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.