Poetry Corner: Nikolaus Mardruz to his Master

My Lord recalls Ferrara?  How walls 
rise out of water yet appear to recede identically
into it, as if built in both directions: soaring and sinking...
Such mirroring was my first dismay--
my next, having crossed the moat, was making
out that, for all its grandeur, the great
pile, observed close to, is close to a ruin!
 (Even My Lord's most unstinting dowry
may not restore this wasted precincts to what
their deteriorating state demands.)
Queasy it made me,  first down there
at swans in the moat apparently
feeding on their own doubled image, then up
at the citadel, high--or so deep,
and everywhere those carved effigies of 
men and women, monsters among them
crowding the ramparts and seeming at home
in the dingy water that somehow
held them up as if for our surveillance--ours?
anyone's who looked!  All that pretension
of marble display, the whole improbable
menagerie with but one purpose: having to be seen.
Such was the matter of Ferrara, and such the manner,
when at last we met, of the Duke in greeting
My Lordship's Envoy: in fallen stone!
Several hours were to elapse, in the keeping 
of his lackeys, before the Envoy of My Lord the Count 
of Tyrol might see or even be seen to by His Grace 
the Duke of Ferrara, though from such neglect 
no deliberate slight need be inferred: 
now that I have had an opportunity 
--have had, indeed, the obligation-- 
to fix on His Grace that perlustration 
or power of scrutiny for which 
(I believe) My Lord holds his Envoy's service 
in some favor still, I see that the Duke, 
by his own lights or perhaps, more properly 
said, by his own tenebrosity, 
could offer some excuse for such cunctation... 
Appraising a set of cameos 
just brought from Cairo by a Jew in his trust, 
His Grace had been rapt in connoisseurship, 
that study which alone can distract him 
from his wonted courtesy; he was 
affability itself, once his mind 
could be deflected from mere objects.  

At last I presented (with those documents 
which in some detail  describe and define 
the duties of both signators) the portrait 
of your daughter the Countess, observing the while 
his countenance.  No fault was found with our contract, of which 
each article had been so correctly framed 
 (if I may say so)  to ascertain 
a pre-nuptial alliance which must persuade 
and please the most punctilious (and impecunious) 
of future husbands.  Principally, or (if I may be 
allowed the amendment) perhaps Ducally, 
His Grace acknowledged himself beguiled by 
Cranach's portrait of our young Countess, praising 
the design, the hues, the glaze--the frame 
and appeared averse, a while, even 
to letting the panel leave his hands! 
Examining those same hands, I was convinced 
that no matter what the result of our 
(at this point, promising) negotiations, 
your daughter's likeness must now remain 
"for good," as we say, Ferrara's 
treasures, already one more trophy in His Grace's multifarious holdings, 
like those marble busts   lining the drawbridge, 
like those weed-stained statues grinning up at us 
from the still moat, and--inside as well 
as out--those grotesque figures and faces 
fastened to the walls. So be it!  

Real bother (after all, one painting, for Cranach
--and My Lord--need be  no great forfeiture) 
commenced only when the Duke himself led me 
out of the audience-chamber and laboriously 
 (he is no longer a young man) to a secret penthouse 
high on the battlements where he can indulge 
those despotic tastes he denominates, 
half smiling over the heartless words, 
"the relative consolations of semblance."  
"Sir, suppose you draw that curtain," smiling 
in earnest now, and so I sought--
but what appeared a piece of drapery proved 
a painted deceit!  My embarrassment 
afforded a cue for audible laughter, only then His Grace, visibly 
relishing his trick, the thing around, 
whereupon appeared, on the reverse, 
the late Duchess of Ferrara to the life! 
Instanter the Duke praised the portrait 
so readily provided by one Pandolf--
a monk by some profane article 
attached to the court, hence answerable for taking likenesses as required 
in but a day's diligence, so it was claimed... 
Myself I find it but a mountebank's  
proficiency--another chicane, like that illusive curtain, a waxwork sort 
of nature called forth: cold legerdemain! 
Though extranea such as the hares 
(copulating!), the doves, and a full-blown rose 
were showily limned, could not discern 
aught to be loved in that countenance itself, 
likely to rival, much less to excel the life illumined 
in Cranach's image of our Countess, which His Grace had set 
beside the dead woman's presentment... And took, 
so evident was   the supremacy, 
no further pains to assert Fra Pandolf's skill. 
One last hard look, whereupon the Duke resumed his discourse 
in an altered tone,  now some unintelligible rant 
of stooping--His Grace chooses "never to stoop" 
when he makes reproof... Lord will take this 
as but a figure:  not only is the Duke no longer young, his body is so 
queerly misshapen that even to speak of "not stooping" seems absurdity: 
the creature is stooped, whether by cruel or impartial cause--say 
Time or the Tempter-- I shall not venture to hypothecate. Cause 
or no cause, it would appear he marked 
some motive for his "reproof," a mortal chastisement in fact inflicted on 
his poor Duchess, put away (I take it so) for smiling--at whom?  
Brother Pandolf? or some visitor to court during the sitting? 
--too generally, if I construe the Duke's clue rightly, survive the terms 
of his... severe protocol.  My Lord, at the time it was delivered to me thus, 
the admonition    if indeed it was any such thing, seemed no more of a menace 
than the rest of his rodomontade; , he pointed, as we toiled downstairs, 
to that bronze Neptune by our old Claus 
(there must be at least six of them cluttering 
the Summer Palace at Innsbruck), claiming 
it was "cast in bronze for me."  Nonsense, of course.
  
But upon reflection, I suppose we had better take 
the old reprobate at his unspeakable word... Why, even 
assuming his boasts should be as plausible 
as his avarice, no "cause" for dismay: 
once ensconced here as the Duchess, your daughter 
need no more apprehend the Duke's murderous temper 
than his matchless taste.  
For I have devised a means whereby 
the dowry so flagrantly pursued by our insolvent Duke ("no 
just pretense of mine be disallowed" indeed!), instead of being 
paid as he pleads in one globose sum, drip into his coffers by degrees--
say, one fifth each year--then after five 
such years, the dowry itself to be doubled, 
always assuming that Her Grace enjoys 
her usual smiling health.  The years are her 
ally in such an arbitrament, with confidence My Lord can assure 
the new Duchess (assuming her Duke abides by these stipulations and his own 
propensity for accumulating "semblances") the long devotion (so long as 
he lasts ) of her last Duke... Or more likely, if I guess aright 
your daughter's intent, of that young lordling I might make so 
bold as to designate her next Duke, as well... 

Ever determined in My Lordship's service, remain his Envoy 
to Ferrara as to the world.  
Nikolaus Mardruz.



- Richard Howard

Poetry Corner – My Last Dutchess

THAT'S my last Duchess painted on the wall, 
Looking as if she were alive. I call 
That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf's hands 
Worked busily a day, and there she stands. 
Will 't please you to sit and look at her? I said 
``Fra Pandolf'' by design, for never read 
Strangers like you that pictured countenance, 
The depth and passion of its earnest glance, 
But to my self they turned (since none puts by 
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I) 
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst, 
How such a glance came there; so, not the first 
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 't was not 
Her husband's presence only, called that spot 
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps 
Fra Pandolf chanced to say, ``Her mantle laps 
Over my lady's wrist too much,'' or ``Paint 
Must never hope to reproduce the faint 
Half-flush that dies along her throat:'' such stuff 
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough 
For calling up that spot of joy. She had 
A heart--how shall I say?--too soon made glad, 
Too easily impressed: she liked whate'er 
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere. 
Sir, 't was all one! My favor at her breast, 
The bough of cherries some officious fool 
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule 
She rode with round the terrace--all and each 
Would draw from her alike the approving speech, 
Or blush, at least. She thanked men,--good! but thanked 
Somehow,--I know not how--as if she ranked 
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name 
With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame 
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill 
In speech--(which I have not)--to make your will 
Quite clear to such an one, and say, ``Just this 
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, 
Or there exceed the mark''--and if she let 
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set 
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse, 
--E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose 
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt, 
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without 
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; 
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands 
As if alive. Will 't please you rise? We'll meet 
The company below, then. I repeat, 
The Count your master's known munificence 
Is ample warrant that no just pretence 
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed; 
Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed 
At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go 
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though, 
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, 
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

- Robert Browning

Poetry Corner – Where are–

STILL the white stars burn overhead,
    The green earth swings upon her way:
Where are the voices of the dead,
            The hearts of Yesterday?
Drawn by what strange, mysterious power,
    From what dream world and magic sky
Came they to laugh on earth an hour,
            To weep, to toil, to die?
And whither gone? On what wild flight
    By planet pale and sceptred star?
What realms of sorrow or delight
            Now wander they afar?
Pale Wayfarers, whose noiseless tread
    Is near me as I seem to see
The mighty generations dead,
            And all that yet shall be!
Are Past and Future, then, a breath
    That one vast Present makes its own?
The Angel, Birth, the Shadow, Death,
            Each guards a world unknown.
Wayfarers all, we know not whence
    We came, nor whitherwards we go.
Deep in our hearts a haunting sense
            That somewhere we shall know.
Still the white stars burn overhead,
    The green earth swings upon her way:
Where are the voices of the dead,
            The hearts of yesterday?

- Yeats, probably.

Poetry Corner – Ode

We are the music-makers, 
and we are the dreamers of dreams; 
Wandering by lone sea-breakers, 
and sitting by desolate streams; 
World losers, and world-forsakers, 
On whom the pale moon gleams: 
Yet we are the movers and the shakers 
of the world forever it seems.

	With wonderful deathless ditties	 
We build up the world's great cities,	  
  And out of a fabulous story	 
  We fashion an empire's glory:	 
One man with a dream, at pleasure,	 
  Shall go forth and conquer a crown;	 
And three with a new song's measure	  
  Can trample an empire down.	 
  	We, in the ages lying	 

  In the buried past of the earth,	 
Built Nineveh with our sighing,	 
  And Babel itself with our mirth;	  
And o'erthrew them with prophesying	 
  To the old of the new world's worth;	 
For each age is a dream that is dying,	 
  Or one that is coming to birth.

- Edgar O'Shaughnessy 
- (the rest of the poem is longer and, frankly, weaker. Vanitas poetae: poets are at their worst when allowed to opine on how world-changing *their* poetry is.....)

	

Poetry Corner – Hymn to Mithras

Mithras, God of the Morning, our trumpets waken the Wall!
'Rome is above the Nations, but Thou art over all!'
Now as the names are answered, and the guards are marched away,
Mithras, also a soldier, give us strength for the day!
	
Mithras, God of the Noontide, the heather swims in the heat,
Our helmets scorch our foreheads, our sandals burn our feet.
Now in the ungirt hour; now ere we blink and drowse,
Mithras, also a soldier, keep us true to our vows!
	
Mithras, God of the Sunset, low on the Western main,
Thou descending immortal, immortal to rise again!
Now when the watch is ended, now when the wine is drawn,
Mithras, also a soldier, keep us pure till the dawn!
	
Mithras, God of the Midnight, here where the great bull dies,
Look on Thy children in darkness. Oh, take our sacrifice!
Many roads Thou hast fashioned: all of them lead to the Light!
Mithras, also a soldier, teach us to die aright!

- Rudyard Kipling

Poetry Corner – The Forsaken Merman

Come, dear children, let us away;
Down and away below!
Now my brothers call from the bay,
Now the great winds shoreward blow,
Now the salt tides seaward flow;
Now the wild white horses play,
Champ and chafe and toss in the spray.
Children dear, let us away!
This way, this way!

Call her once before you go—
Call once yet!
In a voice that she will know:
"Margaret! Margaret!"
Children's voices should be dear
(Call once more) to a mother's ear;

Children's voices, wild with pain—
Surely she will come again!
Call her once and come away;
This way, this way!
"Mother dear, we cannot stay!
The wild white horses foam and fret."
Margaret! Margaret!

Come, dear children, come away down;
Call no more!
One last look at the white-wall'd town
And the little grey church on the windy shore,
Then come down!
She will not come though you call all day;
Come away, come away!

Children dear, was it yesterday
We heard the sweet bells over the bay?
In the caverns where we lay,
Through the surf and through the swell,
The far-off sound of a silver bell?
Sand-strewn caverns, cool and deep,
Where the winds are all asleep;
Where the spent lights quiver and gleam,
Where the salt weed sways in the stream,
Where the sea-beasts, ranged all round,
Feed in the ooze of their pasture-ground;
Where the sea-snakes coil and twine,
Dry their mail and bask in the brine;
Where great whales come sailing by,
Sail and sail, with unshut eye,
Round the world for ever and aye?
When did music come this way?
Children dear, was it yesterday?

Children dear, was it yesterday
(Call yet once) that she went away?
Once she sate with you and me,
On a red gold throne in the heart of the sea,
And the youngest sate on her knee.
She comb'd its bright hair, and she tended it well,
When down swung the sound of a far-off bell.
She sigh'd, she look'd up through the clear green sea;
She said: "I must go, to my kinsfolk pray
In the little grey church on the shore to-day.
'T will be Easter-time in the world—ah me!
And I lose my poor soul, Merman! here with thee."
I said: "Go up, dear heart, through the waves;
Say thy prayer, and come back to the kind sea-caves!"
She smiled, she went up through the surf in the bay.
Children dear, was it yesterday?

Children dear, were we long alone?
"The sea grows stormy, the little ones moan;
Long prayers," I said, "in the world they say;
Come!" I said; and we rose through the surf in the bay.
We went up the beach, by the sandy down
Where the sea-stocks bloom, to the white-wall'd town;
Through the narrow paved streets, where all was still,
To the little grey church on the windy hill.
From the church came a murmur of folk at their prayers,
But we stood without in the cold blowing airs.
We climb'd on the graves, on the stones worn with rains,
And we gazed up the aisle through the small leaded panes.
She sate by the pillar; we saw her clear:
"Margaret, hist! come quick, we are here!
Dear heart," I said, "we are long alone;
The sea grows stormy, the little ones moan."
But, ah, she gave me never a look,
For her eyes were seal'd to the holy book!
Loud prays the priest; shut stands the door.
Come away, children, call no more!
Come away, come down, call no more!

Down, down, down!
Down to the depths of the sea!
She sits at her wheel in the humming town,
Singing most joyfully.
Hark what she sings: "O joy, O joy,
For the humming street, and the child with its toy!
For the priest, and the bell, and the holy well;
For the wheel where I spun,
And the blessed light of the sun!"
And so she sings her fill,
Singing most joyfully,
Till the spindle drops from her hand,
And the whizzing wheel stands still.
She steals to the window, and looks at the sand,
And over the sand at the sea;
And her eyes are set in a stare;
And anon there breaks a sigh,
And anon there drops a tear,
From a sorrow-clouded eye,
And a heart sorrow-laden,
A long, long sigh;
For the cold strange eyes of a little Mermaiden
And the gleam of her golden hair.

Come away, away children
Come children, come down!
The hoarse wind blows coldly;
Lights shine in the town.
She will start from her slumber
When gusts shake the door;
She will hear the winds howling,
Will hear the waves roar.
We shall see, while above us
The waves roar and whirl,
A ceiling of amber,
A pavement of pearl.
Singing: "Here came a mortal,
But faithless was she!
And alone dwell for ever
The kings of the sea."

But, children, at midnight,
When soft the winds blow,
When clear falls the moonlight,
When spring-tides are low;
When sweet airs come seaward
From heaths starr'd with broom,
And high rocks throw mildly
On the blanch'd sands a gloom;
Up the still, glistening beaches,
Up the creeks we will hie,
Over banks of bright seaweed
The ebb-tide leaves dry.
We will gaze, from the sand-hills,
At the white, sleeping town;
At the church on the hill-side—
And then come back down.
Singing: "There dwells a loved one,
But cruel is she!
She left lonely for ever
The kings of the sea."

- Matthew Arnold

Poetry Corner – Song of Seven Cities

I WAS Lord of Cities very sumptuously builded.
Seven roaring Cities paid me tribute from afar.
Ivory their outposts were—the guardrooms of them gilded,
And garrisoned with Amazons invincible in war. 

	All the world went softly when it walked before my Cities—
Neither King nor Army vexed my peoples at their toil,
Never horse nor chariot irked or overbore my Cities,
Never Mob nor Ruler questioned whence they drew their spoil. 

	Banded, mailed and arrogant from sunrise unto sunset;
Singing while they sacked it, they possessed the land at large.
Yet when men would rob them, they resisted, they made onset
And pierced the smoke of battle with a thousand-sabred charge. 

	So they warred and trafficked only yesterday, my Cities.
To-day there is no mark or mound of where my Cities stood.
For the River rose at midnight and it washed away my Cities.
They are evened with Atlantis and the towns before the Flood. 

	Rain on rain-gorged channels raised the water-levels round them,
Freshet backed on freshet swelled and swept their world from sight,
Till the emboldened floods linked arms and, flashing forward, drowned them—
Drowned my Seven Cities and their peoples in one night! 

	Low among the alders lie their derelict foundations,
The beams wherein they trusted and the plinths whereon they built—
My rulers and their treasure and their unborn populations,
Dead, destroyed, aborted, and defiled with mud and silt! 

	The Daughters of the Palace whom they cherished in my Cities,
My silver-tongued Princesses, and the promise of their May—
Their bridegrooms of the June-tide—all have perished in my Cities,
With the harsh envenomed virgins that can neither love nor play. 

	I was Lord of Cities—I will build anew my Cities,
Seven, set on rocks, above the wrath of any flood.
Nor will I rest from search till I have filled anew my Cities
With peoples undefeated of the dark, enduring blood. 

	To the sound of trumpets shall their seed restore my Cities
Wealthy and well-weaponed, that once more may I behold
All the world go softly when it walks before my Cities,
And the horses and the chariots fleeing from them as of old!

- Rudyard Kipling

Poetry Corner – The Mystery Cat

Macavity's a Mystery Cat: he's called the Hidden Paw -
 For he's the master criminal who can defy the Law.
 He's the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad's despair:
 For when they reach the scene of crime - Macavity's not there!

 Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,
 He's broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
 His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare,
 And when you reach the scene of crime - Macavity's not there!
 You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air -
 But I tell you once and once again, Macavity's not there!

 Macavity's a ginger cat, he's very tall and thin;
 You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
 His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly domed;
 His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
 He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
And when you think he's half asleep, he's always wide awake.

 Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,
 For he's a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.
 You may meet him in a by-street, you may see him in the square -
 But when a crime's discovered, then Macavity's not there!

 He's outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
 And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard's.
 And when the larder's looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
 Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke's been stifled,
 Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair -
 Ay, there's the wonder of the thing! Macavity's not there!

 And when the Foreign Office find a Treaty's gone astray,
 Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
 There may be a scrap of paper in the hall or on the stair -
 But it's useless to investigate - Macavity's not there!

 And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
 `It must have been Macavity!' - but he's a mile away.
 You'll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumbs,
 Or engaged in doing complicated long-division sums.

 Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,
 There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
 He always has an alibi, and one or two to spare:
 At whatever time the deed took place - MACAVITY WASN'T THERE!

 And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
 (I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
 Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
 Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!

- T. S. Eliot, from Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

Poetry Corner – My Last Duchess

THAT'S my last Duchess painted on the wall, 
Looking as if she were alive. I call 
That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf's hands 
Worked busily a day, and there she stands. 
Will 't please you to sit and look at her? I said 
"Fra Pandolf" by design, for never read 
Strangers like you that pictured countenance, 
The depth and passion of its earnest glance, 
But to my self they turned (since none puts by 
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I) 
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst, 
How such a glance came there; so, not the first 
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 't was not 
Her husband's presence only, called that spot 
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps 
Fra Pandolf chanced to say, ``Her mantle laps 
Over my lady's wrist too much,'' or ``Paint 
Must never hope to reproduce the faint 
Half-flush that dies along her throat:'' such stuff 
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough 
For calling up that spot of joy. She had 
A heart--how shall I say?--too soon made glad, 
Too easily impressed: she liked whate'er 
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere. 
Sir, 't was all one! My favor at her breast, 
The bough of cherries some officious fool 
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule 
She rode with round the terrace--all and each 
Would draw from her alike the approving speech, 
Or blush, at least. She thanked men,--good! but thanked 
Somehow,--I know not how--as if she ranked 
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name 
With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame 
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill 
In speech--(which I have not)--to make your will 
Quite clear to such an one, and say, ``Just this 
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, 
Or there exceed the mark''--and if she let 
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set 
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse, 
--E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose 
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt, 
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without 
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; 
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands 
As if alive. Will 't please you rise? We'll meet 
The company below, then. I repeat, 
The Count your master's known munificence 
Is ample warrant that no just pretence 
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed; 
Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed 
At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go 
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though, 
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, 
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!


- Robert Browning