Figures in Porcelain        

Louis XIV

The Sun King, dressed in black, I washed my face

Occasionally, when heated from the chase.

I built this palace, tamed these dukes, and gave

Orders for everything except my grave.


Louise, Duchesse de Lavalière

Here in this Carmel now, I expiate

For one I loved and one I used to hate:

The King is faithful to a second wife,

While Athenais, spurned, redeems her life.


Athenais, Marquise de Montespan

I sold my soul so many times to keep

The bored King’s ever-waning wish to sleep

With me, that now, disgraced, I should despair;

But God has mercy, and I live by prayer.


Madame de Maintenon

A wife, but not a queen, I must employ

The talents of a mistress to enjoy

This state a mistress could detach me from.

My heart? It has its peace, for it is numb.


The Duchesse de Maine

Myself a dwarf; my father mad: I ruled

The bastard husband Maintenon had schooled.

At Sceaux my fêtes have let the starving see

How infantile a Child of France can be.


The Regent

I could have killed you, Cousin, ruled instead;

But my sad evils were confined to bed.

O King, debauched like me, pray for my soul!

This Orleans gave you back your kingdom whole.


The Duc de Saint Simon

How chaste, how honourable. how best of best

I was, my memoirs tell: how bad the rest.

To hunt the Royal Bastards was the sport -

I mean, the duty of a saint at Court.


Cardinal Dubois

I was the worst, it seems. The pamphleteers

Of Port Royal have shut their pious ears

To any good of me. Yet all that time,

Shameless, I worked for peace. Is this my crime?


Louis XV

A king at five; at fifty, still a child;

I played with houses, liked to cook, and smiled

Neglectfully at each new naked toy.

Love meant myself, a bad but pious boy.


Cardinal Fleury

After Dubois I seemed a saint. And that

Was good enough for me. I lingered at

The tomb’s door twenty years; when ninety, died.

The worthless King I tutored may have sighed.


Madame de Pompadour

A grand triumphant life, they say? I reigned

In every art but happiness and gained -

The praise of writers while I ruined France.

At death you see yourself without romance.


Queen Marie Leczinska

Marly, Versailles, and Rambouillet no more:

Death, that Great Chamberlain, is at the door.

My abject years now glitter with allure,

Which gave me grace to pray for Pompadour.


The Duc de Richelieu

Our famous Cardinal? He was merely chaste,

Which lesser virtue leaves his life a waste.

The merciless must fear no mercy. I,

The King’s chief pander, might more safely die.


Monsieur Arouet

As clever as they come, and then a bit,

I overthrew the world I loved - by wit.

Selfishness itself I beg a prayer:

Or must you laugh again at poor Voltaire?


Cardinal de Bernis

In Rome, that sunset city, I declined

Illustriously from life. Ah, never mind

My priesthood: it was rarely in the way.

What mattered most was staying at the play.


Louise de Bourbon, Prioress of St Denis

My father’s favourite, I came here to die

To all the pomps Versailles delights in. My

Hairshirt won the King a death to vice.

Now, Soul, quick gallop! Fast! To Paradise!


Madame du Barry

A long career of sin, you say: that’s true.

Yet still your sinlessness disgraces you.

Recall the alms I gave. Are you so sure

That your chaste meanness will appear more pure?


Louis XVI

A locksmith, though the Queen’s small jewel-box heart

Lay barred to me, as did the rusty art

Of being King. Still, I knew how to die -

Son of Saint Louis, then no longer shy.


Queen Marie Antoinette

My favourite folly left me at the end:

Even du Barry stooped to be my friend,

Offering her jewels to save my life. I died,

A queen of hearts, with nothing lost but pride.