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Anne Boleyn and Fame For Thame by Loyd Haberly (1934)

January 5, 2013

Loyd Haberly, born in a small town in Iowa, found his calling when he went to Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship to read law and became sidetracked by the Arts and Crafts movement. Before long he was setting up his own press and writing his own poetry and prose compositions (chiefly, Jay Satterfield speculates, to give himself something to print). During a brief and unsatisfactory tenure at the Gregynog Press, he printed, among other things, his book Anne Boleyn And Other Poems, in which two items are of particular interest to this blog: the title poem (naturally) and a pastoral playlet at the end entitled Fame For Thame: Or, Beating The Bounds and which features Henry and Anne as the King and not-quite Queen. Can’t really picture that? Read on.

The title poem is narrated, and often spoken, from the perspective of Anne’s great first love — in this case, Thomas Wyatt, who is finishing a song on his lute while furiously contemplating Anne’s mysterious loss of interest in himself.

“Is it possible
That any may find
Within one heart so diverse mind,
To change or turn as weather or wind?
Is it possible?”
Then his voice waxed harsh and deep:
“Wyatt, and ye your chamber keep?”

It sounds like he’s going to burst out of his own room to find Anne, but instead we find he’s hammering on Anne’s locked door while she “trilled a merry laugh within.” Desperately, Wyatt shouts out to Anne that “I promised you and you promised me / To be as true as I would be.” Anne’s mysterious laughter continues, and Wyatt’s anger begins to turn into something colder and more unpleasant. In a voice “like Death’s own” he informs her that there will be poetic consequences for this behavior.

“Spite asketh spite and changing change,
And falsed faith must needs be known:
The fault so great, the case so strange,
Of right it must abroad be blown
Then since that by thine own desart[sic]
My songs do tell how true thou art,
Blame not my lute!”

At that Anne opens the door, dressed in green and white (the Tudor colours, though the author doesn’t specify this), tells Wyatt “No more! This is not wise!” pointing out that they’re surrounded by servants who can hear as well as they can, but then takes pity on his obvious distress. “With thee I will not sham / Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am.”

On receiving this news, we are told, “All his manhood’s might awoke” and he crushes her in his arms, kissing her unwilling lips,

Crying, “Anne, ye are my mate!
I am not one that can allow the state
Of high Caesar. There is but thee and me
Between the darkness past and that to be.”

Bells ring out at that moment, announcing the King’s imminent arrival and Anne, furious at Wyatt’s behavior — “Since I am weak / Ye act the beast” slaps him so hard that he falls, and in doing so, crushes his lute. “Loud in mortal pain it cried,” we’re told — the lute resembles its owner strongly in that respect. The lute’s death throes are also the end of Wyatt’s voice, and a presumably modern-day “I” speaks the last few lines.

The arrased room fled with that cry.
And I stared into a sty,
For proud dwellings all must come
To the hovel or the slum.
But upon a shattered pane
Ran this legend, rude but plain,
Scribbled through the dust within:
“In this house dwelt Anne Boleyn.”

And that’s the end of that. The rest of the poems are unrelated to Tudor matters, until at the end of the book we reach Fame For Thame, or Beating The Bounds. As one would expect, our scene opens in the village of Thame, where the local churchwardens and their wives, along with an unfortunate (literal) whipping boy, are awaiting the priest’s arrival so they can begin beating the bounds. We see enough of them to establish that, well, we’ve seen enough. The men are thickwitted, goodhearted yokels, especially the alderman, who persists in trying to use ten-dollar words when his credit limit only runs to about five. “The quadranty is, sir, which of the churchwardens’ wives, Mistress Timms here, or Mistress Lee, is to go first in the processioning?” he asks the priest, whose answer is that the elder should go first; the women, who are thickwitted, goodhearted yokels’ wives, decide to walk together, and off they go to beat the bounds, and the boy as well for good luck. Oddly, the month is described as September, although beating the bounds was usually done around Ascension Day, which is two seasons away from September. This scene also establishes the guiding principle of this and many another play: poetry is for serious characters only, everyone else has to make do with prose unless they’re singing. All of the characters speak in prose except for the priest, who speaks a blessing in verse:

May these bounds that now we beat
Be a bar to evil feet.
Jealousies and wicked sprites,
Cares that waste the restful nights …

Exeunt all, and enter “A young Monk, reading.” What he’s reading is a book which informs him that if he’s still making use of his five senses and enjoying the world, “thy vows lead thee only to damnation, since thy soul still loves earthly things.” He agonizes over this — “Surely God did not make green fields nor scent the wind with ripe apples only to tempt me from contemplation.” He is already guiltily conscious of having strayed outside the Abbey territory when he hears a woman’s voice singing, and rising from the river sees a character described as “Nerissa, a River Nymph.” Nerissa is one of the characters who speaks in verse, and she informs the monk that she’s watched over him and loved him ever since he was a child.

Field and stream were your delight
Till the Abbey, low and white …
Called you from this holy ground.
What you sought, you have not found.

The monk, a little panicked at her apparent omniscience, asks how she knows all this, and she goes on to demonstrate that she also knows how he’s been crying himself to sleep every night from sadness, and furthermore that he’ll never be happy until he breaks his religious fetters and runs off with her for a spot of Nature worship:

Though the longing be unspoken
Beauty’s spell is never broken.
Who love her at last must be
Like her, unconfined and free….
We will roam through glades and lawns,
Or watched the white-mirroured swans
Idling under lofty trees
When the limes are loud with bees,
Till day seeks the pools of night
To plunge deep in the cool delight
Of darkness.

The monk is so moved that he breaks into verse himself —
Sweet spirit of the stream, if so you are
Tempt me no more, I see no evil in you.
There is no good nor evil in the world
Outside men’s minds. No, no, my vow is passed.
You must not touch me.

Off he goes, agonizing over his potential damnation, while Nerissa cries “Alas, alas!” Fortunately help is at hand, in the form of an old fisherman named Tom who speaks in prose. He chattily informs Nerissa that he’s also a chimney-sweep — “chimbley-sweep”, I should say — who’s swept the Abbey chimneys for fifty years and knows the place like the back of his hand. Nerissa asks if he knows of a little mirror in the monks’ parlour, to which he says yes, and she asks him to borrow it for an hour and bring it to her, promising him unlimited good fishing for life if he does this, and proving it by causing him to catch a basket with a gold coin. Off the fisherman goes to steal the mirror, and Nerissa reveals her intentions in verse:

Lightly on that mirror clear,
By smooth art, invisibly,
So no eyes but his may see,
This true doctrine will I write:
God is best served by delight
In blue sky and stream and field,
With all that the quick senses yield
Of harmless pleasure. From that glass
Shall my image never pass,
But will taunt and plead and threat
Till at last he tears the net
And flies to me.

These somewhat disturbing plans are halted temporarily by the entrance of a couple of “Gentlemen” and Nerissa’s hiding herself in a hollow willow tree. The gentlemen discuss today’s haul from their hawking sessions as well as the fact that “the Lady Anne Boleyn” is “in the field to-day. The King is with us too.” “With her, you mean?” the other replies, and a moment later the King is with them too, exchanging a few strained jokes about hunting and how one of them is becoming prematurely grey, and soon enough he’s joined by Anne (Finally! I know, I was wondering where she was as well!) Henry tells her that they’ll be dining at “The Eagle” presumably a local inn, that evening, and he’s sending word to her father that she’ll be delayed. He praises her riding and she helps bind up a cut on his hand — this is all in prose, by the way.

Re-enter those eminently prose-worthy characters, the churchwardens, who are all pretty worn out from bound- (and boy-) beating, but who are still alert enough to notice, not Henry and Anne, but Nerissa hiding in the willow tree. “Come out, minx! Must I drag you, eh?” says the alderman, and the wives speculate that perhaps she’s an unbaptized Gypsy, with no Christian name to speak of. At this point Anne breaks in. “I am sure she is no Gypsy. What right have you to treat her so?” She rebukes the churchwardens for bullying (her word) Nerissa, and assures the latter that she’s safe now. The fisherman whom Nerissa employed to steal the monks’s mirror is in less happy circumstances, as it turns out, as he re-enters the scene as the prisoner of the monks’ gardener, who caught him purloining the mirror. Much tedious outrage from the churchwardens ensues (“Tut, tut, tut! You’ve stooped low, Tom. A woman’s trinket, a tiggling slavey’s job. You wouldn’t have done it in the old days, Tom,”) until Anne steps in to sort things out and asks the gardener how exactly he knew that Tom was making off with the mirror.

“I was passing by the window,” the gardener tells her, when he saw Tom’s theft. “You saw nothing of the sort,” replies Anne, and to the gardener’s remonstrance she says:

“Wait till I have finished. What business have the monks with a mirror? They have no right to it under their rule, and where there is no right there is no property, and what is not property can’t be stolen, as your King here himself will tell you. Free the old man instantly.”

Henry applauds her anticipation of Portia and tells the assembled crew, “I will buy the monks a bigger glass; so they may see themselves as the world sees them.” He then informs the churchwardens et al that he’s the king and announces that he’ll be dining at their local inn that evening, his treat, and out of gratitude the churchwardens’ wives assemble the local children and they do a demonstration of some local dances for him. While this is going on, Anne is talking with Nerissa, and after everyone else has cleared out “Until the dinner-bell” she tells Henry that Nerissa wanted to glass so she could lay a spell on it and entice a young monk away from the Abbey, because she pities his sadness. Henry then tells Nerissa, “Pity is but another name for love. Nerissa, child, come here. Save your enchantments, you need none save your own simplicity. Trust my word, the man you love shall soon be free, and many more beside.” (Angelo Caraffa S.J. from Anne Boleyn: A Dramatic Poem would definitely approve of this phrasing).

Nerissa tells him that she knows this, because she can see the future (why not just wait a few years, then? She’s a river nymph, she’s immortal), and Henry then jovially asks her if she can see his future, to which she diplomatically replies “It is what you will make it.” Anne’s request for a glimpse into the future is, however, worthy of verse:

She shall never see a face
Wrinkled, grey, or robbed of grace
In her mirror.

“Thanks be Heaven,” says Anne, who hasn’t had time to consider the implications. After this, Nerissa tells the two of them to join hands and she makes another prophecy:

To you shall be given
A child for whom all wrongs shall be
Forgiven, yet you may not see
Her fullest glory, like the sun,
When freedom and her realm are one.
And her name, Elizabeth,
Shall be praised while men draw breath
On this undaunted island.

After this, one of the gentlemen arrives to tell them that dinner is now served at the Eagle, and off go Henry and Anne, after inviting Nerissa to come with them and being refused. Nerissa gloomily spins out a few more prophecies of “fierce war and writhing clouds / Of doubt and strife” until Elizabeth “In her long and golden reign / Wakes them to great dreams again.” Curtain.

ANALYSIS: There are no lost poetic gems to be found here, though the book itself is beautifully printed, probably the most beautifully made book I’ve held (note that I didn’t say “seen”, but it’s hard to really enjoy a well-made book which is in a glass case). The verse is pedestrian at best and the meter sometimes gets rough or unintuitive, and sometimes the rhymes are painfully forced — I winced at the description of the Abbey:

Under the broad walnut trees
With its bells and timeless peace

Present and future versifiers, please don’t do that to your readers. However, both the title poem and playlet are engaging in other ways, and both have special points of interest when it comes to Anne Boleyn’s portrayal in fiction. The title poem is, of course, a far more typical production for that time — any time, really — in that it rolls out Tom Wyatt as Anne’s true love and although it’s unusual for her to give him the “Noli me tangere,” line in so many words, there are other works which give Anne the credit for a famous line or two (“Dear Heart, How Like You This?” turns up in several novels). What is remarkable here is not that Wyatt is overcome by manly passion and crushes her in a nonconsensual embrace, but that she hits him afterwards, hard enough to knock him down and smash his, um, instrument. String instruments aren’t exactly made of granite but it takes more than a love tap to make one shatter. Anne has belted people in fiction before, but it’s very, very seldom and the victim is usually Lady Rochford. I can’t think of another instance where she knocks a man down and is presented as being fully justified in doing so.

Fame For Thame is one of those productions that’s so strange that trying to guess what the author was thinking is futile — all you can do is look at what’s on the page and see what it tells you, and that is that Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII are not appropriately cast as the King and Queen of a comic pastoral — those roles, if they go to people who even existed, only really work with people who have been so mythologized that they have whole alternate personae to step into which can be dissociated from the real people behind them. Neither Anne nor Henry have such alternate images available, although in fairness to chronology, the image of Henry as “Bluff King Hal” was much stronger in the nineteenth century. Still, it’s hard to believe that it was strong enough to completely sweep away the horrors he perpetrated during his reign. And that may not, in fact, be the author’s intention. There’s a very dark underside to this playlet, most obviously in Nerissa’s prediction that Anne’s face will look old or grey in a mirror, and more subtly in the jolly King Henry’s telling Nerissa that he will make the monks “see themselves as the world sees them” and that furthermore, the monk she loves “shall soon be free.” The monks were freed, after all — some to lives of being pensioned off, some to lives of beggary, and some into the merciful arms of Death, after being hanged in chains or gutted like Tom the Fisherman’s pikes. But if this was an attempt to make a supposedly comic play cast a dark shadow, I don’t think it really works. An audience who had no idea who these characters were would be left puzzled about the predictions at the end, and it also might wonder why Nerissa the River Nymph’s powers are so annoyingly inconsistent; all right, maybe she’s not allowed to go far from the river and that explains her suborning a fisherman to steal the mirror, but if she can predict the future and sees that he’ll be left to his own devices soon, why bother? Hell, why not hide in the river instead of a hollow tree, so the local yokels don’t catch her? Nerissa spends too much time doing things simply because they drive the plot, and it doesn’t work.

The theme of Nature worship is notable; Nerissa deplores the practice of self-deprivation as a way to holiness and endorses “harmless pleasure” in nature as the true way to serve God, and earlier she tells him that “Beauty’s spell is never broken.” The theme of Beauty and Nature being the truly worthy objects of worship strikes a chord very similar to one in Anne Boleyn (1932), published two years before this book and otherwise very dissimilar. The 1932 book features a Thomas Wyatt, George Boleyn, Mark Smeaton, and Anne Boleyn who are all to varying degrees worshippers of Beauty and Nature and who say as much. The Annes in these two books don’t so much have a choice that ranges somewhere between Rome and Luther so much as between Rome and pure pantheism. This particular theme doesn’t seem to have held on very well in Boleyn novels, although there’s a feeble echo of it in At The Mercy Of The Queen (2012) in which Madge Shelton agrees with Anne that “between herself and God, there need be no priest,” and Madge and her beloved exchange private vows and consummate them by a stream in the woods (thereby getting married, since the Catholic perspective was that when it came to marriage you didn’t technically need a priest either, but I’ve said enough on that subject already).

And lastly, a commendation to the author. Although Anne’s display of legal knowledge takes up all of three sentences and the person she’s assisting is actually a strayed water nymph, this is one of the very few pieces of fiction, in any form, which actually shows Anne doing her job — hearing a petition, helping someone, and dropping hints to Henry about appropriate ways to proceed. We’ll often hear fleetingly of such things, but we virtually never see her actually exercising patronage or reading and answering petitions firsthand. There are exceptions — A Lady Raised High (2006) has her becoming the heroine’s effective patroness, Anne Boleyn: A Dramatic Poem (1826) has Anne getting into a dispute with her almoner about how much money to spend on the dispossessed ex-religious, and The King’s Damsel (2012) shows her choosing her official silkwoman — but such scenes are still very thin on the ground. It is this, not the tiresome antics of the locals or inconstant river nymph, which makes this work notable.

From → Book Overviews

  1. Brown Line permalink

    Thank you for an interesting review of this unusual work.

    With regard to love taps and shattered instruments: lutes are very lightly built, and are much more fragile than a guitar or a violin. I could easily imagine even a relatively light shove causing a musician to stumble, and crush his lute against a wall or door frame.

    • sonetka permalink

      Thanks! I didn’t know that — you can tell my experience is more with the violin/viola/cello side of things. In the poem it says she strikes him in the face hard enough to knock him down, so while maybe he didn’t have a black eye it’s still a lot harder than Anne usually hits.

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