The Duke has seen the coaches go,
In dark blue fumes of petrol smoke,
Beyond the Temple, past the Folly,
Dispersing stray deer from the drive:
They should have reached the Victory Gate.
Listless, he leaves the Portico.
Moves through the shadowed ilex grove
Down to the lake,
And like a dreamer takes a tally
Of swans, as though they paid to float.
Here, where his father used to give
To thirty gardeners gathered round
Instructions in botanic art,
The grass grows higher than it should.
But he has other thoughts which grieve.
The clock sends forth a broken sound.
The pebble jewelry has not sold
So well today.
Complaints have come about the tea.
‘Too little sugar,’ someone said.
Twelfth holder of a title known
To every schoolboy keen on fame;
Prince of the Empire; Duc et Pair
De France; his marquisates exceed
Even his earldoms; and the bored
Guides list his baronies with scorn.
When Texans fill the Porphyry Hall,
The conqueror’s sword
Glints as the words re-echo: ‘Duke,
How come you’re twenty times a lord?’
But now the frogs in unison
Remind him of the gods stained green
Above the ferny fourth cascade.
Some effort must be made to clean
Them in the autumn months.
Likewise the pseudo-Raphael,
Which thieves, aggrieved, had just returned.
And Titian’s paints -
How strangely yellow they had grown.
The toucher-up had been a dunce.
Life? Not quite what he had thought
To find on leaving Eton: time
Of youth had lingered sadly on:
A vine-leaf crown to curls gone grey.
His wife, departed, kept in touch:
Letters from foreign shops still brought
Her home: ‘Madame ne paie pas.’
And then his heir -
Australian chicken-farmer, who
Had plans for selling all the trees.
His heart may falter now, but he
Has learned the way to speed it up.
That emerald box the Kaiser gave
To Daddy on his wedding-day
Still yields its Turkish cigarettes,
Which he will smoke until he dies.
And afterwards? He cannot save
More than his soul.
There will not be enough to meet
His wife’s compulsive ducal debts.
The clock gives out its broken sound.
He takes the terrace way, beholds
The dome. the pinnacles, defined
With sunset lights, but now the wings.
The colonnades, the lower floors
Are shadowed, and the sculptures seem
About to fade forever. There
The hero rides
His bronze horse through the Marble Court
And all of history is a dream.
What marvels in that treasure chest!
The First Duke’s ‘George’ in diamonds and
The Golden Fleece, Grandfather’s desk
Carved from a block of fossil coal.
Aunt Sophie’s ‘British Weeds’, green-spun
In glass - magnetic to the dust.
His photographs of famous friends,
Much laughed at now
By tourists frightened from the room
In which King Charles, betrayed, had wept.
All his - this prize of knowing how
The wind would blow each hundred years:
Venetian looking-glasses hold
The silver-point reflections of
Portraits of Dukes whose eyes are blank,
As though they saw some fallen lord.
Against the Genoa velvet stand
Mosaic tables edged with gilt
Where Ch’ien Lung bowls
Are filled with pot-pourri. The grand
Altar candlesticks are war loot.
The failing sunlight shadows him
There at the palace portico
The Duke alone. And in the quiet
Suddenly a peacock on the lawn
Cries. Pale in the distance race
The deer, as though pursued by time
He looks again on what he loves.
Then turns: at dawn
‘The People of Tomorrow’ come,
And he must lock the gold-plate up.