An Epistle to a Patron by Frank Templeton Prince

My lord, hearing lately of your opulence in promises and your house
Busy with parasites, of your hands full of favours, your statutes
Admirable as music, and no fear of your arms not prospering, I have
Considered how to serve you and breed from my talents
These few secrets which I shall make plain
To your intelligent glory. You should understand that I have plotted,
Being in command of all the ordinary engines
Of defence and offence, a hundred and fifteen buildings
Less others less complete: complete, some are courts of serene stone,
Some the civil structures of a war-like elegance as bridges,
Sewers, aqueducts and citadels of brick, with which I declare the fact
That your nature is to vanquish. For these I have acquired a knowledge
Of the habits of numbers and of various tempers, and skill in setting
Firm sets of pure bare members which will rise, hanging together
Like an argument, with beams, ties and sistering pilasters:
The lintels and windows with mouldings as round as a girl’s chin; thresholds
To libraries; halls that cannot be entered without a sensation as of myrrh
By your vermilion officers, your sages and dancers. There will be chambers
Like the recovery of a sick man, your closet waiting not
Less suitably shadowed than the heart, and the coffers of a ceiling
To reflect your diplomatic taciturnities. You may commission
Hospitals, huge granaries that will smile to bear your filial plunders,
And stables washed with a silver lime in whose middle tower seated
In the slight acridity you may watch
The copper thunder kept in the sulky flanks of your horse, a rolling field
Of necks glad to be groomed, the strong crupper, the edged hoof
And the long back, seductive and rebellious to saddles.
And barracks, fortresses, in need of no vest save light, light
That to me is breath, food and drink, I live by effects of light, I live
To catch it, to break it, as an orator plays off
Against each other and his theme his casual gems, and so with light,
Twisted in strings, plucked, crossed or knotted or crumbled
As it may be allowed to be by leaves,
Or clanged back by lakes and rocks or otherwise beaten,
Or else spilt and spread like a feast of honey, dripping
Through delightful voids and creeping along long fractures, brimming
Carved canals, bowls and lachrymatories with pearls: all this the work
Of now advancing, now withdrawing faces, whose use I know.
I know what slabs thus will be soaked to a thumb’s depth by the sun
And where to rob them, what colour stifles in your intact quarries, what
Sand silted in your river-gorges will well mix with the dust of flint; I know
What wood to cut by what moon in what weather
Of your sea-winds, your hill-wind: therefore tyrant, let me learn
Your high-ways, ways of sandstone, roads of the oakleaf, and your sea-ways.
Send me to dig dry graves, exposing what you want: I must
Attend your orgies and debates (let others apply for austerities), admit me
To your witty table, stuff me with urban levities, feed me, bind me
To a prudish luxury, free me thus, and with a workshop
From my household consisting
Of a pregnant wife, one female and one boy child and an elder bastard
With other properties; these let me regard, let me neglect, and let
What I begin be finished. Save me, noble sir, from the agony
Of starved and privy explorations such as those I stumble
From a hot bed to make, to follow lines to which the night-sky
Holds only faint contingencies. These flights with no end but failure,
And failure not to end them, these palliate or prevent.
I wish for liberty, let me then be tied: and seeing too much
I aspire to be constrained by your emblems of birth and triumph,
And between the obligations of your future and the checks of actual state
To flourish, adapt the stubs of an interminable descent, and place
The crested key to confident vaults; with a placid flurry of petals,
And bosom and lips, will stony functionaries support
The persuasion, so beyond proof, of your power. I will record
In peculiar scrolls your alien alliances,
Fit an apartment for your eastern hostage, extol in basalt
Your father, praise with white festoons the goddess your lady;
And for your death which will be mine prepare
An encasement as if of solid blood. And so let me
Forget, let me remember, that this is stone, stick, metal, trash
Which I will pile and hack, my hands will stain and bend
(None better knowing how to gain from the slow pains of a marble
Bruised, breathing strange climates). Being pressed as I am, being broken
By wealth and poverty, torn between strength and weakness, take me, choose
To relieve me, to receive of me and must you not agree
As you have been to some — a great giver of banquets, of respite from swords,
Who shook out figured cloths, who rained coin,
A donor of laurel and of grapes, a font of profuse intoxicants — and so,
To be so too for me? And none too soon, since the panting mind
Rather than barren will be prostitute, and once
I served a herd of merchants; but since I will be faithful
And my virtue is such, though far from home let what is yours be mine, and this be a match
As many have been proved, enduring exiles and blazed
Not without issue in returning shows: your miserly freaks
Your envies, racks and poisons not out of mind
Although not told, since often borne — indeed how should it be
That you employed them less than we? But now be flattered a little
To indulge the extravagant gist of this communication,
For my pride puts all in doubt and at present I have no patience,
I have simply hope, and I submit me
To your judgement which will be just.

From: Schmidt, Michael (ed.), The Harvill Book of Twentieth-Century Poetry in English, 2003, The Harvill Press: London, pp. 290-292.
(https://books.google.com.au/books?id=Atnljg2r0K8C)

Date: 1935

By: Frank Templeton Prince (1912-2003)

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