In this text, the words of the characters were written by Gian Carlo Menotti for the musical "Amahl and the night visitors" - first performed in the year 1951. The narrative between the characters' words was written up by me, Christopher vanDyck (the events of this narrative consist, of course, of Menotti's plotline).
A child sits outside a poor shack of a house gazing earnestly at the sky. His mother calls from within: "Amahl! Amahl!"
The son replies absently, "Oh!"
The woman's voice again comes from somewhere inside, "Time to go to bed."
Her son answers, "coming..." however his words belie his actions. He gazes all the more quizzically at the stars above him.
A third time, the mother calls, her voice a bit terser: "Amahl!"
Again, the boy replies, "coming..." but otherwise he seems not to have heard.
The mother storms out of the house, "How long must I shout to make you obey?"
Son: "I'm sorry, Mother."
Mother: "Hurry in! It's time to go to bed."
Amahl pleads with his mother: "But Mother - let me stay a little longer."
Mother: "The wind is cold."
Son: "But my cloak is warm; let me stay a little longer!"
Mother: "The night is dark."
Son: "But the sky is light, let me stay a little longer!"
Mother: "The time is late."
Son: "But the moon hasn't risen yet, let me stay a little..."
His mother cuts him off curtly: "There won't be any moon tonight. But there will be a weeping child very soon, if he doesn't hurry up and obey his mother."
Amahl sighs and gives in, "...oh very well..."
(The two go inside.)
Mother: What was keeping you outside?
The son replies excitedly: "Oh Mother! You should go out and see! There's never been such a sky. Damp clouds have shined it, and soft winds have swept it, as if to make it ready for a king's ball. All its lanterns are lit, all its torches are burning, and its dark floor is shining like crystal. Hanging over our roof, there is a star as large as a window; and the star has a tail, and it moves across the sky like a chariot on fire."
Mother: "Oh Amahl! When will you stop telling lies? All day long you wander about in a dream. Here we are with nothing to eat - not a stick of wood on the fire, not a drop of oil in the jug, and all you do is to worry your mother with fairy tales. Oh Amahl... have you forgotten your promise never never to lie to your mother again?"
Son: "Mother darling, I'm not lying. Please do believe me... please do believe me. Come outside and let me show you. See for yourself... see for yourself."
The mother bursts into poetry, despite herself, as she reprimands Amahl:
"Stop bothering me!
Why should I believe you?
You come with a new one every day!
First it was a leopard with a woman's head.
Then it was a tree branch that shrieked and bled.
Then it was a fish as big as a boat, with whiskers like a cat, and wings like a bat, and horns like a goat
and now it is a star as big as a window (or was it a carriage)?
And if that weren't enough, the star has a tail and the tail is of fire..."
Son: "But there is a star... and it has a tail... this long. Well, maybe only this long... But it's there!"
Amahl insists: "Cross my heart and hope to die..."
The mother throws up her hands: "Hunger has gone to your head. Dear God, what is a poor widow to do, when her cupboards and pockets are empty and everything sold? Unless we go begging how shall we live through tomorrow? My little son, a beggar!"
Amahl, hating to see his mother distressed, has a story he is used to telling for this occasion:
"Don't cry Mother dear; don't worry for me.
If we must go begging, a good beggar I'll be.
I know sweet tunes to set people dancing.
We'll walk and walk from village to town - you dressed as a gypsy, and I as a clown.
We'll walk and walk from village to town.
At noon, we shall eat roast goose and sweet almonds.
At night we shall sleep with the sheep and the stars.
I'll play my pipes, you'll sing and you'll shout.
The windows will open and people lean out.
The king will ride by and hear your loud voice and throw us some gold to stop all the noise.
At noon we shall eat roast goose and sweet almonds;
at night we shall sleep with the sheep and the stars."
Mother: "Kiss me good night."
The mother and son to eachother: "Good night."
(They turn in to bed.)
Three kings stroll through the shadows of the night, and as they go they comfort themselves with a quiet song:
"From far away we come and farther we must go.
How far... how far... my crystal star?
The shepherd dreams inside the fold.
Cold are the sands by the silent sea.
Frozen the incense in our frozen hands, heavy the gold.
How far... how far... my crystal star?
By silence-sunken lakes, the antelope leaps.
In paper-painted oasis, the drunken gypsy weeps.
The hungry lion wanders, the cobra sleeps.
How far... how far... my crystal star?"
(the kings knock at the door)
Son: "Yes, Mother?"
Mother: "Go and see who's knocking at the door."
(Amahl goes over to the door)
Amahl returns excited, "Mother... Mother... come with me! I want to be sure that you see what I see. "
His mother has no patience for his son's energy this late at night, "What is the matter with you now? What is all this fuss about? Who is it then?"
Amahl is unsure how to report the events, and so he hesitates, "Mother.. outside the door... there is... there is a king with a crown!"
Mother is exasperated, "What shall I do with this boy? What shall I do... what shall I do? If you don't learn to tell the truth, I'll have to spank you! Go back and see who it is and ask them what they want..."
After checking the door again, Amahl returns, insistent, "Mother! Mother! Mother, come with me! I want to be sure that you see what I see."
Mother: "What is the matter with you now what is all this fuss about?"
Amahl hangs his head quietly, "Mother, I didn't tell the truth before."
Mother: "That's a good boy."
Son: "There is not a king outside."
Mother: "I should say not."
Son: "There are two kings."
Mother is about to lose her patience altogether, if she ever had any, "What shall I do with this boy? what shall I do? what shall I do?" She admonishes her son, "Hurry back and see who it is, and don't you dare make up tales..."
Amahl returns to his mother from the door... but this time he is worried, "Mother! Mother! Mother come with me; if I tell you the truth, I know you won't believe me..."
Mother: "Try it for a change."
Son: "But you won't believe me."
Mother: "I'll believe you, if you tell me the truth..."
Son: "Sure enough, there are not two kings outside."
Mother: "That is surprising."
Son: "The kings are three, and one of them is black."
Now mother is angry, "Oh what shall I do with this boy. If you were stronger I'd like to whip you."
Son: "I knew it"
Mother pulls herself out of bed, "I'm going to the door myself. And then young man, you'll have to reckon with me!"
The kings and their page greet the woman when she opens the door, "Good evening.. good evening..."
The mother gasps quietly.
Amahl behind her, feels a need to remind her, "What did I tell you?"
Mother pushes her son back: "Shhhh...!" and then addresses these apparent nobles who are at her doorstep, "Noble sires..." She is bemused, however, and not sure exactly what to say.
The kings rescue her from the awkward silence: "May we rest awhile in your house and warm ourselves by your fireplace?"
To this, the mother replies, "I am a poor widow. A cold fireplace and a bed straw are all I have to offer you. To these, you are welcome."
Kaspar: "What did she say?"
Balthazar: "That we are welcome."
Kaspar: "Oh thank, you thank, you thank you!"
The mother: "Come in... come in..."
(Everybody traipses into the small house.)
Melchior: "It is nice, here."
the Mother: "I shall go and gather wood for the fire. I've nothing in the house."
Kings: "We can only stay a little while. We must not lose sight of our star."
the Mother: "...your star?"
Again, Amahl feels obliged to remind her, "What did I tell you?" But his mother shushes him.
Kings: "We still have a long way to go."
Mother announces that she will be going out to gather some firewood, "I shall be right back.. and Amahl... don't be a nuisance." Amahl assures her, "No, Mother..."
Mother exits the small creaking doorway into the night air. Amahl, meanwhile, realizes that he must entertain their guests.
Amahl: "Are you a real king?" Balthazar replies, "yes."
Amahl: "Have you regal blood?" And Balthazar again responds, "yes."
Amahl: "Can I see it?" Balthazar sighs, and says, "it is just like yours."
Amahl: "What's the use of having it then?" Balthazar looks at Amahl quizzically and says simply, "No use."
Amahl: "Where is your house?"
To which Balthazar replies: "I live in a black marble palace full of black panthers and white doves. And you little boy, what do you do?"
Amahl: "I had a flock of sheep. But my mother sold them... sold them! Now there are no sheep left. I had a black goat who gave me warm sweet milk. But she died of old age... old age. Now there is no goat left. But Mother says that now we shall both go begging from door to door. Won't it be fun?"
Balthazar, eyeing the boy closely, says "It has its points."
Next, Amahl turns his attention to Kaspar. "Are you a real king, too?" Kaspar, being hard of hearing, has to ask Amahl to repeat himself, and Amahl obliges in a loud voice. Finally hearing the boy, Kaspar says jovially, "Oh truly truly... truly... yes I am a real king..." He then turns to his friend for assurance, and asks "Am I not?"
Balthazar says: "Yes, Kaspar."
Amahl spots a small animal which Kaspar is carrying in a cage. "What is that?" he asks. Kaspar, as he is wont to do, asks the boy to speak up, "eh?" Amahl repeats his question, and in response, Kaspar lets him know it's a parrot. Amahl asks, "Does it talk?" This question somehow takes Kaspar by surprise, "How do I know?" he replies. But there is one last thing which Amahl has to know, "Does it bite?" The old king answers with only one short word, "yes."
Amahl points to a decorated wooden box which Kaspar is carrying. "And what is this?"
"This is my box, this is my box... I never travel without my box.
In the first drawer I keep my magic stones.
One carnelian against all evil and envy.
One moonstone to make you sleep.
One red coral to heal your wounds.
One lapis lazuli against quartern fever.
One small jasper to help you find water.
One small topaz to soothe your eyes.
One red ruby to protect you from lightning"
"This is my box. this is my box I never travel without my box
In the second drawer, I keep all my beads. Oh! How I love to play with beads ...all kinds of beads!
This is my box... this is my box... I never travel without my box."
"In the third drawer... in the third drawer..." Kaspar looks at Amahl with a gleam in his eye, "Oh little boy.. oh little boy..." He then looks around at his friends a bit sheepishly, "In the third drawer I keep... " Although he himself isn't aware of it, Amahl's mouth has dropped open in anticipation about this surprise which Kaspar is going to reveal to him. The old king finally blurts it out, "Licorice! Licorice! Black sweet licorice... black sweet licorice! Have some."
A draft fills the house as Amahl's mother opens the door. She has found what she needed outside. Seeing how Amahl has become the center of attention, she admonishes him, "Amahl, I told you not to be a nuisance!"
Amahl replies plaintively, "But it isn't my fault; they kept asking me questions."
Mother announces that she has a mission for Amahl, "I want you to go and call the other shepherds. Tell them about our visitors, and ask them to bring whatever they have in the house, as we have nothing to offer them. Hurry on!"
Amahl decides to cooperate, and heads for the door, "Yes, Mother."
The mother remarks on the packages the kings have been carrying, "Oh these beautiful things, and all that gold!"
Melchior tells her, "These are the gifts to the child."
the Mother: "Hmmm the child... which child?"
Melchior: "We don't know . But the star will guide us to him."
the Mother: "But perhaps I know him... what does he look like?"
Have you seen a child the color of wheat... the color of dawn?
His eyes are mild; his hands are those of a king - as king he was born.
Incense, myrrh, and gold we bring to his side; and the eastern star is our guide.
Yes, I know a child the color of wheat.... the color of dawn.
His eyes are mild; his hands are those of a king as king he was born.
But no one will bring him incense or good... though sick and poor and hungry and cold.
He is my child my son, my darling my own.
Have you seen a child the color of earth... the color of thorn?
His eyes are sad; his hands are those of the poor as poor he was born.
Incense, myrrh, and gold we bring to his side, and the eastern star is our guide.
Yes, I know a child the color of earth... the color of thorn.
His eyes are sad; his hands are those of the poor, as poor he was born.
But no one will bring him incense or gold... though sick and poor and and hungry and cold.
He is my child, my son, my darling... my own.
The child we seek holds the seas and the winds on his palm.
The child we seek has the moon and the stars at his feed.
Before him, the eagle is gentle the lion is meek.
All the kings join in a chorus:
Choirs of angels hover over his roof and sing him to sleep.
He's warmed by breath.
He's fed by mother who is both virgin and queen.
Incense, myrrh, and gold we bring to his side, and the eastern star is our guide.
And at the same time, the mother sings about her own son:
The child I know on his palm holds my heart.
The child I know at his feet has my life.
He is my child, my son, my darling, my own...
And his name is Amahl.
The mother peers out the door, "The shepherds are coming..."
Melchior: "Wake up, Kaspar."
The shepherds greet eachother as they stroll towards eachother on the prairie.
"Emily... Emily, Michael, Bartholomew - how are your children and how are your sheep?
Dorothy... Dorothy, Peter, Evangeline - give me your hand come along with me.
All the children have mumps. All the flocks are asleep. We are going with Amahl... bringing gifts to the kings.
Benjamin... Benjamin, Lucas, Elizabeth - how are your children and how are your sheep?
Carolyn Carolyn Mathew Veronica give me your hand come along with me.
Brrr... how cold is the night! Brr... how icy the wind! Hold me very very very tight. Oh how warm is your cloak!
Katherine... Katherine Christopher Babila - how are your children and how are your sheep?
Josephine... Josephine, Angela, Jeremy - come along with me!"
The shepherds arrive at the door of the cottage. They peer inside, being struck with awe, "Oh look, oh look!"
the Mother: "Come in, come in... what are you afraid of? Don't be bashful silly girl, don't be bashful silly boy. They won't eat you. Show what you brought them."
The shepherds stumble over eachother, as they try to force their way in the door all at once. "Go on...! No, you go on!"
The shepherds tell of what they've brought:
"Olives and quinces, apples and raisins, nutmeg and myrtle, medlars and chestnuts. This is all we shepherds can offer you."
"Citrons and lemon, musk and pomegranates, goat cheese and walnuts, figs and cucumbers. This is all we shepherds can offer you."
"Hazelnuts and camomile, mignonettes and laurel, honeycombs and cinnamon, thyme, mint and garlic. This is all we shepherds can offer you."
The kings express earnest appreciation as the shepherds recite the list of their gifts.
The shepherds eagerly press the gifts into the kings' arms "Take them, take them... you are welcome. Take them... eat them... you are welcome, too."
All of a sudden, a squirrely little girl makes a break for the door... and a little boy gets up, also thinking through how he will negotiate his way through the mass of bodies. Some of the young men pull the two children back. After much nudging, the children return into the middle of the one-room cottage, somewhat red faced and embarassed.
The shepherds scold the children using the same words with which the householder mother scolded them earlier: "Don't be bashful silly girl Don't be bashful silly boy! They won't eat you."
After an interlude of dancing, Balthazar announces: "Thank you good friends, for your dances and your gifts. But now, we must bid you good night. We have little time for sleep, and a long journey ahead."
The shepherds agree, and move towards the door: "Good night, my good Kings, good night and farewell. The pale stars foretell that dawn is in sight. Good night, my good kings. Good night and farewell. The night wind foretells the day will be bright."
As the shepherds exeunt, Amahl seizes the opportunity in the shuffle to ask Kaspar a question. "Excuse me, sir... amongst your magic stones, is there... is there one that could cure a crippled boy?" Unfortunately, again, Kaspar's hearing fails him, "Eh?" Amahl looks down dejectedly, "Never mind.. good night," and shuffles off to his corner of the room to his bed.
Outside, the shepherds can still be heard as they disperse to their own houses and fields: "Good night, good night... the dawn is in sight... good night, farewell... good night... good night..." Amahl listens intently as these folks bid eachother good night throughout the small streets of his village.
After the mother tucks her son into bed... she turns to see that the kings have ceased their bedtime mumbling, and at least one has begun to snore.
She thinks to herself:
"All that gold! All that gold!
I wonder if rich people know what to do with their gold?
Do they know how a child could be fed? Do rich people know?
Do they know that a house can be kept warm all day with burning logs? Do rich people know?
Do they know how to roast sweet corn on the fire?
Do they know do they know how to fill a courtyard with doves? Do they know... do they know?
Do they know how to milk a clover fed goat? Do they know?
Do they know how to spice hot wine on cold winter nights? Do they know... do they know?
All that gold... all that gold! Oh what I could do for my child with that gold!
Why should it all go to a child they don't even know?
They are asleep. Do I dare? If I take some, they'll never miss it..."
She prods herself on as her hand moves towards the boxes of gold... "...for my child for my child... for my child... for my child..." she thinks.
The page stirs, because he has seen a shadow moving over the pile of gifts, "Thief! Thief!" One of the kings stirs, "What is it?" The page shouts, "I've seen her steal some of the gold. She's a thief! Don't let her go! She's stolen the gold." The kings join the hubbub with loud voices: "Shame shame!"
page: "Give it back, or I'll tear it out of you! Give it back, or I'll tear it out of you. Give it back...give it back."
Amahl has, by this time, been awoken by the ruckus - and is peering over towards the argument in the center of the room. Then, seeing his mother involved in a struggle, he leaps out of bed and tries to intervene. This is a side of Amahl the kings haven't seen yet:
"Don't you dare, ugly man hurt my mother!
I'll smash in your face; I'll knock out your teeth.
Dont you dare! Don't you dare! Don't you dare... ugly man... hurt my mother!
Oh Mr. King, don't let him hurt my mother. My mother is good. She cannot do anything wrong. I'm the one who lies; I'm the one who steals.
Don't you dare...
I'll break all your bones; I'll bash in your head.
Don't you dare... ugly man... hurt my mother."
Melchior, seeing what has erupted:
"Oh woman, you may keep the gold.
The child we seek doesn't need our gold.
On love, on love alone he will build his kingdom.
His pierced hand will hold no scepter.
His haloed head will wear no crown.
His might will not be built on your toil.
Swifter than ligtning, he will soon walk among us.
He will bring us new life, and receive our death, and the keys to his city belong to the poor.
Let us leave, my friends."
the Mother: "Oh no wait! Take back your gold! For such a king I've waited all my life... and if I weren't so poor I would send a gift of my own to such a child."
Amahl pipes up: "But Mother, let me send him my crutch. Who knows, he may need one, and this, I made myself." His mother draws in a breath sharply, "But that you can't, you can't!"
But then a wondrous thing happens. "I walk, Mother. I walk Mother," Amahl announces.
Kings: "He walks! It is a sign from the holy child. We must give praise to the newborn king. We must praise him. This is a sign from God. Truly he can dance, he can jump, he can run! Ah!"
The mother admonishes Amahl, "Please my darling, be careful now. You must take care not to hurt yourself."
Something has crystallized in the kings' minds as they have watched this whole event play out. They realize that they must admonish the mother to treat her child differently. "Oh good woman, you must not be afraid, for he is loved by the son of God."
Playing along with the boy's ruse, the kings ask: "Oh blessed child, may I touch you?"
Amahl seems betwixt and between. Peering over at Melchior with a sharp gaze, "Well, I don't know if I'm going to let you touch me..." His mother says sharply, "Amahl!" And so Amahl thinks better of his reticence. "Oh all right... but just once."
Amahl goes on to announce in song, "Look Mother, I can fight, I can work, I can play. Oh Mother, let me go with the kings. I want to take the crutch to the child, myself."
The kings eagerly entreat the mother, "Yes, good woman let him come with us. We'll take good care of him. We'll bring him back on a camel's back."
The mother asks: "Do you really want to go?" Amahl replies: "Yes, Mother."
Mother: "Are you sure sure sure?"
Son: "I'm sure."
The mother pauses a moment, reflecting. Then she concedes: "Yes, I think you should go... and bring thanks to the child yourself.
Amahl parrots her query, "Are you sure sure sure?"
Mother: "Go on... get ready."
Kaspar, wanting to be kept abreast of all the events, asks, "What did she say?" Balthazar bends over and speaks loudly in Kaspar's ear, "She said he can come."
Kaspar can't contain his enthusiasm, "Oh lovely lovely lo..." Balthazar cuts him off, curtly, "Kaspar!"
Mother and son prepare Amahl for his journey. She asks, "What to do with your crutch?" And Amahl suggests, "You can tie it to my back."
Amahl and his mother then say their goodbyes to eachother:
Mother: "Don't forget to wear your hat!"
Son: "I shall always wear my hat."
together: "So, my darling goodbye! I shall miss you very much."
Mother: "Wash your ears."
Son: "Yes, I promise."
Mother: "Don't tell lies."
Son: "No, I promise."
together: "I shall miss you very much."
Son: "Feed my bird."
Mother: "Yes, I promise."
Son: "Watch the cat."
Mother: "Yes I promise."
together: "I shall miss you very much."
Amahl finishes his preparations. Noticing that things seem to be winding down, Melchior asks Amahl: "Are you ready?"
Amahl: "Yes, I'm ready."
Melchior: "Let's go then."
Amahl and his newfound friends set out across the darkened prairies. And as they trek, they hear the sounds of the shepherds singing the songs of the morning in their fields and homes:
Come, oh shepherds, come outside!
All the stars have left the sky.
Sweet dawn - oh dawn of peace"