The Fruit Shop
Cross-ribboned shoes; a muslin gown,
High-waisted, girdled with bright blue;
A straw poke bonnet which hid the frown
She pluckered her little brows into
As she picked her dainty passage through
The dusty street. "Ah, Mademoiselle,
A dirty pathway, we need rain,
My poor fruits suffer, and the shell
Of this nut's too big for its kernel, lain
Here in the sun it has shrunk again.
The baker down at the corner says
We need a battle to shake the clouds;
But I am a man of peace, my ways
Don't look to the killing of men in crowds.
Poor fellows with guns and bayonets for shrouds!
Pray, Mademoiselle, come out of the sun.
Let me dust off that wicker chair. It's cool
In here, for the green leaves I have run
In a curtain over the door, make a pool
Of shade. You see the pears on that stool --
The shadow keeps them plump and fair."
Over the fruiterer's door, the leaves
Held back the sun, a greenish flare
Quivered and sparked the shop, the sheaves
Of sunbeams, glanced from the sign on the eaves,
Shot from the golden letters, broke
And splintered to little scattered lights.
Jeanne Tourmont entered the shop, her poke
Bonnet tilted itself to rights,
And her face looked out like the moon on nights
Of flickering clouds. "Monsieur Popain, I
Want gooseberries, an apple or two,
Or excellent plums, but not if they're high;
Haven't you some which a strong wind blew?
I've only a couple of francs for you."
Monsieur Popain shrugged and rubbed his hands.
What could he do, the times were sad.
A couple of francs and such demands!
And asking for fruits a little bad.
Wind-blown indeed! He never had
Anything else than the very best.
He pointed to baskets of blunted pears
With the thin skin tight like a bursting vest,
All yellow, and red, and brown, in smears.
Monsieur Popain's voice denoted tears.
He took up a pear with tender care,
And pressed it with his hardened thumb.
"Smell it, Mademoiselle, the perfume there
Is like lavender, and sweet thoughts come
Only from having a dish at home.
And those grapes! They melt in the mouth like wine,
Just a click of the tongue, and they burst to honey.
They're only this morning off the vine,
And I paid for them down in silver money.
The Corporal's widow is witness, her pony
Brought them in at sunrise to-day.
Those oranges -- Gold! They're almost red.
They seem little chips just broken away
From the sun itself. Or perhaps instead
You'd like a pomegranate, they're rarely gay,
When you split them the seeds are like crimson spray.
Yes, they're high, they're high, and those Turkey figs,
They all come from the South, and Nelson's ships
Make it a little hard for our rigs.
They must be forever giving the slips
To the cursed English, and when men clips
Through powder to bring them, why dainties mounts
A bit in price. Those almonds now,
I'll strip off that husk, when one discounts
A life or two in a nigger row
With the man who grew them, it does seem how
They would come dear; and then the fight
At sea perhaps, our boats have heels
And mostly they sail along at night,
But once in a way they're caught; one feels
Ivory's not better nor finer -- why peels
From an almond kernel are worth two sous.
It's hard to sell them now," he sighed.
"Purses are tight, but I shall not lose.
There's plenty of cheaper things to choose."
He picked some currants out of a wide
Earthen bowl. "They make the tongue
Almost fly out to suck them, bride
Currants they are, they were planted long
Ago for some new Marquise, among
Other great beauties, before the Chateau
Was left to rot. Now the Gardener's wife,
He that marched off to his death at Marengo,
Sells them to me; she keeps her life
From snuffing out, with her pruning knife.
She's a poor old thing, but she learnt the trade
When her man was young, and the young Marquis
Couldn't have enough garden. The flowers he made
All new! And the fruits! But 'twas said that he
Was no friend to the people, and so they laid
Some charge against him, a cavalcade
Of citizens took him away; they meant
Well, but I think there was some mistake.
He just pottered round in his garden, bent
On growing things; we were so awake
In those days for the New Republic's sake.
He's gone, and the garden is all that's left
Not in ruin, but the currants and apricots,
And peaches, furred and sweet, with a cleft
Full of morning dew, in those green-glazed pots,
Why, Mademoiselle, there is never an eft
Or worm among them, and as for theft,
How the old woman keeps them I cannot say,
But they're finer than any grown this way."
Jeanne Tourmont drew back the filigree ring
Of her striped silk purse, tipped it upside down
And shook it, two coins fell with a ding
Of striking silver, beneath her gown
One rolled, the other lay, a thing
Sparked white and sharply glistening,
In a drop of sunlight between two shades.
She jerked the purse, took its empty ends
And crumpled them toward the centre braids.
The whole collapsed to a mass of blends
Of colours and stripes. "Monsieur Popain, friends
We have always been. In the days before
The Great Revolution my aunt was kind
When you needed help. You need no more;
'Tis we now who must beg at your door,
And will you refuse?" The little man
Bustled, denied, his heart was good,
But times were hard. He went to a pan
And poured upon the counter a flood
Of pungent raspberries, tanged like wood.
He took a melon with rough green rind
And rubbed it well with his apron tip.
Then he hunted over the shop to find
Some walnuts cracking at the lip,
And added to these a barberry slip
Whose acrid, oval berries hung
Like fringe and trembled. He reached a round
Basket, with handles, from where it swung
Against the wall, laid it on the ground
And filled it, then he searched and found
The francs Jeanne Tourmont had let fall.
"You'll return the basket, Mademoiselle?"
She smiled, "The next time that I call,
Monsieur. You know that very well."
'Twas lightly said, but meant to tell.
Monsieur Popain bowed, somewhat abashed.
She took her basket and stepped out.
The sunlight was so bright it flashed
Her eyes to blindness, and the rout
Of the little street was all about.
Through glare and noise she stumbled, dazed.
The heavy basket was a care.
She heard a shout and almost grazed
The panels of a chaise and pair.
The postboy yelled, and an amazed
Face from the carriage window gazed.
She jumped back just in time, her heart
Beating with fear. Through whirling light
The chaise departed, but her smart
Was keen and bitter. In the white
Dust of the street she saw a bright
Streak of colours, wet and gay,
Red like blood. Crushed but fair,
Her fruit stained the cobbles of the way.
Monsieur Popain joined her there.
c'est le General Bonaparte, partant pour la Guerre!"
How the slates of the roof sparkle in the sun, over there, over there,
beyond the high wall! How quietly the Seine runs in loops and windings,
over there, over there, sliding through the green countryside! Like ships
of the line, stately with canvas, the tall clouds pass along the sky,
over the glittering roof, over the trees, over the looped and curving river.
A breeze quivers through the linden-trees. Roses bloom at Malmaison.
Roses! Roses! But the road is dusty. Already the Citoyenne Beauharnais
wearies of her walk. Her skin is chalked and powdered with dust,
she smells dust, and behind the wall are roses! Roses with
smooth open petals, poised above rippling leaves . . . Roses . . .
They have told her so. The Citoyenne Beauharnais shrugs her shoulders
and makes a little face. She must mend her pace if she would be back
in time for dinner. Roses indeed! The guillotine more likely.
The tiered clouds float over Malmaison, and the slate roof sparkles
in the sun.
Gallop! Gallop! The General brooks no delay. Make way, good people,
and scatter out of his path, you, and your hens, and your dogs,
and your children. The General is returned from Egypt, and is come
in a `caleche' and four to visit his new property. Throw open the gates,
you, Porter of Malmaison. Pull off your cap, my man, this is your master,
the husband of Madame. Faster! Faster! A jerk and a jingle
and they are arrived, he and she. Madame has red eyes. Fie! It is for joy
at her husband's return. Learn your place, Porter. A gentleman here
for two months? Fie! Fie, then! Since when have you taken to gossiping.
Madame may have a brother, I suppose. That -- all green, and red,
and glitter, with flesh as dark as ebony -- that is a slave; a bloodthirsty,
stabbing, slashing heathen, come from the hot countries to cure your tongue
of idle whispering.
A fine afternoon it is, with tall bright clouds sailing over the trees.
"Bonaparte, mon ami, the trees are golden like my star, the star I pinned
to your destiny when I married you. The gypsy, you remember her prophecy!
My dear friend, not here, the servants are watching; send them away,
and that flashing splendour, Roustan. Superb -- Imperial, but . . .
My dear, your arm is trembling; I faint to feel it touching me! No, no,
Bonaparte, not that -- spare me that -- did we not bury that last night!
You hurt me, my friend, you are so hot and strong. Not long, Dear,
no, thank God, not long."
The looped river runs saffron, for the sun is setting. It is getting dark.
Dark. Darker. In the moonlight, the slate roof shines palely milkily white.
The roses have faded at Malmaison, nipped by the frost. What need for roses?
Smooth, open petals -- her arms. Fragrant, outcurved petals -- her breasts.
He rises like a sun above her, stooping to touch the petals, press them wider.
Eagles. Bees. What are they to open roses! A little shivering breeze
runs through the linden-trees, and the tiered clouds blow across the sky
like ships of the line, stately with canvas.
The gates stand wide at Malmaison, stand wide all day. The gravel
of the avenue glints under the continual rolling of wheels.
An officer gallops up with his sabre clicking; a mameluke gallops down
with his charger kicking. `Valets de pied' run about in ones, and twos,
and groups, like swirled blown leaves. Tramp! Tramp! The guard is changing,
and the grenadiers off duty lounge out of sight, ranging along the roads
The slate roof sparkles in the sun, but it sparkles milkily, vaguely,
the great glass-houses put out its shining. Glass, stone, and onyx
now for the sun's mirror. Much has come to pass at Malmaison.
New rocks and fountains, blocks of carven marble, fluted pillars uprearing
antique temples, vases and urns in unexpected places, bridges of stone,
bridges of wood, arbours and statues, and a flood of flowers everywhere,
new flowers, rare flowers, parterre after parterre of flowers. Indeed,
the roses bloom at Malmaison. It is youth, youth untrammeled and advancing,
trundling a country ahead of it as though it were a hoop. Laughter,
and spur janglings in tessellated vestibules. Tripping of clocked
and embroidered stockings in little low-heeled shoes over smooth grass-plots.
India muslins spangled with silver patterns slide through trees --
mingle -- separate -- white day fireflies flashing moon-brilliance
in the shade of foliage.
"The kangaroos! I vow, Captain, I must see the kangaroos."
"As you please, dear Lady, but I recommend the shady linden alley
and feeding the cockatoos."
"They say that Madame Bonaparte's breed of sheep is the best in all France."
"And, oh, have you seen the enchanting little cedar she planted
when the First Consul sent home the news of the victory of Marengo?"
Picking, choosing, the chattering company flits to and fro. Over the trees
the great clouds go, tiered, stately, like ships of the line
bright with canvas.
Prisoners'-base, and its swooping, veering, racing, giggling, bumping.
The First Consul runs plump into M. de Beauharnais and falls.
But he picks himself up smartly, and starts after M. Isabey. Too late,
M. Le Premier Consul, Mademoiselle Hortense is out after you. Quickly,
my dear Sir! Stir your short legs, she is swift and eager, and as graceful
as her mother. She is there, that other, playing too, but lightly, warily,
bearing herself with care, rather floating out upon the air than running,
never far from goal. She is there, borne up above her guests
as something indefinably fair, a rose above periwinkles. A blown rose,
smooth as satin, reflexed, one loosened petal hanging back and down.
A rose that undulates languorously as the breeze takes it,
resting upon its leaves in a faintness of perfume.
There are rumours about the First Consul. Malmaison is full of women,
and Paris is only two leagues distant. Madame Bonaparte stands
on the wooden bridge at sunset, and watches a black swan
pushing the pink and silver water in front of him as he swims,
crinkling its smoothness into pleats of changing colour with his breast.
Madame Bonaparte presses against the parapet of the bridge,
and the crushed roses at her belt melt, petal by petal, into the pink water.
A vile day, Porter. But keep your wits about you. The Empress
will soon be here. Queer, without the Emperor! It is indeed,
but best not consider that. Scratch your head and prick up your ears.
Divorce is not for you to debate about. She is late? Ah, well,
the roads are muddy. The rain spears are as sharp as whetted knives.
They dart down and down, edged and shining. Clop-trop! Clop-trop!
A carriage grows out of the mist. Hist, Porter. You can keep on your hat.
It is only Her Majesty's dogs and her parrot. Clop-trop!
The Ladies in Waiting, Porter. Clop-trop! It is Her Majesty. At least,
I suppose it is, but the blinds are drawn.
"In all the years I have served Her Majesty she never before passed the gate
without giving me a smile!"
You're a droll fellow, to expect the Empress to put out her head
in the pouring rain and salute you. She has affairs of her own
to think about.
Clang the gate, no need for further waiting, nobody else will be coming
to Malmaison to-night.
White under her veil, drained and shaking, the woman crosses the antechamber.
Empress! Empress! Foolish splendour, perished to dust. Ashes of roses,
ashes of youth. Empress forsooth!
Over the glass domes of the hot-houses drenches the rain. Behind her
a clock ticks -- ticks again. The sound knocks upon her thought
with the echoing shudder of hollow vases. She places her hands on her ears,
but the minutes pass, knocking. Tears in Malmaison. And years to come
each knocking by, minute after minute. Years, many years, and tears,
and cold pouring rain.
"I feel as though I had died, and the only sensation I have
is that I am no more."
Rain! Heavy, thudding rain!
The roses bloom at Malmaison. And not only roses. Tulips, myrtles,
geraniums, camelias, rhododendrons, dahlias, double hyacinths.
All the year through, under glass, under the sky, flowers bud, expand, die,
and give way to others, always others. From distant countries they have
been brought, and taught to live in the cool temperateness of France.
There is the `Bonapartea' from Peru; the `Napoleone Imperiale';
the `Josephinia Imperatrix', a pearl-white flower, purple-shadowed,
the calix pricked out with crimson points. Malmaison wears its flowers
as a lady wears her gems, flauntingly, assertively. Malmaison decks herself
to hide the hollow within.
The glass-houses grow and grow, and every year fling up hotter reflections
to the sailing sun.
The cost runs into millions, but a woman must have something
to console herself for a broken heart. One can play backgammon and patience,
and then patience and backgammon, and stake gold napoleons on each game won.
Sport truly! It is an unruly spirit which could ask better. With her jewels,
her laces, her shawls; her two hundred and twenty dresses, her fichus,
her veils; her pictures, her busts, her birds. It is absurd that she
cannot be happy. The Emperor smarts under the thought of her ingratitude.
What could he do more? And yet she spends, spends as never before.
It is ridiculous. Can she not enjoy life at a smaller figure?
Was ever monarch plagued with so extravagant an ex-wife. She owes
her chocolate-merchant, her candle-merchant, her sweetmeat purveyor;
her grocer, her butcher, her poulterer; her architect, and the shopkeeper
who sells her rouge; her perfumer, her dressmaker, her merchant of shoes.
She owes for fans, plants, engravings, and chairs. She owes
masons and carpenters, vintners, lingeres. The lady's affairs
are in sad confusion.
And why? Why?
Can a river flow when the spring is dry?
Night. The Empress sits alone, and the clock ticks, one after one.
The clock nicks off the edges of her life. She is chipped like
an old bit of china; she is frayed like a garment of last year's wearing.
She is soft, crinkled, like a fading rose. And each minute flows by
brushing against her, shearing off another and another petal.
The Empress crushes her breasts with her hands and weeps. And the tall clouds
sail over Malmaison like a procession of stately ships bound for the moon.
Scarlet, clear-blue, purple epauletted with gold. It is a parade of soldiers
sweeping up the avenue. Eight horses, eight Imperial harnesses,
four caparisoned postilions, a carriage with the Emperor's arms on the panels.
Ho, Porter, pop out your eyes, and no wonder. Where else under the Heavens
could you see such splendour!
They sit on a stone seat. The little man in the green coat of a Colonel
of Chasseurs, and the lady, beautiful as a satin seed-pod, and as pale.
The house has memories. The satin seed-pod holds his germs of Empire.
We will stay here, under the blue sky and the turreted white clouds.
She draws him; he feels her faded loveliness urge him to replenish it.
Her soft transparent texture woos his nervous fingering. He speaks to her
of debts, of resignation; of her children, and his; he promises that she
shall see the King of Rome; he says some harsh things and some pleasant.
But she is there, close to him, rose toned to amber, white shot with violet,
pungent to his nostrils as embalmed rose-leaves in a twilit room.
Suddenly the Emperor calls his carriage and rolls away
across the looping Seine.
Crystal-blue brightness over the glass-houses. Crystal-blue streaks
and ripples over the lake. A macaw on a gilded perch screams;
they have forgotten to take out his dinner. The windows shake. Boom! Boom!
It is the rumbling of Prussian cannon beyond Pecq. Roses bloom at Malmaison.
Roses! Roses! Swimming above their leaves, rotting beneath them.
Fallen flowers strew the unraked walks. Fallen flowers for a fallen Emperor!
The General in charge of him draws back and watches. Snatches of music --
snarling, sneering music of bagpipes. They say a Scotch regiment
is besieging Saint-Denis. The Emperor wipes his face, or is it his eyes.
His tired eyes which see nowhere the grace they long for. Josephine!
Somebody asks him a question, he does not answer, somebody else does that.
There are voices, but one voice he does not hear, and yet he hears it
all the time. Josephine! The Emperor puts up his hand to screen his face.
The white light of a bright cloud spears sharply through the linden-trees.
`Vive l'Empereur!' There are troops passing beyond the wall,
troops which sing and call. Boom! A pink rose is jarred off its stem
and falls at the Emperor's feet.
"Very well. I go." Where! Does it matter? There is no sword to clatter.
Nothing but soft brushing gravel and a gate which shuts with a click.
"Quick, fellow, don't spare your horses."
A whip cracks, wheels turn, why burn one's eyes following a fleck of dust.
Over the slate roof tall clouds, like ships of the line, pass along the sky.
The glass-houses glitter splotchily, for many of their lights are broken.
Roses bloom, fiery cinders quenching under damp weeds. Wreckage and misery,
and a trailing of petty deeds smearing over old recollections.
The musty rooms are empty and their shutters are closed, only in the gallery
there is a stuffed black swan, covered with dust. When you touch it,
the feathers come off and float softly to the ground. Through a chink
in the shutters, one can see the stately clouds crossing the sky
toward the Roman arches of the Marly Aqueduct.
Frindsbury, Kent, 1786
All through the lead and silver Winter days,
All through the copper of Autumn hazes.
Tap to the red rising sun,
Tap to the purple setting sun.
Four years pass before the job is done.
Two thousand oak trees grown and felled,
Two thousand oaks from the hedgerows of the Weald,
Sussex had yielded two thousand oaks
With huge boles
Round which the tape rolls
Thirty mortal feet, say the village folks.
Two hundred loads of elm and Scottish fir;
Planking from Dantzig.
My! What timber goes into a ship!
Two years they have seasoned her ribs on the ways,
You can hear, though there's nothing where you gaze.
Through the fog down the reaches of the river,
The tapping goes on like heart-beats in a fever.
The church-bells chime
Hours and hours,
Dropping days in showers.
Bang! Rap! Tap!
Go the hammers all the time.
They have planked up her timbers
And the nails are driven to the head;
They have decked her over,
And again, and again.
The shoring-up beams shudder at the strain.
Black and blue breeches,
Pigtails bound and shining:
Like ants crawling about,
The hull swarms with carpenters, running in and out.
And they are all terrible talkers.
Jem Wilson has been to sea and he tells some wonderful tales
Of whales, and spice islands,
And pirates off the Barbary coast.
He boasts magnificently, with his mouth full of nails.
Stephen Pibold has a tenor voice,
He shifts his quid of tobacco and sings:
"The second in command was blear-eyed Ned:
While the surgeon his limb was a-lopping,
A nine-pounder came and smack went his head,
Pull away, pull away, pull away! I say;
Rare news for my Meg of Wapping!"
People come in crowds
(After church-time, of course)
In curricles, and gigs, and wagons,
And some have brought cold chicken and flagons
And beer in stoppered jugs.
"Dear! Dear! But I tell 'ee 'twill be a fine ship.
There's none finer in any of the slips at Chatham."
The third Summer's roses have started in to blow,
When the fine stern carving is begun.
Flutings, and twinings, and long slow swirls,
Bits of deal shaved away to thin spiral curls.
Tap! Tap! A cornucopia is nailed into place.
Rap-a-tap! They are putting up a railing filigreed like Irish lace.
The Three Town's people never saw such grace.
And the paint on it! The richest gold leaf!
Why, the glitter when the sun is shining passes belief.
And that row of glass windows tipped toward the sky
Are rubies and carbuncles when the day is dry.
Oh, my! Oh, my!
They have coppered up the bottom,
And the copper nails
Stand about and sparkle in big wooden pails.
Bang! Clash! Bang!
"And he swigg'd, and Nick swigg'd,
And Ben swigg'd, and Dick swigg'd,
And I swigg'd, and all of us swigg'd it,
And swore there was nothing like grog."
It seems they sing,
Even though coppering is not an easy thing.
What a splendid specimen of humanity is a true British workman,
Say the people of the Three Towns,
As they walk about the dockyard
To the sound of the evening church-bells.
And so artistic, too, each one tells his neighbour.
What immense taste and labour!
Miss Jessie Prime, in a pink silk bonnet,
Titters with delight as her eyes fall upon it,
When she steps lightly down from Lawyer Green's whisky;
Such amazing beauty makes one feel frisky,
Mr. Nichols says he is delighted
(He is the firm);
His work is all requited
If Miss Jessie can approve.
Miss Jessie answers that the ship is "a love".
The sides are yellow as marigold,
The port-lids are red when the ports are up:
Blood-red squares like an even chequer
Of yellow asters and portulaca.
There is a wide "black strake" at the waterline
And above is a blue like the sky when the weather is fine.
The inner bulwarks are painted red.
"Why?" asks Miss Jessie. "'Tis a horrid note."
Mr. Nichols clears his throat,
And tells her the launching day is set.
He says, "Be careful, the paint is wet."
But Miss Jessie has touched it, her sprigged muslin gown
Has a blood-red streak from the shoulder down.
"It looks like blood," says Miss Jessie with a frown.
Tap! Tap! Rap!
An October day, with waves running in blue-white lines
and a capful of wind.
Three broad flags ripple out behind
Where the masts will be:
Royal Standard at the main,
Admiralty flag at the fore,
Union Jack at the mizzen.
The hammers tap harder, faster,
They must finish by noon.
The last nail is driven.
But the wind has increased to half a gale,
And the ship shakes and quivers upon the ways.
The Commissioner of Chatham Dockyard is coming
In his ten-oared barge from the King's Stairs;
The Marine's band will play "God Save Great George Our King";
And there is to be a dinner afterwards at the Crown, with speeches.
The wind screeches, and flaps the flags till they pound like hammers.
The wind hums over the ship,
And slips round the dog-shores,
Jostling them almost to falling.
There is no time now to wait for Commissioners and marine bands.
Mr. Nichols has a bottle of port in his hands.
He leans over, holding his hat, and shouts to the men below:
"Let her go!"
Bang! Bang! Pound!
The dog-shores fall to the ground,
And the ship slides down the greased planking.
A splintering of glass,
And port wine running all over the white and copper stem timbers.
"Success to his Majesty's ship, the Bellerophon!"
And the red wine washes away in the waters of the Medway.
Paris, March, 1814
Fine yellow sunlight down the rue du Mont Thabor.
Ten o'clock striking from all the clock-towers of Paris.
Over the door of a shop, in gilt letters:
"Martin -- Parfumeur", and something more.
A large gilded wooden something.
Listen! What a ringing of hammers!
Tap! Squeak! Tap-a-tap!
"Don't touch the letters. My name stays."
"Just take down the eagle, and the shield with the bees."
"As M'sieu pleases."
Tap! Squeak! Tap!
The man on the ladder hammers steadily for a minute or two,
They are fastened well, Nom d'un Chien!
What if I break them?"
You and Paul must have them down to-day."
And the hammers start again,
Drum-beating at the something of gilded wood.
Sunshine in a golden flood
Lighting up the yellow fronts of houses,
Glittering each window to a flash.
Squeak! Squeak! Tap!
The hammers beat and rap.
A Prussian hussar on a grey horse goes by at a dash.
From other shops, the noise of striking blows:
Pounds, thumps, and whacks;
Wooden sounds: splinters -- cracks.
Paris is full of the galloping of horses and the knocking of hammers.
"Hullo! Friend Martin, is business slack
That you are in the street this morning? Don't turn your back
And scuttle into your shop like a rabbit to its hole.
I've just been taking a stroll.
The stinking Cossacks are bivouacked all up and down
the Champs Elysees.
I can't get the smell of them out of my nostrils.
Dirty fellows, who don't believe in frills
Like washing. Ah, mon vieux, you'd have to go
Out of business if you lived in Russia. So!
We've given up being perfumers to the Emperor, have we?
Be careful of the hen,
Maybe I can find a use for her one of these days.
That eagle's rather well cut, Martin.
But I'm sick of smelling Cossack,
Take me inside and let me put my head into a stack
Of orris-root and musk."
Within the shop, the light is dimmed to a pearl-and-green dusk
Out of which dreamily sparkle counters and shelves of glass,
Containing phials, and bowls, and jars, and dishes; a mass
Of aqueous transparence made solid by threads of gold.
Gold and glass,
And scents which whiff across the green twilight and pass.
The perfumer sits down and shakes his head:
"Always the same, Monsieur Antoine,
You artists are wonderful folk indeed."
But Antoine Vernet does not heed.
He is reading the names on the bottles and bowls,
Done in fine gilt letters with wonderful scrolls.
"What have we here? `Eau Imperial Odontalgique.'
I must say, mon cher, your names are chic.
But it won't do, positively it will not do.
Elba doesn't count. Ah, here is another:
`Baume du Commandeur'. That's better.
He needs something to smother
Regrets. A little lubricant, too,
Might be useful. I have it,
`Sage Oil', perhaps he'll be good now; with it we'll submit
This fine German rouge. I fear he is pale."
"Monsieur Antoine, don't rail
At misfortune. He treated me well and fairly."
"And you prefer him to Bourbons, admit it squarely."
"Heaven forbid!" Bang! Whack!
Squeak! Squeak! Crack!
"Oh, Lord, Martin! That shield is hash.
The whole street is covered with golden bees.
They look like so many yellow peas,
Lying there in the mud. I'd like to paint it.
`Plum pudding of Empire'. That's rather quaint, it
Might take with the Kings. Shall I try?" "Oh, Sir,
You distress me, you do." "Poor old Martin's purr!
But he hasn't a scratch in him, I know.
Now let us get back to the powders and patches.
The Kings are here now. We must hit on a plan
To change all these titles as fast as we can.
`Bouquet Imperatrice'. Tut! Tut! Give me some ink --
`Bouquet de la Reine', what do you think?
Not the same receipt?
Now, Martin, put away your conceit.
Who will ever know?
`Extract of Nobility' -- excellent, since most of them are killed."
"But, Monsieur Antoine --"
"You are self-willed,
Martin. You need a salve
For your conscience, do you?
Very well, we'll halve
The compliments, also the pastes and dentifrices;
Send some to the Kings, and some to the Empresses.
`Oil of Bitter Almonds' -- the Empress Josephine can have that.
`Oil of Parma Violets' fits the other one pat."
Rap! Rap! Bang!
"What a hideous clatter!
Blaise seems determined to batter
That poor old turkey into bits,
And pound to jelly my excellent wits.
Come, come, Martin, you mustn't shirk.
`The night cometh soon' -- etc. Don't jerk
Me up like that. `Essence de la Valliere' --
That has a charmingly Bourbon air.
And, oh! Magnificent! Listen to this! --
`Vinaigre des Quatre Voleurs'. Nothing amiss
With that -- England, Austria, Russia and Prussia!
Martin, you're a wonder,
Upheavals of continents can't keep you under."
"Monsieur Antoine, I am grieved indeed
At such levity. What France has gone through --"
"Very true, Martin, very true,
But never forget that a man must feed."
Pound! Pound! Thump!
"Look here, in another minute Blaise will drop that bird on the ground."
Martin shrugs his shoulders. "Ah, well, what then? --"
Antoine, with a laugh: "I'll give you two sous for that antiquated hen."
The Imperial Eagle sells for two sous,
And the lilies go up.
A man must choose!
Paris, April, 1814
Cold, impassive, the marble arch of the Place du Carrousel.
Haughty, contemptuous, the marble arch of the Place du Carrousel.
Like a woman raped by force, rising above her fate,
Borne up by the cold rigidity of hate,
Stands the marble arch of the Place du Carrousel.
Tap! Rap! Chink!
What falls to the ground like a streak of flame?
Hush! It is only a bit of bronze flashing in the sun.
What are all those soldiers? Those are not the uniforms of France.
Alas! No! The uniforms of France, Great Imperial France, are done.
They will rot away in chests and hang to dusty tatters in barn lofts.
These are other armies. And their name?
Hush, be still for shame;
Be still and imperturbable like the marble arch.
Another bright spark falls through the blue air.
Over the Place du Carrousel a wailing of despair.
Crowd your horses back upon the people, Uhlans and Hungarian Lancers,
They see too much.
Unfortunately, Gentlemen of the Invading Armies, what they do not see,
Another sharp spear
And a ringing of quick metal lightness
On hard stones.
Workmen are chipping off the names of Napoleon's victories
From the triumphal arch of the Place du Carrousel.
Do they need so much force to quell the crowd?
An old Grenadier of the line groans aloud,
And each hammer tap points the sob of a woman.
Russia, Prussia, Austria, and the faded-white-lily Bourbon king
Think it well
To guard against tumult,
A mob is an undependable thing.
Vienna is scattered all over the Place du Carrousel
In glittering, bent, and twisted letters.
Your betters have clattered over Vienna before,
Officer of his Imperial Majesty our Father-in-Law!
A workman's chisel can strew you to the winds,
Do they think
To pleasure Paris, used to the fall of cities,
By giving her a fall of letters!
It is a month too late.
One month, and our lily-white Bourbon king
Has done a colossal thing;
He has curdled love,
And soured the desires of a people.
Still the letters fall,
The workmen creep up and down their ladders like lizards on a wall.
Tap! Tap! Tink!
"Oh, merciful God, they will not touch Austerlitz!
Strike me blind, my God, my eyes can never look on that.
I would give the other leg to save it, it took one.
Curse them! Curse them! Aim at his hat.
Give me the stone. Why didn't you give it to me?
I would not have missed. Curse him!
Curse all of them! They have got the `A'!"
"I saw the Terror, but I never saw so horrible a thing as this.
`Vive l'Empereur! Vive l'Empereur!'"
"Don't strike him, Fritz.
The mob will rise if you do.
Just run him out to the `quai',
That will get him out of the way.
They are almost through."
Clink! Tink! Ding!
Clear as the sudden ring
Of a bell
"Z" strikes the pavement.
Farewell, Austerlitz, Tilsit, Presbourg;
Farewell, greatness departed.
Farewell, Imperial honours, knocked broadcast by the beating hammers
of ignorant workmen.
Straight, in the Spring moonlight,
Rises the deflowered arch.
In the silence, shining bright,
She stands naked and unsubdued.
Her marble coldness will endure the march
Rend her bronzes, hammers;
Cast down her inscriptions.
She is unconquerable, austere,
Cold as the moon that swims above her
When the nights are clear.
Croissy, Ile-de-France, June, 1815
Devil take the mare! I've never seen so vicious a beast.
She kicked Jules the last time she was here,
He's been lame ever since, poor chap."
Tap-a-tap-a-tap! Tap! Tap!
"I'd rather be lame than dead at Waterloo, M'sieu Charles."
"Sacre Bleu! Don't mention Waterloo, and the damned grinning British.
We didn't run in the old days.
There wasn't any running at Jena.
Those were decent days,
And decent men, who stood up and fought.
We never got beaten, because we wouldn't be.
"You would have taught them, wouldn't you, Sergeant Boignet?
But to-day it's everyone for himself,
And the Emperor isn't what he was."
"How the Devil do you know that?
If he was beaten, the cause
Is the green geese in his army, led by traitors.
Oh, I say no names, Monsieur Charles,
You needn't hammer so loud.
If there are any spies lurking behind the bellows,
I beg they come out. Dirty fellows!"
The old Sergeant seizes a red-hot poker
And advances, brandishing it, into the shadows.
The rows of horses flick
Victorine gives a savage kick
As the nails
Go in. Tap! Tap!
Jules draws a horseshoe from the fire
And beats it from red to peacock-blue and black,
Purpling darker at each whack.
Ding! Dang! Dong!
It is a long time since any one spoke.
Then the blacksmith brushes his hand over his eyes,
"Well," he sighs,
The Sergeant charges out from behind the bellows.
"It's the green geese, I tell you,
Their hearts are all whites and yellows,
There's no red in them. Red!
That's what we want. Fouche should be fed
To the guillotine, and all Paris dance the carmagnole.
That would breed jolly fine lick-bloods
To lead his armies to victory."
"Ancient history, Sergeant.
"Say that again, Monsieur Charles, and I'll stun
You where you stand for a dung-eating Royalist."
The Sergeant gives the poker a savage twist;
He is as purple as the cooling horseshoes.
The air from the bellows creaks through the flues.
Tap! Tap! The blacksmith shoes Victorine,
And through the doorway a fine sheen
Of leaves flutters, with the sun between.
By a spurt of fire from the forge
You can see the Sergeant, with swollen gorge,
Puffing, and gurgling, and choking;
The bellows keep on croaking.
Creak! Bang! Squeeze!
And the hammer strokes fall like buzzing bees
Or pattering rain,
Or faster than these,
Like the hum of a waterfall struck by a breeze.
Clank! from the bellows-chain pulled up and down.
And sunshine twinkles on Victorine's flank,
Starting it to blue,
Dropping it to black.
Lord! What galloping! Some mishap
Is making that man ride so furiously.
Victorine won't be through
For another quarter of an hour." "As you hope to die,
Work faster, man, the order has come."
"What order? Speak out. Are you dumb?"
"A chaise, without arms on the panels, at the gate
In the far side-wall, and just to wait.
We must be there in half an hour with swift cattle.
You're a stupid fool if you don't hear that rattle.
Those are German guns. Can't you guess the rest?
Nantes, Rochefort, possibly Brest."
Tap! Tap! as though the hammers were mad.
Dang! Ding! Creak! The farrier's lad
Jerks the bellows till he cracks their bones,
And the stifled air hiccoughs and groans.
The Sergeant is lying on the floor
Stone dead, and his hat with the tricolore
Cockade has rolled off into the cinders. Victorine snorts and lays back
What glistens on the anvil? Sweat or tears?
St. Helena, May, 1821
Tap! Tap! Tap!
Through the white tropic night.
Beat the hammers,
They are hanging dull black cloth about the dead.
Lustreless black cloth
Which chokes the radiance of the moonlight
And puts out the little moving shadows of leaves.
The knocking makes the candles quaver,
And the long black hangings waver
Tap! Tap! Tap!
In the ears which do not heed.
Above the eyelids which do not flicker.
Over the hands which do not stir.
Chiselled like a cameo of white agate against the hangings,
Struck to brilliance by the falling moonlight,
Sharp as a frozen flame,
Beautiful as an altar lamp of silver,
And still. Perfectly still.
In the next room, the men chatter
As they eat their midnight lunches.
A knife hits against a platter.
But the figure on the bed
Between the stifling black hangings
Is cold and motionless,
Played over by the moonlight from the windows
And the indistinct shadows of leaves.
Upholsterer Darling has a fine shop in Jamestown.
Andrew Darling has ridden hard from Longwood
to see to the work in his shop in Jamestown.
He has a corps of men in it, toiling and swearing,
Knocking, and measuring, and planing, and squaring,
Working from a chart with figures,
Comparing with their rules,
Setting this and that part together with their tools.
Tap! Tap! Tap!
So great is the need
That carpenters have been taken from the new church,
Joiners have been called from shaping pews and lecterns
To work of greater urgency.
Coffins is what they are making this bright Summer morning.
Coffins -- and all to measurement.
There is a tin coffin,
A deal coffin,
A lead coffin,
And Captain Bennett's best mahogany dining-table
Has been sawed up for the grand outer coffin.
Tap! Tap! Tap!
Sunshine outside in the square,
But inside, only hollow coffins and the tapping upon them.
The men whistle,
And the coffins grow under their hammers
In the darkness of the shop.
Tap! Tap! Tap!
Tramp of men.
Steady tramp of men.
Slit-eyed Chinese with long pigtails
Bearing oblong things upon their shoulders
March slowly along the road to Longwood.
Their feet fall softly in the dust of the road;
Sometimes they call gutturally to each other and stop
to shift shoulders.
Four coffins for the little dead man,
Four fine coffins,
And one of them Captain Bennett's dining-table!
And sixteen splendid Chinamen, all strong and able
And of assured neutrality.
Ah! George of England, Lord Bathhurst & Co.
Your princely munificence makes one's heart glow.
Huzza! Huzza! For the Lion of England!
Tap! Tap! Tap!
Marble likeness of an Emperor,
Dead man, who burst your heart against a world too narrow,
The hammers drum you to your last throne
Which always you shall hold alone.
The glory of your past is faded as a sunset fire,
Your day lingers only like the tones of a wind-lyre
In a twilit room.
Here is the emptiness of your dream
Scattered about you.
Coins of yesterday,
Double napoleons stamped with Consul or Emperor,
Strange as those of Herculaneum --
And you just dead!
Not one spool of thread
Will these buy in any market-place.
Lay them over him,
They are the baubles of a crown of mist
Worn in a vision and melted away at waking.
His heart strained at kingdoms
And now it is content with a silver dish.
Strange World! Strange Wayfarer!
Lower it gently beside him and let it lie.
Tap! Tap! Tap!
Two Travellers in the Place Vendome
Reign of Louis Philippe
A great tall column spearing at the sky
With a little man on top. Goodness! Tell me why?
He looks a silly thing enough to stand up there so high.
What a strange fellow, like a soldier in a play,
Tight-fitting coat with the tails cut away,
High-crowned hat which the brims overlay.
Two-horned hat makes an outline like a bow.
Must have a sword, I can see the light glow
Between a dark line and his leg. Vertigo
I get gazing up at him, a pygmy flashed with sun.
A weathercock or scarecrow or both things in one?
As bright as a jewelled crown hung above a throne.
Say, what is the use of him if he doesn't turn?
Just put up to glitter there, like a torch to burn,
A sort of sacrificial show in a lofty urn?
But why a little soldier in an obsolete dress?
I'd rather see a Goddess with a spear, I confess.
Something allegorical and fine. Why, yes --
I cannot take my eyes from him. I don't know why at all.
I've looked so long the whole thing swims. I feel he ought to fall.
Foreshortened there among the clouds he's pitifully small.
What do you say? There used to be an Emperor standing there,
With flowing robes and laurel crown. Really? Yet I declare
Those spiral battles round the shaft don't seem just his affair.
A togaed, laurelled man's I mean. Now this chap seems to feel
As though he owned those soldiers. Whew! How he makes one reel,
Swinging round above his circling armies in a wheel.
Sweeping round the sky in an orbit like the sun's,
Flashing sparks like cannon-balls from his own long guns.
Perhaps my sight is tired, but that figure simply stuns.
How low the houses seem, and all the people are mere flies.
That fellow pokes his hat up till it scratches on the skies.
Impudent! Audacious! But, by Jove, he blinds the eyes!