‘Expense of Spirit’

Fiona Pitt-Kethley

‘Shakespeare’s a good psychologist,’ I’d said –
a casual remark, post-mortemised
by the historian I was talking to.
‘He couldn’t be – psychology’s a science
that wasn’t even invented in his day ...
Shakespeare showed feeling for his fellow man!’
(He told me what he thought I’d meant to say.)
I felt the sofa wasn’t long enough
for both of us and wished he’d go away.

OK, I know that Shakespeare wasn’t a shrink
(more qualified in poaching than exams)
and didn’t question people on his couch.
Or, if he did, he wasn’t paid for it.
I still maintain that Shakespeare analysed
our motives for each act and wrote that truth.
Clever Dick challenged me to prove my point.
‘One line,’ he ordered, ‘or a part of one.’
A hundred things (and all irrelevant)
went coursing through my mind, like ‘Out damned spot!’,
‘Then slip I from her bum; down topples she,’
I settled for ‘men have died from time to time
and worms have eaten them, but not for love.’
Mercifully, he went off to look it up.

Shakespeare wrote many thousand truths –
open the Works at almost any page.
The only line I’d quarrel with’s on lust.

Come off it, Shakespeare, lust’s a lot of fun.
Like meals, or visits to the theatre,
it’s over soon, but leaves good memories.
If thwarted there’s less pain in it than love.
Lust is quite practical. (There’s plenty more
fish in the sea – if what you fancy’s fish.)
Love’s complicated – the expensive one.
The thing unbalances, throws judgment out.
Its centring on one and only one
engrosses thought and permeates your life.
All right, I know that it’s not terminal.
As a disease, I’d call it chronic, though –
It re-occurs and’s hardly curable.
There’s nothing to be gained from it, unless,
by some rare chance, it’s equal on both sides.
Your line on lust exactly sums it up ...
‘Expense of spirit in a waste of shame’.