All the misfortunes of man,
all the baleful reverses
with which histories are filled …
all of this is the result
of not knowing how to dance.
Molière, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme
We listen to the late weather-bulletin.
The forecast is for severe storms,
resulting in spires and chimneys
being blown down on top of those citizens
who venture out of doors
to post letters to relations
serving sentences in Her Majesty’s prisons.
These letters explain why there is a revival
of the species of dance known as the minuet –
which the citizens describe
as the kingpin of social dances –
and wax lyrical about great Lords and Ladies
dancing with dainty little steps and glides,
to the right and to the left,
forward and backward, in quarter turns,
approaching and retreating hand in hand,
searching and evading, now side by side,
now facing, now gliding past one another.
These letters fail to mention the mob of peasants
tearing down the palace-gates,
streaming into the courtyard,
jumping through the windows of the ballroom,
and into a three-line footnote
of an obscure contemporary chronicle
no one had read for 150 years –
no one until an elderly history professor
re-discovered it in the university coal-cellar,
as he sheltered from the civil war
raging above his head.
As we climb the stairs to bed you say,
‘The weather forecast never gets it right.
Don’t you agree?’ I suppose I do.
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