The Divan Comedy

"Given the choice between spending all of eternity in Heaven or in Hell,

I would choose Hell - I hear the rent is cheaper, and utilities are included."

- Thomas J. McSheey (1899-1935), writer & theologian-wanna-be

 

Musical accompaniment: Mephisto Waltz by Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

 

In this entry, and in the next (if my typewriter ribbon holds out), I will present some final entries on the poet, playwright, essayist, pagan twig-arranger Thomas J. McSheey as my research comes to a conclusion toward producing his much awaited biography, The Lunatic Poet.

Until then, please enjoy Liszt's music...

 

***

Not long before he died, McSheey wrote a three-act play called "The Divan Comedy." Loosely based on Dante's "The Divine Comedy," all the action takes place around a divan positioned center stage where the actors congregate in a cocktail party setting to discuss the meaning of life, and the afterlife. The play ends abruptly when Thomas Aquinas spills a glass of red wine on the divan and it is taken away to be reupholstered.

 

***

In the spirit of Mussorgsky's tone poems "Pictures at an Exhibition," McSheey wrote a series of poems inspired by various works of Renaissance art depicting the Passion of Christ. He called his series "Pictures at a Crucifixion," with poems providing word pictures to works by such artists as Bellini, Giotto, and Raphael.

The following "ascending/descending" poem was written about one of his favorite Renaissance paintings, "Dead Christ" by Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506).

 

I believe,

Spatially speaking,

I fear I am foreshortened,

As if my view a mere illusion,

Not unlike Mantegna's painting,

Lamentation over the Dead Christ,

Holes in feet and hands; body lying in state,

Two mourners at his side, weeping,

Realism, perspective, tempera,

Renaissance art, 15th century,

I fear I am foreshortened,

Spatially speaking,

I believe.

 

Finding no audience for his "Crucifixion" poetry series, he drank himself nearly to intoxication (which means he had a shot of whisky and a beer chaser), lit his pipe, and immediately began writing a one-act play about a family of squirrels entitled, "Nuts to You." This play turned out to be quite a success, garnering runner-up honors at the Berkshire Summer Stock Festival, losing out to a musical about a family of woodchucks.

 

***

At around the same time McSheey was in the process of writing a musical based on the exploits of an older gentleman he would see each day sitting on a bench in Boston Common. One July day he approached the man, only to be hit in the head with one of his shoes.

This knock on the head gave McSheey an idea. What exactly that idea was one cannot rightly say, for he shared the idea with no one, and all he wrote in his personal diary for that particular day was the following entry:

Walked in the Common this afternoon.

Old man on the bench hit me with his shoe again.

Gave me an idea...

 

Yet, days later in his notebook he scribbled these lyrics for a musical number he called "Autumn in July" (loosely based on the song "June in January"):

 

Upon an autumn breeze in July,

     Green leaves, departed,

Upon an autumn breeze in July,

     Tree, broken-hearted,

Within that autumn wind,

     Driven raindrops fell,

And upon that autumn wind,

     Scattered leaves dwell.

 

Other songs in the production included: "The Man on the Bench, " "A Shoe Upside the Head," and "Hey, That Guy Just Stole My Wallet!"

The show opened at the Pilgrim Theatre in Boston and closed after only one night -- not because it was poorly received by the audience and critics, but rather because the entire cast took the wrong subway train back to their hotel and were never heard from again.

Jack Sheedy

 

Note: In my next and final entry on the misunderstood New England poet, Thomas J. McSheey, I will be killing him off in artistic fashion, so please prepare yourself -- you may wish to invest $1.99 in a box of tissues. Yes, I know I've killed him off a number of times over the past few years, but this time it's for real. It's time to let him be and move on. So I can write about other things -- like squirrels. I swear, squirrels just crack me up! Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah! Boy, that felt good -- I haven't laughed like that in years.    

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