I got quite bright. To start French, you’d come far.
Happy I was! If you knew that, well, then you
were getting on, I grasped, because this meant you
read Verne en français and works by Aimard.
But difficult! Straightway h turned to hache;
you can’t hear s in dans, in sens you can;
du fils – the son’s; but de l’homme – of the man;
and conjugations! Je sais, but je sache.
Odd: a French lad I’d met was quite a change
from teacher’s francophonic expertise:
‘La loi – the law’ had such a nice round wa –
It was, when you considered it, quite strange,
that he could rattle off fast as you please
the sentence: que je ne m’en aille pas.
J’aime le son du cor – my mind’s eye saw
the Pyrenees, snow-stippled, blacked by pines,
glinting with light from silver Paladines
beneath the clouds, above the hosts of Moors.
And down through rending forests boulders flew –
like heavy alexandrines’ solid thud –
on treachery in gorges drenched in blood
tossed by the many, by the few – those two.
Dusk came. And black was blue, white orange-stained.
His last salute as knight to Charlemagne
flew to the north, a lofty, golden swan.
I thought when Moor’s bold hearts turned quite forlorn
at echoes haunting round the ivory horn:
‘Had I but lived like them, and like them gone!’
I read of Parzival and Titurel. –
Thin shrouds of cloud still drifted round high crests;
I heard the abbey bells for holy quests
sprinkle their piety through still-dark dell;
I saw the sparkling armour make its way
off down the slopes, a silver waterfall,
and, a long river of loud-sung chorale,
behind the pilgrim staffs saw habits sway;
I saw the banners’ jolting uphill climb,
their tips out front, and gold and silver glow
in distant parley with a sun still low:
sliding against a background of blue pines,
I saw them slowly vanish in the east
into the distance and the morning mist.
I wished then for an ancient castle, lost
deep within woods of tall beech trees with owls
and ruined grave, columns with black-leafed cowls,
each shaft askew, its capital half-crushed;
two lions, from moss now yellow and dull jade,
flanking the drawbridge gaped their dragon jaws;
and autumn gales came out of moonlight, roared
through ruined passages where rat hordes played.
And solemnly, in halls now decomposed,
there stood, hero on hero, silent rows
of armour noble ancestors had worn;
I heard too, shuffling on the twisting flights
of stairs, to pay for sins no longer borne,those distant forebears prowling in the night.