Lucheni had waited all day in the pines
above the lake. When she passed, he begged.
Her equerry dismissed him. As always,
self-absorbed, she saw nothing: an anarchist
with a grand and personal design.
On the quayside at Geneva, a week
later, Lucheni, the labourer,
stabbed Elizabeth, Empress of Austria,
with a homemade knife. Her husband foresaw,
like her assassin, anarchy: armies
entrenching in Bohemia; riders
galloping from Buda; at the Hofburg,
Jews and republicans!
The Empress and her only son discovered
the twentieth century. Rudolf
was cavalry, and a liberal. ‘ After
a long period of sickness,’ he wrote,
‘a wholly new Europe will arise
and bloom.’ Father misunderstood him.
At Mayerling, Rudolf shot Marie Vetsera
and then himself. Elizabeth travelled
from grief or disillusion: obsessive,
dilettante, naive and beautiful.
They died before their time, believing
their neuroses symptoms of the age, the world’s
contours shaped like their hearts.
On Corfu, she built The Achillean,
a kitsch imitation of the attic.
She peopled the palace’s emptiness
with statues of soldiers and poets –
like Heine, her favourite. “Another
subversive Jew!” the Emperor observed.
‘Ich hatte einst ein schones Vaterland.’
The Dying Achilles, nude except for
his helmet, was turned to face the north – Berlin
Vienna, Sarajevo. After
her death, the Kaiser bought the palace,
sold off Heine and replaced her Achilles
with his, The Victorious.
Franz Josef, Emperor of Austria,
King of Jerusalem, Duke of Auschwitz,
wore, on his wedding night, dress uniform.
He signed his letters to Elizabeth,
‘Your lonely manikin.’ After he had read
the telegram informing him of her death,
“No one knows,” he said, “how much we loved
each other.” ‘Es traumte mir von einer
Sommernacht.’ Across the darkening straits,
lamps are lit on the Balkan mainland.
On the empty terrace, a march or perhaps
a waltz wheezes from the orchestrion.
Fireflies blink with passion.
Note: The poem was first published on the site in May 2010.