Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, RICHARD BOOTH TO HIS SON JUNIUS BRUTUS, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS



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RICHARD BOOTH TO HIS SON JUNIUS BRUTUS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: So you're to play campillo, all in spite
Last Line: And may you fail at acting and return.
Subject(s): Booth, Junius Brutus (1796-1852)


So you're to play Campillo, all in spite
Of my commands, at Deptford? Here's the bill
Found in your pocket. You are seventeen,
Too young for this adventure in the world.
What will you be, a strolling vagabond,
Smelling of grease, impoverished, set apart
From stable folk by this, your wandering art?
And just to think I named you Junius Brutus,
After the great republican who slew
The Roman tyrant Caesar -- I myself
A worshipper of Liberty all my life,
And choosing such a patronym for you
To dedicate you to the faith in me.
Now you would leave this dignity to speak
Mimetic words, and act. I beg of you,
Listen, my boy, before it is too late,
And let me tell my story to you now,
That you may profit by the things I've lived....

You see that face of Washington, hung up
There on the wall where every entering eye
Must mark it? You remember that I ask,
Enforce respect to Washington and make
The passer bow his head -- well, listen now:

It's seventeen seventy-seven, I'm fourteen.
Burgoyne's surrender fires my tender heart.
We hear Lord George Germain forgets to take
A letter from a pigeon hole containing
Instructions to Burgoyne that touches on
The campaign on the Hudson. Anyway,
Burgoyne gets tangled in the wilderness
Around Champlain. He faces broken bridges,
And trees felled in his way. His horses fail,
Provisions are exhausted. Then he sends
A thousand men to Bennington to get
More horses and provisions. There he's stumped:
A veteran of Bunker Hill is there,
A Colonel Stark, whose wife is Mollie Stark,
Who says we beat the British here to-day,
Or Mollie Stark's a widow. August 16th
They whipped the British soundly -- and Burgoyne
Was driven to defeat.

That made us flame!
I was a hot republican. Slipped away
To Paris with a cousin to set sail
For America and help the Americans,
And wrote from there a letter to John Wilkes,
And asked his help to get me in the army
Of Washington. As Englishmen, I wrote,
It may be said we are not justified
In taking arms against the English cause.
That argument with you could have no weight,
You, who have fought for Liberty so long.
And England, what is she? All human rights
Are lost in England under tyrant rule.
It is the duty of an English heart
To help those whom this lawless tyranny
Oppresses in America. So I wrote,
And sent to London. What do you suppose?
John Wilkes went to my father with this letter.
They caught me, brought me home, and here I am,
A lawyer to this day. You think it strange!
Who was John Wilkes, that he should thus betray? --
I wonder, even now.

For he had been
A rebel spirit from his boyhood up,
Born here in London seventeen twenty-seven;
Was sent to Parliament when he was thirty.
Attacked the king in writing, was arrested;
Refused to answer questions, then they chucked
Our rebel in the Tower; he got out,
Saying he had a privilege as a member
Of Parliament. They passed a special law
To warrant prosecution, ousted him
From Parliament, and then he went to France,
Was outlawed, but returned, again was sent
To Parliament, before he took his seat.
Was sent to prison on the sentences
Passed on the old conviction, and expelled
From Parliament again for libeling
The minister of war. Three times again
They elected him to Parliament, but they kept
Our rebel out. He now became the people's
Idol for his sufferings and his courage.
They let him out of prison, made him mayor
Of London, and in seventeen seventy-four
He goes from Middlesex to Parliament
And takes his seat at last, and there he was
When I wrote to him, seventeen seventy seven.
Why did he tell my father, send my father
The letter which I wrote?

I know, I think:
He knew the dangers, agonies ahead,
For a boy who sets his feet along the path
Of Liberty and working for the world
To free the world -- and did not know my stuff;
Whether I had the will to fight and die
With no regrets. He knew what he had suffered,
And had a tenderness for the youth who flames
And beats his wings for freedom, would release
From tyranny and wrong.

And so they caught me,
And brought me home and set me to the law.
And here I am, who never lost the dream
And named you Junius Brutus. Oh, my son,
Leave off this actor calling, stay with me,
I who was nipped would see you grow to flower,
Fulfill my vision. What, you promise me,
If I will let you act this time, to come
And let me mould you, teach you what I know,
Fill full your spirit with the hope I had,
That you may do what I have failed to do?
You promise that? Well, Junius Brutus, go
And may you fail at acting and return.





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