Villa Ividor

 
Two women, walking by the water, search

For amber, which the Baltic may have brought.

Their long skirts sweep away the letters on

The sand, crowned monograms their parasols

Had slowly traced. Tall shadows from the birch

Wood planted there before this calm was bought

For them to be together in, alone,

Sans étiquette, reach towards them, curtsied dolls

Beside the seething sea. But only wrack

Of foundered argosies is flung before

Them: broken cork, smashed spars from lifeboats sunk,

And bottles where the messages have washed

Away. Apparelled in their reigning widow’s black,

They bow to crested waves, as earlier

To swannish ladies in great halls of blank

Magnificence, whose gold and marble flashed

In mirrors that went on forever. Now

Their fingers, which the diamonds, rubies, pearls,

Weigh down as always, mingle with the sea

Weed, as though they carded water-wool, or

Pulled the tangles from the glistening tow

Their hair was likened to when they were girls.

What will they find among the flotsam? Tea

Chests from China, where they never were?

Or desecrated icons floating from

All the Russias? Will it be English coal

That grimed a Danish wife who waited in

Vain among the tuberoses and

Camelias and dim orchids for some

Love from a small rambunctious king? A school

Of minnows moves between her fragile hands,

Which once had paid to feast the poor. A thin

Light lingers on her sister, sometime wound

With all the Kremlin jewels. They turn away

Without the amber they had looked for, as

Though it were the joy which they had lost,

And slowly leave the surf’s deep mournful sound;

By marble terraces ascending, stay

A moment to regard the looking-glass

That leads to lands they ruled; and then, old ghosts

Returned to present time, sit down among

The silver-shrined unseeing pictures of

Their dead, all crowned and sceptred, some deposed,

Some suddenly killed, some murdered piecemeaI, some

Merely in prison, starving. These belong

To them. To these they give their love.

Their prayers; to each a daily sea-tinged rose -

Empress and Queen who wait for death to come.