The Overlord of the Byron Society
requests the pleasure of the company of
For Dinner at La Petite Auberge Restaurant,
116 Lexington Avenue (’twixt 27th & 28th Street), New York,
Friday 19th September 2003, 7 for 7.30 p.m.
“Just think of all them nice chicks from good homes in their bonnets fanning their pretty faces and discussin’ flower arrangin’ an’ Mozart while all the time they’re dreamin’ that stud here, nay, superstud—”
The Dark One emphasised his words with appropriate pelvic actions.
“Might just come along an’ ravish ’em. ‘Hey Baby you wanna hear some poetry? I’ll show you poetry, babe. Poetry in motion! I’m gonna read you my sonnet, nice an’ slow, an’ we’re gonna talk about rhythm and hexameter, that’s right, baby, rhythm and hexa-sexa- whoa! - that’s sweet, r-e-a-l sweet-’ ’’
St. Peter, who was getting impatient, interrupted the Prince of Darkness.
“OK, Stan, that’s enough. We get the idea. What’s your point?”
“Ma point is respe’fully this, Pete—there ain’t no way that this dude oughtta go to heb’n. He likes the booze, he likes the substances and he jus’ lerrrves the chicks, an’ the mo’ the merrier! He’s one of mine, if ever, why the time he leaves hell is when it freezes over, man. He’s gonna be in the fus’ snowball fight in hell.”
Satan illustrated the last image with mimed ducking and throwing. St. Peter shook his head.
“It’s all very well you saying that, but I have responsibilities. You, the Devil, the Evil One—whatever—can do what you like, but it’s different for me. I have to show consideration, compassion and mercy. Comes with the job.”
Satan grimaced involuntarily at the mention of consideration, compassion and mercy. St. Peter continued:
“Whilst it is certainly true that George led a—uh—colorful earthly life, as the Supreme Being’s vicegerent it is necessary to consider virtues as well as vices, and these are not inconsiderable. He was sensitive and caring. He was the most loyal friend, and he was an idealist, what is more, not just a dreamer, but someone who tried to turn his dreams to realities.”
He turned to Byron.
“So, your Lordship, what have you to say for yourself?”
Lord Byron had had 179 years to prepare for this moment. The hell/heaven parole board only meets on the millenium, every millenium, and by the time they got round to poets and artists, it was 2003. The discovery that amongst hell’s scant delights, sex was not on the list, made within a week of his arrival in 1824, resulted in his applying for parole. He had since rehearsed speeches that would melt the hearts of marble statues, as well as trying desperately to obtain sworn affadavits from every woman he had seduced that he was able to track down (and there were many) saying that the encounter had, in fact, never taken place, or had consisted of nothing more than the reading of poetry. He had e-mailed saints until he was on most of their “Blocked Sender” lists. What had he not done? But on the actual day, things had started off badly and then got steadily worse. His club foot, for example, was giving much more trouble than usual, which probably meant that someone somewhere on Earth was taking his name in vain. He rehearsed his speeches in front of the mirror, practising every nuance, every inflection. But it sounded hollow and unconvincing. He finally rose from the black carved lignite chaise, declaiming like a Marlowesque tragedian:
“I have been called a poet. A poet,” he repeated. “What is a poet? Is it a man who takes God’s gift of language and works it, like a goldsmith, into a thing of beauty? Is it a man who crystallises diamonds from seaspray? Is it a man who catches the silver of the rippling brook or the gold of the still surface of the lake as Phaethon pours on his liquid fire in the vespers of a long summer’s day? I think not. A poet is just a man. An ordinary man, but one who feels so deeply that the tale of the feelings that overflow from his breast must somehow be told.”
He paused. Satan’s scribe, a small, spiteful-looking old woman, was scribbling furiously to keep up with His Lordship. St. Peter listened intently, but Satan was silently making obscene gestures or miming fingers down his throat.
“Has not that been my mission? My life’s work?” Byron continued, “By finding a voice to praise the works of God to thereby spread the appreciation of the innumerable splendours of creation to the whole world?”
This part of Lord Byron’s plea was done to perfection; the noble posturing, the moments of dreamlike contemplation and the exquisitely-timed pauses. He traced various events in his brief (but memorable) Earth-life to support his arguments following the general theme of bringing enlightenment to those less favoured with wordish gifts. Satan appeared to sleep through most of this, leaning back on a chair with his mouth open and his pitchfork draped over his chest, motionless apart from breathing and odd little twitches in his tail as it rested on the floor. Knowing full well that his sex life would probably prove to be the contentious issue, Lord Byron broached the subject with the utmost delicacy.
“I have spoken of the love and appreciation of nature, your Holiness,” he intoned with a respectful nod to St. Peter. “But now let me speak of love itself. Love that is at once as delicate as the beating wings of a hummingbird as it samples the tiny ecstasy of the summer bloom or as fast and furious as the tempest that can pound the proudest navy to matchwood. I was not immune to love. No, I loved, and am not ashamed to have loved. Those who have studied my brief journey under the mortal sun might even contend that I loved too much. How can a man whose heart is rent by that most delectable of blades, so often and so completely, ever pretend that the river of life can flow smoothly on, as though such joyous anguish had never impinged? It impinged. I will allow that maybe, on occasion, I was love’s fool! Yes, because of love I was dragged to places that would have been better left unvisited. Yet was I so wrong? Were not so many women grateful to have been cherished, however briefly? Would not their lives have been that much poorer had they not shared brief moments of ecstasy with me? I will allow that the consequences were not always the most positive. But if I have caused pain has not the debt of anguish been repayed many times over?”
He paused. The body language of Satan’s scribbling scribe suggested that she would not mind one bit should Lord B. put her on his conquest list. St. Peter stroked his beard slowly, clearly moved.
“We do not condemn you to eternal perdition, George,” he began. “You condemn yourself by your actions. Whilst the sins of the flesh are no great thing in themselves, the crimes committed in satiating any immoderate desire are, and a lot of women, men and animals have been hurt by your deeds. Although I notice that your estranged wife formally forgave you in exchange for an endorsement of her Geometry text book in 1912, I still hold sixty-nine petitions, mainly from former serving maids, who have raised objections to your parole. For myself, I earnestly want to believe that you are ready to progress, and if in the next five minutes you can persuade me that you are a worthy case, then I will formally endorse the application.”
Lord Byron beamed with joy. He paced a small distance along the room, and was about to speak when Satan, still to all appearances asleep, started reciting in a high-pitched, whiny voice:
“Whilome in Trin’ty College dwelt a youth
Who ne in virtues ways did take delight;
But vex’d the M.C.R. so oft, in truth,
They made him pres. in hopes to ease their plight;
Hopes vain! Fulsome folly! And not so bright,
To pick a shameless youth, a London lad,
Disciple of sin, and worshipper of night:
In tatty tweeds was he perpetua’ly clad,
To match his stillborn verses, which were always bad!”
“What’s that about?” said Byron, bemused, “I never wore tweeds— I have some taste— and what’s this M.C.R. thing?”
“It’s not about you, George, it’s about Danny Henrey, the Overlord of the Oxford Byron Society. They’re still going, would you believe, and plan to have a dinner on 19 September 2003 in La Petite Auberge restaurant in New York.”
Lord B. felt as though he had just been hit in the stomach. This was definitely not what he wanted to hear, although it did at least explain the pains. They must be writing, or planning to write, more of their awful so-called “poetry”. He groaned involuntarily. Satan started again:
“The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, haggises did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.
And monstrous celery rose up;
Huge beetroots swell’d and burst:
Sliced carrots sharp and grim rained down
Upon our souls accurs’d.
And in our agony, we swore,
‘’Tis witch or daemon hex!
How come we otherwise within
This giant Moulinex?’
“Your Holiness,” he pleaded pompously, “I really cannot see why the lowly prattle of disreputable scribblers has anything to do with my case. Is there anything you can do to get him to stop?”
St. Peter, who was chuckling to himself, ignored Lord B.’s protestations, allowing the Evil One to recite the remaining twenty-three stanzas of Danny Henrey’s Rime of the Ancient Sheep Molestor. By the end of it Byron’s artistic outrage had reached a new peak. He was shaking with barely-contained rage. The Rime of the Ancient Anaconda Wrestler with the same rotten, monotonous rhythm, was the last straw. The words “So snored two bags, in tawdry rags/Like pixilated sows” pushed him over the edge.
“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” he screamed, pushing Satan off his chair.
Satan, rubbing his eyes, exclaimed, “Well bless me, I must have dozed off. These meetings seem to take so long that it’s hard to stay awake. Funny dream I had, too. About Marion.” Then, fixing Lord B. in a steely glance, he added, “Marion, who lives in my dreams.” He chuckled, this then building into a loud, knowing, Satanic laugh. Lord B., with a look of pure hatred, took a swipe at him before kicking over St. Peter’s table, and storming out.
“Touchy, or what?” said Satan after a long silence, twirling a silver-tipped cane nonchalantly. He produced a quill and wad of forms from inside his cape.
“Another thousand years?” he enquired.
“Another thousand years,” confirmed St. Peter with a sigh.
Chris “Childe Harold” Oakley