As some fond virgin, whom her mother's care
Drags from the town to wholesome country air,
Just when she learns to roll a melting eye,
And hear a spark, yet think no danger nigh;
From the dear man unwilling she must sever,
Yet takes one kiss before she parts forever:
Thus from the world fair Zephalinda flew,
Saw others happy, and with sighs withdrew;
Not that their pleasures caused her discontent;
She sighed not that they stayed, but that she went.
She went, to plain-work, and to purling brooks,
Old-fashioned halls, dull aunts, and croaking rooks:
She went from opera, park, assembly, play,
To morning walks, and prayers three hours a day;
To part her time `twixt reading and bohea,
To muse, and spill her solitary tea,
Or o'er cold coffee trifle with the spoon,
Count the slow clock, and dine exact at noon;
Divert her eyes with pictures in the fire,
Hum half a tune, tell stories to the squire;
Up to her godly garret after seven,
There starve and pray, for that's the way to heaven.
Some squire, perhaps, you take delight to rack,
Whose game is whist, whose treat a toast in sack;
Who visits with a gun, presents you birds,
Then gives a smacking buss, and cries - "No words!"
Or with his hounds comes hollowing from the stable,
Makes love with nods and knees beneath a table;
Whose laughs are hearty, though his jests are coarse,
And loves you best of all things - but his horse.
In some fair evening, on your elbow laid,
You dream of triumphs in the rural shade;
In pensive thought recall the fancied scene,
See coronations rise on every green:
Before you pass the imaginary sights
Of lords and earls and dukes and gartered knights,
While the spread fan o'ershades your closing eyes;
Then give one flirt, and all the vision flies.
Thus vanish scepters, coronets, and balls,
And leave you in lone woods, or empty walls.
So when your slave, at some dear idle time
(Not plagued with headaches or the want of rhyme)
Stands in the streets, abstracted from the crew,
And while he seems to study, thinks of you;
Just when his fancy points your sprightly eyes,
Or sees the blush of soft Parthenia rise,
Gay pats my shoulder, and you vanish quite;
Streets, chairs, and coxcombs rush upon my sight;
Vexed to be still in town, I knit my brow,
Look sour, and hum a tune - as you do now.
This writeup is called Everybody Loves You. It's a good title, clear and informative. It's taken from a song by singer-songwriter Billy Bragg of the same name. If you know the song, you'll already know what this is about. It's a lovely little number. Like most fiction on here - that I read, anyway - it is factual. Fucking hell. Let's try again.
Everybody likes you babe but me
I guess that proves how stupid I can be
Your father thinks it's swell, your mum hears wedding bells
Our friends all say we make a lovely couple we get on so well
Alexander Pope's poem (above) is written to Theresa Blount. In an uncritical way, it's amongst my favourite of his. The Blount sisters, Theresa and Mary, met Pope when they were all in their late teens. Theresa was the elder, fantastically beautiful sister, and Mary was better read, smarter, and funnier. IIRC, Mary cared for Pope for life, and Theresa married young. What I love about this Epistle is its wistfulness. My notes on this poem include the phrase 'poesis of unfulfilment'. I kinda agree. It's a poem that manages to equivocate whilst being full of adoration. Pope knows, and she knows, that nothing will ever happen. But how - ! How he wants her. And there's that other feeling in there too. See?
I was going to cut it down for length, but I didn't. Go and read it again.
Anyway. The setting is a private member's club, in the West End. We've been here before, actually. At least, I have. After that fracas, I was so fucking angry with myself that I didn't talk to you for a year. I dropped all your calls. I didn't get your notes. Figure that one out. You still invite me to your twenty-first. Go figure again.
People say that we're a perfect match
I arrive late without card or present. We chat about this because you did the seating plan so that of the hundred and fifty people with whom you spent this year and the last and the last right back to kindegarten, I am sitting opposite you for dinner. You are - just - ... but that doesn't surprise me. You're prodigious, enormous, sedate, supreme, you're unflappable, I think. You're so - so at home here, surrounded by the people who make up your life, your composite parts. I was right a year ago: you are negatively defined. You're pearlescent, elusive, slippery; above all reflective, if anything. And you are content to be. Just then, I catch myself staring at your hair tucked behind your ear and the down on your cheek and how it curves down until your lips tuck outward to interrupt the cascade of tiny hairs.
They don't realise that there's a catch
They don't have to live with you,
forgive you for the things you do
Before I left, a friend confronted me about this. Why are you going? I thought this was over, now? And what about -
I looked at his knees. Of course it was over. (It was the least I could do). He's upset, my friend, because I'm being dishonest to him, (in the first instance) and he knows it.
There's just no ignoring, you're pretty but you're boring
Later on in the evening, I meet another friend at the bar and we drink whiskey until we can't anymore and then I find yet another guy I know and dance with him to annoy you because I never dance and I won't let you appropriate me anymore - no - the band is some salsa arrangment that you sing with and anyway eventually when I'm rubbing myself against this guy he shouts 'who are we making fun of?' I think I laugh and then I leave making sure to thank your parents first.
Everybody likes you babe, but me
They just don't know how iffy you can be
I'd hate for you to go, before I let you know
That everybody loves you babe, but me
It turns out I can't leave because when I get to the coach home I've spent all my money on scotch and at three am I call you up and say hey I don't know what to do - what shall I do? So I walk to yours and at four thirty I get there (I sprained my ankle) and we collapse into your bed so tired not even -
I wake up and your parents are standing over. Me and you in bed together. I laugh and go back to sleep. Later still I find I do. Actually have a card with me. So I go to the bank stopping to retch on the way but nothing comes out (of either) they just laugh at me. Tuesday morning eleven o'clock patent leather shoes. White silk scarf. Drunk smell, beard. Can you guess who this is about, yet?
I'm begging you to stay out of my way
Cos everybody likes you babe, but me
Everybody likes you babe, but me.
I find you packing for university and you don't hesitate to lend the money I need to get home again. With a small smile. On the way home I note with approval all the stares I get for being in black tie at lunchtime.
Alexander Pope, Epistle to Miss Blount upon her leaving town after the Coronation (OWC, 2001)
Billy Bragg, Everybody Loves You, Babe, William Bloke
A Hatequest 2006 production.