Pine, Rose and Fleur de Lis

by Susie Frances Harrison


 

VIE DE BOHEME! OR THE NOCTURNE IN G


 

(In the Latin Quarter.)

Vie de Bohème! Curious, are you?
       Really, earnestly want to know all
About it? Well, you needn’t go far, you
       Have only to step across the hall.

This mountain of trunks outside the door!

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       Perhaps you might care to investigate these,
But I’ll not risk becoming a bore—
       Here, the door is open! Entrez. (Sneeze!)

Snuff and scissors, and salt and Strauss—
       The last weak opera—have you seen it?—

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All on a chair, and a little dead mouse
       Underneath in a trap, where the hangings screen it.

The chair itself, though, you don’t see daily.
       Look at the carvings there in the middle
Of the back—all the others are occupied gaily,

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       While the lounge has a tray, a dog and a fiddle.

There’s nothing to sit upon—but the bed.
       “But Madame will object!” Not she. Asleep
At twelve of the clock! What a heavy head!
       I’d wake her—but you are an artist,—Peep

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For a minute longer at curve of wrist,
       And hair out-stretched upon the pillow!
Is there anything there that will assist
       Your latest dream of women and willow?

How sad she looks! Very sad for her,

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       That never sorrows a moment awake;
Now, could you fasten that mouth’s demur
       On your canvas, mon cher, you were made! Crimson lake?

And you moushoir went into it? All my fault!
       I should not have entered Bohemia so,

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With a sensitive Sybarite not worth his salt—
       Well, I’ll take that back, and you too, if you’ll go.

But not just at present. Why, pocket the stain!
       ’Twill come out quite easily by-and-by;
And whether it come out, or if it remain,

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       In Bohemia does not in the least signify.

Look out for your head, for the ceiling’s low,
       And out of three globes on the chandelier,
Only one is left, and it’s cracked, will go
       To pieces almost if one looks at it near.

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The pinned-up blind and the breakfast tray
       Are not things wherewithal to boast,
But the Dresden and Derby in shining array,
       Will surely obliterate hardening toast,

And long-poured-out coffee. At last! She Stirs!

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       Madame is awake. Good-day! “Bonjour!
“Mon Dieu
, it is late, and the friend infers
       That so late every day, I must sleep toujours!

“I am an object? Quick, say!” Ah, Madame!
       One of grace and delight you always must be,

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And most of all now, ’tis not often les femmes
       Look so well upon waking. Is it, Lee.

Lee is my friend and a fast rising painter;
       Does things which outrival your matchless Corot;
Murky gray skies, with a curious fainter

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       Lighter green gleam on the landscape below.

Though, is it Corot that I mean? Lee is shocked.
       Suffice it, we saw you last night in the play,
In a pink and white poem so charmingly frocked,
       O happy, thrice happy Théatre Français!

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He begs for a sitting, and let me suggest
       That you stay as you are with those fair frills of lace
Brimming over the coverlet—why, you are dressed
       With all that soft whiteness beneath your face,

And the bright bloom of Eos on either cheek,

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       And a most divine violet-black in your eyes,
As liquid as childhood’s—there’s no need to seek
       The embrightening drugs’ and the rouge-pots’ lies.

But later, Madame, you’ll be pale, no doubt.
       No? Not when the afternoon shadows fall,

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In the triste interim when old loves are about,
       And old voices and footsteps are heard over all

The playing of Monsieur Diabolus? Ah!
       He is here as I speak, and now, friend Lee,
Whom I think, Chevalier, you yesterday saw

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       In my room downstairs, recollect? No.3?

We’ll leave you to settle your palette and plushes,
       To frown and reflect, then to rumple your hair,
And presently actively bristle with brushes.
       So; practice, Chevalier, while I will prepare

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Quelque chose pour Madame. Not a word, my own way.
       The coffee is cold, but—I have it! Margaux!
In one pocket you see; in the other a stray
       Find of fresh plums and a tiny gâteau

Picked up at Victors. A glorious cook!

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       No Frenchman, believe me, though here in the heart
Of your Paris he works since the day he forsook
       The fluctuate fortune of Poland for Art.

You laugh, mes amis. Well, it’s this. He’s a Pole,
       Therefore illustrious; Poles always are;

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He puts into pink butter roses his soul,
       And it is not a common one. Follows some star

Or Muse in his cooking; is the better for blood,
       As brains always are when together you find them;
The Regent had loved him; put poison for cud

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       Had Carême in his bouquets garnis as he twin’d them;

Now Chopin and he were great friends in their way,
       And Victor has told me, his ices and cakes
Of the best inspiration, salmis, entremêts,
       Of the rarest, he owed to the delicate shakes

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And the marvellous touch of ce pauvre Frédèric.
       So eat up your cake, Madame, every crumb!
Value its shape and its colouring, seek
       (It is not unworthy your finger and thumb)

For its meaning, its essence—no, not the vanilla!

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       Go on with your sketching, and Lee, look here!
Madame does not exile the darling Manilla,
       You may puff away with your conscience clear,

If you want to and can with this in your ears,
       The sad soul of Chopin on violin strings!

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Ah! Paint me the picture the most full of tears,
       Tear your own heart out and pluck off your wings,

Let the down that was snowy and dowered as your own
       Feed your ne’er dying worm as it rears and recedes,
Let the blood that once warmed you through breast to cold bone

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       Flow out and delight but not drown as it feeds—

Not the grave-worm, Madame—Ah! would God that it were!
       (My worm, and your’s, Lee, are both of a gender).
A live thing so harmlessly, holily fair!
       No. We were enthralled with a mirage of splendour.

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And it dies not; it dies not; it will push its way,
       And here we are, slaves to its growth and its power;
To the worship of Art were we both called one day,
       For the worship of Art have we lived till this hour.

Feed your worm then, I say, with superlative pain,

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       Paint me the picture the most full of tears—
You will never attain to that wonderful strain
       The musician alone through the hurrying years

Can give us—the wistful, the cry of all souls
       Inarticulate, helpless, abandoned and blind,

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To the Dieu inconnu, the Unknown that controls
       All the joy and the pain of our poor human kind.

But Madame there grows restless, declares I am triste;
       I am old, chers amis, but not cynical, no!
You have finished, I see, my ingenious feast,

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       If I had now but purchased another gâteau!

Lee—rehearsal draws near. Say good-bye to it all,
       Come and look here, Chevalier, there’s nothing to dread,
Ah! No colour, my friend! Take this red parasol,
       Stand it open at back of Madame’s little head!

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Then give her the “ruby” in one slender hand,
       Let her bury the other beneath her hair—
You’ve a picture, the Salon will quite understand,
       And accept with éclat, for your subject is rare,

You have gone to real life, the critics will say,

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       Heart, and not Art, is the luckiest creed.
Apropos, you may think of the lines that, one day,
       To you in some café I once tried to read.

       They ran—Now, mark me, Lee, you’ll never paint
       Until you learn more daring. Dare to fling

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       Those golden-threaded pretty stuffs away!
       Strip down the flecked Madras and tear the eyes
       From yonder ceiling peacock-feathered! Sell
       Your china cheap and curtains, amber plush
        And ruby, making sunset in the room!

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       I did not come to see a splash of west,
       Except, I own, upon your canvas here.
       Bury your bronzes—curse the bric-à-brac!
       You’ve learned to draw it? Good! Now go your way,
       Into the world, the street, the omnibus,

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       Shall Lee—no name to conjure with as yet—
       Refuse to follow where Detaille has led?

But Madame, I digress, and the time, how it goes!
       Adieu for the present. One wish—might I claim
This smallest, most withered, and least little rose,

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       With the beauté altière and the difficult name?

Twelve bouquets—observe, Lee—all thrown in one night,
       Who were guilty of some would be easy to see;
Here’s a note, there’s a case—oh! we must take our flight,
       And thanks, Chevalier, for the Nocturne in G.

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