Form and Eccentricity: A dialectical romance
The man who lived at Nine, The Leas,
Was full of eccentricities:
He shone his shoes with antifreeze
On second Tuesdays; whilst, to please
His neighbours, he ensured the trees
Which bordered all their properties
Were kept two feet above his knees.
The splendour of these topiaries
Earned him renown, though some would tease,
And dubbed him, “Old Diogenes”.
But as he held post-doc degrees
In Ancient Greeks (Euripides
To Plato, via Xenophanes)
He thought this soubriquet a wheeze
And thus adopted it.
Were well observed by Mrs Fortescue
Who lived across the road at Number Two;
A widow, from the age of forty-two,
She acted only, as one ought to do:
(Because her husband, once had (briefly) been
The third Lord Chamberlain to the late Queen,
Her bible was Debrett’s, her prayers, Who’s Who).
And now that twenty years had passed, she grew
The more obsequious to her milieu,
Which (she imagined) held her e’re in view
Thus, all eccentric acts she did eschew.
When Covid raged across the land,
In lockdown, neighbours came to stand
At 8pm, outside their doors
To join in with heartfelt applause:
A token of their gratitude
For NHS staff. Thus, the mood
One autumn evening, in The Leas
Was one of all camaraderies.
And, to conform to this social virtue,
Out of her house stepped Mrs Fortescue.
Now, as for old Diogenes,
He came out, shouting, “Socrates!”
(His mog, who, hearing all the street
Clap hands, and cheer, and stomp their feet,
Dashed through the cat flap with a cheery “mew,”
And ran into the door of Number Two).
“Professor!” exclaimed Mrs Fortescue
(Such was his title, but his name – who knew?)
“Oh, please –
Allow me.” Calling, “Socrates!”
He dived into her house (disease
Could not be further from his mind, although
The look upon the widow’s face did show
A certain horror: everyone would know
She’d broken quarantine. “You’ll have to go!”
She shouted, but then, to her great surprise
She saw a sparkle in the old man’s eyes.
The damage being done, all niceties
Were soon exchanged and, after a review
Of present legislation, Socrates
Returned to Number Nine. And then, in lieu
Of “bubble partners” (in the legalese
Of current Covid protocols), the two
Decided to perambulate The Leas.
And thus began their friendship, which soon grew:
He read to her from Aristophanes,
Shared his best Port collected from Cadiz
And taught her how to trim, precisely, trees.
And in return, she cooked him pies and stew,
Taught him to ask how other people do,
And modernised his wear from hat to shoe.
And so, their friendship grew, by slow degrees,
To courtship, till one night, each other knew
Something had changed, and down upon his knees
Fell the old bachelor: “My dear, will you
Consent to be Mrs ‘Diogenes’?”
In truth, though, some peculiarities
Of his which had, most recently, shone through
(Example: using gin to drown cat fleas,
And other uncouth eccentricities)
Had made her doubt that she could say, ‘I do.’
(Ironically, he had told Socrates
Of his own doubts: “For Mrs Fortescue
Thinks all too much of how she ought to please
And to conform to social norms!”)
She said the words and knew them inexact.
“You mean, ‘you will’?”
She loved him more for that.
For while they say that opposites attract,
The truth is that True Love lets you be you,
And does not seek to alter; for, when two
Become as one, Love is as Heracles –
Whose strength is in idiosyncrasies.