Poem: STRATFORDIAN QUATERCENTENARY
Copyright 1964 by Gwynneth Bowen
First published in Shakespearean Authorship Review (English), Spring 1964.
Wrong place, wrong time, wrong tomb, wrong Shakespeare
Yet, after all the ages, gather here,
Not Europe only, but the World, to pay
Homage to Shakespeare. What have we to say?
Oh let not Envy of that borrowed fame
Prevent us singing praises to the name
He made his own, who wrote what Shakespeare wrote;
Nor Malice raise its voice, nor cast its vote
Against the disposition of the time
To honour Shakespeare. It is not a crime
To celebrate a birthday out of season,
And not to celebrate were out of reason,
When all around us Shakespeare’s praises ring.
Shall we alone withhold our offering?
Who is the subject of this heaped up praise?
They do not laud the player, but the plays,
And him that wrote them; though misguidedly
They body forth his image. Outwardly,
The player, but the soul is of the plays,
Abstracted and conjoined in divers ways
To counterfeit a “Life.” Soul of his age,
Applause, delight and wonder of our stage,
Our Shakespeare, rise! In spirit they extol
Your memory and your immortal soul—
The better part of thee. The earth can have
But earth, and that’s elsewhere, not in this grave;
Sealed with a curse, undecked by any name,
At any cost. An actor has your fame,
Who plays your part, imperfectly transposed
To his requirements, edited and glozed,
And yet yourself; compounded of your plays.
There are worse things than Blind Affection’s praise,
Misplaced in error, purposes mistook,
And you live on by virtue of your book—
To grace our stage. Let Stratford have its day!
Be merry, England! Go—to see a play;
And praise the author in the player’s guise,
But grant we praise him too, though otherwise.
Not time, nor place, no accident of birth,
Even nobility, can make his worth
One jot the less. Then triumph, Britain, still:
He is your own, although he be not WILL.