Four Fools in a Marketplace Plaza

by Rev. Joe Kelly

Fast the night is driven, morning shines upon the cobbles;
Merchants, landsknechts, artisans, all hurry on their way:
There’s coin to pass, hands to shake, deals to be made.
In the gutters beggars hold up pans and stare with deadened eyes,
While broke-back peasants haul their grain, earn pennies to stay alive.

Above them all there looms a monument,
A marble statue, silent in its triumph,
Frozen in an age whose bones are dust.
Imperial glory shines yet from its eyes,
Glistening cold and lifeless, void of paint
That men forget once made its visage gaudy.
A relic of imperium, yet looms
Amid an age of petty counts and bishops;
And daily, four fools gather at its base.

The rebel points and shrieks:
He is mightier than the glowering figure frozen in the marble,
For his is the age of enlightenment, of humanism and progress,
And he rejects the stern and stoic atavism of the statue.
He grins with glee–one day, they’ll carve a monument to him!
But they’ll make it of a warmer stone, more human, with a smile
To remind the passers-by of his wisdom and compassion.
And the rebel rails and screams.

The sycophant grovels and wails:
The rebel, he mocks the honor and the grace
Of this reminder of a mightier race!
He glares about at all those who forget,
And thinks, my lord, I’ll remind them yet:
Of the honor, faith and glory which were yours–
Not to be found amid the reign of whores!
For I alone, I know your ancient pride;
I see you standing proud, in days gone by,
The gleaming marble, naked majesty–
And knights in shining armor–chivalry!
I’ll make these sinners hang their heads in shame,
And then they’ll know the rebel’s the one to blame–
And we’ll tie him to a stake, and burn him–revel in his screams!
And the sycophant scrapes and whines.

The student frowns and nods:
For he knows every crack, every crevice of the marble;
He’s studied all its contours, learned the chisel marks by heart.
He’s read as well the piteous scraps that reached him from that age,
The fragments of the poems and the plays still half-remembered,
And from these scraps, he’s weaved a cheap and gaudy tapestry.
At the rebel and the sycophant, he smiles and shakes his head,
For they’ve read not the tapestry–all they know is fables!
The student, he’s seen the truth, stitched together all macabre.
And the student squints and purses.

The artist laughs and dances:
For he alone’s the equal of the man trapped in the statue!
The spirit of that age runs through his blood!
And he alone, among the four, can resurrect its glory!
And so, he makes a statue of his own:
A parody in dung, already crumbling in his hands–
A monument to last the ages through!
The rebel sneers and scoffs; the sycophant snarls indignant;
And the student smiles, shakes his head and tuts.
The artist laughs at all of them, and basks now in his glory!
And the artist cavorts and plays.

Soon the day is done, the evening cools the cobblestones;
The rich and poor alike depart, and drift back to their homes;
And the beggars look to find their nightly lodging in a gutter.
Soon a darker breed emerge to stalk the alleys stark:
Rats and thieves and killers, and devotees of the Outer Dark;

And the statue stands lifeless and cold.

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