Tuesday, February 24, 2009

349. The Royal Houses of Europe

Puffed-up, befeathered and medal-bedecked,
they were an ornithologist's dream, they were such
a glittering gallery of elegant sartorial plumage
that even the great Audubon himself would have sighed
and sucked in his cheeks in a rush to capture them
with delicate brush strokes and quick flicks of colour.
They preferred, themselves, to be painted in heavy oils,
conferring, or so they thought, a sense of proper permanency.
Water colours would have been the proper fleeting milieu,
adept and nervous and skillful, vulnerable, not long lasting,
subtle impermanent shades that were apt to run in the rain.

Along the King's Road or among the street stalls of the Seine
or in the dark little shops of St. Petersburg or the Kaertnergasse,
sometimes in Salzburg or Bratislava or even sleepy Baden-Baden,
we can come across icons from this age, the flotsam and the jetsam
of a forgotten time, sad collections in old cardboard boxes:
faded medals , a concert programmes, a crumbling menu,
dog-eared picture postcards with royal portraits on the stamps.
Then a sigh may pass our lips, a nostalgic indifferent exhalation
much like an after-dinner belch, a sign of passing benediction
for a finished experience: but even the poor must eat tomorrow.

Beneficiaries of privilege had a good run but now the show is over,
their bloodlines a matter for antiquarians, for water-colourists,
for the slightly cracked groups who dream of royal restorations.
I'm not sorry they're gone. We have celebrities and movie stars
who feed the need for mass adoration, icons who fade out quickly,
fizzing up and out, like Roman candles, bright and impermanent.
They may behave badly, spend too much, yet rapidly disappear
without starting wars, without driving generations to genocide
in the name of family honour. So settle down in your graves
you Habsburgs and Romanovs, Hohenzollerns and Saxe-Gothas,
leaving a polite open space for the lingering Hanover/ Windsors.