London 1594

Elizabthan couple

This afternoon I went to hear a play –
since Mistress Jenkins told me she had been
I thought that certainly it was no sin –
and Edward said he would pay six whole pence
for us to sit above the common mob,
where our apprentice all too often goes
to stand and shout and laugh and eat and drink.

My Edward closed the shop and off we set.
And still I wondered if we had done right.
But then the trumpets blared and it began.

I’d heard the phrase It was another world.
I’d not believed in it until today!
The pillars and the paintings on the stage;
the music from the gallery above…
The players spoke as if they truly were
a prince, an old man or a bawdy youth:
or yet more strange, a crabbed and aged nurse,
who made us howl with mirth at what she said.

But all of these were just the outward show:
for at the heart were two young lovers, played
with touching bravery for boys so young.

Of course I couldn’t justify the love –
parents should judge just who their children wed –
and yet I cried and Edward blew his nose…
And as we walked home through the darkening streets,
I wondered for a moment if we two
had ever felt the heights we had been shown.

Perhaps that’s why our priest thinks plays a sin:
they can rouse envy in such folks as we;
they show is clearly what we do not have;
ask questions, dazzle us, then turn us out
to live our ordinary lives once more.

Elizabeth Horrocks

If you have any thoughts on this poem, Elizabeth Horrocks  would be pleased to hear them.