Saturday, 23 January 2010

Richard Wilbur in The Prisoner of Zenda, introducing Christopher Reid

I remember this when it first appeared in Richard Wilbur's collection, The Mind-Reader (1976). Pray silence:

The Prisoner of Zenda

At the end a
"The Prisoner of Zenda,"
The King being out of danger,
Stewart Granger
(As Rudolph Rassendyl)
Must swallow the bitter pill
By renouncing his co-star,
Deborak Kerr.

It would be poor behavia
In him and Princess Flavia
Were they to put their own
Concerns before those of the Throne.
Deborah Kerr must wed
The King instead.

Rassendyl turns to go.
Must it be so?
Why can't they have their cake
And eat it, for heaven's sake?
Please let them have it both ways,
The audience prays.
And yet it is hard to quarrel
With a plot so moral.

One redeeming factor,
However, is the actor
Who plays the once-dissolute King
(Who has learned through suffering
Not to drink or be mean
To his future Queen),
Far from being a stranger
Is also Stewart Granger.

It is not one of the great man's greater poems but, like the film, it is a lark. The plot of the film turns on the fact that a wandering Brit is the body double of the Ruritanian king - for Zenda is a town in Ruritania, reader. Book (1894) by Anthony Hope (Sir Anthony Hope, to you). And Hail Hail Freedonia while you're at it.

There is something of Wilbur's voice in Christopher Reid too, the larkiness in Reid (even at his most serious) more English, naturally, than Wilbur's urbane New Yorker, at least in this, slightly Ogden Nashesque mood.

Wilbur is big with grace ("a mind of grace" said Theodore Roethke): Christopher Reid smaller with it, but, as they say, perfectly formed. And out of the grace, or from under it, creep proper solitary visions. Both are deeply courteous, civilised poets. With bite when needed. (More teeth than Ogden Gnash.)

This post by way of a lark on a Saturday night.


James Womack said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James Womack said...

I first read that poem in Philip French and Ken Wlaschin's Faber Book of Movie Verse, where it made all the heavier stuff seem a bit too much like good-for-you roughage. But you're right, it is a meringue more than anything else.

George S said...

Faber Book of Movie Verse

It wasn't a great anthology (I was in it with a tiny poem about Busby Berkeley) - interesting to have bits of it re-run on radio recently, including self, but I missed it anyway.

Meringue is nice. Turns out a nice meringue, Mr Wilbur.