Monday, February 23, 2015

The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd

[Earlier today on facebook, I asked "What kind of weirdo wouldn't want to hear the story about a creepy old drunk guy accosting me with bad poetry at a classical music concert when I was 17?" A kind reader duly expressed interest (after the first person to whom I offered the tale ignored me), so I am sharing. It is an accurate-enough version of what happened, though I admit it was almost 20 years ago. When I include this story in my memoirs, I don't want anyone accusing me of gross falsification. My particular thanks to Sir Walter Raleigh, peace and blessings be upon him. --ed.]
When I was in high school in Indiana, my ward's boy scout troop had a contract with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra to set up tables and chairs for their weekly summer "Symphony on the Prairie" series.
The ISO would perform on a stage in a large landscaped ampitheatre on the grounds of Conner Prairie, a "living history"museum. There were different price structures: a basic ticket would get you admittance to the grounds, where you could set up a blanket and enjoy the music; a higher-price ticket would get you admittance to the museum as well, where you could spend an hour or so talking to the re-enactors, including the honest-to-goodness blacksmith plus actors playing the pharmacist, the school teacher, various farmers, etc.; and a top-tier ticket would purchase all that plus prime seating at a banquet table with a folding chair and "catered" (from the March grocery store delicatessen) dinner thrown in.
While the boy scout troop had signed the contract, they encouraged others in the ward to help. I went as often as I could, though I skipped a few concerts that looked annoying. Sci fi night, 4th of July with actual artillery during the 1812 Overture, Mozart, check, check, check. But Stravinsky/Prokofiev night? Meh.
The deal was that if I showed up and helped with set up, I could stake out a good spot for my tarp and picnic dinner, visit the museum, and enjoy the concert, provided I also helped with take-down afterward. Most scouts showed up just to earn money toward scout camp, but I only went if I cared about the concert. It was a nice family activity, and I even did this as a date a few times in college; it was a hit with the young men I took, especially Jon.
Just after I graduated from high school, there was a romance-themed night. After the concert was over, the rich "box seat" types in their "luxury" plastic lawn chairs lingered. The other youth and I disassembled as best we could, but had been instructed not to hurry them. One of the patrons, a fifty-something balding guy, almost but not quite old enough to be my grandfather, started chatting with me as I walked past.
"Are we keeping you?" he asked, and I answered "Take your time, sir."
He then asked my opinion of the concert. I commented that this "romantic" concert had not included many selections from the actual Romantic period. Clearly surprised, he condescended to express himself impressed at my musical acumen, then took it upon himself to atone for the deficiencies of the music by providing a little extra "romance" himself.
Grabbing my hand, he began spouting poetry at me. Bad poetry. I stood stiffly, eyebrows arched in amusement. While I did not wish to encourage the guy, I found the entire thing funny. Although I'd been talking to him for several minutes, it only then began to dawn on me that perhaps he was tipsy. (Remember, sheltered Mormon girl. I didn't have much experience with alcohol.) I wasn't too worried about the guy; he was slightly creepy, but there were plenty of people around, including several people at his own table. The woman sitting next to him looked particularly Unamused; I wondered distractedly if she were his date -- or his wife.
His rather lengthy recitation also gave me time to consider my options. While I was required to be polite to him about his seating arrangements, I had no contractual obligations to coddle his ego. Thus, when he finished his verse, he looked at me and asked "What did you think?"
I smiled tolerantly and said "You wrote that yourself."
"How could you tell?" he blurted.
"You switched between 'thou' and 'you' several times," I answered. "Also, your conjugation of archaic forms was inconsistent. It's a common mistake to switch -st and -th endings on words, like 'thou thinketh" or 'he lovest.'"
Nettled, he inquired if I were some kind of expert literary critic, and I responded that I was surprisingly familiar with the classics for a seventeen-year-old. I emphasized the "seventeen" as subtle "Beeep! Beeeep! Minor! Jailbait!" warning. It went completely over his head, but was not lost on other members of his party who were less inebriated.
"Okay, so you want 'real' poetry!" he said, stung that I had so quickly identified his stuff as third-rate. He began quoting [1]:
"Come live with me and be my love,
And we shall all the pleasures prove..."
He stumbled badly through the middle of Christopher Marlowe's poem "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love," but finished up decently enough:
"If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love."
 When he finished, I smiled beatifically at him, paused dramatically...and then answered, archly:
"If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every shepherd's tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move
To live with thee and be thy love."
Then I extracted my hand firmly and walked away -- grinning like a loon. I gave his table a wide berth afterwards.
A girl my age almost tackled me when it was all over. "Oh my gosh, Gail!" she said. "What was that all about? I can't believe he did that." And then, belatedly, "And what did you say to him? He looks...not crushed, but..."
"Deflated?" I suggested.
His group decamped shortly afterward. I noted that the woman with him was acting...cold.
Heh heh heh.
Then the inevitable after-shock. "WHY," I asked the heavens, "Why couldn't he have been twenty--and SOBER?"

[1] It might have been "She walks in beauty" or "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day" or a host of other famous poems. I honestly don't remember. I DID quote Sir Walter Raleigh at him, though, and in the proper spirit.

[Below: Random internet photos of Symphony on the Prairie picnickers.
Top left: from the stage looking out at the "prime" table seating.
Top right: from the tables, looking at the stage.
Center: Wider view from the audience, in the "camp chair" section. (In the "good old days" of the 90s, people brought blankets.)
Bottom: REAL percussion for Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. Every July 4th, brought to us by the Evansville First Batallion 163rd Field Artillery. With howitzers.]



Carolyn said...

this was far, far more entertaining than I ... expected? I guess. delightful. I love your story telling.

Cheryl Moody said...

I don't remember hearing this story. I have always loved that pair of poems, and so many people don't know about the response. Good show!

Gail said...

Carolyn: Thanks! I love it when people enjoy my stories. Cheryl: Thanks! I'm very grateful to you for introducing me to the poems a few years earlier. As demonstrated, they proved perfect for a specific moment.