David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 1 HENRY VI: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scenes 4-5

— 4.4 —

On another plain in Gascony was the Earl of Somerset’s army. The Earl of Somerset talked with one of Lord Talbot’s Captains.

The Earl of Somerset said, “It is too late; I cannot send them now. The Duke of York and Lord Talbot too rashly planned this expedition. Our whole army might be engaged and fought with in a sudden attack by the town’s own garrison. The over-daring Talbot has sullied all his gloss of former honor by this heedless, desperate, wild adventure. The Duke of York set him on to fight and die in shame, so that once Talbot is dead, the Duke of York might bear a greater name.”

The Captain looked up and said, “Here comes Sir William Lucy, who with me set forth from our overmatched forces for aid.”

“How are you now, Sir William!” the Earl of Somerset asked. “Whither were you sent?”

“Whither” means “to which place.” Sir William Lucy had been sent to the Duke of York, but he did not want to mention that because it was off-topic. Sir William Lucy had more important things to say. He realized that any reinforcements would arrive after the battle. But he wanted to test the Duke of Somerset and see if he would agree immediately to send reinforcements, and especially if he would not, Sir William Lucy wanted the Duke of Somerset to know the consequences of his actions. The Duke of Somerset should have already sent reinforcements; he should have sent them immediately when the Captain who had arrived before Sir William Lucy had asked for them.

“Whither, my lord?” he said. “I have come from Lord Talbot, who has been bought and sold and betrayed. He, ringed about with bold adversity, cries out for reinforcements from noble York and Somerset, to beat assailing death away from his weak legions, and while the honorable Captain Talbot there drops bloody sweat from his war-wearied limbs, and uses an advantageous military position to draw out and continue the battle while looking for rescue, you, his false hopes, the trust of England’s honor, stay away, aloof with worthless rivalry.

“Don’t allow your private discord to keep away the mustered reinforcements who should lend him aid, while he, a renowned noble gentleman, yields his life while fighting against immense odds. Orleans the Bastard, Charles the Dauphin, the Duke of Burgundy, the Duke of Alençon, and Reignier surround him, and Talbot perishes because of your failure to do your duty.”

“York set him on,” the Duke of Somerset said. “York should have sent him aid.”

“And York as quickly blames your grace, swearing that you are withholding his levied cavalry who were mustered for this expedition.”

“York lies,” the Duke of Somerset said. “He might have sent a request to me and had the cavalry. I owe him little duty, and less love. I think that it would be a foul disgrace to fawn on him by sending the cavalry to him without him first asking for them.”

He was ignoring the earlier words of King Henry VI: “And, my good Lord of Somerset, unite your troops of horsemen with the Duke of York’s bands of soldiers.”

Sir William Lucy said, “The faithlessness of England, not the military might of France, has now entrapped the noble-minded Talbot. Never to England shall he bear his life; instead, he dies, betrayed to fortune by your strife.”

“Come, let’s go,” the Earl of Somerset said. “I will dispatch the horsemen immediately. Within six hours they will be at his aid.”

Sir William Lucy said, “Too late comes the rescue. He is either captured or slain. He could not flee and escape even if he wanted to, if it were possible for him to flee, and Talbot would never flee and escape, even if it were possible.”

“If he is dead, then brave Talbot, adieu!” the Earl of Somerset said.

“His fame lives on in the world, but the shame of his death lives on in you,” Sir William Lucy said.

— 4.5 —

Lord Talbot and John, his son, talked together in the English camp near Bordeaux.

Lord Talbot said, “Oh, young John Talbot! I sent for you so I could tutor you in the strategy of war, so that the name of Talbot might be revived in you when sapless, feeble old age and weak, incapable limbs would bring your drooping father to his chair in his retirement.

“But, oh, malignant and ill-boding stars! Now, my son, you have come to a feast of death, a terrible and unavoidable danger. Therefore, dear boy, mount my swiftest horse, and I’ll direct you how you can escape by sudden flight. Come, don’t dally, be gone and leave immediately.”

John Talbot asked, “Is my name Talbot? And am I your son? And shall I flee? Oh, if you love my mother, don’t dishonor her honorable name by making a bastard and a slave of me! The world will say, ‘He is not Talbot’s blood, not if he basely fled when noble Talbot stood his ground.’”

“Flee, so you can revenge my death, if I am slain,” Lord Talbot said.

“He who flees so will never return again,” John Talbot said. “He who flees once will continue to flee.”

“If we both stay, we both are sure to die,” Lord Talbot said.

“Then let me stay; and, father, you flee,” John Talbot said. “If you die, the loss to our country will be great, so your regard for your life should be great. My worth is unknown, and if I die, our country will feel no loss. If I die, the French can little boast about it. If you die, the French will greatly boast. If you die, our country’s hopes are all lost. Flight cannot stain the honor you have won, but if I flee, flight will stain my honor; I have done no noble exploits, and flight is all I will be remembered for. If you flee, everyone will swear that you made a strategic retreat for military advantage. But if I flee, they’ll say it was out of fear. There is no hope that I ever will stay and fight, if in the first hour of battle I shrink and run away.”

He knelt and said, “Here on my knee I beg mortality, rather than life preserved with infamy.”

“Shall all your mother’s hopes lie in one tomb?” Lord Talbot asked. “Shall her husband and her progeny all lie in one tomb, with no one left alive?”

“Yes, for that is preferable to my shaming my mother’s womb,” John Talbot replied.

“After I give you my blessing, I command you to go,” Lord Talbot said.

“I will go to fight, but not to flee the foe,” John Talbot said.

“Part of your father may be saved in you,” Lord Talbot said. “If you stay alive, some part of me will continue to live.”

“No part of you, my father, but only shame will be in me.”

“You have never had renown, and therefore you cannot lose it.”

“I have your renowned name: the name of Talbot. Shall flight dishonor and abuse it?” John Talbot said.

“Your father’s order to you to flee shall clear you from that stain.”

“You cannot be a witness for me, once you are slain. If death is so unavoidable and so apparent, then both of us should flee.”

“And leave my followers here to fight and die?” Lord Talbot said. “My life has never been tainted with such shame.”

“And shall my youth be guilty of such blame?” John Talbot said. “No more can I be severed from your side than you can divide yourself in two. Stay, go, do whatever you want to; whatever you decide to do, I will do it, also. I will not live, if my father dies.”

“Then here I take my leave of you, fair son, you were born to eclipse and extinguish your life this afternoon.”

He helped his son rise from the ground and added, “Come, side by side together we will live and die. And soul with soul from France to Heaven we will fly.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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David Bruce: Poetry Anecdotes

Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, is a wonderful storyteller—not just when he writes his novels, but also when he tells out loud the stories of classic literature. For example, when he and his family were on vacation, Tom, his young son, found it difficult to stay still while they waited for their food in a restaurant. Therefore, Mr. Pullman started telling him the story of Odysseus, hero of Homer’s Odyssey, who spent 10 years at Troy in the Trojan War, and who spent another 10 years returning back home to his home island, Ithaca. Although Odysseus was the King of Ithaca, he returned home without any of his men or ships. Ever cautious, he disguised himself as a beggar, and then he set out to see if he had any friends left on the island. He found that a gang of young men who thought he was dead had overtaken his palace. They wanted to kill his son and to force his wife, Penelope, to choose one of them to marry. Eventually, Mr. Pullman reached the point in the story where Odysseus gets his great bow in his hands and strings the bow. After stringing the bow, he plucks the string on the bow just like a harp player plucks a string on a harp. Immediately, the suitors besieging Penelope feel dread because they know that Odysseus is going to try to kill all of them. At this point, Tom, who was holding a drink in his hands, was so excited that he bit a chunk out of his glass. Their waitress saw him do that, and she was so shocked that she dropped the tray with all their food on the floor. Mr. Pullman ends his story by writing, “And I sent up a silent prayer of thanks to Homer.”

While children’s mystery writer Joan Lowery Nixon was attending Hollywood High, Pearl Harbor was bombed. Lots of soldiers were in Los Angeles, and city authorities begged families to entertain the servicemen. Ms. Nixon’s parents responded by often inviting servicemen who visited their church to also visit their home. Soon, Ms. Nixon began to write letters to many of the servicemen who visited her family. Other girls at her school were doing the same thing. Once in a while, Ms. Nixon would write a poem—something light and romantic that would let a serviceman know that he was being missed. She would let her friends copy the poem to put in their letters, and their friends would copy the poem to put in their letters, and suddenly Ms. Nixon found that she was writing for a large audience.

While attending Montclair State Teacher’s College in Montclair, New York, Paula Danziger met poet John Ciardi, who greatly influenced her development as a writer of books for young children and teenagers. He once had her analyze a poem by using the color red to underline the funny lines and the color blue to underline the serious lines. When she had finished analyzing the poem, the lines were red mixed with blue: purple. Ms. Danziger’s own books are a mix of funny and serious. She says, “That’s what I always write toward—that mixture.”

In this game, a person will write a line of poetry on a sheet of paper, bend the paper so that the line cannot be read, then give the paper to another person who does the same thing. The two poets keep writing different lines, until they decide the poem is complete and unfold the paper to read the poem. The game’s name comes from the first two lines of the very first poem created by the game: “the exquisite / corpse / shall drink / the new / wine.”

Zen master Sengai was invited to a wealthy man’s housewarming. After enjoying a fine meal, Sengai was asked to compose a poem in honor of the housewarming. He quickly wrote the first half of his poem, “The house is surrounded / By the gods of poverty.” Looking over Sengai’s shoulder, the host became angry, but his mind was set at ease when Sengai finished his poem: “How can the deities of good luck / Ever leave it?”

When she was a young woman, Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote the poem “Renascence,” which contained mature imagery of death and rebirth. Poets Witter Bynner and Arthur Davison Ficke read the poem, but until they met Ms. Millay in person, they refused to believe that “some sweet young thing of 20” had written the poem, writing her instead to say that its author must have been “a brawny male of 45.”

In Robert Frost’s famous poem “Mending Wall,” a character says, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Poet and playwright T.S. Eliot once asked Mr. Frost what that sentence—a New England proverb—meant. Mr. Frost said that he was not surprised that Mr. Eliot asked that particular question: “Eliot’s characters never know boundaries, not even of each other’s beds.”

Vaslav Nijinsky choreographed his ballet titled L’ Après-Midi d’un to Debussy’s music, which was a prelude to Mallarmé’s poem. Mr. Nijinsky created much consternation for everyone at a dinner party, all of whom thought the ballet was a wonderful introduction to Mallarmé’s poem, when he confessed that he had not read that poem by Mallarmé—or any poem by Mallarmé.

African-American poet Countee Cullen wanted to be judged as a poet, not as an African-American poet. He stated that clearly to Brooklyn Daily Eagle reporter Margaret Sperry: “If I am going to be a poet at all, I am going to be a poet and not a Negro poet.” Ironically, the headline for this interview stated, “Countee P. Cullen, Negro Boy Poet, Tells His Story.”

When he was a student, poet David McCord, author of One at a Time, had a teacher who told him, “Never let a day go by without looking on three beautiful things.” He has always tried to follow that advice, which he acknowledges is not difficult. Mr. McCord says, “The sky in all weathers is, for me, the first of these three things.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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Edgar Lee Masters: Ralph Rhodes (Spoon River Anthology)

ALL they said was true:
I wrecked my father’s bank with my loans
To dabble in wheat; but this was true—
I was buying wheat for him as well,
Who couldn’t margin the deal in his name
Because of his church relationship.
And while George Reece was serving his term
I chased the will-o-the-wisp of women
And the mockery of wine in New York.
It’s deathly to sicken of wine and women
When nothing else is left in life.
But suppose your head is gray, and bowed
On a table covered with acrid stubs
Of cigarettes and empty glasses,
And a knock is heard, and you know it’s the knock
So long drowned out by popping corks
And the pea-cock screams of demireps—
And you look up, and there’s your Theft,
Who waited until your head was gray,
And your heart skipped beats to say to you:
The game is ended. I’ve called for you,
Go out on Broadway and be run over,
They’ll ship you back to Spoon River.

NOTE: Demirep: “A woman of doubtful reputation or suspected character; an adventuress.” — Wiktionary

Demirep = Demireputation

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