Shakespeare and Burns 1-4

For my regular readers, don't say I didn't warn you!  Here it is - the first four edited parts of my ... whatever ...

Two Gentlemen in a Far Away Land.
A Play or a Novel - whichever you prefer
This all takes place in a land flowing with milk and honey, a place where some folk go when they get tired of planet earth, or vice versa. Two men meet up, greet each other warmly, sit down for a chat on a grassy bank alongside the slow moving Milk river. The sun shines warm but not too warm.
Don’t ask what these two look like or what they’re wearing. They look as you want them to look and they wear or do not wear what you are happy to see them wearing or not wearing.
Most of the language is here translated into modern English, or indeed any other language known to or preferred by the listener.  Note also that in a land of milk and honey neither time nor space (as we know such things) exists. So let us begin …
Robert Burns: “Now then, Will, how’s she hangin’?”
William Shakespeare: “That’s horrible, Robert.”
RB: It’s Irish. Mr Joyce always greets you with that.
WS: Indeed he does. Still awful. And I’ve told you before my friend, I’m William, not Will and you are Robert, not Rabbie. But yes as a matter of fact she’s hangin’ pretty well. Having said that, I’ve just been watching As You Like It being played on that television thing with the men dressed up as 20th century German nasties and the girls as ladies of the night. Not at all as I like it. Oh, what they do to us once they perceive us dead and gone!
RB: Right. (Chuckles.)  As You Like It indeed! You know how much I used to like it. A big-eared hare has come lolloping over the lea, now sits up on hind legs close by, regarding the pair with shining, jet-bright eye.
WS: Hello Mister. Good here, isn’t it?
Hare: Yes. None of your kind shooting me. No killing me. None of you lind or any kind eating me.
RB: We called you ‘Maukin’, Mister Hare. Having seen you dragging your gunshot self along I once wrote you a poem, did I not? Hare drops to all fours then leaps high, twists in mid air, comes down shadow boxing his front paws.
WS: That verse - lovely stuff! Often as by winding Nith I, musing, wait / The sober eve, or hail the cheerful dawn, / I'll miss thee sporting o'er the dewy lawn, / And curse the ruffian's aim, and mourn thy hapless fate. But sex? Yes, we all liked it, Robert. Ever since that lovely Garden of Eden the pursuit of such gratification was so compulsive, yet such a gross waste of your energies and your years on earth. 
RB: I think I had more regard for animals than for male humankind, William. But all that sexual predilection! It was even more for most of us than the pursuit of power or that mystic mythic going by the name of  ‘money’. Sex! In later years they had a saying: ‘it’ll pull ya more than dynamite’ll blow ya’.
WS: Not too elegantly put but … yes indeed. (Ruminaters for a moment then) For me there was this dark lady …
RB: The one secreted so carefully within some of your sonnets, William. Not at all like me and my lassies. No sooner I bedded them than there they were, in my verse.
WS: Clarinda? Or Nancy Macelhose as others knew her?
RB: Oh no, not my lady Clarinda. Never could I bring her to bed. The more she resisted the more I was tempted. (Wry grin) I tried everything, came so close, but always with eventual lack of success.
WS: Giving rise to one of your finest works, Robert. If I may quote: I'll never blame my partial fancy, / Nothing could resist my Nancy: / But to see her was to love her; / Love but her, and love for ever. / Had we never loved so kindly, / Had we never loved so blindly, / Never met - or never parted, / We had never been broken - hearted.
RB: Thank you kindly, sir. But people and the pursuit of sex whether through its bed-mate love or otherwise. We were all at it right to the end. (Laughs) Just now and then I look in on one of the Hogmanays -
WS (interrupting): New Years Eves. No colloquialisms, remember? Goodbye, hare!
Mister Maukin is shambling off, now and then leaping high, dashing in joyful circles before reverting to the walk. Calls back; ‘Goodbye gentlemen both.’
RB: OK, sorry - I mean yes, New Years Eve. But there were millions of them at it with their crossing of arms and holding hands and running out of my words after verse one. Of course we don’t do vainglory here, William, but if we did I’d have to say there was more at the auld acquaintance not being forgot, when all the rest of it has been than, well, than anything else written or sung.
WS: You must be right about that.
William holds out his hand, palm uppermost. Bees zoom in on it from all quarters, alight to deliver their succulent loads. A small pyramid of honey at once begins to grow.
WS: I often wonder why I myself didn’t do more poetry in the form of song. Big, big impact. Oh yes indeed: Greensleeves; Bring On The Clowns; My Heart Is Like A Red, Red Rose; Ain’t Gonna Work No More On Maggie’s Farm, The Hallelulia Chorus. He nods ‘enough’ and the bees fly away. He raises hand to mouth, licks up their sweet libation. Continues … Yes, strong stuff, that songbook of yours. By the way, I meant to ask you, when did all the seas gang dry?
RB: Honey, honey. Think I’ll join you with some of that. Robert holds out his own hand. Bees come back, get to work. ‘Go dry, not gang’, I think, Mister Shakespeare! Tut tut. When? The seas dried up six hundred and three thousand, three hundred and twelve earth years after the final disappearance of all life. That was two point eight eight nine million years before the final evaporation caused by The Contact.
WS: Sad. But not sad for us. Strange how it has never seemed overcrowded here, Robbie. You would think - with human population escalating so much after our times surely there would have been ever more acceptances, more arrivals join us here …
RB: Doubt it, William. I’m told by Mary Magdalene that there were fewer and fewer deserving of entry, the more and more people and their greater and greedier consumption. But oh, look here, my friend! A beautiful young lady, floating apparently on a raft of wild flowers, her long blonde hair splayed out, is drifting slowly by with the flow of the river. 
WS: Ophelia! (Breaks into song)Isn’t she lovely, made for love.’
RB: Stevie Wonder. Brilliant! Springs to his feet, flings his arms wide, (forgetting the accumulation of honey which runs all down his arm), declaims … Ophelia, thy charms my bosom fire, / And waste my soul with care; / But ah! how bootless to admire, / When fated to despair! /// Yet in thy presence, lovely Fair, / To hope may be forgiven; / For sure 'twere impious to despair / So much in sight of heaven.
WS: Heaven! That’s a nice one. He’s looking down at his hand in the grass. A fieldmouse has hopped on to it, is nibbling away the last trace of honey. Hey, just look at this little chap. Is he not enjoying himself! Oh, gone: gone in a flash.
RB: That would be my wee timorous beastie, you ken? Oh, Timmy, little Timmy. I'm truly sorry man's dominion / Has broken nature's social union, / And justifies that poor opinion / Which makes you startle / At me, your poor earth-born companion, / And fellow mortal.
WS: Your little friend is not mortal, Robert, any more than are you or I, thanks be to Him. William rises to join his standing friend. Ophelia is seen swimming ashore, climbing out of the river, smoothing back her golden tresses. We are all immortal; all of life on Earth such as has been here admitted, whether animal or vegetable.
RB: She isn’t - wasn’t - I mean your Ophelia. I often wondered … she was, perhaps, someone you knew, William?
WS: Of course. Every character I created was a person a compendium of persons I knew or knew of. Ophelia was actually Beatrice Forsythe, a farm girl in the village in which I spent my youth.
(At this point, gentlefolk, I should explain that human emotions are all here in this place provided they are the positive ones - joy, satisfaction, love (non-carnal of course) sense of beauty etc, etcetera. No negative waves. No fear or hatred or jealousy or anything downbeat. Anyway, in the meantime the young lady Ophelia has climbed out of the milk, taken off her filmy dress and now stands there naked, wringing it out whilst our two in conversation take no notice.
RB: Laughs. You know we were so much alike, William. You had a fancy for this Beatrice / Ophelia? Of course you did. So alike. We both of us impregnated young girls when not far out of our minority. What was it you had your Othello say? ‘One that loved not wisely but too well’? And we both worked on farms before gravitating to our big cities, both earned a measure of fame in our own lifetimes, both learned so much from books without having had overmuch in the way of schooling.  
WS: Oh yes indeed! If I may quote some more from your verse, Robert … A set of dull, conceited fools / Confuse their brains on college stools / They go in stallions, come out asses / Plain truth to speak; / And so they think to climb Parnassus / By dint of Greek! ///  Give me a spark of nature’s fire / That’s all the learning I desire / Then though I drudge through soil and mire / At plough or cart / My muse, though homely in attire / May touch the heart.
RB: Epistle to J Lapraik. Never knew the man on earth. Just read his stuff. He’s with us now, so he is.
WS: I know. But you and I both used things of long ago on which to weave what they called our tapestries of words. You used your native Scottish songs, I used the Roman, Ovid, as well as others ancient and modern.
RB: And you ended up moneyed and comfortable whilst I died poor and most uncomfortable. It’s very hard, even here, to think charitably about the doctor who prescribed for me a swim in the sea to cure myself of whatever ailed me, thereby killing me!
WS: Undestandable.
RB: You were the better businessman, William. I seldom had much money. Oftentimes I had none. Laughs. But even though it so often worried me I never felt like a poor man, ever. Hungry yes, harassed yes. But poor? Never. A man’s a man for all that.
WS: Is there for honest Poverty / That hangs his head, and all that; / The coward slave - we pass him by,  / We dare be poor for all that! / For all that, and all that. / Our toils obscure and all that, /  The rank is but society’s stamp, / The Man's the gold for all that.
RB: That’s it. Pity about my last verse, though. Then let us pray that come it may, / As come it will for all that, / That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,  / Shall take the prize, and all that. / For all that, and all that, / It's coming yet for all that, / That Man to Man, the world o'er, / Shall brothers be for all that. Shakes his head, sighs. Never, never did that come to be.
WS: Perhaps I knewmore about humankind than you, Rob, and you hoped more for humankind than me. But we both came to unhappy ends. Me, I spent my life in pursuit of money and position but I died of exposure after a night out in an alehouse with Ben Johnson, my old compatriot of the theatre. It was he who wrote my epitaph: Not for our time but for all time. Found in a ditch, was I! What an inglorious ending. Not exactly any flights of angels taking me to my rest. I just arrived here, knowing not anything of the how or the why.
RB: William Shakespeare, man of mystery! But all’s well that ends well.
WS: One of these days we’ll have to write something together. Play, poem and song all in one. By Robert Shakespeare and William Burns. Just for the two of us and anyone else or any other creature who may enjoy it. Come, let’s go find some of the others. (Calls out) Why don’t you come with us, Ophelia. No need to bother with the dress.
The three of them wander off across the meadow and into the trees, singing together, Should old acquaintance be forgot, And never …but there are no crossed arms. The sun has not moved in the sky, nor will it move in this land where the trees never shed their leaves and the birds never cease to sing and where there aren’t any noxious people nor any of the trials and tribulations that come with noxious people. So it follows that there are none of the human problems that William Shakespeare and Robert Burns had spent their earthly lives trying their very best to explain, to justify or simply to cover up with words of everlasting beauty.

…. Scene two or Chapter two, just as you like it  ….
Sunlight filters down through a latticework of boughs and leaves, lies upon the forest floor as flakes and little lakes of gold. There is the ripe scent of growth although here nothing grows, whether vegetable or animal. It is just as it is, as for our pair of poets it shall always be whilst this is how they like it. There are all the sounds of woodland life: the calls of birds, the scuffling of small mammals in the undergrowth, a background of multi insectorial droning or buzzing.
RB: Sings melodically without breaking step; Ophelia, Ophelia, how sweet you have been … Pauses, grins What a lovely girl. So, William, finally we know all things yet …
WS: Yes, all things that are, yet neither the how nor the why. But tell the honest truth -
RB: - there is only honest truth here my friend, remember?.
WS: I was going to say the things we know not - cannot know - they are irrelevant. Curiosity is irrelevant.
RB: All right. He stops, looks up through the branches. A pair of tropical exotics are strutting, fluttering and preening in perfect happiness. He smiles. The birds look down, smile back. The female drops and  alights, weightless, on to his shoulder. We are as knowledgable as are these lovely birds, Will. Puts up his hand to smoothe her multicoloured feathers. They cannot know of Johnson’s First Edition of your plays or John Wilson’s Kilmarnock Edition of my own works. 
WS: I agree. But who is this, your friend, Robert? The bird squawks: I am called The Grand Duchess Bollox of Borneo, Mister Shakespeare. Hello.’ Her mate swoops down, alights on to Shakespeare’s left shoulder. ‘And this splendid partner of mine, he is the King of Birds.’ Very pleased to meet you, Duchess, and you also, your majesty. Reverts to their topic: But of course its irrelevant, Robert. He knows and we cannot. And even if He should deign to tell us, what then? Besides, we both know that curiosity is impossible as well as being irrelevant because curiosity is unhappiness because unhappiness is impossible.
RB: ‘Was there ever any man thus beaten out of season, / When in the why and the wherefore is neither rhyme nor reason?’ Your early work, The Comedy Of Errors Act 2, scene 2, lines 39–48, as I recall.
WS: Correct, although neither the phrase nor its sentiment was in any way original.  
They ramble on through dappled sunlight and shade, the birds nibbling playfully on their carriers’ ear lobes. Their bare feet tread noiseless. Warm is the earth beneath soft grasses. The naked Ophelia still walks behind, silent up to now. Her voice comes to them like the song of the stars, as the trickle of a summer stream: I shall th’ effect of this good lesson keep / As watchman to my heart. But good my brother / Do not as some ungracious pastors do, / Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven.’ Her surprising giggle is as the tinkling of small bells. ‘Your words in me are yours; with whatever naughty suggestion you impose. ‘O, what a noble mind is here overthrown! / The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s, eye, tongue, sword / The expectancy and rose of the fair state, / The glass of fashion and the mould of form, / The observed of all observors, quite, quite down! / And I, of ladies most deject and wretched, / That sucked the honey of his music vows, / Now see that noble and most sovereign reason / Like sweet bells jangled out of tune and harsh, / That unmatched form and feature of blown youth, / Blasted with ecstacy. O woe is me / To have seen what I have seen, see what I see.’  Just as I am yours, William. Just as you are mine by whatsoever name you give to me. And now I leave you, gentlemen both.’ They watch her, shimmering, fade from sight.
RB: Oh yes. Ophelia was and is your lady, Will. She was and is your Muse.
WS: And perhaps for yours, Rob? ‘And wear thou this’ - She solemn said, / And bound the holly round my head, / The polished leaves and berries red / Did rustling play; / And, like a passing thought, she fled. / In light away’ Your words and your Vision I think, my friend. Each of them is now crowned with his own holly wreath. The shoulder-borne birds peck idly at the red, red berries.
RB: Yes. But what then?
WS: Douglas Adams said that the meaning is forty two. Pure guesswork of course. Fantasy. But the meaning of life is as likely to be forty two as anything else so the man must have been correct.
RB: Fantasy!! We know now that the only meaning to earthly life is earthly death. As well known also to all our ghosts and fairie queens and witches, not to mention your floaty little Ariel.
WS: Chuckles. And the witch that pulled off the tail of  your drunken Tam’s grey mare! There’s the drumming of hooves on turf. A great horse comes galloping, pale mane a-flying, a ragged figure crouched over her withers, her quarters pumping beneath a mere stump of a tail. The apparition appears from and disappears into the tree trunks. Poor old Meg. Good old Tam. Tom, I mean. He raises a hand to stroke his bird’s red, silver and violet head feathers. Muses … Yes, as I said, one of these days we shall create something. Something entirely new, something that asks all the questions that were ever asked by any of us or any of any. Something that promotes no answers because there are none understandable by the likes of us.
RB: So we shall. We’ll get some of the others involved. Your man Ovid for one, and the Persian, Omar Khayyan, and my fellow Scot Robert Fergusson and the painters Da Vinci and Vincent Jones and Braque and perhaps Raphael; for the music the piper MacLoughlin and Wagner and Jerome and John Lennon and, oh yes, the great Thelonius Monk.
WS: Smiles at his friend. So you don’t think your own or my own music could do, then, for this masterwork of everyone’s?  He reaches into the heart of a bramble bush, his hand uninjured by its many thorns, extracts one of its plumpest, firmest, most glistening black fruits. Tasty, these. Would you care for one? 
RB: Thanks. He accepts the ripe fruit, bites on it with eyes closed, tastes the sweet, sweet taste of a late and wet British Summertime. Seasons of Mist and mellow fruitfulness. I’m wonder if young Keats is with us. If so he can help with our creation, can he not?
WS: Yes. Quotes: Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they? / Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, -  / While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day / And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue; / Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn / Among the river sallows, borne aloft / Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies; / And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn; / Hedge-crickets sing, and now with treble soft / The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft; / And gathering swallows twitter in the skies. The figure of Keats appears, walking beside them, his hands tucked behind his back beneath the tails of a frock coat. He turns and bows. Indeed I am: I am with you, gentlemen. And shall be proud … to await your call. And then he is gone.
RB: Very good. You know when you sat your questioning, William? Of course you, reader / listener, will understand that nobody ex-planet Earth exists in our latterday dimension without undergoing and passing the interview to which many are called and so relatively few then chosen. This is ‘The questioning’, as it is known, where you are in a not unfriendly void and must by power of thought alone answer one thousand thousand questions about the conduct of your life and times on Earth; must answer them without hesitation and with utter honesty - knowing that the answers must be already known.  Were you worried , Will? Afraid of rejection?
WS: Not at all. I mean, not about rejection. Whatever will be will be.
RB: No, of course you weren’t worried. Worry is an earthly condition;  something we all leave to decay with your famous mortal coil. But what a wondrous relief when the truth lies bare and the knowledge of what one was - indeed the use that one was - is there for you to confront. Even though that which was revealed about the life of Mister Robert Burns under The Questioning was not so glorious, its outcome must have contained a sufficiency of glory or something to justify the award of this immortality.
WS:   The light and the word you either have or you have not, so to speak. Shall we sit and have a listen, my friend? At his unspoken behest night falls cloudless, moonlit. ‘Away, away,’ shrieks His Majesty, springing into the air, the beat of wings disturbing Shakespeare’s hair. ‘Come Duchess, we must away to find our roost.’ The pair of them are soon lost in the canopy of a giant chestnut tree. The scent of many woodland flowers hangs heavy in the summer night. You can feel the soft flapping of the wings of a deaths head hawk moth and sense the zip-zoom fluttering of bats.
RB: Sit here? By all means. How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank! / Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music / Creep in our ears - soft stillness and the night / Become the touches of sweet harmony: /  Sit here and look how the floor of heaven  / Is thick inlaid with pattens of bright gold. / There’s not the smallest orb which thou beholdest / But in his motion like an angel sings.’ You know Will, when you wrote your Merchant of Venice did you not wonder why the music of the spheres became inaudible to us so soon after our species ventured forth from the Vale of Africa?
WS: Most of our city-born kind on Earth did not notice the stars, did not look to them, could not in fact even see them behind the city lights, let alone hear their music. Tiny insects of all descriptions scurry, jump and fly out of the way and a grass snake slithers off as the two men sit down. Small flowers close their petals, bend horizontal to avoid being crushed. The Book says In the beginning is the Word, / The Word is God by whatsoever name, / And you are born of woman, weakly heard, / At first a babe all innocent of blame. / But you grow up and from Him turn away / For what is in your mind is yours alone - /  You hope: from His protective love you stray,  / immersed in guilt, by winds of sin far blown; / Perhaps grow old will you, (but not too old), / Then learn how not to cheat, to show concern, / Learn why there’s little worth in glitter gold / And leave when you no longer earn or learn: / Your pain on Earth is after all your test / For what comes next, unblessed or by Him blessed
RB: One of your sonnets, William. Nice. I like it.
WS: Not mine. Someone in the early twenty first century.
RB: Mmmm … Now let me have it in your Latin … no, don’t. Listen to my song. I’m going to match it to the stars as I go along … as I make it up … You recall the tune to Ae Fond Kiss, William?
WS: Of course.
RB: Here goes then … ‘Nothing’s crude and nothing’s cruel / Nothing here emotions fuel  / Perfect peace and joy we share it / Brother love, no need to spare it. / Dark despair we’ve left behind us / Though love for the world reminds us / To the stars such love can take me / And false love no longer break me.’
WS: That’s good, Robert; more of the verses?
RB: Later. But pray look up. We can go anywhere up there now. Anywhere we want to go. There is no distance, is no time, all things sing and all things rhyme.
WS: But here we are and here it is without fault. Sits up. How about some cloud and some rain, lovely old rain?
The brothers in verse, in song and in human creativity look at each other in the moonlight, nod their agreement. Earthworms pop their heads from the soil in eager anticipation, the pipistrelles flit around their heads, needing in this place to catch no insects winged or otherwise, for nothing here has need to kill to live, unlike the testing place they once called planet Earth; Earth, where all things animal must consume life, animal or vegetable, in order to continue to live. The sky darkens. The first warm raindrops pitter-splatter down. All their world is singing to the music of the stars.

Act 3 or chapter 3 …
RB: It falleth as the gentle rain from heaven - but now enough. What say you, my friend?
WS: All right.  The rain lessens, trickles to a stop. Scents of wet grasses and foliage. Drip-drip-plop. Out of the trees comes an upright shape on two legs carrying a light coloured bundle. The sky clears, slowly lightens as slow grows the new music, the music of the dawn, of organic happiness: Beethoven’s Fifth. All the chirping, cheeping, trilling of birdsong mingles and blends into a single perfection. From deep in the forest comes the growling, coughing hiccup of a contented lion. The dark shape is resolving itself into a large black man carrying a small white woman. He is crying; silent tears. She is dead.
Othello addresses his burden, having recently discovered his awful mistake … Now: how dost thou look now? O ill-starred wench / Pale as thy smock, when we shall meet at count,   (day of judgement) / This look of mine will hurl my soul from heaven, / And fiends will snatch at it: cold, cold, my girl, / Even like thy chastity; O cursed slave! / Whip me, you devils, / From the possession of this heavenly sight, / Blow me about in winds, roast me in sulphur, / Wash me in steep-down gulfs of liquid fire! / Oh Desdemona, Desdemona dead
RB: Sighs, shakes his head, his hair untouched by rain. So much error, so much love, pain and suffering. All a single trial for this. On your stage as always in your life, William. And mine. And all.
WS: Oh yes. Nods, shrugs his shoulders, lays back against the bank.
RB: And that is what you did better than any of us. You held up your mirror, daring all to take a look. Plucks and chews on a blade of sweetest, raindropped grass.
WS: Chuckles. After I jumped ship and reached London I got myself in with the so-called literati and soon realised that my new friend Pip Marlowe had hit on a money making formula. He told me it was all in just one of his lines. Sits up, strikes theatrical pose:“Come live with me and be my love and we shall all the pleasures prove,” That is it. Prose as poetry. All human emotion especially sex mixed in with all the other pleasures and all the many pains. I expanded on that in my plays and some of my sonnets and lived a lot longer than Pip in order to do so. I was quite handy with the cold blade you know, but not like him, Marlowe. So quick to offend and take offence. He was never going to live long. I looked for him here, Robert but … (sighs) nothing.
RB: Reborn to try again, perhaps? Great shame. Sits up, the better to regard Othello and his burden. This is how I would have had it, William … For I confess I was as greatly concerned with love and the act of love as with the equality of all, whether the loved, the lovely or those unloved. See here … Desdemona stirs, raises herself in her husband’s arms, slips to the ground and sings … Behold, my love, how green the groves,/ The primrose banks how fair; / The balmy gales awake the flowers, / Curl more thy wavy hair. She dances lightly around Othello, smiling, her loose dress flowing like that slow moving river of milk, stooping now and again to pluck a flower from the forest floor … I have wished only for us to be together, she murmurs, living the simple life away from the burden of State. You know, husband mine, we are all the children of Nature, are we not? A black bird emerges from the trees, swoops around her garlanded head. She sings on … The blackbird shuns the palace gay, / And o'er the cottage sings: / For Nature smiles as sweet, I say, / To Shepherds as to Kings. // Let minstrels sweep their skilful string, / In lordly lighted hall: / I hear you play the simple reed, / Blythe where the cuckoos call. Flotal music: King Harry’s Greensleeves. Othello reaches out. The light of love is in his eyes. He takes her hand. They step soft and lightly turn. The pair are a golden misted mirage, then are gone.
RB: You see, William? Her hair was like the curling mist, / That climbs the mountain-side and sighs, /  When flower-reviving rains are past; / And she had two sparkling roguish eyes.
WS: Oh yes, you were so much more than I the poet as well as the romantic. But my Othello was a tragedy, not a romance. You said it; I tried to mirror life and life must always be a tragedy. Because it always ends in death. Of course you and I know now that death is no tragedy but we didn’t know that there and then, did we? Only the most blameless, most at peace, most benevolent and most pious welcomed what our friend, the Welshman Dylan Thomas called the dying of the light. The vast majority of good health and sound mind dreaded the onrush of their dying day. However pain-filled their lives were, had been, they wanted more. Very odd indeed. Chuckles. Most in my day were as convinced of this afterlife as they were afraid of it - and with good reason.
RB: Atheism was still a crime in my age, tantamount almost to witchcraft. But then look. How soon did our so called science demand its own atheism! By the twenty first century how few believed in anything other than that which they could see, smell, hear, touch, or read about in so-called newspapers.
WS: The understanding that alone lifted our kind above others cast aside as of no importance, replaced by mere mechanics.
RB: How soon all gone.
WS: Right. Where most of that most are now we know not. Reborn to try again? Perhaps. It is of no importance. But romance! Yes, romance was the saving grace. That and our exposure on Earth to the uplift of the so-called arts. His hands behind his head, he’s watching through slitted eyes the play of sunlight through wispy cloud, listening idly to the drone of insect life.
RB: Oh yes, romance … You id not say who she was, Will, the dark lady of your sonnets? She whose identity has driven so vast an academia to drink and argument over the succeeding centuries?
WS: I met her in Florence and later when she came to London. Her name was Bint Na’ir. She was the second wife of Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud, ambassador for the King of Morocco to the Court of Queen Elizabeth.  Messaoud was the inspiration for my Othello. Ah yes what a fine though very wanton woman was our Bint. She certainly cut a wide swathe through the ranks of the Globe. I detested having to share her favours with my friends, even Johnson. But we all needed to keep such liaisons a secret. Disclosure would likely have been fatal, not only to the lady.
RB: You had many such diversions in your life on Earth?
WS: By no means as many as you, my friend. Forget not that I was so much away from house and home. However I could never fully expose my adventures in verse or in song as did you. It is through no fault of mine that generations of so-called thinkers doubted my authorship. Grins at his friend. You know, as if we semi-educated country boys without that Cambridge label must be bereft of the finer thoughts, the dancing words? Pauses to think back, his thoughts as always apparent to his good companion, then gets to his feet. Shall we move on?
RB: Now also on his feet. But a man’s a man for all that. Yes, where shall we go, what do we find there? Your choice this time.
WS: Anywhere and anything we wish … if I am now to choose … oh, I think the sea that lies past yonder stand of oaks. Come.
RB: The billows on the ocean, / The breezes idly roaming, / The cloud's uncertain motion, / They are but types of Woman. They set off as a black-maned lion stalks out into the glade, coughs once, swinging his great head side to side. He pads along behind them and beside him now gambols a snow white lamb, skipping sometimes, and a troupe of Thompson’s Gazelle spring as if in slow motion, stiff-legged, high into the air, avoiding on their descent by narrow margins a flock of waddling geese, an army of soldier ants, the Prince of Denmark and a lady.
WS: Who’s the lady, Robert?
RB: I told you. You know of her as Clarinda. She was the Love that’s like the red, red rose, as unrequited as it was, physically at least, at least to all appearances. The entourage proceeds through a grove of massive oaks and out on to a scimitar stretch of eye-achingly pale sand, then an ocean seeming infinite.

Act four or Scene four, as you will.
The good companions lie side by side on the sand within the shade of the last of their enchanted forest. Down-stretches the beach, losing itself to a white edged, gently pulsing turquoise, far away a sky blue-tinted pale. Alongside Burns lies the king of lions, panting, huge pink tongue lolling wet between great fangs. He speaks (or rather, rumbles) to his little woolly friend; ‘Good here, Larry, is it not?’ ‘Yes,’ bleats Larry, ‘Though I would prefer the green green grass of home. Better for my gambolling, you know.’ ‘There’s a buzzing of the bees in the cigarette trees,’ growls the lion king, ‘And a soda water fountain, and a lemonade spring where the bluebird sings in that old rock candy mountain.’ His laugh is as a fall of glacial ice into the Arctic Ocean, the breathy expellation of it disturbing sand and flies alike.
RB: Will, what on Earth or anywhere else afforded you and I our entries into this place?
WS: No idea. None. Ideas? Ideas are of no importance. We feel all things through these, our senses five.  We see, touch, hear, smell and taste of all things bright and beautiful - and all without a contagion of those three earthly agonies, the underlying themes of all our scribblings.  An especially vibrant antelope is running in tight circles, now lands hump-backed, set for her next spring, four hooves close together spraying fine sand over the two of them.
RB: Unnoticing, thoughtful as ever. Yes indeed. We are without hunger, therefore without the need to kill to eat. And without sexual urges for there is no need here either for procreation or for senseless sensuality. And without curiosity for there is no need to know. We are forever at the age and stage at which we left your famous mortal coil, Will. We lie on this beach with others such as we have chosen at random for here and for now. We can contemplate all things within an eternity of timelessness, a continuum of space, a pluperfect tranquillity. We are at peace with and within our selves, unburdened by the negatives we carried around with us on our journeys through the days of earthly life both light and dark. We have laughter but no longer any of the fears, any of the jealousies, hatreds, remorse and sorrow, and without pain or well-hid bewilderment. In short without any of the emotional ugliness that overlaid our prior existence like some kind of poisonous shell. Here, we summon our environs at will so as to live within its never ending beauty and we call up companionship whenever we desire from such other life on Earth as has gained entry. You summon me and me you, William, and here we are lying side by side beside the paradisal seaside with Ryoka the king of Africa nuzzling Larry the lamb of South Island; with the multitudinous microbia that swarms but harms not we nor itself nor anything else; ah yes, and here’s your well-imagined Hamlet and my real, lovely, loving young Highland Mary. So very pretty a lassie, is she not? And these gaggling geese and gyrating gazelles and anyone or anything else we wish to make apparent. A distant flying object is coming closer, leathery wings flapping with the sound of footballs slapping a brick wall. It is Robbie’s friend, the two hundred and twenty million year old Prince Pterosaur, the first of the airborne reptiles and ancestor of all the birds. Welcome, your royal highness. Why don’t you rest here with us awhile?  The giant bird-beast glides in to land clumsily, bearing with him the acrid scent of all of his kind. He settles down on the sand, great eyes taking in the assembled multitude.   
WS: Ours not to reason why, wrote Alfred Tennison. With all our sciences how hard mankind has tried to find the ‘HOW?’ whilst so vainly evading that supreme of  all questions: WHY? Sighs. My venerable Prospero had it correctly, had he not? A small, white-bearded old man is standing, looking down on the pair on them. Arms spread wide he now declaims, his voice a rumble of thunder over distant hills …  Our revels now are ended. These our actors, / As I foretold you, were all spirits, and / Are melted into air, into thin air: / And like the baseless fabric of this vision, / The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself, / Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, / And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, / Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff / As dreams are made on; and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep.
The old man, a figment of Shakespeare’s imagination, bows, fades, is gone. But the other one, the ridiculously handsome Prince of Denmark is still there, his whisper just a movement of the shifting air that stirs a trillion leaves of oak … O that this too sullied flesh would melt, / Thaw and resolve itself into a dew, / Or that the Everlasting had not fixed / His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter. O God! God! / How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable / Seem to me all the uses of this world! The great bird-beast stirs, lifts his scaly head, his metre long beak. His small eyes blink. A single tear exudes from each of his two eyes, roll down and fall into the sand. From far away within the forest comes the quavering, heart-wrenching howl of a wolf. Ryoka’s furry cup ears twitch. He listens, unfeared and unfearing.
RB: Oh, William, William; your poor young Hamlet! You asked through him such questions in public as all fleshly men and women sometime ask themselves in private. And inspired such a great questioning in those who had the wit to hear or to read your works. And all the while you, yourself, invisible. And me? My songs and verse tried in some small way to set forth, to suggest some answers. My own answers of course, for right or wrong. So often wrong. I was never enough afraid of being wrong.
WS: But forceful, give or take the dialect! Such power there was and is in your works. But when we summon all the others to write that thing of which we spoke we will have no need any more for questions. No need for stories with endings whether sad or happy. Just for language as ethereal, as perfect as Hebrew John foretold: In the beginning was the Word, And the Word was with God, And the Word was God … Speaking of that, we must include Mister James Joyce in our creation. Finnegan’s Wake is a fair pedestal on which to raise our tribute statue to The Arts of Man. Now: shall we resume our perambulations? The mighty sea calls loud to me. As much once more as once it did before … Oh, how well it was, how much loved I the spread of tightly creaking sail before a fair wind, the salty spray, the leaning port or starboard; all that straining overseas to find some other place, to live another day.
RB: I often have wondered about that great academic mystery in my day and throughout all the remaining centuries. Where was this man Shakespeare? What was he up to with his life between the years fifteen eightyfive and fifteen ninetytwo? Of course I know now that you left your conniving, overbearing Anne and her squally newborn twins -
WS: - not willingly. I fled before both the law of the land and the wrath of my father, as well as that of my wife. I loved those babes, whether or not they happened to be of my own seed, whether or not I was the as yet unmarried cuckold! I loved not my enforced taking of those marriage vows. Come here please. I need you here on which to rest my head. A particularly plump young goose gets up, waddles over, lies down with feathers fluffing and shuffling beneath his balding head. That is good, young goose. You are all right there, too? Yes, squawks the feathery pillow. Better here than there, Shakespeare, my wings plucked bare to make your wretched quills.
RB: You took ship from Bristol. After two years of coasting around the Isles of Britain and the near shores of Europe you arrived in Venice and liked that city so much as to jump ship and stay on.
WS: Venice was in my day the capital of the world. How much I loved it there! The warmth, the wines, the romance. Ah, the romance, Robert! And the more adventures, Enough to satisfy even the mortal Robert Burns, Esquire! How much there did I learn. What did you learn, squeaks one of the ganders. Yes please tell us what you learned in Venice, echoed another. In one word, LIFE. I learned in Italy from men and women of great understanding the innermost workings of human existence.
RB: How could people read your plays and verse or see the plays performed and not understood that your knowledge of Italy, of the whole Mediterranean and even of the East coast of my native Scotland had to be in large part gained at first hand?
WS: I know not, nor would I have cared. But the sea I knew, the sea and my journeys far and wide on it - those things I did care for.
RB: Yes, yes. As I have said, even though it was my good Doctor Maxwell’s prescription to bathe in the cold Irish sea that led to my death, I too loved the sea. And, William, you know that I too came close to running away to sea before my very own sea of troubles.
WS: Jamaica and the planter’s life. Perhaps -
RB: No regrets. But before we go I have a question for you, Will. Have you ever been tempted to re-visit the Globe?
WS: My theatre in London town or the great globe itself?
RB: Either or both or even that bawdy old Globe Inn that opened its steamy door not a quarter mile from my final residence! But ‘great’, Will. you say? That little orb of spinning rock, our earthly globe? Far indeed from being great within this mighty vast of no beginning nor any end beyond time or substance.
WS: I have ventured to re-visit Earth, where on earth? you ask. Venice of course, and that little village close by Aberdeen where I spent my twentyfirst year in idleness and the writing of verse, some small part of it good verse,  and making love in the woods with one not unlike your Highland Mary over there. He sits up, waves to her across the tawny back of the lion. She waves back, smiling her shy smile, eyes alight with happiness. And you, Robert; you have re-visited?
RB: Not very often. We cannot here be sad but if we could my visits would have made me so.
WS: I was there in the twenty first century soon after the beginning of  the madness that so gripped and suffocated our species and so many others, Rob. The unbearable weight of demand from our wild, wild over-burgeonment. Too many and too much. Much, much, much too much. I went forward past the apocalypse and backwards to the time of the Great War. I saw that pain etched deep in skulls which live men could not see.
RB: Thus resigned and quiet, creep / To the bed of lasting sleep, - / Sleep, whence thou shall  never awake, Night, where dawn shall never break, / Til future life, future no more.
WS: Yes, your Nithside poem. But on the lighter side of my visitations, it seemed that one lady actually could see me! I never in real life terrified a lady in like manner. She shrieked and called me ghost! I aver I was real enough to she of the second sight. Pauses to think, then Not a single trace there now. Everything degraded and degraded until that final sigh of Life and the evaporation  
RB: ‘Til all the seas gang dry, my love, And the rocks melt in the sun.
WS: Aye, Yes indeed! Well foretold. It would be distressing were we subject to such a knave of all our erstwhile hearts as the thing we termed distress. So glad I am that we are not. Come, my friend, let us proceed.
The two men arise, dismiss their current entourage, proceed down the beach alone. They walk into the water until it closes over their heads. They are in an element so different yet one in which they feel as much at home as on land. They are embraced by the sea from which came all of life on planet Earth, its inheritance the exact wet mix of chemical salts that lived on within the blood of man. Burns stoops to pick up a golden starfish, her tentacles slowly curling in the cup of his two hands. Both men reagard it carefully, then…
RB:  We thought our species so perfect, yet there were none so perfect as is this small beauty, so much without impediment of disease, unlike ourselves. Three hundred and sixty seven millions of years older than mankind and there until the end. So falsely scorned by us in our short reign. Ah, so falsely scorned.
WS: The end is our beginning. Behold our world.


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