Laforgue Looks on Unter den Linden

Mai [1882?]
Berlin.

Art, my most dear Charles,
             art.
Let me tell you how I live here:
             apart.

Cloistered in the palace like a prince,
for matters of print,
I am the Empress’ only groom;
I read her Paris papers,
novels, the odd poem
                   (of gossip, little escapes her,
                   des titbits délicieux
                   are a mainstay of our regime),
then I slope, through the grand halls, home
to my rooms, très somptueux,
where
                   (hear this, Charles)
   I’ve servants of my own:

   Each morning a fellow arrives,
   parts the curtains, tells me the time,
   encourages me to rise.
               Morning, night, and afternoon
               food appears;
               I disappear it.
               When I do,
               it reappears
                   (the cooks prepare it).
               Far cry from scraping sous
               for bread, galantine, and fruit!
               Let’s not even mention the bathroom.

When the servants leave, I look on Unter den Linden,
        if I crane from my window,
              I can see
              to my left
              nothing
              but columns and columns and columns,
              & cet.,
           if I turn my head,
              I can see
              to my right
              nothing
              but columns and columns and columns,
              & cet.,
As for the linden themselves,
well, it’s winter, isn’t it? 
          Picking out from the columns the trees,
              I can see,
              to my left
              nothing
              but trunks and sticks, rained-on surfaces,
              & cet.
Would you guess
what I get
if I look to my right?
          Correct.
              Nothing
              but & ceteras,
              crowding up the street.

But you’ll be wanting to hear of art.
              Well, Charles,
                there’s nothing, nothing, nothing,
                nothing to speak of at all.
I step out, from salon to salle,
              and all I get to see’s
              the odd aquatint, an oil,
              grey sketches,
              fat frames in gold,
                but nothing to buy,
                or think about at all.

Cependant, I’ve an address to investigate,
an aqua fortis plate artiste
of city scenes, girls, hillscapes ….
              Donc, on verra,
              we’ll see.
                But expectations low,
                as I say.

You know,
     I doubt I shouldn’t turn my hand that way.
     The things I dream of,
          scratched in blacks.
     Those I’d buy.

     Hours and hours at my desk,
     hours and hours with the Empress,
     hours and hours lounging in bed –
               I’d rather etch.

Last night’s has come a few times now,
I see it clearer each:
              Elephants
              marching down
              the boulevard,
              crammed howdahs,
              palm fronds,
              spectators,  
              head-dresses,
              strewn flowers…
              the puddles at their feet,
              cross-hatched with showers.
And a sister piece:
          Stabled,
          draped
          entre
          two more,
          a heroine,
              concrete phenomenal
              cloud-metal
              silk gown,
              arms above her head.

          Her pachyderms,
          have their trunks up,
          are swaying each,
          a leg
          raised,
          black eyes and eye-lashes
          on display.

          The girl is poised,
          her dress is grey,
          the elephants are on their straw.
                    Outside,
                     their brothers’ plumes
                         are drooping
                          in the rain,
                    to a wet crowd’s applause.
          A masterpiece, I think.

          Poetry, Charles: it’s just an old prejudice,
          for young men with weak wrists!

          So, send me strength
          and a score of copper plates.
          You know my address.

[unsigned; no address]