From Sleep and Shadow

Transcription from the 1989 television airing



Naught can ease my heart-torn sorrows, weeping forth this prayer on this my wedding day, the Year of Our Lord 1656 . . . Reverend Jonathan Guerdon dost thou take Abegail for thy wife? . . . Eyes die first seeing the foul deformity of death.  I have lost my shield, my health, saviour, pilot, bride.  Why did He pluck thee from me?  Did I not keep thy word, Lord, preach the Everlasting Gospel?  I fought on the side of right, brother against brother in the Army of the Saints against the Royalist Anti-Christ, King Charles and his pestilential minions, shouting the Lord's name in the morning mists of Naseby, the place of dragons.  Many good men died there but we cleansed out the menstrual rags of Rome with our blood and renewed England's Covenant with God to bring order out of chaos.  Yet I am punished for it:  Abegail is dead.  And after the glorious victory, drum muted, trumpet silent, the good Oliver, Lord Protector, plain Master Cromwell to his friends, asked me to stay at his side for the Commonwealth's sake.  But I turned aside from this great honour.  Men hanker after power but I was not tempted by this world's baubles, yet I am punished for it:  Abegail is dead.  I became a simple pastor here in Southwark, proclaimed the word truly, administered the Sacraments rightly, maintained discipline strictly.  Yet I am punished for it:  Abegail is dead.  Lord, you struck your cold, pruning-knife into her warm breast and her shining rays, so full of love, were snuffed out.  This is God's revenge for some unknown sin.  I ask forgiveness, Lord, and wait and wait and wait for the motion of the spirit.  But nothing moves in me. 

You sent for me and I'm here!  Israel-of-the-Ten-Tribes-No-Less-Yates . . . You called me away from preaching God's word, running up and down, staring at folk, gnashing my teeth and proclaiming the day of the Lord throughout London.  Strange acts, friend Guerdon, confuting, plagueing, tormenting, skipping, leaping, dancing like a base fool, naked before women, ah!  But God was in my mouth burning like an oven in me, setting my tongue aflame.  God then fell into my pocket making me throw all my gold and silver on the ground like these empty shells for love of Him. 

(Brother?) Yates, I need thee, Abegail is dead.

 Now you're hot for me, before you were hot against me and other holy Ranters.  We're simple men who only proclaim God's word as the spirit moves us day and night in the streets and market places, but you persecute us up and down, up and down.  You had me whipped out of Southwark, Brother Guerdon, you called me a mad, bad blasphemer.

 And still do when you use profane language, are lax in conduct, enjoy bawdy, mixed dancing, singing extemporary songs, wear your hair shaggy, and worse, say that God has told you that hats should be worn during prayers! 

They should!  They should!  If Christ would not take off his hat to his earthly father, Joseph, why should we to our Father in Heaven?

 Hats in prayers are a blasphemy!

 But I'll still wear 'em and do all those things you speak of  though less sprightly now as my bones winter.  What day did I grow old, Brother Guerdon?  No matter, I'll still rant with the best of them that God made all men from one mould, and this land, once lost to the rich and lordly, belongs to the poor and the forgotten, forever and forever.

We are of one mind there, Brother Yates.  We fought side by side at Naseby against the King for that.  But you're still a notorious ranting, Lord of Chaos, Israel Yates.

 Israel-of-the-Ten-Tribes-No-Less-Yates.  So why call on my Brother Guerdon?

 Well it's a measure of my despairing.  In normal times I wouldn't have you in my house.  But once we were comrades-in-arms in the glorious Army of the Saints.

 I've got no time to talk of battles past when there are so many new ones to fight.

 Help me Brother Yates!  You are a sinner but you have the power to heal the sick.

 If I'm a sinner perhaps my power comes from the Devil?

 No matter God or Devil.  Bring her back to me and you can have my soul.

 Keep it, it's too small.

 Bring her back to salvation, Israel!

 I've seen the bright lights of Buckinghamshire and Leicester, but I've never seen a miracle.

 You've seen a King fall, a Commonwealth rise, and Englishmen standing upright and free.

 Yes, that is a miracle.

 Then heal my bride Brother Yates!

 I cannot.

 I beg you!

 The dead are dead! Cry long, cry loud.  You gather thorns, not vines.  I've had five children – three boys, two girls and they all died.  Five pretty babes in a row . . . five . . . all five . . . five different mothers, but that did not stop the Lord of Mercy taking them through destruction's gate!

 Did you cry?

 Whole seas.  I told myself that death is only a short-lived lie, but that didn't help.  So I prayed.  Have you prayed?

 Hard and long.

 Pray harder, longer.  Do you believe that Christ lived and died and rose again?


 If you can believe that you can believe anything.

 Not this.

 Have the courage to pray again that she might live again.

 Lord God Almighty, give us the word of life.

 In the name of Jesus who overthrew the grave, give us comfort.  Let Abegail live.

 Let her live!


 She does not move.

 You were right.  All things are possible, but not this.  Not even the faith that feeds us can raise the dead, if they are truly dead.

 If they are truly dead?  Is there hope in that 'if'?

 Perhaps she sleeps.

 You torment me with 'if' and 'perhaps'.

 In hard winters I've often encased myself in a sack of feathers to keep warm but they can be dangerous, feathers can make you sneeze.  How many larks and kingfishers have I missed because I sneezed?

She lies still as death.

 Not all.  The feathers about, look at the feathers about her face.  The rest are motionless, but one moves.  See the faintest wisp of breath.  There, there!

Tis a trick of the light, no, no, no, no it rises and falls.  Oh Lord of Life it is a miracle!  A single feather moves and I am knee deep in June!  See, see, she lives and breathes!

Breathes?  Just.  Lives?  That's a harder question.  Half-dead, in half-shadow.  Catalepsy, Brother Guerdon.  She's fallen into deep sleep.

 Sleep is a kind of death, too.  I've never trusted it.  I say my goodbye to the sun nightly and tremble.

 I dreamed last night that the prophet Elijah stopped me and claimed the world was coming to an end.  When I objected he tried to sell me a box of figs.  Of course we might have it all wrong.  Perhaps we're truly asleep when we think we're awake, and those things that give us pleasure and pain are mere dreams.

 Can you wake her to dream?

 I must, else she sleep 'til Resurrection Day.

 Why you, not me?  I love her and love should bring her back to life and dreaming.

 As long as man sets himself above other men he has limits and God cannot pour His holiness into him --  for God is without limits.  But I'm not proud, standing five foot ten in what's left of my stockings, curing carbuncles and hemorrhoids and running up and down in the gutters of the world.  And so God pours His glory into me.

 Wake her, and I'll caper in the gutters with you.

 This quartz must pull her back.  As the magnetised earth and all its bodies are attracted by lodestones in secret and invisible ways, so the polary power of this humble rock will attract the soul of Sister Abegail from shadow . . . Fix your heart and mind on quartz, Brother Guerdon.  Together we will make it move . . . God's will through our wills . . . Now call her Brother Guerdon. . . gently. . . gently. . . call her back.

Abegail. . . Abegail. . . Abegail. . .

Abegail, there's darkness above thee, below thee, darkness around thee. . . no world. . . no people. . . only empty corners. . . for the Lord hangeth this world on nothing and nothing is what and where you are. . . He sucks thee back, back, through endless night.. . . Hear the sounds, Abegail?. . . A cock crows. . . a dog barks. . . Now see that spark of light ahead, there Abegail, there, it grows, the darkness lifts, and the sun, the sun bursts through the last mists, and see, oh see the colours of our world.  You are home.

 Christ is merciful!

 His love shines like flowers on their stems!

 Who raised me from the dead?

 Only Christ can raise the dead so it follows you were but sleeping.

 Died August 4th in the year of our Lord 1653.  Noon, the sun was shining through the bedroom window and the fields of wheat and the apples turning red.


 They gathered around my bed, weeping, watching when my last breath, and my soul left me.

 Sarah, that's Sarah's voice.

 Who's Sarah?

 My first wife.

 Your first wife?

 Yes, she died August the 4th, 1653.  You've brought back the wrong one!

 Ah, yes, well, that can happen.

 Who disturbs my rest?

 That's Sarah.

 She has possession then.

 Possession of who? 

Sister Abegail.

Abegail is possessed by my first wife? 


Why didn't you tell me? 

How could I?  I didn't know you had a first wife.  I'm not privy to your domestic arrangements, Brother Guerdon.

Who disturbs my rest?

No one, Sarah, it was Abegail we wished to disturb, not you.  

I see it plain now.  Sarah called Abegail to shadow on her wedding day, made her sleep and takes her place here.  We must discover why, else Abegail return to sleep and sleep eternal.

Sarah, it was God's will you die but Abegail cannot die on your will.  She loved you as I loved you. 

Please, Brother Guerdon, we have certain set ways of doing this.  She'll only answer under spell of quartz. . . Now, call to her, Brother Guerdon. . . . 


Call to her again. 


Sarah, answer your husband Jonathan. 

Jonathan, are you my husband Jonathan?  Did you weep when I died?  Oh yes, I saw thee weep, and Abegail weep, you were holding my hand till it turned cold.  How long did you weep Jonathan?  How long did the salt rivers run?  How long, Abegail, till they froze?  Was she still weeping Jonathan, when you first kissed her?

 We wept for as long as it was possible to weep, until the water dried and we could weep no more, Sarah.

 I welcomed her into our home an orphan, raised her as our own daughter.  You were away preaching and fighting to make a new land of this land for our Lord.  And money was scarce, prospects were poor, as we suffered to endure.  And then, pleasant beams of prosperity broke through the clouds between.  Good years stretched ahead, years of ease.  All lost and stolen from me.  I had only the worst years Jonathan!

 The best, Sarah, the years of struggle, full of pith and purpose when we were up and doing, the spirit shone in excellency around us.  We were young then.  Ah, there's a word now – young.


Young. . . Lovely work, young. 

Remember those years, Sarah, they were the good years.  Years which could never be bettered, never come again.

I remember the April when God struck me down with the hot sweats.  Abegail took on my duties as I lay stricken, gaining strength even as I was losing mine.  She bloomed and I withered.  I knew my death-day was near and my heart grew heavy, husband, for we had so little time together. . .

 So little time.

 Yet you said love was a durable fire.


 But despite our love, I knew you'd raise another in my place after I was gone and I knew in my heart  you'd choose



 I grew envious as my last hour came and I drew you both towards me and you saw me dying and your souls over-flowed with the sorrow of it.  And I asked you Jonathan to take an oath on the Holy Book not to marry Abegail.  And I died, my soul fled with rushing wings and my life-breath returned to the place from whence it came. . . But even before my shadow had faded from the house you'd looked into her eyes as once you looked into mine, and you understood her as once you understood me.  And you could not let her go as once you could not let me go. 


 And you pledged yourselves to each other, you broke your pledge to me.  You forgot your oath and my darkness.  I could not lay quiet in my death.  My strong will came to claim my rights.  And my spirit tore at Abegail's soul, pulling her into sleep and shadow.

Sarah, release her, for our love's sake.

 I keep her for our love's sake.

 So much cruelty and all for love's sake.  Brother Guerdon, did you by word, act or thought look profanely on thy ward

Abegail while Sarah lived?

 No, I swear it.  There is no deceit here to be brought to daylight.  I feel no guilt because there is no guilt in me.

 Sister Abegail, did you look on Brother Guerdon whilst his wife, Sarah, lived?

 Never.  I swear it.

That's Abegail!

 Sarah, do you know this to be true?

 It's true.  I know he did not look on her while I lived but after I was gone wishing to be together they broke their holy oath to me.

 Yes, we broke it.

 That's why I'm guilty and so Satan drags me down.  Sarah took me in as her child, she gave me her home, she made me her family.  And I broke my promise to her and God as Eve did in Eden.  I'm guilty.

 No, you're innocent.

 So God punishes me.

 No, we do it to ourselves.

 There is no guilt in thee Abegail.

 Yet there is no punishment harsh enough for me to suffer.  Believe it.

 I never believe a mind in pain.  Guilt and punishment, punishment and guilt.  God is tired of guilt in every corner, punishment in every room.  Why nurture tortures within thee?  Sting 'em out and follow me!  Loving is the essence of the joys this world affords and I kissed and hugged the ladies and made the fiery chariot mount in me, without sin and guilt, not a trace, not a trace.

 You are ranting!

 And you are dead!


Justice, give me justice.  They betrayed my love! 

You're dead Sarah, justice is with the living.  For their sake and your soul's sake, let Abegail go. 

I suffer. 

It's natural. 

I am no longer loved. 

That's natural too.  You are remembered with love.  You cannot ask for more. 

Oh it's hard, it's hard. 

It isn't easy. . . So give liberty to the inward woman, Sarah.  Let Abegail go. 

I can't, I want someone to blame! 

This is the hardest of all.  There is no one to blame.


 Let God speak and confirm it. . . Oh my children, my sweet Sister in Christ, I am God, the First Mover, and am moved now to give my verdict.  Abegail, you are not guilty.  Sarah, let her go.


Out of love, you poor fool.

Oh Jonathan!

 What have you done?


 But does Abegail live or sleep forever?

 God knows.

 I know God knows but do you know?


 I know.  Sarah's love was too strong.  Abegail's gone back to the dark and I am alone.



 I was dressing before my mirror. . . I thought of thee. . . I thought of Sarah. . .I felt these fingers around my heart, I couldn't breathe.  And I was tired. . . Did I sleep Jonathan?

 Deep, but now you wake.

 When you slept Sister Abegail, what did you see and hear?

 Oh this is a friend, Brother Israel-of-the-Ten-Tribes-No-Less-Yates., the Lord's true servant who wondrously guided theee back to life.  Abegail, you were sleeping near to death, so we both ask, did thou see or hear anything on the far side?

Did God, the Master of Dreams and Death, transport you to far places?   Did you, did you travel through Egypt?

Did you see Noah's Ark, Rachel's Tomb, or talk with the prophets?

Did Moses stutter or Elijah come down on a rope or in his fiery chariot and show you all the heavens, worlds, and spheres?

Did you see Jerusalem?

 No, only darkness.  But now I  think on it, I heard a voice.  Oh my Brothers, a voice exultant, sweet and treasured, fine and true.

 God's  voice?

 If  he who made the world has a voice, yes.

 What did He say?

 Oh my Sister, my sweet child in Christ, I am God, the First Mover and am moved now to give my…

 No no no, that was him.

 That was me.

 That was you?

 But it was, it was still the voice of truth.  You were judged innocent Abegail.  There is no guilt in thee.

 No guilt in me?


 Whatever you do in light and  love is light and lovely.  If that within you does not condemn you you shall not be condemned.  So live and love and remember to praise the Lord with a full heart. 

Just as I'll remember to praise thee Brother Yates.  You have saved us both.  If Abegail had stayed in that dark limbo, I too would have lost the light, despaired and died.

 My love.

 So I'll proclaim thy worth throughout the streets of Southwark.

 Do not Brother Guerdon.  We met under strange circumstances just as we live in strange times when people dreamed of infinite liberty.

 And building heaven here on earth.

 Those coming after us will wonder if it happened, that Englishmen turned all things topsy-turvy seeing no reason why some should have so much and others so little.

 And Mistress Joan Hoby of Colnbrooke could tell Archbishop Laud to his face, 'I do not give a pin or a fart for his Lord the Grace of Canterbury.'

 What days we've lived through Brother and Sister.  But they're already fading.  And such ranting, holy imbeciles as Israel-of-the-Ten-Tribes-No-Less-Yates will soon be gone, too.  People's great desire now is to sleep and say nothing.  They see their new won freedoms taken from them one by one.  But they don't care Brother Guerdon, they're consumed by the greatest sin of all, indifference.  They want to be left sitting in front of a warm fire toasting their toes and purring.  My thorny conscience'll never let me sit.  But we Ranters who cling to the bright light of liberty and love are obsolete and worse, dangerous, and must be pulled out by the roots.  So stay clear of me, friends.  Soon there will be no place left for my kind.

 There will be one here.

My thanks, Brother Jonathan, but offers of help wound the pride of those whose cause is lost.

 What will you do?

 Continue to act. 

Call on us, Brother Israel-of-the-Ten-Tribes-No-Less-Yates and whatever you would have us do, we will do—

And gladly.

Gladly, that's a good word, Sister.  To do things gladly lifts the heart.  There can be no happy glad-man compared to a madman whose mind is free of all care, his fits and his fancies are above all mischances when joy is his favorite fare.  So be mad, mad let us be, nor shall the sad fiend be madder than me.

 Brother Yates!

 Are you well?

 I'm shaking off melancholy soul-dust, Sister.  Come, join in, I would have you sing along

 Sing along?

 And caper too.


 Do you think it proper?

 No, well I was rigid with righteousness but I have now learned that  the only way to save your life is to sacrifice your reputation.

 All together now!  We laugh at all wise men who really despise men.  Their wisdom we always decline.  Follow me and you'll see, what you say is frenzy is really but rapture divine.  So be mad, mad let us be, Nor shall the sad fiend be madder than we. So be mad, mad let us be, Nor shall the sad fiend be madder than we.