Oscar Wilde & Walt Whitman Walk Into A Cafe

Eva Lennert

SCENE – A corner of a small cafe, Paris, afternoon. [WHITMAN is sitting in a small wooden chair. A plush chair sits across from him, with a small table between them. WILDE enters, taking off a hat. He spots WHITMAN and walks to the corner where he is sitting] WILDE. So you’re Walt Whitman? 

WHITMAN. It would appear so, and you’re Oscar Wilde? 

WILDE. Please, just call me Oscar. 

WHITMAN. If you insist. 

WHITMAN gestures to the plush chair. WILDE sits and gestures for a WAITER. WAITER (in French accented English). Anything to drink Messieurs

WHITMAN. Just a coffee for me, thank you. 

WILDE. Une absinthe s’il vous plaît. 

WAITER nods and exits. 

WHITMAN. So it seems you truly do live solely for pleasure. 

WILDE (shifting in his seat). If one lives for anything else, they are living their life completely incomplete. 

WHITMAN. But what about aiding the less fortunate? What about bringing together the people? WILDE. My dear Walter, I was exiled from London, I can no longer believe in the goodness of people. 

WHITMAN. But the reason you were exiled, your trial, don’t you want to bring people together against what happened to you? 

WILDE (shaking his head and turning his hat over in his hands). I am growing old, Walter. It feels there is no reason for me to care about what happened in the past. 

WAITER returns with a salver containing a glass of absinthe and a cup of coffee. WHITMAN (taking his coffee). Thank you 

WILDE (taking his glass of absinthe). Merci

WAITER exits again. 

WILDE (hesitating, for a moment). What about you? What do you think of Paris? WHITMAN. I quite enjoy being in a city where so much struggle by the people occurred. He takes a sip of his coffee. 

WILDE (nodding). What about in comparison to the United States? I hear you’re from New York. 

WHITMAN (grimacing). New York is not nearly as interesting as Paris. There is not nearly as much struggle, as much hope for the people. 

WILDE. Well, what about the Civil War? I read all about it in the papers. 

WHITMAN (laughing bitterly). My dear Oscar, the war did little to bring the people of America together. 

WILDE. Well, wasn’t that what you were trying to achieve with your poetry? WHITMAN (taking another sip of his coffee). Not that anyone read it. 

WILDE. I read it. 

WHITMAN (setting his coffee on the table). Did you really?

WILDE. (nods) 

WHITMAN. Did you enjoy it? 

WILDE. It seemed a bit too simplistic for me. (taking a sip of his absinthe). You are not creating art for the sake of making art. 

WHITMAN (growing furious).What do you mean I am not creating just for the sake of creating? I wrote three versions of that book. 

WILDE. That is not creating for the sake of creating. That is editing and the processes are quite different. 

WHITMAN (indignantly). Well, your writing is simply bombastic. 

WILDE (sitting up). What do you mean? At least my writing is interesting. WHITMAN (standing up and fetching his coat). Well, this has certainly been an interesting encounter, Mr. Wilde, but I really should be going. 

WILDE. What do you mean? It’s barely 5 o’clock. 

WHITMAN. If you must know, I have a train to catch. 

WILDE. And where are you going? 

WHITMAN. As far away from you as possible. 

WHITMAN exits. WILDE sinks down in his chair, taking another sip of his absinthe.