Poetry: Gate of Lilacs 3: The Porcelain Psychologist | clivejames.com
[Invisible line of text as temporary way to expand content column justified text width to hit margins on most viewports, simply for improved display stability in the interval between column creation and loading]

Gate of Lilacs 3 :  The Porcelain Psychologist

In real life, the young Proust sat at the feet
Of Laure Hayman, the demimonde princess
Who educated dukes. His gift to her,
Perhaps presented to her tête-à-tête
In her boudoir, and not at her salon,
Was a fashionable novel bound in silk
From one of her own petticoats. For him,
‘My little porcelain psychologist’,
She might have put out, but more likely not.
The Marcel in the book is much less given
To the routinely exquisite, as if
The author feared his early reputation
For posturing might stick. Instead he speaks
As the all-wise anatomist of love,
Even when passion’s victim. Not a hint
From him of how the little band of girls
Were boys, and how Andrée and Albertine
Were not the girlfriends of the cyclists:
They were cyclists, if only in the sense
That they were strong young men, though not, in fact,
The population of the velodromes.
They were the sons of the high bourgeoisie
And the gentry relaxing in Cabourg
From the rigours of their overprivileged lives.
They were like him, but he was not like them:
His poor health made him frail while they ran free.
Since any object of his young desire
He would imagine rather than approach,
He found it easy to convince himself
That every boy he fell for could have been
A girl, and so on, right throughout his life.
It wasn’t vagueness, still less imprecision,
But the feeling, recorded with exactness
Of being fascinated with the heart’s
Potential, of what hadn’t happened, quite;
Yet in his mind it had. Agostinelli,
The chauffeur with the long coat and red car,
Who drove him every day through Normandy
At breakneck pace down avenues of poplars,
When otherwise he would have left his bed
On average little more than once a week,
Agostinelli made him an explorer
In every sense, but especially in his thoughts.
They reached back to his boyhood in Cabourg
And gave the driver’s thrilling flair and dash
To Albertine in her black jockey-cap.
Thus Albertine, who never did exist,
Though leading him a dance for half the book,
Obsessed him as a spirit he aspired to
Yet made so real that she could break his heart.
By loving others, lying all the time,
She tortures him in every way save one:
He doesn’t care that she can’t understand
His writings. ‘If she had,’ he airily
Concludes, as if the point were trivial,
‘She would not have inspired them.’ Thus the real,
Enriched by the ideal if not, indeed,
Created by it, gains, in Marcel’s mind,
Firm outlines from the constant interplay
Of fact and wish. In fact there is no wish
That fails to touch upon our frailties.
We, too, construct a paradise from longings,
Imposing dreams on history. You would swear,
For instance, Proust and Monet were great friends
From how the novel’s salon walls seem draped
With pastel images of waterlilies.
Yet Proust and Monet never met. Nor did
We ever meet Proust, though it might seem so
By how he knows our souls when we are faced
With failure to make sense out of the world.
But even he died trying to do that.