“The Russians are not going gentle into that good night.”
– Olympic broadcaster calling a Women’s Beach Volleyball game between Russia and Brazil
Welcome back to Rio and the semi-final match of Famous Poets’ Beach Volleyball. Coming up: the U.S. team of Robert Frost and Sylvia Plath versus T.S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas of Great Britain, what is sure to be an afternoon of all-around athleticism, artistry and alliteration.
We can see Frost and Plath warming up with some stretching and writing exercises, although Frost will likely have some mobility issues in all that tweed. Plath, meanwhile, rebuking the patriarchy while simultaneously helpless to embrace it, is wearing a bikini. And she’s not looking too happy.
For Great Britain, Dylan Thomas is regaling the crowd with customary jocularity. I don’t think that’s Gatorade in his water bottle, folks. And team captain Eliot is looking positively disillusioned with modern man’s lack of spirituality in the face of technology but also surprisingly buff.
The referee gives the signal to begin. But both teams appear to be just standing there, some kind of delay or confusion. Robert Frost is calmly approaching the referee. And now he’s asking, “Whose serve this is I do not know.” The referee indicates that it is Great Britain to start, and we begin!
There’s a strong serve by T.S. Eliot, who, as we know, trained with Team USA before switching sides. It’s met by Plath who pops it up despondently to Frost. Frost sets it. A beautiful kill shot by Plath! Straight at Dylan Thomas who is caught napping. Literally caught napping.
Eliot is now attempting to shake awake his partner, who is looking like a patient etherized upon a table, except in this case, sand.
Unperturbed by the prostrate poet, Plath serves. But it fails to clear the net! And now Plath, despairing, is also lying down. She’s muttering something to herself. I can just hear it: “I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart. I am. I am. I am.” A technique she learned while playing for the Cambridge Spike Mistresses, no doubt, but of little use here under these elite Olympic conditions.
Eliot has managed to get Thomas on his feet, telling him it’s Britain’s turn. Eliot’s saying, “Let us go then, you and I. And pound their pudding.”
Dylan Thomas is now looking around for Ezra Pound, shouting something about him owing him a pint. Eliot clarifies, turns Thomas toward the net. Thomas has the ball. Players are set, although Frost appears to be sketching something in the sand with his toes, two diverging roads, it would appear. Plath continues to weep silently.
It looks like Thomas is going to serve. But wait, no, he’s speaking. Let’s listen in:
Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I play volleyball
On these spindrift beaches
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the sponsorship deals.
And there’s a blistering serve from Thomas, taking U.S. by surprise, and Thomas too, it would seem. He’s down again.
How frail the human heart must be – a mirrored pool of thought, and yet Sylvia Plath comes up with a huge dig! Over to Frost, who relays it back to Plath. She sends it over. There’s a block by Eliot! A clear case of writer’s block!
2-1 Great Britain as Eliot prepares to serve. Wait. Is he…? Does T.S. Eliot dare to eat a peach? Mid-serve? He does! Astounding! I would think he should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas, but a peach! In these sandy conditions!
Now he’s finished the peach. A glance into the stands, where the women come and go speaking of discount stores in Rio. And there’s the serve.
Oh! It’s hit Robert Frost square in the face! Frost is down. The poet’s first outcry is a rueful laugh. There’s definitely blood. Plath has picked up the ball. And now she’s throwing it at her own face!
And that’s it. Amid boos from the crowd, the referee is calling the game. With the players still on the field, the crew is turning off the spotlights. A besotted Dylan Thomas is furious. Just listen to him rage, rage against the dying of the light! I haven’t seen anything like this since the Abstract-Expressionists’ Synchronized Diving Championships of 2002!
That’s it. It’s all over. T.S Eliot is the last off the field, hobbling away morosely. This is the way the match ends, not with a game but a limper.