Let us imagine that we have been lucky enough to secure an invitation to one of Lady Poldoodle’s Poetry At-Homes, at her charming little house in Berkeley Square.
The guests are all waiting, their eyes fixed in eager anticipation on the black-covered throne at the farther end of the room, whereon each poet will sit to declaim his masterpiece, when suddenly Lord Poldoodle is observed to be making his way cautiously towards a side-door. Fortunately he is stopped in time, and dragged back to his seat next to the throne, from which he rises a moment later to open the proceeding.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he says, “we are met here this afternoon in order to listen to some of our younger poets who will recite from their own works. So far, I have always managed to avoid—so far, I have been unavoidably prevented from attending on these occasions, but I understand that the procedure is as follows. Each poet will recite a short sample of his poetry, after which, no doubt, you will go home and order from your bookseller a complete set of his works.”
Lady Poldoodle goes quickly over to him and whispers vigorously.
“I find I am wrong,” says our host. “Full sets of the author’s works can be obtained on the way out. There is, however, no compulsion in the matter, and, if you take my advice—well, well, let us get on. Our first poet”—here he puts on his glasses, and reads from a paper on the table in front of him—“is Mr. Sydney Worple, of whom you—er—have—er—doubtless all heard. At any rate you will hear him now.”
Mr. Sydney Worple, tall and thin, wearing the sort of tie which makes you think you must have seen him before, steps forward amidst applause. He falls back into the throne as if deep in thought, and passes a hand across his hair.
Mr. Worple (very suddenly) “Dawn at Surbiton.”
“Where?” says a frightened voice at the back.
“H’sh!” says Lady Poldoodle in a whisper. “Surbiton.”
“Surbiton” is passed round the back seats. Not that it is going to matter in the least.
Mr. Worple repeats the title, and then recites in an intense voice these lines:
Out of the nethermost bonds of night,
Out of the gloom where the bats’ wings brush me,
Free from the crepitous doubts which crush me,
Forth I fare to the cool sunlight;
Forth to a world where the wind sweeps clean,
Where the smooth-limbed ash to the blue stands bare,
And the gossamer spreads her opalled ware—
And Jones is catching the 8.15.
After several more verses like this he bows and retires. Lady Poldoodle, still mechanically clapping, says to her neighbour:
“How beautiful! Dawn at Surbiton! Such a beautiful idea, I think.”
“Wasn’t it sublime?” answers the neighbour. “The wonderful contrast between the great pageant of nature and poor Mr. Jones, catching—always catching—the 8.15.”