Henry Five for my Father
That’s Kenneth Branagh playing Henry Five
The son of Henry Four, his famous scene,
Speaking before the troops at Agincourt.
The History Channel had a show you liked
On Agincourt, on how the Brits outmanned,
Outfought those faggot, as you put it, French.
The thing is, though, this speech you liked so much,
Where, yes, the “Band of Brothers” phrase came from,
Is bullshit. Henry’s deathly scared of those same French.
He’s got a past, a history, of this
Dissembling. Sorry, dad: he’s pretending.
The scene before the speech, you missed that scene,
They call it Little-Harry-In-the-Night.
He’s been skulking through camp alone, disguised
Like he once did to worry father Henry,
Haunting the bars and backroads, drinking, playing
The bad son’s part, but always Dad is on
His mind—he shows him that he loves him by
Pretending that he doesn’t, preparing for
The role his father cast for him. I think
He’s thinking father-thoughts this night as well.
It’s ice-cold, dark; a friend who couldn’t tell
Henry from you or me encounters him,
And calls him “imp of fame,” which means, I’m sorry,
He is “of parents good,” which means his dad.
We never see his mom for four whole plays,
But Henry Dad, Henry Four, him we know,
And not everyone would agree to “good.”
He killed Richard Two to be Henry Four,
Incurred the wrath of God through the spite of man—
I mean to say, people thought what he did was low,
Was dirty, called their well of anger and fear
The judgment of God. So Hal, politician,
That he is, has payrolled people to pray
For Richard Two. Whole chapels full, all day,
Lest he look to the world too much like dad.
Old Henry had it rough, and Harry, Hal,
Would be a brat if he were sincere at all.
Old Henry fought and paid for what he got,
He wore himself to brink of death, unsure
If Hal, his son, gave a god-damn for what he’d done,
That he got for birthright what dad had won,
Had wrenched from indifference with dirty hands,
From indolent, effete opposition,
So Hal, his boy, could start where he left off.
Polished, educated, well-liked, clean Hal,
Who played at being rough and low for fun,
But never really lowered himself, Dad,
Because his dad had taken on himself
All of the sins one family can hold,
All of the work one family should work;
All bitterness, all dirt, all hate: all his—
All so his son can beg of God: Forgive
My father? No. He knows, he’s got to know,
I know he knows: it’s luxury to pray.
He knows who bought right and wrong, what he paid,
Recalled it, staring out at blinking flames
Hostile, indifferent on opposite hills.
—Michael Vignola, Lewes, DE