Quintains of the Red Death

And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death
held illimitable dominion over all.

At the last midnight ever to fall,
the clock’s brazen lungs swelled full
and exhaled twelve sonic ebony sighs
that shuddered against the welded gates
and made the airtight abbey shake.

The dancers halted stupefied
and the music hobbled to a hush
at the advent of the uncanny guest
in his cadaverous eyeless mask
clad in the vesture of the grave.

Who presumes, who makes so bold?
Who dares dishonor this masquerade
of laughter and Terpsichore
and lotos-devouring lunacy
with uninvited grief and thought?

So cried the Prince, chasing the stranger
through his seven suites bedight
in lapis blue and lavender,
in emerald and tangerine,
in ivory and heliotrope,

until, in a chamber of sable velvet
glowing vermillion by fiery braziers
shining through panes of tinted glass,
the Prince cornered and challenged him,
guise to guise and mask to mask.

You! Profaner of mockeries,
delinquent in mandatory scorn—
kneel before your sovereign lord;
prepare your flesh for my dagger’s delight,
your blood to quench these stones!

But neither stones nor knife were sated,
and the Prince ached with unbidden sorrow.
How strange, he thought, that any mischance
should visit so noble a potentate,
so wise, so frugal, and so great.

Why, he wondered, should he be sad,
sequestered with his chosen kindred
while the Red Death raged outside?
He gazed upon the faceless stranger,
whose very silence made reply.

You fail to recognize me, sire?
Does the Prince deny his faithful son?
I’ve been too long from home, I fear.
But how could you forget a child
hatched fully grown from your lifeless heart?

You nourished me at your barren breast;
I learned all things at your cruel feet;
All that you are, so I must be;
what your will would have, so I must do;
thus I have served you throughout your realm.

No soul survives in Greed’s dominion;
No children play in the empire of Hate.
No life throbs in the kingdom of Conceit.
Do I appear in the guise of Death?
I am yourself—manifest, incarnate.

The privileged revels now all ended,
the stranger crumbled into dust.
The Prince retraced his wending steps
through the mute particolored suites
and found his merry throng all slain.

But tender no tears for the Prince;
rather you may envy him,
for Hell is Heaven for the Damned.
He abides in welded, airtight bliss
within his castellated walls

roaming among those putrid remains
(worthy companions at long last!)
sheltered forever from all he dreads—
new buds, new blossoms, new hopes, new laughter,
all bourgeoning amid death’s decay.


Illustration of Prince Prospero confronting the “Red Death” by Arthur Rackham, 1935

The Lullaby Tree — in paperback

ImageMy last post announced that my new play, The Lullaby Tree, was available in Kindle. Now it’s out in paperback as well. I hope you’ll have a look at it. As I mentioned before, it’s aimed more at readers than theatrical audiences—a “closet drama,” as it were. —Wim

Today I’m sharing Aesop’s not-so-famous Third Act Soliloquy …

I am alone—or so I say
Because I am supposed to;
You know the truth is not a thing
I’m really quite disposed to.
And flights of verse treat facts much worse
Than statements spoke in prose do.

“I am alone”: Let it be known,
I find those words most queer.
For I am standing on a stage,
Addressing you loud and clear,
While you are sitting in your chairs
Pretending you’re not here.

I am alone, I am alone,
Standing at stage center,
Awaiting someone who may be
My savior or tormentor—
Waiting, waiting, nothing more,
For someone else to enter.

I am alone; watch closely now—
Yes, you and all your chums—
This tap-tap-tapping of my toes,
This twiddling of my thumbs.
My tongue I’ll click, my nose I’ll pick,
Till something this way comes.

I am alone; so seize this time
(It really would be wise)
To hold each other by the hand,
To stroke each others’ thighs,
Or gaze and gaze, entranced, amazed,
Into each others’ eyes.

I am alone; now aren’t I
A fascinating sight?
For you can’t look away from me;
Tell me if I’m not right.
For you can’t look away from me;
Try it with all your might.

I am alone and wear a mask,
Just as all actors should.
And yet—I touch my face and feel
That it is flesh and blood.
Now touch your frozen face—you’ll find
It’s linen, cork, or wood.

“I am alone”: These words have spun
A gripping spell, it’s true;
Moments are passing, lost and gone—
Moments that you shall rue;
For when you peep in a play too deep,
The play peeps into you.