John Goodby - Poems from "Strolling Actresses Dressing in a Barn"

John Goodby

Strolling Actresses Dressing in a Barn (1738)
by William Hogarth 

The Prints

Oil original long gone in a Home County
big house fire the century before last
& now copper etchings sole prints attest
to it in states     & perhaps no worse for that
Hogarth’s astringent line so acid-echt
among underwood of forms      for the lack
of muddled Augustan ochres dull umber muds

2 centuries more of potboiler & farce

fig-leaved by Shakespeare Lord Chancellors

to censor unlicense theatres // abolish

strolling players & this troupe now to stage it

in the sticks      wipe the bloom of the road-dust

from a swan-song The Devil to Pay in Heaven

bish-bosh Olympus soap & at the final final

curtain Rope-dancing & Tumbling. Vivat Rex.





The State

Second state. Condition: Fair, some foxing. At the extreme right, Juno, gazing heavenwards, conning lines, expostulating. A monkey in a cloak squatting underneath her urinates into a Roman helmet. As the goddess extends her leg across a wheelbarrow, Night, wreathed in spangles, darns a hole in her stocking. Juno's book rests against a decorated salt box which contains a diminutive rolling pin (noise-maker) and six-tined brass thunderbolt, plus tinder-box next to the salt box on the dilapidated trunk. Excellent, with a few scattered unobtrusive marks in the margins and two stabilized short tears. Some bumping along bottom edge, well outside of image area. The state of the state.




The King


A frowsty barn may stand in for the heavens

a leaky draught-filled barn be their tiring-house

a bricky inn courtyard assume the world


& stage for the immortals at The George

Diana Flora Juno Cupid Siren Eagle Night

a Ghost Attendants Devils & Aurora all tally


with the playbill but the star turn – if that

is her and not an unregistered Apollo - turns

her back to us Jupiter played by Mrs Bilvillage




The Moment


Kid-demons slug it out to swig porter from the tankard

their shocked ma is she too taken up grappling a cat

while the leering Ghost bleeds its tail to intervene


& as Flora candles her dark hair to dust it with flour

at a broken mirror propped by a candle in this same

moment Cupid is leaning out from a ladder to reach


down a sock for Jove flare-headed pointing it out

with Cupid’s puny baby bow & Jove’s own eagle

giant-beaked tries to coax mush into a babe’s gob

who promptly pukes up           & there Aurora squints
to crack fleas on a fishtailed Siren’s dress badged
by her bright morning star           as now Ganymede
her breeches cast on the truckle-bed         inclines
solicitous for the Siren’s toothache with a glass of gin




The Queen


            for Guinevere Clark


Diana stands at the heart

of all plumb & plum-

delish centre in bodying

a stretched S crowned

by crescent moon tiara

flowers plumes pearls

glows like the Shrimp Girl

fist on hip & left hand raised

evidently a-jig not posing

as one commentator

would miserably have it

blosom queen of venery

sans arrows bow quiver

or the studied features

of a stony academy venus

hula hoop petticoats dropt

to the uneven earth floor

thighs & breasts part-

uncovered beer & bread

on a classical altar with twist

of tobacco too & clay pipe

who now acknowledges

us & is the only soul to do

so as we halt       halt

mildly abashed maybe

Actaeons of either sex

let us say with impunity

no hounds in view we are

stayed at the threshold

& assess that not dis-

couraging     almost-smile



 Copyright  © John Goodby, 2021.