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Lay for the Day
18th December

The birthday, in 1778, of Joseph Grimaldi – the father of modern clowning, still honoured in an annual service at the clowns' church, Holy Trinity in Dalston, east London.
Grimaldi made his debut at Sadler’s Wells in Islington at the age of three. In 1806, his first great hit, Harlequin and Mother Goose at Covent Garden, took £20,000 in a run of 92 nights. When he retired at the age of 45, a lifetime of pranks and pratfalls had left him barely able to walk.
In later years, living on a pension of £100 a year from the Drury Lane Theatrical Fund, he spent his evenings down the pub, the Marquis of Cornwallis in Pentonville, sitting by the fire. The landlord would carry him home on his back each night.
After his death in 1837, Charles Dickens wrote: “the clown left the stage with Grimaldi, and though often heard of, has never since been seen.”
From the book of Praises:

41. Of a Clown

Your empty face mirrors ours,
white as death’s absolute joke;
not as glass and mercury
invent, but the clear portrait
of a stranger we look through.

Behold a heart blushing red
as the Chinese lantern plant’s
berry through skeletal lace
of its pod, made visible
by your outfit’s glitz and tat.

You fall to lighten our days’
uneasy rising and fail
perfectly to beat the clock.
Every knock strikes a link off
childhood, when time was weightless.


John Gibbens
from Collected Poems


The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar


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