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September 20th, 2014 - we have 234 poets, 8,025 poems and 278,943 comments.
Amy Lowell - 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, thudding rain!

V
The roses bloom at Malmaison.  And not 
only roses.  Tulips, myrtles,
geraniums, camelias, rhododendrons, dahlias, double hyacinths.
All the year through, under glass, under the sky, flowers bud, expand, 
die,
and give way to others, always others.  From distant countries 
they have
been brought, and taught to live in the cool temperateness of France.
There is the `Bonapartea' from Peru; the `Napoleone Imperiale';
the `Josephinia Imperatrix', a pearl-white flower, purple-shadowed,
the calix pricked out with crimson points.  Malmaison 
wears its flowers
as a lady wears her gems, flauntingly, assertively.  Malmaison 
decks herself
to hide the hollow within.
The glass-houses grow and grow, and every year 
fling up hotter reflections
to the sailing sun.
The cost runs into millions, but a woman must have 
something
to console herself for a broken heart.  One can play backgammon 
and patience,
and then patience and backgammon, and stake gold napoleons on each 
game won.
Sport truly!  It is an unruly spirit which could ask better.  With 
her jewels,
her laces, her shawls; her two hundred and twenty dresses, her fichus,
her veils; her pictures, her busts, her birds.  It is 
absurd that she
cannot be happy.  The Emperor smarts under the thought 
of her ingratitude.
What could he do more?  And yet she spends, spends as 
never before.
It is ridiculous.  Can she not enjoy life at a smaller 
figure?
Was ever monarch plagued with so extravagant an ex-wife.  She 
owes
her chocolate-merchant, her candle-merchant, her sweetmeat purveyor;
her grocer, her butcher, her poulterer; her architect, and the shopkeeper
who sells her rouge; her perfumer, her dressmaker, her merchant 
of shoes.
She owes for fans, plants, engravings, and chairs.  She 
owes
masons and carpenters, vintners, lingeres.  The lady's 
affairs
are in sad confusion.
And why?  Why?
Can a river flow when the spring is dry?

Night.  The Empress sits alone, and the clock ticks, one 
after one.
The clock nicks off the edges of her life.  She is chipped 
like
an old bit of china; she is frayed like a garment of last year's 
wearing.
She is soft, crinkled, like a fading rose.  And each minute 
flows by
brushing against her, shearing off another and another petal.
The Empress crushes her breasts with her hands and weeps.  And 
the tall clouds
sail over Malmaison like a procession of stately ships bound for 
the moon.

Scarlet, clear-blue, purple epauletted with gold.  It 
is a parade of soldiers
sweeping up the avenue.  Eight horses, eight Imperial 
harnesses,
four caparisoned postilions, a carriage with the Emperor's arms 
on the panels.
Ho, Porter, pop out your eyes, and no wonder.  Where else 
under the Heavens
could you see such splendour!
They sit on a stone seat.  The little 
man in the green coat of a Colonel
of Chasseurs, and the lady, beautiful as a satin seed-pod, and as 
pale.
The house has memories.  The satin seed-pod holds his 
germs of Empire.
We will stay here, under the blue sky and the turreted white clouds.
She draws him; he feels her faded loveliness urge him to replenish 
it.
Her soft transparent texture woos his nervous fingering.  He 
speaks to her
of debts, of resignation; of her children, and his; he promises 
that she
shall see the King of Rome; he says some harsh things and some pleasant.
But she is there, close to him, rose toned to amber, white shot 
with violet,
pungent to his nostrils as embalmed rose-leaves in a twilit room.
Suddenly the Emperor calls his carriage and rolls 
away
across the looping Seine.

VI
Crystal-blue brightness over the glass-houses.  Crystal-blue 
streaks
and ripples over the lake.  A macaw on a gilded perch 
screams;
they have forgotten to take out his dinner.  The windows 
shake.  Boom!  Boom!
It is the rumbling of Prussian cannon beyond Pecq.  Roses 
bloom at Malmaison.
Roses!  Roses!  Swimming above their leaves, 
rotting beneath them.
Fallen flowers strew the unraked walks.  Fallen flowers 
for a fallen Emperor!
The General in charge of him draws back and watches.  Snatches 
of music --
snarling, sneering music of bagpipes.  They say a Scotch 
regiment
is besieging Saint-Denis.  The Emperor wipes his face, 
or is it his eyes.
His tired eyes which see nowhere the grace they long for.  Josephine!
Somebody asks him a question, he does not answer, somebody else 
does that.
There are voices, but one voice he does not hear, and yet he hears 
it
all the time.  Josephine!  The Emperor puts 
up his hand to screen his face.
The white light of a bright cloud spears sharply through the linden-trees.
`Vive l'Empereur!'  There are troops passing beyond the 
wall,
troops which sing and call.  Boom!  A pink rose 
is jarred off its stem
and falls at the Emperor's feet.
"Very well.  I go."  Where!  Does 
it matter?  There is no sword to clatter.
Nothing but soft brushing gravel and a gate which shuts with a click.
"Quick, fellow, don't spare your horses."
A whip cracks, wheels turn, why burn one's eyes 
following a fleck of dust.

VII
Over the slate roof tall clouds, like ships of 
the line, pass along the sky.
The glass-houses glitter splotchily, for many of their lights are 
broken.
Roses bloom, fiery cinders quenching under damp weeds.  Wreckage 
and misery,
and a trailing of petty deeds smearing over old recollections.
The musty rooms are empty and their shutters are 
closed, only in the gallery
there is a stuffed black swan, covered with dust.  When 
you touch it,
the feathers come off and float softly to the ground.  Through 
a chink
in the shutters, one can see the stately clouds crossing the sky
toward the Roman arches of the Marly Aqueduct.

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Added: Feb 1 2004 | Viewed: 3978 times | Comments and analysis of Malmaison by Amy Lowell Comments (10)

Malmaison - Comments and Information

Poet: Amy Lowell
Poem: 2. Malmaison
Volume: Men, Women and Ghosts
- Bronze Tablets

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