Shakespeare and Burns - chapter five





Scene five or Chapter five
in which our poets re-explore the element from which came all of life on earth

There is this mighty, wondrous orchestra. Down on the seabed all sounds echo whether emanating from sources nearby or from far, far away. Great whales communicate, booming, although a thousand sea miles apart. You can hear them alongside the clicks and squeaks of shrimps, the small sucking of a million limpets, the trumpeting of codfish, the sibilance of rock-bound conger eels, etcetera, etcetera. All sea-creatures great and small thus add their voices to the Song of the Sea, the Song of the Sea naturally being a direct descendant of the Music of the Spheres.  Our literary heroes are wandering down below, full fathom five.
WS: It is from the oceans that we came. It is to the oceans that our kind at last returned.
RB: But oh, what might have been: There is a tide in the affairs of men, / Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; / Omitted, all the voyage of their life / Is bound in shallows and in miseries. / etcetera.
WS: Brutus; my dangerous Roman. But that applied to the whole of humankind as much as to each his own. In the actuality there were seven of those big Spring tides of human behaviour across the millennia that followed our migrations forth from the Great Rift valley. Seven chances for glorious sweetness, indeed for heaven itself. Shakes his head, disturbing the host of minute fishes who’d taken shelter in his hair.
RB: And none, not one of those tides taken at the flood. All of them denied, hence all of our earthly miseries.
They sit upon a rock, the better to see and be a part of everything. A group of sleek, graceful spiny dogfish approaches, shark-tails waving idly side to side, pectoral fins spread wide, gliding slow through gin clear water. One of them speaks. Her voice is as the yelp of her dryland canine namesake; Gentlemen, we watched you. Our kind was a million of your years ahead of you - then a mere thousand more after you finally extinguished yourselves and so many others - and mortally wounded our planet in the process.
WS: Sorry: we were at the close so very sorry.
Dogfish leader: ‘so sorry’, yes of course; but for your kind alone, I would suggest. Suddenly she accelerates, turning in a tight circle low on the seabed, clouds of sand arising behind her. Let us remind ourselves of the seven things that brought you so low as to destroy yourselves and then in time all else …
Dogfish one: A proud look. The time of the Persians. Shoots upwards to break surface then splashes down and descends to rejoin the group.
Dogfish two: A lying tongue. The time of the Greeks. Swoops and takes in his power-razor jaws a crab then sets him back down, but gently. Good day, Mister Cancer, she adds.
Dogfish three: Hands that shed innocent blood. The time of the Romans. She circles like the leader but high in the water column and at breakneck speed.
Dogfish four: A heart that devises wicked plots. The time of the European Crusaders. Slithers undulating across the sandy bottom in imitation of an itinerant conger eel.
Dogfish five: Feet that are swift to run into mischief. The time of British and Spanish colonisation. Slow-rolls over, his creamy belly gleaming in the light from above.
Dogfish six: A deceitful witness that uttereth lies. The time of American media. He stands vertically, his head just touching on a rock, motionless save for the water currents created by the movement of the others.
Dogfish seven: Him that soweth discord among brethren. The time of the Islamists and the Jews. She dives to the seabed, burrows into the sand, disappears from sight.
Dogfish leader: King Soloman told you those things. Dammit, Shakespeare and Burns, I’ll add another: you could have stopped your eternal seeking after The Meaning of Life and The Meaning of Everything. You could have been content with your natural state and the state of all things. She swims closer, yet closer, touches each of them lightly, rubber lips to their lips. But all is now well. Come on, my friends. They swim (or fly) off, disappear over the lip of a precipice, go down, down into the abyss. The leader’s voice comes back to them, faint from far away. So sad. For there were so, so many things about Man’s earthly doings of which you may be justly proud. Oh, the glory that might have been! ‘And if the while I think on thee, dear friends, / All losses are restored and sorrow ends’.
RB: Speaks up; Pride? We do not here do such a thing as pride, dogfish!
WS: Speaks soft;  Who made the heart, 'tis He alone / Decidedly can try us; / He knows each chord, its various tone, /  Each spring, its various bias: / Then at the balance let's be mute, / We never can adjust it; / What's done we partly may compute, /  Yet know not what's resisted. Rob, your Address To The Rigidly Righteous, final stanza. 
RB: Above The Music of the Seas now sounds the tinkle of bells. Six tiny girls and one female teenager, bigger but still small, gossamer winged Ah, here she is; my own fair favourite. Your spritely little Ariel. Ariel swim-dances around a human skeleton clad in rotted, tattered remnants. She speaks, her tiny voice as the midnight song of the nightingale: Full fathom five thy father lies; / Of his bones are coral made; / Those are pearls that were his eyes; / Nothing of him that doth fade / But doth suffer a sea-change / Into something rich and strange. / Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell: / Hark! now I hear them, - Ding-dong, bell. Yes something rich and strange indeed, William.
WS: Robert, those bones are what remains of John Shakespeare, my father and one time Alderman, leather worker, dealer in wool; perennial, perennial tryer. I loved him, Rob. I did love my father.
RB: He died so sad, fleeing like his son although from creditors rather than from the distaff, his ship driven ashore and drowning with all other hands. You knew this when you wrote The Tempest?
WS: No, not then.
RB: Something subliminal, perhaps … I too loved my father, though all too often he loved me not. I tried to please him with the assiduity of my studies or my work upon the land or at the flax or later on with the Revenue. Sighs. But it was for my work in the bawdy houses and with the ladies for which he loved me not. I wonder, Will, what purpose had the urge that blotted out all else that there might be, that drained the male mind of all except a certain she?
WS: Questions like your shadow always leapt ahead across your way. Answers always swirled round; no black, no white, just in chaotic shades of grey.
The two chant in unison: our fathers which art in heaven. They get down off their rock. Shakespeare plucks a brightly coloured seaweed, places it with care upon his father’s grinning skull. The two of them stroll over to the edge of the deep, look down. They are saying nothing. Then …
WS: It is as well that we can summon and commune with no person from our own family - nor, indeed, with any person alive during our own times on Earth.
RB: Such contact could be good but would be vexacious.
WS: Certainly: Rob, should we follow our fishy friends down there, think you?
RB: Down there strange creatures carry within themselves their own lights and warm eruptions mutate life forms, change mineral salts into bacteria and bacteria into life somewhat as we knew it. Go down? I think perhaps not now. Let’s sally forth from all this salty origin into the purest of our early, earthly air.
WS: So very pleasing. I know a bank where the wild thyme blows: / Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows; / Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, / With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine ...
RB: Continues … There sleeps Titania, sometime of the night. / Lulled in these flowers with dances and delight.
The two friends saunter together up the seabed slope, reciting one to the other the other one’s lines. Their heads break surface, dry haired. They walk on, leaving the water without a ripple, yet footmarks in the sand as they traverse the beach. Soon they are within a forest, although not a forest as the one before. This is a forest of massive mangroves unknown in their own times. Great leaves blot out the light and roots rise, writhing, from the sodden ground. A giant brontosaurus lumbers by, huge feet sucking from the mud. They have no trouble making their way. Soon enough they come upon their dry-earth flowery clearing, there to sleep unbothered by the warmth, the strangest of insects large and small, the foetid smell of creation, the grunts and calls of prehistoric life both near and far. They sleep because they want to sleep but they do need it not.
RB: Murmurs: Sleep that knits up the revell’d sleave of care /  The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath, / Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, / Chief nourisher in life’s feast (Shakespeare’s Macbeth)
WS: Murmurs in response: Thou giv'st the word: Thy creature, man, / Is to existence brought; / Again Thou say'st, "Ye sons of men, / Return ye into nought!" / Thou layest them, with all their cares, / In everlasting sleep; / As with a flood Thou tak'st them off / With overwhelming sweep.(Burns’ Ninetieth Psalm Versified.)







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