Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, CAFE TORTONI ('81), by WILLIAM ROSE BENET



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CAFE TORTONI ('81), by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Edouard manet (solus)
Last Line: I left them—well—a living world!
Subject(s): Bars & Bartenders; Food & Eating; France; Restaurants; Pubs; Taverns; Saloons; Cafes; Diners


Édouard Manet (solus):

The Rue Guyot ... how long ago!
Èmile! ... A bock! ... To old Belot!
That foolish Salon loved him so.
And well I loved him in those days
At the Café Guerbois. Ah, well,
Stevens, Zola, Astruc, Cladel,
Before the Second Empire fell
What theories set our brains ablaze!

Across the board we'd views to spare
On chiaroscuro and plein air.
Juries were damned. 'Twas rare to swear
At ateliers. But then the flame
Of envy that our Emperor nursed—
Fanned by the Hohenzollern—burst
To conflagration doubly curst.
Across the Rhine the Germans came.

The tap of drum, the clank of sword,—
How soon the Red Republic roared,
When Fabian Trochu dared afford
To shift and gloss and squirm in vain,
While Garibaldi crouched afar
Watching my country's crimson star
Ride o'er the ranks of raving War
With Art chained captive in her train!

Then, Monsieur Thiers, you saved the soul
Of France. But fate is very droll.
We few, "École aux Batignolles,"—
Pouf!—like the dust dispersed and fled.
England or Holland, art or fame,
Gentle distaste, or fear of—shame?—
Dissolved us. Mine no martial name,
Though I took arms. Bazille—is dead.

Yet, is such scuffling truly war
Compared with striving for one star
"To be oneself"? Why then we are
Outcasts, pariahs, what you will.
Of this some Mantz shrieks "Patchwork!"—this,
"Grand Art degraded!" How they hiss
When two bright colors meet and kiss!
Who knows but they are hissing still.

And still the independents surged
To victory! The Jury's purged.
Gervex has told me how they urged
More votes to make my medal sure.
And here I sit as proud and pale
As some David of fairy-tale
In one stiff style grown old and stale!
I pinch myself—but facts endure.

My God, what did the critics know
At first of Courbet or Corot,—
The vital world, the to-and-fro,
Or light, true light! Black death they died.
Their models—struck an attitude.
"The proper function of the nude!"
I—I was mad, and I was "crude."
But it was life for which I cried.

Monsieur Couture, dear fool sublime,
Am I the "Daumier of my time"?
(Though it were praise so high to climb!)
Or did your veins run blood—or paint?
Yet, I was young (and youth is crass)
To cite Giorgione to each ass
Who slimed my "Luncheon on the grass,"
When every critic showed his taint.

Thank God young art still breathes and dares!
Hail to these younger men from Gleyre's!
The colored shadows that are theirs
(That violet of my "Pertuiset")
Show—'mid the ancients though they sought her—
How only truth claims art as daughter.
Mark that new Raphael of water,
My multiflowering Claude Monet!

Still they will mock my jeux d'esprit,
Cat, parrot, bright green balcony.
My palette takes the higher key
Perforce,—for radiant nature cries
From field and tree and form and face
Of richness hid, of vibrant grace,
Of vivid light, and life I trace
Through all, because—I have my eyes!

Yet, Berthe, you—ah, need I say?
One of the greatest of my day!
Grant me a Stéphane Mallarmé
For right inflection of your praise!
The Louvre, do you recall it yet?
'Twas Tintoretto when we met.
Then you talked Corot. Ne'er forget
Those your art's first, Arcadian days!

Where is that furious Pierre Baudelaire,
Swashbuckler of the green-dyed hair?
He loved my Spaniards. "Ah, but rare!"
O'er my Lola I heard him rave,—
In my first "Chanteur Espagnol"
Swift to forecast my chosen goal.
And Èmile Zola! Each a soul!
Then life was turbulent, youth was brave.

Under the awnings of Madrid
(No dishes viler 'neath a lid!)
I would that I had longer hid
Though their cuisine had furred my mouth.
Some sorcery breathes through Spain, I swear.
But I—am Paris. Why despair?
My boyhood once breathed foreign air ...
Painting Dutch cheeses ... sailing South!

The Spanish food ... what food is fit?
I condescend to fathom it.
Now these raw oysters ... Wait a bit!
Such nacre it is all poets cry,
And once its soul did I evoke,—
Still-life that knew my master-stroke,
Immortal oysters—tsch!—I choke.
And I have lived to paint them—I!

In the next Salon, something new.
Grant that my cunning bear me through,
I'll hang a Bar-room then! There too
Like glory lurks, if once unfurled.
Let this ataxia cramp my hand,—
Some day, perhaps, they'll understand,
Though Hors Concours, that, as I planned,
I left them—well—a living world!





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