Poem introduction

Bottom the Weaver in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the fictional character I most love. When I was about 19, I played the part of Peter Quince in a production of that play. The actors were told not to age themselves unless necessary – that it was possible to think of almost all the characters as young people. So Bottom and Quince were played as young men. Quince, you will remember, is the author of the dreadful play performed for Theseus’s wedding. That morning, when Bottom wakes from his dream in the forest, he says: ‘I will get Peter Quince to write me a ballad of this dream. It shall be called “Bottom’s Dream”, because it hath no bottom.’ I heard those lines every night, of course, and every night it struck me that he never does ask Quince, and Quince never writes the poem. I began to think that perhaps I should write the poem for him, but for some reason, at 19, I found it too difficult. Then one day, 40 years later, I received an email from the man who edits the house magazine for Shakespeare’s Globe. He asked me to write a poem for them. The only requirement was that it should in some way refer to Shakespeare. It was then that I finally managed to write ‘Bottom’s Dream’.

Bottom's Dream

It shall be called ‘Bottom’s Dream’, because it hath no bottom…

 

I was a weaver, and I wove
The moody fabric of my dream.
By day I laboured at the loom
And glimpsed the image of a love
              I now know bottomless.

We were young men. We played our parts.
We schooled ourselves in the quiet wood.
By night the moon, which draws the flood,
Tugged at the rhythms of our hearts.
              And they were bottomless.

I loved a girl who was a boy;
I took my stand and beat my breast.
Yet what was I but fool and beast,
Who did not so much speak as bray,
              In bombast bottomless?

I trusted I had mastery,
Until one night, being left alone,
I snorted at the wandering moon
In terror of the mystery,
              Which seemed quite bottomless,

And out of that she spoke, who had
No voice, although she stirred my sense,
Who touched me, though she had no hands,
And led me where you cannot lead,
              Since it is bottomless.

I tried to speak: again I brayed.
I pinched and scratched my face: coarse hairs
Were crisping over cheeks and ears.
And when she drew me in, she made
              The whole world bottomless.

Nothing possessed me. So she said
Do not desire to leave this wood.
Among the mossy clefts I hid
With petals where she pressed my head,
              Desire being bottomless.

A most rare vision, such a thing
As who should say what such things be:
My terror turned to ecstasy,
The one much like the other, being
              Both of them bottomless.

And then the change. The sun came up
Brash as a brassy hunting-horn.
I woke and, yes, I was a man.
Was I myself though? Self, like sleep,
              May well be bottomless.

New moon tonight. Another dream
To act. They laugh at our dismay.
Oh but it’s nothing. Only play.
Except we just don’t feel the same,
              For play is bottomless.

And so the story ends. My eyes
Are sore with weeping, but I laugh
(I who was seen to take my life),
For, having been an ass, I’m wise
            And bottomless. Bottomless.


from New and Collected Poems (Carcanet, 2012), © Clive Wimer 2012, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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Recordings

Clive Wilmer Downloads

1The Goldsmith

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2The Ruined Abbey

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3The Parable of the Sower

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4Prayer for my Children

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5Post-war Childhoods

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6Aerial Songs

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7The Kitchen Table

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8To a Poet from Eastern Europe, 1988

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9Psalm

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10Kaspar Hauser

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11Vacations

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12The Holy of Holies

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13The Falls

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14Bottom's Dream

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15In The Library

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16Bethel

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17Healer

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18In the Conservatory

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19Cinnabar Moth

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20A Curse

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21Report from Nowhere

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22Miss Inkpen

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23The old men at the swimming-pool

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Books by Clive Wilmer