Messer Marco Polo
I would have you now see her as I see her, standing before Li Po, the great poet,
in her green costume. And Li Po, big, fat, with sad eyes and a twisted mouth,
uncomfortable as be damned. The sun shone in the garden, the butterflies, the
red and black and golden butterflies, flitted from blossom to blossom. And the
bees droned. And on the banks of the green lake the kingfisher tunneled his wee
house, and the wind shook the blossoms of the apple-trees. And Li Po sat on the
marble slab and was very uncomfortable. And in a dark bower was Sanany, the
magician, brooding like an owl. And Golden Bells stood before Li Po, and there
were hurt tears in her eyes.
"Did my father or I ever do anything to you, Li Po, that you should make a song
such as they sing in the market-place?"
"The Song of the Cockatoo."
"I don't remember."
"I'll remind you, Li Po. 'There alighted on the balcony of the King of Annam,' the
song goes, 'a red cockatoo. It was colored as a peach-tree-blossom and it spoke
the tongue of men. And the King of Annam did to it what is always done to the
learned and eloquent. He took a cage with stout bars, and shut up inside.' And
wasn't that the cruel thing to write! And are you so imprisoned here, Li Po? Ah, Li
Po, I'm thinking hard of you, I'm thinking hard."
"Well, now, Golden Bells, to tell you the truth there was no excuse for it. But often
times I do be feeling sad, and thinking of the friends of my youth who are gone.
Yuan Chen, who might have been a better poet nor me, if he had been spared;
and H'sieng-yang and Li Chien, too. Ah, they were great poets, Golden Bells.
They never sang a poor song, Golden Bells, that they might wear a fine coat.
And they'd write what was true, wee mistress, were all the world to turn from
them. And I'm the laureate now, the court singer, living in my glory, and they're
dead with their dreams. I'm the last of the seven minstrels. And, wee Golden
Bells, I do be thinking long.
"And sometimes an old woman in the street or a man with gray in his hair will lift
a song, and before the words come to me, there's a pain in my heart.
"And I go down to the drinking booths, and the passion of drinking comes on me -
- a fury against myself and a fury against the world. And the folk do be following
me to see will I let drop one gem of verse that they can tell their grandchildren