Sun Jul 22, 2007 10:58 pm - Robert Burns
645 E. 14th St 9E
New York, New York 10009
by Matthew Paris
Act One: Early evening July 21, 1789
Act Two: Early evening, July 21, 1795
A set of rented rooms
Hollyrod Palace in Edinburgh, Scotland
Lady Edna Pendleton
Lord Nigel Pendleton
Setting: This might be done with an extravagant production of revolving sets such as I saw in New York in Arthur Millerís After The Fall; I am thinking of a simple production on an empty stage.
There should be a table, a few tankards of ale, and some pens and paper. There might be a guitar or harp leaning against the wall. If the actors playing Burns can play some chords it would enhance the play.
(Robert Burns enters. He looks at the audience. He speaks in a Scotch accent but he generally uses English. It took me a few weeks to pick up the music of Scots pronunciation and I have a good musical ear. The actor at his discretion should decide what words or dialect sounds he wants to use in Scots, like ďgangĒ for ďgoĒ, ďyeĒ for ďyouĒ, depending on his assessment of his audience, remembering that he has to be at once both convincing and intelligible. Robert picks up a harp or guitar, or sings unaccompanied.)
Robert- John McFitz, the Pictish seer
When he was over eighty
Wondered with some awe and fear
What happened to his Katie.
She had been a red haired lassie
Freckled, blithe and bonnie
With a manner than was sassy
Even to her Johnny.
Heíd loved her much when they were wed
With much affection nightly
Now Kate seemed weathered, damned near dead
Noysome and unsightly.
John gave hemlock to his wife.
Her ghost was unforgiving.
Her John collapsed from fear and died.
This pair may haunt the living. (He puts down his guitar.)
Still hoping to be entertained tonight
By me, a resident jester, are you? Och
Iíve wondered many an hour I spent ploughing
Harvesting my little land in Scotland what men
And ladies like this group might do if they
Were sheathed in leisure much as I had labour.
Would they be sots, philosophers or lechers?
Might they take up hobbies? I should wager
They might find their local hearth and alehouse Moderately stale, then take up summer passions
For a journey to the South Pole or the Steppes.
I cannot guess; I never met anyone in Scotland
Free of labour, even lords who treat us as exotics.
They sometimes manage fiefdoms, after all. It calls
No tiny passing terror in them. Such is greatness:
Fear of losing what was never theirs. Iíd rather live
On sunlight like the greenery and sweeten lives With green skinned apples, crimson rowan berries.
I had thought when peering at the rainy skies
Which grace our Scottish weather that such a world
Would have a love of clowns. Doing nothing for an ape
Can be most depressing; men are hardly less unhinged
And prone to melancholy when they lack a dram or line
To plummet in the frothy water to attract a trout.
We are slaves whoíre built for work and all the woes
Of heavy labour. Hands are made for calluses; feet
To sweat in boots; more than half an hour sitting
In the softest chair unless one has a wench, a dram
And most convivial company might be a sorry burden
On us all. One might do it were one damnably fatigued
Or baffled by a bit of drink; yet otherwise
We are most comfortable afoot or in our slumbers.
I am a creature who thrives most notably in salons, Taverns or the bedrooms of women. I have a magic
That makes a few lassies and patricians in the room
Hunger for my songs. When they get to know me
They discover I can be piqued with them or England. That articulate ire does not often please them.
They go whilst others wander through a different door
Hungry for a bit of pleasant music to hear my ditty. When Iím gone theyíll mourn old Robert soon enough;
I know full well a bard is loved a little more
When heís interred and brother to the rocks. Alive,
We bards are perilous company. We have a demon or two Who whispers to us; there is no telling what weíll say.
(Enter Jean Armour.)
Jean, you are beauteous tonight. You balance a despicable World which has manners both uncouth and more uncomely
Has often burdened us with tyrants, thistles, gruel, Englishmen and many plain and stupid lassies.
Jean- Your charms have recently eluded me, Robert. Your talent For mendacity is hardly what I value in you these days. Your songs you warbled in a palace are less trivial
Last night they garnered us a bit of tarnished gold.
Robert- You should have wedded some ambitious businessman.
I am not stupid but I really can't compete
With any Glasgow merchant. He spends his day
Purveying gewgaws whilst I think of rhymes
And wonder what scant bit of verse I spin out
Might amuse myself upon a night as well
As lords and patrons whom we parley with in Edinburgh.
Jean- One can't imagine aery goods more trivial, Robert.
Even cockle sellers by the quay are hawking molluscs
That might sate the stomach more than your small tunes.
Why these gentry value poesy is much a mark
That Scottish independence is not far from us.
With lords like these we might with myckel effort
Throw them down as one does with the ivory dust
Of an ancient dandelion. If we cannot rid ourselves
Of the daft who rule us, we are hardly fit to walk
Robert- Who are our perilous competitors?
The ducks? Who dare to stand between ourselves
And human genius for stupidity? Weíve killed
The wolves; weíve banished hawks and owls to Norway.
Jean- Do not begrudge the duck his greatness, Robert.
Unlike you these fowl can swim beneath the lakes
Like fish or skim across them like a tiny paper boat.
They waddle on the earth or quickly fly in herds
That pock the azure with a bit of feathered darkness.
Robert- I do not mean to judge or otherwise malign the duck.
Jean- They are more moral than humanity; no duck will quack
Out lies while bathing in a stream; they have no priests
And are republicans in politics. The mallards pair
With mates forever. Sober and august their fare is grass
And dandelion seeds. They never injure nay animal.
Their history is peaceful and their inner nature wise.
Robert- I am much the champion of ducks in any discourse.
I am known to praise them both in church and often
In the tavern where I toast their high sagacity.
Thereís no one on these isles but ducks, some geese
And sundry kinds of lowing large horned cattle
Whom I easily admire. Humans are despicable.
I see factories in Glasgow, black skies in Dundee
Which will much outdo the locusts in defacing soil
Once pliable and green and friendly to the thistle.
You have not fathomed what capacity we have
For folly, Jean. The medieval fantasy weíve scorned
To lead a most amorous and genial domestic life
Will seem one day to have more sense than steamships
And the strange inventions of industrial messiahs.
Jean- I canít bear church. It lacks both wit and humor.
I canít believe that truth is quite so tedious.
It must reflect the greyness of their habit
And a lack of talents for most simple revelry.
I suspect their gentry with three heads is fancy
And their morals mich too simple for a deity
Whose high complexity must beggar all our visions.
Robert- If God is like us heís a dunce. A scoundrel on occasion.
If heís worthy of our prayers we cannot understand him. If heís like us, he mightily deserves us. We are
His perfect children: daft and clumsy. If heís not
He probably has long since left off watching us
I reckon. Often one does better to be ruled by fools
Than anything omniscient and omnipotent, I reckon. Kings
Like ours who lack the mere capacity to rule are perfect
For our schemes They give us freedom at our option.
A moral God who is intelligent would bring us all
Some passing difficulty. Are the whelps asleep?
Jean- You hope to pass a carnal hour with me? Robert
I feel privileged. Nancy from the scullery
Has watched them very well on many an evening.
You are free to take me as you wish, Robert.
Robert- We are invited to the Pendletons tonight
At Hollyrod. I reckon we shall eat their meat
Most handsomely. They shall ask me for an air
Or two as though Iím not a guest but lackey.
Jean- You are a sort of jester there. Of course they think
You are prophetic. You are Scots and somewhat feral.
Robert- Do not mock my talents. They will feed you amply.
Jean- Both Lady Pendleton and I are intimate with them.
Robert- Jean, I dally with this women. Anything I do
With her is amply turned to silver for our hearth.
Our children benefit from Lady Pendleton. Her interest
In my person is a dumb show merely to discover
In the seat of many midnights some poor palimpsest
Upon which she may find the half-scratched rhetoric
Of some forgotten whelp. It beggars lunacy to state
Her madness is a folly much beyond my ken or aid.
What can I do? She sees in me a shadow of the past
She deems to be a world of ancient heros. God!
I pity one who treats me as a dusky angel. God knows
I am a creature most familiar with a chamber pot.
Jean- And rural backyard huts of moysome stench, I reckon.
Robert- I am an acolyte of these unholy temples. Surely.
I am not one who fills the room with saintly perfumes
When on August days I may drink too much mead and sweat.
The Lady thinks me one who comes from ancient lands
Before the Flood, perhaps in those Creations God
Had once designed before the present tedious fiasco.
She often tells me I am worthy to combat the giants
That inhabited this planet once when Greece was young.
I never cozen her; I am an honest man as most men go.
She adores me like Apollo or the great Phoenician gods
Whose love life still may scandalize a pack of scholars.
Jean- At least sheís not a Christian. Anyone who worships you
Must be no devotee of that Italian ritual. Robert
You must guide her from the habit of adoring you
To some cult somewhat sensible. I much admire priests
Who preach the sanctity and pair of an unseen god.
If they can divert passion to gods purely fantasy
One may have measure left for living with some sanity.
I think her itch for you is low and tainted by idolatry.
Robert- I hardily concur. A moral discipline that thinks me God
Is comical. An odium to nature, it must quickly perish.
I wait for cosmic laws to dissipate her lusts and deem
Me nothing other than I am. I wonder that my wife
Has never treated me with such high courtesy.
Jean- I think youíre altogether human, Robert. Sometimes
I suspect you traffic with uncanny entities
As do the bards when liquor and their talent fails.
Husband, you yourself are hardly made of gossamer.
Robert- Consider this whole planet an asylum of such dolts.
You will not try to tell a madman he is daft.
You cannot easily persuade a woman she is foolish
To confuse her lovers with the lesser deities.
Jean- Iíve heard as much from men. The hopes and praise
They offer women are a certain mark they practice
For a later and more measured payers to entities
That are both moral and invisible. My lovers
Tell me Iím no less than some Greek nymph more fit
For consonant bathing in a river than amour.
Robert- There is a lunacy aborad to think of pagan Greece
That makes me no less scandalized than if I heard
A man is golden thighed and women are our innocents.
Jean- Itís much superior to superstitions of the church.
I hate to listen to some lover till me I am innocent.
Robert- Itís true. To call an broken harpsichord a virginal Is homage to our vanished harpers. Call a woman virginal;
The rhetoric insults her life and often her intelligence.
Nothingís more despicable than telling current lovers
They are puerile and know nothing. I should never mock
A womanís craft but calling her a tyro. Fro this reason
I prefer the company of theatre women and some wives.
Jean- You have much respect for women. You have many vices
But your fine assessment of our talent for libation
And the meaning of our favour is your signal gift.
Robert- I am in many ways a fool. It is a kind of folly
To think none have memory and most are tainted
With dementia which has banished yesterdays to trash.
Jean- You must be circumspect. A lover loves hyperbole.
Robert- I give them rural hymns. It is not negligible.
Jean- You make yourself exotic. That provokes their intrigue.
Robert- I know how seasonal an apple and the passions are.
Iíve heard that many gods are older than the sun
And were near senile when Creation was a tot
But of those small phenomena I know on Earth
Iíve learnt to treasure only gold and friendship.
Jean- You have the one from me and both from Edna Pendleton.
Robert- I suspect her fancy for me is a nether passion.
That means it will wither like the threads of heather.
I suspect upon that winter her capacious purse
May close its perfumed windy doors to me as well.
Jean- You must take in the roseís myrrh before the frost.
I treat her lord with no less high philosophy.
Robert- You find him worthy of his noble niche in our society?
Jean- The man has all the folly of the English in his person.
They are often not much gifted in the craft of metaphysics
Nor the more fantastic cultish notions theyíve imported From the continent of happy martyrdom but they are rich
In only what is known, which frankly, is near nothing.
I find him no more magical than any awl one finds
Amongst the cobblers who turn out boots in Glasgow.
Robert- It is our function as the Scots in this immortal theatre
To be more chimeral than our kings. One sees as much
When reading tales of old Hellenic chiefs and Heracles Or meditating on Achilles and the dour Agamemnon.
We must play this comedy as well as any hero.
Jean- Posh. You are no son of Zeus. You strum a harp a bit
And bawl out feral tunes they think are authentic Scots.
If Heracles had done no more he would be given gruel
And told to maunder in a fetid corner near the dogs.
Robert- It is no small thing to be earn oneís wine and supper
With a ditty. Unlike many of these English gentry
I must be amusing. That is easy for me. God gave me
More skill at the harp than pushing wooden ploughs
Through fields of sheep dung, weeds and stones.
I am lazy in my character; I must be grateful
To the providence that gives me talent as a fool.
Jean- I have no cloak like these patricians, Robert.
Their easy gaudiness inspires me to feel
My sheathing is improper. I feel among them
Like a well washed bear or singing ape, admired For my imitation of humanity. I find my pique
Among them haunts me like a shadow; then I eat
Their venison with some distaste and trash the sauce.
Robert- Let these high buffoons perceive us as they jog
Through all these elegant gavottes that seem
More comical when sober, as mere bears or wolves
Who wander through our highland forests at a gallop.
I am content to seem to them at time no deeper
In philosophy than any pickled salmon.
In the end, my dearest, and for all eternity
Or at least as long as future humans walk
Upon this planet with a puissant memory
The last word on their wit and character
Shall be the whim of poets. It is we who lie
And with our charity attribute epigrams
And much heroic posture worthy of them
To their corpses. When in life these lords
Were empty as a mossy tankard moldering
In an old abandoned tavern, and their wit
Was never praised or known by lover, friend
Or parliament we bards will bury them again
Then much adorn with all our false hyperbole
Their most imaginary idols with such aphorisms
That would make the sainted Martial envious
And high military triumphs that would beggar
Alexander, Mongol Khans, and twenty Hammurabis.
Jean- You shall never see the future, Robert. Men
Are chained to ghostly tethers of the present. When one witling of this royal system falls
His memory is trashed by even his old lovers
And mocked with much disdain by all his servants
Tailor, cobbler, and his jejune beneficiaries.
His taste is deemed a shameful bath in tackiness.
His life one long insane catastrophe, his lovers
Sluts and drabs of aspect that would make an ogre
Flee, his quests for fortune wildly comical
His aging a disgusting plummeting to rank abysses
And his death a remedy for those who knew his life.
Itís charity asking to providential grace for you
And other Scottish bards to paint these grey cadavers
With such livid color. Yet I wonder whether truth
Might be more proper for a spirit praising sanity
But I shall never have this choice since harpers
Like you write our elegies and tales of history.
Robert- Would you have William Wallace a mere midget
Who had spent his life in Dundee sniffing thistles
Or the Bruce a queasy and uncomely sottish prince
With character most fey and tastes not mentionable?
Would you call our James the Sixth a pathic
And a loon for candy, sack and Romish metaphysics?
No, the thoughts intolerable; we need our poets
To invent a past we cannot prove and auger futures
That cannot be known if we are ever to endure
The tedious banality of those despicable among us
Who pock our courts and taverns in the present.
Jean- No. I know that William Wallace was a giant
Who had fought most cunningly for Scots
And this rather dulish Bruce a Scottish Arthur
Whose long vanished rule has haunted us ofttimes
As English yearn for kidney tarts and Camelot.
Robert- You must remember all the wars and enemies
We faced before the Romans, mostly Danes and Finns
And sundry fairest from the nether worlds, a demon
Whose most secret name I can't recall and angles
Passing by the moons of Mars who noticed Scots
From that far point and found us most uncomely.
From the days of Adam there have always been
A thought or two one dares not mention in the sight
Of God and many others none may hear in Eden.
So it is in Edinburgh. The poor like us think gold
Will make us most felicitous and cure the dropsy
Whilst fops like Lord and Lady Pendleton are sure We peasants from our churlish farms are feral wights
Who urinate with pleasure much beyond their fancy.
I suspect we are atop the crag of some high pinnacle
Where we might see the end of both strange anodynes
But the Scottish morning mist is white, crepuscular
And too opaque for either of us, standing smartly
At the rim of mossy stone to guess what consequence
Might come of many purses filled with silver coins
Or nobles living like a Turkish warrior or dairymaid.
Jean- You chill me with your fancy. You slander greenery
When you claim the rich are madder than the poor.
The test of sanity is whether one can wake a decade
With a taste or not be murdered by oneís judgements.
I find it hardly credible that all patricians nowadays
Would rather be impoverished and fatigued by labour.
Robert- You love in lands long made daft by faery magic.
The Queen of France has milked a cow; her knights
Are most enthused about the tastes of Turks and Lapps
The metaphysics of the Mayans, secret potions known
To Aztec priests that goad the indolent to love
And pass on other carnal revels to the more phlegmatic.
Jean- Impossible. No country could be mad as that and live.
Robert- We are no less engaged by lunatics in Edinburgh.
We study Scottish epics uninterred about Ossian
Which may be more invented than we know; we scour
Every glen with scribblers who collect the songs
And folk tales of each shire from Oran to Perth
To uncover all the high sagacity of wights
Who have known not much more than the skill to thatch
A hut and how to shovel cattle dung into the fields
Since Julius Caesar left the English countryside
To be disemboweled by his late Italian countrymen.
I have a friend in Invarrie who means to lift
The darkens from the stones of Stonehenge and decipher
Whatís murky in the markings of the Picts upon the rocks
One finds in mud near many of our western lakes.
Jean- The man has nothing else to do? Has he discovered
That they knew the way to faeryland through Perth
Or passed through the black underworld to hell?
Robert- I have not questioned him about his new epiphanies.
If he had learned no wisdom but he wakes up
In the morning afterwards, he had at least passed
One day without his death or any other slaughter.
Jean- I find these strange excursions much beyond my ken.
What had people known in other days but many lies?
Could their dukes beneath a hotter sun have drafted
Honest folk for wars less senseless and more bloody
Than our recent escapades in helping Britain keep
Both Scotland and the pillage of their thefts
In jungle continents I hope I never see?
Iím sure their priests were not less daft and wild
In all their notions of the trust than ours. I hope
The ale was sometimes more charged with a feral power.
Our latest liquors are less passant than they were.
Robert- Your discourse is most apt. The ale is evermore weak.
Well, perhaps we may send rockets to the nearer planets
And discover more varieties of fools than are on earth.
Iíd love to savour bellowed follies taken up by toads
Who gambol on the sun, and spiders lurking in the rocks
Or scarlet Mars. It might be fare for future laughter.
Jean- Your taste is cruel. Itís not enough for you to mock
The follies of the Scots and Englishmen; you hope
To find some wickedness in antics on the moon.
Robert- I am as people go in Edinburgh one fairly sane.
The Pendletons are true ipissimi at rural fantasy.
Have you ever heard of Blind Bob? Heís the harper
They think is whispered to by cherubim who pass him
On their way to London from a season locked in heaven.
Paradise to these patricians is a city much like Bath.
Jean- Yet we visit these buffoons. We must me mad as they.
Robert- We might make excuses to them if you wish. The night
Is balmy and less wet than many a Scottish eve.
We might walk down to Cowgate and take in a draught.
Jean- They are our patrons. We cannot afford to pique them
With offensive manners though you do it often, Robert.
These Pendletons are not impossible; they like you
And they underwrite your publications with their gold.
We would be madder than your lovers in your songs
Were we to meet their friendliness with such dismissal.
Robert- You know she between the two of them is mad
For ancient lore; he finds it merely politic.
He needs to give her a design to life more strong
Than giving parties for the British social circle
Managing the Scottish portion of their empire
Through their gaudy offices in Hollyrod. His labour
Is most difficult. He must control the highlanders
Who disappear like faerie warriors in every glen
He needs to pillage Scotland of its mutton troves
With ease and peace and much dispatch. His schemes
To draft us in his wars in India and Araby
Or exile us to Virginia, or islands far away
In the Pacific like Australia where no Scot
Can easily attack the crown takes up most afternoons.
What is she to do? Take a lover? No, Jean
That is hardly circumspect in villages like Edinburgh.
To much nastiness and gossip. She might feel passion
And nostalgia. The mixture is intolerable.
Jean- We are deprived of London theatre and must gossip
Here in Edinburgh if we are to find amusement.
You think Lord Pendleton is happy she adores you?
Robert- He daily bathes in such felicity. I am impossible
For more than love, we know. I am a peasant Scot
Of a youthful age and what else are the natives for
But daily sweating dalliance without an issue?
Jean- He has his wenches, I presume? Lord Pendleton
Is not a celibate nor does he seem to me one tethered
To a medieval contract blessed by the invisible.
Robert- I do not know his private habits. I should think
He has wee time for revels with his passion
For his labour. Rule, my dear, is no less a god
Than any man or woman. Power seems most beautiful
To those who take up its chivalric obligations.
Pendleton may dally with a slut or two but I suspect
His inclination is to spend his energies on tyranny.
Jean- A strange taste, I should think. I cannot guess
Why men prefer the comforts offered by a gang of slaves
When they might be amused by those who choose to love
Their persons with a freedom unbesmirched by any terror.
Robert- Women rarely understand the taste for dominance.
It is their glory. Sometimes the narrowness of soul
That limits one from savouring a vice is tantamount
To sanctity. I much commend your ignorance.
Jean- What mad influence or baleful god inspires them
To take up such peculiar explorations, Robert?
Robert- I think it may be thirty gods whose Sumerian names
I dare not utter plus several turns of weariness
With life itself I think are by themselves most daft.
Pour princes have forgotten in their many revels
It is parlous to be poor. Not one has spent a day
Without an ample supper nor a heated hearth
And none have callouses upon their hands from work
In stony fields or stink of rancid cattle milk.
They only know their courts and clowns are tedious
And that something in them is perverse because they deem
The world is made to praise them like the higher angels
Laud the invisible and perhaps the unintelligible.
They lack connection with the earth, with everything.
We rally do know more than they if what we ken
Is dismal wisdom hardly worth oneís understanding.
They hope they can through us discover the umbilicus
To world theyíve left behind them in their affluence.
Itís hard to be an honest child of nature in a coach.
They suffer from such vices you might find exotic first
And then, perhaps most vaguely comical. I would imagine
They will one day offer all of us such inner plagues.
The world may one day feel they are invented gentry
Whose gods exist to feed and offer entertainment.
We all can then go mad as only thee patricians can.
Our planet will be stable though; one global bedlam
Without guards and wardens since these keeps will be mad
As the poor inmates. I should expect the steel machines
You see in Glasgow will produce such fare for armies.
Then all of us will know the sorrows of the Pendletons.
Jean- You are a bringer of a wind of nightmare, Robert.
Has not the very son of God informed us that the poor
Will always be our close companion? Can this saint
Be wrong? Your weird improbable tomorrow with its churls
All overweight, tormented with the gout, degenerate
And often sated with some candied pleasure hawked
In volume seems more comical than Scottish lovers
In your ditties promising to love a man forever.
Robert- Yet thy do sometimes from habit or a narrowness
Of amorous taste. I think we scots might find
Among the Pendletons some models of our destiny.
We aim to be less poor, to take up freedom, power.
In conscience all we Scots should study Pendletons.
They are our models for the vices we will grasp
Along with quantities of bankersí aery gold.
Jean- I find it most perverse to be fatigued with money.
Nothing seems more suicidal than a weariness
With leisure. They are a couple most corrupt.
Theyíre lucky we donít cut them as a duo leprous
With a lunacy so bold it eludes the very laws of life.
Well, they feed and clothe us with their fine largesse. Yet if theyíre our tutors in our perilous ascent
To wealth and some small liberty to take up whim
And live by harvests of our low caprice, I value
Pendletons and all the febrile gentry lodged at Hollyrod.
Robert- They are our Vigils through the future halls of Hell.
They light our way with fires from their wicked passions.
We can determine by an honest study of their follies
Who we one day hope to be. Jean, they are goodhearted. I must confess I like them even thought theyíre toffs.
They have good hearts one finds rarely in such blades.
If they are mad so is God, I think, and many angels
Whom this deity employees. We are in folly most like Him.
I know our lords are lunatics to show theyíre intimate
With seraphim, the current king and who can guess else?
The Pendletons are no less daft than Even and Adam
In their garden in the ages long before they noticed
They had trees of life and knowledge. I have collected
Some folk tunes and ballads from my country treks
Through miles of cattle patties, dung of sheep and bogs Whilst passing huts with stenches worse than death
In taverns lower than the wetlands in the south
I hope to offer many Scots in print next autumn.
They will help me hawk my verses to the rabble.
Jean- You lie. You wrote them all. You are a scoundrel
No more honest than McPherson and that rogue John Law.
Robert- I have improved a few of those more rude and coarse
And liable to give a maid more blushes than we two.
I might have added some small stanzas to a ditty
That was better for my small cosmetics. Iíve dropped
A few stray lines that seem to me improper.
Jean- You cannot with your talent, large as it may be
My friend, create a nation or its ancient lore.
I think it is much the sign of judgment of the Scots
Of ancient times and churls confined to rural poverty
They have not scribbled rant to ghosts and ale
Have kept their lowest actions tied to some utility.
Nothing is more trivial than clowns; it ages one
To think of sundry jesters whoíve amused the mob
With their bawdry. I would not keep you as a lover
If you were merely a comedian. Of course, your songs
Of carnal passion are a trifle solemn and unseemly
In their sentiment and colorful puerility. Robert
Give me a ditty. You owe me fragments of your cleverness.
Robert- Gladly, if you honor them with lack of mockery.
Jean- I like your music. You are a beautiful animal.
Robert- I hope my bellows may amuse you. Feed me better
Than your dog; I shall reward you with a boon
Deeper than love, more secure than any passion.
Jean- Oaf! (Robert begins to sing.)
Robert- Angus was not one to hover
Over lassies on a whim
He was selective in a lover
Who spent the night with him.
Jean- Thatís blue enough. I see the downward path of this.
Are we to take this ditty to the Pendletons?
Robert- Would you prefer the William Wallace ballad, Jean?
Wallace said, this race of Scots
Is like the dung of cattle.
They should be interred in chamber pots
Then die in English battle.
Their reputation is a sham
For amorous delight.
Theyíd rather drop another dram
Then lose a bloody fight.
The Scots lack sense; they have no grace.
Theyíre loathe to court or marry.
Like the elves, when they embrace
They male love to a faery.
Jean- Enough. To Cowgate. We shall drop a dram apiece
Then stumble downhill to the halls of Hollyrod
Where hell awaits us like a lax jaw of a demon
Imitating the more wicked triple mouths of Lucifer.
(Robert and Jean exit. A change of light signifies a different room. Enter Nigel Pendleton by another door. He picks up the harp or sings unaccompanied.)
Nigel- The course of history is dark.
One hardly knows what species
Have maundered on this watery isle
And left their bones and feces.
My cousin Charles in Zanzibar
Whoís studied local lemurs
Says heís sure what humans are
From dug up monkey femurs.
My cousin says we once were apes
We were chimps, baboons.
We took on many simian shapes
And had the tint of prunes.
If so, our English life is more divine
Then hanging from the trees.
We munch jam tarts when we dine
Have fifty kinds of cheese. (Edna enters.)
Youíve brought the readings of the Pictish sagas?
Edna- Of course. Iíd hardly leave them in the study, Nigel.
They may be in their parchment scrolls an old Norse ship That take us through the lightless corridors of time.
I should imagine that the Flying Dutchman was no less Excited than I have been in this unending voyage
Of discovery. We cannot know the future if in tea
And vessels filled with water some more rural witches
May profess for bits of silver to discover augury.
The past is our most proper theatre for our study.
Nigel- I think the Flying Dutchman was unhappy with his quest
And found the future very dismal, Edna. Luckily
Your journey is quite backwards toward walls of Eden
And the day that god created things that crawled or swam
Toward murkiness without much talent or intelligence.
Edna- Thereís much to say for history, Nigel. At the worst
We know the most uncomely of us have survived it.
Nigel- Is dense and imbecilic perpetuity a mark of virtue?
If so we should honor as a god the South Sea turtle
Then gaggles of our London friends. You might consider
That the heros of your study have not prolonged their life
To this fine year when few are genuine batrachians
And merely mountebanks engorge their berried breakfast.
Edna- You might do worse than bow to such large toad-like gods
Our triple-headed chief who rules the sky is hardly less
Grotesque than any deity Iíve read about in Edinburgh.
Nigel- If they are what you say, our world is not yet worthy
Of them. If theyíre nothing better than the current fare
We might do better to discover what we think we know
From those who are before us. Iíve long suspected science
Of the bones of giants who have trod the Earth when life
Was mostly moss upon a slippery rock is much a flight
From nature as the prophecies of Calvinists and Catholics
About the rather grim austeries of piety in heaven.
Edna- When I find the runes and other magicks that unlock
The castles of the underwater deities at Fingalís Cave
And call up worm-like monsters from the Loch Ness worlds
Beneath a sparkling estuary you shall deem my hobbies
More than trivial; youíll praise my fancy and intelligence.
Nigel- I shouldnít doubt it Edna. One may learn a trick or two
But lives too short a season to guess everything.
Iíd hardly doubt as some eccentrics in the Midlands
Tell me that this globe was once a swamp beneath a sun
That glittered with its heat atop the very poles.
Iíve heard from colleagues who have prodded Earth
For bones that something like a pack of giant lizards Roamed the hills of Devonshire; great wingless ducks
Of hideous and dismal mein have lurked in Scottish lakes For reasons I cannot begin to reckon. I shanít doubt
The discourse of Lord Penbrooke who has told us all
A brainless world was once the home of monstrous insects
Whose mere bite would render such as you quite helpless
With the venoms from their jaws. I think if this Creation
Is eternal all things that have been a possibility
Have happened endlessly, not once, but repetitiously
As eating tarts for breakfast or a dab of jam on scones.
I cannot see why I must contemplate such arcane matters
More than twenty minutes in a day when I have interest
Reason and some obligation to my peers to meditate
On how I might make order from a present scheme of nature
All too feral in its chaos. We English. Edna, have a gift
For honesty and seeing in a scientific way the warp
Of what we have inherited from our lordly benefactors
Who have cultivated both disguises and an ineluctability.
Edna- You think I am craven. You suspect I am a gaudy creature
Who swaggers through the forest with much prodigal beauty
Like the ivory peacock. Nigel, I think all my explorations
Offer you an avenue away from rural tarts and mutton pie.
Nigel- I think the most deceptive miracles of all Creation
Are phenomena that seem like furniture or cabbages.
There is a gaudy quality to talents more extravagant
That may be somewhat infantile. If God presides
Over the worldís end, one will know so by its mein:
It will be decorous and one will hardly notice it.
Edna- Your taste for subtlety may have its excess hidden
In its very sensitivity to nuance, Nigel. Nothing
Is more close to nothing than effects most faint
And marginal in their most aery view of elegance.
A war is no less real than the dark light of stars
Remote from us. The noise of ritual is impolite
But much of Godís Creation is not wed to silence.
What is circumspect in storms or infantís howls
That cleave the silken warp of many midnights?
I would not pass the garish rainbows in our sky
So quickly nor ignore the heats an English lover
Thinks are hardly worthy of patrician manners.
Nigel- English lovers are impugned by many maidens
Edna, mostly those who learn some decades after
To respect the temperament that dims the fires
Both of pique and many other passions. These lovers
In their ripeness understand what Englishman contribute To a world unduly tilted one way or another by the sun
And then the lunatic silver of the moon. Consider this
My helpmate: the hunger for collective life like insects
Every season of a dawn inspires most humanity to live
Like hordes of flies that lurk near cattle buttocks
Waiting for their hideous lunch. They are the soldiers
And the strumpets in the camps of history. Then, wounded
And fatigued by all these clarion escapades, they maunder
And take on the revels of selenic dionysiacs once lauded
By the sage and perfumed hierophants of ancient Ur.
After much content from these unspeakable abandonments Sated by the pleasures they had hungered for in sunlight
Torporous and much afflicted by the Spanish pox and gout
They wander toward the arses of the cattle once again
To feast upon their offal. This high procession
Has amused the wights of paradise since Eden, Edna.
I am English and prepared to sacrifice my place
At rear ends of some bovine monster or on April plains
Where old Sumerians oozed out all their jejune aches
To bring the specie of measure to the long insanity
We febrile evil-minded humans archly call our history.
Edna- I am grateful, Nigel. You and other sober Englishman
Have brought a most phlegmatic peace to many Hottentot
Young lovers, a sundry set of puerile hotheads everywhere.
Nigel- You may mock me but the rule of empire is not easy.
We must find consolation for the losses of the bloods
And savages who find the alchemy of time turns roses
Into ashes. We are comforters of many London rakehells
Priests who bring the scented motley rabble of the world
From one disaster to another with oleaginous magic.
We are masters of the possible; we feel a tad adrift
When someone mentions fantasy or any nether passion.
Edna- I am most fortunate to have a husband of your ilk.
There are some men that women sense are fashioned
For maturity. They soon discover they are wise
But not amusing, qualities a love finds lethal.
You, thank God, are not a sergeants of this army
Of sagacious dullard, at least not with me.
Nigel- Are our whelps asleep? I read them Mother Goose
And tucked them in at eight. The maids are watchful?
Edna- They are simple proof against a family catastrophe.
Nigel- What are servants for but dolts to take up tasks
That might distract us from our high amusements
And our antic pleasure? I have noticed lately
That our lackeys in this land are often impudent
And act as though they might be lords themselves.
I think it tantamount to chaos when a butler
Offers lords advice on how to play at baccarat
And maids we probably have rescued from a life
Of dreary marriage or debauchery are prodigal
With wisdom other than the neither gifts of drabs.
Edna- You canít expect much loyalty from Scottish maids.
They hope to overthrow us, after all. Our staff
Though scheming to destroy us in a revolution
Is not quite lethal in their negligence.
Nigel- I worry overmuch, I know. We Englishman are tragic
Edna. We know very well what waits beyond the walls
Of any city: tigers and nocturnal terrors half unknown.
We are very much aware that aging mortar in the stone
Will crumble and the warriors who will assault us
Will be born one day to turn us corpse or slave.
Or we will age and turn strange parodies of what we were.
Perhaps it is the weather but the prospect turns us drear
With autumn melancholy. It is not a simple thing, Edna
To practice to defend the life of what must die.
Edna- it may be true that nothing dies. You do not know.
Nigel- My evidence suggests we perish like the rose.
Unless your ghosts of Pictish savants tell me otherwise
I think I shall believe the world that is before me.
Edna- Do so. Your cult is no more reasonable than mine.
Are they coming? Have you proper vintage wine for them?
Nigel- Robert and his Jean? I think so. You know their taste.
They will repair to Cowgate for a dram or two, I think
And then come here less than sober. Then weíll hear
A song or two and the festivities of midnight shall begin.
You have a chance to entertain your lover in your rooms.
I shall be as mannerly to Jean and honor her as well.
Edna- They both are grateful for our amorous attention, Nigel.
Nigel- I have published Robertís poems. A harper is a monster
Much unhinged by his ability to entertain a mob
With magic that is weaker than the necomancies of air.
It skews his values to the point where he regards a jest
As more important than a purse or sensible opinion.
Edna- What do you admire in this parlous world? The King?
The destiny of Britain? I should hardly think so.
Nigel- You are accurate. I think our king insane.
The destiny of England is the fate of everyone:
To die, to be forgotten, to take up an interment
I should guess is overlong and probably perpetual.
Edna- How piteous that you defend the ashy cities
That must fall each autumn to a horde of flies.
Nigel- No more hapless than a woman who protects her looks
Or Scots who hope for independence that makes both gentry
And the lower angels melancholy. I am not more triste
Than any florist or bawds who sell our crones cosmetics.
Edna- I hope you never find my beauty altogether trivial.
You will be still as I am in a motley score of years.
Nigel- Yet whilst I live I may be wiser. That is something
Or at any rate as virtues go not wholly nothing.
I like a king whoís mad, donít you? Were George sane
He might be much more difficult for us to check
When he takes up his whims and regal lunacies.
Iíd like him stupid and perturbed by gout as well. A king whose ignorant and dropsical is often proof
Against much tyranny he might take up were he less ill.
Edna- Your politics are madness, Nigel, You prefer a sot
Or lunatic to rule you rather than a lord. You think
Much like a slave or lackey who is glad his master
Is both a stupid and demented with the Austrian pox.
You seem to like the shadows where the footmen
Play at dice whilst statesmen or those commoners
Who grace our courts make ritual of government.
Nigel- You think no less of lovers and your metaphysics.
You are only happy when the both are most fantastical.
It may be secret cunning in a woman to endure the men
Whom she is sure are due to perish in a fortnight
From passions, liquors or their bellicose intents.
You like Robert who is hardly in the world. Jests
And rhymes are in this world of provender and comfort
No less trivial than cries of peacocks as they scurry
With incompetence though many a necromantic forest.
Edna- What do you in all your wisdom offer any lover?
You produce a bit of gold; not altogether nil.
Who wants to hear from carnal intimates that life
Is grey and dismal as you think? We can hear such fare
On church or from the many felons you have put in cells
To hang and dance beneath the rope on murky mornings
You and puerile English justicies deem proper.
Nigel- I am a remedy for plethora of Scots enthusiasts.
Thatís why I know I shall survive your interest
In this intemperate harper. You must turn weary
Of poets and their powdered penchants for mendacity
They sometimes scribble, sometimes set to honeyed music.
Edna- I think I hear them coming now. You hear their shoes
Against the cobblestones within the court. Itís them. They must be tired walking down that hill, Iíd warrant.
I suspect theyíll want a dram to irrigate their throat
When they arrive. You have the casks of Spanish sack?
Nigel- We English never dare neglect the stock of anodynes
That soothe us in this chill and clammy Scottish weather.
Edna- I hear a knock. It seems intemperate, inebriate.
Nigel- Go fetch them, Edna. They will mock your high alacrity.
Edna- Go meditate on empire. Your wisdom may console us. (Edna exits. Nigel picks up a guitar or sings unaccompanied.)
Nigel- Call me imbecile or dunce
Say I am improper.
I took a tour of Glasgow once
I saw machines of copper
With a smooth and shiny feel
None could cleave or maim.
Devices made of nickel, steel
Metals I canít name.
Would the maiden of tomorrow
In a metal bed discover
Tears within of woe and sorrow
When she cracked her steely lover?
Could unliving sons of fire
Buried long beneath the sky
Slake all passion and desire
With a harsh and feral cry?
(Enter Edna, Robert and Jean. Edna hands Nigel a letter.)
Edna- There was a letter in the post. Your cousin Bruce
In France, the wheezy one who suffers from catarrh
Sends you what I might suspect may be an inquiry
To dun you for a passing loan. The man is insolent
And never scrabbles you a line unless he owes his cook
Or dropped a bit of income playing baccarat.
Nigel- The man intrudes upon my generosity. Well, let him
Hope. The aim of any family was never to be banker
To the indigent. I doubt that he can borrow much
From anyone in France; the country is in bankruptcy
The very princes in that realm are slaves to creditors.
No matter. Franceís fall shall be the benefactor
Of its foes. Sometimes the genius of a nation is to be
As proximate as possible to other menís disasters
Or to border on an ocean wide and wild enough to keep
Away armadas from a foreign coast. Heigh-ho! Robert
Jean, you look a little addled from your Cowgate walk.
You need a little dram to drown the dust that may collect
Around the tonsils when one walks too much downhill
Through the steep and nasty streets of Edinburgh.
Robert- We are grateful for such hygienic thoughts and candidly
We are a trifle dry, my lord from that distressing amble Down a hill or two. We suffer much, Think, from ill luck
And ambition. Taking up ascent is hard enough for any man
Not in the habit of the hunt or flight, and marching down
A slope is hardly easier, in finance or in carnal love.
Jean- The wetness of our climate never helps our journeys
From a moor or bogs to any mountain or a fall
Iíve long suspected Satan and his darkling army
Of seraphic hosts were tormented more, toppling
From the vertiginous heights of Elysium than a realm
Of fiery comforts that thee cherubs lived in afterwards.
Nigel- Aptly said, I think. I never argued with a woman
Who can speak in verse or men with ample weapons.
Let us toast the future of the future. Do not guess
What I might mean by that strange epigram. To baffle
With arcana is a talent I have mostly ceded to my wife.
Edna- Then, Nigel, let us drink to something more substantial Than the sottish flow of time. This libation is to Isis, Angus, many Scottish and Egyptian gods, the trinity
And sundry entities we find in Sumer, Ur, interred Beneath the Arctic cliffs in ivory tundra flats above
The northmost rainbow crowning lambent rims of snow.
Robert- I shall drink to that and more. We always must be
Sure to honor gods that might be fearful otherwise.
Iíd like to add: to all these sundry elves and brownies One more wight who most deserves our praise, my uncle Bob, whose health is less than sturdy from the phthisis.
Nigel- The world remains intact for all our low econiums.
The gods are where they are, wherever they may be
The human race is walking on the earth, and demons
Are interred within the midnight compass of the soil
Where they are probably most comfortable. Our ghosts
Are gone or haunt us nightly with their faint complaints
And all our weak but kindly benefactors in the air
Are hovering around the ozone with their cups of charity.
Jean- Then let us drink to nothing. We cannot change
The nature of a fly with all our haughty invocations.
Let us drink and take up entertainment without ghosts.
Edna- Robert will you give us something Scots to take us
Through the hour? You were publishing a set of verses
You had garnered from the taverns north of Invarrie?
Robert- The research, Edna, was most perilous. I had to quaff
A heavy dram near every minute at more tapsterís haunts Than I knew had existed in the glens, these hills
And all these lochs and estuaries. I almost died
From all the alcohol. The singers were immersed
In drink, faces red, choleric, noses lumpy, scarlet
And their voices often slurred and somewhat out of tune.
The men who lurked in corner tables were uncouth
And often bellicose if mostly genial to a stranger.
Iím lucky Iíve survived this dogged scholarís quest.
I think Odysseus when he returned to rocky Ithaca
Was not more happy than I felt in hilly Edinburgh
When I repaired from all this misty haunts to Cowgate
And the less rude tavern blandishments of city life.
Edna- Will you, Robert, whoís survived these Scythian vales Amuse us who have asked for pleasure with impunity?
Robert- Nothing in this life including death is without risk.
I will amuse you with a ditty but I can't assure you
It will not produce a twinge of melancholy in your heart.
Nigel- We must take our chances even when we hire clowns.
You must excuse me while I read this letter. I am doomed
To have some relatives in France who are not worthy
Of their place yet keep it well enough to borrow lucre.
Robert- Itís always been the vice of most nobility to tread
The rim of what is infantile. They say the world exists
To please them and they have the force of arms and priests
To draft the mass of men to slaves for their caprice.
Nigel- Youíre accurate enough about the worst of us. Our best
Are worthy of our stations. Were it not for us we might
Have this entire planet covered with clans warring forever
And a stupid and carnivorous parade of bloody slaughter.
Robert- I agree. You English gentry are the foes we all can hate. If you were not in Scotland we would certainly be killing
Cousins seven miles away within another glen. I thank you
For your service, Nigel. God knows, with an enemy like you
We need no friends.
Nigel- I think itís no less true for us.
If we lacked empire we might look to prey upon our kin.
Robert- Then you must be at least as grateful for the Scots.
Your slaves can organize your life as well as masters.
Nigel- I have heard as much about the use of many children
For their mothers; for awhile it gives a woman purpose
She must then relinquish at the smallest whelpís majority.
Jean- Youíd hardly say as much for lovers. They disorganize
Oneís life like storms or epidemics. I suspect a pet
Is best. A dog or cat whenever turns adult and human
Yet it says within a house as lover and a slave
Is whom we all prepare for with our human lovers.
Nigel- I am most distressed to hear this. Yet I grant
That training lovers for a dog is hardly nothing.
Edna Robert, give us music. Iím perturbed that all of us
Are sophists teaching witlings to raise hounds
Itís too demoralizing. I suspect that lovers teach
But not such small domestic fare. They are the guides
To other worlds they are themselves like minor stars.
They educate us to be sailors in the sea of night.
Nigel- I should hardly think so. We are trapped here, Edna
By the chains of gravity which keep us sailing off
To many galaxies in ceaseless search of alien provender.
Love, I think, is much what God himself has said it is. Lovers are a set of preachers who to persuade our species
To have children. Once the trick is done, they leave.
It is the habit of loveís priests to be itinerant.
Edna- Robert, please, the song. You say it comes from Invarrie?
Robert- The folk of Invarrie are famous mostly for their songs
Of animals. Ancient cults still practiced there
Have priests who wear the skins of many beasts.
They speak as if the mole and beaver are most magical.
Edna- I have never heard these ballads. Are the lot in Gaelic?
Robert- Most but I have used my magpie craft to fashion English
Versions of the best of them, These may not wholly mock
Their charm and motley character.
Edna- Discourse, Robert.
Jean- I hope they sound like English. Folk at Invarrie
Are known to be content with squeaks and lupine howls.
Robert- The folk you know. I met a better line when I was there.
Well, hereís one of them: the Loch Ness Monsterís Ballad.
Edna- Not too frightening I hope? I know thereís risk in Art.
Robert- It might be fairly lethal. Let me try another.
To some itís rather humorous. In all verse, Edna
There is peril. God knows what touches fragile hearts With panic could be comedy for those insensitive or brave.
The faeries called the eagle down
From crags above the roof of sky
Where his eye could spy Godís crown
Where cherubs never die
There God, who rules our globe with law
Takes up whatís high and royal
With seraphim who offer awe:
The whole lot wise and loyal.
Some beasts had gathered from the poles.
Some swam; some others flew
Many otters, snakes and moles
Had crawled; the crabs did too.
On silver beaches near the tip
Not far from Invarrie.
All met at Loch Ness near the lip
Where Scotland meets the sea.
This giant bird began to babble
Screams that split his lungs
To this diverse and feral rabble:
Prophecy in tongues.
When the blessed fowl had started
To describe Godís fleas
Even owls, some wise, departed
For the Pictish trees.
Sloths asked the eagle what he saw
Aloft in paradise.
He answered. Crows commenced to caw.
I heard squeals from the mice.
No one kenned the eagleís rhymes
Which lisped of the unknown.
Would you in these enlightened times
Translate his raucous drone?
That is why in Invarrie
Not much is understood
If priests confide in livery
That God is mostly good.
Nigel- The air is marvelous but I have most unsettling news.
The French Bastille has fallen to the rabble. Paris
Is a chaos, many nobles terrified, are feeling
To the borders and the Belgian coast, the king
And queen are hiding in a country home somewhere
And cities from Marcels to tiny villages
Up north near Germany are stuffed with peasants
Who are killing off patricians when they find them
And hanging or beheading all who managed their estates.
The country is most volatile with mayhem, havoc
And the devastation of their revolution. Priests
Are being robbed and monasteries closed by zealots
Most of whom were starving for some years for bread.
Edna- I presume your cousin is not leading their revolt?
Nigel- He writes to me to tell me I should be expecting
Him within a fortnight as my guest. He has a taste
It seems, to settle for a while in Edinburgh.
Edna- Youíve told him of the nasty weather, grey streets
Most nearly vertical, and often lack of summer?
Nigel- I reckon he might find it more commodious than France.
Well, Robert, all youíve hope for in the highlands
Has occurred among the Gauls. You should be pleased.
You always were republican. Your notion of equality
Can now be taken up by nearby players in a theatre
We can read about and ruminated upon at leisure.
Jean- You ever were a democrat. Itís rare that colonizers
Whether Spaniards or the English feel compassion
For feigners for those they govern whilst they rob. Youíve never often done without your supper, Nigel.
You might understand were you a little hungry now and then
Why peasants might decide to manage worlds they occupied.
Nigel- Do you hear me rage against the franchise of the poor?
Iím for these peasants much as you are, Jean. I wonder
When they rid themselves of nobles who are mostly vermin
And no better managers of politics than butterflies
What class of thieves no less arrogant will then replace
The odious patricians we both scorn? I am more dedicated
To the principles of nature than to England. One of them
Is inequality. This bankrupt country run by churls
With airs of gods will foal with certain haste a nest Of magpies, cozeners, cutpurses, mountebanks and priests
Of some new cults whose acts will make our highwaymen
Seem saints and Anglicans seem passant in philosophy.
Robert- I suspect youíre accurate enough. It may be that a man
Does best to hope that local thieves cannot pass on
Their franchise to their sons, and wax rich
For less than one full lustre. Then the wheel-like woes
Of rich and poor would be our common lore; weíd pity
Those with too much money much with a fevered passion.
Jean- Our charity will never come to that. We are too busy
Grieving for the lack of venison among the many.
Robert- I mourn much for the terrible quality of Scottish ale.
We were republican you might experience ascents
In the richness and the perfumes of our Pictish liquors
That would if bottled properly inspire drinking souls
To thank with strong libations one otherwise not overly Beneficent God he had freed our nascent country.
Nigel- There is no question both the liquors and the Art
Are better in a revolution for a season, Robert.
You might write a ballad that inspires Scotsmen
To rebel from management by English swine and take
The freedom that is theirs, the legacy of anyone
Who walks the Earth but slaves and some domestic sheep.
I rather hope you do and you succeed. I would be summoned
Home to manage an estate in Canterbury. Yet I like you
And the Scottish genius for plain dealing and good talk.
I must confess Iíd miss this stormy corner of the world.
Robert- You might stay here and join us at a pub in Cowgate
We and you will find familiar. You might have to move
From Hollyrod but we shall find you lodgings next to us
Near the Firth of Forth or take you to some fancy digs
We know near cobblers and a bakery on Princes Street.
Nigel- You mean us well but we would hardly fit among the Scots
Who hoped to make a country whose traditions were apart
From any English legacy. It may be sadder for a lover
Who cannot be intimate for long with one he most adores
Who is a duchess or a scullery maid than on a day
To give oneís heart to people to whom one is foreign But I think it is better to love woefully than not at all.
If Franceís revolution spreads to Scotland I am doomed
To spend my latter days in Bristol sitting in a tub.
Edna- Donít whisper it. Not Bristol. The tarts are oversweet.
I cannot bear the custards. Treacles are catastrophes.
Jean- Our baking in these northern climes are not much better.
Nigel- You Scots have much to fear from revolution, Robert.
Think of what we English had produced once after Charles
Had given up his head to quell the popular dissent
And Cromwell in his arrogance became our high protector.
He ruled well, this most pious man, and quickly ruined
Our English life with such asteroids that afterwards
We welcomed any noble churl that offered us a clumsy jig
And waxed silent at a passing rural carnal ditty.
The great fear of a populace should be that they are ruled
Quite well and by a king whoís sober and intelligent.
The aim of tyrants is to set upon their populations
And impose their will when they have more diverse ideas.
The naturae of a king is such that they must try
To make their citizens their slaves. Some do it
For a season and the remedy for most of us is flight
To kingdom run by sots and certified degenerates.
I should suspect your Scottish revolution would produce
Some chiefs who are more competent than me, and these
Once armed with kilted legions and their priests
Would turn the lot of you and many more unhappy.
Robert- You imagine your very talents with these politics.
I cannot fairly bear your immolation of your gifts.
I must defend you if your testimony calls you dunce.
Nigel- I am not so much an imbecile as blind to many things
Iíve chosen not to see. That shows a perspicacity.
Edna- Nigel has supported you; it hints he might have judgment.
Jean- Or its lack. For lords like you to be our patrons
May suggest you have been much too kind to enemies.
Robert- The man has sense. He loves my worst and coarsest poems. You, Edna, know what I have done for history. I have
Done more for corpses than our Jesus did for Lazarus.
Jean- You may have missed a fine vacation as a grave digger.
Few have treated many dead with ceremony such as you have
Since the local vultures were dispatched from gibbets
Under Cromwell. Daws and hummingbirds were chased From feasting on the odorous cadavers at the gallows.
Robert- I think Iíll stay republican. I must admire what you say
About the nascent danger of all tyrants, Nigel. I am glad
You are inept, youíve chosen though a high philosopher
To imitate the failures of incompetents and feeble.
To ape stupidity though armed with sense, from charity
To this most punished and tormented species is to me
A sign of genius at the art of rule. We cannot hope
To be redeemed by genius, Nigel. We must endure
A life of politics most focused on the mediocre
Or we perish. If we have any freedom, it must be
For the boring; if we love liberty, we must be
The champions of vice and tedium. In principle we must
Be advocates of much diversity and staunch apostles
Of what is the most perverse, banal or imbecilic
As might inspire priests whom one can meet most Sundays Ranting babble about sin and all its baleful consequences
Then offer sane and pietistic hopes for simple virtue.
Jean- This man is always for libidinousness for highest reasons
I am ashamed to know him much less to have been
His colleague, helpmate and his carnal intimate.
Iíve never seen a man with more high reasons to be wild
With carnal prodigality or be Godís advocate of revels.
Iíd like you better if you drank a dram without a toast
To temperance. You are a lover who admires Abelard.
Robert- I have thought about mechanics of these matters, Jean
Than you have. I am not a man for such licentiousness.
I merely recognize that freedom cannot be a license
For myself and not my neighbor, or I will be king and he
A slave unless we live so far apart it does not matter.
Once we gather in a glen or in a city much like Edinburgh
We who stand for liberty must love honor it in all of us.
Nigel- Your hope is unite impossible. You need an autocrat
Who feigns stupidity like me or one who is most genuine
At lack of skill. Who can to say who might be preferable?
The idiot is perfect in his practice but has no range
To choose his stratagems. More canny rulers like myself Are often weary and despairing over midnights, Robert
With our wilful blindness and pretence to be efficient
In this just incompetence that leave most folk alone.
Robert- Yet, Nigel, you define us by this daftness as at best A massy legion of imperfect rogues. Our energies
Are no less wasted daily in internal calices
With our imaginary evil. Were this Scotland independent
We might take up our murky destiny with much more ease.
Nigel- Would you? English rule has joined the Scottish clans
As allies hating us as comma thieves as no pure force
Or any reason might have done. We are your secret friends
And were we lions in decline your highland clans
Would kill each other. Men are bellicose and lack
The smallest tad of reason or of charity my cousin
Informs me in his letter France now hopes will be
Be its seasonal messiah. Nothing serves Scots interest
Like an England to the south whose advocates of theft
And retribution for your puerile hopes must fail.
Edna- Nigel, you make politics seem much like marriage.
Nigel- So it is. One learns the most from enemies and lovers;
Many mates will do if one must have antagonists
Who badger us with checks and incivility. Nothing
Serves us better than the wretchedness of any tie
We take on out of passion we survive. My relative
May guide us to some wisdom we would be without
Were we ourselves to flee this scoundrel by a voyage
Or a pact of death. I hope the man is more impossible
Than he had been the last I saw him at a dinner party
Your third cousin gave in Coventry. Itís only in endurance
Of such aliens and uncouth boors that some of us discover
Any truth. I wish the Scots were less attractive, Edna.
Iíve never met a people less uncomely in their ways.
Theyíve cozened me of passing wisdom I might garner
From their plainness, insolence and other sins.
Jean- You flatter us and yet you hope in your persuasions
To deprive us of our life. I think you are an autocrat
More deadly than the terrifying Tartar hordes of Araby.
Edna- Your aims are mostly virtuous yet you impugn the genius
Of our islands, Jean. We are a set of many peoples locked
In close and fetid domesticity. God himself has given us
A lesson in geography he could not offer us with reason.
Robert- Your arguments are most enticing, Nigel. You would make
A perfect devil. Yet one day our Scotland will be free
And taste the very follies you have trashed well to us
In rhetoric most suave and worthy of your English wit.
Yet I would offer you another paradox. If you could choose
Would you accept the troubles of a king or of a slave?
Nigel- Neither. Iím for rogues and roguery. Iím a rogue
As much as you, and I have never written Scottish poetry.
Edna- I smell the venison. Itís time for dinner. Letís repair
To tables I can vouch will do your all a passing honour.
We have marmalades for several meats and puddings
That will aid the best philosophers to live in worlds Of constant mayhem, vertigo and Gaulish revolution.
Jean- I am for dinner. Ale has given me an appetite.
Nigel- Let us remove to sample fare we may not find again
When Scotland apes the hopes and turnabouts of France.
Edna- We must begin with soup. Weíve filched the turtles
From the Firth. The meatís gelatinous and green.
(Exit Jean, Edna and Nigel. Robert stays.)
Robert- Well, I am hungry too, but first since Iím your host
For this nostalgia and a guide to days of other years
I must invite you back to learn what all of us became
Some seasons afterwards when we had ample news of all
That Nigel Pendelton had augured in the rule of peasants
And such churls as Robbespierre that had replaced
The arrogance of many kings. That green turtle soup
Is savoury. It is our genius to outdo the armored lizards
In longevity and learn what loss weíve earned in folly
In our youth, or at least some of us. I never assayed
Middle age and died of pleural difficulties after.
Had I traveled to Jamaica as Iíd planned I might Have wakened more mornings and have seen the sun
At eighty, I suppose, but then would it be Scotland?
I was tied to these inclement hills like any thistle.
Could you imagine Robert Burns as poet of the mango trees
Drinking run instead of local whiskey? I think not.
Socrates was right. One cannot leave a city that defines
One to the point where one is clearly nothing elsewhere.
There I might have ruled the Blacks until the slaves
Rebelled as all men do from any tyranny, and praised
The gifts of English culture to the Hottentots in books
Of banal rhymes. Here I paid the wages to exist
In glens I loved and hated more than any hell or paradise. Well, you may want a song, but frankly I am ravenous.
I shall amuse you later. Now itís time for dinner.
(Enter Robert Burns, alone.)
Robert- Ah, still here! Well, more or less, I reckon.
Some have left us for a spot of ale. A song
Or two from Robert Burns does not amuse them.
I might join them. Iím no less fatigued by song
And jejune itches on the heather; I am safely dead.
What play can bring back these unhappy souls
From their position in the local alehouse?
I donít known offers what one can, I think.
My strength is comedy and simple feeling;
Both may not amuse you in a different world.
Who can say whatís entertainment for the future?
Not a churl of my demeanour and Iíve guessed a bit.
Could it be fashion? No, I think not. Passion? Yes.
And loss? Most certainly. We often live and have it
Donít we? Some of us. The demi-god Achilles mourned
The piteous demise of his close intimate for years.
He never left his tent though begged by Agamemnon
King of kings, as Homer says, to take up Trojan death.
Yes, loss is fine. We must have that or you might think
We poets are more puerile than we seem. So, loss.
And politics? Well, that is changeable. The chief
Whose genius is to rule a clan may be less tolerant
Of foreigners and thus incompetent and worse
To rule an empire. Who knows what mountebank
May be a hero on another day? Not I. Then politics?
Well, carefully. Can we accept the thought that slaves
May be for some a portion not unnatural? I think not.
Yet it may be true. We cannot share it on a stage.
We must pretend as staunch republicans that all
Are kings or with another education would be so.
Well then, politics is perilous. We might offend
And none in theatre can insult their audience
Though they may have good reason for their cut. Yet I think one might take up such sacred themes
If one can lard the meat with subtle sauce.
Iíve said things often scandalous and gentry laugh
Instead of hanging me because Iíve dipped my truths
In charm or larded them with Scottish turns of comedy. Perceived as rural fool I had a latitude most kings
And many courts would envy. Then maybe politics.
The insolence of children? I should think so.
Treachery? It has a northern flavour. Kelts adore
A saga of betrayal. So do Finns and many Danes.
Few of you look Finnish. I think a play of morals
Might amuse the world when we have traveled to the moon
And talked to gremlins, dug up all the giant lizards
And discovered all the necromantic tricks of God.
We dine at Lord and Lady Pendletonís tonight.
Theyíve come back from their long stay in America.
Jean- Itís been five years. I wonder how they stood the fare.
I hear the diet is a constant cut of mustard greens
Hominy and sides of raw and rancid buffalo.
Robert- They have more talent for the minor consolations
Of the table than you think. The east of them
Are students of the Indians. It is a standard credo
Of philosophy that one can not be honest and a pupil
Of Creation and dine well often. The Iroquois have
Taught our Europeans much about a wisdom they had left
Behind their fancy for a complicated metaphysics.
Jean- Iíve missed them. They were more than patrons, really.
I really loved their company. It often blurs assessment
Of ones initiates when one is on their dole, I think.
They fed us and supported all our follies lightly.
I wish all patricians were like Pendletons
Not sots who use us coarsely and then hunt for boar.
Robert- One has to be select in oneís enemies. Otherwise
Oneís deep contentions might be less than civil.
Jean- You thought of Nigel as a subtle foe? I doubt it.
You called him once a kind of perfect devil, I recall.
Robert- Frankly, I was joking. I regard him as a paragon
And secret ally. I know why he was sent to Scotland
People like Lord Pendleton are never valued much in court
They are plain dealers and no king likes honesty
Unless it seems from seeming fools and is larded amply
With some comedy. Men will put up with much truth
As long as they can laugh. Itís why a jester often
Can be more himself than some more sober. Nigel is wit
But not a Melville royal fool. He cannot be as candid
As I can with impunity. He is most honest, and the crown
Sends him to Scotland since they think of us as churls
And then to further exile in America were many Scots
Have settled out of choice or with the legal guidance
Of the English crown. They have told the highlanders
Repair to colonize Virginia or you might be hung tomorrow.
Many of the cunning from our city to the lochs
Most north of Invarrie have with glum assent
If wooden boats to unknown climes are often nothing
Less than coffins for the men who loved their country Have assessed a voyage on commodious seas if quite remote
From these fair isles is a better than a hanging.
Jean- So you like the Pendletons. His mistress too?
Robert- I cannot fault a woman who is curious about the past
Though few of them, I think, will suffer equal interest
In their yesterdays. Most of them will claim virginity
When they have many whelps and several husbands.
Itís hardly worth the trouble to attend their testimony.
I think Edna very brave for looking into Picts, Sumerians
And sundry bards who claim to scribble down the epics
Writ by faeries of their necromantic kingdoms, ogres
With their dour confessions, and the epigrams of goblins.
Jean- You know that Nigel suffered for his frank opinions
Of the French disaster. He was all for constant mayhem
In the service of discovery. He said quite candidly
In court that most french nobles were despicable.
Robert- Nigel is not circumspect. I think the poor learn that
From many cuffs and whippings from our bettors.
He was brought up a lord. From that exalted station
If one moves at all there is only one direction, down. We have hopes he never had. We think that gold and guns
Might remedy our miseries and sometimes might redeem us.
Nobles have less hope than peasants, Jean. Their power
Makes them melancholy.
Jean- A beggar is too desperate
To auger that success at garnering a trove of gold
Might be the black wind that guides him to woes
That had no proper anodyne. Yet few, I think,
Would choose a life consistently uncomfortable.
Robert- We can guess than in the future nearly all the poor
Will be more affluent; then all can taste the miseries
Of nemesis that is invisible. Youíve come back, Jean
From visiting the graves again? The twins are dead
And so are many others on this planet, Jean. To mourn
For progeny that have expired is a ritual means to peace Not a style that is perpetual. Do you know how many souls
In this eternity have perished in the worlds between
The stars, and afterwards what large legions, many more
Will dissipate their dust within the sinuses of ether?
Let them go. They are dead enough. You cannot hold them.
Jean- I cannot bear their long departure. Women mourn
The spirits that were intimate with them; they are
The vessels that are homes for many souls as Earth
Is our own hearth. A man is close to women for a night
And most of it in slumber. Children live within the womb
Of mothers and for many months reside within their flesh.
When they are born must women feel a certain sadness.
They will never know that unions with their whelp again.
When a mother outlives those she bore within her, Robert
She has lost forever more than gold, herself or any lover.
Robert- When they grow they sneer at you and never close the door
Whilst they remove themselves to some improper brothel
Or an alehouse north of Invarrie. Death of children, Jean
Is worth a week of lamentation, surely, but it saves
A wight a lifetime in oneís dotage that one bore the brats
At all. Both all actions and all torpor end in death.
We do ourselves no boon to rage against the current wages
In the large celestial marketplace hawked by angels
Bawds and sundry peddlers for all our passing virtue
And torpors mixed with moments of most banal folly.
Jean- Youíve never loved a child as motherís must and do.
Robert- O, do they? Iíve seen paradigms which show the contrary.
Mothers screaming, furious at whelps, or sending brats
To bring them kegs of ale from faroff taverns in the snow.
Jean- You cannot make me smile. You are a man perverse.
Robert- I am made dismal by your late affection for the dead.
I know that men are merely substitutes for tiny whelps.
We come with our invasive engines to amuse you nightly
But cannot compete with swimming tots within your guts
For pleasure or affection. I would warn you both of love
And any spasm of delight. Those follies mask a triviality
You could not bear. Do what makes you feel indifferent.
It may be burdensome but you at east will do it sane.
Jean- I cannot pass the day without an deadly ache of loss.
I know your counsel is most sensible. The dead are dead.
I need you, Robert to console me for the blight aa you say
Most properly is our inheritance. Youíre written ballads
Of a sour nature lately. I suspect you mourn much too.
Robert- I cannot find a subject that does not offend my sense.
They all are trivial. I improvise an epigram with rage
Knowing from the evidence of memory I shall forget
Both whom I pillory and why I hated him enough
To bother to translate his imperfections to a couplet.
Then I think of something sentimental like affection And recall that five eyers afterwards most passions
Chill and she whom one considered tantamount to God
Has become the chief of torturers in oneís inferno.
I have produced a bit of verse on France but in truth
The course of war for all the most exalted causes
Has seemed to do not more than to kill the bystanders.
Itís rare that any general when he has lost a scrape
Or two will fall upon his rapier, stuffed with shame.
Iíve thought of a lament on the atrocities of some.
What can I say? An army marches to a city, slaughters all
Then marches on to do massacre in any town beyond
Unless the indigent are can to do no less to them.
I mock the foolishness of priests but what is that?
A rant of folly and insanity by some and much credulity
By others equal in cognition yet without invention.
Is that folly worthy of my thought much less a book?
I think not. I might write some praise of nature?
Jean, this cosmos hardly needs my small encomiums.
Five years ago I felt with some small sense, I think
It might be good for poor to run the rich since things
Had shown the suffering and folly of the normal style.
Now I think they both are hardly worth my notice, Jean.
Jean- Weíve traveled further than America, the four of us
Since that summer night we took a dram or two at Cowgate
And repaired to Hollyrod. Iíd reckon that the Pendletons
Have had their looses too. Iíd argue that our burdens
In our age prepare us amply for the greatest loss of all.
Robert- Then weíre done with any tragedy. I think there might
Be wisdom in what one might think when one survives
Oneís age and oneís ideas. If hope in youth is ashes
All expectation from the apple eating days of Adam
Has been hardly less a cheat. It might be excellent
To look upon a glen upon a misty morning and know
And all its treasures and oneself will disappear.
Jean- I saw more blood up on your pillow last night, Robert.
Are you touched with hemorrhage again? You almost died
From pulmonary trouble last September. Iím afraid
I might by April wander to your grave as well.
Robert- Well, theyí make a large one for me. I am Scotlandís
Poet and its current voice of rural prophecy, I think.
You know the talent of the Scots for towering tombstones.
I may not be Presbyterian but Iíll get a fine interment.
Jean- You are deathly sick sometimes, I know. That ploughmanís Labour in your youth undid you. Every year I see the sots
Of red upon your sheets. You cough, you hardly breathe Atop the crags of Edinburgh. We need to travel, Robert.
Can we go to where the Pendletons have lived, America?
Robert- We might repair to some dry paradise unlike this town.
The hills are truly merciless. I might survive a lustrum
In Hawaii or Tahiti where the women are more beautiful.
I have a taste for coconuts; we might consume much ale
There to wash down the breadfruit, seaweed and huge fish.
Iíve always fancied writhing verse on dark and naked women Whose loveless seemed vaguely feral, raw and saturnine.
Jean- You mock me. You are dying here. We need to live.
Robert- We do? You value waking in the morning more than death?
Perhaps youíre right. It seems a habit roughly virtuous.
I think the subject might provoke a few to argument.
When we were young we opened eyes upon a day whose hopes
Were much incontinent on our large capacity, we thought
For righting all our surly parents had not done for us.
Now at thirty seven Iíve forgotten most unpleasant
Burdens we had taken on as penile unpaid slaves for them
I think upon our current losses in a time we were adults. So much weíve done, Jean is irreparable. Could we thrive
And be untainted by our sins below capacious palm trees?
Does Scottish climate stuffed with water make our woes
Or are our imperfections lodged within like a burr?
I think the latter. We might wake a million mornings
And accrue such anguish that might only seem a trifle
To angels who are dismal with their los and deathless.
Jean- Let us celebrate a few more dawns where men can breathe.
We might enquire of the Pendletons how dry the weather is
In these United States that have achieved most finely
What our Scottish people hope to take up in the rain.
Robert- Do we? There are more free scots and Welsh and Irishman
That sit upon their porches in Virginia and more Booneís
Who wander through the open wilderness of Tennessee Inhabited by bears and Indians that in the highlands now.
Our best men have been mariners to where the English crown
Is weak and cannot run their lives. A fine rebellion
Held three thousand miles away with miles of many forests
Where one might merge or disappear. We do in these glens.
Itís much superior for Scots to fight for independence
If their free land is not Scotland. Were we always here
From Edenís days and can we say we need to live ere?
I think not. We might discover Scotland in Pacific isles
Or find it in the thickets of Kentucky. We will go
Next week to the coast and ask those mariners of Firth
Where we might amble. Once this night is over, Jean
The two of us shall stroll down these steep hills
To have a dinner of cold whelks and cockles, seasoned
Well with some vinegar and pepper, down some tankards
Of the local ale and search for some tall vessel armed
With guns to turn away the sundry pirates one discovers
In those climes from Carib isles to Barbary. Weíll dock Upon some coast without a name and with a cabin, fire
Some rude tools and weapons that will frighten bears
And Cherokees, tame up a savage life more worthy
Of an Iroquois than any Scots. I hear the plumbingís rude
In much of these lost colonies but we will hunt for furs
And begin a trade in beaver, otter and wild rabbit skins
That will insure our fortune. I know the trade in liquor
There is rife with many Scots; we cannot hope to build A genuine distillery that will outdo these geniuses
At making whiskey England has exported to these climes.
Or perhaps youíd rather live in Pago Pago near the sea?
Jean- You mock me. Yet we will go down to sail and live?
Robert- I have given many mornings after diverse drunken nights
Assessing with my alehouse headaches and their vertigo
The wager that Iíve made for all my life with God.
Iíve told him that he must be weary with my folly.
He says no. I have bet I can with source and some days
Take up such fine stupidity that I shall bore all heaven.
I have yet to cull a mandate from the angel to promote
An end to all these etudes in the imbecilic. We shall fly
To straw huts in Tahiti, boil a stew of fish and weeds
And make love often under tiny planets tinted caramel.
Jean- We shall go down to the coast tomorrow on your honor.
Robert- On my life. I cannot wake with honor if Iím dead.
My days in Scotland clog my lungs with blood, I know.
Itís sad but unlike Adam and his consort who departed
From their garden dew must pack and find our paradise.
Jean- It is part of the large wheel of all our history
That we return in age to known or half remembered odiums
When we discover what atrocity has lurked beyond them.
Let us then explore the perfect orchards of our ancestors.
Robert- We shall do so. I pant for drams of rum and coconuts.
I slaver for a bit of lemur meat and thigh of tapir.
I shall compose an epic on the pleasures of Hawaii.
Jean- No more Scottish ditties? Edinburgh will miss your song.
Robert- Well they? They are other harpers. Lady, when a poet
Of an ancient glen has perished all the clan may mourn
His quick ascent to heaven but the cloudy vales are field With men as dexterous with flutes and ample reedy voices.
Jean- None like you. You are the bard of Scotland, Robert.
Robert- I have not been lax in giving men some tepid pleasure
But it is the nature of an honest man to not outlive
His talent or his prophecy. I have legitimized our folk
And written tavern anthems that may garner winy tears.
Iíve redefined the English tongs to honor rural poor.
None shall follow me that cia ignore my Gaelic chanting.
There is an end to all these midnight revels, Jean.
Jean- And as heather follows snow a scent of May in March.
Robert- The Spring remembers nothing of its ancient history.
It is a growth of grass within a cemetery dank
With death. One day no Scot will know me, Jean.
Jean- You are morose. Suppose they donít? Will you know them?
Robert- Youíre right; I am a fool. What is the main course
Our old friends the Pendletons will serve for fare
Most worthy of their late return to Hollyrod?
Jean- Venison with some bizarre fruit sauce, a tepid ham
A bit of mutton larded with a salty gravy, tarts
With some faint redolence of kidney, sides of beef
And some hot vegetable, perhaps a set of creamy leeks
And turnips, I should wager. Probably the Spanish wine
Will be impressive; their vintners who import their drink
Make yearly trips to Jerez. Mostly I recall their soup
An emerald green decoction from the reptiles found
On rocks in tepid lakes not all that far from Perth.
Robert- I enjoy a turtle dinner. I find most lizards dignified
As lords if reptiles have more reason to be august.
Jean- Do you miss her white patrician flesh much, Robert?
Robert- I am never partial to the gentry even in their passions.
I think little of such carnal issue of a friendship
As you know. One grows stale of any fare, a gruel
Or well-sauced venison. I never have much favoured
Any meat for more than seven days or so, before the blues
Set in and one discovers what one valued are gold chains
What one hungered for has sated one to swinish torpors.
For this reason I have never argued with your tastes
In glands of diverse nature, knowing that a haunch
That seems most savoury will take on baleful magicks
That wile make its very species more like goblin venom.
Jean- In this youíve shown philosophy one rarely sees in men.
They often think us merely gewgaws or their property.
Robert- I own nothing, not my life which I have rented for awhile
And not the small mortality of other wights in Scotland.
It is parlous to suppose I might be what Iím plainly not.
My talent might depart and fly off to the polar wilds.
My youthful looks have long since sailed to Tartary
With many other nubile voyagers within a ghostly boat.
I cannot purchase one fine acre of this Scottish land
Without its very stones denying me my deed of property.
I should hope you have enjoyed this local Pendleton
But I am sure as winter hunts the spoors of autumn
You have tired of his every quality. I leave the dregs
Of passion to domestic life of others. They deserve
To take up in their cabbage-hearted heats the trace
Of beasts whoíve long been buried in the tombs of time
Who cannot be tracked down like deer and feasted on again.
Jean- Your wisdom beggars mere low cunning. Iíve enjoyed
Much April pleasure thanks to you beyond our courtship
And the tarts they sell at Invarrie. I ow you, husband
More delight in marriage than a god can offer to a wife.
Robert- I think that all the poor should have a dalliance
With gentry to remove their cursed notions that a purse
Might rid them of their woes. It might be more salubrious
For French to have their peasants sleep with royalty
And learned from many months of sodden domesticity
How much surfeit of money buries their betters in misery. We all in age should have a night or two with youth.
Have we forgotten what an anguish being twenty is?
If we are derelict in memory we need this intermezzo.
Iím hoping we will aid each other to discoveries
That will enrich us in the placid seas of Pago Pago.
Jean- I shall stand for you among the coconuts and roasted pig.
Robert- Nothing bonds a couple like their honor for each other.
Were I not your tiny champion I would be your jailer.
Then you would with justice clobber me with primal ire.
I remain your friend and confidante if not much else.
Jean- You are my guide and deity. Like many gods you ask
Me only to repair to grace your temples once a week.
Robert- If that. I am allied with the nature that must always be
The church of any honest man. You are acolyte each day
To my religion in the arms of any man, a lard or churl.
I am old enough to understand that piety is much superior
To passion. I have heard as much from both the Pendletons.
Jean- They may have modulated some of their deep meditations.
Some years have passed since our dinner and the fall
Of the Bastille. We all have time to reassess our acts
As well as contemplate our jejune thoughts. Once
At thirty, Robert, you felt certain that the peasants
Would do better than the gentry, or at least theyíd won
The chance to try. We must accept the turning wheel
Will give us all a season running governments. Few women
Have an urge to be the monarch of her neighbors. Some
Say we are unintelligent. If so, most men are imbeciles.
Robert- It is the judgment of our God that women are in politics
A genus most superior. Itís faint praise at its best
And at its nadir more a covert slander on your sex.
Jean- Remember his cadaverous white face when Pendleton
Had got that Gaulish letter, Robert? How it changed Their course and ours! The crown, aware of Pendleton
Set them both away to be ambassadors to Washington
When hearing of their views on rights of Gaulish mobs
And rule by slaves of former owners of their persons.
Robert- America has slavery. I think they might have borrowed
That conception from the gentry who reside in London.
Jean- Whatever happened to his cousin? Did he go with them
To work within these former colonies? The man was horrid
In his manners, beyond that, dull and all too talkative.
Robert- I thought theyíd kill him. In the end, he tired aptly
Of the whores of Edinburgh and was not too courteous
To ladies either. The man in now in Bath, much ruined
By dabbling in baccarat. Heís tortured by the gout
As much as he belabors us with his poor table talk.
Jean- Enough of him. We have to bear our relatives and kings
For seasons longer than we choose; if we must bury anyone
Let them be rulers we despise, cousins we find odious
And dinner guests whose wit is worthy of the swine.
Robert- We will do better at the Pendletons. Will you walk
Madam? The night in Edinburgh is not so often balmy
And not tainted by a bit of storm or nascent snow.
Jean- I have conceived a thirst from many lamentations.
Let us tarry at a Cowgate house or two and with ale
Salute the equivocal pleasures of the weather.
Will you sing a song? Or are you done with singing?
Robert- I am wise but I retain my youthís most empty habits.
Shall you hear the tale of Douglas Robertson I gleaned
Whilst wondering from pub to pub one night in Perth?
Jean- You are the maker of your songs. You must acknowledge
When you banter with me, those thing of fancy you invent From nothing are the harvest of your ghostly artifice.
Robert- As you wish. I would not have you think I am a liar.
Yet, consider this. You know me, Jean. Iím clever
As this species goes, and I have craft to play a harp
But what it is I do is not explicable by any gift
I manufacture in my person. What is it that I offer you?
A tune thatís sentimental, rants of passion, scorn
Of passing fools and woodland jaunts of Tam OíShanter?
Afterwards youíre pleased at nothing and a little older.
Do not think because the deed is part of our domestic life
That anything about this skill is less than faery magic.
Jean- I know your thaumaturgy well enough. The best of poets Are no better than the Druid presets who sculpt
The vapors oozing through the misty air. What are kings?
Is there an England? Only in the minds of men of power.
What is Scotland? Nothing but a bloody dream no less
In which the dreamer is not real nor is his fantasy.
Robert- Then I must sing the tale I heard in Perth of Robert
The Bruce, that most reluctant warrior and king
Whom many in our wretched time revere with tiny justice.
The king, bereft, had watched a spider
Crawl upon a mossy wall
Whilst he drank hard apple cider
Quite weary of it all.
This insect climbed and then descended
To the floor of Bruceís cave
Then did at last what she intended:
Fashioned a mosquito grave.
He watched. The beast consume the flies
A wasp, a hornet, midge and bee.
He muttered dourly, if one tries
One might eat equally.
Then he thought, is that my doom
To sculpt from blood and steel and stone
A massive northern insect tomb?
Iím glad Iíve failed and am alone.
Jean- You are more devil than a Pendleton. To Cowgate, churl.
(They exit. Enter the Pendletons by another door. Nigel is reading a letter.)
Edna- What is the news from France? Your cousin has waxes blood
When he regards the fall of all those horrid nobles.
I thank God he is in our diplomatic core in France. Here
His company was much below my tolerance for imbecility.
Nigel- The man writes decent letters. It is no small virtue, He who honors us with correspondences gives us all
The pleasure of some confidence with all the fine delight
Of knowing he is elsewhere and quite often far away.
Edna- One might have the same amusement with a history
One takes up with a certainty that the author is not more
And all his subjects as much skeletons as he might be.
It may be why I studied many mysteries of Scotland once.
I knew the follies of the past by definition were defunct.
Nigel- Youíve given up a hobby that at best enriched our memory.
Are we to be absurd without the model of Picts, Sumerians
And ancient Druids in our active hunt for hope and folly?
Edna- When I dredged those Pictish stones from Scottish fens You called my daft. And now you feel regret Iíve stopped
My quest for wisdom in the worlds that we have buried.
You are most perverse. Well, whatís the news from France?
Nigel- My cousin says that Robbespierre both in his rule and fall
Has not amused the populace with any hope that pious rule Will save them from the chaos and the vertigo attendant
On the tyrants who have lately managed their republic.
Robbespierre, he says, reminded him of Cromwell in his mein
If not in his demise. This saintly man apparently was taken To the Paris block with some display of terror when he saw The other skulls within a basket near the steely blade.
I said the French republic was a beast without a head
Yet it has more heads now than a chicken slaughterhouse.
Edna- Well, the nobles killed enough poor men; the Bourbons
Used the rope, I think, a execution less efficient.
Who will rule now, Nigel? Jugglers, clowns or jesters?
Nigel- He suspects the army. Only they can stand with arms
Against the plots of old patricians and the Bourbon cabal. His bet is Napoleon, a hero of Toulon, who has the favor
Of Barras, and though talented in arms, a Corsican
Who speaks French like a native of Milan. He can be ruled
By those who care to work through him. He has been kept
In foreign lands; he now is leader of their arms in Italy.
Edna- Is he republican? The man has ample reason to embrace Equality. If kings return to France he will be nothing.
Nigel- An army man, I think is one who rarely takes up ideas.
His weapons are a sword and sundry cannons, not persuasion. I should suspect this Corsican will stand for freedom
From the kings and priests of many lands so he can rule
Them with efficiency one rarely garners among gentry
Torporous from pride and arrogance and persists more portly
Than the swine if rich in fancy and their metaphysics.
You see what this history must be: a short term flight
From once vice to another. I would auger that each spasm
Of dissent may cleanse us of the follies of a class
But who is left when all are purged to bask in reasons
And enjoy the pleasures of a life without Godís fools?
Itís all a sorry business; I am glad to be in Scotland
Where since James the Sixth the rhetoric of mutiny
Has been confined to alehouse speeches mixed with toasts
To health of perished lovers and the miracles of saints.
Edna- We once thought differently. I wonder how much hope
We buried with our children in the wilds of West Virginia.
Nigel- One plotís good as any other one. Their death was sure.
It hardly says much if one expires in a wilderness
Or is interred in gaudy tombs one spies in Westminster.
We can be sure of few things but of them I am certain
That our voyage often is a confluence of old mistakes
Small itches long forgotten, hardly worth the journey
And our end is joining other mariners in seas of dust.
Our children by their death avoided much gratuity
Of sorrow we two bear within if not with much complaint.
Edna- You do not mourn them? I have seen your weathered face
In moments when you think you are alone bereft with grief.
Nigel- I give my losses twenty stupid minutes every day.
One canít help such alms to nature. Itís infernal homage.
I wonder in a week or in a century how many living souls
Besides yourself perhaps will mourn for me. The world
May be much better off without us and the species too.
I should like a future populated by small turtles.
Edna- No wonder you were not a meteor at court. You say things
Hardly benisons to those who need to be consoled for hope.
Nigel- I tell them what is true or what I think truth is.
Were I do offer them a cunning lie I might have been
A very boring and most bored ambassador to nowhere.
Edna- Is that how much how value your ambition? No wonder
This whole world is quite daft or else republican.
Nigel- My fortune is my medieval sense of honor. For it
Iíve been banished to America or this city, Edinburgh
Where I might meet more exiles from the capitals
Of fashion, lies and coarse deceit in one day
On the rural boulevards than one might find in London
In a brace of seasons. Were I circumspect, my dearest
You might live amongst the dull and think that boredom
Is a normal burden one must live with like the gout
A lover turned domestic, parents without purses
Children who will flaunt their high indifference
To your woes, and cooks without a fanciful invention.
Among the ample rogues and more exotic outlanders
Of this country who have scorned both kings and slaves
You prosper. None can rob from your instants of delight
Between the womb and your interment in the stony vaults
Iíve shown you in my grim and dour ancestral halls.
Edna- It says much for you that youíve rarely been uncouth
Discourteous nor boorish, and you have a bit of wit.
Well, what else does that unpleasant relative of yours
Discourse about past the known follies of our neighbor?
Nigel- Nothing much. He says that Edmund Thackaray of Bath
Our bastard relative, a whelp of the late Countess
Has expired from his pleasures, and has left a slut
His Cockney mistress from the factories of Bristol
Some unlikely sum of guineas that will aid her life
In worlds where people offer nearly everything for money.
Edna- That is most salubrious and just. A mistress rarely gains
A future for her bedroom labours. Love and music
Must be passions; they are often done for nothing.
Nigel- A heap of gold though preferable to empty coffers
May inspire many difficulties unknown to the poor.
We rich are never sure who loves us, who finds us
Merely creatures of utility. When one has nothing
One is sure who are oneís friends; if they are beggars
They are certain of their allies. We have servants
Whom we pay a handsome guerdon for their indolence
And our jesters who amused us with a song or two
But might be bawling verses in a tavern otherwise.
We are alone amongst a crowed of entertainers.
Edna- Do you think that Robert and his Jean despise us?
Nigel- No. I think in spite of fortune we amuse them.
I might be somewhat sentimental in my dotage, Edna.
If the current lowly Scots take up the French rebellion
And remove the English armies from their watery land
All our Scottish friends might cut us in the street.
Perhaps our proper invitation to their revels is their ken
We have an army who will kill for us we keep atop
The highest crag within the city. No matter, Edna.
We shall bear each other irrespective of our station.
Edna- You call them whores. I think theyíre hardly sluts.
We all are born to wander in the world if some are foaled
From huts and others pop from dank and tepid wombs
To residence in drafty palaces. If we regard the rich
As sometimes having sense, we must assume the poor
Are now and then adorned with passing honor. Nigel.
Nigel- Youíre right, my dear; I must be touched by gout
Too painfully today; my dotage turns me melancholy.
Once I thought I had the wherewithal to flout the rules
That made the gentry dull and lackeys desperate and feral.
I was most willful in my sometime arrogance. My very wit
I augured would be meat that might amuse a court or pub
Was deemed an offense to the court and crown. These churls
Would rather pass their days among banalities and dross
Whilst they played baccarat, planned wars and swallowed After ale and dinner many other soporific medicines.
I thought some years ago my looks were not unpleasant.
Oneís very visage seems to be as fragile as the crocus.
Edna- Every woman knows this bit of woe. A manís amused
By figures that suggest a passing run of carnal health
Yet may more likely be a lack of any itch at all
They honor brainless breasts like eyeless sentinels, Are the acolytes of giant buttocks, priests of tiny feet
And teeth untainted by the pox. You had thought that wit
Might beggar all the calls of interest to these passions;
You were wrong and merely happy with your cleverness.
Wit is never valued by the world of power. It unsettles
Men whose aim is both a dominance and some cruel ritual.
They need not vertigo that comes with laughter but a pill
That remedies their terror. Beauty has that brainlessness.
Nigel- I think such levelness goes well in china, furniture And servants. Perhaps patrician life is nothing more.
Edna- We manage those who maunder in their poverty and have
No easy option to embrace those simple consolations.
Nigel- I cannot much regret my gifts. I could not bear the court
And all its dullness anymore than I should value prison.
Are we to have our Scottish Robert and his Jean
As guests to share our venison and amber beer tonight?
Unlike most, they amuse, never disgust us with any tedium.
Edna- You know them. They may perchance arrive a little late.
They like to celebrate the early evening with a dram.
Nigel- Then so should we. Let us drink to nature, Edna.
This Creation is a god who gives us nothing we can hold
Forever. We can be thankful we grow wise from luck
As well as loss whilst we assess the high celestial law.
Edna- A most draconian libation. Why not drink to Pan?
He is a god some say is dead. He needs our prayers.
Nigel- He dies a billion times as every human reaches forty.
He must be well accustomed to such low mortality.
Edna- Loss is not less piteous when it is large or ordinary.
Nigel- The god deserves my small libations. Pan has perished.
If I respect the deaths of many human beings, I should be
No less a mourner for the least important of the gods.
Edna- Both of us are hardly candidates to praise his wisdom
Or embrace his carnal guidance on an April midnight
On the hills of Sumer where the virile ones had mimicked
All the imbecilic miracles of Spring. If life itself
Is resurrected with the seasons, crones are then exempt From such banality. That is a fitting remedy for youth.
We never have to joust in that illusive kingdom anymore.
Nigel- Youíve been to see the doctor. You look a trifle pallid.
Watt did this glum Cassandra say whilst doling out
His Latin epithets and send you posthaste to annoy
The Edinburgh apothecaries with requests for herbal pills?
Edna- I have been once the Scottish priestess of the past.
I find now that my future is more murky than the stones
Iíd thought of as a set of tables with a murky code.
Nigel- How long did he predict you will amuse the planet
With your presence? Or does he do such gypsy tricks?
Edna- Not a year. Itís had to come. We cannot wake forever
Like the angels, darling. We have had for many lustrums
Some domestic pleasure we must think whatever angel
Graced us with each other. Most of us are mariners
From wombs to dust without a Freund of small companion.
Nigel- I auger I shall follow you anon. I see what age is
Edna, a mistake, or diabolic act of will, a nacral act
Or posthumous conditions most unworthy of our world.
We are the ghosts of youth that hags not had the sense
To leave our flesh and join the angels in their revels.
Edna- Some say it is human genius unknown to the fly or turtle
To lament what has departed; it is what has separated us
From butterflies. This talent is not a virtue altogether.
Nigel- Memory may be for churls. A tailor must recall accounts
Of those he afterwards must dun for woolen cloaks.
A whore must bill her client in the morning after love
Or she has done much labour for a dole of wind. The brain
Itself is monstrous; it is as rare as peacock feathers
In the forest. Nature rightly scorns intelligence as dross
And so should we were we its students and philosophers.
We injure our humanity with this rare organ, unknown
To the armies of rich life who have exhibited more sense
Without a brain than any of us tethered with one.
What virtue is there in recall of what has died or gone?
What can we garner from the losses that may haunt us
Or the fashions that have perished with our youth
The beauty of the flesh we love once or the ghosts
In drying petals brown with death of many a yellow rose?
Edna- To stupid Pan then. He dies daily and remembers nothing.
Nigel- To Pan and our unknown benefactor. Wait, I hear the music
Of our guests below. The maidís prepared the venison
The onions and the turnip stews for their amusement?
Edna- She has been impeccable. The wineís a cunning red
From Lisbon and a dryer one he found in old Jerez.
Nigel- Good. We shall not be ashamed then of our provender.
I suspect this time we wonít be much embroiled in dalliance
Beyond the cognacs and dessert, the drams of bitter coffee
Laced with liqueurs filched from cells of drunken monks.
The four of us are much too ancient for much more than fare
And talk that might amuse us. Have you different notions?
Edna- I? I think not. My embraces are with ghosts. I think
I took up some small passion with our Scottish Robert
Out of vaguely carnal hungers for such necromancy.
Those who have a talent and a gift for prophecy
Are often only half within the world and maunder
In their offerings of dim amusement like the dead.
I dream of pleasing only spirits now. Five years ago
I thought Iíd marry some of Scottish history; I shall.
My Scotland is long perished. I shall become the past.
Nigel- Not yet. Go and bring our guests who stand for Scotland
And its future up here to consume a local beast or two
With spices proper to an English table. Had all the French
Been politic enough to run affairs between the rich
And peasants they would have had more pity for each other
And not spent this sorry century of Bourbon tyranny
And pious revolutions in the slaughter of each other.
Edna- Well, that is certainly a world weíll never know.
Iím feeling faint. I may be less than competent in grace At dinner, Nigel. Nigel, please forgive me for my weakness.
Nigel- I shall go. Sit down here. Do nothing. Rest yourself.
(Exit Nigel. Edna sits, then gets up weakly, walks to the table opens a book. She sings tentatively a ballad of Robert Burns.)
Edna- If few on Earth are broken hearted
When Scots drunkards die.
None had mourned when Tam departed
For the pubs above the sky.
Much at home among the elves
Who visit heavenís inns
Tam watched the angels help themselves
To brew, then gab of sins.
Downing a seraphic draught.
Tam heard them not nor wept.
The cherubs and archangels laughed.
Tam vomited, then slept.
(Enter Jean, Robert, Edna. Robert looks very weak and flushed.)
Robert- I hear a ditty. Had I scribbled out that air once?
It may be augury. I have consumed too many drams;
I may be slumbering though many days of paradise.
Jean- Heís sick. The Edinburgh night has touched his lungs
With tepid water. Let us give this wounded bard a chair.
Nigel- How are you feeling, Edna? Do the venoms of the evening
Numb your spirit with their soporific plagues as well?
Edna- I am mortal but extant. I have not joined the past.
Iím tranquil here. I hardly think I have a future.
Robert, sit. Youíre flushed. Your face is deathly white.
Robert- I am preparing for a funeral. One must seem mournful
At these nacral rites. To be vivacious would be rude.
I shall recover from this fit when I dine upon your fare.
Nothing pushes death away more quickly than delight.
Jean- The man is bent on celebration of his own demise.
The richness of the sauce alone will do your stomach in;
The rest of you will follow. Sit tranquilly awhile
And contemplate a future more than venison and ample wine.
Robert- You would consign me to the pleasures of my dotage?
I am not yet a candidate for wisdom. Let it tarry.
We poets have a gift allied to much perfumed puerility.
Let me age without a claim to ripeness. Nothing palls
Like life itself if one like many London actors
Bawling couplets trods upon the stage too long.
Jean- You have in twenty years amused us often, Robert.
You might continue entertaining us a trifle longer.
Robert- Were I charged with Godís high energies I would.
Next year weíll discover some elixir in Tahiti
Blended from the seaweed and the milk of coconuts
Warmed with heated juices of the breadfruit tree
That will resurrect in mimicry the afternoons
Upon the grass that pocked my jejune youthful days
And you may take delight in desiccated parodies
Of what I once had been to keep you most felicitous.
Yet even nectar from the palm trees that could flow
Within my conduits to keep my body supple would at best
Put off that colloquy I must take up with dusky angels.
Let it come then. Am I natureís slave, a thrall to whips
And mortal terror? I think not. I never leave a pub
Without my copper on the table. I can pay my dole
For any liquor I may choose to take up in a draught.
Our world has lived without the ghost of Robert Burns
For an eternity or more, I think. It will do no less well
When I am gone. It may do better. Now it has my legacy.
Nigel- Your verse and airs, you mean. That is most generous. Iíve often felt that poets are more generous than kings. A purse of gold is squandered soon enough; a tavern ditty
Is adored and yet remains intact to be enjoyed again.
Robert- Yet none in sight have sense but you to lend your coin
To this aesthetic charity; your patronage has nurtured
Bards who otherwise would maunder in the back of pubs
With harps and penny whistles, hoping for a farthing.
In life weíre beggars but the time of men last longer
Then a manís mortality. We poets after this short seasons
Are the judges of hymnody before they reach the throne
And listen to the high assessments of a baleful God.
We often are your champions and lie for you to unborn
Wights who know no better. Weíve often told humanity that Generals and kings who could not read are our philosophers That lords are mostly more than swine, that queens
Are sometimes virtuous and always fair. Weíve given
More fine looks that rivalled Helenís in the days of Troy
Than all the London fashioners of female paint and color.
Weíve put into the mouths of lords such epigrams
And clever turns of wit youíd think the lot of them
Have lately voyaged here from Athens after study
In the marketplace with Plato and the sainted Aristotle
Knew the virgin and her sainted words of innocence
Or had passed some heady words with God at Sinai
Whilst on their way to parley with the passing angels
One finds in those mountains flying to Assyria.
We are the covert if penurious allies of your king.
If any knew the dunce that daft and arrogant poltroon
Has been weíd all be living piously beneath the eye
Of Cromwell or Gaulish whims for guillotines and frogs.
Nigel- You are appreciated in this house, but please, I want
No praise in verse for my perversity. Be circumspect.
A man who values excellence in anything must practice
Much discretion or he will be seen in court as daft.
Robert- Too late. I have committed to the truth of paper lines
That do not altogether trash you. Itís fragile magic
Hardly seems much recompense for sitting at your table.
Nigel- Burn these stanzas, I implore you. I want posterity If I am not lucky and I have one, to remember me as one
Who had some tiny virtue in the craft of government
But was in private life most merciful and cunning
When civility had failed, in cultivating silence
And was no small expert in the art of mute endurance.
Jean- Did you like your recent trip to our lost colonies?
Edna- We much admire Washington. He should have been
An Englishman. Instead weíre ruled by George the Third
An imbecile, and parliaments who vie in lack of talent
To be governors of Irish water closets. We think much Of Jefferson and Hamilton; we must admire all those folk
For virtue, bravery and gifts of rule. I think the crew
Who will inherit what theyíve given will be less large
In talent and attend to freedoms with less scrutiny.
Nigel- One day they may secretly be hungry for our swift return.
I hope not. I like both their talk at true self-rule
And think their bottom, never landless like the French
Can discover in laws of nature much maturity the Gauls
Have rarely shown in their republic. I think the future
Of our species rests among these strange republicans.
Jean- The court must love you for these high sagacities.
Nigel- You see they love us. They have brought us back here.
George The Third puts all his favorites in Scotland.
Robert- You think there might be something of a future, Nigel
In an life thatís popular as long as it is faraway?
Nigel- Iíve long suspected so. You see where gentry takes us.
The few must make the many slaves, or destroy them
With their bloody wars. These insolent patricians
Turn more coarse than swine to keep their provender.
Culture from the bottom may lack excellence at first
Or it may imitate the very manner of their salvers
But it will one day give the world its definition.
Robert- Once near every week Iíd pilgrimage to see the grave
Of William Wallace, he who was most admirable in grace
Of mind as well as taller than a forest. I would think
How wonderful the man was and how perfect he had been
For all times, every place, any man who learns the paths
Of any planet in the seller countries far from Scotland.
God knows I think no less of Wallace now and yet I wonder
What this perfect man would do if he were at your table.
Our Wallace was a clever fighter for the cause of freedom.
He would pick his battles where he choose them; patient
He would hide within the glens and wander as a beggar
In the very towns whose English armies looked for him.
Where does one find the proper place to meet the enemy
When freedom can be stifled by pious Robbespierres
As well as Bourbons with their nobody pique and arrogance?
Nigel- You were lucky for a season, Robert. You opposed a dolt
Who ran our England like a Bedlam, some low officers
No less insane than he; their villainies were clear
And their ineptitude and malice manifest. There are ages
When the foes of human hope are more subtle or within.
Robert- Then at present I am much a fool to live alone
In Scotland. I should write verse for everyone on Earth.
We Scots are travelers. I think the best of us my be
In exile in America. I might amuse my countrymen
Who maunder in America or play the harp in Pago Pago.
Edna- Youíve been traveling though many rural pubs in Scotland
Robert. It would hardly be much different in Virginia.
Nigel- You might stop by my colleague Jefferson whilst there.
The manís a genius and no mean diplomat or civil host.
He is the maker of the Bill Of Rights, the sole author
Of that Declaration which had so enraged our London court
That George remarked that one who praised it this scribble Should be hanged. I never had inspired such high scorn Myself. I must confess I always was a trifle jealous
Of this Jefferson. I hoped to hate him for his talent
But it seems the man is civil, just, intelligent and kind.
I think he said heís half a scots, his fatherís Welsh
But he looks very like your Scottish mein. Heís tall
Red haired and white skinned with freckled cheeks.
Jean- Heís Scots, I think. Iíve had a legion of such intimates.
Nigel- I think men like Jefferson have founded a new Scotland
In the thick Virginia woods. They are republicans
And call their country an experiment in pure self-rule.
Robert- As serpent of the crown you doubtlessly persuaded him
His hopes were puerile. Then you ate his frugal dinner.
Nigel- I did nothing of the sort. I merely noted I distrust
Experiments when done on me; I thanked him for his choice
Of others for his large discoveries. We ate not well.
Robert- I shall collect my newer ballads from Samoa.
Iím much fatigued by all the drunken stuff Iíve gleaned
From weary evenings in the taverns in this vale.
Have I favoured you with any of the recent lines
Upon a Scottish highland poet loved by God in heaven
Done by Blind Bob of Perth? Itís Bobís high curse
Upon the low frugality of certain swinish Scots
Who never drop a coin within his purse all evening.
With a noise that deafens snakes
He clothes the bones of kings and slaves.
He animates both whores and rakes
Inters a ghost in queens and knaves
If gentry makes the angels leery
Peasants turn them sour, bored.
Our deity is never weary.
Thus, rarely loved, heís much adored.
He murmurs epithets for lords
One hardly would apply to sheep.
He sighs and mutters awful words
Whilst many angels fall asleep
But when amongst the highland deer
He finds a bard whose song is fair
And none honor what they hear
Heíll put a plague of midges there.
Edna- Thatís very funny, Robert. You are a singularity.
Nigel- No, you look too pale. Rest now and sing no more.
Jean - Robert, sit awhile and sip a bit of brambleberry wine.
Robert- I have eternity to do take up quiet. To the soup.
I have a mighty taste for venison with berry sauce.
Do you know Jean and I are bound for paradise?
We will walk like Adam and his consort on the beach
Of some Pacific Eden, amble on our tropical estate
Hard upon the pale blue sea and munch on milky coconuts.
Jean- Robert! I suspect our poets sung and now must sleep.
Nigel- Heís had too many drams at Cowgate. Let him slumber.
We shall go to dinner and enjoy the stews of beef.
Robertís comfortable. Let us repair within to table.
Edna- Shall we give the man a cloak? He might catch cold.
Nigel- Heíll be up anon. A Scottish poet needs his dreams.
(Exit Jean, Nigel and Edna. After a long moment, Robert wakes, sees he is alone, and looks at the audience.)
Robert- Well, this company has turned to down an ample dinner.
Nothing satisfies our hungry species more than feasts.
God know, the Pendletons are most adept at feeding one.
They understand so well the arts of management, Iíd say.
Perhaps weíd all do well to have such rulers in our midst. Now, honestly, would you prefer your current kings
Who may be rude or louts or pious and intelligent
To gentry like the Pendletons, who are philosophers
At herding those who are at best at heart most wild
As any bear or wolf and never to be wholly governed?
As you take in this play, you might recall that Jean
And I never sailed any other world but Scotland.
I died a few weeks later, Edna perished afterwards.
Nigel, Jean, had lived much longer, having more capacity
For the arts of waking in the morning. What has this play
Been about, you say? No love affairs, no real contention
No action whosever, only ghostly memories of buried wit.
If weíve hardly offered you the consolations of low comedy
It may be worth a small investment of mortality tonight
To be intrigued by some passing intelligence. If not
Youíve had some verse, a song or two and thatís much more
Than you might get in other theaters. None will offer You a brilliant dinner. What are you about out there?
If you bear your life you surely can endure this play.
Youíve heard some little colloquy about lifeís laws The price for wit is cheap. Itís only some applause.
(Robert bows and exits.)
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