Friday, September 7, 2007
John Keats Solo
Back in the late Eighties when I was struggling to become a playwright, one good idea I had and worked on for a time was a one-man show based on the writings of Romantic poet John Keats, surely one of the greatest of all those to have written in English, and a tragic figure as well for his having died so young.
Selecting chunks of poems and whole brief ones, and interspersing these with excerpts from his letters and journals, I attempted to shape a largely chronological telling of his life and works for my on-stage Keats to recite. The arc of that assemblage actually seemed fairly sound, just too long. All I had to do was cut and paste a bit more, edit the material intelligently, and...
But then, for no reason but lethargy, I abandoned the project at that mid point...
Digging in a box recently, I came across all the notecards and paste-up pieces, still rubber-banded together in numerical order. Maybe thinking and writing even this brief mention will inspire me yet to complete a Keats one-man show.
In the meantime, I want to present the decent poem I wrote after reading about him and trying to think a bit like him. The title and epigraph should explain all, except that the scene of the actual historical reference was Edinburgh--which may be of interest to those who love Scotland and that great city. (Never a Rebus around when you need one!)
“The subjects were stolen from nearby graveyards,
doubled up stark naked in sacks, and smuggled in at
the dead of night by body snatchers—‘resurrection
men,’ as they were called…”
--Aileen Ward, John Keats: The Making of a Poet
I hoist one up, bend him over double,
Stuff him in the sack, in his skin.
I always leave the clothes down the hole—
I’m no grave robber—though some women
Get to be a bother stripped stark
Like that, lank hair full dangling,
Short curls a thicket in the dark…
But I choose not to get entangled.
They pay me four quid each body
And ask no questions. Nor do I,
What they do after. Cut the loins apart,
Peel back the sullied flesh—hell,
Let all of life’s putrefaction out.
Dead’s dead. The animate’s gone; the soul,
Whatever that is, leaked out, escaped;
And burial, the placebo of fools.
Better these grubs of Med-men
Get what’s left than the maggots below.
I can even bear the merry japes:
“Hi-ho, the Resurrection Man!”;
“Here’s another one risen, then”;
“A grave truth, friend Horatio”;
“Found your ghoul in life, have you?”
Let them scoff. Oh, I know them well:
Whistling past the graveyard, that's all.
Sod them; they’ll be under it soon enough,
And some other digger in their turf.
I am content to body-snatch, in sum.
Still, it’s working the nights, sleeping
In the daylight, gives me this dream…
The tumult has died, and the tumulus
Waits unguarded. I bend to it alone.
Lord’s luck, but the stone rolls hard!
And inside, a-shimmer in the blackness,
Blood dried brown and wounds gaping,
Lies this man, the corpus of us all;
But only dead, bound to the dust.
I lift him up, strip off the blooded shroud--
So light; how could he bear the weight
They pressed on him--and stuff him in.
Hoisting the body up on my back, then,
Swaddled in its corpse-snatcher sack,
I stagger out from that cave of night
And carry him forth to the harsh light
Of the world’s theater of dissection…
The rest I’m blind to. Full sweat-sore
I waken drenched, unable to forswear
The mystery, for man’s or God’s sake.