Poetry: The Victor Hugo Clematis | 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]

The Victor Hugo Clematis

In our garden, the Victor Hugo clematis
Grows among masses of small pink roses
Prettier than it is, but not as stately.
There’s a royal lustre to its purple petals:
Long splinters of amethyst
Arranged like the ribs of a Catherine wheel
In a disc that is almost all space,
And the edge of every petal
Is curved like the volutes in any of the four
Propellers of the Normandie,
Those museum-forecourt-filling pieces of sculpture
(37 tons each of cast manganese bronze)
That transmitted the electric
Power to the water,
Giving the ship her all-conquering speed,
Not to mention her teeth-rattling vibration
Even in First Class –
The cost of elegance, as the Victor Hugo clematis
Costs me my equilibrium,
Until I wonder: don’t I mean the narrow-bladed
More-wood-than-metal airscrew
Of a WWI Armée de l’Air bomber?
Say a Breguet 14, faster than a Fokker D VII?
Perhaps that would be better:
I grow uncertain, I have to look things up,
And stuff that I thought I knew for sure
Turns out to be wrong.
Inelegantly reclining in my liner chair
As the evening sunlight finally fades,
I watch the flowers, that were never really my thing,
Glowing their last and blacking out closer
And closer to me
(When the dancing finished in the Grand Salon
At one o’clock in the morning
They brought back and unrolled the half-ton weight
Of the world’s biggest ocean-going carpet
To cover the parquetry floor
Copied from the throne-room in Versailles)
While the great poet’s record-breaker of a funeral
Still stretches half way across Paris –
Well, it does in my mind –
And the rockets and flares go up to look for Gothas –
I can see the colours burst and fall, going dry
Like the baby dribble of cherubim
On a black velvet bib –
And the pinwheel flower, even in silhouette,
Drills a sibilant echo of Cocteau’s voice through my brain’s ruins:
The Victor Hugo clematis is a madman that thinks
It is Victor Hugo.

Note (from Collected Poems)

The rockets and the Gothas are from Proust: a rare acknowledgement in his novel that a war is going on not far out of town.