Now and Then
Who so firmly set in time and place
as the Empress Eugénie?
Paris. Rich, squalid, whirling Paris:
Winterhalter, Gounod, Offenbach, Guys,
Viollet-le-Duc, Dumas fils,
red velvet drapes, glittering chandeliers
(and dark past draped glass, Les Misérables).
Sedan, Paris besieged, France lost,
exile, chilled in English Chislehurst,
widowhood, soon to mourn
her killed, her only, son,
fighting a foreigners’ war in a far country.
But Time has tricks.
The old lady
who in this century
took her cliff-top walk at Cap Martin
with a clever little boy, Kenneth Clark,
how many lifetimes earlier,
a fourteen-year-old countess from proud Spain,
exchanged letters, friendship, with the aging author
of Le Rouge et le Noir and La Chartreuse de Parme.