Potocki de Montalk in verse

New Zealand-born poet Count Geoffrey Potocki de Montalk died on this day 15 years ago. If remembered at all it is generally as a bizarrely-garbed right-wing crank, obsessed with his imagined claim to the Polish throne. He also belongs to an embarrassingly large group of poets I’ve written about on Strange Flowers whose poetry I’m largely unfamiliar with. In fairness, it’s not the easiest body of work to lay one’s hands on, so when I recently came across these verses, dating from 1930, I thought I should pass them on. They preserve an Antipodean’s fresh view of London, the first, a Whistler-esque impression of the Thames, the second a fog-bound homesick reverie.

From Battersea Bridge at Midnight

Looking over toward London, the slim
Straight lines of light from the lamps along the river
Meticulously made,
Most classically shadowed there, a prim
Silver colonnade.

But up the stream a glowing faery isle
And clustered lights all ravishingly quiver
(Where in the daytime seas
Wash wearily about the power-house, while
The heart is ill at ease).

And a little boat with lights green, yellow and red,
Is turned into a magical Chinese
Duck, whose long wake is
A right-triangle, far past the imagined
Island’s isosceles.

My First London Fog

The lamps burn with a blurry gold in the daytime
And the high noon is become a pearl-cold morning—
(Three o’clock in the New Zealand hay-time,
Cattle looming in the half dark, farmers yawning).

No one can tell beyond these misty veils
Whether there be a long Australian shore,
Or flannel-flowers under tall bluegums, and a stream.
Even where the city’s noise (for the illusion fails)
Cannot be taken for a river’s roar,
Wren’s ugly churches turn to a graceful dream.
Modestly through the dreamy light St. Clement Dane’s
Aspires when all is quiet to caress
(For she would have it otherwise, she feigns)
St. Mary-le-Strand’s white virgin wistfulness.

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11 comments

  1. Good, bad or otherwise, poets are quite mad

    Potocki has too many syllables per line
    And an apodictic infirmity with the rhythm of things
    He possesses a poetic sensibility without
    the self possession of a singular vision
    Too many ly’s at the end of words
    Too many adjectives
    Defenestrate the power of the line
    A prediliction for the’ blurry, misty, modestly’
    Spoil the really good things like
    ‘fannel-flowers under tall bluegums’ or
    ‘high noon is become pearl-cold morning’
    {much the stronger without out the knarly presence of the “a”}

    Not quite a poetaster but
    Not quite mad enough
    Not ruthless enough
    To weed out the overwriting

  2. Shouldn’t that be “flannel” flowers?

  3. Linda Hollander

    Oh, please. I thought both poems were beautifully evocative, particularly the Battersea Bridge…yes, one can cavil, but really…I’ve been on Battersea Bridge late at night, and I wish I could have come up with something that articulated the feeling as well as this. Too many syllables? You sound like Mozart’s emperor…”Too many notes” , from Amadeus.

    Too many syllables indeed, who are you…Mozart’s emperor (“Too many notes”, from Amadeus?

    • your termagent hiss echoes through the blurry mists of your gin soaked cerebellum with all the off key tempo- rubato spastication of the battysea between your ears.

  4. Linda Hollander

    Darling, I rest my case.

  5. Alex M.

    It’s true though, he’s not a good poet. Some images are striking – the “high noon become pearl-cold morning” especially – and the image of the boat-as-Chinese duck is arresting if (for me) mystifying. His problem is the bloody rhymes – words are used simply because they rhyme, and for no other reason. He should have gone in for free verse – apparently he never heard of Eliot.

  6. Darlings,
    I rest my case…

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