The thought of that good work eases her and she lies back into her easy chair.
“What have we earned for all that work, Maud?”
“Without it, I might have lived as a poet should live. You know well how great my longing has been for that, to live among the unperturbed and courtly words and images of the past, with time to look at the nightlight and the dawn. If I had not engaged with Irish politic, and wrote poetry that fled from it, into a dream, I might have used the one substantial right my trade allows—to choose the company and scenery of my pleasing. These are the reaping years. It is time now to live as we once longed, not to be defamed again. Reputation lost between night and morning… I am not so quick as you to forgive the spite of unmannerly Dublin.”
“Well well. When my luck changed, you know how the drunkards, and pilferers of public funds, all the dishonest crowd I’d driven away crawled from obscurity and set upon me. Those I had served for years. Some I had fed. Yet never have you, heard me Willie, now nor any time, complain of the people.”
He looks abashed, and turns defensive. “You live in deed, in thought. You can have the purity of a natural force. I whose virtues are the analytic can neither close the eye of the mind, nor keep my tongue from speech.”
“You must be very much relieved, then, that I refused you yesterday.”
“I might have fallen on my knees and begged you to reconsider.”
She looks into his face, his eyes. Strange how he can differ in appearance so profoundly while remaining the same person. He always had this mercurial tendency.
“I dare say it might be better for the children if we were to marry. Iseult spent all yesterday afternoon and again this morning writing, instead of floating by the seashore. You are the only person who seems able to get her moving.”
“I have set her some small tasks.”
“And it would be very fine for Seághan to have two illustrious fathers.”
She does not speak of their awareness of those in Dublin who already believe that Iseult is his daughter. It is a point in his favor.
Marriage to him stop the tongues that always attend a single woman, making life easier for her and Iseult and Seán.
He looks at her, eyes seeking her meaning, and beyond that, his source of salvation.
“No Willie, do not listen to me.” She shakes her head, regretfully, and sighs. “I do not think it would work.”
“It would. It would work if you could keep to one condition. If you could give up politics. Keep to a life of quiet repose such as you have made here.”
Maud laughs a bitter laugh. “Ah Willie! For a moment, I had believed you sincere.”
“I am sincere. What I asked of you back in the ‘90s, to relinquish public life and turn to the beauty of the world, so that you might embody it—you have shown it is possible for you. Since your divorce from MacBride you have lived in peace and dignity. You have adopted that high solitary life that feeds your pilgrim soul.
“But Willie…the Rising…”
“Through marriage to me and an agreed approach to events, you can become the symbol for the tragic dignity you so admire in the rebels.”
“And MacBride’s execution and all that means? What if I should set out a marriage condition that you give up writing poetry?”.
“Uff! It is different for women. At your age, you can now embrace the wisdom of the crone.”
“What a flattering proposal! I do believe this one is my favorite of them all.”
“I cannot speak conventionally to you, Maud. You would disdain it if I did. It is your own deepest nature, your pilgrim soul, to which you must now be true.”
“How can anyone remain unmoved by what is happening in Ireland? They have done more with this one action than you and I have achieved in decades.”
“Every word you say makes it clearer. If you go back to Dublin, you shall have no peace in your life.”
“I have no choice Willie. I must be there to do what work is needed. And Seán must be brought up in Ireland. That is his destiny”
“Oh Iseult. Iseult is unhappy and bored, wheresoever we live.”
“When will you ever understand, Willie, that I was born to work, to be in the crowd. I cannot believe you are back to this symbolist idea again”. A long beat, and she drops her voice, “Was that not your great mistake?”
“No. It was yours to refuse it.”
“Oh Willie, almost 20 years and nothing, nothing, changed between us.”
“It would have brought you then… brought us… it could still bring us true happiness. The summon bonum. Love. Truth. Knowledge.”
“I don’t believe so, dear.”
Willie, anguished, “It cannot be left thus. It should not be. You were so beautiful and I strove so sincerely to love you in the old, high way of love. How can we end so weary-hearted? How can a love so great have no meaning?”
“I do not know, Willie. I know only that it was never my wish to give you sorrow.”
“Nor I you.”
“And yet.” Willie kneels, for the second day, at her knees, and kisses her hand, as once before, long ago. The first time he had come to her in love and asked for her in marriage. He feels like he could weep and he knows she too is moved.
After long silence, he says, “There may be another way for me to offer my protection to you.”
“My dear friend, you are unfailingly generous. What is it?”
“I could make an offer to Iseult.”
Maud Gonne pushes her chair back and stands up. “It is so hot in here.”
“She might have me, if you’d give it your blessing.”
She walks over to the window, picks a rose from a plant pot in the window, stares into it. He remains sitting on his knees, watching her. Waiting. Eyes as silver as last night’s fresh-minted moon. A moment ago, he was a man. Flesh. Now he has faded into a dream, a nebula through a telescope.
He rises and steps away, no longer kneeling. “I cannot rest. I cannot rest, do you understand? If you will not bestow the love that might lead to our destiny, I must find it. Where better than with Iseult? In her–“
“You are 51, Willie. Iseult is 23. She would not have you.”
“I am not as desiccated as you seem to think. Of course, if she chose to do this, it would be entirely her own choice, according to her nature, and we–”