Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The winds of fate

The winds of fate blow strange. Why does this author become famous, and that--held by those who trouble to read him or her as at least as good--wither into obscurity?

Here, in its entirety, is the story "The Assignation" by Lord Dunsany (who himself has faded from fame, he who once had several plays at once on Broadway), from the superb collection of 51 bijoux tales called The Food of Death:

Fame singing in the highways, and trifling as she sang, with sordid adventurers, passed the poet by.

And still the poet made for her little chaplets of song, to deck her forehead in the courts of Time; and still she wore instead the worthless garlands, that boisterous citizens flung to her in the ways, made out of perishable things.

And after a while whenever these garlands died the poet came to her with his chaplets of song; and still she laughed at him and wore the worthless wreaths, though they always died at evening.

And one day in his bitterness the poet rebuked her, and said to her: "Lovely Fame, even in the highways and the byways you have not foreborne to laugh and shout and jest with worthless men, and I have toiled for you and dreamed of you and you mock me and pass me by."

And Fame turned her back on him and walked away, but in departing she looked over her shoulder and smiled at him as she had not smiled before, and, almost speaking in a whisper, said:

"I will meet you in the graveyard at the back of the Workhouse in a hundred years."
I cannot resist adding one other of the tales from that literally marvellous book (also known by the title Fifty-One Tales), owing to how very much it manages to say in how little space; it is entitled "What We Have Come To":
When the advertiser saw the cathedral spires over the downs in the distance, he looked at them and wept.

"If only," he said, "this were an advertisement of Beefo, so nice, so nutritious, try it in your soup, ladies like it."
Sad to say, though Lord Dunsany at least had his time in the sun, who remembers him today? Or Hope Mirrlees and her peculiar gem of a novel Lud-in-the-Mist? Ah, Fame and Fate: what a couple they make.

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