Malmaison

by Amy Lowell

Amy Lowell

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.