PAST. PRESENT. FUTURE
THE PRESENT is seated on a throne a man in the
prime of life, his eyes closed.
He is sitting rigidly as if in a trance. He is dressed in white.
THE PAST, an old man in black with a skull cap: of
a grotesque appearance and
voice. He is guarding the door on the Present’s left.
THE FUTURE, a beautiful boy in a dress of the
colour of the dawn with an irrides-
cent cloak of gossamer. He is on the right guarding another door.
THE PAST and FUTURE look at each other cautiously,
nod, and creep quietly across
the stage; they meet to the left front of the throne and talk as if they were
afraid of being overheard.
Future. What will come of it, do you think?
Past. There is danger for us:
I’ve always found it most
Future. How is that?
Past. (in the piping voice of the
old). I am sorry to tell you, my
amiable young friend, that in my experience, when our master sits
too long upon that throne which he calls The Place of Truth—it is
very grievous—but I am obliged to confess that we are apt to be-
come totally extinct.
Future. But I will not, I will
not fade and fade until I die.
(Past shrugs his shoulders). How can we resist? Surely you can
think of something to do?
Past (slowly). All we can do is
to try and break in upon
Future. Go on! go on!
Past. I have tried my utmost.
Future. Try again.
Past. I have tried all ways.
Future. But why are you so powerless?
Past. Look. I will tell you our
secret. The truth is, you
and I have no Reality. We are ever-changing phantoms.
Future. And Reality is a treasure that he, our master, holds?
Past. Yes, but he does not know
it. He must never know
it, or we die.
Future. Oh, Misery!
Past. Unless we keep his fancy
dancing to our measure,
he’ll find it out at last and we shall disappear.
Future. But has he never found it out before?
Past. Never completely. He
strives after something he
calls the mystery of being for a while, and we hide ourselves and
wait until he grows a little weary of beatitude. With delicate feet
Doubt enters his mind, and we spring out once more to trouble his
Future. Where is this mighty
Spirit of Doubt that I
may call her?
Past. Alas! we have no power to call her.
Future. Why not? Have we not
power unlimited in every
place but this?
Past. Doubt is the mother of
phantoms; she brought us
forth and everything we see and know sprang from her great
wonder. But we call to her in vain. She comes like the storm
at her own will.
Future. Oh, see how fixed in trance he is!
Past. Firm as the loadstone of the world.
Future (seized with the cramp).
Oh! oh! I feel myself drawn
to his feet. Agony! agony! Save me! save me!
Past. Alas! alas! I have tried
all my magic; my wisdom
and my arts are nothing to him.
Future. You must do something or
I shall die and you’ll
die too, old dotard—don’’t forget yourself.
Past (sniggers). No tear of
that, no fear I shall forget
Future. Oh, all my beauty vanishes!
Past. I have shown him glimpses
of misleading wisdom,
strange joys, forgotten mysteries. I have given him a taste of
praise, of rapture and swift movement.
Future. Of rapture! What do you
know of rapture, poor
old fool? Leave that to me. If that will win us life, I’ll make
him feel the keen edge of joy. I’ll make him feel the honey in his
veins and the loud heartbeats that silence wisdom.
Past. All these are fires he has
known, my hands have
scattered their ashes many times.
Future. O shrivelled hands, what
fire have you to give? It
is not withered memory that tempts, nor aching limbs that make
The Mystery of Time
men long for life (holds out his own beautiful hands). The
fire I give shall work new changes on him.
Past. Your fires will be mine
before an hour has past; even
now they pass into my veins.
Future (in a fury). Old hog! get
out of my sight. I
hate your dreary lies. I am the source of life; ‘tis you
Past (bows mockingly).
Resplendent youth, your dreams
would die untold if it were not for me. The law is this, it is the
law of Time. And you are going where you must, and dreaming
once again the fair false dreams I wrote of ages since.
Future. I know your cry,
“reiteration” and “recurrence,”
your “ring of Time.” But I defy it! I’ll bring him new dreams.
Titanic, Godlike dreams, dreams of power, dreams that he
moves the very pulse of earth.
Past. What are your dreams? My
hands long since have
torn those dreams in fragments.
Future. He has never yet dreamed
of conquering the earth,
the sea, the air.
Past. Poor child, you are
bewildered. I tell you he has
been king of air and water and of fire itself: in the past before this
earth was battered into shape the spirit that now breathes in him
was free; it knew no power that could keep it back. The fire was
a rapture and the air a whirl of light. No solid earth shut out the
quick ecstasy of beings who are now men blinded behind a little
veil of flesh—and wondering at their helplessness.
Future. Strange, strange that was beyond my thought.
Past. You’ll think it yet when
we have travelled round the
ring of time.
Future. Alas! alas!
Past. Try something simpler.
Future. What can I do?
Past. I have-love songs in my
bag here; sing them
Future. Yes, yes, a maid.
Past. A cup of wine.
Both. These are enough.
Past. They’ll set him dreaming
and desiring, grasping, fight-
ing, killing, raging to defend his own.
(The Future sings some old poems in praise of love.)
Future. These should soon rouse him from his trance.
Past. Now try a Dionysian strain
and praise the grape and
dance the Bacchic dance.
(They dance and sing until the Present slowly opens his eyes, and
return to their stations on either side of the throne.)
Present. What is this whirl of
sense that clouds the serene
ecstasy of being, that I knew but now when I cast away the images
of thought and pierced my heart to find its secret home? (dreamily)
I stood naked in a dark and bleak eternity and filled it with my
Past. Master, we wait for you.
Present. Old man, old man, wait
on; for I have known the
rapture which delights in destroying its very being. I have
scattered the broken lights of day and live in a silent place where
time and change are dumb.
Past. We have great feasts for
you, my master, and kegs of
wine from Cyprus.
Present. I do not need to feast,
my body is a phantom made
of thought (they shrink back shuddering). 1 will not feed it, for it
grows and creeps about me holding delight to my eyes and horror
to the deep joy that gleams within my heart. (Past weeps.) Do
not weep so, but tell me did men of old listen to their own hearts
and learn from them what nothing else could tell?
Past. Yes, yes, indeed, dear
master, if you will but come
away from this dread place I can show you the scripts of the wisest
Present. Bring them here.
Past. 1 fear there are very few
I could bring here. The
Central Truth casts a bewilderment upon men’s thoughts.
Present. Bring what you can.
Past. One short passage from St
Augustine (as he opens his
bag). Two or three from the Greeks. One poem from Persia.
One inscription from Egypt. Three sentences from Sanchara-
chaya and from the Tao—.
Present. Enough, enough; show me
the most ancient of
The Mystery of Time
(They become absorbed on a scroll.)
Future sings Byron’s “We’ll go
no more a-roving by the
light of the moon.”
Past. Hush, foolish boy.
Future. I would speak with our master.
Past. Wait then until he chooses to listen to you.
(A knock is heard at the door, guarded by the Future. He goes to it
and looks out.)
Future (returning). A fair young
girl, in great distress, is
asking for our master. She says he alone can help her.
Present. What is that you say?
Future. A lady, weeping, sir, says you can help her.
Present. What does she need?
Future. She has heard you have
achieved the great quest
and have found the philosopher’s stone. She is saddened by
the ebb and flow of life, and seeks to know the mystery
Present. Tell her to search in her own heart.
Future. Sir, she is almost
fainting at the door, and hoped
you would heal her with a touch.
Present. I must help all that ask me. Bring her in.
Future. She may not enter, sir.
Past. You know, sir, we may
admit no one to your presence
Present. Then I will go to her.
Future. She lies like a crushed white flower at the door.
Present. Poor child, it is a
pity she should fade so soon.
I will go to her (half rises), and yet, and yet—
Past. You do well to hesitate,
master; will you not rather
come to the record room, and I will show you how a certain man
Future. Silence, old scandalmonger.
Present. Enough of this clamour;
I will come with you (to
Future. She is a lovely lady,
and will give you hours of
Present (stopping short). Is that your meaning? Away,
away, both of you (casts aside the scrolls). Close the great
and dare to disturb my peace no more.
(He returns to his throne and seats himself as at first. Music is
heard outside, and the Past and Future dance a kind of
quarrel dance, the Future doing his best to prevent the Past
from collecting his scrolls, and the Past preventing the Future
from reaching the Present to pluck at his sleeve.)
Future. Why do you spoil my
plot? We should have been
safe for millions of years if you had not begun your foolish story
Past. Young ragamuffin, what do
I care? In any case I am
safe. My records cannot be blotted out; they are stamped upon
the stuff of life, and will recur eternally.
Future. Your records will go
with you when our master
Past. I’m not so sure of that.
Future. Old monument! Can you
not remember how you
told me that unless we can persuade him to rejoice in wine and
song and women, home and all the rest of it, we ourselves must
fade and fade until we die?
Past. The three will become
Future. When the three have
become one, where are you
and I? Philosopher without wisdom, have you no common
Past (blinking at him
provokingly). As usual, the Future has
to ask questions of the Past.
Past. After all, what does it
matter? Your being continually
merges into his, and as a matter of fact I make my dinner off both
Future. But that is all
pretence; we don’t mind a little self-
sacrifice by way of pretence. But in reality! no! no! Why it’s
downright murder! Our master sleeps too well; even now his
trance approaches the state from which there is no return. I feel
it in my very bones.
Past. Why did you interrupt me
just now when I had him
deep in the Ancients? Their inspirations can coil like serpents in
The Mystery of Time
our hearts, if you had not disturbed us with your foolish wench, he
would soon have been beguiled.
Future. I believe in the wench.
She’s a great power. What
is a bit of fine writing to us when the passions rage?
Past. And where would passions
be if men had not fired
them with thought, and peopled them with images of joy?
Future. Oh words! words! They are nothing!
Past. A word once flashed across
the bosom of the depths,
and all the stars of heaven sprang out to listen to it.
Future. That was because the
word was full of desire for
Past. Maybe; but what is a man
or woman that they should
be desired? It is the dreams and images of poets and singers that
has made a mantle of sweet sounds and cast it over them so that
their passions may bring them an unearthly joy.
Future. Oh that I might lead her
in, that he might see her
Past. The wild words of the
singers have made you see en-
chantment in her breath, a thunder cloud in her hair. “He knows,
he knows, that she is nothing but a carcase like any other beast.
Future. Horrible old man, away
with you! (Pursues and
batters the old fellow, who takes refuge on a high place whence he
looks down like a gargoyle.) Oh, great master, awake, and save me
from this old devourer!
Present. You have but to know
yourself as one with me and
death can never touch you.
Future. I love you, I love you,
but I cannot hold your hand,
I cannot know you. I am a delight, a rapture beyond, always
Present. I see a strange light
trembling round your hair in
tender rainbow tints.
Future. Oh Master, turn your
terrible eyes away. They
blaze and burn up all my fancies in their light. I would not die.
Voice outside chants with a terrible wail. I
am lost, I am lost.
Thousands of years I must wander ‘mid phantoms of time.
Future. Listen to the cry of her
you will not save. It is the
cry of the whole world. It is the cry of the unmeasured hosts of
souls. If you would go to them and rule them, the fair soul of
earth would lay her head upon your heart and hang her lovely
arms about your neck and sing songs of your noble deeds to
Present. There is no need for
me. There is within them all
a secret shrine of blessedness.
Future. But man is born to make
a beautiful thing of Sor-
row. He does not care for Happiness.
Present. He can do little till
he has burned with the su-
preme desire, his brief madness can but accomplish brief allay-
Future. Oh, go and prophesy upon
the housetops, Greatest
of Beings. This one woman saved, means that the world would
burn with rapture.
Present. Child! child! know this
riddle and ponder it. The
supreme desire is to be without the supreme desire. That I have
Future (in agony at seeing the Present once
more lapse into
trance). Master, master, wait, wait till we are old. I am
Present (speaking with a far-off
voice). Seek the imperishable
while the tides of life are in the flood. Then they can carry you
beyond all mortal hope. For those who wait for the dark time of
feeble will can only sink and drown.
Future. I have lost hope.
Present. Then give me your hand.
Future. I give it. (As he does so he becomes transfigured with
joy). Oh Time! Time! you are slain in the unchanging rapture
Past (leaps down with a scream, a wail of
wild music is heard).
Come away, come away, we shall die, we shall die.
Present (to the Future). The old
ways of the changing world
cry to you. Can you master them?
Future. Oh Truth, great virgin,
that melts down life and
death and gives us them to drink out of your cup!
Past. Who cares for Truth? come
away, come away, or we
die. (He drags the Future away and leaves him fainting at the foot
of the throne.)
Present. Now are you glad at
heart, poor hungerers for har-
vest, thirsters after life?
Past. Come away from this dreadful place. See, see,
The Mystery of Time
great master, how it has killed this child; he was so full of joy
Present. He is a phantom. You
are a phantom. Let all
phantoms know themselves as phantoms, and the goal is reached.
Past. Is the goal Truth?
Present. She is burned up in
Being. The Gods may labour
in the fields of Time but I remain. The ten winds may sweep
through Space, but the dust returns to its own place.
Past and Future. The dust, the dust, what is this mystery?
Present. The smallest of the
small is the greatest of
Past. Is that the last word?
Present. The last word is NOW.
Future (kneels). Oh, let me die!
Past. You are the master in the
Place of Being, and Time
must be the servant at your gate (kneels).
Present. Where I am, none are
servants. All life is mine;
all possession is a burden, for I see Time as it is without fear.
(He gently raises them to their feet.)
Farr, Florence. “The Mystery of Time.” The Venture: an Annual of Art and Literature, vol. 2, 1905, pp. 74-82. Venture Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2019-2022. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Toronto Metropolitan University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2022, https://1890s.ca/vv2-farr-time