Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Poor Peter

Charles Peter Ulric, Prince of Holstein,
In whose veins flowed blood of conquerors,
Grandson to the savage Peter;
Yet puny from a cradle as his mother lay embalmed.
Horsewhipped, fools-capped, tormented,
Lessons drilled by endless supplication…….on dried peas.

Salvaged by Aunt Elizabeth to be her heir to Russia.

Pole- thin, lank blond powdered hair,
Stiff, straight, wooden,
A piercing squeak from a tiny, projecting head,
Playing manically with toy soldiers in mimic warfare,
A rat hung that scaled his cardboard ramparts;
Congenital coward,
Frivolous, flighty and feather-brained,
Gabbling orthodox formalities glibly,
With a memory of boundless depth…..and pain.

Poxed near to death, scarred hideously beneath the paint,
Snared to marry pleurisic Catherine,
Patient mantis of inuring ambition,
Oxen roasted in the public squares in celebration as
The fountains of St Petersburg flowed red …….with wine.

Crown Prince of Russia, a manikin on wires
Perpetually agitated by capricious eccentricity,
Babbling as discretely as cannonshot,
Effusing vapourings of a half- crazed libertine;
Soul-mate to mistress Vorontsova
As Catherine met Elizabeth’s imperial command with baby Paul …… by Immaculate Conception!

Real guards now paraded his mock fort at Court Orianienbaum,
Compulsively obsessed with extreme precision,
He drilled his manicured troops all day and
Played first orchestral violin all night with manic devotion;
As old crows set their pecking order, ante-chambered around Tsarina’s corpse,
High Priests proclaimed him Peter III ….. Supreme Autocrat of Russia.

But it mattered little ….. This orphan yearned for Prussia, his Germanic patrimony.

Fawning to King Frederick in a fire- sale of Russian honour,
Feux-d’artifices punctuated their Treaty of Peace;
Prussian Ministers now bent his ear,
Prussian vogue demoralized his army,
Orthodoxy lay defrocked to Protestant pastoral care…...iconic banishment.

A social misfit, fearful of formality,
Hiding in a cloud of pipe smoke,
Bum bumping with his Holstein guard,
Whispering state secrets to ladies of low breeding,
Eroding popular veneration……. for a sacrosanct Tsar.


Childhood horror had warped his mind and intellect,
Worthlessness was inculcated well,
But yet his heart and soul were pure:
Generous to friends, indulging petulance of wife and mistress,
Compassionate to Tsar “baby” Ivan, an idiot by solitary confinement,
Absolute emperor without cruelty or violence,
Abolitionist of torture, repriever of the condemned,
Reformer of Law and Order…….. all haste without stability.

Obstinately heedless, he campaigned to conquer distant Denmark,
His army left Mecklenburg field without a fight
For Catherine had staged her coups-d’├ętat;
He had ridiculed intelligence of military disloyalty,
No Russian could stomach a woman’s rule,
A latter- day Nero……. playing his fiddle, ignoring his spies.

Catherine shed her crocodile tears before regiments of Imperial Guards
Entreating loyalty to save Russia, her and Orthodoxy
From the Emperor’s tyranny,
She had simply met the wishes of her faithful subjects;
Catherine II, ascended by Imperial Manifesto as Supreme Autocrat
Flanked by Grand Duke Paul …..her son and heir.

Peter’s rule of half a year was over,
An apologetic offer to share the throne, ignored.
In a semi-conscious swoon for hours,
His abdication, quintessential self abasement,
As incompetent dilapidator of the realm;
Divested of his finery, slippered, dressing gowned,
Banished to his blinded room in a lonely chateau……Ropsha.

Disposal of a husband was Catherine’s main concern;
Ambitious marriage masked in sexual duty made it Orlov’s problem.
Poisoning failed, attendants were dismissed,
A bungled, brutal murder succeeded in July,
Slow strangulation where smothering and battery of flailing frailty failed,
Catherine’s maxim of “crime rather than cowardice” had been fulfilled,
His death by violent colic exhibited to the masses….manifestly Will Divine!

Thirty-four years he rested in Newky Monastry beside Tsarina Anna
Whose mad son Peter showed like kindness and courtesy.
But their peace was shattered by son Emperor Paul,
His bones were to lie with Catherine in perpetual union
At Saint Petersburg’s Imperial Mausoleum ………Poor Peter!

Bryan Douglas Cook 22 September 2011

Context for Poor Peter

This poem attempts a biography of Tzar Peter III of Russia. It took several months to prepare after reading the primary source: R. Nisbet Bain “Peter III Emperor of Russia….The story of a crisis and a crime” published by E.P.Dutton & Co. New York 1902 208 pages (found in a junk store in Arnprior for 4$). I have often abstracted lines from Bain’s translations of his sources, which are quotations from diplomats to the court of Peter III in the 1760’s. My intention has been to paint as much a portrait of the man, and what made him the way he was, as of his life story. It has been difficult to walk a fine line between poetry and narrative. I tried to make it flow like a sleigh ride, hitting branches and bumps every now and then. I believe the story of Peter III would make a great screenplay for a period film.

Read at Tree Reading Series 8 November 2011
http://www.treereadingseries.ca/videos/open-mics/bryan-cook-08-nov-11
I found it reads too long and loses the audience!




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