Seascape with Edwardian Figures        

 
Cigar smoke curling from a marble seat

Beyond the shrubbery

Might still infuse the salted air

With riches won in far off places

Havana and Jamaica

To which the sea is some times heir

That leaves no traces

 

Inside, electric lamps are lit

And scarlet shadows break the stare

Cast

At each bronze and naked vestal

Guarding the baccarat table where

The gamblers sit

Conversing in a break of play

About the Tranby Croft affair

 

This hot-house life is frozen fast

Imprisoned jewels by Fabergé

In nets of crystal

 

Out on the lawn

A Pekinese

Snaps at a fur-edged velvet train

There in the shadow of the trees

Then snaps again

Surprised

His mistress has not started

Playfully

As when alone

Then recognized

Him with a chocolate bone

 

The scents of Paris mingle, greet

The connoisseur with heady sweet

Intoxications still unknown

On Jermyn Street

Or in the Jockey Club’s

Pale paddock

The orange trees in tubs

Compete

With orchids and camelias

 

The Gladyses, the Graces

The Sibyls and the Leilas

Continue down

The years with other faces

As objets d’or in Boule vitrines are shifted

 

‘Has Mrs Keppel come from town?’

 

They say that someone saw that gifted

Form at Fakenham Races

Walking and talking with the King

Who most reluctantly departed

From under her parasol’s benignant shade

 

‘Will Lady Warwick fade?’

 

The birds of paradise are mute

Above a silk-enveloped hat

That bows and sways

Through carriage-drawn and footman-followed days

‘Her Majesty, one hears, is always late

Which is perhaps the reason. . . .’

 

How wild

The German Ocean is

Even in the calmest season

 

Villa Florian

The Tenth of June

The Archduke came to tea

This afternoon

We sat together by the sea

Talking of poor dear Vicky

Il m’a dit

‘Je suis fou

Pour vous’

I laughed: what could I do?

Poor man: he’s fat and fifty, with a squint

‘Altesse imperiale’

I said ‘You have not met

My little gal

Who is not twenty yet

And whom I long to settle in the world’

 

I left them picking sprays of catmint.

Ten years ago today

Rodin sculpted me in clay

Then came the bronze and silver gilt

Helene, my maid, insists my hair

Has curled

Because of the sea air

Which makes the lilies wilt

‘Vous me paraissez une déesse de diz-huit’

She said, the silly thing

Tonight I dine to meet

The King

I have not heard from Worth

Whether my clothes are ready

For Goodwood or for Longchamps

How I hate this life on earth

These shams, this spiteful gossip

If only I had married Eddy

Been happy in a cottage

Poor boy, he had too little money

It never would have done

As dear Papa insisted

The windows here are always misted

By the sea

My baby gal

Has just run in to say

‘Darling Heinrich has proposed to me

I soon shall be

Altesse Impériale

And, dearest Mummy

You will have to curtsy

On my wedding day

To me

I wept a little

Then I smiled

 

The motor’s at the door

And there are trinkets strewn

Along the shore

From Cartier and Garrard

One for every guest

The sea gives of its best

To those who having much

Are always needing more

The Barings and

The Barclays and

The Buxtons and

The Gurneys and

The Hoares

All come indoors

As do the Money-Coutts

in sombre suits

And throng

To the dressing-gong

Whose harsh reverberation dins

Through talk of other people’s sins

 

‘Would you prefer a Russian or a Turkish cigarette?

They really are extremely mild

His Majesty, one hears, is hardly ever out of debt

As are so many in his set

His youth was wild’

 

‘Lady Battersea

Bien née?

One would not say

That counted with a Rothschild

Besides she has a heart of gold

Which is the thing that matters’

 

Ah, yes

The white horse clatters

Down the street

And the veiled rider, poised

In aloof incognita

Proceeds as on a frieze

To where the waves beat

 

Indeed, the Empress used the mist

To shield her wanderings

Such beauty would defeat

Sorrow, perhaps you think

But she would stand

Far out above the uncertain sand

And stare and stare

Across the sea

As though somewhere

Between the ocean and the sky

 

That space in which the kestrels sink

Too tired to fly

There might - what longing! - be

Escape from such unhappiness

 

Strange she should die

Beside the water

 

And others ventured

By the morning or the evening train

Some dressed in white

And some in Navy blue

Most laughing

But a few

Late at night

Hugging discreet despair

When out of view

Alone in the ocean air

 

‘There

Is the “Double Duchess” by that palm

Talking to the Prince of Salm

Behind the fan

The Marquise de Castellane

Ci-devant Anna Gould

Whose father cornered wheat

The one reversing with Count Esterhazy?

Dear little Daisy

Princess of Pless

Her dress

Is cloth of gold

A maharajah gave the wherewithal

One day in India when she paid a call

Together with the Prince, whom you must meet

Yes, every stitch

Is gold

The dress is worth four hundred pounds, or so

One is told

To think that they own almost all

The coal in Germany

But come, let’s go

And talk to Mr Alfred, who is old

And kind and very very rich’

 

Will Mrs Cornwallis-West decide

To ride?

What about Lady Crewe?

And you

Of lesser importance, guide

The Grand Duke to his pew

 

The sermon, they are saying, will

Touch on Dives at his feast

With Lazarus outside

The wind is in the East

 

One feels the chill

From off the sea

Even at the height of summer

 

The little ships are blown about

Sink in a sudden storm

Next day the sun is out

And the sea like plate-glass blends

A blue and green

North Norfolk scene

As on the post-cards sent to friends

 

A moment

And these small disasters leave

Only a soon-forgotten ripple

 

Oh, who now cares

As the juke-box blares

If Lady Warwick

Or Mrs Keppel

Danced around

To a different sound

In the ballroom built

Underground

At Welbeck Abbey?

 

The Sèvres and Dresden break

Wave on wave

Against the concrete promenade

Where beauties blown from Salford take

The air

 

Whose heels would wear

Away

The Aubusson’s least fragile shade

Down to the bare parquet

 

How many morning-rooms have poured

Their porcelain hoard

into the antique shops

Before whose window-scene

Of ‘Pompadour Descrying Cupid Pass’

Or mermaids in Murano glass

Backed by a Gobelins screen

The bargain-hunter stops?

 

That Sargent sketch was washed away

From damask wall, alas

And from the kitchen went the sheen

On copper turtle-soup tureen

On silver serving-dish and tray

And incidental things of brass

The escritoires when swept by gales

Have yielded up great wealth at sales

Diverting typists on their holiday

 

The King was in the counting house

With Ernest Cassel

And king and knight and counting house

Are gone

As are Sir Frederick Ponsonby

And the Marchioness of Lorne

 

Ditto the Duke of Abercorn

And many million harmless grouse

 

Sing a song

Of sovereigns

Come to grief

Or loss of state

And none will know

To whom the words relate

 

What does she mean

Imperial Queen

Of Hungary and Jerusalem

To children buying comics on the pier

From which she used to stare

Towards Norway and the realms of ice?

The mermaids in their all or nothing guise

Consume successive cups of coffee there

Among the boys’ devouring eyes

Meanwhile the singer wails

Of love

One fails

To find the Marquis de Soveral

Inclined to call

For café capucine

In such a naked scene

Sans gilded chair

Sans marble wall

 

‘Bare neck, bare upper-bosom, yes

But there are limits to excess

Vous me comprenez cher ami?

Even beside the sea

And that triste chansonnier

Should learn to say

Less

As in diplomacy

One often has one’s best success

If certain things are barely said’

 

Be he is dead

‘Blue Monkey’ gone

His name unknown

As are those other Excellencies who

Delighted Eaton Hall and Luton Hoo

Metternich and Benckendorff

And Mensdorf

And Cambon too

Who bandied empires in the sun

 

All are undone

Like boxes from expensive shops

The cardboard and the tissue paper

Thrown away

In Bad King Edward’s Rhinestone Day

 

‘The Monarch’s got a cough

So Ascot will be off

And Cowes is sure to be a deadly bore

If Uncle Bertie doesn’t come to snub

The Kaiser at the Royal Squadron Club

Any more’

 

‘Villie!

Ze stripes on your trousers

Zay are too vide!’

 

They say

That at the end

Mrs Keppel and a priest were there

Summoned to his side

To give him solace

At his going home

And the dying King like Charles II

Turned to Rome

Before he felt a lifetime where

The sins stood out like scarlet

Sentries round a palace

Then were washed away

Along with crown and kingdom

And the boredom of a marriage

To the Queen

Of seventeen

Who never aged a day

 

‘The Court is in full mourning

And the debonair take warning

For the sycophants are scorning

Those they fawned upon’

What Father Bernard Vaughan

Had sown

Among the oleander

And mimosa

In the winter there at Nice

Preaching on

‘The Magdalen’s Repentance’

With a fervour

Meant to stir

A discreet observer

Hidden in the gallery

Someone else would glean

When called behind the scene

As was the rival consort

She had serenely to endure

By that same childlike Queen

Who later fed

The London poor

 

With taxi-loads of bread

She bought from Claridges

Then sent in secret through the snow

For fear the paper lords should know

 

Let the papers say

What they will

But speak no ill

Of that Queen to whom the starving

Mattered more than any taxi bill

 

The band

Come hear it play

The brassy hymns the dead King hated

This watery morning when the spray

Is blown across the sunken gardens

Where scattered gnomes in plastic meditation stand

Along the crazy paving

It seeps like rain

Between a broken window-pane

In this or that hotel

When all the summer visitors have gone

 

The wreaths are ranged around the florists’ shops

Now that the autumn darkens

Carnations lying there among

The roses on the marble table-tops

No longer bring their tidings to

The Lilies and

The Violets and

The Daisies and

Those other flowers who

Once were fair and fickle

 

It is so strange to think the young

Must some day too

Be old

Mr Buxton

Mr Barclay

They

Have had their day

Or have they?

 

Their fortunes never have been told

 

But the brewing and the banking

Still go on and on

 

In shrub-surrounded houses where the divorcées

Once spread their lures

Amid the bric-a-brac

Aux temps de Mrs Cheevely and the Tanquerays

The white-capped women store

The last knick-knack

Belonging to some long forgotten person

Who lies at death’s unopen door

Lulled by the waltz-time music from

The radio

 

Ah, Wien, Wien

Der schone Wien

You were the Queen

At seventeen

 

Where do the years

Where do the years

Where do the young

And gallant go?

 

A white horse canters beside the sea

 

The days are drawing in

Even the mid-day sun can hardly glow

 

In Felbrigg Wood the leaves

Are falling

Red and gold

 

Royal colours fading

On the air

 

And near

The Roman Camp the birds

Are calling

Before they sleep

Above those mounds that draw the tourists there

 

And now the sea is dark along the Norfolk coast

 

The Romans and

The Saxons and

The Vikings and

The Normans all

Come indoors

And lock them tight

Against the night

In which the east wind blows

 

Far out a buoy-bell

Rings

Solemnly

As waves wash past

With broken spars

 

The Victoria and Albert goes

To sea no more

 

Forgotten things

Are in the wind

Along the shore

 

Which blows away the commoners and kings

And leaves the sea reflecting on the stars

 

And leaves the shell

An echo of the sea