The Uses and Misuses of April

Here’s a post to celebrate National Poetry Month on its final day. Sometimes it’s a knock-down-drag-out when poets get together; sometimes it is not. You just never know what they are going to say, so here’s an imaginary conversation between two poets who did the poetry thang well.

Time: the Present.

On a fine spring day, a large man, with an enormous appetite for the good things of life and enough zest to enjoy them, enters the Tabard Inn. He is a man bulging with good humor. He could be Shakespeare’s Falstaff or Robin Hood’s Friar Tuck, but he is not. He is Geoffrey Chaucer, and this is not a man who will tell the world that it is a dark and stormy night. That man sits in a corner across the room, writing in his notebook, nursing a martini. His name is T. S. Eliot, and he is the great modernist poet. Chaucer is here to question Eliot over the use and misuse of Aprils.

Chaucer orders a flagon of mead and walks over to Eliot. He extends his hand. Eliot takes a sip of his martini, then stands and shakes Chaucer’s hand.

Chaucer (sits): How’s the news?

Eliot: It’s that cruel April again. (Eliot opens his poem, “The Waste Land” with the line: “April is the cruelest month, breeding.”)

Chaucer: A good month to go on pilgrimage. Or simply do the Omar Khayyam gig: “A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thee.” Now that would make a nice picnic. (Chaucer quotes from Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.)

Eliot: Yes, but he didn’t mention the ants. Surely there were ants.

Chaucer (ignoring the ant comment): So you believe April is the cruelest month?

Eliot: I said so.

Chaucer: Seems to me you were misusing April.

Eliot: You were way too generous with April. (Chaucer opens his Prologue to “The Canterbury Tales” with the lines: “When April with his showers sweet with fruit / the drought of March has pierced unto the root / And bathed each vein with liquor that has power / to generate therein and sire the flower.”)

Chaucer: Why do you believe April is the cruelest month?

Eliot: It’s this lousy English weather.

Chaucer: By April’s end, all the lousy weather is washed away.

Eliot: If that wasn’t enough, we had just had the Spanish flu.

Chaucer: We had the plague.

Eliot: And World War I, the war to end all wars, had wiped out millions of our young men.

Chaucer: We had the Hundred Years War with France.

Eliot: My wife was getting ready for a mental breakdown.

Chaucer: I lost my beloved wife too.

Eliot: I was harassed by the government over taxes.

Chaucer: I had money stolen from me. It was not mine. I had to repay every farthing. And yet I remained cheerful. Can’t we just arm wrestle about this April business?

Eliot: You’d win.

Chaucer (going for the positive): It seems we do have something in common.

Eliot (smiles for the first time): Yes, we do. National Poetry Month. It was our words that inspired April as the choice.

Chaucer: Let me cheer you up with a joke. Something a little Wife of Bath-ist.

Eliot (covers his ears): No thanks. I’ve heard your Miller’s Tale.

Chaucer: Then let me tell you of a woman who was married five times.

Eliot: You just can’t resist, can you?

Chaucer throws back his head and fills the tavern with his laugh. This conversation continues for hours. The two poets discuss everything from the sonnet to the sestina. Finally, it comes to an end.

Chaucer: I must say you really let your hair down with “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”. That was some mighty fine work.

Eliot: Poetry was always vox populi.

Chaucer: I know. The voice of the people.

Eliot: Better yet, the song of the people. Since I covered cats, I’m working on a new Holy Grail play. Calling it “Spamalot”.

Chaucer: I believe those Monty Python folks did that.

Eliot: Darn that John Cleese. Then it’s dogs for me.

Chaucer: Mary Oliver did that too. “Dog Songs” it’s called.

Eliot: Then what about Alexander Hamilton?

Chaucer: That’s a smash hit on Broadway.

Eliot: It’s true, you know. Old poets do not die. They just fade away.

The two men shake hands. Eliot goes back to his notebook. Chaucer heads out the door of the inn and joins the innkeeper and twenty-nine pilgrims. They are off to Canterbury.

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Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Song: Where’s the love?

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Song is the Black Eye Peas with “Where’s the love”:

1 John 4:20. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.

 

Lady Wimpleseed-Prissypott 11: Reader Alert, Sex Scene Coming Up

In which our heroine explores the city of Istanbul.

Previously Mata Hari escaped, the House of Lords debated, and Quills went for a swim.

Lady Marye Caterina Wimpleseed-Prissypott stepped off the Orient Express. She was in Istanbul, Constantinople and Byzantium all rolled into one. After checking in at a hotel, she went directly to the British Embassy to report the Mata Hari incident. After telling her harrowing tale to the British ambassador, she concluded, “I wanted you to know that there are spies out there. And they want to hurt people. People like me.”

“Duly noted.” The ambassador scribbled something on a notepad on his very large desk in his very large ambassador’s office. Looking down upon him was Queen Victoria, Empress of India with her dour, mourning look. Her husband, Albert, had been dead for quite some time, and he was still dead. She would never smile again.

The white-haired ambassador with his white mustache straightened his Rule Britannia tie. Then he rose from his desk and walked over to her ladyship. He took her by the hand and escorted her out of his office. After all, it was getting late in the morning and he needed a nap. He hadn’t had this many visitors in weeks.

In every embassy no matter the country, there is an officer, or should we say a clerk, whose primary responsibility is to handle those citizens the ambassador thinks a bother. Some are called Mission Executive Secretary, some are the Ambassador’s Assistant, some are the Secretary in Charge of Propriety. Whatever the position is called, many foreign service people begin their careers with this position. They are the ambitious ones, the fawners who will use it as a springboard to more lucrative responsibilities. On this springboard, future secretaries of state and foreign ministers, even a Prime Ministers or two, have been born. Others end their careers in this position.

Nyles Chowder Rucket of the Sprucket Ruckets, the Ambassador’s Gofer, was the latter. He had a small desk in a very small space outside the ambassador’s office. It was a closet. The Ambassador gently pushed her ladyship over to Nyles’ closet and opened the door.

“What did you say was the nature of your trip to Istanbul?” the Ambassador asked, his hand pushing our heroine inside the closet. “Here. You can tell my assistant.” He glanced over at the bureaucraft with gopheresque face and asked, “What was your name?”

Nyles burrowed out of the ton of paperwork on his desk and popped his head out of the hole he created and went to say his name.

He was cut off by the Ambassador, who said to no one in particular, “I have so many employees in the embassy I can never remember their names. Anyway, he is very capable. After all, he is British. You can tell him your business in Istanbul. Or is it Constantinople?Oh, well, never mind. I have some very urgent matters to attend. The Prime Minister and the Queen, you know.”

He closed the closet door and returned to the nap in his office.

The near-blind Nyles stood and reached across his desk. Lady P. P. grabbed his hand to avoid him the embarrassment of missing hers.

“Nyles Chowder-Rucket at you service, Madame.” He returned to his chair. ”What is the nature of your visit? Perhaps I may help.”

“First, there was this…,” our heroine said, almost telling him of the Mata Hari incident. Then she stopped herself. She was not up to another brush off. “Oh, never mind. I am here to do some travel journalism. Seeing the sights and writing them up for the newspapers back home. So, the homefolks may live vicariously through my adventures.”

“Well, I am afraid I am no good at sights.” Nyles straightened his glasses. In the best of days, everything was a blur, and this was not a day that had been going well for him. He could barely see his nose, much less the woman before him. She could’ve stood there a la Godiva and she wouldn’t have gotten a stir from the small man behind the very small desk in the very small closet. “But if I can be of any other service, please feel free. I am at your disposal.”

“Perhaps you can, my dear Rucket,” she said. “Give poor little moi the benefit of your advice on some of the high points of the city not to miss.”

“Of course, Madame,” Chowder-Rucket said. He began a description of the city that droned on and on and on, and then on some more.

After three minutes of this tedium that seemed like three hours, our heroine was ready to leave the bureaucrat’s cupboard screaming.
She interrupted his monotone voice. “Thanks for the tour, my good fellow,” she said. “Think I’m getting the hang of the city.”

She shook his hand and came out of the closet. Then it was off to her hotel. She dusted herself off and donned a new attire and a new hat. She had heard from Two Ems that Istanbul’s bazaars were the place to go.

“And always wear a new hat,” Two-Ems finished her advice. “A lady is never seen without a new hat.” It was advice Lady P. P. took to heart. She had a hat case filled with hats for every occasion. She opened the case and pulled out her bazaar-shopping hat, fitted it on her pretty head and tied it on with a perfect bow. “There,” she said, admiring herself in the mirror. “I feel better already.”

On her way to the Le Grand Bazaar, she took a hankering for lunch. She came to a small brasserie named the Big Salami. She entered and found a table. Lo and behold, behold and lo, the waiter before her was Dilly O’Jones.

“Well, ain’t that a how-do-you-do and a skip-ta-ma-loo-my-darling,” she said when she gazed upon his muscles flexing before her. It was enough to give a girl the blushes. So she blushed, then continued, “If it ain’t a small world. Dilly, it’s me.”

Dilly leaned across the table and kissed her ever so succulent lips, then said, “I missed you a bunch, hon. Would you care to bonk?”

She hesitated. After all, she had already disappointed one man, her former husband. Doubt and confusion gripped her deeply. What if she wasn’t a real woman? She held back.

“An English lady does not bonk,” Marye spoke with a slightly affected English accent. But the hair on his chest showing through his open shirt and the bulge in his pants were simply irresistible. Perhaps … perhaps. Well maybe. Maybe Dilly was the one man who could save her from a life of virginity. After all, he was a red-blooded American male, not a stiff-upper-lipped British lord. Yes, he would save her from a life of spinsterhood and virginity. “Oh, what the hell,” she said.

Dilly handed his order pad over to the gray-haired waitress at the next table. He retired to the room above the eatery with his darling, ready for some daring do. There in his bedroom she undressed. Off came her dress and her hoop skirt, then, with Dilly’s help, her corset. Onto the floor fell her chemise. Her breasts were de-breasted. And her holy grail was unveiled.

“What nice melons you have, baby,” Dilly complimented.

“Why, thank you, dear,” she said, a smile filling her face as she stood before her fellow Brooklynite in her all-togethers.

Then Dilly fainted, overcome by her seductiveness.

“I never knew he was that kind of guy,” she said out loud, stunned at the turn of events. “The first sight of my bosoms and he’s out. What a mistake this was.”

He shook himself awake. “No, no. It wasn’t you. I mean, it was you. I was overcome by your … I mean, you. Baby, please stay. I want you, and you want me. You’re the only one I’ve ever wanted. Look at you. You’re amazing.”

She looked at herself in the mirror. “Yes, you’re right. I am amazing.”

His “please stay” turned into his feeding at the trough of love and the big fellow planted one for his gipper.

After an afternoon of foreplay, afterplay and in the middle-of-it-all play, each of the two were lost in their own thoughts. Dilly lit a cigar and misquoted Kipling, “A Cuban is a Cuban, but a woman, now that’s smoking.”

“Are you saying that I am a woman?” She didn’t feel like a woman. The earth had not moved. The stars had not twinkled. And where were those fireworks Two-Ems had promised? What a letdown this sex business had been. Dilly just had not been up to the dallyinng she expected.

He blew a smoke ring through another smoke ring. “Did you ever doubt it?”

Later that afternoon the two kissed goodbye. Dilly went back to his brasserie; Marye made a quick exit stage left for her streets of adventure. She had decided that the back of a motorbyke wasn’t much of a ride. Much later, much much later, our heroine would remember the time she bonked in Turkey. Then there would be an enormous smile on her face, glad she escaped the pickle a life with Dilly O’Jones would have put her in. But not that evening.

Lady Marye Caterina Wimpleseed-Prissypott of Haggismarshe, formerly Mary-Mary Smith of Brooklyn Heights, New York, decided Istanbul was not her cup of Yorkshire Gold after all. She went to the pier, looking for a slow boat to China. Instead she took the first boat out of town and went on the ship bound for Egypt, the Pyramids and all points beyond.

“Perhaps I will change my name to Jayne and find Mister Tarzan,” she mused thoughtfully. “I could really use an ape man right about now. Dill’s fainting about did it for me.”

Next Week: The Queen makes an appearance.

The passing of Arthur

It is evening and Arthur walks his rounds in his camp, speaking to each man with a friendly jest here, a smile there, comforting one, urging another he can bear up well. Then Arthur, king of the Britons, returns to his fire and warms his hands. His squire gives him a spit of meat. Arthur bites into the meat. It is tasty, roasted as he likes it. As he sits there, he realizes that he is a king without a country.

Soon, maybe tomorrow, he will join his friends and his family in the west where men sit by the hearth and tell their tales of great deeds. Tonight he thinks of what might have been. He thinks of how he failed all those who believed in him. He thinks of his two closest friends, Guinevere and Lancelot du Lake, and how they failed him. They didn’t fail him. Can those you love and those who love you ever fail? He failed them. Thinking upon these things, he drops off to sleep.

It is a night of fitful dreams, tossing and turning. He rises before dawn. He calls his squire, Richard, out of his sleep.

“Yes, sire?” the squire asks.

“It is time to ready for battle this one last time.”

The squire suits up his master and king. As he looks into Arthur’s eyes, he sees loss. When the king is completely suited in his armor and ready for the battle ahead, he turns to his squire.

“Boy,” the king says.

“Majesty?” the squire says.

“Kneel,” the king says.

The boy kneels. The king raises his sword and taps the squire on each of his shoulders.

“I dub thee knight,” King Arthur says, warmth in his voice. “Rise, Sir Richard Bonnesworth.”

The newly knighted rises.

“Today you will ride forth,” his king tells him, “from these battlements and tell the land of the great things you have seen. Never let the dream of Camelot, the dream of Justice and Compassion for all who are Weak, die. That is your charge. Now go.”

Then it is over. Arthur defeats Mordred. Arthur receives a mortal wound.

It was a marvelous dream, Camelot. And now we enter into the dark times. The long shadows at the end of the day are upon us. Who will hold back the night? Camelot and Joyous Gard are in flames. Arthur stands, watching the work of Mordred and his henchmen. Lancelot is dead and Guinevere has gone away to a convent. It is the time of the waning of the west. Arthur’s dream of being a just king has died.

The king is heavy with grief. How did it come to this? Where was Merlin when he needed the wizard most?

**********

We all know how Arthur passed into the West, how he was accompanied by three Queens, how Guinevere returned Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake. As Arthur sailed to the healing lands of the West, the evening set into the horizon. Soon there was the long darkness. But dawn would return.

As it has so many times before. With the defeat of Hitler and the Nazis, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, with the release of Nelson Mandela, with the shaking of the hands of Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin. The sun shall rise in the East and the day shall come again.

As Merlin once told Arthur, you can never determine the outcome of things. But, if you live with a pure heart, the dawn shall always bring in a new sun and the light shall return for a new day.  So do not despair.

Arthur sent forth his messenger to bring hope to all those who are dispossessed and might despair. That they know that hope is alive, that the King has not forgotten them. Arthur will return from the West and the days of Camelot shall be upon us again.

As it was written, so it shall be.

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Movie: Italy in the Spring

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Movie is “Enchanted April” (1992):

Remember “Gilligan’s Island”. “Enchanted April” (1992) is not a three-hour tour. It is not a shipwreck. It is not “Gilligan’s Island”. It isn’t even “Survivor”. It could pass for “Under the Tuscan Sun”. Like that movie, it is a leisurely stroll through an Italian landscape that only be described as paradise.

How did four English women find themselves in Italy? A small ad in the newspaper. The newspaper was the 1920s version of the internet. For a small price, a person could see the world laid out before them.

Adapted from Elizabeth von Armin’s novel, the movie begins with two married women, Lottie Wilkins (Josie Lawrence) and Rose Arbuthnot (Miranda Richardson). They are stuck in England with some really lousy Spring weather. They see an advertisement offer to stay in medieval castle for the month of April. Not only do they get a castle, they get Italy on the Mediterranean.

When they see the ad, they say, “What fun.” At least, Lottie does. After some persistence, Rose is persuaded. Each has their own reason to get away from her husband for a month. Alfred Molina (of “Frida” fame) and Jim Broadbent (from “Topsy Turvy”) are the husbands Lottie and Rose leave behind.

Since it’s a bit expensive, the two of them ask two more to come along. Mrs. Fisher (Joan Plowright) is an older woman with her nose stuck in the air. Then she breaths in the Italian air and she is changed along with her three companions. Lady Caroline Dester (Polly Walker) is an attractive young aristocrat who is searching for direction.

Unfortunately, the Italian weather isn’t cooperating when Lottie and Rose arrive. But the next morning everything has changed. April is April and Italy is Italy. “Were you ever so happy?” Lottie asks Rose. Then the two come across Mrs. Fisher who speaks an “an ancient Italian, the Italian of Dante” and Lady Caroline who speaks “the kind of Italian the cooks understand”. I would say that this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. But you’ll have to find out for yourself.

And what happens when the men show up.

If you are partial to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, this one is for you.