The Cat and the Moon
to John Masefield
Persons in the Play
A Blind Beggar
A Lame Beggar
Scene. – The scene is any bare place before a wall against which stands a patterned screen, or hangs a patterned curtain suggesting Saint Colman’s Well. Three Musicains are sitting close to the wall, with zither, drum, and flute. Their faces are made up to resemble masks.
First Musician [singing].
The cat went here and there
And the moon spun round like a top,
And the nearest kin of the moon,
The creeping cat, looked up.
Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
For, wander and wail as he would,
The pure cold light in the sky
Troubled his animal blood.
[Two beggars enter – a blind man with a lame man on his back. They wear grotesque masks. The
Blind Beggar is counting the paces.
Blind Beggar. One thousand and six, one thousand and
seven, one thousand and nine. Look well now, for
we should be in sight of the holy well of Saint
Colman. The beggar at the crosroads said it was
one thousand paces from where he stood and a few
paces over. Look well now, can you see the big as
tree that’s abouve it?
Lame Beggar [getting down]. No, not yet.
Blind Beggar. Then we must have taken a wrong turn;
flighty you always were, and maybe before the day
is over you will have me drowned in Kiltartan River
or maybe in the sea itself.
Lame Beggar. I have brought you the right way, but
you are a lazy man, Blind Man, and you make very
Blind Beggar. It’s great daring you have, and how could
I make a long stride and you on my back from the
Lame Beggar. And maybe the beggar of the cross-roads
was only making it up when he said a thousand
paces and a few paces more. You and I, being beggars,
know the way of beggars, and maybe he never paced
it at all, being a lazy man.
Blind Beggar. Get up. It’s too much talk you have.
Lame Beggar [getting up]. But as I was saying he being a
lazy man – O, O, O, stop pinching the calf of my
leg and I’ll not say another word till I’m spoke to.
[They go round the stage once, moving to drum-taps, and as they move the following song is sung.]
First Musician [singing]
Minnaloushe runs in the grass
Lifting his delicate feet
Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?
When two close kindred meet
What better than call a dance?
Maybe the moon may learn,
Tired of that courtly fashion,
A new dance turn.
Blind Beggar. Do you see the big ash-tree?
Lame Beggar. I do then, and the wall under it, and the
flat stone, and the things upon the stone; and here
is a good dry place to kneel in.
Blind Beggar. You may get down so. [Lame beggar gets
down.] I begin to have it in my mind that I am a
great fool, and it was you who egged me on with
your flighty talk.
Lame Beggar. How should you be a great fool to ask the
saint to give you back your two eyes?
Blind Beggar. There is many gives money to a blind
man and would give nothing but a curse to a whole
man, and if it was not for one thing – but no matter
Lame Beggar. If I speak out all that’s in my mind you
won’t take a blow at me at all?
Blind Beggar. I will not this time.
Lame Beggar. Then I’ll tell you why you are not a great
fool. When you go out to pick up a chicken, or
maybe a stray goose on the road, or a cabbage from
a neighbour’s garden, I have to go riding on your
back; and if I want a goose, or a chicken, or a
cabbage, I must have your two legs under me.
Blind Beggar. That’s true now and if we were whole
men and went different ways, there’d be as much
again between us.
Lame Beggar. And your own goods keep going from
you because you are blind.
Blind Beggar. Rogues and thieves ye all are, but there
are some I may have my eyes on yet.
Lame Beggar. Because there’s no one to see a man slip-
-ping in at the door, or throwing a leg over the wall
of a yard, you are a bitter temptation to many a
poor man, and I say it’s not right, it’s not right at
all. There are poor men that because you are blind
will be delayed in Purgatory.
Blind Beggar. Though you are a rogue, Lame Man,
maybe you are in the right.
Lame Beggar. And maybe we’ll see the blessed saint this
day, for there’s an odd one sees him, and maybe that
will be a grander thing than having my two legs,
though legs are a grand thing.
Blind Beggar. You’re getting flighty again, Lame Man;
what could be better for you than to have your two
Lame Beggar. Do you think now will the saint put an
ear on him at all, and we without an Ave or a Pater-
noster to put before the prayer or after the prayer?
Blind Beggar. Wise though you are and flighty though
you are, and you throwing eyes to the right of you
and eyes to the left of you, there’s many a thing you
don’t know about the heart of man.
Lame Beggar. But is stands to reason that he’d be put
out and he maybe with a great liking for the Latin.
Blind Beggar. I have it in mind that the saint will be
better pleased at us not knowing a prayer at all, and
that we had best say what we want in plain language.
What pleasure can he have in all that holy company
kneeling at his well on holidays and Sundays, and
they as innocent maybe as himself?
Lame Beggar. That’s a strange thing to say, and do you
say it as I or another might say it, or as a blind man?
Blind Beggar. I say it as a blind man, I say it because
since I went blind in the tenth year of my age, I have
been hearing and remembering the knowledges of
Lame Beggar. And you who are a blind man say that
a saint, and he living in a pure well of water, would
soonest be talking with a sinful man.
Blind Beggar. Do you mind what the beggar told you
about the holy man in the big house at Laban?
Lame Beggar. Nothing stays in my head, Blind Man.
Blind Beggar. What does he do but go knocking about
the roads with an old lecher from the county of
Mayo, and he a woman-hater from the day of his
birth! And what do they talk of by candle-light and
by daylight? The old lecher does be telling over all
the sins he committed, or maybe he never committed
at all, and the man of Laban does be trying to head
him off and quiet him down that he may quit
Lame Beggar. We have great wisdom between us, that’s
Blind Beggar. Now the Church says that it is a good
thought, and a sweet thought, and a comfortable
thought, that every man may have a saint to look
after him, and I, being blind, give it out to all the
world that the bigger the sinner the better pleased
is the saint. I am sure and certain that Saint Colman
would not have us two different from what we are.
Lame Beggar. I’ll not give in to that, for as I was saying,
he has a great liking maybe for the Latin.
Blind Beggar. Is it contradicting me you are? Are you
in reach of my arm? [swinging stick].
Lame Beggar. I’m not, Blind Man, you couldn’t touch
me at all; but as I was saying –
First Musician [speaking]. Will you be cured or will you
Lame Beggar. Lord save us, that is the saint’s voice and
we not on our knees. [They kneel.
Blind Beggar. Is he standing before us, Lame Man?
Lame Beggar. I cannot see him at all. It is in the ash-tree
he is, or up in the air.
First Musician. Will you be cured or will you be
Lame Beggar. There he is again.
Blind Beggar. I’ll be cured of my blindness.
First Musician. I am a saint and lonely. Will you be-
come blessed and stay blind and we will be together
Blind Beggar. No, no, your Reverence, if I have to
choose, I’ll have the sight of my two eyes, for those
that have their sight are always stealing my things
and telling me lies, and some maybe that are near
me. So don’t take it bad of me, Holy Man, that I
ask the sight of my two eyes.
Lame Beggar. No one robs him and no one tells him
lies; it’s all in his head, it is. He’s had his tongue on
me all day because he thinks I stole a sheep of his.
Blind Beggar. It was the feel of his sheepskin coat put
it into my had, but my sheep was black, they say,
and he tells me, Holy Man, that his sheepskin is of
the most lovely white wool so that it is a joy to be
looking at it.
First Musician. Lame Man, will you be cured or will
you be blessed?
Lame Beggar. What would it be like to be blessed?
First Musician. You would be of the kin of the blessed
saints and of the martyrs.
Lame Beggar. Is it true now that they have a book and
that they write the names of the blessed in that
First Musician. Many a time I have seen the book, and
your name would be in it.
Lame Beggar. It would be a grand thing to have two legs
under me, but I have it in my mind that it would be
a grander thing to have my name in that book.
First Musician. It would be a grander thing.
Lame Beggar. I will stay lame, Holy Man, and I will be
First Musician. In the name of the Father, the Son and
the Holy Spirit I give this Blind Man sight and I
make this Lame Man blessed.
Blind Beggar. I see it all now, the blue sky and the big
ash-tree and the well and the flat stone, – all as I
have heard the people say – and the things the pray-
ing people put on the stone, the beads and the
candles and the leaves torn out of prayer-books, and
the hairpins and the buttons. It is a great sight and
a blessed sight, but I don’t see yourself, Holy Man
– is it up in the big tree you are?
Lame Beggar. Why, there he is in front of you and he
laughing out of his wrinkled face.
Blind Beggar. Where, where?
Lame Beggar. Why, there, between you and the ash-tree.
Blind Beggar. There’s nobody there – you’re at your lies
Lame Beggar. I am blessed, and that is why I can see the
Blind Beggar. But if I don’t see the saint, there’s some-
thing else I can see.
Lame Beggar. The blue sky and green leaves are a great
sight, and a strange sight to one that has been long
Blind Beggar. There is a stranger sight than that, and
that is the skin of my own black sheep on your back.
Lame Beggar. Haven’t I been telling you from the peep
o’day that my sheepskin is that white it would
Blind Beggar. Are you so swept with words that
you’ve never thought that when I had my own two
eyes, I’d see what coulour was on it?
Lame Beggar [very dejected]. I never thought of that.
Blind Beggar. Are you that flighty?
Lame Beggar. I am that flighty. [Cheering up.] But am I
not blessed, and it’s a sin to speak against the
Blind Beggar. Well, I’ll speak against the blessed, and
I’ll tell you something more that I’ll do. All the
while you were telling me how, if I had my two
eyes, I could pick up a chicken here and a goose
there, while my neighbours were in bed, do you
know what I was thinking?
Lame Beggar. Some wicked blind man’s thought.
Blind Beggar. It was, and it’s not gone from me yet. I
was saying to myself, I have a long arm and a strong
arm and a very weighty arm, and when I get my own
two eyes I shall know where to hit.
Lame Beggar. Don’t lay a hand on me. Forty years we’ve
been knocking about the roads together, and I
wouldn’t have you bring your soul into mortal peril.
Blind Beggar. I have been saying to myself, I shall know
where to hit and how to hit and who to hit.
Lame Beggar. Do you know that I am blessed?
Would you be as bad as Caesar and as Herod and
Nero and the other wicked emperors of antiquity?
Blind Beggar. Where’ll I hit him, for the love of God,
where’ll I hit him?
[Blind Beggar beats Lame Beggar. The beating takes the form of a dance and is accompanied
on drum and flute. The Blind Beggar goes out.
Lame Beggar. That is a soul lost, Holy Man.
First Musician: Maybe so.
Lame Beggar. I’d better be going, Holy Man, for he’ll
rouse the whole country against me.
First Musician. He’ll do that.
Lame Beggar. And I have it in my mind not even
myself again with the martyrs, and the holy con-
fessors, till I am more used to being blessed.
First Musician. Bend your back.
Lame Beggar. What for, Holy Man?
First Musician. That I may get up on it.
Lame Beggar. But my lame legs would never bear the
weight of you.
First Musician. I’m up now.
Lame Beggar. I don’t feel you at all.
First Musician: I don’t weigh more than a grasshopper.
Lame Beggar. You do not.
First Musician. Are you happy?
Lame Beggar. I would be if I was right sure I was
First Musician. Haven’t you got me for a friend?
Lame Beggar: I have so.
First Musician. Then you’re blessed.
Lame Beggar. Will you see that they put my name in
First Musician. I will then.
Lame Beggar. Let us be going, Holy Man.
First Musician. But you must bless the road.
Lame Beggar. I haven’t the right words.
First Musician. What do you want words for? Bow to
what is before you, bow to what is behind you, bow
to what is to the left of you, bow to what is to the
right of you. [The Lame Beggar begins to bow.
First Musician. That’s no good.
Lame Beggar. No good, Holy Man?
First Musician. No good at all. You must dance.
Lame Beggar. But how can I dance? Ain’t I a lame man?
First Musician. Aren’t you blessed?
Lame Beggar. Maybe so.
First Musician. Aren’t you a miracle?
Lame Beggar. I am, Holy Man.
First Musician. Then dance, and that’ll be a miracle.
[The Lame Beggar begins to dance, at first clumsily, moving about with his stick, then he throws away the stick and dances more and more quickly. Whenever he strikes the ground strongly with his lame foot the cymbals clash. He goes out dancing, after which follows the First Musician’s song.
First Musician [singing]
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
From moonlit place to place.
The sacred moon overhead
Has taken a new phase.
Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
Will pass from change to change,
And that from round to crescent,
From crescent to round they range?
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
Alone, important and wise,
And lifts to the changing moon
His changing eyes.