Peer Gynt and the Onion

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Fifth Act

Fifth Scene

[Whitsun Eve. — In the depths of the forest. To the back, in a clearing, is a hut with a pair of reindeer horns over the porch-gable.] [Peer Gynt is creeping among the undergrowth, gathering wild onions.] Peer Well, this is one standpoint. Where is the next? One should try all things and choose the best. Well, I have done so, — beginning from Caesar, and downwards as far as to Nebuchadnezzar. So I had, after all, to go through Bible history; — the old boy's had to take to his mother again. After all it is written: Of the earth art you come. — The main thing in life is to fill one's belly. Fill it with onions? That's not much good; — I must take to cunning, and set out snares. There's water in the beck here; I shan't suffer thirst; and I count as the first 'mong the beasts after all. When my time comes to die — as most likely it will, — I shall crawl in under a wind-fallen tree; like the bear, I will heap up a leaf-mound above me, and I'll scratch in big print on the bark of the tree: Here rests Peer Gynt, that decent soul, Kaiser over all of the other beasts. — Kaiser? [Laughs inwardly.] Why, you old soothsayer-humbug! no Kaiser are you; you are nought but an onion. I'm going to peel you now, my good Peer! You won't escape either by begging or howling. [Takes an onion and pulls off layer after layer.] There lies the outermost layer, all torn; that's the shipwrecked man on the jolly-boat's keel. Here's the passenger layer, scanty and thin; — and yet in its taste there's a tang of Peer Gynt. Next underneath is the gold-digger ego; the juice is all gone — if it ever had any. This coarse-grained layer with the hardened skin is the peltry-hunter by Hudson's Bay. The next one looks like a crown; — oh, thanks! we'll throw it away without more ado. Here's the archaeologist, short but sturdy; and here is the Prophet, juicy and fresh. He stinks, as the Scripture has it, of lies, enough to bring the water to an honest man's eyes. This layer that rolls itself softly together is the gentleman, living in ease and good cheer. The next one seems sick. There are black streaks upon it; — black symbolises both parsons and niggers. [Pulls off several layers at once.] What an enormous number of swathings! Isn't the kernel soon coming to light? [Pulls the whole onion to pieces.] I'm blest if it is! To the innermost centre, it's nothing but swathings — each smaller and smaller. — Nature is witty! [Throws the fragments away.]

— Henrik Ibsen, Peer Gynt, 1865

Love is the law, love under will.

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