Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE VOLCANIC ISLAND, by CLIFFORD BAX

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THE VOLCANIC ISLAND, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Kate
Last Line: Dorothea (raising her cup). And freud!



SCENE. The sitting-room of a flat in Knightsbridge. Back: centre, a
fireplace with fire burning; right, a cupboard containing tea things; left, a t
all lacquered screen. Front: a table on which are illustrated papers and a
parcel of books tied with string; a chair to each side of the table.

The outside door is heard closing.

DOROTHEA (without). Kate!
(She enters, right, in a fashionable Spring walking costume.)
So I've caught her! Gone at half-past three—
Gone to 'the pictures' with her young man Bill.
I hope she'll not be foolish. ... Now for tea.
(She puts a kettle on the fire and brings a plate of cakes to the
Ah! So the Mudie books have come—but still
Nothing from James. He really is too shy—
And Mother always whispers when we meet,
'Well, dear, no startling news?' I wish he'd try!
What have they sent me from New Oxford Street?
'Poems,' by Marshlight. ... Quite a charming face. ...
Four portraits! ...And how good it is to find
A note that tells the very hour and place
When each mouse-lyric shook that mountain mind! ...
And here? Oh Mudie! Sending this to me!
'A Bed of Roses. George ...' I'll try again. ...
'Peeled Onions'! Now, whatever might they be?
Of course! New tales by Ethel Colburn Mayne.
How hypodermic! What she does without!
What whittling of mere obvious fact! Indeed
I sometimes tremble when her books come out
For fear there won't be any words to read. ..
The last two? These—hobnobbing all this time,
Not rent to rags, not mutually destroyed?
For here's that famous work, 'Soul from the Slime,'
By Jung, and here 'Slime from the Soul,' by Freud.
They may be risqué but how up to date—
And James need never know I've read them. ... Stop!
Surely? It is! A telegram! Oh, Kate,
You little fool, to dump the books on top!
Reply paid, too ...(Reading) 'Wylde, 15 Claridge Hill.
Would you accept me for your husband? James ...'
At last!..What answer? If I say I will,
The Morning Post will paragraph our names
With me as 'Dorothea, second child'—
Et cetera—and The Tatler, I expect,
Will have a picture, 'Cupid's Bag. Miss Wylde,
Sir James Adolphus Porter's bride-elect,
A well-known figure both where Fashion reigns
And where our young intelligenzia meet. ...'
But shall I? If he read more, had more brains,
More fire, and just a little less conceit!
A VOICE (behind the screen). Marry him at your peril!
DOROTHEA (not hearing). He's a man
Of wealth and rank—an O.B.E.—and yet
To marry without love ...Some people can.
THE VOICE. I gave you honest warning. Don't forget!
DOROTHEA (as before). Most girls would jump at such an offer. Why
Should I resent so much his pompous air,
His embonpoint?
THE VOICE. It isn't you, but I!
DOROTHEA (as before). Or possibly, as Freud and Jung declare,
Far under what we know ourselves to be
Another self lies hidden. Am I, then———
THE VOICE. Like a volcanic island in the sea———
DOROTHEA (half hypnotized). Of which no more is visible to men
Than the mere summit—fair with azure light
And flowers and birds and grain to sow and reap———
THE VOICE. While the huge base goes shelving out of sight
To coral-caves and monsters of the deep.
DOROTHEA. How queer to think that while one part of me
Is almost fond of James, another part
THE VOICE. Doubtful? Just you wait and see!
DOROTHEA. Oh, for some ceremony, some magic art,
To call up the subconscious mind!
THE VOICE. Then hold
Jung with your right hand, with your left hand Freud,
And clap them thrice.
DOROTHEA (following these directions). Of course, I'm far too old ...
I ought to be more rationally employed ...
But still———

(DOROTHY WILD darts out from behind the screen. She is a barbaric
figure clad in furs and wearing a tiara of feathers.)

DOROTHY. O-hai! And so at last I'm free!
DOROTHEA (recoiling). Good gracious!
DOROTHY. Don't you know me?
DOROTHEA. What's your name?
DOROTHY. Dorothy Wild. You end yours with an 'e'
And spell it with a 'y'—as though for shame
Of owning sisterhood with trees and birds
And dragonflies; as though you'd never run
Beside the foam, shouting ecstatic words
In the wind's ear, nor let the immortal sun
Have your whole body till Something, not of time,
Like an elixir flowed through every vein.
You? You lack pith. You'd never love through crime;
But when I love, I dare—and brook no chain!
DOROTHEA. You're rather frightening. Still, do take a seat!
DOROTHY (sitting on the table). Chocolates! One for me?
DOROTHEA (politely). Oh, not at all———
DOROTHY. Wild roses, love and chocolate—aren't they sweet?
DOROTHEA. Yes—well ...I do hope nobody will call.
We've not been introduced, but is it true
That you're my own Subconscious?
DOROTHY. There, you see
The insolence of the Conscious! Part of you!
Really! And why not you a part of me?
How much of Time have you known? Twenty years;
But I, whom not ten thousand can make old,
Have worshipped trees, loved naiads, boxed the ears
Of mountain satyrs, touched the Fleece of Gold,
And ridden great centaurs. When I catch the strain
Of Homer's verse I hear his very lyre
Trembling: for me Hector is newly slain,
And it was yesterday Troy fell in fire.
They who at last have found me little guess
Whither I lead. They fancy that one blow
Has brought down Heaven in fragments. Nonetheless,
I shall build what they think I overthrow!
And you? You're just a weir that tames my power.
I am the rushing car and you the brake
That checks me: I the root and you the flower;
I the true girl———
DOROTHEA. Please try another cake.
No doubt you're right, but Freud says———
DOROTHY. Not a word
Against my good Columbus!
DOROTHEA. Hardly! Still,
I always thought from what I read and heard
That you were quite a monster.
DOROTHY. As you will,
I have my faults.
DOROTHEA. You do seem—shall I say
A trifle—crude?
DOROTHY. I'm what you'd like to be.
DOROTHEA. Oh, really! I'm not prim—I'm rather gay—
But that's no frock for going out to tea.
I should blush!
DOROTHY. Little hypocrite! Why, look—
What's that—oh you that have no eyes for men?
DOROTHEA. The 'Life of Gosse'—a very proper book.
DOROTHY. And underneath? La Vie Parisienne!
(Turning to the bookshelves.)

Then, here's Boccaccio, Havelock Ellis, too,
James Joyce rebound to look like Samuel Smiles,
Montaigne, Pierre Louys———
DOROTHEA. Any one but you
Would know I read them only for their styles.
I've stood enough. Please go!
DOROTHY. But where to go?
We two make up one girl.
DOROTHEA. Behind the screen.
DOROTHY. Not yet!
DOROTHEA. But I've important things———
DOROTHY. I know—
That's why I came. This telegram, you mean———
DOROTHEA. Mind your own business!
DOROTHY. But it is mine, quite
As much as yours. You'll take him? You insist?
I won't!
DOROTHEA. How terrible! In this modern light
Poor James looks almost like a bigamist. ...
DOROTHY. Marry that hippopotamus if you dare!
DOROTHEA. Chairmen of Boards must be a little fat.
DOROTHY. James never rises but he 'takes' the chair.
DOROTHEA. He owns five cars, four houses, and a flat.
DOROTHY. Those and the seven deadly virtues, too.
DOROTHEA. He's forty-nine and never loved before.
DOROTHY. Why not? No girl would think of him but you.
DOROTHEA. A solid quiet man———
DOROTHY. A solid bore!
DOROTHEA. Now, Dorothy, be reasonable. Sit down
Like a well-mannered girl, or—if you must—
Crouch like a tigress there and fret and frown,
But don't break in. I think it's only just
That I—for, after all, I really am
The civilized and reputable Miss Wylde—
Should have the answering of this telegram.
Say what you will, you're nothing but a child
Who lies among the daffodils of Spring,
Lost in a book of marvels. At a glance
I know you—how you're dreaming of some king
From over the blue mountains of romance
Who'll set you on a charger black as night,
And, spurring on by dragon-haunted caves,
Come to his castle just when the sunset-light
In Fairyland floats on the girdling waves.
But kings aren't like that now. They puff cigars,
Wear bowlers and check-suits, and fill the gaps
Left between opening Parliament and bazaars
By betting on the racecourse. Or perhaps
You want some hero from a Conrad tale
Who'd stand, white-ducked, against the torrid blue
And shoot down tribes with bullets fast as hail:
But think, my dear—he simply wouldn't do.
Picture it. We should take him out to dine—
The ladies would withdraw—he'd start to speak
About old Lingard, while they passed the wine,
And go on with the story for a week.
No! We must have it clear. I much regret
This violent tug-of-war between our aims
But—I'm determined.
DOROTHY. Have you finished yet?
Right. Then you can, but I won't, marry James.
DOROTHEA. Why not?
DOROTHY. Why not? Answer my questions. One:
Does he beat time to music with his hand?
DOROTHY. Two: and talk of 'featuring,' 'Japs,' 'the Hun'?
DOROTHEA. Oh, sometimes———
DOROTHY. Three: and does he understand
That wicked frocks don't mean a wicked life?
DOROTHEA. But, of course, there's no one perfect!
Wouldn't he read the golf news to his wife?
Five: Can he tell—the next day—what you wore?
Six: If he knows an author, will he wait
To get a copy free or buy the book?
Seven: Is he fond of curate stories? Eight:
If, when you're dressed, you wonder how you look
And ask him, as you're driving to the dance,
Doesn't he, after everything you've done,
Say 'Oh, all right'—without a single glance?
Nine: If you flirt a little, for the fun
Of being a woman, would he think you light?
Ten: Does he say, when dining in Soho,
'I don't think we shall need champagne to-night—
But if you really want it, let me know?'
DOROTHEA. Oh please! I don't—in fact, I can't—
Dispute the list. I'll openly admit
That James is not the man I used to want. ...
DOROTHY. Splendid! Now, where's his wire? We'll answer it
With one majestic 'No.'
DOROTHEA (stopping her). Not yet. Be kind!
Think what I lose in losing James, and then
You'll change your mind—your portion of our mind.
I want a man to kiss———
DOROTHY. But why not ten?
DOROTHEA. My dear! I want the life of modern man.
I want to quote the works of Douglas Cole,
Think all men base except the artisan,
And smile at God, religion, and the soul.
I want to find new genius everywhere.
I want to sit in drawing-rooms and say
'Rossetti, Watts? Of course, they can't compare
With Roger, or the smallest Fry, to-day.'
So, won't you be an angel? Share the flat
In honourable retirement! Don't you see
You should?
DOROTHY. Subconscious! Well, I may be that—
But no great eras come apart from me.
What though to-day I have less power than you?
The wheel will turn; and shall I not be there
To run with roses down Fifth Avenue
And make a Roman revel in Mayfair?
No! I maintain my right to have a say
In this, our marriage; therefore comprehend
Once and for all that I shall not give way!
DOROTHEA. I've done my best to treat you as a friend.
You're just a little selfish pig! In fact,
I don't know why you ever left your screen!
DOROTHY. I didn't come to argue but to act,
And now I will!
DOROTHEA. Whatever do you mean?
DOROTHY. I came to kill you.
DOROTHY. You see this knife?
The ghost of Caesar Borgia gave me this,
And with it some advice on taking life.
He only wished, he said, the chance were his!
DOROTHEA. But don't you know? One's not allowed to kill.
DOROTHY. Pooh! A mere whimsy of the Conscious Mind.
DOROTHEA. But listen!
DOROTHEA. You can't!
DOROTHY. I will!
Pray to the gods whom Freud has left behind!

(DOROTHY lunges with the knife at DOROTHEA, who escapes by
darting to the left of the table. She raises her right hand high.)

DOROTHEA. Stop! I pronounce on you this dreadful spell!
Abracadabra: complex: transference:
Theriomorphia—now it's working well—
Father-imago: schizophrenia———
Spare me!
DOROTHEA. Appendage-function: surrogate:
Enantiodromia—doesn't that one hurt?—
Libido: endopsychic———
DOROTHY. Wait, oh wait!
DOROTHEA. Persona: hypermnesia: extrovert!
Yield, in the holy names of Jung and Freud!
DOROTHY. I yield! I beg for nothing but fair play.
DOROTHY. By a simple plan that would avoid
All further wrangling.
DOROTHEA. Well, what is it?
That you write half the telegram, and I
The other half! That would be just.
The first to write could give the whole reply.
DOROTHY. A woman, and you don't want the last word? ...
DOROTHEA (producing a coin). If you lose, you're not to call me names.
DOROTHEA. You have lost. Who is the better now? ...
'Would you accept me for your husband.—James'—
So runs the question, and the answer———
DOROTHY (anxiously). How?
DOROTHEA. Read it!
DOROTHY (in dismay). 'Of course I would!'
DOROTHEA. It's not so much
That I want James, as that you've made me cross.
In fact, if your behaviour had been such———
DOROTHY (who, after a little puzzling is now in the act of writing).
I'm glad to hear that you'll survive the loss.
DOROTHEA (in slow horror). You've spoilt it! Let me see!
...'Of course I would ...
'Of course I would be damned first. ...' Little cat!
DOROTHY. Don't be a silly child. As if you could
Abandon me for such a fool as that!
O Zurich! O Vienna! Can you be
So psychoanalytically dense
As not to grasp that by considering me
You gain a double health of spirit and sense?
DOROTHEA. I'll never find the man of my desire!
DOROTHY. Then break your heart over a silver birch.
DOROTHEA. But this! No girl could send off such a wire.
DOROTHY. Shock him—or else he'll get you to the church!
DOROTHEA. You're right. How often, and with how much pain,
We burst a lock to find—an empty room!
But that's all over. Let's be friends again
And so stay always!
DOROTHY. Till the crack of doom..
And here's my gage! Accept the knife I took
From Borgia (how he'll rail at me, poor ghost!)
And with it—cut the master's newest book.
DOROTHEA. Where are you going?
DOROTHY. Going? To the post.
DOROTHEA. Don't hurry. Stop awhile, and take from me
A pledge of golden friendship unalloyed—
A cup of tea! With milk and sugar?
DOROTHY (with profound contempt). Tea!
'Oh, for a draught ...' But here's to Jung!
DOROTHEA (raising her cup). And Freud!

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