He is a poet, she, a sad and beautiful woman.
"We're perfect for each other," he says.
"How so?" she asks.
"You are a sad, beautiful woman," he answers. "And I am poet."
"It won't last," she says sadly.
"It may take the better part of an afternoon. Or two."
"You have mistaken me for another kind of girl, I'm afraid."
"Your beauty is unmistakable."
"And my sadness?"
"It will take a poem to get it right."
"I don't think I'm interested."
"I think you have mistaken me for another kind of poet."
She is unimpressed, but vaguely intrigued.
"I have no designs on you," he explains. "Only your beauty, its sadness. I am suggesting you come home with me, to my 'studio', if you will, and sit for me. Sit for my poem. This is something painters and sculptors have been doing forever."
"Always with pure intentions, I'm sure!"
"Their motives were often mixed, I'll grant. But not entirely base. There was always the painting or the sculpture. Or at least the pretense of one. It kept the session taut."
"It maintained a certain tension. It brought precision to the encounter. I think that tension would be good for poetry."
"How have poems been made until now?"
"They've been recollected in tranquility, after the encounter. The encounter has had to happen in real time, in real life. No time to observe. No time to think and feel. It's like asking a sculptor to go to the park and observe all the women there, walking, jogging, lying in the sun. Then he goes back to his studio and works from memory. It wouldn't surprise us if his work lacked precision."
"So, instead, he invites a woman he finds attractive…"
"And sad," she adds sarcastically.
"Yes, and sad."
"…back to his apartment…"
"His 'studio'," he marks the air, and smiles.
"…and gets her to undress for his art."
"That's the basic idea."
"Would we sleep together?"
"That is a distinct possibility."
"I won't lie. But it is truly only a possibility. A very distinct one. It is precisely that possibility that the poem is about."
"And your wife would not mind?"
"She would. She must."
"How is that?"
"It's part of the necessary tension. A good poem is always an act of infidelity. (Even a poem about my wife's sadness and beauty would betray our vows.) A poem writhes against the immediate rightness suggested by our institutions—our sense of decency. Your beauty, its sadness, for example, challenges even the happiest marriage. For me to insist on noticing it is a minor scandal. But my faithlessness may produce only a poem. A poem is the fulcrum of enormous leverage…"
"I bet," she balks. "The lightest word may move to heavy deeds."
"Of course. Or the minor scandal may merely occasion a great poem. And that, in the end, is all I hope for."
"Well, I won't sleep with you."
"My poem depends on getting you to recognize only the possibility."
"So if I remain firm you will not get your poem."
"Exactly. But I hope I will. We talk for an hour or two. I will get a chance to see your beauty, its sadness, in good light. I'll be able to register its moods and caprices under ideal conditions. If I am good and if I am lucky, I will see the moment when you consider 'the one obvious remedy'*. I don't even need to know that that is what I've seen. I will have enough for my poem. And you can go home, unsullied."
*He is, of course, quoting from Ezra Pound's essay "Troubadours—Their Sorts and Conditions": "After the compositions of Vidal, Rudel, Ventadour, of Bornelh and Bertrans de Born and Arnaut Daniel, there seemed little chance of doing distinctive work in the 'canzon de l'amour courtois'. There was no way, or at least there was no man in Provence capable of finding a new way of saying in six closely rhymed strophes that a certain girl, matron or widow was like a certain set of things, and that the troubadour's virtues were like another set, and that all this was very sorrowful or otherwise, and that there was but one obvious remedy." (LE, p. 102)