Percy: Poets Are Always Misunderstood. I Am Returning This Book to You. It Is Truly Stupendous

Percy: Poets Are Always Misunderstood. I Am Returning This Book to You. It Is Truly Stupendous



(Scene: A nice room at the Villa Schuler (Hotel) in Taormina in the summer of 1909. There is a door on the left and a closed window on the right. In the center is a table flanked by two chairs. There is a book and a lace shawl on the table, which presses against the wall. On the wall is a large framed photo of an Italian peasant girl with a lace shawl about her head. She faces left. The room is luxurious. Standing in front of the table are two men, the younger on the left and the elder on the right. The younger has a book in his hand.)

William Alexander Percy: Professor Woodberry, I have read your charming essay on Taormina with the greatest pleasure. Thank you for loaning ‘Heart of Man’ to me. We seem kindred spirits.

George Edward Woodberry: I was sure that you would like it. Only a select few read my books. They never sell.

Percy: Poets are always misunderstood. I am returning this book to you. It is truly stupendous.

Woodberry: I have another book to show you, although I hesitate. It contains mention of me and one of my early poems.

(Woodberry takes “Heart of Man” from Percy and hands him the book on the table.)

Percy:‘The Intersexes’ by Xavier Mayne.

Woodberry: Turn to page 382. There I am.

Percy: Yes, there you are. Between Whitman and Bliss Carman. ‘The North-Shore Watch’.

Woodberry: I hate following Whitman. I can’t stand his poetry, if you can even call it poetry. I prefer Byron and Shelley.

Percy:And I love Howsman’s ‘The Shropshire Lad’. But what is this book all about?

Woodberry: The answer should be obvious. Flip through it a bit. It was recently published in Italy, The author is an American.

(Percy flips through the book here and there.)

Percy: This is astonishing! I am amazed.

Woodberry: And very up to date. It even includes recent scandals, such as Krupp on Capri. Even in Italy we are not safe. But of course Krupp was a fool. He imagined that he was a new Tiberius and could act as outrageously as he wished. Fools rush in, as they say.

Percy: He was a victim of politics.

Woodberry: I never mix with politics.

Percy: This book is so long that I shall have to spend at least a week digesting it. I thank you for introducing it to me.

(He puts it on the table beside ‘Heart of Man’.)

Woodberry: I am soon going to Capri, The Eden Hotel. Baron D’Adelswärd-Fersen fled to Capri after a scandal. It was a matter of some photographs. Boys.

Percy: But surely in Sicily such photos are legal. Baron Von Gloeden has made a business out of taking the most shameless photos in this very town. The boys of Taormina are famous.

Woodberry: At least they are infamous. The photo on the wall is one of them.

Percy: A beautiful peasant girl.

(A knock on the door)

Woodberry: Chi ‘e?

(Voice from outside in the hall)

Boy: Dino!

(Woodberry goes past Percy and opens the door as Percy turns around.)

Dino: Signore!

(Dino enters smiling. He is beautiful and around 15. Woodberry goes to the table and picks up the shawl. Percy is now facing Dino. The shawl is placed upon Dino’s head.)

Percy: This is the girl in the photo!

Woodberry: Yes, exactly. Von Gloeden.

(He whispers to Dino and hands him a bank note. Dino gives the shawl back and exits.)

Dino: Mille Grazie!

(He blows a kiss as he leaves, closing the door behind him. The shawl is put on the table.)

Woodberry: I told him to come back later.

Percy: We don’t have anything like this in Mississippi. Italia, ô Italia! One has to be careful in Mississippi. The Klan doesn’t just lynch negroes. If I bring back some Von Gloeden photos, I can only hope that nobody finds them. They don’t call such photos “works of art”. I would love to remain in Italy, but I am tied down to my family. It would be nice to take some Sicilian boys back home with me, but how would I explain them to my father? Some people have all the luck.

Woodberry: Well, it isn’t all beer and skittles. This isn’t the neverland with the lost boys. Harden the socialist lost no time in using sexual inversion as a weapon against Kaiser Wilhelm and his circle. There was Krupp on Capri. Later there was Eulenburg in Germany. It started with the death of the Count Von Hülsen-Häseler in a tutu, dancing before the Kaiser, then having a heart attack. This is recent news. It could continue.

Percy: Who is this Xavier Mayne?

Woodberry: I don’t know him. Obviously not his real name. At least he admires my poetry – not Whitman’s.

Percy: You hate Whitman? The style, I suppose.

Woodberry: Yes, dangerously modern and common. We have the worst poet, Whitman; the worst novelist, Twain; the worst dramatist… I can’t mention his name out loud. You know we live in a degenerate age. (Sighs)

Percy: You mean Ibsen? Clyde Fitch?

Woodberry: No, you know – The Irishman.

Percy: But he was a martyr. So many die before their time. There was general MacDonald. He shot himself. Something about boys in Ceylon. It seems that India and Ceylon are interesting. I understand that Leadbeater the Theo-sophist is living there, in search of “Gods” – always around 14 or so.

Woodberry: Blavatsky is a charlatan.

Percy: Yes, but the boys are real enough.

Woodberry: I recently saw the most angelic boy on a trip to Palermo. I was at an open-air café and near my table was an aristocratic Italian family. The boy was about 12, in the usual sailor suit. He seemed rather a sissy. They left, and I asked the waiter. The boy’s name is Giuseppe Di Lampedusa. His father is a prince dispossessed during the Risorgimento.

Percy: Henry James could write a story about such an incident, so subtle.

Woodberry: I should rather imagine a story written by a German, place it in Venice. Henry James doesn’t have the nerve. He was horrified by Forrest Reid’s ‘The Garden God’. Hardly dangerous stuff. (Declaims)

“Fond boy, art cannot limn thee, bud of the white dawn’s hour; and language doth but dim thee, youth’s violet, Etna’s flower; but I will bear thy face with me as far as shines eternity.”

Percy: You are so fine a poet. I also write poetry, although Mississippi is not a place friendly to poets, especially poets who write about boys. Symonds taught me to appreciate Italy. Pater also has thought me so much.

Woodberry: We Americans are indeed living in exile. Italy is our true home. Well, it is time for lunch. Let us go in search of a café. You can look into the Xavier Mayne book when we get back. We have found kindred spirits in each other.

(They exit and close the door behind them.)