THE BOURBAKI PANORAMA


Lenin, to leaven his exile in Zurich,

would sometimes weekend in Luzern and,

after kalberwurst with onions and gravy

at the Wilden-Mann on Bahnhofstrasse,

would always visit the Panorama

in the Löwenplatz – or so it is said.

 

Panoramas were popular before

the illusion of photography,

still or moving, became reality.

They were cycloramas painted in oil,

typically fifteen metres high, one hundred

metres in circumference – often

with a three dimensional aspect:

in this case, for example, an empty

railway wagon – Huit chevaux, Quarantes hommes.

 

General Bourbaki’s beaten L’Armée de L’Est

in Bismarck’s Franco-Prussian War

sought asylum with the nascent Red Cross

of the now united cantons. In deep snow

eighty seven thousand men, twelve thousand

horses crossed the border that January.

 

An escapee from a school trip to the town

in the year of Hungary and Suez,

I wandered in by chance. The custodian

that day knew no English. My schoolboy French

struggled with his German-accent. But

I still remember the images

of the aftermath of some great battle

my history lessons had not mentioned.

 

Imagine if Lenin had learned from this –

the stumbling soldiers; the dead horses; the piles

of discarded, expensive rifles;

the woman with her basket waiting to help

whoever it might be lying in the cold.

 

He certainly learned from the railways.

Disguised as a worker, he returned

to Russia via the Finland Station.

But maybe he also learned from William Tell –

marksman and anti-imperialist –

or, rather, the apple.

 

 

Note: The piece was first published as LENIN AND THE BOURBAKI PANORAMA on the site in July 2016.

 

 

 

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