Edwardian, let’s say;
his mother losing too much blood
and lingering a week,
his father not re-marrying;
then those first few years with nanny,
followed by the governess,
the boarding school with sleety fields
and Oxford at the end.
the great-aunts used to say —
with ‘nothing of the funny stuff
that finished Oscar Wilde’.
They’d promenade their protegées,
demure, or just a bit more knowing,
but none could hold his eye —
although a few, it’s said,
considered they’d been flirted with.
Years on now, he has his interests
but nothing more demanding;
he’s seen a play by Bernard Shaw
and read a book by Nietzsche.
His Greek these days is fading;
his Latin rather less so:
he smiles at Martial now and then.
He’s done the Grand Tour twice at least
and come back unaffected.
He likes the slump of leather chairs
in which to read The Times,
the club’s small shock of single malt
before its gong for dinner.
His valet, Ferguson, in Chelsea
keeps his rooms in order.
He talks a little with his friends,
the chaps he knew at Balliol,
but hasn’t their ‘get-up-and-go’,
their fever for the Commons,
their hankering for well-bred eyes
or servant girls and modern money.
His father’s in a big stone pile
up there in Worcestershire
with half a dozen dozy servants,
letting whisky take him.
One day, not far off, he’ll need
to sort that business out.
A tribe of J.M. Barrie children
romping through those empty rooms
would once have been an answer
but here inside the club
it’s all a men’s affair:
butlers, waiters, maître d’,
the women off-stage, down below
tending to the cauldrons.
His nanny, rather loved, is dead;
the governess found other work —
or so he’s understood.
She too, it seems, was not for marriage.
The debutantes he once was shown
are mistresses of mansions now
and having their affair or two,
their ‘weekends in the country’,
trying not to say too much
when husbands slip out now and then
with slender explanations.
The world is as it always was,
will bear no alteration,
although, these days, he’s not much asked
to grace their grand salons.
Hard to feign an interest really
in anything so idle.
A faithful tailor in Pall Mall
keeps his measurements exactly
and doesn’t talk of women.
A lawyer for the family,
and rather more uxorious,
attends to the accounts.
‘Misanthrope’ is just a word.
The club is where he’s happiest,
its rituals and order,
the well-worn chairs, the newspapers,
the waiter with a second whisky,
the call to dinner in good time,
the nights back home in bed alone
but somehow less than lonely.
Ferguson is still polite
and has no troubles with his station;
is certain to turn out the lights.
It’s winter now, the warming pan
has done its job again.
He wonders where they can have gone,
those nymphs who vanished from his life,
sweet creatures surplus to requirements.
His mother though remains a sadness.
These last few nights, a dream’s come back…
he’s floating in the amniotic
a day or two before his birth,
stalled in that still-dreaming world
above the birth canal,
the sides of which he’s almost sure
his temples can remember.
ABOUT THE POET
Geoff Page has published twenty collections of poetry as well as two novels and five verse novels. He has also won the Grace Leven Prize and the Patrick White Literary Award. His recent books are A Sudden Sentence in the Air: Jazz Poems (Extempore 2011), Coda for Shirley (Interactive Press 2011), Cloudy Nouns (Picaro Press 2012) and 1953 (University of Queensland Press 2013).