Coriolanus is the second to last of Shakespeare’s Roman plays, and dates from 1607-1609. The Roman general Coriolanus becomes leader of an army of his former enemies, and takes them to the gates of Rome to invade the city. In the final act is a stage direction “Holds her by the hand, silent,” exceedingly difficult to bring off on stage, as Coriolanus is convinced by his mother Volumnia to spare Rome, though he knows that this decision will cause his death. And soon afterwards he is murdered.
Beethoven’s great Coriolan Overture, op. 62, deals with the same subject, but is based on the 1807 play by Heinrich Joseph von Collin, in which Coriolanus is not murdered but kills himself, when he recognizes that, having acceded to his mother’s plea, he cannot any longer command the army he has brought with him.
It is hard to decide which is the greater work, for they are both magnificent.
“Volumnia” is the fifth poem of the sequence “The Pyre of the Accidental Butterfly” that begins Caravaggio’s Dagger. It gave me a lot of trouble. Its first versions were written from 1998 on in Vancouver (British Columbia), but refined in both Montréal (Québec) and St. Stephen (New Brunswick) till as late as December 2008.
I read “Volumnia” at an impromptu reading at New Westminster Poet Laureate’s Candice James’s Poetry New Westminster weekly series of 6th March 2016, in the interval between featured speakers Cassy Welburn (Calgary, Alberta) and the eminent George McWhirter, the first of the poet laureates of Vancouver.