Monthly Archives: July 2011

Twelve Letters to a Small Town

Here is the Eleventh Letter from Twelve Letters to a Small Town, a suite of poems James Reaney wrote for composer John Beckwith in 1962.

ELEVENTH LETTER — Shakespearean Gardens

The Tempest The violet lightning of a March thunderstorm glaring the patches of ice still stuck to the streets.

Two Gentlemen of Verona On Wellington St. an elegant colonel-looking gentleman with waxed white moustachioes that came to tight little points.

Merry Wives of Windsor The Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Orange Lodge marched down the street in white dresses with orange bows on them.

Richard III At last all the children ran away from home and were brought up by an old spinster who lived down the street.

Henry VIII Mr. White’s second wife was the first Mrs. Brown and the first Mrs. White was the second Mrs. Brown.

Troilus  & Cressida “Well, I haven’t been to that old Festival yet but since it began I’ve had ten different boyfriends.”

Titus Andronicus Young Mr. Wood to-day lost his right hand in an accident at the lumber yards.

Romeo & Juliet Romeo & Juliet Streets.

Timon of Athens Old Miss Shipman lived alone in a weatherbeaten old cottage and could occasionally be seen out on the front lawn cutting the grass with a small sickle.

Julius Caesar Antony wore a wrist watch in the Normal School production although he never looked at it during the oration.

Macbeth Principal Burdoch’s often expressed opinion was that a great many people would kill a great many other people if they knew for certain they could get away with it.

Hamlet A girl at the bakery took out a boat on the river, tied candlesticks to her wrists and drowned herself.

King Lear Mr. Upas was a silver haired cranky old individual who complained that the meat was too tough at the boarding house.

Othello At the edge of town there stood a lonely white frame building—a deserted Negro church.

The Merchant of Venice When my cousin worked for the Silversteins she had her own private roll of baloney kept aside in the refrigerator for her.

Henry V The local armouries are made of the usual red brick with the usual limestone machicolation.

Twelve Letters to a Small Town was first published in 1962 by the Ryerson Press. In the Afterword to the 2002 facsimile edition, James Reaney wrote that after it was published, “Many Stratford residents said they saw on paper for the first time their memories of the town and wrote to me to say so.”

Among the shows currently on at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario are The Merry Wives of Windsor, Richard III, Titus Andronicus, and Twelfth Night.


The Royal Visit

Here is a poem James Reaney wrote about the 1939 Royal Visit to Canada by Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

The Royal Visit

When the King and Queen came to Stratford
Everyone felt at once
How heavy the Crown must be.
The Mayor shook hands with their Majesties
And everyone presentable was presented
And those who weren’t have resented
It, and will
To their dying day.
Everyone had almost a religious experience
When the King and Queen came to visit us
(I wonder what they felt!)
And hydrants flowed water in the gutters
All day.
People put quarters on the railroad tracks
So as to get squashed by the Royal train
And some people up the line at Shakespeare
Stayed in Shakespeare, just in case—
They did stop too,
While thousands in Stratford
Didn’t even see them
Because the Engineer didn’t slow down
Enough in time.
And although,
But although we didn’t see them in any way
(I didn’t even catch the glimpse
The teacher who was taller did
Of a gracious pink figure)
I’ll remember it to my dying day.

Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on board the royal train, May 31, 1939.

For more about the 1939 Royal Visit, see the Special Trains page at Library and Archives Canada.

 

The Royal Visit is included in James Reaney’s first collection of poems The Red Heart (1949). The poem also appears in James Reaney’s 1967 play Colours in the Dark, where it follows an actual letter a child wrote to his father describing how the Royal train failed to slow down on that day (see Act I Scene 13).

© 2017 James Reaney