Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, SQUARE PEGS, by CLIFFORD BAX



Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

SQUARE PEGS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: What's that? The taximeter points, you day
Last Line: That all men share, the world for man is one.
Subject(s): Family Life; Relatives


Characters

HILDA
A MODERN GIRL
GIOCONDA
A SIXTEENTH-CENTURY VENETIAN

TO H. F. RUBINSTEIN


SQUARE PEGS

SCENE. A Garden. Entrance right and left. Left, a table and two chairs.
(The general effect should suggest a little lawn which leads outward in
several directions.)

(The arrival of a taxicab is heard, off. Enter, left, HILDA in summe
r hat and dress and with a light cloak on her arm. She carries a folding-map
and a small book.)

HILDA (speaking off, left). What's that? 'The taximeter points,' you say,
'To fifteen shillings'? Well, didn't I pay
A pound? What? No, I haven't 'made a slip.'
Surely five shillings was a handsome tip.
(Sound of a motor-horn growing fainter.)
The creature's gone. These taxi-men! ...But wait:
Suppose that isn't really Merlin's Gate,
Nor this the garden where a girl who loathes
Our Twentieth Century (all except its clothes)
May turn the Book of Time to any page
And move within some more romantic age?
The map will show. Yes, there's the gate, and there's
That wall, that table, these two empty chairs ...
Everything's right. How wonderful, how splendid,
To know that here the roar of time has ended!
Now, let me see ...(Consulting her map.)
If I should take that road
What century should I have for my abode?
'To Ancient Rome.' Lovely! (She starts to go out, right. Then stops.)
It might be serious,
Though, if I chanced on Nero or Tiberius.
The Romans were rough diamonds. ... This way here—
So the map says—would lead me to the year
Ten-sixty-six. I won't be such a fool
As go back where I stuck so long at school.
William the First was always dull. I know
He'd make me listen to him—standing so,
With Bayeux hands, knee crookèd, and neck bowed—
While he read all the Domesday Book aloud.
I shan't go there. ... Now, that's a pretty view! (Referring to the
map.)
'The Eighteenth Century: Boswell Avenue.'
I might try that. But no—that won't do either.
I'd have to wear a wig or tell them why there,
Love coffee-houses more than trees and birds,
And talk in such tremendously long words.
I know, I know! If I can find the way
I'll wander back into the sumptuous day
When, in his gardens near the warm lagoon,
Titian gave feasts under the stars and moon.
That would be heavenly! Those were noble times.
There was a grandeur even about the crimes
Of people like the Borgias ...and their dresses,
And the sweet way they wore their hair in tresses,
And—oh, and everything! What was Titian's date?
I mustn't err into a time too late;
But how to make quite sure? Suppose I took
My bearings by this little precious book—
Addington Symonds? ...Oh, that I knew more!
Was it in fifteen-sixty or before?

(Settling herself in one of the chairs she becomes absorbed in her
book. Enter, right, GIOCONDA carrying two or three modern novels.)

GIOCONDA (speaking off right). I thank you, gondolier. You drowned my nurse

With true dramatic finish. Take this purse.
So—I am in that Garden where time speeds
Backward or forward as our fancy needs.
How sick I am of cloaks and ambuscades,
Of poison, daggers, moonlight serenades,
Of those dull dances that are all I trace—
Pavane, lavolte, forlana, cinquepace—
And the long pageant of our life at Venice!
Now, in the Twentieth Century there is tennis,
With cream and strawberries round a chestnut-tree,
And day-long idling in the June-blue sea,
And soda-fountains, too, and motor-cars,
And Henley Weeks and Russian Ballet 'stars.'
Oh, what a wealth of joy that century has!
To think that I myself may learn to jazz!
Truly, I judge it has no slightest flaw—
The glorious age of Bennett, Wells, and Shaw.
(She sets her books on the table and curtsies to them.)
Gramercy, gentlemen,—inasmuch as you,
Here in your works, have taught me what to do,
How to play hockey, smoke, and bob my hair
In nineteen-twenty, when at last I'm there.
Which path would bring me there, I wonder? How
Choose of so many? If I'm near it now
I ought to hear the roaring of their trains,
Their motor-horns, their humming monoplanes..
(She listens intently for a moment.)
The very bees are silent ...(Seeing HILDA.)
Who is that?
Surely, unless the books have lied, her hat
Came from renowned 'Roulette's,' in Portman Square!
A Twentieth-Century girl! She will know where
The Spaniards gather and the Black Friars dwell.
(Kissing her hand, right.)
Farewell, Rialto! Bridge of Sighs, farewell!
(She goes up to HILDA and curtsies ceremoniously.)
Dear Signorina ...Signorina ...Deep
In Bennett's fragrant works,———or can she sleep?
Could The Five Towns have bored her? Let me try
Once more. Most noble Signorina———
HILDA (starting up). Why,
Who are you, lady? By your dress and ways
I think you must have come from Titian's days.
GIOCONDA. Indeed, I do. Old Titian! How he talks!
He did my portrait last July in chalks.
But grant me the great liberty, I pray,
Of asking what your name is———
HILDA. Hilda Gray.
GIOCONDA. How sweet and to the point!
HILDA. And yours?
GIOCONDA. Gioconda
Francesca Violante Giulia della Bionda.
HILDA. A poem in itself! The velvet verse
Of Tasso is not softer to rehearse.
What can have led you to forgo an age
When life was an illuminated page
From some superb romance?
GIOCONDA. And what, I wonder,
Can have torn you and your fair time asunder?
HILDA. I'll tell you, for I'm sure you'll sympathize.
I have a lover———
GIOCONDA. That is no surprise.
HILDA. And by the post this morning came a letter———
GIOCONDA. From him?
HILDA. From him.
GIOCONDA. What could have happened better?
HILDA. Ah! naturally you think that Harry writes
Of longing, suicide, and sleepless nights.
Did he, I'd read his letters ten times over—
But you don't know the Twentieth-Century lover.
Oh, for a man who'd write through tears, all swimmily,
And woo me with grand metaphor and simile!
I couldn't bear the slang that Harry used
In asking for my hand.
GIOCONDA. So you refused!
HILDA. Yes, and came here to seek a braver time.
GIOCONDA. How odd! I had a letter, all in rhyme,
Brought by a lackey to my father's gate
Just when dawn broke. As if I couldn't wait!
He dashed up, panting; and his horse's mouth
Was flecked with blood and foam ...
HILDA (clasping her hands). The passionate South!
GIOCONDA. The fellow gave the letter, gasped, went red,
And straightway horse and lackey fell down dead.
I scanned the note, observed the flowery phrases
In which the writer smothered me with praises;
Compared them with the style of Bernard Shaw,
And told him straightway that he might withdraw.
HILDA. If I could see that letter!
GIOCONDA. So you shall,
Sweet friend—or, rather, right you are, old pal.
I'll read it. (She produces a letter tied with rose-coloured ribbon.)
HILDA. Do! ...I see his passion's flood
Demands red ink.
GIOCONDA. Oh dear no—that's his blood.
Now, listen. Did you ever hear a style
Quite so absurd? I call it simply vile. (Reading.)
'Adored Gioconda—glittering star
Unsullied by the dusty world,
Rich rose with leaves but half uncurled,
New Venus in thy dove-drawn car—
Have pity: drive thy wrath afar.
Let Cupid's war-flag be upfurled,
Lest by thy gentle hand be hurled
The mortal bolt that leaves no scar.

'So prays upon his aching knee
Thy humble vassal, once the fear
Of Christendom, but now—woe's me!—
One whose wild prayers Love will not hear,
Who treads the earth and has no home—
Giulio Pandolfo, Duke of Rome.'
HILDA. Gioconda, what a lover!
GIOCONDA. So I think—
His brain a dictionary, his blood mere ink.
HILDA. I mean how rare a lover! Would that mine
Had brains to pen a letter half so fine!
GIOCONDA. How does he write?
HILDA. Write! Would you deign to call
This 'writing'—this illiterate blotted scrawl? (Reading.)
'Dear Hilda, if you buy The Star
To-night, you mustn't for the world
Suppose he got my hair uncurled—
That blighter who kyboshed the car.
He had the worst of it by far
Because the hood on mine was furled.
Good Lord! what steep abuse he hurled!
Yours, Harry—with a nasty scar.
'P.S.—The cut's above the knee,
And won't be right just yet, I fear,
Oh, and what price you marrying me?
Anything doing? Let me hear.
Ring up to-morrow, if you're home.
Where shall we do our bunk? To Rome?

Now, wasn't that enough to make me mad?
It is a shame! It really is too bad!
'Dear Hilda'—plain 'dear!' And what girl could marry
A man who, when proposing, ends 'yours, Harry?'
GIOCONDA. I love his downright manner. In my mind
I see him, a tall figure; and behind,
His old two-seater. Yes, I see him plainly—
Close-cropped———
HILDA. Half bald.
GIOCONDA. Slow-moving———
HILDA. And ungainly.
GIOCONDA. A brow like H. G. Wells' my fancy draws,
An eye like Bennett's and a beard like Shaw's.
I know your Harry—just the English type,
A silent strong man married to his pipe,
With so few words, except about machines,
That he can never tell you what he means:
But were I his, and we two went a-walking,
What should that matter? I could do the talking.
HILDA. Surely you see, Gioconda, I require
A lover who can make love with some fire.
GIOCONDA. And I a lover so much overcome
By deep emotion that it leaves him dumb.
HILDA. No poetry? Then, so far as I can tell,
The Twentieth Century ought to suit you well. .
I've an idea!
GIOCONDA. What is it?
HILDA. This: that you
Show me how best you'd like a man to woo.
GIOCONDA. I will, I will!
HILDA. Imagine, then, than I
Am she for whom you say you'd gladly die.
This is my room at Baystead: that's the street:
You must come in from there ...(Leading her left.)
and then we meet.
GIOCONDA. By Holy Church, a pretty sport to play!
God shield you, Signorina Hilda Gray! (Exit left.)
HILDA. Now—what's the time? It must be half-past four.
It is. I'll give him just one minute more.

(Looking at herself in a pocket-mirror, and making a toilet.)

Goodness! I do look horrid. ... Will he bring
An emerald or a pearl engagement-ring?
He comes! I'll take pearls as a last resort.

(Enter, left, GIOCONDA carrying a pipe and a walking-stick.)

GIOCONDA. Well, and how are you? In the pink, old sport?
HILDA. I'm glad to see you, Harry. Do sit down.
GIOCONDA. 'Some' heat to-day, what? Even here. In town
Perfectly awful. Got a match?

(She tries in vain to light the pipe from a match struck by HILDA.)

I say,
Old thing—you really look top-hole to-day.
HILDA. Well, naturally: I knew that you were coming.
(GIOCONDA pulls at her pipe in silence, pokes the floor with her stick,
and shifts it from hand to hand.)

You're very quiet.
GIOCONDA (with a start). Oh! what's that you're thumbing?

(Goes over to HILDA and looks over her shoulder.

HILDA. Addington Symonds.
GIOCONDA. Any good?
HILDA. Why—gorgeous!
You ought to read it—all about the Borgias.
GIOCONDA. What are they? Oh, I see! I had enough
Up at the 'Varsity of that sort of stuff.
I say—oh, blast the thing, this pipe's a dud! (She puts the pipe
on the table.)
HILDA. You smoke too much. They say it slows the blood,
And that you simply can't afford. (Pause.)
GIOCONDA. I say———
HILDA. Well, what?
GIOCONDA. You really look top-hole to-day.
HILDA. How nice! But flattery always was your wont. (Pause.)
GIOCONDA. I say———
HILDA. That's just it, Harry dear—you don't.
GIOCONDA. I came to ask you something. .. (Producing a ring.)
Ever seen
A ring like this? Not a bad sort of green.
HILDA (taking it). Emeralds! I worship emeralds. They enthrone
All the luxuriant summer in a stone.
Do let me just see how it looks! The third
Finger, I think, is generally preferred?
How splendid! Won't she be delighted?
GIOCONDA. Who?
HILDA. Your dear Aunt Kate.
GIOCONDA. I bought the thing for you.
HILDA. Harry!
GIOCONDA. You know—a what-d' you-call-it ring?
HILDA. Engagement?
GIOCONDA. That's the goods. And in the Spring
The parson gets our guinea. What about it?
HILDA. See, how it fits! I couldn't do without it.
GIOCONDA. Right-o! Then, that's that: good. But if you carry
A diary, jot down, 'Next Spring, marry Harry'—
You might forget. You keep a diary?
HILDA (bringing a small diary from her bag). Look—
I did blush—buying an engagement-book!
GIOCONDA. Well, how's the enemy? Good Lord! what a shock!
D'you know, old bean, it's more than five o'clock?
HILDA. You'll have some tea?
GIOCONDA. Can't. Sorry. Told two men
I'd play a foursome with them at 5.10.
You'd better make the fourth.
HILDA. I really can't.
There are some new delphiniums I must plant.
GIOCONDA (going out, left). See you to-morrow, then.
HILDA. You'll drive me frantic
If you're not just the teeniest bit romantic!
GIOCONDA. It isn't done. You're absolutely wrong
In asking me to do that stunt. So long!
(She tosses the pipe and stick off, left.)
There! Did I play it well? You'd be my wife?
HILDA (sighing). My dear, you played old Harry to the life—
His gaucherie ...
GIOCONDA. His noble self-command ...
HILDA. The way he shifts his cane from hand to hand ...
GIOCONDA. A nervous trick that shows how much he feels ...
HILDA. All I know is—I'd have a man who kneels
And pours out passion in a style as rippling
As the best Swinburne—or at least as Kipling.
GIOCONDA. Then I'll now be your lady. To your part—
Woo me as you'd be wooed!
HILDA. With all my heart!
(Catching up her cloak, she flings it over her shoulder.)
Last Miracle of the World, sainted, adored,
Divine Gioconda—hear me, I beg!
GIOCONDA. My lord!
HILDA. Dost know of passion? Is that heart so pure
As not to guess what torments I endure
Who for so long have sighed for thee in vain?
And wilt thou have no pity on my pain?
Wilt thou still spurn me as a thing abhorred
Whose only crime is to love thee?
GIOCONDA. My lord———
HILDA. Stay! I will brook no answer. For thy sake
Did I not paint the town in crimson-lake?
Have I not wrenched thee through thy nunnery-bars?
And bear I not some ninety-seven scars
Taken as I fought my way to thy fair feet?
Think how thy relatives rushed into the street
To save thee—how I put them to the sword
And left them strewn about in heaps!
GIOCONDA. My lord———
HILDA. Had I a boy's light love when I, to win
Thy favour, cut off all thy kith and kin?
Run through the list! Measure my love by that!
Two great-grandfathers (one, I own, was fat);
Five brothers; fourteen uncles; half a score
Of nephews (and I dare say even more);
A brace of maiden-aunts; a second-cousin;
And family connections by the dozen.
Does it not melt that pitiless heart of ice
To see thyself secured at such a price?
GIOCONDA. My lord———
HILDA. Or if indeed thy heart requires
Flame fiercer than my love's Etnaean fires—
Ask what thou wilt, but do not ask that I
Live on. Command me, rather, how to die.
Say in what style thou'dst have me perish here,
So that at least my ardour win one tear!
Choose what thou wilt—I'll execute thy charge—
Nor fear to speak: my repertoire is large.
I can suspend myself upon a rafter;
Fall on my blade, and die with horrid laughter;
Leap from a height; read Bennett's books; or swallow
Poison—and, mark you, with no sweet to follow.
GIOCONDA. My lord———
HILDA. Thy choice is made?
GIOCONDA. My lord———
HILDA. Alack!
GIOCONDA. I have accepted thee ten minutes back.
HILDA. Then—I will deign to live. My castle stands
Four-towered among its olive-silvered lands.
Away! Away! Thou art all heaven to me!
(She drags GIOCONDA right. They break.)
GIOCONDA. Wonderful! That's Pandolfo to a tee!
HILDA. I should adore him!
GIOCONDA. And I Harry, too..
If only you were I and I were you!
But soft! since here we stand beyond the range
Of Time, why don't we swop?
HILDA. You mean 'exchange'?
Why not? We will! (Moving quickly, right.)
May Titian's age enfold me!
GIOCONDA. Stop! Stop! You can't go yet. You haven't told me
Where I can find the Twentieth Century.
HILDA (leading her front, and pointing to the audience). Then,
Behold its ladies and its gentlemen.
GIOCONDA. What lovely people! ...All the same, you know,
They're not as I have pictured them.
HILDA. How so?
GIOCONDA. They're all so still. ... And then—my fancy boggles
To see not one who's wearing motor-goggles.
How can I get among them?
HILDA. You must jump
Down there.
GIOCONDA. But that would mean a dreadful bump!
HILDA. You want to go from fifteen-sixty sheer
To nineteen-twenty. 'Tis a jump, my dear ...
And so—farewell! I come, I come at last—
O fire and sound and perfumes of the Past! (She goes out quickly,
right.)
GIOCONDA. Her eyes were green. However hard he tries,
Pandolfo never can resist green eyes.
I know he'll die for her and not for me.
Why did I let her go? It shall not be!
(HILDA enters, right.)
HILDA. It shall not be! Why did I let her go?
Harry will love her more than me, I know.
Gioconda!
GIOCONDA. Hilda!
HILDA. Somehow, after all,
I can't let Harry go beyond recall.
I think of his good heart: I know how proud
I'll be to watch him through a dusty cloud
When his new car, balanced upon one tire,
Rolls roistering through the lanes of Devonshire.
GIOCONDA. I too, fair friend, perceive with sudden terror
The greatness of my momentary error.
I mustn't let you risk the enterprise ...
Pandolfo never could endure green eyes!
HILDA. Let us each make the best of her own age!
GIOCONDA. But sometimes you will write me—just a page?
HILDA. I will indeed. And you?
GIOCONDA. And so will I.
Hilda—farewell!
HILDA. Gioconda, dear—good-bye!
(Standing in the middle of the stage, they take hands and kiss.
Then they come to the front, left and right.)
So ends our fantasy—the slight design
Arisen and gone like sound in summer trees,
GIOCONDA. The burden such as every mind may seize—
That in all centuries life is goodly wine!
HILDA. Which has the more of joy, her age or mine,
We leave you to determine as you please.
GIOCONDA. Mine has the painting-schools—the Sienese,
Venetian and unchallenged Florentine.
HILDA. Mine has the knowledge that our mortal pains
Are fleeing from the skilled physician's arts.
GIOCONDA. Mine the delight of unspoiled hills and plains,
Fair speech, adventure, and romantic hearts.
HILDA. And mine a sense that, by the single sun
That all men share, the world for man is one.





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