Poet Amy Lowell

American poet (B:1874-02-09 - D:1925-05-12)

Poems Comments

Malmaison

I

How the slates of the roof sparkle in the sun, over there, over there,
beyond the high wall! How quietly the Seine runs in loops and windings,
over there, over there, sliding through the green countryside! Like ships
of the line, stately with canvas, the tall clouds pass along the sky,
over the glittering roof, over the trees, over the looped and curving river.
A breeze quivers through the linden-trees. Roses bloom at Malmaison.
Roses! Roses! But the road is dusty. Already the Citoyenne Beauharnais
wearies of her walk. Her skin is chalked and powdered with dust,
she smells dust, and behind the wall are roses! Roses with
smooth open petals, poised above rippling leaves . . . Roses . . .
They have told her so. The Citoyenne Beauharnais shrugs her shoulders
and makes a little face. She must mend her pace if she would be back
in time for dinner. Roses indeed! The guillotine more likely.


The tiered clouds float over Malmaison, and the slate roof sparkles
in the sun.


II

Gallop! Gallop! The General brooks no delay. Make way, good people,
and scatter out of his path, you, and your hens, and your dogs,
and your children. The General is returned from Egypt, and is come
in a `caleche' and four to visit his new property. Throw open the gates,
you, Porter of Malmaison. Pull off your cap, my man, this is your master,
the husband of Madame. Faster! Faster! A jerk and a jingle
and they are arrived, he and she. Madame has red eyes. Fie! It is for joy
at her husband's return. Learn your place, Porter. A gentleman here
for two months? Fie! Fie, then! Since when have you taken to gossiping.
Madame may have a brother, I suppose. That -- all green, and red,
and glitter, with flesh as dark as ebony -- that is a slave; a bloodthirsty,
stabbing, slashing heathen, come from the hot countries to cure your tongue
of idle whispering.


A fine afternoon it is, with tall bright clouds sailing over the trees.


'Bonaparte, mon ami, the trees are golden like my star, the star I pinned
to your destiny when I married you. The gypsy, you remember her prophecy!
My dear friend, not here, the servants are watching; send them away,
and that flashing splendour, Roustan. Superb -- Imperial, but . . .
My dear, your arm is trembling; I faint to feel it touching me! No, no,
Bonaparte, not that -- spare me that -- did we not bury that last night!
You hurt me, my friend, you are so hot and strong. Not long, Dear,
no, thank God, not long.'

The looped river runs saffron, for the sun is setting. It is getting dark.
Dark. Darker. In the moonlight, the slate roof shines palely milkily white.

The roses have faded at Malmaison, nipped by the frost. What need for roses?
Smooth, open petals -- her arms. Fragrant, outcurved petals -- her breasts.
He rises like a sun above her, stooping to touch the petals, press them wider.
Eagles. Bees. What are they to open roses! A little shivering breeze
runs through the linden-trees, and the tiered clouds blow across the sky
like ships of the line, stately with canvas.


III

The gates stand wide at Malmaison, stand wide all day. The gravel
of the avenue glints under the continual rolling of wheels.
An officer gallops up with his sabre clicking; a mameluke gallops down
with his charger kicking. `Valets de pied' run about in ones, and twos,
and groups, like swirled blown leaves. Tramp! Tramp! The guard is changing,
and the grenadiers off duty lounge out of sight, ranging along the roads
toward Paris.

The slate roof sparkles in the sun, but it sparkles milkily, vaguely,
the great glass-houses put out its shining. Glass, stone, and onyx
now for the sun's mirror. Much has come to pass at Malmaison.
New rocks and fountains, blocks of carven marble, fluted pillars uprearing
antique temples, vases and urns in unexpected places, bridges of stone,
bridges of wood, arbours and statues, and a flood of flowers everywhere,
new flowers, rare flowers, parterre after parterre of flowers. Indeed,
the roses bloom at Malmaison. It is youth, youth untrammeled and advancing,
trundling a country ahead of it as though it were a hoop. Laughter,
and spur janglings in tessellated vestibules. Tripping of clocked
and embroidered stockings in little low-heeled shoes over smooth grass-plots.
India muslins spangled with silver patterns slide through trees --
mingle -- separate -- white day fireflies flashing moon-brilliance
in the shade of foliage.

'The kangaroos! I vow, Captain, I must see the kangaroos.'

'As you please, dear Lady, but I recommend the shady linden alley
and feeding the cockatoos.'

'They say that Madame Bonaparte's breed of sheep is the best in all France.'

'And, oh, have you seen the enchanting little cedar she planted
when the First Consul sent home the news of the victory of Marengo?'

Picking, choosing, the chattering company flits to and fro. Over the trees
the great clouds go, tiered, stately, like ships of the line
bright with canvas.

Prisoners'-base, and its swooping, veering, racing, giggling, bumping.
The First Consul runs plump into M. de Beauharnais and falls.
But he picks himself up smartly, and starts after M. Isabey. Too late,
M. Le Premier Consul, Mademoiselle Hortense is out after you. Quickly,
my dear Sir! Stir your short legs, she is swift and eager, and as graceful
as her mother. She is there, that other, playing too, but lightly, warily,
bearing herself with care, rather floating out upon the air than running,
never far from goal. She is there, borne up above her guests
as something indefinably fair, a rose above periwinkles. A blown rose,
smooth as satin, reflexed, one loosened petal hanging back and down.
A rose that undulates languorously as the breeze takes it,
resting upon its leaves in a faintness of perfume.


There are rumours about the First Consul. Malmaison is full of women,
and Paris is only two leagues distant. Madame Bonaparte stands
on the wooden bridge at sunset, and watches a black swan
pushing the pink and silver water in front of him as he swims,
crinkling its smoothness into pleats of changing colour with his breast.
Madame Bonaparte presses against the parapet of the bridge,
and the crushed roses at her belt melt, petal by petal, into the pink water.


IV

A vile day, Porter. But keep your wits about you. The Empress
will soon be here. Queer, without the Emperor! It is indeed,
but best not consider that. Scratch your head and prick up your ears.
Divorce is not for you to debate about. She is late? Ah, well,
the roads are muddy. The rain spears are as sharp as whetted knives.
They dart down and down, edged and shining. Clop-trop! Clop-trop!
A carriage grows out of the mist. Hist, Porter. You can keep on your hat.
It is only Her Majesty's dogs and her parrot. Clop-trop!
The Ladies in Waiting, Porter. Clop-trop! It is Her Majesty. At least,
I suppose it is, but the blinds are drawn.

'In all the years I have served Her Majesty she never before passed the gate
without giving me a smile!'

You're a droll fellow, to expect the Empress to put out her head
in the pouring rain and salute you. She has affairs of her own
to think about.

Clang the gate, no need for further waiting, nobody else will be coming
to Malmaison to-night.


White under her veil, drained and shaking, the woman crosses the antechamber.
Empress! Empress! Foolish splendour, perished to dust. Ashes of roses,
ashes of youth. Empress forsooth!

Over the glass domes of the hot-houses drenches the rain. Behind her
a clock ticks -- ticks again. The sound knocks upon her thought
with the echoing shudder of hollow vases. She places her hands on her ears,
but the minutes pass, knocking. Tears in Malmaison. And years to come
each knocking by, minute after minute. Years, many years, and tears,
and cold pouring rain.

'I feel as though I had died, and the only sensation I have
is that I am no more.'

Rain! Heavy, th



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