Built well before the Mahdi sacked Khartoum,
like a ledger or the Church of England
our house is square, accommodating. Swifts,
each May, pronounce their southern benison
on ashlar cornerstones and dead masons…
A butterfly, lost in the wintry cellar,
seems closed as death but wings part knowingly.
O peacock eyes, how you seduce from purpose
and time! Imperial birds cry harshly
in paper gardens… At dusk, in indigo,
swifts dissolve. The house is white, seems solid
as a steamship.
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;
The high windows caught the sky, varicose,
livid. The house was empty, unlived-in.
He hurried down wide paths strewn with rose petals,
wind-culled and faded. He searched borders,
bushes, her features imaged and snared in shapes
of angled branch and thorn, an orange sun
searing gun-metal clouds, the fountain sprouting
papery leaves, its bronze boy greening alone.
Ivy’s grasp crumbled artifice, obscured
the basin inscribed with a sonnet.
Soughing of breath or the wind in the arbour
summoned him into its close.
A nor’ easterly blew – over Dutchman Bank –
on the front at Beaumaris, so we had
our chips, fish and mushy peas in the Vectra,
watching the ebb tide slowly, slowly expose
the furrowed gold of the Lavan Sands
and the cormorants and oyster catchers
skim the waves, when, suddenly, a herring gull,
that voracious omnivore, that frequenter
of rubbish tips and landfills – the colours
of its plumage pristine, as if painted –
landed on our bonnet and,
A skyline as idiosyncratic
as Manhattan’s, Chicago’s – its totems
of wealth, faith and dominion – belies
the city’s cruelty: fortunes from famine,
despotism, slavery; licensing
of squalor, bigotry and despair.
In the park where the Orange Lodge drummed out
The Twelfth, a rape was immediate headlines –
white girl, black youths. In Toxteth – its decayed
squares and terraces built on molasses
and cotton, some street signs repainted green,
gold, red, the colours of Rastafari –
‘Two bald men fighting over a comb…’ José Luis Borges
Almost always, winds blew – over heath and sheep.
Seas swelled southward – to ice, minerals.
Mapped, the islands seemed like green spume: a tattered
standard blown west. That bleak solitude
was Arthur Ransome country – The Camp,
Tumbledown Mountain – naive, single minded,
like the Falkland Flightless Steamer duck…
Larger than Greenland, smaller than India,
Argentina did not exist.
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is
somehow very ‘Thirties: lots of chaps in
the dark behind high walls; much shadow-play
with unidentifiable voices;
belated, blinding suddenness of light.
The decade’s putative worthies (who all,
by the way, seem to have been chaps) go forth
unknowingly in parallel: e.g.
Hitler in Berchtesgarten, Wittgenstein
(Adolf’s erstwhile peer from Linz) in Cambridge.
Did Wittgenstein walk with Blunt, Philby,
For Mark Chapman, PPC
So well is our real government concealed, that if you tell a cabman to drive to ‘Downing Street’ he most likely will never have heard of it…It is only a ‘disguised republic’, which is suited to such a being as the Englishman in such a century as the nineteenth.
THE ENGLISH CONSTITUTION, Walter Bagehot, 1867.
HM’s Garden Parties turn the Bagehot trick,
showing GB as it really, really is:
the Law, the Cloth, clerks,