Revolutionary Sonnets

(Spoken by various characters at the time of the French Revolution.)


Baroness d’Olisva to a Queen of Diamonds
Spoken by the prostitute entangled in the Diamond Necklace Affair, tricked into pretending to be Marie Antoinette and seducing a cardinal in the gardens at Versailles

Du Barry’s trade was not so far from mine.
It takes a heart as hard as hardest stone.
The crooked elm supports the crooked vine—
I’ve heard these parables before. They’ve shown
how false our fancies be. Am I betrayed?
False falsehoods! “Queen!” Within her champagne breast
is something hard. Like diamonds feigning paste,
I’ve heard she likes to play the dairy maid.
And underneath his robes, in priestly pants,
the Cardinal is no more a man of God
than I the Queen of Sheba—or of France;
if La Motte can forge a Count, then I can steal
a kiss, a counterfeit, on royal sod.
But Rohan’s rose—and you, my Queen—are real.

Antoine Simon to Louis-Charles Capet
Spoken by the Paris shoemaker assigned responsibility for the custody and education of King Louis's son, Louis-Charles, following his father's execution by Pierre Gaspard Chaumette

The King is dead! Long live Égalité!
You’ll learn to live on bread, not cakes and quince.
Zut! “Give some education to the Prince”?
I’ll show Chaumette—back in the toga day
Before first kings, when Peter’s name was Paul,
The shoemaker was Plato’s favorite pupil.
I’ll drill your lessons in you with an awl,
And tan your hide to whip out every scruple
Those wishy-washy ways you learned from queenie,
Replace your silken blouse with one of horsehair,
Your Latin hymns with songs a little coarser
Than gilt-edged storybooks ad usum delphini.
There’s no Good King, and, boy, there aren’t no elves.
In this world, we must sew our shoes ourselves.

Charles-Henri Sanson to His Son
Spoken by the "Gentleman of Paris," hereditary executioner who served through numerous regimes and went from executing regicides to kings and later revolutionaries

This line is steady. Stable. And you get
To work with your two hands, in open air.
The clients . . . Ah! Such characters I’ve met!
Damiens—Louis Capet—and Robespierre—
The Sovereign’s word is law. . . until it’s not.
A sovereign's sceptre's just a fancy club.
The tumbril’s wheels revolve about a spot
Immobile: midst the whirling spokes, a hub.
The lily wilts, the assignats are raffled . . .
In France, this steadfast axis is my scaffold:
One thing alone is constant. Like a blade
It hurtles down at us, fixed, flying, staid,
By sea, by fire, by God, or good, sharp axes.
(It isn’t taxes.)

Daniel Galef

If you have any thoughts on these sonnets,  Daniel Galef would be pleased to hear them.