By Carl Dennis
Art attribution: “Lear and Cordelia” by Richard Hatfield
Gone now the young professor
Who took pleasure in hauling Lear
Before the court of a sophomore classroom
And pronouncing the old king headstrong,
Hungry for praise, intemperate,
And flagrantly ignorant of the world,
Confident he can cede his kingdom
And still retain his kingly authority.
Gone the old professor the young one became
Who taught that Lear deserves to be praised,
After the arrogance of Act One,
For shaking his feeble fist in the face of calamity
And asking what can be made
Of the nothing he’s left with,
Or the next to nothing.
Gone the students taught the old view,
Whose notebooks the old professor
Would have liked to recall for some serious
Alterations in focus and tone.
Or if not the notebooks of all
Then those of the few who paid attention
And remembered the class long afterward.
Rebecca Bryce, for instance,
Who sat near the front, head bent,
Taking every word down,
While most of the others studied the rain
Soaking the hemlocks outside the window.
To her he’d have been happy to send a note
Expressing the hope no lecture of his
Berating Lear for taking as gospel
The praise lavished on him in Act One
Had left her suspicious of friendly overtures,
Reluctant to let her guard down for a minute.
And he’d hope that no praise of his
For Lear’s belated humility and contrition
Ever induced her to suffer injustice tamely.
Gone from the world the belief that the two
Can talk about it in some other life,
A life that now only a poem
Finds room for. There he’s delighted
To learn from her that his worry
Is more than a little ridiculous,
His claim to an influence
He never came close to possessing.
There he has a chance to be foolish,
Like Lear at the end,
Oblivious to the issue of royal authority.
Let the kingdom he’s lost stay lost
While he chats all afternoon with Cordelia.
Let those who would serve him still
Patrol the perimeter of his cottage,
Turning messengers from the court away.