All the world's a stage, Bankside, bum bags, Don Paterson TS Eliot prize, groundlings, Hercules, Hermione, Isle of Wight, Jeffrey Archer, London Bridge, plague, Reeboks, Shakespeare, Sir Smile, Southwark, Thames, The Globe, The Wooden O, Winchester geese, Winchester Palace
Forgot about this poem which appeared in the Spring Issue of
Poetry Life magazine, 1998. It was printed on the back cover and
the front cover had a picture of Don Paterson who had just won the
TS Eliot Prize. So, I was in good company!
With the current Shakespeare celebrations taking place, I thought
I’d better give it another airing.
It was written in July, 1997.
TOTUS MUNDUS AGIT HISTRIONEM*
(The Globe, July 1997)
No kite-picked, severed heads on London Bridge;
no barge with poop of beaten gold, or sails
of purple on the River Thames. No screams
of baited bears at Bankside, nor whipped whores,
nor the crude cackling of Winchester geese**
by Southwark Bridge- perhaps the stink of drains.
No risk from rat flea plague. No sign of swans.
But there’s that octagon, that wooden O,
with its fantastic gates and bearded thatch.
I cannot see that flag with Hercules
bearing the world upon his able back.
But, no doubt it is there, or it will be.
No Spaniards landing on the Isle of Wight,
and another Elizabeth still reigns.
It is required that we awake our faith,
for, down below, I see the lineaments
of that first audience, now in Reeboks,
sporting bum bags: a modern cod-piece? No?
It is the heretic that burns the fire;
not she that burns in it, Hermione
instructs the crowd who hears the Irish news.
Helicopters whirr and obscure some lines,
while programme sellers interrupt: Two pounds!
where a penny once secured standing room.
Thousands will trample Jeffrey Archer’s name;
his stone his hope of immortality.
The selfsame sun that shines upon his court
shines on our cottage, but now the dampness
releases the strong smell of new hewn oak.
I think I sense Will’s ghost behind my bench
and trace his footsteps in the dried blood sand.
There’s laughter at the antics of Sir Smile:
hundreds have the disease and feel it not.
The rain falls on the just and the unjust ,
but, as ever, mostly on the groundlings,
who hide their peccadilloes under macs;
on the surface, behave impeccably,
while the elevated in the tarrass
miss the jokes and fall asleep in Act 4,
proving that all is as it was before.
*All the world’s a stage
** Prostitutes associated with the area around Winchester
Palace, near The Globe