The Love Song of Henry Cyril Paget, 5th Marquess of Angelsey
for Rick Whitaker
I chant a Tyrrhenian elegy
I trace a pretty reptilian line
I inhale an illicit cigarette in the Nether Palatinate
I greet Raphael at an archangelic tea party
I gain a licentiate in italic calligraphy
I practice a late Elgar harp caprice
I appear at Nice in papal regalia
I enlace a panther in pale green crêpe
I linger in central Parthia in the rain
I partner Iphigenia in a tarantella
I create a lily anther pâté
I pray in Cretan at an ancient apple tree near Llanllyr
I place a calcite light in the principal pantry
I appreciate the gilt papyri in an Egyptian gallery
I hang a little Titian in the palace chapel
Note: The Oulipian beau présent honors someone by using only the letters in that person’s
name. Henry Cyril Paget (1875-1905) inherited his title at the age of twenty-three, together
with a colossal family fortune he spent not only on clothes, cars, and dogs but also on the
theatrical entertainments he presented at his Anglesey residence, always featuring his own
appearance in a spectacular costume crowded with jewels. A fellow countryman of more
modest means, Paul Griffiths writes on music and other things. His most recent book is a
novel, Mr. Beethoven.
My Take On This*
If you are at all like me, what you had to say to yourself that day was this: It’s over. It’s all over.
You could draw a breath. Did you say that to yourself as well? You may well have. Draw a breath—these may well have been your words—as you held a hand to your heart and indeed took a breath. It’s over.
It had to come to an end.
You did know that – right?
It could not go on and on. It had to come to an end, and now it has, and now we may go on again.
A dove rises up to the heavens. The sun comes out.
Such things may have been in your thoughts then, if you are at all like me.
It may have seemed like it went on a long time, and truly it did, but it had to come to an end, and it did, and it’s over.
We were patient. We went on with what we had to do. And all the time there was – what shall I call it? – a profound woe.
We turned away from it. But it was there.
It lay there. Like something dead.
Never mind that, we would say at the time. Let it be.
And let him be. Let him do what he will. Let him say all these things. Each morning.
False. Puffed-up. Reckless.
Still, let’s say no more of him now. Let’s not speak of him, now that he’s gone (but does not think he’s gone, so it would seem).
We may close that door now. And let’s have it locked. Indeed, let’s have it locked.
Let nothing again come in the way of honesty and honor.
Something like this you’ll have said, if you are at all like me.
Close the door, on him and on all that were with him.
Now we may do what must be done. Look at the state we are in! Not a day should be lost! On with it!
But the door: it is not still.
They are knocking at the door, knocking and knocking.
There are such powers in that knocking.
We look at the door. We look at one another. Still they go on knocking.
What should we do?
Things cannot be left like this. The door. The knocking.
It’s up to us to do what’s right. We have to let them in again, we say.
You know what this is. You know how it goes. You have been here before.
They cannot be left there. We have to let them in.
And then what?
When we have let them in again, then what?
Will they be with us?
Will we be with them?
It’s not over, you know.
It’s not over at all.
*this = the United States, mid-November 2019
**as told to Paul Griffiths.
H A M L E T S T O R I E S
Note: Each story is a reading of the First Folio text of Hamlet leaving out approximately 99.6% of the words. To put it another way, the words in each story appear in the same order they do in the play, but in the play, of course, they will probably be separated by a whole lot more words. For example, the first “the” in the First Folio Hamlet comes in the third line (Barnardo: “Long live the king”), but we then have to omit almost two hundred and fifty lines, thousands of words, before we find the next word we need for “A Prayer” (Laertes: “My dread lord”). The titles are made the same way.
Upon the Rock
There is now very little for me to do here but look out at the waves, the waves.
I do not know how long I have been here.
So much crab I have had – and others, creatures of the sea whose name I do not know.
I had the time and the will, long ago, to go right to the top of the mountain for a look.
Nothing. Nothing. Nothing but sea cries, and the green mountain, and the ocean wide, and me, the cast-away.
In the sea our ship broke up. All the rest drowned. No-one else….
So where have you come from?
Get away if you can this spring for a day or two to Denmark – it’s a wonderful time to visit! Stay at the Young Prince resort, which is on a secret promontory. From there it is possible to drive to most of the country. You have to see the town of Termagant and all the churches on the horse ring. Bands play there in the jade garden, so this is one of the hot spots. See as well the famous “Grave of Threats.” Everyone eats at Fat and Lean (variable service), but Danish people who know say that Guildenstern’s is the place to see and be seen. Back from the Blue Mountains? Fit in the Royal Play House, which has some wild shows.
The Lord is my father; I shall not come.
He must make me to look down on the green sea: he will lead me with his still fingers.
Yea, if I walk with the Devil to question Death, I will fear no mischance: for you are with me; your voice and your music they confront me.
You lay a table for him with our present enemies: you anoint my heel with cold water; my hand o’erreaches.
It must be that age and years will follow with me until my death: for who comes to the house of the Lord for ever?
Paul Griffiths was a music critic for the New Yorker and then for the NY Times. His most recent novel, Mr. Beethoven, will be published later this year by New York Review Books.