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patriciabeerPoetry, today. And some Kit Marlowe, for a change… But not Marlowe’s own poetry. Patricia Beer‘s The Night Marlowe Died may not be her best known poem – nor my favourite of her works – but still:

Christopher Marlowe was a spy, it seems.
His day of pleasure by the River Thames
Should have brought him a handshake and a watch
For faithful service. He had done as much
For anyone who paid him and so had
His three companions. They were really good.

In those days spying was expertly done.
Informers took each other’s washing in.
Double agents cancelled themselves out.
Spying had paid for all the wine and meat
Which filled the little room that day in spring
When Marlowe met a different reckoning.

He had been his usual snorting, railing,
Blasphemous self, but loyal to his calling,
As they all had to be, to live so well.
He sang a noisy song before he fell,
A dagger stuck in his eye after the feast
As though the Cross had got to him at last.

They saw each other home after his death.
The rats had tired, the streets were out of breath.
Somewhere asleep, the top spymasters lay
Unpicking webs that they had spun by day.
Somewhere, across the park, a peacock’s cries
Bewailed the pointlessness of murdering spies.

What I like is the last verse, with its matter-of-fact sense of things done – ugly and pointless – and the murderers reluctant to break company after doing in one of their own, and the spying work going on almost of its own accord…

One of those poems I can’t quite bring myself to like – but I can’t help seeing its spare, grey, sharp effectiveness, either.

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