Brutus in Plymouth Before the Ides of March

By Arup K Chatterjee


The door opens.
Enter—the Hour.
The Hour is my story’s main character.

—Hélène Cixous, “What is it o’ Clock?”


Leftover cobbled streets, and wuthering retreats
Simmering in spring in a city by the sea
An ageing soothsayer summarily greets
Her troubled Brutus with Grecian placidity

“This spring is not for romance, honourable sir,
This spring is wasted fifteen clichés,
Of that same old warning, ‘o do not, do not stir,’
Or that same old question, ‘what o’ clock it is’”

“Count the clock, it’s stricken three, isn’t it time to part?”
“Wait a minute,” Brutus says, “am I not entitled to a prediction,
Or a warning, or some such thing, that causes a smart,
Or some such art, of your benediction?”

“All I can say,” she placidly narrates, “is, I am the hour
And you have come, to the doorstep of my invisible door
I saw you peering from the bridge at the Tower
Searching in the Thames for its inconsolable floor.”

“I am the hour, the exiled, the alienated and alien
The foreign, which is perhaps like an afterlife
Or like a woman, as I am, I grant I am a woman
But withal a woman that Lord Brutus took to strife”

“Your time is a face that resembles mine, you utter in panic
‘Hold me, give me your hand—give me my name’
I shudder to think, I’m merely time, mere womanly trick
The fault dear Brutus is not in my scars, but that I am no name.”

Brutus goes to a neighboring joint, pays three pounds fifty pence
Returns with a box of fish and chips, humming a penny song
Both of them eat, and feed the herons, sitting by the fence
Neither in quite a mood to avenge the Roman wrong

“Say, why is it,” Brutus asks, “always Hamlet’s tomorrows
As time doth weary time with her forlorn
Second rate epigraphs from Shakespeare’s sorrows?
This time for me, this time for Brutus, shall have eclipsed the morn.”

“Every time gentler than the other, every time, you, Brutus,
Have renounced the Roman blood on your hands
You weren’t the underling, but think of us
Many a time and oft we waved from the battlements and the bands”

“Only to watch you slay the wretched prince of Roman auguries
Time held its infant in its arms, and cheered for you to strike
We have braved the Tiber’s monsoonal flurries
To stage the denouement of the Caesarian Reich”

“But you bound to your stormy night, await the morrow forever
You practice your bow before the fall of Caesar’s ghostly train
You wish to belong not to the world, but the world of the clever
As he belongs to the world at large, which wears a pea for a brain”

“Tomorrow Caesar comes to the Globe, let him not reach this time
The Capitol scene, but apprehend the night when Caius the kerchief wore
Do not let the bard entertain Calpurnia’s dreams and Portia’s mime
Those women are more than nervous charades, ask me, I’m a whore.”

Saying so the soothsayer, wrinkled like a gypsy sage
Gives Brutus her rosary, and turns to sip her Budweiser
“All this interim,” he said, counting, “now almost become an adage,
Makes me count a year in a bead, making an Apennine of every year”

“Go forth now, or you’ll miss the bus,” she said wiping the froth
“Let it be tonight, it is turning dusk, let it be the stroke of one
But remember Brutus do not do it in envy or in wrath
Do it like a character, in an exorcism that I have begun”

The sails of the jaded vessels hang, like the soldiers of civil war
Were to surrender at the ground of Philippi
Brutus and the soothsayer reach the station door
To part after a long-drawn kiss, and a customary sigh

Between the acting of a dreadful act, and its first entry
There is usually a journey, a bus, a train, or an old hansom carriage
When time deceives many a murder, many a mystery
Or many a prophecy, many asides, many a loveless marriage

Tomorrow at Bankside many will crowd, many of them Londoners,
Many of them from made up countries, many on Asian merit
Many of them working wives, many of pensioners
To mark the ides in the Globe again, in gay timeless spirit
Only to witness not Caesar’s death, but
That he was a ghost to begin with.

Arup K Chatterjee is Asst. Prof. of English at University of Delhi. He is a PhD scholar at the Centre for English Studies, Jawharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He is the founder/editor of Coldnoon: Travel Poetics (International Journal of Travel Writing). He is recipient of Charles Wallace fellowship, 2014-15, to UK.

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