I took a page from The Elusive Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy. In the passage below Emmuska Magdalena Rosalia Maria Josepha Barbara Orczy describes a puppet show in a Parisian park at the height of the French Revolution depicting a decapitation by guillotine.
I chose the following words, including the title, for my poem and left them in the order in which they occurred:
looking sky. “Too red!”
some people said.
A number of little figures
no taller than your hand,
beautifully made little dolls
dressed in all rags and wooden shoes
massed together in groups
arms all turned upwards.
In the center on an elevated platform
miniature wooden posts close together,
a miniature basket between the two posts,
at the top, a miniature knife
which ran up and down in a groove drawn
by a miniature pulley.
Lo and behold!
a loud whirr of wheels, a buzz of internal mechanism,
very thrilling, very terrible:
a certain air of hushed awe
Chapter IV : The Richmond Gala
…And you could not help but be convinced of the truth of it all, so
cleverly was it done. There was a background of houses and a very
red-looking sky. “Too red!” some people said, but were immediately
quashed by the dictum of the wise, that the sky represented a sunset,
as anyone who looked could see. Then there were a number of little
figures, no taller than your hand, but with little wooden faces and
arms and legs, just beautifully made little dolls, and these were
dressed in kirtles and breeches –all rags mostly–and little coats and
wooden shoes. They were massed together in groups with their arms
all turned upwards.
And in the center of this little stage on an elevated platform there
were miniature wooden posts close together, and with a long flat
board at right angles at the foot of the posts, and all painted a bright
red. At the further end of the boards was a miniature basket, and
between the two posts, at the top, was a miniature knife which ran up
and down in a groove and was drawn by a miniature pulley. Folk who
knew said that this was a model of a guillotine.
And lo and behold! when you dropped a penny into a slot just below
the wooden stage, the crowd of little figures started waving their
arms up and down, and another little doll would ascend the elevated
platform and lie down on the red board at the foot of the wooden
posts. Then a figure dressed in brilliant scarlet put out an arm
presumably to touch the pulley, and the tiny knife would rattle down
on to the poor little reclining doll’s neck, and its head would roll off
into the basket beyond.
Then there was a loud whirr of wheels, a buzz of internal mechanism,
and all the little figures would stop dead with arms outstretched,
whilst the beheaded doll rolled off the board and was lost to view, no
doubt preparatory to going through the same gruesome pantomime
It was very thrilling, and very terrible: a certain air of hushed awe
reigned in the booth where this mechanical wonder was displayed…