Molesworth

 
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.