings
cheeping our hunger and our helplessness,
attempting to fly in the face of gusty gales,
blown and misspent by hurricanes of chance.

ARACHNE
Epeira, Epeira, come back!
Your eyes are lost,
your voice mournful as a curlew's.
Look! Look at me!

(He looks and is lost.)

ARACHNE
See, clad in dewy vestments of air
I swing upon my hammock-web!

EPEIRA
(Ardently) A hammock of tinselled dew,
a hammock spun of light traced on the dark,
white filaments around you—
spiral on spiral of coiled silvery snakes!—
Oh, misty wraith-like beauty!
(Violently.) Beauty's a web, a tricksy snare
and we poor males, blind moths, caught unaware!
Good-night!

(Dramatic music takes him off. Arachne, desolate,
returns to her Mother.)

MOTHER
What, back again, Arachne?
Why are you mooning here?
You should be at your spinning—
I've nearly spun my web.

ARACHNE
(Wearily) I finished long ago!

MOTHER
Mine would be done,
but a rowdy wind blew up and made the going rough.

ARACHNE
You had your suspension cable and your guylines
from last night. You only had to weave
a few radii, the spiral and the snare.

MOTHER
Of course I kept my suspension cable from last night;
do you think I'm a pixilated spiderling
who tears down every dawn what she must build
again at dusk?

ARACHNE
I tore mine down.

MOTHER
Not your suspension cable,
you mean you tore your radii?

ARACHNE
I mean I tore down every strand.
'Twas called a snare—I hated it.

MOTHER
Arachne, you tore down your suspension cable—
Have you gone mad?

ARACHNE
No; yes, yes, yes.

MOTHER
Such waste!
It's bad and mad enough for spiderlings
to be always destroying what they build—
they learn that way,
but you—and at your age—
do you want to exhaust your silk glands?
and moon growing fat, and laying time soon here.
Think of all the silk you'll need for your egg sac.

ARACHNE
I know, I know.
As for now, I'll spin another web—
this time next to yours.

MOTHER
Ah!
so you're allergic now to the eleventh gum.

ARACHNE
Must you rasp on the one note like a grasshopper?

MOTHER
Ha, that made you bite!
Well, scobberlotcher, go to it!—
Yark up! spin!
Pay out your line!
Cast it on the slack of the air!

ARACHNE
Ca! Ca! Ca!—like an old crow—
what else am l doing?

MOTHER
Waste, waste!
But I mustn't waste time spinning words,
not if I'd snare a supper to-night!...
(Panting) Whoa! scrambling up this rigging puffs me out!

ARACHNE
You manage very well with your bulky paunch.

MOTHER
Bulky! I'm a fine body of a female—
who'd want to be a whipper-snapper like a male?
Wait, next summer, you'll flaunt a paunch yourself!

(She gloats over her weaving.)

There! my radii are complete,
my spiral laid, converging towards the hub.
Now round this hub I'll spin my little snare,
my cunning sticky trap
to trip the giddy fly-by-nights,
the mooning moth-pated insects.

(We hear her weaving.)

Shuttle—shuttle! Shuttle-shuttle!...
Hm, my web is well placed—in the face of the wind.
Ha! The night-flying herd is blown down this alley—
the current sweeps them here—I do the rest.

ARACHNE
Stop boasting, you fubsy, bloated creature!
Your web is swinging,
why don't you fix your guy lines to the ground?

MOTHER
Mind your own weaving.
I'll fix my guy lines—but not to the ground.
I don't want wind nagging and sagging them till they snap.

ARACHNE
Well, fix them to something to keep the base extended.

MOTHER
Eight eyes aren't enough to give you sight.
Are you a bat blind in the light that you can't see
I'm attaching a pebble to the end of every line?
The ,weight of these will keep the guy lines taut,
and yet let them swell to the belly of the breeze.
Have you never heard of wind resistance?
And look to your fishing line—it's caught on a bramble
beneath you.

ARACHNE
O great Beetles!—bother it.

MOTHER
Haul it in—and cast it out again

ARACHNE
That's what I'm doing.

MOTHER
Well, show some energy.
Languid as an anemic mosquito before it's filled with blood—
that's
what you are—spin out your line!
Spin! if you'd eat before the dawn.

ARACHNE
Ca! Ca!—old crow!
There's something in your larder now.

MOTHER
Psst! 'Tis a catch from last night.
Rake it down with your hind legs, Arachne.
Quick! before it scares my supper away.

ARACHNE
Yes, nothing makes the live prey more wary
than the sight of a skeleton or two.
There!—I've kicked it off.

MOTHER
And now attend your dangling line.

(A breeze blows up.)

Ah, this gusty draught will take it off—
rolling it out like smoke before the wind.

ARACHNE
My line is pulling!

MOTHER
Then it must have caught.

ARACHNE
Yes, so it has—on an oleander across the path!

MOTHER
Then your suspension bridge is up.
Quick, off you ply across it, back and forth,
till the single thread swells to a cable of many strands;

ARACHNE
Ca—ca—ca! There you go again!—
don't you think I know what to do?

MOTHER
(Shouting) No!

(Arachne weaves across to the oleander. Her mother
continues to shout at her.)

ARACHNE
Shuttle-shuttle! Shuttle-shuttle!

MOTHER
(Shouting) You've much to learn about weaving a snare
to catch an insect—or a husband.

ARACHNE
(At the oleander) Be silent.

MOTHER
(Shouting) Bind your line to the oleander before you return.

(Arachne weaves back across the line.)

ARACHNE
Shuttle-shuttle! Shuttle-shuttle!

MOTHER
Ah, here you are.
Well, cement your line, and off you go again.

ARACHNE
In a moment...Mother, do all males
succumb to the—er—to the moon?

MOTHER
That they do, my spiderling.

ARACHNE
But—

MOTHER.
Nature requires it of them:

ARACHNE
But if they have a brain?

MOTHER
Makes them furtive as a lizard;
but they also have blood—
it is nature in their blood who spins for us.
Nature's the spider with the biggest web,
she snares all those who fly and all who crawl—
take it from one who understands.

ARACHNE
It seems to me
you only understand what you have known—
there must be things you haven't known.

MOTHER
No, there aren't,—
if there were I'd be after them!

(An insect strikes the web.)

What's that?

(Flapping of moth wings.)

ARACHNE
Something for you to be after now.

MOTHER
A moth! a burly bearded moth for me
to sting asleep and suck his juices at my leisure...
at my pleasure!
Aah, your struggles will soon cease, my beauty,
when I spray you with this strangling net of silk.
He-he!—every flutter for freedom binds you more firmly fast...
Now you are swathed in your shroud
More tightly than a kernel in its nut.
Your wings are silent,
only your fear beats in you—
as—my—sting—goes—in.

ARACHNE
Poor bleary, blundering moth.

MOTHER
What are you burbling about?

ARACHNE
(Slowly) Just thinking of something some spider said—
a spider who hates to see anything dead.

MOTHER
(Incredulous) A spider who hates to see anything dead?

(Murmurs from the third meeting in the eleventh gum-tree.
Epeira's impassioned tones quickly dominate the others.)

EPEIRA
And as we hate to die—we should not kill.

CASUAL MALE
Our enemies kill us.

EPEIRA
And we call it bad.
What is vile of one must be vile of all.
O in this green twilight world 'tween night and day,
would that our hearts were green to make a flower—
a tender bloom of mercy.

CASUAL MALE
Mercy? Here—in such a garden?

EPEIRA
Flowers breed even in rocks.

CASUAL MALE
But—

EPEIRA
Think...think of the drama enacted every day:
think, as we drowse beneath protecting leaves,
way over our heads, way over the grass
flies our enemy the sand wasp,
dagger-sting held ready to stab our sleep,
drag us to his hollow
and entomb us for his unborn offspring—
food for a new generation of sand wasps!
But who knows...who knows but this same predatory wasp
has not—between the dark deeds of his doing—
dreamed golden dreams of a nobler self?

CASUAL MALE
What if he has?—he still preys upon us.

EPEIRA
As we still prey upon the hapless fly.

YOUNG MALE
We've always done so.

EPEIRA
Till now, let it be said.
But if we'd slough this barbarous ancient skin,
if we'd free the butterfly within,
we must abandon the chrysalis of present ways,
arouse from hibernation; approximate the dream.
A start must be made somewhere.

CASUAL MALE
(Amused) It's the same old dreamy tale
that we will suffer untold penalties
unless we do this or do that.

EPEIRA
We can't indefinitely escape the testing hour.
O in this green gloomy world beneath green leaves,
we live without light—
whilst above our heads the sun explodes in the tree-tops,
burns across the grass, crackles in leaf and bracken,
to lift the bush in flames.

YOUNG MALE
We spiders don't deal with the sun.
The moon is our destiny.

EPEIRA
The moon—that limited power!
we feed on gloom when we might be lit by radiance...
(Low) I find no home in this companionless dark,
where the mind's at war with life's dull pattern,
I am an exile from the light,
devising new pathways to the sun!

DICTATORIAL MALE
Epeira,
the last time we all met here,
you said we must be disciplined.
Well, I agree.

EPEIRA
(Warmly) I'm glad.

DICTATORIAL MALE
We will discipline them,
we will make them good.

EPEIRA
They are not made good!
Virtue no more than evil
can be forced on them.
The choice is theirs
to decide what shall have power over them.

DICTATORIAL MALE
We shall have power over them.
We shall decide for the many.

EPEIRA
Beware of power; beware of using it.

DICTATORIAL MALE.
If we don't use it others will.
There must be masters.

EPEIRA
Let each one master himself—
unless he'd have evil masters.
Masters are for slaves.

DICTATORIAL MALE
How many free
do you think are in the garden? Wake up!—
you know the swarm wishes to be mastered.

EPEIRA
It's not I, but they, who sleep.

DICTATORIAL MALE
Asleep, awake, what does it matter?—
the end will justify the means.

EPEIRA
(Slowly) You forget the means condition the end;
If the means be vile, be sure the end will be viler.

DICTATORIAL MALE
You say the law of life is growth—
how can they grow if we don't force growth on them?

EPEIRA
Force?

DICTATORIAL MALE
What rules have you for the future?

EPEIRA
I bring no static order or design—
they belong to narrow ways, to timorous paths.
I'd inspire each to most hazardous adventuring.

DICTATORIAL MALE
To what, to what, precisely?

EPEIRA
Nothing precisely—
to the lonely exposures of the quest—
to the vision and discovery...

DICTATORIAL MALE
And what are you to them?

EPEIRA
The dream struggling to be free,
the thoughts they feel but cannot think,
beyond the senses, known only to the heart.
The urge within each of them
of something beyond all of them
seeking, striving, demanding to be.

DICTATORIAL MALE
Bah! If you won't rise to master, then I shall!

EPEIRA
No.

DICTATORIAL MALE
(Fiercely) But yes.

EPEIRA
No.

DICTATORIAL MALE
I'll fight you for it.

EPEIRA
I don't fight.

DICTATORIAL MALE
So high and mighty. You don't fight?
Well, I say you'll fight me.

EPEIRA
Go fight yourself—
for that is what you'd do when you would fight another.

DICTATORIAL MALE
Ho! are you myself?

EPEIRA
Yes, as you are me;
as all and everyone is each and all.
We are but parts of a single spider
and, since that's so,
why should a wing destroy a leg,
a head eat up a heart?

DICTATORIAL MALE
Ah, coward, eh?

EPEIRA
If you think it so, then so it is for you.

DICTATORIAL MALE
(Sarcastic) Strange how you fear all action. First
you'll not kiss, now you'll not fight.
Yet does it not occur to you—
to you who dare so vastly—
does it not occur that did you fight
you—you yourself—might win?

EPEIRA
'Tis better to die in battle than to win.
The victor in battle is victim of illusion:
does he not dream that force, and force alone,
prevails and is victorious?

DICTATORIAL MALE
Better to die, eh?

EPEIRA
Yes; for the dead are out of it;
They have not gained by another's loss,
they have not emerged as victors—to their cost,

DICTATORIAL MALE
Ha, then since it's better to die in battle than to win—
it's better to die upon the kiss?

EPEIRA
Have I said so?

DICTATORIAL MALE
Your actions say so.

EPEIRA
What do you mean?

DICTATORIAL MALE
I mean—listen, you males, listen while he answers!
Epeira Productus, tell us, is it true
you hold the female as our enemy?

EPEIRA
You know I do.

DICTATORIAL MALE
Then why philander with Arachne?

(Buzz of voices.)

Every night,
when leaving this meeting, you dally by her web.

EPEIRA
I—I—

DICTATORIAL MALE
I charge you that you love her.
Answer yes or no.

EPEIRA
No.

(Murmurs.)

Wait!...Oh cruel, monstrous destiny!
I did not realise till now—till you accuse—
but—yes—most incredibly do I love her.

(Exclamations.)

(Low) Love is the magic that has illumined my heart,
the mysterious power reconciling all.
As a bud must feel when it breaks to flower,
the dew when lifted to the sun—
so is my heart suffused with tenderness,
unfolded—ripened—to wholeness.

DICTATORIAL MALE
You admit your love?

EPEIRA
I love...but have not loved.

DICTATORIAL MALE
The moon is yet to blossom.

EPEIRA
Let the moon come—
my will's prepared:
'twill be as the indestructible sun clouds cannot rout;
my mind, granite; rock-set against lunar witcheries.
Thunder may be in my blood; but my brain is clear lightning!...
So must we all be on this fated night—
single of purpose as the elements—
inexorable, resolute.
Tonight
let no one venture forth who would not die.
Remember when frogs croak and crickets chirp
the moon will be full circle.

(Excited buzz of voices.)

Turn your back upon her chill and glamorous light,
face downwards—to the sun-fires; then at daybreak
all those who live, all those who still live, I say,
meet here...That's all. Good luck.
(Going) Good-night.

ALL
Good-night.

DICTATORIAL MALE
He's gone.
He's a humbug, he's worse—a hypocrite.
A deceptive lyrebird who apes each other thing—
strutting as celibate but under cover,
wooing the fairest of the enemy.
Well, if he is afraid of power, I am not.
I here and now elect myself your captain.

(Cheers.)

Attend to me and heed well what I say:
Tonight let no one look upon the moon.
If, when at dawn, we meet again, I learn
that any one of you has disobeyed—
if females have not finished him, I shall.

(Exclamations.)

Death to him. I'm not afraid of force. Hail!
Force will predominate; Force will prevail.

(A pause and we are back on the branch with Arachne.)

EPEIRA
Arachne! You waited for me?

ARACHNE
Yes, Epeira...How did the meeting go?

EPEIRA
There is one there who would mislead them.
We quarrelled. Oh, terribly, terribly do I fail.

ARACHNE
Fail? You mean you lost?

EPEIRA
Both of us lost.

ARACHNE
That cannot be:
I see, you won—'tis modesty says the other.

EPEIRA
'Tis easy to win and make an enemy—
but while his eyes are distant, I've not won.
Had I been able to change his heart
then proudly would I say I'd won.
Oh, there can never be victories for such as I,
I who know his hate is spun
from my heart's darkest coil—
when one seeks one's rival—look within.
Oh, bitter, bitter truth!...
Wisdom teach me to love. Love teach me to be wise.

ARACHNE
(Quickly) Love—you speak of love, Epeira?

EPEIRA
(Breaking) That too—they accuse me of loving you.

ARACHNE
Me?

EPEIRA.
It's true.

ARACHNE
Epeira!!!

EPEIRA
Oh, must I be betrayed at every turn
by my own weakness?

ARACHNE
(Urgent) I won't betray you.
The moon will soon be full.
We will love—but
I will withhold the sting.

EPEIRA
Do not tempt destiny.

ARACHNE
I can answer for myself.

EPEIRA
Can anyone?
How long have you laboured to overcome
that rudimentary other self,
old as time?

ARACHNE
I have my will—my iron will.

EPEIRA
Iron bends to heat.

ARACHNE
(Low) But...but...I love you.
I will not betray you.

EPEIRA
I love him. But you see I have betrayed him—
betrayed him into hatred.
We must not meet on the night of destiny.

ARACHNE
Epeira, must you ever set the goal above our reach?
Be content to be as others.
Live! Love! 'Tis the peak, the dizzy top,
the excess, the ultimate of garden joy!

EPEIRA
And what comes after?

ARACHNE
What need is there for after?
Having striven to the top, would you topple down?
Live like insects, kiss not once but many times,
till love, till lovely love, becomes mere habit?

EPEIRA
We must not meet on the night of destiny.

ARACHNE
Destiny—how sweet a sound has destiny—
(sing-song) singing that life flows on some happy stream
and comes to us unstriving; borne along
by currents of the past.

EPEIRA
The past! always the past!

ARACHNE
If we love, then all is simple.

EPEIRA
Arachne, hear me:
If I could live within this cocoon of Self,
self that includes you, my dearest sweet!—
yes, let me say it once, and then forget it!—
if I could live so, life would be simple.
But I can't! I can't!

ARACHNE
Wait! you say
you cannot trust me to surmount myself—
but can you trust yourself?

EPEIRA
How so? When?

ARACHNE
In that fierce moment when the blood's a bushfire,
and the will is but a brittle leaf in flame,
I've heard it said
how another self from out the dark arises,
the self of all our ancestors—the past.

EPEIRA
Our ultimate ancestors were protozoa;
did we not in some shifting period of time
emerge, change, become transfigured?
Who says the period of growth has ceased?
As spiderlings our bodies hatched and hacked their way
out of their sheaths—
now let our minds do likewise.

ARACHNE
(Wooing) Epeira! As we love—

EPEIRA
No. No...I would control my fate,
attach the cable of my life to giant strings
joining our purposes to great perspectives
to find the architecture of a nobler web.

ARACHNE
Epeira!

EPEIRA
We must endeavour to outstrip ourselves
as birds top their own height when flying upwards—

ARACHNE
Epeira—

EPEIRA
I—am—dedicate.
I sense impending change...I dream...I wait.

(Music suggests the passing of time. Epeira waits alone.)

EPEIRA
(Hushed) Night! Now looms the hour
when danger lurks in every flower
and swoops upon us from the shadows.
True, birds and scorpions sleep,
but waking possum—swinging from bough to bough—
clumsily tears the web with thrashing tail.

(An owl hoots.)

The owl
rebukes the moonlit night for apeing day, then—
remembering the hour—
shakes off his slumbers, stretches wide feathers,
and darts off to slay.
Sly whiskered bandicoot, with ears aprick,
comes nuzzling for food. And, over the grass
under leaves and circling logs, centipedes, frogs
sharpen their forces—prepare to attack.
But tonight, more cruel still,
more treacherously designed to kill
are our own kind...

(We hear the wind)

The wind shakes the shadows—shakes my heart—
the black curtain descends as gossamer trails the sky.

(The wind fades.)

The breeze waves and is numb...All grows still
as though the night itself had held its breath
before the task of turning on the moon.

(Soft music creeps in...fades to far background. Then
Epeira's voice is heard over echo mike:)

"When frogs croak and crickets chirp,
The moon will be full circle!"

(Music swells a moment. Fades...then:
A frog croaks and fades,
Crickets chirp and fade,
Music flowers to climax. Ceases abruptly.)

The moon!
Here now do I oppose my will,
my small heroic will against all nature.
Let planets clash, let lightning flash and thunder roar,
I'll not give in. And that poor part of me,
that weaker self that sides against my valour,
becomes my enemy to be subdued,
gallantly surmounted, overwhelmed!
Now destiny is in the crucible.

(Arachne screams.)

ARACHNE
Help, help—the lizard!
The lizard's got me—help!

EPEIRA
Arachne! Take courage—I will save you!

(He rushes to her aid.)

ARACHNE
The lizard! The lizard!

EPEIRA
But...there's no lizard here
Besides it's night—how could he be abroad?

ARACHNE
He's over there—I got away—you shouldn't have come.

EPEIRA
Shouldn't have come when you shout loud for help?

ARACHNE
I only shouted when it seemed I'd die—
at first I fought in silence—
the frantic struggle with that scaly monster!

EPEIRA
But why fight on in a contest so uneven?
Why not call out before?

ARACHNE
(Softly) I did not wish
to bring you out on this unlucky night—
this hateful, wicked, wicked night.

EPEIRA
You thought of me, poor little one,
and still fought on.

ARACHNE
What else was there to do?

EPEIRA
You thought of me?
Oh, males are not the only heroes. I honour you.
(Seeing it) And if it was not tonight I'd say 'tis lovely.
See, the moon steeps all in wonder;
till most familiar shapes assume new forms.
Light glows and shadows deepen,
and you—you—
Oh, I've never seen you by the moon before!

ARACHNE.
Don't look upon me.
Go—'tis the evil hour.

EPEIRA
(Tenderly) As though you'd do me any harm.

ARACHNE
Go, go!

EPEIRA
Lucky you're unhurt, alive.

ARACHNE
I have a scratch or two.

EPEIRA
Where?—I can't see—

ARACHNE
The marks must show.
I felt his cruel, embracing claws.

EPEIRA
Your body!—
it is moonshine, phosphorescent,
as though it caught up all the light there was
to radiate it and illume the garden.

ARACHNE
You can see?

EPEIRA
As—for—the—first time.
Arachne!

ARACHNE
Oh, think of all the past—
of all you've said.

EPEIRA
Think of all I didn't say.
Just think, if I go now,
if I should leave you here—
when all nature and myself would have me stay—
every common or garden spider will know more than I.
Arachne, Arachne, love me—

ARACHNE
If I love you...you will die.

EPEIRA
I must die sometime—I'll die kissing you.

ARACHNE
I'll love you, Epeira, and withhold the sting.

EPEIRA
Beloved, benign one!...
Oh, what do I say?
The moon—the moon is in my eyes!

ARACHNE
Come!
(Gloating) Now the lovely ritual of love begins.

EPEIRA
No—

ARACHNE
Yes. (Deeply triumphant) Ah!

EPEIRA
Wait, wait!
Your eyes that swam with love, now gleam with hate.

ARACHNE
No, no, 'tis love...
see, feel, I ache towards you.

EPEIRA
You ache—but not for me.
'Tis for my death you ache.
Ha, vampire, let me go.

ARACHNE
(With a marl of rage) Come back! Come back!

MOTHER
(Coming in) Fool, you've let him escape.

ARACHNE
Mother!...
so, you've been spying!

MOTHER
I wished to see your joy, your victory.

ARACHNE
Then stay and witness my defeat.

MOTHER
He really got away?...Yes?...So!
What's the garden coming to, I'd like to know.

(Hurried music denoting his escape.)

EPEIRA
(Panting) Escaped!—escaped!

(Cock crows off.)

The cock crows!...Dawn!
The hour we meet in the eleventh gum!

(Few wistful notes of a flute takes him to the tree.)

EPEIRA
What, no one here?

(A bird's lonely call...Long, low descending note.)

(Deeply) Alone...
Well, the first to dare,
the first to dream the dream
must be...alone.

When I went looking for myself
what more did I hope to find?
(Low) Yet—strangely—there—is—more:
Here, at this pinnacle, this core, this hub,
this centre and crisis of my life,
here in the terrible peace of aloneness—
I emerge from the limits of my smaller life,
free! At last I am free!...

But what of the others?
They are not here.
They do not come.
Caught in the tribal webs of their own weaving,
they cannot come.
And though I call them in voice of warning thunder,
of entreating love, or crying pity,
I call in vain...they cannot hear
for they are not ready,

Will they ever be ready?
they have not dreamed.
(Quietly) I do not know—-
the future of creatures is clouded and not revealed.

(Cock crows closer.)

Oh, morning sun, returning symbol,
when will your light
pierce to the blind,
the blind in the web of night?

(Music creeps in...mounts and mounts...as though
it, too, aspired beyond the shadows.)

THE END.


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