Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE NUN AT COURT, by EDMUND CHARLES BLUNDEN

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THE NUN AT COURT, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: With what voluptuous and distorted care
Last Line: Of luring love, and one that knew not la valliere.
Alternate Author Name(s): Blunden, Edmund
Subject(s): La Valliere, Francois De (1644-1710); Louis Xiv, King Of France (1638-1715); Versailles, Frances

WITH what voluptuous and distorted care
Majesty seeks the kiss of La Valliere!

At first this love was amply cloaked; the king
Was for Versailles to see fresh marble spring;
Slipt from the court, what should he covet more
Than private interim, alone to explore
The crescent symmetries of wall or walk?
To whom his judgment? Echo's known to talk.
So Louis, art's gilt votary, seeks design,
And in the fact finds what he deems divine.

Here a strong troop of whispers would be heard,
They say, "the king's in love" was no new word.
Love, most of all the monosyllables,
Runs in its hue from heaven's blue light to hell's;
The king, if eyes and ears beat stone and night,
Has not disdained to follow its murkier light.
The lady to his lustful brother wed
For him prepares the banquet and the bed,
A crime, as some would preach; would, if they knew.
Then come, sweet folly, you have work to do;
Forbidden Henrietta's to be played
Behind the venery of the waiting-maid.
With nice gradation wise, the withered Queen
Shall view with sanction the chaste libertine.
The maid is -- where?
The fete grows late and dark,
The king in moth-light traverses the park,
His eye will find the nymph if nymph be near,
And four have strayed into the bosquet here.
Soft, sire, behind this beech; from that to this;
Now close enough to hear, almost to kiss.
One voice adores d'Abancourt, one d'Armagne,
De Guiche the third; the day's all gold again
In these half-singing sighs. One more's to sing:
"Look on these men when midst them stands the king?"
Thence in Versailles with rich Corinthian care
Magnetic moves the king of La Valliere.

The best proportion is not too severe,
To beauty's law some lack of law is dear;
This voice heard in a grove, familiar grown,
Meant no white attitude of measured stone.
Some fault she had; some found cold skill to blame
Her pretty mouth, and even that she walked lame,
Nor was her stature such as these admired;
She smiled, walked, gazed, -- and every heart desired.
Blue-gazing, truthful-smiling, see her gleam
Beside the tulip-urn and the shrill stream.
Ribbons, brocades, fans, pearls are hers, and yet
She hardly knows them taken in the net;
The net she spread was meant for one proud wing;
She loved the man who chanced to be a king.

O, now be all your wishes, Lady, given,
Exchange the rest for one white pearl, bright Heaven!
Honour and ardour both she prays for; why
Their conflict under that serenest sky?
Stubborn they combat, so this life is made;
Away to noiseless, unvictorious shade;
But from her convent, when the king appears,
She steps to the decision and its tears.
Ever the Queen, and endless others, hoard
Whatever shows of this in glance or word.
Towards her sacrifice great pomp proceeds,
The king in tournament mocks Phoebus' deeds,
Divinities and Epochs haunt the grove,
Pan pours the wine, and mimic mountains move,
And, the third day, the marvellous lake displays
The Palace of Alcinous ablaze;
The sky grows foul, wet winds shake the pavilions;
The king's fires leap to dazzle one, and millions.

The Queen looks sidelong from these twinkling shows
When her great son has gained the tourney's rose
To her who yet pursues a doubtful course.
That course soon ends; and yet the girl's remorse
Contrives a subtler mask than any played
By Louis or Moliere. Yet unbetrayed,
She counts the days, and midnight helps her bring
Into this world the daughter of the king;
The next day comes the Queen, almost aware,
And fierce to know. She finds her La Valliere
Unwell, indeed, but round her room are placed
The orange-flower and tube-rose. She's chaste!
For these are flowers, as all declare, whose breath
Is to a woman at child-bearing -- death.

You will not long, poor mother, by this ruse
Evade them; hear them muttering, "There is news --."
Amorous history gives you its green gown,
Your love will swell the drinking of the town;
Mistress and duchess now you gaze at flowers,
Nor even mistress long. "Madam, the hours
I pass with you would be much wittier spent
With one less satisfied with discontent;
Besides, the pale and vacuous looks you grow
Declare you have no pleasure here below;
My spaniel, Malice, -- here, he dotes on you.
Your friend de Montespan awaits; adieu!"

New palaces! years of flat minutes pile
Upon this lady's unenchanted isle,
Where even her daughter and her singing son
But little vary her heart's monotone.
Her son, with boyish courage, mounts his horse
And hastens on the immemorial course
To try what means the sport of siege and mine;
The drums are beating to the battle-line
In Flanders. Not a shot in Flanders cracks
But round and round and round its echo clacks

In La Valliere's pale cell; the far black rain
That rivers the trenches numbs that cloistered brain;
The drum, the rain, the cannonade conspire
In one hurt second of both ice and fire.
"He fell, this every one that saw declares,
As royal heroes fall." The mother stares
On the most eloquent messenger of doom
That ever graced the gangway to the tomb:
"Dead; so; and shall I weep? Hear me, I mourn
That this unlucky boy was ever born."
And, turning thence, she moves her lips in prayer
For one that was a nun even in the glare
Of luring love, and one that knew not La Valliere.

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