Poetry: Gate of Lilacs 5: The Red Plush Bench | clivejames.com
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Gate of Lilacs 5 :  The Red Plush Bench

For all the upper crust are idealists
When it comes to their position. Young Gilberte,
Who played once in the gardens of the Champs
Élysées while Marcel went mad for her,
In old age turns into a raging snob
Because she has become herself at last:
A play-time princess once, a real one now,
Or, if you like, a fake one now, and real
No longer, having switched joy for hauteur.
Saint-Loup, in the same way, but with more brains —
It is the intellectual in Marcel
That he admires and gives his friendship to —
Always remains, even when he rebels,
Assured in his high rank. In fact he strives
To show his mistress, Rachel the cocotte,
That the world, because revolving around him,
Revolves around her too. He showers her
With gifts proclaiming, not so much her worth,
As his, a profligate expenditure
Which leads Proust to conclude that his dear friend,
Who could have had his girl for twenty francs,
Spends millions all to serve his ideal self.
But Saint-Loup’s ideal self is what Proust loves:
The unplanned gestures of his vivid life,
The way he makes a gangway of the shelf
Head-high behind the crowded red plush bench
In the grande salle that swirls with light-filled smoke,
And runs without a stumble, held aloft
By nothing but his magic confidence.
For Proust, whose awkward hours in uniform
Remained a joke, Saint-Loup’s athletic skill —
His fitness for the memorable gesture —
Was one more angle of a dream come true,
A moment when assurance was embodied,
Not just personified. Proust loved Saint-Loup,
Although, in life, he had to make him up,
Assembling him from several high-born models
With names a block long, but the low-born one,
And the one who counted when it came to zest,
Was probably Cocteau, whose stylish gifts —
His diamond passport to a lifetime’s fame —
Were similarly seldom far removed
From an exclusive context. In the end,
However, at the Tour d’Argent receptions,
The audience of influential people
Reverently hanging on his every quip
Included the Gestapo, who played host.
He killed them, but in quite a different sense
They would have killed Proust. Cocteau got all that,
But couldn’t quell his urge to shine: a flaw
Proust would have understood, indeed foretold,
Knowing he had that fault within himself.
But he knew where it was, and why the artist
Can’t flirt with power. He must break with it,
And, if the well-connected world conceives
A taste for cruelty, kiss it goodbye.