Marjan Strojan

(1949 / Ljubljana)

An Important Visit - Poem by Marjan Strojan

By Admiral Nelson and Lady Hamilton,
on their return from Haydn's Mass
No. 11 in D minor at Eisenstadt in the year 1800.

I remember a snowy evening, when a wonderful sledge-coach
bearing a coat of arms stopped in front of the only illuminated
building in town - a hostelry displaying on its signboard
a painted monster called the Elephant, though in the general
opinion it was thought to represent Leviathan - and a monkey,
all covered in snow with a turban and a lighted torch,
hopped down from the seat. It opened the red and gilded door
of the carriage, through which emerged a silken foot
in singing shoes under the ermine lining of a dark coat.

Many recall how on the other side her Lord, in his plumed
admiral's hat, with scarlet piping down the side of his
tight trousers and in black lacquered boots, stepped out
into virgin snow, overtaking her just as one of her small feet
was about to touch the step, and caught her tiny gloved hand
in the air as she waved to us, pressing it to his silver breast
so that in the carriage door appeared a blue fur hat with
a pearl and a white peacock feather under which one could see
a face with ruby lips, teeth of alabaster and a swan neck.

His Lordship, who by an almost indiscernible nod of his head
and by lightly clicking his heels saluted the servants and other
staff pouring out of the hotel (some of them still in their aprons),
was still firmly holding her hand level with his epaulette as
she with the other hand lifted her coat to brave the snow.
But already the grooms were at hand to help with the horses
and gear, hurriedly laying down crimson Persian rugs borrowed
from the music salon, sweeping the doorstep and staircase.

Numerous windows were opening with maids beating dust
out of bed-quilts and with whole clusters of curious guests
hanging out of them, some of them toppling over into the street
below. Since there was snow in abundance nothing much
happened and no one got hurt. What did happen, however,
was something else. A large sperm-whale (Physeter catodon),
making a stop at Tyre on its way to the Sargasso Sea, spewed
out onto the pebbled beach myself, my father and the prophet
Jonah, with whom I had been since early autumn splitting
logs in the vaults of the monster to make ready for winter.

Furnished with these, dipped in tar and happily lit up for
the occasion, the hotel personnel were lining the floors
for them and then, headed by his extraordinary flunkey,
escorted them upstairs to the dance hall, where a temporary
reception room was prepared for the pair. Later, I often went
to admire the red snow-coach in the Town Museum where,
changed after the earthquake into a kind of hollow mouldering
pumpkin as brittle as parchment, it is preserved to this day;
while as for the whale, it could be seen only when it was
exhibited in the University Park one hundred and fifty eight
years after the event. Their arrival was noted in gothic letters
in various imperial newspapers, but in none that I could read.

translated by Alasdair MacKinnon

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Poem Submitted: Friday, June 16, 2017

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