Monday, February 17, 2014

Aaron and George

{The Aaron in the poem below is quite real; my mother claimed she was descended from him.}

Bad enough to have a king who’d gone mad
But little harm was done. He did not declare war
Against Luxembourg nor insist that women
Be allowed to manage their own property.
No, a mad king had his points, uniting the country.
Even the Radicals could pity an aging man
Whom Reason had abandoned. Worse, though,
Was when he began to fly – not sensibly
In one of Montgolfier’s balloons – but as if he
Was himself a balloon, his heels lifting off the ground
His body softly rising towards the ceiling.
A window left incautiously open meant gardeners
Crick-necked from peering at the tree-tops.

He had feared not madness but blindness
And that, too, came in time.
He had provided against it by memorizing
All of Handel’s keyboard music
Which he played like a king
With great assurance but not very well

Charles James Fox sent a note to William Pitt
That he had heard of a man in Germany
A Jew; a rabbi of all things! named Aaron
Witnesses swore he floated when he prayed
No matter how many rocks the rebbetzin
Sewed into his pockets. The diplomat sent
To bid Aaron come to Whitehall found
That the rabbi was already on his way.
He died en route; a minyan appeared from somewhere
(The peasants swore no other Jews had been
Within miles of the town where he died),
Bathed his corpse; kept it company through the night;
Buried it properly, and with due respect.

Good enough, but mercy is a harsh mistress
And Aaron not a man to leave his errand
Incomplete. His soul crossed the Channel
In the last of the old boats which had once
Carried all the dead of Gaul to Albion.
They had given up treating the King by now
Accepting that he was mad. He spent his days
In a shabby robe, unshaved, a rope trailing
From his left ankle so that he might the easier
Be hauled down if he started floating too high.
(There was some fear that he might drift to France
Which was not a friendly place for kings just then).

The King knew the ghosts who crowded round him
Were not real. They fled when Aaron walked through them
A bold raven fluttering the phantom peacocks.
Most of the notes the King’s youngest daughter kept
Are still locked up. It is thought that the King
Taught Aaron the harpsichord. It is known
(You can find it in the Princess Lieven’s letters,
Who had it from the Duke of York) that the King
Died peacefully, recognizing his son who said
His long-bearded father had had at the end
“As fine a rabbi’s head as you could imagine.”

No comments:

Post a Comment