The Pilgrimage to Santiago

A rhyming play, based on five of Sri Chinmoy's stories, inspired by Spanish medieval music


Scene 1: The Kitchen

Narrator: Behold the humble kitchen boy, at work but feeling nervous,
Awaits the English nobleman who keeps him in his service.
The volatile but kindly Duke some pity on him took,
At birth abandoned, but with time he’s blossomed as a cook.
His spirit stays in bloom despite the household’s eccentricity,
In fact the outer turbulence just adds to his felicity.
Hush now! The Duke beneath the stairs will make a rare appearance!
He’s heard the boy is leaving home, which prompts his interference.

Duke: You WHAT!?
[Duke leans on stove. Cook jumps] Cook: hot… HOT!
[Duke jumps] …Do I displease you Sire?

Duke: Did I raise you from that mire
In which some tawdry ungenerous bint
Spawned and cast you sans care, sans hint
Of mortal wound or even sadness?
Frolicked off with all the madness
Of a hare in spring,
Left you sans the meagrest thing
To call your own,
Whimpering softly all alone.

Cook: Sire, my very breath today submits to you with gratitude,
But mother had no callousness in granting me my latitude.
She did but die of her own accord,
And father then could scarce afford…

Duke: Do you displease me? O hho hhhho!
With whom and wither will you go?
And why and howso cruelly wrenched?
When here since hapless birth entrenched…

Cook: I leave alone, Sire, as you found me,
No wall or blanket to surround me.
Boar and ant to be my brothers,
Trees my sisters, clouds my mothers,
Cousin of the night sky…

Duke: Yes, yes, but prithee why?

Cook: …The heather knoll my hermitage…
Oh…! I am bound for PILGRIMAGE!

Duke: Yes, yes, but prithee why?
We too have ants and trees and sky.
What here offends, what in you ails
That your fancy now has sprouted sails?
A handsome wage, a snuggle-ous bed,
The finest cook, so art well fed…

Cook: Perhaps there simply comes a day
For each man, when the soul holds sway.
A new man then would burst to burgeon!
With a vastness merge and
Fly abroad from comforts itchy!
The cosy, of a sudden twitchy!

Duke: You’ve found a girl! Oh now I see!
‘Tis no religious mystery.
Stay! Why elope and flee afar?
Come! This calls for a cigar!

Cook: Sire, be sure my word is true!
Not once a secret held from you!
The soul with loneness I regale
Not some fawning, limp female!

Duke: ... Then how far your destination?
Whence sans genial remuneration
Usurps thee from my side?
Hemel Hempstead? East Kilbride?

Cook: Four days at least… if I had a mule
But to force a beast would be too cruel,
So eight… that is from Puente la Reina,
Which is the other side of Spain… er...

Duke: THEN?!

Cook: When?
Oh! SANTIAGO! Yes, the relics of St James!
Via Navarre! Castile! … and certain other names…

Duke: You will travel by foot, long day upon day,
(It seems you have not yet determined which way),
Befriending the insects (and hunger, and thirst),
Surely the perishing nights will be worst.
You’ll dabble in swamps, and scrabble on stones,
All in search of an old pile of BONES?
You are not even fit to clean a pot!
Or warm the pan for the foot of my cot!
Though I knew you were simple, some call you dense…
Oh! Be gone, unthankful loon! Get thee hence!

Scene 2: The Tree

Narrator: Behold the simple stable lad is musing by a tree,
The cook’s mate through thick and thin (since they both were three).
Watch him though; you’ll see in him the makings of a rogue.
He wears his mischief jauntily as if it were in vogue.

Stable Boy: (to audience) He scuttles with a beetle’s haste.

Cook: Chum! Come! No time to waste!

Cook: I have along this little life a little fortune ‘massed,
But now a calling to a rather broader venture hast
Befallen me, I know not how,
Only that I must leave now!
I take with me a little share and trust to you the surplus.
To a pilgrim on a pilgrimage such cargo would be worthless.

Stable Boy: (listening to the ground)
Thou worriest thy mother’s bones - I feel it in the earth.
Aye me, a subtle madness now has got thee by the girth

Cook: Spare me the professor’s tone now brother, I beseech thee.
Mine’s a subtle education; only pilgrim roads can teach me (hands over money)
I’ve been sliced, scalded, diced, scolded, sautéed in its earning,
There’s only you have earned my faith to guard ‘til my returning.

Stable Boy: (sarcastically) Hail pilgrim, "who would valiant be ‘gainst all disaster,
Let him in constancy follow the Master."1
Amen. Now I’ll write you a receipt.

Cook: The object of a friendship now you purpose to defeat!
No, no! Our brothers’ love is needless of certificate.
Would my trust not far transcend a simple moral etiquette?

Stable Boy: I salute your rectitude, and say again, Amen [listening]
The winds invite your solitude…well hurry to them then!

Cook: Has anywhere in Christendom seen such a friend as you?
Fret not for me, nor pine for me! Adieu…! Adieu…! Adieu…!

Stable Boy: (to audience, counting money)
Here’s fuel for my winter… the finest coat of wool,
Just watch the maids return my wink now that my coffer’s full.

Scene 3: The Horseman

Narrator: One hour has passed. The pilgrim’s feet have started their complaining.
He’s fearful of the road ahead, you see his spirit waning?
A shower of rain is gathering and trickles down his back,
He’s weighed down by his homesick pangs and hefty sodden pack.

Horseman: Now lad, what’s this? Escaping from the law?
Or signing up for navy ships in case we have a war?
Where e’er you’re bound, I’m doubting now that those two feet’ll take you;
You need legs in all four corners or these roads’ll break you.

Pilgrim: Good sir, my flight is surely not belligerent or criminal;
This journey made on these two legs is pure and purely seminal.
I am pilgrim sir! I’ll not despair if I am weary,
And what brighter way to start the day than with a sound so...cheery
As your send-off sir, but tarry not! I hear the road beckon!
[Horseman goes to leave. Pilgrim calls him back]
Those four legs…could they bear a little more? What do you reckon? This pack would be as matchstick to a steed so lithe and strong.
This night I am for Croydon bound, and still the way is long.
Would it be a bother to secrete it for me there?
I’ll recover it at nightfall…I could pay a little fare?

Horseman: ([thinking) No bother. No fare. I’ll be there in a trice.
Pass it to the saddle lest I think about it twice

Pilgrim: O may the chuckling sun’s delight abound throughout your day! [Horseman looks up at rain]
A truly noble soul assists a pilgrim on his way.

Horseman: Find it at the Dark Barn at old Albany Farm

Pilgrim: (to audience) There’s money there and much besides…if it should come to harm
(to horseman) Sir! Wait! My conscience bites me like a bitter snake!
That burden’s mine, I’ll bear it! Here’s a pilgrim’s pride at stake!

Horseman: Back and forth, come and go,
Up and down, to and fro,
Methinks he has a woman’s mind, it changes like the weather. (passing down bag)
Catch it lad - this stallion is tearing at the tether
(to audience) I’ll wager there was money there, and plenty more beside
If I had turned my ears and just continued on my ride
…Fuel for my winter…the finest coat of wool,
You’d see the maids return my gaze then were my coffer full.
That was then, but now I see my wisdom came too late.
Let my blunder now remind you: never hesitate.

Scene 4: The Street Vendor

Narrator: Behold our bold wayfaring waif will stop right here quite soon.
An hour since elevenses, he’s flagging now by noon.
He’s traipsed all morn but barely breached the outskirts of the city.
O how that pack bears sustenance, so spare him all your pity!

Vendor: Eels’ eggs! Fresh snails!
Cold stew! Boiled quails!

Pilgrim: The sun is high, now let me eat a while here by this tree,
A mouth-watering banquet, sure, as it was cooked by…me!
One salmon (poached whole), fresh dill, and whole shallots,
The finest garden vegetables all sealed in little pots.
I’ll have me only half the duck (roasted, flambéed then in rum),
But how to choose the right dessert? The best is yet to come!

Vendor: Oi! Here! You’ll pay me now and thank me for the feast,
Or I’ll call the law! You’ve stolen there a shilling’s worth at least.

Pilgrim: Ah, gentle sir, how’s business there? I wish a good day to you,
But here, I brought my own repast. Pray what would I pay to you?

Vendor: Rest you not to the north of me? Blows not the breeze there?
And the aroma from my kitchen, does it not sweetly bear?
And so you sit afeasting on the gorgeous, homely smell.
You’re happy pinching from me, but it does not suit me well.

Pilgrim: (pauses to think, gets out a coin)
Here’s one bright shilling. See the shadow that I make? (puts it over vendor’s food)
That shadow should suffice for the aroma that I take.

Scene 5: The Hermit

Narrator: Afternoon was easy; belly full so baggage light.
He’s reached the edge of Croydon now, and heavy draws the night.
He spies a little hut while seeking shelter from the cold.
He finds a door and taps – the gathering mist has made him bold.

Hermit: Pilgrim? Oh come in! I was expecting you today.
O yes the constellations had it all mapped out that way.
Your bed is made, the stove is stoked, your welcome’s unconditional,
Breakfast is included, yes, no charges are additional.
I seek to improve my service, there’s a box here for suggestions.
From my guest all I request is answers to three questions.
Three simple ones is all I ask, then you may pass the night,
But expect a healthy reprimand if you fail to get them right.

Pigrim: Simple?

Hermit: Yes.

Pilgrim: ‘Tis chilly out, so…

Hermit: Number one, what’s that?

Pilgrim: Despite its bandaged tail, I may still recognise a cat!

Hermit: Cat? Cat? Take that! And that! [beating the pilgrim]
A shame! ‘Tis Brigantis: Pagan Goddess of the Fire!
Come here! Take that! Are you calling me a liar?
Ready? Number two: what is there inside the jug?

Pilgrim: Easy sir! ‘Tis water! Do you take me for a mug?

Hermit: Water! ‘Tis my very life! My word how you offend! [goes to beat him some more]

Pilgrim: Oh silly! May I guess again? I suppose we could pretend.

Hermit: Question three. You get this right and we’ll forget the rest.
What’s that up there? Now come on this time please do try your best!


Pilgrim: …Roof?

Hermit: What?! There is the height of my house!
Get out! Be gone and ne’er return until you grow more nous!

Pilgrim: (to audience) No food, no bed, but ah!… What did I do with that cigar?

Narrator: So as the pilgrim calms his nerves and throws away the match,
The bandage wound around the feline’s tail does fire catch,
And as she leaps upon the roof…I mean the house’s height,
The bandage makes a kindle and the hut soon catches light.
A ragged smoky hermit then emerges from the blaze,
And seeking out the culprit, hand in punishment will raise.

Pilgrim: Not so fast this time! It was your Goddess of the Fire!
Run and fetch your jug of life to rid her of her ire!

Scene 6: The Vision

Narrator: Two months on, beyond now old Navarre and Castile.
Soon the well-trod path to Santiago will reveal
An end to this road, spanning atmospheres and seasons.
One mind has weathered tests and choices, chances, tricks and reasons.
One heart burns pure and sure amidst the ugly and the sweet.
One body worn and blistered aches resisting its defeat.
One thought rings with a brightness that would swallow suns. It is not fear,
Neither doubt, nor observation, only thought: Why am I here?
[The Virgin Mary appears in a vision] Virgin: Blessèd is the one resisting on his journey’s course
All powers to dissuade him with their subtlety or force.
Blessèd one, arise. An empty goal has tied thee fast.
The purpose is the journey, from the first step to the last.
Is not thy love of God and love of life illumination?
‘Tis time for you to turn about; home is your destination.
With newer eyes and stronger heart return now to your duty.
Through journeys the familiar can shed a deeper beauty.
[Exit Virgin Mary] Pilgrim: Aye me! How I have waited long to feel a mother’s love!
Now…powersome, yet feather-soft, alighting from above.
How mighty and how glorious the faces of the Virgin,
Yet all the while a sweet familiarity emerging.
In a moment, from those tender words were many aeons cast.
I let her guide…as she has guided! From the first step to the last!

Scene 7: The Dream

Duke: Darling? I love you, but these four walls will make me mad
As a hungry rabid hound, so I beseech thee: grow not sad
In my absence, for your failings are not relevant.
Keep your spirit…as your mother’s build: sturdy as an elephant.

Duchess: O!

Duke: But thou art seemly dear and must not lose an ounce
In pining for my presence, though your presence…I renounce.
I must leave! My joi de vivre has grown somewhat intransigent!

Duchess: Lord! How canst thy noble blood live on inside a mendicant?

Son: Father! No! At least a little hut would you commission?
I shall design the stables and the lake with your permission.

Duchess: Perhaps on every Saturday this family could visit?
Well thou shalt crave our company! ‘Tis no imposition…is it?

Duke: God have mercy on my reformed soul!
Take me to the other world if not to my peaceful goal!
[enter the Virgin Mary] Virgin: Come, now board this chariot; thy life hast reached a natural end.
Away to other lives and days in solitude to spend.

Duke: So late, but worse to never hear the call to spiritual life.

Duchess: My Lord! Await me! Thou wouldst depart without thy wife?

Son: Or leave me here an orphan? Your one begotten son!
For some a life of solitude does not resemble fun.

Cook: Or banish me to retirement? You’ll surely need a cook?
[all board and carriage ascends shakily] Duke: So unsteady our ascent! How our carriage groaned and shook!
How it shudders now and judders, and it whines under the weight!
It hosts too many passengers, but now it is too late!
[all fall to the ground. Duke awakes and stands] Aaaaagh! How morbid and alarming to awake to one’s own scream!
Yet soothing and delightful to discover it…a dream.

Scene 8: The Return

Stable Boy: I say! The wanderer returns…has he misplaced so many pounds?

Pilgrim: (sarcastically) How now brother! Without you I’m as…the fox that slipped the hounds.

Stable Boy: How so transfigured…or transported…though your garb remains unchanged [sniffs]
We need a cook; without your skill the Duke is quite deranged.

Pilgrim: More so!? How so? Well let me bathe here first,
And afore the day is closed you’ll find him feasting fit to burst!
Then we’ll revel ‘til the morning…and you’ll return to me my stash?

Stable Boy: Return? Why? What have I safe?

Pilgrim: Well a princely wad of cash!

Stable Boy: The lunacy of pilgrimage still follows in your wake.
Can you produce a good receipt, or is there some mistake?

Pilgrim: How could I take such proof from you, my dearest, oldest friend?

Stable Boy: Will we take the matter to the Duke or fight until the end?

Pilgrim: (laughing) Forgive! This weary form can scarce pursue you in your fun

Stable Boy: I jest not in this instance!

Pilgrim: …’tis apparent…I am undone…

* * *
Duke: Firstly, who was witness to the dubious transaction?

Pilgrim: None, Sire.

Duke: None, so we may take no further action,
Though it may serve to hear just where the scene took place.

Pilgrim: By an oak tree.

Duke: An oak? Then this is a simple case.
Ask the oak for evidence, and bring to me its word.

Stable Boy: Sir, it is a tree! …(the suggestion is absurd!)

Duke: Do it! (to the pilgrim)

Pilgrim: Sire [exits]

Stable Boy: He may be quite some while,
‘Tis through the yard and pastures by the gatekeeper’s wood pile.

Duke: Scoundrel! Then you know the tree! …Find the money and return it!

Stable Boy: I earned it well by guarding it! Return? I’d sooner burn it!

Duke: Do it! Then you may well keep your post in my employ,
And whilst you’re spent on fetching things, return the pilgrim boy.
[exit stable boy, enter pilgrim with money] Pilgrim: Sire, to thee once more I am most humbly in debt.

Duke: Hm! Choose your friends more wisely: those with fewer traps to set.
Boy, now heed my word: I’ve long admired your dedication,
But something newer in your face now fires my inspiration.
This news may well astound you, but despite my first reaction,
Your pilgrimage, and simple life, do grow in their attraction.
My doubts are cast asunder by the brilliance in your eyes.
Though sans a school certificate…I warrant thou art wise.
These legs are far too aged for embarking on a pilgrimage.
I am for the forest bound to build a little hermitage.
Perhaps there simply comes a day
For each man, when the soul holds sway.
A new man then would burst to burgeon!
With a vastness merge and
Fly abroad from comforts itchy!
The cosy, of a sudden twitchy!

Narrator: Friends, we hope this little play has garnered your attention.
We dedicate it to you all, too numerous to mention.
Forgive us any errors; let us harbour no misgiving.
We only seek to bring a dash of joy to light your living.
We salute the pilgrim in the heart of each one’s being,
Who knows the art of being is in feeling, not just seeing.
With merriment and company we’ll lighten all the load!
Behold, the journey beckons us! Come let us greet the road!

Sumangali Morhall
December 2005

1. From John Bunyan, A Pilgrim's Progress, 1684