Friday, January 14, 2005

The first poet was not a very good poet. The girl he had loved when he was a boy had inexplicably failed to throw him over for another man--failed, in fact, to betray him in any way. And because of this, he never truly fell in love with her, never succumbed to nympholepsy as he might have, had she dealt with him cruelly. Their relationship ended, without sighs and without tears. And his future relationships with women were not sour but playful, and so he had a great many enjoyable nights. He wrote sonnets to his lovers without any bitterness and without heat. But they were very well-crafted, just like his love-making; he was never known to put a foot wrong when dealing with a feminine ending. He wrapped his tastes in women and scansion and poetical kickshaws around him, but there was nothing inside, like the knot called the monkey's fist. He spent the last years of his life comfortably. He revised his poems and thought about his conquests, and died surrounded by step-children. He had been careful to father nothing.

The second poet wanted to see the city. And when he got there his money was taken and he fell in love with the second woman to take his clothes off (the first had betrayed him, properly, and they were now married, which helped him write, at least when he was away from her), and the first boy, too. And he wrote with a fever that nearly consumed him. The words around him were too weak to hold his thoughts, and so he made new ones, and new phrases of old words that made the light shine on hidden facets of them. And this was how he ate and drank (and he drank a great deal, then). And finally all the new words were old to him, and he was tired of the men and women and smokes and stews, and returned home, where he was neither playwright nor prophet. There his wife was cruel and distant, and his son dead, and his daughter had the wide-set eyes of a half-wit. He died of a cold, and left his wife their second-best bed.

The third poet ate when he could, and told his story (he only had one, but it was very long, and he added to it whenever possible) before peasants for bread and kings for gold. And slowly his eyes were covered over with white film, and he settled in a king's court to recite when called upon, and travelled no more. When he was about to die, a priest came to him and had him recite his story (which was very long, even edited) in full (which made it last nearly a week). He did so happily, his old mouth mumbling the rhapsodic verses, and lisping the great, wrathful speeches of great, wrathful men. He repeated himself, sometimes, without knowing it, and went into great detail about matters no one cared about but him. But the feet of his poem never stumbled, and they carried him through it, at which point he stopped and expected to die. In fact he died three days later, after spitting up the watered wine they brought him on his nurse. His apprentice, who had admired him greatly as well as thinking that he was a silly old man, took his name and wrote a poem that was a subtle satire on the man's great work, and colored it forever with the slightest tinge of foolishness.